Packing List for UK trip
Guitar, pedals, cables, microphone, passport
Clothes for 10 days, including $7 H&M dress to be painted by Eric as stage outfit
One white folder from a dentist’s office containing:
- Song charts
- Train ticket
- Return plane ticket printed out for UK immigration, to prove I plan on leaving
- Pay stub for UK immigration, to prove I have a job so I plan on leaving
- Receipt for property taxes to prove that even though I’m married to a Brit in case they ask (and they will) we live in the US and plan on returning there
- Photo of Eric’s birthday present because it’s too large to bring on the plane
I look around for a sticker to cover up the dentist’s office logo but The Stooges Raw Power or Fender Guitars are too rock, would invite suspicion, so I tape a bit of cardboard from a Pukka tea box over dentist logo instead, thinking it has a nice William Morris look to it; hoping to pass myself off as a kind of Anne Bancroft in 84 Charing Cross Road type middle aged lady on her pilgrimage to London (who just happens to travel with a guitar slung over her shoulder)
On the train to New York City, a guy in the seat behind me talks to his mother on the phone.
“Yeah, I got a job interview in the city. (pause) “Yep, I’m wearing a suit.” (another pause) “Nah, I just borrowed one from a friend.” I never get a chance to see the guy, but I wish I had his confidence. We’ll be playing a whole set of Eric’s songs to celebrate his 60th birthday in London, and I’m anxious. I want to do a good job! I find it easier to remember chord progressions on guitar than keyboard – why? Lots of keyboard songs on this trip. I check for the folder.
On the plane to London, I’m worrying a little about immigration. I have a lot of work permits in my passport; I’ve been given a hard time for coming through with a guitar without one. I’m not really working this time, these aren’t my shows, but should I have gotten a work permit? What “occupation” should I write on the landing card? I’m used to writing “Songwriter”, more benign than “Musician” which implies smashed hotel rooms and drug use. But when was the last time I actually wrote a song? My hand freezes over the card: Barmaid? Art supplies manager? Artist? Writer? Something/slash/something sounds too non-committal, they’ll see through me and send me back home to vacillate. I look deep in my soul – WHAT AM I? I go with the default “Songwriter”. Even if I never write another song, I’ve done my time – hmm, “retired songwriter” (think Anne Bancroft, in the hat, in 84 Charing Cross Road). No – simply “Songwriter”.
Where’s that folder? Ah, smooth whiteness with the taped-on touch of class.
Arrive and get through Immigration okay, Eric picks me up in a hideous rental Renault Captur he’s christened “Cat Turd” and we head to Norfolk to stay with our friends Karen and Peter and my goddaughter Daisy. Eric and I go over songs crouched in front of Daisy’s Casio with the light up keys. I write more notes and stick them in the folder, making sure to keep the photo of Eric’s birthday present hidden from him.
We drive to London and rehearse at Fire Records. The rest of the band is there: Andre and Barry and Ian, guys I’ve all met before. It’s fun! We’re all making such a racket, I worry less about screwing up. But just in case – I’ve got the folder.
After two days rehearsal we head to Brighton to play a gig. It’s at Prince Albert, it’s full, things are going well, and then damn – there goes the folder, spilling off the edge of my keyboard and all over my part of the stage. Property tax bills, pay stubs, the photo of Eric’s present, my notes! Ian who’s playing a cardboard box next to me helps shovel it all together, never missing a beat.
The folder sleeps near me at Eric’s mother’s house near Brighton, then on to Manchester for a radio show and back to London for another radio show on the day of the London gig. The car, er Cat Turd, is now full of painted cardboard signs Eric’s been making as a backdrop, and painted clothes for all of us to wear on stage. And so much equipment – we leave the car at Fire Records and take a taxi to the radio station. Then I get on the tube to visit my old friends Gina and Mike in North London. I’m exiting the tube when I realize I don’t have the folder any more.
Maybe it’s with Eric, heading back to Fire Records to paint more signs?
It’s not. I can see it, glowing on the desk at the radio station.
I need that folder! After a couple run-throughs you’d think I’d know all the songs but…I can’t risk it. Plus there’s the picture of Eric’s birthday present in there. And the Pukka tea pattern. I am Anne Bancroft in 84 Charing Cross Road! No iPad; no tablet. I’m a book lady, who needs her folder.
Visit for a little while with Gina and Mike and their daughters, then Mike kindly offers to drive me back down to the south London radio station to retrieve my precious folder. I practically do a paratrooper roll into the radio station, scoop up the folder, then clutch it to me as we head back to North London to the club. I keep tabs on the folder through soundcheck and up til showtime where –
In our painted clothes in front of the signs we back Eric and he’s magnificent. The crowd is magnificent. The show is a triumph!
The folder spends the night in the dressing room of the club, under a mound of equipment and merchandise, next to a bottle of what looks like someone’s piss.
I wake up in the hotel next morning thinking “I need that folder”. It has the photo of Eric’s birthday present in it.
We load the equipment out of the club and try to drive through the middle of the Arsenal parade to a barbq at Fire Records where Eric plays a few songs. I play guitar (off-folder, like I said guitar is easy, it’s the lateralness of keyboard that stumps me) and we say goodbye to all the fine Fire people and bands and eventually I get to give Eric the photo of his present.
And the folder gets a well-earned rest on the floor of a Premier Inn. I still keep checking for it. Plane ticket/train ticket home.