Wembley Holiday Inn, and the Wagamama, in the shadow of the massive arena. A server shows us to a table, the exact same one we sat at two weeks ago, before Europe. What looks like the same family who were there two weeks ago sits opposite.
“This is weird,” says Eric.
“Groundhog Day,” I say. Only difference is when I order a glass of wine from the server, I don’t exercise my usual restraint – I go for Large, a fishbowl of wine.
I feel ten years older than I did two weeks ago. The band never took off like it should, there were problems and it was very frustrating partly cause I was looking forward to playing and also as Eric’s wife, wanting things to be the best they can for him. And then in the middle of the trip his mother ended up in the hospital again.
After Munich we drove to Zurich a day early and ended up in an odd B&B with a shared bathroom and a landlady who was nice one minute and surly, almost downright abusive, the next. Zurich is a weird place, the area was full of sex shops and hookers, and when I walked out in the morning to make sure the van was okay, I must have been looking rough in a leather jacket and jeans in the cold because two men mistook me for a prostitute. “Hoo-hoo!” one of them said, weakly, as if even he didn’t believe it.
When the cranky lady kicked us out after overcharging for doing our laundry (insisting there were no laundromats in town – overcharging is the order of the day in Zurich, they all say cheerily “we take euros instead of Swiss Francs!” and then just as cheerily do their own conversion rates so a cup of coffee costs let’s see that was five francs and she charged six euros so that was…oh hell, it’s all Monopoly money anyway) we set the GPS for our venue-booked hotel, a nice place Hotel Rothaus where Eric and I have stayed a few times. Preparing ourselves to traverse the tram lines, rivers and one way street system of Zurich, we turned a corner and – there was Rothaus, one block away.
El Lokal is one of my favorite clubs, they go out of their way every minute to make sure you have everything you need, and I think from an audience perspective it must be a great place too because we’ve always had the best time playing there. It felt like things came together better musically. Sold loads of CDs and LPs (it’s only Monopoly money after all).
Next day we went to France. It was the first time I’ve been there since Eric and I moved away three years ago. It all started to feel familiar as we approached Strasbourg: the massive home decoration stores Les Quatres Murs and Conforama, the lack of toilet seats in the restrooms on the autoroute. The venue was a gallery, boutique and bar space and the owners Erwann and Solveen were nice and easygoing and people turned out – it was a fun and casual show almost like a house concert. We slept in the promoter’s flat where Eric and I shared a room with a huge stack of Elle and Marie Claire magazines from the sixties and I remembered falling in love with the idea of France when I was an art student at Parsons, poring over the photos of cute girls in mod sixties clothes, wanting to read articles by Simone de Beauvoir and Francoise Sagan. Now I was looking at it from the other side the romance tempered with reality, flat flourescent light where before was only rich black and white of a Godard film. Knowing all that I know now I was still happy to be back!
The drive back to the ferry next day was long and Eric drove like a determined trucker. I was stymied at every service station along the way in my quest to find a French newspaper – it looks like they no longer sell them on the autoroute? It was a shock heading to the ferry at Calais seeing a load of refugees, dozens of young men all bundled up against the cold, trying to climb undetected into the backs of the massive trucks heading for the UK and being chased up over the sand dunes by French police who don’t really seem that intent on stopping them.
And then the news driving up to London that Ian McLagan had suffered a stroke, it just didn’t seem possible, on the day he was supposed to start opening a tour for Nick Lowe. He’d been kind to me when I opened shows for Billy Bragg back when Mermaid Avenue came out and it was always a treat to see him and the Bump Band at Saxon Pub in Austin. I have to admit I only knew his playing for the Faces and Rolling Stones and hadn’t gotten into Small Faces until the last few years, now they are one of my absolute favorite bands and I’ve almost worn out the Immediate anthology when I’m tending bar. A group of us went down to Woodstock last summer to see him and Jon Notarthomas play and that had been a treat, he always made you feel like he was really pleased to see you and he told great stories, played and sang so full of soul. I loved getting to see him and Eric meet up, he called Eric “you old c**t” and they were exactly the same size both with good thatchy white English hair. When we got into a hotel up in London it just crushed me to learn that he’d died.
Next day it was back to Wembley to return the van, in the heavy London traffic we passed a clothing shop called “Ooh La La”…
So a few things had changed.
One great improvement is we aren’t down to our last few cents now. Eric’s mother is out of the hospital. We saw Eric’s new grandson yesterday, Sunny! And we’re heading out to play again tomorrow, in a different configuration. We ran through everything today and it sounds great. I’m tired but excited – got to keep going.
There’s always the hope that one little change will turn things around – that’s the beauty of Groundhog Day.
Wed Dec 10 Hull UK New Adelphi
Thu Dec 11 Glasgwo UK Broadcast
Sat Dec 13 London UK 100 Club
Sun Dec 14 Brighton UK Prince Albert