Cambridge Coffee + London Gig.

I’m writing this post from the Starbuck’s inside the Borders downtown, just a spit from the Cambridge market square. I’m taking a break from work to update the old blog… but I’ll have to upload it later since there’s surprisingly no Internet connection here. I come here to work a lot, in fact. It’s easy to order a caramel macchiato, find one of these big cushy chairs (preferably one close to an electrical outlet), pop in my ear buds and listen to iTunes while I write or code.

The lack of Internet here is not as much of a problem as I thought it would be. The MacBook I got before the trip was a good investment: Mac OSX is a unix machine underneath, and it has a decent size hard drive, so most of the important code/data for my research fits and works on it. I can’t really run experiments here… I upload my software to the UW-Madison network and let the jobs run on several machines there at once. Over the past 2 nights I’ve run experiments that took about 90 total computation hours, which would have taken nearly 4 days to run on my laptop here (rendering it useless for other things in the meantime). However, when I’m developing and testing the code in preparation for my experiments, I don’t really need to be on the web. It’s annoying when I occasionally run into a syntax or compilation error and can’t look it up, but that’s surprisingly rare. (Besides, if I get in a real bind I can just find the computer section of Borders!). So I do lose a little time trying to guess while debugging, but I honestly think it’s less than the time I lose through distractions like email, chat, and web surfing. Useful lesson to learn.

Anyway… I’m downtown today to (1) get the rear tube of my bike replaced… the first 3 bike shops I went to were inexplicably closed, though I did finally find an overpriced one, and to (2) finally get my student rail card. It’s £20 (about US$40), but reduces train fares by 33%. Since we’re doing some travel this month, it’ll pay for itself in no time. Probably even before (and especially when) we go to Scotland in a few weeks.

Burr + The Articles, London

A week ago, I went to London to play my first real gig there. I was opening up for a funk/punk band called The Articles at a club called The Betsy Trotwood. Now, I don’t know what I did to muck up my karma so badly for the day, but I got an extremely late start, walked the 4 miles to the rail station by foot carrying my guitar (heavy wood case, not a gig-bag), finally making it to the venue around 2:30 to drop off my gear. This after I paid full fare since they wouldn’t give me a student rail pass (the photo machine was busted), and having to take the slower train to Liverpool Street (instead of King’s Cross). I’d hoped to get there by noon to check out more of the city. Since the concert promoter told me sound check was at 5:30 (obscenely early, I thought, for an 8:00 show), I thought only had three hours. In that time, I managed to get from St. Paul’s Cathedral down the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern (where I spent a scant hour), and crossed the Waterloo Bridge to Covent Garden. I was amazed that there were practically no street performers out. It was not a gorgeous day (few here are) but it certainly wasn’t brutal, and there were tons of tourists. There was one really bad James Bond impersonator, but that’s it. I half wished I had my guitar with me to busk. I made £25 in an hour on the streets in Cambridge about a month ago. I have a funny story about Colonel Sanders from that night, too…

So I wandered toward Piccadilly Circus (so I thought), but ended up completely lost in the theatre district (though I found where Lion King, Lord of the Rings the Musical (wha?), and The Blue Man Group all perform). I finally gave up hope of visiting Piccadilly or Trafalgar Square in time and tried to head back to the venue for sound check. I got there “late” around 6:00. The sound person was there but no one else, so I sound-checked (10 minutes) and then had two hours to kill. After an overpriced sandwich dinner and a few minutes hanging out in a park I headed back to the venue (it was too far away to visit any other cool places in a timely fashion), and members of The Articles were finally there and setting up. I had a pint and wrote in my sketchbook a bit while they sound checked, and then hung out downstairs with the singer and drummer. Josh the drummer, it turns out, is who I chatted with on myspace a couple weeks beforehand, and he is a fan of Jonah’s Onelinedrawing like myself. I asked if he’d be interested in sitting in on drums for a couple of my songs (since the kit was already set up and all), and he agreed.

About a half hour later we went upstairs where I met Tom and Timmy of PlushBaby, a “band” that had a couple of songs on the FAWM compilation I curated this past year. Since they missed the FAWM get-together a few days before, they came to this gig to say hello. Tom even made me a mix CD of great British indie bands who haven’t gotten much exposure across the pond yet. Another fawmer, Helen, also showed up. Come 8:15 I was on stage and playing… I did nine songs in all I think (typical 30 minute set for me), and it went very well. Some good hecklers, which I generally enjoy since it tells me people are listening and enjoying themselves. (At my Cambridge show earlier, people listened quietly and respectfully but wouldn’t talk back or act alive at all.) Anyway, Josh joined me on drums for “Never Tell You” and “Sugar in the Raw” at the end of the show. I figured those two were fairly simple drum lines to improvise with no surprise switch-ups… except the end of “Sugar,” which I forgot was a little tricky. Fortunately, Josh stopped at the end of my guitar solo (he thought it was the end of the song), allowing me to play the tricky melody/rhythms at the end alone, so it worked alright. The Articles were really good… they reminded me a little bit of Dismemberment Plan’s energetic live presence (I’m glad I got to see them live before they broke up).

At the end of the night, though, the promoter totally screwed everyone over. I got paid nothing and they got almost nothing. Now, I was half expecting to get screwed over, this being my first show in London, another country, booked by myself with no agent or manager or reputation to bank on, etc., but this band has been around for 3 years, headlined some respectable UK venues, and packed out the room. Granted it wasn’t a huge club, but it was pretty well full and on a weeknight no less. I re-read my contract when I got back home, and I was actually owed a little money, and they were owed way more I’m sure. What they did get couldn’t buy them all a round of drinks, let alone pay them what they were worth.

Anyway… Tom, Timmy, Helen, and I went back upstairs to the bar where they bought me a couple pints. I’d missed the train back to Cambridge anyway, and had about a half hour before I needed to split for the next one. Funny thing is, I went in to the “loo” at one point and a socially well-lubricated gentleman asked me from the urinal “what ever happened to that Burr Settles guy?”

“Uhm… that’s me,” I replied.

“No shit? The door guy said you didn’t show!!” His accent was… what? Scottish? Hard to tell. He was a little pissed (in both American and British senses).

“No, I showed, and in fact I played for just over a half hour.”

Apparently this bloke saw an ad for our show somewhere and came specifically to see me after hearing some of my songs on the Internet. But he showed up just after my set, and when he asked they told him I’d be on later and took his £5 anyway. Then they told him I was a no-show. (Helen tells me this is how a lot of promoters in London are… all about the money and not the music.) I was very flattered that he wanted to hear me so badly, I almost just gave him a CD. But since I got gypped too I offered him one for £5 first, and he took it. Then, after downing the pints my crew bought me, I decided I should also keep my pint glasses as payment for the night, so I did. (One of them is even Guinness!)

Around 11:07, Tom noted that I now had 21 minutes to run (carrying my guitar) 5 blocks to the tube station, ride 3 stops to Liverpool Street, and drunkenly find/board my train for Cambridge. So I was off. Luckily, I made eye contact with the platform conductor-type-guy just as I came up out of the underground, since my train was miraculously leaving from the platform just across the way. It was moving before I’d even found a seat, but I was on it. Whew! An hour and a half later I was walking the 4 miles back home, carrying my guitar. At 2:00 AM. Exhausted. Drunk. With eight blisters on my feet (three on the left, five on the right). But I did sell some CDs, got to meet a few friends/fans, and now I can say I played London.

A few days ago, I got some new hiking shoes (I wear USA size 10.5 is a UK 9, apparently). A week later, I’m down to only one blister.

1 Response to “Cambridge Coffee + London Gig.”

  1. 1 Eric Everman Apr 6th, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    Great story, Burr! I guess its experiences like these that convince people to keep the day job and keep the music a hobby.

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