Clothes of Winter
Eccles and I were standing in front of the stage in Matlock Baths, watching another glorious set by Peter Bruntnell when Pete the Cop from Nottingham yelled into my ear, “Dave, you gotta write another Outta My Head story so that you can tell people how good Peter Bruntnell and his band are!” I nodded to him and turned back to take in Bruntnell, backed by Davey ‘Lemonade’ Little on guitar and Dan Williams on bass, plow through a surging, dark-hued “Devil’s Good Son”. As the song climaxed in a descending lament of stringed torment, I thought to myself “Dear Pete, that’s a hell of a great idea!” So here I am, some months later, finally putting pen to paper or rather, finger to plastic, and recounting a little bit of what went down in the world of Richmond Fontaine over the last 6 months.
The band undertook 3 European tours between September 2009 and February 2010. It may just be my old age and senility settling in, but I thought they ranked right up there with the best tours we’ve ever done, based on crowd size and reaction, music making and pure fun and adventure. Rather than try and recount everything we did throughout all these tours, I thought I would touch on some High Points, at leastt those that I still remember.
Of course, we were on tour to support our newest release “We Used to Think The Freeway Sounded Like a River”, or” WUTTTFSLAR” for those with time constraints! To help flesh out the songs on the new record we brought along Portland compatriate Ralph Huntley to play keyboards and accordian. We’ve known Ralph for a while, back to his days playing in the Fernando band with Dan. Ralph has played on a couple of our records, but had never played live with RF until our warm up show at the Famous Kenton Club in North Portland a week before we left on tour. Ralph is a great musician, an intelligent soul, a very funny man(he writes for and performs on the Portland comedy/musical radio show LiveWire!), and a true gentleman. It was indeed a pleasure to have him aboard for our first tour in September. His keyboard and accordian work added a new texture to our sound. And it was one of the high points of our sets when Ralph backed up Willy on piano on “Lost in This World”.
So in early September we headed overseas, looking for fun and ready to unleash some new songs. One of the shows that stands out for me on this first tour was at The Stereo club in Glasgow. It is a cool room with the right touch of rock and roll ambience. We met up with some of our friends from the Endrick Brothers, as well as our pal Andy who made the drive up from Liverpool. Peter Bruntnell and Davey Lemonade opened the show. The crowd that night was electric, as they usually are in Glasgow. The band was 4 or 5 shows into the tour, and we were really hitting a stride. We were even called back for a second encore, which is pretty rare for us. We finished off the night with “Song For Dead Moon” and a long “Willamette”.
Here is the setlist from The Stereo, Glasgow 9th September 2009: White Line Fever/We Used to Think The Freeway Sounded Like a River/You Can Move Back Here/The Boyfriends/43/The Pull/Mayber We Were Both Born Blue/Lonnie/Hallway/Lost In This World/El Tiradito/Post To Wire/The Gits/Disappeared/Two Alone/Encore1:Ruby and Lou/Hope and Repair/Evergreen Powerline/Barely Losing/Western Skyline/Encore2:Song For Dead Moon/Willamette
The very next night we were out in the beautiful sheep grazing hills of York, playing at an intimate place called The Shed. This venue has become somewhat legendary. It is, as it’s name implies, a shed at the edge of a tiny hamlet. The place holds maybe 140 people. We had a wonderful walk down the country roads to get to the shed. Our driver, Sean from Brighton, was worried about the brakes on the van and all the weight in the van. So the lot of us got out and had a nice little trot through the wonderful countryside. Our soundcheck was highlighted by the local kids peeking into the shed and laughing at us while he set up our gear. We broke into song, with Dan making up lyrics to make the kids laugh. Maybe we will finally break through to that much heralded 6-12 age bracket!
The music that night was inspirational. Peter Bruntnell, with Davey and Dan backing him up, played a strong set of songs. He included a version of Dylan’s “My Back Pages”. It is kind of a tradition for musicians to cover Dylan songs when playing at The Shed. The band were all in the room right behind the stage, grooving along to the tunes.
The five guys from RF took the stage next. Or maybe I should say that we ‘filled’ the stage. The stage was about the size of a king size bed, so we and all are gear were squeezed into every nook and cranny of it. But that didn’t stop us from having a great time. Everyone inside was bunched up all nice and friendly, like an old time hootenanny. It was a blast. We played the songs we had been playing on the tour, but at a quieter volume and with more tact and intimacy. It was great to be able to hear all the instruments so clearly. We included our Dylan cover, our once in a blue moon version of “Just Like Tom Thumb Blues”, with yours truly handling the vocals. Recordings of this show and a few others from the tour are available on eTree, courtesy of Leslie Green.
A grand night, with everyone sharing their fine BYOB. We finished out the night out in a field with Mike and Andy showing off their campsite and their ales and telling tales on bands from Liverpool. Some of us stayed in the pub up the road, while a few wild souls spent the night sequestered in the local teepee.
A few days on we met up with Al James, the mastermind behind Dolorean. Al was going to play the next week or so of shows with us. He joined up just in time to take in the End Of the Road Festival. I’m not usually a huge fan of festivals, but this one just had something special about it. It was very well run, it was set in a beautifully wooded location, the bands were excellent, and best of all…it didn’t rain while we were there!
I got to check out sets by Steve Earle, Neko Case and the end of The Hold Steady set. I had never seen the Hold Steady before. While they weren’t entirely my cup of tea, I could see how someone could get caught up in their rock and roll abandon. We played a pretty good set to a large crowd under one of the tents.
The next day was a day of wonders. Our Travelodge was only 10 minutes away from Stonehenge, so we began the day by peering over the fence at the ruins and snapped many a photo. None of us had ever seen Stonehenge before, so we were like schoolkids on holiday. And yes, I did play Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge” over and over on the van stereo before and after the visit, much to Driver Sean’s disbelief.
Next Driver Sean took us on a mystical journey that included Woodhenge, views of the White Horse, and finally a walking tour around the stones of Avebury. We all had a fanastic time, and were relieved to have a break from the usual drudgery of tour life. In fact, this tour turned out to be the most enjoyable tour of the UK that I have had. The weather was beautiful: sunny and warm late summer days. And the drives weren’t too bad. We had time to take in some great sights, and stretch our legs for a bit. It was great having a driver like Sean, who knew the country well and knew the good sights to take in.
After a few more UK dates, we were off to adventures on the Continent. After shows in Paris, Amsterdam, Denmark and Germany, we finished the tour in Ottersum, Netherlands. We played in the Roepaen church, in the main chapel. Ralph played a grand piano, and we played a quieter show than usual to a very appreciative crowd. Photos from this show are available from a link on our webpage.
A great way to end a great tour. Then it was back to Portland to rest up for a few weeks before the second leg of our European tour.
-Ralph playing piano during Dolorean’s sets on killer versions of “Hannibal,MO”.
-Listening in on Paul Tasker play some beautiful guitar in a small upstairs dressing room in Berlin. Paul and Iona play in both Doghouse Roses and The Willard Grant Conspiricy, who both played with us in Berlin.
-Peter Bruntnell turning me on to the movies “Nacho Libre” and “Withnail and I”, two great movies that I had somehow never seen.
-Finishing our set at the Paridiso in Amsterdam and going into the main hall to check out almost all of Neko Case’s set.
-Playing a great set at Loppen in Christiana in Copenhagen and feeling happily stoned throughout the whole show. Whether it was something in the food, a contact high, or just the location I don’t know. But it sure felt good!
-The great hospitality once again of the folks at Voxhall in Arhus, Denmark. And getting to meet the guys in the band Pocket Life.
We had cd release shows scheduled in Portland and Seattle before we headed back to Europe. But Willy got really sick during that period. We had to cancel both shows, and there was even talk of cancelling the tour. Luckily we were able to continue the tour, but Willy was pretty fragile for awhile.
We undertook this tour as a quartet. To illustrate how sick Willy was, he didn’t drink a Guinness (or any other alcohol) the whole time we were in Ireland. Well, that is until the last night there, when he broke down and had a few Guinness just to prove he was still human!
The shows in Ireland went great. We always get such a great reaction from fans there. We got to hang out with Gerry Quinn, who was managing The Lost Brothers, who were playing with us in Ireland. This duo writes some cool songs and have great harmonies. It was nice to hear them every night of the tour.
We also met up with Mark Hylands in Belfast and went to his photo exhibit. Our band was featured in his exhibit, along with photos of Def Leppard, Tenacious D, Bryan Adams, Huey Lewis, and many other cool bands that Mark has photographed.
I have fond memories of an early morning walk I took in Dublin. We had played the Sugar Club in Dublin on a Saturday night, and I couldn’t sleep much that night at the loud and crazy hotel we were staying in. So I got up at the crack of dawn and headed out. While getting coffee and a scone across the street from the Camden Deluxe at the Spar, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” was playing on the instore stereo. That song perfectly put me in the mood for an early Sunday morning walk through Dublin on a chilly October morning. I walked down to the river, listening to Dan Arborise’s “Around in Circles”. Along the Quay I was struck by the poigancy of the stark sculptures of the Famine Memorial, vividly depicting 19th century hollowed-out figures of the Great Famine silently walking towards some kind of hope at the waiting ships at the docks. I walked up to Trinity College and took in the ivy covered walls of the old buildings. It was a beautiful walk, and just what I needed on a Sunday morning.
Next we were off to Vienna. Vienna is always a very inspiring place to play, and we have a very supportive following there. In Vienna we met up with our old friend Stiv Canterelli. Stiv plays in the bands Satellite Inn, Gold Rust and the Saint Four, and I have recorded and toured with him in the band Jimmy Cooper Club. Stiv was our driver for the rest of the tour, and was also going to open some of the shows. It was great to have Stiv along with us, and a treat to get to hear him play his music in a solo setting.
From Vienna we took a beautiful drive through Austria and Slovenia into Croatia. We were playing in Zagreb, the first time any of us had been there. The club was a great rock club. We ate dinner in a local restaurant, highlighted by lots of meat and HUGE mugs of local beer.
The show that night was sensational. The audience was younger than usual for us, and everyone was definately pumped up for a night of rock. There were some people there who had been listening to our cds for over 10 years, and never thought that they would get a chance to see us play live. We fed off the energy and played a great show. The end of our set, “Song For Dead Moon” and “Willamette” was recorded by someone on their phone and can be seen on YouTube. We all had a great time in Zagreb and hope we get to go back there again sometime.
The next day was another beautiful drive past green rolling countryside and farmlands, as I listenend to Dvorak’s “Piano Quintet” on my iPod. Our show that night was in an old club in the outskirts of Verona, Italy. Stiv opened the show with a clutch of songs from throughout his career, and also included a cover of the Fontaine song “Novicane” in his set. Next up was the band Claudia on the Couch, which featured cool songs and the beautiful voice of their sensational lead singer. We played a good show to a nice audience. Stiv joined us on guitar to add some meat to “43” and “Willamette”. It was a blast having Stiv up onstage with us. He really added some energy to the songs he played on. He would join us on guitar for most of the shows on the rest of the tour.
The next day we had time for a little bit of sight seeing in Verona, checking out the Coliseum and the famous Romeo and Juliet balcony. We played a show that night near Rimini, where we got to hang out with Gian Luca.
That night I had a dream that I was writing a song with Howe Gelb. It was a really nice song, and a great dream. I awoke with the feeling that he had stayed in the same room that I was sleeping in, which was probably the case. Many of the places we play in Europe are clubs that he has played at, and I can sometimes sense his presence. He must have a pretty strong aura.
We had a once in a lifetime Sunday drive up through Northern Italy and into Switzerland, taking in the Alps on our way to Zurich. I was listening to M. Wards “Hold Time” on my iPod, and kept replaying the instumental “Outro (AKA I’m a Fool to Want You)”” over and over as we drove through the awe-inspiring Alps. One of the most glorious drives I have ever been a part of.
That night we played at El Lokal in Zurich, our first ever show in Switzerland. El Lokal was a very hip place, with multi-tiered levels for people to hang out. The owner was gracious enough to give us each a box of chocolate and a Swiss Army Knife. Very hospitable of him. Stiv played a great set tonight, and the crowd was very attentive. We were all very surprised at the good turnout and had a very enjoyable night.
The next day we drove more than 12 hours out of Switzerland, through southern France, and into Spain. It was a beautiful drive, but a long one. Stiv was a road warrior, driving the entire journey.Over the next couple of nights we played in Madrid and Valencia. The morning after our show in Valencia I went out for a walk, where I was able to explore the futuristic ‘City of Arts and Sciences’ for several hours. If you don’t know about this place, you should look it up right now. A truly fantastic, unbelievable, out of this world creation.
Next we were off to our first ever show in Bilbao, a gorgeous old city located at the base of a huge river valley. We took in the Guggenheim Museum, where I reveled in the graceful architecture of a Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit, and also had some time to do some sightseeing around the city. The show was in this beautiful theatre called Kafe Antzokia. We were served dinner with the crew and the other band upstairs before the show. I checked out the support band Bravo Johnson from the balcony. They were shooting a video of their set. There was a very nice crowd to see us that night. We played a good show and had a great time.
We played in Barcelona the next night, then it was time to say farewell to Stiv and fly home to recuperate for awhile.
-An early evening walk around St.Stephens Green and other places around Dublin, listening to Van Morrison. I found the pub where I was meeting the other guys and scribbled out: “Walking thru the glorious twilight golden orange-yellow clear rain sodden grey white cumulus streets of evening redstone alleways along swan neck canal, listening to ‘Orangefields’ and ‘Coney Island’ past streams of hurried office workers on way to warm bright family sofa and roast pork and peas, as I now sit in The Lower Deck, Established 1867. Morning spent walking blowing rain gray sidewalks of Belfast listening to ‘Astral Weeks'”. Then the guys showed up at the pub, followed shortly by Daragh of 1969 Records, who had generously loaned us our musical gear for the Irish tour. We had some pints and watched Liverpool go down in defeat to Lyon.
-Stopping for Sunday roast in a small village on the way to Kilkenney.
-The enthusiasm of the folks at our show in Zagreb.
We were back aboard a jet bound for Europe in February, for our third tour abroad since September. At Schipol Airport in Amsterdam we watched some of the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics while eating breakfast. The Olympics would be on every television everywhere we went for the next two weeks. Looking out of my window on our flight from Amsterdam to Norway I could see all of snow covered Jutland, Denmark spread out before me like a magical snow globe.
Our plane landed some 60 miles or so from Oslo, so we took a scenic train ride through the snowy Norwegian countryside into Oslo. In Oslo, we were surprised at the number of people walking around with cross country skis on their back. There are ski slopes right outside of the city.
We had a day to catch up on sleep and see some sights in Oslo, so I went off on a couple of great winter walks. The next day we met up with Sean from Brighton, who would be our driver once again on this tour. Our show was at Club Mono, the third time we have played in the cozy intimate settings with a well attuned audience. We had time to catch up with some old friends and had a great night of music.
Next was a snowy drive to Stockholm. In fact, everywhere we travelled for the next week would be covered in snow. Well, I guess it was February after all!
We played a sort of a disco in Stockholm, with no stage and the audience practically surrounding us. It reminded me of playing music at basement parties when I was younger, where you are looking eyeball to eyeball at the crowd. It gave us a real jolt of energy to be so close to the audience. This was also our biggest crowd in Stockholm by far, so we were super jazzed.This really kicking band called The Tarantua Waltz played with us. They are definately worth seeking out.
After shows in Gothenburg and Malmo, a mysterious foggy ride through Denmark, and a ferry trip to Germany, we were in Leipzig. We played in a hundred year old movie theatre. The theatre was roomy and freezing cold until they turned on the heat just before show time. We had a good show and got to hang out with Andrea and other cool folks. Off to Geislingen, with a snowy ride up into the mountains listening to classic Emmylou Harris. A fine show there and then off to Munster.
Saturday night at Gleis 22 in Munster was one of those nights you always remember. A cool club, great stage, good soundman, and energetic crowd. In fact, it was the biggest audience that we have ever played for at a club in Germany. The band played that night like we had something to prove. I was really proud of us that night. I thought we played top notch, and gave everything we had.
The next day was our only day off on the three week tour. We all took good advantage of it by getting out and seeing Munster. I had a nice walking journey, getting really inspired by the sights of Munster. I was particularly taken by this outdoor bronze sculpture by Bernhard Kleinhans entitled ‘Die Taten des Herkules’. Later in the afternoon I hooked up with the other guys, along with Bruno and Ingrid, who took us on a tour of the Art Museum and some of the cathedrals, followed by dinner at a local diner. All in all, a fantastic day.
On to Antwerp, where we played with The Moe Greene Specials. We ended up listening to their latest cd on constant roation in the van. On YouTube, you can check them out doing a cover of the Fontaine song “Westward Ho”. Then shows in Leiden (with Kevin Kinney) and scenic Utrecht, where we met up with the bearded badass bodacious bass player Jim from Portland and Yvo as well.
We took the ferry cross the Channel, and found ourselves back in the Hanbury Ballroom in Brighton once again. Driver Sean was excited to be back in his own town for a bit. We reunited with Peter Bruntnell, who was going to be supporting us on the rest of the tour. Brighton was another strong show, with the audience right up in our grills, spurring us on. Sean and I checked out the Brighton Pier and Helter Skelter the next morning.
Onto the rustic virtues of Tingewick, and then back into the fray with two shows in one day at the Railway Inn in Winchester. Paul Brainard met up with us at this show. He would be adding his wonderful pedal steel and trumpet playing to the mix for the next couple of shows.
The first show at the Railway Inn featured us performing the record “Post to Wire” in it’s entirety, the first time we had ever played it start to finish. It was alot of fun to do, and to reexperince the record again in it’s original format was a treasured experience. There was a bit of tension as well, not wanting to screw it up too bad. Allen Jones of UnCut magazine, who has been very supportive of the band, was in attendence as well and that added a little added pressure. But we made it through just fine, and encored with some newer songs.
We took a break between shows and ate some dinner, then it was time for round two. We were much more relaxed for the second show,in which I believe we didn’t repeat any songs from the first show. The promoter Oliver had supplied us with a bottle of good ol’ bourbon, and that got passed around fairly freely onstage. We played a loose and fun set, laughing at our screwups. Afterwards Willy remarked to me that it reminded him of a classic old school drunken Fontaine set. I wouldn’t disagree.
The party continued back to Oliver’s house for some late night shenanigans, or so I’ve been told! We continued on to Bury, Cardiff, Bristol and Leicester. We noticed that our crowds were bigger in all of these places, in fact the whole tour had been the best attended tour of ours yet. Paul’s playing added a great touch to these shows. His trumpet playing featured in a new, unreleased song of ours called “Living in a Van”. This song had been recorded for the new record, but didn’t make the final cut. It was resurected for this tour, sans the lyrics. It was a blast to play, and always got the band and the audience cooking.
Paul’s last show with us was at Bush Hall in London. Our good friend Chef Andy was visiting us from Portland. Other stateside friends included Kevin, Marty and Heather. I didn’t have fond memories of our last show at Bush Hall, back in 2005. At that show, my bass sound onstage was swallowed up by the cavernous stage. So I made sure this time to spend extra time in soundcheck working on my bass monitor mix. I’m glad I did, but unfortunately the other guys had a fairly wretched night with their sound. We managed to put on a good show, being the professionals(?!) that we are, put it was a tough night onstage for all involved. Nothing left to do but get back on that horse the next night.
Matlock Baths was a nice, relaxing show after the tribulations of London. Willy, Dan and I walked down a country road to eat dinner in a local pub. We ran into a handful of people who were going to the show that night, and wanted our photographs taken with them. It’s always a pleasure, and our fans are so accomadating.
The show that night was great. We screwed up “You Can Move Back Here”, so we just stopped it cold and Willy broke into “Harold’s Club” instead. A good call! Peter Bruntnell and band played a great set that night. Peter joined us on harmonica for “Allison Johnson”. It was Pete and the boys last night of the tour with us, so many fond farewells were toasted at the end of the night.
Next on to Edinburgh where we played Cabaret Voltaire, a classic grimy downstairs club. Footage from this show and an interview with Willy were taped by Song by Toad and can be seen on YouTube. We finally made it to Aberdeen. We had been scheduled to play there back in 2007, but had to cancel because of a van breakdown. So we were quite happy to finally get there, some three years later.
We made sure to play a good, lengthy set for the fine folks of Aberdeen. In response to a request, I sang a version of Warren Zevon’s “Play it All Night Long”, which we hadn’t played in a few years. All in all, a great night in Aberdeen. Glad we finally made it.
The last show of the tour was at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds. It was kind of strange to be in Leeds and not play at The New Roscoe. But the Brudenell Social Club is a great room. We had played there once before with Transistor Ladybug, on our first UK tour in 2004. We had much fun once again in Leeds, finishing out the tour on a high note.
Willy and Dan headed to Ireland, where they were playing some shows as a duo in support of Willy’s new book “Lean on Pete”. Sean and I hopped a plane ride west, and before I knew it we were drinking Bell’s Beers in the Detroit airport with my sister Mary.
This had been a great run of tours. The band is beginning it’s 15th year together, and it seems like we were going as strong as ever. I thought our playing was as stellar on these tours as we had ever done. And thankfully our fans continue to support us, and we keep gaining new ones. As our tour t-shirt said, “I Hope You’re Always on the Ride”!
-Learning the Grand Champeen song “Broken Records”. We had attempted their song “One Foot on the Stage” a couple of times back in 2005, and had been wanting to do some other songs of theirs for awhile. So we finally pushed ourselves to learn the classic “Broken Records” Sean took the lead vocals. It was a blast to play everytime we did it, and it oftentimes received the best crowd response of the night. The only thing better than playing it will be to see Grand Champeen themselves perform it again someday!
-While lost on some backcountry road late at night looking for our hotel, Dan and Pete Bruntnell got into a discussion on Elton John. Both are big fans of his work and went into deep analysis of his early records, while the rest of us listened and drank beer. Though they didn’t agree on what his best album was, they did agree that “Philadelphia Freedom” was his best song. Funny thing: I’ve avoided Elton John’s music the best I’ve been able to since I was about seven years old. But just prior to this tour I started to listen to his music a bit, probably spurred on by that great bus scene in “Almost Famous” where the band sings the song ‘Tiny Dancer’. But I must agree with the experts, “Philadelphia Freedom” is the best. It’s the only Elton John record I ever owned, bought back when I was in the 4th grade.
Since getting back in mid-March, Willy and Dan have played shows in the Western U.S. and Australia, where we have a loyal following. The full band has played a couple of shows in Portland, including the most recent one where we played with Kevin Kinney, Scott McCaughey, and Peter Buck. These three guys opened the night by trading songs in the round, and Fontaine backed them on a couple of songs. Then we took the stage, playing a bunch of our older songs from our first couple of records. It was a real pleasure for me to meet Peter Buck and play some songs with him onstage. R.E.M. has been a huge influence on my musical life, being my favorite band for awhile back there in the 80’s. And Buck was always great to name-check other bands in his interviews, which lead a young me to discover bands like Husker Du, The Replacements and The Minutemen. I got a chance to tell him as much when I met him, and it was great to find out he was such a nice guy. He made a point of coming up to me after the show and thanking me for letting him use my bass. He also said he was a fan of our band, which of course is about the greatest thing you can ever hear! “We’re Marching through Georgia, and There Stands R.E.M!” (from the Pavement song ‘Unseen Power of the Picket Fence’)
So we keep on keeping on, exploring new avenues and meeting more of our heroes. Willy says he has a new batch of songs he wants to show us, which is always exciting news.
Oh yeah, I should mention that you should go out and buy a Peter Bruntnell record, or at least check him out on Myspace. A good record to start with is “Peter and the Murder of Crows”, his most recent. He really is a one of a kind songwriter and performer. There, I’ve fulfilled my purpose in writing this piece. I hope Pete the Cop is happy!
C 2010 Dave Harding