Barack Bowl

Guy Fawkes night means little to folks in Wisconsin but this evening back at home in the UK, families will be out braving the Wintery elements, warming themselves beside a bonfire and watching firework displays of varying spectacularity. A wrinkly jacket potato, blackened barbecued sausage and a beer being the traditional heartwarming fare on such a night, Yesterday in Madison we went bowling and sampled some traditional American fun and laughter.

The idea was to have band and crew bowling contest and our management trio extended the invitation to Bob’s band and crew. Bowling is a near perfect thing to do on a day off on tour in the US as there are lanes in just about every town across the nation. With our band and crew staying in the same hotel, 5 lanes were booked at ‘Dream Lanes’ in Madison Wisconsin and Saen drove us all there in her bus with Jason (driver of our other bus) squirming nervously in the jump seat.

We were greeted at the huge 40-lane alley by a familiar overpowering waft of Pizza, we donned our shoes and fired up the lanes. I played with Pete from the band team and Alfie and Kerry from our crew. On the next lane to us was a particularly raucous contest between John and Ianto for the band and crew boys Ben and Kevin. Matches were soon being played out intensely along the lanes and as the beers came and disappeared, the whole afternoon session became louder and louder. A large contingent from Bob’s crew arrived and were soon enjoying the party atmosphere. They are a great bunch of guys and girls and it’s heartwarming to see the two crews from either side of the pond having such a laugh together. There have been some great friendships made on these two trips. Of course it wasn’t really a contest between anyone, it was just a great day out for all and a rousing success it was too. I did however manage to sneak a printout of the scores and I can’t resist giving a brief rundown of the highest single game scores of the afternoon.

I thought I was doing pretty well with a game score of 141 but I glanced over to see Jim Cox knock up an impressive 156. There was plenty more to come. A great day had by all.

The high scores…
Tom (Bob’s Crew) – 157
Jim Cox – 156
Jason (our bus driver) – 156
Mitch (Bob’s Crew) – 152
Tim (our tour manager) – 145
Guy – 141
Andre (Bob’s Crew)- 138
TC – 136
Dave Dixon – 132
Saen (our other bus driver) – 129
Pete Mackay – 127
Chris (Bob’s Crew) – 121
Brett (Bob’s Crew) – 120
Josh (Bob’s Crew) – 119
Kevin Rowe- 115
Glenn Saggers – 111
Alfie Barton – 110
John McCusker – 110

Alfie shows us how…

No fun here…

Back at the hotel some of our boys headed for a couple of Irish bars locally where Mike met a young whistle player who recognized him saying he was of great inspiration. Mike whisked back to the hotel to grab a whistle and was soon back at the bar in a full-blown session. Unfortunately, I missed the whole thing as I decided a quiet night in was the thing after consuming a few beers and some bowling alley junk food.

Show Day for us was show day for Barack Obama too. This morning the whole area around the hotel was pretty much sealed off and we were forbidden from loitering as Obama had scheduled a rally in the square directly opposite the hotel. Secret Service security officers were everywhere and all those guests who had rooms facing the square were asked to draw their blinds. The logistics of an event such as this are mind-boggling, the sheer numbers of police, security, secret service, snipers, armed guards, vehicles, helicopters and god knows what else we don’t see, makes our little tour seem like Sunday afternoon tea at a model village fete. I wandered out of the front of the hotel about 15 minutes before Obama appeared hoping to get a few pics. Within a couple of seconds a secret service officer was standing next to me telling me I couldn’t stand here. Unless I had a press pass I must either go back into the hotel or walk away from the event. I said I’d like to take a few pics and his response was clear and without trace of lightheartedness. I didn’t stick around to argue. I headed back into the hotel lobby where I stood for a while with Tim our tour manager who was chatting with the hotel manager about the commotion. Just then, Bruce Springsteen walked out of the elevator with a handful of papers and readied himself for the stage. Within minutes, the president appeared. I was unable to get a picture as even though I could see the lectern clearly, my lens wasn’t of the zoom variety.

Luckily Pete, Richard, Ian and Jim managed to get into the 18,000 strong crowd. Pete had his camera with him and craftily snapped a few pics although this one nearly got him into a spot of bother as through the lens he noticed that he’d been spotted by one of the men in black who waved his arms furiously from afar whilst on the radio to the security man standing right next to Pete.

After all the commotion had died down and Obama and Bruce made their way to the next of FIVE cities on this, his final day of campaigning, Mark had arranged a lunch meeting. Pieta Brown and Bo Ramsay had driven 3 hours from their home town of Iowa City to come and see the show. Pieta and Bo supported us on our last outing in the US. They arrived at the hotel along with Pieta’s father, Greg Brown and singer Iris DeMent. It was great to catch up with them.

With the security forces gone as quickly as they came, the hotel returned to normality within a few hours, in fact by the time we left for the venue, it was difficult to believe anything had happened let alone an event which had brought the president of the United States, Bruce Springsteen and 18,000 people into the city centre.

There was a slight hiccup in our normal pre-show preparations at the gig… ginger in the dressing room!. Instead, John started to make the traditional Lemon, Ginger and Honey tea with what appeared to be a potato. This was the source of much mirth in the production office…one unmistakable sound backstage at our shows is the sound of Paul Crockford laughing. Guaranteed to put a smile on any solemn face…not that there are many of those in these parts.

Show time was upon us before we knew it and we took to the stage as fired up as ever. I think you know the rest.

Mark played 4 with Bob tonight….another Pete Mackay pic.

Back on board the buses once again and the management had ordered a curry for our en-route delectation. It was quite fabulous and even though I’m not drinking beer these days, I had to have a small taste of a few local beers Glenn and family had provided for this evenings journey. Our on-board ice box contained bottles of Fat Squirrel, Spotted Cow and Lake Louie. The clear winner in this evening’s beer review club meeting was the Spotted Cow. The general consensus seemed to be that most of these ‘new age’ beers are over hopped, unnecessarily complex, or just plain hyped and we decided that the Spotted Cow was the least offensive…it was in fact quite delicious. There seems to be a trend for what I call heavy-handed beers. Brewing is a delicate art and hops must be chosen and added with great care and finesse. Not that I really know how to make a good ale but Richard Bennett does, Jim Cox probably does too….and I’ve been on the Griffin Brewery tour!

As ever, due to the proximity of Mark’s British Grove Studios to the Fuller’s brewery in Chiswick, all beers are compared to the holy grail of beers, Fullers London Pride which is essentially a simple beer with a big character. Very few beers come close, especially Stateside.

Five happy hours later, Jason and Saen were pulling the buses up outside our Minneapolis hotel in the cold rain. We all quietly de-bussed, found our rooms and that was that.

Mike and Kev get carried away with election fever…