We’ve had some interesting drives in many big cities over the years. I remember once driving across a large square in Paris seeing four lanes of traffic heading towards me and Amsterdam was a laugh a minute – not only cars, but trams and stoned cyclists to contend with. But Toronto, why the rush? Man it was stressful. Cars, trucks, buses chopping in and out of lanes. Foot to the floor when approaching a red light and then slam on the brakes to bring your wheels of choice to a stop just the width of a gnat’s knacker from the rear end of the vehicle in front. And if you happen to be at the front of the line and you don’t then execute a start that Lewis Hamilton would be proud of when the lights change to green you get half a dozen horns blaring out behind you. TORONTO! CHILL OUT!! FFS!!!
We had three days in Toronto (T’rono as the locals say). We flew in on the Monday evening from Regina having played there the night before. We spent the night in a hotel close to the airport and then picked up a car on the Tuesday morning. All of the traveling was starting to have an effect and we were both feeling a little tired. That said we had the rest of the day free and Niagara Falls were just under two hours drive away. Well you would, wouldn’t you?
After having an excellent success rate on the Airb&b front so far, this one wasn’t so good. We had a “cosy” basement. The main room contained a kitchen sink, microwave, fridge, kettle, toaster etc and a huge bed. Aside from it all smelling a little fusty, it’s the bed that was the issue; it took up nearly all of the room. Kip managed to bang her knee on the side of the bed and head-butt the fridge at the same time. No mean feat for someone who’s just a smidge over five feet tall. Anyhow, the bed was comfy and we’d be out for the most part.
We were now on the final leg of the tour. Five gigs in five days and then heading home.
On the Wednesday night we played in Peterborough, Ontario, which is quite ironic as it was nearly two hours drive from Toronto, whilst Peterborough in the UK is only forty minutes from our house.
I need to have a word with myself when planning these tours. The Thursday night we were in downtown Toronto and the gig was originally set up by a guy who runs an agency in the Toronto area. We don’t normally use agents. It’s nothing personal; we just prefer to be responsible for our own cock-ups. This gig was a case in point. I’d sent the guy all of the info needed (photos, biog, YouTube links, tech-spec etc). He came back telling us that he’d arranged a gig with a local support at The Burdock, a regular music venue in Toronto. I kept checking the Burdock’s website and right up to us leaving Heathrow to start the tour there was nothing on there about the gig, despite several emails from us to the agent who kept assuring us that it was in hand. In the end I went direct to the Burdock, who came back to say that the room had been booked out for the gig, but they were still waiting on the info from the agent. Much swearing then ensued on our part. I re-sent all the info to the Burdock and to be fair, the guy at the venue was great, he made sure it went onto their website and the gig went ahead with a small but very appreciative audience. We’ll not be using that agent again.
Friday night restored our faith. We played Studio 13 in Hamilton. Well, if we’re being a bit nitpicky (it’s in the Oxford English), Studio 13 is about ten minutes outside of Hamilton in the countryside. Barbara and Urmas were our hosts and they put on concerts in their house. They have a lovely big room that can seat about forty folks and it has a PA and stage set up. The PA is linked to a beautiful recording studio that Urmas has set up in his basement where he and his assistant David record the gigs. The gig was well attended and well received and we were smiling again.
Urmas is a bass player and plays in several bands. Both he and Barbara have a real appreciation for their surroundings and do what they can to keep the local wildlife happy. Barbara helps to raise Monarch butterflies and had two ready for releasing into the wild. She’d named them Kip & Dave.
The following morning we had to be in Hamilton at nine o’clock for a radio show. This was when we realised it had not been such a great idea to sit up till one am chatting to our hosts. Still we spent a wonderful forty five minutes in the company of local legend Jim Marino, who has been presenting his Freewheeling folk show for over twenty years. Jim is a smashing chap with a real love for music and his enthusiasm is infectious. We sang a few songs, had a chat and Jim had a rant about politics. An excellent way to start the day.
Next up was a six-hour (very tired!) drive to Renfrew. This meant us once again taking on Toronto’s finest drivers. Thankfully we came away unscathed. Not so the person in front of us at some traffic lights – we watched him raging at the driver who had just removed his left wing mirror with a deft swipe as she was cutting him up.
Neither of us had any idea what Renfrew was like. As we were driving through the outskirts I found myself singing a few lines from a Tom Waits song, “They hung a sign outside this town. If you live it up you don’t live it down.” It had that kind of a feel to it.
The venue was called Batstone’s Northern Ramble and for some reason I was expecting the back room of a pub. I was wrong. It’s an old church that has been converted into a fantastic music venue and is the home of its owner Dean Batstone. One look at Dean and you’d think he’s a bit of a rocker who’s been around the block a few times and that may be true. I don’t know his back story, but I do know he’s an excellent songwriter who has many tours of the USA under his belt and he has some top-class musicians playing on his albums. He is also renovating a 1970’s executive coach that is going to be the coolest tour bus on the planet.
The evening was kicked off by a talented local lad by the name of Jordan Dubeau and again it was a little low on numbers. But those who were there were very enthusiastic and the sound in that place was just fantastic, you could hear everything as clear as a bell. At the end of the night after the punters had left, Dean and I got the guitars out and had a few minutes swapping songs. Had it not been for us having an early start the next morning to get to the final gig of the tour, I could have happily carried on jamming all night and we vowed to set up a gig with the following day clear the next time we get over there.
We were billeted with a lovely lady that night. Angie volunteers at the venue and is a great company. She claims to be sixty six, but could easily pass for a good ten years younger. She works as a house painter, lives alone in a very tastefully decorated house (her own work) and gives shelter to itinerant musicians. She also has a cat named Merlin who thinks he’s a dog.
Our final gig was in Quebec, our fifth province on the tour. Rickk’s Room is a Sunday afternoon show in Wentworth-Nord. They do a matinee show as it’s a little out of the way and many of the folks that attend the gigs will drive two hours or more to get there. We’d planned to arrive there for 12pm ahead of a 2pm start. Cecilia (Cee) had sent Kip a text earlier that morning telling us not to follow the GPS as it would take us down a 17 kilometre road that resembles the wild mouse rollercoaster at Skegness. We picked up the message as we were bouncing down a 17 kilometre road that resembled the wild mouse at Skegness. Two lost fillings, one bruised knee and four war-weary shock absorbers later we arrived, just twenty five minutes later than planned. Said road is called Chemin Kilmar. Cee calls it Chemin Killacar. However the leaves were on the turn and the views were gorgeous.
Rickks’s Room is, err, a room built on the side of Rick and Cee’s house. It was originally a double garage and Rick converted it into a concert venue that can seat sixty people. When I asked Rick what he did for a job his response was “I make shit”. He clearly makes good shit, it’s awesome – decked out with posters, album covers and photos from gigs they’ve been to and there’s a stage with a piano and a PA. As with so many of these venues, these two put on several gigs a year for the love of it and whatever money they take on the door goes to the musicians.
Cee was fourteen and Rick fifteen when they had their first date. They went to a local record store and were accompanied by one of Cee’s friends who was at the gig that afternoon. Forty five years and two kids later they still share a love for music and a beautiful house with a dog, a cat, a great hifi system and no TV.
The next day we had one final event to look forward to before returning the car and then catching our flight home that evening from Montreal airport.
Thirteen years ago we went to Barbados for Kip’s brother Bob’s wedding to his wife Cathy. Cathy is Canadian and in addition to her family, some of her friends had also flown in to attend the wedding and then stay on for a few days holiday as did we. We hit it off with one couple, Mary and Craig and a few years later hooked up again with Mary via Facebook. Mary and Craig live in Montreal and after swapping a few messages we met up with her on our way to the airport. Unfortunately Craig couldn’t make it due to work commitments, but it was great to see Mary again and thirteen years fell away in the blink of an eye.