Greetings from the tour bus in the grounds of the very civilised Denver Botanical Gardens. After having had three blissful (Wimbledon and World Cup-filled) weeks off in Blighty, we are back on the road in the US again. We’re at the midway point of the tour now, having just finished a whirlwind stint of gigs down south. We been faced with some challenges, but ‘the South’ has shown us a great time.
Whilst it is a supremely hospitable place, there have been a few shocks to English systems. On arrival in Miami we were greeted by the extreme heat, which unnervingly bear hugs your entire body like a giant, tepid flannel. Being English, the only way I could respond to this sensation was to blather on in a banal way about what clothing I’d packed, followed by an appraisal of whether any of it was appropriate for ‘this heat’. With that out the way, we headed to South Beach’s 4th
July celebrations, where more shocks lay in wait, this time of a cultural nature. It was of course the joyous, patriotic celebration one would expect- except it was done Florida-style. Men and women with impractical amounts of muscle waving flags surrounded us, burger joints served super-sized versions of their already vast portions in honour of the occasion and Margaritas were being consumed like mineral water. It was quite a welcome.
After Miami, the tour took us via Universal Studios Orlando (where we went to see the queue for Harry Potter world), Clearwater (where we were reminded just in time not to ‘molest’ the ‘gators) and then to New Orleans, which coincided fortuitously with Jack (merchandising mogul) and Tom’s birthday. The spirit of the place was intoxicating, and we had a thoroughly brilliant evening diving in and out of the buzzing venues, before settling in America’s oldest bar- Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shoppe.
The dimly lit place, containing little more than a grand piano and a few tables, was the perfect setting for a drunken birthday sing-along featuring an impromptu medley from JC. It emerges that he is prepared to whip out a version of ‘Rocket Man’ when pushed, but the pushing must involve mild verbal abuse and a considerable tip.
As always, playing music most nights has been brilliant for keeping us sane; the gigs have felt like moments of familiarity, a creature comfort in an ever-changing environment. Part of the beauty of touring an unfamiliar place is having to fit in with your surroundings. But touring the south of America is different; it forces you to get involved. One morning in a ‘Waffle House’, tour manager Danny, in his best English, gingerly leaned over the grill from his seat and enquired, ” Excuse me, but would it be possible to have English muffins with my eggs, please?”.
The reply from the portly lady monitoring the sausage patties was uttered without hesitation…
It was as if to say, “We got two breakfast options down here- take it… or leave it.”
The South is a place where life is lead in a direct, simple way with hospitality that we haven’t experienced elsewhere. The mosquitoes, searing heat and heartburn from chicken fried chicken* are difficultthings for a bunch of pastey Englishmen to face. But we’ve been intoxicated and swept up by it all, and that’s the beauty of the place.
*We also endured endless, painful renditions of “Is This The Way To Amarillo?” on our day off IN Amarillo… but admittedly, that was self-inflicted.
Originally posted on Jamie Cullum’s website.