The experience of touring encompasses all kinds of scales and shades of difference, not the least in terms of scale being defined by where in the world the tour is taking place. Our recently concluded tour leg in France took us through the typically French experience of a succession of purpose-built rock/pop/show concert halls, mostly excellent buildings almost all of which are situated well away from the centres of population whose names they bear... thus, for example, I've played on tour in the famous old Norman city of Rouen several times now without ever having seen anything of it other than the venue itself and a nearby bit of city bypass. Work touring in France is not at all like being a tourist.
It's a different matter in the UK. Here, most venues, even the large arenas, are pretty much embedded in the town and city centres. This can make UK touring horrendously difficult in terms of vital matters like loading gear in/out and parking trucks and buses – make no mistake, for our crew the UK shows are often challenging. To those band members who tend to get up early without necessarily having any significant work to do until the late afternoon soundcheck, though, they have offered, over the years, plenty of opportunity to become familiar with the shopping and walking facilities available in lots of towns.
For myself and Jason, both dedicated bookworms, this definitely includes knowing where to find a good second-hand bookshop!
Carlisle – The Vertumnus Coincidence
The Sands Centre in Carlisle is a fine 1980s leisure centre which includes a large and decent-sounding concert room. What it doesn't have – and, to be fair, what it won't need most of the year round – is backstage facilities able to accommodate in comfort a 30-piece touring organisation, so a Carlisle gig for me means a quick breakfast, wash and shave followed by a several hour long visit to Bookcase, one of the finest second-hand bookshops still to be found in the north-west of England.
The following two photos will give you some idea of the kind of place where I can be very happy for most of a day, if that's all I have... most of a few days would be good some time!
This time around I was looking for just a few specific books. The days when I might have scooped up a suitcase-full of books then lugged its weight around for the rest of the tour have passed: e-readers and tablet apps have made life so much easier for the touring bookworm than it used to be! Still, I think most book fans will agree that the physical aspect of reading is a big part of the experience – the weight, the feel of the paper, the turning of the page by hand – so a second-hand bookshop hasn't become just a place for a happy browse, even if I'm now very selective about my purchases.
The first thing I picked up and began to carry around with me for eventual purchase was a copy of an out of print paperback collection of works by the late 16th century author Thomas Nashe. I love Nashe's style, a passionate outpouring of words, often made up ones, which seems more like the work of a virtuosic improvising musician than that of a writer of prosody... and while I have lots of his work in PDF it's not so easy to savour it as it deserves when you're constantly scanning around and zooming in and out the page (if anyone knows of an e-reader app which can really handle PDF files comfortably, please let me know!), so a selection on paper was too tempting to pass up.
A while later (after having bumped into Jason somewhere on the second floor of this sprawling four-floor wonderland – for us to meet by surprise in a second-hand bookshop is actually more the norm than a surprise!), I was looking through the Mythology section when I spotted an old Hamlyn guide to world mythology which I recalled scanning avidly in the local library as a child. Whatever happned to Paul Hamlyn Publishing? They used to be all over the place in the 1960s and 1970s, then vanished without a trace... but I digress. (Yes, you do. Get on with it. -Ed.) While I didn't want to pick this volume up – it was far too big and heavy for me to want to lug it around for the next two months – I did pause to look through it for a particular reproduction of a painting which had struck me greatly all those decades ago, but without my being able to recall the name of the painting or that of the artist. I found it easily enough, jotted down the name of the artist on a scrap of paper then moved on. Here's a public domain scan of it, “Pomona and Vertumnus”, by Francesco Melzi (c. 1491-1570).
Now, I'd be lying if I denied that as an 8 or 9 year old I was struck by a painting of a woman with a naked breast – back when I was that age fine art, and occasionally classical LP covers, was the only way of viewing that kind of thing, Rupert Murdoch having not yet devised Page 3. But, honest, cross my heart and hope to die, scout's honour (is this convincing?) (No. -Ed.) I was also fascinated by the background. The foreground detail, in other words the main subject, of Melzi's painting, is all Renaissance realism in the manner of Leonardo Da Vinci – hardly surprisingly, since Melzi was Leonardo's disciple and, after his death, executor – but the background of distant, detailed landscape is thoroughly mediaeval and, to me, endlessly enjoyable. What's going on in that mill below the bridge over the gorge by the waterfall? Or what appears to be a small town by the big triple-arched bridge over the river? Who lives there? What are their lives like? The adult, over-educated side of me thinks they're probably shepherds and shepherdesses, since despite the fact that Melzi's subject matter is a story from “Metamorphoses”, a poetic account of Roman mythology written by the poet Ovid in the 1st century A.D, his treatment of it sets it firmly in Arcadia, imaginary location of the Renaissance pastoral tradition derived from the eclogues of Theocritus and, in particular, Ovid's near contemporary Virgil. The little child in me thinks it'd be a really cool place to explore, and maybe get into a pipe-playing smackdown with a goatherd...
But what's all that about coincidence? Well, when I looked in the Hamlyn book, found this picture and learned that its subject matter was the Roman deities Vertumnus and Pomona, little did I know that I was carrying around with me a collection of Thomas Nashe's work containing the entertainment (it isn't quite a play) “Summer's Last Will And Testament”, in which one of the characters is Vertumnus! Although I'm sure that this was a coincidence and nothing more, it's an unlikely enough one for me to be a bit stunned by it. Vertumnus is a seriously obscure character, known to us only from the brief mention of him in Ovid's poem and a handful of old paintings depicting Ovid's story. The chances of my selecting a book (other than Ovid's!) in which, unknown to me, he appears as a literary figure, only minutes before searching out and locating a reproduction of a painting which I'd long ago forgotten was of him, have to be infinitesimal.
And that'll be one of my favourite things. As well as brown paper packages tied up with string, obviously!
Newcastle – The Great McGonagall Find
McGonagall as Macbeth
'Twas on the 24th day of February in the year of 2014,
A Monday, when I went out walking in Newcastle upon Tyne to see what sights were to be seen.
Opposite the ranks of buses parked outside the Haymarket bus station,
I found an Oxfam shop with a big selection of books, just my kind of location.
First I found there an early novel by Charles Bukowski, an American
Whose works our backing vocalist Lara Smiles likes to read whenever she can,
And then I made the greatest find of all,
A 1950 facsimile reprint of “Poetic Gems” by the 19th century Scottish poet William McGonagall!
McGonagall is often held to be the worst ever poet in the English language,
A judgement which would not, however, have caused him to choke on a sandwich
Or exhibit any other symptom of distress,
Because he was unshakably confident that his poetry was simply the best.
So now this little collection of his work is in my backpack on the tour bus,
And at least as far as Jason and I are concerned, we're sure it will give great delight to us.
McGonagall's trite sentiments, awful end rhymes, ignorance of scansion and weak vocabulary
Are sure to afford hours of amusement to a couple of bookworms such as we!