We join Canadian 7 piece folk band Slow Down, Molasses on their first UK tour, 'Tour into the Sea'. Their short 5-leg UK tour, documented in this tour diary, included performances at the revered festival End of The Road, The Northampton Labour Club, The Brixton Windmill, The Oxford Port Mahon and Ten Feet Tale in Cardiff.
Tuesday, August 30th
After red eye flights from Saskatoon, Calgary, and Toronto; Patrick, Chris and I meet up at the designated spot in Oxford, UK at the Port Mahon, the site of our show tonight. Being that we are stuck without cell phone coverage (due to the astronomical roaming charges we’d incur if we used our Canadian phones), we sit and wait hoping everyone made their flights and arrived safe. After a couple of hours and some confusion we collect our rental van and sort ourselves enough to make it to our first engagement of the tour, an instore at the Truck Store. Chris and Carl greet us and welcome us into their great little record shop. We play a nice, short, completely acoustic set for a small but appreciative crowd. Chris, from Truck Store, and I ramble on about our mutual appreciation of the Dirty Three and Mercury Rev. I’m very happy to be on this side of the Atlantic.
Chris and Jeanette wandering the streets of Oxford
From Truck Store we head back to Port Mahon, where the promoter and the other bands playing this evening are just starting to roll in. There is an hour and a half for sound check; unfortunately we take up almost that entire time. First-show-of-tour technical issues rear their ugly head as Patrick (guitar/banjo) and myself (Tyson – guitar) have no power to our pedals and Jeanette has mysterious power issues with her keyboard. After much frantic rearranging of gear and power supplies we have most of our pedals running and the opening band, the Cooling Pearls, were able to find a keyboard that Jeanette could borrow. Everything is close enough to functioning just in time to start the show.
Pindrop Promotions and Adventures Close to Home have pulled together a fantastic slate of local bands that prove to not only be great musicians, but wonderful people. Swindlestock starts of the night playing some classic Americana, before The Cooling Pearls hop on stage and impress the hell out of us their moody orchestral folk music. Finally The Graceful Slicks bring a whole of pile of psych-rock noise to the stage. It’s such a treat to get to share the stage with great bands.
The Cooling Pearls at Port Mahon in Oxford
Finally it’s time for us to take the stage. We rush to set up and hope and pray our gear issues are still sorted. Everything turns on and makes the noises they are supposed to and we tear into a raucous, desperate set. I don’t think anyone in the band has slept more than a few hours in the last 24 and it being the first full show of the tour there is some anxiety in the air. Thankfully everything comes together and the packed house responds fantastically and would have nothing to do with our finishing the set and walking off stage. We return for an encore before ending the night by chatting with locals and having drinks with the opening bands. It feels like a weird homecoming playing to such an appreciative crowd and having such wonderful hospitality from the promoters and local bands.
The Punt Sessions set up our Punt for some video recording
After a well-deserved sleep, we wake up only slightly jetlagged and confused about what time our bodies think it is. After a quick breakfast we head off to meet up with the fellows from Oxford Music Blog to record a Punt Session. Punt Sessions (http://www.puntsessions.com) is a new video series in the style of the black cab sessions, but features bands floating down the Oxford River in a Punt. We lazily drift along the river playing through 4 or 5 songs, much to the delight of people out for a walk. Between the jetlag, the beautiful scenery and the realization that this band has worked well enough out to allow me to be hanging out thousands of kilometers from home with a bunch of my best friends, the Punt Session rests as one of the more surreal moments of tour.
The Punt Sessions – Oxford
From Oxford we hit the road to Northampton and our first encounter with the good folks of My First Tooth. A couple years ago, back when Myspace was still relevant, My First Tooth got in touch with us, insisting that we play together at some point. Finally two years later we’ve made to England and they’ve been kind enough to set up and open a show for us in their hometown of Northampton. We play at The Labour Club, a classic, tiny neighbourhood pub. After feasting on some wonderful homemade curry courtesy of our hosts, My First Tooth take the stage and proceed to charm the entire venue and leave every member of Slow down, Molasses smitten with their wonderful indie pop. We play a nice relaxed set, free from the technical issues that plagued us in Oxford. The Northampton crowd eats it up and stick around to chat and wish us well on the rest of our tour. Two shows in and I am amazed at the way people have been responding to our set. We’ve done well enough in Canada, but the genuine enthusiasm and appreciation our sets have been met with here is such an incredible treat. We end the night with more drinks and banter with the My First Tooth gang before collapsing into a nice hazy sleep.
The Labour Club in Northampton
In Canada it is illegal to drink alcohol in the streets….as such we made sure to indulge with many pre-show drinks outside in the sun.
My First Tooth at The Labour Club in Northampton
En route to Cardiff, Wales
Waking up nicely hungover and maybe regretting some of My First Tooth’s wonderful hospitality, we pile in the van to make a mad dash for Cardiff, Wales. The Waiting Room, a radio show based in Cardiff, had been playing us earlier this summer and was kind of enough to invite us to record a session while we are there. We pile into Cardiff Music Studios and get set up as Chris from The Waiting Room tells us stories of past bands that have recorded here. After some technical issues we run through 5 of our songs and a cover of Palace Music’s “New Partner”. It’s such a great thing to get to record these songs with their current live arrangements. Every tour we inevitably have a slightly different line up and even with our full line-up back home we will never play the songs exactly as they were recorded with the layers of instruments we used in the studio.
From the studio we head straight for the venue, Ten Feet Tall, located right in the heart of town. It’s lovely place with a welcoming staff and due to it being located right in the middle of Cardiff, we get a chance to wander a bit around the town center. A small welcoming crowd turns up and we play a reasonable set before the venue turns into a dance club and Chris (bassist) charms the locals with his dance moves. We head back to The Waiting Room headquarters to enjoy a few more drinks with Chris (The Waiting Room) and the Albatross Archive folks (the opening band for the night). Chris is one of those people that make the lives of touring bands a million times more comfortable. He has a wonderful attic filed with beds and couches that have played host to innumerable musicians touring through Cardiff. Without people like Chris, I am sure many bands would come to premature endings after being on the road and sleeping in shoddy, cheap hotels or on dodgy apartment floors.
After three days with 4 shows, a radio session and video session, it’s our first day off and the first official day of End of the Road Festival. We don’t play until Sunday, but after hearing enough of our friends rave about how great the festival is and seeing the amazing line up that they have put together we’ve opted to arrive a couple days early to take in the festival. Our first night at the festival does nothing to dispel the rumors of End of the Road being one of the best festivals around. We arrive just in time to see tUnE-YarDs play an incredible set and catch sets from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The Walkmen, Beirut, Lykki Li and The Fall before wandering through the magical woods filled with art installations, secret stages, a library, games and a woodland dance floor complete with a pirate ship shaped DJ booth.
The enchanted woods at End of the Road Festival
Ping Pong in the woods at End of the Road Festival
The second day of the festival mirrors day one with amazing set after amazing set, but this time with a significant increase in Canadian content. We run into our friends Timber Timbre, Dan Mangan and Austra. Each of them play fantastic sets to huge, appreciative crowds. It’s so great to see people you’ve seen play tiny sets in houses or half empty bars finally playing to the big enthusiastic crowds that they deserve. All three of these bands deserve to play to crowds like the End of the Road crowd every night of their tours. If you haven’t checked them out either live or on record, do yourself a favour and track them down. Austra in particular delivered an amazingly devastating set of their dark electro rock. The night ends with a massive set by Mogwai on the main stage. I’ve listened to this band for easily 15 years and have seen them a couple times and it never ceases to amaze me how great of live band they are and tonight’s set was one of the finest you could hope to see.
Timber Timbre at End of the Road Festival
Ryan makes friends with the local Peacocks at End of the Road
After how great everyone we saw play yesterday, the realization we have two shows to play is a bit daunting. Everyone’s nerves are showing a bit, but things settle down as we get on the big stage and are welcomed by some nice cheers from the gathered crowd. It’s always a funny thing playing to a new crowd in a new place that we’ve never played. You never know what to expect. We had gotten a few messages from people saying how excited they were to see us at End of the Road and have received some glowing reviews in the UK press. Despite this, this show is still a wonderful surprise. With the big stage and the warm reception, everyone in the band is fine form, and we play one of our more energetic shows of the tour. Song introductions are met with knowing cheers and we finish our set to a great round of applause and a line up people waiting to buy records. It’s such a treat playing to such a receptive, appreciative crowd. I think we actually managed to sell more records in the ten minutes after our set than we did at our hometown album release show earlier this year…and we did well at our album release.
Dressing rooms schedule for our stage at End of the Road…..two Slow down, Molasses sets, 12 hours apart.
After a quick moment to catch our breath and see Kathryn Calder play, we grab some acoustic instruments and make our way to the piano stage. The piano stage is one of the many wonderful things about End of the Road. It’s a miniature stage with a piano set up to look like a living room and hidden away in the woods and it features unannounced sets by various bands playing the festival throughout the weekend. We start playing our set to the few people sitting around the area and within minutes people start to appear out of the woods and we get to play a completely acoustic set to another great crowd.
Mid-afternoon acoustic jams at the Piano Stage
With the acoustic set out of the way, we have 8 hours to relax and enjoy the festival before we play our final set. We disperse and check out great sets by Josh T Pearson, Big Deal and Midlake. Finally it’s gets dark and Joanna Newsom wrapping up her set and we head back the Tipi Stage to prepare for our last set. The festival organizers had asked us to play a secret set to finish off the festival in the Tipi Stage at 1:45 am. These secret sets are another hallmark of End of the Road. Every night the music officially ends at 12:00, but there are unannounced sets usually involving one-off collaborations or covers sets. As a result of this we are the absolute last band of the festival, playing after festival regulars Brakes. We put together a set of some of our favorite covers including songs by Neutral Milk Hotel, My Blood Valentine, the Mojave 3 and Julie Doiron and play a raging set to the last people standing and then spend some quality time celebrating the success of the festival with some of the volunteers and stage managers.
September 5 – London, Brixton
We wake up nice and early and bid farewell to End of the Road. I really can’t say enough good things about this festival. I certainly hope to be back some day whether it be playing or just watching all the great music they bring together. Tonight we play London, but first we have to make our one tourist stop of the trip – STONEHENGE - we stop by the monolithic rocks and listen to the stories of aliens and druids before taking the requisite Stonehenge band photo and continuing on to London.
Over the weekend at End of the Road people would ask where we are playing in London and I’d say the Windmill in Brixton and inevitably every person would get excited and tell me to say hi to venue proprietor Tim Perry. We arrive and as expected it’s a great, welcoming dive of a bar. A perfect place for a shambolic rock ‘n’ roll show and great place to end our tour. Tim lives up to his reputation of being one of the nicest guys in music and the crowd is welcoming and appreciative. We launch into an energetic set on the small stage and everything seems a bit chaotic but it seems to be working out. Unfortunately about 3/4’s of the way through the set things start getting a bit sketchy with our gear. The drum kit seems to fall apart a bit more every song and my amp seems ready to tumble. We tear through our cover of My Bloody Valentine’s When You Sleep, which results in some broken strings. Mat Gibson (the wonderful opener for the night) is kind enough to lend his guitar and we manage one last electric song before everything seems quite ready to fall apart. After a quick onstage band meeting we decide to walk off stage with acoustic instruments in hand and finish the set in the middle of the bar singing our hearts out with a cover Will Oldham’s New Partner and our rarely played song Walk Into The Sea. Despite the technical difficulties, I couldn’t think of a better way to end the tour. It’s rare that we get to play some of our quieter songs, especially when playing in bars, but The Windmill proved to be as welcoming as we were told and the crowd indulged us with absolute silence as we finished our set. A huge thank you to Tim and everyone who was at the Windmill on Sept. 5th.
With all our shows completed, we head our separate ways, spreading out over a few friends flats in London before reconvening for a long flight home and inevitable return to day jobs and many evenings planning our new album and future tours. Thanks to everyone who was involved in helping us make this tour happen. Hopefully we will see you all again next summer.
Slow down, Molasses – UK 2011