The day the horse left the stable (aka Ryan Adams @ The Sage, Gateshead)


When I left Dublin towards the end of last week with the realisation in mind that I hadn’t engaged in a single conversation with another person I couldn’t have expected that by the end of my brief stay in Glasgow on Saturday I would have experienced a deluge of vocal interactions.  I talked to exactly as many people as Celtic scored goals against Ross County:  four.

I had hoped that my recent twenty-two hours in Belfast would have given me a greater capacity for understanding the accent of the Northern Irishman who sits two seats along from me at Celtic Park.  In the past I have found myself nodding along to his every utterance, trusting that he hasn’t been saying anything contentious that I’ve inadvertantly agreed with because I can understand only every seventh word he says.  I took my seat a few minutes before kick-off, sharing a nod of acknowledgment with the older gentleman as I passed him.  After some moments of silence he reached across the two empty seats between us and tapped me on the arm.  I turned my head in his direction and felt an anticipation I have rarely felt when waiting to hear what a man is going to say about a game of football.  This would be my moment of truth, the first test of my newly discovered understanding of the Northern Irish accent.  He said something about Moussa Dembele – that much I know – but I will never know what, for his accent remained almost completely indistinguishable to my ears.  I nodded and smiled.  It’s good to see him back.  I took a wild assumption that he wasn’t complaining about Dembele returning to the team from injury.

This scene was to be repeated often over the course of the afternoon:  him stretching across the empty green seats, his bulky hand crashing against my forearm with a force that would probably crush a grape if I was in the habit of keeping them in the sleeve of my jacket, me taking my eyes off the game to face him and eventually nod in acceptance of whatever opinion he was offering.  I began to wonder if his increasing act of striking my arm was in some way a recognition of my inability to understand his words and he was urging me to try harder.  You better understand what I’m saying to you or I’m going to keep hitting you.  In that event I had better bring padding to the next game.


As is usually the case the half-time break afforded me with an opportunity to escape my translation issues for at least fifteen minutes and I took my place in the queue for a pie.  For a change the food stall experience was relatively unchallenging and I got the pie I wanted with minimum fuss.  The real task at Celtic Park these days is finding brown sauce.  I ventured to no less than three condiment stations in search of the savoury accompaniment and found nothing but tomato sauce and sachet upon sachet of salt and pepper.  I wondered of what use pepper is to anyone eating the standard pie, chips or even pizza.  No wonder there is so much pepper; nobody needs it!  I cannot think of a single food on offer at Celtic Park that would be enhanced by a sprinkling of pepper, whereas a pie practically demands brown sauce.  I could tell that the search was once again forlorn and the pie was beginning to burn my hand – which at least reassured me that it was hot – and I resigned myself to a pie without brown sauce.
That evening I would find myself sitting at the bar in the Travelodge prior to meeting my friend with the pink hair, my arm suitably recovered from the football to hold a pint of beer.  My thoughts were lost in the blandness of the setting:  the decor which was more beige than beige, the mundane pop music filtering from a speaker over an otherwise empty room, the subtitled BBC News 24 on a television in the corner, an offering of Stella Artois or Bud Light on tap.  A curly-haired blonde barmaid appeared behind the bar as I was nursing a cold pint of soulless beer, looking entirely different to the balding middle-aged man who had poured me the pint minutes earlier.  

“What brings you to Glasgow?” I heard her say, and I automatically assumed that she was speaking to another guest, even though I knew I was the only person who would be drinking at eight o’clock in a Travelodge bar.  I looked up from my glass and, sure enough, she was looking in my direction.  My natural instinct is to answer such a question with a response along the lines of “the train”, but since this promised to be my first actual conversation with another person since I left Oban on Monday morning I decided that I would try to not fuck it up by being myself.  I assumed the unfamiliar role of a normal person and responded by telling her all about my trip seeing Ryan Adams perform seven gigs in six cities in four different countries, adding the usual caveat about him not being the Canadian rocker with the letter ‘B’ in front of his name.  This story remarkably did not cause her to lose interest and she continued to talk to me.  We discussed the iPod she received as a gift last Christmas but has not yet used and I noted how they are coming back into fashion like the vinyl record player, even though I have no idea how true that is.  We touched upon the way that Google Maps has taken all the fun and adventure out of getting lost in a city – a conversation I am certain I had in Belfast – and she told me all about her equestrian studies and her hopes to eventually earn a living preparing horses for shows.  She clearly enjoyed talking about horses and so I indulged her, and she talked and talked and talked — until eventually I asked what certainly ranks amongst the most stupid questions I have asked a girl.

Is there a drink riding limit the same way there’s a drink driving limit?”

I don’t know why I wanted to know the answer to that question, and quite naturally it seemed to be something that had never occurred to the barmaid.  She did her best to try to formulate some kind of response but it was evidently a subject that was yet to be covered in her equine lectures.  I left the Travelodge bar to meet my friend with the pink hair and I couldn’t help but sense that my interaction with the barmaid would have ended better had I not introduced the idea of riding her beloved horses whilst intoxicated.  I suppose it could have been worse and I might have suggested getting the horses drunk prior to dressage.  This was all on my mind when I entered Variety and considered the etiquette of sitting at a booth when your friend has already arrived.  Is it appropriate to sit on the cushioned area next to them or is it more polite to sit across the table from them?  I bought a beer and sat on what appeared to be a miniature representation of a stool which, upon glancing around the bar, seemed to make most other men who were sitting on similar stools look like giants.  I suspected that to them I would look like I was afraid to sit next to a girl.


I returned to my hotel some hours later and, safe in the knowledge that the equestrian student had finished her shift at eleven o’clock, I headed to the bar for a nightcap.  This seemed a particularly questionable decision considering that I was scheduled to be getting on a train to Newcastle little more than seven hours later, but there reaches a point in any night when drinking Jack Daniels that any decision can easily be justified.  I found myself in conversation with another talkative barmaid and I can remember querying the spelling of her name on her badge; ‘Kaitlynn’.  I suggested that the second ‘n’ seemed unnecessary and I think she broadly agreed and blamed the whole scenario on her parents, which seemed reasonable considering she probably had minimal input in the discussion.  I asked her when they stopped serving at the bar and she informed me that 2am is the cut off, though they will sometimes continue to sell alcohol if it is busy and the guests aren’t too drunk.  I was the only person at the bar and my watch clearly stated that it was about five minutes past two.  Out of ten, how drunk am I?  I asked, hopeful of enjoying at least one more Jack Daniels.  “You’re definitely an eight out of ten.”  I accepted this score without dispute and suggested that we still have two points to play with, so she poured me another Jack Daniels and the 09.30 train to Newcastle was a hellish experience.

Conversation returned to being found at a premium in Newcastle, though I was able to share in the thrill one barmaid had in being handed her first plastic £10 note when I caught sight of her photographing it before putting it in the till.  I questioned whether she was some kind of currency enthusiast – perhaps hoping that she could help me identify some of the coins in my wallet.  She explained that she had not seen the new £10 note until being handed it by another customer now and I asked if it is the one with the face of Jane Austen on it.  She didn’t know and handed the note over to me to examine.  I realised that I don’t know what Jane Austen looks like but didn’t want to admit this to the barmaid.  Oh yeah, that’s the one with Jane Austen on it alright.  I noted that the plastic money is supposed to be practically indestructible but she claimed that she can tear the £5 notes.  How?  “You just have to keep trying…they’ll tear eventually.”   I felt both impressed and suitably threatened.


Ryan’s set at The Sage was another unique occasion on this tour.  He was feeling sick and therefore was “low energy” which seemed to contribute to the set being at least a couple of songs shorter than previous nights and to him indulging the audience – which was entirely seated – in far more inter song banter than elsewhere.  He acknowledged early in the night the awkward nature of playing a rock show to a seated crowd, and it was certainly a strange experience.  His humour added a different dimension to the show compared to the rest of the tour, and his theory that the couple he spotted leaving on an upper tier were “probably away to make out while listening to KISS — though hopefully pre-1982 KISS” was joyful.  That he and the band played Tired Of Giving Up – one of my favourite songs from his eponymous album – for the very first time anywhere made this a memorable night.

Bars visited:
The Raven – 81-85 Renfield Street, Glasgow
Variety – 401 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow
Nice N Sleazy – 421 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow
The Union Rooms – 48 Westgate Road, Newcastle
Bacchus – 42-48 High Bridge, Newcastle
The Bridge Tavern – 7 Akenside Hill, Newcastle
The Head of Steam – 11-17 Broad Chare, Newcastle

Next stop:
O2 Academy, Bournemouth – Tuesday 19th September

Final scores:
Celtic 4-0 Ross County
JJ 0-6 Ryan Adams gigs

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The night I ate dinner (aka Ryan Adams @ Usher Hall, Edinburgh)


It occurred to me as I was leafing through the menu at The Beer Kitchen on Edinburgh’s Lothian Road that I would shortly be eating my first proper dinner of the week – assuming that regular people still aren’t considering a cup of dry roasted nuts a proper meal.  It’s not that I have been avoiding food:  I have eaten the occasional portion of chips at a couple of bars, and I did once enjoy a delicious breakfast at the Art Cafe in Dublin.  It’s just that generous servings of food aren’t really compatible with pre-gig drinking.  That is to say that I often forget to eat.

I have been wanting to dine at the Innis & Gunn owned Beer Kitchen for some time and made a point of remembering to eat on this night of the tour, given that the restaurant is but a stone’s throw away from Usher Hall if you have a really strong arm and a precise aim.  I would consider it to be a stone’s throw followed by a few paces.  I had made a reservation for 7.30 and in keeping with that I was directed to a table in the corner where I was seated as the hostess began to clear away the second place setting in a manner which was considerably more emphatic than I would have hoped.

I sat with the palm of my hand drumming on my knee under the table – not to any particular beat or rhythm, I just didn’t know what else to do with my hand as this table for two was transformed into a table for a single person.  The hostess gathered up the side plate, the cutlery and the empty water glass in a fashion which suggested she had done this before.  Then a knife fell from the side plate in her arms and clattered against the table, making what was surely the loudest sound ever to have been made in that particular restaurant, certainly, and perhaps anywhere ever.  It felt like every eye in the place darted towards my table.  Why couldn’t she just leave the cutlery where it was?  At least that way people might assume that I am waiting for someone:  a friend, a date, even a Tinder date.  I appear anxious enough for that.


She muttered an apology and once again picked up the knife.  She asked me if I would like a glass of water and I intimated that a pint of beer would be fine.  Even if she had left the place setting as it was so that I could look over at it longingly every so often, then at my watch, and then again at the lone place setting, as though I had been stood up.  At least then I might get sympathetic stares rather than glances of pity.  I wait for my beer to arrive and consider resting my denim jacket over the empty chair opposite me so that it might appear that I am anticipating company returning from the bathroom, but I quickly realise that ruse would be quite ridiculous when I am still waiting an hour later without a hint of concern on my face as to why my company still hasn’t made it back to the table.  Has she done a runner on him?  People would naturally think.  I wonder what he said to make her lock herself in the toilet for more than an hour?  I bet he made some really laboured play on words and he was on his final warning for it.  They would speculate in hushed tones.  He probably listens to Ryan Adams.

A pint of Innis & Gunn promptly arrived at my table and I ordered some food as a small tealight candle flickered like a beacon drawing attention to the fact that a single man was sitting and dining by himself.  I pulled my notebook and pen out from my pocket and placed it on the table next to my right hand, as though to suggest to anyone happening to notice that I could at any moment open it up and write some words of world-changing significance, rather than the reality of it being some pun I had thought of.


The Ryan Adams set proved to be a unique night on this tour when his pedal board malfunctioned after three songs and he suddenly decided to ad-lib a mini acoustic set of five songs while engineers desperately tried to solve the technical difficulties.  That he was able to do this off the cuff and to such a high standard was most impressive and it allowed the Edinburgh audience to hear what will surely be the only performances on this tour of Ashes & Fire and Jacksonville Skyline, which was worth the price of admission alone.

Bars visited:
The Advocate – 7 Hunter Square
Brewdog – 143 Cowgate
Shakespeare – 65 Lothian Road
The Beer Kitchen – 81-83 Lothian Road

Next stop:
The Sage, Gateshead – Sunday 17th September

The day my flight was delayed (aka Ryan Adams @ O2 Apollo, Manchester)


I had done everything right in my preparation for flying out of Dublin on Thursday afternoon.  Following on from my security faux pas when travelling to the north of Ireland the previous week I ensured that my socks were fully functional in keeping my toes covered and that I removed all illicit items from my possession prior to going through security.  I timed my departure so that I would reach the airport just short of the two hours they recommend, because nobody ever truly needs two hours in an airport lounge.  I was cleared through security leaving exactly the right amount of time to order a Guinness at the bar.  I wasn’t drinking Guinness out of any great love for the beer – though it is abundantly true that it tastes superior in Ireland – but moreso because I knew that it would take longer for the barman to pour and so would assist me in wasting a little more time before boarding my flight.  Everything was going as smoothly as the rich, creamy head which had settled on the peak of my pint.  There was even a surprising and pleasing absence of a hangover from the previous night.

My last night in Dublin felt like an exercise in solitude.  There was no Ryan Adams gig after his two exemplary nights at the Olympia Theatre and as a result I found myself chasing the ghosts of past experiences and emotions.  I booked myself onto the literary pub crawl I had so enjoyed the last time I was in Dublin, partly because I had ended up so drunk on that occasion that I couldn’t remember much of what was discussed, but mainly because I ended that night in the company of three women from Boston and I was hoping that my luck would repeat itself – and indeed better itself –  this time around.  I spent a considerable part of Wednesday afternoon revisiting some of my favourite bars in the city, in complete contradiction of my vow to not drink before four o’clock.  Though I felt greatly vindicated by this decision when a tremendous rain shower pounded the streets no later than around three o’clock, a sight which I enjoyed with smug interest from a barstool in Brew Dock as hapless pedestrians sprinted by seeking shelter, like the Rolling Stones song.

The rain subsided and I sauntered along to the Black Sheep on Capel Street, where my confident attempt at ordering my favourite IPA on this trip – Full Sail by Galway Bay Brewery – was halted by me both forgetting its name and having my attention stolen mid-sentence by a glimpse of a grisly feature on the ceiling above the bar.  How many flies are up there?  I pondered as the barmaid presumably began to consider that I might be some sort of incompetent.  I didn’t know they still made flypaper.  What kind of fly would choose the sweet fragrance of sticky killer paper over the sweet intoxication of the killer drip tray under the beer taps?  The barmaid looked at me as though I was someone who had completely forgotten why I was there; which I was.  What’s the name of that IPA?  I eventually asked as I looked down and to my right and saw it looking back at me.  She poured me a pint of Full Sail and I considered whether or not it would be appropriate to ask her about the fly paper.  It almost certainly could not be translated as being some kind of a crude pick-up line and she would surely see it as the genuine human curiosity that it is.  I settled into my barstool as she continued her duties and I stared up at the fly cemetery which was not entirely dissimilar to some of the exhibits I had seen at the Museum of Archaeology the other day.  I’ve heard about flies on sheep, but flies in the Black Sheep?  I began to count the number of flies on the paper and the barmaid cannot fail to have noticed my interest in the ceiling.  Eighteen, I counted.  Though some of them are quite close together.  It could be twenty.  I glanced around the bar to ascertain whether anybody else had taken such a morbid interest in this memorial.  It was just me.  How many flies do they want to catch before somebody takes it down?  Is it there as a warning to other flies?  I decided that the barmaid wouldn’t have any interest in answering these questions and so finished my pint and left.


Suitably lubricated, I went to the Duke Pub for the literary pub crawl in good spirits and with high hopes.  The tour was busier, perhaps even busier than when I first went on the crawl seven weeks earlier.  There were various different groups of people swarming around the tables and none of them immediately offered any encouragement that the wonderful night I previously enjoyed would be repeated.  There were Americans, of course, but they were older and much too dignified to enjoy the drinking aspect of a literary pub crawl.  And there were Germans who appeared intelligent enough to recognise that talking to me would only result in awkward issues of translation – them speaking fluent English and me talking some drunken, mangled form of English.  I drank alone for the duration of the tour, learning far more about Irish literature than I could ever care to know whilst indulging in my own self-defeat.  At one bar I ordered a single Jameson as I sought to rekindle some of the memories of that last night.  I handed over €4, believing that  to be what the barman asked for.  “You’ve only given me €4,” he noted.  “How much is it?” I asked with some trepidation.  “€8.50,” came the response.  I wondered how much I had spent drinking doubles in July.

There was little evidence of a hangover as I approached the gate for my 13.50 flight to Manchester.  I had finally mastered the timing of travelling by air.  I began to consider all the things I would do with my time when I arrived in Manchester when it was announced that the flight would be delayed by an hour.  I stared at my shoes for a while and then back up at the board, hoping that they might have realised that they had made a mistake and removed the red text stating that the plane would be “delayed until 14.50.”  They hadn’t.  People began to leave the boarding line in search of food or simply a more comfortable place to wait for an hour.  I was reluctant and unwilling to give up what I felt was a pretty good spot in the queue, knowing that I could get on board early enough to fit my bag into the overhead locker and be able to reach my window seat without having to suffer those arduous few moments waiting for the two people already sitting there to puff their cheeks and stand up to allow me in.

I glanced around the gate and considered whether it would be worthwhile giving up my fortuitous position in the boarding queue to go and sit next to a young lady who appeared both alone and alluring.  I thought about how I struggle to even start a conversation with the person next to me on the plane and imagined it would be significantly more awkward if I ignored scores of empty seats around the lounge to sit beside this sultry solo traveller.  How does THAT conversation start??  I concluded that with the enhanced security around airports these days it would be preferable for me not to be the source of some tense scene, and I realised that I was leaving Dublin without having talked to a single person.

My flight eventually arrived into Manchester approximately 102 minutes later than scheduled and I decided to forgo styling my hair into an acceptable appearance in favour heading to the bar closest to my hotel near Piccadilly Station.  It was here that I encountered further farce with my currency as the more familiar Sterling coins became mixed with some rogue Euros which I had forgotten were still in my wallet.  I fumbled blindly with my fingers and hoped for the best, the coins being offered an insight into my romantic techniques, until I was finally successful in paying for my beer.  This scene would be repeated often over the course of three hours, even when my favoured Shindigger IPA ran dry and I was forced to scramble for an alternative.  What would you recommend?  I asked the barmaid, more in the manner of hoping to appease her disappointment at disappointing me than anything else, because no matter what else you drink it is never the same as the beer you really wanted.  


Even with the curtailed drinking hours prior to the gig I felt myself a little unsure of which way I should be walking when I left the O2 Apollo afterwards.  I knew it wasn’t a particularly challenging route and that the venue wasn’t far from my hotel, because I had walked it without hesitation no more than two hours earlier, but I felt uncertainty as I surveyed Stockport Road.  After some hesitation I decided that I would  simply follow the cars travelling in the direction away from the venue, because surely they must know where they’re going.  It proved to be a logical logistical solution and within fifteen minutes I was standing at the hotel bar wondering why, in a certain light, the boots I believed to be black now appear to be blue.  Maybe blue or navy blue?  I pondered this over an expensively poured Jameson and wondered how this establishment deals with their flies.

 

Bars visited:
The Duke – 9 Duke Street (Dublin Literary Pub Crawl)
O’Neill’s – 2 Suffolk Street (Dublin Literary Pub Crawl)
The International Bar – 23 Wicklow Street (Dublin Literary Pub Crawl)
Davy Byrnes – 21 Duke Street (Dublin Literary Pub Crawl)
Piccadilly Tap – Piccadilly Station approach
Motel One – hotel bar

Next stop:
Usher Hall, Edinburgh – tonight

The day I realised that I don’t want my bones to go on display in a museum (aka Ryan Adams, two nights @ The Olympia Theatre, Dublin)


It has been nigh upon seven weeks since my last visit to Dublin, a trip which left me with a warm familiarity with the city and the things that are possible here.  Of all the stops on my manic journey to see Ryan Adams perform seven times in twelve days it was probably the three nights in the Irish capital that I was most looking forward to.  There were bars I wanted to drink in again and places I wanted to see between the two performances at the elegant old Olympia Theatre.  So it was perhaps a little disconcerting to find that staying in a slightly different part of the city from my previous two visits would completely throw off all my bearings and cause me to lose all familiarity with the place.  I felt like a baby who is learning to walk, finding myself wandering across bridges without knowing it and down unidentifiable cobbled lanes, leading me to places I had no idea of.  And it was even worse when I was sober.

I have developed this remarkable knack – in cities and in life – of having no discernible idea of where I am going but yet still finding my way to where I need to be.  Part of the trick to this in a city is to pinpoint a landmark or a memorable place of interest in your mind, so that when you see it you know that you are on the right track.  Mine was a brightly coloured building on the opposite side of the River Liffey from the Custom House building which in the map of my mind appeared to resemble a gay jigsaw puzzle.  The Spire also proved particularly useful for this purpose.  On my first two trips to Dublin I could not see the point of the Spire, and I thought that was a pretty good joke as well as a pertinent observation, but it turns out that the tall phallic landmark does have a very good and important purpose:  it is essentially a 4million homing device for drunks.  Because at night, when the sky turns dark (or at least darker than during the grey, rainy day) the point of the Spire will glow, helping even the most inebriated of people to see it from almost anywhere – and when you see the Spire you know where to find O’Connell Street, from where you can find your way home.

The point of the Spire tells me exactly which way I should be going


I wanted to use my time in Dublin differently from when I was last here.  That is to say I wanted to stay out of the bars until at least four o’clock.  This was partly out of a seemingly noble sense of actually wanting to do something useful and also because, at a minimum of £6 for a pint of beer, I would otherwise have to re-consider my 100 daily food and drink budget.  I was successful in achieving this exactly one-third of the time, and on Tuesday I embarked on a three-hour walking tour of the city and followed that up with a wander around the National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology, having been told that they had on display 2,000-year-old human sacrifices and thinking that would be a cheerful way of spending an afternoon before a Ryan Adams gig.  

Observing the well-preserved religious artefacts from Celtic Ireland along with the books and the tools from Medieval Ireland was an interesting and thought-provoking way to pass a couple of hours before heading to the bar.  I thought about the type of museums people would be visiting a hundred years from now and what kind of displays they might have.  There probably won’t be physical museums, as such, and we’ll only have to push a button on the microchip implanted in our wrists to bring up a virtual reality vision of a ‘museum’ in our minds.  Instead of books and important religious documents they’ll display kindles, and there will be iPhones from the age where we had to actually dial numbers or send emojis to communicate with another person.  There won’t be plaster cast representations of how a mummy might have looked, but instead you could swipe through an array of selfies.  And there will, of course, be digitally stored Tweets from the time when people used so many characters to express an opinion.  They might showcase a pen as a token joke exhibit and still nobody will make the suggested donation.


It was the room dedicated to the Vikings which really had a profound effect on me, though.  The very first display houses a skeleton from an excavation of an 11th Century site in Dublin and staring down into the glass case of this brutal warrior brought me to the realisation that, at the end of the day, we’re all really just a bag of bones with a very big fucking sword.  I looked into the hollow eyes of this Viking and decided there and then that I do not want my skeleton put on display in a museum.  The thought of tourists in the future standing around the exhibition of my skeletal being and criticising my bone structure filled me with dread.  I could hear them commenting on the state of my tibia and how “I’m surprised he managed to go as long as he did with femur like those.”  Women would question the need for preserving my penis when surely museums should only exhibit items of usefulness, and there would be a general consensus that “his ribs are surprisingly bony, considering…

The only natural place to go after viewing an exhibit of a skeleton is for lunch, particularly if for some reason my posthumous orders are to be defied and my bones will be put on display for ridicule.  I’d better get some more meat on those things.  Down the road from the archaeological museum is K.C. Peaches, one of those self-service canteen style restaurants.  It is the kind of place which encourages the most ridiculous food combinations a person can think of.  I scooped pork cheek marinated in red wine onto my plate, alongside a helping of spicy Malaysian chicken and lime with some white rice and peas and dropped on some cold Japanese noodles with celery.  I walked around this island of various hot and cold foods and simply piled everything I could onto my plate because it’s food and it’s available and you can.  There is no consideration for diet, taste or aesthetics.  So I took this plate of multiple ethnic cuisines to the counter where as I approached the young woman behind the desk remarked:  “That’s a large plate,” and I wasn’t sure whether she was making an observation or a judgment – she would have been correct either way – so I panicked and ordered a medium cup of coffee (what else would you drink with spicy Malaysian chicken?) in an effort to relieve the stress of the situation, hoping that she might recognise that even though my food order was large my drinks order was medium, so I can’t really be that much of a sloth.

It wasn’t just canteen style hostesses who I was struggling to communicate effectively with.  By Tuesday evening I had reached the point in my interactions with the various barmaids in town where the only banter I could engage was some arduous routine whereby I would empty all of the coins from my wallet, as though to imply that I couldn’t tell the different denominations of currency apart.  Of course, the more I tried this ‘bit’ the more I realised that I really couldn’t tell the coins apart.  Nevertheless, I would count through the coins in my hand, trying to make up the 6 whatever cost of a beer and I would apologise and say something like:  “Sorry, I’m struggling to make any cents (sense) out of this.”  Which was invariably met with stony silence each time, or occasionally a “don’t worry, take your time,” at which point my faux stupidity had been translated as actual stupidity.  One time I repeated the joke, hoping that I could make the North American barmaid laugh, or at least crack a vague impression of a smile in recognition at my attempt, but there was nothing and I would eventually just hand over a twenty and add to my collection of coins.  


Being that my decision not to drink at the concert in Belfast on Friday worked out pretty well in terms of remembering details of the gig, and indeed remembering actually being at the gig, I resolved that I would do the same in Dublin and conduct all of my libations before and after Ryan’s set.  I was pleased that I came to this decision, as the two nights at the grand Olympia Theatre are almost certainly the best I have seen him perform.  To date this tour seems to have found him in a very focussed place where he is intent on playing the best two hours of his life every night.  His band is great and the set lists have been perfect.  I counted seven changes from the first night to Tuesday’s show and on Monday he played Love is Hell – which he had performed for the first time this year in Cork on Saturday night and I had feared I might have missed it.

Night one at the Olympia Theatre – though Magnolia Mountain was replaced by Shakedown on 9th Street


My relative sobriety did come with a downside, however, and that was my increasing disdain for the couple standing in front of me.  Firstly I failed to understand why a couple would even go to a Ryan Adams show together, and this question weighed on my mind as I watched them dance along to lyrics like “anything I say to you now but goodbye is just a lie” and “you and I together, but only one of us in love.”  But not only did these people have the gall to be happy in a relationship – they (more so he) also had to record every other song and upload it immediately to their Instagram account.  They didn’t want just me wallowing in their happiness; the entire world had to.  I think the true source of my irritation was the fact that they were filming only the more recent material, indicating that they have perhaps only been fans since the last album or two.  Which is fine and I would actively encourage anybody to listen to ‘Ryan Adams’ and ‘Prisoner’ – but when he put his phone back into his pocket and left for the bar when Ryan started to play Dear Chicago that got on my goat.  If you’re going to insist on taking your partner to a Ryan Adams show, at least stick around for the most depressing and miserable song in his back catalogue.

Night two at the Olympia Theatre


Bars visited:
The Black Sheep – 61 Capel Street
The Porterhouse – 16-18 Parliament Street & also Temple Bar
Beer Market – 13 High Street
Brew Dock – 1 Amiens Street
J.W. Sweetman – 1-2 Burgh Quay
Bad Bob’s – somewhere in the Temple Bar
Bad Ass Cafe – somewhere in the Temple Bar

Next stop:
O2 Apollo, Manchester – Thursday 14th September

Twenty-two hours in Belfast (Ryan Adams @ Ulster Hall, Belfast)

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Overlooking Belfast, Cavehill was imagined by Johnathan Swift to resemble the face of a sleeping giant.


In my experiences I have found that there are many ways to see a city.  You can visit its museums and galleries and become immersed in its culture.  You can study its architecture and walk amongst its people for a flavour of the life.  Or you can spend twenty-two hours in a panic-striken haze of beer, excitement over seeing your favourite singer-songwriter and the anxiety of making an early flight home on Saturday morning in order to attend a wedding reception you had absent-mindedly double booked yourself for.  I chose the latter because I’m an idiot and that’s the sort of thing an idiot does.

Matters of timing aren’t the only way I know how to make a trip unnecessarily difficult for myself, and flying to Belfast proved more of an arduous affair than waking up for the return flight would be.  I was already running a little later than I had anticipated due to a hangover weighing me down in my bed and clouding my judgment, and all I could think about was how I could possibly make an 8.20 flight from Belfast the next morning when I am struggling to reach Glasgow Airport in time for a 9.15 departure.  I went through the process at security of transferring my liquids (but not all of my liquids, as I could still feel quite a bit of Budweiser in my system) and gels into the clear plastic bags they like these things to be kept in and I unbuckled my belt and placed all of this into the dim grey tray.  As I walked away towards the scanner I had the realisation that I had forgotten to take my phone out of my pocket and the watch from my wrist.  I stopped in my tracks, sighed and cursed my ineptitude and decided that as my tray was already gone I would carry on and walk through the scanner with these forbidden items upon my person.  What’s the worst that could happen?

The scanner immediately went off to alert everybody that I am some kind of idiot and without hesitation I handed over the contraband like a naive criminal who has been caught red-handed in his heinous deed.  I was certain that owning up to my mistake straight away would let the security officer see that I had recognised the items which had set off the scanner and we could both move on with our lives without further incident, but he frowned as I placed my phone and watch in his hand then asked that I take off my shoes.  I am unfamiliar with other people asking me to take items of clothing off my body and it was in this moment that I remembered that I wasn’t expecting anybody to be requesting the removal of clothes on this trip either, and more specifically I wasn’t expecting that anybody would be looking at my socks.  I contemplated suggesting that he should at least buy me a pint first, but he didn’t seem like the kind of man who would appreciate sarcasm in this situation and I was probably going to have to come to terms with the knowledge that my socks are not suitable for public viewing.

I tried to plead with him with my eyes, as though to say:  Please don’t make me take off my shoes.  I’ve already owned up to my crimes and you can quite clearly see that I’m just a hung over idiot.  My socks are the clothing representation of what it would look like if there was a gathering of every Pope from history and Mother Theresa and Bono – very holy.  But there was no way I could actually say those words without drawing further attention to my socks, so I silently untied my laces and removed my shoes one at a time.  First the right shoe, and I felt a pleasant relief when I saw that my black sock was fully intact.  Then I slipped off the left boot and handed it over to the officer.  This sock initially seemed fine too and I was feeling quite good about myself, until I was directed to stand on the spot where two painted footprints suggest I should be standing and I noticed that the fourth toe on my left foot was attempting to make a break for freedom from its cotton prison, just this little pink blob wanting to take advantage of the slight glimmer of light seen through a gap in the material big enough for a sneaky toe to bundle through if it really tried.  Then the security officer consulted the picture which has just been taken of my insides and he confirmed that I’m just some idiot who forgot to take off his watch and hand over his phone and I’m left standing in my socks, one of them with a small hole in it, waiting for at least two minutes for my belongings to appear on the conveyor.  Now there’ll be an attack.  This is when those bastards will hit Glasgow Airport — when I’m standing here wearing socks with holes in them!  And this is how my body will be discovered and I’ll forever be remembered as the man they found with a hole in his socks.  He couldn’t run away because he was wearing his socks, they’ll say, and what’s worse is that one of them had a hole in it and a little pink toe was poking through it!

The Harland and Wolff crane dominates the Belfast skyline


I arrived in Belfast on Friday morning with no firm idea of what I was going to do before the Ryan Adams concert that evening – a feeling I am familiar with most days of my life.  I have prepared a Google Document outlining at least three pretentious hipster craft beer bars I would like to experience in each of the places I will be visiting during this Ryan Adams tour (eight towns and cities, seven gigs) but I knew that ten o’clock in the morning was much too early to start drinking IPA when I was hoping to be vaguely sensible on account of the early flight on Saturday, so I stopped off in an average-sized local coffee shop and ordered a large cup of caffeine in the hope of stimulating my mind and kicking the hangover.  It was because of this coffee that I was able to recognise that I could get myself onto the free walking tour of the city which began across the square outside City Hall at 11am.

A free walking tour (or, more accurately, a “pay what you want” walking tour) is a fine way of seeing the points of interest in a city if you are short on time and can’t decide which of the sights you would like to visit.  The guide on this particular tour, Gavin, was an engaging retired school teacher who spoke with a Northern Irish accent that was much easier to understand than others I have encountered.  He weaved a story of how Belfast became the city it is today as we walked around various streets, all while I was considering how best to strike up a conversation with one of the American girls in the group.  If there is one thing I struggle with it is walking and trying to think (or perform any kind of multi-tasking on the move, really.)  If there are two things I struggle with it is that and trying to talk to girls; so I was confronted with two of my greatest difficulties on this walking tour of Belfast.

I found myself walking alongside this American girl (who was presumably raised on promises and couldn’t help thinking that there’s a little more to life somewhere else) between several points on the two-hour tour but I never knew what to say to her.  Every time I tried to speak the words would become caught in my mouth like a little pink toe in a small hole and I would remember how I had already once been shown to be an idiot today and thought better of it.

I heard you’re from Tennessee.  How about that Elvis guy?”

“Shame about all those sectarian bombings Gavin has been telling us about…but you have such pretty hair.”

“Those knee cappings sound brutal, but on another note, I really like the way you walk.”

Nothing I could think of seemed right, so naturally I waited until the end of the tour when a handful of stragglers who weren’t sure how better to spend their afternoon – maybe six or seven of us in total – were invited to a nearby pub to buy Gavin lunch.  At least I knew that with the walking tour finished if my haphazardly blurted question about the American girl’s travels failed miserably and resulted in the peace wall being closed I wouldn’t have to endure the awkwardness of walking around the city with a group of strangers whilst feigning interest in this or that.

‘The Big Fish’ – the salmon of knowledge


In the end, after a couple of hours in this pub sheltering from the rain and talking to the American girl, and long since the remaining members of the group had left, I found myself wondering why I have spent much of my adult life as a man scared to talk to new people when there is so much to be learned.  Before yesterday I had no idea that the Belgian city of Gent produces exceptional mustard or that many mountains in Germany will have huts halfway up them that sell beer.  Nor did I know that the female outfit traditionally worn at Oktoberfest is called a Dirndl or that some people in the southern states of America will hunt frogs for fun.

With much newly acquired knowledge to ponder I reached for my phone and consulted my Google Document and Google Maps in an effort to locate some of the craft beer bars I had noted.  It struck me that even ten years ago this trip would have been all the more difficult to co-ordinate without so much information at my fingertips, but that after a couple of pints of Maggie’s Leap the night becomes a little less easy to co-ordinate and beer acts as a kind of counter balance to technology.  I didn’t get lost on that point for long (or at all, thanks to Google Maps) and worked my way back up Great Victoria Street towards Ulster Hall.  I had resolved to stop drinking beer before the gig in order to give me half a chance to wake up in time for my flight in the morning, but I had miscalculated the time it would take me to walk from The Garrick to the venue and ended up with too much time to wait before Ryan Adams was due on stage at 8.45pm, so I made a stop in The Apartment for a Jack Daniels Honey and lemonade.  At £5.60 I was convinced that this would be my last drink of the night.

Ulster Hall


It had been two years and two months since I last saw Ryan Adams play live and Ulster Hall seemed like an ideal venue for my twenty-first time seeing him, with its long history including the distinction of being the first place in the world where Led Zeppelin performed Stairway to Heaven.  It felt small for a ‘hall’, in a good intimate kind of way, and there was some kind of incense burning in the room which smelled exactly like I remember from attending mass as a child.  For the first few songs all I could think about was the memory of going to church on a Sunday with my mother and brother and sister, and I got to thinking about how different my life would be if I had been encouraged to listen more to the teachings of the Catholic church by Father MacKinnon rocking out on the altar like the KISS demon.

Without a plastic tumbler of Jack Daniels in each hand the gig going experience was a little different, and remains more fresh in my memory today.  I think I enjoyed the music more, although perhaps not as exuberantly as I might with a bellyful of whiskey, and I could become immersed in the emotional aspect of the event – especially when Ryan took the opportunity in the middle of the set to play a rare song with a happy, positive vibe:  “This is Stay With Me.  It’s about wanting someone to stay with me…and make my life miserable.”

After setting twenty-seven alarms on my phone in an effort to make certain that I would wake up for my flight to Glasgow at 8.20 on Saturday morning I found that one would have sufficed, as the anxiety of missing the wedding reception coupled with the unusual sensation of being not entirely drunk on a Friday night meant that I didn’t really sleep much at all.  I arrived at Belfast City Airport with more than two hours to spare and I wondered why I couldn’t suffer a security scare now.  With time to kill and socks which were fully intact this would have been the perfect opportunity for some security officer to find that I am an idiot.
Bars visited:
Unknown bar – unknown location
Bootleggers Bar – 46 Church Lane
The Dirty Onion – 3 Hill Street
The Garrick – 29 Chichester Street
Apartment – Donegall Square West

Next stop:
Olympia Theatre, Dublin – Monday 11th & Tuesday 12th September

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Courtesy of @TheRyanAdams, set list from Ulster Hall