TOUR DIARY: Land of Scots

I’ve fallen woefully behind on these tour diaries (who could have guessed two months on the road by myself in Europe would be a handful?), and there’s a lot to cover, so I’ll dive right in. We’re in the middle of the Scottish leg of tour right now, which I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Ricky is from Scotland and he hosts a weekly show on BBC here, so the audiences have been extra great these last few nights. It's really fun to hear the stories from his fans who come up to the merch table after the show and talk about the way Ricky's band Deacon Blue soundtracked their lives. On my marathon drive north from Liverpool, I took a detour in the Lake District for a little hike out to Aira Force, a 70-foot waterfall with a stone arch bridge over it. It was a touch out of the way, but definitely worth the extra time. I’ve never had the opportunity to explore the hidden pockets of the UK on my own like this before, and I’m learning that I greatly underestimated just how varied and beautiful the landscapes can be.

The first Scottish show was in Dundee, where Ricky grew up. He was battling some sickness (bound to happen when you shake a hundred hands every night), but he powered through it like a true champ. We played at a beautiful modern hall at the University called the Gardyne Theatre, where I was treated to yet another warm reception from the audience that left my supply of CDs and vinyl completely depleted. (I'm going to take a time out here to say Thank You to everyone who’s picked up an album so far on this tour—you’re keeping gas in the tank and that means a lot.) The next morning I got up early so I could use that gas on the coastal drive from Dundee to Aberdeen, which was as gorgeous as advertised. Rolling green hills, sheer cliffs, thousands of years of history, it had it all. Along the way, I stopped at the incredible ruins of Dunnottar Castle, which is perched on dramatic, rocky outcropping. In the 1200’s, William Wallace burned an entire English garrison alive here. Later, the Scottish Crown Jewels were buried in the yard to hide them from Oliver Cromwell. It had its own chapel, bakery, blacksmith, and even a den for a pet lion!

In Aberdeen, we played at an 1800’s theater called the Tivoli, and it was a real jaw-dropper. I’ve been lucky enough to play in some beautiful venues in my time, but playing a room like the Tivoli is enough to make you question if this is in fact real life. I feel like a broken record when I say the audience was amazing again, but there's no other way to put it. Crowds on this tour arrive early and stay late, they're quiet in the quiet parts and loud in the loud parts, they laugh at my dumb jokes, and they're so interesting to chat with after the gigs.

After Aberdeen came Edinburgh, where we played another memorable show at The Queen’s Hall. The Queen didn’t show up, which seems kind of rude at her own hall, but whatever. I spent the next day exploring Edinburgh on foot and fell in love. The city is built on the slope of an extinct volcano, and the main thoroughfare (The Royal Mile) climbs its way up to Edinburgh Castle at the peak. I paid a visit to the castle grounds, did some Christmas shopping on the Royal Mile (literally every other shop sells handwoven Scottish scarves, sweaters, kilts, etc), strolled through the National Museum of Scotland and the Edinburgh Museum, visited the resting place of Greyfriar’s Bobby (a dog who, according to legend, kept watch over his late owner’s grave for 14 years), and finished the day off with a tour of Mary King’s Close. “Close” is the term here for the creepy narrow alleyways, and Mary King’s Close was sealed off sometime in the 1600’s when the city of Edinburgh chopped it off at the second story and began to build on top of it. Because the slope is so steep, a maze of streets and homes remained preserved in time for 400 years underneath the Royal Mile. I’m not usually one for guided tours (especially with costumed characters leading the way--I prefer to do my own reading and explore at my own pace), but it’s the only way you’re allowed down into the close, and I’ve got to say, they do an excellent job of showing you what life would have been like there in its heyday (spoiler: extremely difficult, disgusting, and short).

All that brings us up to last night's show in Dunfermline. The city is only about 40 minutes from Edinburgh and it was formerly the capital of the country. Seven Kings are buried here (hence the Seven Kings pub next door to my hotel), and the architecture is really impressive everywhere you turn. When I got into town, they were in the midst of a Christmas parade to celebrate the tree lighting ceremony. Since they don’t have Thanksgiving here, Christmas season begins much earlier. It also gets very dark very early up this far north (the sun is well on its way to being set by 2pm), so I’m sure they’ll take any excuse they can get to add some more lights to the night. On my way into town, I stopped to take in Forth Bridge, Scotland's most iconic piece of engineering. The bridge, which carries rail traffic in both directions, boasted the longest cantilever in the world when it was constructed in the 1800s. Tucked underneath it on the north side is Deep Sea World, an aquarium with one of Europe’s longest underwater tunnels for viewing sharks and a whole array of other fish. I was absolutely mesmerized and rode the moving sidewalk through the tunnel about 5 different times like a little kid.

The show last night was at a venue called Carnegie Hall. And while you may be thinking it’s not “the real” Carnegie Hall, it’s actually named such because this town is the actual birthplace of Andrew Carnegie. So as far as I’m concerned, that makes it the realest. I feel absolutely spoiled to keep playing such beautiful rooms for such wonderful audiences. I’m trying to live up to it and put on a show worth of the glorious spaces we’re playing every night, and I’m doing my best not to take a minute of it for granted. Up next? Two nights in Glasgow at St. Luke’s!

Anthony D'Amato