TOUR DIARY: Charles Dickens' Shitter & Other Tales
Greetings from Charles Dickens' house in London! I've just taken a walk through the home where he and his family lived for several years while he was writing some of his most famous books, and it's full of handwritten letters and artifacts from throughout his life. One room contained the desk where he sat and wrote A Tale of Two Cities, and another housed a copy of a book with notes and stage directions he wrote for himself in the margins so he could act out the stories when he hosted guests. I learned a lot I hadn't previously known (his father had gone to debtor's prison and he was forced to work in a factory as a 12-year-old, a fact he kept intensely secret and wasn't made public until two years after his death), and I never quite realized how revered he was as an advocate for social justice during his life. But one item in the collection stood out above all the others, and that was Charles Dickens' commode chair. I had to get a closer look in case it meant something different over here, but nope, it was exactly what it sounds like. A chair that Charles Dickens used to shit in. The description on the plaque insists that they know for a fact he used it, which I honestly don't know how they can determine. Did someone discover an historical portrait of him on the can? Did they dust for ass cheek prints and conclusively find his? Underneath the description there's a note that asks you to please not touch the chair, as if learning conclusively that Charles Dickens took a crap there was going to compel you to impulsively stick your finger in it.
This is our third day in the UK, and it's been smooth sailing so far. Leeds kicked the UK off on the right foot two nights ago. The venue was a multi-purpose theater space attached to a great restaurant and bar that hosts concerts, plays, film screenings, and more, and it sounded really nice in there. By showtime, the theater's seats had filled up, and it was the kind of audience you always hope you'll get: quiet in the right parts, loud in the right parts, and there to have a fun night. I met a fan after the show who remembered me from my middle school days of posting on the internet message boards of bands I liked, which was a serious blast from the past.
After Leeds we headed way down south to the little village of Twyford, which looked like one of those towns you'd see in those PBS series my grandmother watches where the vicar also solves mysteries. It was quaint, old, and picturesque. The gig was put on by a local promoter, Oliver Gray, who usually runs shows out of a great club in Winchester called The Railroad, but due to the routing of our tour he ended up hosting us in a little space on his own property he calls The Swiss Cottage. Laura Gibson was the first to play there, and it's really something special. Less than 50 people can fit inside comfortably, so we played two sold-out shows to two totally different crowds, one at 3pm and a way over-capacity one at 8pm. The show was totally acoustic (no amplification whatsoever) and you could have heard a pin drop in the densely packed little wooden cottage. During my early set, a familiar-looking face wandered in, and I discovered after the show to my delight that it was John Murry. He's a brilliant songwriter from Mississippi who lives in Ireland now, and his album 'The Graceless Age' is a favorite of mine. I listened to it every night in bed while I was recording 'The Shipwreck From The Shore' up in Maine. Turns out he's been working with Oliver on preparations for releasing a new record and happened to be in town. We know a lot of the same folks back in the States, but we'd never met, and I was excited to hang with him and honored to hear he was familiar with me and dug my music.
Oliver and his wife hosted us for the night in there home and treated us to a full English breakfast in the morning before we hit the road for London. We'll play The Islington tonight, and then head to Witney for one more show before we get another little break.