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Photo by Hamish Clark —

San Francisco spread out before us, its twinkling skyscrapers reflecting in the dark waters below the Oakland Bay Bridge. Somewhere across these waters was Alcatraz and the Golden Gate, somewhere in the looming metropolis was the hippy haven of Haight/Ashbury and the Grateful Dead’s old house. The local radio played some Led Zep and suddenly, after 10 long hours in the bus, we all bolted up right, singing along with Robert Plant’s impassioned shrieks and wails. It was midnight and this sight was one that many of our favourite writers, artists and musicians must have seen as they headed into unknown futures in search of inspiration.

The next 3 days passed like a dream, our trilogy of performances at the Greek Theatre were the best of the tour thus far and we spent much of our time being shown the sights and sounds of San Fran by my mums old best friend from the ‘Shires, Julia. Julia was a fascinating character to have around, not only did she share some of the stories and struggles that make San Fran the place that it is today, she also told us a little of her own quest and the things that drove her to find a new life from the midlands to the West Coast. A wise creature with a warm smile and sharp eyes, she had been a witness at the Berkeley University student riots, she’d set up a hospice for the victims of the AIDS virus as it swept through the Bay Area in the late 80’s and had been an avid gig goer, catching Jimi Hendrix at the Fillmore West in 1969. One of the places she took us was called Muir Woods, a huge woodland area across the bay where the giant Redwoods grow. I remember walking among those ancient trees and over hearing a tour guide say…“The Redwood trees grow tall, have a thick skin, drink lots of water, and keep their family close” Good advice for us humans too.

The last night at the Greek Theatre was one that sticks in my memory. I was sat on the stone steps of the amphitheatre waiting for the Mumford boys to come back to the stage and play their encore, a single microphone was placed by one of the techies in the centre of the stage and a bright spot light shone its yellow beam onto it. Marcus and co walked on stage to uproarious applause and then, in their humbling tones, urged the crowd to simmer down and be silent as they serenaded around the single microphone. Slowly silence settled upon the theatre, the sound of whispers and hushes cancelling one another out until nothing remained. The atmosphere was charged, the air potent with 15,000 people’s focused attention. In the distance, as if coming in from another planet, a strummed chord echoed its sad sound and an accordion played. The tiny music coming from the stage and the huge silence in the audience created a gulf that circled the musicians and gave them an enchanting quality. As Marcus began singing the first lines of “I’m On Fire” by Springsteen, the crowd welled up suddenly, crying out in a gesture that was greater than excitement and shorter than a second. The next few minutes where spine-tingling.

Through the dry deserts of Arizona we continued our journey, waving a fond farewell to San Fran and all the friends we made. The sun blasted down on our van, turning it into an incubator and we found a flat patch of land amidst the flint stone boulders of the desert and had a photo session. The American landscape is a photographers dream, and we were fortunate enough to drive through vast stretches of it, staring with wide-eyed wonder at the plateaus of New Mexico, the lush rolling green of Texas and the dry, red rocks of southern California. We spent many late nights in the back of the van, drinking bottles of beer and discussing UFO sightings and unexplainable mysteries like the Marfa Lights. Matt proved to be a world of knowledge on the extra-terrestrials, and often we’d pass a road sign and he’d tell me we were near an alien abduction sight.


23 Apr 2014