Hi there, how are you doing? I hope you have had a really good couple of weeks. Mine have actually been by my standards fairly quiet. After an extremely busy couple of months. It was probably about time to be honest.
Last weekend I went to visit my oldest school friend on the Welsh border. We were thrown together on the first day of Primary School. And have been mates ever since. It is always brilliant to spend time with him and his family.
He has a lovely house in a beautiful area. It is surrounded by forest, hills, greenery. And he has a stream that runs down in front of his driveway. Plus there is a canal near by. Which includes a viaduct. That you can walk across. It is a relaxing place to spend some time. And a nice contrast to the hustle and bustle of London.
It was only really a flying visit. I arrived on the Saturday afternoon and had to head home again by Sunday afternoon. I arrived around lunchtime. His wife already had some food ready. We then took a trip out to an Iron Works place.
Which featured several amazing sculptures. Including giant animals. And a huge Angel. Which was made out of knives handed in from the various weapon amnesty’s. That there have been. It is both beautiful and terrifying. When you think that all of those blades used to be on the streets.
It also had a shop. Which sold lots of arts and crafts from various local artists. There were some really quirky and interesting things there. If you were looking for centre piece items for rooms in your house. It would be a brilliant place to go to for them.
They also sell produce by some local food and cosmetic makers. Which is great to see. It gives the place a nice family feel to it. They have a wonderful little cafe there. Which has some very nice looking cakes on offer.
On the way back from there. Predictably I guess. We dropped in to one of the pubs on the canal for a couple of drinks. It was nice to sit outside and chat for a bit.
They have a young daughter. I ended up trying to entertain her. With a small variation of the game “spoof” using a coin. I am glad I was not playing her for money. She was worryingly good at it. And it would have cost me a fortune.
We spent the evening chilling and relaxing at their house. Then the next morning. We popped along to a huge Car Boot Sale. That was on near by. I had not been to one of them for years.
I must confess, if I happen to be home around midday. I do like to watch Bargain Hunt. I have no idea about antiques. But I like the idea of picking something up and selling it on for ideally lots more money. I am secretly hoping I pick up some knowledge on the subject from the programme.
As there was not anything I really wanted to buy. I spent the time walking around the Boot Sale. Deciding what items I might buy if I was on Bargain Hunt. And was going to have to sell these things at an auction.
What I did notice. Is that there is a lot of good quality and quite impressive items at these things. But there are also quite a few things that left me thinking. Why have they not just thrown that out. It will never sell in a million years!
I think everybody else brought something except me. But nothing jumped out at me. Plus unlike in Bargain Hunt. Nobody had given me three hundred pounds to spend. We then went back to their place for a quick bite to eat. Before I had to get my train home.
I just had time to show off my musical skills. By playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on their daughter’s mini grand piano. It is the only song that I can play. But I do like to think I can play it well. When the concert was over. it was time to head back to Buckinghamshire.
The Premier League is back. Tottenham Hotspur have started the season nicely. Well on the pitch at least. The opening of the new stadium has been delayed. And at this moment we do not actually know when it will be ready.
Thanks to the move to the new stadium that we are not in yet. I have managed to become a season ticket holder at the club. Which I am delighted about. It is something that I have wanted to be for a very long time.
When I will get to enjoy this. And actually get to sit in my seat. At the minute who knows? Until then we are back playing at Wembley. To be fair there are worse places to be based. And having played there all last season. We are kind of used to it now.
It is going to be an open season, I think. Manchester City are still the best side. But if they do get sidetracked by the Champions League. One of the other sides could sneak it. Should be an entertaining and exciting season.
Can Spurs win the league? Who knows. I am looking forward to supporting them through thick and thin. Seeing as many games as I can. And enjoying the football we play. Anything else is a bonus.
But I am not going to lie. It would be brilliant to win some silverware this year. Although we have not made any new signings. We have two or three players coming back from long term injury. Which is I think possibly better than having any new signings.
I am currently reading Mauricio Pochettino’s book “Brave New World”. It is a diary of Tottenham’s 2016/2017 Season. Through the eyes of the Manager. But it is also a biography of his career. It details how he has got to where he is today at Spurs.
I am finding it fascinating. The culture he is trying to create. The way he manages and treats the players. How he unwinds and relaxes. Plus it demonstrates his obvious sense of humour. It really is an interesting read.
If you want to understand what it is like being a top manager. It is a must read. You get a great insight in to the workings of a Premier League Club. Detailing how much of an impact and influence the boss can have. And how much he has to oversee and be involved in on a daily basis. To make his plans work.
I already was a massive fan of his. But after reading this. I love him even more. And have more respect for what he is trying to achieve and the way that he is trying to do it. He is an fantastic manager.
I went out for some Bank Holiday Sunday drinks with a good friend of mine in Reading last weekend. We went to the Brewdog Bar. That they have there. It was the first time I had been. It has a good vibe to it. With music playing at a level you can still comfortably talk above. Which was handy. As we were having a good old natter and catch up.
It did give us the chance to sample a few different beers. I do enjoy trying new and different beers nowadays. I think when you start off drinking. You do not really enjoy the taste. But you enjoy the feeling. Then as you get older. I think you are more likely to have discovered what you like drinking. And enjoy the taste element more. Well this certainly applies to me anyway.
It was a fun and civilised night.I discovered a few new beers that I like. So I can keep an eye out for them. When I am out in London. I stayed at his house. He has children. Which led to us watching the film Mama Mia .While we were having our breakfast. Which did make for an unusual start to my day. It is very different from Sky Sports News. Plus I have had ABBA songs in my head all week.
The celebrities for this year’s Strictly Come Dancing have been announced. In fact last weekend. They were filming the opening Red Carpet sequence outside of work. For the start of the new series.
It is a programme I would love to get the chance to take part in. I mean to have the chance to learn to dance properly and perform with the professional dancers must be amazing.
In this latest line up. There is as ever a few people. I have met in the past. I met Susannah Constatine. When she and her former fashion partner Trinny Woodall came in to the radio station. I was working at in Yeovil. Not sure if they were having a bad day. But a smile that day seemed “What Not To Wear” Hopefully dancing and wearing those sequinned outfits will put that right this Autumn.
I have met Lee Ryan from Blue a couple of times. I did a gig with him once in Somerset. When he was launching his solo career. I was the host. He sang a few songs. When he had finished performing. He hung around drinking with the audience. I then saw him again with the whole of Blue at an Armed Forces event in Buckinghamshire.
Ashley Roberts once squeezed past me. When I was in the audience for Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. I can confirm that she is tiny and stunning. I expect her to do well in the competition.
And I have of course seen Kate Silverton wandering around at the BBC. On her way to and from the news studio. I am looking forward to having the show back on our television screens. It is always a joy.
Another friend of mine Mike Sterling is currently in the UK Touring production of Evita. He is playing Juan Peron. He is an amazing singer and actor. Who sang for me at my fortieth birthday party.
I am really looking forward to seeing him in the show this week. It will be brilliant to watch him and catch up after. I will tell you all about it when we speak next.
Have fun and we will catch up again in a couple of weeks. Cheers Neil
Hi there, how are you doing? I hope you have had a really good couple of weeks. I spent one week recovering from my epic trip to America. Learning to live in England again. While getting used to working and not spending all day sightseeing. Then once I was in the groove again. I went up to Scotland for the weekend.
I had wanted to go to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a long time. I managed to find a gap in my schedule. That fitted in with the month long event. Well a few days of it at least. When I was considering the idea. I stumbled across what I thought was some reasonably priced accommodation. So I booked it up online there and then. And the decision to go was made.
I then had to work out how to get there. I was thinking of the train at first. But I only had a few days. And that mode of transport would of have eaten in to my time. In the end I decided to fly from Luton to Edinburgh. I managed to find a suitable return flight with Easy Jet.
I knew a few people who were performing there. Who I had met through the Comedy Night. I did as part of the Tringe Festival, six years ago. That is the point where my interest in going to Edinburgh increased further. But it still took me all this time to make it happen.
I flew out from Luton late on the Thursday afternoon. Thanks to a small delay with the flight. I did not arrive in Scotland until after six. As I wanted to get to the Bed and Breakfast. As quickly and easily as possible. I had ordered a meet and greet Taxi.
He was meant to be there waiting with my name on a board. When I got there. He wasn’t. It took me a good ten minutes to find him. Mind you when I did. He was holding the board with my name on. I will be honest it was not as magical, as I Imagined. I thought it might be a bit like Love Actually. But it very much was not.
Anyway we got through the Edinburgh traffic. He dropped me off at the Bed and Breakfast. That I had blindly booked on price alone. I did think it looked possible to walk to the City Centre from there. Once I did a little bit more research on the place just before I went.
I was met by the owner. Who was brilliant. He checked me in. And then offered to run me in to town in his own car. I cannot see Basil Fawlty doing that. I dumped my bag in the room and off we went. It was possible to walk there in about twenty minutes. But this was my first night. And as time was very tight. I wanted to get things going a soon as possible, so I accepted the lift.
He dropped me just before the Royal Mile. I needed some food. The first place I saw was a Pizza Express. So I was straight in there to get myself a table. A few days before I left I had made a list of a few acts I would like to see, if I possibly could. I wanted to see one show on the first night. I chose to see Gary Delaney from my list.
While I was waiting for my food. I ordered a ticket online for his show. The more well known comedians tend to sell out. So turning up at the venue and hoping for a ticket is risky. It is easier to book it online. There are several places where you can print out and collect your tickets. One of them was near me on the Royal Mile. I finished my Pasta dish. Then went to find it.
My first experience of the Royal Mile during the Festival was crazy. It was packed with people, street performers and littered with small stages with things happening on them. I located the ticket place and went in. A very helpful lady showed me what I needed to do to print out my ticket. She also gave me a handy map featuring all the venues. And she scribbled the route on it. That I needed to get to where Gary Delaney was playing later.
He was at the Pleasance. Which is one of the main venues. Of which there are about four or five. They all have multiple rooms of differing sizes at the same location. They are all surrounded by their own little village’s with bars and food outlets. Plus seats and tables to meet people at. I got there in good time for the gig. So I thought I would try a pint of the Edinburgh Festival Ale. Which was actually pretty nice, to be fair.
The show was in the Pleasance Beyond. The ticket gets you in. Then depending on where you were in the queue. It will determine where you sit. Before the show started. He had some music playing. With jokes from his Twitter feed displayed on a giant screen on the stage. These were already making me laugh. So I knew I was going to be in for a good time.
I had seen him a few times of various television shows. I was also aware of his work from other shows that he has written for. He is married to Sarah Millican. And he wrote for her TV Programme. He is a teller of short, smart and snappy jokes. So reels off a lot of very funny and clever one liners.
He breaks them up a little. By using the screen on stage for a few bits and pieces. He had an actual paper pile of gags. That he had removed from the show for being potentially borderline in taste and decency. Every time a joke got a big ooh from the audience. He selected one of these jokes to read at the end. We were having such a good time. We were just reacting in that way for fun. And to hear some more jokes at the end.
The show was very funny. He admitted himself that he used to be a dead pan comic. But now he is enjoying telling the jokes so much. He even makes himself laugh on occasions. Which I think is great.
It was an excellent start to my first Fringe. I just happened to be outside having another pint of the Fringe Ale. When he left the venue to have a well deserved drink with some friends of his in the courtyard. It is not all rock and roll this comedy.
I saw quite a lot of comedians walking about. While I was there. Most are only doing one or two shows a day. So they have lots of time on their hands. Plus all comics love comedy. So they are also trying to see as many shows as they can. And catch and support all their mates performances.
I saw Marcus Brigstocke, Sarah Pascoe, Nina Conti, Lucy Porter and Hal Cruttenden to mention but a few. I just saw the one gig on the first night. I thought I would ease myself in gently. So after I had finished my beer. It was back to the B & B to grab some sleep.
I was up reasonably early the next day. After enjoying a full Scottish Breakfast. Which appears to be an English fry up. Just in Scotland. I went back to my room to plan my day. I wanted to see Silky’s show called Zuiq. Plus fellow former Tringe Rover Olaf Falafel’s “There is No I in Idiot. And the man behind the Tringe Festival himself Ben Moorhouse. Who is there putting on intimate gigs in his vintage cinema van called Audrey. Under the guise of the Reel Comedy Club. See what he has done there.
I booked tickets for Silky and Reel Comedy via the Edinburgh Fringe website. I also got one for Matt Forde for that evening. I had seen him do a very small warm up gig in Berkhampsted about five years ago. Since then he has got his own television and radio shows. So I thought it was time for me to see him again. Olaf’s show was part of the Free Fringe. No tickets are required. You just arrive at the venue and hope there is room to get in.
I messaged Silky before I left the hotel to tell him I was coming to the gig. He suggested I see Alex Love perform at a venue right next to his. Before his show began. I had the time to do it. So I left for the City Centre. This time taking the lovely walk through the park to get there. I picked up all my pre-ordered tickets for the day. From my now usual box office along the Royal Mile. Then went to where Alex Love was playing.
I managed to get a ticket for his gig there. His show was called “How To Win A Pub Quiz.” The first half was his tips on how to achieve this. With plenty of jokes of course thrown in. The second half. He put us in to teams. And did a little fun Pub Quiz. My team finished fifth. The whole hour was good fun. It was nice to see someone new.
I had about five minutes to get to Silky’s gig. However that was just over the road. So I made it in plenty of time. I have seen him perform quite a few times in Tring over the years. He is always brilliant. I have been lucky enough to have a pint and chat with him to after gigs. He is a top fella. The show he is doing “Zuiq” is a lunchtime reverse Quiz.
He gives the audience Trivial Pursuit Cards. Puts them in to teams. There are then several funny rounds. Where people read out their favourite answer from their cards. While Silky either has to give the correct question or make the audience laugh with his made up one. If he achieves either. He gets a point. Every team can get points. It is in a way the whole room against him. He won!
It is all done in such a fun, inclusive and extremely entertaining way. The atmosphere is so relaxed. He also plays the guitar and sings. So there are some musical interludes.
It is basically just lots of fun. And I must admit it was educational to. I actually learnt a few things. If you are in Edinburgh before the end of the Festival. You must check this out. It is on everyday 1.15pm at The Stand Comedy Club.
Silky is also doing a full stand up show at night. I really wanted to see this to. But annoyingly I simply ran out of time. I really cannot stress how many different and brilliant shows are on up there. You cannot possibly get to see everything you want to. Either because they clash time wise. Or as you cannot get between the venues in time because some of them are so spread out.
Talking of which I only got the chance to have a really quick chat with Silky at the end of his show. Before I had to dash off for the twenty minute walk. To see Olaf Falafel perform at the Pear Tree. I saw him do his previous Edinburgh Show at the Museum of Comedy last year.
So I was looking forward to this new one. It did not disappoint. I have been lucky enough to gig with him a couple of times over the years. He always goes down well with the audience. He has a very good act.
His latest show is funny, amusing, entertaining and surreal. There are some very good and clever actual jokes in it to. He does seem to always manage to get one of his jokes. In the best jokes lists of the Festival.
He is such a confident and assured performer. Which is great to see. I really enjoyed it and would recommend seeing it. If you fancy some silly and joyful fun. I managed to grab a quick word with him after. It was really nice to catch up, albeit very briefly.
Next there was just time to grab a bite to eat in Bella Pasta. Before strolling across Edinburgh to The Assembly Rooms. Where Audrey the Vintage Cinema Bus was parked. I arrived there and grabbed a quick drink. Before seeing its proprietor and curator of comedy Ben Moorhouse. It is a lovely little cosy venue. Their were four comics and a MC on the bill. For the comedy gig that I had booked.
It was basically comedians doing about ten minute set’s. As a bit of a teaser for their full solo comedy shows. They are doing elsewhere. Like everywhere at the Fringe. The atmosphere was fun and friendly. Apart from one bit of good natured heckling from a gentlemen in the audience towards the end. Heckling is actually quite rare at gigs.
I had a catch up with Ben. He was looking very dapper in a stylish waist coast. He was really enjoying the Fringe. And having a great time. Seeing so many comedians come and play in his lovely little mobile venue.
Finally for my fifth and final gig of the day. It was back again to The Pleasance. To see Matt Forde’s “Brexit Through The Gift Shop”. It was a hilariously brilliant show. He is an excellent comedian. And a really good impressionist of Politicians and World Leaders.
His take on Donald Trump. Is truly a thing of wonder. I was even more impressed. As everyday now there is a new political scandal seemingly. So to keep a show like this topical and up to date. He must have to re-write bits of it every other day.
I am not the worlds biggest political expert. But I understood everything he was talking about. And most importantly found it very funny. It was a top hour of entertainment. I am glad that I made the decision to see it. As it is fair to say that there was quite a bit of competition in that time slot. Great fun!
At this point I decided I had probably had enough comedy for one day. Therefore I went to find a couple of bars with some live music. I had a drink in a pub on the Royal Mile. That had a guy playing guitar and singing in. Then I stopped off at the Grey Friars Bobby Pub for one. To see another singer in there on my way “home”.
I am a big fan of Frank Skinner and he used to do a very funny routine. Questioning the loyalty of Grey Friars Bobby. When I was in the pub having my drink. That is the first thing that sprung to mind. After a full day of enjoying live performances. I decided it was time to call it a night.
My first mission on the Saturday was to find a Sports Bar. That I could watch Newcastle against Tottenham Hotspur in. I managed to find one. Which was no easy feat bearing in mind that Hearts were playing Celtic at the same time. Luckily I found a place. That had at least two of their televisions showing the English game. I was very happy with the three points away. We rode our luck but a win is a win. It was a great start my day.
After my Sporting interlude. It was back to the comedy. Before I went to Edinburgh, as I said. I had picked out a few shows. That I would like to see, if I got the chance to. One of these was from a comedian and impressionist. Who also does parody songs called Naomi McDonald. I spotted her gig somewhere. It seemed a bit different. Therefore I tracked down the venue she was playing at and caught her performance.
I thought she was brilliant. Her impressions were spot on. She does a fantastic Fearne Cotton and Katie Price. Plus she does talking and singing Adele impressions. Both of which are amazing, It was a fun and entertaining show. I will definitely keep an eye out for her in the future.
I had about an hour before my next show. So I popped in to a London favourite of mine. And went to Bryon Burger. The service in there is normally very quick. But as they were so busy. It was a bit slower than I was expecting. Which meant I was tight on time getting to my next location.
To make it on time. I had to jog there. It was on the way there. That I decided to get into the spirit of the Fringe. With some Performance Art of my own. As I was running I tripped on the pavement. Shouted “penalty”, for a moment it looked like I would recover and stay on my feet. But then I went crashing to the ground. Somehow I managed to break my fall. And get away with a slight bruise on my hand. All those years watching The Fall Guy, as a kid must have paid off.
I jumped straight back up and continued on my way to see a show. I had been wanting to see for ages. It did a long run in the West End of London. But I never managed to see it there. It won an Olivier Award to. However in Edinburgh. I finally got a ticket. And made it there for the start of the performance.
It was Show Stopper – “The Improvised Musical”. And it was brilliant. It does exactly what it says on the tin. They take the title suggestions from the audience. The audience also get to say where it is set. And they can give four different musical styles that the songs the show contains have to be performed in.
Then it is over to the amazing cast. Who have to improvise a whole sixty minute musical. Making up dialogue and song lyrics on the spot. The one I saw was based around an Australian Hen do. It was ace. I have watched less entertaining musicals. That have been written and produced. The actors are top quality. Super talented people. It is another one well worth seeing. If you do ever get the chance.
Next it was Pete Firman with his latest comedy and magic show. That was brilliant. He is a really funny and likeable performer. And a top quality magician. Prior to this I had not been to a magic show for years. And with this one there was the added bonus of the laughs along the way to.
I grew up seeing Paul Daniels on television. This is possibly the closest I have seen to that. I hope that Pete Firman takes that as the compliment. It is meant to be. It is a feel good show. He is taking it on tour later this year. And it is one you should try to catch. The tricks are great and you will have a good laugh.
Finally I went to The Gilded Balloon. To see the late night Set List Show. This is where four comedians come on to perform a brand new act. But they have no idea what it will include. Until they walk on stage. The subject of each routine. They must do. Is flashed up on the screen behind them on stage. They see it at the same time as the audience do. Then they must try to come up with jokes about it.
It is obviously a little hit and miss. But that is the whole point of the game. It is a challenge for them. And fun for the people watching. The best two on the night were Carl Donnelly. Who opened the show. And Marcel Lucont who closed it. I am not sure if it is something I would like to try. It looked pretty stressful for all of them. But it was a good giggle. And a fitting way to end my first Edinburgh Fringe experience.
There were so many shows that I wanted to see. That either clashed with each other. Or the venues were so far part. That I could not get between them on time. But you cannot go wrong. The chances are anything you see will be entertaining. Plus there is something nice and rewarding in taking a punt on something or someone new and enjoying it. There is so much talent in that City for the month.
After a final night in the Bed and Breakfast. It was time to head to the airport and fly home. I chose to take the Tram there. Which was only six pounds. And actually quite a fun and relaxing way to get to my plane. I had a brilliant time at The Edinburgh Fringe and would love to go back there again. If the opportunity ever arises.
Have fun and we will catch up again in a couple of weeks. Cheers Neil
Seven hours after leaving Memphis. We arrived at the hotel in New Orleans. That was a five and an half hour drive with a few pit stops for comfort breaks, snacks and fuel thrown in. Filling up with fuel or gas as it is called in America. Is a slightly different experience than in the United Kingdom.
You pay for your gas in advance, so there is at least an element of guesswork involved at first. Mind you, if you use more, you pay the difference after and if you use less they refund you the money. It is all fine, once you get the hang of it.
I was surprised and impressed by how cheap the gas was over there. I could fill up the Ford Fiesta for around $25. Which felt like very good value. Bearing in mind I know how many pounds it would cost to achieve the same thing in England. Happily there are plenty of gas stations at many of the Interstate Road exits. So it is easy to re-fuel and then re-join the right road, pretty quickly.
New Orleans was the only place where we did not have any plans of exactly what we wanted to do there. And we certainly did not have anything booked in advance this time. However Kayleigh and I both thought it would be cool to take a steamboat ride along the famous Mississippi River. Therefore we kind of knew one thing we would like to do during our time there.
By the time we got checked in and changed from the car journey. It was already getting on for seven o’clock in the evening. We thought we better go out to find some food and do some exploring. We were staying on the edge of the French Quarter. Which does include the City’s very famous party place Bourbon Street. This seemed like a sensible place to start our time there.
After getting some very good and simple directions from the hotel receptionist. And once we had both finished our complimentary Strawberry Daiquiris. We set off to find where the fun was. As soon as you step on to Bourbon Street. All you can see is several street performers, lots of bars and a large amount of people walking up and down. Drinking these huge cocktail’s called The Hurricane. Yes you read that correctly. That is really what they call the specialist drink there.
After having a walk up it and witnessing young kids playing pots and pans as drums. And acrobats back flipping down the road. We went in to a random bar to have a drink and grab some food. There were two duelling pianos playing alternate songs. The main reason we ended up going in there was because as we walked past. One of them was doing the song Glory Day’s by Bruce Springsteen. And that caught my attention from the street outside.
We sat down at a table by the door. It was not until we ordered our food. That we noticed a Barber’s Chair behind us. You could pay to have Tequila chucked down your throat. While being span round on the chair. I was now a bit worried sitting so close to this thing. Could be dangerous when eating. Just in case the alcohol and the motion was a bit to much for them. If you see what I mean. Luckily, everyone us included kept our dinner down.
While in that bar I tried a pint of the local New Orleans beer. It was called Ambita Amber. I must say it was a delightful tipple. And from then on it was my refreshment of choice, while I was there. Although of course I only ever drunk the right amount for a gentlemen. And it was not available in every bar either.
Next up we found what became in the end our go to bar on the street. It was called Razzoo. It had a brilliant house band. Who were called the Funky Monkeys. On this first night there were excellent. A really fun and entertaining group.
They did a great version of the very apt song for where we were Proud Mary for us. After we requested it. It was a Sunday night and the place was rocking. I can only imagine what it would be like on a Friday of Saturday. Although I suspect the right word to describe it would be carnage.
We then thought that as we were in New Orleans. We should find some Jazz. A little bit further down the street. We found a bar with a Jazz Trio playing. So went in there for a few drinks. It was a nice way to end our first night there after a long day in the car driving.
When we got up the next morning. We decided to try McDonalds for Breakfast. Just to see how different the portions sizes and food on offer was compared to back home. The meals on offer were pretty similar. Apart from the offer of biscuit instead of rolls. The size of the drinks were much bigger though. I could not finish mine. It was huge!
Before we left the hotel that morning. We had already booked via the internet. The trip on the Mississippi we had wanted. And also a walking Ghost Tour for the evening. Then after the golden arches we ended up signing up to go on a Swamp Tour the following day. Very quickly our time there was starting to become taken up with lots of fun stuff to do.
We had booked the boat trip for the afternoon. Therefore we had a few hours to properly explore the French Quarter. This did involve a walk along part of the Mississippi. Some statues and big buildings of interest. A look round a few of the shops. Plus a surprise great live street performance by a brass Jazz Band. Who were playing ” When the Saints Coming Marching in” Although in my head I was singing “the Spurs”. They sounded amazing. There was a massive crowd stood around watching them.
It was then time to go aboard the Natchez. Which is the only traditional Steam Paddle Boat still operating on the Mississippi River. We were going on a sightseeing and Jazz Tour, nice. It is an impressive sized vessel. Steeped in a fair amount of history. With a bit of age to it.
We found ourselves a seat on the deck in the sunshine. And waited to set sail. Just before we departed. We decided to try one of those Hurricane cocktails. That the city is so famous for. Just a small one mind. Though I must say it was a nice accessory to aide with the further enjoyment of the trip.
We set off down the Mississippi. And were given an audio tour by a brilliant guide. Who was pointing out things of interest on either side of the riverbank. Including the large area where the Battle Of New Orleans took place. And the part of the City that was sadly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. He also explained what a busy and important port it still is today. For the transportation of steel and aluminium in particular.
When we reached the half way point of the cruise. The audio tour finished. Then the Jazz Trio started playing in the main bar. I went there to have a listen to them. And also to have a pint of my new favourite tipple their Amber Ale. The band were great and fitted perfectly with the whole setting and experience.
We then went and had a look at the steam powered engine room. It is very impressive how fast the boat goes. Bearing in mind that it is totally powered by steam. From here we went and admired the big paddle wheel on the back. Which is ultimately the thing that was propelling us through the water.
For the rest of the way back. I just sat out on the deck. While simply enjoying the view. Feeling very relaxed. It was definitely something off my life tick list. Take a river boat ride down the Mississippi. Tick, done!
Once the boat had docked and we had collected our experience photo. We went back to the hotel to get ready for the evening. The Ghost Walk was at eight. So we thought we would go and get some food first. I had got it in to my head. That while I was there, I wanted to try some of the local delicacies. And thanks to the power of the internet. I found a near by restaurant. That I wanted to eat at. I looked on the map we had and thought I could get us there.
Annoyingly at first my sense of direction was slightly off. And we could not find it. We were just about to give up. When I suddenly thought I saw the street we were looking for. We went down it and thankfully found the place. It was called NOLA. The staff were very welcoming. It was quite a plush and classy place. The Maitre d’ took us in the lift up to our seat and then introduced us to our waitress.
I ordered The Gumbo. Which is a Southern American dish. That I was told I had to try while I was there. It is best described as a spicy stew with fish, meat and rice. The bowl I had was amazing. I could have easily eaten it all over again. It was so nice. The second thing I tried was something I guessed would not be an option in many, many places in the world. It was an Alligator Sausage.
There are lots of Alligators local to New Orleans. So they produce their own. I did not really know what to expect from it. It is a very dark meat. I would suggest it is a cross between chicken, rabbit and pheasant. I enjoyed it and would not hesitate to have it again. If the opportunity ever arises. Another boxed tick for me that. A taste of the local dishes.
Then we went to the starting point for our Ghost Tour. I will be honest. I do not believe in ghosts. And this is not something that I would have really chosen to do. But Kayleigh has an interest in this area. And I was happy to tag along. I really enjoyed it in the end. It was quite interesting.
We were met by our guide and joined the twenty other people on the way to the first stop. It turns out that New Orleans is one of the most haunted places in America. The tour is in the French Quarter area. It was just starting to get dark. Every house there has a gas lamp hanging outside. That is the only street lighting. So that really adds to the atmosphere of the tour.
There were several different “haunted” buildings. We visited during the two hours. Each one had an initial story to set the scene. Then follow up reports of strange activities and sightings in and around them. Vampires are supposedly quite prominent in the area. I did enjoy the history of the tales. All of the main characters in them did seem pretty messed up, to say the least.
There was one particular venue. That we were shown. That is now quite a nice restaurant. It is apparently haunted. To appease the spirit. They set a special table every night in the name of the ghost with an empty plate and a glass of wine. They claim that when this is not done. Lots of things go wrong and the night is always a complete disaster.
You can pay an extra cover charge to sit and have your meal at the table. People who have done this claim. That they have seen some of the cutlery move or have felt a presence standing behind them. And even a hand on their shoulder. I am still not totally convinced. But that said I have no plans to eat there. The Ghost tour was a nice and fun way of looking around the area and learning a bit of the history to the place.
We then as was becoming the tradition finished the night in our favourite bar in Bourbon Street. Having a few more drinks and enjoying the band. On the way back to hotel there was a shop. I stopped to pick up a late night snack. I decided to try some Spicy Wild Boar crisps. Which was a mistake. They were terrible!
On our final full day in New Orleans. We went on a Swamp Tour. When we were looking at it originally. We were going to go on a flat bottomed boat. But on the advice of the sales person at the tour place. We upgraded to a big Air Boat. Which as it turned out was a great decision.
We caught a bus from near our hotel. It was about a thirty minute drive out to the swamp. It was nice to see the countryside and see how people lived away from the city. I did not really know what to expect. As I had never done anything like this before. I was really looking forward to it. Until the bus driver warned us to watch out for spiders or snakes falling out of the low hanging trees
We arrived at the jetty and got our wristbands. Then we were called up to our boat. It held about twelve people in total. We were given ear defenders to wear. As the engine was loud when on full. And we had a ten minute ride out to the proper swamp area. When we got there we stopped and our guide explained the plan. He said that as it was so hot. We may not see any Alligators. They could be down on the bottom staying nice and cool.
At our next stop we spotted an Alligator in the water. They attract them and get their attention by using Marsh Mellows. They all love them apparently. The guide was nuts learning in to the water to feed it. At one point he put a Marsh Mellow on top of the animals mouth. We got some great pictures and it was amazing to see one so close.
We then glided around and saw several different Alligators. As we went around on our travels. At the final stop. The guide suddenly brings out a two year old Alligator. That he has been rearing since it was an egg. So it is nice and friendly and used to people. We all got to hold it for a bit. Which was a cool experience. They are quite cute at that age and size. I enjoyed the swamp adventure. Yet another thing that falls in to the category. Things you will not get the chance to do everyday.
That afternoon we had another walk around the French Quarter. Including a visit to Louis Armstrong Park. In honour of course of the famous Trumpet player. Who was born in the City. It is quite a cool place with a lake and a huge statue of the great man. We also had a quick drink in this random bar. That I kid you not had an area with metal gates on various stages. I bet that place is interesting, to say the least in the evenings.
For our final evening we decided to go to BB Kings Blues Club for dinner and a few drinks. We got a cracking table right in front of the stage. Where the band were performing. It also had a cool painted picture of The Beatles on it. The food was fantastic. I had a southern fried fish dish and my final pint of the New Orleans Amber beer.
We then finished the night with a final walk down Bourbon Street. Ending up in our favourite bar for a few drinks. And a bit of a dance to the band. It is going to be weird going out now and not seeing live music on offer in every single bar.
New Orleans was a fun and very interesting place to visit. And bearing in mind we had no definite plans when we arrived. We ended up doing quite a lot there.
The next morning after a breakfast of Chocolate Croissant and cereal. It was time to hit the road for the four and an half hour drive to Montgomery. I was very used to driving in America by now. So it was a pleasant trip with lots of great scenery to enjoy. We were only there for one night. But we did plan to go and see some of the sights.
However when we arrived at the hotel. We found out it was quite away out of town. With most things at least a twenty minute car ride away. We had endured a busy nine days. The weather was good and there was a lake to sit by. Plus a swimming pool to use. So we then decided to just stay at the hotel.
We did venture out for some food. We found a KFC. About a ten minute walk away. All Americans have to have a car. Nothing is ever in walking distance. We had to cross several car parks to get across to the Colonel, safely.
A couple of differences between a UK and US KFC. You can get Mash Potato and gravy with your chicken. Plus they even ask you if you want the meat light or dark and if you want original coating or extra crunchy. They will then meet your exact wishes.
Back at the hotel. We went for a relaxing soak in the pool. Then once we had dried off. We went to sit on some seats overlooking a huge lake to watch the sun go down. While we were there. We met a few American guys. Who were there enjoying the moment to. We ended up just chatting with them for a few hours. Before it was time to go to bed on our final night in the States.
The next day was all about getting up and making the final two hour drive to the airport. To drop the car off and catch our flight home. We returned the car fully fuelled. Then checked in for the journey home. While we were waiting I realised I had not had a hot dog while I was there. I put that right by having a Chilli Dog. Which was great.
We landed back in England at Heathrow at seven o’clock in the morning. Bringing to an end our American Road Trip Adventure. I hope you enjoyed reading about it. That is it for now. Speak to you again soon. Thanks Neil
Hello again. After a brilliant two days in Nashville. It was time to climb in to the trusty black Ford Fiesta, set the GPS and head to Memphis. It should have been a fairly simple two hour drive. But there was an accident on the interstate. Which caused massive delays and meant the journey took about five hours in the end.
I was getting used to driving on the two or three lane interstate roads. But once you hit the City. There are five lanes, traffic flying everywhere and you need to be in the right lane. I was still finding this pretty terrifying. So I was actually quite relieved when I turned on to Elvis Presley Boulevard and saw the hotel ahead of us on the left.
I am a big Elvis fan. I will often spend whole evenings listening to his music and watching live performances of his amazing stage show’s. I am friends with a couple of brilliant Elvis Impersonators. Who I have seen perform and enjoyed countless times. Therefore the main point of going to Memphis was to see Graceland. Which for me meant the only place to stay was The Guest House At Graceland.
The hotel opened a few years ago. It was built and designed by the people from Graceland. Even Priscilla Presley had some input in to styling the place. So it had the feel of Elvis about it. It looks a very impressive sight. When you pull in to the car park. There are a few nods to the actual house. The familiar looking pillars by the main entrance. And the steps between level two and the ground floor. Which are a replica of the staircase in “The King’s” home.
There are also lots of other nice touches. Like the great man’s music playing everywhere you go. A picture depicting him in each room. A dedicated TV channel. Even down to the naming of the restaurants, the design of the furniture. And the fact that Elvis liked more than one shower head in his showers. Let me tell you the double headed showers in the bathrooms are amazing. I now really want one at home.
After the long drive I was pretty tired. So we thought we would just have a relaxing evening at the hotel. Mainly because I had already pre-booked a Graceland Tour for the following day. While I was still in England. I wanted be fresh for that. And I was too excited to want to do anything else. There are lots of services provided by the hotel. Which means for food and entertainment, you do not need to go out at all.
That first evening we ate at EP’s Diner. Which is, as it sounds just a traditional American Diner. The whole menu looked great. But one thing stood out for me. I had to try the Memphis Burger, because it sounded amazing. And I can confirm that it was. The size of the thing and the portion of accompanying fries were epic. I know it is cliched but the American’s do really love their food. A great meal with ace service.
They have a movie theatre on site. Which shows an Elvis film every night. While we were staying there and waiting to see his house. We thought it was only fitting to catch that night’s film. Which was Blue Hawaii. We even managed to get hold of some popcorn. Thanks to a very kind lady. Who was only meant to be giving it to the children.
It has the song “Can’t Help Falling In Love” in it. Elvis often used to close his concerts with this. And as he never did an encore. Would often be in his car driving away from the venue before his band had finished playing it. Hence the announcement “Elvis has now left the building”. At the end of his gigs.
Every night they also have live music in the bar area. Once the film had ended. We went and enjoyed that. As you can imagine they only select great acts to play there. So the bloke singing was brilliant. As in Nashville, it is still very hot at night in Memphis. They have a nice garden area. That over looks the outdoor pool and hot tub. I ended the night enjoying a glass of red wine in the heat. Taking in the view. Which was extremely relaxing.
The next day I leapt out of bed and jumped right in the two headed shower to get myself ready to visit Graceland. The focal point of the whole trip for me. And the thing that I had been looking forward to the most.
As this was probably a once in a life time chance to do this, I went big. I booked the Ultimate VIP Tour. Which as previously mentioned. I was very excited about. Although it is only about a seven minute walk from the Guest House to Graceland itself. We decided to take the free shuttle bus from the hotel straight there.
You get taken to the Visitor Centre at first. I found the desk where I needed to sign in for my tour. Collected my pass. And was told where I needed to be at what time ready to start it. There is a maximum of eight people on the Ultimate VIP Tour. And you get a tour guide, who will be with you for a total of four hours.
Right on time Sheila our tour guide appeared. And we were off. We were going straight to the house itself first. There is a bus that takes you across the road from the visitor centre to the famous building. It was a brilliant moment when those iconic gates opened inwards and we drove up the drive way.
The first thing that struck me approaching the house is that it was dressed for Christmas. And there was fake snow on the ground. It turns out that they are currently filming a “Graceland at Christmas” programme for the Hallmark Channel. Which they are doing during the evenings and night. When the attraction is closed to the public.
Then before I knew it. I was standing by those imposing white pillars and making my way through Elvis’s front door. The doors are all left open but all the rooms are roped off. Members of the public are not allowed upstairs. But you can see the famous staircase and look in pretty much all the other rooms. Each of the rooms is so individual and has its own look and feel. Elvis himself was heavily involved with the design of every room. It was very much his home.
He had everything you would want in a house. A music room, games room, television room, bar area and that cool, odd enchanting room. That is the Jungle Room. Although Elvis never called it that himself. It was influenced by Hawaii. As he loved it there and wanted to style the room around the Island. It was only after the press saw it. That they christened it the Jungle Room. It really does have a cool vibe to it. I would say it was probably my favourite room in the house.
I mentioned the TV room. Elvis loved his phones and TV’s. He had one in every room and in most of his cars. In the TV room there are several televisions in a row. He got the idea after seeing a clip of the then President. At home watching many different news programmes at the same time.
Except Elvis used his bank of them to watch lots of different American Football games at the same time. He liked his NFL. Graceland had its own touch football team. Which he made himself the Quarter back of. Well nobody was going to argue were they? It was his team. Plus he was an eighth Dan Black Belt in two separate martial arts.
It was odd but amazing being in his house. Getting a feel of how he relaxed in his free time and lived. We left the main house and went through the Car Port to an outhouse. Which was his dad Vernon’s office.
When Elvis bought Graceland he moved in with his mum, dad and auntie. I get the impression there were always lots of people at home with him. Vernon used to pay all the bills. And look after the financial side of home life from his office. It is also the place where Elvis did his first television interview after he left the army.
Next to the office. There is the smoke house. Elvis turned it in to a shooting range. He did like his fire arms and had several hand guns. As you head out from there you see his paddock. Where he kept the horses he rode. There is another building back towards the house where he used to keep his concert outfits and gold discs. This is now used as a mini museum containing some memories of his life.
You walk out of that room past the swimming pool. Then as you continue up the path. You come to the Memorial Garden. Where he is buried alongside his mum, dad and auntie. They is also a plaque for his stillborn twin brother. It is really a poignant and reflective place. It was strange seeing his gravestone. But lovely that he is still at the home. Where he enjoyed some of his happiest times. I had a nice quiet moment there by myself before moving on.
We then returned to the front of the house to get the bus back to the visitor centre. We were then taken around his car museum. He did like his motors and owned some very impressive vehicles. From here we moved on to his concert year’s section. With many of those famous jump suits out on display.
There is currently an exhibition there called inspired by Elvis. Which features items from singers. He either influenced with his music or with his style. These include Bruce Springsteen, Buddy Holly and Justin Timberlake to mention just a few. There are so many cool items to look at right the way through the place.
One of the extra things you get on the Ultimate VIP Tour. Is to actually hold something that belonged to Elvis. At the end of the tour. We were taken to a private area. We were each given a pair of white cotton gloves to wear. And then we got to hold and have our picture taken with one of his own personal microphones. Which I have to be honest was pretty awesome.
This was where we said goodbye to our excellent guide Shelia. Next we claimed our free lunch at Vernon’s Place. Luckily by this point we had made friends with an American guy called Chance. As eating at fast food places in the States. Can be a mine field. Unless you have somebody to talk you through ordering sides to go with your main. With his help we managed it. I must say the pulled pork and BBQ sauce in this place was sensational.
The package we bought meant that we had access to the whole site all day. After lunch we went back and looked through a few more of the exhibits that we had missed. Including taking a look at his plane display. He had two. A Boeing Jet which he named Lisa Marie after his daughter. Which was fantastic. It had a dressing room, a dining table, a bathroom. Elvis even had his own bedroom on it. I would love to travel everywhere in that plane. So cool.
He also owned a smaller jet. He used the Lisa Marie when on tour. And tended to use the smaller one for personal use during his down time. When he was doing big tours in America. His manager Colonel Parker would normally fly ahead in the jet to set up the next venue. Then Elvis and the rest of the band would follow on later aboard the Lisa Marie. You do get to step on and look around both of the planes.
We then went back over the road to have our second look around the house. This time on our own. This meant we could spend a little more time in each room and take a few more pictures. And drink in a bit more of the atmosphere. Now that we were more familiar with the place. I am glad we went back to go round again. It gave me the chance to fully appreciate it a bit more the second time.
The gates to the house close at six in the evening everyday. By the time I had spent far too much money in the gift shops. I would like to say buying presents. (But it was mostly on stuff for me). It had gone past the daily closing time.
Which meant with the gates now shut. We could hop back over the road and get some pictures of ourselves in front of them. The wall outside has been signed by many of people who have visited. Sadly this was the one time that I did not have a Sharpie on me. So I could not add my name to it.
As we only had a few nights in every place. Time was at a premium. So after a long day at Graceland. It was back to the hotel. To get ready to have a night out on the famous Beale Street of Memphis. This is the main street. It is full of bars and restaurants. All with live bands continuously playing. We got a free shuttle bus from the hotel and arrived there just after eight. It was already busy and happening with lots going on.
We met our friend from earlier Chance in the Hard Rock Cafe. As we walked in. There was a college band performing. They were all only about eighteen. It was a big ten piece band, plus the singers. They sounded amazing. There is a lot of musical talent in the States. We left there to grab a quick snack in a burger joint.
Then we found this bar with a brilliant live band. Who were playing a really varied and wide range of music. We stopped in there for a few drinks. I do like to try and sample some of the local ales. When I am in a new place. I did try the Memphis Beer. But I will be honest it was not to my particular taste.
Beale Street is a cool place. Which has a fun, musical vibe to it. Like Broadway in Nashville. There is live music all day. Plus bright neon lights above the bars. To try and lure you in. Memphis is known as the Home of The Blues. So we thought it fitting to finish the night under a sign declaring this. Before we got the bus back to The Graceland Guest House.
We had one day left in Memphis. And a lot of things left that we still wanted to do. The first one of these was a trip to the famous Sun Studio. Where Elvis wandered in off the street to make his first ever recording. Again there was handily a free shuttle bus to take us to it. So we hopped aboard that.
There were quite a lot of people at Sun Studio. But we managed to get ourselves on to the next tour. It is not a massive place. The whole tour only takes you in four different rooms. The first one has some items tracing the history of Sun. Through the years. It was started and run by a man called Sam Phillips. With the intention of recording Blues singers. But to make extra money. Anyone could come in off the street. Pay their cash and cut a record.
One morning Elvis did just that. He said that he wanted to record a song for his mum’s birthday. Now he was either very organised or telling a little white lie. As her birthday was two months before he appeared at Sun. It is now thought, he wanted to hear a recording of himself to see how he sounded. But was too shy to admit that. So he just pretended he was doing it for her.
When he went in that day Sam Philips was not there. His assistant and partner Marion Keisker did the recording. They always used to give the customer a copy and keep the original. So a very happy Elvis walked away with his record. And then Marion left Sun’s “copy” for Sam Phillips to listen to. With a note attached saying “Great Ballad Singer”.
Sam did not like ballads at all and they were not what he wanted to record. So he did not listen to the Elvis recording. It took her about a year just to convince him to listen to it. When he did he called young Presley back in. That is when they recorded “That’s All Right Mama”. And as they say the rest is history.
A very special part of the Sun Studio Tour. Is when you step in to the actual recording room itself. As well as Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and U2 have recorded there. In fact U2 left a drum kit there in 1987. They said they would come back for it. But it is still there.
They have the original mic there. That would have been used by Elvis and all the other greats. Which they let you have a picture with. It is an exciting end to a brilliant tour. If you are a music fan. It is yet again another magical place to visit.
Apparently Bob Dylan came to visit once. He walked in to the recording studio. He did not say a word to anyone. He just kneeled down, kissed the floor. Then got up and walked straight back out again. It is still used as a studio today. Lots of bands and singers record there in the evenings and during the nights.
We then had a quick look around the Memphis Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Which contained items belonging to some of the Cities best known singers. Last year I saw a very special Stax Prom at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Which was top quality. Therefore, while in Memphis. I had to see the Stax Museum.
It is on the site of the original recording studio. They produced soul greats like Booker T and the MG’s, Ike & Tina Turner, Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes. Or if you only know his later work Chef from the cartoon South Park. It has once again got great history and stories attached to it. It came from nowhere was successful made some money. Then ultimately disappeared. But in the meantime it was responsible for giving us a lot of great music to enjoy.
There was one more place that we just had to visit. While we were in Memphis. That was the Civil Rights Museum. It was a very popular place. We had to queue for an hour to get in. It was worth it. It is quite heavy, upsetting and in many respects a bit of a depressing look at humanity or rather the lack of it over the years. I am glad I took the time to see it, though.
It is on the site of what was the Lorraine Motel. Which is the spot where Martin Luther King was shot on 4th April 1968. They have an exhibit showing the final two rooms at the Motel that he was in. You can also from the outside of the museum. See the balcony where he was murdered. The exact place is marked with a reef. It is quite a poignant and reflective place.
The final day in Memphis was pretty full on to say the least. But I was still desperate to get some time just relaxing by the pool at the hotel. Which I managed to do at about seven o’clock. It was still lovely and warm. I had a nice swim and float in the water. Before enjoying the benefits of an out door hot tub. Which after a long day on my feet, was a nice treat.
It was while around the pool. We got chatting to a fellow guest. Who told us the singer turned priest Al Green had a church in Memphis. Just a few blocks from the hotel. And that he was taking a service there at eleven thirty the next morning.
It was rumoured that he sang a few of his hits. And was very happy to chat to everybody at the end. As much as we would have liked to go. We had a five and an half hour drive the next day. So we needed to already be on the road by that time. It was a shame to have to miss that though.
It was Saturday Night. And at the Guest House. That means it is Movie on the lawn night. They drag out a big TV and put an Elvis film on. As we were shattered from our very busy day. That seemed like a fitting way to end it. We grabbed a seat on the grass. Then watched Viva Las Vegas. As the darkness fell. The perfect way to end an Elvis inspired couple of days.
After a traditional American breakfast of pancakes, syrup and berries. It was time leave Memphis. And make the long trip down to New Orleans. I will tell you all about that in the next instalment. Cheers Neil
Hi there, how are you doing? I hope you are well and have been enjoying the nice weather. I have just returned from an amazing holiday. To an area of America. That I have been wanting to visit for sometime. I am a massive fan of music in general. But I am also a person who very much enjoys Country and Western Music. Which is why the home of it, Nashville was the first main location on my American adventure.
It started at Heathrow Airport. From where I flew Delta Airlines to Atlanta. I think they were trying to prepare us for the States. As they just seemed to keep bringing out food. Almost constantly, it seemed. I think I must have had at least two meals plus the same number of snacks. It was that and the countless episodes of The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory that I watched. Which helped me through the eight and an half hour flight.
Atlanta is five hours behind the United Kingdom. Therefore despite leaving England at around Midday. We touched down at just gone four o’clock. I had hired a car to get around. I picked it up from one of the many hire companies at the airport. After I had signed the paper work. They gave me a whole row of vehicles to choose from. I chose a Ford Feista. As I have driven them a lot over the years, it is a car that I am familiar with. Which I thought might help.
Their motors are all left hand drive but thankfully I had ordered an automatic. So that took the confusion of having to change gear with my right hand out of the equation. We collected the GPS devise. We had sensibly requested. Then headed off for my first taste of driving in America. Remembering to stay on the right hand side of the road. We made our way to our first overnight stop. Which was a hotel two hours from the airport in Chattanooga.
I went on this trip with my friend Kayleigh. It had been a long day travelling. Therefore we were delighted just to get to the hotel and get some sleep. We got up fairly early in the morning. Ready to grab a bit of breakfast. Then head to our first proper stop, Nashville. We could see a Waffle House sign right near the hotel. The plan was to go there. But despite getting directions from the receptionist. We could not get to it and just ended up going round in circles.
In the end we spotted a burger bar called Krystal, so we decided to go in there. We later found out that it was actually Elvis Presley’s fast food chain of choice. They did a breakfast menu. I chose my meal and asked for a tea. That is my hot drink of choice for all occasions. So for me it was the obvious thing to request.
On ordering this the server gives me a paper cup. And I thought she said “you get your ice over there” and she pointed to the corner. But then I thought I do not need ice for a cuppa. I must of misheard. Then she says it again. But rather than question it or ask her about it. I just did the most British thing ever.
Not wanting to cause a fuss. I just put the ice in my cup. I then go back to her with it. She asks if I want sweet or unsweetened. I am thinking at last we are getting somewhere. I am back on track. I like my tea with sugar. It was not until she handed it over that I realised tea over there is in fact iced tea.
I drunk it and it was actually not to bad. The meal was nice. Although the breakfast roll came in what they call biscuit. Which is basically a sweet scone. Which gives your burger a slightly different taste. I got chatting to her and she told me at the last restaurant she worked at. An Englishman used to come in everyday for his breakfast. After a while she got talking to him and found out he was a famous singer back home in the UK. It was none other than Adam Ant.
We finally set off for Nashville. Which was about a two hour drive. We checked in to the hotel there. Then went straight back out to explore the place. This meant hopping in a taxi for a twenty minute ride across the city to the World Famous Grand Ole Opry.
It is a County and Western music concert venue. Where the weekly radio show of the same name comes from. It started in November 1925. It has been going ever since. Anybody who is anybody in the world of Country Music has appeared on the programme and on the stage there.
We took a tour of it. Which was fascinating. We were told about its history. We saw the artists entrance. The changing rooms. The TV studio there were the Nashville television series is filmed. Plus we got to walk out on to that iconic stage. The venue is not the original one. As its popularity started to grow and grow it moved to a couple of different places in and around the city. Before finding its current home at the Ryman Auditorium back in 1943.
On the stage right where the singers perform. There is a circular piece of wood, set in the stage. It has been taken and carefully preserved from the first theatre that the show was broadcast. Therefore every singer, who has ever performed throughout its entire history. Has stood on the same bit of special timber. I was happy to be able to get a picture stood on it. While holding a microphone, as part of the tour.
As a nod to regular guests and to Country Music greatness. There is an invited Grand Ole Opry Members list. Which reads like a who’s who of amazing singers. They normally induct only one or two new members a year. On the night they are inducted. They get a special “Welcome to the Family” dressing room and close the radio show with a twenty minute headline slot.
It is a beautiful venue. I really enjoyed looking round. You can feel the history and the aura of it. It was just a shame that on the nights we were there. That the radio show was not on. I would have loved to have watched that live from the audience. Never mind, may be next time.
A five minute taxi ride away from the Grand Ole Opry. There was a little museum. That I was desperate to visit, while I was there. It is called Cooter’s Place. Which was also the name of the garage in one of my favourite American televisions show’s. When I was a kid, The Dukes of Hazzard. This is not just a coincidence as this shrine to this brilliant programme is owned by Ben Jones. Who actually played the mechanic and friend of the “Dukes” Cooter.
It is filled with lots of memorabilia including signed photos, scripts, props, toys, card board cut outs of the stars and more. The best thing about it. Is that it has one of the Police Cars, Cooter’s Car and Truck, Daisy’s Jeep and one of the actual General Lee’s used in the show.
When I was about eight or nine me and my sister used to play in my parents car pretending we were the Dukes of Hazzard. Including climbing in and out of the windows. I think I once may have put a slight dent in my dad’s motor by trying to slide across the bonnet.
While you are there they offer you the chance to have your picture taken in the General Lee. This was one opportunity I was not going to miss. I think you can see from my smile in the picture. How much I was enjoying it.
I absolutely loved it. I had to treat myself to A Good Ol Boy’s T-shirt. Which I will regularly be wearing with pride. Three days before I was there Catherine Bach who played Daisy was there. I must confess I am a little gutted to have missed that.
An activity I had already booked in advance was a combined trip to The County and Western Music Hall of Fame and the famous Studio B in Nashville. This is how we spent day two there. First up it was the Hall a Fame.
They had a special Loretta Lynn exhibition. Which was fascinating. It told her life story with lots of artefacts from both her life and career. Including guitars, outfits and awards. Every country music singer or musician that you can think of has something of theirs on display there. It is a huge place spread over three massive floors.
There is so much to see. That after two hours we were only about half way round. We had to take a break to go on our scheduled tour of Studio B. There is a tour bus that takes you there and back from outside the Hall of Fame. You are accompanied by a guide. Studio B was owned by RCA. They were the record company that signed Elvis from his first label Sun records.
This studio was built very much with him in mind. In fact he recorded many of his albums in this famous studio. He used to stay at an hotel just around the corner. That had a guitar shaped swimming pool. You may have seen pictures before of him in that pool.
At first the studio had stripped lighting. Elvis said it made the place feel like at office and not a creative space. He requested lights were put in that could be changed to several different colours. For every song that he recorded. He would try to find the right vibe and feel by changing the colour of the room with the lights.
He was an insomniac, so he used to often record during the night and normally on a Sunday. Typically everybody would already be there. He would then arrive about six in the evening. He would order some food for everybody from Krystal. Then they would spend a few hours around the piano singing Gospel songs. After which he would be ready to start recording. Setting the mood with the lights for each song. The sessions were known to last all night.
There is a blue cross on the floor. Which marks where the singers would stand or sit. It is the premier acoustic spot in the room. We could see exactly where the King would have been positioned. When laying down the vocals for those huge iconic tracks of his. When he was recording “Are You Lonesome Tonight”. He just could not get the ambience to feel right with the lights. So he could not capture the mood he wanted. In the end he just ended up recording it in the dark with no lights on at all.
At the end of the first take. He gets up to walk over and speak to the Jordanaires. He hits his head on their mic. When the recording is still going. At first thinking he had ruined the take. The studio engineer assured him. He could virtually remove the thud and no one would notice it. He did a great job but if you do listen closely and loudly to the original album version. You can hear a slight click, right at the very end. Which you now know is Elvis’s head connecting with a microphone.
Some of the other stars who have recorded at Studio B include The Everly Brothers, Waylon Jennings, Roy Orbison, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and Jim Reeves to mention but a few. Your could really feel the history of the place. It had a special magic to it. Especially when they were playing you some of the actual recordings, that were done there. While we were standing right there. It was quite emotional at times.
After Studio B it was back to finish off looking around the Hall of Fame. After finally seeing all the exhibits and witnessing the world’s biggest wall of Gold Discs. We arrived at the actual Hall of Fame bit itself. It is in a special circular room. That looks as spectacular from the outside as it does from the inside. You have to have achieved a certain status to be inducted. Once you are accepted by the board. Then you get your own plaque put up on the wall.
Everyone of the people up on that wall is an absolute Country Legend. I made sure I looked at every single person. Who was represented. If you ever visit Nashville. This is somewhere you have to visit to get a feel of the place. And how important music is to it. They call it music city. And you can really see why.
The main strip in the centre of Nashville is called Broadway. It is a road filled with bright neon lights and lots of bars and restaurants. We spent two nights enjoying its hospitality. In pretty much every place, they have live country music from full bands to singers with guitars.
The music goes on all day from about midday to closing time. With several different acts performing in each venue. The bands earn their money through tips. If you like them drop some cash in their bucket or you can pay them to play any songs that you request.
The first place we went on the first night was a place called Whiskey Row. They had a band on who were fantastic. Plus they did possibly the best steak and chips I have ever tasted. It was lovely. The food we had in America was on the whole absolutely brilliant.
That night we sampled a few other bars and acts. It is so warm in Tennessee even at night. Most of the pubs have roof tops bars. To enjoy the views of the street down below and the night sky from. We finished the night at one of those. Before returning to the roof top bar at our hotel for a quick night cap.
On our final night we went to an Italian place. Which was so popular. That we had to wait twenty minutes to get a seat there. We ordered just a pasta dish each. But did not realise they offered a three course meal with every main. A massive plate of salad comes out first. Then the food we ordered. Followed by some ice-cream. I was not even that hungry before we started. Portions in the States are definitely bigger than in England. That said I did manage to eat it all.
We then visited Coyote Ugly, so Kayleigh could have a quick dance on the bar. Lastly we checked out some of Nashville’s most famous bars including Nudies, (it is not what you think, it is just a music bar, get your mind out of the gutter). And Tootsies, which had two great bands playing at the same time at opposite ends of the place. All to soon it was time to head back to the hotel to get some sleep. Before heading off to our next stop the following morning.
Nashville was a wonderful experience. Next it was Memphis and the home of Elvis Graceland. Something I was really looking forward to. I will tell you all about that in the next instalment. Cheers Neil.