AWAI Writing Challenge Winning Entry:
My Best Road Trip Ever
During the twenty years I was a backup singer in Nashville recording studios, I never went “on the road” with any artists. I specialized in studio work, which requires reading music or coming up with a voice arrangement quickly, versatility (singing country, pop, or R&B), and dependability. I sang backup on many hits and met lots of multi-talented, interesting people. At the end of the day, I went home to my family.
My son Kevin became a singer/songwriter and thrives on performing. He refers to himself as a “modern-day troubadour,” having built quite a fan base from extensive touring in Europe, Australia, and the United States. Ironically, his band is called “The Roadtrippers.” The core band consists of Robert Reynolds and Paul Deakin, formerly with the Mavericks, and legendary steel guitarist Al Perkins.
He now makes his home near Windsor, England with his beautiful British wife, Lee, and their five year old son. About seven years ago he called me and said, “Mom, would you like to come over for Christmas and go on the road with me and the guys for four days?”
I didn’t even have to think about it. “I’d love to!”
“Great! We’ll be going to northeastern England and the Highlands of Scotland. And Mom, bring some long-johns. It gets bitter cold here.”
On December 22, I flew into Heathrow with my long-johns carefully packed in my suitcase. The next morning off we went to Lee’s parent’s home about two hours north of Windsor. On Christmas Eve we went to Litchfield, a picturesque village nearby, to do a bit of sightseeing and last minute shopping. We ate lunch in a pub that had continuously operated as a pub for 450 years!
After lunch we walked through the “Close.” A large weather-beaten sign warned:
The Road Through the Close not Being a Public Thoroughfare,
No Waggons, Carts & Cattle are allowed to pass through. By Order of the Dean & Chapter.”
A beautiful fifth century church with three spires reaching steeply toward heaven stood like a sentinel at the end of the “Close.” Inside it was just as beautiful and imposing, with high arched ceilings and a gold gilt altar. I wondered what life must’ve been like there sixteen centuries ago.
We celebrated a wonderful Christmas, then Kevin and I left on the twenty-eighth in his rented van for Amble, Northumberland, an impoverished fishing village a few miles from Scotland’s border. We passed a number of castles that loomed in wild, practically inaccessible places, but we didn’t stop: we had to be there by early evening to have dinner with the pub owner and finalize the plans for the New Year’s Eve show.
He gave us rooms above the pub. The community bathroom was down the hall and I soon discovered that the cord hanging from the ceiling was to switch on the hot water! After dinner, Kevin stayed downstairs and met people, but I went to bed at a reasonable hour and tried to sleep over the music and hum of people seeking a few hours respite from their harsh lives.
Pitlochry, a favorite resort town in Scotland’s Central Highlands was our next stop. We met up with the band there and even had time before the show to walk around some. In front of the hotel, two Scotsmen in kilts strolled by. Of course, we asked for a picture and as we snapped away, one of them playfully hiked his kilt a little.
That night the Town Hall was crowded with warm, friendly fans who were grateful that Kevin came to such a remote place to entertain them. Kevin introduced me and told the audience I’d sung with Elvis, then I sang backup on a couple of songs with him. I was surprised at the admiration I received for even my brief association with Elvis. Back then, I had been singing a number of years, and it was just “what I did.”
The crowd was SRO in Glasgow the next night. They were attentive and appreciative. I soon noticed a recurring theme in what people said to me about Kevin: they loved him because he comes to places other artists wouldn’t. He was also accessible; he’d stay and talk to them after the show.
After Glasgow, it was back to Amble for shows on the thirtieth and New Year’s Eve. The band had a rented home, but Kevin had gotten me a room at a Bed & Breakfast, thinking I’d be more comfortable there. I was excited to stay in a B&B in England! However, my excitement cooled quickly as we stepped over the stoop into the cigarette smoke-filled parlor. Fighting my misgivings, I followed the kindly, middle-aged woman up the narrow stairs to a small room that overlooked the wharf. At least I had a view.
I put down my luggage and again followed the woman down the hall and around the corner, where she opened the door to a not-so-clean bathroom with another hot water cord hanging from the ceiling. “You’re in a poor fishing village, not the United States. You can deal with this for two nights,” I reminded myself.
Back in my room, she gave me a couple of blankets “in case I needed them.” The weather had turned very cold , but I heard the radiator hissing and thought, “I’m hot-natured … I won’t need those blankets.” I accepted them anyway.
The room was like an iceberg when I got back after midnight. I felt the radiator. It was cold and quiet. I slept fitfully in my long-johns with all the covers piled on top.
The next morning I awoke looking forward to a nice warm shower, but I just couldn’t get that hot water to come on. I thought longingly of the house the band was staying in and wondered how they were faring. Kevin moved me in with them after I told him about the situation there and assured him I didn’t mind sleeping in a bunk bed.
New Year’s Eve was fun and interesting. Three punk rockers collected the tickets for the show. They were rough-looking and frankly, I was a little leery of them. We made our way past them to the bandstand and the guys set up. There was again an SRO crowd, and they were definitely celebrating New Year’s Eve. I needn’t have worried though; no one got rowdy. A few minutes after the show was over Paul Deakin, the drummer, came over and said there was a guy who was a huge Elvis fan and he’d love to have my autograph. He was the punk rocker with the Mohawk, tattoos, and lots of metal!
I gulped and said, “Sure!”
Paul brought him over. He didn’t have anything for me to write on, so I signed his arm. Me, a grandmother, signing a punk rocker’s arm? Unbelievable.
On New Year’s Day I started home to Georgia. Kevin and the Roadtrippers left for Northern Ireland. For four days I had lived in a different world and relished every moment. And I was so glad I’d brought long-johns.
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