On the way to work today, the lady purposed with lifting us to the venue made it known that St. John is one of the oldest cities in Canada. I took that to mean it was pretty old, but with a little post-quip research, I touched on the Passamaquoddy and Maliseet who lived here thousands of years ago — that’s quite old. But as far as European exploration goes — you know, those guys who discovered everything with finger quotes — it could be that Leifr Eiríksson wins the white-guy race with modern-day L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Curiously, it was first called (by the French) Anse à la Medée, and became L’Anse aux Méduses — Jellyfish Cove — and it’s interesting to see a relation between Méduses, and the now glaringly obvious Greek Gorgon Medusa. Gorgons, meadows, and my namesake aside; St. John is still pipped by its apostrophe’d cousin St. John’s, in Newfoundland, apparently the “[o]ldest English-founded city in North America’, and then Harbour Grace, again in Newfie-land, and Tadoussac in Quebec, and Port Royal in Nova Scotia, back to Québec City, reversing course to Cupids, kissing the cod in Newfoundland, and fast-forwarding 21 years, leaving the fish-kissers, to St. John New Brunswick in 1631.
For fun, let’s have a look at colours in history; it seems St. John was actually the first city to be ‘incorporated’ in British North America — in 1785. The future doesn’t look good for blue; Brittania’s ‘Jack’ was squeezed into a corner of the Canadian Red Ensign, and while Johnny may have flown the Union in 1785, in less than two centuries, Andrew’s blue was gone and George’s red was spread wide, broken by a white square, and stylised into an 11-pointed maple leaf. The NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team used to be called Toronto St. Patricks; they had blue uniforms, then green uniforms, and from 1927 until today, EVERYONE knows the modern Leafs retain Andrew’s blue. If you’re interested in or familiar with Northern Irish history and politics, you might find connecting-dots in that the Orange Order (an influential organisation linking Scottish and Irish protestants) enjoyed much power in Toronto business at the time the St. Pats became the Leafs.
In 1947, the Leafs’ uniforms were lettered in red for a short time — at the time, although Canada was its own thing, it didn’t have the flag it has today; I’m saying red was likely a very ‘British’ red. 1947 saw the death of William Donald Ross, former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario under King George; Ross was also owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs BASEBALL team. And, 1947 was the year the last active service personnel stood down from WW2.
Source for all the above: I totally Wikipedia’d the lot, so it would be interesting to hear other sources, but as this is a tour blog and not a formal essay, let’s say that Leifr Eiríksson swallowed some irridium-tainted calimari and used his laser-eyes to carve the 49th parallel which marks the border of much of Canada and the US. Job done, Canada’s better at hockey. (For now.)
An-y-how… St. John certainly has its charm, a few red-brick buildings here and there, the hills and sea air, and interestingly, the Reversing Falls, a river of rapid tidal anomaly. Oh but I didn’t see any of that yesterday; this member of The Winning Team stayed in his room, writing in the dark about butt-cheeks.
Today’s venue, Harbour Station, doesn’t resemble a station. It’s an ice rink with no ice. The reader may roll eyes, upon the subject returning to hockey, but do not despair. We’re down to the bare, slightly shiny concrete today, not a lick of frost anywhere; even the ‘boards’ have been removed which makes for a more elegant look than the rink in Halifax. There was nothing wrong with Halifax, but here in St. John, it looks less like a rink and more like a concert hall. But it still doesn’t look like a station.
It’s a slow rigging day; the steel girders, from which the speakers and lights must be hung, are painted Andrew’s blue, and distributed widely in the roofspace. Steel ropes must be fashioned into ‘bridles’ to which the electric chain hoists shall be hooked; via the hoists, the ‘flying’ equipment shall be raised. A (nameless of course) member of UHTC told me that today’s local riggers aren’t the quickest. I’d heard a rumour in Halifax suggesting we were to have four more riggers today and I sought to confirm, with said nameless person, this rumour. The quick and witty answer:
“[M]ore people who don’t know what they’re doing isn’t much help.”
I raise a hand and declare my own limited knowledge of rigging; I’m just the parrot.
Behind the stage there is a big door and straddling the threshold of this portal is a truck; its aura a mandorla, the etherial bridge between indoor and out. Yes, a big dirty truck mingles between planes of comfort and shut that bloody door. The wheelèd beast is one of five carrying our equipment, and while it is unloaded by the local crew, who are directed by Stage Manager Saint Paul (a Catholic saint?) the outside cool air barges in, sapping its house-bound cousin of energy, and by brownian motion, its molecules dance and collide with exhaust fumes of the propane-powered forklift. Y’all wanna get hiiiiiigh?
Dan and I are in early again today, helping NIcky to convert sporty-group changing rooms into little slices of nices for our portable cast of jongleurs. When finished, we grabbed a hobbit-sized second-breakfast, waiting for our big dirty truck to appear in the celestial door, containing the GENUINELY useful stuff — not like all that rigging, PA and lighting equipment. Everyone knows the whole thing revolves around a few guitars and a Jew’s harp.
There are no delays today and soundcheck just kinda happens. Today’s whole-band numbers are Sisters of Mercy, Night Comes On, La Manic, Can’t Forget, Dance Me, and The Future.
The first set of the show proceeds under the guise of a Hamilton setlist, but half way through, we are informed there will be a change in the second set. Change? Change!? What is this finger-quoted-change of which you speak? It looks like Different Sides will make an appearance. And does it? Well, does it!?
The second half begins with Tower of Song, but not before a brief introduction from Leonard regarding the technological miracle sitting on a humble ‘x-stand’ before him. As mentioned before, sometimes it’s difficult for we wing-dwellers to catch every word spoken through the PA, but if I may be so bold, I would quote Leonard as saying of the plastic Technics keyboard proffering its marvels of self-automation, that he bought it in Toronto 21 years ago and ‘I can’t break the damn thing.’ Halfway through the song, he receives praise for his display of chops and feigning belief that he is being humoured, he challenges the audience: ‘Do you think that’s all I can do?’ With a virtuoso’s elbow, he runs through a scale of black keys for an audience complicit in the satire. Appearing as though he really is going to attempt breaking the device, he makes to lift it off its simple cradle, but his knees buckle comically under the strain. He really CAN’T break it!
In his article, Shefa Siegel loosely compares Leonard to a “master of prayer (baal tefillah in Hebrew)” and uses words like ‘liturgy’, ‘supplicant’, and ‘Ecclesiastical humility’ in the piece. I don’t think Leonard intended his humorous over-exertion as an allegory, but upon thinking, it does seem fitting that a man pretending to struggle under the weight of a plastic keyboard could indeed be dwarfed by his own body of work.
The answer is yes; after Suzanne, Different Sides makes it into the set. St. John’s crowd (that is to say the audience of St. John) are pin-drop punters — very attentive and appreciative, seeming to hang on the words of their host, but the reaction to Hallelujah threatens to rumble the steel rafters as they stand the ‘O’ while the MC brings on the Waltz.
It is worth mentioning today that during soundcheck, reports streamed in about bombings at the Boston marathon. Of course, we gather thoughts for Boston and indeed ALL the dark places of the world. As travellers we think of many cities on Earth as places we’ve been, or indeed places we may one day visit, and so they’re all home to us; the streets, the people — they’ve all touched us in some way, and if they haven’t already, perhaps one day they will. Every last person that we, Humanity, has known, came from this planet; it’s our home and sometimes we forget how to live with each other.