Follow by Email

Monday, 31 October 2016

Rollin' On A River..


The St James Hotel was located just ten minutes away from the French Quarter. First impression was that it was dated, tired looking and over the course of the next few days, the impression didn’t change. A far cry from the Sheraton in Memphis but the staff were lovely. Warm, friendly, helpful. I checked in after the long excursion, showered and with the night still young headed out for something to eat and a first look at the city known as the Big Easy, the Crescent City, take your pick. With a trip on the Mississippi steamboat booked for next day I decided to seek out the quay and ticket office to exchange my voucher and save a bit of time in the morning. If i thought the humidity was awful in Memphis, New Orleans was a couple of notches higher! Barely had I walked twenty yards and my shirt was sticking to my back. Not far short of unbearable.
Maybe it was because I was shattered but New Orleans seemed confusing, roads going off in every direction. The receptionist in the hotel had gave me a map and pointed out where I would find the ticket office, but it still took time of going in circles to get my bearings. Finally I saw it and was relieved to find they were still handing tickets out. Mission accomplished I looked for a bar and some food. Right opposite the Steamboat ticket office was the Crescent City Bar, right by the famous Jackson Square and Brewery. Which I have to admit, I had no idea about. Famous? It’s in acknowledgement of General Andrew Jackson who led the Yankees to victory over the British in the infamous Battle of New Orleans. Lionised in song by Johnny Horton and Lonnie Donegan. ‘In 1814, I took a little trip…along the mighty river they called the Mississip..’
Lonnie’s song was going to be wedged into my head for all of this trip I could see!
The Crescent City Bar was busy, a jazz trio of sax, guitar and double bass entertained whilst I took a pew and ordered a beer and a dish of Brewhouse Shrimp Salad. It was delicious. Music was wonderfully laid back jazz, perfect. 

Making my way back to the St. James’ took ages. Turning down side streets and looking for main thoroughfares, the area was quite compact as it happens but with tiredness, drink, it was slightly disorientating. I went into another bar for respite from the humidity and a beer, and to ask the bartender to point me in the direction of my hotel.
The bar was busy and after waiting patiently I gave up. I walked outside, and lo and behold, there was the St James Hotel right opposite! Told you I was knackered! I slept well.

Today was a day I had been looking forward to ever since I booked this trip some months before, a Steamboat River trip on the Mississippi. The heat was suffocating again but rain was forecast so going by that I decided on wearing a light shirt and shorts and I also bought a hat. Queues were forming early for the 11.30am start. I sat under the shelter of trees nearby and waited. The Natchez Riverboat was right out of an old film set, big massive wheel at the back. Creedence Clearwater’s ‘Proud Mary’ suddenly infiltrated my brain..’rollin’, rollin’ rollin on the river..’ Loved that record and Creedence. Saw them at the Royal Albert Hall in 1970 which was a great thrill. However it wasn't Proud Mary or Green River that was blaring out from the boat but a racket which went on for the duration until we sailed. Apparently it was a tradition in the old days when the steamboat was set to sail the captain would turn its’ Calliope, a steam organ on to warn customers of its imminent departure. It is quite enchanting for a while, noisy and fairly melodic and I have to say, after fifteen minutes of it, rather irritating! I joined the queue and got talking to a nice couple from Edinburgh. The chap turned to me and said; “hope this noise isn’t playing for the whole trip!” Unappreciative but it was said lightheartedly. 
I had a premium ticket which included a dinner for the two hour trip. The Dining Hall was magnificent. A Creole Jazz combo adding a terrific atmospheric feel to proceedings. The waitresses and bartenders all dressed appropriately in old style costume. I marvelled at it all. It was like being transported back in time to the 1800s or early 1900s. The three course meal was surprisingly good as well. Surprisingly because normally these things are a disappointment but on reflection it wasn’t a Great American Theme Park I was visiting. If you get what I mean. A couple of glasses of Savignon to wash the meal down did the trick too. 
Satiated I made my way to the top deck to get a better view of the river and surrounding areas as we sailed past. Clouds were blackening and a cool breeze was getting up which sent a few people into the sanctuary of the bar. The weather didn’t bother me and before long it was lashing down! A few of us sat it out. It was refreshing after the humidity we had been suffering and being an old postman ‘a bit of rain never hurt any twat’, as I used to say. Mind you, when I used to come out with that Sue always used to retort; ‘well what are you moaning about then!’ Funny what memories come into your head at times!

The Captain’s mate or tour guide on the bridge gave a commentary throughout, telling us about the Battle of New Orleans fought out ‘on our left’ and also the area where Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city further down river. That disaster which occurred in 2005 still hangs heavy over the city. 

There are some things you only dream about and for me a riverboat trip on the Mississippi was one and I sat taking it all in, the history, the views, could hardly believe I was doing it. In such moments my mind drifts to what Sue would be making of it all if she was here. Not that she would have been envious Sue was quite indifferent to these sort of adventures but I still do wish she was here to share such moments.
The return back to New Orleans was magical. The skyline, the bridge, the great merchant ships slowly ambling their way to their destinations unknown. 
While I sat there in a chair by the railings lost in my own little world, the rain became heavier by the second. My thoughts took me to what it must have been like during the hurricane, terrifying beyond belief I should imagine. I mean well over a thousand lost their lives. How do you comprehend that?

Amidst the dark clouds and the squally rain, blue skies tried to pierce through the gloom. Everybody except a handful of us faced it out, the bars on the upper and miship decks were crammed. I took the view that as uncomfortable the rain and wind was, it would soon revert to type and we’d be dry and baking again soon enough. I didn’t want to waste a moment. Coming round the bend in the river to see that marvellous road bridge over the Mississippi was something to savour. 

It was soon over and I was back looking for a Blue Moon beer in the Crescent City Bar. Checking the photographs I had taken and savouring the atmosphere. Before heading back to freshen up for the night i called in some souvenir shops to buy T-shirts and a New Orleans mug for my collection. The next couple of days were going to be concentrated on sightseeing and spending time in the French Quarter, and taking in what I came here for. The music.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Way Down Yonder in New Orleans

‘Good Morning America..How Are Yer?’

It’s 06.50am, I’m standing on the platform of Memphis Central Station, tired, cold. It’s still dark, a queue is lining up in readiness for the train called the City of New Orleans to roll into town. I’ve been here for over half hour after being dropped off by taxi. Despite feeling knackered I was really quite excited about this trip and finally out of the darkness two lights emerged in the distance, slowly getting brighter as they neared the single platform. The train which left Chicago some 10 hours before on the 900 miles journey somehow looked tired as well. Creeping into Memphis Station as if it was on its last legs. A mass of people waited in line for the guards to sort out the tickets and seat allocation. The train waiting patiently but enjoying the break. The City of New Orleans I learned wasn't the actual name of the train but the service. Like we used to have the Thames Clyde Express in Britain all those years ago. Allocated my seat, I was upstairs, the spacious coaches a far cry from the cramped replicas we have here in Britain. I stretched out, plenty of room, a few people chattering away slightly annoying at this time of the day but I closed my ears to them. One thing I was disappointed about was that I had half heartedly expected to hear Willie Nelson and the Highwaymen singing the anthem..

‘Good Morning America, How are yer?
Say, dont you know me? I’m your native son..
I’m the train they call the City of New Orleans..
And I’ll be gone 500 miles when the day is done..’

Well, not really, but it would have been nice..I sang the song in my head instead.

Eventually, twenty minutes late, the huge double decker train pulled out of Memphis, slowly making its way through the suburbs, crawling along as if it wasn’t in the mood to face the remaining nine hour trek across Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana. 
Stuttering along it gave way to freight trains, which seemed a mile long, at every juncture. I settled into my seat, thinking that at this rate we wouldn’t get to New Orleans until the next day! Took an hour for the train to start really moving. All part of the adventure though and I was determined to enjoy it as much as I could.
We settled into a pattern, the train chugging along, passing endless barren landscapes, the occasional small town, wooden houses and shacks scattered around, a church. All looked archetypical of the Deep South.

To pass the time I had my iPad ready for the opportunity to take photographs through the window. The train was going slow enough most of the time. Then out of the blue came an announcement from the train driver. Straining my ears I was somewhat amazed to hear; “First stop on the journey will be Greenwood in about two and half hours for a smoke stop”. I kid you not. He continued; “We will stop here for about ten minutes if anyone wants to get off for a smoke but don’t stray away from the platform’. 
Well I could imagine that happening on British Rail! Not. There’d be uproar!
And the train did stop. Passengers scrambled for the doors, stood outside in the cold, puffing away. I couldn’t believe it. My mind wandered to the Rockingham Arms Pub Quiz Nights on Mondays back home. Quizmaster John Day giving the quizzers a five minute warning to go outside for a last drag before the start. Followed up by; “the quiz will begin in one minute”. And the punters, gasping, stubbing out their cigarettes and rushing back to their seats. Cracks me up every week. 
Nobody as far as I could see, got on at Greenwood. 
Next stop was to be Jackson, another couple of hours down the line.

Getting hungry I went to the Buffet and Dining Car, a coach with virtually large floor to ceiling windows, lounge seats, very comfortable. I bought a cheeseburger and a coffee, headed back to my seat and settled down to ‘people watch’.
A party of three were in front of me, all in there 60s, a guy and two ladies, one I ascertained was his wife. They had been ahead of me in the queue on the platform at Memphis. I had noticed them, they were very quiet, probably tired like I was. Now, a few hours later, they had come to life. The guy was particularly irritating, not only to me watching but to the two women as well! Up and down like a jack in the box, faffing around, fawning over his two ladies I could see he was getting on their nerves. “Why don’t you sit down and relax instead of changing seats, and give us some peace to read!” one finally said.
He did, for about five minutes. Then he was up again; “Anyone want anything to eat? drink?’ They were obviously peckish and a debate about what they should get ensued for about ten minutes. I’m sitting, watching, taking this all in. God almighty! I was chuckling to myself. What a pain!
Off he went. He returned around twenty minutes later with some bags of food and drinks. “Right, what do you want?” he said to the older lady and proceeded to describe every piece of scran he had bought, cheeseburger, beef burgher, crisps, Tuna sandwiches, biscuits, bar of chocolate..The three of them eventually sorted it out and got stuck in.. 
“Nice little picnic this..” He couldn’t even shut up when he was eating!
It passed the time of day watching this cretin.

The train kept a rollin’, as the Johnny Burnette song goes, miles of scrubland, Plains, the occasional river, a road leading to nowhere..through a town called Yazoo City. We stopped once again to let a freight train through, it went on forever! Never seen such monster trains like these. It must have took a good fifteen minutes to get past us, boxcars and wagons transporting everything from cars, fuel wagons, containers of all shapes and sizes..incredible. There seems to be a right of away for freight trains over passenger trains in America which again is remarkable when you consider the rail network and system we have in Britain.

The outskirts of Jackson appeared, June Carter and Johnny Cash’s song came into my head.

‘We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout,
We've been talkin' 'bout Jackson, ever since the fire went out.
I'm goin' to Jackson, I'm gonna mess around,
Yeah, I'm goin' to Jackson,
Look out Jackson town.’

I was shaken out of my day dreaming by another announcement.
“We will be arriving at Jackson in around fifteen minutes. if anyone wants to get off for another smoke, we will be here for about twenty minutes. Don’t leave the platform, the driver won’t wait for any stragglers.”
And hordes deserted the train and filled up the platform. The guards included. It was like looking at a Smokers Corner at school as cigarette smoke polluted the air. 

Just like John Day at the Rock, the driver gave everybody a warning that the train would be on its way again in five minutes. I watched as people stopped chattering, took a last drag, stubbed out the cigarettes and clambered back on board. Satisfied that nobody was left behind, the driver set off for the final leg of the journey to New Orleans. By now, he and his co-driver, I assumed, would be into the 16th hour of their shift driving this train. Chicago to New Orleans apparently takes 19 hours.
As we slowly pulled out of Jackson it gave me the opportunity to take some more pictures, very satisfying. There was a feeling that this indeed was the heartland of America, of Mississippi, suddenly it seemed so far away from home..

We were shortly traversing the bayous of Louisiana. The railway track right next to the lakes, over rickety wooden bridges, through swamps. How did they build this line? Amazing. Miles and miles of nothing but swampland, the haunting Ry Cooder soundtrack to the film Southern Comfort came into my head. Looking out of the window, it was murky with drizzle, I wondered what wildlife exists out there. Alligators? Wouldn’t like to fall in and find out that was for sure.

All of a sudden the train comes into a clearing, there’s signs of life with a road bridge adjacent to the rail track appearing. We are on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain; ‘a brackish estuary located in south-eastern Louisiana, covering an area of 630 square miles with an average depth of 12 to 14 feet.’
That big, I thought it was the sea. 
Still no clear sign of New Orleans, turns out we are riding on what is called the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway; ‘composed of two parallel bridges in Southern Louisiana. The longer of the two bridges is 23 miles long. The southern terminus of the Causeway is in Metairie, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. The northern terminus is at Mandeville, Louisiana. The bridges are supported by 9,500 concrete pilings.’ 

The driver breaks my train of thought, if you pardon the pun; “We have to apologise that the train is running late but we should pull into New Orleans at around 16.40”.
Well, what is another hour when you’ve been on the train for eight hours already?
Finally we arrive in The Big Easy but there was another twist to come yet. The guards warn everyone that first of all, “the train has to go forth, then reverse into the station. So, when the train stops, don’t open the doors and get off! Thank you for your patience.”
Bit obvious but I suppose Health and Safety is rearing its over in the States too.

After nine hours I emerged out of the New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal, weary. I grabbed a taxi and asked for the St. James Hotel, located in the heart of the city. The yellow taxi was shabby, looked like it was falling part, as did the driver, an ageing black man, but he was polite, chatty, very nice. He dropped me off with a parting shot; “Want a taxi for when you go home Sir?”
“I’ll give you a shout, thanks” I replied. He gave me his card.
“Have a great time in New Orleans sir”.

I intended to.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Time Is Tight…Stax Studio, Memphis.

When people talk about Memphis, invariably they think of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, Graceland, Sun, Sam Phillips, Rock and Roll. What is generally overlooked, by those of a certain age I should add, the original ‘Baby Boomers’, is that Memphis is also the self styled ‘Home of the Blues’ as well as the capital of Soul Music. 
Rock and Roll it is said, was the baby of the blues. 
Indeed, the city is synonymous with the Blues. Going back to the Mississippi cotton fields, slavery, racial segregation, the Civil Rights movement, the blues singers of the early 20th century. Furry Lewis, Sleepy John Estes, Sonny Boy Williamson. Then B.B.King, Howlin’ Wolf, and two who borrowed the city’s names, Memphis Minnie and Memphis Slim. Just a few of a long list of blues legends from the Mississippi Delta.

So today, I was intent on visiting some of these iconic places that is associated with Memphis; Stax Studio, the Martin Luther King Museum, Beale Street.

The humidity again was intense this morning with temperatures expected to reach well into the 90s by the afternoon, I decided to start my journey early, a taxi to McLemore Street where siblings Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton had opened up the Satellite Record Shop in 1957, the name coined from the Russian sputnik launched that year. In 1961 the label changed its name to Stax Records and opened the recording studio. 

Research told me; ’In 1975 Stax was forced into bankruptcy and the building left to decay. After a decade of neglect, the Southside Church of God in Christ tore down the original studio in 1989 and over a decade later the Stax Museum of American Soul Music was constructed at the site and opened in 2003.’ (Wikipedia)

Although I can’t profess to being a ‘Soul’ fan back in the 1960s, I was still a Beatles, Stones, Yardbirds fan, it was hard to imagine, standing outside this building thinking of all the great recordings made here, Otis Redding, Booker T and the MG’s, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Rufus Thomas.. You recall the age you were when you first heard My Girl, In The Midnight Hour, where you were, who you were with. Watching these stars on Ready Steady Go, Top of the Pops, they seemed to have come from another planet.

A Change Was Gonna Come sang Sam Cooke in 1964. Sam wasn’t talking about the music industry, but that’s another story..

The museum is full of all the usual artefacts and souvenirs, maybe they are cashing in but it was still a far cry from the Graceland Amusement Park. The costumes, instruments, photographs..brilliant. Even though this building was rebuilt you still get the sense of history that was made here, and you are standing on the very same spot where these guys created it. Backed by the ‘house’ band Booker T and the MG’s, the Memphis Horns..Similar feel to Sun Studio in that effect. 
Made me think of when I spurned the opportunity to meet MG’s guitarist Steve Cropper just a couple of years back, in Biggleswade of all places! How do I regret that! Steve was guesting with The Animals at a Bank Holiday festival and I was asked if I wanted a ticket. A friend of mine had access to backstage. For some reason and I really can’t quite recall, I had something else on. I had met the Animals before when Spencer Davis was guesting with them on tour, nice bunch of guys they were, particularly keyboard player Micky Gallagher and Spencer.

Outside of the studio I got talking to a guy and his wife whilst waiting for a taxi to turn up. They too were from England and doing the same rounds as myself. Both agreed about my observations of Graceland and Sun. The guy had an expensive looking camera though he told me he’d left his better one at home; “In case somebody nicked it over here” he said. Seemed a bit negative to me but all the same he revealed that he’d taken over a thousand photographs since they had arrived a week earlier. 
I was taking photos on my iPad and aware that if I took too many, I’d bore everybody to death with them when I got home! Bet his friends can’t wait.

The taxi duly arrived and took me to the Lorraine Hotel, scene of the Martin Luther King assassination in 1968 and now part of the Civil Rights Museum. The driver was very informative, telling me about the events of that infamous day when James Earl Ray gunned down the Civil Rights Leader.

Standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel, King was fatally wounded by a single rifle bullet fired by Ray from a house across the street. 

The assassination sparked civil disturbances throughout the United States, ‘the, greatest wave of social unrest America had experienced since the Civil War’. 
And here I was, looking up at the balcony where Martin Luther King fell. Trying to imagine what it must have been like that day. 
The taxi driver had told me that the two limousines parked outside the motel, directly under the balcony, had been there ever since. “I don’t know if they still go” he chuckled. They did look as if they could do with a clean I thought.

It really is hard to take in when you visit places like this. We’ve all seen the images and newsreels down the years, Martin Luther’s speeches, the civil rights marches, King’s assassination, the riots and unrest that followed. This country was in a real mess back then. And lest we forget, it was at the height of the Vietnam War.

Security was tight at the Civil Rights and Slavery Museum next door. Bags checked, body scanned, nothing to worry about if you’ve got nothing to hide though. The museum is set out in chronological order, beginning with prints and sketches of the slave trade, a replica slave boat with black slaves crammed in like sardines, wailing and whipping the soundtrack. Harrowing. Re-produced and enlarged letters from people to newspaper editors desperately seeking family members who had been kidnapped and sold to land owners. You can’t help but feel humbled, shocked, disbelief that humans can treat people so badly just because of the colour of their skin. 

You progress into the 20th century and the Montgomery bus boycott campaign that followed an incident on December 5th 1955. Rosa Parks, an African American woman, was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat on the bus to a white person by two police officers and placed in custody. It was a seminal event in the Civil Rights Movement, instigating a political and social protest campaign against the policy of racial segregation on the public transit system of Montgomery, Alabama that lasted for over a year.
The actual bus is in the museum.

Under the system of segregation used on Montgomery buses, white people who boarded the bus took seats in the front rows, filling the bus toward the back. Black people who boarded the bus took seats in the back rows, filling the bus toward the front. Eventually, the two sections would meet, and the bus would be full. If other black people boarded the bus, they were required to stand. If another white person boarded the bus, then everyone in the black row nearest the front had to get up and stand, so that a new row for white people could be created. 

Civil Rights Leader Leader E.D. Nixon was there when Parks was released on bail later that evening of December 5th. Nixon believed the event could spur a boycott of the area's bus lines and be processed via legal channels, convincing Parks of the power of her case. He also enlisted the aid of a new, young preacher Dr. Martin Luther King to lead the boycott. 

The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted for more than 380 days, with the African-American community enduring a host of travails that included harassment and violent attacks. Nixon's home was firebombed two days after King's, and he was indicted for violating a state anti-boycott statute. Yet the boycott persevered and the city was eventually forced to lift its bus segregation laws.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott was significant on several fronts. First, it is regarded as the earliest mass protest on behalf of civil rights in the U.S., setting the stage for additional large-scale actions to bring about fair treatment for African Americans. Second, Martin Luther King emerged as a prominent national leader of the civil rights movement while also solidifying his commitment to nonviolent resistance. King’s approach remained a hallmark of the civil rights movement throughout the 1960s. Shortly after the boycott’s end, he helped found the Southern Christian Leadership that worked to end segregation throughout the South. The SCL was influential in the civil rights campaign in Birmingham, Alabama, in the spring of 1963, and the March on Washington in August of that same year, during which King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The boycott also brought national and international attention to the civil rights struggles occurring in the U.S., as more than 100 reporters visited Montgomery during the boycott to profile the effort and its leaders.

It was all heavy stuff and leaving the museum I felt like lightening things up. I walked back to the Sheraton which was a good distance, past the Orpheum Theatre and Autozone Park Baseball Stadium, other well known landmarks in Memphis. 

A couple of hours to unwind and I went out in search of some live music. And Beale Street. It was buzzing. Bars, restaurants, flashing neon, music. I bought another T-shirt from a souvenir shop and browsed around taking in the atmosphere. This is a street which was infamous back in the day for murders, assaults, robberies. It was allowed to become rundown, ramshackle. Murders were so commonplace in Memphis during the early part of the 20th century that the mayor attempted to camouflage the situation by claiming that many were natural or tragic accidents. It was a dangerous place to be and Beale Street was at the epicentre. As it happens, in May this year a teenage mum was murdered in Beale Street. Which I didn’t know about until I came home  but tonight thankfully there didn’t appear to be any threat, people just happy to be there, enjoying the food, the music.
I went into B.B.King’s Blues Bar, it was packed, a terrific atmosphere with a band on stage belting out R & B numbers. This felt like the real McCoy. I got myself a beer and perched myself on a stool by the bar, alongside a row of folk, mainly elderly women who were enjoying a good gab and almost oblivious to the music. A fellow on the stool next to me turned round from trying to get a word in edge ways with the ladies and introduced himself; “Riley King the 3rd” he said, shaking my hand. Taken aback, I couldn’t help but smile and thought about telling him I was Clive the 1st but replied; “Clive from England” 
“Pleased to meet you” he said with a nice smile and then turned back to his women.
‘Well, Riley King the 3rd” I mused. ‘Is he trying to tell me he’s the great B. B. King’s grandson?’ Who knows? Seemed chuffed about himself and the bar. Of course the great man died earlier this year so maybe the 3rd has inherited something.
A couple of pints of beer called Fireside and a Catfish meal with some great live blues going on was a perfect way to finish my brief time in Memphis. Next morning I was having to get up early to catch the 06.50 City of New Orleans train to the place they call The Big Easy. A long 9 hour trip beckoned but I was looking forward to it.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Long Distance Information… give me Memphis Tennessee..and Graceland

Looking forward to travelling to Memphis and New Orleans, a trip planned some months before, here I was in Widnes for a pre-holiday date with my daughter Carly and family. The idea being that I could leave my car here and son-in-law Nick would drop me off at Manchester Airport early in the morning on the way to his office. 

The night before this adventure would begin, plans were thrown into disarray when Carly was taken ill, vomiting and really unwell. Problem was, Carly was due to take Ruby aged three to Nursery in the morning, along with three week old Rose in the pram, allowing Nick to get off to work early and drop me off at the same time. Because the fear of Carly’s illness being contagious, especially to Rose, Nick had no option but to delay his departure to work and take over responsibility. Meaning I was left in limbo and Plan B had to be sorted.
Obviously I had my car and said I would just drive to the airport and see if I could get a parking slot. Nick quickly got in touch with the Day By Day service he uses regularly at Manchester Airport and all was sorted. They would meet me at Terminal 2, take my car and redeliver it a week later. Fine. Or so I thought…. 

Informed to get in touch with Day By Day around fifteen minutes before arrival, so the change over would be swift. I pulled over on the slip road off the M56. 
‘Hello, Mr Smith here..’
A voice replied..’Hello, can you speak up.. I cant understand what you are saying..’
This was a good start, the non conversation lasted a couple of minutes before I gave up. I drove on to where I hoped there might be a better signal and tried again. Still no good!
Exasperated, I carried on and before I knew it found myself at Terminal 2.
I phoned yet again. Thankfully, I managed to find someone who could hear me!
They didn’t have a clue who I was! I explained the situation.. ‘Nick my son in law, spoke to one of your guys last night.. Daniel? or something? etc etc.’
‘We don’t have anything down here..’
I was getting more wound up by the eye open for a Jobsworth to come along and tell me to move!
Eventually, whoever I was speaking to, understood who Nick Irving was, and told me that someone would be there in five minutes. 
Not an auspicious start to the holiday.

This was only my second trip to America and I was feeling a bit apprehensive with having to change flights at Atlanta, ‘the busiest and biggest airport in the world’ Nick had enlightened me.
‘What if the flight was delayed? Is there enough time between my connecting Delta Airlines flight to Memphis?’ These thoughts were going through my head, but I needn’t have worried. Everything went smoother than I envisaged. 
The flight on Virgin Airways was comfortable, excellent in fact. Getting through passport control at Atlanta was a nightmare. You can understand the security fears that is prevalent in America but it does appear to border on paranoia. Having queued for an hour I was finally admitted and able to negotiate my way through to my connection terminal. I asked an airport official standing by a Departures Board for directions; “Down the elevator, get the train and get off at the third stop for Gate 36C” she informed me. Well that seemed easy enough. I located the gate and went for a beer, sent off a couple of Whats apps and chilled. It passed a good half hour of the hour I had to fill. Still, there was something nagging me and I decided to make my way back to Gate 36C and double check I was in the right place I was dumbstruck when the woman in control told me I should be at Gate B25! I had twenty minutes to go! I dashed back to the train, up an elevator and hurriedly rushed around to find where I should have been in the first place, heart racing! I just made it! 
At long last I was on the final leg of the journey, it was only a 55 minute flight to Memphis and I sat down relieved. A stewardess asked me if everything was ok and on hearing my accent immediately enquired; “You from Scotland?”

Blimey I thought, everywhere I go…
Turns out her parents were from Glasgow..amazing..
The Sheraton Hotel is located quite near the centre of Memphis, a taxi cost me 30 dollars. I checked in, found my room, had a shower and settled for a quick look around the locality before heading back for a beer. The temperature was 88o! 
First thing that surprised me, apart from the temperature, was the barman in the hotel asking me for ID. What? I showed him my bus pass. He served me! Weird!

Relaxing quietly on a couch, ‘people watching’, a loud group were straddled around a table debating the Rounders, Baseball to us Brits, that was on the TV behind the bar, my thoughts were interrupted when the barman walked past; “Need any help sir?” he asked without pausing.
Before I had a chance to look up and reply “I’m fine thank you”, he’d gone! Ah well..
Ten minutes later, a barmaid came walking by, she too looked at me for a second and asked; “Need any help sir?” 
‘Do I look lost? Sad? Lonely?’ I thought to myself. I went to say “No, I’m just knackered!” but she too didn’t hang around! Walking on before I could open my mouth!  
It tickled me, the film The Graduate came to mind. The scene of the Graduation Party with Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) the centre of attention and his parents’ friends all inebriated and showing fake concern about his future, asking banal questions and moving on before Ben could answer. Nobody showing any genuine interest whatsoever as he stood there with glass in hand, open-mouthed.

Before retiring for the night I had a quick perusal of the hotel and found myself outside a Conference Room where a party was in full swing for a carpet company. I poked my head in. A big black doorman informed me the party was private, but then surprisingly told me; ‘you can go in if you want sir’. Everyone calls you ‘sir’ over here! Karaoke was the entertainment. ‘Come in and give us a song’ the doorman said with a big smile. I laughed, thought about it for a mini-second but declined. Funny end to a long day.

Memphis had the dubious and unenviable reputation as the murder capital of America in the 20th century. Made me wonder if this was the reason why the people seemed so friendly over here now. As if they were trying their damnedest to shed the awful image bestowed on them. It did seem a tad over the top at times. Thing is, it did all sound genuine. As I pondered this my mind went to the people working the tills at Asda, Corby where they habitually ask “had a good day sir?’, “anything exciting on today?” and other inanities which just sounds corny, and downright irritating. Obviously a bi-product of Asda’s parent American company Wallmart I figured.

With only two days to spend in Memphis there was a lot to take in and a visit to the Sun Studios and Graceland was pencilled in for day one. First of all though I took a stroll down to see the legendary Mississippi River. Just the name evokes memories and images of the Deep South and all the great films we’ve seen over the years.. In the Heat Of The Night, Mississippi Burning..two of my all-time favourites. The temperature was way up in the 30o’s again and it was hard going walking around, trying to find shaded areas..

The Sheraton is situated just around the corner from the the Hernando de Soto Bridge which carries Interstate 40 across the Mississippi River between West Memphis, Arkansas, and Memphis. Wikipedia tells us; ‘The bridge is named after 16th century Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto who explored this stretch of the Mississippi River and died south of Memphis. His body believed to have been buried in the river after his death…’ 

Moving on I found myself at the back of the Peabody Hotel, arguably the most famous in Memphis. Famous for its daily routine of ducks coming down in a lift to entertain the residents. Well, it’s a nice gimmick I guess!
What I didn’t realise was that inside the hotel was yet another famous landmark, Lansky’s Clothing Department. Where Elvis Presley bought his attire and wedding gear. 

A very nice shop assistant called Anita asked me if I was after anything particular. I bought a T-shirt with Memphis, Home of the Blues emblazoned across it. On hearing my foreign accent she was obviously intrigued and asked me where I came from and introduced me to her co-worker Hal who was apparently famous for being interviewed by Joanna Lumley for the documentary aired on TV in 2015. Hal seemed quite pleased with himself too. Asking me what I did for a living, I told him I was a retired Mailman. “That’s what you call them over here isn’t it?” I grinned.
“Ah! a postman you call them in England? Did you deliver to anywhere famous? Buck House? Downing Street?”
As if. Wasn’t sure if he was taking the piss but he was obviously having a laugh. I could imagine him coming out with that bullshit to every visiting Royal Mail worker that happened to pass through here. Whatever, I went along with it.
“Nah” I said, “just around housing estates and industrial areas, nothing exciting”.
“Houses? Did you ever have any trouble with dogs?”
Right, he had heard the tales about dogs attacking postmen in Britain, always amusing  for some reason to those who’ve never had the pleasure.
On such occasions I find myself dredging up the story of when a German Shepherd attacked me and I floored it with a brick. That amused him greatly. Never fails that one.
Laughing out loud he yelled; “Ah! the dog learned a lesson, don’t mess with the mailman!” 

Anita asked me where I was heading first on my sight-seeing tour; “Sun Studios” I said.
“Just outside at the front of the hotel is Union Street, you can walk there, it’s about a mile or more but it will be hot work walking in this heat” she informed me.
Time was on my side, the Studio didn’t open until 10am, it was 9.45 and so I set off on the hike. Walking is a good way to see different places and take things in rather than sitting inside a cab. It took me a good half hour, the sweat was sticking to me. Then, there it was. The most famous Recording Studio in the world. Where Elvis Presley was discovered by Sun’s Record Producer Sam Phillips. I had waited all my life for this moment. To be standing here where Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf and all those other fantastic rock and roll, country and blues artists recorded their early hit records. I felt as if I had arrived at the Wailing Wall or something, a pilgrimage.
A tour of the studio started at 10.30, a guide, a young girl full of wit and charm described everything you would wish to know, regaled us all with tales of how Elvis came into the building and recorded My Happiness for his mother in 1954. And the rest is history, as they say. Entertaining she was. When she played the original recording of My Happiness, a respectful silence enveloped the room. Everyone was feeling a sense of history, closing your eyes Elvis could have been there in front of amazing feeling. Emotion welled up in the eyes. A magical moment. Standing in this very room where Elvis was clowning around with guitarist Scotty Moore and Double Bass player Bill Black, singing Thats All Right Mama and Sam Phillips asked what they were doing, and told them to play it again. Sam knew he had found gold.

After the girl had finished her work everyone was invited, if they wished, to have their photograph posing with the microphone Elvis used on those early sessions. You bet! I handed my iPad to a guy and asked if he would oblige. The photo came out better than I expected. Brilliant! 

Next stop was Graceland, on a shuttle bus waiting for us which was handy. All part of the ticket I had bought beforehand of course.

Graceland, the second most visited house in America after the White House we are told, is quite a way out from the city. The shuttle took about half hour to get there. First stop was to show us the Heartbreak Hotel which was apparently built in the 1970s and is closing in 2016. The hotel stands on the opposite side of the street now called Elvis Presley Boulevard, First impression of this whole area was that it was tacky. They've cashed in big style on Elvis’s legacy and turned it into a huge theme park. Being an Elvis fan since the 1950s it was disappointing to see how they are milking every last ounce of the Elvis phenomena. Souvenir shops in abundance, selling everything you can imagine from shirts, trousers to pens, books and egg cups all emblazoned with Elvis’s picture, burger bars, eateries, a ticket hall that reminded me of a train station. Museums of Elvis’s cars and motorbikes, the private plane named after Elvis’s daughter Lisa Marie parked up. Queues everywhere to obtain tickets for every department and entry into Graceland itself. Inside the house, rooms were cordoned off, as was expected I suppose, but trailing along behind a long line of sight-seers, ushered along by officials who politely encourage you to keep moving didn’t make me feel as if I was welcome or visiting a place of historic and legendary status. And let’s be honest, viewing a kitchen, living room, bedroom etc. could be anyone’s house. So, Elvis sat in the chair, this is where he put the kettle on.. It sort of seemed appropriate that the piece de resistance would be the Memorial Garden round the back where the graves of Elvis and his family lie in peace. Sort of. Exit through the gate and the tour is complete. Thank you. Goodbye. And as you glance over to the street where you were dropped off on the shuttle, hordes more people and coaches galore are arriving. 
I was glad to get away from there to be honest. 

Back at the Sheraton I freshened up before embarking on my next port of call which was The Hi Tone Bar, a punk venue where Gareth played quite recently with his band The Victims. This was a fair way out as well and the taxi cost me another 20 bucks, as they say in America.
It was only around 6pm but the temperature was still high. It felt good standing outside looking at this somewhat dilapidated venue where my son had played. Behind the bar was a short tattooed lady passing the time of day with her friend, a black lady. Both of them were perhaps surprised to see me come in, a total stranger  but they were very welcoming and friendly. Which was something I was becoming really more aware of all the time. ‘What would you like to drink sir?”
I asked her what did she recommend and she told me a Memphis Mermaid. That sounded interesting and indeed it was a lovely dark cool ale which went down a treat. They asked me where I was from etc, what I was doing over here. Of course, I told them that actually my son played here with his Swedish band The Victims some time before and he had asked me if it was possible to get some photographs. 
“Really? Sure you can” the barmaid said, “there’s a room through the back and a bigger one through the doors on the side”. 
Both rooms were dark, had their own bar, stage, American flags draped on the walls, punk slogans and pictures, grime. A dusty Pool Table pushed up against a wall in the smaller room. Dirty and scruffy it appeared, you could smell it but this was a genuine punk venue. A bit of a contrast to Graceland!
I’ve been to a few gigs with Gareth’s bands down the years, many are the same as the Hi Tone. So I knew what to expect. Rough and ready they may be but there’s a warmth about the venues and the people who inhabit them. As I was to find out when i returned to the bar and my pint.
Three other guys had turned up and a couple of women. They were playing there that night. 
“Hi, Dale” he introduced himself shaking my hand. “Hi, Clive” I replied.
Dale was curious as to what I was doing there, as were they all! I felt like some sort of exhibit or something, they were firing questions at me, ‘what’s the weather like back in England?’ ‘How long you here for?’ ‘Where you from?’ Getting the preliminaries out of the way Dale told me he was a massive fan of the Kinks. “I liked the Beatles and the Stones but it was always Ray Davies and the Kinks for me!”
Well this conversation went on for quite a bit and then he insisted on buying me a drink. Really nice guy.
Sitting on the stool on my right was a guy who introduced himself as Bo who proceeded to tell me he was a film producer and worked in the industry. All the time the banter was going back and for across the bar with howls of laughter rendering the air. A couple of photographs for posterity and I bade farewell to my new found friends, ordered a taxi and returned to base. Mission accomplished.

It was getting late and I had eaten hardly anything all day. Walking down Main Street towards town a black gentleman hanging around a corner engaged me.
“Hi sir,” and before I knew it he was grabbing my hand to shake it, “I’m Harold, ex Marine”
That took me by surprise; why did he mention he was an ex marine?  “Hi I’m Clive”. 
“You looking for something to eat?”
“Yes as a matter of fact I am” and I had already spotted a restaurant across the road called the 83. He grabbed my arm. Instinct told me to put my other hand on my pocket where my wallet was. 
He told me he could recommend a place around the corner. It was dark. 
“No, thats alright mate,” I said, “I’m heading for the 83 over there”.
The guy stared at me. Then he got straight to the point.
“You got a dollar?”
Right, I got it. Not knowing if he was armed, you never know do you? I gave him a dollar. He accepted it with a glare but I left him there and walked across the road. Strange experience.

The 83 was quite empty, a few couples sitting around the bar. The barmaid was a lady who looked around her middle 50s and had a voice that rasped. 
“You eating sir?” she croaked.
She gave me the menu, I ordered a beer and told her; “I’ll have the salmon please”
“Good choice sir!” she said enthusiastically. Listening to her interact with customers opposite from me cracked me up. Every other term was “Right on”, “You got it!’ Cracked me up. 
She then went on to tell me about the beans on my plate. “Black Eyed Peas. You know when I left home in my middle 20’s, my mom insisted that on every New Years Day she would send me a can of these things.” I grinned, she continued. “You know the thing was? She would phone me up on every New Years Day and I had to eat the beans while I was talking to her! It was like a superstition thing!”.
There you go! 

Funny who you come across and what you hear when you’re out and about..