Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

On The Road – Bell X1′s tour diary, part 2: burning down the bus and other tales from the Americas

Continuing the eventful story of Bell X1 on the road in the United States. This week, Paul Noonan salutes the firemen of Boston, meets Jeffrey Archer and gets to enjoy flying around the United States with his dirty laundry. The …

Sat, Mar 22, 2008, 14:20


Continuing the eventful story of Bell X1 on the road in the United States. This week, Paul Noonan salutes the firemen of Boston, meets Jeffrey Archer and gets to enjoy flying around the United States with his dirty laundry.

The bus that we were travelling and living on last week used to belong to Tim McGraw, who I’m told is a popular country music artist. It was an old Silver Eagle bus that had seen better days, but was the classic gleaming chrome number, and bigger than most European buses we had been on. There was a framed picture of Tim McGraw on the bus, him resplendent in stetson hat and denim, his foot up on a bale of hay.

At about 3am last Saturday morning, the glass on the picture smashed, the picture yellowed and caught fire. An offering of sorts.

the-burning-bus2.jpgYes folks, our bus went on fire in the car park of the Boston Medford Hyatt Hotel and by now has been dismantled and sold for scrap.

There were four of us on it at the time, noticed a little more smoke than there should have been, and alighted to find the power generator on fire, flames leaping from the side of the bus. We ran into the hotel, shouting at the poor night porter for a fire extinguisher (which was a little inadequate by the time we got back out to the bus, the fire having spread) and my friend Mike called 911. Now Mr Flav, I must disagree with you, but 911 is no joke. Within 3 or 4 minutes (long minutes, watching the bus go up with all of our gear in it), 3 gleaming fire brigades swung into the car park, sirens blaring. And then they put out the fire.

The rest of the touring party were roused and we stood around, bleary or adrenalised in the flashing lights of the fire trucks and noxious battery acid smoke. When the firemen said it was safe to do so, we opened the cargo bays of the bus to find our gear toasty but intact. The bang off it though! All the cases were caked in awful black shit that we can still smell.

They kept finding pockets of fire in the roof lining, so had to rip it all down and knock out a window to get rid of the smoke. Poor Phil sound engineer, who’s bag had yet to be found by the airline, and who had bought himself some lovely new out-fits, had left said outfits in his bunk and were covered in the afore-mentioned black shit. And Tim’s iPod, which was found by Mr May (as the scary bit receded, we realised that there was a bit of a hen-party buzz about it all – hot firemen in their gleaming chrome and hoses) and returned to him in quite a filmic moment, was no longer working. (Mr May sent us an email saying he hoped eveything was OK)

We were very lucky. Didn’t lose anyone or any of our gear. And we were heading to New York the next day, where we were coming off the bus for a week anyway.
In other news, the show in Boston was muck. It was in a venue called TT the Bears, which when full has lots of areas from where you can’t see the stage. This is always bad, and makes for an atmosphere of disconnectedness. And then there were the loud, drunk fuckers. We promise to play somewhere else next time.

The Bowery Ballroom in New York was great – I love that part of town. The shows had a real sense of occasion for us. So many had passed through there.

Driving through New York on St Patrick’s day, we saw Ben Folds shuffling his way through the festivities, slightly stooped in his Parka and thick glasses. Mad. Letterman that evening was freezing! They keep the studio at about 5 degrees – keeps everyone on their toes, aparrently. Rainn Wilson, the dude who plays Dwight in the American Office was one of the other guests.

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On Tuesday morning I took a walk down to the UN building to pick up my laundry (sometimes I think touring is little more a series of minutae and minor logistics – Will I bring my show out-fit to the venue now or after soundcheck? Will laundry be done by the time we have to leave tomorrow? Eat before or after the show?), and came upon a fierce anti-Chinese demonstration by Tibetans and supporters. They were penned in to an area across the road from the UN building, watched by a line of police, shouting “China is guilty of genocide!!”. My laundry is less of a thing.

Leaving New York for Chicago, we are flying for the next leg of the tour, and it’s a fucking melt. We have 16 pieces of hold luggage and 20 carry ons, and have to tansfer stuff between cases so as to not exceed maximum allowed weights per piece. We’ve had to do it three times now, bags of dirty undies (the ringer dude) flying around right there by the check-in for all to see…don’t you know who I am??!! Come back, Tim McGraw, all is forgiven…
In Chicago, we do a radio show called the Mancow show – a kind of high octane, irreverant morning show, on which the other guest is Jeffrey Archer, flogging his new book. He wants to ban guns in the states, which is predictibly met with abusive emails from listeners. In a moment of weakess, I tell him I’ve read and enjoyed his work. I have not.

The gig in Schubas, Chicago is wonderful. It’s a beautiful oak panneled room from the 20s. Oak’s nice.

Another beautiful venue is The Varsity in Minneapolis (picture right). A wonderland of crushed velvet couches and funky dim table lamps and mirror balls. And flock wallpaper.

We’re now in LA, where it’s hot and sunny. It was snowing this morning in Minneapolis. Phil’s bag is waiting for him at the hotel