The story goes that Jimi Hendrix was unknown in the States before he traveled to the U.K. It was only after his time across the pond that he returned as our beloved shredding icon. It can happen to you too! His spirit is still there, and Sharkmuffin may have encountered it on our first trip to the U.K. in 2017.
After one of our sets, I placed my Gibson Les Paul upside down against the guitar amp and left it there for too long, cracking the wood between the neck and the headstock. When I packed up my gear I thought that I had only broken a couple strings. The following day when we arrived at Mello Festival, security told us that Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin would be hanging around the back of our smaller stage; we all freaked out realizing he might watch our set.
When I went to change my guitar strings I discovered my guitar was irreparably damaged, but we strangely had an extra guitar case in our van. Inside was a sunburst Fender Stratocaster with a bunch of burn marks on it. We had no idea where it came from and I wasn’t even sure it would work. The only obvious logical explanation was that the ghost of Jimi Hendrix sent me one of the strats he sacrificed to the guitar gods in my time of rock ‘n’ roll need. We successfully played our set and even awkwardly said hello to Plant. Then he drove his green convertible jaguar over the hills into the sunset wailing “Been a long time since I rock n rollllll’d.”
Though it may seem daunting, an overseas tour isn’t out of reach for a DIY band. We talked to Miss Eaves, Bodega and my bandmates in Sharkmuffin about their tips and experiences touring the magical lands of the United Kingdom.
“Having a well-paying ‘anchor gig’ is good if you can land one (like a festival or a big club night) and that way you have a date that you can plan all of the rest of your dates around. I made a map of cities that were no more than a 3-4 hour train ride and then locked in dates around that. Once I identified the cities I reached out to spaces where I thought my fan base would hang out (mostly queer/DIY/feminist spaces & bookers) It is really important to be very specific when reaching out because its easier to sell yourself when you are not sending a generic spam email. When I was promoting my shows I ran some Facebook ads in the different cities and I also made this silly promo video. Booking my own tour was very challenging but also rewarding.”
ON THEIR BEST U.K. TOUR EXPERIENCE…
One of the more unique shows we’ve ever played was at a library in Birkenhead. Surrounded by books underneath a skylight on a blistering hot afternoon, I tried to channel a literary energy, citing quotations from a text and finding new associations within the BODEGA words. After the show, we met a wonderful Birkenheadian family that let us stay at their home for two days. The parents and children were all loving and devout music fans – later that night they took us over the river into Liverpool to show us Beatle sites and took us drinking at a local pub. The next day we had a bit of a jam session (Beatles and Velvets) and their son smoked us all in video games. It was very inspiring to see rock culture celebrated and shared by an entire family.
… AND ON THEIR WORST:
When we travel, we often book separate connecting flights in order to save money. However, in July, this backfired on us. After a flight from Spain was delayed by several hours, four of us missed a connecting flight in London back to NYC and were thus down several thousand pounds and stuck in London. Luckily we were able to crash at a good friend’s house (our London promoter). The next day we bought super cheap tix online only to find out at the airport that this third party website scammed us (this is why they were so cheap…) and this flight to NYC did not exist. We eventually got refunded and made it back to NYC and are now much more cautious when booking band flights. The silver lining of this fiasco was hearing a track of ours on BBC6 in a taxicab driving back from the airport after missing the first flight. What a thrill to hear yourself over the air!
- Hydrate! Pedialite helps.
- Eat healthy. Veggies are important.
- Be wiling to explore (physically and mentally). Try to walk around whatever town you are in. Try new music in the van. Read new books. Listen more than you talk. Enjoy the ride.
Natalie Kirch’s tour tips:
- Always remember the worth of a pound is not the same as a dollar! Keep up-to-date on conversion rates to make sure you’re being smart with your money and reasonable with your merch sales.
- Pack as lightly as possible on any tour, but especially overseas where you have luggage fees.
- Loosen the strings on your instruments before boarding with them or sending them off in the luggage!
- Bring a handheld fan because the U.K. is not used to heat waves. If you find yourselves stuck in the rare one like we did, there is no AC anywhere.
- Bring heavy duty earplugs if you’re a light sleeper. You never know when you’ll end up with a snorer in the group.
I don’t think I drank tea once, and I don’t think I saw any crumpets, but I did see hot dogs ‘ready to eat’ in a can, buns not included. This trip changed a lot of my perceptions of what Americans assume everyday life in the U.K. can be. Being in different regions of the country besides the big cities and hearing how the dialect and slang varies tells you a lot about what the people are like and what they care about. Nottingham was a rowdy show, with a lot of energetic people who wanted to participate and interact, and party late after into the night. This wasn’t as common at other shows where people sometimes seemed more polite or maybe shy. One of their beloved expressions is “‘choo on about?” which is basically supposed to mean “What the hell are you talking about?” Sharkmuffin also adopted the term ‘knackered’, meaning tired, exhausted, or hungover. After doing some research it turns out there are tons of classic Nottingham sayings we missed, all of them sassy but said with love.
I loved the combination of modern life mixed with ancient and classic architecture; old timey pubs turned rock venues, miniature cathedrals turned EDM clubs. It feels like entering a time machine. One of my favorite shows was in Norwich, at Norm’s (named in honor of comedian Norm Macdonald), an event at The Crypt curated by my friend Jason Baldock. It’s in the cellar of the venue, with flying buttresses along the ceiling, very dark and gothic. That’s when you KNOW you’re playing a show in England. We played with Elle Bishop, Peach Club, and Fever Machine, all really great bands with sweet people. We stayed at a farm house in the countryside that has a chicken coop and we got to walk around and look at stars.
Cardiff was another favorite place – it’s just so beautiful, particularly Llandaff Fields – and Welsh culture is very fascinating to me. My mom texted me saying to try a “Welsh cuppa” so on the morning we left we tried ordering it at a cafe, only to get the reply, “A cuppa what, dear?” Apparently that is not a thing; maybe auto-correct is to blame for this one. But we did try Welsh cakes – tiny sand-dollar shaped pancakes with raisins inside.
More tips on how to make your U.K. tour a success…
- Budget yourself and save up money beforehand. Unless you’ve secured relatively high guarantees, between gear, van rentals and the exchange rate being so steep you will probably go out of pocket for a portion of the trip.
- Pro Tip: Pretend pounds are pirate money.
- Visas are relatively cheap. Obtaining a work visa to go to the U.K. as an American is significantly cheaper than the other way around. Our agent referred us to a sponsor who took care of it for 250 pounds a couple weeks prior.
- Pro Tip: Don’t be a dick at the border, they can easily send you home.
- When it comes to flights, apps like Hopper or Google Flights are really helpful at tracking the lowest priced flights. Our experience with Virgin Atlantic was amazing. They gave us two free alcoholic beverages and like three meals, plus a free checked back and they didn’t give us any shit for having to carry our guitars on board.
- Flying with your gear: I will throw a temper tantrum if an airline won’t let me carry my guitar on. Luckily, I haven’t had to do this. Your gear is usually considered a larger “personal item,” and if they don’t have room in a closet or overhead in the flight cabin, they will gate check it (put it under the plane and then return it to you immediately when you get off the plane). When I have a larger road case for my guitar pedals and I pack my pedals into my carry on backpack and pack my clothing into the pedal board and switch the contents of the bags when I arrive. It’s easier to replace clothes than guitar pedals if the airline loses it!
- Ask around when finding a rental/tour manager. We were originally quoted almost double the amount of what it cost from a friend’s recommendation. If you don’t know anyone, find bands at your level who have done similar tours and reach out to ask if they know any reliable and affordable TM/van/rental hires.
- Cheapest beer/wine lives at Aldi.
- Tesco pesto pasta is a Sharkmuffin favorite. We are a fan of their meal deals.
- Indian food and Thai food are the best! There’s even a “curry mile” in Manchester of only Indian food restaurants.