day 7

In the morning we find ourselves in The Automatic‘s studio, thumping something with a drumstick and singing ‘gang’ back-up on a rather pleasing rock tune with an excellent chorus. I’m almost too late to join in because collecting the video camera took ages but in the end we roll up just in time and walk into a friendly session, with the track sounding hot.

This HD video camera we’ve got for the forthcoming desert weekend is obscenely good, it’s £5,000-worth (or something) and apparently passed a comparison test amongst a bunch of film experts, up against pro movie cameras, which sounds nuts. Hopefully we’ll get good live footage then. The idea is to shoot for a short “Frank’n’Chris in the desert”-type doc, plus as much gig and acoustic session stuff as possible and even some scenes for a possible pop vid. Hopefully it’ll be turned off, if we get high!

Next, we drive out north-west up the 101 to the opulent SoCal heaven that is Santa Barbara. Halfway there, a white sports-car about 3 cars in front actually spins out on the motorway. Everyone dives across lanes, desperately trying not to hit the emergency-braking cars ahead of them. Miraculously nobody crashes at all. The two Paris Hilton types in the car just get going again, as if nothing happened. Reminds me of the time Rifa somehow steered around a rolling tyre on the M23 at 85mph – like in moments of high tension, peoples’ reactions just get much faster.

We go on the Santa Barbara pier, which is big enough that cars drive down it. At the far end there’s no fencing, just an unnerving open space where you’d fall in the sea if you trip over. We’re playing with the camera and early signs are footage will be awesome, if I can avoid constantly shooting irrelevent things like the side of the car on the freeway.

The Muddy Waters Café is another charming indie coffeeshop space (like some of the earlier gigs I didn’t write about) and when Frank gets up, it’s already rammed (another scarily young, well enthusiastic and open-minded crowd). Tonight there’s us, then a local band (intriguingly named after the Donner Party) with a cool poncho guitarist (who was in the audience at another of our gigs) and a singer looking all pretty, a bit like Robin Bennett from Goldrush. Anyway, Frank’s on top form, does another absolutely fiery set – his new songs are building a lot of momentum and there are so many lines to die for. I join in for an electric piano solo on ‘Nashville Tennessee’ (where my kazoo solo should be, except we can’t find the kazoo).

Buoyed by Frank’s work, I enjoy my set too. There’s no pressure on us to be quick, so we do roughly 40 minutes each. Our four new Isle Vista student friends (who took us out for dinner and a smoke by the sea – and showed us their classic American college campus) have been driven up for the gig by ringleader Matt and get there just as Frank starts – it’s cool they came because they’re friendly faces in the crowd to aim your singing at, once you get going. Really helps, actually.

Afterwards, our hosts make me a big sandwich and coffee and I retire to the backyard to eat and chat with more new friends. At the end of the night, we’re given more free coffees and pastries for the journey home. Tonight was a masterclass in treating visiting artists well.

Driving back down the coast, oil rigs out at sea light up the horizon. We’re going to Joshua Tree National Park this weekend, so I’ll save further comment til we come down.

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