Monday, February 16, 2015

Lagging on right to Paradise

Since getting back from America, I've felt like an insomniac. They say insomnia is when you're never really awake and never really asleep. A total of 33 hours on planes in two weeks covering three different time zones has had me wiped out with jet lag all weekend and left plenty time to start thinking about the next few months. If previous experience tells anything it's that keeping focused on the point of the project is key. Being given the opportunity to spread the word and tell the story is both humbling and enriching. It also brings a wee bit apprehension, you go places you don't know and meet people that were previously strangers but your biggest concern is they have facilities to actually show the film. That sounds ridiculous but an example is one place who thought they were buying a DVD that they could show any time they felt like it. Then, as if that wasn't bad enough, I was approached by the same place again, put a gig on the books, only to be told two weeks later that the person had done it without telling anyone and it was now off.

It's always the smallest hurdles that trip you up.

One enormous hurdle crossed since I got back is that there will be a screening of The Asterisk Years at Celtic Park on Friday May 15th.  Tickets(£21) are on sale to members of Paul Larkin Books on Facebook and my mailing list. General sale starts on Feb 28th.

This will be the last screening of The Asterisk Years in Scotland.

The intention is to make it a gala night with a screening, Q&A, special guests, food and entertainment all part of the ticket price.

The Kano Foundation will be the raffle recipients.

It is something I've tried, when given the chance, to do throughout this project because The Asterisk Years was partly about giving opportunities and that is something The Kano Foundation constantly do. The other thing is, I like their style. They just go about their business without self serving, trumpet blowing or ego massaging.

More details of the Paradise screening when the general sale starts.

It's been a really special last two weeks for me, the welcome I received wherever I went, the way the film was appreciated, the standing ovations it got and the multitude of new friends made were all obvious high points in this project. So many people in America will live long in the memory.

Attention now shifts to screenings in Scotland and England over the next few weeks with most of the gigs sold out already. A very humbling fact indeed.

It's been an incredible journey so far but it's not over yet.

Friday, February 13, 2015

New York is green and white

My last day in California meant a day in San Francisco. I'd been once before but that was 1987 and so I was looking forward to it a lot. Being driven from Santa Rosa was perfect, took about 45 minutes and among beautiful scenery. It gave me the chance to reflect as well, the previous night had saw a packed bar watching The Asterisk Years in a place I hadn't even heard of six months ago. One of the questions I get asked is why certain people, in the media or on the lunatic fringes of it, never mention the film. I used to give a few different opinions on this but Santa Rosa made me realise: Who gives a shit? Most, if not all, of these people are in the game for a career or to protect one and therefore their opinion matters to me as much as Bomber Brown's. What I care about is what the people in the street think. I'd shut myself down for good before I'd go down the road of doing or saying anything controversial just to stay relevant. Which of course we all know they would be doing if the film was shite, so their only weapon is ignorance from an ivory tower. How ironic.

San Francisco is a beautiful city and I loved being there but I was itching to get back to New York. Anyone who knows me knows how big a bearing the city has had on my life. I was on the red eye from SFO and incredibly we boarded on time with no weather issues on this balmy Californian night. All was good as we got ready to taxi to the runway when...BANG! A coffee pot explodes. So we have to wait twenty minutes on a guy to come and rip it the fuck out, something I could have done in two seconds, before leaving. Incredibly, some middle aged woman piped up "Wait, does this mean there's no coffee on the flight now? Can't we wait til we get a new coffee pot?" A few of us looked at each other in that "Yeah, I'm in if you want to throw her out the window" kinda way but thankfully the stewardesses were in no mood to indulge this cry baby. What it did mean though was there were no films or TV on the plane which suited me as I had three seats on the plane to myself and could stretch out. I could never normally sleep on planes but have slept on all bar the short one on this trip. Thank you God. Hitting JFK at 5.30am, I was in my hotel in Manhattan for 6am, finally finding the half hour the traffic isn't crazy in New York.

It was great to be back.

I was back in October and so normality had crept in again, something that hadn't taken place for me in New York for almost a decade and when my head hit the pillow, it felt good being alive. Or as good as it can be at 6am on a Sunday morning.

My friends from Nairn, James and Donna, were flying into Newark at 12pm and we were meeting up with Jock Kennedy and Frankie Fraser at Grand Central at 2pm to be picked up by Chas Duffy to go to a screening in The Bronx. They arrived incident free and it was great to see everyone again, in particular Chas and Kev Devine whom I didn't know would be there. There was that lovely "never been away" feeling as we sped up the FDR and poked fun at MetBhoy Frankie as we passed Yankee Stadium.

I lived in The Bronx for two years and most of it was an unhappy experience but that Sunday Chas, Kev and everyone who packed out Ireland's Thirty Two washed that all away with the skill of an Upper West Side window cleaner. It was made even better as Yahmpy and family made another appearance too. It was a great day and great catch up and another box ticked in the promises I'd made around this film.

James, Donna and I had intended to get the Metro North from Woodlawn back into the city but decided instead to call in on the most bizarrely named cab firm in the world (Break To The Border) and just taxi it back to midtown. We hit Faces and Names on West 54th St but the guys were struggling and went to bed for around 10pm. I was buzzing though and knew my best friend on the planet would be in midtown for 11. It's hard to overestimate what Gary and I have been through but needless to say it was like we had never been away. He came bedecked in Celtic colours and just added another reminder that New York is indeed green and white. We talked and drank the night away in O'Lunney's and things seemed normal again. I've struggled with a lot of past shit affecting my mental state but I've moved on and feel stronger, better.

Monday came and I took the Nairn crew to the village and Little Italy. My Donnie Brasco obsession meant another visit to the Mulberry Street Bar (formerly Tony's Bar) before my Sopranos obsession meant another visit to Cha Cha's restaurant for sausage and peppers.

We went back to the hotel via Union Square and a look at America's debt before decanting to Jimmy's Corner for some cheap beers before a meal that could choke a buffalo in Virgil's. Of course, I shouldn't have been doing any of this, I should have been in Boston but an almighty snowstorm put paid to that. I was gutted because I love Boston but not a single mode of transport was available.

Tuesday I knew would be a day off so I had already made my mind up to take the guys to Queens and see some of New York that the tourist guides won't tell you about. So we did a good diner on Queens Boulevard and had a little walking tour before going to Donovan's in Woodside for an afternoon drinking. Except it was closed. Frustrated, we took the 7 train back to Manhattan not realising fate had just played her hand. Through a serious of bizarre circumstances, far too strange even to relay here, two hours later we were sitting in the Ed Sullivan Theater, the one The Beatles changed America in, watching a live recording of the David Letterman show. It's hard to describe how surreal this was. I'm an avid fan of Letterman and at times it felt like I was watching the best HD picture ever.

Minds blown, we decided to have a big night out in Hell's Kitchen and I'd like to say I was the target of a cougar except a friend in Cali pointed out that I am too old to regard anyone as a cougar.

A drunken night was had by all though and Gary put in another appearance.

Wednesday was game day, for Celtic at Firhill and me at Jack Demsey's. So I watched Celtic at Firhill in Jack Demsey's. This gave me a chance to hook up with Big Tommy again, the lynch pin of the NY Fenian Bhoys. Guys like Tommy are one in a million. In fact, ten million. Another successful screening ensued and this part of tour was over.

Jack Demsey's gave me a chance to meet a whole load of new Tims and reaffirm my belief that the fans are the club. These are the people I made this film for, not for the press, the careerists or the critics, but the folk for whom Celtic is a way of life. I was given gifts by most of them and that's the best aspect, a recognition that we are in this together. Celtic have millions of these people all over the world and through the film I've met over 2000 of them since November. They are the ones who suffered most through the two decades of cheating, which explains why they get it and probably answers why others don't.

Oh, and God Bless America.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

California Love

Leaving Philly the morning after the Sevco slaying wasn't going to be straight forward. The north east of America was being battered by snow storms and the departures screen at the airport glared at me with cancellation written so much it was like it had been given lines as a punishment. My flight was still going though but the numbers in the departure lounge worried me. There were only about 12 people sitting there for a flight due to leave in 40 minutes. Investigating like Columbo, the flight was still going and the pilots had even arrived. We awaited our plane to arrive from Raleigh (North Carolina not Walter) and ended up boarding 30 minutes late. This was a worry, I was only flying to New York and had just a 58 minute layover, then I saw the reason there were so few people there, the plane was an 18 seater. The scheduled flight time was 40 minutes but the pilot said we would be in the air for 15 which started to assure the worried faces who were all thinking "storm, tiny plane, storm, tiny plane" and there was pretty much chop the whole time but 20 minutes later I was queuing for my next plane to San Francisco from JFK and was feeling pretty good. We were boarding early and this plane was huge, all was good. Right up until I sat down, looked out the window and saw a snow storm that would have put off Captain Scott. Needless to say the runway was closed and we were delayed two hours, before my second plane de-icing of the trip. I didn't relax until we were in the air.

Touching down in SFO, late but happy, my cousin Tony was there to pick me up and whisk me away to his house. I had a couple of days there before heading to Sonoma County and was able to meet Tony's kids for the first time. No jokes, it was magical. Wednesday we drove up to Santa Rosa, which took about 90 minutes, and checked into the Hotel La Rose with minimum fuss. What was very noticeable all around the streets was Peanuts. And Charlie Brown, plus Snoopy too. Turns out Charles M Schulz ended his days in Santa Rosa. We decanted to a local bar as happy hour was just starting and alerted Peter Meechan, my contact for this screening, who got back immediately and said he would be there in 20 minutes, always a good sign. I'd been in town a few hours and it occurred to me that I was as far from home as I've ever been and here I am showing a film here. Who the hell is going to be interested in this? This far out you expect a Peter type guy to be all about the hoops and maybe one or two more but that's it. Anyway, Peter duly arrived and had two other guys with him (Good, at least there would be five of us at the screening) and we all immediately hit it off. I'd wrongly assumed Peter was an ex-pat but he was more American than Apple Pie and his two buddies, Jimmy and Isaac were exactly the same. As usual though, that combination of Celtic and good alcohol enabled bonds to be made and before long we were all laughing, joking and talking all things Celtic. This was magic. Here I am in wine country, California and I'm talking Celtic with three great guys. Bliss. We hit a few more bars and drank til closing time before the guys walked us back to our hotel. There was no need to do that but that's just the kind of guys they are.

Next morning, slightly delicate and a head cold developing, we were picked up at 12 (there had been talk of 7am pick ups the night before through beer bravado, this was never happening) and whisked off for a day of wine tasting. I've tasted plenty wine but I've never been wine tasting and obviously my main point of reference was the movie Sideways. We did a few different places with the highlights being Limerick Lane, which tied me in particular up for a while, and Francis Ford Coppola's place which not only had great wine, a swimming pool and a stunning setting but also had lots of different things pertaining to his movies (the gold telephone from Godfather 2, Dracula's suit, Robert Duvall's surf board from Apocalypse Now) and all the Oscars he has won. You may not be that impressed, my jaw was on the fucking floor the whole time.

Friday was the screening and that meant rest up before it. My head cold was awful and I needed a sleep. Isaac came to pick us up at 6 so we could go to Jasper O'Farrel's in Sebastopol and set the movie up. We had a few issues but got there in the end and that's when I took stock and realised the bar was packed. There were seven guys up from San Francisco but everyone else was local. This blew me away but not as much as the kind welcome I was given by almost everyone (one lunatic woman managed to annoy everyone in the bar) and blistering night took place with Jimmy as MC making Jay Leno look like an amateur and the film going down a storm. A lovely kicker was the bar had its best ever night. So much so that they were happy to give me 15% of the takings. I reacted with one of my many double takes of this trip. Those takings got split between Mary's Meals and The Kano Foundation and a perfect night was complete with new friends made and lifelong bonds created.

We got about two hours sleep before up for the Dundee game (430am ko) and let's just say things weren't quite as boisterous now. The San Francisco Bhoys joined us and were great craic again. The host, Lucas, even did a great breakfast but it was tinged with sadness because when it was done so was I and I knew I would be saying goodbye.

Schulz ended his days in this part of the world, my theory is he visited, met Peter, Jimmy and Isaac and just stayed forever.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Philly Feile and US Premiere

I made my way with Yahmpy to the Plough and Stars on Friday Jan 30th. The initial plan was to go the night before but President Obama was in town and that meant a lock down. In all these situations I am keen to test the film so when I spoke to the guy behind the scenes in the Plough on the Friday let's just say there was much merriment when he suggested I upload the film to YouTube so folk could just watch it from there. I say much merriment when of course I mean something else entirely. Things were sorted very quickly though and the rest of the evening was spent meeting old friends, making new ones and watching Yahmpy dodge hypothermia.

So to the day of the premiere and again I was keen to get in and ensure all was ok with the film. You'd be amazed just how many people book the film months in advance and then test their equipment 15 minutes before it's due to be shown. No fears in Philly though as all promises were solid and it would be shown on two TV's so huge that you imagine the only other owner of the type is Tony Montana.

Graham Wilson appeared which was handy as he was MC for the day and we all made out way up to the An Gorta Mor memorial for a blessing from Father Brady. I said a little prayer for the film too. See I had no idea how it would be received and whilst everyone else is on a mission to drink as if prohibition was coming in on Monday, I'm still standing like the naked art model seeing if anyone wants to paint me.

Thankfully, there was nothing to worry about. People showed fantastic respect to the film (Not easy in a rammed pub) and anyone who did fancy chatting was immediately told that they had had better ideas. The standing ovation the film received was a warm bath experience for me and the questions afterwards were insightful and fun to answer.

Philadelphia has a lot of solid Tims, most of whom have gone unrecognised for far too long but the likes of Seamus, Fitzy, Timothy, JohnJoe, Martin, Joe and the rest will live long in my memory.

After the success of the day, it was time for a chill out.  I put myself in Graham's hands as we drunkenly wandered the streets of Philly looking for bars and restaurants. It sounds crap eh? It was absolutely brilliant as we just shot the shit and I could relax for a while.

Sunday morning, up with the lark, the zombies were slain.

By now I was exhausted and took the opportunity for some much needed kip post-match before taking in the Super Bowl that night.

Thoughts wandered to California as I was leaving for there in the morning despite dire warnings of storms and flight cancellations.

The bigger concern for me was I was taking my film to Sonoma County, a place I had never even heard of before I'd agreed to go, to be shown to be people I'd never met in my life before.

How's that going to work then?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Jet Lag, Jet Lagging and The Friday.

It's 4.33am in Philadelphia's historical district and I am wide awake. Jet leg doesn't normally bother me much but it has hung over me on this trip like an umbrella over the President when there is the chance of rain. It started on Thursday. The previous day I'd taken a train down to Manchester to have a relaxing night before an early flight to Philadelphia. I'd got to the airport for 8am on one of those horrible mornings, when it's dark and cold and you'd rather stay in bed with Lorraine Kelly, but got checked in with minimum fuss which security then made up for by demanding I recreate The Full Monty before passing through. Manchester Airport Terminal 3 was being upgraded (to be fair, it needed it) so there was limited options to do anything other than sit in the terminal and hope that WiFi is part of that upgrade, preferably in the next five minutes. It was then it started to snow, the sort of snow that bothers even an Ice Road Trucker and it was clear this was going to be a problem. My flight was due to leave at 10.45am, the airport closed at 10.30am. As people clambered for information, flights all over the place started to be cancelled and I feared the worst. All the negative thoughts ran through my mind but the main one was what the fuck was I going to do if this plane wasn't getting off the ground today? I asked a Peter Kay lookalike/soundalike for an update and whilst he was genial enough, he clearly didn't have a clue what was happening. The Gods and the sun then shone on us and the snow ploughs were out clearing the runways, the main obstacle to us taking off and we were told we would be leaving at 1pm. I contacted Yahmpy, picking me up, putting me up and putting up with me for the next few days, he was cool about it(he's cool about most things) and I looked forward to getting on board, getting a film on and getting one of those meals that consist of mainly rice and tough meat.

I should have known.

The captain announced we would be leaving after the plane was de-iced and that it would take 20 minutes. Two films later and we were still sitting on the runway. It was now 4.30pm and frustrations were running high. People knew there was limited scope for us to now go on this flight, staff time and all that, and the worry was that we would be back off soon and back in deepest, darkest Manchester. This was commented on by a particularly cheery American guy who remarked breezily "Hey, do any of you guys think we will get off the ground?" Oh yes pal, there's a huge chance you will.

At 4.45pm we started to moving. The feeling was like when you think the guy has just told folk the bar has closed and then your mate says "Don't worry, we are getting a lock in" and we were off. I don't normally sleep on planes but I even I succumbed thanks to this increasingly long day and Liam Neeson walking through the tombstones being about as entertaining as a night in with toothache.

The flight was non-eventful and I was boosted by the announcement that agents would be on the other side to help people re-book connections. This would give me a good run at bypassing most of the plane and getting to immigration first. For some people, this is a breeze, passport, fingerprints, photo, stamp, have a nice day but when you have a past as chequered as a flag at Formula One then you're always that wee bit keener to get it over with. I always scan for the person who looks the most affable and was mid this when I was called over by a guy who looked like he chewed wasps in his spare time. He gave me the third degree for what seemed like an eternity as he had an issue with the last time I was in America, New York in October, in that he refused to believe I was only there for a weekend. Like anyone in a uniform, it's pointless arguing with them, so I waited it out until he asked me what my job was and seemed happy about that (I actually said "Student" and I could tell he was thinking "Ah, I was right, he is an asshole") and the library like stamp was on the passport at last, he would lend America to me for the next three months should I need it that long.

Then came the wait at the baggage carousel, boredom alleviated when a sniffer dog took particular interest in a Keith Richards lookalike who remarked "Oh he probably smells my dog off me", Yeah ok, now touch your toes.

Finally out, I caught sight of Yahmpy who had the look of a guy who had a longer day than me. Understandable. He had taken the day off to pick me up at the airport at 1.45pm and  the time now was a post-dinner chocolate mint. It had been our intention to go to The Plough and Stars to test the film but that intention was supposed to include things like daylight and slightly less exhausted bodies so we skipped home instead to South Jersey. I say skipped, Yahmpy drove and I sat in the comfiest seat I'd been in all day. President Obama was in town, umbrella and all, so Philly was on lockdown and I was glad to be in the warm confines of Yahmpy's new home and a wonderfully hospitable welcome from his wife Christine. I've been in situations in the past where I have been made to feel unwelcome in someone's home and it's a horrible feeling. Similarly, since a lot of bad shit has happened to me in the last 18 months, I make it a rule to never stay with strangers and with Yahmpy being pretty far from that and Christine putting me at ease immediately, I was delighted to be with them.

Yahmpy's fridge had a selection of beers to suit a beer experimentalist but that's not me so it wasn't long before I was in a cosy guest room for the six hours sleep I'd get before the inevitable jet lag kicked in. Jet lag has a weird way of making you feel totally fresh after a sleep, it's just that it's about five hours before everyone else wakes up.

So Friday was a long God damn day made better by visits to the Phily diner and of course, the Plough and Stars for the Feile.

But that's for another day.