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Hello. My name is Isaac Shabtay, 32 years old from Ontario, Canada. I have set this blog up to document my journey following Mark Knopfler’s “Get Lucky” tour during the spring‐summer of 2010. This is in much the same way I did for Knopfler’s 2008 “Kill to Get Crimson” tour (see the “Links” section), except that this time, I will be following the entire tour—starting April 8 in Seattle, Washington, and ending July 31 in Gredos, Spain. Similarly to before, though, you are more than welcome to sit back, relax, read and comment. All comments, positive and negative, are welcome. You can also subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed (see links at the right‐hand side of the screen), so new posts become available through your favorite RSS reader. Have fun, Isaac

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Concert Day: Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre (SECC), Glasgow, UK (May 21, 2010)

Having stayed awake till shortly past 3:00am last night (writing this blog, mind you), I only had 4 hours of sleep to enjoy. I had a flight to catch from Belfast City Centre airport to Glasgow, leaving at 10:15am. Me, being paranoid about missing flights in airports I’m not familiar with, woke up at 7:00am.

Yes, 7:00am. While that would make sense to the North Americans here, well, things here are different. The train station was located right behind my hotel; it’s a 15 minutes ride to Sydenham, then a 2 minutes shuttle bus to the terminal. Altogether it takes about 25 minutes to get from my hotel to the airport; allow 30 minutes for congestion.

The Belfast City Airport is a tiny airport. Pedestrians get off the train at Sydenham station, cross a short bridge and can literally walk to the terminal by foot—which I would, however there was a sign there saying that pedestrians must pick up some sort of a handset inside a run‐down concrete shack in order to get a ride by the shuttle—no walking permitted.

What a tiny terminal. It would be extremely funny to see someone who’s used to fly through, say, Chicago’s O’Hare airport or Atlanta’s airport, come here and take a flight. I’ve seen bus stations bigger than this terminal.

Everything went smooth and efficient, though. No line‐ups, and I ended up wasting about an hour and a half browsing the web while sitting for a cappuccino by the gate.


Flybe’s flight BE127 departed on time and we arrived at Glasgow’s International Airport on 11:00am sharp. Short flight, yes, but only costs £50—the alternative would have been to take a train to the ferry terminal in Belfast, take a ferry to the south‐western tip of Scotland, and then take a 2.5 hours train ride. Screw that.

Within 5 minutes I was already picking up my backpack from the baggage conveyor and made my way outside, and boarded bus #66 en route to Paisley Gilmour Train Station, where I was going to switch to another train to arrive at Glasgow Central train station.

– “Gmnbsdf kug fmnsbh kjhkjdh dkyhriughtuwryo riehkfbj iwhug kug hkf Station?”


– “Say what?”

– “Byc jr ou s,d fnlskjvouegv cxmnv riuhg, dlfhj osi hg iuy4ihorghxcv, oewtb Station?”

I swear to Lord Almighty that I tried my best to understand what the bus driver was saying. No, it wasn’t just him; overhearing people talk around me, I couldn’t make any sense of what they were saying as it didn’t sound anything like English to me. The poor bus driver had to repeat his question a few times until I finally understood what he was trying to say.

The ride from the airport to Paisley Gilmour took us through narrow, run‐down streets, not too many people around and the ones who were there didn’t look as if they’re very happy about it. What a depressing way to start a visit in a city I was definitely looking forward to visit. Everything around seemed so grey, so dirty.

Arriving at the Paisley Gilmour Train Station, the entire location—the buildings, the “scenery”, the people—all looked like it was perfectly set up for a Guy Richie movie. The place stank, and had the visual appeal of a car crash. People with empty eyes roamed the train platform.

Boarding the train, I accidentally bumped into a thin, tall individual and apologized. Sitting down, I took another look at him. He was wearing some sort of a hat, a T‐shirt with the writing “skinheads revolt”, tattoos all over his arms and a horrendously big Nazi swastika with an iron cross hung upon his neck. He also featured a huge ring going through both of his nostrils (perhaps he lost some brain cells during that “operation”).

Well, I guess if one decides to look ridiculous, that’s his / her choice. But why express stupidity as well? Lets all hope that this garbage‐sucking humanoid never breeds.

So yeah, the first sight of a Neo‐Nazi for me was this morning in Glasgow. The second one came shortly after, at the Glasgow Central train station. Ah, what a pleasant experience, arriving at Glasgow and already seeing two individuals that are set out to kill me.

My hotel, Holiday Inn Express, was located about 10 minutes walk from the train station, up West Nile street. West Nile street is one of the streets that make up Glasgow’s city centre; lots of restaurants and businesses, and hey! three Starbucks stores during that short walk. First Starbucks I’ve seen so far this trip in Europe.

On my way up the street, I noticed a couple of barbershops—one of which I went into right after checking in. Yes, ladies and gents; I am now the proud owner of an authentic Scottish crooked haircut. Lucky me, hair grows back.

A quick shower packing the usual stuff into the small backpack and off I went to explore Glasgow’s city centre. The tour began with a sandwich and yogurt in Pret‐A‐Manger, which is a British chain specializing in fresh sandwiches, fresh coffee and altogether good stuff. A perfect store to step into to grab a bite on your way to somewhere; their yogurts are brilliant.


I spent about an hour or so researching the city centre; neglecting to do any advance planning, I ended up not going to any of the places Glasgow has been known for.


Tiredness crept in and I decided to not play stupid games with my body anymore—rather than carrying on sleepless till night, I decided to go to sleep. An hour or so of some restful nap and I felt much better; left the hotel to meet with James down the street, for a quick bite before heading to the show.

Walking down West Nile street, with James as a guide, I finally witnessed what Glasgow’s city centre is really all about. It is a beautiful city, boasting old buildings with tons of character, countless restaurants with patios (did I mention that the weather was perfect?)…


The show was going to start at 8:00pm, but for some reason I was under the impression that the start time was 7:30pm; made me a bit anxious, and without having yet fathomed how efficient public transport is here, I was inclined to skip a full dinner and suffice with some moderately‐acceptable Chinese food. We then took the train to the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) to catch the show.

The SECC is two stations away from the Glasgow Central train station. Once you get off the train, you have to walk for a few minutes through an under‐ventilated tunnel, at the end of which you are presented with a view of the famous structure.


The SECC is located right at the south bank of River Clyde, the very same river that inspired the Get Lucky song “So Far from the Clyde”—one of the prettiest pieces of music I ever came across. I was curious as to whether this fact would prompt Knopfler to play that beautiful song (at last; it has never been played live before); I figured—if not tonight, then this song will probably not be performed during this tour.

The usual run for collecting my ticket—block HH, row A seat 11—then entered the venue.


The front row of the centre block had an even number of seats, however my seat was located precisely in front of the line crossing the stage in half. The venue itself looked quite big from the interior; a great sense of space.


Jordan, Mike, Steve and Val—a group I became acquainted with during my past travels, which made it a habit to use Knopfler’s UK performances as itineraries for trips in the UK (they all live in the USA)—were all there, sitting right next to me at the front row. An inexplicable feeling of being at home, I must say… We all had some catching up to do before the show.


The band captured the stage shortly after 8:00pm to the roaring sound of a particularly excited audience. After all, something is special about this concert: Mark Knopfler was born in Glasgow. It was clear to me that something is going to be a bit different tonight.

For Knopfler, Glasgow is of the few cities he can call home and it was evident on him. Still seated due to the back nerve issue, he looked relaxed, open, smiling. Whoever has been watching Knopfler perform live more than a few times can easily tell those moments when Mark is “well into the music”, by simply looking at him; and those moments came very frequently. Supported by this wonderful band in a particularly good day, the performance last night was absolutely stunning—of the better ones during this tour.

The What It Is and Sailing to Philadelphia “combo” (were these songs ever played not one after the other?) featured McCusker and McGoldrick altering their sequences a little bit, with stronger‐than‐usual involvement by Mark during the solo parts. Hill Farmer’s Blues featured significant “well into the music” moments by Mark while he was working that Gibson with a whole lot of love.

After the Sultans of Swing cheer (very loud!), I wasn’t really looking at the stage for some reason, so I didn’t notice that another chair has just been added. Before I knew it, Mark introduced Phil Cunningham to the audience. Cunningham, a brilliant accordion player, was born in Scotland (Edinburgh) and was invited to take part in tonight’s concert, and… well, what can I say… I believe you could imagine what it sounded like, adding another master of music to the eight masters that were already on the stage. I guess the term “too many cooks in the kitchen” doesn’t hold here.

Cunningham joined the band for Done with Bonaparte, and then Donegan’s Gone—when he was in charge of playing a neat accordion piece during one of the passages.

I had to leave for a few minutes at the very beginning of Telegraph Road. After the show, Jordan has informed me that, while I was away, some nasty fight started at one of the back rows between two oxygen‐wasting organisms that resembled humans only from the outside. That fight apparently took place during one of the quiet parts of the song, when Mark was playing his National—and made Mark look at the exhibition with a look on his face as if he was going to call it quits and cancel the show—again, this all is according to what I heard after the show (and Jordan doesn’t strike me as an individual who would exaggerate).

After So Far Away, I was expecting the show closer but was surprised to notice Mr. Saggers handing Mark an MK Signature Strat instead of the Don Grosh. Phil Cunningham returned to the stage, while Mark was informing the audience that “this one is especially for tonight”. What we’ve got is a brilliant arrangement of Going Home—a quiet, mellow arrangement with Cunningham making my jaw drop with extremely moving accordion work, blending superbly with John’s flute and Guy’s keyboard work. I’d take a non‐rock version of Going Home over a rock version any day of the week, and the one played last night topped most arrangements I have heard to date.

Cunningham remained on the scene, playing the accordion during Piper to the End, freeing Matt’s hands for supporting Piano work in what turned to be a total display of power by nine fantastic musicians.

What a show!


After the concert, Jordan and the group invited us to join them for drinks at the Crowne Plaza where they were staying—a short walk form the SECC (in fact, there’s a walkway connecting the hotel to the venue). I set out to find James, and before heading to the hotel, took some pictures of the surroundings. Now this is the Glasgow I was looking forward to see.


After looking for the group for about 20 minutes and chatting with a couple of MK fans that made it all the way from Switzerland to the Glasgow’s show, we finally found the happy bunch. Drinks came and went like there was no tomorrow, some Indian food and altogether a lovely, extremely entertaining gathering—Jordan, Val, Steve, Mike, James and myself. Spent just about three hours there—time flies when you’re having fun. Good times, good people. What else do you really need? thanks, my American friends, for the hospitality—was good seeing you!

Weather was fantastic at 1:30am when James and I decided to walk back to the city centre. River Clyde is quite the gem, offering breathtaking views of both banks, especially at clear nights when the river is calm and you get perfect reflections. What a superb city… Glasgow. I will definitely come back.


Arrived at the city centre; and there, amidst the clubs packed with youngsters looking out for some Friday night fun and the abundance of weird‐looking people and rough‐looking individuals, I bid James farewell as he was set to return home two days later. Thanks James for all your help so far, was great seeing you and take care of yourself while in mid‐sea over the next three months.

Up to my room, packed everything for the next morning. Newcastle, here I come.


P.S. Tonight’s show was the 31st show of the “Get Lucky” tour featuring neither “Before Gas & TV” nor “So Far from the Clyde”. This is my blog… and this is my own tiny, meaningless, private protest. :-)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Concert Day: Odyssey Arena, Belfast, Northern Ireland (May 20, 2010)

… You want it done a proper way, I need you to stay

9:35am, when I start writing this post. I’m on board an InterCity train, riding from the wonderful city of Dublin towards Belfast, in Northern Ireland. The Bose QuietComfort headphones eliminate almost all of the noise outside; when you plug those into the BlackBerry to listen to music, you absolutely can’t hear anything of whatever is happening around you. Mark Knopfler’s “Hard Shoulder” is the first one to pop into my random‐ordered Get Lucky playlist; slow, calm song, perfect fit for the scenery around: thousands over thousands of acres of green—be it grass, trees, bush, anything that grows.


We just crossed over some water.

… They had their last supper the day of the beaching; she’s a dead ship sailing, skeleton crew

How fantastic it is, moving vast distances in high speed without needing to focus on the road. I’m sitting in a second‐class seat, Netbook lies on the table in front of me, and memories of cars seem so distant. The ocean is to my right now, what a perfect view.

It’s been a short, but sweet, introduction to Dublin. My two days here were hardly enough; there’s no question, I will be back.

That being said, something tells me that I need to see more of Ireland in order to get a good grasp of what Ireland is all about. Dublin is a big metro area; but once you ignore the tall apartment buildings (well, “tall” is a relative term; don’t expect to find 50–60 stories condominiums here), the plethora of shops and restaurants, and look at the people, how they talk, how they walk, their body language—I guarantee to you that you will suddenly realize that, hey, something in these people doesn’t quite ring “big metro area”. It seems, to me at least, that the authentic Irish “being” can hardly be found in the big city but much easier to identify at the small towns and villages.

I felt much more “Irish” in Howth than in Dublin… I guess that’s what I’m trying to get at.

Anyway, a coastal trip in Ireland is due to take place sooner or later.

… I’m better with my muscles than I am with my mouth,
I work the fairgrounds in the summer, or go pick fruit down south

The train ride proceeds through millions of greens; somewhat flat terrain—nowhere near as flat as The Netherlands, where any bump on the road is considered to be a mountain—although you could see traces of nice hills at the horizon. Sky is completely grey, the air seems so misty that you could almost taste it. Get Lucky plays very well with these views.


A wholesome sense of freedom creeps in; my entire world has been shrunk to fit a 70 litres backpack which is conveniently stowed right above me—and for a minute it seems as if you could put me anywhere you want with that backpack and I’ll make myself at home.

I keep a weather eye on the horizon, and back to the wall
I like to know who’s coming through the door, that’s all

Train arrived at Belfast Central station right on time. My Hotel, Travelodge Belfast Central, is about 15–20 minutes walk and located right at the city centre. Weather was coolish, cloudy skies which blended perfectly with the altogether greyish atmosphere of the city. After checking in and a quick, fabulously simple lunch at a cafe right in front of the hotel, I went to explore the city for a bit.

2 hours by train from Dublin and the difference is so obvious. Dublin’s bustling and vivid atmosphere is now a distant memory; Belfast appears to be more quiet, reserved. Population here is evidently older, people are quieter.

One of the main attractions in Belfast, and the one I went to first, is Donegall Square, circling around Belfast’s city hall.


Look what I found there:


Take the Feckin’ Taxi”… Brilliant, isn’t it.

Continued to walk a bit north of Donegall Square. The area offers lots of opportunities for dining and shopping; currently, though, the entire area seems to be under construction. Traffic here seems impossible, and moving from one place to another is hard even for pedestrians.

Entering Carphone Warehouse, I found a solution to my data roaming plan problem. I got a mobile broadband dongle, good for the UK, for about 20 pounds. That should serve me for my time in the UK; later, I’ll find some other solution.


I wasn’t in the mood to explore too much so I spend about an hour or so sitting on a bench facing City Hall, plugging that mobile broadband thing in and catching up with things. The QuietComfort headphones eliminated much of the engines’ roars behind me; so good to carry those around.

James (Morris; the guy who volunteered to prepared the entire train schedule for me) and I agreed to meet at the venue prior to the show for some dinner. Time to return to the hotel, unload unnecessary items (such as my Netbook) and head to the venue.

Fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King and even Starbucks aren’t anywhere near as popular in Ireland as in North America. During the last three days, I’ve seen one McDonald’s, two Burger King’s and no Starbucks whatsoever. On my way, I encountered this:


“You’ll feel like you robbed us”… of course. I presume they refer to the feeling of anxiety, elevated body heat, sweating and mildly‐annoying abdominal pain one gets after performing a robbery. Makes perfect sense.

I followed some ill advice from the hotel’s receptionist who instructed me to cross a bridge that is, as a matter of fact, impossible to reach unless you’re driving (or unless you’re a pretty sophisticated monkey, as it is some good 10 metres above ground level). Scheduled to meet with James on 5:00pm, we were both late so no hard feelings. At around 5:15pm, I arrived at The Odyssey Arena.


The Odyssey Arena (Wikipedia: hosts both music shows and other entertainment events, primarily sports. It is Ireland’s second biggest indoor arena (the first one being The O₂ in Dublin, where last night’s concert took place), and can contain up to 10,000 seated audience (more than the O₂; bizarre, huh? I guess the space per seat is smaller here).

James and I went to eat at La Tasca, which is a Spanish tapas restaurant located at the Odyssey Pavilion right next door. Some huge vegetarian Paella later and some tea to wash everything done with, all was ready for the concert. Was fun getting together with James, a brilliant conversation partner.

One interesting thing I learned today has to do with currencies used in the UK. You may wish to remember that next time you travel to the UK…

The banknotes in both Scotland and Northern Ireland (both are parts of the UK; Ireland isn’t) are not actually issued by central banks, but rather by retail banks. Therefore, legally speaking, these notes aren’t legal tender, but rather are promissory notes.

What the impact is, you’re asking? Well—

  • Neither Scotland nor Northern Ireland has any legal tender, not even within themselves. Yes, you read that right. By the definition of legal tender, both countries lack it. The bills printed by the Bank of England—those British pounds that you and I are used to see when travelling to, say, London—even those aren’t considered legal tender in Scotland / Northern Ireland.
  • Bank notes issued in Northern Ireland are generally accepted by merchants in Northern Ireland.
  • Bank notes issued in Scotland are generally accepted by merchants in Scotland.
  • Often, you would encounter trouble using banknotes, issued by Northern Ireland, anywhere outside of Northern Ireland. Note that the bills themselves do look different; legally speaking, a merchant in England is entitled to not accept bills printed in Northern Ireland as “money”.
  • Same goes for banknotes issued in Scotland.
  • The only legal tender in the UK England are the bills printed by the Bank of England.

This is so awkward and stupid. So, here’s a tip: if you paid cash in Northern Ireland / Scotland, and got back some bills that weren’t printed by the Bank of England, then try to use that cash at the same country you received it. Don’t count on it being accepted anywhere else.

ANYWAY. Enough about this. Still, I find such information very interesting. Too much time on my hand?

Back at the venue, I went ahead and took some pictures of the interior.


My seat was at the front row, seat 24—one seat right of dead centre. High stage, lots of leg room, not too bad of a view. The band captured the stage at 8:20pm and the show started.

Remember what I wrote above about Belfast’s people appearing to be more reserved and quiet? I wrote that before the concert. Turned out that I was right. That must have been the most polite audience so far: cheers rarely started before a song’s end, and forget about standing ovations—it took forever to get this audience to stand up.

Don’t get me wrong: this had nothing to do with the concert, which actually was a top‐notch concert high up there in my favourites list. It’s just… the people, you know. The audience appeared to be excited (I could tell by looking at their faces) but nothing appeared to make them stand up and be a bit rowdy. The Belfast audience appeared to be content with sitting down, clapping their hands, cheering at the end of each song and… that’s it.

Normally, there’s about one minute break between Romeo and Juliet and Sultans of Swing; tonight, that break took about 15 seconds because, really, that’s how long it took the audience to become quiet.

The most active individual in the entire arena (which, apart of seats at the far ends which simply couldn’t be sold to anyone who isn’t blind, was close to be sold out) was actually Mark Knopfler himself, appearing to be having a good time and moving quite a bit while performing some impressive solos.

Tonight’s works of What It Is and Sailing to Philadelphia were outstanding, especially the low‐intensity part of What It Is. Truth must be told—this has a lot to do with John McCusker’s return. The guy adds something to the band that is very hard to reproduce.

Another marvel tonight was the performance of Marbletown. It started during the band members’ introduction when Richard played some serious guitar (how do you spell that 4‐string guitar’s name?) and ended with John McCusker and Mike McGoldrick working so well together that one had to see (and listen) to believe. I am pretty certain that tonight’s Marbletown jam session was of the best ones I have ever seen, and certainly the best one so far this tour. When the song ended, I couldn’t avoid smiling and yelling the word “Perfect”. It was perfect.

What a happy bunch of musicians. What a delightful concert.

I didn’t really have much expectations for the sound in that venue—basically, a sports arena. However, it was surprisingly fabulous. Don’t know much about how it was heard from the back rows, but at the front row, the sound was well‐balanced and at just the right volume.

Exactly the same setlist as yesterday so no surprises there.

The concert ended at around 10:20pm. It was a beautiful night outside; I bid James farewell and walked back to the hotel.

The path from The Odyssey Arena back to the city centre is beautiful at night.


Was a bit hungry when I arrived at the hotel; a small store offering “Belfast’s Best Pizza” sold 9” pizzas, custom made within 5 minutes, for £3.80. Was it Belfast’s best pizza? I don’t know, but it was pretty good actually.

Even though I’m not a big fan of beer, I felt that it would be most appropriate to have a pint of Guinness before I depart Ireland tomorrow morning. A nearby Irish pub was bustling with people; a quick pint and back to the room.

Lots of cities in North America offer various “Irish Pubs”. Here’s some news: an “Irish Pub” doesn’t get its atmosphere from the crowdedness, not even from the “wooden” look. No, no. The atmosphere comes from the patrons. No “Irish Pub” can be considered a true “Irish Pub” unless it inhabits Irish people… and that’s my opinion as an individual who hardly ever goes to pubs.

Tomorrow is an early one… flight to Glasgow leaves Belfast City Centre in about 7 hours from now. Time for bed.


P.S. Tonight’s show was the 30th show of the “Get Lucky” tour featuring neither “Before Gas & TV” nor “So Far from the Clyde”. This is my blog… and this is my own tiny, meaningless, private protest. :-)