In Edinburgh with John McCusker and Kris Drever

Drinking tea from a cup that says,

"Mark Knopfler
kill to get crimson"

I'm in Edinburgh. It's 6:50 am.

Start changing strings on a blonde Gibson A-3 circa approximate 1915. The fingerboard is dusty. Is there a towel? Strings go dead faster when the fingerboard is dirty, and I only brought two sets. My new Phil Davidson mando arrived in the mail here on Friday (it's now Tuesday), and while it sounds good, it's a little green, and I can tell John's mandolin will sound better for the recording.

Now the strings are off and I have olive oil and a washcloth. Finding my way around John McCusker and Heidi Talbot's flat. At 9 we're leaving for a recording session with Kris Drever. The old strings are green and black. Remember which way the bridge goes back on. Rub some oil into the fingerboard and get the dirt off. It's pitted but clean now. Headstock too, is (after oil and washcloth) black again. I love these old A models. Left my mando's behind to make it easier to bring the new one home on the plane. But I'm wondering how these ninety five year old tuners will work.

G strings and bridge on. Now the E strings to balance and set the bridge for intonation. New coated D'Addario E strings are kinda gold colored. Make sure I string em from the correct hooks on the tailpiece. Don't want to have to start over.

It's something to do. I woke at 5 and read. John won't be up for another couple hours. Arrived at 10am from Newark yesterday and had a 45 minute nap and then practice with Kris, John, and bassist Ewan Vernal, who flew in from Amsterdam, where he's now a stay at home (mostly) dad with month old twins. A boy and a girl.

The bridge is right for now, standing vertical and in the right place, but it'll tilt toward the fingerboard as I tighten the rest of the strings to pitch. Take my time. I have time. One E string is already on the wrong hooks. That never happens when you change one string at a time. There, I fixed it. D strings. Maybe I'll restring the banjo. The fifth string was broken on the flight, which means the rest of them might also break soon.

It's been maintenance week. I put a pickup on the banjo, Kit even drilled a hole so the wire from the jack assembly can pass right through the rim. Then Abby Washburn pointed out that she just duck taped it to the tension rods. Duh. Why didn't I think of that? But I wanted to get more pro, lose most of the tape I had everywhere on it. I got a fake fingernail on the right index. Tried it. It was too long and now I think it's about right. Much more definition. A preamp's in the shop, hopefully fixed before Telluride flights next Tuesday. Worked in the yard. Went on a short cleansing fast with Kit. I lost all of a pound. Musta been the whiskey with Luke and Abby that negated the weight loss. But I'd be gaining it back anyway here in Scotland. beer.

I close my eyes as I get the E strings up to pitch. Check the bridge. It's straight up and down. 12th fret harmonics and the corresponding fretted notes on each pair are a pretty close compromise. The intonation will be what it will be. Clip the strings and take a walk.

I've taken a break from these journals. They seemed to get pretty repetitive – who I saw, where I went, what I ate. Like the road itself, which after a while is a long boring string of such things. I need new songs to sing and a change in routine. Working on it. This year I've done more studio work, including production on a Kate MacLeod CD that was mastered on Friday.

Talking with Bill Ferrell in Chapel Hill in February, I was reminded that I'd never read "Gone With The Wind." I looked unsuccessfully for a used copy in Fred Koller's store the other day, and then forgot about it. Yesterday at the gate in Newark, waiting to board the flight, someone had left a thick book on top of the recycling bin. "Gone With The Wind." I put it in the stretchy outside picket of my computer bag and carried it on the plane. I'd just bought a hard cover of "Horse Soldiers." Now I have two hard covers on the road. Bad travel technique. But pretty good scavenging.

I'll be here until Sunday. John and Kris have to go on the road on Friday, but I'll stay around and surprise Jimmy Moon at his 60th birthday party on Saturday in Glasgow. I bought a card at CVX and Moon Pies at Kroger for his present.

There's a little piece of felt on the floor. Did it fall off the underside of the bridge when I took it off? Hm…. It's not a skid protector for the chair I'm sitting on. I just looked.

Kris has some nice songs. One is a traditional one called "The Colony" that's got some bars of five and some of seven and then he varies from that basic form. I was brain dead and having a hard time keeping up with that about 6pm yesterday, but it starts to make sense when you learn the melody. I love his singing and I love John and Ewan. We went through about 6 numbers, then went to a nice restaurant next door called First Coast. I had coley, a white fish, pan fried, over peas and lentils with fresh mint. And Shiraz. Out cold at 11:15.

The felt is the same width as the tailpiece. It goes under the strings to keep em from rattling on the metal. Okay. Loosen strings and wedge it under with the screwdriver on my pocketknife. Back up the pitch, fine tune later. Rest of the tea's cold. Thinking I might not have time for the walk now, but still no stirrings from my host and hostess. Go for it.

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by R & T