We arrived in Albuquerque for the American Booksellers’ Associations (ABA) annual conference, the Winter Institute, which sees all the independent booksellers of America congregating for 5 days to exchange ideas, attend workshops and meet new authors. We’d been invited to perform on the back of our New York Times review 6 months earlier, and the ABA had been instrumental in getting us over to the states, as the petitioners for our visa. Our whole tour had been arranged around this conference.
Albuquerque is a deresert town. We were staying Downtown in one of the high rise hotels next to the conference centre, but we did also get the chance to walk around and explore the old town, where the hights of the buildings quickly drop into single or double story places, many Spanish and Adobe in style, with views of the mountains that frame the town through the gaps between houses. You get the impression that it’s not an especially prosperous city, but that everything has been done with a care and pride in the place to make it beautiful where they can. The houses are decorated, beautiful bright pastel colours, little details on the buildings, stunning graffiti. Even the spaghetti junction of bridges are beautifully built, clad in the deep red clay of the buildings - a million miles from the metal monoliths of New York and New Jersey. The Old Town of Albuquerque was a few miles walk from where we were staying - most of the shops filled with Native Indian art and foods, flag and beautiful colours adorning the trees, fairly lights poised for dusk.
We arrived back into town with Nic from our Durango trip, piled out our mountains of equipment and baby stuff onto the hotel lobby, checked in and headed straight up to a reception the conference runs for all it’s international guests. The first people we met were Oren and Joy, the two heads of the ABA who we’d been talking to for months and had followed us through all the trials and tribulations about the visa. I hadn’t realised it was Oren when he reached out to shake my hand, other wise I would have gone straight in for the hug. It was so great to finally be there.
There was a big British contingent at the Winter Institute, with a few faces we’d met before. Meryl from the British Booksellers’ Association, Nic of course from Mr Bs, Tim from Booka Books in Oswestry, and Nigel, Christine, Adrian and Kerry from Gardners / AMS who had sponsored the tour, as well as a host of other booksellers we would get to know over the next few days. We all had a celebratory arrival dinner in a restaurant that served “pre-contact” food. I had roast Elk.
Our first performance wasn’t until the following evening. We’d tried to set it up that we’d have a couple of focused performances over the course of the conference as we don’t work well when you have a bustling unfocused crowd, we’re just not loud enough. We were a bit worried that none of the shows at the ABA were going to be this, but our hearts lifted when we saw the first stage, a couple of hundred seats laid out theatre style in the most stunning of tinted Moroccan glass walled rooms, beautiful light lilting down from the sides. There was even a fountain in the middle. It was pretty nerve wracking setting up, purely as we felt a wait of expectation from the audience (if they came) abut us. We’d have Oren and Joy there from the ABA who had never heard us, as well as our sponsors, who again had never heard us live either. Would they actually like us?
When the time came the seats began to fill up. In fact they all filled up, and booksellers from across the US lined the sides and the balcony too. It was a packed, focused concert, the sound was great and we relaxed immediately into playing as the smiling faces gave back everything to us. Everyone really seemed to enjoy it. Nigel from Gardners gave Nic Bottomley a hug, Oren came over at the end and look relived and proud that we’d all managed to get us out here to play, and our guestbook immediately started filling up with bookshop after bookshop asking us to come and take a trip out to their own bookstores. From that moment we knew we were going to have a really great time over the next 5 days.
Next up was a concert out in a local Albuquerque shop called Bookworks, a lovely shop centred around an enormous fire in a small run of shops about 5 miles in the sub-burbs - beautiful Adobe houses, dusty with the mountain in the background. It was a Wednesday lunchtime show, so we weren’t expecting great crowds, but around 25 people showed up in the end. Lots of children too. Beth managed to get Molly asleep about 2 minutes before we were due to play so we put her in the far corner of the bookshop and began, pulling out a few songs we hadn’t played for ages, like Declaration Two, inspired by Caroline, by Cornelius Medvei - about a man’s obsession with a donkey. In the audience we had a few friends of my parents, people who had seen us written up in Forbes Magazine, and people who had read about it in the local press.
The next show was to be at 7.45am in the breakfast room. This was actually our biggest appearance at the conference, as the room holds 1200 people and we were going to be followed by Margaret Atwood. The sound system was bizarre - just speakers scattered about the ceiling, and again we were worried it was going to be a thousand people noisily eating breakfast when we played. We had hoped to write a new song inspired by A Handmaid’s Tale but we simply did not have enough time. Beth made a start though. On the morning Oren opened the event, said a few words about how the ABA had responded to The New York Time’s challenge to get us out to America, and then invited Nic up to introduce us. It was the biggest audience we were ever going to play to, it was amazing. Full, 1200 people, all watching and listening. Nic had three minutes to introduce us, and we had 10 minutes to fill. We’d rehearsed the night before what we were going to say / play - We Are The Foxes / Thirteen Chairs and then get everyone singing along for Smog Over London. Nic described it as The Bookshop Band’s 11 minute super bowl half time show. We left the talking to him, and dived straight into the music. The sound filled the room, the weird ceiling speakers were perfect and Beth managed to get everyone singing and swaying along to Smog Over London, which was an awesome sight from our perspective on stage. After we’d finished the guestbook continued to fill up with bookshops, we sold a bunch of our commemorative tour T-Towels and we were getting pretty low on CD stock.
Margaret Atwood then went on stage, and the first thing she said to all the bookshop owners of America was “I love that band, they’re great. If I had a bookshop I’d buy all their CDs to sell. I’m going to get one now in fact”. Boom!! After the event Beth and Molly managed to say hi and give her a copy of Curious and Curiouser. Magical moment.
Over the next couple of days we did a few afternoon slots in front of an enormous glass front fire that put out now heat (weird) in the main lobby of the convention centre, as well as a pop-up or two next to the Gardners / AMS stand. We met so many booksellers from all over the US, such a positive and warm response that we both felt that this would not be our one and only trip to America. So many other bookshops to play in!
After the final night’s closing celebrations where we said our goodbyes and thank-yous to Oren and Joy for looking after us so well at the ABA we headed for a wrap party show at Title Wave Books Revisited - a second hand bookshop way out past Nob Hill in Albuquerque. A real hub of the community bookstore, founded almost by accident and with a particular emphasis on homeschooling literature and support. Leslie and her daughter were there to greet us, had laid out the chairs and borrowed some amps from the nearby studio. People piled in and it was a full house again, further bolstered by the 15 or so British contingent who turned up a few songs in and hung out behind the counter watching the show. Nic Bottomley played with Molly round the corner in the horror section of the bookshop, and we really enjoyed playing to such a responsive audience. Someone had brought an acoustic guitar along too, so we played a few songs we hadn’t played often on tour yet, like our Alice In Wonderland-inspired song, and Bobo and the Cattle, inspired by Alexandra Fullers’ account of her childhood in Don’t Let’s Go To The Dog’s Tonight. We placed Molly by the donations pot at the end and packed up as people gave us recommendations for the next day. Whitesands was a place about 1.5 hours drive in the wrong direction, a desert covered in gypsum which unique acoustic properties said one man - you can whisper to someone hundreds of meters away and they will hear it clearly. We were put off though by another guy who said that area was one of the original nuclear bomb testing sites, and was best visited in April when the radioactivity dropped a little. Rebel Doughnuts sounded amazing too but alas we wouldn’t have time.
It was sad saying goodbye to everyone, it’s had been a wonderful to meet people many of whom I’m sure we’ll meet again one day. But tomorrow we were hiring (scary!) a car and headed up to Sante Fe for the final week-long leg of the tour.
Huge thank you to our sponsors Gardners and AMS.
If you would like to pre-order the Live in American Bookshops tour album, please visit out Kickstarter campaign page here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thebookshopband/the-bookshop-band-live-in-american-bookshops
Jan 29th: SOMOS, 108 Civic Plaza Drive, Taos. 7pm - 8:30pm
Jan 31st: Denver Public Library - Denver Public Library, 10 W. 14th Ave Pkwy, Denver, CO 80204 1pm
Jan 31st: Hearth Fire Books - 1254 Bergen Parkway, Suite D118, Evergreen, CO 80439 6pm
Feb 1st: Boulder Books - 1107 Pearl St, Boulder, CO 80302 7.30pm
Feb 2nd: Second Star To The Right - 4353 Tennyson St, Denver, CO 80212 2pm
Feb 2nd: Tattered Cover - 2526 East W Colfax Ave, Denver, CO 80206 7pm
Feb 3rd: WORD Bookstore - 126 Franklin St, Brooklyn, NY 11222 5pm