Maren Alford: Touring the U.K. – An “Almost Christmas” Story
Enjoy another guest blog submission from Maren Alford, young drummer of the all-girl band from Texas, Not Ur Girlfrenz. Maren, Liv, and Gigi are an inspiration to other young musicians hoping to make their musical dreams come true!
2018 was starting to wind down, and what a year it had been! My band Not Ur Girlfrenz had gone on their very first tour in April, then we became the youngest touring band in the 24-year history of Vans Warped Tour in July. Our original song “Warped” was even getting radio airplay in the U.K., which was super exciting, and we were getting ready to release our debut EP “New Kids in America” in October! We had been working on the EP of 5 original songs for over a year and couldn’t wait for it to come out. The release date had been set, presales were underway, and we were counting the days until it was out. About that time, though, our plans got changed in the very best way imaginable–we were told we needed to delay the EP release, which was really disappointing until we found out why. We were asked to delay it in order to have more time to promote it in the U.K. because we had just been invited to join Bowling for Soup’s “Almost Christmas” Tour right after Thanksgiving! 8 shows in the U.K. with pop punk icons Bowling for Soup and Patent Pending – was this a dream?
We quickly started working up a set of originals, plus a couple of our favorite covers including one Christmas song. We were super excited to play the original ballad “Somehow” which we had never played live before. While we finalized the set, we got our U.K. work permits secured, our passports all in order, and our travel plans arranged for each of the 8 cities we were playing in. Then, two weeks before we left for the tour our EP “New Kids In America” was released to great reviews. It was insane to have that much of our own music out there for the world, we’d been working on it for so long and it was completely surreal for it be done and for everyone to hear it!
Finally, the day came for us to become “world travelers” and fly to Manchester U.K. to start the tour. We arrived in Manchester around 9:00 a.m., with the 6-hour time difference it was like 3:00 a.m. to us–but we were way too excited to be tired! We went through Customs and headed to baggage claim. That’s when we realized one of my bags–the one that had my favorite snare drum and lots of other drum tools and extra supplies–was still in Philadelphia due to an airline mixup. So our first piece of business was to check with the baggage office in Manchester to make sure the bag was on another flight. With all our bags (minus one) we picked up the gigantic, 9-passenger van we rented, carefully packed the cargo area full to the brim, and started to drive to Preston where our first show was that night. We didn’t have a driver, so our dads began the task of learning to drive on the other side of the road, and how to navigate the roundabouts that seemed to be everywhere (they don’t really have those in Texas). We knew from TV and movies that they drive on the “other side” in Europe, but it still seemed so weird to actually be doing it! Cheers to the dads for taking this on because it had to be nerve-wracking.
We got to the first venue in Preston to find a huge crew putting up lights, scaffolding and banners, setting up equipment and merch booths, and testing pyrotechnics. It was a lot to take in at once! The thing I was most excited to see though had just been delivered–the beautiful set of USA Customs that The Gretsch Company so generously provided for me to play on this tour! My dad and I started assembling the kit to get ready for our sound check–the black finish went perfectly with our new hot pink logo bass drum head we’d ordered in preparation for tour. I couldn’t believe I was going to be playing this gorgeous kit for all 8 shows!
Soon after we arrived, we met the guys in Patent Pending for the first time and blasted through a quick sound check. Backstage in our dressing room, we ran through some songs and I warmed up on my practice pad. Then it was show time. At this point he had all been awake for over 24 hours, but we were all full of energy and ready to give a great show. Everything went really great–it was the first night so, of course, everyone was getting in the groove of things, but I couldn’t have been happier with how the first night went. After our set we went to merch for meet and greets and the people were amazing! This was the first time that we had our debut CDs for sale EVER and people were actually buying them and having us sign them, which is just insane to me. We got to go back on stage for the Ohio “song takeover” during Bowling for Soup’s set (along with the lead singer Joe from Patent Pending) wearing Santa hats and throwing them to the crowd. What an amazing night, and there were 7 more to go!
Our next show was in Edinburgh, Scotland. The drive was about 8 hours, so we hit the road early–napping a lot on the way–after doubling back to the airport in Manchester to pick up the missing bag. We stopped for lunch at KFC (which apparently is very popular in the U.K. along with Burger King, Starbucks, and a couple of other familiar chains). Imagine pulling up to your next venue and you look up and see a real-life castle on the hill right above you–wow, we’re not in Texas anymore! We were playing the incredible Edinburgh Usher Hall where legendary bands such as The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, and Led Zeppelin have also played. It was absolutely gorgeous and we couldn’t believe we would be playing on the stage there. Before the show we had our first of many press interviews during the tour, which was a lot of fun. Our show went great, we even got to do some impromptu dancing with Patent Pending during their set. Let’s just say our first time in Scotland was pretty amazing! I wish we could have stayed longer to explore, it was so beautiful there. As we left town the next morning, we loved seeing the little shops decorated for the holidays, and the school children walking to class–I felt like I was in a Harry Potter movie!
Our third show was back in England at O2 Academy Bristol and everyone was starting to really get into the groove now. This venue was very different from the other two–it was on several levels and the audience was going to be a lot closer to the stage. We were excited because a lot of bands that we look up to like All Time Low, Weezer, and Panic! At the Disco had played there, and the show was completely sold out! The audience was AMAZING that night! I loved the intimacy of the room and felt like the crowd was more into our show than ever. When we got to “Somehow,” our ballad, Liv (our lead singer and guitarist) encouraged them to get out their lighters or flashlights and wave them. But we had no idea that the entire room would completely light up! It was all so overwhelming that I actually started to cry during the song. We were all engulfed in the light from those phones and lighters, and I think that was when it finally sunk in with me what we were actually doing, that we were actually on tour halfway around the world, in the U.K., with people we’ve never met singing the words to our songs–and that I’m doing this at only 14 years old. Both me and Liv were getting emotional, we just couldn’t help it. After the show we were even escorted to merch by security, and there were even people waiting for us by our van when were were leaving for the night. I thought people only did that for “real” rock stars. That night was a rollercoaster of emotions for all of us and I don’t think I’ll ever forget that show.
Over the next couple of days we had played shows in Reading and Southampton. Reading was a great show, we all felt like we were in the zone. In Southampton we got to walk around and really explore a little bit for the first time–we loved the park in the middle of town. We also got to have lunch with Jaret, our manager and frontman for Bowling For Soup in Southampton–we ate at a Caribbean food restaurant, in U.K.–was not expecting that. This tour has been full of surprises! On the way to lunch, we got recognized by a group of fans that were going to the concert and they even brought us homemade gifts. After the show that night we also got to meet the most adorable little girls who gave us chocolate oranges. We were really amazed by the generosity and enthusiasm of the U.K. fans!
Our last three shows were in Bexhill On Sea, Leicester, and Leeds. At the Bexhill show we got to hang out with one of our friends from Texas who were studying abroad in the U.K. which was really cool. Our Leicester show was great –the crowd was super into it, we had our whole show down, and we were having the time of our lives!
All too soon, it was time for our last show of the tour, Leeds. The last show of a tour is always both the most exciting show, and the most emotional. Our band had grown so much over the course of this tour, we’d made lots of new fans, and we’d made so many new friends. We went out there and gave it everything we had, there was no holding back. For the last Ohio “song takeover” of the tour, all of the guys from Patent Pending came out on stage with us, some of them were even air-guitaring on some of the miniature Christmas trees on stage–now that’s punk rock! We did a huge trash can ending with everyone jumping around on the stage, the energy was infectious. After Ohio, we watched the rest of Bowling for Soup’s set side-stage, jumping around and singing along. On the last song of the night (and of the tour),“1985,” Jaret brought all the bands, the crew, even our parents and Liv and Gigi’s little brother Jagger out on stage to sing the chorus and dance along!
After the show everybody was celebrating, and we probably hugged everybody at least 5 times each as we said goodbye. As quickly as the tour had come, it was over, but I knew that I would still have those memories with me for the rest of my life and that we’d hopefully be back very soon so instead of feeling sad I thought to myself–“Peace out UK, see you soon.”
I am so grateful for this amazing opportunity and to everyone who made it possible. First, Jaret Reddick, Bowling for Soup and Patent Pending, who invited us to be part of this tour. The Gretsch Company for providing my amazing drum kit, Gabe our awesome tour manager, Jon who designed and ran our fantastic light show, Dave who documented our trip with pictures and videos, Ella who handled our merch and our amazing team at Rage PR. The fantastic tech/support crew who made the show happen each night, and the new friends and fans who were so kind and welcoming. And our parents, who support us in our dreams and encourage us to dream even bigger. Looking back on everything we did in 2018, I honestly can’t believe it. The band just turned two years old, we’ve accomplished so much in a short amount of time, and we’re just getting started. Dream big and don’t think that anything is too unattainable because you can do anything you put your mind to!
— Maren Alford
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