On the Rails: Stacey and Mark take in the UK by train
Being on the road in the US literally means the road – Mark Stuart and Stacey Earle’s Chevy Suburban has 444,000 miles on the clock. So when they come to the UK, they choose to do it differently.
The husband-and-wife duo, plus their luggage, their guitars and their merchandise, are currently travelling the country by train, and the odd taxi. And this isn’t some straightforward little tour of major cities; some of the trips have required four trains in a day. Neither is it a brief stopover.
“It’s pretty crazy,” acknowledges Stuart. “We’ve been coming over here and doing tours for about 13 years and we usually play about eight or 10 shows in the whole of the UK. But I had noticed over the years we had contemporaries who would do more shows. So we decided this time, let’s do an aggressive schedule.”
Aggressive may be an understatement: the pair are doing 22 shows in 24 days.
“We are doing it all by train, and ... it’s really physically exhausting but we’ve been coming here for many years and we like the train system. In America we don’t really have a train system any more, not all over the country, so I do drive us everywhere,” says Stuart.
Stuart and Earle have been touring as a duo for 10 years. Living together, working together and travelling together has its problems, Stuart admits.
“Like any married couple we have spats, and sometimes we have spats and don’t have the freedom of walking into the next room because we’re on a train or we’re in a dressing room or we’re sitting in a restaurant. I don’t think husbands and wives are intended to be together 24 hours a day.
“But we do love one another, and we’re fortunate I think in a lot of regards that we can do this together. I’ve seen marriages with two artists and they spend very little time together over the course of the years, and what usually happens is it ends in divorce, because that’s not really much of a marriage if you see your spouse three months out of the year total.”
The constant travelling – about 280 days a year – and the lugging of luggage are a deliberate choice for Stuart and Earle, and a far cry from what they experienced as members of other, more high-profile artists’ bands. Both of them have played in the band of Earle’s brother, Steve, and Stuart also played with Freddy Fender and others.
“When I toured in Steve’s band I had a little bit more of a red carpet tour. I stayed in four-star hotels, I had someone tuning my guitar for me and handing it to me on stage, I didn’t have to carry any heavy equipment or anything like that, but ultimately the reward at the end of the day is to stand on stage and sing my own songs,” says Stuart.
“I’ve been a sideman for other artists, but my heart was always in having my own band, fronting my own band, writing my own songs. I think Stacey would say the same.”
Married since 1993 and performing both as a duo and as solo artists, the pair have between them notched up eight albums (and Earle is writing songs for a solo album now, her first since 2000). Recently they decided to put new technology to use to produce a compilation of those albums – not a “best-of”, more like an “all-of”, and then some.
At their shows, Earle and Stuart are selling a flash drive that can be played on a computer or an mp3 player, in the form of a wristband. On it are all the songs from all their albums, plus about 40 songs that never made it onto an album at all – a total of some 200 songs for £25.
“In putting it together we went back and listened to all these songs we had written in the previous years, and we had totally forgotten we’d written all of these songs, much less recorded them. So it was very exciting,” says Stuart.
He says the reaction has varied depending on how tech-savvy the audience is.
“It’s been an interesting endeavour because our particular audience are not always the audience who are using this kind of technology. There’s nights when we sell five or six or eight, and there’s nights where it’s over the head of the audience. We try to describe it, but they’re still trying to figure out what a CD is.”
Stuart admits that it can be a big step for some, and maybe even a big step for him. “I’ll admit I don’t own an iPod myself.”
But at least, when it comes to lugging them on and off trains, flash drives are light!
Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart on Backroads (including remaining gig dates)