Life on Tour
An Occasional Diary
Written by Ralph on his October/November tour of the UK
Page 1 - Page 2 - Page 3 & Parachutes
The Norden Farm Arts Centre - Maidenhead :
It was good to start at a concert from which we could have a home run. This one was organised by Mike Sanderson who has been running the Netttlebed Folk Club for years and is a very good promoter. The Norden arts is a very new venue and the crew were all helpful and enthusiastic.
It is always difficult for me at the start of a new tour planning a set. After deliberation I decide to commence with Nettle Wine as Donard would like me to play Clown which is in a similar tuning. This means that I can follow with Gypsy which also involves both E strings down to D.
After about an hour I have the shape of the set. I am still thinking of the Jersey show and the pleasure of playing an entire Blues and ragtime set and so include several pieces from that show.
The concert goes very well. After the show I am talking to Donard about the two most recent concerts and analyse why the Channel island's concert was so special. I decide that it was because one whole dimension of the concert was missing, that of the responsibility of the songs composers. When I present all my own work, I am trying to reach out on performance presentation and compositional levels. With the blues set, only two of those elements were involved.
After each normal gig there follows my post mortem which can be quite involved. In Jersey the post gig pondering was over in minutes. An element of that remained at Maidenhead and we packed up and said farewell with a lightness that is not always there at the start of a tour.
Back at the building site (formerly known as my home) Nanna has prepared a sort of kitchen featuring a kettle and a dusty toaster in the other of the two occupiable rooms and I have a warm noodle dish before sitting for the usual hour or so waiting for the adrenaline to disperse enough to allow sleep.
The Village Hall - West Chiltington
A glorious autumn day welcomes us to this wonderful part of west Sussex. As we hit the M25 the trees are not quite in their Glory but the promise of a spectacular Autumn is hinted at with the beginnings of yellow and gold in the leaves. We head past Gatwick before turning off to the direction of Storrington and the various lanes that confuse but ultimately lead to the hall where we will work tonight.
Or host Jerry has promoted many acts over the years and most recently Show of Hands have played this hall. It is beautifully appointed and even has a dressing room (usually known as the after thought). The only criticism shared by my host is the colour of the stage curtains which are grey. This always makes me think of a crematorium!
The dressing room is also the children's nursery class for the village and there on the walls are drawings and numbers and pictures of dinosaurs etc. On the wall two children's names have had a clothes peg affixed to them. I am astonished to read that Lucinda and Daniel have been singled out for recognition. This is because Lucinda (my youngest son's partner) has just given birth to Danny on October 9th weighing 8.35lbs. This is so spooky that I must take it as an omen for a great gig.
The concert goes terrifically and we enjoy home made cake from our hosts and a glass or two of Steve Knightly's favourite Chilean wine thoughtfully provided by Jerry. Before we climb aboard the Lucida, Jerry tells me of his forthcoming album. He has waited a long time to produce his first CD and we wish him every success with it and thanks for a terrific evening in the country.
Back at the building site all is quiet for at least five hours before our builders crow the morning at 7am with their merry drills and joyful hammering.
The MAC - Birmingham
The weather is horrible, the sunny skies are clouded over and it's pouring with rain. This is more like it, autumn touring would not be the same without traffic at a standstill and glowering skies on the way to to what Dave Pegg refers to as the celestial city, Birmingham. I have so many great memories of this city all the early days at various folk clubs and then the universities, the Odeon and dozens of other venues around the town but especially the old town hall with its great echoing vastness and fabulous and friendly atmosphere. Tonight we are playing at the Mac, a real arts centre.
We park up and have a snack in the Restaurant and I can't help but notice the wonderful diversity of people who use this facility. On a nearby table there are a group of elderly pensioners earnestly discussing some arts project whilst nearby a group of disabled youngsters are doing the same in animated tones. Having a coffee on the seats below us a young Muslim couple with their baby are having tea. As they stand up to leave she replaces her veil and puts the baby in its pushchair. I think of Lucy and wonder how our latest little miracle is getting on.
The Mac definitely seems to be a success story as far as the general public are concerned. Almost all of Birmingham's wide ethnic mix is using the place and are totally at ease here. Earlier a group of enthusiastic kids were rehearsing upstairs and there is a photo exhibition near the bar. The whole place is humming with energy and creative people who seem to value this terrific facility. The concert is a sell out and I buy a pot that catches my eye in the pottery show case. I have got quite a little collection of arty objects from such exhibitions that we find on the road.
Tonight we play Chris While and Julie Matthew's excellent 'Blue Tapestry' CD as pre show music and Donard mislays his Mini disc Player. The journey back to the building site is fairly ok and I drop Donard off at his place and after sitting for a while turn in at about 3am.
The Guildhall - Derby
The weather has definitely taken a turn for the worse and driving conditions are horrible. The lorry spray is almost like a fog but we are running late and it is a difficult "get in" complicated by the Guildhall's insistence on an electrical check on all the equipment.
I am reminded of a journey I made with Robin and Barry Dransfield when we were all managed by Jo Lustig. The weather was so bad and foggy that I took the decision to leave the motorway and travel by alternate route. Paul Brown was our driver and in spite of the journey time we managed to do the gig and all went well. The maxim should always be "arrive alive" although it is so easy to get into "the show must go" on mentality.
We arrive nerves jangling, the electrical check is postponed and the get in goes well. The show is sold out and the audience were great. I buy another small picture from an exhibition there (that makes seven paintings that I have bought from the Guildhall over the years.
Tonight we are staying outside of Leicester.
The Y Theatre - Leicester
During the morning we buy the keyboard which I am typing these notes on. Donard has so many gadgets and a deep understanding of new technology he leaves me bewildered (but he still can't play a B7th chord).
The Last time I played here there was a basket ball match going on and I express the hope that no such game is taking place tonight. It was possible to hear the bouncing of the ball all through the set and I am assured there is no match and the show goes quite well.
We were back at the hotel by midnight and after beating me at Pool two games to one, Donard the victor retires to bed and I turn in a little later and watch some tv until about 2am.
The Platform - Morecambe
This will be the second time I have played the Platform and we are greeted like old friends by Glynis and Ron. Opposite the converted railway station that is tonight's venue stands one of the great monuments to Thirties architecture, the old Midland Hotel scene of many a late night and good craic from years ago.
I stayed there on numerous occasions memorably on the tour with the natural Acoustic Band some 26 years ago. The gent's toilets in this Art Deco masterpiece had the longest echo reverb I have ever encountered and on this occasion was the site of long and fairly close harmony renditions of some Everley Bros. classics. The old building is awaiting redevelopment and stands formally on the seafront in great need of some T.L.C.
The show goes very well and in spite of the very wide room which has the effect of dividing the audience into two parts I feel that we all become one by the end of the show. Whilst on stage I remember the old busking song I used to play with Max Faukner (see new book Summer Lightning) which mentions a Platform and manage to recall all the words. I don't know if it will ever find it's way into the repertoire again but people responded to its relevance to the evening's show.
It was only afterwards that I remembered my own song Terminus which mentions a platform too, so I could have used that but "Danville Girls" was fun to play and it was a great evening.....
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