Sunday, April 01, 2007

"Not you, you're one of the five per cent...."

To Oxford, home of numerable colleges, many, many bicycles, and The Oxford Folk Festival, where Songs From The Blue House have been engaged to open the main stage in support of The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. After a lengthy negotiation of the roadways of Oxford culminating in a submission and retreat back out to the park and ride, Fiddly Richard and I arrive at the splendid venue laden with various acoutrements of our trade and gratefully accept a beer from the bar while our drummer du jour sets up in front of the impressive pipe organ which will provide our backdrop for the evening. The Ukes are nowhere to be seen and so we unpack and set up around the seven chairs lining the front of the stage and wait. As the support band, we will not be able to do anything meaningful with sound until after they're done, as it turns out with an impressive run through the Ying Tong Song. The Drummer decides to dip a toe in the water by playing a bit of Walk This Way, Guitarist James's level test is Anarchy In The UK and the organisers seem relieved when we settle down to play something of a more traditional nature. Mind you, Anarchy sounds great with fiddle, mandolin and banjo - we'll have to store that one for future use. Once that's all over we have just enough time to run through a couple of numbers before doors at eight - we will be on at ten past - and so Reado and I have just enough time to negotiate our way against the tide of the incoming audience to get outside for a cigarette before show time, me with nerves, he with a cheery "I've seen this lot, they're rubbish" and a stage whispered "I told you reggae night was on Thursday...!" We kick into the set and luckily his timekeeping keeps us all together, what with us being spread across the full width of the stage to the point where the assorted stringed things being played stage right are virtually inaudible to those of us gathered on the left. Things are going terribly well and to celebrate I get him to play the big drum fill from In The Air Tonight which gets a sizeable cheer from the sell out crowd. Set done, we get off within thirty seconds of our deadline. Tim the booker is very pleased with this, and we go to check out how the merch stall is doing.

Post gig relaxation is being ordered, drunk and eaten in the bar so I decide to get some of my travelling gear from the dressing room, which is accessible either from the stage, natch, or by following a wending trail from behind the front of house, through the side chambers, up along the balcony, through some fire doors, down the spiral stairs and through a couple of doors - long time viewers of a certain, if you will, Rockumentary will at this point appreciate that I am muttering "Rock and Roll!" and "Hello Cleveland" to myself as I follow this circuitous route to find myself gathering bags, guitars, stands and leads, loading myself up and retracing my steps, all the while repeating the mantra. Right up to the point where I realise that the fire doors allow access one way, but have no handle on the stage-ward side, meaning that aside from busting open the fire doors at the bottom of the stairs and very probably setting off all sorts of alarms, the only way back out to where my pint is waiting for me is through the middle of The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, who I strongly suspect would not appreciate my unannounced appearance during the middle of their splendid version of Slave To The Rhythm. After a couple of unsuccessful calls on the mobile I decide that either I'm going to be trapped here for the evening or I should brazen it out. Waiting for an appropriately large round of applause, and looking as roadie-like as I can, I shuffle on to the stage behind the group and exit stage left.

Several beers later and after a marvellous gig, we the band are milling around the streets of Oxford, several of which we recognise from earlier on trying to locate the porter's lodge from which we are to secure the keys to our accommodation. Some of the band have wangled upgrades to a nearby Travelodge, but having secured the promise of the one bed in the shared room from Gib, our bass player, we're staying in recently vacted student rooms in town. The gentleman behind the glass looks dourly at us and announces that only one, not two rooms have been reserved for this evening in the satisfied way that only those who spend long nights in front of a bank of CCTV monitors in a navy blue pullover truly can. I can feel another Tap-ist moment coming on, however after dire warnings as to what will occur if there are any more than two of these unkempt strangers who have appeared before him found in a room he relents and hands over two keys, and gives us directions - left, left, left again, straight on and third door on the right. The whole party snakes around to the appropriate door and a volunteer tries the key. It doesn't work. The other key is tried. This doesn't work either. At this point I suggest that if the key doesn't work perhaps I should go back to the desk and try and locate some keys that do, however due to an unfortunate combination of lack of solid food and an abundance of post-gig refreshment this is delivered very much in the style of Steve Martin in that scene from Planes, Trains and Automobiles where he's trying to hire a car. There is a palpable hush while I demand the keys and set stomping back up the road in high dudgeon. I am, however, halted by shouts from back outside the digs where Mr Security Benn has appeared from a gate directly opposite where we are trying to gain access to point out that we are in fact trying the wrong door. Ah. He has both a direct route through the building and CCTV. I imagine his nights simply fly by.
 
After some more socialising with our hosts back at their place Gib and I retire to the room and crash. Some hours later I need to negotiate my way to the bathroom and return only to find him propped up in a chair like some sort of sepulchral Norma Desmond as his back hurts, what with him having to sleep on the floor and very probably do it during my snoring, nevertheless this is a bit of a shock. At this point I remember that I have brought my toothbrush, but no toothpaste. I wouldn't want to share a mic with me at the lunchtime show.
The lunchtime show itself - this time sans drummer and after a relaxing full breakfast over the papers - is just as good as the big show last night, with a lovely sound mix and our closer proximity to one another making it easy to have fun. We play a completely different set, bar one song, to the early risers and the one repeat brings a triumphant shouted "Yeessss!" from the front row. I think we've hit a nerve there.

Again we get off on time and are packed away with Me, Fiddly and Gib ready to get the bus back out to the park and ride as we have prior engagements to get back to in the evening. James and Helen are ready to lig, Russ is already planning a tour of the many sessions going on in pubs around town and Tony is looking urbane and unflappable as ever, considering his options. I explain to one of the stewards, who I lost spectacularly to at golf once, that I have a comedy gig to go to that evening back in Ippo and tell him who I'm going to see. "He...", considers Big Stu carefully, "...looks like he needs a good slap. In fact ninety five per cent of the people I meet need a good slap, frankly". Clearly I'm looking a little discomfited by this information, but considering my behaviour the previous evening I'm thinking that he might have a point. "Oh", he says, "Not you...."

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