Monday, June 11, 2007

It was forty years ago today….

Sometime in 1967, a strange and wondrous sound descended on the Stowmarket Recreation ground – an unearthly psychedelic occurrence, wrapped up in smoke and lights and gift wrapped in long hair and cheesecloth. Give it forty years and the Songs from The Blue House cavalcade is parked up in pretty much the same place as the Pink Floyd’s van (for it was they) must have been all those years ago, ready to gently sway the inaugural Stowfest, a one day celebration of live music, beer tentery and mobile burger vans, populated by gently grazing grown ups, and rammed with teenagers wearing jeans that seem to be either two sizes too large or one size to small for them, and who are delighted that for once they haven’t had to catch a train anywhere to hang out, do a bit of gentle emo-ing and drink breezers with their chums. A day out for us players, too - a chance to check out the other bands, see who’s about, meet up with old friends and complain about the stage monitors to each other – a sort of bassman’s holiday, if you will. Some of the hair in our party is just as long as when Syd, Roger and the boys rolled up with their odd songs and crushed velvet trousers back in the day, but James’s Slovan Liberec football shirt is unlikely to have been de rigeur for the times which, as surely as ever, are a changin’. He isn’t going to though, as he likes it, he’s going to keep it on for the gig. Chanteuse and flautist Helen has turned up in Lily Allen chic, the rest of us are pretty much in regular Keith Allen chic – a selection of shorts and t-shirts, sandals and socks (aside from the immaculately-outfitted and coiffed Tony Winn in all white) which don’t quite challenge the black leather and spandex-clad combo setting up on stage two in terms of wardrobe exploitation. It is pointed out that if we had bottoms like that lady with the guitar, we’d probably wear a bit more spandex too, which I feel is a moot point at best, frankly. Still, no harm in checking, is there?
The weather’s fine, the crowd is in expansive mood, the beer is on draught, and the organizers have very sensibly left a good deal of set up time between turns, given the double staged-ness of the event. We are looking forward to using this to the full as the advantage of being a nominally acoustic band and not having to lug heavy amplifiers and suchlike around is generally outweighed by the fact that at events such as these, harassed soundmen are usually momentarily stymied by not having heavy amplifiers and suchlike to simply stick microphones in front of and have to locate DI boxes to plug guitars into, once they’ve sorted out the four vocal mics we need first, of course. Add in a fiddle player and a banjo that needs a channel of its own and that’s usually enough to tip them over the edge into wanton despair. The upshot of all this is that, over time, the banjo player and the fiddle player have taken to lugging their own amplifiers around anyway as the monitors can rarely be trusted. Oh, and did I mention we’d brought along a drummer and a keyboard player for this one too? You can see the fear in the crew’s eyes already. TT on pianner, a veteran of grander festivals than this (he’s what we like to call a ‘proper’ musician) has brought along his own in-ear monitoring system which means that he can hear himself perfectly, and also has the amusing side effect of making it look like he’s listening to his iPod throughout the set rather than concentrating on the job in hand. JP and I wait patiently, guitar leads forlornly in hands, as the time slips away. The breakfast DJ from local radio is filling in desperately in his role as compere. “Anyone got anything they want to say?” he asks. “Why don’t you play a record?” suggests Reado from behind the kit before making the poor man repeat his joke about two parrots sitting on a perch. The sheen of perspiration is now clearly visible to the naked eye.
Come show time plus ten we are assured through complicated hand gestures and mimes that the out front sound is fine, although up on the trailer there is a palpable lack of guitars in the mix and, pleased as I am to be playing live in front of so many people and grateful that I know the songs well enough that a lack of foldback means that I can pretty much mime convincingly along with the best of them (a happy legacy of all those years spent in my bedroom with a tennis racket and a cassette of AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood” – I knew it’d come in handy one day) it’s never reassuring to be invited to start the set and be told that “We’ll sort out the mix as we go along” - we quite like the first song – it’d be nice if everyone was on it, but you don’t like to spend too long talking to the guy on the sound desk mid set, it’s terribly distracting for the crowd, who probably aren’t quite sure what “That terrible hum in the wedges” actually is supposed to be and you don’t like to come across as too much of a Prima Donna, especially James, who has officially been accorded the rank of Tertiary Donna so far, and hasn’t got all his badges yet in advance of an upgrade. Finally, during the last song, what appears to be the roar of a passing jet from nearby RAF Wattisham, but upon investigation turns out to be his errant guitar, emanates forcefully from the speakers at his feet. “They found it, then” he remarks in passing.
We have become concerned over time that our departure from the stage is generally greeted by someone enthusiastically remarking that our set was “really funny”. We are spared this reflection today. “Wow” begins the DJ from the local radio station “You were really on time!” I wonder if Pink Floyd managed that ?

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