Monday, April 06, 2009

How Do Those Roses Smell?

Too often, the average gig means turning up at an indistinguishable pub, loading all the gear in, turning it on, having a quick line check to make sure everything’s at least making some sort of humming sound, and then getting on with the business in hand of making some noise. It’s become a ritual - not yet a chore - but as Friend of The Blue House Mr. Kilbey Mears mentioned before last week’s As Is show - we used to get a drink in before starting a gig, now we go to the toilet. So a demand that we be an hour and a half away from home at teatime wasn’t necessarily the thing I was most looking forward to when summoned to a Songs from The Blue House show in darkest Saffron Walden. Luckily bass player Gibbon elected to drive and having rendezvoused with him at an attractive little pub near where he spends time at the day job, we spent a very pleasant journey across country dipping in and out of pretty little Suffolk and Essex villages, admiring the countryside and generally catching up on the little things in life that the approach described above rarely allows. Upon reaching the centre of Saffron Walden we stopped the car to ask for directions. “I wouldn’t drive” said our guide, phlegmatically.
We were first to The King’s Arms, a delightful old beamed alehouse, and so were in time to catch the sound check of our headliner for the evening, the extremely talented, very beautiful and astonishingly desirable Cara Winter, who promptly announced that she was off to have a shower as she was ‘minging’ and invited us to do our check under the kindly watchful eye of her father and guitarist Keith. Combining these two roles with that of sound engineer for the evening had rather left him with a few different hats to wear during the course of the evening and so I felt that it was with great restraint that he balanced Our Glorious Leader’s impromptu nonsense vocal on Beartown Road (“Nyyer nyeer nyer nah nah nyeerr nurr nanana…”) before turning to me to indicate I should try the levels on my mic. I approached the front of stage with all the due gravitas and seriousness that the situation demanded. “Nyyer nyeer nyer nah nah nyeerr nurr nanana…” I said. “I think we’re just about done here” he sighed. Come show time, of course, the monitors sang as sweetly as could be, which meant that we could all relax and play our parts without spending the set worrying whether it was too harsh out front (and so a grateful band extends their thanks). Fiddly nestled comfortably behind the drum kit as that meant he could both tuck himself away in a corner with his own personal monitoring system and sit down between numbers - "What are you doing back there?" someone asked. "Everyone's gotta be somewhere!" he replied chuckling happily. TT hauled the keyboard round to create some room for Turny Winn’s banjo backline, and Gibbon’s extravagantly upholstered borrowed vintage bass rig loomed imposingly at the back, looking like something that a member of East 17 might wear on a chilly night in Walthamstow.
All sound checked up, we were then free to explore, and Gib, TT, WAG Diane and myself grasped the opportunity to check out the local fish and chip shop while taking in the atmosphere of the town and admiring the new pedestrianised square (it should be done in about a fortnight, we reckon) - something we don’t always get the opportunity to do when hit & run tactics are employed. The chippy’s owner and counter staff were more than happy to chat while we waited for fresh fish, battered sausages and curry sauce, and while we squatted on a low shelf eating our tea they asked where we were from, why we were here, reminisced about the old Ipswich dog track and greeted regular customers by name. It was all terribly civilized and we thanked our hosts politely for putting up with us and our running commentary on their business. All fed up and replete, the foraging party thus returned to the venue and the principal business of the evening. Next to the venue was a Chinese restaurant. “The Jade Garden” said Gib drily. “So that’s where they’ve built it”.
We in SftBH are not what you might call a ‘rehearsing’ band. Some folk are wont to get together on a weekly basis, fine tuning their performance and honing their craft whereas we tend to email out a set list a couple of days before the gig and trust that everyone remembers the changes and manages to keep up, but for some reason we’d got together before this one and it may have been either that or some other mysterious X factor, but it remains the fact that everyone was at the top of their game that night. Having sound checked so magnificently, I moved away from the mic to let Gibbon take front line duties on BVs, incurring a raised Engineering eyebrow in the process, returning to make ‘tween song announcements and short(ish) links before stepping out of the way further so that the folks could see Fiddly sawing away at the back. A nicely paced set, a lot of gab and we found ourselves at the end of our allotted time all too early (as La Mulley pointed out though, a bit less musing on etymology between songs and we might have had time for the big closing number, but there you go), reflecting on the anomalous audience who let every last note fade away absolutely and completely before applauding vigorously. I understand it’s very much the same in Japan.

Cara and her band were stunning, of course. Piano, subtle percussion, sympathetic bass, gently swelling guitar, haunting vocals and a whispering violin – I was really quite taken with the whole experience, not least because the very lovely Kate on BVs, violin and tea dress/biker boots combo had been strategically placed in front of an extraordinarily strong stage lamp. I may have gushed my appreciation very slightly apr├Ęs show, but still being on a bit of a high from our own efforts I was in an uncommonly appreciative mood. Thank heaven for the half dozen pints of Bass keeping me sufficiently grounded, I say... So hypnotic was the performance that I completely missed the fight in the car park after someone had decided to solve the issue of the limited parking spaces by simply leaving their 4x4 foursquare (as it were) in the entrance, rather inconveniently blocking everyone else in, but still. Good friends, good conversation, pleasant company (Suzie from The Record Company and the man with the story about Nick Drake, the Scots gentleman whose sons were all musical and the lady who told the adrenalin pen story – all were a delight to connect with in corners and corridors), fine ales, stirring music, and a lift home afterwards. What’s not to like? As Tom Robinson once wrote, these will be the days that we’ll remember in days to come. Oh, it’s a lazy life but, y’know…