Monday, July 09, 2012
How Mark Ellen made me a Rock Dad.
It’s been a bad month for those of us who like our popular culture expertly deconstructed and served up with picture caption jokes, as monthly compendium of aperçus The Word draws a discreet veil over its operations and ceases publication. The wailing and gnashing of cappuccino cups has been heard far and wide across the net – at one point the website turned into a virtual Kensington Palace – and among the tributes to the monthly’s wit and erudition and consensus that they really couldn’t have done any more in terms of positioning themselves in the new marketplace whilst determinedly fulfilling their manifesto to the last, there emerged smaller, more personal stories of how the magazine literally changed people’s lives. I have one such reflection, which even if the events therein didn’t move my life on to a different course, then certainly caused me to sail a bit closer to the wind than I otherwise would have done. In fact one could argue that the whole interactive Word weekend was a barrel of luffs*. It began with the July 2006 issue – number 41 – which contained a small article and jokey quiz about the rise of the Rock Dad. Tucked away at the end was a brief paragraph. “Are you a Rock Dad in a band?” it enquired, going on to suggest that if there were a collection of Rock Dads who had a demo MP3 and a decent photograph to hand then sending it in to the mailbox pretty sharpish might mean that such a group could find themselves opening The Cornbury Festival a few weeks later. As it happened, we did have a demo – a version of Blue Oyster Cult’s (Don’t Fear) The Reaper that we had recorded at High Barn Studio in darkest Posh North Essex a few weeks earlier in lieu of a fee for performing at their beer festival. The rise of the electronic communication age meant that we didn’t even have to find a jiffy bag and a clean C-90 in order to send it off.
I still have the email I received from Our Glorious Leader in which the earthly representatives of Development Hell communicated their pleasure with our submission and invited us to apply for wristbands forthwith. By lucky happenstance we had picked a song that David Hepworth used to have as his mobile phone ringtone, and so announcing our version with a banjo riff had apparently tickled the adjudicating panel and bumped us to the top of the queue. There followed a flurry of communications between (among others) a production manager now faced not only with Robert Plant’s backline demands but also some bunch from Suffolk who intended to bring a banjo, a mandolin and a fiddle player, but who remained the soul of affable helpfulness throughout both this period and the festival itself. A request for a publishing-spec photograph meant a hasty call to one James Kindred (@sketchybear) – now CEO of his own agency but back then the only guy we knew with a top-end camera and a Mac to edit on. His off the cuff art direction was of such quality that we ended up using shots from the session for the centerfold of our album Tree, and he got a call shortly afterward from the magazine asking if he was available to go and take some shots of Peter, Bjorn and John at Latitude in exchange for a weekend press pass. His portrait of them appeared in the next issue and he got a weekend out into the deal, so I think we all kicked a goal on that one.
We rounded up Simon Allen from High Barn to provide a friendly ear behind the mixing desk, and corralled James Munson to perform a similar task on monitors. They packed tents and gumboots and joined the parade. With our set to be shoehorned into the section immediately after Robert Plant’s crew’s sanctioning of the stage for his headline set and before the festival’s official start time he carefully line checked us all in the face of rising pressure, including our drummer’s rendition of ‘Moby Dick’ and appropriation of Rocco Deluca and The Burden’s cowbell, and then did such a sterling job on us that he was invited to stay up there for the rest of the day. I believe he may have had a hand in refereeing Hayseed Dixie’s sound – again, a case of good deeds not only being their own reward, but offering a little bonus on the side.
At one point a film crew came backstage to interview us. I answered the “What’s a Rock Dad?” question at length, a combination of nerves and bravado, for what seemed like fifteen minutes. The interviewer turned to vocalist Helen. “And what’s a Rock Mum?” they ventured. “Pretty much that…with stretch marks” she deadpanned. When, shortly afterwards, we were introduced to our host and sponsor - one Mark Ellen - he immediately pounced on the remark, which he’d heard relayed anecdotally by one of the film crew, and guffawed his appreciation while making us all feel immediately at ease with his story of the crushed lavender sprigs in the VIP restaurant area and a good-naturedly dismissive Rock Stars today shake of the head as he compared and contrasted the catering at great festivals past – he may have mentioned Weeley, or Bickershaw. He complimented us on the photo we’d submitted and that they’d published in the magazine’s follow up story (“Oh, which cover did it reminded me of? The Allmans! That’s it - The Allmans – what’s the album that’s from…? ‘Brothers and Sisters’!”) and good naturedly denied being The Rocking Vicar (“No-one knows…”). To be honest we’d probably have spent the next twenty minutes quite happily chatting with him rather than lurking behind the stage checking our watches. Having carefully made a note on a card so as not to inadvertently introduce us as Songs from the Blue Room (“We get that a lot…”) he made a short and funny announcement about what was coming next and let us loose on a big stage in front of a field capable of holding twenty thousand people.
I’ve mentioned in past blogs how the next day I bumped into him, sans pass, and got him back past security (“This is the editor of Word Magazine, one of the festival’s biggest sponsors…”) on condition that I could meet Peter Buck (He made a point of ensuring that he got my wife’s name right so that when he did the introductions he didn’t confuse her with someone else), and there’s a whole chapter in All These Little Pieces devoted to our weekend out at the festival, but none of this would have been possible without someone at The Word coming up with the idea of the Rock Dad, green lighting the idea of an article and then throwing the idea that they might get an actual band of Rock Dads onstage at the festival itself into the ring to top off the cake (I believe that the next year Ellen himself took to the stage with his band The Love Trousers). For that alone, notwithstanding nine years of entertainment for lively minds, thank you The Word. I shall miss you.
*Other puns are available.
There is a video of us performing Reaper and a song called Not That Kind of Girl at Cornbury here - http://www.myspace.com/songsfromthebluehouse
It's MySpace, so mind the cobwebs and try not to disturb the dust too much.