Wednesday, July 09, 2014

“Not my circus, not my monkeys…”

You can see how it happens. You’re cooped up in a van or a car or - if you’re really lucky - a bus for hours at a time, and when you finally emerge blinking and yawning at your destination there’s some guy with a clipboard who wants to know if you can drop ten minutes off your set since they’re running “…a bit over”. That’s not your fault – you showed up early, you’ve got your own DI box all ready and you’ve even remembered to put on a clean shirt. What’s this guy’s problem? That’s the third time in a week… It’s no surprise that by the end of (say) three weeks on tour, the barricades are manned, the drawbridge is up and the metaphors are flying thick and fast.
For those of us who have taken a glimpse beneath the gilded cage’s security blanket it is obvious that the vicissitudes of a life on the open* road might well drive anybody to distraction - not every singer would respond to the news that no-one in the immediate vicinity has any idea how the (tech spec-promised) guitar amplifier operates with the grace under pressure demonstrated by Marty O’Reilly in The Barn at Maverick this year, who simply hoofed it back to the car park and borrowed one off The Rainbow Girls (they were a hoot and a delight last year, by the way). If you ask a random sample of stage managers what their favourite thing about the band they’ve just had on at their festival was - the music or the lyrics - they are more than likely to answer “their punctuality”. No wonder people employ tour managers. That way you can have someone else remark upon the poor quality of the piano you’ve been given without you having to get involved yourself.** Essentially, the stage manager/artist/tour manager interface runs very much along the lines of that of the late Johns Peel and Walters, whose relationship the lugubrious DJ and National Treasure once described as being “…like a man and his dog, each imagining the other to be the dog.”

So, in between assembling a forty-six piece gazebo from scratch with no instructions (then screwing it to the wall so it didn’t blow away), vacuuming the stage, disposing of untold bottles of half-drunk complimentary water, finding Mick the Electrician to install a lamp backstage (“I’ll be there before it gets dark…”), continually asking people to kindly move their camping chairs out of the way of the main thoroughfare and making subtle winding up gestures to folk who were far more entitled to be on the stage than I was - let’s face it, no-one’s ever spent fifty quid to watch a guy in board shorts make an announcement about the dog in the car park - I was lucky enough to spend time with some very good company, all of whose music I greatly enjoyed, many of whom I announced in terms which clearly left them wondering whether there was someone else due on stage rather than them, and some of whom I salute here;
Sam Lewis was charm personified and greeted my standard artiste enquiry (“Would you like an introduction and how’s your time keeping?”) with an expression of glee that I hardly think it warranted, even at that early stage in proceedings. “Hell yeah” he enthused. “Make sump’n up - tell ‘em I’m the world’s tallest man!” He apologised for having to rush off to do a session for the BBC straight after the show and entrusted his complimentary meal voucher to me to pass on to some worthy or needy soul, which was lucky, because I hadn’t had the opportunity to get mine at this point. So, thanks for the ham and chutney bap, Sam.

Hannah Aldridge was very tall (we underestimated the mic stand extension both times she appeared for us) and so impossibly glamorous that we offered to line check her guitar for her so that she could make a big entrance on the first night. She played again on the Saturday and very politely asked if I would “…do that thing again?” Never one to turn down an opportunity to show off, I played the intro to The Who’s Substitute. “I know her Daddy” said Mary Gauthier later “fine songwriter”. It clearly runs in the family.
“You’re going to have to hurry us up” said Tim-out-of-Police Dog Hogan when we were getting close to kick off. “He’ll go on forever if you let him” he added, nodding over at the other Tim on the far side of the stage. For a seven (or was it eight?) piece band they set up darned quickly, with a minimum of fuss about who can hear what in the monitors (but then Rob on FOH did a sterling job all weekend getting mixes together quickly) and were one of the bands who occupied themselves by simply running through a few songs in the paddock backstage prior to their stage time. I didn’t get the chance to ask Other Tim whether people acted more outlandishly around him so that he would write about them in The Guardian. I shall be checking to see if my super hero-referencing introduction makes the cut anyway, even if I didn’t do it with that in mind. We all have our different approaches – for example Giff on the main stage was very much a Bob Harris-band whisperer (he took over on Sunday, much to the relief of anyone who’d already been on over the previous couple of days, I imagine).  
Another chatty and endearing turn was Thom Chacon, who was happy to hang out backstage and made a point of checking out other singers, complimenting them, finding out where they were from and eventually asking if he could watch Mary Gauthier from our snug hidey hole at the side of the stage. “She’s been such an inspiration”. I didn’t buy much over the weekend but I made a point of digging out his (“all analogue”) vinyl album from the company store before I left.    

Sadie Jemmett’s set got switched from The Peacock Café, which I was more than happy about because it meant I got to listen to her beautiful songs. Even though her scheduled appearance had now been swapped, meaning that some people who’d planned on seeing her in the evening and would now find that she’d already performed she remained calm, grounded, and was by quite a long way my biggest crush of the weekend.
Having helped out Hannah Aldridge with a spare guitar after she’d broken a string on hers, The Goat Roper Rodeo Band then went through three of their own themselves. They appeared last year and I was more than pleased to have them back with their close harmonies, big thumpy rhythms and feelgood stage performances. About twenty minutes in I noticed that one of their guitars was lying on the stage with a string hanging off it. Then I noticed one of the guitarists gesturing frantically to the (replacement) guitar he’d also broken one on. By the time we’d raced each other to restring our respective instruments (he was first – I think the combination of adrenalin and terror helped him through) he had just enough time to snap one more during the next song before I handed him back the one I’d now managed to tune. I last spotted them under a tree in the rain, at two in the morning, still singing gloriously together.   

The GRRB been hanging out earlier with The Mae Trio, who appeared a tad bewildered at what an Australian folk band were doing at an Americana festival at what was clearly a petting zoo, in England. Well, when you put it like that, I suppose, yes... They closed with an amazing acapella version of a Kate Rusby song which had me going round for the rest of the day collaring people who’d missed it and making them promise me they’d see them in The Peacock Café on Sunday.

Dan Beaulaurier and The Hallelujah Trails was my band of the festival – all great tunes, Tele lead breaks and backing harmonies over solid grooves. Having warned their extraordinarily affable drummer that Police Dogs Hogan’s guy had fallen off the drum riser the previous night because we’d set the kit up too far toward the rear of the stage he assured us that he would take extra care not endure the same fate. I had made a point of checking the pronunciation of everyone whose name looked like it had potential to trip me up, and so it was mortifying to announce The Hallelujah Trails being fronted by…um…ah... Beautifully, guitarist Jeremy stepped in before I had to suffer the indignity of referring to my programme, squinting like someone who had decided not to bring his reading glasses (I hadn’t) and subtly muttered “Dan Bo-lare-ee-ay” out of the side of his mouth. I trust the audience appreciated the dramatic pause. Good job too, otherwise I may have had to resort to Joey Tribbiani’s notorious smelling farts technique, and nobody wants that.

Finally, a word for the magnificent Mary Gauthier (‘Go-Shay’) who demonstrated unimpeachable decency, dignity, openness, warmth, and not only charmed the crowd (and crew) throughout her time with us but delivered some songs of rare quality with a great performance to boot. Every one of the other artists who made a point of checking out the show clearly adored her, both professionally and personally, and I can thoroughly understand why.

And, for the record, she was very punctual.



Thanks to Des at (with whom the copyright remains) for the photo of me at the top. That's how I roll.

*Or, with five minutes to go before a sound check that the sat nav is telling you is in a field about twenty minutes from where you are currently blocked, diverted, rerouted or stuck behind a slow-moving tractor.


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