Monday, July 06, 2015

“Like an evening at Russell Brand’s house, this set has been building inexorably toward a climax…”

 “I’m really sorry guys, I can’t make it” reads the email from Ant, bass player and part of the vocal quintet who make up Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogs - shortly to make our second appearance, at Ipswich Music Day, the largest free festival in the UK with an estimated forty thousand folks’ footfall expected over the course of the day. The rain is teeming down and social media reflects gloomily on the prospects for the afternoon. La Mulley, Mr Wendell, Turny Winn and I have gathered at Kirk Towers to have a quick run through the set in advance of our performance but complications and prevarication mean that we’re essentially just biding time until one of us can make a decision about what to do next. Helen takes another look out of the window and goes to put a jumper on. “I won’t feel the benefit otherwise” she explains. Wendell and I confer on appropriate headgear. “Not that one” he says. “Too Maverick”.

 By the time we’ve loaded up into Tony’s people carrier for the short journey into town the sun has emerged from behind the clouds and Helen has taken off her scarf. The Grapevine Stage is a tented arena in front of the historic Christchurch Mansion and having based our hopes of a good attendance for our sophomore set on the weather reports which predicted showers at around four o’clock we are instead greeted by a stream of people escaping the stifling heat and humidity within, lured by the big stages and the open blue skies across the rest of the park. We announce our arrival to the appropriate authorities, unpack, and fall upon the free water backstage.

 A quick line check and we’re good to go. The prospect of there being a bass player in the audience who knows our set and has rehearsed the appropriate harmonies seems remote but we enquire anyway. In the absence of volunteers we embark on our first song. Everyone comes in at the right, same time, and Helen is in fine, strong voice. Wendell steps up to contribute to the chorus and then veers away from the microphone. He looks over his shoulder, concerned. “I can’t pitch!” he hisses. As we will confirm later in conversation with Ray out of The Black Feathers, rehearsing acoustically in a nice, warm, woody environment is a whole different ball game to that of approaching a microphone which will amplify and project your sounds before feeding back the results through wires and boxes on the stage (if you’re lucky). Wendell and I are a long way from the Picturehouse days when we used to rock up at a pub, plug everything in, grab a drink from the bar and then nonchalantly kick into The Bends with nary a second thought.

 We manage to recover the measure of singing into microphones before too long though, and by the time we are half way through the set everyone is palpably more relaxed about proceedings and we are actually starting to enjoy ourselves. Judging by the reception the songs are getting, so are the audience and one feeds continually off the other until at set’s close we are buzzing. Snappers have taken the opportunity throughout the set to capture various moments (mainly involving our photogenic frontwoman, to be honest) for posterity and we are invited to pose in front of the sponsors’ backdrop for a souvenir of the day. “And maybe one without shades?” suggests the photographer.  

 Over post-match cocktails back at the ranch later that evening I receive a text from Helen It contains a picture of Ant's hospital wristband. “He really was ill” she writes.     

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