Monday, July 22, 2019

Another Castle on Another Hill.

It’s been getting a bit embarrassing lately when folk stop you in the street and ask if you’re “playing much?” to simply and frankly answer “No”. More so when you’re in a radio studio, ostensibly to promote your work and career, and you have to give the same answer. A series of family commitments, unforeseen circumstances and parish council prevarications have reduced what was looking like a fairly healthy Summer schedule into a number of pop-up gigs and guerilla appearances, and so when the weather forecast looked like it was going to scupper our plans to perform outdoors at a fund-raiser for Bungay Castle, we were only too pleased to find that it had merely been moved to a nearby village hall for meteorological reasons.

Gibbon and I made up one travelling party, Mr. Wendell and the returning-to-duty Turny Winn another, the final part of the transport triumvirate being La Mulley, who was driving in from a wedding or a family camping trip or something. We were on this occasion Lockwood-less, suffering an absence of Lockwood-ness, in effect, experiencing Lockwoodlessness. This had led to a quick re-jigging (or, more accurately, de-jigging) of the set, which was further trimmed once the final runners and riders were revealed in terms of stage times. This also meant that we didn’t have to side-swipe the drum kit in order to fit a vibraphone on stage, or clear an area the size of Tunstall Forest in order to fit Fiddly’s stage effect rack, although that would have given me the opportunity to lift a couple of the tasty-looking strats that were already racked up to the side*.

Suitably checked in, Mr. Wendell and I went in search of refreshment, for although many of the audience had fully embraced the al fresco nature of the original event and were even now tucking into buffet-sized picnics and hip flasks of various warming nips, we'd not had time for us tea before we came out. Luckily, just across the street lay the village pub – a suitably flag-stoned, beamed den of a place with three hand pumps on and a further half dozen ales chalked on the board. “Are you from over the road?” enquired mine host deliberately. I though back to my first Glastonbury, where we couldn’t get a pre-festival pint in a nearby village for love nor money due to being festival people. We were just over the border, in Nelson’s County, so maybe we looked a bit too Suffolk for their liking. Perhaps it was a different kind of metaphor altogether – Mr. Wendell is a graphic designer, after all... “It’s just that I’ll have to give you plastic glasses if you’re taking them out” he concluded affably. 
We were third up, which meant that the team on sound had had time to sort out any issues with the lights and wiring, but not to have burned out from rigging and de-rigging the six turns scheduled to perform. With my Maverick stage-managing experience still fresh I ensured that we both thanked them from the stage and eschewed any of that “How’s the sound for you guys?” malarkey that bands sometimes like to engage with when faced with a room (or field)ful of civilians. We even missed out the “Can you hear the banjo?” lark that all but one of the group so much enjoy, although did mark Tony’s absence from our version of ‘Love Hurts’ with the proper respect that earned Bill Bruford a writing credit for the King Crimson track ‘Trio’. We also managed to shoehorn in a pub quiz moment regarding the number of fire-fighters in the Trumpton Fire Brigade, and Helen had her own Motley Crue moment prior to greeting the crowd. “Where are we?” she hissed “I have no idea!”

Fortunately Gibbon’s pre-match quip about Earsham Boys – Hunter boots and jumbo corduroys – had stuck, and I was able to stage whisper the same across to her as she combined saying 'Hello' with rummaging around in her flute bag**. “I think someone’s stolen my penny whistle!” she exclaimed before simply improvising a solo on flute in the first number instead, as those who are as such talented are wont to do. I sympathised, indicating the apparatus that keeps my guitar from falling over when I’ve finished playing it. “At Maverick I think I lost a stand bag”.

She arched a perfectly Lady Bracknell-esque eyebrow. “A stand bag..?”

*Of course I wouldn't. Not when there was a PAF-equipped Les Paul there as well.
**Not a metaphor.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Bury my heart at Stage Manager's Knee.

The post-festival comedown is generally not what one might term “a good trip”. There’s the unpacking, the washing, the nagging thought that you’ve left a mallet somewhere in a field or that cows will choke on that last tent peg you couldn’t quite prise out of the ground, and the knowledge that tomorrow, it’s back to the old routine. Admittedly, some might say that going to a festival in the first place isn’t a good trip either, but these people have not been to Maverick. Free from the incessant online drip, drip, drip of bad news, celebrity gossip, paparazzi upskirting and relentless political idiocy, it is a safe haven of heartsong music, positive vibes, late night sessions, good food and fine company. There are no below the line comments at Maverick.

Once again I had the pleasure and privilege of wrangling the small-but-perfectly-formed Travelling Medicine Show stage, where the unwashed and slightly dazed are treated to impromptu sets from many featured artists from the festival playbill proper, as well as guests, friends and – through chance, good fortune and a short notice cancellation, a respectable quorum of Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogs. I tend to treat it very much a series of personalised house concerts, and there are always a couple of undiscovered gems to be unearthed along the way. This year's main contender - for me - was Riley Catherall, whose intimate songs were so precious and fragile under the late-night stars that I almost daren't turn him up too far lest the magic burst. Having said that, the boisterous Lachlan Bryan set that followed was probably my overall festival highlight not least for the story that started with a reference to "...a famous Australian pop star. You've only heard of one. Yep, it was her" and the intro which ended "...and if there were any justice in this world, Garth Brooks would be living in a lodge at the end of Kim Richey's' driveway!" (audience cheers). 
I think I’m getting almost competent at this malarkey, in that there were only a couple of incidents of note – one being where my short term panic at the lack of foldback from the onstage monitors on Saturday morning was quickly forestalled by my inspired reckoning that the big On/Off button on the power amplifier at the side of the stage should probably be depressed. The other was when the missing output from the electric piano meant that the Mute button on the mixer amp should not be. Still, it’s one up from that time I called the site spark up on the walkie talkie to complain that I had no power from the generator to the front of stage four-way and he pointed out, with a somewhat meaningful look – more in sorrow than in anger - that someone had unplugged the relevant socket in the trailer in order to connect a phone charger...
There are also the little things that you pick up along the way that help oil the wheels of the day. Only one artist this year turned up without a lead, so having one to hand is important. A guitar stand on stage is always very convenient for the busy guest, having a capo to hand certainly endears you to a certain stripe of guitar player, and it turns out that a colouring book and a set of crayons also comes in unexpectedly handy. Some of these people are, after all, bass players.

My post-festival blues were largely mitigated on this occasion however, by a hasty pack up and run in order to appear on BBC Radio Cambridge (and Suffolk and Norfolk and Essex) as an artist in my own right with Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogs on the Sue Marchant Show. Sue, a tireless champion of folk, roots, country and all and any other sort of creative music making is the sort of old-school DJ who invites people in to her studio to play live, makes sure people know where to find you online and in concert, gently guides the broadcast where it needs to go, and carries a bag of CDs with her in case the central online server goes down and takes the extant BBC jukebox with it. As she points out, she would then be one of the few broadcasters in the country still able to put out a show.

We are to sit in between eight and nine in the evening and have been kindly invited to play a couple of songs live in the fairly compact and bijou studio while we're there, to which effect we have decided, naturally enough, to bring a vibraphone. Sue is not in the slightest fazed by this, and deftly organises a six channel mix on the go whilst simultaneously cueing up the next song, back-timing the fade into the traffic report and organising a Facebook Live post. It’s really quite the spectacle. We chat, we play, and Sue is audibly enthralled by the vibes, getting Robert to give us the audio equivalent of a twirl. After an all too quick hour, we are back outside broadcasting house and agreeing that what might have seemed a risky strategy (we did an old song that Robert had never played on before as our opener) had really paid off.
“I wanted vibes in Songs from The Blue House” says Fiddly, referring back to a previous musical venture “But it never came off for some reason”.
“Dad” says Robert “I was four”.