Wednesday, February 24, 2021

What the Helstock!?

Casting a rheumy eye back over blogs past in an effort to keep up the flow of
content – albeit reduced, reused, recycled or remixed content that makes little sense beyond the universal themes of getting, playing or regretting having played gigs – it seems that the overarching theme at this time of year is always “What are we going to do about Helstock*?”

Last year this was quite a simple task in that a suitable venue had been secured, folk were already eyeing up the cheese stall at their local farmer’s market** (entry is traditionally by interesting cheese) and I think we’d even put out a set list so that we could ignore it on the night at our leisure. Then of course came the first wave of the great unpleasantness, and even before you could say “Black Bob’s your uncle” folk were politely declining the opportunity to drive across county or even country lines in order to sit in an enclosed space with thirty or forty other people, some of whom would be projecting across the room as boisterously as possible, and even with your own microphone that’s a hell of an aerosol storm to get caught up in.

Fast forward to 2021*** and ruminant minds were already considering how best to go about marking the passing of another orbit around the daystar on Helen’s behalf. Virtual events seem to be in vogue this year, and so rather than gather the clans around a fixed point in the universe Blue House Music impressario and shed magnate James Partridge agreed that he might curate an online festival of the arts, combining live performances with pre-recorded inserts, and juggling the whole thing from the security of his own bunker (if nothing else, the backstage area is likely to have slightly better laundry facilities than he’s used to).

This obviously opened up a whole new world of opportunities for us in Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogs in that we could contribute from the safety and security of our own bubbles AND none of us would have to appoint a designated driver to get us home afterwards.**** All those livestreamed events though? All a sham. Those bands aren’t playing live from their respective bedrooms, bathrooms or libraries (and I’ve lived in flats where that’s all one room, by the way), they’re carefully syncing up to a pre-recorded track, contributed ad hoc and carefully pieced together by a skilled engineer in his home studio – or workshop, since we’re getting Fiddly to do ours. It’s a bit like being on Top of the Pops in the olden days. 

Fortunately, Helen and I had a co-write all ready to go, so all we needed to do was to sync the parts, add a count in, make sure everyone had access to appropriate recording facilities and - I won’t lie to you – cross our fingers. I mean, if nothing else, it’s taken a shorter time to get through the process than our last effort, which I see from my notes involved Tony doing a squeezebox part on March 13th last year and hasn’t seen the light of day since. It’s not like we’ve been holed up in Rockfield drinking cider and harassing the local dope dealers for the good shit, either.

I myself have contributed a pre-recorded solo performance which I’m rather hoping doesn’t get excluded for reasons of time, or insufficient global appeal, as it’s also my birthday around this time of year, and it means I get to piggyback on the celebrations (and occasionally the celebrants) without having to organise my own party. At least there’s a fair chance that I’ll make the cut in that I won’t have to fill in several pages of application form and contribute a short missive on what Helstock means to me before being considered (and ultimately ignored) by a committee of the righteous*****. Ironically, given the bits and bytes I’ve devoted to Helstock over the years, I am ideally situated to contribute just such a prize-winning essay, but hopefully it won’t come to that.

If it does, I might send this one.

Helstock will be broadcast live on YouTube on March 20th

*Every year we get together around the time of The Fragrant and Charming Helen Mulley’s birthday for a shindig involving friends, relatives and, usually, one special guest whose actual job it is. Search the blogger tags for ‘Helstock’ and you’ll get the idea. There are so many on here that I once gave her a small book compiled of the entries as a birthday card.

**Mine was principally Italian in origin, which gives you some idea that the market was local, and the farmer was not.

***Or [Needle scratch] “You’re probably wondering how I ended up here..?”

****Although I did walk Helen home through town on a Friday night after we’d decamped to The Steamboat one year and I didn’t see a look that simultaneously appalled and bewildered until years later, when we put on The Chemical Brothers at Glastonbury while she was napping.

*****Obviously one way around this process is to be of a level of talent which means that you are invited to participate instead of having to submit a recent photograph and a YouTube video via email, but fortune has not smiled sufficiently on my endeavours thus far, The Star Club and Picturehouse aside. So, yeah, it has actually.