Finally, a return to the live arena for Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogs as we are engaged to perform at an end of term/retirement party at a local Primary School. The audience is overwhelmingly female - I haven’t played to such a gender specific crowd since that time The Star Club did a graduation party for student nurses, when bass player-come-booking agent Kilbey, upon being informed of the generous fee, replied solemnly “Well, you’ll have to give us time to raise the money…”
We are to perform al fresco, which gives us a sense of health and personal safety during the time of the great unpleasantness, and the familiar setting of the sports field gazebo lends us an enormous sense of wellbeing, as does the reassuring presence behind the sound desk of Blue House James, who has merely had to haul everything out of his shed, set it up, plug it in, and hope it all works as well as it did last time*. He regards a mildewy microphone solemnly. “This hasn’t been cleaned in about a year and a half” he explains “But neither has it been used”.
I am trying out the Nashville Tuning of which I have been reading so much recently, which essentially involves buying a set of twelve-string light gauges, and throwing away all the thicker ones. It gives a few of the songs a lighter, jangly, almost mandolin-y feel, aside from all the ones where I’ve put a capo on the fifth fret to give it a lighter, jangly…well,you get the idea.
Turny Winn, having secateured his banjo fingering hand into uselessness, is on one-handed melodeon, taking time out mid-performance to play a short set of his love songs** to the accompaniment of the Head, who has also delivered a stirring speech thanking the staff for their sterling efforts over the past year and a half, and which delivers the sort of analysis of the performance of certain ministers of state over the same time period which is most akin to the reviews of Spinal Tap’s 1980 Polymer Records comeback album. He also points out that the event (including our stipend) has been independently funded (just in case you, or a passing columnist for The Spectator was unduly concerned).
At break time we retire to a classroom to enjoy a hearty repast, including (somewhat appropriately) Eton Mess Cake, home made coleslaw, chicken satay and a vegetarian option for Mr. Wendell who, as with most of his kind, usually exists on crisps and crudités if and when Green Room catering is provided. He spends the second set slightly bloated as a result. Luckily (for him) he doesn’t sing much. “Don’t let me do that again” he entreats.
As the sun sets magnificently behind the gazebo, the full moon emerges from behind the sports centre, and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Radio Nowhere’ soundtracks the pack-down, Fiddly reflects on the incomers to his village over the course of the pandemic. “All looking to garden” he says. “Topsoil’s gone through the roof”. We consider this scenario, solemnly. “You can tell they’re not locals” he concludes. “Country folk don’t buy dirt”
*It does, it really does.