Thursday, September 23, 2021

“…and Leon’s getting LARGER!”

“It’s about that time of the evening - when you’ve had a dreadful day trying to corral the twins - and you finally snuggle up with a boy under each arm, fresh out of the bath, them smelling of talc, their tousled hair sticking out at angles, ready to hear the bedtime story you’ve been working your way through for the last few nights…” Helen emotes to a hushed audience, introducing the next song.

“…and then you remember you don’t have kids…” interjects Mr. Wendell, drily.

We are exploring the second rule of songwriting at The Fisher Theatre in the heart of swinging downtown Bungay, a much delayed return to the theatre of dreams which has been put off so often by the great unpleasantness that we are not sure if anyone will remember who we are from the last time we played. To be honest, a few of us are having the same issue. Nevertheless, we have been warmly welcomed to the venue by sound engineer Dan, who regards the seven-piece line up phlegmatically, and enquires as to whether we’d like onstage monitors with an air which suggests that he would really, really appreciate an answer in line with the one that small children asking if they can have a fourth chocolate biscuit wouldn’t. Of course, in order to maintain the eternal balance between the talent on stage and that of the technical expertise deployed backstage, we insist that we do. And another vocal mic wouldn’t go amiss while you’re down there…

Monitors in situ, old-school DI’s and snakes appropriately routed, we soundcheck and retire to the dressing rooms (plural) to consider our good fortune. There are mirrors, lights, an unfeasibly large collection of theatre costumes (including what looks very much like a lioness stole and a tiara, which La Mulley seriously considers adopting for the evening as a ‘look’). There are also five members of the group considering the paisley button-down which I have placed on a convenient hanger. 

“Is that your shirt?” Turny Winn asks, solicitously.

“Yes” I reply truthfully.

“Are you planning to wear it onstage?” he continues.

“Yes” I affirm.

He indicates the rest of the group in a manner reminiscent of a shop steward in a Carry On film from the golden age, with a waggle of his thumb.

“We don’t think you’ll get into it…”


After a lovely set from our co-traveller Tony James Shevlin, we are unleashed upon the good folk of Bungay, who seem as pleased to be back in a proper venue listening to proper music as we are. They are kind, solicitous, engaged and appreciative, and buoyed by their vibes we, in turn, take our chance to shine. Up in the gallery Dan - it turns out - has spent some of the set with headphones plugged into the console, enjoying his own private concert experience. 

We relax into the show. Everyone is on top of their game. I even eschew the opportunity to do a banjo joke. That’s how in the moment we were. The theatre audience - two thirds full, not one third empty - grants us an encore.

“This is unprecedented in the history of pop music!” quips Helen. “Another song!? Well, I’m not sure we have anything prepared…”

By the time I get home, there are already laudatory comments on social media. I retire far too late (tell me about it…) with a warm glow, not entirely Pinot Noir-dependent. The next day at work a woman in a posh car drives over the cleaning equipment we’d put out to mop up the mess where some bloke had taken the opportunity to spit at me. That’s the thing about fame, fame, fleeting fame. Some days you’re the BMW, some days you’re the bucket.

Monday, September 06, 2021

Schrödinger's Acoustic Spot.

After a short delay (of about a year and two months), I am off to The Maverick Festival (see blogs passim) for a weekend of country, blues, folk and Americana in the country, and this year - due in no small part to the ravages of The Great Unpleasantness - with added East Angliacana in the shape of Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogs. 

We are contemplating our name on the playbill outside The Barn Stage prior to soundcheck and considering - even with the Americanisation of dropping the ‘U’ - how much room it takes up on posters. “I’m thinking we might change our name to ‘The Neighbourhood’ confides Mr. Wendell. “Yes, but those three, four and five letter words aren’t really the issue here, are they?” points out WAG Becky phlegmatically.

I am also here in my guise as Stage Wrangler for The Medicine Show - a pop up boutique stage for the off duty talent to stretch out with some covers or, in some cases, simply warm up for the main event. Tucked away in a paddock behind the bar, I am doing the equivalent of tightening the rigging and checking the bowsprit for woodworm when I hear the first of the turns being announced in The Barn. At which point I remember that we’re the first turn on in the barn…

A short sprint through the crowd later I have managed to retain both my stage shirt and my dignity and we haul away into our opening number. The unspoken advantage of being bottom of the bill is that you are, necessarily, often top of the list for sound-checks, and so we are buoyant from the off, confident that our pre-show run through of The Byrds “You’re Still On My Mind” has settled the nerves of the sound crew, and Helen, who did ask if we could follow it up with “…something we know”.*

Fiddly seems unencumbered by the lack of most of his pinkie, which he apparently managed to remove with some sort of mechanical implement earlier in the week, just as Turny’s banjo-fingering digit has grown back after that incident with the secateurs some weeks ago, and we are all - band and audience - pleased to be back in the room/barn, doing what we like to do best. We, telling stories with wood and string, and they listening, applauding, and buying our records afterwards. 

A VIP area has been set up to thank those who retained their tickets throughout The Great Unpleasantness but it is empty. No-one wants to be swanning around drinking free Big Drop when there’s an actual, physical manifestation of a festival happening just over the velvet rope. There’s a palpable sense of relief all round, an exhalation of pressure - one agent mentions that we’re the first band he’s seen play live in two years. Poor bastard.

Job done, and back to the acting, I welcome the legend that is Jon Langford to The Show with the immortal words “THE Jon Langford?” He is a grizzled old veteran of the punk wars, hunkered down in a big hat and sheepskin jacket that makes him look like the sort of rancher who has had to deal with his reckless youngest son shooting off his mouth in the saloon in town once too often. He also greets me with his beautiful deep Welsh burr by name all weekend, enquiring after my welfare each time. The sort of turn you are prepared to crawl over broken riders for.

I take time out to burst into Dana Immanuel’s backstage enclave to wish them well for their show. “You won’t remember me!” I exclaim. “I do…” purrs cajonista H, albeit in the sort of tone which suggests that somebody may have forgotten to renew a restraining order. “Do a fabulous show!” is all I can think of to blurt. I resist the temptation to go the full Wizard of Oz and continue “…and your little doggie!!” in case I’m dragged away by security but do manage a strangled “I love you!”** The next time I saw Dana was at two in the morning singing ‘Wagon Wheel’. As you do.

Saturday dawns full and bright, and I have another day of my virtual twelve hour house concert to enjoy. M’good friend and occasional employer Tony James Shevlin puts in a shift in the afternoon and then later again in the Stygian gloom of the evening, where we are delighted to bump into Rich Hall, later to appear in his own show, but currently mournfully regarding the line up for the John Prine tribute to take place in The Peacock Cafe (another barn in all truth), which has been COVID- safeguarded in terms of ventilation  by the simple expedient of taking out about a third of the wall. 

The queue for the stage is considerably larger than some of the audiences I’ve seen, but Rich is kind enough to look obligingly like he knows me for my souvenir snap. During a gap in proceedings on The Medicine Show I take to the stage myself, indulging in a few songs just in order that I can say I trod the boards as a solo artist once again. Helen is later annoyed that I didn’t summon her to perform and I gravely inform her that this constitutes misuse of the radio under the Stage Manager’s Code. She nods solemnly, abashed.

On Sunday I have a lighter line up than I deserve, and so have mostly to make sure Tony Winn doesn’t fall off the stage during his return to the live arena. He is ably supported by The Fragrant and Charming Helen Mulley on vocals, who is keen that her offspring should be attendant to behold her magnificence. The boys are working the festival and so I offer to summon them via the power of wireless communication. “I thought that breached the Stage Manager’s Code?” she suggests.

I summon my inner Captain Barbossa. “It’s not so much a code, Missy” I explain piratically. It’s more a set o’ guidelines…”


**That from me to them, not the other way round, in case you were wondering.