Saturday, February 24, 2024

“I am breathing in, I am breathing out…”

 Once more to The Institute in/at/for Kelvedon (see blogs passim). I am employed this evening as go-to session guitarist for The Tony Winn Band, as we are promoting his latest (and best) album - Blue Speck, upon which I also make a small contribution. My role this evening, under Eno-esque direction, is to play as little guitar as possible - something which we take to the absolute apogee during some parts of the set, in which I am not on stage at all.

One of the joys of The Institute, aside from its convenient parking, lovely audience, adjacent Co-op and marvellous nearby Indian food is the appointed backstage area, a veritable trove of comfortable seating, occasional theatrical props, a clock to tell the time by, a lit mirror and a fully operational separate kitchen, which has been stocked with tea, coffee, milk and sugar by de facto TM, sound engineer and promoter James Bluehouse, seemingly from a stash of well-plundered hotel, motel and Holiday Inns’ courtesy baskets.

I settle into an armchair and catch up with the rhythm section - on bass, the artist formerly known as Barry Picturehouse, currently engaged in a quest to bring the music of Prince the length and breadth of the UK and on percussion (“Congas and bongas”) Sam ‘Bongoboy’ Thurlow, who tells us of his ukulele-based exploits with his Anarchy in the Ukulele quasi autonomous syndicalist collective. “Occasionally we break them” he confesses. “That must be popular!” I say, cheerfully. His mood darkens perceptibly as he glowers under beetle brows and mutters in a meaningful half-tone. “Not always…”

We are joined by Maverick scion Ella Spencer, who is to be the principal supporting artiste and who is gratefully checking the mirror to see if - having enjoyed a curry earlier - she has spinach in her teeth, on her face or (and I quote) in her piercing. “There’s always a first time”. Bass player Trill and I reminisce fondly about what we refer to numerous times as being “Back in the day”*. Ella seems fascinated at the idea that one might book a venue in London, guarantee to sell thirty tickets, organise a coach and then play to the same people at The Powerhaus as you would have done at (say) The Caribbean Club in Ipswich.

These days of course, one might set up a phone in a cradle, film yourself with a filter and put the resulting demo on YouTube for much less effort, and without having to pay a clean up fee to the bus company. A passing Tony Winn dolefully recalls the attendance figures at his Edinburgh Fringe residency (spoiler - you could have fitted the entire run’s audience in tonight’s venue) however we brightly point out that the subsequent press merely reflects that he had a show at the Edinburgh Festival. 

Before too long it is time to mach show ourselves, and after my brief Little Feat-esque groove to ‘South Australia’ (the presence of a conga player named Sam to my left helps enormously with getting into character) and a career-spanning guitar solo, I am off for a bit of a sit backstage and a cup of tea before resuming duties for a bit of light arpeggiation, the climactic audience singalong and some off the cuff volume control swell work. For the arms-linked audience bow at the end, Trill and I engage in lunges, at my behest. “Christ” he says “You could have warned me. At my age!”

*To be fair, when I drove La Mulley home from rehearsal earlier in the week she actually said “Of course, it was all fields around here when I was growing up” at one point.