Sunday, March 24, 2024

“Put down the cheese and get on the stage…”

 And so, again, to Helstock which as regular correspondents will know is the annual celebration of the continued existence of The Fragrant and Charming Helen Mulley and which has been running almost annually since the towards end of the last century. I get a free pass to perform since it’s also near my birthday and everyone else gets an admission pass if they bring a cheese of interest, echoing an approach first adopted in the late eighties by local band As Is, whom I once saw do a splendid gig at The Old Times in exchange for the wholly reasonable entry fee of a potato.

This year’s submission is along the lines of stripped-down power trio (Mr. Wendell is indisposed due to illness) This Much Talent who - let’s face it - are principally performing a gods kitchen repertoire from the roaring nineties, no longer available on handcrafted cassettes (we were way,way ahead of the hipster curve) but still available to listen to on the Bandcamp courtesy of the Bluehouse Records imprint. In order to fully embrace the retro feel of the occasion I have also dug out the very shirt I used to perform some of these songs in, courtesy of a grateful record industry (Duran Duran as it happens) in 1988. “How do I look?” I mutter to Mulley prior to kick-off. “Like someone I used to know” she whispers.

To climax the five song bijou settette I summon a pre-warned show majordomo (and proprietor of BHR) from behind the mixing desk to perform with us as a surprise eye candy treat for La Mulley who brings things bang up to date by needing both his phone as a prompt and his glasses to read it in order to perform. After a refreshing amuse bouche of a set by Mulley and Winn (“We’re going to play you a traditional folk song - don’t be scared. Oh, and Tony will be performing it on the banjo”) we are back on stage in the guise of Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogs - a dog or two down, but Dogs nonetheless and are so late on stage due to the buffet-centric distractions that we have to forgo our closing singalong and go out with the big folk epic about the dead sailor, in part derived from Heart’s ‘Barracuda’.

The stage is cleared and Lily Talmers, hot foot from New York and having absolutely smashed the entry fee by bringing fresh bagels, takes centre and utterly charms the room with her acoustic balladeering which hits the sweet spot between Joni Mitchell and - say - Paul Mosely, and if you don’t know how much of a compliment that is, you don’t know you’re born. She is concerned that the room is very quiet. Someone breaks cover to confirm that we are all simply entranced. At what is essentially a private function, the queue for Merch reaches back from the sound desk to the stage.

As per usual, my journey back is soundtracked by the random feed from all the albums I’ve bought and paid for and loaded onto a memory stick*. About seven minutes from home an eight minute version of ‘Thunder Road’ kicks in and I am minded that it was recorded on the night before Mr. The Boss’s twenty ninth birthday. Apparently he was staring down the barrel of his thirties, not sure if he had achieved everything he’d set out to do and worried that this might be it (his delivery of the line “So you're scared and you're thinking that maybe we ain't that young anymore” resonates through the ether even today) but was emotionally rescued, reassured and convinced by the music in the room that night.

You and me both Bruce, you and me both.

*OK Boomer.

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