Monday, July 08, 2024

Mick’s Blessings

 Around this time of year my social media history starts filling up with Maverick Festival flashbacks and so, sure as eggs is eggs, the weekend saw me making my annual pilgrimage to Easton, where the pock-marked fields of the Farm Park bear witness to seventeen years of cowboy bootheels traversing the wild plains of a bit of Suffolk which is near the coast.

In tandem this year was Big Jan – all the way from Nelson NZ – out to pick up some Americana vibes and chill with The Medicine Show crew, i.e. me. Scheduled, but not in the programme, this is the pop-up stage in the leafy glade where the talent comes to let off steam, jam, improvise and/or rehearse, where the hired help come to express themselves, or the un-booked to show off in front of as many people as they can persuade away from the Taco truck. Emily Lawler, for example, who spent (by Lachlan Bryan’s estimation) eight parts of her ten minute soundcheck ensuring that the fiddle sounded good, before playing a four song set exclusively on guitar. One of those, mind, so wowed her employer that he insisted that she play it again on three different stages during the course of the weekend.

Shortly after Emily’s necessarily truncated set – she was due on somewhere else, otherwise I’d have kept her there all night – the rains came. It would appear that Festival Supremo Paul Spencer had neglected to renew his annual Faustian pact regarding the weather and so after confirming that the next turn due up was stuck in traffic anyway, we (I) battened down the hatches, put the PA to bed, covered the speakers with their own personalized overnight cases* and pootled away to enjoy a rare night off under cover.

The next morning brought little respite – on the way back from an early pitch inspection I was beckoned urgently toward the artist’s entrance gazebo. Much as I enjoy being issued my lunch and dinner per diems in a timely fashion, it turns out that Anna-on-reception had seen the wall of rain looming behind and outpacing me, and was merely trying to get me out of the way before it hit. Production Manager James and I agreed to keep a weather eye out and review the situation again once the storm broke, which was due to be in the late afternoon, and so once more I had the opportunity to check out some of the turns - The Pleasures, for example, whose rootsy rolling country vibe was not entirely appreciated by one lady, who suggested that the supposedly excessive volume of the performance “Spoils it for the audience”. She then opened a massive brolly right in front of me which completely blocked my view. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

By tea time, we were sufficiently confident of the outlook to plug in the Medicine Show again (albeit having stood back at a safe distance) and were able to resume the innings by trying it out on the busking session, which had up to that point been an entirely acoustic operation. Turns out you can’t really put a PA away twelve months previously, try to run it in the rain, leave it out overnight and then expect it not to throw a tantrum. Apologies to any and everyone who has a particular aversion to white noise, whether from a listening perspective or – one might argue more importantly – while trying to perform. We unplugged everything, plugged it back in, checked the power supplies, soloed the channels, rerouted the monitor cables, switched off the CD player and discarded at least one of the vocal mics. We were one step away from becoming a Bernard Cribbins lyric. Intriguingly, all of these things worked, not in isolation, but when combined. Site electrician/magician Mick looked darkly at the skies. “We’ve got Dolly Parton’s niece on tomorrow” he muttered as if to himself. “And I still haven’t got that mirror ball up”.

By the time I emerged on Sunday morning, coffee in hand, Mick had already WD40’d his way around the desk and identified the opportunity. “It’s the effects loop” he announced, somewhat proudly. I was simultaneously relieved that we had a solution and wary that even in a field, some turns like to hear a Small Hall ** reverb in their monitors. I was going to have to brace myself for Dolly Parton’s niece’s diva-esque demands…of which there were none. I have rarely - if ever - met a more down-home, charming scion of country music royalty and found them happier in their own skin than self-confessed Child of Hippies Jada Star. “This is more fun than Glastonbury!” she exclaimed. Once she’d introduced me to her son, her Dad, her husband and quoted some Philip Larkin at me I found possibly the only person on site more content with his lot than she was with hers, in the form of Eric Rupert, a bowling shirt-clad man with a massive stogie in one hand and a bull fiddle in the other. It was as if I’d said “Siri, draw me an American bass player”.***   

The previous evening at the bar we had discussed how difficult it must be to get on to Dolly Parton’s Christmas list. There was a suggestion that she never tours after July as it takes her the rest of the year to personally sign each and every one of the exquisitely designed cards she sends to her friends and family and highly-regarded acquaintances. How to get on the nice list, how..? Well, now I’ve been kind to her niece and her bass player. So fingers crossed…     



*Bin bags. 

**Preset #03

*** Only the other evening I was chatting to a friend who was mystified about how civilians think that everyone in the music business is close and friendly. He was amused to be asked if he knew former Weather Report and Genesis touring drummer Chester Thompson. I just Googled Eric – he does.

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