Thursday, 3 August 2017

Questions

      Another wet Wednesday night in Nuneaton. Like many similar places  in England, demoralised by years of Austerity and impending Brexit, its centre is slowly shrinking. Department stores and pubs are closed and boarded up and the once vibrant nightlife has all but gone. With the school holidays under way the streets were deserted. Empty buses crawled morosely about the Onion roundabout. 
        But wait! Over at The Crown, between the Bus Station and The Railway Station,and lit up like an Ocean Liner,there are sounds of applause, laughter and singing. Like in the good old days.  Inside, the place is rammed-both downstairs and upstairs.Downstairs a flourishing War Gamers group occupies much of the room and shares the tables  with punters enjoying the Abbeydale on handpulls.  Upstairs, with all the seating taken and standing room only.it is another first Wednesday at Nuneaton Folk Club.Another full house. 
      Last night, another Club organiser, looking  across  this packed room upstairs, said to me wonderingly, "How do you keep doing this?"  Later,someone who had made a long trip to be there  for a first visit, asked me the same thing. I thought about that question when I got home, gone midnight,tired, aching all over and exhausted physically and emotionally after a draining seven days. 
       It had been another very successful night. A stream of very talented local performers had given their all in providing a rich and very varied tapestry of talent. The clever songs of John Neal. The artistry of Paul Moore. The wonderful singing, syncopated rhythms and finger picking of Terry and Jan Wisdom. The constantly improving repertoire of Atherstone Folk Club residents Finger in The Car-Steve,Anne and Pete. The ever reliable and always cheerful Maria Barham. Another masterful demonstration of how to get impossible things and sounds out of an acoustic guitar from Glyn Finch.And the finale of our good mate Brian Phillips, rightly loved for his comedy and rightly admired for his brilliant guitar work. 
       The fun which the three of us continue to get from Nunc. A thankless task opening up at 8pm when. people are still coming in and settling. But that's what residents and comperes do. Warm up the audience for the joys to come.  Such a range, such an eclectic mix deserved a big audience. 
       As always there was something for everyone. It could be the club motto if we had one. Last night there was Blues. Country. Trad.Arr. Contemporary. Self-penned original songs. Poetry. Stand Up. Music that defied the eye and ear. Harmonies. The most wonderful audience singing. Completely original arrangements and innovative re-worked covers. A pretty typical night, as it happens. The cast changes each time, but the content is always panoramic. That's one reason why people keep coming. That's one "How?" answered. 
       The principal answer however, is "hard work." I'm pretty sure that some of those who attend any of our three FREE North Warwickshire Folk clubs think it's easy to organise and host them. It isn't. Usually (but not yesterday) I'm in The Crown on the Tuesday, or early Wednesday, clearing the room, setting out the furniture and unloading some of the gear. I couldn't do that in this instance because I was only able to walk yesterday thanks to painkillers and a strapped up ankle. And the fact that on Tuesday I was still clearing up at home after a tree fell on my garage and broke the roof, causing over £1,000 worth of damage.
       During the next few weeks I'll still be working hard on NFC. Messaging, phoning and contacting people. Booking new guests and Floor Singers. Sending (mostly ignored) Press releases to the local media. Advertising future events. Editing the NFC website and facebook Pages. Finalising running orders. Promoting other clubs and Festivals. On Radio, on Social networks and live in performance. 
        Hard work too, from our latest Sound man the excellent Dave Smart: another NFC gem unearthed. He comes in early Wednesdays to help set up and he stays behind afterwards to help clear up. He had the extra task last night of co-operating with John Goodman from Anker Folk, as we tinkered with "Live" recordings at The Crown,in anticipation of a September Special on Anker Radio. 
        Hard work from my beloved Mags. We celebrated 46 years together on Monday and yet there she is, selling raffle tickets,humping gear up and down stairs, making sure our Guests have petrol expenses and keeping me sane. Hard work from my two compadres in Nuncsomeness, John and Flossy. And hard work exemplified by Maria Barham, who ALWAYS stays on to help clear up afterwards. 
       Compering and singing is thirsty work, but as I drive to and from NFC each month, I drink Diet Coke only on Club Nights and it takes a while to unwind back home. Afterwards I scanned the photographs and comments on Social media.  Like many artistes working in entertainment, I think it's always important to know what your audience is thinking.    Having spent half an hour doing that and "coming down" from the buzz of presenting, compering,hosting and performance, I was left, about one am this morning, not with the question "How?" but rather.... " Why?"  
         Because, for the second consecutive gig for Nunc  there is no evidence whatsoever that we had ever been there. No photographs.No comments. No feedback.  Nothing. Are we really that forgettable?  Deflated by that realisation, then I also remembered the offer of 2p for Raffle tickets and the Euro coin placed by some smartarse in the biscuit tin. Perhaps they thought I would not mention it. ( They don't know me very well, do they?)  Plus, the tiny minority who attend but clearly expect this level of free entertainment by right. And those Facebook "friends" I have who boycott the club and the radio show. I'm sure they have their reasons.  But my, there's some food for thought there. 

Monday, 17 July 2017

When Hedgehogs Cry.

             It was a balmy Sunday evening in June,(in more ways than one), as the good citizens of North Warwickshire gathered to see out the final stages of Atherstone’s  Stonefest. Three days of Love Peace and Confusion, climaxing in the final show. An open air event in the commodious beer garden of the mighty Angel Inn, situated in the old Town’s market square. 
      As we traveled to the venue the omens for it being a slightly different evening were there for all Roman Emperors,to portend. A long journey over to Coventry and back collecting the component parts of Nunc began with a jolt when we were damn near totalled by an Ice Cream van coming like a bat out of hell straight outa Earlsdon. Then,as we parked up in Atherstone alongside the pub, the world’s tiniest hedgehog was spotted, staggering about on a large expanse of asphalt. 
        Needless of my own safety, I leaped from John Kearney’s safari wagon and approached the wanderer. Fearlessly it turned to confront me. A stand off ensued until I gathered up the little urchin on a copy of our Set List. I knew that would come in handy some day. I carried him (or her) carefully to the nearest expanse of vegetation and as  I was about to release it, it let out an impressively loud shriek which scared the pair of us half to death. The release came a few seconds earlier than planned as it rolled off,curling into a ball as it fell,and landed in a clump of Dock. Flossy recorded this scene for posterity and we made our way towards where we could hear the music coming from.

              JK and I had played The Angel for a Stonefest Fundraiser earlier in the year. A fine old Tardis of a pub, with  nooks and crannies everywhere a pleasant staff and a bar heaving with beer pumps and handpulls. No wonder it has won CAMRA awards-not often I get the chance to have Oakham Citra as my stage tipple. (Rude not to). 
             Just a few minutes late and after a very efficient sound check from a very friendly and competent Sound guy,  we were under way,kicking off with John's "Come Lay Your Burden Down." It was a Sunday, after all and we could see the impressive Church Tower looming over the pub roof. John's " Irish Spiritual," was politely received by a very mixed audience which contained a broad age range. I was pleased to note that (unlike the canines attending Sly Old Dogs gigs) the large Chocolate Labrador pottering about the garden seemed utterly unmoved by my colourful shirt. 
              By the time we'd got onto "Weather with You," a few people were singing along. Things seemed to be going well when we had our first stage invasion. I'd first spotted far off,  way up the other end of the garden.Making her way towards us during "Bring It On Home." A woman of indeterminate age, with a pint in her hand and wearing a Dutch Girls hat with artificial pigtails. (Amongst other things). First she plonked down heavily on a chair up the front. She seemed to be enjoying herself but something in "All Gotta Die Some Day," inspired her to rise and continue her journey. She whispered in my ear so noisily that some bodily fluids were exchanged and I had to wipe the spit out afterwards. I won't embarrass her any further, because she might be someone's Mum or Auntie just a bit far gone. But as far as we could we complied with her request. It wasn't rude..just mildly odd and slightly irrelevant. But it got the thumbs up from Tilly The Little Dutch Girl. 
          However, buoyed by her success, she returned during "After The Gold Rush," and asked for another favour just as Flossy was trying to give Neil Young's lyrics due reverence. Annoyed by this second incursion,Flossy used her best Team Teach technique to make a placatory (but firm) palms outward gesture in the "Please go away and sit down" kind of area. Which in fairness, she eventually did. I last saw her being led out of the moshpit by a kindly steward. Saved staff using the water cannon. 
             We had got at least  half of the audience singing by this time, sometimes even in the right places. Unfortunately, Flossy's spirited rendition of "Perfect" seemed to galvanise the space invaders again and another lady came right up to my mike during "Angel From Montgomery" and interrupted by asking if we could do any Beautiful South numbers. (I declined. A bit cheeky of her really. After all, I didn't go up to her afterwards and ask her husband if he'd ever thought of trading her in for a new model.). 
           We had the big finish with "Don't Worry" and ended to  warm applause, and a few cries for more. (At least I think that's what they were shouting).   After 50 minutes, we'd certainly doubled the size of the audience since we'd started. The sound was pretty good,thanks to monitors and a very useful Sound Man. Gamblers, the act that followed us were very good too, and got feet tapping. But as the sun set, the audience thinned a little. Not because the entertainment had waned any, more because it had turned quite cold as darkness fell. And so it was left to Weavers to close the event.
        I know Atherstone fairly well. I've played a couple of their Folk Club venues at Ridge Lane and Baxterley. I've done Wednesday lunchtime Folk Sessions in The Larder just round the corner from The Angel. ( A few customers can get very hands on on there, too sometimes). I've been to football matches at Sheepy Road and I've eaten in several of the town's hostelries. Its townspeople are an interesting bunch.   Eve Bryant and her team worked very hard to get this festival up and running,and to attract and hold the audiences.  Eve also did her personal best to accommodate the wishes of performers.  She admits to still being on a learning curve, but her willingness to be flexible, and to adapt, and her panoramic view of music bodes well for future Stonefests. I hope they'll invite us back-but I might bring a minder next time. 

Friday, 14 July 2017

Happy 14th Birthday to The Tump

       Karen Orgill has  been running this club, at three different venues, since 2003.It began in the Warwickshire village of Brinklow,named after the mound in the village which once supported a  Motte and Bailey Castle. When The Tump re-located to the outskirts of Coventry,at Coombe Social Club, I got to know the club properly. Black Parrot Seaside did a few spots there. Then it moved closer to the heart of Coventry,settling in The Humber Hotel. There BPS also  did a couple of Guest spots. 
       What an honour then, to be invited, by Kristy Gallagher and Karen to share in the Tump's 14th birthday celebrations by closing the evening at The Humber. I love this pub for several reasons. I grew up nearby, in Northfield Road. As a kid, a railway line spanned by a huge footbridge gave access from my street to all the factories which once surrounded The Humber.  
Kristy Gallagher
         Eleven years after I had moved away from the area, first to Wyken and then to Binley, I worked as a gardener for Coventry Parks Department helping to maintain all the surrounding parks and playing fields.  I spent my penultimate night as as a single man in there, when my mates in the Gosford Green staff bothy decided that they could not send me off to London to get married without a celebration. We knocked off early that afternoon and walked across to The Humber.  I was taken home afterwards in the back of a three wheel Lister truck with a 28lb bag of grass seed as a wedding present. Unaccountably, I don't remember that journey at all. 
          I also love it because of the fun I've had performing there. With Black Parrot Seaside, or solo and latterly with Nunc. I've seen the back concert room filled to bursting for Roddy Felton's Tribute night. And I've trialled a few of my own dodgy songs in the Front Room on Singer's nights,when a cold winter evening meant that only the brave and the foolhardy would set out to play sing or listen to music. 
           It is impossible to list all the artistes I've seen there simply because there are just so many.  Karen has established a reputation for kindness and generosity of spirit. So many poets, singers and bands have cut their teeth at The Tump in the Humber. So many revivals-first tentative steps back into public performance after a long break. So many debiuts-first steps along the Road to Somewhere. Some anxious, some over-confident,some inaudible. She has done her best to balance this with attracting top class names in as Special Guests. The public of Coventry have not always reacted kindly. The place deserves better support. But last night was one of the better ones. 
             Kristy opened proceedings with one of her own songs and a lovely version of "Dont Think Twice" before she selflessly handed the floor over to others. That's typical. She's a kind and thoughtful lady as well as being a wonderful artiste. She too has  worked hard to nurture and encourage new talent and to open doors for Coventry and Warwickshire audiences.  The photos that follow by the way, are mostly all courtesy of John Wright and John B. Smith. 
              Thereafter she linked,clapped,cheered and offered moral support from the floor as Rob Oakey, a long time stalwart supporter of The Tump (and host at The Sty across the other side of the city), led a procession of floor spots . Rob gave us a couple of tunes including a bit of audience participation with "Bonnie and Clyde." 
Rob Oakey
           I was delighted to see that Terry and Jan Wisdom were fit and well again. Earlier in the year they had to pull out of an appearance at Nuneaton Folk Club due to ill health. Everyone was disappointed so it was a relief to see this talented duo back to top form. I've just reviewed the much-hyped Shirley Collins album "Lodestar" for a magazine. Accomplished as Shirley still is,  I have to say that Jan's voice appears to be holding up much better. Her vocals are crystal clear,her syncopated guitar provides a solid framework for Terry to weave patterns of his own guitar magic.A bonus last night was that I finally managed to get my hands on their excellent album,"Highly Strung." 
Terry and Jan. She's on the right. 
      Amelia  Gascoigne-Roberts demonstrated that unique vibrato-style vocal brilliance with two of her own songs. Both thought-provoking in style and content,with excellent musical accompaniment. 
Amelia Gascoigne-Roberts
      On the night, we were treated to not one but two poetic recitations. Ray gave us two interesting reflections on some of the more hypothetical aspects of Life including time management. And trying to remember, at the top of the stairs,what you actually went up there for. 
Ray
             John B. Smith demonstrated that his talents extend beyond excellent photography and into Poetry,with a clever poem about a part of Kim Kardashian's anatomy. Later on, John would demonstrate a third gift, that of providing the most soulful vocals during the call and response section of "Bring It On Home To Me." 

John B. Smith
       A set from John Wright and Hilary Wilson closed the first half. They were better than I had ever heard them. Which is not to say that they are not usually pretty good anyway, but this was a sophisticated and very tight musical performance. Atmospheric songs,some self-penned, and an excellent finale featuring "Ride On," with the audience taking up the choruses enthusiastically. Two guitars and voices perfectly synchronised. Nice. 
John and Hilz
           During the interval there were cakes and nibbles laid on by Karen's mum, to reinforce the party atmosphere. Then it fell to the enigmatic Cliff Hands to start the second half. His very first plucked note broke a string,and so a replacement instrument had to be quickly served up. I'd seen him before and had enjoyed his mean and moody delivery then. Some quality lyrics and his economic,mesmerising chord runs got us into a very atmospheric place. He led us through a series of cleverly spun imagery and a clutch of dramatic, songs like "Things are going to change", and "Hometown Love Story."  I hope he won't mind me saying that he sings and a writes a little like early Dylan,and has a hungry,lean look and sound about him.  It's meant very much as a compliment. On the strength of his set I bought two of his albums. I was not disappointed with either of them. 
Cliff Hands
        So it was Nunc's turn. We took to the stage, though we didn't stay on it all the time, and took the audience through a series of covers each of which had a chorus. The usual run of songs by Caey Chambers,John Prine,Sam Cooke et al. A new-ish CSNY mash-up seguing "Find The Cost of Freedom " into Neil Young's "Ohio." And  "Knocking on Heaven's Door," which has emerged from nowhere over the last couple of months to be a proper crowd-pleaser. The audience hollered along gamely with them all, including our encore- John's fabled composite of Bob Marley meeting The Irish Rover.
Looks like we are all singing.
      A glorious night. A lovely night. We always feel good driving away from The Humber, Perhaps it's because Uncle Bill and my dad used to work across the road assembling rear axles in 'A' Shop? 

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Paper Daisies

       Sometimes you can overdo the superlatives. Sometimes even the most erudite will run out of new adjectives. But in truth, there wasn't much about July 2017's Nuneaton Folk Club session last night that wasn't quite extraordinary. 
      The title "Folk Club" scares some people away still,with its connotations of knitted ties, pipe-smoking sandal-wearing beatniks and crusty old warhorses still murmuring long-forgotten tales of woe or bellowing out shanties. People sitting in circles,or in rows, perhaps knitting as they nod their heads wearily in time to the music. In truth I don't know of many places like this, but that myth still scares away some potential audience members,and it makes some relatively new performers think that,well ,maybe their material might not meet with audience approval. 
       We gave a lot of thought to naming our club before the launch in October 2014,but we went for simplicity and just hoped they'd come. Boy, did they! Another full house last night. Beforehand we had doubts about the weather. Remembering a July night at The Crown when Sean Cannon had them queuing to get in,despite it being 36 degrees centigrade outside even before we got under way.
        Once again we had a few logistical problems beforehand, and a few who did not make the final team sheet because late illnesses had poleaxed them. And although The Crown has its assets,it is not always an easy room to manage,with its stairs, the heavy traffic outside and a long trek to the bar. But as we so often do, in the teeth of adversity, we provided a first class FREE entertainment for those who came along. And yes, it was hot by the way.  Inside and out,but once the sun had gone down and we'd flung the fire escape doors open, the background rustle of Folk Monthly magazines employed as fans subdued to a murmur. 
         We have never shied away from showcasing new talent at Nuneaton. Young, fresh talent. With Nunc having done a fair amount of Open Mic as well as Folk Clubs, we have come across relatively youthful performers on our travels who employ innovative and precocious skills to give older material a new face to wear. Rarely has this not worked for us, and last night was a prime example. Combining the best of the local scene in terms of experience and tradition, and adding to it a dash of fresh air, this is a heady recipe guaranteed to stir up a night of pure enjoyment. 
           Of the former, you won't get much more grizzled and experienced than John Kearney and Geoff Veasey, two thirds of Nunc pressed into service as the divine Flossy McDougall was taken ill shortly beforehand. In a hastily re-arranged opening, we cobbled together a combination of our own songs which have served us well when appearing as a duo. Fortunately they are songs a lot of the audience know and enjoy singing. They did not need "warming up"-far from it-but that's what we did. And so it was that "Albert Balls,"  "Di Di The Ice Cream Man " and the shamelessly filthy "Folking Liberty " got them singing straight away.
John and Geoff modelling modest sunwear
       JK stayed on to keep up the momentum with " Jolly Boys" and a song he dedicated to his Appraisal meeting earlier in the day.  He then stayed on stage to accompany Sue Sanders. They got the feet tapping and the hands clapping with some robust guitar and fiddle magic. I'm sure I heard "Marie's Wedding " and "Captain Pugwash" in there somewhere. Given the long road Sue has travelled, she has shown remarkable courage resilience to bounce back. It was lovely to see her back on a stage again and to hear the magic she coaxes from the bow.
Sue Sanders. John is there. But you can't see him.
         We had to give JK a rest then before he passed out. Bob Brooker,a popular visitor, and bravely eschewing his beloved shorts, climbed onto the stage and entertained us with two songs and an instrumental. "Wild Geese" was a request. I had thought to ask him to do "Stockton Town"-another cover of a Sean Cooney song he does full justice to,but I had no need, as that followed second.
And then he pulled off one of the comedy stunts of the evening by announcing "I always like to name this after the town I'm playing in," and then mischievously introducing it as " The Beduff  Hornpipe " to a storm of theatrical pantomime hissing and boos from Nuneatonians..
Bob Brooker. He's a right Wag.
         Paul Moore and Jon Harrington, two thirds of Blues Monkey took to the stage next and gave us three songs again hallmarked by masterful guitar playing and harp-blowing. These two had guested in Mac Awe On Tour's 2x 50 minute marathons at Nuneaton Beer Festival last month. That Paul. He's so damn versatile. Does Ceilidh's as well. When does he ever stay home? 
Blues Monk-Jon and Paul. (Where's Ringo?) 
             What better counterpoint to all this musical dexterity and wide-ranging repertoire than to introduce Glyn Finch to set up our opening guest spot. With his bell bottom loons,flowing hair and black beard, Glyn is every inch the personification of Rock.


Glyn on a chair. dave behind trying to free the di lead. 
Those who had seen him at NFC before knew they were in for a treat,but those who hadn't looked a little anxious as he launched into a percussive rendition of " Hard Times" The fireworks don't just come from the guitar,either. Glyn by turns growls,howls and croons his vocals-he has an impressive range. As the light outside faded, I had to interrupt to switch the stage lights on, so we could see him better.  At this point, to better enhance his dramatic and unique rendition of "The Pink Panther " theme he jumped onto a chair, giving our sound man apoplexy as the guitar lead strained to break free from the D.I. box.
       With a master stroke Glyn finished with a version of "Heartbreak Hotel."  The audience were desperate to sing along with it. But they just couldn't. Elvis eat your heart out. Next month,Glyn has a longer spot with an extended set before the interval. You have been warned. 
          Glyn's Rock God cameo was the first musical piece we had seen from someone playing whilst actually standing on a chair. (Most of our guest musicians tend to just sit on them. Or stand up. A few could not ever get onto a chair. let alone get off one again). The first of several historic and groundbreaking firsts last night. Jennian King,decided (wisely) to forego her boots, and performed barefoot. A brave decision. Had she seen that stage before i swept it at lunchtime. Well....she might have decided otherwise....
         For, with another personnel change (one of three trios on that night who had done some late juggling), it was then Paper Circus time. I just love watching faces in the audience when Jennian starts singing. You can easily pick out those who have not heard her before. Their mouths drop open. With masterful musical accompaniment from Siraj Nagar and Stephen Clarke (and a spot on the electric piano herself), she employed that beautiful,flawless voice to pick out classics such as "Wild Mountain Thyme" and " She Moved Through The Fair."  And still managed to have a go at a Massive Attack. Introducing it as apologetically as "not Folk." Yes it is. Not traditional maybe-but teardrop as they did it was delicious.  

          It was one of those moments. It must be how audiences felt when they heard a young Sandy Denny/ The Circus and their ebulient following the Paper Clipettes, tore the house down with haunting,melodic music. "Lagan Love" : " I am stretched on your Grave." And another first- "Dacw Nghariad," a song sung mostly in Welsh. I wonder if tpaper Circus realise quite how good they are? Mesmeric. Even The Folk Monthly improvised fans stopped flapping. 
Suraj, Jennian and Stephen

           With the audience almost punch drunk at their good fortune, we had a brief interval before an improvised House Band opened the second half with "Knocking On Heaven's door." This song has just emerged to become a staple item of Nunc's set list,and is characterised by wonderful audience chorus singing at every venue we've played. NFC audiences are renowned for their singing-but last night was exceptional. They must have heard Dylan's anthem  over in the Bus Station. 
The Astley Castle Collective. And Fan. 
        Another first followed (or so he tells us) in that a delighted Bob Brooker actually won a raffle prize. Just after he stood up waving his tickets about and moaning "How come I never win the bloody raffle?" That got one of the biggest cheers of the night. 
Bob does Seasick Steve

        It was then time to hand the evening over to the temporarily fragmented Daisybell for them to take us on home. At the end of quite a tour, they had virtually run out of CD's and had also lost Anya somewhere along the way. This not detract from their performance, but did mean that they had to re-arrange their set list at late notice. This was at its most evident when they did "Miners Winter." Those of us who see The 'Belle regularly know that Anya does a solo in that,but Katherine and Ginnie were sure-footed,exchanging a grin before moving seamlessly on to the second part of the song. 
Daisybell. Far Out. Man (or should that be Women?)
            There was a tense moment when Katharine seemed to be disappearing underneath a spaghetti of stage cabling. This caused a stir among the younger faction at the back of the room as Katherine squealed " OOH! I'm Tripping!"  ( I don't think she meant it quite like that m'dears!)  By her own admission she can be accident prone at times,but the moment was rescued. 
         Their well-deserved encore was the excellent Dave Taylor cover of a song about a Pirate Crew which was (definitely) more than it seemed. Very funny and very entertaining. Daisybell, whether depleted or not, always work hard, and deliver a varied catalogue of songs. They play loads of instruments, including Son of Ukele and Ginnie's Bongos-which have always drawn gasps of admiration from a certain contingent. They sing and play songs that make  you think, songs that make you tap your feet, sing along and smile. (Though not necessarily always at the same time).  They may well have run out of CD's and are going for a  re-pressing-but you can still order them online or via Facebook. 
            Exhausted, we all flopped out into another sultry Costa del Nunny night and made our way home to soak in an ice bath. Get well soon Flossy and Anya. You are loved and you were missed. 


            



Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Off With Her Head

          Still gaining momentum,the Off With Her Head Tour continued apace last night as Nunc rolled South and into the heartlands of The Shire and Hobbiton.  Both John and I live in adjacent Tory-held strongholds,so it was nice to mingle with the clog-wearing,pipe smoking, basket weaving artisans from The Republic of South Warwickshire. As yet no Visas or Checkpoints are required to travel  the A423 beyond Long Itchington in such a brazen manner. (At a guess it's only a matter of time).
          A triumphant return for us to The Nelson Club, to present  an hour of NuncFoolery. Courtesy of an invite from Colin,and The Gang, who constitute the resident band  Away with The Fairies.  As is our tradition,we arrived there pitifully early,and found an almost empty room. Happily it filled up rapidly, and to our great surprise and pleasure, virtually everyone stayed, right through to the last Encore and House lights up. 
          Quite a trip for the Tour bus driver, one Mr. Kearney, from Nuneaton to Wolvey and thence Coventry and finally Long Itchington. Along a route which was a nostalgic trip through the past. holding many memories for me. Passing under the long disused railway viaduct crossing the A423. Threading through Marton which long ago had a scrapyard with tantalising glimpses of old buses awaiting the Cutter's torch. Over the hump back canal bridge alongside The Blue Lias. With its De Havilland Vampire in the car park. In the days when I used to go fishing there with my dad.
        Things got off to a good start when,upon entering the large Lounge downstairs I espied a couple of young men wearing even more outlandish shirts than John and I. (Takes some doing,that.) I also noticed from the t.v. in there that England's U-21 footballers had just been denied the semi-finals of a European Final by flunking a penalty shoot-out with the Germans. Talk about Groundhog Day. Plus ca change.
          Upstairs, in a grand room, with fine acoustics, we were given a warm welcome before settling down to enjoy the preliminaries. Alas, no Rik Middleton with his enigmatic songs and interesting stories. But The Fairies themselves were on fine form,battling through the rigours of Hay Fever to deliver a whole clutch of songs which got feet tapping and voices raised. I enjoyed particularly their versions of "Ride On" and "Step It Out Mary"-two of my own favourites.
           Bob Brooker would empathise with the fact that Peter McDonald  took a lot of stick over wearing shorts.But as the night darkened and the rain thundered down outside,he remained impressively defiant. Versatile too, as he played a guitar, a Ukulele and an accordion, (although not simultaneously). He regaled us with some clever arrangements and a Sid Kipper song about the uses of fag packets. 
          Peter Wimpenny played a see-through banjo rather well (as he often does-I've seen him at Warwick Folk Club before). Then we had an excellent mini-set from the unlikely-named duo Unlikely. Who were actually rather good, with some finely pitched vocals and some very accomplished guitar playing. 
           By now there was some kind of Death/Thrash/Funk Metal disco going on in the room directly below. I could feel the vibrations through my feet as I took to the stage with Flossy and JK. There was a bit of background noise initially from that, but it was drowned out immediately by the strident chorus singing and we never heard from Red Hot Chili Peppers again. 
        Our planned set worked perfectly,and we finished right on time, including a glorious encore of "Don't Worry/Wild Rover."  I spent a long time introducing one song with a long rambling anecdote only to realise that we were actually doing something entirely different,and accidentally ran our two Richard Thompson songs back to back. I had a minor voice malfunction during "When I Get To The Border,"  but no Halls Mentholyptus mints were damaged and my windpipe remained mercifully unblocked. 
          A cracking club , with hospitable hosts  and a friendly audience. Look forward to being invited back. 

Monday, 26 June 2017

Wuff Justice.

             En route with John Kearney to Brandon last night for a Sly Old Dogs and Friends Session, I peered at my watch. It had reverted to the year 2005 and showed the time as midday. A portent, perhaps. Maybe we should have turned back then.
          Last month the place was packed.(A Bank Holiday?). Cheese batches had been flowing off the counters then, like the River Avon still slurped lazily  beneath nearby Bretford Bridge. Last night John and I were there first,to find a virtually deserted building. We amused ourselves by setting the chairs out.
         It was a depleted Sly Old Dogs crew, with one or two notable absentees. Only Bob Brooker, Richard Ryder,John McIntosh,Pete Willow, Nigel Ward and Colin Squire were mustered  They all seemed pretty knackered on arrival, having already played at Monks Kirby that afternoon. We  thought at first they might just lie panting on the floor with their tongues hanging out. But a few bowls of Bass revived them.  
       It was  a depleted audience, too. And several other regular performers were missing. This just left the stalwarts to entertain. This had an advantage though as, we got to hear Liz Ryder. And Rob Halligan. We also got to hear Dave Sampson. I'm still mulling over the advantages, if any, of that one. 
          All went well for me personally, as I went for the safety of "Peggy Gordon" for my first number. I introduced it with a witty rejoinder about the mess I'd made of "Lakes of Ponchartain " in that same hall last month. I pointed out that I was taking no risks this time. I had my pitch pipes,I had an accompanying musician, I had the words on an adjacent table.  (Not needed but a useful crutch to lean on). I remarked on how Dave Grohl had furiously chewed gum throughout the Foo Fighters televised Glastonbury set on Saturday. Snickering childishly I then held aloft my Halls Extra Strong Mentolyptus mints-conjecturing whether I should suck on one as I sang. A visual gag which would later come back to haunt me. 
      I remembered all the words, pretty well in the right order. Having warmed up comprehensively beforehand, my voice did not go awol and I stayed pretty well in the same register. (Roughly in the key of Geoff). The band caught up with me eventually(bless them)  and I sat down to what I thought was generous applause. 
        Second half, flushed with success (and a pint of Bass) ,my second song came round rather more suddenly than I had anticipated. As I rose to my feet to introduce "Di Di The Ice Cream Man," a large and hitherto silent Chocolate Labrador, previously supine (that means asleep) leapt to all four feet and began barking. This was a new experience for me as I have often been heckled by humans, but never before by a dog. I usually get on well with dogs. But this was a real bitch. There was obviously a bone of contention. This animal was barking up the wrong tree. 
       " It's your shirt mate," the embarrassed owner apologetically explained. As my hilarious introduction continued to be interrupted by barking even more furious than Dave Grohl's,  I took the offending garment off. To gasps and a sprinkling of applause. A bit like The Full Monty for Senior Citizens. Eye Candy for the over-Nineties.  Luckily, I had a t-shirt on underneath. This seemed to placate the dog. (Good job it hadn't taken umbrage at my trousers). 
      However, flustered by this unexpected canine accompaniment,I had forgotten, before singing the actual song, to remove the  Halls Extra Strong Mentolyptus mint I had been carelessly sucking on beforehand. I launched confidently into the chorus, then began the first verse. As the Milkman's cart hove into view however, I drew in a fresh breath and the dissolving mint lodged in my windpipe. Seizing me up immediately. The audience roared appreciatively as I struggled for breath. This was a third visual gag and it was much appreciated. 
         John Kearney was damn near crying by this time. He was not alone. I was completely halted in my tracks.The bottles stayed on the cart. The horse remained unflatulent. ( Spell check really did not like that word!). I grabbed a gulp of Bass and looked round imploringly for anyone who might be proficient in the Heimlich manoeuvre. Deciding that there was no-one in the room I wanted to encircle me with their rugged arms,I took the lead, and struggled doggedly on. Coughing, between lines. I had been terrierified but few seemed to cur. 
        After this fiasco, John wisely chose to do his Bob Marley/Dubliners segue "Dont Worry." This calmed everything down a little and got everyone singing. It gave the audience some recovery time. Eventually the sweet dissolved. During the next interval, a pint of Butty Bach helped soothe those chafed vocal chords.
        Was this the only incident of mirth? Not quite. Earlier, and during a  hauntingly beautiful ballad from Colin Squire,John Kearney suddenly woke up, kicked his guitar stand and his beloved Martin crashed noisily, like a thing possessed, onto the dance floor. Doughty old stager Colin barely registered,recovered and continued. John gave Martin first aid, (JK fans will be thrilled to hear that no permanent damage to either of them was incurred). 
         The dog continued to glare at anyone who dared to go past it to the bar or to the toilets. Richard "should have gone to Specsavers" Ryder,exposed and centre stage, searched pitifully for a missing plectrum before Liz, (who must have excellent eyesight), left her place in the audience, retrieved it from beneath his chair and put it in his hand. A touching moment.
         John McIntosh had recently been to Greece, apparently. ( A good job he didn't mentioned it). His secondary career as a stand up comedian continued to wane as he told a series of unfathomable jokes,to the background of loudly drifting Tumbleweed. Some people laughed politely,but I, traumatised as I was by my near death experience, understood little of the build up or the punch lines. With their recurring images of willies, gonads and Thai girls,it is a world I know nothing of. Still,in fairness, he plays a mean bass line. So we'll let him off. Over France somewhere, from about 37,000 feet. 
         Rob Halligan, Cheryl, Liz Ryder,Jackie and JK raised the standards with some accomplished playing and singing. Liz with "Somewhere Along The Road" and Rob with two of his own compositions.  Awakening from their travel lag (its a good five miles from Monks Kirby to Brandon),The Sly Old Dogs got into their stride and gave us some rousing performances. We even had "The Bonny Black Hare" from Nigel Ward-a song I have done myself many times,solo and with Black Parrot Seaside. Excellent.
            More classic comedy came, from The Wurzel Bush of Dave Sampson. Some of which he intended. A song about dropping manure from a Sopwith Camel onto someone having a barbecue. In Bridgewater, I think. (Knowing that town as I do, that must have made it smell a whole lot better). And a second classic about all the things he'd like to do to those who have annoyed him. (It's a long list). Ventriloquists,dogs,publicans and the constabulary featured in the introduction. Those of you who know Dave can fill in the gaps. 
             With time (and most of the audience) running out, this left John Kearney and I to double up on a song which has come from nowhere to become part of Nunc's Set List. "Knocking On Heaven's door" by the Nobel Prizewinner himself. Now I know where Dylan's growly voice really came from. Must have swallowed a Spangle somewhere in the middle of " Maggie's Farm?" 
              The Dogs ( Choclab excepted) led us in a final, communal howl of "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? " Well indeed. Then we all climbed into our Range Rovers and Maseratis to drive home. To Barking, Kennelworth and The Isle of Dogs no doubt. 

Next time there, I'm singing "Bonio Romeo." (It's a real song). One of mine. Not by Les Barker.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Seven Go off to Keep?

             It was quite a while ago (March) that Simon Winterman of Nuneaton’s Sudden Impulse Theatre Company had kindly asked me if I would be able to rustle up an afternoon of acoustic music one Saturday in June. This would be for an Astley Castle Open Day.  Simon’s Cast of Young Thespians would be there as part of  a Mini Tour, staging an alfresco Production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. A mystical play performed in idyllic surroundings.  All this courtesy of The Landmark Trust. They do a fabulous line in restoring old ruined buildings and then putting them back to use as luxury self-catering accommodation. 
Our banner....
                And I’m so glad that he did that. In various bands, I’ve played some remarkable venues.Marquees,Theatres, Breweries,Schools  and Minstrel Galleries. Foyers,Auditoriums, cafes and bars. But this was one of the most esoteric I’ve ever played in. More a fortified house than a castle, it was home in the past for three Queens of England. Elizabeth Woodville, who  became Edward IV's Queen. Her daughter  was Henry VII's wife. And Henry VIII’s ill fated wife Lady Jane Grey lasted nine days on the throne. 
       Astley Castle also hosted  a Parliamentary Garrison during the Civil War and was well known to George Eliot. Even with the moat now  partly overgrown and some of the windows still gaunt skeletons, the place just oozes History. The grounds are magnificently landscaped and lovingly maintained. 
Astley....oozing history
       Elsewhere, the fragrant ladies of the village were serving teas, scones and sarnies in the bunting-arrayed Reading Room.Over in the shade of a tree, Kasia was plaiting Fairy Garlands. (We never got round to wearing one). Upstairs in the mighty Lounge, where we set up,there were wonderful views from all sides. With  floor to ceiling glass and sumptuous furnishings, it was like playing in Simon Cowell’s kitchen.
Where we set up. Gorgeous.
     For a laugh we put a hat on floor in front of us, in the style of street Busking. To our surprise, visitors began to fill it. When we emptied it, whilst packing up afterwards, we found £69 in it. Which we have added to John Neal’s proceeds from a genuine  busking marathon in the sultry heat of Nuneaton Town centre last week. All will be going towards the Red Cross Fund for victims of the Grenfell Tower Disaster. 
The hat begins to fill...
          Our Company comprised myself, John Kearney, Flossy McDougall, John Neal,Paul Moore,Sue Sanders and Bob Brooker. All regulars at NFC and four of whom were Nuneaton residents.  After a very civilised cup of tea together,( in bone china no less), John Neal kicked us off with a seamless, reflective set featuring much Ralph McTell and a lot of well-loved Beatles Tunes. There was much interplay, with musicians joining in and supporting each others' solo spots by weaving subtle backing instrumentation,or beefing up the choruses. So doughty are these old warhorses, that Paul was going on to play in a Ceilidh band in Foxton later that night, and Bob would be appearing twice with Sly Old Dogs on Sunday-at Monks Kirby and Brandon. (How lovely to be wanted and needed!)
Bob and Paul collaborating
       Paul Moore followed John Neal. He was suffering a little from the heavy pollen count, but worked his way expertly through an entertaining set of Blues, Folk and contemporary material.  Including a personal favourite of mine, his adaptation of "Sitting On Top Of The World."  
Paul Sitting On Top of The World.Or a Cajon,maybe?
Sue Sanders then employed her fiddle to great effect and played some very atmospheric mood music including some appropriately historically weighted instrumentals. She took us on a journey around the country and overseas, using her fiddle as a musical Tardis.  
Sue and her musical Tardis.
Bob Brooker and his Bazouki stepped forward next and Bob led us through a sequence of fascinating songs including "The Wild Geese," and "Fiddlers Green." 
Bob getting into The Wild Geese. 
     Nunc finished off the afternoon's proceedings with an extended set and then with a bit of a jam session at the end. Everyone joined in with "Knocking On Heaven's Door," and John Kearney's extraordinary homage to Petula Clark "DownTown." 
Nunc are Going to The Border
     This togetherness seemed to somehow encapsulate the co-operative atmosphere of the afternoon. And it was lovely to see that some familiar faces from Nuneaton Folk had turned up-and they stayed pretty well throughout. (Thanks, Folks!). By 4pm we had finished, and left for our various destinations. Leaving the site to Sudden Impulse and A Midsummer Night's Dream....
Coo! This one's a bit arty. There was an audience..honest!