Thursday, 26 February 2009

A Catastrophising I Will Go.

A watched kettle takes forever to boil. Perhaps it was Einstein that said that? One thing I’ve always been aware of, and particularly in these last few weeks as I record events and thoughts here, is how ‘time’ seems to pass at such differing rates according to what I might be doing or working on at that time.

I often work on my laptop (doing exactly what I’m doing now) during the period between the interval and the point in the evening when Phil and I take to the stage for the grand finale to accompany Fairport on their final encore - Meet on the Ledge. That stretch of time can feel like an eternity, or alternatively, if I’m deep in composition then the time can fly by - and there’s even the potential danger of missing my cue completely.

The way in which I’m illustrating my point makes ‘time’ out to be something that actually exists outside of me; an energy, a force that moves consistently in a linear direction, and although I understand nothing of Einstein’s ‘time and relativity’ theory (or his ‘kettle’ theory come to that) unless I’ve got it wrong, it would appear that his work might support that view.

In my summation, if one’s perception of time can change so radically, it’s hard to see what you think you’re perceiving as anything more than just a perception. OK, I understand that we humans have invented a system of measurement, a means of measuring the distance between events, and I’ve heard it said that without ‘linear time’ all events would occur simultaneously; but somehow we’ve gone from a system of measurement based on days, nights and moons to a collective belief that we walk a line that stretches forward to a future, backwards to a past, and that here we are somewhere between the two. This imaginary line is directly implicated in the way we avoid the experience of the only place we have always been and always will be - that place is ‘now’.

It all goes to show what an incredibly inventive bunch we are - conjuring up all these ideas and illusions. Nevertheless, no matter how much we invent, or how much we think that our ‘take’ on life is actually reality itself and not just a subjective and collective belief system, when life actually does happen to you, you have no choice but to go with it, surrendering everything else. What brings you sliding in at birth, also picks you up and carries you out at death, and apart from what feels like the odd ‘life or death’ scenario along the way, you make up the in-between part as you go along.

Performing can put you in ‘the now’, not that it is a ‘life or death’ situation or anything, but there is a correlation factor in there somewhere, and I’ll go into this a little more, later on.

A few years back, maybe seven or eight, maybe more, I heard someone called Julian Barbour speaking on the BBC Radio 4 program Start The Week; he was promoting his book: The End of Time. I was completely taken and compelled by his ideas, so I went straight out and bought it; it was written, supposedly with the ordinary man in mind; non of this academia-speak or anything, the whole purpose was to explain things in a language that almost any half intelligent reader could comprehend. I think I made it up to about page twenty, not just the once I might add, but each of the five times I went back to re-read it, page twenty was were my understanding came to a grinding halt.

A few months back, Phil came round to rehearse with me; as usual, we drank tea, talked a bit, sang an occasional song, and talked a bit more. Our conversation moved onto the subject of ‘time’, then he told me that a few years back he’d heard this chap talking on the radio about a book he’d written; he couldn’t recall the exact title, but it was something about ‘time’, he said. He went straight out and bought it. He explained he found much of it quite hard to understand, so he hadn’t managed to get very far into it.

I guess I don’t need to spell it out, but yes, it was the same book; a case of synchronicity maybe? Well if that’s synchronicity - what about this; Fairport have just launched into ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’.

Monday 16th. Boston Folk Club.
Should’ve been a day off, but having been contacted by Greg Swain, who has, here in Boston, one of the longest running clubs in the land, both Phil and I decided to spend our leisure time performing. Greg seems like a very decent chap, and someone who knows what’s going on in the world of music, well - folk music at least. This is more than can be said for the master of ceremonies. Our introduction went something like this: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are very privileged to have here in our midst someone who’s work you’ll be very familiar with - star of television - comedian - Phil Cool. And also Ken Nicol; I’ve no idea what he does, but I guess we’re about to find out”. Now that’s what I like, someone who does his research and takes time to gather some background information.

In my assessment of the evening I’d probably say that the audience wanted little more than comedy, and largely speaking - that’s what they got.

I do believe that there is something to be learnt from all situations and scenarios in life; and what I learnt from tonight’s situation has a somewhat philosophical leaning to it.

Tuesday 17th Feb. The Drill Hall, Lincoln.
Apart from just a couple of minor issues, this is a thoroughly classy and impressive venue. Preston needs one of these badly. Refurbished to aesthetic perfection, the only noticeable flaws lay behind it’s striking exterior, and as far as I can see, they are only relevant to us, the artists, who spend time on the ‘inside’.

The dressing rooms are few; fewer than three; greater than one; and today both were cold, too cold. And again, it is another one of these places that has, sitting behind the bar, a great looking espresso / cappuccino machine, and yet they don’t seem to want to use it in the evening; I ended up walking across to Wetherspoons where the Lavazza is acceptable and surprisingly inexpensive.

The parking situation: There is an NCP car park adjacent to the theatre; unlike Wetherspoons, in terms of expense, it is unsurprisingly extortionate. As I write this, I do so in anticipation. Earlier I attempted to add another £2:50 to the sum of what has already been spent on keeping the car fine-free for the day - up until 6 p.m.

The £2:50 is for all evening parking; this is the exact amount I have repeatedly tried to feed it only to be told that it was insufficient by the machine. So later, after the show, I am fully expecting to see that dreaded piece of yellow polythene, held firmly between wiper and window, edges flapping in the wind, as it becomes larger and more of a reality with each step taken towards my car.

24 hours later.

Now, the day after, I can state that my fear of incurring a parking violation was unfounded. Once more I was guilty of catastrophising. I’ve been caught catastrophising before on more than one occasion; actually, to be perfectly honest, if there were a competitive sport in this I’d probably do quite well at it; maybe I’d have trophies on my mantle piece, trophies that would illustrate perfectly the success that preconceived failure can bring.

Catastrophising is a concept, a description, a practice that I became aware of when I wrote my dissertation on ‘stage fright’ whilst doing a Contemporary Music degree at the University of Central Lancashire back in 2002; it’s what an enormous number of us artists do before and often during a performance.

I am completely intrigued by this subject. Whenever I do guitar workshops I always try and spend some time discussing how students feel about performing. The number of us that put ourselves through hell is quite staggering; and for what? One would have to assume that there is some significant magnitude in whatever objective the performer has, and is trying to achieve, that would give him or her reason to go through what feels to many like a life or death scenario.

But be it performing or just living, my reasoning mind has concluded on the basis of past evidence that we have far fewer things to worry about than we imagine, and that there is every reason to place our trust in this process of life that we are all a part of - whatever label or value (God-given, etc) one might want to give it.

Still, my reasoning mind is not yet fully integrated with the rest of me, so a-catastrophising I shall continue to go, at least to some extent - until I take a few steps further up and along the ladder of enlightenment. The next thing is: how come we think of enlightenment as an upward, or a forward movement? Now don’t get me started on that one.

And speaking of enlightenment and all things related, Phil and I visited Lincoln Cathedral on the afternoon of the 17th; it’s spectacular, massive, a brilliant building. Whether it be the Duomo in Florence, St Botolph’s Church (Boston, Lincolnshire), or here - Lincoln Cathedral, it’s not just the majesty of it all that becomes the object of my fascination, it’s more a desire to know, to comprehend some of that which was the motivational force behind the planning and construction of anything on such an awesome scale. Buildings that took centuries to build and required an incredible amount of manpower; there would have to be an extraordinary purposefulness to this; a belief that’s unswerving and undentable. Maybe the bigger they were, and the further they reached out, the closer they became, both spiritually and physically, to the almighty. For a man with so many question marks, so many ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘maybes’ in his mind, I find such unquestioned belief quite mesmerising.

As far as the cathedral is concerned though, whatever your take on all of the above, the bottom line is - it’s worth a visit.

Wednesday 18th Feb. The Stables, Milton Keynes.
Every time I come here it seems they’ve done something more to to the place; it’s always more different to how different it was last time. It’s looks very swish, even more swish than before.

If you don’t know already, this ever improving venue was founded back in 1969 by Johnny Dankworth and Cleo Laine. Almost all of the people that work here appear to be volunteers, and there are plenty of them; still, despite all of this willing assistance the prices to the public are about as high as they come.

Friend Anna was arriving, she estimated, at 3 pm - after driving up from some business she had to do in Tunbridge Wells. I know Anna from my association with Barry Cheesman who organised and promoted the Great Bardfield Guitar Festival last February at The High Barn, one of my all time favourite venues. I really enjoyed the spot I played on the Sunday night, as well as the new faces I met there. The following day I set off back to Lancashire on what was a cold, frosty but sunny morning; surrounded by the beautiful Essex countryside somewhere between Great Bardfield and Saffron Walden on a somewhat small and quiet stretch of road, suddenly from my right through a hole in the bushes, and at full flight, came about half a dozen Roe Deer running across and slightly towards me. There was absolutely nothing I could do to avoid hitting the one at the front of the bevy (I just discovered that this is the name given to a group of Roe Deer). The impact was horrible, the only fortunate part being that both animal and vehicle met each other with such force that death was probably immediate. I pulled up about 100 yards further and stepped out of the car to walk back and assess the damage.

It’s difficult to describe how upset I felt; I could see on the front of my car there were a few strands of the animal’s fur scattered in various places, and a few scuff marks on the front near-side wing, but the last thing I was concerned about was the car. I went to see what sort of condition the creature might be in. When I reached it I saw no evidence of life in it’s innocent and twisted body. I used my mobile phone to take a photograph; I thought I might need to do that.

I felt like a Bulldozer; one amongst many; a willing and active participant in a culture only concerned with, literally and figuratively, getting to wherever it is we might be going; and that our reasons for going there override, not just the concerns of others with similar objectives, but worse of all - the innocents; those who live in natural accordance with life, the life that we drive through and over.
I understood that there might be a legal requirement to report these things, so a couple of days later I went online and found a website which is set up for such a purpose. They want to know - location, what day, what time, the type of deer? All that kind of stuff.
Some four weeks later, my partner Carol and I were heading out to warmer climes, we were flying from Liverpool to Gerona, Spain. Sat in the departure lounge my phone rang, it was Tim; I’d met Tim at the guitar festival where he was displaying his own make of acoustic guitar: Moondog. He gave me the news that festival organiser Barry had suffered a serious stroke, and that the prognosis looked bleak. Within four days of the news, Barry died.

Anna still lives at the house they shared together in Great Barfield, and I’m very taken by just how much of ‘the survivor’ she has in her.

Thursday 19th Feb. The Winding Wheel, Chesterfield.
Looked like full house - or thereabouts. A good atmosphere. Loads of friends.

Chesterfield is the town with the famous crooked spire, and a town I feel know well - having travelled here on countless occasions usually to work with Ashley Hutchings who lives just outside the town in a village called Cutthorpe. Paul Hopkinson runs The Foundry, a recording studio I’ve worked at many times; it’s situated in Church Walk, adjacent to the twisted spire. The most recent project both Ashley and myself worked on at Paul’s studio was the Anglo - Italian CD: My Land Is Your Land - a collaboration of Ashley’s and, my dear friend, Ernesto De Pascale, who lives in Florence. The album, which was released about two months ago, in my view, brings our two cultures together, in both music and verse, from so many different and interesting angles, that give it a dynamic I could never have predicted; testimony to the foresight of both Ernesto and Ashley. I was very moved when I first listened to it from start to finish. It’s an absolute winner - I love it.

Also, I neglected to mention when writing about the London concert at the Union Hall that Ernesto was due to fly over from Pisa with three fellow journalists for the show. However, we, here in the UK, were not the only ones at that time to be suffering the rigours of winter; it was bad in Italy also, and consequently Ernesto’s flight was cancelled. He was incredibly disappointed, as was I.

This was the most difficult of days for me, emotionally and energy-wise. Touring is such a roller-coaster; if I’m to be brutally honest I’d have to admit that the ability to tour with a reasonably sustained sense of stability and and a kilter that’s even is not an innate part of my makeup. One of the positives on this tour is that I’m driving my own vehicle; it makes a big difference when you can feel even a little bit like the master of one’s own daily destiny.

Of course, the best part is when you step onto the stage, and this part, the only part the audience sees, constitutes a tiny fraction of the time spent away from home.
You’d think that by now, after all the practice I’ve had over my years on this planet, I would have, as with other things in my life, honed the art of sleep into something more achievable. In actual fact, I am getting slightly better at it, but whereas many a musician can sleep through till midday, I wake early, and more often than not can’t quite figure out a way, no matter how hard I try, or don’t try, just how to sink back into that state of ever-so illusive slumber in order to recapture those last couple of hours or so, you know - the bit that seems to make all the difference. So some afternoons I’ve taken to spending anything from a half hour to an hour in my car. I sit on the back seat (the windows are conveniently tinted); I lock the doors, put the travel pillow around my neck, find the hypnotic induction playlist on my iPod, put on my earphones, and away I go. The skill is timing it all so that later, when it comes time to go on stage, I’m sufficiently awake to perform.

Friday 20th Feb. The Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield.
Feeling slightly more up for things today, and I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed; the one in my own house; the one in my home town, even if it is just for one night.

This is a very attractive theatre. It’s only the second time I’ve played the main hall (the first time being with - yes, Steeleye); previous to that, and some three and a half to four years ago, I played a solo gig below in the basement bar. It was one of those very sparsely attended shows that I became quite accustomed to in a ‘solo’ capacity. It was though - a great evening, good enough to spur the theatre manager into talk of an immediate re-visit; ”Would you like to play here again? Soon?”, he asked. “Why yes, that’d be great “, I replied. “OK, I’ll phone your agent tomorrow”. And he went on . . . ”We’ll definitely do it again, only next time we’ll really promote it properly; it’ll be great to have you back”. You know, as a performer, half the job is taking things with a pinch of that which raises your blood pressure; I’m still waiting for the phone call.

Saturday 21st Feb, The Burnley Machanics, Burnley.
Not only is the date the 21st but also it’s the 21st date of the tour; 21 down, 11 to go and one of the best nights so far.

With two notable guitar heroes in the the audience tonight: Jerry Donahue and Gary Boyle, I’m grateful my mind chose not to pay too much attention to their presence as I launched into my solo instrumental - R.B. To be frank, it was most probably my best performance of the piece to date.

Phil and I had quite a long drive after the show; we travelled down to Hilton Park on the M6, arriving at the Travelodge there somewhere around 2 am.

Sunday 22nd Feb. The Maltings, Farnham.
Checked the milage; 3,080 miles driven since our first day on the road, and the first night in Tewkesbury.

The good night had by all got off to a great start at a local balti restaurant, although I did break one of my golden rules in eating before a show; it’s never a good idea.

A particularly vocal audience tonight.

Had one of our shortest drives so far after the show … about 11 miles to Camberley.

1 comment:

  1. I was going to read Julian Barbour's book, but I never had the time. Mind you, my uncle's read it, my cousin's read it and my brother's read it. Ah well, it's all relative, isn't it?

    By the way, you don't want to put catastrophising trophies on your mantlepiece. It's bound to collapse...