Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Hail To The LPG.

A thread is easy to lose. Be it music or prose, both have, in their moments, a most natural way of transitioning from their conceptual source to an audible or visual destination. OK, it’s a roundabout way of saying that sometimes ideas flow, and at other times they don’t. In my view, I reckon people prefer to think that the ‘only’ reason for such contrasts in difficulty or ease of expression are invisible; they are unexplainable. It’s a romantic notion that places responsibility for the ‘giving’ of inspiration in the realm of the ethereal.

I’ve chosen my words carefully; I said they might prefer to believe this was the ‘only’ reason; I myself think it might well be a significant part of it. But, as with a great many, if not all things in life, the more one does something, the easier it seems to get. It’s like creating ones own luck; again, making the intangible happen. Even the psychic has to practice.

And so, as the days and the shows approach, occur, and pass, the continuum of my thought process is interrupted by the absence of intention.

There’s no doubt about it though, the morning is the best time for me; there’s much less that stands in the way, and clogs the mind in the early hours. And morning it is - in another stop along the way on our Travelodge tour of the UK. Last night and this morning it’s the Cherwell Valley, Bicester, Travelodge just off the M40 in Oxfordshire. The weather is getting a little milder perhaps, but still the snow lies in patches here and there; outside my window it’s positively Christmas-like.

By our standards it’s a short drive today, only about 35 miles to Leamington Spa.
I’ll give a brief run down of our last few shows along the way 8th Feb. The Union Hall. London. It’s just great to travel to London once every couple of years, it’s important to remind oneself exactly why one made the decision to live somewhere else, and it only takes a single journey from the west along the M4, onto the A4, and then spending around a half hour to fourty five minutes getting through Knightsbridge, and there you have it, it all falls into place. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like the place, maybe I even love it in a way, but I don’t love it enough to put myself through that kind of daily strife, not to mention expense.
The venue we played is situated in Islington, not all that far away from Highbury, the home of football team Arsenal. Fairport’s truck was parked at the back of the venue in a space normally reserved for football parking; these spaces are like gold dust, and it cost a grand total of £90 for the privilege of leaving the truck in this space for half a day; there was also the substantial cost (a few hundred pounds) of an ‘emission’ charge that these large vehicles have to pay to enter our capital.

When I walked into the Union Hall I thought it would be a difficult room in which to get a good sound; the roof is very, very high; and ‘cavernous’ could describe the way everything bounced around in the sound check.

After Phil and I had done our spot I walked out and listened to some of Fairport’s set; I was surprised, maybe more than surprised, by how good the whole thing sounded.

The venue is actually a church; I got the impression it is still being used in the manner it was originally intended. The only down-sides for me (apart from the London traffic) were the temperature of the place, and the fact that we all shared one big communal dressing room.

9th Feb. The Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford
A cold Sunday, and a small but very friendly audience. I was looking forward to seeing friends Bill and Sue who live close by. Bill is a headmaster, and for something like the last eight or nine years, twice a year, he has organised school work for Ashley Hutchings and myself. This involves a full day at each school; Ashley teaches the children all about English folk music; I provide the music for the children to sing and dance to. Our next run of schools will be this coming March. It’s always like having a bit of a holiday for me - away from the responsibilities of home, and we get looked after very well.

Another nice surprise tonight was seeing Dave Rhead. Dave runs the Leek folk club; Phil and I played there just the other week.

10th Feb. The Brindley Arts Centre, Runcorn. A town so close to home, yet so rarely visited. This is one of those towns that’s easy to have a negative impression of - before you visit it, may I add.

I guess it’s all about the association of industry and chemical production that one attaches with the name. The theatre was actually very nice, and the town centre is like many others - with, by all accounts, one of the best music shops in the land.

This is the third night spent in my own bed; we drove back to Preston after the Stafford show last night.

11th Feb. The Harrogate Theatre, Harrogate. 
A beautiful town; the kind of place I should live. A very ornate 108 year old Victorian theatre, and a complete contrast to the modern architecture of the Brindley Arts Centre of the previous night. Tonight’s was a particularly lively audience.

Friends Steve and Terry Sheldon turned up, and presented me with the customary bottle of wine - Colombard Chardonnay, a very pleasant surprise. I’m not all that partial to Chardonnay, but this tasted just fine. I promised that there’d be half a bottle left at the end of the tour; Steve didn’t believe me, and wisely so, I’ve finished it already.

12th Feb. The Swan, High Wycombe. 
I couldn’t remember having played this venue before, that is - until I arrived, then it all came flooding back - nothing unpleasant you understand. It’s just that the natural tendency is to try and relate a venue name with a picture of the place before you arrive; very often I have to see it in front of me to have any recollection, and this was such a case.

And speaking of recollections, I remembered exactly where a Costa coffee house was in the town centre just behind the venue, and I recalled it being particularly good. So I sneaked out after the soundcheck for a quick ‘medio’ cappuccino.

13th Feb. The Assembley Hall, Tunbridge Wells. 
Getting into the town wasn’t quick, with some of the main streets in town blocked by road works the result was a very long end to a, up to that point, very short trip.

I always seem to have plenty of time on my hands when I’m here with Steeleye - for some reason my visits here have coincided more than once with our days off. Last time we visited, which I think was spring of 2008, I had lunch at a southern Indian restaurant, and I spent some time in a very nice district of the place called The Pantiles. It’s a pedestrian area, all very pleasing to the eye, and there’s also a good selection of restaurants and pubs. I dragged Phil along there with me, and just after brushing passed Tom Baker, who appeared, as we were, to be just enjoying the sites, the two of us had some lunch.

Peter Knight (Steeleye Span) and partner Deborah turned up at tonight’s show; it won’t be all that long before Pete and I are working together with Steeleye.

One of the customary features on these Fairport tours is how those who ‘open up’ for the band then come on and rejoin them for their encore at the very end when they perform Meet On The Ledge. I knew it was the kiss of death when, in the interval, Peggy jokingly said to Phil and myself, ‘don’t you two forget to come onstage at the end’.

Later in the dressing room Phil was, I think, reading a book, I was typing away, as I am doing now, and the time was just flying by. The dressing room usually has a speaker on the wall through which one can hear what’s going on onstage; we know that when we hear the band playing Matty Groves it’s almost time, there’s normally one more song that follows, and then Simon introduces us onto the stage; this is where I pick up my green Strat (copy), and I go electric. Anyway, we hadn't really been very smart and had turned down our dressing room monitoring system. At around 10:40 Phil walked over to the speaker and turned it up a little; we could hear Simon talking, and the audience was laughing; he was making ominous inferences; Phil and I looked at each other, at which point Nigel sticks his head around the dressing room door, and says, “You’re on chaps”. I made a dash for it. To tell you the truth, I think I might’ve then played particularly well, because I didn’t have any time to really think about things, this is often the way it work.

14th Feb. The Royal Spa Theatre, Leamington Spa. 
Phil and I arrived early at the theatre so we could first of all leave our guitars and valuables in some place other than in my car, and then we could rendezvous with Keith Donnelly. Keith and Phil are good friends and have worked together a lot over the years. We ended up eating lunch at the Pizza Express just down the road from the theatre.

I ran into Keith on many occasions during my stint with The Albion Band when Keith would be MC-ing at various festivals. He’d usually introduce the band as - The West Bromwich Albion Band, or even - The West Bromwich Albanian Band.

Today was a Saturday, football day, and at 2:45 p.m. I headed back to the venue for a date with my MacBook. I’m a season ticket holder at Preston North End, and a major grievance of mine at the moment is only being able to attend one match between now and the end of the season. I figured that the closest I can get to being on the match is to listen to the match commentaries; this is quite a bit harder than in sounds though. 

If I were in Preston I could switch on the radio and hear the normally excellent coverage provided by Radio Lancashire, but they won’t let you listen online, as they (they? The FA maybe) block the coverage. This is, of course, so they can then sell it. Right, so they sell it through a medium called Whites World; I don’t know if that’s what it’s called throughout the country, but that’s the banner it goes under in relation to PNE. OK, so I want to join Whites World so I can then listen on my laptop; well, it turned out that I could join, but once a member I would not be able to listen on the MacBook because of the encryption they use. It’s called DRM, and it only works on Windows computers. It’s best not to get too angry about these things. 

For a moment I did think I’d solved the problem when I discovered you can install Windows on an Intel Mac - as mine is, using a program called BootCamp; OK, I’ll do that then; no, again there’s a snag. The BootCamp that was designed to be used with my operating system has been discontinued. Luckily a friend of mine, Steve, found the version I needed, but in order to install it I had to reset the date on the laptop to a time before the software was discontinued. Once the software is installed it’s then OK to adjust the date again back to the present. I actually did it, I installed Windows, and it was a slightly terrifying process. Afterwards I was totally convinced I’d lost everything on my hard drive, but no, after a bit of fiddling everything was there, and to my amazement it all worked.

The end result was - me sitting in my car on a Saturday afternoon listening to a litany of missed goal scoring opportunities. We did win in the end though; and if you include the outcome of my installation efforts, I make that two victories in one week.

After tonight’s show someone expressed their appreciation at having heard my LPG song, not necessarily because he thought it was a well crafted inspired piece of songwriting, but because he too had been a fellow Liquid Petroleum Gas user over the years. He had worked for Calour Gas, and had been required, along with other employees, to run his car on the stuff. That was back in the 1980s when the whole technology was in it’s infancy. I had my car converted some four years ago; it’s been trouble free, and has saved me quite a bit; it’s hard to understand why it’s not more popular; mind you, I’m happy it’s not.

15th Feb. The Princess Theatre, Hunstanton. I’d been looking forward to being by the sea, so on arrival Phil and I did what one does in places like this; we had fish and chips and then took a walk along the sea front.

The beach looked a little dodgy in places, I mean not very inviting. And above, on the cliffs, there were a multitude of signs; signs telling you to clean up after your dogs (not sure how many people there can read though - I actually stepped right into the result of one dog owners illiteracy); there were signs to inform you that the cliffs were crumbling; and finally, for any of those mortals contemplating the notion of hurling themselves in a fit of desperation off this crumbling cliff, for those who’d maybe seen more dog mess than any mortal can take, there were signs to inform them that the Samaritans were just a phone call away.

Phil and I thought that we could reassure any of those considering throwing themselves from the balcony this evening that we would be available for them to talk to in the interval.

I used to work for the Samaritans in Preston; it was just after I’d returned from a nine year stint in the USA in 1989. I’d struggled so much with so many things in life, and I suppose I felt as though much of what I’d experienced might come in handy in regards to helping others. I did this for around two years, and I know I helped at least a couple of people during this time.

The most profound experience for me was on, I think, a New Years eve when a chap called who’d not long since lost his mother. He’d been drinking the whole day, and had taken an overdose of sedatives. Expressing his desire to ‘end it all’, he became more and more incoherent as he spoke. Following all the procedures I was taught to follow. I managed to get his address, I got him to unlock his door, and I kept him talking whilst at the same time sending the paramedics round to his house. He actually fell unconscious moments before the ambulance man entered the building and then picked up the phone to speak to me.

It was quite an emotionally exhausting experience. A couple of weeks later the man phoned the Samaritans again, this time it was to thank me for saving his life. On that day I felt in a way as though I’d completed a task, I’d done my bit, so to speak, and now it was OK to move on from there.

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