Night Five, Saturday 18th April. The Assembly Rooms, Derby.
I distinctly remember the last time I played the Assembly Rooms with Steeleye; it was a cold early weekday at the beginning of one of our winter tours, probably in late November. The whole night seemed lacklustre. There were maybe 400 in the audience, and their less-than-enthusiastic applause seemed to echo perfectly our somewhat less-than-inspired performance.
Not long after, I ran into local folk, and radio personality Mick Peat at a Morris-On show who was quite emphatic in the critique he gave of that show; emphatic - in a very negative way.
So here we are again. This time it was all very different; a few hundred people different for a start. It’s a different time of the year, a different day of the week. And the way the band performed tonight? Well, it was just different - in a very positive way.
Friend, Big Al Whittle turned up before the show with a guitar he wants me to try out. It’s one of these guitars where you just turn a switch, and it transforms instantly from one model of acoustic to another, and convincingly I might add. It will also go from one tuning to another; regular tuning, to DADGAD, to open C - at the turn of a dial. As he has two of them he’s leaving this one with me so I can familiarise myself with it. They are called Variax - so good he bought it twice.
Night Six, Sunday 19th April. St George’s Hall, Bristol.
I’m in my hotel room here in Bristol, a city I have the fondest of feelings for, on what is a beautiful spring Sunday afternoon. The television is on - it’s Manchester United v Everton, the FA Cup semi-final. The show was superb; well, what I mean is that the show seamed to go very well, and the crowd was superb. This is quite a unique venue, and a much better one for purely acoustic acts. The square interior and high roof can make this place a challenge for any sound engineer. The hotel, I’d recommend to anyone. It’s the Berkeley Square Hotel, and is completely and utterly stylish, with great touches in the room; cafétieres, loose tea, DVD players, even a sherry decanter with glass. And for breakfast I had Eggs Florentine.
Monday 20th April. Day off.
Arrived at the Express By Holiday Inn hotel, just outside Canterbury, mid afternoon.
I stayed at the hotel, and got some work done. Bought some internet time at ‘through the nose’ prices. I’ll take my USB modem in tomorrow to the Vodafone shop, and see if they can sort it for me.
Watched the Burnley v Sheffield United match on Sky this evening in the hotel foyer. As a Preston North End fan, in order to stand any chance of getting into the Championship play-offs, we desperately needed Sheffield to win. They lost.
Night Seven, Tuesday 21st April, The Gulbenkian Theatre, University of Kent Campus, Canterbury.
No luck at Vodafone I’m afraid, but I’m not going to get too upset about it - it’s a warm and sunny day, the perfect way to enjoy the sights of Canterbury. Did a lot of walking, too much if I’m honest. I know it’s good for you, but when you have this certain touring-tiredness, I reckon it probably better for you to rest instead. Saying that, I went and made the mistake of telling the band I didn’t need a lift up from the town centre to the theatre. I would make my own way there, thank you very much.
I figured it was about a mile, and it ‘was’ about a mile to the university, but then once in the university grounds it was probably about another mile to the theatre. When these matters of distance are coupled with the other considerations I hadn’t considered, such as - it was uphill all the way, and I was carrying a very heavy bag, it meant I had a little recovering to do on my arrival.
I’ve played the theatre a number of times, but I couldn’t believe how much smaller it was than I remembered it being. One of my Albion Band nightmare scenarios was driving back from here after a show all the way to Preston. I had to drop people off en-route, and I was coming down with a cold. It was 5 am when I eventually got home. I think these are what they call ‘learning experiences’.
In the interval tonight, one or two people complained that they couldn’t hear anything but bass and drums, so we made one or two adjustments, and kept the volume levels on the stage down for the second half. I think it worked well and had the desired effect.
Night Eight, Wednesday 22nd April. Ashcroft Theatre, Fairfield Halls, Croydon, London.
Arrived at the Queens Hotel in Crystal Palace at least an hour before the official check-in time, and contrary to the anticipated wait for rooms, there were just enough already cleaned and ready for the five of us. The sixth member that would usually be there - Pete Z, he lives just a stones throw away from here, so he’d gone ahead of us, travelling in the crew bus first thing this morning.
The hotel is strange, to say the least. It’s cheap. And from the outside, one would quite naturally think that the price of staying here was nothing less than a bargain. But as one moves from the car park, through the entrance, into the reception area, and eventually to the rooms, it’s as if you are going backwards in time, and one’s sense of economic satisfaction becomes as eroded as the weathered interior itself. It is a place where the ‘palatial’ and the ‘tacky’ meet - and not necessarily half way.
‘It’s only for one night’, I’ve been telling myself. I’ve been in much worse places, my God; it’s enough to bring back memories of a terrifying night in some kind of hostel place back in 1976 at the Greek port of Pareus, having missed my ferry. This place here doesn’t even come close, but it’s bad enough to remind me.
A day of mixed feelings and emotions. I once lived here, only five minutes walk from the hotel, in an area called Gipsy Hill. It was 1975, I’d been in London since New Year 71 - starting out in Harrow, then to Crouch End, from there to Blackheath where I lived in the Sandie Shaw and Jeff Banks household for ten months, from there I moved to Greenwich, then a couple of miles down the road to Lewisham to a nasty little bed-sit, and finally I ended up in Gipsy Hill.
The address: 3 Becondale Rd, London SE19. I had the top floor of the house; Pete and Shan Zorn lived in the basement, Shan’s mother on the ground floor.
Four years after taking up residency there I eventually left the UK for what was the beginning of a nine year stay in California.
It would be logical to think that ‘community spirit’ and ‘London’ are not all that synonymous with each other, but as I retraced my 1970s footsteps this afternoon I saw and felt a sense of community that at first surprised me a little, before remembering that, yes, it was just the same back then; apart from a few new buildings here and there, not a lot has changed.
I felt both fondness and grief together as I perused and remembered.
So much of my 1970s experience in London was lost to depression and anxiety; it was largely debilitating. It is only in retrospect that I realise how ill I was; and to get up to some of the things I did, professionally speaking, was remarkable. I was evidently equipped with the tools to create all kinds of opportunities for myself, but not with the tools that would equip me to cope with the consequences.
It’s now Thursday morning, and as I sit here in Cafe Nero having breakfast - a large cappuccino, I would describe these last thirty years as a fleeting eternity. And coming right back to the present, I’m aware of the impending deadline of 11 am, the agreed time we set off for Worthing, our next port of call.