Monday, 15 June 2009


Nicol & Cool.
Friday 22nd May.
The Acoustic Festival of Great Britain, Catton Hall, Derbyshire.

12:45 and it was Jim (Minall) that arrived at the house first, I’d only just picked the guitar up, walked into the living room and started to reacquaint myself with more than one or two pieces of music I’ll need for tonight.
I’m constantly evaluating and re-evaluating the process of rehearsing; depending on how and when it’s carried out it can be - essential, it can often be quite helpful, and it can be completely counter-productive, and even destructive. Practising has the potential to both give, or to take away the energy and confidence you need to perform well. And it can either release or create tension. 

I’ll mention a little more about all this later, but generally I’m feeling a bit under-rehearsed, so on hearing Jim’s words, “sorry, Ken, I’m a little early”, the pragmatist within told me to just stay positive, and I decided to take its advice.

The three of us, Jim, Phil and I, set off at somewhere between 1:30 and 1:45 p.m. It had been tricky getting the appropriate information for my SatNav; mine is not equipped with the function to take postal codes alone, it needs at least the road name or number to accompany it, and so many times, the ‘how to find us’ info I find or have sent to me omits these details. 

This was a Bank Holiday Friday, and as expected, the traffic on the M6 was particularly bad (if you’ve travelled the M6 you’ll know that it does not have to be a Bank Holiday for the traffic to be bad); our performance wasn’t scheduled until 6:30, nevertheless, it was a good thing we gave ourselves plenty of leeway.

On arrival they pointed us towards the stage; marquee number one; it was deserted, and it was a very large marquee.
They had a rotational thing going on where an act would play in one marquee, and when they finished, the focus then shifted to another stage in another big tent. 
We introduced ourselves to the sound-man and the monitor-man, and then started to get the bits and pieces of equipment, the guitars, banjo and uke, out of their cases.
They asked us if we’d start slightly earlier than scheduled for some reason, and also to finish a little later - for the same reason I guess; we obliged.

Now going back to the subject of rehearsing; the show felt surprisingly comfortable - easy, in fact. I’d go as far as to say it was
as smooth as silk.
And to tell you the truth I couldn’t work out why, I mean, it shouldn't have been. Maybe it’s actually a good thing being under-rehearsed? I’ll have to try it more often.
So to sum things up, this was a good day, and one on which we were well taken care of.
Apparently, the ticket sales were significantly down on previous years (an obvious sign of these recessionary times), but all in all it was, I would say, a very well managed festival.

Nicol & Cool.

Sunday 24th May. The Guildhall (in the Foyer), Preston.

A rare event these days - a concert in my home town. There was a time when I would play no place other than my home town: I wrote a little about this in Post 6 (Friday 6th March. The Arts Centre, Southport).

On my drive to the Guildhall I passed The Unicorn pub on North Road, and I was aware of how close I came to what was once ‘the’ Preston live music venue - The Lamb. These were venues I played repeatedly once-upon-a-time. When I returned in 88 from my American adventure these gigs were my first means of making any income whatsoever. They were smoke-filled, noisy and hard work, but what carried me through this spell of relocation was the strong sense of purpose within me; the feeling that I was heading somewhere.

Today I’m heading somewhere else - figuratively and literally, and as I do, the contrast of ‘then’ and ‘now’ pulls my attention lucidly to each of those two poles.
It’s a sense, not of nostalgia, necessarily, and not even of warm reflection - although I’d have to admit to there being a little of that in there. This is more a curious suspension, a halting of movement, the simultaneous pressing of two pause buttons - that allows an observance to happen at my own pace, my own leisure - as the space between these two places dissolves into the background, taking all of its dormant flags of time with it - that await the recognition that will bring them back to life once again.

More than anything I remember the victories; the nights when I packed the places out, especially in the early days of the band that I’d put together. We did a lot of rehearsing, and it showed; I had come back home armed with a catalogue of very strong material which had been written, chiefly, for Versailles - the trio I’d left behind in Los Angeles. Pretty much all of these songs had been collaborations with Neil Dixon, the bass guitarist. Neil was originally from Humberside, although I met him in LA.

Those nights at The Lamb back in 1989/90 were special. They were also a health hazard; I used to wonder what would happen if fire broke out; there were so many people in such a small space. Another thing that sticks in the mind is the thick, thick layer of smoke that hung at an ever increasing depth as the evening wore on, going lower, and closer to the heads and the mouths of all those who expelled it; as though the room had its own slow moving, swirling weather front of nicotine and tar. And the day after when I would open up my car to unload, what emanated from the wood and fabric of the speakers and amplifiers was a clear reminder of the night before, suggesting that the only thing missing was a health warning from the surgeon general stamped on the side of each cabinet.

The Unicorn, on North Road was more my venue, my patch. It was managed by Dave and Maria; they had somehow turned it into a establishment that not only the Preston drinking fraternity wanted to visit, but also the students, the musos, and the Guardian reading ‘street’ intellectuals. I ran an open mic night there for some time, as well as staging my own shows. Then there were the barmaids, and one or two of other female Unicorn goers. Now please, don’t misconstrue the last sentence; of course, I use the word as in - someone who would ‘go’ to the Unicorn. 

This was, like other times I’ve stated, a pretty unsettled spell as I remember, and a spell I remember so much about - because it seemed important. I value those times; I value the people I shared that time with.

Where was I? Oh yes, at the Guildhall. It was good; I can’t find any other way to describe it, and a good few of those from the Unicorn, and Lamb days turned up. I even popped into to the Moorbrook pub, next door to the Unicorn, on the way back home for a swift drink with Hugh O’Donnell; he ran, and still runs the Preston Folk Club, and he was the very first to offer me a booking when I came back from LA.
Read the review of the night here: Lancashire Evening Post - N&C review.

Steeleye Span.

Tuesday 26th May. Rehearsals. Parlour Studios, Kettering.

Three days of rehearsals begin here. The purpose of this is to develop the material the band began working on at the end of last year when we all journeyed north to Carlisle; Roweltown to be precise, and spent a few days ay Maddy’s place.

I was the first to arrive - not something that happens very often - but there I was having to make phone calls to the various numbers on my schedule print-out (provided by the office at Park Records) in an attempt to get whatever information might be needed to enter this deserted and fortified building - otherwise known as Parlour Studios - by legitimate means.
I managed eventually to procure the code needed to open the main door, and I learned that the band would be rehearsing in studio C, one of three downstairs rooms in what is a converted farm building, and an example of what many farmers throughout the land have had to consider - the move towards diversification.

Liam was the next to appear. When I’d unloaded and set-up my equipment, seeing that there were only the two of us there I decided to drive the two or three miles to the hotel, and check in. I won’t mention the name of the hotel, but it’s situated in a very pretty market town called Rothwell; it was what I might describe as - a little rough around the edges; it wasn’t dreadful or anything, it’s just one of those buildings that when you walk into it you start thinking ‘hmm, what I could do with this place!’. Still, there was a decent looking bar, and even a large TV screen, so we’ll be OK for the big Man United v Barcelona match tomorrow night.

Anyway, back to why we’re here, and this is all about the new album, the one that will mark Steeleye Span’s 40th anniversary. The approach, the policy to the direction the album will take has been arrived at through a process that’s not the easiest to define. But anyway, the decision has been taken to largely avoid personal compositions (songs written by individual members), and to collectively develop traditional material as a band. 
From my position - as someone who finds the whole process of writing (any kind of writing) to be a source of inspiration, and the key to staying sane, I have to admit to a degree of disappointment.
However, I’m quite certain the material we have, and the way it’s developing will result in a notable end product.

The rehearsal room itself, as I’ve mentioned, is one of three in a converted barn, and is particularly good from the perspective of acoustics. One of the big problems with bands playing in confined spaces is that of increasing volume levels and lack of definition; what happens is that when you have electric instruments and drum kits in a confined area, everyone starts to feel, at some point as though they can’t hear themselves very well, and so they turn up a little, playing progressively louder and louder, and then the PA has to go up accordingly; then the singer’s microphone starts feeding back. The result is a deafening wash of sound, and a singer that’s losing their voice. This room is quite different, everything seems audible. I guess it must’ve just been very well designed.
We start recording the new album in July.

Nicol & Cool
Friday 29th May. The Flavel, Dartmouth.

The weather’s warming up nicely, it must be summer, almost.
This morning might well fall into a ‘comedy of errors’ category. 
I’m meeting Phil in Ilminster, Somerset at 2 p.m. at friends Nigel’s house; this will be our base camp for the next three days, with three consecutive shows ahead of us in Dartmouth, Poole and Exeter. 
I knew the official journey time to Nigel’s was three hours - my SatNav told me this, so to arrive at the agreed time my plan was to add a good forty five minutes to an hour of travelling time onto my journey.

Here’s what happened: I began carrying the various pieces of equipment I’d been storing in my room down to my car. On Tuesday I’d had to travel south from Preston with not just the appropriate gear for the band rehearsals (electric guitars, pedals, etc.), but also what I needed for the shows I’m playing with Phil - all the acoustic instruments - guitars, banjo, ukulele, and related accessories.
I chose to store the gear I wasn’t using for the Steeleye rehearsals in my room rather than have it on display in the car, particularly from the point of view that the hotel car park was inaccessible much of the time, so I had no choice other than to park just by the side of the square here in Rothwell village centre.

Once I’d got this initial transfer of equipment out of the way, the next thing was to pay the bill; this was just a case of covering my extra charges - or so I thought. They had no record of the pre-payment, the one that had actually been pre-paid. After phone calls to Park Records, this was eventually, and I do mean ‘eventually’ sorted out, and I was just left with the extras, the drinks to cover. It was twenty pounds; I got out my credit cards. “Sorry sir, our card machine isn’t working at the moment”, the man said. This now meant that before I went anywhere, I had to find a cash machine; I found a cash machine, returned and gave him the cash, then I was on my way - on my way to the rehearsal studio to collect the other bits and pieces I’d left there.

At the studio, as I was loading my car for the second time I noticed something was missing; a guitar, my new guitar, and all I could think was that I’d left it back at the hotel, in my room. But how could that be? I mean, I normally check a million times (at least) before finally leaving a hotel.

So now I was heading back from whence I came; driving back; driving and praying (a little). And there it was, sitting just underneath the window.

I have the ability to do a good number of things, and one of them is the ability to look directly at something (like a guitar, for example) and to not actually see it. I exercised this skill to great effect this morning.

As you might imagine, I was quite relieved to have not lost it; so and now this was it, I was on the road to Ilminster. All the extra time I’d given myself had been swallowed up before I’d even got started; now I just had to fight my way through the traffic - it was slow; it’s a Friday!

Arrived eventually; a little late maybe, but it just meant we had slightly less time to relax before our drive to the venue.

From Nigel’s, Phil and I headed for Dartmouth. By the time we arrived it had been a very long day, and we hadn’t even really started yet. 
As we drove into the town, what occurred to me - on this beautiful sunny late afternoon, was just how striking a resort the town of Dartmouth is; and the theatre, the Flavel, with it’s friendly, helpful staff is totally ‘in keeping’ with the surroundings.
The evening was incredibly enjoyable; we arrived back at Nigel’s at around 1 a.m.


  1. Lovely smile on the photo above - and it is always delightful to read your vivid writing style

  2. Hi Sophie,
    Rick still needs to take it easy. We're all presently working on the new album together, and he'll be with us at Doncaster on the 25th. After that, through to the end of the year nothing has been decided as yet.