Friday, 31 July 2009

Big Nights In Smallhythe

Nicol & Cool

Tuesday 14th July. The Railway Folk Club, Dartford, Kent.

When Jim told me that Phil and I had the opportunity to play at a folk club in Kent called the Railway, I was really taken aback, or maybe I should say - transported back, back - I thought - something like twenty years; it had to be about that because it wasn’t long after I’d come back from the US. 
On my return, I’d been spending a little time at John Hade’s house, a friend who lived in south London; he too had moved back to the UK from LA at around the same time.

I first met John on a golf course; he was in the music biz - managing the Thomson Twins; they were big, very big actually at the time, having already had at least two major hit records on both sides of the Atlantic. I had a band too, they weren’t at all big, in fact we were struggling, and we were called Versailles.

The golf course was on Griffith Park, not far from Hollywood; I would just turn up there, pay my green fee, and the woman at the counter would normally say something like, “there’s a threesome up on the tee, if you’d like to join them?”. 

On this one particular occasion John just happened to be part of the threesome, or twosome, I can’t recall just how many, but by the time we reached the back nine I was working out how to get this new found golf partner interested in managing a second band.

And that is what eventually transpired; I do wish I could say that on that fateful day a story of success and riches was born, but it wasn’t to be.

As is the nature of the business for a great many of us, there were a very good number of ‘nearly’ moments; numerous deals that were ‘as good as done’ but didn’t actually get done. Very often it was all about that specific person in some publishing company or another who talked about contracts, percentages and advances, before he either got moved to a different department, or lost his job completely.
However, John and I did remain friends through and beyond all of this, and continued to play a little golf together in Richmond Park for a time.

I recall rehearsing at John’s flat on the day of my Dartford gig. As stated earlier, I was thinking it was probably twenty years ago, but tonight when club organiser Pam arrived at the Dartford Working Men’s Club, where the folk club is held each Tuesday, she placed
 a small piece of paper in my hand; written on it was: KEN NICOL 23 AUG - 88.
She told me that along with her husband Allan, they have been running this club for thirty six years; in my books, that’s what’s called dedication and commitment.

It was a good night, the only questionable area being the house lights being left on whilst Phil and I were on stage.
These issues often aren’t regarded with any great importance in the rustic world of folk music, but it’s surprising what a difference it can make to the general atmosphere or ambience in a room. 
So when I kicked off the second half with ‘2 Frets From the Blues’ I asked for, and got the lights turned off in the house; it did make a difference.

Nicol & Cool

Wednesday 15th July. The Ellen Terry Barn Theatre, Smallhythe Place, Tenterden, Kent. 

This place, this Smallhythe Place is so Goddamn cool. It sits on National Trust land just outside the bustling metropolis they call Tenterden here in the Home County (I can now state with authority) of Kent .

It was almost two years ago when I last visited this backwater; they had just launched their maiden - full scale - music festival. There were two, maybe three stages–all fairly modest in size; the one I performed on that night was the same we perform on today.
And it is, as the title suggests, a barn that has been converted into a theatre.

You’d think maybe it was a venue for music by the shear fact that we are here tonight, but in fact it was founded by Dame Ellen Terry the famous nineteenth and early twentieth century Shakespearian actress - and originally she created it as a theatre for drama.
In fact, this is what it’s still used for the great majority of the time.

This coming Sunday there’s a poetry and reading evening presented by non less than Nicola McAuliffe, Jenny Seagrove and Martin Shaw, accompanied by Simon James, called: Horses and other Beasties.

To put this into perspective, the theatre has a little over sixty seats, each of which carry the name of its distinguished sponsor; this is an indication of how highly regarded an institution it is.
Many, many legendary names from the world of theatre have walked these boards.

Sunday’s production is a fund raising event for a horse refuge, and with names like Jenny Seagrove and Martin Shaw, it sounds like quite a coup to me.

OK, about our show; the audience, the setting, the atmosphere - all were fantastic. Now when was the last time you heard me say that?

To learn more about Ellen Terry, and the theatre: Smallhythe Place

Nicol & Cool

Thursday 16th July. The Met, Bury.
“We were made welcome from the moment we arrived”, - this is what I wrote on the ‘artist feedback form’ in the dressing room; and it was true. 

I know I’m always harking back to the last time I played wherever it is we’re currently playing, but it seems like the natural thing to do, and it’s always interesting from my perspective to compare the ‘then’ to the ‘now’.

Here at the Met, quite a bit has changed since my last visit with, it must be - the Albions; yes, that was at least nine years ago. It sounds like a long time ago, but it feels more recent than I can easily describe; in fact I’ve got a kind of Google search of my own going on in my brain - trying to locate what it was I’ve done here since, but it keeps telling me: your research did not match any documents. Guess it must’ve been the Albions then!

Like a lot of these small to medium size theatres, they’ve installed an automated tiered seating system. It’s very impressive to watch as the entirety of the theatre’s seats - either slowly retract into what looks like nothing more than a perfect symmetrical wall of compacted furniture; or - in perfect reversal - it expands into the only form the audience ever gets to see and sit on.

Officially called: telescopic bleachers, or retractable platforms, each of these inward and outward movements are accompanied by an unsettling noise, a loud siren that tells you in an indirect but unmistakable tone as it retracts, that if you were to remain seated, you would become ‘one’ with this telescopic process.

And I’d probably have to recommend the café / restaurant - if the cappuccinos are anything to go by.

I often take the opportunity to write when Phil does his second half comedy spot; he’s presently doing his Rolf Harris impersonation. The audience is reacting in pretty much the same fashion as last night, only there’s a lot more of them. These last two evening have been tremendous.

I get to go home tonight; the next show I have to look forward to is with Steeleye in Doncaster a week tomorrow (25th) when we share the bill with Jethro Tull.

The weather’s pretty awful considering it’s supposed to be summer, so it doesn’t look like I’ll get much golf in over the next few days. It’ll be a good opportunity though to finish up the Hutchings/Nicol album that’s been on the go for the last eighteen months or so.
To launch it we’ve put something like ten dates in place through February 2010.

Also, the one project that’s been well and truly pushed to the back burner is my Ypres video.
Last December Carol and I went to Belgium for three days.

The First World War, and the history of the Western Front in the area of Ypres has a particular poignance to me. 
My interest was sparked by a visit to the Dranouter folk festival with the Ashley Hutchings Dance Band in the late 1990s.
The band had the best part of a day off; I think it might have been a Sunday, and drummer Paul Burgess drove the band into Ypres, a town I knew absolutely nothing about at that time. 

I was struck by how the restaurants carried English beers, and they had food on the menus that, again, were very English. I then took a walk, alone, towards the east of the town, and ended up at this considerably large archway; on it was inscribed hundreds, thousands, tens of 
thousands of names; this, I later discovered, was the Menin Gate, and I also learnt that it contains the names of 54,896 officers and men from all the overseas British and Commonwealth forces who fell during the Great War in the area that was known as the Ypres Salient before the war’s end on 16th August 1917 (these were just the ones that were unaccounted for).

To stand there, in this memorial, even before I knew very much, well - ‘anything’ about it, was a profoundly moving experience. And so my interest in the era, and in the region began.

When we visited last year we went to just some of the many, many cemeteries and battle fields; also to the ‘In Flanders Fields’ museum. 

I took my camcorder, and whilst filming away I suddenly thought to myself, ‘why not put all the footage together into something to which I could later add a soundtrack?’.

It’s the old ‘then and now’ perspective again; I was so struck by how beautiful a town Ypres looked - especially at this time of year, adorned with all the sparkling decorations of Christmas; the trees and the lights.

After the 1914/18 war the town was completely rebuilt to be the perfect replication of its medieval origins. 
When comparing this to the complete and utter devastation of its past, all I can say is that I think I’ll manage to convey more eloquently the mixture of emotions within me through the medium of music rather than words. 

On our return I bought the editing software (Final Cut), and got to work. There’s now a thirteen minute video that’s been sitting in my Mac waiting for a soundtrack since January.
Maybe now is the time.

1 comment:

  1. Ypres - a moving place indeed ... I am delighted to read about your plan of finishing your video-project, because: When I was listening to "Initial Variations" for the first time I spontaneously felt that you could write very good soundtracks as well! :)