Monday, 5 October 2009

Under-Rehearsed & Over-Heated

Sunday 30th August. The Cumbria Guitar Show.
I’ve played every year at this guitar show for a decade now, and possibly a bit longer. It was seven years ago when Rick Kemp just happened to walk in during my set, an event that resulted in that historic landmark in the world of folk-rock, the merging of Steeleye Span with myself. Well, in our house it’s an historic landmark.

Just before the band’s 35th anniversary year, the band members were asked to each write a piece that would go into the program, or the brochure to be sold at all the concerts. I chose to tell the tale of that fateful day - it was a kind of ‘Sliding Doors’ scenario; a slice of serendipity. Here are some of the words I wrote …

I’m thinking back to August 25th 2002, a Sunday morning, and a day I been booked to perform at a guitar show in a place called Penrith, a town that sits about ninety miles north of Preston, where I live. I was feeling rather under-rehearsed, having not picked the guitar up for a few days, so I figured I should get some practice in before heading up the M6 motorway.
As I was getting more and more comfortable with my Fylde guitar, I was also getting less and less comfortable with the amount of time left to get to my gig. The agreed performance time was 1 p.m., and I was supposed to arrive forty five minutes before that.

You could say I’ve never been the most successful individual when it comes to arriving places on time - punctuality always appearing to be a most desirable attribute, and a most commendable one in those who achieve it. Today, yet again, the mould would not be broken.

Thankfully though, the organiser of the show was an understanding fellow, and gracefully he swapped my performance time with another artist’s, putting me on at 2 p.m.. So, that’s the time I eventually got up on stage and started my spot, during which, I recall thinking to myself that it was all going quite well and that the practice seemed to be paying off.

Anyway, unbeknown to me, and about halfway through my set, in walked bassist, Rick Kemp, and as they say - ‘the rest is history’.

That’s more or less how I ended up as a Steeleye Span member - something that may never have happened had I been more skilled as a time keeper.

Today’s visit to what is now called The Cumbria Guitar Show, again turned out to be a very eventful occasion, with the first event taking place a mile and a half from junction 40 on the M6, the Penrith turn-off.

On the way there, I could sense that there was something slightly different in the way the car was handling, and then when I put my foot down on the throttle, we started to lose power.
Instinctively, I looked down at the temperature gauge, and I knew we were in trouble.

Carol was travelling with me, along with our mutual friend Val. Carol and I had four nights in Scotland lined up, a mini holiday before I go travelling the world for the next few months. The plan was to play the guitar show (80 miles north of Preston), go on from there to Dumfries for the one night (Sunday), and then on Monday drive up to Ayr for the remaining three. Now we were sitting in a 1994 Toyota Previa on the hard shoulder of the motorway, and I was trying to work out what our next move should be.

The engine had died the moment the car came to a standstill, but once it cooled down a little I managed to get it re-started, and with hazard lights flashing we crawled along the hard shoulder to the turn-off. I parked up at a Little Chef on the A66, about one third of a mile from the Rheged Centre where the two day Bank Holiday weekend show was being staged.

After calling the AA I left Carol and Val with the car, while I set foot to find help; I needed to somehow get my equipment and guitars to the venue. I did find help - in the shape of someone called Simon who offered to drive me back to my car; the whole stretch of road from the venue back to the motorway was a dual carriageway with a central barrier running its entire length, which offered no opportunity for a U-turn. We’d have to go past my car, round the motorway roundabout, and come back on ourselves in order to reach the stricken vehicle.

I was due on at 1:30 p.m.; it was now about 1:25. OK, so we hit the roundabout; at this point Simon went into some kind of default mode - something inside him must of thought, ‘right, we’re going home now’, and he turned, automatically, onto the M6 - southbound. He realised almost instantly what he’d done, but unless we’d have wanted to have reversed the wrong way up a slip road–and ended up as stars of Police, Camera, Action–the only choice was to keep going.

It just so happens that the distance between next turning, junction 39 - the Shap turning, and the one that just led us onto the motorway - junction 40, is possibly the longest distance between two junctions I know of. It was now time to make my grand entry onto the stage, and I was travelling south on the M6 for the next ten minutes, before we could even turn back in the right direction.

It took some work to stay calm, I tell you, but stay calm is what I did. You have to be as pragmatic as you can be, there’s not really any choice if you want to make the best of a scenario like this - or at least if you want to limit the damage as much as is possible.

By the time we’d got to the car, picked up the guitars, and I was ready to launch into my set. it was close to 2 o’clock. It was good though, even if my head wasn’t all there and I’d not had an opportunity to warm up; I had plenty to talk about though when I was up there.

Carol didn’t get to see the show. She’d travelled with the breakdown truck back to Preston, where she dropped my car off outside the mechanics, picked up her own car, and drove back to Penrith. She arrived back at something like 7:30, and we proceeded–both considerably worn out–with our holiday plans.

Monday 31st August to Thursday 3rd September. Ayr, Scotland.
The calm before the storm; a time to relax and an attempted avoidance of any thought or anticipation of what’s to follow in the next few weeks.
First stop was Dumfries on the Sunday night (a late arrival after the car debacle), then on to Ayr the following day.

In Ayr we’d booked three nights in a hotel that in the pictures looked grand, elegant and stately - the pictures didn’t lie. The Name: The Belleisle Hotel. It sits in some spectacular grounds, much of which is the Belleisle golf course. The down side was that much of the hotel was not operational, as we had been led to believe from the advertising; due to the low number of guests the restaurant wasn’t open, and neither was the bar, although they would open it especially for you if you required it.
But it was quiet. And the staff were nothing less than brilliant.

I have to say, I can’t think of many other places I’ve been in the world where people are as downright pleasant and friendly as here in Ayr. I love this town.

On Tuesday we played golf on the Belleisle course, and on Wednesday played at one of the three Troon public courses. These public courses are quite pricey when compared to the equivalent in England, but I’d say they are maintained to a standard that justifies the price - in my opinion the greens are as good as the greens at Royal Lytham and St Annes, where I played just a couple of weeks earlier.

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