Sunday 20th December. Warwick Arts Centre, Warwick University.
Accommodation: The Ramada Hotel, Coventry.
Apart from the obvious ones, there are a number of requisites to being creative in music - requisites that largely - through emotional discomfort - are designed, perfectly, to counteract any pleasure that might be derived from the creative process itself.
One of these requisites is to feel that the profound quality of what you do is largely ignored by the rest of the world; this is also very closely related to the requisite which asks that you feel completely misunderstood and underestimated by critics and reviewers.
There is an important distinction here when examining these conditions. It’s important we note that - just because you feel ignored by the rest of the world, that this doesn’t mean that you’re not.
No, you mustn’t look at this in an ‘ironic’ or ‘romantically paradoxical’ way, thus creating a euphoric sense of what might be called reverse reassurance. Indeed, it’s far more than just a remote possibility that you have it exactly right.
The next important point is - when it just might come to pass that those out there in the ‘listening community’ are in actual fact recognising your existence, maybe even favourably, it is crucial you continue to feel ignored.
It was back in the year 2000; my fourth year in the Albion Band; a special ‘live’ Mike Harding Radio 2 ‘In Concert’ show. It was a day that fractured the back of a camel that had had an ever decreasing centre of gravity for a good eighteen months, maybe more.
An early start. A late finish. In between, before setting off from my Preston home, I first had to load up with amps, guitars - electric and acoustic, along with all the other accessories that feel ever increasing in both number and weight as energy levels and work schedules fall and rise.
‘Still’, I used to tell myself, ‘just be thankful you’re not a drummer’.
Leading up to the 8 p.m. show, there was going to be plenty of preparation through the afternoon, so it was important to arrive with plenty of time to spare.
As I hinted earlier, I’d been troubled for months now by the style and shape of the Albion’s (Band’s and agent’s) approach to its PR material.
It had been decided to promote the band on the basis of youth, given that we had the ‘twenty something’ Joe Broughton clowning about and playing fiddle for us (brilliant fiddle playing - I should add), and the ‘twenty something’ Kellie While singing lead on most of our songs (again, beautifully - I should add again).
As I think back, I’d have to say that my contribution to the band was quite substantial - both creatively and physically. I always looked at it as an investment, but it was an investment that saw me doing all number of things, one of which was sharing the driving (much of the time) with just one other band member - Neil Marshall, our drummer (brilliant drummer - I should once again add).
My limits were truly tested. Here was one scenario that was regularly repeated. We’d be only, say, three or four dates into a tour, and probably after yet another lousy night’s sleep, I’d be setting out, driving the bus to that day’s destination - the next stop along the way.
I’d often reach levels of tiredness that transcended the desire or ability to sleep. This required me to ‘think’ my way through the day, as in - the body would be going through motions that the spirit was not really party to. I’d be kind of - dead, in a way; just living for the moment it would end.
Looking, straining through this distortion of fatigue, the miles would pass - and then! Then I’d hear the sound of snoring from the seats behind. I’d look in the rear view mirror; turn my head slightly, and yes, these fellow band members, some of which, I felt, had never took it upon themselves to dig deep enough - through finance and intent - to learn for themselves the art of driving on the roads. And for yet another day they were once again being nicely taken care of.
I was in the process of learning that if you take care of your own logistics in life—as I had begun to do through a sense of necessity when arriving back in the UK in 1988—you might only have to be slightly accommodating, and that’s all that’s needed, before you can find yourself taking care of the logistics of others. And for me it wasn’t just a case of driving, it had gone well beyond that.
The snag with anything like this is that it’s never black and white; the hard part is weighing up your gains against your losses. And as with any number of things in life that we care about, our losses might have to become painful enough to force resolve upon us.
Now - in a literary way - I need to navigate my way back to Warwick.
We were to perform three songs, one I remember was a Richard Thompson piece; another I can’t recall; the third was to be either ‘The Complete Angler’, a song I wrote with Ashley, and on which I played mandolin and took lead vocal, or the Julie Matthews song - ‘Go North’.
The decision as to which one of those two songs were to be performed was to lie with the BBC producer of the show.
My view then, was that The Complete Angler was a great song, one of the best that Ashley and I had written; but here’s the crucial issue. For a start I couldn’t work out why we should be affording that decision to the show’s producer (unless, of course, it was about getting into his ‘good books’ which then might lead to more radio work?); then, secondly, it began to dawn on me; the producer; he actually owned the publishing on the Julie Matthews song.
I was getting a very bad taste in my mouth, and the show was still hours away. I knew, if I were being honest, I shouldn’t be doing this. But the truth was I’d be letting too many people down if I just walked away now.
Show time arrived. And I needn’t say which of the two songs had been chosen.
‘10, 9, 8, 7’, etc … ‘Now, live from Warwick, the BBC proudly presents Folk On Two with your host Mike Harding’, the intro went. We stood on stage, poised and ready, but before I hit those opening chords, host, Mike Harding was first to welcome the listeners to the program, and announce the first band up - us.
His reference to the Albion Band went very much like this: Founded by Ashley Hutchings, here’s a band that been around ‘forever’, but now, dragged into the modern age, it features the wonderful vocals of Kellie While and the brilliant fiddle playing of Joe Broughton, two young and shining talents who’s youth brings the average age of the band down to seventy.
And that was it, that was his introduction.
So the only reference to my presence on that stage was first of all - nameless, and secondly it appeared to negate my creative input on the basis of age. In my view, it was cheap … well, worse than cheap, it was offensive.
To quote a line in an earlier paragraph, ‘our losses might have to become painful enough to force resolve upon us’, and resolve was what I felt; I doubt it could’ve been any stronger; so it was only a matter of days before I announced my departure from the Albion Band.