Wednesday, 25 September 2019

I am the drummer

PING! ‘You could call your blog, 99 not out!” It's The Singer on WhatsApp.

Since The Bass Player and even The Piano Player have managed to smash out a blog each it seemed only right that the e-quill was passed over and I shared my own perspective of being the rusty spoke (if only an occasional one these days) in the wheel of the Oddest Folkers

around. You may or may not have gathered by now that The Singer, and our dear leader, has a thing for stats. He’s the band ‘stato’, the keeper of the facts and figures, the “filler inner” of the infamous spreadsheet of Odd Factoids. So when I was reminded of my commitment to this task I immediately requested that the ‘old boy’ (as this is how we lovingly refer to one another these days) send me a list of facts about my time with the band and unlike the keyboard player, bless his heart, I won’t give you my entire life story from the second I was born as that would take far too long due to my senior years in comparison and I’ve forgotten most of the cool stuff, distant memories lost along a dusty backroad in Tennessee or Louisiana ... so I’ll keep it Odd.

And here’s what I received from the singer via our WhatsApp conversation...
“...Joined the band in September 2013, it’s now September 2019 so that’s 6 years exactly. In that time, you have amassed 99 gigs. You average 16 and a half gigs a year (half a gig haha!) although a closer look tells us you did a whopping 21 gigs in 2014 and only 11 in 2016 (where were you!?) You have been on 6 and a half tours (you only did the beginning and end of the Lakes Tour you see!) and have played in 6 countries. You tried to leave the band after Boomtown (2015) and again in 2017, both unsuccessfully! Looking closer, 22 gigs in Europe, 15 festivals, 13 in Bristol (unlucky for some!), a perfect 10 in London (no need for any more over there then!), 9 at the acorn (‘Merry Folking Christmas’ is gonna be a milestone for you!), if I delve deeper I could probably tell you how many different gig shirts you’ve worn. You’ve never been late, never failed to put the work in and kept your head when all about you are losing theirs. And in this time, you have become a trusted friend and ‘adopted’ Cornishman and I very much look forward to the future...”

And I must say this brought a tear to my eye. You see Cornwall, and specifically West Penwith, now feels like a home from home. Like many a Grimsby mariner I have found my way to Penzance and even to The Swordfish Inn in Newlyn for good ale and a rum or two, or three. From GY to PZ. I feel like part of a family; a band of brothers, blood brothers (blood, sweat and tears more like) and like a family of brothers blood is thicker than water, so although we sometimes become frustrated with one another’s foibles, wo betide anyone that comes between us and stirs the pot! I love these boys and can’t imagine trying to leave the band again; although according to the stats I do attempt to leave every two years, so I’m due a failed resignation; maybe this blog is it…

It is exactly six years to the day (at the time of writing this) that The Singer and I finally met in an organic, fair trade supermarket in the heart of Bristol’s ‘hipster and yummy-mummy’ quarter to discuss my potential joining of the band over an over-priced, skinny hipster, coconut milk turmeric latte. It was a quick “interview” that was six months in the making having first responded to a gumtree advert which had been initially ignored, The Singer sighting his ‘acting duties’ as the reason; I later discovered they were trying out other drummers. One who was even older than me, one who couldn’t keep time and another who didn’t show up to a gig. Anyway, the interview mostly entailed working out who our mutual friends were within Bristol’s incestuous Circus family and the wider music scene; after quickly working out we were probably related it seemed I was in. A week later I was embroiled in intensive rehearsals learning the entire back catalogue in preparation for the pending tour, which turned out to be the film ‘How NOT to be in a band’. Rehearsals were fun and fractious in equal measure; The guitar player and the singer had pre-warned me to ignore anything that squeaked from The Piano Players’ lips, and let the constant demands for cymbal flourishes in every gap (that would only be capable if one was an octopus or owned an 808 to take care of the beat) fall on deaf ears. I should have spotted the warning signs. My place within the band dynamic very quickly found itself and I soon became part of the triumvirate of common sense and organisation; along with The Singer and the now lesser spotted guitarist. Learning to deal with the incredulous shenanigans of ‘the band kids’ as they were then known, often to be found in nearby eateries demolishing their ‘must have’ three course, pre-gig dinner just minutes prior to our stage call, I have since learned to breathe deeply as a coping mechanism to the constant affronts to my OCD of being ‘on time’. It’s good to challenge yourself right?

As The Guitar Player is now permanently absent, The Singer and I have become even closer due to our annual planning sessions for our forays into Europe: the tours, the cement that holds this thing together. Without these tours I can’t imagine we’d carry on. It’s what keeps everything exciting. We also have the now permanent part-timer who is The Accordion Player - one who shares my OCD’s - having replaced the guitarist within the triumvirate of common sense and order. Despite being the youngest brother, he is wise and experienced beyond his years and without him - his local knowledge of seemingly every European city and his language skills - we’d have been stuck in many a bind and would have certainly gone hungry in Utrecht! He also shares the driving; which is a godsend as the singer and I both have a plethora of injuries and niggles that limit our ability do those long-haul stints from Antwerp to Timbuktu, in ancient borrowed vans without power steering.

Driving one of the many borrowed and woefully
inadequate vehicles on the road to Berlin.

So, what about the future? I’m currently stuck on ninety-nine gigs and the hundredth is proving illusive. There have been numerous times this summer when I received garbled voice messages on WhatsApp with an offer of a gig only for it to be either too short notice or that my attendance is no longer required due to the bride being allergic to high “cymbalic” frequencies! I would have been a ton up by now if it wasn’t for the cancelled second gig at Fire In The Mountain; and only yesterday I had word about a gig “up country” in north Kernow (south for me) that required my bashing of the tubs and pans; but again too short notice due to child care responsibilities. I’m now left wondering when I’ll get to hold up my bat and acknowledge the crowd. At present it’s looking like it’ll be our annual festive bash at The Acorn theatre in Penzance for ‘Merry Folking Christmas’. Although I'm not sure my bodily organs will survive another so maybe it'll be 100 and out!

It’s also likely that by then we’ll have booked next year’s post Brexit trudge around our former homeland of Europe; if they’ll let us in that is! It would be easy at this point to dwell on the dark depressive thoughts brought on by the UK’s pending minority suicide pact; but as I sit here watching the muppet show that is parliamentary questions I have a glimmer of hope. The lunatics may well be running the asylum; but they’ve been found out and I have all my fingers and toes crossed for an 11th hour reprieve or that I’ll wake up tomorrow and all this nonsense will have just been a bad dream; and to cheer me up I also have the words of my six year old son laughing in my ears… “Boris Johnsons nonsense” sung to the theme tune of some crappy kids TV show.

“How’s your blog coming along?” was the distorted voice message via WhatsApp from The Singer. “I’m on it, should be with you by the end of the week, old boy” was my immediate response. Only problem was I hadn’t really started it; in my head I had, but the reality was that I hadn’t penned a word. Luckily all the usual things that consume my time had gone so there’s a patch of slack water in which to paddle… so here I am paddling like f*** trying to get this blog completed before I am late for the first time in my ‘Odd’ career, wouldn’t want to blot my copy book now! “Anything else new going on?” he asked. “I’ve got a new girlfriend” I added with trepidation, wondering how many times I’d said that for it to spectacularly fall apart three months later. There was no response. The Singer was obviously not wanting to jinx this one with all the usual questions. Instead he informed me that this Friday was his 200th gig, and that it was in St. Mawgan of all places, and that’s quite apt!

Two hundredth gig? Wow, one hundred and one gigs adrift of my dear colleague! I admire his staying power and dedication to the cause; because without him this ship would have sunk many moons ago and just like ‘The Wolf’, the band would have been a distant memory of which my old grey matter wouldn’t recall playing. But due to his tenacity, skills of persuasion, love of the music and the whole process we’re still on board and sailing the choppy sea that is the career of The Odd Folk. There are even plans for new promotional videos to help with our endeavours to play to new audiences in 2020 which is The Band’s decade year! Despite the rumours and thoughts of throwing in the towel; we are very much still in this together and as The Singer said earlier today, very much looking forward to the future! Alas, it’s time for me to save, exit and send. I only wanted to share a little of my thoughts on being in this band of brothers, lovely boys to the last and life wouldn’t be the same without them; but I appear to have rambled on beyond my word limit; so let’s hope the editor forgives me and leaves this mini memoir intact.

Hello. Goodbye. 

Sunday, 25 August 2019

I am the bass player

‘Your turn to write a blog’ The Singer says, ‘Really?! But what’s left to write about?’ I ask. It was true, he had rather eloquently covered all of our adventures and misadventures since he started writing these back in 2013. And anything that he hadn’t covered The Piano Player certainly had in his previous account; recalling every memory from the age of two onwards. It felt wholly unnecessary.

So here I sit, silently, the background hum of my laptop fan kicking into gear, doing battle with the morning heat. Music rides the breeze over a neighbour’s wall. Sleep-deprived and drifting, I enjoy all the well-told symptoms of being a brand-new dad.
The Odd Folk... I close my eyes and picture my time in The Band, but it was brief. Not the years themselves; they totalled 7 and counting, but the memories. They came in snippets and shards. No particular gigs or anecdotes, no chronological rhyme or reason, just served to me without request. A bit like the Bee Gees track that had now started playing next door.

“Left or right” The Singer cries out from the front seat, “Left, like the sat-nav’s been telling you for the past 2 minutes” I call back, competing with the engine noise of his old Renault 4. I duck my head, looking out of it’s little-letterbox windows. There’s only about half a foot visibility between the top of the hedgerows and the start of the Renault’s roof, but it’s enough to see the beauty of the countryside around us; hills bowing to rivers, riding under golden clouds. As my Granny would say ‘it’s a picture painted with a magic brush’. It was also just enough to see tonight’s venue; a quaint little village hall roughly two minutes to our left. It’s a joy being in this band, I smile to myself as The Singer heaves the wheel hard to the right. We get lost a lot.

I pour the coffee. The music’s stopped now but someone’s singing the hook instead. ‘More Than a Woman to me’.

His head throws back and his eyes close when he laughs, and he never laughs more than when we’re in Antwerp. The Piano Player. We’re at our good friend’s family home and it’s sort of become our home from home too. We’re in the upstairs bathroom and he’s propping himself up with some plaster casts of our host’s legs she made when she was 20. I think I’m crying because I can hardly focus. The laughing goes on, and on, until we find ourselves parked up in a wooded area outside of Cologne. I think it’s a house concert because there aren’t any houses nearby. Now The Drummer’s laughing too, this isn’t a good sign, yep; the brake pedal has fallen off and we’re lost again. We laugh a lot.

I’m struggling now, the sun hits it’s peak and me and the black dog crawl to the shade, the white one perseveres. Too hot for thoughts.

We argue a lot. I’ll leave it at that.

We travel a lot and sometimes that’s the real tie that keeps us ticking. We see places between the bold ones on the map; the one’s that you may catch a glimpse of as you travel through. A pub with a fairly ambiguous name like ‘The Bowl of Something’ or ’The Royal Bits’. And a town centre that just directs you to bigger town’s centre’s. We actually stop at these places. And sometimes we have so much fun we come back the following year.

I come round just in time to drag the white dog into the shade; a move she wouldn’t have made on her own despite almost dying in the heat. And I wonder why all these moments only come to me in fragments? Possibly because of the coffee, heat and lack of sleep, but mostly because at times I feel like a fly-on-the-wall in this band. I witness bizarre situations unfolding before me and smile. Of course I’d always step in before things got really bad - as has been the case a few times in the past - but things going slightly South seems part and parcel of being The Odd Folk. Maybe I’m less a fly-on-the-wall and more a worker-ant-in-the-wings? I definitely don’t crave the spotlight and plaudits in the same way The Piano Player and Singer might, but I don’t suppose I’d be The Bass Player if I did!

“Roll up! Roll up!” the Ring Master cries! ... That’s right, we joined the circus once. Only for about 45 minutes and completely unintentionally, but a few misread emails later we were being ushered into the centre ring of a bustling Big-Top. It’s surprisingly difficult to concentrate on your chord changes whilst a man in a leotard directs you to play the ‘dramatic bits’ with his left hand, and swallows swords from his right. Other oddities include the gig in Matlock where a bold red line was painted 3 feet from the edge of the stage. We never found out why, but the elderly couple who organised the event looked on at us with unadulterated terror whenever we got within a few steps of it. Occasionally they’ll ask for a little ‘something extra’ too, these obscure gigs; “Could you possibly parade around the pagoda, playing only the chorus of a Toploader song Jeremy heard during his travels of Asia” ... “errrrm, I suppose we could”. And we do. And we never agree to - nor get asked to - again. We performed a song called ‘Earth Angel’ by Marvin Berry once. I still don’t know any of the lyrics other than ‘Earth Angel’ because that’s all The Piano Player sang, in varying melodies, over and over again. “It’s fine” The Singer said, while The Piano Player struggled to remember any of the verse lyrics during a rehearsal, “They won’t be listening anyway once they’re all up and dancing.” But they weren’t all up and dancing; just the two of them, the married couple during their first dance, as we reinvented their favourite song.

“It’s a bit bitty” my partner says, reading through. It really is. But that’s how it feels in this band. Bits of activity over the course of a year. Bits of songs that are never penned to completion. Bits of memories during an entire gig. I’m thinking this as I look up and smile towards The Guitar Player, dropping sweet-note after sweet-note, turn my head towards our stand-in guitarist, the aforementioned’s cousin and an expert with the tremolo, “It sounds great” I shout out to our back-up guitarist; his head swaying with each solo. “It’s funny how often we change guitarist” I joke with our new guitarist, although I haven’t met him yet.

But it’s frustrating. I sometimes feel that if we took the same zeal for finding new players and put it to writing new songs then we’d stop the see-saw of brilliant adventures / imminent disbanding and just stick sitting on the brilliant adventures. But maybe that’s not the goal? It would surely take more than a bi-yearly practice.
And we don’t practice a lot.

We swim a lot. That - along with the fact that we’re all childhood friends and two of the band members are related - is what binds us. We’ve swam in mountain-top lakes, plunged naked into icy rivers, dived off bridges and waded through mud just to reach that bit of sweet-water. We once bathed in an extinct water-filled volcano on our way to Lott Festival. The trio travelling from South-West Cornwall to South-West Germany and back again, just for the swim. And of course the magical 3-day event that will perpetually hold it’s place amongst The Band’s special memories. We like Lott, a fair bit.

I’m inside now, and truth be told it’s a different day. Sorry if that shatters the flow. But on this day things have turned a corner, The Band now owns a sound system and the Piano Player’s bought his own leads. We’ve invested in kit that will see us through for many years, a favour to our future selves and a statement of intent. And we’re learning too; we’ve stopped chasing the silly gigs that leave us bewildered and deflated but pick the ones that keep us light. We’ve given up replacing guitarists and given the role to The Accordion Player. We won’t repeat our biggest mistakes but will continue to make the necessary ones. We’re becoming efficient, logistical, almost teetering on professional, and we have fun. Are we soon to drop the ‘Odd’ and just become ‘The Folk’? No that won’t rub - we scarcely play ‘folk music’ these days - perhaps ‘The Mostly Professional and Polite Gentleman Who Trial as Many Musical Styles as They Do Musicians? Yes, that’s got some truth to it; we are getting things together, penning new songs, plotting our trajectory onto the path of proper-professionalism... but then again, we do still get lost a lot.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

I am the piano player

Hello there, it’s me… the piano player. I do apologise for taking so long to write in, but then again, I’ve never been that punctual. So at least I am being true to my nature in being consistently unpunctual, in fact I actually won a disposable camera for holding the record of late attendance for class to which I was honestly late to collect. Right, let’s move on, shall we? So we have established that I am in fact the piano player and that I’m usually late. The rest of the blanks have been filled in by my fellow bandmate the odd blog king himself, Morgan Val Baker, and I am slightly embarrassed to admit that mostly all of what he says about me is indeed true.
Me, forgetful, well I guess… I suppose... what were we talking about again? Ok, yes, it’s all true. I’ve lost lyrics, forgotten melodies, lost my voice, my clothes, my shoes, and of course, my piano leads! Actually, I wrote a song about that, not to mention leaving Morgan’s chainsaw on a train, yes, yes, yes, it’s all true I confess! It’s amazing I haven’t been fired yet. Or maybe I was, and just forgot! It’s at this point that I would just like to thank my band for putting up with me and my chaotic snail trail of lost belongings. But I’d just like to point out that I have actually remembered to turn up to nearly 200 gigs now.

I guess my life with music all started by banging a bongo from the age of two, then I worked my way up to school tables until eventually I got a real life big boy’s drum kit. After a few lessons from my aunty Demelza I decided to embark on a passionate affair

with music. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with the guitar, after years of watching my Dad I finally plucked up the courage to do so myself. Then came the piano and one day even a little voice sprouted from the depths of me; my inner musician took hold and demanded that I fed it. I even started jamming with others and in amongst them were future odd folker Oscar Bloomfield-Crowe, aka The Bass Player. We formed a band called Universal Groove and even played at Laforwda Day, something The Odd Folk still haven’t managed to do! I actually didn’t play any instruments in the band, I was too shy, it was just me, myself and my little voice which turned out to be quite big when I closed my eyes. This was my first experience playing in front of a crowd. It was terrifying but fun. After a few years and a few different lineups we got bored and drifted apart. My musical life didn’t really start again until I got a call that would change my life forever… 

"Hey Shell, me and Sam Brookes are starting a band, and we need a piano player, you keen?"
"Sure" I said, a little too excitedly.
"Now, remember” said Morgan - backtracking slightly - "this is just a try out, do you understand?" So we met up and made some music and I guess I passed the test. Or if I didn't I forgot and stayed anyway. I was in. Into what I wasn’t sure. We didn’t have a name or any particularly style. But I knew I liked to be a part of it. Eventually we settled on a name, being a three piece, we felt it made perfect sense to go by the name The Sam Brookes Quartet, a

The Sam Brookes Quartet
natural fit, I’m sure you’d agree. The Sailing Song was the first to jump out of the bag, then quickly followed by a slightly awkward Franz Kafka, and of course Whisky Drunk. “Four more tunes and we will be gig worthy!”, Morg said - and so it was. He was on a roll hurtling us down the hill towards our first gig at The Acorn Theatre in Penzance. A baptism of fire if ever there was one. 
After a nervous start, eventually I found my feet, then followed by my legs, head, and the words to the songs. Slowly but surely we were sounding like a real band. It was ramshackle but with the raw passion that seemed to tickle audiences in the right way. Before we knew it, the gigs came rolling in, and with that, new songs came – up stepped Strangled Cat - my first lead vocal; a cross between medieval folk and a cat being strangled. Unfortunately he didn’t last long, rumour has it he lost his voice trying to hit those high notes. Kayleigh Jane soon followed, came stomping into the scene in her Celtic boots, violin in hand demanding everybody dance. And they did in those wild old days. Finally I found my own song, it came Tumbling Down the mountainside, landing just in time to make the cut on our first album, The Sweet Release.

Anyway, I could end up going through every song at this rate; I must conclude my blog before I run out of words. And where better to conclude than where we are right now, having returned from our favourite festival called Fire in the Mountain. This stunning location in the heart of the hills trembled in anticipation of the imminent onslaught of 2000 hillbilly hippies all playing violin at once, or so it sounded at times. It’s predominantly a bluegrass festival but it also has strong folk roots and a sweet world music smell to the air. As we seemed to harbour all three styles I guess we were the perfect fit. It was our third year in a row, and it certainly wasn’t without its hiccups. First of all we had to assemble a makeshift band, out of spare parts that we achieved with the return of Mr. multi instrumentalist and music connoisseur Pat Moran on the bass and Mr. Brookes was back. That’s right, Brookes, not Sam, alas he is somewhere in Bristol drowning in a pile of babies. Instead he kindly lent us his equally charming cousin Aaron to try and find those sweet notes. We met Morgan in Bristol to the tale of a broken down van and lost wonderings in the dark. Not to mention his team had lost 4-1 in their only chance of silverware. He was grumpy and it was a bumpy start. We set sail to Wales, only for our sail to catch in a buckle of a blundering mechanic, giving us the chance to relive Morgan’s previous night of endless calls to the RAC as we sat on the sidewalk and twiddled our thumbs. "What do you mean you can’t get us a van? We have a gig in 5 hours!" I heard Morgan politely shout from across the street. Basically, a long story short, we ended up being lent two cars by a kind garage man who took pity on us putting the RAC well and truly to shame. We arrived safely alongside our fellow hillbilly brothers and sisters to the sound of violins, so many violins, until I was sure there was a tiny Welshman playing violin on my head. On the day of our gig we assembled at the stage, me arriving conveniently late to the realisation that all our instruments had been set up as if by magic! "Nice one guys, and sorry I’m late and how about an energy ball to make up for it!?" They all accepted and united through the balls, energy flowing through our veins, we bounded onto the stage to the result of a couple of people shuffling about nervously. Not to be undone we ploughed on as passionately as ever, and with each song we seduced more and more until we had a handsome crowd to be proud of. We sang, we sweated, we danced, the crowd danced, fuelled on by the music and the festival dreams, and at the end of many laughs and miles walked and stories talked, we left in our fleet of borrowed cars. And here we are now, back to the world outside the band, back to market stalls and theatre work and I can’t really remember what my bandmates actually do!?

Anyway I’ve run out of words and not for the first time ;)

cheeeeeeeers n Gone !!! (as they say in Cornwall) Xx

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

The Others

I’ve long asked my band mates to contribute to this site, provide a new prospective, a fresh look at 'How NOT to be in a Band'. And despite their eagerness to get involved, at the end of each month there is never any material sent in for me to upload. And so once again I write another one-sided account of what we’re all doing, what’s gone wrong and what’s in the pipeline. And this month is no different. The piano player had promised to write this one and indeed has written it but I still haven't received it so until that day you're left
with me. But it would be interesting to hear their voices, see things through their eyes, perhaps as much for me as for you, our devoted readers. It is no secret that this platform is more successful than the band itself, the readership here far outstrips those that have seen us play, indeed if you rounded up all the people that have ever watched us live I’m not sure it would even come close to the reach of these words, in this digital age of instant sharing and followers in all corners of the globe.
It has certainly got me thinking. What is it like to be the piano player? To live in the middle of nowhere without a car and constantly a slave to the favour? He’s perhaps much maligned on this site and definitely the scapegoat, but is it fair? And am I fair? Or am I a dictator? I know I work very hard to keep this vehicle moving and I've often wondered what would happen if I just stopped? Would we stop or would the others step up? Perhaps I am the one constantly steering this ship because I don't let anyone else into the driving seat? Perhaps the piano player would eventually start booking us gigs in far flung places that are impossible to get to. And maybe they would propel us to future stardom?

And what’s it like being the drummer? Why does he try and leave the band every 33 gigs? He’s one shy of 100 now does that means he’s planning on walking away for a third time? And the bass player, does he know how important he is and that without his encouragement over the last few years I’d have chucked this in? How does he feel about Pat Moran coming in on the last tour and us replacing the ‘irreplaceable’ without much fuss? And the accordion player; he’s done 50 gigs now but is he even in the band? And what about the guitar player, who’s managed just 3 gigs in the last 2 years, doesn’t he miss it? Taking live music out of a musician’s life is like taking jam out of a doughnut. Is he satisfied? I know I wouldn’t be. 

But mostly I want to read something new; I want to see the achievements and failures through their eyes, I want all of them to have a say and what a rich tapestry of contradiction we’d have in front of us then! People have such different views of things; sometimes I come off stage and I feel deflated and yet my band mates are buzzing from a “great gig!”. Sometimes a certain song has left half of us elated and the other half think it’s fallen on its face. Is Whisky Drunk a crowd favourite and therefore un’droppable or is it overplayed and holding us back from making anything new? That can be said for half our material. When it comes to set-lists it’s always a case of “Oh we can’t not play that!” which means there is never any space for anything else.

We actually managed to crowbar open the set list on our latest 'giggle' and shoehorn in a brand new song; an unfinished idea we had been carrying around for a whole year and finally found an hour to finish it. And it went down well, some may say it was the pierce de resistance, it certainly drew the biggest cheers but perhaps that's because you are desperate to hear new songs too! It was a boisterous affair, our first hometown gig of the year, and full of smiley happy people. It was the drummer's 99th outing as well, and hat's off to him for driving all the way down and playing for no money, because I had forgotten to tell him otherwise. Perhaps one day he will write a blog too and I'll find our what it's like to be told hours before you set off that we don't have any money left to pay you! But he's used to it; 100 gigs and you've seen the best and worst of us. Or maybe it's mishaps like that that make him want to leave!?

There are a lot of unanswered questions flying about and I'm struggling to answer them all. It’s our decade next year. What do we want? A brand new sound or a nice easy coda? Will we ever get our music on spotify? A third album? A final film? And what's all this about touring in America? Another decade? We’re at a crossroads and there’s a lot of lose ends to tie together and perhaps by hearing from ‘the others’ it might just help us shed light on them. 

So, the next voice you hear from will be…?

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Playing in fields to nobody

We played at a private party the other day, I won't say which one, nor where it was, nor who attended. It was suppose to be a festival but it lost it's license three weeks before and the bookers decided to hold a 'private party' instead as a thank you for all the people who had put in months of work. Having hired and erected all the tents and stages and sound systems and having to pay most of the bands in full even though they were sitting at home, they thought they might as well go down in style. So they organised a free bar and free food and 300 people poured in. A couple of bands (ourselves included) came and played anyway, if you're going to get paid you might as well. We were local and it seemed the right thing to do, either that or we hadn't inserted a cancelation clause into our contract, i can't remember which ;-)

We came up as a three-piece, our most adaptable guise, and by the lengthy exchange of emails it looked like we were going to need it. They had changed the schedule a bunch of times and we had the feeling that this could be a strange one. Now we play our fair share of weddings and private parties, some of which are well thought out and fall into place, but increasingly we find that people don't really know what they want; they have a vision in their head and they run away with it. It's like they've had an epiphany in the middle of the night that the band could play while everyone walks through the arch of wildflowers in the late evening sunshine and they just can't let go of that idea despite the logistics of running power out there and the fact that there is nowhere for anyone to stand because it's on a gravel path. They're adamant, especially young Mrs. Newlywed, and no amount of 
gentle persuasion can shift her. And even Mr. Newlywed, who understands the repercussions well but can't bare to let his wife down, he just waves his hands and says, "just do what she wants". And so we rig power all the way across to the archway and squeeze into the bushes, and people walk through and we play to them but there is nowhere to stand and so they walk away and we're alone and now everyone is standing around in an large marquee with absolutely no atmosphere because the band are 500 yards away in the woods packing up our gear.  "We need the band in here now!" exclaims a frantic Mrs. Newlywed. "Well I did try and tell you" says her husband. "Well can't you hurry them up then!" she orders and off he skips to help us carry our amps and PA across the field in the rain. 

We've played in the woods, on a balcony, on a boat, in the porch, in the garden, under the wildflower archway and ever more random places and sometimes it works and it's just like that dream image they thought up, but often it is a logistical nightmare and incredibly time consuming and anti climatical and it would have been much better to put the band on the stage in the marquee!
And this private party was no different. "We want you to play at the top of the field while people arrive through the gate so the first thing they see when they enter is a band playing, good hey!". Cue the intake of breath. Cue the gentle persuasion. But no, that's how it's got to be. And so we do as we are hired, we set up with our backs to the festival and begin playing to the gate. Enter the people, not in one mass clump as envisaged but in ones and twos and very spread out. They smile at the band but finding there is nowhere to stop they walk down the field to the tents. A few more people. A long gap where we are playing to nobody but the hedgerows and the gate while down by the tents people are milling about wondering what's going on. A few more people. Two entire songs to nobody. A few more people. A few more and so on and so forth. An hour later there are 300 people standing around at the bottom of the field and a band at the top that nobody can hear or enjoy. We pack up and walk back down to the organisers. "Thanks so much!" they chirp, "but we realised after a couple of songs that it would have worked much better if you were down here where everyone was gathering!"

You don't say.

The rest of day was rather pleasant. We got talking to the organiser who announced rather jovially that he had lost quarter of a million pounds. But thankfully a few of the headliners had made the trip and not just because they had forgotten a cancelation clause, but because they really wanted to play. And I take my hat off to that. And one such group are a firm favourite of mine, am I allowed to say their name? Oh sod it, The Staves, they are amazing, check them out here... And after their gig, after waking myself from a trance like a transfixed puppy dog, I wondered backstage and asked for their autograph for my partner, who is a bigger fan than I. We stubbled through some conversation, and with so many things I wanted to say about music, instead I made some small talk about the weather and newborn babies, tripped over my feet and spilt my drink on my scandals.

The three of us, all a little tipsy from the Negroni's soon realised we had no accommodation and would have to drive home or sleep at the bar. So we drank builders tea and ran around the field with a football to try and sober up. The decision to turn our back on a free bar and a night off was a hard one to make, the 'shall we stay or shall we go' conundrum was long and painful. We said goodbye, changed our minds, had some beer, changed our minds and said goodbye again and then ran around the field to sober up, saw the sunset, that was nice, so we decided to stay after all and cracked open a beer but soon changed our minds again and poured it away and ate flapjacks until the light faded. We didn't say goodbye this time and just left; piling all our gear into the little hatchback we'd used to save £20 on petrol even though the wear and tear to the vehicle far exceeds it. "Should have taken the van!" said the piano player wedged in the back with an amplifier on his knee. We spent the entire drive back arguing whether we had made the right decision or not. Went to bed, woke up in the morning and didn't regret it. You never do straight away. It's always a month or so later when you're missing your bandmates and cursing the realfuckinglife that gets in the way. It's then that you think, 'Yep, should have stayed at that party and enjoyed the time together'. But you learn from experience.

Or perhaps you don't.

And perhaps we should be wedding planners?

'So I had this idea that the band can play up a tree while we're cutting the cake!?'

Monday, 8 April 2019

Saint Pat

Where’s the blog? They kept asking. Was it hard without Oscar? We can't find the blog!? They said. I said, hold your bloody horses. Let’s let the memories sink in a bit shall we? Nobody wants a rushed romantic entry. Scribbled in a wave of nostalgia. I’ll write a real account when I’m good and ready, I said. 
And I did. And here it is. And it was hard without Oscar. Bloody hard. Hard for us but hard for the fans too.
 “Where’s Oscar?”
 “Aw we miss Oscar!” They’d chirp.
And it’s not that they didn’t like Pat; they loved him. Loved his humour and his humility.
 “Bring them both next time!” was the common denominator.

The whole time I was worried about the music and that never suffered. Not one note. Pat slotted in perfectly. As comfortable as an old shoe. It is a huge testament to him and his preparation and ability that I never missed Oscar musically. I missed him as a person. As a traveller. I missed his wit. His warmth. His pragmatism. But the music was good. By the end we were as tight as a drum. It’s always the same and it's always a shame that we arrive home in top form and then don’t play again till the summer ;)

* ... It begins with a bad back. That classic injury when you push a highchair closer to a table. No? Maybe it’s just a Dad thing then. No? Maybe just me. It begins with a rushed chiropractor appointment and my response to his advice to rest up for a few days is to set off on a 2000 mile tour through 5 countries in a 3000 ton truck with 700 kilos of equipment on board. Penzance is everything I love about this band and to showcase it in your hometown is special. Strange to play with Oscar and then to leave without him. Strange for him to play with us and then let us go. Pat is parachuted in.
Incoming... Saint Pat
A smooth landing. He arrives knowing 20 songs and we throw another 7 at him that afternoon. He laps it up and carries on purring. Newquay is strange,  we are all a little loose. Nothing to inspire us. There's an angry wind that whips the scarf from your neck and blows your hat away. It's another storm. An Irish one, i've lost count of the names. Bristol is busy; the stage is small and we are carefully placed like figures in a miniature doll's house. It's fun and fancy and at times bordering on the boisterous. We have an afterparty in the van and drink some obscure sprit that tastes of fireworks. It's a lazy morning spent trying to find ways to dodge the emissions zone. It's quite apt that on 'climate change day' we are forced to park our big diesel bus on the outskirts and pile into Mr. Ali's mini cab with all of our gear. London is strangely subdued but we still kick up a fiesta for our Italian fans. In Folkestone the key breaks off in the lock and that's a little scary until we find the spare but by then we've missed the crossing. We arrive in Lille a little late and it's a hard set up, trying to rig a PA we've never used and squeeze into a space that's barely big enough for a duo. The crowd are big and bouncy and there's a lot of drunken singing along to the tunes without knowing the words so we just sing 'la la la' and they seem to love that! Pat's on fire now, throwing off the studious approach, spending less time looking at his music stand and more time with his eyes closed pulling bass faces. We drink some whisky and raise a glass to Saint Patrick; a Cornish band playing an Irish celebration in France! Is that 'odd' enough for you? I don't get swept up in this Americanisation for one minute; it's a massive tourist trap with everyone wearing green beards and giant guinness hats. Instead I raise my glass to Saint Pat, our very own Irish bass player, who's actually from Boston. I drive down into Germany, defying Chiropractic orders, and steer the van over the Eifel Range. It's picture postcard views from every window as we plait around the mountains. Up and down steep valleys. Slow on the hairpin bends and when the wicked sun flashes across the river and blinds you. Rabbit in a headlights. Mosel is a perfect evening; a concert hosted by a generous eccentric in his 400 year old house on the banks of the river in the heart of the Riesling wine country. It's well attended and well received. Jan is a perfect host, sharing his stories and his home and the contents of his wine cellar. We have a day off, spent exploring the vineyards, shooting a music video and drinking more of Jan's wine. Every time we try to go to bed he produces yet another bottle "even more special"
 and it feels somehow rude to stop. Bonn is next, but not before the German Polizei flag us down and demand we hand over our drugs. 
They snoop around the van, threaten us with dogs, check our passports and reluctantly wave us on. We meet Hendrik, host number two, he's got his work cut out trying to match Jan's hospitality, but he succeeds admirably despite the fact that he doesn't know any of us. A friend of a friend mentioned we were looking for a gig so he booked us one, opened his house, made us 5 little beds, fed us, watered us and arranged that his folk band support us to pull in a crowd and then refused to take any of the hat. He is a kind and gentle man and another example of the generosity that make these adventures possible. We are stopped again in Cologne, the polizei check the van's paperwork and then check it again, narrowing their eyes trying to climb into our minds and psych us out. Snooping around the boot convinced they'll find drugs or immigrants. Then they soften, return our paperwork and agree to come to our concert that night. It's a good crowd but a bad pot. We play as well as we can. This is as good as it gets. We're starting to purr now. But money is down, slightly, but just enough to make us think. We're chased out of the city the following morning, an emissions warden asks to see our certificate and I just drive off praying that he hasn't clocked the registration number while the rest of the band pile into the moving vehicle like we're escaping a robbery. 

We head north to Utrecht
, following a lead for an impromptu gig, and as we are just shy of our estimation, we decide to busk for a couple of hours to top up the pot. We make more in this charming city than we did playing to a full house the night before and it's fun to dance around playing Hound Dog and Hard Days Night. The gig never materialises and so we head to Zelhem a night early. Super-hosts number 3; this is the oasis in the desert, the calming pitstop on the long and bumpy road and it's come at just the right time. Tensions are high, fatigue is kicking in, we have a 10 day hangover and everyone is in need of a rest. And it's like summertime here, a full day off without the threat of Jan's wine cellar. We eat and shower and lull around the large garden; playing cards, fixing organs, reading books. The gig is beautiful, our hosts are perfect, creating the most visually inviting house concert yet. We depart well fed and rested, the last leg of the tour, onwards to the boisterous beer capital of Belgium. Antwerp has long been our favourite haunt, the only venue we return to every year, but lately the magic has been muted, the pot, once healthy, has been falling and perhaps we have overplayed it, outdone our time. But for that first sip of Ename Tripel it will always have a special place in our hearts, and those faded walls are full of memories. 5 years ago on our very first European tour it seemed like the holy grail. We got the biggest crowd they ever had. But the bar was set too high and the years that followed were less fruitful. We play well. The music is good. Well received. Good beer. Good cheer. Hosts number 4, the best of the bunch? Could be! Jan and Lieve, our old friends and they know how to throw a party. A house concert follows at their home in Berchem and it's well attended, well organised and well placed. But it's a strange one, and looking around at my bandmates, eyes closed, ensconced in the songs, I can't help but feel a little sad. The last one. I look across at Saint Pat, owning every note like he's the one that's been playing them for 9 years. The piano player's fingers skipping along the keys, with his eyes planted on me, in the moment, in the music, connected. The drummer, as steady as a clock, the heartbeat of the band. The accordion player, focused, theatrical, charismatic, like a magician; 'and for my next trick I will play the trombone and the shaker at the same time!' We all seem bound to the music. 'Banded' together. 14 nights in a row and the songs are playing us now. And then in a matter of minutes it's over. Put down. Packed up. And pushed back to England... *

It ended with a bad back; seems the Chiropractor was right, skipping off on tour wasn't the best medicine. We arrived back in Penzance at 5am, 14 days later. I was bent over like an elderly man. Shuffling up the road like an old camel. But memory is a medicine too and in the days that followed I found some comfort in the messages that flooded in, the swell of support, the fact that we pulled off another miracle. 

So here's to the hosts, all of them, all opening their homes and their hearts, giving out for sake of it, for the love of music. Here's to house concerts and bustling bars, to Bristol and Belgium and Bonn. Here's to beers and bad backs and band mates and being blown away when they made a speech to thank me and gave me a bottle of rum. Here's to recognition after all these years of feeling like a lone wolf. It bought a tear to my eye, in the quiet time. And that will never sleep. And here's to luck, cause you need it. And faith, that you can do it. Here's to friendships and followers and favours. Here's to the future. Here's to climate change and cherry blossom and the criss cross of canals. To police and van parties and playfulness. And here's to Saint Pat, raise your hats, the most professional musician I've ever met with the most disorganised band, a match made in hell. And here's to Oscar, it was like leaving home without your bag and all your stuff and all you know. It was a hard one, this one. But they all are. In their own way. They're the best and worst of all we know crammed into a fortnight of living on the road, on the edge of the seat. Glass half full. Hold your head up. Play your heart out. Tell your stories and once again it's the fallout that's so humbling. Almost more than the applause ringing out in the moment. That's why I never write the blog straight away. You've got to let the memories sink in. Cause there's medicine in them.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

We are The Old Folk

I've lost count the number of times we've been introduced as The Old Folk, it's become a running joke now, and we've long had plans to dress up and shuffle on stage with a zimmer frame, or push the piano player on in a wheelchair. But we really are getting on now; 8 years is a long time and it's not just realfuckinglife that's slowing us down, it's our body's too. The bass player has just recovered from a major shoulder operation and now the piano player is about to have hip surgery. And that's not artistic license, that's the truth! The drummer phoned me the other day to say he was selling his motorbike cause it's wrecking havoc with the arthritis in his fingers. And the others; despite running a gardening company the guitar player has long suffered with tendonitis in his left knee and the accordion player, his erstwhile replacement, he's got a bad back and he's the only one of us under 30, not yet over the hill. In June we will have fathered 7 children between us and brokered 4 mortgages! Looking back we seemed so young and naive; me and the guitar player had just turned 27, we were carefree and single; pre children and debt, in the innocent spring or our lives; young enough to make mistakes, or change our minds. The piano player was barely 22, living at home with his mum, no income, yet to hold down a job. The bass player at 23, fresh out of university, blissfully unaware that in two years his life would change forever when he agreed to dep at our album launch; he's only missed 4 gigs since. Even the drummer was youngish back then, well mid 30's, my age now, which is actually feeling rather old. The accordion player was still a teenager! 200 gigs later, we're all a bit jaded, worn down by misadventure, weathered by the storm.

Morgan, Shelley and Oscar discussing their 20th album

Usually in January I write a detailed account of the year that was, some of you love this I know, others think it's a tired attempt at a blog, regurgitating 12 months of chapters and condensing them into one. You'd much rather we talked about the year ahead or the piano player's latest misdemeanour. My grandfather, the author Denys Val Baker, was criticised for exactly this towards the end of his life. He'd publish whole books full of material from previous releases. It was a sentimental but unimaginative approach; perhaps because of age, because of pining for the good old days. It was his way of dealing with growing old, to surround himself with memories of his youth. And perhaps we do the same. It's hard to think of the year ahead, easier to remember the one that's been. Forever nostalgic aren't we? Always looking back. Scared of the future. Scared of another year. 7 children seems like a lot to carry.

I thought I'd try something different this year; I won't stick to type and write a paragraph on every month, list the gigs in bold, count them up and clap ourselves on the back. Instead i'll write a single entry on what was our 7th year and then I promise I'll talk about the future and the time the piano player went to the gym in a pair of steel toe cap boots and overalls.

2018... The bass player moved to Berlin, that lasted 6 weeks. The piano player tried to move to Berlin and ended up in Portugal and then fell in love. The band toured, our biggest one yet, in the crisp month of march, 3000 km in a broken van; 10 gigs in 10 days, home with a profit. We stopped. We recuperate. Didn't play again till June; Fire in the Mountain festival, main stage. Took the family. Spent the weekend in the sauna, mmmm.. St. Just Town Hall was a strange one, dressed up as cowboys, hmmm..? Opening Golowan Festival was an honour, we had a bigger crowd than The Herbalizer! Ale and Anchor in Mousehole for the 6th year in a row. Standard. Port Eliot again, that was nice, despite the rain. Then we discovered Lott Festival; back to Germany for the best weekend of our lives. We played a wedding in Cornwall; that was the best weekend of the couples lives... hopefully!? Open air in Penlee Park was special, as was playing in the woods at Kerris. And The Mexico Inn, well that was as rowdy as ever. Merry Folking Christmas sold out a week in advance, beyond capacity with a waiting list of 95. It was a year of travel, adventure, a year of change. The year of the wags, someone said. "You're all shacked up!". It was 24 gigs. Shall we clap ourselves on the back now! Boy's done good. 

And now, as promised, I guess it's time to talk about the future. Talk it up a bit. The year ahead. 2019. I don't know why I find it so hard, and I wonder if my fellows furrow their brows as much as I? January is a strange one; famous for it's optimism and resolution but universally considered the most depressing month. You would think talking up the future is as a good a tonic as anything to combat the blues but it's hard to find your voice, almost like you haven't quite woken up yet. In truth I have no idea what we are doing, whether we'll play 24 gigs or 5 and predicting the future is a fools game. But here goes... we're still haggling over our Brexit Tour, a little like the government; we can't quite get the right deal. A couple of venues have let us down and we're not quite over the line with it... yet! But the will is there, so we'll find the way. For the record, The Odd Folk think leaving the EU is lunacy. We're better together. And after that? The third and some say, final, album is due this year, which means it should be released in 2020, just in time for our decade. It's not that scary really. The future. You just need to get your head in the right place. Hope for the best, expect the worst, and take what you're given. Oh wait, I forgot about the 7 children and the hip surgery and the arthritic fingers. 

We are The Old Folk ;)