The function of a door

Dear all,

I’ve some fabulously moving Live Music Now stories for you this week, but I’ve a fair number of gigs to report on so let’s start with those. Also, I guess calling it this week given this is my first blog for a few week probably sounds a bit weird but there you go…

That was unneccessary. So, gigs. First up, a visit to an old favourite The Haberdashers in Knighton. Rather than the usual room I’ve always played here, as it was…er…warm and a big turnout was expected the gig was moved to an outdoor marquee. Well the big turnout happened…yes my hands were bloody cold as were some of the audience but not to worry I still did a nice long set and had a cracking night so thanks very much to everyone who came out. Special thanks to Andrea and Paul who were as ever wonderful hosts.

The next day also saw a local gig as I played as part of a tribute concert to the late Hywel Evans. Hywel was a cracking fiddler and guitarist who sadly died last year. I first met him when I started gigging aged 16 in Joxers and he was very supportive and told me if I wanted, I’d be a professional musician. I then met him frequently at various gigs and of course at the folk sessions in Stafford where he was always wonderfully hilarious, unpredictable and sometimes even controversial but always a fine man and a friend. He is very much missed and this was a stirling tribute to him featuring many of the finest acoustic musicians from the area.

Then followed a mad week of three Live Music Now projects and then three gigs in Rothbury, Crawley and Poole! First up Rothbury where I had the great pleasure of playing with the legendary Alistair Anderson and he as ever was an honour to perform with. I then took the train back to London and made my way to Crawley where I played Crawley Folk Festival. Then a rather problematic UFQ gig became a trio gig owing to some illnesses but everyone’s ok now! We had a good gig anyway and thanks to those who braved the rain to see us.

Last weekend I headed back to Toon for a couple of nights which was absolutely brilliant and a couple of guest appearances with the Happy Cats and then with my old chum Simma made for a great time. Finally it was back to Stafford for the Spittal Brook beer festival last Sunday where I played a long set and had a wonderful time so thanks to you all!

Now before I share a truly ridiculous train story with you, I’ve been doing some Live Music Now work lately. Well rather a lot of LMN work! First up I’ve been mentoring a new duo on the scheme which frankly makes me feel bloody old but I’m aware in the grand scheme of things I’m not…anyway Radigun are great and we had a great time with some very charismatic kids in a London special school. Then the other two main projects have been in a care home in Oxford and in Wembley with children with special needs which will culminate in a gig at Wembley Arena on Tueesday. Yes you did read that right. I’m going to be playing at Wembley Arena, on bodhran, playing a disco version of Beethoven…as one does.

Anyway, the kids have been an absolute joy to work with and it has been wonderfully rewarding to see some of the kids who we perhaps thought might struggle blossom and prove us and maybe even themselves wrong. They are a great group and have absolutely excelled and at the rehearsal this week I think we all felt a massive amount of pride. What has been great about the work with these kids and others in similar schools is that I think both parties get so much out of it. It doesn’t feel to me like a do-goody deed to play and work in these places, it gives both myself and Nic an awful lot of pleasure as well as we have an awful lot of fun and it’s always good to see progress from anyone you teach in whatever form. As for the kids, well it seems to me they really discover that they can be good at anything they work hard at, whatever their limitations, and often it can provide them with so much more confidence and belief as well. It truly is a lovely thing.

The Oxford care home has also been a great pleasure and we’re also now performing for a few weeks at a care home in Hitchin. Both have been an utter delight! Again, we have so much fun in these places. We get to play material that we wouldn’t probably play in many other environments and have been introduced to some fantastic music as the residents request songs that they like. The residents provide us with some great banter and like any audience, it is always great to bring pleasure to people through music. But of course it goes beyond that. We have formed great friendships with the residents and enjoy talking to them immensely as I hope they do to us. I can’t help but feel that the attitude to old people in this country stinks. Old people often feel lonely, isolated and irrelevant and we as a society do not help them to feel differently. Many of the residents in these care homes live with varying degrees of dementia but that does not alter the amazing stories and life experience they have to share, things that I can never have experienced. There is much to learn from almost anyone in this world and that is no less true for having to perhaps decipher some of it. These are people too and like anyone they appreciate feeling valued. As far as Nic and I are concerned, we are musicians entertaining people who want to hear it but there is a wonderful by product that these people rightly feel valued. They make a big difference to us too.

So to finish off, I had a ridiculous train journey the other day. One was due. I set off from London Euston to Stafford on a ‘direct’ London Midland service. Now, to explain to those not in the know there are two main ways of getting between London and Stafford on the train. There are the virgin trains which are of course uniformly too narrow and generally shite but assuming they run on time they do at least get you from Stafford to London fairly speedily, often as quick as 1 hour 15 minutes. However, they cost a little more than London Midland and I am a professional banjo player. So for obvious reasons I get the very cheap London Midland services which are also shite but at least cheap. My ticket therefore read ‘London Midland only’. The 1646 is the last such service from London to Stafford.

Still with me? So I caught this service and at Milton Keynes it appeared to stop for quite some time. Now I don’t know if you’ve had the same experience but I always experience a grim sense of the inevitable here. It stopped and announced there was a problem with the doors. Now in my experience, every time I have been on a train that stops for a while and says it is having some technical issue it has never, literally NEVER restarted and we have always ended up leaving the train and getting on another one and being late for wherever we needed to be. And sure enough, half an hour later came the inevitable announcement that the problem was insurmountable and this was where we were finishing.

You can tell this is a long train story by the fact it’s already on its third paragraph. So we got off the train…or at least tried. The function of a door, I have always felt is that it opens thus enabling one to get to the other side of it and is then closed to block out whatever it wants to block out. But of course, this is British trains. Yes you guessed it. The problem with the doors was that they wouldn’t bloody open. They finally managed to get them to open for 15 seconds at a time so some poor sod got caught in the doors when they randomly decided to close again. Have a guess who one such poor sod was…

And another paragraph. The other thing vexing me slightly at this point was that my ticket was London Midland only. Now, I know what you’re thinking surely not even a British train person would be twat enough to make me wait for a non-existent train by refusing me entry onto a virgin train. This is of course what the guy at the station decided to be because he was a git. However, I then explained and his manager stepped over and told him not to be such an arse and talked to me instead. He said ‘oh don’t worry you want the 1821 mate it goes to Crewe and is London Midland anyway’. ‘Does it go to Stafford’. ‘Yeah’. Great I thought. Only a ten minute wait. So down I went to the platform with my instruments and bag and discovered the train to Crewe stopped at all the same stops as the on I’d been on. Great. I re-checked carefully and one station was missing. Guess which one.

So I went back up and he said ‘oh sorry, hop on the Virgin one’ and he wrote me a note. Fair play. So I got on the virgin train to Wolverhampton where I had to change. I got on and the tannoy was not working and instead we got feedback. This was just hilarious in addition to everything else (genuinely, not being sarcastic). Less hilarious was I, as ever, was joined in the seat next to me by a man coming back from the toilet who was drinking carlsberg super strength, never a good sign I feel. He then talked on the phone and proceeded to say how ‘Asians are always shit at work aren’t they’. Now this is distasteful anyway and I was about to say I didn’t appreciate hearing it when one look to my right told me someone else might get there first. A massive Asian bloke and his chum got up and told him to get off the phone and explain himself. To their credit, they did not want a fight and I thought put their case very well. After everything, I could have done without it. So instead of getting home at 6.30 I got home at 8.45.

Not good.