Charlie Watts once said something along the lines of., "Been with the band for 35 years. That's 5 years of work and 30 years of travelling/hanging around".
As old age beckons and I still find myself with the enthusiasm to stagger up, I check in the mirror for missing parts and hit the road for a long weekend of small solo shows, I look forward to, once again, seeing old mates and meeting new folks and playing in some new territories. I don't relish the driving and am in fact unable to both do a coherent gig and a journey without a sidekick. In this instance, Kev the roadie has already had a better offer from a certain Mr Knightley so my agent/manager Vicky Whitlock is designated general helper for this week. I firmly believe that agents should ALL periodically come out on the road for a few days to just meet people and to encounter what I encounter. It can only assist in them doing a better job for both me and the gigs concerned.
We leave from Exeter at midday and drive all the way to Martletwy in distant Pembrokeshire. There were many folk clubs out here in the 70's which I played regularly in the Downes and Beer era. Its a beautiful, wild part of the world and I like it. The gig is a new one and a stunning revelation. A bunch of good folks have banded together in this community to refurbish an old Methodist chapel both as a place of worship but also as a concert venue. We arrive in the mist and rain around 5:30 to discover this lovely old building on a remote windy, mist covered hill. There's only one other farmhouse anywhere in sight but some kind soul has actually put two traffic cones outside the venue to prevent the ravening hordes from stealing our parking space. Keith the organiser is there to let us in. We walk through the door and step back 150 years in time. It's just the venue to die for. (Or in) I sing three or four notes and decide to leave the P A in the van. These places were made for singing after all. Not for me the excesses of folk and roll. We are treated to flasks of tea and home made welsh cakes. The audience turns up by 7:30 and I'm delighted to discover almost an entire new capacity audience who are from the community and supporting the venue and don't have much idea about me or what I do. Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted to have a modest following and certainly some old mates turn up here as well but all of us need to play to new people to keep the ball rolling. There's no bar and we start on time to allow the show to finish by 10 to facilitate everyone heading to the nearest pub for jar. I enjoy myself so much that I lose track of time and nearly deprive everyone of that pleasure. A quick pint and a chat with the entire audience in the bar before decamping back to Cardiff and the obligatory Travel Lodge. Late up and off down to Cardiff bay for a stroll.
Tonights' show is there at the lovely Norwegian Church. Its and 'own promotion' We've hired the venue, internet box officed it, and its nearly sold out. I hear too many artists whinging about not having enough gigs. Everyone has the power to change this. If you're a young band, set up a regular residency in a pub or something similar. You get to rehearse and play a gig at the same time and it builds a core following for what you do. If you want to play somewhere where you think you might pull a few people and no-one wants to take a punt on you, do the same thing. Set your own gig up. Its not rocket science! (Actually, it IS rocket science. W Von Braun) No-one has expressed any interest in putting me on as a solo artist in Cardiff at any time. I know there is a core audience here so that's why we've done this. We are 10 short of a sell out and very happy with the result. Another lovely place where I have played a lot but not recently. I decide to record tonight and drag out the mics and a laptop with pro tools on it. Well well. I still like my job. A great night with a nice bunch of folks and possibly a good live recording. Record the audience singing 'Happy Birthday' to my old friend and musical partner Colin Wilson who's 60th I'm missing tonight. Allow myself a glass of wine. (I know how to live)
One of the 9 days of sunshine in Cardiff the following day so meet up with mates for outdoor breakfast by the harbour. They include Thys who has come over from Utrecht for the weekend. Bemoan the fact that we simply no longer have time to visit Holland anymore. (Shame)
On to Shropshire. Oh joy. M50 closed but this forces us to go the pretty way up through Ledbury/Leominster/Ludlow. Sun shining and I'm almost enjoying the journey. We get to Broseley about 5. This is a funny old community centre/am-dram theatre venue where Mike Kaiser has been putting on folk and roots music concerts for many years. Its just been refurbished and Mike is getting into full swing with a series of shows. We are sold out (130) and people are traveling some distance to come. Mike is delighted because our personal promotional work has brought in new people who are now aware of a comfortable and friendly place to enjoy music. When musicians say they can't afford to run a mail list there is only one possible reply. You can't afford not to!. And I do mean snail mail as well as email. You'd be amazed how many fans are our music are not internet savvy. More old mates and, best of all, local boy Bill Caddick is the compere and his witty banter and introduction is always a source of great hilarity and entertainment. SOH used to do a song of his called 'Won't you stay on the line' We must revive it. Couldn't have had more fun unless I'd been sailing Pegasus in the Baltic! Pack up and say goodbyes and very amused that a mates husband has chosen Rammstein at the NEC tonight rather than coming here. If it had been me, I'd have gone to the Rammstein show! Those boys know how to entertain.
A 60 mile drive to deepest cheshire to a friends house where I will play in their front room to 50 people. These gigs are just wonderful and there are more of them appearing as time goes on. They are often run by people who used to run folk clubs and just want to keep the ball rolling occasionally. Its a common feature in America now and slowly catching on here.
Thats it really. Cup of tea. Bowl of porridge. Sun over the dales. Changing some strings and learning a new song for tonight.
Far too much wingeing, carping and curmudgeonliness on some of these internet boards sometimes. Not enough about the positive and life affirming side of music which is,for me, the entire point of it.
Tell you what. I love my job!