...from a moment resting on the way
Being on tour with Sadie and the Hotheads is certainly an event. The experience of sharing Mike and the Mechanics' stage and audiences an apparent success and one we're all enjoying. The hotheads are not really hotheads in the sense the word implies, but mild heat can occur as keeping us organised is at times a kin to herding cats. Only Elizabeth obeys the rules, stays on time and behaves as a lady really should, she is an example of pure elegance (most of the time... shh), we watch films on the bus and love listening to amazing stories from her dazzling career. The Nelsons are like two naughty school boys on an away trip, we laugh as they repeat the same jokes every day and amuse themselves with tales from the past and singing lines from classic Dylan songs. Ron and Danica are perpetually positive and entertain us by solving the problems we create on route and Nick and I enjoy coming up with new ways of causing them and witter away in silly accents. It's a wonder!
The stage is where we are most happy. The short punchy set is over all too soon, but the real reason for all the shenanigans of the journey. Everyone bustles up in readiness on gig days, except Nick who is reluctant to wear his pink stage trousers (who can blame him). We dress up, warm up, share a glass of 'red' and stroll out in shades of pink and purple to enjoy making some music once more. From behind Gary Wallis' splendid drums (I get to play each night) my view is of six friends giving their all, hoping the audience will enjoy the offering and have a good time. It's a moment in time that passes quickly and although the songs are simple I remember there is a deeper heartbeat beating amidst it all. Back in the dressing room we default to the banter and return to the short term routines of the road trip. I'm already thinking about tomorrow's hotel breakfast... double egg, bacon, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes and possibly even seconds!
The beautiful Parr Hall on Palmyra Square, built for the people of Warrington by Joseph Parr and opened in 1898, was our home on Sunday night. The Rolling Stones performed here in ’63. Not too hard to drift back in time and imagine sitting in the dressing room, shooting the breeze with a young Keef.
Tonight’s gig was memorable for Bison’s ‘dance’ - following the girls on to the stage, Nick’s vocal ‘improvisations’, the spontaneous applause which followed Sadie’s ‘World Vision’ introduction to ‘Use It Up’ and a lovely post gig dinner at The Grill On The Square.
Monday is a travel day. We hit the M6 North around 11am. Blue signs. White lines. Spring skies on the way up to the lakes and on to the border country. Man’s natural state, according to Bruce Chatwin, is to wander. Here are some of my favourite quotes, from his book ‘The Songlines’:
“As a general rule of biology, migratory species are less 'aggressive' than sedentary ones.
...The migration itself, like the pilgrimage, is the hard journey: a 'leveller' on which the 'fit' survive and stragglers fall by the wayside. The journey thus pre-empts the need for hierarchies and shows of dominance. The 'dictators' of the animal kingdom are those who live in an ambience of plenty. The anarchists, as always, are the gentlemen of the road.”
“Sluggish and sedentary peoples, such as the Ancient Egyptians - with their concept of an afterlife journey through the Field of Reeds - project on to the next world the journeys they failed to make in this one.”
“... a Bushman child will be carried a distance of 4,900 miles before he begins to walk on his own. Since, during this rhythmic phase, he will be forever naming the contents of his territory, it is impossible he will not become a poet.”
Like Dylan’s ‘Rolling Thunder’ band of gypsies we roll north past the outskirts of other towns, other people’s lives, past farms and the remnants of Ancient Woodland which make me think of another great book – Sarah Matland’s ‘Gossip From The Forest’:
“Fairytales are one of our earliest and most vital cultural forms, and forests one of our most ancient and primal landscapes. Both evoke a similar sensation in us - we find them beautiful and magical, but also spooky, sometimes horrifying....Maitland argues that the two forms are intimately connected: the mysterious secrets and silences, gifts and perils of the forests were both the background and the source of fairytales. Yet both forests and fairy stories are at risk and their loss deprives us of our cultural lifeblood. Maitland visits forests through the seasons, from the exquisite green of a beechwood in spring, to the muffled stillness of a snowy pine wood in winter. She camps with her son Adam, whose beautiful photographs are included in the book; she takes a barefoot walk through Epping Forest with Robert Macfarlane; she walks with a mushroom expert through an oak wood, and with a miner through the Forest of Dean. Maitland ends each chapter with a unique, imaginative re-telling of a fairystory. Written with Matiland's wonderful clarity and conversational grace, Gossip from the Forest is a magical and unique blend of nature writing, history and imaginative fiction.”
These are just snippets of my thoughts as we drift into the fading light. Others are working, watching a movie, talking, sleeping....
After breakfast, and a stroll into Warrington town centre with Nick and Terl, we all climb aboard the magic bus for the trip out to the seaside town of New Brighton. Situated on the promenade overlooking the River Mersey, on the Wirral peninsula, the Floral Pavilion is the latest venue on our jaunt around the UK.
The Theatre originally opened as an open-air summer theatre within the Victoria Gardens. In 1925 it was covered by an iron and glass roof and during the mid-1960s was largely rebuilt, with a full metal roof.
The theatre closed in 2007 and was demolished as part of the town's redevelopment plans. Rebuilt to a new design it reopened in December 2008 with a performance by comedian Ken Dodd, whose long association with the Pavilion began with his first appearance there in 1940.
There are laughs aplenty backstage, banter with ‘Bison’ and the rest of the boys, then it’s time to change strings, tune up, eat Mexican and sample the wine, before we hit the stage for our eighth show.
Half an hour of slick, adrenalin-fuelled ‘Sadie Rock’ and we’re out in the foyer to meet and greet at the World Vision stand.
Great to see our cousin, Mike ‘Beaker’ Nelson and his lovely wife Val during the interval. Val is a dedicated music teacher and once taught Gary Barlow – she used to bring cassette tapes (remember those) of songs he had just written as a teenager and play them to us. Wish we’d signed him up!
Back to the hotel for drinks in the bar. One went straight to bed while some, who shall remain nameless, were up till 4am ... a few bleary eyes at breakfast this morning. Still, time to recover today... we’re just down the road at the Parr Hall, Warrington tonight. Tra la la....
So, the second long stretch away from home on our Mike & the Mechanics support tour the begins. Ron has been up since 5 schlepping across the countryside to collect us all from the four corners of London and afar. He sleeps as Terl takes the wheel on the M6 skirting the edges of Brummyland. Nick does his best to keep Terl focused on the task at hand whilst regaling him with musical tales. Laughter and dreadful Irish accents (Terl more so than Nick as he is actually Irish!) waft through to us in the back.
Joni Mitchell's Hejira plays on the stereo and we swap tales of our favourite Joni songs (conclusion: Blue is the perfect marriage of lyric and music).
Both Elizabeth and I spent our teens devouring Joni Mitchell albums and nothing touches so deeply as the music that pervades ones formative years. We're almost steeped in it like a tea bag in water.
We arrive in Bolton and deposit the instruments and gear in the Albert Halls and await our turn to sound check.
Mike and his Mechanics sound check first and sound amazing as usual. Andrew Roachford's voice is effortless soul. Ear candy. I could listen to him all day. While Tim Howar packs a powerful rocky punch. Two very different voices that surprisingly work perfectly together especially in three part harmony along with Luke the keyboard/sax/bass player.
We're up next and we have our Elizabeth back with us again so we're in full voice and sounding tight.
The gig over and we're off to Warrington for a quick night cap before retiring for a relatively early night.
After breakfast the following morning while the boys wander into town for a nosy around, Elizabeth takes me through her yoga routine and I'm reminded of muscles I thought were long ago extinct. I now know why she stays so trim! (Note to self - do not attempt yoga after a full English breakfast!)
I need a lie down before we're off again to the next gig. Life on the road is kinda laid back, ain't nothing that a country girl like me can't hack, to misquote Mr Denver.
See you in the Wirral.
Setting off from Mortlake with Simon, we pick Terl up in Hatfield then roll North East to King’s Lynn. Flat country. Rain. The radio on. Conversation. Two hours later we’re negotiating the winding streets of King’s Lynn. Praise the Lord for the satnav!
The Grade II listed facade of King's Lynn Corn Exchange, originally built in 1854, is a testimony to the glory of Victorian architecture. Contrary to popular legend, the statue above the magnificent facade is that of Demeter, Greek goddess of the harvest,and not Margaret Thatcher!
Tuesday Market Place hosted trade fairs from the 16th Century, attracting visitors from as far as Italy and Germany. As the importance of trade fairs declined the Mart became a funfair and was reduced to a single annual event taking place every Valentines Day and lasting 14 days. It’s in full swing today, mobile homes and caravans occupying most of the spaces as we pull in to park.
‘Bison’, Mike Rutherford’s guitar tech, pops in to our dressing room and regales us with hilarious quips and stories of his life on the road with the likes of ACDC and Brian May. A lovely guy, he can’t do enough to help. The whole crew, which includes ‘Pud’, ‘Privet’ and ‘Marrakesh’ have been marvellous and it’s much appreciated by the hotheads.
After another sold-out gig we head off into the night, dropping Terl off in Hatfield before the last stretch home…. Chatham, Kent tomorrow.
A morning at home, catching up on domestic duties, then it’s round the M25 to Chatham. Chatham is one of the Medway towns of North Kent, standing on the A2 along the line of the ancient Celtic route, which was paved by the Romans, and named Watling Street by the Anglo-Saxons.
Charles Dickens lived in the town as a boy, and described it as the happiest period of his childhood, eventually returning to the area in adulthood when he bought a house in nearby Gad’s Hill. He later moved to nearby Rochester, another of the Medway Towns, and the area features in several of his novels.
Central Theatre is our home for the night, the dressing room, as always, furnished with tea, coffee, fruit, crisps and nuts, water, beer and a couple of bottles of red wine (our preferred tipple). We order a Malaysian takeaway, warm up the vocal cords and… we’re on, another rocking gig, another great crowd.
Off up north on Friday, the North West, Scotland, North East and Midlands… maybe see you there.
Before the Romans invaded Iron Age Britain in AD 43, Norfolk had been the territory of the Iceni people. The most famous leader of this tribe, Boudica, led an unsuccessful revolt against the Roman occupation in around AD 60. Following her defeat, the Romans inhabited the area for more than 300 years.
After breakfast, and days of rain, we head out to the town centre in the sunshine, strolling around the streets with the Sunday crowds, stopping off for a pint in a pub, then heading back to the Theatre for soundcheck.
The Theatre Royal in Norwich has had an extremely chequered past. The original, ’New Theatre in Chapel Field' opened in January 1758. It was only the second purpose-built theatre in England. In the early 1820s, a new Theatre Royal was built and flourished until 1934 when it burnt down. An Art Deco styled theatre followed, opening in September 1935. During World War Two, a couple of incendiary bombs dropped onto the theatre roof but were quickly extinguished. The theatre closed again in March 2007 for a ten million pound refurbishment and is now among the top five theatres in the country.
Sadie arrives an hour late after a disrupted train journey, there’s a photo session and Mexican dinner from ‘Pedros’- thank you Jayne and crew for accommodating our changing orders! Then we’re on, to another packed and appreciative house. After the show we tumble into the splitter for the long drive home. Poor Ron has to drive us all back to London, drop us off at various points, then drop the splitter off in Wembley and head back out east to Colchester. Thanks Ron!
Day off on Monday then we’re back in Norfolk for our gig in King’s Lynn.
After a wet morning hanging around the hotel we load up for the forty mile trip to Buxton.
A Derbyshire spa town with the highest elevation of any market town in England, Buxton is located close to the county boundary with Cheshire to the west and Staffordshire to the south. Described as "the gateway to the Peak District" and famed for its natural spring water and Georgian architecture, the towns rich history features Roman settlers, royal prisoners, outlaws and noble benefactors.
Buxton Opera House, situated in The Square, is a 902-seat opera house built in 1903 and designed by Frank Matcham, one of Britain's finest theatre architects - he also designed the London Coliseum in 1904 and the London Palladium in 1910.
The Opera House ran as a successful theatre, receiving touring companies until 1927, when it was turned into a cinema. Silent films were shown until 1932 when the theatre was wired for sound to present ‘talkies’.
After the Second World War, the theatre continued to serve primarily as a cinema and gradually fell into disrepair. In 1976, it was closed and rumours circulated that it would never reopen. In 1979, however, it was restored and an orchestra pit was added to the original design.
Since then, the Opera House has been a full-time venue for stage productions, presenting approximately 450 performances per year, including opera, dance, musical theatre, pantomime, comedy, drama, children's shows and concerts....
And what a stunning venue it is, even in the pouring rain... inside the crew are already up and running, and after an early soundcheck and a Thai takeaway we’re out for our short, and by now, slick set. A great reception again, a quick getaway and a four hour drive to Norwich, the rain pounding down. Passing the bottle, sharing laughs, listening to Crowded House and The Band... oh how we laughed.
Valentines Day.... after a late breakfast and a lazy morning, with more wind, rain and hill snow forecast, we head over the hills to Holmfirth...
Sitting in the heart of the breathtaking Holme Valley, this captivating little village, centred on the confluence of the Holme and Ribble rivers, oozes creativity – celebrating its uniqueness with a festival program of Arts and Music, Film, Food and Drink, not to mention the famous Duck Race - cue a Sadie song (for those in the know)!
Known locally as 'Little Hollywood', Holmfirth was once a centre for pioneering film-making by Bamforth & Co., which later switched to the production of saucy seaside postcards – a large print of one hangs in our dressing room!
These days the town is renowned as the location of the TV classic ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ and Ron can’t wait to head off to Nora Batty’s teashop – which he duly does in the pouring rain.
Our venue tonight, the Picturedrome, was originally known as the Holme Valley Theatre and was opened on Easter Monday, March 1st 1913. Designed as a cinema, the theatre seated 1040 people; 240 in the balcony and 800 downstairs.
The first films to be shown in the Valley Theatre featured live musical accompaniment, later replaced with a recorded music device called a panatrope - basically a record player with twin turntables.
In the first 10 to 15 years, the theatre presented its audience with a large variety of live acts including musicians, actors and even a stage appearance of a strong man billed as ‘Yorkshire's Hercules’. The first sound feature was the popular 'Sunnyside Up', which opened on 13th October 1930.
In March 1963 the venue celebrated its Golden Jubilee. However, as audiences dwindled, it was no surprise when it closed in September 1967 - with a performance of 'The Family Way' starring John and Haley Mills.
It was leased to Bradford Amusement Caterers and reopened as a bingo hall in December 1967. Bingo kept the flag flying for some 26 years before it was once again utilised as a cinema capable of staging live performances and renamed the Picturedrome.
We huddle around one small heater in a chilly, damp dressing room, listening to the Mechanics soundchecking below. Then it’s our turn for a quick run through before we repair to the pub next door for bite to eat and a warm....
back at the Picturedrome the crowd are buzzing. It’s a great atmosphere with many standing, a real ‘rock’ gig and, once again, Dani and the boys deliver to a warm, appreciative crowd...
then it’s a thirty mile drive back to the hotel, red wine and crisps in Dani’s room, late to bed, late to rise. Buxton tomorrow. Rock ‘n Roll!
Rolling out of London into the eye of a storm. In the ‘Splitter’, Ron driving, with James and Ian, Terl, Nick and Simon. Battered up through the Midlands we pick Dani up at Chester Station, then brave the last few miles out to Rhyl.
Situated on the north east coast of Wales at the mouth of the River Clwyd, Rhyl has long been a popular tourist destination for people all over Wales and North West England. Once an elegant Victorian resort, an influx of people from Liverpool and Manchester after WWII changed the face of the town forever.
Simon and I frequently came here with our parents from our home in Stafford, two small boys, suitcases packed with new summer clothes, excited by the prospect of a week at the beach, dreaming of ice-cream and rock. I have a photo of myself as a young boy wearing a cowboy hat and sitting on a donkey on Rhyl seafront, sometime in the 1950’s. Times were different then. Buddy Holly and The Everlys were in the charts and no-one, yet, had heard of The Beatles or Bob Dylan.
The area had declined dramatically by 1990 but has improved in recent times due to major investment and a series of regeneration projects.
Not that we had chance to see any of that as we backed up to the stage door in a howling gale. Down on the seafront it felt like this old world was finally coming to an end, the wind tearing at everything in its path....
In contrast, inside all was warmth and light. Mike, his Mechanics and fantastic crew were as friendly and helpful as one could wish for, management and promoters totally understanding of Elizabeth’s predicament, wishing us well for the gig and providing us with everything we needed, both on stage and off.
A quick soundcheck, a backstage curry and we stroll out to applause from a full house, count in to ‘Superficial’, all eyes on Dani as she tears it up front of stage...
‘All My Sins’, ‘Staying Alive’, ‘Everybody’s Got A Song’, ‘Use It Up’ and ‘Nothing New’ are all greeted enthusiastically by the packed auditorium and before we know it, it’s time to head off into the wings for a drop or two of rouge and a signing session at the World Vision stand.
The weather is so bad that we have to abandon our post-gig journey to Rochdale and stay at the Kinmel Manor Hotel in Abergele... bar open till 12. Yippee!
Thursday 13th. The storm has abated, for now, so we head over to the Norton Grange Hotel & Spa in Rochdale for a day off! Steam room, swimming pool, and tonight a celebration meal for Dani’s birthday!! Holmfirth tomorrow. Living the dream.
Simon and I are on the train rolling back up the East Coast Line to Edinburgh. We change trains in Edinburgh for Glasgow Central where we are picked up by taxi and deposited over at the Holiday Inn on West Nile Street.
Glasgow is buzzing on this, the last weekend of Celtic Connections 2014. Checking in, the lobby is teeming with musicians: beautiful songstress Shawn Colvin and the legendary Jerry Douglas. Phil Cunningham. Last time I saw Phil in person he was performing with Silly Wizard on a beautiful starry summer night at the Bermuda Folk Club.
Turns out the whole Transatlantic Sessions band is in town. Over the weekend we spotted Darrell Scott, Nashville songwriter, guitarist, banjo, pedal steel and mandolin player extraordinaire, the great bluegrass picker Tim O’Brien, fiddler Aly Bain and bassist Danny Thompson…personal heroes and stalwarts of the folk and country music scene. It’s a privilege to be in the same town as these guys, let alone the same hotel…
After dinner at La Bonne Auberge with our sound engineer Chris (Maddy Prior, Steeleye Span) we head over to the Mitchell Library to catch Gretchen Peters and Barry Walsh, who deliver a fantastic set to a packed house. Great way to start the weekend. Like true rock ’n rollers we head back to the hotel for an early night! Simon is knackered after three weeks out on the road and I have an eye infection which makes me look like the Cyclops!
After Breakfast on Sunday, Jack Henderson drops by for a chinwag. Jack, a friend for many years, is a great guitar player and songwriter and it’s good to catch up over coffee and hot chocolate. The rest of the band are flying in this morning, from Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow and at 11.30 Simon, Chris, Jack and I head down to the venue for load-in and soundcheck.
The Old Fruitmarket is a beautiful, atmospheric venue which retains its market hall character. As part of the City Halls complex designed by John Carrick in 1882, The Old Fruitmarket directly adjoins the Grand Hall and was a functioning market until the 1970s. Once home to bustling fresh fruit, flower and cheese stalls, it has been protected as a category A listed building since 1970.
We finish sound checking, dodge out for a bite to eat, then it’s back to the dressing room for the pre-gig rituals. Armed with our ‘long’set plus a couple of new numbers we hit the stage at 9.10 and wind up an hour and a half later with ‘Open Mic Blues’, featuring the fabulous Gretchen Peters on vocals and Barry Walsh on accordion…
Back at the hotel the old timers headed off to bed while the youngsters (and Ian) went off to party at the Hard Rock Cafe…don’t know where they get their energy.
Monday morning, 7.30am. I’m waiting to take the elevator down to breakfast from my room on the 3rd floor. It arrives from the 4th floor, the door opens and there stands Shawn Colvin, alone. I step in, a little starstruck but trying to act cool and press the button…for the 4th floor. Shawn says, “I was going to the ground floor”and I reply, “Er, yes, so was I”…