Thursday, 16 November 2017

Of Right Times and Right Places

Any passing reader may be aware that my way of living is different from that of many. One of the consequences of living both in the Fens and the Alps is the probability that I shall be in an inconveniently distant location at any given time. Wrong place, wrong time could be on my coat of arms.   However, occasionally things come together in a most extraordinary way. Take a weekend earlier this year, for example. I had plans - some work, some play, lots of playing. Two days before a paid job, a social ceilidh in a village in the East Midlands, the gig was cancelled. I hadn't organised it.  Friends were playing as a scratch band, although we all play regularly in a number of combinations, we all take on the fixing and admin roles differently. Some like the clarity of a contract, others are more comfortable with a telephone call or a handshake. I tend towards the former. The fixer on this occasion seemed inclined to the latter. This meant that no cancellation arrangements were in place, including any arrangements for paying cancellation fees. In any life the loss of work at such short notice leaves little opportunity for replacing it, which is a bother. Just saying though that if you choose to renege on one of my contracts I will hunt you down ... On this occasion the evening wasn't entirely wasted. The bass player normally hosts an open mic evening on the first Friday of the month. The sudden hole in the calendar allowed him to undertake his hosting duties and gave me an audience for some Marshlander-style musical agitation.

After a rehearsal with a quintet led by my composer friend, Jane, in the morning, Saturday's plan was to take up an invitation to John's (a storyteller friend) birthday party. He had attained seventy years of age the previous weekend, but his work as a professional storyteller and poet had engaged him elsewhere. The party was at The Steamboat, apparently a well-known pub on the dockside in Ipswich. I would like to be able to say I like Ipswich. I'm sure it has a grand history, beautiful buildings, an engaged community and a thriving cultural scene, but I have not been there often enough to find any of these things. Coming from Norfolk I do know that my presence is not aways welcome among local football fans.

Ipswich does have a musical history though. Pretty much every touring band once played at the Odeon, later the Gaumont and now the Regent, but I have no idea if that is still the case. I'm talking about days when bands like the Small Faces and Pinkerton's Assorted Colours played in Heacham, in Norfolk, or when The Jimi Hendrix Experience rocked the Wellington Club in Dereham or The Rolling Stones, Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent played in Wisbech ... although I am sure the Ipswich venue was used beyond 1965.

Much of the area around the River Orwell in Ipswich is now given over to parking space, except that none of it is neither open to members of the public nor to casual visitors, such as I was that day. The effect of swathes of grey concrete fenced in behind chain-link or more substantial security fencing is to give the dock area the appearance of a town in distress, one deciding whether or not to recover from a war once it can raise some money. It was also frustrating to have found the pub, and see acres of parking all of which was inaccessible. On street parking near the pub was, quite naturally, full. I found a space outside a modern block of flats and reluctantly abandoned the van there. It wasn't clear whether parking was allowed, but there were other vehicles there already.

John, the celebrating storyteller, was at the bar and effusive in his welcome as I crept through the door to the saloon. Other guests were already present and I was introduced to members of his tribe. A small p.a. was set up and it appeared the festivities were going to take on a participatory element at some point. Having my guitar and footdrums in the van I offered my services which were accepted. That necessitated a twenty-minute round trek back to the van. I was relieved to find it still there and the instruments still inside. How nice, though, to be able to repay the pleasure I have received over many years working with John on various projects by sharing some of my creative efforts with him for a change. He seemed surprised as I suppose we might all be when we find that someone has another life outside any hole into which we have pigeoned them.

Sunday was another day. I had planned to meet Jane in Cromer. She and her artist partner, Bob, moved there recently and this happened to be also the weekend of Folk On The Pier, a folk festival in Cromer celebrating its wooden anniversary. As it happened another friend, Richard Penguin, was hosting a weekend of "Teatime Showcase" events and I arranged to meet Jane at the Cromer Social Club to enjoy the last of these. Walking into the Social Club all was not well. Richard was looking concerned and it transpired that the opening act was stuck on a bus between Cromer and Norwich and wouldn't be due to arrive until well after his set was due to start. That was a shock. I had no idea there would be a bus between Cromer and Norwich on a Sunday evening. Although I suppose I shouldn't have been, I was also surprised to find I had worked with most of the people on the programme in some capacity or other over the past thirty years. I had worked with the classes of the ex-teachers, and even in the same band as some of the performers. They didn't make it easy to predict that we would have previous connections since they had changed their real names to more innocent-sounding folksinger names - like I can complain about that! Seeing Richard's quandary I once more offered my services. Although he is a promotor, performer, radio show host, writer and raconteur, Richard didn't really know me as Marshlander - one man acoustic band and songwriter. Once again it was fun to subvert someone else's filing system. In fact he was so delighted he asked for an encore and publicly offered an invitation for a full set at next year's Teatime Showcase. 

So while I may spend a great deal of my time being in the wrong place, it is fun to enjoy an occasional weekend such as this where the stars align and form pretty patterns.

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