Prospect Hill, Swindon, a rabbit warren of barely passable lanes and one way systems. Parking spaces a premium in this town, especially now there is the newly built precinct nearby. The same restaurants you find all over the country greet us, the setting sun shining a rose gold pallor over the brown brickwork of Morrison’s. Young men with tattooed sleeves and loosened ties sit on the steps basking in the early spring rays, they look glad to just not be at work and able to enjoy the sun, it’s been absent for so long and today feels like the first light of spring. A teenage couple kiss at the top of the steps, enlarged mobile phones perilously close to falling out of the tight pockets of their jeans. Two suspect looking men in track suits are trying to get into Morrison’s but are being prevented by a cordon of staff, a squat store manager at the centre, arms crossed. The staff look uncomfortable and the two track suits play up to the theatre of it, mock falling on the floor and petitioning the guards for clemency. We eat in a suitably generic Italian restaurant and are soon back in the pub playing to a good crowd. Ags Connolly is the headline act tonight and his classic country song writing style distils my mind, ‘as long as there are bars like this, I think I will survive’.
Post show we follow our good friend Tim Manning out into the night and on towards the Severn Bridge. There is barely anyone on the road except for the lorries slowly making progress, the Peugeot is rattling to the boom of Nico’s ‘Desertshore’ played loud, the baroque pump organ lending a sinister air to the West Country night. Over the Severn Bridge and into Newport and bed. Paul gets the short straw and sleeps on the floor.
Next day, without rush we explore the centre of Newport. Across the bridge and into the underpass, quickly surveying the remnants of the castle and the famous angel that featured on the cover of a Stone Roses single. There are mud banks upon mud banks with a new build punching through in silver and grey. Through the underpass and up into a high street that teems with life but yet seems so empty. Empty shop windows, boarded pubs but yet behind the main street is a new shopping centre with the obligatory ‘Muffin Stop’ and ‘Tesco’. It seems strange that these shops don’t invest in the already existing properties. We visit Diverse Records and an indoor market where we buy books and CDs to keep us flush for months. A group of misanthropes taunt each other on the benches outside the shops, ‘keep you dog under control!’ one threatens the other.
Settled in the Tiny Rebel Brewery bar we sit watching the late afternoon workers break for the weekend. We say our goodbyes to Tim and head for Bristol, which is a metropolis by comparison. A wrong turn and traffic but at the Premier Inn Haymarket the receptionist politely tells us there will be security on the door tonight with it being a Friday. A party town then.
Our show at Folk House is a wonderful introduction to our touring partner and Nashville resident Sam Lewis. He has been in the country a few weeks and is suffering the mid-tour woes of a bad stomach and lack of sleep. It’s an enjoyable show and myself and Paul manage to find a pub open late enough to have a nightcap. We have to search for it first and we dash across large inner city roundabouts and escape busy student clubs where outside a man on a mobility scooter plays bongos for spare change, until we eventually find an average pub on the other side of the bus depot where vomit and empty beer cans litter the ground; the remnants of those leaving the city for the outliers. The lights are bright in our new abode and it looks bare. The last few stragglers of the night listen to a guy in the corner playing covers of Blink 182 or Wheatus. Paul and I retire to the hotel room and watch the Jonah Hex film before I fall off to sleep, the last sight I see is of John Malcovich firing a gun indiscriminately.
It’s a long drive out of Bristol to Bangor. Colwyn Bay is magnificent in the early afternoon sunshine and makes the crawl through the Cheshire hinterland worthwhile. Bangor does not disappoint either. We are staying in Llanllechid, a small village outside Bangor and the cottage sits on top of a hill side, black slate shards cover the top and Lizzy, who trained up from London, likens it to the jagged vistas of Mordor. The sun is out and it’s so hot it could be summer, I feel I am burning. The Blue Sky Café is a gloriously light and clean venue where the sweet potato soup renews us. It’s a quiet show but the audience are lovely and give us a good feeling. We head back to the cottage and drink lager and play board games. I sleep in the living room and am awoken by Lizzy around 5am who sneaks out to watch the sunrise on top of the slate plateau. I can barely lift my head.
A few days later and we are back in the clog of north London. I arrive early and sit in the World’s End near Camden Town tube station and people watch. I then move onto wandering the neighbourhood around Cecil Sharp House, the houses so large and quiet. Branches overhang white washed walls, the rustling of the leaves peaceful, novelistic almost. I feel a thousand miles away from the bustle of Parkway. Post show Paul drives us out of the city, away, away into the hinterland of Essex.
The next night and a local show and Peggy Sue’s Piano Bar on the London Road in Leigh on Sea. We barely have time for five or six songs but we play our best against the restraints of the sound system and have a good time. Friendly familiar faces everywhere.
My birthday sees us heading west to Glastonbury. I have been gigging on my birthday for years and today I feel frustrated that I cannot spend the day enjoying some time at home. The Good Friday traffic is atrocious and sure enough the hours drift by going over the Dartford Crossing, M25 and then the A303 where Stonehenge, without exception, causes traffic congestion from all the rubber necking. It’s hard not to look at it. At last (and for the first time) we arrive in Glastonbury. The high street is dominated by crystal, shamanic healing and occult book shops. There’s a general decrepitude about the buildings, decay and smoke damage, dirt and grease. It may be my frame of mind. We dine at a fish and chip shop that proudly claims it was rated the twelfth best chip shop in the country by the Guardian. I wouldn’t disagree and sated we head back to the pub where I get talking to a group at the bar. One couple has a small dog, not a Chihuahua I am told but something similar. It’s a pup and regularly falls off the bar stool it has been placed on to scamper about looking for affection.
We play the show and a lock in ensues mainly in honour of my birthday. Two Welsh ladies from Merthyr Tydfil who talked throughout the whole set latch onto me for an hour or so and bend my ear on flower power and the Glastonbury Festivals of old. Another lady offers me an escape route but only to find that she wants us to go up to the Glastonbury Tor right now, near to midnight, to feel the energy of the leyline that crosses Bristol and the pyramids of Egypt. I am scuppered on Calsberg Export and the local Butcher come soundman for the evening makes a comedic face behind her as she eloquently explains the mysteries of the Tor. I politely decline and make my excuses to join another conversation. When the promoter falls asleep in the chair we know it is time to retire.
A fitful sleep, three hours tops and I’m up again checking the car in the cold April morning for parking tickets. I wander the town, hollow and aimless. I eat eggs benedict in a Pink Floyd themed café dribbling absent mindedly on the table; I mooch the abbey gift shop. A medieval fair is being held and people wander the streets in period dress. I meander through a craft fair in the town hall being sucked into the sales patter of the craftsmen. I call Paul to get him up, pick up some fresh sausage rolls from the butcher Soundman and we’re off across country to Stowmarket.
It’s a pleasant drive past Stonehenge this time and into the green and yellow rape fields of Suffolk towards the John Peel Centre. Stowmarket high street is devoid of any joy and we sit in a Subway with a group of biker kids eating a turkey roll that constitutes our dinner. We play, we mingle and then we say our goodbyes to Sam and ease across town and onto the A12 towards home.