There is something virtuous about early morning starts at the weekend. Sunday 17th February 2019 and I am on the road before 8am heading towards Great Ayton in North Yorkshire. I have a run of shows with my friend Elaine Palmer who is a singer songwriter based on the borders of North Yorkshire and Teeside. She is stuck on a train in Doncaster so I sit with her family eating soup and catching up; it seems an age since I was last here, although we reckon it was late summer last year.
Tonight’s gig is at a vegetarian restaurant called ‘The Waiting Room’, which is a stone’s throw away from Eaglescliffe train station. Yarm is not far away, a town which I recall is the home of Janick Gers from Iron Maiden. I wonder if he’ll come tonight? A knitting group sit in the corner industriously sewing knitted flowers onto baskets. They look Really intricate and beautiful. Elaine is joined by her cellist Harriet and we all sit and break bread with the most amazing food. The show goes as standard and I stand under the carousel binding that headers the stage. I feel a little rusty but I enjoy the feeling of playing to new people and I am soon falling into a bed exhausted.
I spend a leisurely morning the next day with Elaine, swapping stories and comparing notes before I am off and into Lincoln for a solo show. I cross the fens and get that famous view of Lincoln Cathedral sitting on its hill many miles before I enter the city. My satnav takes me through Denham on Trent and I pay 40p to cross the small toll bridge. I’m astounded they have it manned 24/7. One audience member that night tells me the farmer who owns it makes a killing and Christmas Day is the only day it is free.
I love Lincoln and have happy memories of visiting one hot summer day in 2003 with a group of friends when we were living in Sheffield. I recall sandwiches on the Castle green, a Cumbrian piper outside the Cathedral and Will Carr Straddling a cannon for a cheap laugh. We gazed upon Magna Carta that day but today it’s raining hard and straight so I flit between coffee shops. I am cornered by the owner of a second hand bookshop in the Jew’s House (the oldest house in the UK if I am right?). I innocently ask him what books he likes and he sets forth on a blow by blow account of Hannibal’s harrying and triumphs over the Romans. When I finally escape I peek into the Cathedral, which is covered in scaffolding, impressive as the stone work itself; if I could be so uncouth. I walk the perimeter trying to look at the masonry and gargoyles and come eyeball to eyeball with a young man sitting in a doorway. I sense he might be homeless but there is no obvious baggage or bedding and he doesn’t ask for any money. Just a menacing stare.
The show is in St. Mary’s Guildhall which I read was probably built for the purpose of housing Henry II’s winter crowning ceremonies of 1157. It’s a welcoming crowd and a beautiful setting. James, one of the organisers, lives in the St. Giles district of the city and his 1920s house is set back from the road giving it a gloriously secluded and peaceful air. The next morning I drop him off at the train station before heading over the flatland once again towards the A46 and Newark. The sky is a magnificent blue and small planes wheel over me in as Smooth Radio pumps out the 80s ballads. It’s a moment of clarity and justification that I find rare these days.
Fast forward a few days and Elaine is in my neighbourhood for shows at the Fishermen’s Chapel in Leigh on Sea and The Harrison in London. The Leigh gig feels like a homecoming but I find it tiring being organiser, performer and promoter. Everyone seems to like the show so maybe I did my job OK. Likewise, in London, we do our own sound and I feel a sense of achievement in getting it right. Paul gives me a lift home and I feel pretty spent up.
Finally it’s another early start on Sunday 24th February. I certainly don’t feel as virtuous today. Lack of sleep that night makes me feel hollow and the fog is dense on the drive up to Leeds. I’m on a mission to visit the Battlefield at Towton, which is only twenty minutes from my venue tonight. Towton was one of the bloodiest and pivotal battles of the Wars of the Roses and the massacre of human life that took place is sobering. I wanted to feel that and although the sun came out in a glorious spring like fashion I struggled to find the site beyond the Crooked Billet pub. The area seemed poorly signposted and although I got to visit the now gone medieval village of Lead and walk around the fields I gave up and headed into the labyrinth that is Leeds city centre. A good feeling show at Oporto in the heart of the city, which is being hosted by a wonderful human and performer, B W Pike. A man asks me to lend him £100 at the parking meter, half-jokingly but half sincerely I think.
It’s sad to leave Elaine and I feel like we were just getting into the swing of things. It feels an anti-climax and these things always do. There’s never any balloon drop or wild after show send off, just the acknowledgement that you survived, you did OK and you need to get on and do some more. The pubs and clubs are busy with drunk students and shady track suited men, hoods up, poncing lighters off the street life. I weave home to my friend Tre’s house. She’s come from watching the Cup Final and is horrified at how Leeds city council prevents you from turning left at certain junctions when clearly that would help traffic flow massively. I can only agree.