Shows didn’t get going until mid-summer. The end of lockdown, like one big expulsion of air from the lungs, felt like a release. It was with some trepidation I followed the slurry of lorries up the M6 to Birmingham. I hadn’t missed the traffic jams and long drives.
The first show was the Kitchen Garden Cafe in King’s Heath. I had wanted to play this venue for a long time. Restrictions had been extended but the show faired well in that the audience could sit in the court yard while I stood on a mobile stage. I felt nervous and forgot the words to a new song called ‘The Jaws of Nothing’ twice. The old adrenaline kicked in and I welcomed that feeling, that kick, before you go on stage – it felt like the return to something real after months of living within a walking distance of my flat.
Tom, the keyboardist who plays on ‘Clifftown’ graciously offered me a bed for the night and we spent the next morning drinking sour coffees in a soft play centre while his son charged around the brightly coloured foam pyramids and stalactites that make up a two year old’s world.
I left them there and took my time driving back down the trunk of the country, over the glistening Thames to Otford in Kent. My grandparents had lived in the neighbouring village of Eynsford but Otford was as foreign to me as the heart of the Amazon rainforest. There was something deeply outer body being so close, physically, to a place I knew so intimately, yet in the car park of the Otford Memorial Hall I watched people walk their dogs on the adjacent field and felt I could have been anywhere. I imagined my grandfather doing his shopping here or running an errand, a secret life closed to a boy who only visited on weekends and holidays.
The show was well attended and I sat backstage eating sandwiches and talking to the other act. They had driven from Bournemouth and we swapped motorway war stories. We were chatting so deeply that my stage time took me by surprise, I rushed to the stage, hastily tuned my guitar as the audience sat in silence waiting. The lights were bright in my eyes, I was lost in a sea of darkness. I found my balance about three songs in. Driving home in the dark the satnav took me through the winding high street of Eynsford, I passed my grandparents’ home, obscured by hedge and midnight darkness – lives, memories, a chronology of my entire childhood covered over by time , the house a slate wiped clean for someone else to write on.
Naseby, the following day, was one of those endurance gigs. Paul, Bryan and myself crammed into the car with drum kit, double bass and all assorted merch to play a show we always enjoy. Green gardens, flint walls, the aura of civil war battles, the sulphur smell of musket shot, mead, homemade cake.
Late July comes and the Folk on the Lawn Festival in Tintern celebrates its return after a year off due to Covid. The heat is unbearable. The Saturday is taken up with playing a show with my friends Julie and Mike. On the Sunday I lie in a sliver of shade behind the main stage, the Welsh flag flutters above me, the River Wye entices…if only I could jump in from here. I venture to take a snap of the abbey, as if it might give me a different aspect from when I photographed it last a couple of years ago. The five minute walk is too much, I retreat to the shade. My car registers 38 degrees when I pour myself into it to drive home.
During August the shows come in fits and starts, a local show at the Temple Cafe is a delight as I share an outside show with local friends and musicians. FolkEast in Suffolk is an early start. Bryan and I wander the abandoned mid-morning backstage area in search of coffee. We’re the first act on the main stage and we play in the muggy misty rain as people gather. David Eagle from the Young ‘Uns invites me to play a song on their live podcast. It’s really good to see him – it’s been too long. As I hack through a song they all join in – they’re so intuitive and play the song as if they have heard it a million times. I envy that ability. I mooch the stalls and find some food. We watch a few acts before heading home.
Early September starts with a show in Corby. It’s my first time in the town and the satnav takes me to a huge 1960s shopping precinct. I’m reminded of a J G Ballard novel, it looks like some sort of futuristic space colony building. I wander the shops looking for something to eat but there’s not much choice. I settle for a sandwich and sit in the car before searching for the venue. Up a single set of steps to the roof, across a courtyard full of abandoned air conditioning ducting and concrete tiles, I find the Arts Centre. Pigeons gather in queues on every discernible ledge eying me. I feel I have entered their domain. The Art Centre is housed in the abandoned library. The bill is busy and I play to a friendly audience and hang around until the end of the night before slipping onto the motorway home.
The next afternoon myself and Paul are off to Swindon to play Blind River Scare’s night at the Beehive. A quick meal and a show to a small audience. We’re on the road around 11pm but they close the M4 just before the M25. We drive endlessly around Maidenhead and country roads, M40 closed, M25 closed, we end up driving through north London, Finchley and Tottenham accompanied by low slung Golf GTis with darkened windows crawling at the speed limit. We’re both desperate to be home, quiet the last hour, both willing this to end. Bed by 3am.
Up early the next morning to prep for the Maverick Festival in Suffolk. It’s almost Deja vu driving up the A12 as we had done a month previous for FolkEast. We’re on first again so it’s early load in, check the merch in at the stall, sink a coffee, soundcheck. It’s an enjoyable show and we get a kick playing to such a nice crowd. The festival takes place on a farm so I watch goats rutting and talking to each other after my show. Around 7pm I play a special live set for Richard Leader’s radio show. The set up is housed outside the bunny barn and as I softly play a man quietly turns off the lights and shuts the door to the barn – it’s clearly their bedtime.