The following days see gigs in Cranbrook (Kent) and Leigh-on-Sea at the Garden Gatherings. Oust houses, Kentish orchards, faces from my local community I haven’t seen for a year or more, a convergence of life and celebration, heat, more traffic jams.
By mid-september I feel I have been racing through shows. I do a quick mid week turn for What’s Cookin in Leytonstone supporting the Dog Roses. I have played here so many times it feels like a second home. Ramblin Steve worries about the noise complaints they’ve been having from neighbouring houses. It goes too quick and I feel I haven’t taken stock of this lovely place which Steve creates.
The New Town Sounds Festival in Basildon is shoe horned in at the last moment. Paul and I play to four people at The Edge on a midday Saturday. One of them has their back turned to us. We love it and throw the set list out of the proverbial window and play lots of new songs to test them out. Basildon Library is slightly busier and we get the toddlers dancing with ‘Fan of the Band’.
The home town album launch show at the Fishermen’s Chapel involves setting up the chairs and PA and door and tickets….the list is endless. It’s a nice night and it bowls me over how generous people are, returning each time to listen to us play.
There are certain gigs which you know will forever stick in your mind. The Edith May is one such show. An historic sailing barge tethered to Chatham Dock is the most unique show of the tour. Rob and Clair, my hosts, take me on a tour of the town. So often dismissed it’s amazing to hear the depth of history that surrounds this town – the Navy, the Medway music scene, LGBT history, fires and Victorian theatres. The best food of the tour happens here too – I can highly recommend the burgers at ‘The Dead Pigeon’. Don’t let the name put you off – this is cared for food. The show in the bowels of the Edith May is a joy and every so often I feel the lurch of my stomach as the imperceptible sway of the boat has its effect.
Hastings and London follow. Paul and I hastily eat chips on Hastings seafront before the show. A seagull and her young follow us around yelping for cast offs. I relent but Paul stays firm giving nothing away. In London I share the bill with my friend Samantha Whates. It’s a unique show, the audience, the set, the songs shared with Samantha, it’s everything I love about playing live, the affirmation that whatever happens you shared this moment with other people and it was wholly positive.
Mid November and the last few shows rear up. I pray for good driving weather as I head to Northwich in the North West. After five hours I arrive at the hotel feeling jaded. My voice feels tired, I feel tired and I lie on the bed with the window open. I try to sleep but end up watching the rush hour traffic at the crossroads, which I can see from the window. The show takes place in the Davenham Theatre and prior to load in I walk about the village in search of food. I pass a house with the front windows ablaze with light, everything is in place; TV, pictures hanging on the wall and ornaments on the mantelpiece but the walls are entirely stripped to the grey plaster, pitted and rough. It’s the oddest thing. A woman sits on the edge of the sofa cross legged and we lock eyes, she holds my stare as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. She smokes a cigarette and her eyes pierce me, intense and emotionless….I hurry on.
The show is a wonderful experience. I am afloat in darkness, one simple spotlight on me. I am suspended in time until it is over and I’m back at the hotel. The key card system is down and I am escorted to the building where my room is. Once inside the key card I’m given fails to work on the internal doors, I return weary to the reception and after two further attempts get to my room and sink into the bed.
The following day’s gig has been cancelled due to the main act catching Covid. I drive to Todmorden to play a session for Andy Kershaw at his house. I could not be met with a kinder reception. We sit around his kitchen table eating biscuits and drinking coffee. I notice he has Warren Zevon book on his table and I casually mention I am a big fan. Andy proceeds to tell me he was good friends with Warren and they had planned to go to Haiti together, it’s one of many times I’m left speechless that day – Andy’s stories of where he’s been and who he has met are epic.
After the session Andy gives me some good tips to avoid traffic around Manchester and I make the long journey home. I’m losing my voice and by the next evening, playing an unplugged show in Southend for the Pin Drop Sessions, it takes all my effort to reach notes and project my voice. I recover in time, some weeks later, to play the final show of the year in Surbiton, south west of London. We play outside and despite the plummeting early December temperatures the audience stay with us. It’s a nice end to the year. Me and Paul talk into the night on the drive home, just like old times, like the world hadn’t been asleep for a year or more.