(There's a Blog Post Title that writes itself!)
In light of the sad news about Rod Felton which I received this morning, my minor physical and emotional struggles in reaching the Banbury Cross last night pale into insignificance. Banbury Folk Club was a venue we had been meaning to return to for a long, long time. We'd left it too long-but there were reasons for this. When we'd played it last time it had been at a different venue. Afterwards we had been booked in to go back there. But this turned out to be the night my Mum died. Frankly, I don't remember much after that . I expect someone cancelled it on my behalf.
We'd been in the canalside venue last time, along with fellow Cov & Warwicks band Isambarde. We knew them all quite well-both from the music scene and because several of us had worked with them before. It was all smiles together at the sound check when we got there. We sat supportively through their first set, and then when it was our turn they just all got up and decamped pointedly to the bar downstairs. That's star quality for you.
The very last time I had visited Banbury, I was incognito, supporting a football team I'll bet none of you can guess the name of. We got soaked through to the skin and lost, ignominiously, to the mighty Banbury United. Fortunately we'd made a day of it. Banbury has some good pubs. We visited The Reindeer, The Bell,The Four Candles and The Banbury Cross before feeling anaesthetised enough to return home.
So Banbury had some mixed memories to be erased. Due to a foot infection, complicated by a vicious onset of Gout, my plan to drive the band there foundered. No white horses to Banbury Cross for me, but Mick drove us there in the V.W. instead. A seamlessly chauffeured journey, as the Passat purred along the M40. I then had to hobble on crutches through an almost deserted Town Centre. This was the first time I'd been able to force a shoe on since Saturday. I made it (slowly!) to The Banbury Cross Pub. Which wasn't a bit cross at all, as it happened. A bit more hobbling then, through a series of pub corridors made it all a bit like an extract from The Crystal Maze, But it brought us into a large, bright high-ceilinged room. Festivities had already begun in there, and although the protocol always in Folk Clubs is to remain quiet whilst entering, especially if someone is singing, this was not humanly possible whilst clattering in on metal ware.
The standard of performance from other guests was alarmingly high. We began to look at each other significantly. Warwick and Stratford are usually as far south as we travel nowadays, so all of these acts were new to us. We were treated to an eclectic mix of bands and solo performers, although the emphasis was on sad songs laments and angst. Which played straight into our chubby hands, really. I was also off beer and drinking water so as not to negate the various medications I was on. Would things go o.k. ?
The hosts had very kindly (and very flatteringly) put us on last. So it fell to us to close this very enjoyable evening. A few of the audience had already begun to leave before we set up, which made us suspect they had perhaps seen us before. We'd noticed though, that this was an audience just craving to sing and so with me hanging onto a table (and otherwise unsupported), we lobbed our unique version of “ All Over Now,” into the gathered masses to see how they'd respond.
Oh yes! They liked that, and they lobbed the chorus right back at us. We followed it up with “The Odeon” a song which rarely fails to please. They readily picked up that chorus too, and chuckled in the right spots. (It's near to Oxford you see, and they were obviously a bright crowd!). We had primed them, and softened them up for “Down Our Street” our newest song and barely a month old. It has won over every audience we've performed it to and this was no exception.
By the time we pitched “Albert Balls” into their midst, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. So it was time to bring the euphoric mood down a little and to demonstrate that we could do straight folk. But instead, we did “Courting is a Pleasure” -our arrangement of a song which Nic Jones recorded on Penguin Eggs. We finished with our piece of resistance “ What a Folking Liberty.” This song is very much Son of Pheasant Plucker, with some tricky chorus warbling required if the pub was not to be closed down. I'm delighted to reveal that the entire song was performed with us all collectively getting our tongues safely round the myriad opportunities to mispronounce the words “Folk and “Folking.”
We'd been introduced by debut host Di as a band who like to specialise in audience participation. (Impressive-someone had read our website!) As I was incapacitated however, audience participation on this occasion was limited to the odd delicate stagger and lurch amongst them. But if we ever get invited back, I'd love to see how they got physically involved with “The Whistler” and “At The Septic Monkey.” Our experience last night suggested they would be riotous.
We even had an encore. A proper, demanded one. Not one we had engineered by truncating the set list. Comedy or pathos? We chose the latter-because Light and Shade is what we'd like to think we're truly about. So we slowed things down finally and gave them a genuine Love song to leave them sniffling their way home. Apt, because we had loved every minute there. “Need Your Love So Bad,” went well and as I sang “when the lights are low and it's time to go”-one lady on cue put her coat on and tried to surreptitiously sneak out. Probably hoping to catch the last bus to Charwelton. I could have told her it left in 1969. But it would have been insensitive not to involve her. If I'd been able-bodied I'm sure we would have had a waltz.
The return journey home was not as easy. Banbury appeared closed, but once we'd negotiated various sets of roadworks and escaped the Town Centre, we hoped things would go smoothly. However, it took us longer to drive through and around Coventry than it did to get from Banbury to Coventry itself. The A46 was closed, and the A45 was a nightmare. As it will be for the next three years. Oh-and the Ring Road had been taken apart and was roped off too. Between them, the D.o.E. The Highways Agency and the Local Council have done their best to continue the work the Luftwaffe put into destroying this fine old mediaeval city in 1940. The press announced yesterday that the deranged council wish to enforce a 20mph speed limit on roads in the city. I can confirm that this is already well in hand. We queued past midnight, amidst jams of lorries stacking on the Kenilworth Road, as a fox sneeringly overtook us. I got dropped back home at 12.38am. I doubt Mick got into bed much before 1am.
Yet it had still been a special night. We sold out of CD's despite only one song we'd done "live" from the set list being on it. We'd done every possible piece of wordplay around crutches crotches and supports. Di had triumphed as a compere and had the bonus of hearing a song with her name in it.Thanks also to Mary, for indulging us, and to Geoff Phipps for the photos. We had had some very kind comments afterwards from audience members, other musicians and the organisers. And I'd laid one unhappy memory finally to rest.