Thursday, 31 July 2014

Five Go Off Camping Again

 Our last appearance at Banbury Folk Club had been earlier this year. Then, I'd been delegated to drive across the border from Warwickshire into Oxfordshire. But a late foot injury meant I couldn't. So I was on crutches as I entered the Banbury Cross in March 2014, having been chauffeured there by Mick. I milked the sympathy for all it was worth that night, and it was worth it, because they asked us back. But this time, Mick had  made it clear to me that it was my turn to drive, unless I wanted to return there by Messerschmitt.
     Last night we helped these same Banbury Folk raise funds for their Festival in October. One of several Midlands Folk Festivals which I AM invited to. (Arff!) We thought it wise to bring reinforcements last night, so we came mob-handed. The full Five piece Big Band. And I do mean BIG. Myself, Dave Parr, Malc Gurnham, Mick Harris and Arnold. That's a combined weight of several tons, a combined age of 420 years, a lot of stringed instruments and an awful lot of Hook Norton.
      It was a lovely, balmy evening as, guided by MalcNav, I piloted the newly-repaired Focus across the Dassetts. Given the current madness of the A46 and A45 roadworks, I'd printed out an alternative, using The Fosse Way and the A423. MalcNav selected the scenic route for the final leg of the journey however, and so we passed through picture-postcard villages and several farmyards before arriving at the impressive Drayton Leisure Camping Complex near Banbury. (How they get that Air Show on at Farnborough, I'll never know. Where's the runway?).
     At the request of Derek and Mary we'd arrived early for what turned out to be a very efficient and conscientiously adjusted sound check by the excellent Richard Watkins. All digitalised and wireless. Excellent for a vocalist like me, as he committed the whole data to his IPad's memory. No cheating by over-exuberant guitarists, whanging up the volume to 11 during the set!
    Beforehand we had  a delicious barbecue. And some games like Bat the Rat,Tombola, and Dodge the Golf Ball. We'd shared cars to minimise discomfort, but I'm afraid that all this meant that some of our party were on the Hook Norton just after 6pm. As we had four hours to fill before taking to the stage, this could have been disastrous.
    For a while it looked as if it could become an extension of the monthly meetings of the Nuneaton & District Elderly Gentlemans' Binge Drinking Society (Folk Section). We quickly cleared the premises of Old Hooky, and then began making inroads into the other excellent output of this fine old Independent Brewery. Indeed, Arnold was so taken by the beer  that at one stage, he also helped himself to a stranger's pint and added it to a growing table full of bottles and pint pots. (Some of us obviously, were on soft drinks).
      Once the concert got under way we were treated to the lovely singing voice of Linda Watkins. She told us she had chosen to do a challenging set, but it all seemed effortless to me. Using a combination of instruments,including guitar, dulcimer and mandolin, she ran through a delightful selection of songs. Impressive.
      Toots and RagnRoll Fraser followed. Eclectic is the word. Toots played the accordion and sang harmoniously, whilst Ragn combined some excellent guitar work with songs of great diversity. We had a Bodhran-accompanied song about King Lud. We had some Fats Waller. And we had a Charleston. All delivered with good humour, some rehearsed and some (the loss of the set list, the beer glass going base over apex) not so. Toots did something strange to her accordion at one stage, which made it sound like a vibraphone. We looked expectantly across at Mick. "Can You do that?" we asked. No he couldn't, apparently.  
      Then we had an interval, followed by the Raffle draw and Announcements. These duties shared by Derek and Mary. Mary was looking very mobile following her recent structural alterations, and was skipping around like a spring lamb. Each time they mentioned future guests, the audience “oo'ed and aahhed” expressively, and with great fondness. I found myself wondering, wistfully, did they make expectant noises like that when our names were announced? Or just suck in breath through hollowed cheekbones?
       I need not have worried. They remembered us. It was clear from the first strains of “All Over Now” that they were going to be another singing audience, as they had been previously, in March. We built up the set, as we had at previous performances recently, by mixing Blues, Trad and comedy together.
    Thus, on the Eve of my 43rd Wedding Anniversary, what was for me an especially poignant “Need Your Love So Bad” was followed by “ If I were a Goat.” Now, it's probably fair to say that The Fred Dibnah Brigade at Market Bosworth, had struggled a little with this concept at Bosworth, last Sunday. Partly because Beyonce probably hadn't penetrated to deepest rural Leicestershire yet, and partly because a goat in them there parts was a form of transport or a meal, rather than an object with which to empathise. (Judging by the length of some of the beards, possibly also a family connection.?)
      But Banbury embraced the full Goat ethic enthusiastically. I'd spotted a lady sitting near the front who was obviously picking up the nuances of BPS humour during “The Odeon,” and who I also caught grinning through “ Down Our Street.” I locked eyes on her during “Goat,” “Folking Liberty” and our encore, “Albert Balls,” using her as a laughs barometer. Very effective. Our allotted time fairly bustled away. The only casualty was “Vigilante Man,” which I'd shuttled down a revised running order, anticipating we might lose it, anyway.
      The band really enjoyed playing it and the audience appeared to, also. The proprietor of the Drayton Complex came over afterwards to thanks me, so I guess the Management did, too. He seemed very happy. (They must have shifted a hell of a lot of Hooky, so he should be). I can't speak for the cat, wandering amongst us as we packed the gear away. But it too seemed relaxed.
    The rest of us straggled outside and carried the gear out to the cars, whilst indoors, Malc continued to make his tearful farewells and do a spot lot of networking. Finally, as the dawn coloured the sky far away to the East, he emerged from the bar, carrying his trusty bass. Huh! That Malc Gurnham!  He gets everywhere. Everyone knows him, and vice versa. He is even more ubiquitous on the Folk Scene than The Ubiquitous Ian Bland. If that is possible. ( I'm not convinced). They call Ian The Boomerang. He always comes back.
     Once Dave and I had settled MalcNav back onto the dash, it was time for the return journey to North Warwickshire. Like many late evening journeys North from the Banbury area, it was not without incident. The M40, as it almost always is at this time of the morning, was closed. However, MalcNav guided us through the lanes and across the byways, where a highlight for me was the deer grazing contentedly on the grass verge somewhere near Bascote. It seemed that Arnold (who was operating on MickNav) had something simmering on the Aga back home, for he went off like a bat out of hell along this section and all that we saw of him most of the time was his tail lights in the distance.
      On the outskirts of Long Itchington however, he inexplicably took a left, as we headed right towards the Duckpond, the A423 and our route homewards. (Perhaps there was an all night restaurant open in Leamington?). Our journey back was uneventful apart from seeing a gentleman appearing to be attempting some sort of meaningful relationship with a Green Wheelie Bin in Bulkington. We agreed that this would make a good theme for a new song.
    Nuneaton was in complete darkness, the City Fathers having decreed that all street lighting is Verboten after midnight. And boy, “all “meant all. What a relief it was to get back home finally to Wolvey. Lit up like a Christmas Tree, bless it, and still blazing defiant Light pollution skywards.