The temperature was already below zero as we parked up prior to preparing the room for last night's show. Upstairs at The Crown a few space heaters,some brilliant music from our support acts and a blistering, stellar performance over two sets from our good friend Phil Hare warmed us all up.
An awful lot of hard work goes into setting up and then breaking down the stage at The Crown. This applies the day before a gig,during the day itself and the evening too. And often (as today) it involves returning back in to tidy up. Our regular Sound Man Dave Smart had another commitment on Wednesday, so The Godfather of Bedduff Folk, Malc Gurnham, fresh back from a sojourn in Lanzarote, had kindly agreed to step in and drive our aged desk. A task he performed admirably.
Dave and I went in on Tuesday night to set up the stage and shunt some furniture around. We could not get access to the room before 10pm as a Drama Company were using it for rehearsals up until then,so this meant a late finish. When we did finally get in there on Tuesday, it came as a bit of a surprise to see that all those familiar high tables and chairs had disappeared. (It was funny on the Wednesday, watching the audience members double take as they filtered in).
Mags and I were back there by 6.30pm on the Wednesday, to switch on the power, tidy up a bit more,pin some posters up and set some fliers out. We were the last out around 11.20pm last night and I was back there Thursday lunchtime,carting all the sound gear back downstairs, loading it into the car and bringing it home. I only mention all this to remind people that a lot of hard work is put in by a lot of people just to make those three hours go by so enjoyably.
Star turns from The Wright Brothers,Nunc,Bob Brooker, Malc Gurnham Chris Tobin and Brian Phillips added to the entertainment,warmed up the audience and and set the scene for Phil Hare to take things forward.
John Kearney's misfortune in having a holiday postponed was very much to Nunc's advantage We were prepared to go on as a duo (Paul Moore was unavailable as a stand-in) but JK beefs up the sound and just anchors us so well. We got things under way with a few songs and then The Wright Brothers-Chris and Max-took over. Due to a communication breakdown they very modestly unplugged and left the stage after two songs, when I had pencilled them in for three. No matter:"Have You Got a Loight Boy" (he of the Singing Postman) got everyone singing,before you could say "Wilbur and Orville at Kittyhawk."
Bob Brooker followed, and gave us a trio of songs including a moving rendition of "The Blue Cockade," ( one of several versions of this tale of treachery and recruiting sergeants out on The Moss), and the ever-popular "Steady Boys walk On." Indeed,so great is our reservoir of goodwill, it is only fair to mention here that had Malc been indisposed, Bob Brooker had also offered to step in and man the desk. ( or,with his fondness for maritime themes, should that be man the decks?) Bob has taken to wearing a particular style of flat cap lately. Rumour has it that he has a sharpened plectrum sewn into the peak of it with which he is likely to lash out at anyone making disparaging remarks about banjos. (You judge).
In case anyone is wondering what is written on that piece of paper it is NOT the lyrics. It says, "Open case. Get out guitar. Hold it right way round. Sell some CD's." His gestures later in the evening suggested he was not amused by not winning a raffle prize once again. (Twice now,apparently).
Dan Gascoigne was indisposed at late notice and could not appear,so it took,oh, two or three seconds to persuade Malc to leave the desk, pick up his guitar,advertise a few up and coming ventures from the stage,promote the CD commemorating his
90th 70th birthday and fill in for Dan. He gave us "Caledonia" and "Blues Run The Game," and Brian Phillips did sterling work subbing at the controls whilst he did so.
Chris Tobin caused a buzz when he took to the stage and that wasn't just because his pacemaker was playing up. Everyone knows when Chris is at NFC there is going to be some enthusiastic singing. If only to drown out his vocals. (Only joking). We were not disappointed. He gave us the classic "Halfway To Paradise," and "Singing The Blues," and the audience bayed along with him enthusiastically. I sensed a few eyebrows raised around the room until I pointed out that although the F.C. stood for Folk Club this was entirely appropriate, as these songs were now nearly sixty years old.Could it get any better? Well just a bit as Brian Phillips took the penultimate spot before Phil's first set. Brian delivered the John Martyn "Fairytale Lullaby," a classic from the early London Conversation album. So early that I still possess the vinyl version in mono. He also did a second Jackson C. Frank song,"Here Come The Blues," and one of his tastefully esoteric poems, dealing with the philosophical aspects of flatulence.
Phil I hope,won't mind me saying,does not wear his heart on his sleeve. He is a caring, funny, passionate man and a gifted musician. As a guitarist, he comes from a special tier. I introduced him by saying "If you have guitars prepared to burn them now." I was only being part flippant. He does stuff that at times borders on the magical. With one guitar only, and coaxing it in and out of different tunings as he goes. He weaves in harmonics as a standard part of his technique. He is the Guitarists' guitarist. Or one of them.
Besides his songs, he writes some eloquent and erudite pieces on certain Social Media platforms. He disparagingly calls them "rants" but they are far from that. Those of us who enjoy reading them know that they are full of clear thinking, a longing for commonsense and decency, and an anger about injustice and unfairness that at times borders on visionary. This plethora of emotions is reflected in some of his songwriting. By turns his own work is funny,witty,ironic and often carrying clever pieces of wordplay engineered to make the discerning listener think. Like "Potato Man," is a clever parody with many spud u like puns. On form, Phil is a master of the ad lib. Indeed,he thrives on it, and feeds off audience reaction to spontaneously tinker with, alter, edit,customise and amend his songs.
He did a very nice segue of his own song "Lady London" into a fine version of Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street." On those of us who have lived and loved in London, this was not lost. I am a confessed covers freak. I see no harm whatsoever on taking up with a song you love and putting your own stamp on it. I wish a few more performers could lift their eyes up from contemplation of their own navel and follow suit.Some of the content could be a little too austere if Phil did not expertly break it up with golden moments of great humour. I requested "Every Man's a Hard Man Now," but I suspect he would have done it as his finale, anyway. It is such a great show closer. For a confessed Liverpudlian, now exiled in Cambridge, his delivery of Mockney is impeccable. He had the whole room,mostly full of Nuneaton's finest, roaring "Nahhhh!" instead of "now" ferociously back at him Danny Dyer/Peggy Mitchell style . Al Murray should co-opt Phil in as a warm up man on the strength of this number alone. It would compliment his chest thumping "Fa-a-a-a-mily," routine perfectly.
Phil Hare also has a fine voice. Deep and resonant, note perfect and with fine pitch. All this adds a power and a presence to his performance. He works hard on his material and he works hard on his performance. Not a moment of his act is wasted,and he drips sweat by the end of it. A first class technician, a master of his craft and an all round good egg. Wish he was my guitar teacher. I might pick the bloody thing up more often.
These glowing compliments should not detract from the excellence of the other acts. "Floor Spot " does not seem to adequately cover the high quality of the queue of talented people NFC are fortunate to have in legions, always queuing to perform. Another lovely night and I believe most people went back out into that bitter night with a song or two in their hearts.