Thursday, 6 September 2018

Controlled Mayhem

           This best describes the Bill Bates Experience. Bill decided long ago to liven up his sets by mingling his excellent guitar playing and fine songwriting with comedy and entertainment. Aided by his mystery guest (who we cannot name for contractual reasons), our Sound and Lighting boys and one or two bits of technology,Bill bumbled his way through the evening with an endearing mix of cock-ups,errors and miscues-most of which,those of us who have seen him before know full well,are rehearsed. 
        The end result was two sets of barely coherent lunacy. A bit like  Mr Pastry and Jimi Hendrix combined. (Two references which will leave our younger readers baffled). Those who had not seen him before seemed a little perplexed at first, but by the time we'd got onto the legendary Simon and Garfunkel medley,it was quite evident what both of them were up to. 
         As the Tour of Britain circus left Nuneaton (described, perhaps a little generously in the OVO Energy blurb as "beautiful"), so the Folkies moved in to repossess the Queen's Hall. Plenty of regulars were in  and it was good to see more new faces in the audience. Having lost one monthly local music event in the Town,it was heartening to see that there is still broad support for this one. 
         Richard Burlingham,aided by willing and friendly staff,  continues to give massive support to NFC in its new home. Free Chicken and chips and sausage butties were provided at half time,(thank you,Jenna!) and for the second month,a locally brewed Church End beer was on draught.  Richard listens to what people tell him. No wonder The Crew is so successful,where other town venues are deserted,midweek. 
          It was NuncMonkey who started us off. With Flossy and John Harris unavailable,this was myself,Paul Moore,John Kearney and Jon Harrington. Starting a little late, there were no sound checks for us-just arrive,get up and play.  "How Long Blues,"  "Guilty" and "Copperhead Road" were dashed off in anticipation of our weekend gig in Tamworth,before handing the baton over to Jak and Marie.
       They had appeared at NFC before. After a little sound glitch to start with (they'd not had time for a sound check either!) they gathered in strength and momentum and did three songs very well. They get better each time we see them, which is really what floor spots are all about and a testament to the hard work they put into rehearsing.
        John Neal followed. He's a keen cyclist,and as his Facebook posts showed, he had already enjoyed an exciting day around the town.  In fact he has been known to put his cycling headcam tours and music together on film,but last night he stuck to the guitar and treated us to three songs delivered with polish and warmth. 
        It's always good to discover new talent and share it with a wider audience via an NFC debut. Adam Wilson did not disappoint on his first appearance there. 
          Opening with Neil Young's "Old Man" might have seemed an ambitious starter for a newbie, but he soared into the challenging higher range of the vocals confidently. Finishing with a Dylan song (complete with harmonica frame), he received an enthusiastic (and fully deserved) response from the audience at the close of his set. We'll definitely get him back. It was a good night all round for Adam, as being our 100th artiste to appear at NFC, he was presented with a framed certificate to commemorate this landmark. 
        Steve and Christine (aka Moses and The Ref) had come all the way from  St. Albans and Ruislip respectively. There was method in their madness though, as they are our Headliners in November and wanted to check out the new venue (They'd been to The Crown before-they like a challenge). This distance work puts them into out top three of floor spot visitors-as we have previously had Brian Price travelling north from Hampshire,and a band from Stockport having a look in too. Such is the magnetic pull of "beautiful" Nuneaton. Steve and Christine treated us to a mix of very varied songs superbly sung, enunciated with great diction and Folk "presence" Spread the word!
      And that set us up nicely for Bill's crazy first set. It took us a while to actually get sound coming from all the right directions but once we did,the smiles and laughter began. With a particularly daft version of Funk and Folk mixing together,involving some critical sound-vocal syncopation.
       After the interval and a second trio of songs from NuncMonkey (including a lovely audience singalong with "Knocking on Heaven's Door" ) it was time for the Raffle Draw. It will be four years next month since we first launched NFC and still a few punters either don't know (or don't care) how this works. Some put a few pennies in the tin,others decline to put anything in at all. Obviously still a small minority who think that free admission nights of great quality come 100% for free. (They don't) We don't make a profit-but there is a need to break even!. The raffle helps generate expenses for those performers travelling. Still,there were no bus tickets or trolley tokens put in the collection tin this time so that's an advance. 
       Admin done and dusted, to the lilting strains of "Albatross" Bill cranked the second half into chaotic action. He did "Miner" early on and that's a song of his which for me exemplifies his true talents. Locally based,very catchy chorus,some nifty guitar work and sensitive lyrics. I've played it several times on "Anker Folk." It's a good 'un. "Albatross" was to be a recurring theme,breaking hauntingly and without warning into several other routines. 
      During the opening part of this half, the audience cottoned on to the fact that Bill's Apple appliances,used as prompts and autocues,were also receiving incoming calls. So we all started texting and messaging him. And he read each one out. 
        And so on to their rapturous finale,the Simon and Garfunkel medley. I've only ever told people this a few thousand times, but in the 1970's in a South London Folk Folk Club, I once watched one of the young floor singers haltingly stumbled through "Scarborough Fair." Then he did one of his own songs and gained in confidence. He was introduced only as "Paul" Yes was HIM! Paul Simon. 
        Last night  was very much a tribute to the fanous duo,albeit a slightly irreverent one,.Bill has always been a bit of a giggler,and seeing him struggle through "I am a Rock" as interruptions, orchestrated heckling and a complicated question and answer routine sought in turns to wrong-foot him,was a treat. As an encore,Bill and his friend from the floor  did "Homeward Bound" together. In which Bill's faint mewing as he lost control completely,prompted by the visuals going on to his left,the staccato questioning,and a successful attempt to scramble his word screens reduced a few of us to tears.
         Great stuff. Fuel for the soul, and it left us all chuckling. Great to see Bill back on form,on a big stage and not wilting under the lights. Choking on the smoke effects (which Bill himself had demanded),blinded by the lighting effects (ditto) and reinforced by the input of his dear friend KD. 
            Yes it was great to finally see KD on an NFC stage. Yes...KD. Finally. After trying to entice him up onto one for nearly four years. He was there. His long stay away has evidently taken years off him. But what ever happened to the Diddy Men?  

  Photos by John B.Smith and John Kearney.