Again, another haitus. but that doesn’t mean nothing has been happening. Far from it. Band of Hope, of whom I think I might now be a member, are a functioning, going concern with gigs and recording lined up. I’m quickly drafted in for a number of dates playing lap steel. At first practice I publicly state for all to hear that I will not bring out the Sho-Bud until a year of hard, methodical practice has elapsed. Once again, this I vow. It will not be like the other times. This time will be better. And that’s unbreakable. I might print it on the side of a bus.
There. That’s decided then.
First date is a Sunday get together at the beautiful Braziers Park in Oxfordshire, which is replete, dressed in the crushed velvet finery of a rock’n’roll heritage to rival most. It was and is an artistic commune, based in a crumbling mansion and outhouses which provides a base for potters, musicians, and no doubt, people who are still making their minds up about what to do next. Crucially, it was home to Marianne Faithfull and her parents for a bit, and Gave Shelter to Mick and Maz after they were busted for drugs and she walked into notoriety wearing, by all accounts a fur coat and not much else. I’ll be honest and say I haven’t researched these facts, and am not about to. I don’t want to find out it’s all nonsense which would detract from the rosy hue of a day wandering around sheds and stables off my kibbutz on two thirds of a pint of mild. Given my transcendental state it was a deeply satisfying moment when on to the barn (main) stage emerged a barefoot man with a sitar.
And he hated that thing, giving it what for while singing Seven Nation Army. The rain came down, and thank goodness for tea and cake.
I’m not very good at setting up on stage. I tend to get very excited and nervous and start putting things in the wrong places. I then lose those things and get in a panic and wonder what I’m doing there and how I could ever have chosen music for a hobby when I’m such an idiot. I can’t imagine Van Morrison goes through the same process. It’s even worse with a new band, because the way you set up on stage can shape relationships after that point. In one of the wedding bands in which I used to play guitar, if there was a sense that a couple of centimetres of empire had been lost at the front of the stage, the other guitarist would declare war during the set, cutting up rough with the neck of his guitar, making a point of invading my personal space and machine-gunning through such aggressive material as Una Paloma Blanca and 500 Miles. Headstocks at dawn. It can easily get a bit territorial, like a musical game of Risk, and that is the last thing anyone needs.
That’s not going to happen in Band of Hope because, firstly, it’s Tom’s band. He’s the singer, and they’re his songs. Everyone in Band of Hope seems really nice and almost ego-free. Also, I don’t want to be anywhere near the front. I really don’t. Television presenters have a habit of floating to the surface like corks, buoyed up by their own collossal egos, unable to resist the temptation of feeling the sunshine on their faces, and the validation of an audience. But I don’t want this to be like that. I want to play my wonderfully anti-social instrument without anyone noticing it’s me making that sound, if at all possible, separate from the megalomaniac look-at-me of my professional life. So I find a spot at the back of the barn where the light doesn’t reach, next to Sarah, who is the new drummer. We are the new boy and girl, hidden in the darkness, and that’s just fine, thank you. Look. can you see me? No? Good.
The gig goes well, as a first gig, for which survival is the first priority. No-one looks daggers at me for being too out of sync with the rest of the band. I don’t know what sitar man made of it. I’m glad I didn’t choose sitar as my instrument though. Maximum effort carting it about, and frankly, zero chance of joining a band that doesn’t have sitar in it.
Next comes Wood Festival, back at Braziers Park a couple of weeks later. We’re now on the Main Main Stage, and here’s the beauty of a smaller festival – I’m camping in my van precisely 200 metres away from it. In fact, this is a truly beautiful small festival. Run by a pair of brothers who headline in the tent on Saturday night with their excellent band, like a Fender Telecaster guitar, Wood Festival has everything you need and nothing you don’t. I like that. Headline your own festival. Ballsy move. But they are great.
We are not headlining. Unless by headline you mean going on first, which is, I suppose one way to interpret it. It’s lovely though because you know that however it goes, the nerves will all be gone by 2.30 in the afternoon and then you can just have a drink and enjoy the rest of the acts knowing that your work is done. We have a little sing song in the backstage Yurt and then go on with the rain tipping down, and then stopping as we get further into the set. There are fewer nerves than last time, but only a fraction, because I’m not quite as far into the shadows as I was before. I don’t play brilliantly. My fingers feel a bit fudgy and I can’t hear myself so well. I get a bit lost in parts and pull too hard on the strings, trying to hear myself. No-one notices, or if they do, they don’t mention it.
Part of the problem though, is that I’ve been playing more and more pedal steel at home, and I’m really starting to notice the limitations of the lap, even with its extra levers. I want more strings, more sustain and more options on the neck to make things happen. I can cart the lap steel easily. But it’s not my final destination. Despite the solemn vow not to do so for a year, I need to start getting the big fella out. And then sitar man can have a really good laugh at me. He’ll be home on the train while I’m still unhooking my pull rods and trying to work out what chords I missed.
Wood Festival punches above its weight. Main stage headline were the Magic Numbers.
And special treat in the tent was Jodie Stephens from Big Star. The Big Star that I love and that Joe the Volume Pedal and I by chance both wore t-shirts for. In a little tent in a little field in Oxfordshire. BOOM.