Still not really about steel guitars….
We woke up in Aarhus pretty much exactly where we went to sleep, parked up alongside a couple of other motor homes under a desolate, graffitied overpass. Efforts had been made by city fathers to create a non-judgemental youth space into which I feel we fitted perfectly. Walnuts music is nothing if not gritty, grimy and street-based. Youngsters constantly tell how they ‘feel’ us. We come from the Home Counties, and it’s a little known fact that’s where the phrases ‘HomeBoy’ and ‘Homeslice’ actually come from. It’s a ‘fact’. Now check out our exemplary attitude immediately post-breakfast.
I did ask Donald in vain to put down the cup of tea. I feel it spoils the whole stance, which I like to call ThreateningLite. No time for a second shot though, because the race was on (exciting, jeopardy) to get to the ferry out of Denmark and into Norway. Waiting for us in Norway are genuine, sober, established friends and actual, organised gigs with people who are giving up their homes and time to hear us. Of course, to make the race really entertaining we should split into three contrasting modes of transport, bicycle, shopping trolley, hang glider, and create a montage effect to keep the viewer guessing for a bit who is winning until one of us arrives at the destination, thinking he is first, ONLY TO FIND THAT THE OTHERS HAVE ACTUALLY ARRIVED BEFORE HIM and he has to do a dance in a skirt. In fact, there is no Top Geary simulated excitement to report and we boringly make the ferry terminal with plenty of time. I get my guitar out and play. I forget what, but it apparently involves a F major chord.
In an uncommon bit of good preparation, I have arranged for all Walnuts to have a ticket to the excellent buffet on the ferry. What a good decision that is. We bring our instruments with us, and after our prepaid feast, we wait for someone to ask us to play something.
‘Why don’t you play something for us all?’ comes the request, finally, from one of the attendants at the buffet, whose path has somehow been blocked by our instruments. We play for not very long, until the very same attendant, now flanked by two colleagues, suggests that perhaps the next one should be the last one.
The ferry boat dislocates its giant steel jaw and coughs us out onto the dock at Larvik. An hour it takes to drive to the leafy embassy district of Oslo, where our hosts, Karen and Håkon are waiting in their flat, along with Davie’s wife Nikki and drumming Walnut Simon. I am particularly proud of this shot of Donald in their stare/staircase. Feel free to applaud.
You SEE? Karen’s flat is fabulous, art and floorboards, backstairs and courtyard, a room just for books and a performance space just for Walnuts. If there was a blueprint for a perfect party host it would be she, and as a result her guests are as interesting as you’d imagine; diverse, funny, jolly and generous. After the slammed doors of Aarhus, we nestle in the warm embrace of Oslo at last, and repay our hosts by playing, I would say, moderately well.
One of the things which by this point has definitely been improved by the enforced proximity of the trip is the chemistry of the on-stage Walnut chat. Stage banter is not easy to do, but vitally important; it says a great deal about a band. In most cases, a band’s set list doesn’t vary tremendously from night to night. Chat, however, is mercurial and improvised – as fluid and slippery as the soap in a downstairs loo. It should never be scripted. It should spontaneously reflect the emotion and vibe of the moment, and is often the chance for the audience to voice their feelings, too. However unpredictable the music may be, the chat is the bit which genuinely has no rules and can set or destroy the tone for the evening. Due to the mission statement of sevensongs.org Davie has some pretty weighty messages to impart during the gig. It is therefore imperative that I operate a no-fly zone during these messages, as my contribution largely consists of sexual innuendo and fart gags. I’ll admit it has taken me a little too long to take onboard this lesson, during which learning curve he has been very patient. For his part, Donald adds the grace notes of interstitial pithy comments, which, deprived of a vocal microphone, are purely for the entertainment of on-stage personnel, and therefore twice as valuable. Whatever happens, it’s Davie’s show.
The gig at Karen’s didn’t end with our contribution. The Scandiwegian contingent kept the party live by playing very loud music, windows open, waving flags and dancing thru from the end of our set until the very early hours. I would say until sunrise, but of course we are in Norway, midsummer and
The sun never really goes down. I’ll tell you what does go down, though, in downtown Oslo. The police get called. Yes. 5-0 from the Oslo. We got shut down by the world’s most attractive action-figure police couple. I tried to get a picture of them on my phone but they had guns, and seemed really serious and a bit tetchy about the whole thing. I instantly regretted adding Anarchy In The UK to the playlist. This excluded the Norwegians from the list of suspects and narrowed the possible perps to just the three Walnuts. Even the lightest of interrogations would reveal that Donald don’t do punk. It would then be a 50/50 between me and Davie, who played basketball at a very high level at school, and would therefore be able to resist a physical grilling far longer than I ever could.
Håkon is delighted at the unexpected renegade status the police visit brings him and his only genuine regret is that a frameable penalty fine, although discussed, never materialises. The drop-dead gorgeous police presence may indicate to you that Oslo is an uptight city of slim humours and stringent rules. Far, far from it. We hit the sack well past three, parked for free directly outside the Egyptian embassy in a motorhome smelling of curry and real ale. You try that in South Ken, and you’ll wake up with Special Branch cooking you a special brunch.