Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Shack Tales: 3

Sunday afternoon and Di's clan (locals) descend for the evening meal, rendering me sous chef and chief bottle collector.
Earlier that day I'd made a controversial move at the village hall 'Cake Bake' by buying all of Jill of the Cake Bake's frangipane tart for supper's desert. Yup, the full pie. Jill is Walberswick's own Mary Berry and apparently her almond and pear tart is much sought after/fought over. I honestly didn't realise that the queue for tea was different from the queue for cake but... the deal was done. It was politely suggested that I buy a slice at a time, so as not to "annoy the natives".
A wafted £20 note soon ended that discussion and the pie was plated. "Although, it might be an idea to buy a raffle ticket or two..." whispered Jill nervously. There was a brief debate about the defined differences between 'cake' and 'tart'. My suggestion that perhaps we should refer to a pie chart was met with stoney silence. Then: custard or cream? Jill came down definitively on the side of custard. Head down, holding my tart at arm's length, I made my way penitently past the orderly line of glowering glares and legged it up to the village store.
"Custard?" I asked Till Lady. "Are you the one what just brought all of Jill's frangipane?" deadpanned Till Lady. "I was promised a slice... and those... those are our LAST two tins of custard. You want them both do you?" My answer was a definitive "Erm..." I sheepishly returned one of the last two tins in town back to its rightful shelf and settled on a tub of creme fraiche to flesh out my basket. "Word gets around fast" I muttered apologetically at the checkout. 
"You'll get away with nothin' in these parts." retorted Till Lady. "Nothin'..."

Later that afternoon there was a rap at the studio door. It was Ben on a Bike. Ben on a Bike had been sent around by Jill of the Cake Bake to remind me to return Jill of the Cake Bake's pie plate to the village hall the next day, and to advise that Till Lady wouldn't've minded the slice she'd been promised. "You did have ALL of the frangipane I believe? Every slice... And, you won the bloody raffle too!" Ben on a Bike reluctantly handed over the prized bubbly as I poured him a large glass of wine as a pacifier. We shan't be opening the champers for a day or two. I suspect that it's been prepped by the locals or Ben on a Bike with a right royal F1 style shaking...

The frangipane was a triumph ("even better than your dumplings!") and apparently was best taken with custard, although I'll have to take Di's word for that: we were a can short: there's nothing worse than dry frangipane.

I got up early this morning to return the plate to Jill of the Cake Bake and dutifully delivered the final slice of tart to Till Lady. I think that broke the ice although it was hard to tell.
"Someone's had that last tin of custard and there's nothin' worse than dry frangipane" said she...
I could but agree.

Meanwhile, Di has taken to art.
Returning train-bound, from Darsham to London, she sent this doodle done in transit: a parting shot.
I suspect that there were leaves on the line...

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Shack Tales: 2

And the moon led me home...

I believe that it's the Danish who say 'if you're warm enough when you set out on a walk you have too many clothes on."
Point proven today.
A lazy morning led to me striding out purposefully early afternoon down a coastal path towards Dunwich. A 2 hour stroll would see me in The Ship for a late lunch: likely a local scotch egg, chips and a pint. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and I had a Spotify playlist to listen to: I just wasn't paying attention. I needed to remember that the non coastal path to Dunwich is 2nd right after the windmill. I took the 1st right... deeper and deeper into the woods.
By the time I realized I was lost the sun was setting ahead of me.
I kept going reckoning that a healthy path and a setting sun would surely lead to civilization.
By the time I realized my folly it was too late to turn around. The sun had gone, the path had turned to a muddy glue, my phone had died and I was lost.

I had company. In the dusk I came across a snarling Alsatian who backed me up against a tree. I'm
not great under pressure. Are you meant to make yourself big and eyeball an aggressive beast or make yourself small and submissively look the other way? I did both! I'd be useless with a brown bear. I was eventually saved by a vaping little old lady in a bobble hat and pink wellies who sang "don't be so silly Sally". The hound from Hades morphed into a pooch, smelt my crotch and departed.
Next contact was even more unsettling: a little blond girl in a blood red cape (yup) closely followed by a scruffy bearded bloke (Daddy I hope) who smilingly showed me a set of long white teeth.
Really! Although I am, I couldn't write this stuff...
Still lost in the woods.
It gets dark early in these parts.
Really dark.
Suffolking dark!
I sang to myself to steady the ship: "Not out of the woods yet".
I eventually stumbled upon a bridle path promising 'Walberswick Common: 4 miles'.
I reckoned that was 6400 meters (it took a while) so committed to counting 6400 strident steps: that would see me home. I lost interest at 459 and went back to the singing.
"Not out of the woods yet".
Stumbling blind.
As long as I kept my feet in the tyre track puddles I knew that I was still on track.
I was nearly taken out by an 8 year old (?) driving a Land Rover: obviously having lessons from his Dad who, as far as could tell, was sitting in the back seat.
I tried to wave the boy down. He waved back, hollered and kept on going.
By now the moon was up and lit the path ahead.
You can't trust in nature but it'll never let you down.
Eventually I spotted the lights of the village and arrived disheveled and thirsty at The Bell.
Sweltering in my thermal vest.
The Danish know their onions...
A pint of Ghost Ship, a packet of Chardonnay & sea salt peanuts and a chat with a pretty local toothsome barmaid whose accent is so strong that I still don't know her name.
I think it's either Sharon or Byron...
I believe that she advised 'The Eel's Foot' as the best local pub food after The Bell.
I'm sure to get lost again.
And the moon led me home.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Shack Tales: 1

It's the little things that can make a day...
Sitting here in a fisherman's net shack on the Suffolk coast counting blessings.
It's blowing a hooley and, on occasion, this exposed wooden shelter seems likely to take off. I know that we are more robust than that: the vacantly vulnerable often need to gather strength and develop static, stable and stoic defences.
Now that Di's bailed out London bound I'm trying to prep for some time in the studio with Marcus and am doing my usual: safely content in a cozy cabin but occasionally offering my chin to the elements to see what smarts.
Noting and toting.
As ever it's the daily rituals that develop and shape the day.
Late night whiskey means early morning coffee.
Perhaps a pill or two: purely medicinal.
I reach to the wood fire basket for inspiration. That's where the kindling and 'fire paper' is kept. 
'Fire Paper': usually the Sunday sups. The financial pages go to blazes ('Doh Jones!') and I hold back the travel, sports and arts for the reading. As ever there's much inspiration in the minutiae. Looking at my notes from yesterday I think there's a song to be had from an article on how man developed his relationship with wolves: it seems that, when a domestic dog reacts to your every whim, it is down to his wolves' eye: an acute sensitivity to the pack, an instinct vital for survival: a hunter's eye for weakness, a selection of prey in order to avoid fruitless pursuit. Could be that when you are nose to nose with your best friend you might actually be having a 'conversation with death...'
A piece on nudity in Art produces a few notes about the difference between 'nude' (clothed in art) and 'naked' (vulnerable) and might make it into a ditty.
A review of Jonathan Coe's new novel 'Middle England' sets me scribbling about Brexit, this island life and the recognition that I might be beyond middle age. 

And that gets me listening to new music for inspiration.
This morning 'new' comes from a fairly sage source:
Mumford and Son: 'Delta': 'Aching' and 'empty' come to mind.
Beautifully produced, shimmery and intense, punctuated with the trademark crescendos, but... it's all a little passionately dispassionate. When you're singing from the heart there needs to be... a heart. Interestingly the best track (for me) is 'Wild Heart' which takes them back to their faux folky roots.

Next up the much vaunted The Good, The Bad & The Queen:'Merrie Land': Damon Alban working alongside other late 20th century icons: most notably Clash bassist Paul Simonon. It's a concept album that casts an eye over West London bathed in Brexit's gloomy half light. A 'Merrie Land' in “Anglo-Saxostentialist crisis”? apparently. “Are we green, are we pleasant?” questions Damon. At least he's singing and not shouting. I particularly like the recorders and ache of 'Lady Boston'so here it is:

Oddly it's Mark Knopfler who provides the morning's keenest pleasure. 'Down the Road Wherever' suggests that you know where he's going and what he'll be giving you will be sturdily dependable. And. yup, he delivers. A crumpled curmudgeon with a canny eye for the everyday. Anyone who can put a lump in your throat with a song about a sandwich must be master of his craft: lacing sanguine sadness to a universal conundrum: "When you're dealing with a toastie what do you prefer: Brown or red?"
No video so here's a link:
Right: I'm off to make myself a bacon roll.
It'll be 'red' for me: Local Adnams ketchup.
Talk about 'sage sources'...
It's the little things that can make a day...

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

The Hat Club: Nov 3rd: Tom Baxter

Di and I are still buzzing after Saturday night's Tom Baxter show at The Hat Club. If ever a performance made me want to sell my guitar AND rush home to play my guitar at the same time... this was it. I know that it's no competition but how would you follow that?
Live music is fast becoming the prime income for most musicians. Tom made the point last night that (after much research) 10,000 Spotify plays of his latest album would buy him a bag of nappies for his daughter. That doesn't smell right does it?
Tom Baxter performed, supported by his "baby sister" Vashti on Saturday.
There was such a positive vibe in the room; something that both Tom and Vashti commented on.
You’ve got to love musicians: they do the miles, the waiting, the set up and then… they make something happen.

Vashti was a revelation: she has matured into a fascinating performer: her delicate and dark tales in stark contrast with (in person) her earthy warmth: perhaps that’s what parenthood does for you? It was lovely to meet her husband Richard and her two backing singing, ragamuffin boys, Buster and Sonny. I can’t wait to actually hear something of hers recorded: particularly her last song: the beautiful; ‘Blue’.
Tom? Not a lot to say really as this’d end a gush. We have seen a gig or two: we knew what a brilliant performer he is: that he inhabits every song and sings them from the heart: from a whisper to those soaring moments when the wail seems to be coming out of the top of his head. It was fascinating to watch the mechanics of his performance up close. Because he is such a brilliant writer and singer it’s easy to overlook Tom’s guitar playing: not just dynamically dextrous but also sweetly finessed. The control of his performance was mesmeric: a man in total control whilst in the act of letting himself go: ‘vulnerability' can often seem affected and gauchely garrulous… Tom authentically inhabits every minute.

And that brings me to my main thought this morning: what a sweet man. ‘Never meet your heroes’ they say. They inevitably disappoint. Whilst I’m not given to hero worship, I love to like people. And Tom was such a gentle guy. A listener with lots to say. He’s obviously a sensitive soul who has taken a knock or two, but he wears his worry wisely. I love that he took the time to think about us: beckoning us all onto a squash court for the encore, his intent: to create a special, intimate moment just for us. And how special was that moment?
Gush over: thanks Vashti and Tom.

Can I bring your attention to a lovely review/note/post from Jus Moody: staggeringly good writing: makes me which I’d been there: made me pinch myself to remember that I was.
Jus (who hasn’t been well) articulates perfectly the reason that Di and I wanted to develop The Hat Club.
We were keen to support kindred musicians but we also wanted to create and share the possibility of something special: in Tom’s words we wanted to ‘make something happen’.
We all love a pat on the back and this is as good as an endorsement could get.

Jus writes:

"I’m struggling to articulate the last 12 hours! Like actually lost for words, (which let’s face it is already a miracle)!
When Tom Baxter announced his tour dates, I had no idea one of them would include a venue on my doorstep. I watched for months, eagerly hovering with bust credit card but when the day came, it collided when I took my eye off the boil, probably having some doctor or nurse prod me in the hip, shoulder or eye or one of the boys forgetting their homework or trying to find the games sock which literally tries to escape from the nuttiness of my life even more than I do. I digress...I blinked, tickets sold out. In my Aunty Juney’s words... ‘shit, bugger, arseholes’.
There’s 2 ways of looking at this situation. You lie down, you sob, you beat yourself up for being so rubbish you can’t even get 2 tickets for your favourite artist ever or you try.
I think I accepted first that I could be facing further potential disappointment but I pinged out a plea across selling groups on the off chance someone may have bought extras. I then hit the clubs’ social media and ever so nicely asked if they could let me know if any tickets came up. As polite as they were in responding, my feeling from the instant sell out was this was about as unlikely as meeting Tom Baxter in a squash club.
So think back to just over a week ago and my overnighter with my new dodgy limbed friends in Heatherwood Hospital. Up pops the tagged post that lovely Trev from the Hat Club will be in touch if Lady Luck is coming to visit me.
And boy did she. On Wednesday I get a follow on tag saying ‘Jus we have 2 tickets, pay here, code word BLUE’.
My bestie (responsible for first introducing me to my aforementioned favourite artist of all time), now rudely lives in Eastbourne but tells me she’s coming up to stay with almost as much excitement as me hearing her words.
She arrives, we cab to a heaving Firework night in Beaconsfield, devour a fabulous steak in the Sarry’s Head and then go off to find the mystery venue, under described on a dark lane. We suss our The Hat Club is actually virtual and a lovely duo called Trev and Di. Artisan people with big hearts and a passion for keeping it uncommercial and real. The venue is a Squash club, with a tiny modest bar complete with wrist splints and handle strapping next to the optics incase you want to restring your racquet whilst you have a pint.
The room holds 60 people. It’s intimate and now full of friendly folk who potentially have little in common other than a taste in music. By this point, I’m hyperventilating and my memory is filled with the days of my deepest sadness, my rebuild and my quest whilst supported by lyrics that feel like they’ve been written personally for me.
Tom’s sister Vashti comes on for the first set, filling me with awe of what their parents must feel with their doubling of amazing talent.
I can’t even précis every note, word or feeling I had from the moments of last night but it is without doubt the best gig I’ve ever been to and more so now in my top 3 moments of life. I know I’ve been blessed by being married to a BAFTA winning composer and forever stuck in love with a renowned songwriter but this few hours summed up everything I feel about music and what I cherish in its power.
The set finished and Tom suggests we carry on and move into Court One. (?) So, every one of the audience remove their shoes and walk into a beautifully lit squash court and sit. Tom follows us in and belts out 4 songs that turned the room into a mesmerising version of story telling hour for adults. Just incredible.
At this point, I’m already on an extreme high so to come back out, put my boots back on and head out to the bar to look through the albums that I already have, I chat to the lovely Di who tells me how happy she was that the tickets came free for me, followed by Trev passing her a note that I have just won the night’s scoop of a signed vinyl. I’m handed over with weak knees to Tom for a moment where the obligatory happy photo became a chat that instilled what it is that resonates with me. He is an awesome guy with a backbone of life experience, fuelled with scars and trials but finds himself blessed with wanting to write and perform music which in turn bonuses him with people wanting to listen. Without gain or financial motivation and with a passion for his goals which translates as the epiphany of what is most attractive about him.
Cocktails in the Crazy (and frightful) Bear, Uber home to the standard locking myself out for 2 hours in the freezing cold, being totally hung out to dry by a locksmith who coat-hangered himself into my apparently ‘high security’ lock followed by prayers before bed that my hyperthermic best friend would make it through the night and a sleep filled with dreams that came true."

Thanks to:
Tom’s manager Alaric for helping with the set up.
Chris Hope, Tom's right hand man last night: nice guy for a Lancy!
James Partridge for the pitch perfect sound.
The two Lisa’s for tending the bar so… tenderly.
Andy, our club manager for letting us use the Beaconsfield Squash Club for the Hat Club venue.
Paul Austin who usually provides a PA gratis. He only supplied the parking cones yesterday and they seem to have been nicked… check your pockets!
Barry Cross for doing the poster: I think that’s 26 without the whiff of an invoice.
Finally, thanks to Di for having the gumption to Tweet Tom directly to ask if he’d come out to play.
Tom’s response: ‘Sure, why not?’
And just like that… they made something happen.
A miracle of sorts.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

The Hat Club: November 3rd 2018: Tom Baxter

The next Hat Club presentation will be something special.
Not only is it likely to be the only one of 2018 it is also sure to be the first ever 'Sold Out' Hat Club.
If the name Tom Baxter doesn't resonate, it should do.
Di and I have seen Tom live about 7 or 8 times and we both agree that he is one of the best live acts we've been privileged to see. 'Spellbinding' doesn't do him justice.
His debut album, Feather and Stone, was released by Columbia in October 2004 to critical acclaim, and was a regular on the BBC Radio 2 playlist. Singles from the album included "This Boy" and "My Declaration".
Tom's second album Skybound (released 7 January 2008) was recorded independently and released on the revived Charisma Records label through EMI [1] after he split with Sony in 2007. The first single, "Better", was released in January 2008 and was subsequently used on the soundtrack for the motion picture Run Fatboy Run. "Miracle" was used by the BBC to cover the final montage of their Olympics and Paralympics coverage.[3] The second single was "Tell Her Today".
Baxter contributed the track "Make a Stand" to the Survival International charity album Songs for Survival in 2008. Later that year Boyzone covered and released "Better", reaching number 22 in the UK Top 40 singles chart.
In 2009, "My Declaration" was covered by Eliza Bennett and used in the soundtrack the film Inkheart (Bennett also played the female lead, Meggie Folchart, in the movie). "Almost There" was covered by Dame Shirley Bassey as the opening track of her album The Performance. Baxter and the BBC Concert Orchestra accompanied Dame Shirley Bassey when she performed the song at the BBC Electric Proms on 24 October 2009 at the Roundhouse in London, a concert broadcast live on BBC Radio 2 and on BBC Two television the next day. The song was also used in the ending credits for the 2011 film, Trust.
We will be releasing tickets to club members first before opening up to the public.
In order to tempt Tom to our venue we have agreed a ticket price of £15.
Details on how to reserve and pay will come later in the year.
Meanwhile, put the date in your diary.