6 Bells Web log Feb18 2020.
Another wet, windy February evening with treacherous driving conditions on route. Who would be prepared to come out on a night like this? On arrival, tumbleweed blew across the deserted car park and a funereal atmosphere pervaded the bar. Appreciating why some people would prefer to be in the coffin rather than give the eulogy at a funeral, I anticipated that hosting an open mic whilst simultaneously dying a death on stage would definitely constitute a double whammy; yet overseeing one’s demise in a near empty room might be the best I could hope for tonight, unlike the subject of my first chosen video, who ably copes with one of the potential pitfalls of performing live - but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Once I’d felt my way round the walls and turned on the lights, I was very grateful to see that Simon had set up the equipment. Due to circumstances beyond his control he was unable to attend that evening; oh, how we’ll miss your sagacity and wisdom, your dead pan drollery, your reassuring presence - your clearing away the kit at the end of the evening.
I settled down for a long wait as the hour approached. Could this be a first? Inevitably not, for in dribs and drabs, bodies emerged from the gloom to present themselves for inclusion on the list. By eight-thirty, we had the makings of a credible evening of eclectic entertainment. Twelve performers in total, prepared to play solo or à deux.
I kicked off proceedings with the Hank William’s classic ‘You Win Again’ followed by ‘City of Stars’ from the film La La Land. John B. then joined me for ‘Fall at your Feet’ by Crowded House and as a finale we played ‘Riverside’, originally by the 1970’s acoustic guitar trio, America.
I duly resorted to my default position of wildly casting around for reasons why my performance was flawed - it had to be the frostbite, the foldback, the feedback, the acid flashback…sorry Lance, the sound man will always be the easiest target. Unperturbed, John B. soloed with his self-penned ‘Homeward’, and very accomplished it was too. No sound problems there.
A new face on the scene was Anthony, playing an acoustic with the appearance of a beautifully figured walnut burl top - either that or someone had had a go at it with a blow torch. Notwithstanding, Anthony gave us two self-penned numbers, ‘My Plastic Mind’ and ‘Day by Day’ - both agreeably professional and very well received. Was it just me or was there a hint of Eau de Gallagher detectable in the room? Anthony warned us mid song of an impending difficult chord - to my untutored eye a B♭7, or possibly a C911, a Cm11 or was it just plain old fashioned C11? I wish you‘d let on, Anthony.
Abandoning his desk duties, Lance of Seaford (Retired) was up next to perform two original numbers entitled respectively ‘Pick up Yer Dog S**t’ and ‘Mustn’t Grumble’ - the former self explanatory, the latter an unapologetic, unashamedly audacious pro-Tory anthem. Who’d have ever thought that of Lance, our very own South Coast Billy Bragg? A little bit of devilment on my part there but as always, clever, topical, insightful and melodic songs.
Ella arranged herself at the piano, laser powered LEDs flooding her sheet music, and gave us Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’, one of the most beautiful songs from the Summer of Love era (and Joni wasn’t even there, opting instead to watch the coverage on television!). Multi-instrumentalist Ella is a dab hand at the ivories - and so immersed was I by her technique, that I failed to note her second song. I can remember that it was also well received.
Up next was the turn of Penny accompanied by Keith on his ES-175 archtop, a splendid instrument allowing his prowess over a whole gamut of jazz chords to be ably demonstrated. Penny made light work of the blues classic ‘Careless Love’ à la Bessie Smith, and followed up with the traditional 12-bar blues ‘C.C. Rider’.
Keith continued solo with the Rodgers and Hart Jazz standard ‘My Funny Valentine’ and then a formidable a cappella version of an original piece entitled ‘Telescope’. I trust I got that factually right, Keith.
The ever patient and accommodating Clive followed next with Gerry Rafferty’s ‘The Royal Mile’, a performance that pulsed with energy and evocation. Gerry Rafferty obviously had a thing for popular odonyms and his most famous song featured a saxophone solo by Raphael Ravenscroft, who sadly died aged sixty. Ravenscroft claimed that ‘Baker Street’ irritated him because his solo was flat. Never mind, it reputedly earned him £80,000 a year in royalties. Clive’s second number was his own original ‘Is it Summer so Soon?’ - if only, if only.
Now the turn of Lisa and Jason. Lisa told us that she had come across one of Jason’s discarded poems, which was rescued and turned into the lovely song ‘Cat’s Cradle’. This was followed by Stephen Stills’s ‘Helplessly Hoping’. True to the spirit of Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jason forgot his lines thus rewarding us with another round. Such close harmony and beautiful intertwined guitars…I’ll say no more.
John came armed with an acoustic plus a seven stringed electric to perform a number from one of the greatest albums ever recorded… there, it’s in print! If you ever saw Pink Floyd or one of the tribute bands (which can sound better than the original) ‘Breathe’ is the track that personifies Dark Side of the Moon in it’s entirety. This was followed by ‘Another Brick in the Wall (Part Two)’, a Roger Waters inspired epic of a number. Even in the environs of a folk club, it prompted the audience to light up their iPhones and sing along to the chorus.
Helga Dittmar enticed Keith to accompany her on Joni Mitchell’s ‘Carey’, a song inspired by the man she spent time with in a hippie cave commune on Crete (Joni, not Helga). There followed a sad blues ‘Too Sad to Sing the Blues’ which involved bashing the guitar top for percussive effect - as Helga explained, ‘it does make it go out of tune!’ There’s room here for a very funny domestic joke… but I’ll stifle the urge. There appear to be several incarnations of this desperate blues out there, but unfortunately whatever I noted at the time was washed off the page by my tears.
The evening was drawing to a close and with what remained, I elected to ask Anthony to return for one number and then draw names from a hat. Anthony chose The Who’s ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, a behemoth of a number, but ably carried off all the same.
Penny and the indomitable Keith were then drawn and returned for another troubled blues number possibly called ‘Troublin’ Blues’, but I can’t say for sure since at this point I was having trouble keeping a lid on my own emotions.
Lisa and Jason were drawn next and elected to perform ‘What a Wonderful World’ - and what a wonderful end to a night that had initially shown so little promise.
Thank you to all the performers, the regulars, Lance on sound duties and Clive for stage management.
It just remains to mention my chosen videos. John Martyn’s live performance of ‘Solid Air’ begins three and a half minutes in, after replacing a broken string with the aid of his teeth (he did enjoy a drink!). Although a virtuoso rendition, it’s also a masterclass in how not to present yourself on stage - but I doubt he ever suffered stage fright.
Pentangle’s ‘Light Flight’ was used as the theme from “Take Three Girls”, BBC1’s first colour drama series in 1969.
Finally, Cara Dillon’s ‘Hill of Thieves’, written by Cara and her husband Sam Lakeman who is also performing on guitar.
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