Ah… Easter… The second season of the retail calendar… For me, it’s long time since I worked in retail and then, the Easter weekend was a veritable portal to Hades, but these days, it’s four days off work in a row. Perfect for eating, drinking and being merry with some tunes thrown in (and some gardening to accompany the over-indulgence). This extra long weekend begain with an early evening Shantyhead gig on Friday. It was the wedding of Caroline and Chris – Caroline is the daughter of a good friend of the band – so we got stuck in and gave it the Shantyhead treatment. With unexpected pyrotechnics.
Myself and Widge arrived to the venue, a couple of miles up the road, to get set up in the morning in advance of the early evening reception. Everything went swimmingly until the moment when the mixer decided it would rather be a smoke machine. Furious ripping out of plugs ensued as a cloud of acrid electrical smoke filled the air over our six-month-old mixer. It’s going back to the shop on Friday. Once we were sure everything was safe, Widge made a lightning dash home in his little blue van to get his studio mixer and reverb unit. An hour later than scheduled, we were finally set up.
Fast-forwarding to the evening, we arrived, got everything tuned and at 5pm, as requested, started playing a 45 minute set whilst the wedding party assembled. The set was to end when the bride and groom arrived. Then we’d hold off until 7:15 and do another half hour set. As is often the case, nobody in the wedding party really pays attention to the music early on, but you keep on going, providing background music. Then, the newlyweds arrived half an hour early, so we closed our set early with Larking Around With The Morning Wood, our (not very) celebrated instrumental. (Well… we like it…)
We filled the time between sets with beer from Upham Brewery, wood-fired pizza, chatting to the bride’s father and replacing a bouzouki string that broke with the first strum of the first song. The second set again started slowly. A small dancefloor had been cleared but nobody was using it. Interest grew, however, escalating with each song we played, and by the end, the dancefloor was full and everyone was singing along. The DJ that was following us was looking a little daunted by what he had to contend with, as we were still getting shouts of “one more song” whilst we were packing up. It was a bloody good night in all.
This blog was all set to be about the wedding as I didn’t have anything planned for the rest of the week. That was still the case on Saturday night when I went out for a pint with tame mechanic Stu, to discuss next week’s jolly to Wareham, to pick up a car for a mutual friend. The Hyde Tavern in Winchester was the venue of choice – it’s a lovely pub that’s a bit off the beaten track, but it is a regular haunt of mine. They keep four or five real ales on at any one time, and the atmosphere can only be described as ‘country pub’. They don’t sell any food, but for a pound per head, you can eat a takeaway there, using cutlery and crockery provided by the pub. They also have a rather friendly dog called Jim who can often be seen wandering the bars hoping for attention, food or both.
On approaching the pub, faint strains of guitar were heard. On entering, to the left of the door, a guy with an acoustic is happily strumming away while a chap next to him tuned a banjo. Things were looking up! Beer duly purchased, we sat on the opposite side of the largely empty front bar and soaked in the mix of Irish, bluegrass, country and folk songs and tunes. It was a fairly informal affair, with a jug left out for spare change for the musicians, whose names I didn’t catch, plus lots of interaction between the audience and the duo, including at one point, myself singing “In The Summertime”.
The chap with the guitar had a voice that was quite reminiscent of Glen Campbell, which was useful as they played a couple of his songs, including a great rendition of “Gentle On My Mind”.
The evening was drawing to a close and a table of twenty-somethings on a conglomeration of tables arranged near the door suddenly became the focus of attention as one of them rushed out of the pub only to return five minutes later with another guitar. This was handed to a chap at the end of their table who proceeded to tune it to (double) drop D, then sat and played a great finger picked Nick Drake-infused piece, finishing to rapturous applause. An unexpected end to an unexpectedly musical evening. On leaving the Hyde, I asked the banjo player if they were doing it again any time soon. It appears to be a fairly regular thing and next Saturday, they are back. Nice.
Have a good week, folks, and if you are going to see any music any time soon, give me a shout. I’m always open to suggestions.