It’s time for Mega Catchup Blog! Isle of Man and Hawkley…

This blog starts where the last one was written. On the Isle of Man, staying in Douglas with my mate Rob, the organiser of the week’s entertainment. The Isle of Man is an interesting place anyway, but this week happened to be the practice week for the TT races – an annual pilgrimage for fans of two-wheeled motorised vehicles to watch and take part, around the gruelling 37.75 mile mountain course.

Saturday night was the opening night of the Bushy’s Beer Tent, which has supplied beer to the masses for twenty years now. We went along, tickets in hand, to drink fine ale and see that evening’s bands. There were a couple of local acts, and then, to coincide with it getting dark (which made the light show actually work), 90s indie favourites, The Lightning Seeds.

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The first warmup band we missed, due to queueing, both to get in and for the bar. There was a bit of a cock-up at the bar, in that the beer I was drinking in the afternoon at my favourite pub on the island, the Rover’s Return in Douglas, had been put on the wrong pump in the tent. Bushy’s Brewery,  a staple of the Isle of Man ale drinkers’ library, had produced an IPA for this year’s TT. Shuttleworth’s Snap. It was golden, hoppy and ultimately incredibly quaffable. It fitted in perfectly with both the way craft breweries are heading in recent years, and also with the weather. It was hot and sunny, with clear blue skies. Until the Lightning Seeds were halfway through their set, when a little light rain appeared, albeit very briefly. I got through my fair share of Snap over the course of the week. It’s definitely on the recommended list.

Still… I digress. The pump that said ‘Snap’ actually dispensed something else. Which the bar staff didn’t realise. It was on pint 3 that the pump clips had been turned round and the beer served was the beer advertised.

The second band on were again a local Manx combo called Ballaghs (unless you know otherwise, they have no web presence). Bouncy, gutsy folk rock was the order of the set and I was in my element. They covered a number of songs I know. Levellers-y stuff… You know the thing. My ears pricked up at the opening chords to a song I know well. It’s by Rev Hammer, an English singer-songwriter I discovered through The Levellers, and it’s quite an obscure song from a rather unknown album, Industrial Sound and Magic, released in 1991. It’s called Down By The River ‘O‘, and is about a town that gets flooded. I like this largely unknown song. I’m glad I know it.

Back in ’97, I helped my mate out with some haymaking. I have great memories of driving a 1950s Fordson Major around a field, hay turner doing its thing behind, singing this particular song at the top of my voice. It goes really well with the chug of the engine of a Major in whatever gear it was in. Consequently, I stood in the middle of the crowd singing along to every word, enjoying every note. The smile on my face was thankfully hidden by the beard, otherwise I’d be locked up for being the nutter I am.

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Ballaghs at the Bushy’s Tent

It was only after they had finished when the singer, a guy called Mike tapped me on the shoulder. When he was on stage, I overheard someone say he bore passing resemblance to a very young Bernard Cribbins. This was not the case at ground level. He thanked me profusely for singing along to that particular song. He’d forgotten the words and was using me as a prompt!

Before the set was out, a couple of Levellers covers were dropped in – English Civil War and a bouzouki-led cover of Riverflow, a favourite of mine (really? I hear you ask…). At this point, I didn’t care that the Lightning Seeds were on later. I could’ve listened to Ballaghs all night. But the evening progressed as planned, and after a good few minutes, said headline artistes took the stage and opened with Lucky You. There was a mass exodus from the beer tent to the stage area and within a minute or so, the place was rammed. An ideal time to get to the bar for a top up. If you could have moved.

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The Lightning Seeds crowd

Dancers a-plenty, and enough people hoisted onto others’ shoulders to free up a little dancing space, the guys pumped out hit after hit. Songs we remembered. Songs we’d forgotten, but remembered as soon as the vocals came in. It was a rather pleasant set. I saw the Lightning Seeds a few years back at a festival, but was more intent on trying to chat up a lady that I was rather keen on that I didn’t really take in much of their set.

It started raining part way through the set, but with the close proximity of people, nobody actually got wet. The end of the set was drawing near, announced by The Life of Riley. When they’d finished, whether for logistical reasons or through sheer bloody mindedness, they announced this was the imaginary encore. They didn’t bother with the going off, listening to the applause and coming back on thing. They just got on with it. Pure went into Sugar Coated Iceberg and the gig was done. A quick check of the watch and a blast up the hill to the Rovers for a last drink before closing was in order.

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Lightning Seeds at the Bushy’s Tent

Next followed two days of being touristy before Sunday night’s fun. Off to the Villa Marina, a venue on the Douglas Seafront, to see XSM – Ex Simple Mind. I was raised with a soundtrack dominated by things my father liked. From Queen to Free, to Meatloaf to Supertramp. They were all there. As were Simple Minds. When I was toying with metal and folk-punk, Dad was listening to Simple Minds. And, evidently, it rubbed off, as I knew the words to most of the songs.

XSM are comprised of the drummer from Simple Minds, his brother on vocals, a chap on synth, a guitarist and a bassist. To all intents and purposes, they were belting out hit after hit perfectly. Love Song, Waterfront and more were played, but what they heard through their monitors and what we heard through the PA were completely different things. The sound guy (I stop short of calling him ‘engineer’ as he’d be hard-pressed to engineer himself out of a paper bag) needed dragging outside and shooting. Bottom end and mids were far too loud, top end was squeaky where it was audible, and most of the time, the vocals were a tuneful hum against the shag pile carpet that filled the ears during every song. It turns out this guy was the house technician, and that his speciality is setting everything up so that the monitor mix is perfect, but the auditorium mix is diabolical. You can understand a touring tech doing that, but the house technician? Really?

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XSM before people stood up

Towards the end of the set, Promised You A Miracle and Alive and Kicking were rolled out. The crowd were really into the groove, and earlier in the gig, which was initially seated, one guy shouts at the stage ‘can we dance?’. This ended up in a brief discussion, which ended with the singer leaving the stage and singing the next song on the floor with a large number of other revellers keen to strut their stuff.

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XSM, once people had taken to the floor

The set was over and after the customary stampy encore request, the guys reappeared on the stage. After a little light heckling from the audience, the encore commenced. Alive and Kicking and Sanctify Yourself followed. Both went down extremely well, although it was a real shame about the sound. We were considering a whip-round to buy hearing aids for the sound tech by the end. At this point, we made the perilous journey across the road, then descended on a neighbouring hotel where much beer, gin and scotch were consumed.

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Back in the day, we used to hold lighters up at gigs…

Getting home from the island involved a 21 hour delay, but I’m back. And on the Saturday, the suggestion was made that I go along with my housemate, Luke, and Stu, the tame mechanic, to The Hawkley Inn, a lovely country pub near Petersfield, as they had a beer festival on. Never one to turn down the offer of a beer festival (and someone else driving), I jumped in the car.

I’m afraid I can’t give any beer reviews for this one, as they were running out and I was drinking whatever was left on the bar. The entertainment, on the other hand, I did note. A funk-ska band called Key Lime Pi, with a wind section comprising three saxophones in ascending size from alto to baritone and two trombones, coupled with Santana-style guitar.

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Key Lime Pi at the Hawkley Inn (at an angle I considered arty at the time)

Bluesy leads over a ska rhythm made for a most pleasant atmosphere on the warm summer’s evening. Good drinking music. A ska cover of Dawn Penn’s No No No got the vast majority of the assembled beer aficionados singing, before The Specials’ Ghost Town, quickly followed up by a brass-tastic Ghostbusters got them dancing as well. We did turn up towards the end, which means this review is painfully short. They finished up with One Step Beyond, which started slowly, at a proper chill-out tempo, slower than that of Prince Buster’s original, then halfway through, sped up to Madness tempo. The wind section (I don’t like using the term ‘brass’ as the sax is a woodwind instrument, although it’s made of the same material as the trombones) made it something to sit down and relish. Or dance like a nutter. I am guilty of both.

The evening ended with me, Luke and Stu finishing our beer ensconced in the branches of a nearby tree, before the trip home.

This coming weekend, I have a party to attend in a secret location in the West Country. I am taking the bouzouki and looking forward to a great time. The blog will appear some time within the next week. There is a good programme of music lined up, and it will be something to write about.

If you’ve got this far through this week’s mammoth effort, well done you! Keep on gigging, playing, or just reading the random stuff I’m posting, and I’ll catch you all soon. Take it easy!

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