Eating Soup in the Highlands
May 23, 2019
“Eating soup”? Do you eat soup or drink soup? That’s a question for another time. “Answers on a postcard” as they used to say. Yes, they actually did. way back in the mists of time before the internet, where entering any competition in a newspaper, magazine or on TV, required you have a stock of blank postcards. We never did in my house. My competition winning capacity was severely restricted as a child. On the odd occasion that pocket money restrictions allowed, and I could actually enter a postcard, the answers were dispatched with huge expectation that I was somehow guaranteed to win.
Ah, that brings us back on track; winning. I never did win those competitions as a child, in fact, I felt, for so many reasons, as if I was a perennial loser. Until a few years ago that is. That’s when I first properly picked up a guitar. I always wanted to, don’t get me wrong. Wanting to is a world away from needing to, and it was the need that tipped me over the edge.
Let’s start with the “want”. I always wanted to play the guitar and perform, but so many things got in the way until, with the dubious “benefit” of life fast-forward, I found myself the wrong side of 50. A fortuitous get together with someone who was to be a great influence on my ambitions, as well as a good friend, saw me team up with Paul Vile, an incredibly accomplished guitarist and veteran performer on the folk circuit.
We performed together, with him playing and me singing at some local pub gigs, where I was even able to sneak in the odd song I had written. That process was tortuous (for Paul more than me), as it generally involved me humming a melody and asking Paul to come up with a chord structure.
There had to be a better way, but, with a wonky left-hand ring finger (as a result of a rugby injury) I thought I would never play anything. Then the “need” kicked in; Paul and I became geographically separated, which left me seeking either a new Paul, or a new way to continue my nascent career.
I chose the latter, with false starts with a number of instruments, until, only 4 years or so ago, I found one that worked for me.
Nervous, (and boy was I ever nervous); there were times when I felt that my fingers were welded to the fretboard, Appearances at open mics “showcasing” my songs followed. There’s no easy way to do that, you just have to get up there and play. People were generally very kind and patient though. The fact that they were saved me from giving up before I had really got started.
I remember saying that I was happy as I had already done more than I ever thought possible- but in my heart of hearts I also knew that I had to keep striving for more- whatever that was.
Then one of those chance encounters that changed my life happened. I had always been a fan of the brilliant Martin Stephenson, in my opinion, one of the best songwriters and performers the UK has produced in my lifetime-certainly one of the most underrated. As a result, Lesley and I trekked up to Newcastle on cold pre-Christmas Eve to see Martin and the fantastic Toe Rags play their traditional Christmas gig at The Cluny in Newcastle. Still in our fur-lined hoods, we had popped in to see the venue only to bump right into Martin as he came out.
“Ooh, I’ve just bumped into the Rock Follies” he exclaimed, and proceeded to immortalise those words in a shout out in “Ball of Fire” (which we later discovered was part of the whole set being filmed for a DVD).
Following that chance encounter, I plucked up courage to grab a few words after other shows we went to, until, knowing at this stage that I wrote songs, he asked me to send him some music.
The “Rock Follies” encounter had given me the incentive to try to do some recording, and my first EP, wonderfully produced by Kerry Hughes at GN Studios in Huddersfield. I now had what a musical acquaintance had pompously called “commercially available music”.
I even penned an, as yet, unrecorded song called “Rock Follies” as the parallel with that fictional 70s band of female performers was an irresistible subtext to my own dreams….
“Monday morning seems so grey, school’s gonna last so long today
This humdrum life is not for me I want a guitar, mic and rock chick
It was just 70s music, but those glammed-up girls were so therapeutic.
To be like them became my raison d’etre,
Rockin and rollin and we’re out to getcha….
I wanna be like the Rock Follies
Get on stage on a Friday night.
Gonna strut like Rula Lenska
Get my clothes from Chanel not…
Marks & Spencer”
…all to a 70s Bay City Rollers-esque track. Maybe it should stay unrecorded!
Things moved fast. Martin asked me to do some support slots for both him at solo gigs and also, as part of the 30th Anniversary tour of the seminal album “Gladsome Humour & Blue”. What an honour and privilege to be opening shows for such luminaries!
The first gig supporting Martin & The Daintees was at the iconic Hare &
Hounds in Birmingham. I could never have dreamt I would be playing there,
He also said that he would love to record my songs, and asked me to submit 10 songs to him. One frantic Tuesday evening screeching into my phone ensued, and, before I knew it, I was on a train up to the Highlands to record and album with one of my musical heroes.
They say never meet your heroes, but Martin (as the sleeve notes to the album say) may be the exception that proves that rule.
After a lifetime of “Waiting For Tomorrow”, that day finally came.
We managed a quick lunch on one intensive recording day- at a local cafe, where they had a hearty soup on the menu.
And that’s how I found myself eating soup in the Highlands.