Tour Diary: Scunthorpe to Cambridge: The Roman West and the Battle of Naseby: Autumn 2017

A flicker of time, a flicker of images, all accreted into the memory bank to be lost, re-filed or loaned out for stories in later years. The Autumn Tour 2017, me (ready for long drives, nervous for new songs), Paul and Lizzy, reunited for a set of shows. We start high with Café INDIEpendent in Scunthorpe, always a beautiful show and always for good people. The next morning in a café we talk about life, aspiration, Dr Who with Steve and Pip (our hosts) and I struggle to understand the choice given to me of either pork or Lincolnshire sausage. I’m tired, my hearing is not what it used to be but the echo of ‘when in Rome…’ sticks me true. The image turns – a sunny motorway no traffic heading into Sheffield. Such a familiar city to me but a stranger now, like my younger self. A long stretch in the Greystones pub, eating and drinking, waiting, waiting. Neil McSweeney drops in to talk about his new rats and to join us on stage for a number. It’s a busy night the stage lights blinding my train of thought on stage. We survive. 

Next a local show in Chelmsford, the Bassment. Hoxton bands with leather biker jackets and attitude. Corporate rock, early noughties rock. No-one listens, no-one notices our coming and going but we enjoy playing, sharing the stage with each other, me, Paul and Lizzy. Mary and Lizzy smuggle Frittata like snacks in and we feast. In the car park out back, in a queue for halloumi wraps I meet a girl from Columbia, she cannot fathom the elderly Spanish who retire to Bogota. The euro gets you far but the crime is insufferable. She has never lived in Bogota, she came from Madrid and lives in Chelmsford – she thinks it’s OK, kind of quiet. I say it’s a lovely city, I don’t know why, I’m not sure I even believe myself.

Fade to black. A new image returns, one of Stonehenge. Always constant it will outlast the cars and people that slow to look at it today. I point out the barrows that flank it further down the road, no-one bothers to slow for these except us. The Hawthorns Hotel, The Bishop of Bath and Wells, dreadlocks, the Bishop of Glastonbury, old bones. The audience drink heartily tonight and Paul nearly falls into the fireplace mounting the stage for the show. We share a bed in the room overlooking the street and we watch an interview with Henry Rollins on BBC News. Drunks philosophise in the street outside, “ I am not interested in anything Henry Rollins says” pipes up Paul “on account of him wearing black pants and screaming at people in 1984”. But we watch and we are moved by the eloquence and the honesty. I could cry with the profundity of a man that says his best friend is a road manager who he pays a salary to.

The image turns again. I am in the garden of Cecil Sharp House watching Jon Boden sing by a bonfire in a steel barrel, silhouettes creep up to the windows in the block of flats opposite and open the windows ever so slightly to let the beauty in. I am then in a car overshooting the turning for Gwhidhw in Cardiff. There is no Paul, he is unwell, unable to get out of his sick bed. An inordinate amount of time finding a safe car parking space – thieves operate in this area. Girls decorated and flaunting, transmitting an air of ignorance for the acts but balanced with the quiet appreciation of girl students studying classical singing and neuroscience. “We thought we would just try it out – it said folk night”. I think to my days of discovering music on a punt. Wondrous years. 

A night drive to Newport, crumpets and coffee, Mojo and Sita desperate for cuddles and attention. Mojo’s dew claw scratches a scar down my hand. Another bright day follows, Tim nonchalantly takes us on a trip to Caerleon, seat of Roman frontier against the Sitares. Roman fort, hobnailed footprints of men long dead and a legionaries’ swimming pool. Roman amphitheatre! Rudimentary Roman walls and the Legionary museum and garden. A walk over the river Usk back into the green country. Harvest moon, harvest moon! So large a celestial body. Swindon’s Beehive again and a quiet appreciative crowd. Lizzy is taken with a trio who enter, dressed well with accompanying cat. She swears they are mischief makers.

And onwards, with ancient history in our minds to Chester. Up through Hereford, Ludlow, Oswestry. Chester such a sensation. A seventeenth century new town I joke. A mooch for food and books. Booksellers look on me like I was speaking voodoo when I try to find a particular title. Christmas is slowly creeping in through the gift aisle. Winter food in a cellar . Butternut squash salad with walnuts and dates. A show followed by drinking and another Roman amphitheatre. An addictive game that Carl introduces us to – ‘Shut the Box’- is played throughout the night in late night bars. An early start, three hours sleep, Lee creeping out of the house late for work. On the road again stopping at Keele services for coffee, fruit and sandwiches, hangover. Lizzy tries every remedy to sort her throat and head out. She discovers brandy is the best tonic.  

Driving around the village of Naseby, the church being the pivot to our careening car. A quick trip to the Naseby battlefield monuments. A tractor turns the soil in the field before us, I try to imagine the smoke and musket balls but can’t. Finally there and a house concert in the rain, good community vibes and a dog called Charlie. My eyes are blurry as I try to navigate the lanes through Northampton, I am confused and wanting to speed. In Epping it is kicking out time as the drunks sprawl on pavements and Lizzy darts out and onto the central line for home. The image falters and snaps back into Camden Town. Paul is back, feeling better, the Spread Eagle on Parkway smells of drains, Suggs is there making his way to the loo, we make eye contact, ‘don’t talk to me’ his say. A lovely show, Rory is always such a good promoter and human being. Traffic in London is unbearable, Paul plays Husker Du quietly in the car on account that his speakers are broken.

Final scene. Too many bicycles, too many cars. Stony faces of learning protrude from sandstone institute doorways. Cambridge. Unseasonably warm on Norfolk Street – so dead, so empty as if everyone is having a good time somewhere else. In the basement of CB2 we play to a select few. The waiters bang the doors close by. Lizzy plays quiet and then we leave, some for trains others in cars. I take a wrong turning on the way home, through Little Waltham and past country pubs back onto Essex Regiment Way and the vast new development of Beaulieu on the outskirts of Chelmsford. These used to be green fields.

A flicker of time, a flicker of images, all accreted into the memory bank to be lost, re-filed or loaned out for stories in later years.