A typical gig night for us goes something like this: first we spend the day aware that we have a gig, and trying not to wear ourselves out too early. We drive to the gig, which has been anything from half an hour to five hours' drive. After a long drive, Nic likes to have a little nap to get body and soul back together. This can be as short as 20 minutes, and often happens in the car. At this point John likes to read the Guardian. He says he could read forever and why isn't the Guardian bigger?
Then we go in search of a sustaining dinner and eat about 6.30pm. We both really need to eat before gigs, as the concentration uses up a lot of fuel. The food choices are limited by Nic's inability to eat onion, and some places that we know are excellent in a hurry include Pizza Express (where they do a great salad with torn chicken, avocado, beans, egg, potatoes and some strips of cooked pizza dough), and Wetherspoons which is reliable and well priced. Sometimes we can eat at the venue, which is often a pub that does food.
If there is a p.a. for the gig, we go in to the venue early and set up our gear, say hello to the organisers, and do a sound check. When there is a p.a., Nic uses her stomp box and flute microphone. We do line checks on everything and get the sound as clear as possible, so we can hear the vocals in particular. Clear vocal sound means we can sing in tune, hearing each other's harmonics.
Everything else gets a check, and the list includes concertina, guitar, percussion kit (tambourine on a stand played with brushes, cymbal), stomp box, wooden and silver flutes, whistle, fiddle. Nic has to make sure the shaker egg and f-whistle are in reach, not in a bag..... If there is no p.a., we set our gear up and check how resonant the room is, which dictates how much we need to face towards each other to hear.
Sometimes there is a support act who also sound checks, more often there is a selection of resident musicians from the club or floorsingers who have asked for a spot, and this starts the night. Residents and floorsingers often do amazing songs.
Then Cloudstreet is introduced, and we do our first 45 minute set. For us, 45 minutes is seven songs, with some chatter in between. If we try to squeeze more in, the show is not as relaxed and flowing. We like to start with a couple of songs that are very strong, so that people can relax into a good night, knowing we are safe up on that stage. We took this idea on from Kristina Olsen's performance notes, and its true, you don't want to worry that the performer up there is a bit shaky, you want to immerse yourself in the music they make.
We have been finishing the first half with Bill and the Bear, because its a good spot in the set for Nic to put on extra costume - that corset and tutu from Thailand have been getting a real workout! And it's an uplifting and fun song to take us to the break.
In the break we replenish our drinks, make sure the mailing list is passing round the room, talk to people about music, ideas, songs, sell them cds if they would like them, and give away postcards.
Then we're into set two, and it can be shorter or longer than set one, depending on the club's timing, but is usually another 45 minutes. We move our songs around each night, because we have more songs than we can perform in one night. We design the set to have a dynamic flow, changing pace, making sure we don't put two slow, thoughtful songs together, making sure we change key a lot to keep the ear fresh. We put in requests from the audience as much as we can, which sometimes redesigns the set completely!
There is often time for an encore, and we usually do something acapella as a way of rounding out the night.
Then there is a period of socializing and a few more cd sales, during which Nic tries to pack up her collection of instruments and not lose anything. At last night's club, the mailing list on a clipboard which we lost at Fylde festival over a month ago, was returned to us!
And we load the car, say farewell, and drive to the accommodation, slowly losing the adrenalin from our systems and getting tired. We usually get to bed between 1 and 2am, sometimes earlier, and try to get enough sleep to do it all again tomorrow!
News in from the last week: after the Red Lion we had the pleasure of staying with Vin and Pat Garbutt up on Teesside for a couple of nights, and found out just how comforting an Aga stove in the kitchen can be. Vin's discovered a new bird called the Great Grey Tunkle, so he's very pleased with himself.
From their place we went to do our gig at Guisborough, and we had trouble finding the venue (driving up and down the street going, no, not that building, what about that one), so we worried that no-one else would find it, but they did, and it was a great night with a singing club. The only worry was when Nic wore that tutu into the general bar, full of squash players, to buy a drink. "One of the singers, are yeh?" said a man at the bar, in a very understated way, glancing sideways.
We had a look round Saltburn, and Vin pointed out the chimney of the steelworks that made the steel for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, north at Redcar. We walked down the pier past the funicular railway and watched the brave surfers.
The drive from there to Southport was long, about 4 hours, but spectacular, as we drove over the high moors into Cumbria, on a sun and showers day with sunlight picking out glorious pieces of the view.
Southport is a fun place to go shopping, and we hit the charity shops next day and got some flash winter gear for the next few weeks. Not sure if it will come back to Australian summer with us. The Bothy Folk Club there is a beauty, wonderful resident musicians and a lovely room.
Next night we were in Runcorn, not too far away, at a club with a lot of heart, in a tiny venue where we played in front of the door. Once again, impressive resident singers led the way.
And we followed that with two nights with Dave and Linda, who used to live in Townsville, North Queensland, but happily for us, now live near Northwich! Nic had a walk down the cut and found a late fruiting damson tree to raid. We went from there to our show in Blackpool, at the Clarence. W
e have played there three times before, and its always a good night. Eddie does lovely sound and is a luthier. Last night Richard, the support act, was playing a most delectable guitar that Eddie made for him. Nic has tried Eddie's mandolins in the past and continues to covet one. He hasn't made any this year yet.
And now we prepare to drive to Maidenhead.
Skeletor the sheep, in Skipton, Nth Yorks.