Provincial Letters

Far from the mad crowds of the city, Blaise Pascal passed comment on the strange behaviour of this urban contemporaries in his Provincial Letters. The connection between them and this blog is somewhat tenuous.

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Location: Grimsby, N E Lincolnshire, United Kingdom

My star sign in Superstition. And I didn't believe in reincarnation last time, either. The only thing I can't tolerate is intolerance. I am a fanatical ant-fanaticist. I am bigotted only where bigots are concerned. I am a fundamentalist atheist. I'm proud to be a product of evolution; I know it in my genes.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Posted @ 15:55The Further Adventures of Keats & Chapman II

Chapman's Girlfriend

Chapman once had a girlfriend named Gloria. Gloria was very demanding and called on Chapman at every opportunity for fears and discomforts - both real and imaginary - at all hours of the day and night. This was rather annoying for Keats as Chapman was ignoring their automobile repair business in favour of paying court to his new love. Since Keats was a novice at the physical side of the business, the actual repairs were taking longer and longer as Chapman dallied with his love.

Things came to a head - as is their wont - one Wednesday late in spring when the local fishmonger brought his van in for repair. The man demanded a prompt service as he had urgent deliveries to make. Keats accepted the commission more from the necessity of ensuring a continued income than from the certainty that the work could be completed by the following Monday. Unusually, Chapman put in two full days that week, working for twelve hours on Thursday and Friday to clear the backlog in the workshop and starting work on the fishmonger's van. Chapman said he would have to work over the weekend to finish it. However, on Saturday morning he did not appear.

After several telephone calls had be made by Keats to Chapman's home, Chapman eventually contacted his friend: "My apologies, old chap, I can't come in to work today, Gloria is distraught and I must attend to her."

"But what am I to tell the fishmonger?" asked Keats, "He needs the van. You must come in."

"But Gloria needs me," said Chapman, "can't the van wait until Tuesday."

But Keats was firm: "Sick Transit - Gloria Monday."

Then he took down the account books and did some complicated sums.

A Trip to America

During a trip to the United States, Keats and Chapman once took a train journey from New York to Indianapolis. Before their departure each of them selected some reading material from the newsstands at Grand Central Station. Chapman, being of a serious disposition chose Time, Life and Newsweek. Keats - sinisterly - on the other hand, was going through a phase of infatuation with trivia and the entertainment industries and chose National Enquirer, Variety and Billboard. The journey proceeded leisurely and the scenery was glorious in the late afternoon sun.

The two friends read in silence - their friendship was of the age where conversation and debate have been exhausted and replaced with the simple expressions of content and discontent. Both, however, finished their magazines before the train had reached Columbus, Ohio, and they found little to amuse them as the evening was wearing on and there was little to see from the panoramic window of the Club Car. They took some sanctuary in a drink - leaving their magazines strewn on the small table - and stepped out on the small balcony caboose [Thanks Ian] at the rear of the train for a cigarette (smoking not being allowed inside the carriage). Returning to their seats, they discovered that the attentive steward had closed their magazines and stacked them neatly in two separate piles: Keats' had Variety on the top and Chapman's Life.

"Now there's a coincidence," said Keats, glancing at the front covers of the magazines.

"I see what you mean," said Chapman, indicating the photographs on the covers portraying a recently divorced Hollywood starlet which graced both magazines, "we thought we were indulging our passions for different facets of the world and yet they appear to overlap."

"No," said Keats, with a sigh, "I just noted that Variety is the price of Life."

Chapman suddenly became interested in a fly alighting on the window.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Posted @ 15:00Spending all weekend in the pub

Or: Unreliable Memories of the first Acoustic Beer Festival @ the Tap & Spile, 6th-8th May 2005

Well the dust has settled from last weekend at the Tap & Spile and I've - mostly - recovered from the copious quantities of beer that I was forced to drink during that time (and I'm certain someone put something in the beer that gave me a hangover). So perhaps it's time to try and remember what happened. However, this post is subject to not only the usual proviso that I sometimes make things up but also to the proviso that I'm not sure I can remember everything that really did happen; it looks like I'll have to make quite a lot of things up.

So, this post is partial, fragmentary and unreliable. And it goes on a bit. No change from the usual, then.

November 2004

Dave H - Tap landlord and friend of the stars - says to me: "What about doing a festival weekend of beer and music next May?" I says, "Great idea. We could call it an Acoustic Beer Festival." "Right," says he, "who shall we have on?"

We reject some ideas straightaway: The Beatles (Dave's not over-fond of the Fab Four notwithstanding the unavailability of two of the members); Led Zepplin (we have a problem with performances of "Stairway to Heaven"); Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan (they cover quite a lot of our material). We appear to be on a winner with a Cream re-union but then they get some big London gig and the promoters don't want that overshadowed. The Levellers are doing Scunthorpe in April and that would clash. Oasis, Pulp, Blur and Coldplay appear to be watching their navels that weekend. Rush are not considered. Eventually we decide to take a gamble on Claude Bourbon and Adrian Byron Burns. It may not work out: these two guys have busy schedules and are much in demand. But we live in hope.

We draw up a list of local support acts and confirm Batemans as sponsors. And then... ...two months go by.

January 2005

Christmas and New Year over, Dave H finally contacts Claude and Adrian to find out about availability.

One night I wander into the pub. Dave says: "Bad news about Claude and Adrian." "What?" says I. "They can both make it," says he. Oh, what a wag.

So, "Gabba, gabba, hey", "rock 'n' roll" and full steam ahead...

February 2005

Line-up all confirmed:

Some excitement and a lot of fun in the hours trying to think of a name for the trio of Colin, Mick and Bob. I spent a couple of hours with them and thought we'd got a name (not one I particularly liked, but they gave it a go). Then they don't like it. Jeanie (Col's long-suffering other half) suggest Last Chance (which a lot of us like but they don't). They promise to think of one before May. Not holding out a lot of hope on this one.

March 2005

Dave & Rose have been two years at the Tap and they announce their coming marriage. Dave says to me that we'd better get down to some serious planning for the festival. I agree. "But not 'til after the wedding. And the honeymoon. And Easter," he says. This must be the way all such things are organised.

Mid April 2005

Oh dear. Only five weeks to the festival and there's no posters, banners, T-shirts, programmes, banners... And we haven't finalised the running times. And there's the PA to consider. Yes, I know that a lot of this is my responsibility. But it seemed so far off. Now was the time for the Corporal Jones impression: running around screaming "Don't panic!"

What I had done (with Adrian appearing in January and Claude in February) is to get their PA requirements. Now there was just the bolshie local lot. Dave H also wants some of the regulars to do short guest spots. Invent a joke about welcoming acne and see Roger Beard, Eddie Weeks and Mark Willerton to see when they're available. Turns out that Roger B can't make Saturday as he's due at a surprise 50th birthday party (not his) - although it should be mentioned that he and Julie arrived for the event bearing objects marked with 50 only to discover it was a 40th birthday. Anyhow, that makes things easier: Roger on Friday between Chris and Claude. Eddie and Mark on Saturday. Sorted. Now, just need that name for Colin, Mick and Bob...

Dave H keeps coming up with little one-liners to describe each act (inspired, no doubt, by Claude - "The Frog with the Blues" - and Adrian - "The Return of the Funky Troubadour"). Some of these end up on the posters and programmes (some of them were worse puns than mine!).

Eventually get the biographical information for all the acts (Rob Lowdon writes an essay for which he gets 72%). This all needs turning into appropriate words in the programme. And then there's photographs. And the PA. Eventually talk to all the local lot and get their requirements for the sound. Ian O (sound man) trembles at the thought of six channels for Colin, Mick and Bob. Talk to Jon F about what we need and OK the list a full three weeks before it's needed (see, there was some forward planning - but we didn't plan there to be any forward planning).

Dave H realises we've planned dates that clash with the Blues of the Month Club in Cleethorpes: a lot of them are Adrian fans. Many indicate they'll be in the Tap rather than The Queens. Hope there's no bad feeling; it's too late to change anything now.

Colin, Mick and Bob are to be called "2 Old Men & Me". Oh well.

May 5th 2005

Meet with Dave & Rose over a couple of beers at lunch time to finalise... ...stuff. Dave's in a bit of a panic about the beer: some of it won't arrive 'til Friday afternoon. Then he gets in a flap about where we put the performers. Rose & I counsel for keeping the usual place. He umms and ahhs about putting them at the far end (you have to know the layout of the Tap to understand this; but the acoustics are worse even though they're more visible). Rose's word is final (as usual).

I'm getting wound up, worrying about it all (have been all week). E-mail Jon F to confirm all the PA gear.

May 6th 2005

Oh well, here we go.

Finish work early, just in case. Arrive at the Tap about 17:15 via the Tone Zone (buy strings just in case) where I bump into Mark W and Ian O who are chewing the fat with Tony. Take my first beer of the weekend; the PA's due 17:30-18:00 so will only have time for one before John F arrives. This is a miscalculation: I'm well into my second by 18:10 when the gear arrives. Oh well, plenty to do. Need to set up and test four microphones and three instruments.

Chris Wright arrives shortly after 18:30 but we're not ready for the sound check yet. But we've put this lot up a dozen times before (it's the same system we use for the Open Mic Nights); it's just there's more wires and a couple of monitors... Luckily PA Dave (Jon F's partner in crime) has spent a fruitful hour colour-coding the entire set up. It all turns out to be a doddle with everything working fine.

Crowd looks a bit thin at 19:15 when we're all ready. Will kick off with Chris at about 20:00. Drink more beer. Worry.

Claude arrives just after 19:30 and has forgotten that we were providing the PA. But he's glad. He can take some time over a meal. He's looking fit and well and joins us at the "technical team" table with his (large) red wine and supper. Sales of the programmes begin and people start collecting autographs. By this time I'm in my festival T-shirt (and jolly fine they are too; thanks Carl). I drink more beer with Ian O, Mark W, Rob L and Tina (the crowd at our table grows and I can't remember who else was there).

Chris starts the weekend off. He sounds great. Ian O is behind the desk looking relaxed (but feeling as nervous as me) and drinking his Scrumpy Jack in a Stella glass. The place has begun to fill up. There's hardly any seats left. Chris plays a blinder, starting the weekend with a bang. By the time he finishes the room is almost splitting at the seams: three-deep at the bar. Roger Beard takes the stage for his guest spot at about 20:45 and produces a wonderful interlude (the change-over is very smooth; that's 15 months of Open Mic Night experience chaps). Claude gets his gear on stage at about 21:00 and we set him up (one microphone; one guitar; easy-peasy). It looks like things are going OK.

Claude starts his set in 4th gear at about 21:10. He plays like there will never be another gig ever. The crowd are jumping up-and-down (mostly dancing, but some to see over the heads of those in front). It becomes almost impossible to get a drink quickly. The bar staff are running backwards and forwards doing their best. But it's all so damn busy. Claude doesn't stop either. About 21:50 he calls for another drink (this takes a while but there are a lot of people). He takes an encore at 23:10 (in 15th gear out of 12) and that's it - nearly two hours on stage and he's dripping sweat. All I can say is "Merçi". He smiles and gives me a gallic hug. I think he enjoyed the evening, too.

He's so damn good that even the anti-guitar brigade (you know who you are Helen) buy a CD and applaud and applaud and applaud.

I say to Dave H: "I think it's going to be OK." Dave smiles (this is a good sign): "So do I." The bar staff look knackered (well done Craig, John, Dave & Rose). I look - and feel - knackered (and, it is reported, a little drunk). Went for a late drink at The Venue.

May 7th 2005

Just a hint of a hangover this morning. When I say "hint", I mean the blinding obvious facts of upset stomach and groggy head. Someone or something made me drunk last night, I believe. Must find out what it is...

Tried to ignore the hangover by reading the paper (The Guardian, if you want to know), drinking coffee and fruit juice in Swigs. Popped into the Tap at 15:30 (fruit juice again) to see how things were. Richard Papps already there having dropped off his "unfeasibly large organ" and guitar. He was taking Nikki home from work at 16:30 so he wants to get set up before that. Starting around 16:00 we start on this. Ian O arrives around 16:20 and we get Richard's stuff sorted out. Rob L arrives and we do his sound check: he needs a pre-amp for his guitar but luckily Mark W arrives with his and we get set up. There appears some problem with the lead from the guitar to the pick-up so I phone Tina to bring down a spare lead of mine (she's just leaving). Get Rob L sorted. Projected start is 17:30. Manage to stay off the beer and on the fruit juice.

Rob Lowdon has been smitten with Claude's predilection for the G-minor tuning. This has been brewing for some time. Rob kicks off with a new piece dedicated to Claude in, naturally, G-minor. I've also introduced him as "Spike G Minor". Unfortunately there still seems to be a sound problem and Rob's guitar keeps cutting out. The lead's replaced a second time and all seems OK for a couple of songs and then it starts again. Diagnosis: it's Rob's guitar, not the lead. But, trooper that he is, Rob performs a storming set despite the technical problems (and forgetting the words to a Tom Paxton song, again). And there's a decent crowd for a Saturday afternoon. Rob finishes his set with a number performed with Mark Willerton on the bass.

Mark goes straight into his guest spot. A stonking 15 minutes of virtuoso bass playing. I have a feeling the evening is going to be OK.

Next up, around 18:30 is Richard Papps, performed with his usual flair. Before he goes on he asks me to give him a nod when he's only got time left for two songs because he wants to finish his set with two particular numbers. I look at him and wait a moment for a little more information: "Perhaps it would help," I say, "if you let me know how long those songs are." Laughing heartily he agrees the information might be helpful. "10 minutes," he says.

There is intense amusement when Richard has problems with his drummer. His drummer is a pre-recorded backing track triggered by a foot-pedal. His foot-pedal fails to work consistently and the drummer comes in at the wrong time or not all - rather like a real drummer.

I've written about Richard's music before, so I will not lengthen this piece with another ecstatic review (but I will mention that it is of some significance to us both as Guardian readers that he keeps his plectrums in a 35mm film cannister [this will only mean anything to readers of the The Guardian's letter pages]). Suffice to say that there was nothing to disappoint expectations and much that exceeded them. Sometime during Richard's set I have my first beer of the day.

Richard finishes around 19:15 (I give him the nod at 19:05 and he slips into his finale with ease) and Eddie Weeks takes the stage for a guest spot delivering a musical contrast of elegant guitar and choice vocals. An especially appropriate contrast in view of the boisterous acts to come.

Adrian Byron Burns arrives about this time and, thanks to Rose, is not to be without his Bushmills for the evening. I have 2 Old Men & Me to sort out (with Ian O and Mark W) and don't get much chance for a chat with him and his good lady, Daphne, making her first visit to the Tap. I do learn later that he's recently moved to Hull which probably explains his early arrival.

The technical set-up for 2 Old Men & Me turns out to be easier than we expected and Ian O and I get a bit of a breather for a beer and a chat. The programmes are selling well (sold 45 last night) and it's Rob L's Grimsby Millennium Folk Group that will benefit. Lots of T-shirts in evidence.

Did I mention the rain? Or the snow? Weather's a funny thing: here we are in the second week of May and we get snow (more like slushy hail than real snow, but snow nonetheless). And then rain. Lots of it. And thunder. And lightning. In great gushes. Then sunshine. People arrive wet. People arrive dry. The only thing everyone agrees on is that it's cold outside and warmer in the Tap. There's not so many people as Friday night but the place is still packed. Extra bar staff, too (thanks Laura & Emma) so things don't seem so hectic.

2 Old Men & Me take the stage at about 20:00. These three guys work so hard delivering good-time music. Bob's voice is - after a shaky start - a revelation. His bongos prove a hit as well. All going smoothly as we start Adrian's set-up around 20:45.

The only snag we encounter is that someone who should by now have got the hang of the colour-coding on the desk, fails to turn the right knobs to adjust Adrian's monitor volume. Adrian takes it in good grace and Ian (oops, mentioned his name) comes out of it well.

What can I say about Adrian Byron Burns? The best way to understand just how wonderful his performances are is to catch one. His guitar playing his exemplary, his humour infectious and impish, his voice exhilarating and his material as eclectic as it is phenomenal. If I betray admiration and enthusiasm for this man with those words, then I cannot deny it. You can add to all the superlatives about his performance the simple fact that he is a genuinely nice guy.

By the end of the night I'm knackered again. But we're all smiling. This has been a stunning weekend. So far. Late drink in The Venue again.

May 8th 2005

Whose daft idea was it to have an Open Mic/Acoustic Session on the Sunday afternoon? After all, we'd all been out late two nights now and would anyone really want any more after two such stupendous evenings? The answer, it seems, is "yes, they would".

Fortified by Sunday lunch I arrived in the Tap around 14:30. Chris Wright was already there. I decide to start on beer. And, just so you aren't in suspense, I'll add that I continued on beer all the way through to 22:30.

There were signs up apologising for the lack of beer as we'd all drunk 130 gallons of cask ale over the previous two days.

The music kicked off at 15:30. Now, I would dearly love to review each artists and spot that they did. But, as I mentioned, I was drinking beer all day and just can't remember the order. I'll try and list them all but, for the same reason, I can't guarantee that I've not forgotten anyone (apologies if I've missed you). There was: Chris Wright, Robert Beard, Rob Lowdon, Martin, Eddie Weeks, Helen & Jacqui, Tim L, Rachel H, Kiwi Di, Richard Papps, two young guys (later identified as Betrayal), Dave & Danielle, Macca, John S and Planet Pitheads (Roger Beard, Richard Papps & Mark Willerton). There were several collaborations during the day and a whole lot of wonderful music (and poetry) was performed.

It was a truly superb day that started as Open Mic and (after the PA left at about 20:00) continued as an Acoustic Night.

Thanks to everyone who performed. Thanks to all the bar staff. Thanks to Dave & Rose. And thanks to all the people who turned out to watch, listen, drink and enjoy.

And finally...

This was "spending all weekend in the pub" at its very, very best: good music, good beer and good company. The weekend reflected the richness of our acoustic culture in a warm and friendly atmosphere far from the sanctified temples or antiseptic aircraft-hangers of official culture.

There's another one in October: clear your diaries and make sure you're not washing your hair that weekend.

[The sale of official programmes and a couple of name cards raised £100 for the Grimsby Millennium Folk Group. A cheque was presented to Tim L at the Open Mic Night @ the Tap on Tuesday 10th May. The money will be used to make a CD of the group's work. Thanks to you all and thanks to Dave & Rose for supporting this initiative in particular and the weekend in general.]

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Posted @ 11:46Victory and Aftermath

That's better.

Now I've got the furniture sorted out, I can explain how I single-handedly defeated the menace of The Revolutionary Committee of Cuddly Toys and Azhalarhud the Soul-stealer in particular (or Woja Bear as he was latterly, and is subsequently known). Well "single-handedly" might be an exaggeration: I have been know to embellish the truth somewhat in this journal.

Well, it all began with the discovery that teddy bears cannot read things written in orange italics. This allowed me to communicate with the outside world and plan the counter-revolution. It has since become apparent that teddy-bears, like many inanimate objects, are incapable of reading anything at all. But that is hardly the first thing that would occur to anyone when they are threatened with the takeover of the entire earth by such a gruesome horror.

But their ultimate defeat came more as a result of my discovery of certain weaknesses in their plan, psychology, physiology and something else beginning with "p":

  • Woja Bear (a.k.a. vicious little bastard) boasted of "striding the world like a colossus" when he finally achieved his true form as Azhalarhud the Soul-stealer. As things turned out his "true form" was as an 8cm high ball of artificial fur filled with soft stuffing. This rendered the "striding" and "colossus" parts of his boast rather meaningless. His dream of ripping the livers from prostrate humans was rather stymied by this discovery.
  • The Revolutionary Committee apparently learnt their megalomania from a book: "How to be a megalomaniac". This was obviously not written by anyone who really understood megalomania (i.e., a megalomaniac) as a real megalomaniac would be far to busy oppressing their subjects, torturing dissenters and being generally nasty to have time to write a book. As a result, they weren't very good at megalomania. Being cuddly toys in the first place didn't help their progress in this direction, either.
  • Cuddly toys do not like puns. As kryptonite is to Superman, so puns are to cuddly toys. This is a valuable discovery and may save millions of men from subjugation by their girlfriend's teddy. If you don't have any puns available, I'll be glad to supply some (I am custodian of the EU's pun mountain).

There only remains the question of what to do with the turncoat, Seany, who sold out to become Poet laureate to the Revolutionary Committee. All suggestions welcome (cruel and unusual punishments will be a particular favourite).

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Posted @ 11:21"Crawling out of dirty holes..."

"Have they gone yet?"

"There's no-one about."

"We can stop the orange italics now, then."

"Phew! That was close!"

"Look at the mess they've left. Better get this place tidied up..."