I’ve just completed the most enjoyable tour I’ve ever had. It was done with a remarkable group of friends and musicians. As usual, sometimes I wasn’t quite up to the mark, but they were always there for me. I’m perhaps being hard on myself in saying this, but I’m always hard on myself. It’s a necessity.
It was a great pleasure to be on this tour. We were four men and three women, and the mix was really conducive to working for each other. It’s always been difficult for me to be in a band. What I do, or rather what I’ve done in the past, has always been difficult for others to be involved in. Some of the statements are so singular, or so singularly political, that it has always been very difficult for me to invite other people onto a stage to effectively share in the delivery of thought that is often so deeply personal.
Working for each other is really inspiring. There was no crossed wiring. When I look at us, we are all leaders of sorts, and we are all willing to learn from each other. Fiona Brice is a brilliant composer, arranger, accompanist and friend who excels in any number of ways. Vicky Mathews adds such depth with her cello that she would always be a necessity in any future plans.
It would have been impossible to think of playing songs like ‘When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease’ and ‘Highway Blues’ without the help of Ryan Jacob’s trumpet/flugelhorn. Beth Symmons is a great bass player, and so versatile that I wonder why she’s not already in an award winning set up.
I watched Anthony ‘Anto’ Noonan in Clonakilty for the last ten or fifteen years, and thought that he was the best drummer around. On the tour he came up to the plate. It was a winning experience for both of us. Finally, Bill Shanley is a great guitar player and a good companion of the stage. Without fail, he does his best to dig me out of some of the spots I would otherwise have ended up in. All together, we are a free-hearted and fun loving group of people whose intentions for each other are exemplary.
Perhaps it helps that the three women have known each other for years, but in any case they are the life and soul of the group. They’re so positive and helpful that my confidence in what we’re doing has grown exponentially. What a tonic for an old stager! Every day was a delight.
Anyone who shares a stage with anyone else is effectively in agreement with what is being said or enacted. Humility naturally has to place itself in the forefront of any shared experience.. and I found it very useful to be completely aware of the responsibility of my position at all times.
Perhaps my biggest problem has always been with myself, in terms of what doesn’t quite come off on any given tour, but the patience of this group of friends with my verbalising and engagement with the audience was, in equal measure, both inspiring and humbling for me.
I accept that people don’t come to a purported musical evening to hear someone speak, but I’ve always felt that unless I say something about the inspiration for the songs, then I’m leaving people with only half the story. Very often a song is a précis of a chain of thought which would be too pedantic to expound in full; when a line or two of the nature of the original thought in sung poetry can be much more succinct: and a speech in ad-libbed prose can expose the depth of feeling I originally had for the idea.
By the by, I also have to admit, at long last perhaps, that in order to minimise the brain fades and loss of concentration that I’ve always had.. if I play in public again, and particularly with others, it will be better for everyone if I have some kind of autocue to get me over the hump of the road blocks my mind often creates for me. I can have no problem remembering the 19 verses, 11 choruses, and 1 release passage of ‘McGoohan’s Blues’, but when it comes down to the simplicity of ’Time Is Temporary’, often my mind isn’t even in the same postcode as the building.
The worst of it was before ‘Cricketer’ one night when I started to think about the instrumental in it, and where I had to end on the right chord… and where that was… and then .. blimey, I’d forgotten the first line. The real problem was that I hadn’t rehearsed the song properly before the tour! I’d played through it a couple of times just to make sure that it was still there, without playing the instrumental through. I HADN’T LISTENED TO THE RECORD! Not once.. And not for ages.
So that when it came to rehearsal with the band, a big problem started to become obvious. I was ending in the wrong place! Then, as usually happens, I learned the mistake! As I started to play the song that night, I remembered the mistake. I was trying to think about how NOT to make it again….. I thought through the musical sequence.. Then.. I tried to start.. I wanted to go back to the beginning, but I couldn’t. I was obsessed with not making the mistake…. and I couldn’t get to the first line of the song.. Until I’d consciously emptied my mind..
My life has been like this from the very beginning. Ever since I’ve known me, I’ve been unable to stop tripping myself up, all the time. Often I castigate myself for it, and royally, but the flip side is that this urgent meander has given me all my songs, which are all interruptions to the broadcast of daydream and self realisation that swamp me from dawn till dusk and beyond. I’m sure that if I was investigated mentally, it would now be a ‘known’ ‘condition’, but I don’t know that I’m that interested to find out what someone else’s opinion of what I ‘have’ could possibly mean, except that it’ll probably result in more songs being written…
Before I forget.. I have to mention the brilliant help that we’ve all had from our support team. Tracy is a stickler for organisation with an infectious laugh. She often has to crack the whip, but it’s easy to get a smile out of her. Darren is an old and trusted friend who’s been there and back with me for a few decades now, and John Fitzgerald has grown from being a young lad I once knew who could help me to record, to becoming one of the most respected sound engineers in Ireland and beyond.
Finally, I think that it’s quite possible that this group of people have enabled me to find myself, at last. Strange, but in what I thought were to be among my last moments on a stage, I’ve been inspired by the players to perhaps get it together to come out with them again. I’ll have to work hard for a new record, and when it’s completed, we’ll have to see. Leastways, at this moment, I’m smiling again.