Saturday 19 July 2014

And that's a wrap: Ruth writes about the Big Busk in St. Helens' Victoria Park

We’ve done lots of gigs in Liverpool in our time, in some gorgeous venues, but not much in the town in which we reside, St. Helens (for no reason except that they just haven’t come up in the same way). This summer we’ve managed to do two, in quick succession; the first in Rainhill and this, the second, and the last of our summer gigs (we’re taking August off gigging to organise our September wedding) even closer to home, in the newly refurbished bandstand in St. Helens’ Victoria Park.

We arrived just as the afternoon was starting. There were two stages; the other was more of a rock/indie orientated stage, and as the action on both stages took place simultaneously, we took the decision to stick around the bandstand for the more folky/acoustic side of things.

The lady compèring the bandstand’s events was called Diane and she introduced each act with a mix of humour, professionalism and good cheer.

We caught a little bit of dance troupe Paparazzi; my son’s more knowledgeable about that sort of thing than I and he seemed to enjoy it, but then we went off to the Lodge to drop off our instruments. When we got back a chap in an Iron Maiden T-shirt (I did ask him his name but to my shame I have forgotten, and he isn’t one of the people on the bill, so if anyone knows who he is please do let me know, as he was great and I’d like to hear more) was playing some folky, melodic stuff which we enjoyed. We also caught some of Cesar Bodey, who carried on like a trouper despite some technical issues (which sound man Steve did his best to remedy) and a sore arm!

Then we heard Shaun Brussels’ set. This young man is already practically a guitar virtuoso… and he’s just fourteen! If there’s any fairness in the music industry you’ll be hearing this young man’s name quite a bit in future.

Then it was us! This was the first gig this summer for which we’d decided to go piano-less. We do open mics sans piano, of course, as lugging around a keyboard on the ‘bus is a pretty hefty task if you’re only going to be playing two or three songs, but this was a full set. As such, we took the decision not to play our piano ballad Sally, to change Millbrook to ukulele and glockenspiel, and not to add in any of our “oldie” type piano covers.

We started with Bad Sitcom, then played our cover of 80s kids’ TV cartoon Mysterious Cities of Gold (and segued it into Gaudete). We followed with three folk songs in our own arrangements back to back; Scarborough Fair, The Stonecutter’s Boy and Let No Man Steal Your Thyme. After that, we played the first of two 90s dance songs in a folky style; Set You Free. There followed two originals; Millbrook and Shepherd’s Delight (It’s Not Time To Go To Bed).

Finally, for the first time live, we played the second folky-cover-of-a-90s-dance-tune of the day, our take on Ebeneezer Goode, on mandolin and ukulele with me singing the rap rubato, and Marc joining me on vocal harmonies for the chorus. We can honestly say without boasting that it seemed to go down an absolute treat. And then that was that, it was a wrap from us. Diane had some nice words for us about our forthcoming wedding and we left the stage.

It was interesting that about half way through our set, the crowd suddenly doubled in size. Much as I’d like to tell you it was all our fans coming to see us, it seemed what had happened was that over on the rock stage there was a big break while a band with a huge set up got ready, and so people drifted over towards the bandstand. However, the majority of them seemed to stay, so we must have been tuneful enough to keep at least part of a more rock-oriented crowd, which is quite pleasing.

After us was our friend Will Barnes who played a fantastic set. I’ve seen many of Will’s gigs over the past couple of years; Will’s always been a talented musician but more recently his intra-set banter has become an integral part of his set too. Also he opened one of his songs with the first lines of one of our songs, and another of his songs with a bit of REM. Basically, Will was great, and he’s always gigging around St. Helens and Liverpool, and you should make an effort to go and see him.

Then came Billy & John, acoustic folk duo, with a set consisting mainly of originals … and the second mandolin of the day! Fantastic stuff. Following them was Paul Atherton, who’d brought an exuberant crowd with him. Who knew Amy McDonald’s Mr Rock and Roll could still work in such an anthemic style?

The day wound down with a very syncronised dance troupe, Connect (my son, who likes that sort of thing, was mesmerised), and then a set from Diane’s partner (who’s name I’ve forgotten - sorry ) who included a cover of Leadbelly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night in his set. There was a little boy dancing on the bandstand throughout his set - I don’t think it was staged - pure spontaneity like that can’t be!

As we were packing up, performance poets The MadLads (formerly The Amigos) got up for an impromptu set which seemed to go down well with what was left of the crowd. They used to attend a poetry night I and a friend of mine put on in St. Helens a couple of years ago. I’d like to see them take a leaf out of the book of some other comedy poets now, and really perform their rhymes. Stuart Kenyon in particular has some wistful, intelligent verse and it’s great to see his delivery catching up with that.

All in all it was a fantastic day. Once again we got to meet up with some people who we’d only known previously on twitter, including Mike Ashworth and Lynn Gerrard. We also saw Andy Bowden, one time mayor of St. Helens, watching our set; later he said on twitter that it was (Ebeneezer) Good(e). A chap from the paper came to take our picture, so you never know, we could be in there this Thursday, although I imagine he took pretty much everyone’s picture so who knows.

Whatever happens though, it was a great gig; we loved all the music and performances going on at the bandstand. In some ways it’s a shame we couldn’t get to the other stage to have a listen but you can’t be in two places at once, and where we were had such a lot to offer.

Huge thanks to all the organisers, especially Vikki who had put a herculean amount of effort into ensuring this was such a fantastic event despite adverse weather (there was a storm the night before the Big Busk, and the morning saw heavy, pelting rain) and being poorly herself. I really hope she manages to get some rest now; there’s no one deserves it more right now!

Anyway, officially at any rate, that was our last gig of the summer; we hope you enjoyed it! We’ll probably do an open mic or two between now and September but aside from that we’re concentrating on organising our biggest gig ever; our wedding! Watch out for us in autumn though…

[Our “what have we learned from this gig?” feature will have a post all of its own! Keep an eye out on the blog…]

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