Last Friday (21st) was a rotten day. It was raining when I woke up; not that that is such a bad thing, I like the rain – the way I like tattoos and cowboy boots – and I especially like the rain when I am indoors with a cup of tea and a slice of buttered toast watching it falling in the garden (the rain not the toast!). No, the rain was not such a problem but it does curtail one’s trips outside and The Driver and Me were to make a special trip to Matlock to buy a particular commodity which could only be purchased at a particular shop. So we had to wait until after lunch and lunch was not very good (one of The Driver’s rare failures).
But the rain stopped and we drove to Matlock and the rain started again immediately we got out of the car (honestly) and it was really too windy for the umbrella and when we got to the shop there was a sign reading, "Back in 5 mins." And twenty mins. later the shop had not got what we wanted! Maybe the big supermarket by the roundabout in town will have what we want. Forlorn hope; that place never has what I want (and that I can’t get elsewhere) and we are not queuing for ten minutes just for a couple of cakes (those were to be a treat and one cannot take small purchases to the tobacco counter anymore). And no doughnuts in the little deli either. Dispirited we drive home and cannot get parked closer than 500 yards from the house and it is still hissing down… Oh, and I didn’t really enjoy my dinner either but that wasn’t The Driver’s fault.
What should The Driver and Me have done? Opened a seriously expensive bottle of wine and cut our losses? Not after a crap curry; and besides TV was rubbish also. So we bit the bullet and DROVE to Belper School (it was still tipping down) to see what musical delights were on offer, knowing full well there was no drinks licence – ah but we do have commonplace wines also. And fortune favours the brave for we were well rewarded. There was a fair few people there (although I always feel that hall needs the LSO and attendant audience to do it justice) and after a little while of sitting around in comparative silence local band MAIN took the stage and began their set.
Considering that this was the very first time they had actually had their feet higher than the audience’s heads (think about it!) they were quite good. I don’t say that disparagingly – they have not had a great deal of previous exposure and, although they were obviously rehearsed, nervousness showed through.
Nice enough start with Lay Down Sally and then a couple of Tom Petty numbers with Dave and Tracey harmonising well (although the sound system didn’t really do them justice) and Richie allowed the briefest of solos on his new Strat. Throughout it all Nigel and Steve laying down a solid rhythm on percussion and bass. Mostly covers – and Coldplay and Crowded House don’t mean much to this old codger - although Tracey did a nice take on Stevie Nicks’s Stop Dragging My Heart Around.
Interestingly, the best and possibly worst numbers were in fact self penned; Apathy, despite its title, was a stylish presentation but The Chicken Song suffered from banality as much as poor sound. Maybe just as well because of its dire jokes; although I did rather like "What do you call a chicken in a shell suit? An egg!" Geddit?
Still they did finish up with a rousing version of All The Young Dudes – apparently Richie’s debutant vocal. All in all - fine. They do need to get out more though! And I wish Dave hadn’t spent the whole set seated, it seemed to bring the whole thing down a bit.
After the briefest of intervals – they only have to plug in a fiddle and guitar – THE WRIGLEY SISTERS transported us to a place where an azure sea laps deserted silver sand beaches. Deserted because the temperature is hovering just above freezing and the rain is travelling sideways. The Orkney Islands, beautiful but fairly inhospitable, though what fantastic music the area produces. And how fluently Jennifer and Hazel put it across. Two simple instruments, well three actually because Hazel also doubles up on piano, no four if you count their mellifluous voices ( I suppose that actually makes five as there is two of them!). Enough! They sound great. And they don’t use those Orcadian voices for singing; no, they just chatter.
They chatter about anything and everything and they have music to complement their anecdotes. Walking on the beach at Deerness Bay and meeting sea-creatures, The Broonie o’ Copinsay. Away with the fairies in the Fairy Ring worn down by the feet of the Digeshowe Dancers before they steal your heart with the Trowie Dart. Fashion? Thoumirie’s Trendy Treads about their favourite concertina player’s new shoes and where he struts his stuff Strollin’ Doon Da Strynd . And always cats. In Orkney even wind speed is measured in cats per minute flying by – c.p.m. (20cpm "Oh yes, it’s brreeezy." 40cpm "Mmmm. A bit of a blaw gettin’ up." 60cpm "We’d best tak the washing in the now.") All this in their lovely lilting see-saw, sing-song brogue.
And their playing, how best to describe it? Accomplished, no doubt – Jennifer flailing away on her violin (made for her by the late Mick Johnson whom Tom McConville reckoned was " the best violin maker ever" – move over Stardavarius!). And versatile, for Hazel doubles on guitar (a Santa Cruz OM which is a small model with a gigantic sound and suits her stature perfectly) and piano. But there is more. They are playing Traditional music in a distinctly non-traditional manner. Think Hot Club de France meets Jimmie Shand and you are getting there. Throw in Venessa Mae and Fats Waller and things are starting to gel. Add just a hint of Ed Alleyne-Johnson with a dash of Jerry Lee Lewis and I bet you are starting to wish you were there.
Me being part chouchter I loved every minute, my heart is often in the highlands (when it’s not in my mouth or on my sleeve) and The Driver thought it was pretty damn good also.
No pictures –sorry – but as I said earlier, last Friday was a rotten day and I came out in such a rush there was no camera, no notebook, no pen. These notes were written on a scrap of paper (a ‘Parental Interview Record’ as it happens, well it was at the school!). However I do have an ‘illustration’ to illustrate (groan) one of Hazel’s stories: She was very complimentary about the school piano, much more so than one she had played in a hall in Kirkwall. When she was tuning up, the high notes were fine, the bass, rocking, but the entire middle register was missing, gone, zilch. So she opened up the lid and discovered "a cairry-oot and twa cans of sweetheart stout". At this juncture Jennifer volunteered the information "the ones with the busty girls on." Now I have some experience of Scottish beers(!) and this did not ring true so with my usual pedantic punctiliousness I checked it out and lo and behold, Youngers of Alloa’s ‘Sweetheart Stout’ girl was quite prim (illus. 1). It was the Tennents lager lassies who were the busty ones! (illus 2). So there. This one could run and run…
illus. 1 illus. 2
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