Venue: Oakley Arms
Location: Rushden Northamptonshire England
The trip has been organised by Stevie Gordon, and it involves the cream of the Cafe Veranda scene, Ghost Train, Joe Woolley and Robert Bray, along with an ageing headcase with an electric guitar and DAT player. The Oakley Arms has a neat little venue upstairs called the Attic. The Vibrators are playing there soon. I shall go and see them, for Knox is cool. But we are not playing in The Attic; we are playing in the bar downstairs. A small PA is set up and the scary natives who were occupying the appointed "stage" area somehow relinquish their places on the sofa there to let us set up.
Seizing the moment, I dive up, plant my amp on the sofa and commit some kind of sound check. Everything seems to be working, so I head back out into the car park. This is my big mistake. Andy Skank beckons me into his motor, where he, Joe and I sit and smoke. The Carter Family and the Be Good Tanyas are on the car stereo, which seems appropriate. What is a little bit stranger is that as we sit there, we can see (but not hear) Robert Bray and Kath Schaer practicing a tune on a bench right in front of us. Most confusing.
We only have a little smoke, but as soon as we step out of the car, it's clear that there is going to be trouble. There are two doors into the pub. One of them is open, the other sports a large sign saying "No Entry. Staff Only. Never, ever even try to come in through this door, fool." Joe lurches straight for the latter door. We have, it transpires, just smoked the Spliff Of No Return...
Inside again I buy myself a Stella Artois at prices that wouldn't seem out of place in the West End of London and chat with Tim Coley the film maker, who is telling me that Natacha Atlas has just bought herself a cave in Andalusia. Kathy turns up with a big bag of chips: "Hang onto these for me, will you?" I imagine that she's just going up to do a sound check. Wrong. This is Ghost Train in full effect; this is The Set. Kath's chips are delicious. They don't help to sober me up, though.
Ghost Train put in the best show that they have played yet. Steve's vocals are stronger and more confident than ever before, and the playing is well on the money. It's easy to be distracted by Portugal playing Spain on the (happily silent) TV by the bar, but they hold the attention and turn in a delightful bunch of tunes. I still have a few chips left to hand back to Kath when they finish.
Next comes Joe. Boy, I begin to see what that smoke can do to a man! Out of tune for "I Want You", Joe nonetheless manages to hold it together for the rest of his set, until it comes time to introduce his rather lovely song "Waiting For Emily". Joe's got some kind of idea for a funny joke in his head: a pun on "Weighting for Emily" - tragically, he can't actually find the words to explain this to the punters. Handicapped by the fact that he has made himself laugh with the idea, Joe struggles to share it, laughing harder all the time. He's borderline hysterical. And, you know what? I know just how he feels.
Oh, did I mention that they're making me play last? I don't know how much more of this reassuringly expensive Stella I can take and still hold my shit together.
Robert Bray steps up and does his thing. Steve and I agree that we hate him. He's just too blinking good. Proper songwriting and a fantasic guitar picking technique. Beastly man! Kathy joins him on bass for a couple of tunes and does really well. Whisper it, but Kath is becoming something of a star in Acoustic World. There are a few punters in the room now (although all the provincial nu-metal kids have taken refuge in the beer garden out the back) and they show a proper appreciation for Rob's efforts. He goes down really well, which is no more than this disgustingly talented man deserves.
At some point, while introducing a tune, Rob decides out loud: "Bah! I should work in marketing." Quick as a flash, joe shouts back: "Is that near Kettering?" Most appropriate.
And then it's my turn. I've failed to sober up, and I'm well discombobulated by that, let me tell you. Still, it's a nice easy version of Out Of Touch to start with, so off I go. That's when the natives start bellowing. I start Radio Saigon, they start shouting "Pink Floyd!" I don't mind, but it sure is weird. Ghosts next, which goes well, then a version of Shakey whereupon I manage to play three wrong chords in a row: "I've seen pigs die with more dignity" is what I tell them. Then I completely fluff the intro to "Stop This City" and go steaming through "Tread Water" with only the flimsiest of connections to the backing track. Stamp on the fuzztone (See? This is what becomes of your Acoustic Night!) It goes down a treat, not least with Stevie G, who can't believe I just did a De La Soul number. Well, he has got a point.
There follows a swift pack-up and soon we are all back in Andy's motor, speeding towards NN1 and the Racehorse. For while the Oakley Arms closes at 10:30 of a Sunday evening, our Abington Square headquarters will be continuing to trade until midnight. We arrive in time to see Eaglehead lurch into a mighty rendition of "Who Do You Love?" with one Curtis E. Johnson gusting on electric slide guitar. Then it's all round to Jamie Jab's gaff for more beer. Marvellous. A grand night out.
Note: Readers who have spotted "repeats" in the set tonight should take comfort: the plan for having an entirely different set at each Masters Of Budvar night still holds good. The next one looks as though it might see your correspondent revisiting the Bath of Bacon album. Blimey!