Newbury not bypassed..

IMG_9628Huh, see what I did there?

Newbury was going to be the point where I did bypass an opportunity for a tour date – but my willpower caved in.  Having spent a chilled out day with Simon and Ella before the latter had to go to work, we hit the road, Simon not taking much convincing that a trip to Newbury was most definitely the order of the day.

To be more accurate, the venue was the fairly remote Arlington Arts Centre nestling a mile or two out of town in the grounds of a school.  Hmm. Arts Centre.  Reminiscent of Stamford, and fears of another difficult venue or crowd.  There was a slight navigational cock up that made for a quick trip up and down the A34 near the venue but other than that it was easy to find – had I looked at the map rather than listened to the sat nav I imagine it would’ve been right first time!

Nerves around suitability didn’t subside upon arrival – a modern venue that had the look of a leisure centre in the reception area, I was expecting Gordon Brittas to come out to make a kerfuffle of giving me my ticket.  Fortunately it wasn’t like that at all, so tickets duly collected we grabbed a drink and waited – there were no food options unfortunately so we people-watched the folk already milling around, mostly they looked like theatre-goers.. it could yet all go a bit Stamford after all!

We’d noted Cere-bus outside and it wasn’t long before Bev and Tina had appeared from inside the actual venue, and a few more Ferocious Dog t-shirt wearing people arrived to offer a bit of reassurance.  John had posted a photo on Facebook earlier of the venue, again it was seated – but this time they’d retracted the lower level of seats to leave a decent sized floor area with a high bank of seats behind – the perfect venue really to leave an arena for a moshpit but a safe area of seating for those who just wanted to watch from on high.

As we headed into the venue area you’re immediately hit with where the merch was set up – Leanne was struggling for change bless her so grabbing cash from us here and there to service the reassuringly brisk trade she was doing.  This boded well!  The support act the Engineers were well underway delivering melodic and slow-paced folk, it was enjoyable foot-tapping music delivered with technical excellence, it was getting close to country and western but not too close mercifully!

The Engineers - getting the crowd nicely warmed up...

The Engineers – getting the crowd nicely warmed up…

I’d read somewhere Doozer was supporting this gig – but clearly not, however the room was starting to fill up – there were plenty of regular hell hounds in attendance along with a fair few people nestled in the shadowy seated area.  We kept an eye on Facebook on the progress of northern contingent of Daren, Michelle, Dean, Sarah and Adele – the prognosis from the expected arrival time didn’t look good, unless they were exaggerating – meanwhile Wez was wearing the most splendid shirt you’re ever likely to see.

The sound and light guys here clearly did know what they were doing – the Arlington Arts Centre has a high roof and lovely acoustics as The Engineers demonstrated – so fears of the technical problems that blighted the night before were quelled quite quickly. Earlier Dan had said the intro music was due to go on at ten past nine, it was closer to half past by the time it did – I wonder whether partly to give the still travelling hell hounds the opportunity to get there in time?  Or maybe it was just faffing!

Either way, the lights dimmed and as the didgeridoo droned and the voiceover was tailing off the band too to the stage to a loud cheer from the anticipating audience and launched, as is customary, straight into Gallows Justice.  The mosh pit started in earnest and there was plenty of room for those who liked to be up close and person and just be within touching distance alike.  The sound quality was really good – and of course today we did have the nostalgia ride of Kyle on guitar, standing in for Les.

Half way through Poor, Angry and Young suddenly Dean then Daren appeared in the mosh pit much to everyone’s general delight.  Having looked worriedly at the high ceiling I was already breathing a sigh of relief as I could get him to go up and surf.  Soon enough the shirts were off and the gig rush by in a blur of what I can only imagine an intensive full-contact boxercise class must be like if I’d ever contemplated going to such a thing – a few people dipped in and out and the atmosphere was lovely.

Kyle did a great job with the new songs, I’m not sure how much muscle-memory comes into play when you start playing songs you’ve not done for a while but he certainly looked to be enjoying himself.  On an aside from that, you should check out his new band The Outlines.  On their Facebook page they’ve uploaded a decent number of tracks you can listen to – I’m looking forward to getting the chance to see them perform live at some point very soon.

IMG_9636As Freeborn John kicked in Dean loudly announced he was being the board – so a bit of shuffling around to get him up, a leg-up from Daren and I gracelessly ascended into the abyss above.  Looking down a bit it was very close to the stage at a slightly jaunty angle – however, credit to all involved very stable and a lot less wobbly than my Nuneaton effort I think!

It must have been a bit as Waggy moved from his right-infront-to-catch position to the sidelines eventually!  Thanks to Andrew Watson for capturing this moment where mercifully I appear to be holding my beer gut in – ha ha!

Once the fast bit kicked in I descended probably a little roughly for Dean (sorry!) and the regular moshpit resumed – it wasn’t crowded but it was full on, and good fun.  When a lady called Sam announced it was her birthday to Ken he didn’t skip a beat in playing a Happy Birthday tune to her, after which she demanded the band play Paddy on the Railway which wasn’t on the set list – after a bit of umming and aahing they did indeed – so that was a treat, thanks Sam!  She clearly appreciating it, whipping off her top and launching into the moshpit in her bra.

I’ve never seen Waggy take up his camera so quickly. Ha ha!

The rest of the gig played out in a blur of dancing, laughter and great music – as has become normal Ken announced that there’d be no encore and played right through with Hell HoundsFreethinker and Mairi’s Wedding Part II to finish off the set and leave us all a sweaty tired mess.  There was a fair queue at the merch stand at the end as the band mingled with people for photos or chats, set lists were purloined, I nicked Dan’s unopened bottle of water from the stage for some much needed hydration.

Hanging around after as operation clear-up happened most of the band were reflecting on the weirdness of Stamford, how good Newbury was and given that currently I’m not planning on going to Brighton the general disbelief that I could possibly resist such an opportunity.  I do have a ticket and hotel for Putney in the bag courtesy of Andy, so well, it would be a bit of a shame to break the run unnecessarily early wouldn’t it? (I’m definitely not trogging up to Scotland!).

As Simon, Mick and I cooled off outside in the drizzle watching the departures there was a chance to say goodbyes to everyone from the band and fellow hell hounds before contemplating our own exit.  Bev had managed to get her mits on both Scott’s drumsticks so we convinced her to relinquish one as a consolation prize for Snotface who had to miss out on the gig due to work commitments.

I was driver for the evening so we headed for the M4 to head back to Stevenage only to find it shut, a detour towards Oxford later and lots of ignoring of the Sat Nav saw us nearly there before the bit of the A1 we wanted was shut too!  Luckily Simon knew the diversion and he was home and safe.

Rather than stay and drive back in the morning (but thanks for the offer!) I opted to power on through to home – the roads were clear and aside from that interminable 50mph average speed camera bit of the M1 around Northampton that seems to last forever it was a clear run and I was home in a little under four hours from leaving Newbury, and certainly ready for bed!  A little longer than planned but diversions and a quick service station stop for sustenance added to the journey time.

A great example of first impressions not always being right – whilst they might’ve been in Stamford in Newbury the venue, staff and crowd were ace – the security guys left us to get on with it, dancing away themselves by the door – the venue itself actually worked really well for the gig, the only real issue was the location of it meaning you’d need a taxi if you wanted to have a drink and stay over in Newbury itself.  Or have a camper van – but be sure to avoid the apparent dogging hotspot just up the hill (according to Mick).

We’re not into that kind of dogging!

Another hectic weekend – now I’ve got my DVD of Levellers’ A Curious Life to watch and some CDs to burn to my phone – so that’s a nice way to finish off a lazy Sunday I think!

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