12 bars then home - a Skegness Blues Festival Diary
9am: “I woke up this morning, had a real bad cold:…..it’s Skegness tonight at the Blues Festival. Our 5th time there on Jak’s stage, and yes, I have a stinking cold. Worst luck.
Each year the festival has got better and better for my band, The Mustangs, and word seems to be spreading that Jak’s stage – the smallest of the three venues there – is the place to be when we are on. Tonight is extra special as we are launching our new album, Cut Loose, and will be playing a set made up entirely of our own songs.
10.30am: I’ve barely had time to scoff some toast when Derek and Ben roll up outside my place. I grab my guitars, my stage clothes (unveiling a new look tonight!) and load up and on we go.
10.45am: Gridlocked in London traffic. Grrrr! London is FULL of roadworks, and the route that we planned to get out via is chocca. My tummy is rumbling.
11.45am: Still gridlocked in London traffic. Losing the will to live. Try to keep sprits up by asking Ben and Derek stupid questions. “Would you rather have a vegetable for an arm, or a road sign for a leg?”
12.30pm: Finally on the A1 and with clear air around us and Nick Drake on the stereo, we can start to relax and plot the day out. Drummer Jon is making his own way there with his family so we text and make plans to meet on arrival. Ben sits in the back practising backing vocals. Derek keeps asking me the keys of all the new songs…he rarely picks up the right harp anyway, so I lie to him just to amuse myself.
1.30pm: Lunch! All bands love routine and establishing traditions when they are on the road, and one of ours is to always stop at The George, in Stamford, for lunch en route to Skeggy. This year we are not disappointed with our Olympic sized Club sandwiches and fine guest ales.
Over lunch we argue about who is the grumpiest member of the band (Ben) and the most reasonable (Jon). For some reason I am voted the most mercurial. I pretend to know what that means and just nod in a quiet way.. which seems to only prove their point.
3pm: Time for something a little louder on the stereo. My AC/DC gets vetoed by Derek for the football, which is a cue for Ben to catch some Zzzzs. When I realise it’s my team playing I spend the rest of the journey shouting excitedly at the radio, putting the kybosh on Ben’s attempts to sleep. As we approach Skeg he is even grumpier than usual.
4pm: Arrive at Skeg. I pop straight into Jak’s to speak to Bruce the sound man and bump immediately into Suz, from Roadhouse. Jason from The Brew is on stage doing the jam. The place is packed, the sound is good, and already I have seen two old friends…the vibes feel really good. Then I bump into Alan Pearce, our label head. It’s astonishing that Alan, who has been seriously ill for years, has even managed to make it up this year. Though he won’t be well enough to watch the show, it’s a pleasure to see him after some time... and on the road to recovery.
4.30pm: Ben, Derek and I check into our chalet. This always feels like luxury to me as they are bigger than my flat and always warm (unlike my flat) . Ben puts the tea on, Derek gets out some of the new copies of our new album, Cut Loose, for us to have a look at and we chill for an hour or two. There’s a pic of me from years ago on the festival TV adverts and the lads tease me how much I’ve aged. With my cold, I feel it!
6.30pm: We head out to make contact with Chris and Debbie, from the Musician in Leicester; two friends who always help us with a bit of Skeg promo by putting up posters and handing flyers around the place. We help by handing out flyers personally and inviting people to the show. Loads of people say they are already intending to come and it starts to feel like it could be a packed night. We all grab a drink. Guinness.
7.30pm: I make contact with Christine at the Blues Matters stall. Hand over a load of new albums and run into the festival DJs, all of whom say they will play a track or two over the weekend. Nice.
8pm: I had arranged to meet up with Tony and Barry from the Nottingham Blues Society but on checking my amp I notice some valve issues, so I text to say I won’t be free until after the show. Tony & Barry, if you don’t know, are two guys who love the blues passionately and have done fantastic things to help promote the blues, and blues bands in the UK. Tony is, of course also a wonderful photographer and his pix grace the booklet of our new CD. I also wanted to catch some of Chantel’s set in Reds, but my dodgy gear has put paid to that too. D’oh!
9.30pm: Showtime looms in an hour. Jon joins us backstage at Jak’s as the place fills up. Elephant Shelf are on stage and well into their stride. We flit about in the dressing room talking about song links, intros, endings and practising solos. I confess the correct song keys to Derek. “I knew it”, he sighs, and then deliberately, I think, knocks my pint on the floor. He may look a bit older than us, but he’s a child at heart.
10.30pm Line check – this is where bands get their instruments plugged in and levelled by the sound man. Unless you have roadies, you have to do this yourself, so there is always an awkward 20 minutes or so where you are ambling on stage together in front of a growing crowd, testing your gear. It’s not quite the entrance you hope for but needs must. It seems to go well and quite a few familiar faces come to the front of the stage and wish us luck. Roadhouse have turned up, and the girls make camp at the front of the stage, which none of us complains about! We finish, go backstage and get the ‘band uniforrms’ on. My new look seems to meet with approval and I even get a few wolf whistles as we head out. Maybe I haven’t aged that badly after all.
10.45pm: SHOWTIME. We launch into Put Your Money On Me – a brash, swaggering rock song that sets our stall out from the off. The sound is crisp and tight and the place is standing room only. It feels fantastic. I have a couple of guitar strap/lead issues that prove only minor glitches through the first few songs, but everything seems to be going well until….
Five songs in and I decide to do one of my leaps in the air to end the song. I want it to be a biggie so I make sure I come down with an almighty thud. My feet hit the stage, the place goes wild and something in my left heel gives way….agony! I don’t know what’s happened but I spend the rest of the show trying to hide a serious limp. The adrenalin carries me through, but as we come off stage 90 minutes later to huge cheers, I know I’m going to be feeling the pain for a few days to come.
12.30pm: Backstage everyone is really pleased with the show. Not our tightest but the energy and dynamic of what we are all about was there in spades. It was great to hear the packed crowd singing along to our tunes and there was a palpable excitement in the air at the end. Debbie pokes her head round the door with CDs for us to sign and says she has been doing great business on the merch. I decide to dull my foot pain with alcohol. I get changed and head into the crowd.
1am: Lots of congratulatory handshakes as I head towards the bar, and it feels like we did a good job. I hope so, we love playing Jak’s and really feel like we have made a lot of friends in there over the years. I see Suz and Jason and we spend some time catching up. Jason’s is a rare talent; his explosive guitar playing now propelling the Brew to great success in Europe. He is also a lovely, humble guy and it is great to see him. I’m happy to hear he is now also lead singer in the Brew. I feel like advising him to never do huge stage leaps at the end of songs.
2am: Tired and in no small pain I finally head back to the chalet. It’s warm and cosy and after a cup of tea and a few jaffa cakes (who says the rock’n’roll lifestyle is dead?!!) we all get our heads down. It’s been a great day.
Next Morning: We head for home, with a stream of texts from Christine telling me the CDs are flying out. It’s the icing on the cake. With luck we will be asked back again to play Skegness next year. I hope so, it has become a fixture in our gig guide and one we always look forward to and enjoy. If we make it, I hope even more of you come and enjoy the show with us next year.
Thanks for reading