A BLUES WEEKEND IN MARYPORT
Adam looks back on a hot, sunny weekend in Cumbria spent playing the blues....
A BLUES WEEKEND IN MARYPORT
Though the Mustangs have travelled the length and breadth of the UK playing festivals and blues clubs, we had never done Maryport – considered by many to be one of the key blues festivals in the UK calendar. So when Ian Lambert confirmed our place on the legendary 2011 Maryport Trail (where folk say you actually often find the best bands) we were thrilled…until we saw a road map!
We knew it was far, but blimey, this was nearly in Scotland! Nevertheless, never ones to shirk a long drive (or free accommodation, even if it was camping) we set off on Friday morning at 10am from our rendezvous point just outside the M4. Jon had gone up early with the family to spend a week in the Lake District, and he would meet us there. So with Derek behind the wheel, and a bloody great trailer full of gear behind the car, we set off – ready for 300 miles of motorway, endless hours bickering over the stereo, and enough Burger King Whoppers to feed an American Football Team.
We planned to launch our new album at Maryport, so Ben and I were thrilled to see the new CD, which Derek had brought with him, though we decided not to listen to it on the stereo on the way up, having already heard it a few thousand times while recording. Instead we tugged the trailer at, shall we say, a stately pace, up the M1, then the M6….listening to my eclectic CD choices (Captain Beefheart, Grace Jones, Ian Siegel, Fairport Convention etc) as we ambled along. I learnt early on that he who dibs the front passenger seat is master of all you listen to!
Without Jon there to spark a heated political debate the conversation focussed mainly on subjects like All Time Top 3 Meals, Celebrity Impressions and who was the grumpiest band member (Ben). All highly intelligent stuff. The time passed pleasantly enough, and after a few more hours passed the dull grey concrete landscape of middle England and the Birmingham junction soon gave way to the breathtaking beauty of the Lake District, where England’s green and pleasant land is most beautifully presented…the huge rising hills and tors towering over the small roads and valleys like enormous humpbacked creatures. We sat in silence as Supertramp’s greatest hits took us through this stunning landscape.
After nine hours..nine hours! – in the car we finally drove into Maryport – every bit the pretty harbour town we thought it would be – where we met Jon outside the Captain Nelson, where we were due to play in one hour. Without time to take in the view we started unloading the gear and setting up. Normally you want a bit of downtime to relax and take the edge off the drive, but we were late and we had to get going.
The band set up is, after many years of practise, now as well rehearsed as a Ferrari pit stop, and despite a few problems with the sound, we were ready to go with 10 minutes to spare. The place was heaving and we were all looking forward to breaking the seal on our Maryport adventure.Despite the long drive and some tired limbs, the adrenalin and ecstatic response from the crowd carried us through the first show, and the songs from the album – Shaman & The Monkey – were very well received. We played 2 sets until 9pm and shifted loads of merchandise, which is always a good sign. The gig had been a success, so we packed up and headed out to find our campsite.
Luckily we got there before dark and all managed to set up our tents without personal injury or humiliation. Too tired to go back into town we blagged our way into the main tent to see Joe Louis Walker. The ticket ladies were kind enough to let us in to see him, after they saw our faces on the poster on the wall behind them! A great showman and a fab guitarist, Joe Louis lifted our weary spirits as we downed a fine ale or two, before admitting defeat and heading back to the tents ready for sleep.
Haha sleep. Fat chance. I can honestly say I don’t recall ever having a worse night’s sleep in my life. Some nights you just can’t get to sleep, and every moment I was awake I was trying harder to drop off. At 6’2”, sleeping in a tent is an ordeal at the best of times, but with the music still playing on the main stage , and seemingly 1000s of people rowdily passing by the tent, I was fighting a losing battle. As the sun broke through the tent at 5am in the morning, I was still awake, and completely drained. I rose that morning with my pateince severely tested and Ben's title as the Mustangs' grumpiest member under threat.
Thankfully our show that day was an acoustic set at the Aquarium at 4pm. So we had time to look around Maryport that morning. After we had all showered (separately!) we drove (lazy sods) into Maryport and had an excellent breakfast at the Golden Lion Hotel. We took a stroll through the town and down to the harbour. We searched in vain for the Roman Museum before heading back to camp for some guitar restringing and last minute practise.
We got to the Aquarium to see former label mate and all round good guy Sean Webster finishing off a lovely set of acoustic numbers. The place filled up as we set up our gear and took to our seats (yes, no jumping up and down for me during this set) to launch into acoustic and unplugged versions of some Mustangs rarities we haven’t played live…ever! It was fun wheeling out some more obscure numbers and there was a great atmosphere in the room. Despite the odd forgotten lyric or chord, we were very relaxed and it was fun joking with the crowd through the set. Jon was having a ball behind the kit on his brushes and the whole 2 hour set flew by. Job done, we packed up and went back to camp for a lie down (how rock’n’roll are we??!!) before heading out into town that evening.
The scene as we descended on Maryport that night was incredible – like some Roman orgy of hedonism and indulgence! Thousands of festival goers spilt onto the narrow streets drinking, eating, laughing and making merriment. The atmosphere was incredible as the sound of blues and rock echoed over the noisy throng of the huge crowds. We needed a square meal so headed back to the Golden Lion, where the waiter said we would have to wait 2 hours for some food, unless we wanted lamb! So needless to say we all had the lamb (actually very good) and a couple of (dozen) drinks. We meant to go and see some bands, but met up with friend Paul Watts, formerly of EMI, for a long chat. Paul regaled us with great stories of Queen and Cliff in the 70s and the night just flew by. Before we knew it, it was midnight and my lack of sleep the night before was starting to tell. It was back to the campsite and I was praying for a good night’s sleep.
No such luck. At 5am that morning the fireworks planned for the festival closing ceremony started going off after an electronics malfunction and the whole campsite was woken by a 5 minute dawn chorus of Catherine Wheels and Firework Rockets exploding in the grey Maryport sky! I’d had about 3 hours sleep, and now this!! I surrendered to the morning and went for a shower.
Despite the place sounding like a war zone, Ben slept through the whole thing as Derek and I headed into town for breakfast and a game of crazy golf (I thrashed him). We bumped into a number of people who had seen us play that weekend and they said how much they enjoyed it – including a lovely bunch of Geordies who were very full of praise….(note to band – get some shows in Newcastle!)
Before long we all met at the Crown for our 1pm show – the last stop on our Maryport adventure. The weather all weekend had been incredible, and it was sweltering in the Crown long before the crowds started arriving. Again, it was heaving as we started up for our last show. I was playing on borrowed energy by this time, but once again the crowd and the sense of occasion helped me through and it was great to see the merchandise flying out (it had to if were going to be able to afford the petrol home!).
By the end of the show I was absolutely dripping in sweat and totally drained…but the effort had been worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears. All three shows had been a triumph, and the whole festival had been a great experience. Knackered but satisfied that we had got the job done, we loaded up the trailer and headed on out of Maryport, driving slowly through the buzzing crowds who still had plenty of great music to look forward to.
On the way home, we reflected on how Maryport is a real tribute to people’s passion for the blues: the effort it takes to organise must be applauded, and the amount of fans and punters there hopefully made it all worthwhile for the committee….and if nothing else, you have the fantastic music.
Despite the long drives and the lack of sleep we hope to be part of it again..long may it continue.
Oh, and note to self…stay in a hotel next time.