What's your impression of an idyllic English summer scene?
If you're fortunate enough to live in England then chances are
you'll have seen it first hand - if you live abroad then perhaps
your images are made up from a potpourri of old Ealing comedies
and costume dramas. And how far from the truth is that? Not that
On a Saturday afternoon in early June I found myself winding my
way along a country lane in Hampshire heading for a gig in a marquee
just outside a village called Longparish.
It constantly amazes me that despite having spent any number of
years trawling around the back lanes of the English countryside
there are still many sights as yet unseen - but what struck me about
this particular journey was not so much the 'sights unseen', but
rather the concentration of so many archetypal images in one small
part of the countryside.
I must admit to being in a somewhat receptive frame of mind. I've
always loved these type of gigs - large marquees in remote fields,
the scent of lilies on the tables, salmon starters with coronation
chicken to follow, spotting that one guy who always turns up at
these affairs in a kilt, a rose to take home for my wife, a couple
of balloons for the kids, a bottle of red wine from the band's rider.
(No, we don't have a man on a horse - the rider comprises all the
extras you specify as part of the deal).
The anticipation builds from the moment I wake in the morning,
closely followed by the traditional poring over a map at breakfast.
If I'm so inclined (and the weather approves) I may even wash the
car! This is followed by the almost ceremonial 'packing of the gig
bag' - the careful selection of stage clothes, the emergency tin
of Cola and the stalwart of the post-gig early morning drive..chocolate.
I'm also quite unashamed to admit that about the only time you'll
catch me singing in the shower is during my pre-gig scrub-up, as
my natural exuberance wells up inside and bursts forth in an appalling
pastiche of 'songs from the shows'..albeit it with the jazz lyrics
(You make me feel so Jung... I've thrown a custard in her face...Don't
throw old cakes at me... I took a thrip on a train...).
Is this acceptable behaviour for someone for whom Punk rock dominated
his impressionable years?? Probably not.
And finally, there is the hallowed 'placing of the horns in the
car' - complete with obsessive-compulsive checking to see that the
children haven't swiped my Dukoff mouthpieces and are even now burying
them in the garden as a form of buried treasure, to be dug up in
years to come by unfeasibly jolly pirates who've strayed some thirty
odd miles inland...either because of dodgy navigating or to do a
spot of shopping.
Thus the scene is set for my foray into the countryside...or rather,
different countryside. Visitors to the workshop will understand
that last sentence even if no-one else does.
There appears to be an unwritten law that applies to gig directions.
I think it can be best summarised by saying that the closer you
get to the venue, the more specific the directions will be - and
the less they'll fit the actual geography.
What looks like a simple crossroads on the map turns out to be a
double-back looped dogleg, followed by a sharp right and a blind
left. "A few yards past the pub" turns into a mile or
so down the road, not forgetting to do two lefts and a right....but
only after the SECOND pub, NOT the first. "Clearly Marked"
becomes "vaguely indistinguishable" and "a very narrow
track" means "park up and walk". And this is acceptable
- but only if the directions include the caveat "Not To Scale".
So after much to-ing and fro-ing I found myself on the little "B"
road heading into Longparish through winding sunken lanes, with
ferns and lush early summer greenery playing tag with the side of
the car, that slight nutmeggy aroma of honeysuckle breezing in through
the open window.
I had a hint that something was happening by virtue of a stream
that began to run alongside the road to my left, followed shortly
thereafter by cottages - each with its own little bridge that led
from the front garden, over the stream and out into the road.
I turned a sharp right corner and my eyes fell upon a sight that
wouldn't have looked out of place in any of Constable's daubings.
On the apex of the next bend stood a large thatched cottage, flint
built, beautifully framed in its cottage garden. Atop the cottage
the thatch poked untidily upwards giving it the appearance of having
just gotten out of bed...the thatchers were at work. Bundles of
thatch lay piled beside the cottage and although I could see no-one
actually working, there was nonetheless a sense that someone, somewhere
was busily weaving an ancient trade.
That image in itself would have satisfied many a tourist, but a
mile or so down the road as I entered the village proper I practically
overdosed on Englishness.
It started with a small park on the right hand side, a few swings,
a slide, half a dozen children playing happily in the muggy warmth,
apparently carefree - and was followed by that uniquely distinctive
sound of leather on willow as I passed by a cricket pitch. And what,
pray tell, are the odds of driving past a cricket pitch when someone
hits a four?? Must have been my lucky day...
The muted, peppery handclaps faded as a few yards further up the
road on my left I passed an old gentleman pushing a wheelbarrow
along the street. He could have been dressed by any Hollywood studio...brown
canvas trousers tucked into wellington boots, slightly tatty waistcoat,
flat cap...even a tie! And the icing on the cake..a pipe in his
Then to my right, a chap riding a pushbike with a wicker basket
attached to the handlebars and a young child on a seat to the rear,
a ribbon in her hair flapping in the gentle breeze.
This was followed in no short order by the one thing you won't
find anywhere else in the world..the English village pub, resplendent
in its setting, draped with hanging baskets...and it was even called..."The
Cricketers"! Somewhere in that pub was a pint with my name
written on it. Yours too, no doubt.
I swear that as I left the village I fully expected a couple of
Spitfires to come swooping low over the fields in a victory roll,
whilst I'd have had to swerve to narrowly avoid Kenneth More coming
in the opposite direction on an old BSA ...which would have given
me the chance to lean out of the window and yell " I say, old
chap, have a care..what?"