Train from Eastbourne to Victoria Station, (expect delays) Victoria Station to Plymouth. (Expect delays)
Peter picks me up at the Plymouth train station and we go directly to tonight’s gig at Bar Rakuda. I’ve been here before. He and I played here in the summer of 2017 or 2018.* Colin is the hostess with the most-ess. He makes sure everyone is doing alright, the musicians are taken care of and the ladies have blankets on their laps when it gets chilly. He has worked here forever and is kind of the unofficial mayor of this area. He knows everyone. He has even made himself his own armband with his designation of “host” on it.
Now Bar Rakuda is a bit of a bar crowd of folks that are mostly looking for covers but there’s a few folks here digging the originals. Colin sets me up with a cup of tea and Peter orders us some squid and dipping sauce. It’s tasty. From where we are sitting, the ocean is about 20 meters away, maybe less. It’s nice.
I’m set up in the middle area that is sometimes a stage, sometimes an outside bar and sometimes a DJ booth. There are speakers on all four corners of the stage putting me in 4.1 stereo sound and the really crazy thing is that there is even a monitor at my feet.
Launching into it I have some folks digging it a bunch that are clearly waiting for the DJ to start and a table next to me it’s 4 drunk blokes doing their best to act tough. At one point there is nearly a fight amongst them and Peter sort of positions himself between them and the stage - “just in case” like. When he turns around he laughs himself off. Later on he will describe them as “skinny Harry Potter and Ron Weasley acting tough.” It is funny watching these two dandelions threatening to fight. Later on in my set I will have to cut one of them off from coming on stage with me - mid song - as it occurred to him - in the middle of a song - that that was the best time to make a request for Tom Jones. Yes really. It only took one strong “NO” from me and he nearly fell backwards off the steps.**
There is a woman walking around with a big fancy camera that takes lots of pictures of me performing. I tell her “You’re shooting my bad side.” And she goes to the other side of the stage. “It’s not going to get much better over there.” And we both laugh.
Finishing up and Colin brings me the paper and adds an extra 10 pounds to my take. “Most people just sing, you’re a performer!” And he welcomes me back whenever I’m in town.***
Back at Peter’s, he lays the first bit of food on me. Now I know the Brits get a bad rap when it comes to food but Peter didn’t get that memo. He serves up some sausage stew with mushrooms and focaccia bread. AS A SNACK! Annalisa, AKA Mrs. Peter Crawford, makes it clear that Peter is the cook of the family and does it well. We have a great catch up, talk Annalisa’s books, Doctor Who, Star Wars, we cover a lot of ground and then have a cup of tea before it’s time to fall asleep. Artoo**** is very excited to have someone new in the house and demands to be petted. He’s a good boy but very demanding of pats.
Saturday’s show is an even earlier one as we’re playing Ashtorre Rock from 2-4. It’s a community center of sorts right underneath the famous Brunel Bridge. We pick up pastys on the way there as we are also having a little bit of a band rehearsal first. Peter’s doing a short set solo and then with his group, I play and then we finish up with a few songs together.***** There’s Jim Bloomfield on cajon,
Phil Harwin on bass and Ian Marsh singing and playing guitar. The guys are great and I sit in with them on a handful of songs and I show them a couple of mine and we’re good to go.
At the door is a small kitchen and a woman and her granddaughter are making tea for everyone that wants it and taking donations for biscuits.
This is one of my favorite types of shows - just in a room, people listening, no PA, no mics. Just folks in a room and it’s great. I plink along on my mandolin in a song or two, switch to open E on the acoustic and slide for Man of Constant Sorrow. They all join me on 1, 2, 3 and No Expectations and the room feels like it’s hovering for a few. It’s beautiful.
Post gig has everyone milling about and chatting. I sell my last record I have with me and some other stuff. There’s an old timer in that was sitting in the middle of the room. He was jamming along to everything. Sometimes I’d see him with his head hunched over and just nodding along to the music, toe tapping in time and just grooving. He tells me how much he enjoyed the show. “You have the music in you.” He says and follows it up with “I have the music in me too.” He tells me how he plays guitar and writes and sings and he compliments me and he loves my guitar. “Hold on a sec” and I grab my guitar. “Sit down, play me something.” He takes off his walkers (he just had hip surgery) and starts picking on my guitar. “I’m an old folky” he tells me. “I can tell.” I say again. Then he starts picking out an old tune “Crooked Jack.”
His name is Rob and he’s a local legend. I’ve never heard this song. He tells me it’s about an Irishman that goes over to Wales to get a job and how they put all the work across his back. It’s a fine old tune and I start singing along. Ian gets his guitar out and hands it to me so I can play along with Rog and I start learning this old song and suddenly it hits me…
We all want to be part of a thing. To belong. To be part of something bigger than just ourselves. I’ve had this weird feeling about certain music communities in the states that I wish I could be part of but for whatever reason - I’m just not in that club. And right now in this moment, I find myself as part of the long line of folkies that learn from the older folkies that keep these old songs alive. Just a link in the chain, ya know? But I can feel it and I honor it. Rog is entrusting me with this old song to learn and pass it on. I ask him to play it again and I get the changes and we sing the chorus together, this time he takes the harmony line.
Peter takes the gear back home and Annalisa, Ollie (their son) and I walk to the pub. I’m told that I have to try the cider.****** There’s a new restaurant in town, Foreign Muck, and it’s a score just to get a seat and we sit down and have great food again.
I know my time in Saltash seems like it’s all about food but for crissakes - it is! I mean, the music is great too but Peter tops it all by making a Sunday roast - that he slow cooks for 15 hours. Parsnips, Yorkshire pudding, potato, peas, carrots, stuffing and topped with gravy. I have half a plate left and Annalisa and Peter have clean plates staring at me. I try to eat faster but I just can’t. I do finish it all but I am full. And I have to sing in like 2 hours!
We get to the Carpenter’s Arms just as it starts raining. The sign says “15th Century Pub” and it is for real that. It’s beautiful inside and the folks there are really nice. I’m hit with a strong bit of post meal sleepiness but we set it up and give it a good go. There’s folks here listening too but I feel like I’m a bit of a distraction for some of them. I unplug and finish up my set unplugged. It’s a good go in an old pub. I can feel some show fatigue setting in. I think I need a few days off or something. Fortunately that is what’s ahead.
We drive back to Saltash in the fog and rain and Peter makes tea and crumpets for us all. Seriously getting the full British hospitality here. Annalisa and I trade one of my t-shirts for one of her books.*******I try to convince them to come visit us in California and I know they really want to go to the Star Wars thing at Disneyland. We make morning plans so I can leave after them and drop the key back through the mailbox slot.
I sleep hard and actually wake myself up from a dream. The morning tea is tasty and I walk the almost mile to the train station. My pack is heavy today. I leave Saltash at 10:30 am. I will be in Holyhead by 8:30 pm.
*Time is meaningless.
**I used the Dad voice that Jonathan Grant taught me.
***Actually, only for the next three years as he is planning on retiring in 3 years. I think he is telling everyone this far in advance so he gets a good retirement party.
****Yes, the dog is named after R2-D2.
*****I can’t let my band know about this “pasty during rehearsal” arrangement.
******Cider, in American is - Hard Cider. All other apple juice is just that, juice. Cider is alcoholic. And it’s good.
*******I introduce them both to my “new poetry thru Gatsby” book and as soon as Annalisa gets over the fact that she’s defacing a book - seems to really enjoy it. They both sign the book after making new poetry.