Warrington – Jane & John’s House
And so the timid sun dawned on my last day of the tour. Last? Yes. Whilst we had a further two shows in Wrexham and Bury lined up in the tour diary, I had to bow out as life is rarely as obedient of our plans as we would like. I’m sure I shall go into detail at a later date once our hearts have stopped hammering like fucking road drills, but suffice to say a member of my immediate family was taken very very ill on a Greek island and I had to down tools and fly out the next day. Hello from Greece. I am staggeringly, overwhelmingly relieved to say that everything is fine, they are getting better by the day and we shall be coming home next week. But this mad rush to the airport means that Louis will finish the tour solo, perhaps with the odd special guest in my place. The hosts who had been expecting the two of us have been singularly lovely and understanding of the situation, and to them I am truly grateful. We shall return and blast your heads off with rock as soon as we possibly can.
And now that things are looking up over here I feel sufficiently calm enough to report on the truly wonderful day out we had in Warrington.
We knew this one was going to be a biggie, as our host Jane had been sending delighted emails informing us of plans and predicted guestlists. And boy, was she right. Jane, John, their son Paul and the rest of their delightful extended family had erected their own mini-festival in their huge back garden. Louis and I pulled up and wandered into a potted Glasto, a bonsai Bestival, a Diet Download. There was a garden stage, helpfully demarcated with crowd barriers, a food stand serving up externally-catered wonders, a bar, masses of lawn chairs and a giant hammock. Not to mention the huge amount of home-made posters featuring the two of us. They had even made their own Louis Barabbas/Felix Hagan festival wristbands.
We were treated to a guided tour of the various memorabilia they as a family had accrued over a lifetime of music fandom. Signed posters, setlists and photos sat on the walls amongst even more prestigious items. Guitars signed by everyone from Newton Faulkner to our old pal Beans on Toast (the man who sewed the seeds of our career by booking us at the Monarch and inviting Frank Turner) grinned encouragingly down at us, and we added our own signatures, messages and drawings to their collection with tremendous pleasure.
We were very early, and we used the time in the best possible way by having a lovely long chat in the garden with our new friends. Jane and John were, like several others on this tour, amongst the audience at our Kendal Calling show last year. We’d had an enormous crowd thanks to the twin blessings of A) pissing rain outside the tent, and B) a command issued to the crowd by Frank during his headline set the day before. So we reminisced fondly about our various encounters then and since.
Soon the guests began arriving, and as predicted the crowd was our biggest of the tour by some considerable margin. So far on the tour we’d been able to get away with no amplification whatsoever, as our crowds have been usually crammed into various front rooms. However this time we knew we had to bring the thunder, and our neglected PA system was dragged from its slumber in the boot and put to work entertaining the fifty-ish strong mass. Once again the audience spanned the generations, and our conversations ranged from favourite obscure 80’s glam punk bands to the crushing woes of UCAS forms and favourite student drinking dens.
Food was served up eventually. What can only be described as a giant cauldron of Hot Pot was manoeuvred into play by hundreds of local workmen. We got stuck in, and I ate so damn much of the lovely stuff that I had to go and lie in the massive hammock for a while afterwards to curse my stupid greedy mouth and work up the courage to perform.
We returned to our previous form for this one, and Louis took the stage first in front of the sea of delighted faces. He went unplugged, the better to use every inch of the garden as he leapt, ran and barked his way through his ever-wonderful set. I now haven’t heard him play for two days, and I miss it so much. We simply must do more.
After a brief break I strode to the microphone and cracked into my set. As the setting was so grand and the amps up so loud I opted for a set of mainly rock stuff, eschewing the really quiet ones that had whispered through houses further down the country. The slight problem was that our beloved hosts had elected to coat their garden in grass, which makes me sneeze like a big nerd all summer, but luckily despite the odd ostentatious ATCHOO!! my body kept itself mostly in order. The crowd sang, laughed and threw themselves into it when I divided them into singing teams and played them off against one another in different registers, styles and species. And when the finale came they waltzed, hugged and danced about with beautiful abandon under the cloud-strewn sky.
When the last note fell and Louis and I took our final bows together I felt the cumulative, supportive warmth of the last two weeks coursing through me. To do band gigs to large crowds of strangers in loud rock rooms is one of the best feelings in the world, and the white hot adrenaline and euphoria of the performance is nature’s best addiction. But doing these sorts of gigs is less of a passionate shot to the arm and more of a beautiful, heartfelt hug that warms the soul and lingers for days.
We stayed for a long time, laughing and embracing our new friends, leading a group in a singalong of our duet My Little Lusitania and floating on a cloud of goodwill. And as we loaded up the tour wagon for the final time on this trip, we felt the new connections we have made, the countless hugs, laughs and stories we have shared warming us and speeding us on our way.
I shall be writing a retrospective on the whole tour in a few days once I’m safely home in England once more, but until then I just want to thank our beautiful army of hosts up and down the country, and to our final hosts Jane and John for the huge effort they put into creating such a perfect evening for us to share.
Thanks Jane & John!