Down to Buxton


Head for the hills, boys. Low pressure is upon us; there is no sky, or at least there is but it’s resting on the street. The cloud is so low the rain starts falling at shoulder height. Get on your knees and you’re in a puddle of mist. I’m shuffling around the Middlesborough grid again in a dank and dismal way, looking for a morning coffee. I sample the Fakey Noir ambience – friendly staff, pitiful music. But at least it’s not Starfucks. I duck into a music shop and the proprietor recognises me. My former band were regulars at the City Hall here. He and I stroke rather than shoot the breeze then I breezily take my leave.

Derek Meins, the majestic opener, meets us at our hotel. His guest house turned out to be an empty family house for which he was handed the keys. In the morning he takes breakfast with the sole other guest, a medical student. He asks the landlord if there is anything to do in town for a couple of hours between chuck-out and his midday train. The landlord thinks for a moment and says, “No” and walks out of the room.

The southern skies are brightening before us marginally. Nothing to see, nothing to see. There has been an outbreak of reading in the vehicle. Derek has Hemmingway and I’m irrationally jealous that this makes him appear a more serious person than me. I might rebel and purchase a Viz. I have something weighty sitting like an accusing corpse in my case but I doubt it’ll be breached. The persistent low-level fight-or-flight mind-state of touring makes sustained concentration difficult. Everything must be bite-sized. The process effectively renders you a juvenile. All that’s missing is the delinquency but that comes soon enough if you stay in the bubble more than a few weeks. This is essentially what I love about touring. It’s like hanging around in a mobile youth club all day and all night. Except you’re old.

We suddenly hit warm air. A huge cyclone is dragging in southern weather at the bottom and cold northern air at the top. The country is cut in half and we’ve crossed the seasonal border from winter to summer. The sun has got his hat on and seems relatively pleased with himself. At last the route takes us into some decent scenery. We enter Derbyshire and the Peak District. The road cuts across high moorland then swoops and plunges through gorges and opens out onto valleys lined with steep grazing enclosed by drystone walls. There are pretty sandstone villages with twee street names often involving the word bottom. We realise, experienced tourers with thousands of rock miles as we are, that we’re all Buxton virgins. What surprises in store!

Our hotel turns out to be one of those palatial victorian things you’d imagine the Nazis might have billeted officers in had they successfully invaded England. I am given the keys to the Derwent Suite, which is vast and gloomy and magnificent. You always get the best rooms when you’re NOT partying, it’s sod’s law. Or is it some other law? The law of stymied rock behaviour opportunity. I actually have two televisions which is one more than I have at home. How shall I maximise this luxury later? Dance from room to room in a frock, casting rose petals about the place with BBC 4 blaring out a documentary about cakes?

My friend Geoff appears at the soundcheck. Geoff’s a photographer so he takes photographs. We wander around town and I duly pose in various locations. Locals stare discreetly. Look, Dorothy – there’s a pillock in sunglasses. Back at the venue, the Opera House, Norma the elderly manageress makes an appearance in the dressing room.  She resembles a formidable operatic soprano. I can imagine the horned helmet of a Valkyrie on her head. She is, how should I put this, old school. She expresses her hope that there won’t be any bad language during my performance. She uses the ugly language of cowards and censors – euphemism. I bristle severely. Even Basil Brush would feel affronted. Even his brush would be bristling. I have a feeling Norma might have some issues but if not she should have a few by the end of the show.

A tricky performance is followed by a sudden weariness and I slope back up the hill to the Palace hotel while the others catch the last hour of the pub opposite the venue. The lights of Buxton twinkle beyond my long french window. I cast an eye over some late-night shit on one of my two TVs before retiring. Here I am, re-tired.