I’m driving northeast to Nairn, where I am appearing as an unannounced guest at their beer festival. It’s a pub gig with the world’s best pub band – no rehearsals, just count in, play and meet at the end. When I arrive at the Braeval Hotel there is already a crowd milling around outside in the warm May evening, jocular and ruddy with two days of beer drinking behind them. Gordon, the hotel’s tirelessly accommodating proprietor, tells me it was so busy yesterday that the local streets were impassable. How he and his wife Morag cope with all this while maintaining customer friendly smiles is beyond me.
I check into my attic room which looks out over the wide sandy bay and pull on my professional clobber, having been wearing shorts for the drive. It doesn’t do to slum it amongst one’s public. People talk. Our drummer tonight, the wonderful Ted McKenna of Alex Harvey fame, had remarked on my hirsute legs on the staircase, and although he was being kind I took this as a sign that the rock should never stop. Not even for a sunny day in Nairn.
Suitably dressed, I stroll down over the green, with its dinky bandstand, to the shore. I reach the water and skim my fingertips over a crawling wave, ice cold as expected. I take a seat on a bench and an attractive hound comes racing over to sniff about. Its handler yells but before he can distract it, the mutt takes a piss an inch from my boots. He runs over apologising as I laugh. In a broad cockney accent he says, “I’ve never looked after him before and I’ve never known a dog to pee so much”. Maybe no one told him it’s the beer festival. Maybe no one told him the word is piss. Piss off.
Seagulls are cawing behind me somewhere, no doubt fighting over food waste. I once saw a three way fight between a seagull, a squirrel and a crow over a spilled bag of cooked rice. Utterly mental, it took a while, but the rodent won. Stretches of bruised cloud slide across the low sun, giving the bay a brooding drama. The wind picks up a little and my hair dances in strands about my face. There’s a vast soundscape of birdsong if you tune in; tweeting, chattering, whistling and crying. A dog woofs up on the promenade in the lowering night. I sit at peace, gazing over the green-grey sea to a red ship anchored off the headland. The dog walkers have abandoned the front leaving just a few kids shuffling in the playpark. I gather my thoughts and make back for the gig. I hear the hubbub as I approach, as it begins the transition to revelry. The keening of fiddles splits the air, taking up the space between gusts of laughter. I duck in through the restaurant and hang in my room before the appointed hour. From the window I watch the sea and the sky melt into a blue unity as a distant lighthouse begins its shift. Whistles and pipes bubble up from below and I steel myself for my own transition, the mask and the mannerisms.
The day comes up, a mad slash of blood across the horizon. War everywhere. Gold, orange, burnished. The North Sea, its vast shallow coldness, laps gently at the coast like a quiet threat. I’m predictably pissed. I squint into the horizon trying to make sense of something or anything. I post some senseless guff on an obscure corner of the social media which I duly remove in the bright afternoon. I pack my things carefully and consider how thoroughly I enjoyed incanting Anarchy in the UK last night. It has suddenly become the Brexit anthem, working equally well from either perspective. What a genius Lydon is. What a card.
I take a last look at the lovely view. A young tree, freshly in leaf, is trembling in the light breeze. A tiny bird alights on a bench, looks about for company and fucks off with a dart. The red ship is still there, framed in a net of sea mist. Promenaders saunter across the line of the land, flirting at the lip of the sea’s looming catastrophe.