Selby and Uppermill, November 12th-14th 2014
At last we escape the clutches of the country club with its therapy pool and veneer of hushed sympathy. I feel like we’re on the lam from rehab. The A-Road north is as straight as a Roman nose, we are the only deviants. Ploughed fields fill the flatness dotted with hamlets, farmhouses and groups of trees loitering like sulking teenagers. It is very still, the sky a white soup with puffs of smoky clouds trailing along the horizon like steam from an antique train. The rectangular torpedoes of lorries barrel towards us but it’s slow going this side of the road. We cross the odd canal and the sun, swimming out to our left in a sea of grey muslin, manages to throw blurred shadows across the tarmac.
It’s already crepuscular as we turn into Selby, a little town not without an earthy old-fashioned charm. We’re early, so we set up and wait wearily for the PA. The town hall is an old Methodist chapel, cute as a chocolate box. Mr. Rennie, our backline master, fills the longeurs with sketches and stories. The hall rings with laughter. There are tales told by Private Eye veterans of lunches where Peter Cook held court for a few hours, turning a little item of pretension in the menu into a far-reaching parody of the human condition, where people could not breathe for laughing, where his precise wit rendered them limp, blind and helpless. None of those victims could remember a single thing that he said on those occasions. All they could recall was their submission. They were simply destroyed by Cook’s relentless improvisation. Mr. Rennie possesses such capabilities. His generosity is exemplary. He will hollow himself out to keep the camp happy, the show on the road. He will fill the lonely hours with nothing but a riff on the unfortunate phraseology from some sandwich packaging. And in between he will be your confidant and your brother. He is as indispensable as the guitars he cares for.
We arrive at our trendy hotel in Leeds late on and camp out in the bar for extensive refreshments. I lose track of time and awake disheveled and disorientated and am glad to see that my fellow occupants of the van (especially Mr. Kay, our indecently good sound technician) are suffering too. We lurch out to Uppermill, a dense little village wedged into a Saddleworth dip; posh, unspoilt and unique. The venue appears to be another ex-church of some type. It sits halfway up a hill and glares upon the high street with some disdain. After the dismal ennui of soundcheck we venture abroad in search of fish and chips. The troops need calories and we are well serviced by the local outlet, whose proprietor comes out for a chinwag as we finish eating. He’s a sixty-something who knows Glasgow from his time driving artics in the eighties. We have a strange, manly type of conversation, long on information, short on emotion. The devil is in the detail but the details are heavily camouflaged. We hear him out. He advertises his heterosexuality as nakedly as a lion and I feel a distant tugging at my sleeve. But these kinds of men are too straight to be cheeky to – and they might have useful information about the river. Later on, we leave Uppermill but the fish man stays. He is essentially that simple thing – a good man.
The gig is saved by a lovely crowd, real fans, really into it. I strongly suspect they deserve better, but all the evidence suggests they’re more than happy with the service I supply. We hang around with a few friends afterwards. There is an upright piano in the dressing room whose plastic cover is emblazoned with “PROPERTY OF THE SUMV”, some local amateur music society who do not wish their piano keys to be pawed by oiks like us. The lid has been fitted with locks at either end, secure as a safe, and you can see the scratches and chips where people have tried to prise it open. So there is no rendition of Great Balls of Fire tonight. Bollocks to them.
As we drive back to Leeds we hit thick fog. The late-night world looks magical and empty; street lights glow like bursting suns, illuminating little spots like theatre sets devoid of actors. It’s a ghost train ride and we navigate by the little fire of the satellite screen. We swim up to the sudden miracle of our hotel, looming over us like the mothership, its doors opening onto warmth and clarity and the muffled clinking of drinkers.