Day 12 & 13 – Middlesborough
Back into England and a free day. On the way down the M6 we stop at Grenta Green, a place I've always wanted to visit.
If you're not familiar it's a small village on the England/Scotland border where young couples would run away to get married back in the day. It's a far bigger tourist attraction than I expected, and in the half hour we're there two bus loads of japanese tourists and a load of school kids turn up to raid the whiskey shop take photos. I buy a teatowel for romantic purposes.
Onwards to Durham and the precious free day. I covered this in my last tour blog but it's worth covering again; touring is constant movement. Rarely stopping, organising at short notice to make best use of the time you have, as you don't know if the next town will have wifi at the venue or hotel to get online and catch up, I can't even imagine how I mananged before. Simple stuff like getting a cup of tea becomes a focused taks, and If its a long drive I'll often waive the opportunity to discover a new town in favour of a kip.
In the brief time at my folks I cook up some pasta for the road to try and keep us healthy, and that night we play Middlesborough Theatre. It's good and the people are nice, not as rock and roll as perhaps we'd like, but maybe that's to be expected.
Day 14 – Stevenage
The journey down the full length of the A1/M1 passes without incident. Charlie has taken the train to meet his missus who joins us on the road for a week.
As we walk through it, Stevenage feels similar to Dunstable, a little plastic, a little soulless. Unfortunetly this is reflected in the gig. I get a spattering of response, and someone has a baby in the audience? It's like the place has given up, the people don't allow themselves to enjoy what they've come out to see, or they've forgotten how to have fun.
Some technical issues ensue too, for both me and Charile. We do some drinking and my pasta bakes are enjoyed by all.
Day 15 – Treorchy, Rhonda Valley
Into deepest Wales and the Rhonda valley, I've been into Wales numerous times, but not here. Once in Wales, the drive is a warren of headache inducing narrow roads. Folk either drive too slow, or come towards too fast, spacial awareness is not on the to-do list here.The industrial history of Treorchy is in evidence all around. A mining wheels still stands on the road into the town and the theatre and nearby pubs display the mining heritage in their signage.
Across from the venue is the Station Cafe, a sweet shop and cafe that I'm amazed still exists. Wooden shelving in the window, a sliding glass display case filled with jars of sweets and a beige mechanical bakalite shop till – like the one in 'open all hours'. Make no mistake, this is no retro styled marketing gimmick, trying to make a fictional version of the past look cool.
I buy a can of pop for fifty pence from the spectacled lady behind the counter who wears the white and blue checked apron of a shopkeeper. I'm wearing Danny's coat, I ask for the pop in Danny's voice, I'm not trying to be a dick, it feels perfectly natural. I put fifty pence piece on the wooden counter top and she presents the pop from the fridge behind her. I have regressed, I have fallen through time. This is the real deal.
Some kids are sitting in the low framed booth seating drinking cans of coke. The windows have blinds on them half pulled so it's a bit dark. If a mod walked in right now with greased hair and a leather jacket, or a chap in a massive collar and flared trousers, wooing a girl in a mini skirt with big hair, I wouldn't have batted an eyelid. It's all a bit melancholy and a bit beautiful at the same time.
“Are you from the Star Wars?” I've only just stepped out of the shop and am surrounded by about six kids. They all start talking to me at once, they've seen Rich our stormtrooper in the lobby of the theatre across the street and the combination of that and the blue bon-bon's they're all eating his made them hyper. Am I famous? Where am I from? Say something funny? Can they take my photo? Can I take their photo? Will I be their friend on facebook? (What?!) For a minute i'm weary of how odd the situation looks, as a few adults stare at a grown man in a duffel coat talking to kids. Then I remember i'm not wanted by the police for naughty crimes, and relax. Photo's are taken, we chat about silly fun stuff, then I leave them too it. They called me sir and one sticky fingered kids wanted to shake my hand. Nice kids, just looking for fun stuff to do. As a result the show if full of warmth, and is a great one.
From the upstairs window of the theatre Charlie had seen me with the kids. His photo's look like crimestoppers security camera footage.
We stay in a guesthouse nearby run by a guy called Alun. Alun is a top bloke and proper welsh. He's a keen biker who plays darts and gets the odd star name staying at his place. He once had Derek Acorah stay, but clearlt doesn't think that much of him, as he uses the signed photo as a darts score-card. Top bloke.