Newport station looks bleak this rainy afternoon as I step on to the platform and discover a missed connection. Avoiding water cascading though holes in the roof, I make my way to a bench next to the closed down WH Smiths kiosk. Next to me is an old man in washed out fleecy trousers. He looks at me for a moment then raises his hand in an invitation to high five. As I return the gesture he snatches his hand away and puts it up against his eye like a pretend telescope. Then he spots my guitar and asks if I know someone called Dave Shillingworth who lives in Chepstow and also plays the guitar.
In Bristol I mount the case on my back and walk though sheeting rain to an AirBnB near to the venue for tonight, The Thunderbolt in Totterdown. The last few hundred yards involve climbing, bag in hand and guitar on back, the steepest residential street in Britain. My bedroom is a little cubbyhole at the top of stairs leading onto a roof terrace. The rain has stopped and the sun is setting in the West. I stand, mesmerised by the view. I can see Clifton, Brandon Hill, the Suspension Bridge; landmarks of my former home town.
I love The Thunderbolt. It is a pub turned music venue out on the Bath Road and Dave, the landlord, is an unsung hero of the music business. As well as being a stop on the touring circuit he gives support slots to young groups who, get a taste of playing in a decent venue with lights and sound. Earlier this year I stood outside and heard the electrifying guitar intro to Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash, then walked in to see my son Fred making the noise on stage. The mosh pit was full of leaping teenagers. Tonight as I soundcheck, Dave sets out rows of chairs on the dance floor. There will be no leaping tonight.
The support act are a three piece band called Foreign Correspondence. I have known Sophie, the singer, since she was a baby. Now, here she is on stage, grown up and leading the band through intimate songs about delicate moments and lost lovers. It is a gorgeous sound and we all sing along with the final number, South Of The River. The song continues to play in my head though the days that follow.
Dave gives me the signal. It is time. I crunch over broken glass on the floor of the dressing room and out on to the stage. I am extremely nervous. In the audience is my partner Sarah, my children, children’s mum and friends from all corners of life. The stakes seem higher when the audience is known. They are out there now, just visible in the gloom beyond the stage lights. The feeling is that I am right on the edge of forgetting everything. I begin and make it though the first couple of songs. The anxiety eases as I move from song to story and back again, helped by my friend Liz, who is joining me tonight on trombone. It is of course a lovely thing to be playing to a room radiating so much goodwill. Afterwards I am hugged by both my son and daughter who seem genuinely moved by what they heard. Such moments are rare and precious.
Sarah and I are last out of the Thunderbolt. Dave locks the door behind us and we walk along wet pavements, up the steepest residential street in Britain then climb the stairs to the cubbyhole. It is so small we take turns to undress. With the light off it feels as though we are almost in the clouds.
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