… until next year. It’s probably been done already – I’ve only lived here in Stony Stratford for 9 years – but it occurs that the title line of Shady Grove, the bluegrass standard I heard at least twice during the week, shares the same 3-syllable poetic meter as StonyLive! and so could be reasonably adapted in celebration. Too corny … to question mark or not to question mark?
Saturday morning errands to do, couldn’t tarry too long this year on the High Street for the mummers and the morris and other dancers, before hitting the Fox & Hounds for a pint and the always cheery opening bluegrass session from the Hole in the Head Gang, before hitting the (albeit fully integrated) Alternative Fringe in the yard of the Bull, where the weather at least behaved if not excelled itself.
Codebreakers, a barber shop quartet out of (where else?) Bletchley were a nice change of pace after the fresh multi-generational family folk of Innocent Hare and, working backwards, ever improving Taylor Smith (who we shall meet again). Roses and Pirates wove their spell, the cello adding to the weft. It was all good, and putting the poets out on the main stage worked well, the bravura performance of Liam Farmer Malone tale of working on the London Underground on the day of 7/7 was worth a shout of its own. At a certain point I left for some tea.
The Fabulators duo finished as usual with their parents’ My Generation, also the name, as it happens, of the tasty guest beer on at the Vaults, but not before i). fooling me again with the not the ginger-haired one sounding like the distinctive lead singer of the Fountains of Wayne, before the crowd-pleasing I’m just a Teenage Dirtbag, baby song emerged, and ii). setting me up with said song as an earworm (here it comes again, as I type). The David Sanders trio intrigued with their own stuff – how to categorise? – and said they were going to murder an REM song, which they didn’t. The full VHS Pirates band were nothing like the duo I’d remembered from Vaultage, all a bit rock stodgy, so I left early. Which apparently was their cue to move up through the gears and finish triumphantly with everyone on their feet. Hey-ho.
Sunday – cars and guitars and Willy the Shake – I’ve already chronicled it in A Stony sunday in June. But here’s a photo of a Ford Popular anyway.
Monday, though there were things I fancied, I reluctantly – despite a resolution to do something every day – had as a rest day, saving myself for the next six days; mistake one way, wisdom another.
Tuesday I had a pint in the Vaults and a taste of the traditional A Capella session, occasionally crooning along (at least I knew the words to the Buddy Holly song) before wandering back up the hill for the also now traditional Evening with the Bard & Friends. Breaking with tradition The Antipoet‘s set consisted of material from their latest CD – no bad thing – though the leather mask for Gimp Night at the Fighting Cocks was new. Rob Bray entertained with his one man, one guitar cabaret set, setting off at tangents mid-song with another, and another … I’d missed Roses & Pirates formal set but still appreciated their playing during the interval – great voices and I’m always a sucker for a cello. Prolific Bard Vanessa Horton‘s variety of material always impresses. And again, it was all good.
Wednesday was Pat & Monty, two old dudes who normally go out under the name Growing Old Disgracefully. Always a whiff of the SF summer of love in the guitar riffs when they play together. With the addition of a relatively young-blood fiddler they are Freespirit. Blinding set from Lois Barrett (photo © Pat Nicholson) playing her own songs, tonight with added congas. Her impressive rhythmic and percussive right hand technique at the guitar in full play. One of those songs is in 12/8 time apparently.
Thursday evening started with the uplifting sight and sound of the MK Women’s Choir in full motion in the packed upstairs – blanded out, refurbished – room in The Crown. First outing of the week for the Beatles’ Help! (from which the title of this piece is taken); can’t believe I’ve never heard Rachel Platten’s rousing Fight song before; and the miserable bastard in my soul was severely dented by their joyous I wanna dance with somebody. Great fun. And so a quick stroll to the Vaults for Vaultage, swifts swooping and circling over the Market Square.
To tell the truth I can’t remember much about the music at Vaultage – a guy playing slide on a Strat, Mitchell Taylor giving an outing to the new improved, less strident, more stirring Blood of St George – but, if you’ll excuse the expression, the craic was great.
Friday we followed the Stony Theatre Soc’s Promenade Shakespeare again some of the way. Stephen Ferneyhough sprung a surprise with his musical interlude: the Kinks’ Dedicated follower of fashion with a fully outfitted Sir John Falstaff striking all the poses; I’m sure Shakey would approve.
The Ultimate Beatles Tribute Show, promoted by Scribal Gathering, was great fun, and got a few embers of memory glowing bright again – the sight of ‘Paul’ and ‘George’ sharing a mic, the ‘Lennon’ stance. The show was in two parts, first half performed in those smart grey moddy suits with the dark collar at the back (and thankfully not those horrendous high-neck collarless things), the second in full Sgt Pepper drag, with the songs also treated chronologically. There was some neat, if, it appears scripted (fanboy Hobbs stole the set list) scouse banter along the way too, including some bitter-sweet “flash forwards“, as ‘John’ described them, invoking future events; “Oh, no, that hasn’t happened yet.”
When I was in a band – over half a century ago now – half our repertoire was the first two Beatles albums, and seeing the lads doing All my loving (you forget what a great song that is) I was reminded of the agony of playing all those rhythm guitar triplets for the verse. Inevitably this was the second Help! of the week. Increasingly there was dancing. Even through the entirety of A day in the life. They may not have been that great as musicians – though the drum fills were immaculate, ‘Ringo’ – but they were easily good enough to have people enjoying themselves mightily. Nice one, Jonathan.
And so out onto the hot High Street, lingering a while outside the open door of the Vaults to hear After the Lights playing the only Sweet home Alabama I hear all week. With the guitarist having fun.
Saturday, laden with vegetables and fruit from the market – hey, the flat peaches are back in season! – I catch the second half of the stationary promenade Shakespeare crew in the Library. Quick spot of lunch and its the StonyLive! bluegrass outro from the Concrete Cowboys (theme song: You aint going nowhere), MK’s second oldest band, at the Fox & Hounds. Musically accomplished fun. (A nod to the Fox, too, for having Hawkshead Bitter – great taste at 3.8).
In the evening to the amenable York House and the company of TC3, the slimmed down Taylor’d Country. With guitar god Ian Entwhistle perched up high on his stool and country angels Irene and Louise vocalising not far below it was a night of fine music making. Their exquisite three-part harmonies and a broad but finely tuned selection of material make them a class act, the two women’s differing approaches at times complementing and at others offering a contrast that was somehow always in charming sync, losing nothing from the emotional charge of many of the songs. They have fun performing and they know how to make an audience feel warm, often wistful, and good. In the photo they’re being the mariachi brass section for Johnny Cash’s Ring of fire. Oh, and to them we owe the third Help! of the week.
I have two friends who are quite prepared to be open in their disdain for the oeuvre of James Taylor. I’m beginning to think there’s a gap in my CD collection, so I guess you could say, Job done.
By Sunday I was feeling the strain, and the weather forecast was not great, but with the alternative of a street celebration of Elizabeth Saxe-Coburg’s 90th, we packed the picnic for Folk on the Green. Which is, of course, I should explain for non-locals, an entirely separate enterprise from StonyLive!, yet effectively functions as its climax. As I say, it had been a heavy week, so this was the first FOTG that I had attended without a bottle of wine in the basket.
Intermittent drizzle made way for an actual bit of sun when Taylor Smith successfully made the leap from pub floor to a larger stage, and even had a few dancing to the boppy War is business (and business is good). Earlier I’d liked 3rd & Lindsley‘s country rock (including a countrified Foo Fighters song), and the blues vamping (and much else) on cello from Alex Wesley‘s ‘nameless’ cellist partner, while Reeds had lifted spirits with their pop-soul-rock (always nice when a performer’s mother get a shout-out from the stage). The weather worsened, but luckily for us we’d split before the heavens really opened. Like biblical. Shame.
But it wasn’t quite all over. In the evening back to The Crown and a libation of Diet Coke for a session of storytelling of the highest order that deserved a bigger audience. Soupcons from the local suspects led to Hel Robin Gurney’s The sleeping princess, a glass onion of a re-working of fairy tale that I’m afraid I got a bit lost in, (though StonyLive! fatigue probably had a hand there). Then Red Phoenix gave us a glimpse of a Kelpie, which was a useful lead in to Fay Roberts‘s extraordinary The Selkie. I’m gonna steal Danni Antagonist’s description of the show: “a stunning show of poetic storytelling (which also includes lyrical whimsy, cheeky asides and BEAUTIFUL singing) which took us all on a magical journey of geographical and mythological planes, and through all the elements and planets. Superb!! ” To which I can only add a pretty good Scottish accent (for a Welsh woman) and, as well as that singing in a completely different register to the telling, the Selkie’s alarming distress screech, that made me jump. (I was not asleep, merely spellbound).
Phew. Over for another year. And I was a mere member of the audiences. Many bad things are said of committees. Cheers to the StonyLive! one.