Tour Diary Day 3 – Manchester

TOUR DIARY DAY 3: Manchester you beauty! This morning, though still smarting from Australia’s calamitous batting collapse over night, I’m drinking coffee in quiet contemplation, watching the waves of reminiscences from last nights show wash up on the breakfast table.

Yesterday started with a puzzle while the rain slowly settled in. It’s fair to say that Manchester wasn’t looking its sunday best in the battle ship grey of early november but undeterred we saddled up and headed out to pick up the PA from local hero Ellis Davies. Logistics being what they are, we had time to kill before we could load into the venue which left Gus with a decision – where to go.

Under pressure, Gus went with his gut and we rocked up more in hope than anticipation at Iron Mountain – not a Games Workshop spin off, but Gus’s formative former home and one of those fabled share houses that shape whole communities of friends. Gus knocked and lo Zoe was home, let us in and made us feel extremely welcome. We had tea while Gus and Zoe caught up on the goings on of shared friends, before Gus went to the venue to set up and practice with his quartet for the night – the amazing talents of Mikey Kenney, John Ellis and Sarah Dale.

Let me tell you a little of the venue itself, the Klondyke Club in Levenshulme. Down an unassuming side street, it describes itself as a ‘bowls and social club’ and while the bowling green has seen better days, it’s full of snooker tables and darts boards and sits at the centre of a community that could easily define the term. We set up in the middle of the function room out back, most recently used for a wedding by the look of the decorations dotted about, and waited for what we hoped would be our audience. It’s always nerve racking as the time to doors opening approaches, then comes, and still no ones arrived. It makes me think of Wayne’s World and the spirit of Jim Morrison saying ‘if you book them they will come’.

But what started as a trickle slowly become a minor torrent and then a pleasing waterfall as friends and strangers soon to be friends arrived. Mikey Kenney played first, whirling, stomping and trilling his way through traditional songs on the fiddle and his own songs on the guitar. He looks like a walking album cover and charmed the pants of the steadily building crowd. I played next, and truth be told, was a little unsure of how to begin. My mouth went a little dry so i started singing acapella which helped me ease my way in and by the end of the song, I was away. The next 45 minutes flew by in pale blue light while the crowd met me half way and together we made a special thing. It was wonderful and when i finished I felt really proud, of myself, of Gus and this thing we’ve put together, and happy that all my choices had led to a bowls club on the south side of Manchester.

The undercard having given good value for money, the crowd were ready for the headline act so Gus set to work, his alchemical abilities honed from his series of Peach events in London. With a brand new quartet for one night only, the tightrope was clearly strung and the audience responded by lifting the performers to treat Gus’s songs with a depth of spirit and verve that was powerful to watch. You’re always on the edge of your seat watching Gus, never quite sure where he’s going to go, unsure of the line between the performer and the man, but bowled along but the soul of it all you stop trying to work it out and go with it. The highlight for me was his impassioned performance of ‘What Do We Want’ which was searing – more angry, more desperate than i’d seen it before.

After packing up, we drove back to Gus’s mum’s place and like the rockstars we are, nearly teared up with delight at the pasta she’d left us on the hob. Gus taught me how to play hot dice and we ate pasta, drank beer and got as close do a deep and meaningful as two blokes on the road are gonna get – the product of a day frosted in strong emotions. Today we head to Edinburgh to play with the mischievous Sink tomorrow night. Onwards!

Photo by Catkin Gilligan