TOUR DIARY DAY 7. An unseasonably sunny morning greeted us as we awoke in Newcastle. With the whole day stretching out before we had to be at the venue, we began with a long breakfast of many disparate and delicious things, before taking the metro into town to visit Alex’s studio.
There’s something special about visiting an artist in their studio, you feel like you’re being allowed to peek behind the veil. Alexandra is a visual artist who works in the expanded field of photography and her studio is a riot of huge prints of rocky landscapes, lumps of clay on the floor, while column like structures of giant rolled colour photos stand to attention. Bags of concrete and shiny copper poles compete for space, while technicolour postcards of lonely desert scenes are pinned to the wall and what Gus described as a ‘Martian boulder yearning to be human’ sits alone in the centre of the small space. In the best possible sense, it defied easy explanation. You can see her beautiful work here:www.alexandrahughes.co.uk
We took a wander through the rest of the studio complex, and it being a quite Monday morning, stuck our beaks into a few other studios, trying to work out the nature of the artist from their space.
One studio was bare save for an endless list of numbers or possibly coordinates pencilled in neat rows traversing the walls. Above certain sections of the list were mysterious comments like ‘no! Never the green’ or ‘if only he knew’.
Another was full of multi-coloured fury beach ball sized things that in a 90’s film would have made cute noises and been full of mischievous intent. The whole experience was like stepping through a series of temporarily vacated minds and begged far more questions than it answered.
Heads spinning, Gus left to do some work back at the house, while Alex and I carried onto the Baltic, Newcastle’s modern art gallery where we saw some mildly baffling Ukrainian art and a some agitprop about late period capitalism. Full of culture and thoroughly in need of some calm reflection before the show, I went back to practice before Gus and I headed to the venue to set up.
The Cumberland Arms is a beautiful pub that brews a large number of their beers in a shipping container out the back. The venue up stairs is of the spit and sawdust variety and promisingly contained a number of gold heart shaped helium balloons left over from the previous nights excitement.
As we set up, Ian our geordie soundman was exceptionally cheerful, overcoming the explosion of a speaker during soundcheck with the equanimity of a man who would see having his right hand cut off as an opportunity to get better acquainted with his left.
The time to doors opening came and went and for reasons perhaps best explained by the rain and it being a Monday night, the hoards didn’t make it. But a determined bunch of open hearted souls joined us for what was certainly one of the most profound gigs of the tour so far.
Gus started and opting to go acoustic, launched into his set. To begin with the crowd were unsure, Gus not being your usual meat and potatoes kind of guy. When you’re a few short of a critical mass, I think crowds can feel too exposed to embrace the material, their reactions too visible. Having watched Gus play a lot over the years, I could see the cogs whirring as he searched for the right tools, and a vulnerability I hadn’t seen before came out in the delivery. It was thrilling and as present and immediate as I’ve ever him perform. By the end Gus could have packed his converts into a minibus as they clapped their hands raw.
As I went on, the atmosphere was warm and I had the sense of playing to old friends. Having been so moved by Gus’s set, I felt completely in the moment and enjoyed playing as much as any gig on this tour. Gus joined me ok Sax for two songs and by the time I finished I felt like I could have carried on all night I was having so much fun.
Ditte played last and everything that was beautiful about her show in Birmingham was magnified. With an effortless grace that is a rare gift, the rich autumnal warmth of her voice gets me every time. She was joined on backing vocals by the exteremly talented Matt If you closed your eyes you would struggle to pick out who was singing which line. If there is any justice in this world Ditte Elly will be a star.
After the show we piled back to Alex and Ditte’s, ate pizza, drank wine and made enough mess for a heard of elephants. A warm end to an evening that evidenced the old adage that size isn’t everything, it’s what you do with it that counts.
Today we’ve been driving the length of the country to get to Stroud where tonight we play the Prince Albert. Be there if you can! X