It’s Sunday afternoon and I pick up Max from Oxford city centre, he was staying with a friend that teaches at the University. It’s been raining but it’s stopped now and the sun has come out, bright rays sparkling on tarmac, pavements and historic buildings. Just imagine we say…. the second oldest functioning university on the planet! What powerful and beautiful things we humans are capable of nurturing, when we put our minds to it.
As we approach Milton Keynes Max observes the roundabouts, (quite the curio for an American in England) and we soon land within the grounds of the Stables. FTW have done such a fantastic job of seeking out good listening rooms for this tour, and tonight is no exception. FTW head Katie Whitehouse is so passionate about her work and tells us that she was inspired to approach the Stables venue as she has such fond memories of her own mother visiting the place to watch John Dankworth and Cleo Laine perform when they first opened the place in the grounds of their own home in the 1970s. It’s great to see the place bustling with activity all these years later, and run by the goodwill and passion of their team of ‘ Stable-mates’ – willing volunteers keen to keep live music alive within their community.
Francesca is our venue rep, briefing us on the set times and kindly moving furniture to accommodate my yoga addiction. I do a 25 minute yoga thing and am instantly ‘back in the room’. It’s the perfect mental health palette cleanser, clearing the decks of any ‘car-head syndrome’ anxiety built up during the day from too much time travelling.
In house sound engineer Wayne can’t do enough to help. We have a dynamic set up with quite a spectrum of digital sounds and samples being triggered to accompany the delicate, acoustic, natural tones of the Hammer Dulcimer. A set up that could easily be overwhelming for the uninitiated, but Wayne takes it all in his stride and we are grateful of his patience and experience.
We open with ‘ The Perfect Circle’ and it feels like that. Perfect. I haven’t listened back to it yet! I’m not talking about the micro details of the performance itself, but I’m aware of my feet on the ground, my partnership with Max and we are in flow. Prior to the tour beginning I was intimidated by the high vocal line at the beginning of this song (it’s a G at the top of my range), but I can do it. What was happening before was I letting the fear stop me from practicing the line, and as a result I was tending to fluff the smaller, lower notes around the peak. The mind is so powerful and so often I’ve held myself back over the years, I think. In recent times i’ve been engaging with the teachings of Mark Morley Fletcher online and I love his stuff, particularly the things he has to say around ‘self talk’ and the irrelevant thoughts that can throw us off.
I dedicate Campfire to my son Taiga, as always. Yet tonight it’s as if he really in the room. I wonder whether because this show starts a bit later, maybe he was awake already in Tokyo. its a Sunday night here – which means an early Monday start for him and a new week at school. So my theory matches up! and of course, I love singing this as I’m due to travel to Tokyo on Sunday Nov 5th – so every day I play this I edge a step closer to being reunited and seeming him in the flesh.
We move through this gig with ease, the intimacy that the Stables 2 room offers is perfect – I remark during the show that it feels like a collaboration – audience and performers alike, we are in this together. When it comes to our live songwriting experiment, this communal feeling is even more pronounced. Max and I are at our most vulnerable point here – opening up and letting the energy in the room flow through us and into the music. Tonight’s piece is the most vibrant, up tempo yet, and I’m excited to share it with you.
The way this free-writing exercise works for us at the moment, is Max begins with an improvised piece, I listen for a while, tune into his energy and then eventually begin to write lyrics – before re joining Max on stage and singing – improvising a melody. Tonight I picked up my guitar too, and it felt like we really took flight together.
The way Max introduced his piece was poignant – talking of the passing of his guru out in India.
He talked about ‘presentness’ and how he holds this present state whilst writing and performing music but also how this practice has impacted his regular life outside of music: “i’m grateful for the impact it has had – you lose one’s ego and judgement – just a constant fascination – you are not clinging to anything, you let these things flow through you”
He went on to describe the grief he felt at receiving the news of the passing of his former teacher at 86 years of age. But talked about how he was able to observe those feelings and remain connected to him even though he’s no longer here. “Notice it (grief) and allow it to affect your choices, but be an observer and let it flow right past you – especially now when we are exposed to so much trauma and grief around the world – try to find curiosity, stay light and move that weight”
As the piece developed I wrote these words:
The droplets of water feel so heavy
he’s everywhere now
the fresh flowing stream
the mountain peaks
that old river beneath
the lining of your old coat
his taught skin in yours
PRE – CHORUS
the embers of the fire
as they crackle the night
he flies above you
it’s that bird we saw
drawn together across the whole marble floor
your feet in the sand
the gravel in your hands
the saw dust sparkles now
as you open your eyes
oh the surprise
the bright bright light
of time – neither day nor night
just constant and alive
the bright bright light
of time – neither day or night
We close the gig on ‘Hammerhead’ into ‘Ten Steps’ – Max and I leave the stage and welcome the chat and warm embrace of the audience, old friends and new faces – this was a good night and we are sharing moment this together. London is calling…we’ll be there drive there now, and prepare for Tuesday’s concert at the Pizza Express at The Pheasantry (Chelsea) – see you there?
Much Love, Dan