Sadie and the Hotheads blog
Pulling in to Birmingham I notice how much it has changed since I my college days of the early ’70’s. Once described by folk singer Mike Harding as needing a chain around it with a sign saying ‘Danger. Hole In The World’, the area surrounding the Symphony Hall has been tastefully regenerated. Bars, restaurants, shops - including an Art Gallery selling limited edition Bob Dylan prints from the Drawn Blank series - and coffeehouses line the streets and bridges of the old canal side.
If The Sage was stunning, Birmingham Symphony Hall, though different, is equally so. Considered one of the finest in the world, this 2,262 seat concert venue is home to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and hosts around 270 events a year. Modelled upon the Musikverein in Vienna and the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam the venue presents a programme of jazz, world, folk, rock, pop and classical concerts, organ recitals, spoken word, dance, educational and community performances.
A particularly innovative feature is the hall's acoustic flexibility. It has a reverberation chamber behind the stage and extending high along the sides, adding 50% to the hall's volume, the doors to which can be remotely opened or closed. There is an acoustic canopy which can be raised or lowered above the stage. Dampening panels can be extended or retracted to ensure that the 'sound' of the space is perfectly matched to the scale and style of the music to be performed. There are also reverse fan walls at the rear of the hall which provide further reflections of sound. All the walls and the ceiling are made of concrete.
The hall is built only 30 metres from a covered railway line. As a result, the hall is mounted on rubber cushions, as is the railway track (could do with some of that at my house!). The hall is also shielded from heavy traffic on Broad Street by double skins of concrete.
After soundcheck we slip out to Wagamama’s for a bite to eat… then it’s ‘Superficial’ time… the half hour set slipping quickly by, before the drive back down the M1 to London. After dropping everyone off at home, Ron returns the Splitter to Wembley and gets in his own van, only to find he’s been locked in to the compound! 1.30 in the morning and no-one around…
We left Perth in early Spring sunshine, heading down the east coast, past Lindisfarne - the island, not the band. No fog on the Tyne today! - bypassing Berwick upon Tweed, and rolling in to Gateshead around 2pm.
We have performed in some beautiful venues on this trip. This is one of the finest.
The Sage contains three performance spaces; a 1,700-seater, a 450-seater and a smaller rehearsal and performance hall. Structurally it is three separate buildings, insulated from each other to prevent noise and vibration travelling between them. A special 'spongy' concrete mix was used in the construction, with a higher-than-usual air capacity to improve the acoustic, and the three buildings are enclosed, but not touched, by the now-famous glass and steel shell.
Critics say it resembles a large slug, or a shiny condom, but in today’s sunlight it stands as a proud testament to the musical history and legacy of the North East.
Below the concourse level is the Music Education Centre, where workshops, community music courses and day-to-day instrumental teaching take place in over 20 individual, sound-proofed rooms, one of which is also a recording studio.
Simon, Nick, Ron and I drop our gear in the dressing room and take off for a walk over the stunning Millennium Bridge and in to Newcastle. We spot Terl sneaking a quiet coffee in Starbucks and cajole him into joining us for a stroll. I think he really wanted some peace and quiet! Life on the road doesn’t always allow for ‘me time’.
After the show we jump in the van and get a head start for Birmingham, driving the hour or so to Scotch Corner where we spend the night in the Holiday Inn. Danica heads off to bed early as she is leaving early, by train, to sing at a friend’s wedding tomorrow, before joining us in Birmingham…. busy times.
Our day off in Perth dawned: beautiful, crisp and cold. It felt right. The Hotheads put on hats and coats and set forth , our boots clomping on the rough cobblestones of the ancient city. Our mission: to find the tombstone of a man named William Lauder. Accompanying us was Bell Lacey, Nick's daughter, whose arrival that morning had created a ripple of excitement in the band.
Though only twenty one, Bell seemed to have been blessed with an intuitive understanding of aging band members and their eccentric ways. She seemed to instinctively get the point of our quest, and, asking no questions, fell in wordlessly beside us on our walk, bestowing the oxygen of her youth upon us as naturally as a sea breeze. Off we set.
William Lauder's achievement, and the reason he had inspired our mission, was the planting of the seed that had culminated in Danica Chapman. William Lauder was her Great Great Grandfather. She was determined to find where he lay. She led the pack into the cemetery.
Two hours later, the sun still shone brightly, but William Lauder was nowhere to be seen. Everyone else who had ever set foot in Perth seemed to be represented by the rough and tumble of tombstones, new and old, all set in a hodgepodge of angles in the grassy slope. All crying for attention: all asking to be gazed at, to be acknowledged, to be recognized. I lived! I loved! I breathed! I was! I was! I was! But no William Lauder anywhere.
Finally, it was time to give up and trudge home. As a group, we began to make our way out of the cemetery, our thoughts turning inevitably to a pub lunch, the default position of those who must trudge on, who must still live, who must eat, who must work , who must play, who must eventually grow old.
"I found it! I found it!"
It was Danica, assisted by a group of cemetery employees! Their comfortable association with the dead had helped them forge a path straight to the tombstone. No false reverence here, their boots had kicked away the grassy subterfuge. "Hurray! Hurray!", we cheered. " We found him! We found him!"
Then, of course, we ate a pub lunch. Well, not me. I went back to write the blog.
...from a moment resting on the way
Being on tour with Sadie and the Hotheads is certainly an event. The experience of sharing Mike and the Mechanics' stage and audiences an apparent success and one we're all enjoying. The hotheads are not really hotheads in the sense the word implies, but mild heat can occur as keeping us organised is at times a kin to herding cats. Only Elizabeth obeys the rules, stays on time and behaves as a lady really should, she is an example of pure elegance (most of the time... shh), we watch films on the bus and love listening to amazing stories from her dazzling career. The Nelsons are like two naughty school boys on an away trip, we laugh as they repeat the same jokes every day and amuse themselves with tales from the past and singing lines from classic Dylan songs. Ron and Danica are perpetually positive and entertain us by solving the problems we create on route and Nick and I enjoy coming up with new ways of causing them and witter away in silly accents. It's a wonder!
The stage is where we are most happy. The short punchy set is over all too soon, but the real reason for all the shenanigans of the journey. Everyone bustles up in readiness on gig days, except Nick who is reluctant to wear his pink stage trousers (who can blame him). We dress up, warm up, share a glass of 'red' and stroll out in shades of pink and purple to enjoy making some music once more. From behind Gary Wallis' splendid drums (I get to play each night) my view is of six friends giving their all, hoping the audience will enjoy the offering and have a good time. It's a moment in time that passes quickly and although the songs are simple I remember there is a deeper heartbeat beating amidst it all. Back in the dressing room we default to the banter and return to the short term routines of the road trip. I'm already thinking about tomorrow's hotel breakfast... double egg, bacon, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes and possibly even seconds!
The beautiful Parr Hall on Palmyra Square, built for the people of Warrington by Joseph Parr and opened in 1898, was our home on Sunday night. The Rolling Stones performed here in ’63. Not too hard to drift back in time and imagine sitting in the dressing room, shooting the breeze with a young Keef.
Tonight’s gig was memorable for Bison’s ‘dance’ - following the girls on to the stage, Nick’s vocal ‘improvisations’, the spontaneous applause which followed Sadie’s ‘World Vision’ introduction to ‘Use It Up’ and a lovely post gig dinner at The Grill On The Square.
Monday is a travel day. We hit the M6 North around 11am. Blue signs. White lines. Spring skies on the way up to the lakes and on to the border country. Man’s natural state, according to Bruce Chatwin, is to wander. Here are some of my favourite quotes, from his book ‘The Songlines’:
“As a general rule of biology, migratory species are less 'aggressive' than sedentary ones.
...The migration itself, like the pilgrimage, is the hard journey: a 'leveller' on which the 'fit' survive and stragglers fall by the wayside. The journey thus pre-empts the need for hierarchies and shows of dominance. The 'dictators' of the animal kingdom are those who live in an ambience of plenty. The anarchists, as always, are the gentlemen of the road.”
“Sluggish and sedentary peoples, such as the Ancient Egyptians - with their concept of an afterlife journey through the Field of Reeds - project on to the next world the journeys they failed to make in this one.”
“... a Bushman child will be carried a distance of 4,900 miles before he begins to walk on his own. Since, during this rhythmic phase, he will be forever naming the contents of his territory, it is impossible he will not become a poet.”
Like Dylan’s ‘Rolling Thunder’ band of gypsies we roll north past the outskirts of other towns, other people’s lives, past farms and the remnants of Ancient Woodland which make me think of another great book – Sarah Matland’s ‘Gossip From The Forest’:
“Fairytales are one of our earliest and most vital cultural forms, and forests one of our most ancient and primal landscapes. Both evoke a similar sensation in us - we find them beautiful and magical, but also spooky, sometimes horrifying....Maitland argues that the two forms are intimately connected: the mysterious secrets and silences, gifts and perils of the forests were both the background and the source of fairytales. Yet both forests and fairy stories are at risk and their loss deprives us of our cultural lifeblood. Maitland visits forests through the seasons, from the exquisite green of a beechwood in spring, to the muffled stillness of a snowy pine wood in winter. She camps with her son Adam, whose beautiful photographs are included in the book; she takes a barefoot walk through Epping Forest with Robert Macfarlane; she walks with a mushroom expert through an oak wood, and with a miner through the Forest of Dean. Maitland ends each chapter with a unique, imaginative re-telling of a fairystory. Written with Matiland's wonderful clarity and conversational grace, Gossip from the Forest is a magical and unique blend of nature writing, history and imaginative fiction.”
These are just snippets of my thoughts as we drift into the fading light. Others are working, watching a movie, talking, sleeping....
After breakfast, and a stroll into Warrington town centre with Nick and Terl, we all climb aboard the magic bus for the trip out to the seaside town of New Brighton. Situated on the promenade overlooking the River Mersey, on the Wirral peninsula, the Floral Pavilion is the latest venue on our jaunt around the UK.
The Theatre originally opened as an open-air summer theatre within the Victoria Gardens. In 1925 it was covered by an iron and glass roof and during the mid-1960s was largely rebuilt, with a full metal roof.
The theatre closed in 2007 and was demolished as part of the town's redevelopment plans. Rebuilt to a new design it reopened in December 2008 with a performance by comedian Ken Dodd, whose long association with the Pavilion began with his first appearance there in 1940.
There are laughs aplenty backstage, banter with ‘Bison’ and the rest of the boys, then it’s time to change strings, tune up, eat Mexican and sample the wine, before we hit the stage for our eighth show.
Half an hour of slick, adrenalin-fuelled ‘Sadie Rock’ and we’re out in the foyer to meet and greet at the World Vision stand.
Great to see our cousin, Mike ‘Beaker’ Nelson and his lovely wife Val during the interval. Val is a dedicated music teacher and once taught Gary Barlow – she used to bring cassette tapes (remember those) of songs he had just written as a teenager and play them to us. Wish we’d signed him up!
Back to the hotel for drinks in the bar. One went straight to bed while some, who shall remain nameless, were up till 4am ... a few bleary eyes at breakfast this morning. Still, time to recover today... we’re just down the road at the Parr Hall, Warrington tonight. Tra la la....
So, the second long stretch away from home on our Mike & the Mechanics support tour the begins. Ron has been up since 5 schlepping across the countryside to collect us all from the four corners of London and afar. He sleeps as Terl takes the wheel on the M6 skirting the edges of Brummyland. Nick does his best to keep Terl focused on the task at hand whilst regaling him with musical tales. Laughter and dreadful Irish accents (Terl more so than Nick as he is actually Irish!) waft through to us in the back.
Joni Mitchell's Hejira plays on the stereo and we swap tales of our favourite Joni songs (conclusion: Blue is the perfect marriage of lyric and music).
Both Elizabeth and I spent our teens devouring Joni Mitchell albums and nothing touches so deeply as the music that pervades ones formative years. We're almost steeped in it like a tea bag in water.
We arrive in Bolton and deposit the instruments and gear in the Albert Halls and await our turn to sound check.
Mike and his Mechanics sound check first and sound amazing as usual. Andrew Roachford's voice is effortless soul. Ear candy. I could listen to him all day. While Tim Howar packs a powerful rocky punch. Two very different voices that surprisingly work perfectly together especially in three part harmony along with Luke the keyboard/sax/bass player.
We're up next and we have our Elizabeth back with us again so we're in full voice and sounding tight.
The gig over and we're off to Warrington for a quick night cap before retiring for a relatively early night.
After breakfast the following morning while the boys wander into town for a nosy around, Elizabeth takes me through her yoga routine and I'm reminded of muscles I thought were long ago extinct. I now know why she stays so trim! (Note to self - do not attempt yoga after a full English breakfast!)
I need a lie down before we're off again to the next gig. Life on the road is kinda laid back, ain't nothing that a country girl like me can't hack, to misquote Mr Denver.
See you in the Wirral.
Setting off from Mortlake with Simon, we pick Terl up in Hatfield then roll North East to King’s Lynn. Flat country. Rain. The radio on. Conversation. Two hours later we’re negotiating the winding streets of King’s Lynn. Praise the Lord for the satnav!
The Grade II listed facade of King's Lynn Corn Exchange, originally built in 1854, is a testimony to the glory of Victorian architecture. Contrary to popular legend, the statue above the magnificent facade is that of Demeter, Greek goddess of the harvest,and not Margaret Thatcher!
Tuesday Market Place hosted trade fairs from the 16th Century, attracting visitors from as far as Italy and Germany. As the importance of trade fairs declined the Mart became a funfair and was reduced to a single annual event taking place every Valentines Day and lasting 14 days. It’s in full swing today, mobile homes and caravans occupying most of the spaces as we pull in to park.
‘Bison’, Mike Rutherford’s guitar tech, pops in to our dressing room and regales us with hilarious quips and stories of his life on the road with the likes of ACDC and Brian May. A lovely guy, he can’t do enough to help. The whole crew, which includes ‘Pud’, ‘Privet’ and ‘Marrakesh’ have been marvellous and it’s much appreciated by the hotheads.
After another sold-out gig we head off into the night, dropping Terl off in Hatfield before the last stretch home…. Chatham, Kent tomorrow.
A morning at home, catching up on domestic duties, then it’s round the M25 to Chatham. Chatham is one of the Medway towns of North Kent, standing on the A2 along the line of the ancient Celtic route, which was paved by the Romans, and named Watling Street by the Anglo-Saxons.
Charles Dickens lived in the town as a boy, and described it as the happiest period of his childhood, eventually returning to the area in adulthood when he bought a house in nearby Gad’s Hill. He later moved to nearby Rochester, another of the Medway Towns, and the area features in several of his novels.
Central Theatre is our home for the night, the dressing room, as always, furnished with tea, coffee, fruit, crisps and nuts, water, beer and a couple of bottles of red wine (our preferred tipple). We order a Malaysian takeaway, warm up the vocal cords and… we’re on, another rocking gig, another great crowd.
Off up north on Friday, the North West, Scotland, North East and Midlands… maybe see you there.
Before the Romans invaded Iron Age Britain in AD 43, Norfolk had been the territory of the Iceni people. The most famous leader of this tribe, Boudica, led an unsuccessful revolt against the Roman occupation in around AD 60. Following her defeat, the Romans inhabited the area for more than 300 years.
After breakfast, and days of rain, we head out to the town centre in the sunshine, strolling around the streets with the Sunday crowds, stopping off for a pint in a pub, then heading back to the Theatre for soundcheck.
The Theatre Royal in Norwich has had an extremely chequered past. The original, ’New Theatre in Chapel Field' opened in January 1758. It was only the second purpose-built theatre in England. In the early 1820s, a new Theatre Royal was built and flourished until 1934 when it burnt down. An Art Deco styled theatre followed, opening in September 1935. During World War Two, a couple of incendiary bombs dropped onto the theatre roof but were quickly extinguished. The theatre closed again in March 2007 for a ten million pound refurbishment and is now among the top five theatres in the country.
Sadie arrives an hour late after a disrupted train journey, there’s a photo session and Mexican dinner from ‘Pedros’- thank you Jayne and crew for accommodating our changing orders! Then we’re on, to another packed and appreciative house. After the show we tumble into the splitter for the long drive home. Poor Ron has to drive us all back to London, drop us off at various points, then drop the splitter off in Wembley and head back out east to Colchester. Thanks Ron!
Day off on Monday then we’re back in Norfolk for our gig in King’s Lynn.
After a wet morning hanging around the hotel we load up for the forty mile trip to Buxton.
A Derbyshire spa town with the highest elevation of any market town in England, Buxton is located close to the county boundary with Cheshire to the west and Staffordshire to the south. Described as "the gateway to the Peak District" and famed for its natural spring water and Georgian architecture, the towns rich history features Roman settlers, royal prisoners, outlaws and noble benefactors.
Buxton Opera House, situated in The Square, is a 902-seat opera house built in 1903 and designed by Frank Matcham, one of Britain's finest theatre architects - he also designed the London Coliseum in 1904 and the London Palladium in 1910.
The Opera House ran as a successful theatre, receiving touring companies until 1927, when it was turned into a cinema. Silent films were shown until 1932 when the theatre was wired for sound to present ‘talkies’.
After the Second World War, the theatre continued to serve primarily as a cinema and gradually fell into disrepair. In 1976, it was closed and rumours circulated that it would never reopen. In 1979, however, it was restored and an orchestra pit was added to the original design.
Since then, the Opera House has been a full-time venue for stage productions, presenting approximately 450 performances per year, including opera, dance, musical theatre, pantomime, comedy, drama, children's shows and concerts....
And what a stunning venue it is, even in the pouring rain... inside the crew are already up and running, and after an early soundcheck and a Thai takeaway we’re out for our short, and by now, slick set. A great reception again, a quick getaway and a four hour drive to Norwich, the rain pounding down. Passing the bottle, sharing laughs, listening to Crowded House and The Band... oh how we laughed.