Thursday 31 March 2022

Freefall: Daylight

I mentioned earlier that my brother Jamie has been trawling through the band's video archives. He pulled this one out at the beginning of the week and posted it to the band's Facebook Page, so I thought I'd share, assuming I can get the FB video to embed and play on this page.

Monday 24th August 2003; it was a bank holiday gig at what was, back then, one of our favourite Bristol venues called The Horseshoe. When Jay posted it up, I could place the date because I'd given Dad my camera that evening and so have a collection of photos from the same evening.

The song, "Daylight", was one of the later songs I wrote with the band. We'd recorded and self published three albums by then, and this song was intended for the fourth, which never got finished before the line-up, as was, finally fell apart and the band switched to its present day mercenary mode, and moved on to playing covers instead.

So I'm guessing the song is about 21 years old. Which feels a little bit crazy, as in when did all that time fly by? But still makes Daylight a couple of years younger than my youngest child.

On which point, I think my favourite part of the video is when the camera swings out to the crowd and focuses on my daughter and eldest, stood next to her mate singing along to the song. Some couple of decades later and she makes it to far fewer gigs these days. But when she does, I still catch her doing that, and it still never fails to make me smile.

Wednesday 30 March 2022

Laser: Icebreaker

The official racing season started again at South Cerney this last weekend with a trophy race. Coinciding with the clocks springing forward for Daylight Saving into BST and robbing me of an hour of sleep.

Which I felt but didn't initially fathom, because all the clocks in my life these days, be that my phone, my computer, my wristwatch or even the clock on the office wall, all update themselves automatically.

So I just dragged myself out of bed after about 4 hours sleep on the Sunday morning and wondered why I still felt bleary. Then, having thrown myself into the shower to shock myself fully awake, grabbed my kit, got into the car to head down to the club for a sail.

I should add, the clock in the car does not automatically update itself, but I habitually ignore that, because it means it's therefore only right for half the year.

The days leading up to the weekend had been positively summery; bright sun, and the temperature on Friday afternoon touched 20°c if my car is to be believed, and whilst I don't trust the clock, it's an otherwise very reliable vehicle. But Sunday, whilst not cold, was dull and overcast.

Blowing from the north-east, the wind was coming from an unusual direction, the opposite of prevailing, and whilst it was typically shifty and backed gradually across the day, the velocity was steady at around 10 knots with the occasional gust, but no significant lulls, so you could reliably hike out against it without any great risk of a sudden dunking.

Which, with a standard rig and 10 knots in a Laser, I pretty much have to do continuously when beating to windward.

The day was made of up four races, two back to back in the morning, followed by lunch ashore, followed by two back to back in the afternoon. 16 boats rigged to sail in the morning. Not a huge turnout by the club's standards, but enough for a fun gathering.

I got off to a promising start, winning the first race easily. The second race began well enough, although the leading pair of Solos gave me more trouble this time around and I couldn't quite break clear. And then, stupidly, I accidentally dropped the tiller extension as I was hardening up around one of the leeward marks on the penultimate lap of the course. 

Before I got the boat back under control, I'd hit the mark and then found myself facing back down the course, blithely sat on said mark and head to wind, as the rest of the pack caught up and overhauled me. I bumped two or three of them before I managed to get the Laser back under control, although as I was all but stationary, there was no damage to either me or any of the other boats that had decided to sail through me rather than around. 

The racing rules state that if you hit a mark of the course, you've got to take a 360° penalty turn, which equates to a tack and a gybe, or a gybe and a tack. If you hit or unfairly impede another competitor (but no damage is done) then you have to take a 720° penalty. I'm pretty certain however that penalties are not cumulative, as long as all the impacts happen before you get to take your turns, otherwise I reckon I'd still be out there taking my penalties now, and getting very dizzy in the process.

In any case, my clumsy inelegance was enough to set me back firmly into the middle of the pack and so I finished an inglorious 7th.

Lunch was a very welcome cup of tea and a baked potatoes topped with chilli from the galley. Which, because I'd essentially overslept earlier that morning, doubled up as breakfast.

In both the races that followed, I managed to finish first on the water, but the leading Solo and the GP14 gave me a more than fair run for my money, in each case pushing me down into 3rd place after our times had been adjusted for our respective handicaps. The fourth race in particular was especially close, with a mere 2 seconds of adjusted time between me and Jonny and Monty in their GP14, who took 2nd place.

Which, allowing for the discard, much needed after the fun and games of the second race, put me in 3rd place overall for the day.

So, a four race day; just under four and a half hours on the water, and a total of 16.4 nautical miles sailed. Which, amusingly, is almost the same time and distance it would take to sail Calstar from Portishead to Cardiff.

Not a bad start to the season.

Freefall: 170th

Saturday night's gig was a joint 170th birthday party at a pub called The Anchor in Epney, just down the road from my dad's house, so a very easy commute. It took four fellas to make the grand total of 170 years; three 40's and a 50. 

I like their idea of combining for the party, it made for a decent sized, enthusiastic crowd. And a relatively cheap band as they presumably split the cost between each other. Maybe I should have hiked my prices up, kind of the opposite of a group discount?

But that hardly seemed fair, and anyway, we had fun.

The pub is on the banks of the Severn; the "unnavigable" stretch below the final weir at Llanthony in Gloucester, before it rounds the horseshoe and broadens out into the aptly named and decidedly treacherous Noose.

After which the river reaches Sharpness and becomes, once more, navigable. After a fashion. And somewhere in the process she transforms from a river to an estuary and then finally into a sea.

Of course, we refer to the bit of water that runs past the Anchor as the unnavigable stretch of the Severn. But Dad and I have sailed past the pub aboard Ondine, our old Drascombe Lugger, three times in previous years, though always on the flood, following the Severn Bore up to Gloucester as part of the Gloucester Ring with friends from Lydney Yacht Club.

On none of those occasions, however, did we ever have the time to stop.

Friday 25 March 2022

brightside of a Thursday evening

Thursday nights are usually a trip out to Cinderford for an hour of karate, home for a hot shower then chill in front of Netflix until bed. I'm halfway through a rewatch of The Last Kingdom, a series based on a the Bernard Cornwall books of the same name, so am quite enjoying Netflix again. And I'm very much back into karate at the moment, enjoying every moment of it, and hoping to grade again this summer.

But whilst the cough has eased from the beginning of the week, and the sore throat has gone completely, I still have a bit of a pain in my chest, so I capitulated and decided on a night in instead.

Actually, that's just an excuse. I couldn't face the 40 minute drive each way. I should've gone and trained. I'm fine, just shamefully lazy this evening. But I'll make it up Saturday morning.

Anyway. Instead, I plugged a mic and guitar into my computer and recorded a version of Mr Brightside by the Killers. I've posted a video (or possibly two?) of this version up here before, but I think this one has more polish. 

Hopefully, this SoundCloud link should work . . . 

Tuesday 22 March 2022

Freefall: aftermath

I have a cold. Well, a cough, a pain in the chest and a bit of a sore throat. And my voice is a little croaky. Although I'm feeling better today than I was yesterday, so hopefully we're on the mend.

I'm not looking for sympathy. After the antics of last week you could creditably argue that this is entirely self inflicted. I've taken a couple of lateral flow tests over the last couple of days and am happy to report all negative, so it is just the ubiquitous common garden variety cold. Or something along those innocuous lines.

So I've been working from home the last couple of days despite being rota'd to be in the office, to spare the other guys any risk of me passing it on, and am currently debating with myself whether or not it would be socially irresponsible of me to go to karate tonight. 

Pre-pandemic, I wouldn't have thought twice. I'm a bit under the weather, but don't feel too grotty, all things considered. Guess I'll make a decision one way or another later.

I had a very quiet weekend. Dad and I decided not to take Calstar out. Although the weather was bright and sunny, the wind on Saturday was gusting into the high 20's and the tides for Sunday would've meant at early hours departure to get back in daylight. Nothing we've not done before, but I didn't think it was sensible for what was effectively a shakedown cruise.

I'd hoped to race the Albacore with Amanda instead at South Cerney, but there was no racing this weekend. The Chilli Dogs series ended last weekend, and the official racing series starts next weekend with a trophy race, but this weekend was designated for a work party. Morally, I probably should've gone and chipped in, but I confess I let the trials of the week previous overtake me, and had another lazy day at home. I did, at least, take advantage of the bright, dry weather and mow the lawn, front and back.

If the grass is growing again, that must mean that summer is finally on its way.

The two YouTube clips above were taken with my phone from the stage on the last night. I just sat it on top of the bass amp, pointed it at the crowd and pressed record.. The first is a Coldplay Cover called "Yellow", and the second a Razorlight song, "America". Clever things these days, phones.

Thursday 17 March 2022

Freefall: black & white

These stills, taken from some old video footage of the band that my brother Jamie has dug out, probably date back to around 1993 or 94.

My brother is to my right, mostly out of frame and hidden in the darkness. The guitarist to my left is our friend Matt. He's still in the band, although he did leave us for a few years to go travelling. 

Then again, Jay took a year out himself, albeit many years later. I think I'm the only member of the band that has made every single gig without fail over the last thirty years.

The camera was behind the stage, and the quality of the sound is therefore atrocious, so I won't inflict it on anybody here. But I love the energy, the mood and, strangely, the anonymity the images capture. Just another pub band, doing our thing, making music. I woke up this morning feeling exhausted. But I find myself already looking forward to doing it all over again tonight.

an east wind

Thursday morning. Half way through the week, if we're counting it in gigs. By 2200 tomorrow night we should be done, the band's trailer dropped back off in Dad's garage, and us finished in time for the weekend. I have the weekend free.

On which note, the forecast:

Ignoring the gusts on Saturday, and the unusual and unfortunate easterly direction, it almost looks promising. It's a spring tide, and a relatively big one at 14m.

So were we to head down to Cardiff on the ebb Saturday morning, that much of a tide running with the wind would dull the gusts a little. And anyway, we'd be sailing with it.

Coming home again on Sunday will be a different matter though. The tide will add 4 or 5 knots of apparent wind onto our nose, and I seem to remember Portishead can be a bit of a cow in a fresh north-easterly, especially with the tide against it on the flood. The sea gets very confused and lumpy and the breakwater gives no shelter when the wind is in that direction.

We're getting around 12 hours of daylight now, but Sunday's high water is 0832, which means that to get back in the light we'd conservatively have to leave Cardiff around 0400, which would mean casting off from Penarth at around 0330 to get through the Barrage in good time. 

So two and a half to three hours of sailing in the dark. With 10 to 20 knots of wind on the nose, and the temperature around 4°C, not accounting for wind chill. Which will be exaggerated by the easterly direction and the need to beat into it.

So I'm not completely sold on the idea, yet. On the other hand, it doesn't look like there's any rain, and it could be a very pretty sunrise. And we haven't managed to get out since October last year. That's far, far too long a time.

Wednesday 16 March 2022

Freefall: festival; Last Man Standing

Following a very lively gig Saturday night at The Restoration in Cheltenham, I overslept Sunday morning so missed the chance to go sailing. That's the second time that's happened in the last month, I'm obviously getting old.

I was also just a little aware that I had four other gigs booked this week, each evening Tuesday through till Friday, so I didn't really begrudge myself a lazy Sunday.

It's the week of Cheltenham Festival. A gratuitous fest of horse racing and gambling, none of which I pretend to understand in the slightest, but what I do understand is that about 70,000 people descended upon the town yesterday and the crowds will only get bigger as the week wears on.

So last night was the first of the four, and it was a busy one. Body and voice appear to remain hale this morning, so whilst I don't want to tempt fate, I'm optimistic I'll make it through to the end of the week in once piece. It's significant, because the last time we played Cheltenham Festival, we did of course make it through perfectly well, but no further. The following week, they shut the country down.

So it may be one very big party, but it's also something of a grim anniversary.

To return to the previous point about getting old however, my brother has spent the last week or two digging though a collection of old Video8 recordings of the band. The footage is I think, in equal parts, both endearing and cringe-worthy. The above still would've been about 1996, at a guess. I can only estimate the date from the length of my hair and the guitar I was holding. I still have the guitar, but the hair has been, thankfully, long shorn.

Which reminded me of another song I wrote around about that time, and that I recorded a rough clip of last October, for my brother's birthday. Yes, I've always been cheap with my presents. This is "Last Man Standing".

Monday 7 March 2022

Freefall: kites and railways

February was a quiet month for the band, with just the one, albeit quite lively gig at The Pilot in the middle of the month. March is shaping up to be quite different. By the end of this month, if all goes to plan, we will have played eight.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, we only had one gig booked for this weekend, however; an annual dinner dance for a yacht club in Portishead. It had originally been booked for 2021, but we all know how that year went, so early in 2021 they contacted me to postpone to 2022. 

We've played the yacht club's dinner dance three or four times now, so they're one of our regular spring bookings. Another regular booking we get around the same time is to play the Kite Ball, an annual charity fundraiser for the James Hopkins Trust. 

A day or two after the yacht club postponed their annual bash to 5th March 2022, my friend Ria, the fundraising manager for the James Hopkins Trust contacted me to postpone their own 2021 date, but unfortunately wanted to move their Ball to 5th March as well. However worthy the cause, it's a first come first served basis, so regretfully we had to resign ourselves to not being able to play the Kite Ball this year.

And then a couple of weeks ago, the yacht club got in touch to say they'd sadly have to cancel their dance for 2022 as well, as they couldn't sell the tickets to a membership still, not unfairly, a little uncertain about congregating in a crowd.

I dropped a note to Ria to let her know about the cancellation; I knew she'd already booked an alternative band, so I really wasn't fishing for a gig, just wanted to share my darkly amused feelings of "bloody typical" with a friend who I knew would feel it too.

A little while later, she cryptically asked if we'd be available for the 5th if their other band decided to step back. I replied of course, but don't be mean to the other band. She said watch this space. So I pencilled her in for the 5th.

About now, Sam, the Landlord of The Railway Tavern down in Bristol, one of my favourite pubs, called. He'd had a string of cancellations for March and asked if a) we were still available for anything and b) did I know of any other decent bands he could call.

I gave him a couple of other names, and suggested we might be able to do the 4th, if I could find a drummer. Bean, our regular drummer, was under orders from his wife that he could either do Saturday or Sunday, but not both. A dinner party with the neighbours, apparently. With the Kite Ball unconfirmed but Sam desperate, I got hold of Alan, an ex-member and long time friend of the band, to ask if he'd be available. He was good for the Friday but not the Saturday. 

So we confirmed the Railway for Friday and told Bean that if the Kite Ball confirmed he could have that.

A couple of days later, Ria got back in touch to confirm that the other band had stepped aside and they'd definitely like us to play for their Ball, setting us up for a delightfully busy weekend when only a week or two previously, I'd thought I'd get to spend it sailing.

Needless to say, both gigs were brilliant. A couple of well-liquored, enthusiastic crowds, albeit one considerably better dressed than the other, made for exceptionally lively shows. And two very late nights. Come Saturday morning I did manage to drag myself out of bed in time to get to karate, but what followed felt like one of the longest hours of my life, although Strava and the log from my watch suggests I could have pushed myself harder. 

By the time I crawled into the shower early Sunday morning to try and revive myself enough to get to the sailing club to take my allotted turn manning the safety boat, I was feeling distinctly sub-human.

This burning the candle at both ends lark is definitely a young man's game.

But it's far too much fun to try and stop.

I'm assured that the band who'd graciously stood down for the Kite Ball were happy to do so. A young group, they'd been in the 6th form together (at the same school my eldest son went to, funny enough) and very active when they'd first committed to the Ball back in 2021, but, as youngsters do, had all moved on and out to university by the autumn of 2021. So coming back home and essentially reforming for the one gig was proving far from straight forward for anyone concerned. My note to Ria to lament the cancellation of the sailing club dance had been fortuitous. For them and us, I hope.

All but the last three of the above photos were taken Friday night at The Railway Tavern. The final two were taken by Ria at the Kite Ball on Saturday night, along with the one preceding, taken by myself. It's the first time I've worn that suit in anger in quite a while. I don't know if I've just gotten used to not wearing it, but it was a worryingly tight squeeze to get into it . . .

Friday 4 March 2022

and after the storm

The week has fled by. The weather has been a bit calmer this week, a bit wet for walking the dogs at times, not that Jack or Boo seem to mind, but not cold.

Dad and I got down to Calstar last Saturday to check on her, and found her intact and whole, with just the slightest puddle of rainwater to mop out of her bilges.

Her fenders on the side opposite the finger pontoon, hung there to guard against any potentially clumsy neighbours, had all blown up onto her decks, but that, and the puddle, was the only sign of the storms she'd weathered across the previous week or so. Portishead is a very sheltered marina.

On Sunday, Amanda and I raced the Albacore at South Cerney. The club didn't fare as well as the marina. Some boats had been flipped in the storm of the previous weekend, and the windsock was showing definite evidence of the weather that had blown through.

photo: sue cowlishaw

The day was blustery, the wind gusting into the high 20's, but the sun was bright. The conditions increased for the second race in particular, of the 18 boats that started, 4 failed to finish, and the Safety Boat was kept busy supervising the frequent swimmers.

It was a beautiful day to be sailing however. 

photo: sue cowlishaw

This weekend is going to be busy. I have a gig tonight and tomorrow night, both of them expected to be lively, late nights, then I'm due at the Club again first thing Sunday to take my turn driving the Safety Boat. The forecast looks like it'll be quite fresh, not as blustery as last weekend, but from the northeast, and still gusting into the 20's. 

That should be enough to keep me entertained.