To my chagrin, I ran out of holiday allowance from work last November. While waiting for the holiday year to restart in April, I got very excited and booked up to do a load of things once I was free again. It helped to pass the time and even marginally eased my itching feet with the anticipation of Doing Stuff. It seems that for 2015, at least 50% of those things I decided to go and do involve camping.
The first of them occurred on Friday, and in it’s simplest form; I went to a pub somewhere to watch some dudes play some music. Now, let me elaborate on that to make it a little more exciting.
Back in February, I was playing music videos on Youtube on a Saturday evening, as I often tend to do. This particular evening, I started playing some Squeeze, and got totally caught up for a few hours. Now, you will either immediately know who Squeeze are, or you won’t, and that is more than likely going to be dictated by how old you are. Even if you don’t immediately know the name, I can pretty much guarantee you will know some of their songs. Here’s a few to jog your memory, with the last one being the particular video that started this little adventure;
Now, Squeeze have always been really good at layering bright and happy music over the top of surprisingly deep, heartfelt and sometimes bleak lyrics. This is the collective genius of Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook. However, due to a lack of on-demand video services in the 80’s, this was the first time I had actually seen the videos, and a couple of things struck me;
- I totally fancy Glenn.
- Squeeze seem like exactly the kind of people that I like to spend time with.
“A shame then,” I thought, “that I’m not 20 years older!”, because I get the feeling that their gigs must have been a blast. But that got me wondering… a load of older bands are still touring… and enough, with not too much digging about, I found that there were indeed a few select dates where they were playing this year! After ruling out most of the later dates due to distance and other commitments, I decided that sod it, I was going to go to one of the two warm-up shows – either Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire or Ilminster in Somerset.
Henley-on-Thames, while being much closer, screams ‘posh’ and given my tendency to look like I slept under a bridge last night, that made me feel a little uncomfortable. The venue in Ilminster – the Square & Compass pub – not only looked much less like a place I would get refused entry to, but also had a place to camp for £12 a night.
Deal well and truly done.
So Friday 8th May rolled around, and I had booked the day off work to allow for the travel. It’s a 350 mile round trip, and with the best will in the world – and a car that I don’t like to push much above 60mph for fear of tripping out a fuel sensor [happened before, not fun] – it was going to take me more than the 3 hours Google maps suggested to get there.
The other thing that makes me nervous about going on long trips with my car is the tendency for the clutch cable to sheer off at the hook from the underside of the clutch pedal. That happens on at least a biennial basis, and it’s about due to go again by my reckoning. However, fortune favours the brave so I figured what the hell – worst case scenario, I have Green Flag recovery and rescue…
Based on the very good chance that my car might at some point during the trip be fucked, I’d rather not be on the motorway, so I chose to travel via the more minor roads; A43/M40/A43/A303.
Now, for those of you who have never experienced traveling on this particular route, there is something that you need to know. Somewhere buried deep under Oxford, there is an ancient and wholly evil entity. It slumbers still, but it’s very presence distorts time and space in a radius of about 25 miles in any direction. The journey from Towcester to Newbury is about 60 miles but always takes twice as long as it realistically should. I hate the A43/A34 combo.
Speaking of evil, I also had the A303 to content with. The whole section of road that goes past Stonehenge is a absolute piece of shit. There is a massive stretch of dual carriageway which for reasons I have not been able to fathom, suddenly gets filtered down into one lane, and has never failed to leave me stuck in traffic for an inexplicable length of time. Also, normally in a car that doesn’t respond well to being stuck in traffic.
The first time this happened was 20 years ago – in a big old beige Cavalier that overheated horribly if you dropped below 5 miles an hour for any length of time at all. This time, in a Fiat Seicento which (in addition to all the previously mentioned potential issues) loses the ability to get into gear, in increments, as it heats up. Sit still in traffic for a couple of minutes in the sunshine, and you can say goodbye to 1st gear. I have at one point in the past had to pull away uphill in 4th because it was literally the only gear I could get.
Anyway, swearing, frustration and sphincter-clenching fear about something breaking any-time-now aside, the journey was otherwise really straightforward and the pub was dead easy to find. It was a lot smaller than I expected, and once I arrived, there were signs directing all cars to park in the field to left. As I pulled in, there were a couple of motorhomes in the top left corner, and what looked like it was probably a tour bus up in the top right.
The pub itself was shut but I wandered around the back and found a nice lady who I paid for the camping, and who instructed me to set my tent up somewhere near the others.
And there began the fun of actually putting my tent up. I had last done so around 3 years ago, and I remembered it being surprisingly easy, which to be fair it was… it’s just… BIG. Those of you with a lot of hair will understand the nuisance of sleeping in a small tent and waking up with a cold, wet head where your hair has made contact with the sides in the middle of the night. Also, there’s that floor area thing, where all tents seem designed by what I can only assume are very small people with no issues about personal space.
With all that in mind, I bought a 4-man tent from Costco a while back. It’s absolutely marvelous… once it’s up. I realised immediately that there were more tent-poles than I remembered, and way less tent-pegs. I approached the task with confidence, but eventually conceded that it was all going wrong somehow, and had to back-track and reassess the structure of the tent. I worked out where the fourth tent-pole came into play and it all started coming together. As for the missing tent-pegs, I had to root around in my car and apply some ingenuity.
No, I don’t know why I had a coathanger in my car. I also don’t know why there was a belt and broken pair of sunglasses under the passenger seat either, but I snapped the arms off the glasses and used them as substitute pegs on the inside of the tent where they wouldn’t be quite as subject to the elements.
I had also brought a double inflatable mattress, because I could. I am not one of those hardcore, bivouacing types; I bought a sheet for the mattress, pillows, and if I’d realised it was going to be as cold, I’d have thrown a sodding duvet in the car as well. I have a foot pump for inflating the mattress, but since I was inside a tent and couldn’t stand up, I had to operate it by hand. Imagine giving CPR to a wheezy yellow triangle and you’ve got the picture.
Eventually tent, bed, snacks, water and new camping stove thing for morning coffee were all in place and I felt proper chuffed with myself. All done 5 minutes before the pub opened. Magic.
Inside, the pub was pretty much devoted to food, which meant lots of tables, but nowhere to sit if the barstools were occupied. I perched my arse on the piano [sue me] and observed. The Square & Compass was a very nice little place, and very much the quintessential British pub; horse brasses, plates and Toby jugs suspended from the ceiling, paintings of horses in various stages of movement, a black and white photo of the pub back int’ day, and a pleasantly worded threat;
An hour later, the hall at the back opened and everyone retreated for some much needed breathing space, plus hopefully a seat. It was a reasonably big space based on first impressions of the pub, and the perma-bunting and fairy lights suggested it was often a wedding venue. I grabbed a pint of San Miguel and retreated to the corner. There were a few of these notices up on the walls;
Glass?? Gives you an indication of the usual clientele; I don’t remember the last time I went to a music venue where the patrons were trusted with anything more dangerous than nerve-wrackingly flexible plastic.
The actual gig didn’t start until 9pm, so there was some time to kill, and I found my self happily singing along to a soundtrack of my early 90’s;
Paul Weller – Wild Wood
Crowded House – Weather With You
George Michael – Heal The Pain
Beautiful South – Prettiest Eyes
The Connells – 74/75
Crash Test Dummies – Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm
Del Amitri – Driving With The Brakes On
Aztec Camera – How Men Are
World Party – Is It Like Today?
The Wannadies – You & Me Song
Sheryl Crow – Run Baby, Run
Cranberries – Linger
The Levellers – Julie
Radiohead – High & Dry
I was thoroughly enjoying myself just standing around drinking, listening and singing. Something became massively apparent very quickly; besides one of the barmen who couldn’t legally have bought his own alcoholic beverage, I was the youngest person there by quite a stretch. I was clearly looking at a whole different generation in front of me. Which I guess made sense, given that Squeeze were initially doing their thing between 1974 and 1982, and I wasn’t born until 1978. I didn’t feel out of place, or even uncomfortable, but it was very obvious that I was way off the curve – even more so than I am used to.
Time ticked by and the venue slowly filled up, and when I say filled up, I mean it. It was truly packed. I know it was sold out, and I would hazard a guess there was probably 250 people there… given the tickets were £25 a pop, I would say a decent amount of money changed hands that night.
There was a guy stood near me who I would swear was Ralph Ineson, who played Chris Finch in the office. I kept trying to get a good enough look to be sure, but he kept looking back in an odd way – I couldn’t decide whether it was a ‘Yes, I AM that guy, what of it?’ look or a ‘…why is there a girl in combat shorts and a hoodie here?’ look.
When Chris and Glenn took to the stage, there was a wave of joy and adulation that rolled through the crowd. There was such a good atmosphere, and I hate to say it – I think I might be getting old; I genuinely appreciated that everyone just stood around, singing and enjoying themselves without being drunk dickheads.
These guys were honestly amazing. Album perfect vocals and guitar, and I genuinely remember thinking at one point, “…what did the rest of the band actually DO?” That wonderful interplay of Tilbrook’s vocals and Drifford’s lyrics worked it’s magic over us and everyone sang along the whole evening, enchanted. They knew how to deliver exactly what their audience wanted, and it was one of the most enjoyable gigs I have been to.
I would thoroughly recommend that if you get the chance to see them at any of their other dates, do so. When the rest of the band join them later on in the year, it will only add to the awesome.
I made my way back to my tent after the gig, and to my delight it was still there. That mattress is exceptionally comfortable. The only downside – it was fucking freezing.
As a rule, I don’t get cold, especially when I have had a few beers. In fact, I am fairly renowned for being a bit of a radiator. All of that said, I woke up after an hour or so and my skin was cold to the touch. I got up and got dressed again before climbing back into the sleeping bag, and was still borderline uncomfortable. I think because this tent has two layers, the wind was coming in under the waterproof outside layer and straight through the mesh of the inner one. Ah well, lesson learned for Download!
I did however manage a solid 6 hours sleep – which for me is almost unheard of; must have been the fresh air. I woke up and dozed for a bit, before getting up and breaking out the new camping stove.
My sister bought me a load of survival bits and pieces for Christmas, and this fancy-pants cup was part of the pack; I have caffeine sensitive migraines, so getting coffee down my neck is a genuine need for me. The sweetheart not only bought me the cup, but a jar of coffee to go in my survival pack too. I love her.
I bought myself a little fold-out camping stove, and paired it with a heatproof plate that fell off of my ironing board years ago. Altogether, I had a freshly brewed coffee to start my morning with, and then to top it off, the sun came out.
On my way home, I stopped in to visit a friend in Yeovil who I haven’t seen in probably 5 years. I had been toying with the idea of crashing with her that night, but after almost literally freezing my arse off the night before, I was craving a hot bath so headed home a bit after 4pm.
I made it back to Northampton with nothing breaking/falling off of/combusting inside of my car, with an awesome Friday and Saturday under my belt.
Bring it on Festival Season, I’m ready for you!