Reflections on Still Canal Waters – Summer Garden Party 2011

The only thing we lacked was the numbers. There, I’ve said it. Thirty-forty people came, that’s a few over the number of tickets we sold; plus some local friends popped along for the afternoon to have a beer and listen in to the acoustic sets.

But, despite the turn-out, the Summer Garden Party was fabulous. Magnificent. Stunning. Those who know me, know I rarely get effusive, but this was one of those occasions. It isn’t just me – here’s a selection of reactions:

“Twas excellent, will have to bring a tent next time!”
“That was the most awesome day/night I’ve had for a very long time. I don’t use the word lightly…”
“Please, can we do it all again!”
“Absolutely fantastic! One weekend, two brilliant – but very different – GPs …”

And that was just the artists! So, what happened to make the 2011 Summer Garden Party such a great event?

The afternoon kicked off in the garden with Fergy, one man with an acoustic guitar and a bucketful of gentle charisma. To me, he epitomises everything music should be about. “But I only know three chords,” he says, somewhat embarrassed. Yes indeed, Ferg, but you have that indefinable quality known as ‘soul’.

Howard Sinclair was up next. I must get some of the set lists as specific song titles elude me – I know The Beatles were in there, and a number of other hits as well as some of Howard’s own compositions such as Nine Tenths. Howard’s a talented guy, and always worth listening to.

All of this in a beer garden at The Tunnel House, one of the most beautiful settings you could have for an outdoor performance. The beer was Potwalloper, locally produced over the border in Wiltshire – or if that didn’t tickle your fancy there were three or four other brews on draft. The garden itself was full at lunchtime, then emptied and filled again as the evening tide of local folk came for a pint.

For the final afternoon set, Rich Harding and Simon Rogers performed covers of Radiohead, Pink Floyd and others, as well as some Also Eden tracks, finishing with a rousing(ish – it was acoustic!) rendition of Fish’s The Company. “Thank you very much,” said Rich, “I’m now going for a lie-down.”

Of course, the fact Rich was even performing beggars belief – just a week before he was having yet another bone graft operation following his near-fatal motorbike accident last year. It wouldn’t be too far from the truth to say that a generation of Welsh medical students will qualify having used Rich as their worked example. Of this, more later.

Time for a barbecue, and a quick hat-tip to the staff and management at The Tunnel House for being so accommodating, helpful and friendly. Nothing was too much trouble. Meanwhile, in the barn behind closed doors, preparations were underway for the evening performances.

It’s difficult to describe the atmosphere of the barn. A great little venue, for anyone who knows Riffs’ bar, it’s like that only a bit wider with the bar at the back rather than down the side. From the punter’s perspective, on the night, with thirty-forty people stood up and dancing around, it was “critical mass” – any less and it could have felt sparse, but it was enough people to party.

Jo McCafferty had travelled all the way down from Aberdeen to perform. For anyone who doesn’t know her stuff, think a Scottish singer songwriter, Dido with an edge, singing of the joys and disappointments of life. A great singer, a genuine gem who has toured with Steve Hogarth and Midge Ure to name a few. It’s a good job Jo’s voice was so radiant, as the lighting was not – at least the way it was initially set up. A beautiful set, anyone who doesn’t have a couple of Jo’s CDs in their collection is missing out.

And so, to the Skyline Drifters. Five people who last played together seven years ago – Dave Woodward on guitar, Ade Holmes on drums, Tony Turrell on keys, Tony Makos bass, and, yes, Rich Harding on vocals. Seven years, one rehearsal the night before, and in a stone barn in the middle of the Cotswold countryside on 11 June 2011, five musicians blew the bloody roof off.

I can dig out the set list if anyone’s interested – but it was, in a word, ‘esoteric’. It kicked off with Robbie Williams, then mixed Pink Floyd with Queen, Iron Maiden with ELO, and yes, Marillion with Fish. Ade drummed like it was the last chance he was going to have, Tone’s hand was flying round the neck of his five-string bass, and Tony’s keyboard rig (and his playing!) would have put Asia to shame.

Two highlights stand out – Comfortably Numb, where Dave’s bandmates stood back in awe as he pulled off one of the best renditions of his namesake’s solos that has perhaps ever been heard. Even this was transcended by the sheer joy of Mr Blue Sky. And then the laughter at Tie Your Mother Down (Rich reading lyrics with a torch), the passion of 100 Nights… it was all there.

Finally, a double-bill encore of Hooks in You and Market Square Heroes, both of which had the crowd bouncing. Then the lights came up, the adrenalin drained and Rich had to almost be carried off stage. Rich, I take my hat, coat, shoes and socks off to you. It’s not just your talent – the range of material you can tackle, and the way you change your style to suit. Short of Steve Jobs, I’m not sure I can think of someone with more strength of will.

What a night. Snatching the best kind of victory from the jaws of the mundane. Things could have been so different – any one of the thousand tiny details could have tipped things off the edge (dare I mention staging? ☺) – but they didn’t. To be fair, we chose the right crowd – what a great bunch of friends, who really get what it means to party.

We’ll be meeting up – the planning team – in a few weeks to have a cold, hard assessment of the Summer Garden Party. The big question is why more people didn’t come. There’s no right or wrong – nobody should be expected to turn up just because of their musical affiliations, friendships or geography. But the fact is, despite our best efforts to inform people (I hope we kept one step away from cajoling), we were very lucky to have just enough numbers to make the event a success.

Right now, I don’t know if it will remain a one-off. If it does, I think I speak for everyone who came that it was a privilege to be among such fine company, such great, talented musicians in such a great place. There’s an element of magic sometimes, when everything comes together and just works, if I have any sadness it’s only for the people who I know would have got such a kick out of it too.

I have already thanked everyone – but I repeat my unerring gratitude to all that made it such a success – organisers, artists, participants, venue. I’ll leave the last word to the guy who was on the bar in the barn on Saturday night. When I went in to pick up the staging on the Sunday, he looked at me with a big grin, shook his head and said, “You guys know how to rock.” Yes, yes we do.

Reflections on Still Canal Waters – Summer Garden Party 2011

One thought on “Reflections on Still Canal Waters – Summer Garden Party 2011

  1. Philip Todd says:

    Damn I wish I’d been there now! Sadly the weather interfered with sunday plans so couldn’t justify doing this and then do the trip I’ve done today.

    But at least I bought a mug!


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