It’s a beautiful morning . A crisp November day. The rains and gloom have scampered off into some corner in the sky and left this huge blue spotless dome hanging above us, rays of sunshine lighting up the plain, unpainted ,wooden fence outside; bringing the grain to new life. There is no wind whatsoever and all is finally still .The first frost settled and hunkered down last night, white crackling covering the car…. so it must be officially wintertime now.This brilliance will not last long because the sun is hanging low, the days are short now and darkness will start to colour over this blueness with a sepia wash , some time around four in the afternoon.The shortness of the day makes it even more special, though. I got a few jobs done yesterday , just in time to enjoy this moment .The wooden deck at the side of the house needed some serious scrubbing, as did the patio. Errant leaves had sneaked in and were gradually turning to greenish slime everywhere. So it was out with the heavy yard brush , the hose and the hypochlorite.What would I do without that drum of hypochlorite? A secret weapon , for sure.It burns and bubbles through the moss .The birds are always hoking at those wee cushions of it it in the northside shadow of the chimney where it grows unseen, and drop lumps of it to seed all around the house.Wooden decks are slippery enough when wet without that addition. Anyway , it took a few hours but now the sunshine is drying everything out this morning. I’ll paint the outside furniture later in the week if it stays dry and that’ll be ready for whatever chaos winter brings.The wife says , i should have had it done long ago .Ahhh, women , what would we do without their sage advice?
In the meantime , PK has just been on the phone about the gig later today..
We arrived in Belfast , the sun still shining on a crisp November Sunday and the city was abuzz with Christmas shoppers. It was changed times since I’d last seen Robert Plant perform in the Ulster Hall with his band Led Zeppelin in March 1971 .Then the band raised the roof on a roomful of hippies, sheltering from something like a a war on the streets outside. Bombs and killings everywhere. This was a very different time ; shopping and rock ‘n’ roll on a Sunday…Both! If shopping on a Sunday was bad enough back then, well blues music would have been the very Devil’s Buttermilk. Like I say , we’ve seen some changed times.
PK , myself and the ladies headed off for some refreshment. The girls fancied some overpriced cocktail bar but we wanted some proper ale. This time I sensibly steered clear of any 8% proof craft ales ,lest I be mildly puddled come concert -time. We had a few pints of Brew Dog’s Dead Pony Ale .PK called it a “Session” brew; loads of flavour but not so much alcohol content that you’d lose your sense of equilibrium too quickly. He was right . Later we feasted on a biryani in the wee upstairs Indian restaurant beside Kelly’s Bar. The food was excellent but the girls were disappointed with that second glass of red wine. it wasn’t the same as the first . PK and I settled for a light beer and reached the Ulster Hall in time to see the support band, the New York act , The Last Nationale , whom we’d last seen supporting Neil Young in Liverpool earlier in the year. As we had no tickets for the already sold-out gig we approached the box office with some trepidation , relying on the benevolence of John Baggott, Mr Plant’s keyboard player , who’d hopefully made prior arrangements for us. Our fears were groundless because there awaiting us were two envelopes with four tickets for reserved seats in the “gods”; looking right down on the stage.We had actual “seats” with a clear view , free too, while it was standing room only down below at forty five pounds a pop..Guest tickets from Rock’s Golden God himself, in envelopes with our names specially printed on them .That kind of thing can go to your head, especially when they attach that little blue access band to your wrist and lead you by torchlight to your very own special seats.John the keyboard and mellotron player had come through as good as his word. We’d been blue-arm-banded and very politely led to our royal destination.It felt very special.
The last time I saw Mr Plant in March 1971, I was a long-haired eighteen year-old and he had been twenty-three. That huge pipe organ had dominated the stage then had been the backdrop. Now there was the tour logo and ranks of sophisticated light rigging.
. I had watched him perform from a similar vantage point, albeit on the other side of the room, looking down on the opposite side of the stage.I dare say we’d both lived through many changes in the intervening forty three years , but he ‘d lost none of his performance vigour and still possessed, possibly the greatest set of vocal pipes and range ,of any singer in rock music.He was no longer the slim- hipped satyr of yore, but obviously hadn’t lost his musical and cultural inquisitiveness and had surrounded himself with a group of diverse voices and instrumentalists , able to take a tour through the Mississippi blues of Charley Patton, San Franciscan psychedelia, to complete the circle in the musical cradle of North Africa’s drummers .Although the audience ranged across the ages ,a note of self-deprecatory ease had also crept into his patter with references to Free Heating Allowances, denoting the ageing journey both himself and a proportion of his audience had taken.
Before long he and his band of musicians, the Sensational Space Shifters, had created an Incredible String Band for the 21st century and by the final number we may as well have all been walking through the smoke-filled Djemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakech at night time as the musicians re-created that ancient drum-filled atmosphere of the cradle of African blues and folk music.This Bristol -based band mixed their modern ,looping ,industrial, techno sounds with Chicago blues and the keening almost Irish sounds of Juldeh Camara ‘s Gambian riti fiddling. One of the guitarists was even banging away at something that looked like an ancient Appallacian dulcimer.The band and audience seemed to have had a really good time.
We wanted to personally thank John Baggott and shake his hand for his good grace and generosity and compliment him and the band for a stunning show, but the security were n’t allowing any breaches into the inner sanctum…not even “friends of the band” ;John wondered later why we hadn’t turned up for the after-gig party, which he fully expected, but he wasn’t to know the reason why on the night, so we instead engaged in conversation with the excellent, if less experienced … young American support band.They had gone down well with the audience in their invidious position of being the amuse bouche for the main event, but had proven their mettle and won over an audience who were not easily impressed.. Nevertheless, the young band loved the buzz of Belfast and the lead guitarist, Edgey Pires ,was straining at the leash to sample some of its undoubted hospitality . I had to explain to the young New Yorker , from the City that Never Sleeps, that Belfast was still the kind of town that likes an early snooze on a Sunday night and that it was a pity they hadn’t arrived a little earlier in the weekend ; the pubs might still have been open and the band would have been welcomed with opened arms…We’d have taken them out for a pint.
.Still there’s always Monday night in Dublin to look forward to , I said.
Maybe, they’ll have better luck there tonight.