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Live music: the hills: the sound [Oct. 6th, 2014|07:21 pm]
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Shortly before we went on holiday, I found out that Michelle Shocked would be playing Gateshead's Caedmon Hall the Saturday after our return. I didn't take time out to research it, I just booked the tickets: I've no idea what she's been doing for the last couple of decades (or so), but I have some of her early recordings (some of them in media I can no longer play) and I love Short, Sharp Shocked dearly. With luck she'd play some old favourites in among the new stuff...

Ha! I had no idea. What Michelle Shocked has been doing lately, it seems, is waging war on the internet, because it is the means by which copyright is being destroyed and artists deprived of their livelihood (I'm not disputing this, by the way). And the present tour, which has the title Bootleg This!, is one of her weapons. Its purpose is, at least in part. to promote a book of the same title, and its strategy is the performance, end to end ("soup to nuts" of her album Short, Sharp Shocked.

What could be better? A brilliant live performance of some great songs, with some joining in, and a little gratuitous singalong stuff, and some anecdotes (about learning to drive in East Texas, for example, in a car with a manual gearshift). I (almost) forgave her for turning up late, I forgave her her conviction that she was in Newcastle (Gateshead, damnit!). Next time, I wouldn't mind hearing something new (though I wouldn't insist on it).

To add insult to injury, the reason Michelle Shocked arrived late was the she had travelled up from Manchester via Allendale, where she had stopped by to see Martin Stephenson at his soundcheck. But hang on, if she was going to drop by in Allendale, couldn't she have waited until the following day, when we would be there for the Allen Valleys Folk Festival?

Next morning, we took the scenic route up to Allendale: up Weardale, to Rookhope and across the top down to Allenheads. It's a beautiful drive, but sometimes I just look and think "Pretty!", and sometimes - and this was one of those times - it's more emotionally charged. Perhaps it's because we've hardly been out on the hills at all this summer, or perhaps because the roadsides are coming into their autumn colours, the leaves turning to yellow in the sunshine and the fireweed below all shades of brown and orange, rust and apricot.

We arrived in Allendale town with just enough time to pick up our wristbands at the village hall, and lunch on soup (sweet potato and rosemary, thick and warming and discreetly seasoned) at the café there, then up the hill for some music.

There were two strands of concerts taking place in two venues, and choices had to be made, but we atarted at Deneholm with virtuoso Northumbrian piper Chris Ormston, followed by Stewart Hardy and George Welch. I'm a fan of Stewart Hardy's fiddle playing, but hadn't heard this duo before, and the publicity which stressed their humour and spontaneity (and may have used the word 'shambolic') didn't entirely appeal; we'd try it, we thought, and if we didn't like it we'd go down the hill and see whether we preferred what was on offer there. I could, it turned out, have done with less clowning, which kept threatening to take over, but the music was excellent: George Welch is a delicate guitarist and a competent singer of well-chosen songs (I particularly liked Archie Fisher's Men of Worth) and as a duo... Well, here's George Welch's website and here's what Stewart Hardy has to say on the subject.

We thought we were walking out on them earlier than was strictly necessary, when a break between songs fell at a quarter to the hour and we left, because the length of the preamble meant that the next break would come to late. But in fact we only just had time to walk down to the church for the start of Horizontal Sunday's set - which is to say that we would have caught the start of their set had we not been delayed by a cake stall in the lych gate. As it was, they were in full swing when we came in, and seemed to be enjoying the space and the light and the acoustics of the venue: it was a bright and lively set, and went by much too fast. Next up, after a break which gave me time to go out and find coffee, was guitarist Michael Chapman - and he was a fine guitarist but something about him just didn't click for me, so we left early and came home via Waitrose in Hexham (and beautiful evening light on the hills and the Tyne valley).