I have been working hard getting my new album out to radio stations and feel I have done everything I can and it has been well received – been played on BBC Radio 2 and the World Service and BBC London and everywhere I hoped it would be.
Sometimes everything is going well and you are pleased with it all, but your head is too full of plans and your body too tired from carrying them out, and you just need to head off somewhere new and experience things without trying to influence them in any way.
So a couple of weeks ago I felt glad to be setting off for Gloucester to do an interview and a song on lovely singer-songwriter Johnny Coppin’s Acoustic Show on BBC Gloucester.
Johnny has played my songs on his show since 2002, so I felt like I knew him already and was happy to be meeting him in person.
It feels good when I put my guitar on my back and set off with just a small bag. It feels very free and exciting and a change from the routine. I was also looking forward to staying the night with my cousin in beautiful Stroud, and the train journey was just what I needed. It was a beautiful day – hot sun in London and I was in the mood for meeting people and seeing new things.
On the bus I had a chat with an older and very elegant French Algerian man, a long time Londoner, on his way to Peter Jones in his padded jacket.
At Paddington a young girl in high heels misread the sign for the toilets thinking it was £5 and said loudly, ‘Shut Up!’
On the train I noticed an Indian man wearing lots of beads and eating an avocado with a spoon, and there was another Indian man on the tannoy announcing ‘Light Freshments’.
I just looked out of the window the whole way, as we travelled into the beautiful Gloucestershire countryside.
I had played at an 80th birthday party a few weeks earlier and the piano player had said ‘Stroud, very nice – Gloucester not very nice, unfortunately’, so I wasn’t looking forward to the place. It’s true that arriving at the station, then walking through the bus station, everything was postwar destruction 1950’s concrete, functional, run-down, with huge greasy spoons, charity shops and Wetherspoons Pubs – everybody smoking and drinking pints at high tables outside – everybody walking along smoking too. The plainest town square town square you can imagine, and almost like nowhere I’d seen before, except maybe a communist era Yugoslavian town. Everybody very friendly though and helpful with directions and smiling in the sun.
‘But the cathedral is nice’, he had also said – and I looked up and there it was, reaching up beyond all the low buildings – a beautiful filigree tower of stone, vast and imposing, a pastoral presence for the ugly rebuilt part of the town. I walked in the right direction having some time in hand, and saw that the sign said ‘Cathedral, via Via Sacra’, and then I started to notice that all the streets around it were called that – a sacred way, a pilgrim’s route – like Canterbury or Santiago.
The lane opened out into a huge open space with grass and in the middle was the Cathedral – soaring up into the blue sky. Office workers and students were sitting in groups eating their lunch, everybody smiling, and all around were Georgian houses and some half-timbered ones. It was like another town.
Inside, the vast building was all plain stone, huge round pillars and cloisters with arched walkways and more filigree round windows. A reward for the pilgrim.
I thought I’d just have time for a cup of tea before going to the BBC, and the street leading away from the Cathedral was full of cafes, the first one called understandably ‘the Comfy Pew’ which was a bit too full of chip smoke for a pre-interview stop-off. But next door there was one with tables in the sun – and in that location the most surprising concept. ‘Hubble Bubble’, and its sister shop next door ‘Spellbound’ were staffed by very friendly and smiling goths wearing black eye liner and forehead tattoos. A billboard advertised courses in witchcraft and tarot and clairvoyance and the coffee was served in jam jars. I commented on the interesting and tolerant juxtaposition and they just smiled and handed me a lovely pot of peppermint tea and said they’d look after my guitar case.
The only cars driving down the cobbled street were an occasional cleric in a dog-collar.
I walked back through the mainly pedestrianised town with more lovely Georgian houses this way, and thought how nice it was to be away from traffic. Passing through the concrete square again I saw the Indian man in the beads from the train, sitting with a woman in drawstring cotton trousers. He called out to me and said ‘you look like a wandering minstrel!’ And I said I was really and told them what I was doing there. I said how much I had loved the Cathedral and felt like a pilgrim, and he shouted to me, all smiling in the sunshine, ‘yes, you are a musical pilgrim!’
The radio interview was lovely and Johnny Coppin drove me back to Stroud, and on the way told me about his collaborations with Laurie Lee and about other Gloucestershire poets, and about the 100 Yews of Painsey. I thought how much I’d like to spend more time in Gloucestershire, and with any luck I will, when I follow up all his gig suggestions.
I am musical pilgrim!