Smiles, Singing, & Chocolate
I’m not sure which is the highlight of our day at Hebden Bridge. It was just one of those days when you wake up in the morning and just know that everything is going to be fine. It is almost 18 months since Ali and I met Kieran on Midsummer’s Night at the stone cut graves near Heysham to shoot the footage for the Dry The Life video. At the risk of ruining a good thing, every time we set out on one of our missions, whether to a gig, a video or photo shoot, or whether we are just getting out somewhere to find inspiration, the weather is always gorgeous. The days can sometimes start in gloom or with heavy rain, but by the time we reach our destination the sky clears and the sun comes out.
Our first wander was at Watergrove Reservoir a few months before the Dry The Life shoot. That was sunny too, and it set in train a seemingly magnetic pull for us to take our music to the Lancashire/Yorkshire border. The venue for the video for The Smile in February was Todmorden Unitarian Church, which was bloody cold but the weather was otherwise calm and dry. Kieran and I returned there on a much warmer sunnier day in May to play gigs with Duncan and our friends The Lewinskies, and were invited down to the Golden Lion for unscheduled short sets, and we are all going back next May.
So as we set off yesterday in bright sunshine listening to Stiltskin’s debut (and possibly only?) album, it felt like there was an assurance that it was going to be a good day. We arrived way ahead of time to find Frank, our genius photographer of choice, drinking a coffee outside the Trades Club all set to go. I commissioned Frank to take natural shots of all of us as we set up for the gig and to continue as we performed our set of ten songs (which became nine after – probably and hopefully – the battery on Kieran’s acoustic threw a wobbler). Matt and Jad (the man who drove for nine hours on the day just to be with us for a 45 minute gig) arrived after a short time followed half an hour later by Kieran, Emma and Kate and our now adopted official driver, roadie, and cinematographic associate Gary Whiteside. Gigs with The Folded Arms start with smiles, proceed with lashings of chocolate, and end with smiles. It’s our way, and it’s wonderful. Oh. And we play great music too!
I may write the songs but the contributions from each of the others are what make them, both in recordings and live. Our set for #OxjamCalderdale saw Kieran produce some astonishing slide guitar effects on Night, Emma and Kate join me in successfully negotiating an a capella line in the chorus of Dim Blue Light after nailing the vocals for Moorscape, Matt playing cittern live for the very first time – two citterns on one stage can’t happen very often – and Jad producing his usual gobsmacking tabla beats to finish off Guns. I never quite know what to expect but it is always fresh and always exceeds expectations.
Spontaneity seems to follow us about because when I asked Shane the organiser if he needed any more help from us before we all went our separate ways he offered me a pub gig at the Albert where one of the other performers had been forced to pull out due to illness. Jad and Matt needed to head back down south and I was told the gig area at the pub was a bit restricted, so we exchanged chocolate before Gary took Kieran, Emma and Kate and all their gear on a hike to the Coop where he had finally located a car parking space some hours earlier.
Being more or less local, Frank led us ‘his way’ to the Albert (which was about twice the length of walk as our walk back!) and within a few minutes my second set of the day was introduced. I was knackered but worked my way through nine songs in an unplanned, off-the-cuff kind of way which felt very natural, with a couple of mistakes to boot. It’s always a good sign when on the way home from something else good when your petrol gauge drops to that point of ‘will it last till I get home?’ and then does.
And so another day with The Folded Arms flew by. Each of us probably manages a few words with each of the others because there never seems to be enough time between mouthfuls of chocolate or cake, but the smiles only stop when the singing starts and sometimes not even then. We are recording again early in December and then booking a table for an evening meal and probably enough wine to sink a ship.