Three nights out could normally tide us over for months, but fate conspired to keep us out late three nights in a row, in three different cities. After two nights of Ian Hunter, it was time for something a little more low key: British Sea Power.
They were performing a live soundtrack to the documentary From the Sea to the Land Beyond at the Sheffield International Documentary Festival. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. From Craig’s description, it would be instrumental versions of older songs with beach scenery playing onscreen.
That is what it was, but it was really good. The director (editor?) went through decades of archive footage and pieced together a cohesive film showing everything from kids playing at the beach to WWII training. The live music complemented the swooping/ soaring visuals nicely. And of course, there were plenty of clips which would be good conversation starters in class. I’ll just keep that in my back pocket for… someday.
On the way, we stopped for a quick look at Peveril Castle overlooking Castleton (and pretty much the rest of the Peak District). It wasn’t much, as castles go, but has a lovely view. There is also far more information about the history of the castle and its former inhabitants than a lot of the castles we’ve visited.
On this particular afternoon, we were stopped by some geography students. I thought I was being very helpful, giving detailed, considered answers. Craig told me I was holding them up and then pointed out groups of kids here and there copying each other’s forms. Live and learn.
Ian Hunter is getting on, so any show could be his last, really. With that in mind, we did something that seemed a bit more in keeping with being a Belieber or Directioner (yes, I can thank my teaching career for knowing those terms, and who they are referring to)– we went to back-to-back Ian Hunter shows, despite them being in two totally different places.
He was getting ready for the Isle of Wight Festival, which may have a more inspired name, but I can’t be bothered to Google it. I can tell you that you have to take a ferry to get there, and sometimes the weather is terrible, even by English standards. I wasn’t too interested in that, but a couple of days in scenic towns seemed alright, so off we went.
First stop: Holmfirth, best known as the setting of Last of the Summer Wine, which Craig assures me was good in the early years. I’ll take his word for it, as it really hasn’t stood the test of time. We stayed at a little pub on the side of a stream, which despite being as least as picturesque as that sounds, we managed to not take any photos.
As we walked to the town center for the show, we took about fifty photos of the landscape and the horses which seemed to be the pet of choice in the area. That, or the farmers had tiny farms with one horse each.
We arrived early enough to claim center balcony seats with no one in front of us. Billy Bragg likes to joke that no one goes to hear him sing. Ian Hunter could give him a run for his money in that regard, but it was a good show. He played all his hits (or at least all the songs that I knew) and no crap. Morrissey, are you listening?
The next morning, we were actually in pretty good condition, and decided to hike from Magdale to Deer Hill Reservoir. In our usual way, we started off by walking two miles in the wrong direction. Sorted out by the magical iPhone blue dot, we managed to walk three miles in the correct direction before it started raining. Plan B: have a snack in Sid’s Cafe and catch a bus back to our car.
Plan B successfully accomplished, we hit the road for Leamington Spa and Ian Hunter. We got to the show early, but not early enough to grab one of the few tables, but we managed to sit in the VIP section. Eventually, everyone who didn’t have a pass got kicked out except for us. There were only a handful of “VIPs”, and we were off to the side, and they left us alone. I guess Craig looks like he could be a VIP…
The show was good, but since it was for all intents and purposes a rehearsal, it was largely the same as the previous night’s setlist. Fortunately, it was a good setlist. As seems to be par for the course, he didn’t include the song I wanted to hear. Once again, he singed off with All the Young Dudes and Goodnight, Irene and we were off to bed with an early start for Sheffield (City on the Move!) planned.
As I’m writing these posts, I’m realizing just how far behind I am. In June (six months and one week ago), we went to Edinburgh pretty much immediately upon our return from Iceland to see Billy Bragg. We decided to make a trip of it, and stayed three nights at the Lochend Apartments.
It was about a 30 minute walk from the CBD, but that’s fine, because the CBD is mostly just full of tourists. The distance from the center also meant that for the same price as a chain hotel room, we got a two-bedroom apartment with a kitchen and washing machine. That’s my kind of trade off.
While we were there, we also decided to go to the US Embassy, so I could get extra pages put in my passport. I could have gotten a new passport with my married name and nothing but blank pages, but we didn’t think we had ten days. HAHAHAHA! Oh, well, live and learn.
The embassy was an entertaining way to while away a morning, if you have absolutely nothing to do. There were three people, including myself, there for “citizen services”, but one woman (of the three staff visible) carped for about an hour about how we should really be going to the London office, because none of us were Scottish residents. Apparently, that ratio of one staff person per passport was too much for her to handle.
After a lengthy wait, my passport was taken off me and I was told to return several hours later. Sticking one booklet inside of another booklet and affixing it is time-consuming. Suddenly with a bit of time to fill, we decided to to for a walk.
Arthur’s Seat is a nice little hike, if you want to feel like you’ve done some exercise, without actually really doing any. It’s only about 100m high, and you are rewarded with 360° views of Edinburgh. The down side is that about a thousand other people will be there, too, and the path is only 1.5 people wide.
As it was conveniently located nearby, Arthur’s Seat fit the bill. At the appointed hour (the embassy has very short hours for dropping off/ picking up passports), we retrieved my passport from the guard– apparently peeling off backing and sticking the pages in had tuckered out the actual staff.
All that was left for us to do was head over to Queen’s Hall for Billy Bragg. I tried to find the set list, but… it wasn’t on the first page of Google. At any rate, what I can reliably report six months on, is we had good-ish seats and he played a bunch of new songs, most of which I quite liked, as well as all the old ones you expect to hear. In other words, a great show.
Let me backtrack a bit from my previous post to our flight, because it was probably the worst airport experience of my life. Our flight was at 7AM, so we arrived at Manchester Airport at about 5. The line was down the corridor, because Easy Jet hadn’t thought to have more than three staff checking people in for about a dozen flights.
So, everyone crawled ahead to the single agent checking the regular line, until the “last minute” call for each flight was given, then all passengers for that flight would move to the two lines for agents checking late passengers. That’s right– there was one line for “on time” passengers (basically, everyone when they arrived) and TWO lines for “late” passengers (pretty much all of the same people, but 90 minutes later).
Once our bags were finally checked, we were ushered through a fast track security line. I’m sure the security staff enjoys having to rush and have multiple fast track lanes because Easy Jet can’t be bothered is too cheap to schedule enough desk staff. Security cleared, it was a mad dash for the plane, as increasingly dire warnings were announced over the PA system. Well, Craig and I ran, anyway. Other people stopped to pick up some breakfast along the way.
Things went much more smoothly in Iceland, presumably since EasyJet had nothing to do with immigration or customs. Well before 9AM, we were in the arrivals duty free stocking up on beer and wine. That’s right, there is an arrivals duty free. You will pass all kinds of departure duty free, but the staff will politely redirect you with their perfect English.
The 45-minute drive to Reykjavik was a great introduction to the Icelandic landscape—its rugged and similar in appearance to the moors, but is actually moss-covered lava.
It was beautiful, and I couldn’t wait to go for a hike, despite the cold, gloomy weather. However, we were there for a music festival, so first things first. We spent the day in Rekjavik, and after dinner, we walked to the Kex Guest House for a pre-festival open (free) show. When we bought our tickets, we didn’t realize the first night would be free, so we really could have gotten a one-day pass for half the amount, since we weren’t planning to attend any more shows until the last night. Live and learn.
We were there to see Withered Hand, but the opening act, þórir Georg, was really good. I tried to buy his CD after, but he didn’t have any. Neither did any of the local music shops. BTW Reykjavik has an astounding number of music shops. I guess people still buy CDs in Iceland. But I digress.
Eventually, Withered Hand came on. He played with a full band, including Pam Berry, from a 90s group I’d never heard of: Black Tambourine. The new songs were great, but six months on (yes, I’m behind), the album hasn’t been released, although it should be out in the spring.
After three days tooling around the country, we headed back to Reykjavik for the second Withered Hand show. We arrived early, so had a drink in the “Irish pub” next door, for 1000 KR each. Aside: someday, I will visit Ireland. I do not expect a single pub to bear any resemblance to the “Irish pubs” found in the rest of the world, despite most of those pubs looking virtually identical to one another.
Drinks consumed, we went to get our wristbands. There was no record of us, but since it was the last show of the festival, the guy let us in. So, we could have attended both shows without paying anything at all. It all seemed to be done on a shoestring, so I guess we did our part by being honest. 🙂
Dan (Withered Hand) and Pam came in and got drinks while Craig was at the bar, so he looked over their shoulder at the set list. He told them that I would be upset that Love in the Time of Ecstasy wasn’t on it, but they just gave me an apologetic (poor loser) smile on their way upstairs.
They didn’t revise their set list on my account, but it was a good show, and I really like the new songs. So, next spring, I should be able to buy them. And I will, even though I’ve already gotten live versions off Youtube. (Don’t tell anyone.)
My overall impression of Iceland is that it is a pretty great place. If I ever have the chance to live there, I will jump at it, high prices and cold weather be damned! 🙂