Pebbles Of Destiny
If memory serves me right, it was the summer of 1998. I’d been struggling to get a band together for a while and it had been over a year since I’d last been in a gigging band. I was in my mid-20s and still dreaming of becoming a rock star, but the reality of actually releasing a record seemed a million miles away.
It seemed that whenever I got a group of potential band members together, things were thwarted either by shift work or family commitments, or something, and I was just getting more and more frustrated with it all. There didn’t seem to be a particular shortage of musicians and I was hanging out with plenty of cool people at jam nights on a regular basis, but I just couldn’t seem to hook up with any like-minded individuals with the same kind of drive and ambitions that I had.
Without that vehicle for them, I hadn’t done any songwriting for a couple of years either, my efforts perpetually geared up towards trying to form a band. I was in a rut.
Well, that summer, I went on holiday to Sidmouth, in Devon, England. They have a cool folk festival week there every year, and it was on whilst I was there. You get musicians of all genres and street performers everywhere and it’s a great atmosphere. I had my acoustic guitar with me, although I wasn’t there to be performing, apart from at the guests’ concert they had at the end of the week at the hotel, where anyone can get up and do a turn. I was simply on holiday.
The first night there, I spent the night drinking with friends in our favourite pub, The Black Horse, and when it kicked out, my friends headed back to the hotel. But I decided to head down to the front and see what was going down. There were loads of people sat on the pebble beach chatting, so I decided to hang out there for a bit too.
There was this guy sat nearby, playing about with a guitar and I can’t remember which song for the life of me, but he was struggling to work out how to play it, and it happened to be something that I knew how to play. So, I offered to show him how the song was played and he handed me his guitar. I played a bit of the song and the guy told me to carry on, so I performed the song through and the group of people immediately around me applauded.
Then, the lad whose guitar it was said,
“Play something else.” Now anyone that knows me, knows that I don’t need asking twice when it comes to performing! So off I went playing songs – mostly well known sixties stuff – and gradually the attention of the crowd around us on the beach turned to me and everyone was singing along, and I was going down a storm! The vibe was awesome!
The next night I took my guitar out with me. We went to The Black Horse as usual and I asked if they minded me playing my guitar in there. They were more than happy, so I got out my guitar and did my thing. One or two people in there asked,
“Weren’t you the guy playing on the beach last night?” Once again, there was a great atmosphere and everyone was singing.
I did the same thing each night, except for one when I had a prior engagement, and I heard that they were disappointedly asking where I was in The Black Horse! It was a brilliant week. But, without a doubt the highlight was the exhilarating feeling I had performing that first night on the beach, with a crowd of complete strangers with me, singing along.
It was a watershed moment. I realised what I could do without a band behind me. In fact for getting everyone to sing along, which is probably the thing I like best of all in a performance, I think it’s better not to have a full band.
It wasn’t long afterwards that I saw Ray Davies of The Kinks, in concert, on his “Storyteller” tour. This, combined with my experience on Sidmouth beach, inspired me to forget about forming a band and to go it alone as an acoustic soloist.
Leap forward a decade and a half, two E.P.s distributed worldwide; many, many live performances; radio play on both sides of the Atlantic; and countless other musical experiences along the way….. it’s still that feeling on Sidmouth beach that sticks out in my memory. And that’s the feeling I still crave, whenever I perform.
Of course, writing and recording is hugely important too. That emotional outlet and the crafting of an idea. Creating an experience for the listener. But being a musician – for me at least – that’s about the sore, aching fingers; lugging the gear to and from gigs; the smells of stale beer and piss; replacing broken strings; hanging around to get paid; that elated, yet lonely and depressed feeling after a great gig; and every other seemingly insignificant detail which nevertheless defines what it is to be a performing musician.
But, most important of all, it’s you, the listener that makes it all worthwhile.
I look forward to many more, sometimes great, sometimes tough, but always worthwhile experiences along this musical journey. Here’s to hoping that you are part of that journey.
Thankyou for being a listener and making it all matter.