“No way!” I exclaimed on the phone. “,Yes way” Dave Agnew (the artistic director of the Met) replied. “Let me think mate. Do we want to support Fairport Convention?”. Does the Pope blah blah blah blah blah? And so ended the conversation that lead to what has become easily the most treasured night of my musical career, such as it is. Truth be told, at the time I wasn’t really a fan of Fairport Convention and I did not fully appreciate just how large an honour it was to be asked to support such a legendary band at such a prestigious venue as the Met in Bury (my home town too – Gosh!!). Of course I’d heard the name but I hadn’t heard much of their music. A quick conversation with just about anyone I knew in music put that right. “They are legends and they were formed before you were born!!”, just about sums up the tenor of the response to my enquiries. I’m sure that somewhere, at that time, the legendary Richard Thompson was making literally no enquiries about an unknown Manchester band named “fish on a stick”, later to be “fishonastick”.
Now at the time we were struggling to answer that question. What kind of music do we play? “You play folk rock” said Dave confidently – he’d just been to see us playing at local club in South Manchester called the Iguana. “That’s one of the reasons you’ll be a good support for Fairport”. So now I knew a bit more about Fairport Convention – they played folk rock and now I also knew that apparently, so did we. “They don’t just play it and they’re not just one of the best folk rock bands in history” said Paul our drummer “they invented folk rock – it didn’t even exist before them”. Ok I get it. This is a big deal.
Just of the cuff, and serving to ramp up the pressure nicely, Dave also mentioned that we would have space in the auditorium (OMG it has an auditorium – I’ve never played anywhere with an auditorium!!) to sell our merchandise. I replied “of course”. My brain said “bugger”. Dave continued, you know “cd’s”, brain continued “got none”, Dave continued, “t-shirts”, brain continued “nope”, Dave, “posters?”, brain, “ha! Course not”. What I then heard myself actually say (all casual like) was “course, we’ll bring all our stuff”.
In the next 12 weeks, while rehearsing twice a week and working in our day jobs we managed to pull together a set of 10 of our best tunes, 30 A1 posters, 50 t-shirts and 50 cd’s. Somewhere along the line the gig got moved from Bury Met to a bigger venue in Radcliffe to “accommodate a larger audience” – gulp!
So came the night of Thursday 17th november 2005. We threw our 4 selves, our kit, a huge guy called Simon (random I now but all bands should have one), one sound engineer, one cameraman and one journalist into the back of a transit van.
We arrived, we sound checked, we waited. FC arrived 2 hours later and sound checked and were awesome. They left the stage and went to their dressing room (WE HAD A DRESSING ROOM TOO) and then 45 minutes later every single seat in the venue was occupied and we were walking out onto the stage in front of them. I just kept telling myself that everything would be ok. Well what can I say. I’ve never been so proud of the band I was in, in my life. We nailed it. We played each song well, we played each song with passion and we blew the audience away. From the pin drop moments and beautiful vocal harmonies of the opening song “stars above” to the final glorious stomping finale of “victory”, it was just perfect (or that’s how it felt to me anyway).
As we were finishing the set I became aware that Fairport were watching us from the door of their dressing room at the side of the stage and as we walked back into our dressing room to the sound of blissful and affirming applause, who should pop their long haired, bespectacled heads around the door but none other than Ric Sanders and Chris Leslie. My first thought was that we’d done something wrong. Instead just nicely and quietly Ric said “nice set lads, can we buy a cd please?” Oh go on then, someone must have said as I was incapable of speech. Well they took one and we haven’t heard for them since but even if they were just being nice it still showed a touch of class that I shall remember for the rest of my days. We watched their awesome set which bristled with talent, passion and original musicianship all the way through. It was a privilege to be there and an honour to support them.
The final amazing cherry on the evening’s already delicious cake came when my daughters informed me that we had sold out of the CD’s and half the posters and three quarters of the t-shirts. I truly did not expect that and it actually trebled our fee for the evening.
The morning after the night before still didn’t diminish the euphoria for me. The hangover now just further evidence of one of the most, if not the most, memorable nights of my life. Then an odd thing started to happen. I was updating our website with a little personal memory of the night for posterity when my inbox chimed and up popped this:-
Just writing to say how much I enjoyed your support for Fairport at Radcliffe! My friend and I could have watched you all night, it’s really refreshing to hear something different for a change! I’ve subscribed to your mailing list, and look forward to seeing you soon!
Then 5 minutes later;
What a fantastic night last night at Radcliffe civic hall. WE came to see Fairport Convention; but you really made our night. Loved the rhythm of all your tracks, good sound, and the vocalist was fantastic. Like the down to earth approach you guys have instead of the posing stuff usually associated with most local bands. What you see is what you get with you guys, and no messing. You have a distinct style and we were very impressed. Love your style, and will be back for more. Bought your cd, and not disappointed. Did the vocalist write all the tracks? Any covers? Great entertainment…… WE want more…of Fish on a Stick!
Karen H (2nd row back )
Then after about another 15 minutes;
Was at the Fairport concert last night and just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your set. Bet the audience was rather older than your used to – I’m 49 and felt young (well pretty young) – but as far as I could gauge everybody around us enjoyed it too. Admittedly I don’t get to many concerts these days, other than seeing Fairport whenever they are in the area, but thought you were the best support I’ve seen in a long time. Bought your live CD and have listened to it all through twice already !! By the way a work colleague thought you sounded a bit like Gomez. All the best for the future and I’ll keep a look out for more of your gigs in the North Manchester area.
And then 10 minutes after that;
Hi, I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your set when you supported Fairport at Radcliffe Civic Suite, did not even realise there was a support so it was a bonus, thoroughly enjoyable performance, thanks. Just wondering if you toned it down a bit for us old fogeys, ooops! folkies????
You get the picture. By the end of the day we had received a load more emails like this. Now someone clapping at the end of a tune is one thing, the legendary Fairport Convention coming in after your gig to ask to buy a CD is another, selling out all your CD’s etc on the night is yet another but the idea that so many people took the time to sit down, the day after the gig and make the effort to email and tell us how much they enjoyed it made (and still makes) my heart swell with pure pride.
I replied to every single one and I’m pleased to say that all the people who wrote to us on that day are still in touch and still come to gigs and buy my music.
As I know you are someone who has already subscribed I can at least try and give you a flavour of that feeling by giving you this download for free – no strings attached.
It is THE live recording of the opening track “Stars Above” from that very gig.
This recording gives me massive goose bumps even today. As I say “Good evening we’re fish on a stick” at the start of the track it just takes me right back to that feeling and that sensation of standing there in front of hundreds of silent spectators with the weight of their expectation (or not?) closing in.
If you like the track you might also consider checking out Another Lifestyle Will Catch Your Eye. It’s my latest album and it’s full of alt-folk and folk rock tunes that I’d like to think would make the folks at Fairport as impressed today as they were then.