Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Wytchazle Northern Tour

                       Wytchazle Tour – “Major success” “Musical Phenomenon of the Decade” “Pure Joy”. North of England correspondent Hugh Janus reports.

The duo Wytchazle has just completed what the musical world is already hailing as the tour of the decade, covering far flung international territories as diverse as the North & the North East. Gruelling and exhilarating in equal measure, the members have emerged feeling exhausted and energised after possibly the biggest event in their collective musical lives.

“I just cannot believe it” said a glowingly triumphant Daisy Windsor, songwriter extraordinaire, fresh from delivering occasional flashes of sublime melodic poetry between, typically, 73-80 minute spoken word explanatory introductions. “Even though I’ve enjoyed continued success over the last few years, this definitely tops anything I could have imagined. The future now looks very rosy”. Daisy started the tour delivering a mere 4 minutes of song introductions on average, which some would credit as highly acceptable. But, largely due, she believes to audience response, she has worked up to verbal rhapsodies often topping 2 hours between songs.

Tour manager Gazza L. Ford admits. “This tour has changed my life”. Fighting back a tear, he goes on, “There have been moments when I’ve felt my insides turning upside down, so strong have been the reactions within me”. He adds “It’s going to take many weeks to get over it”.

This tour of tours began auspiciously enough, taking in a wide variety of venues between west and east Belper. Saturday’s gig at the Old King’s Head began nervously; a ticketed concert style layout, hundreds of seductive candles, a sophisticated audience accustomed to perfection. All this had the intrepid performers literally pooing into their socks. However, once underway, Daisy commanded the venue as if it were her own living room. The tense expressions in the audience giving way to rolling eyes, lolling tongues and moans of delight; she had them literally eating out of her hand.

“I knew this audience was on our side the moment they didn’t throw anything at us” quipped Daisy. She went on, “It was the best possible start for the tour. We were ready for east Belper after this”(she punches the air and jumps onto a table).

But was east Belper ready for Wytchazle? Setting up gear for that night’s gig, sound designer and road manager Gazza remembers a bizarre and startling incident. Guitar & keys man Rob was proudly displaying his new capo, when suddenly, without warning he raised his guitar high above his head and wearing a crazed manic grin, brought it crashing to the stone flagged floor, splintering his beloved axe into a thousand pieces. “It was surreal” mused Gazza. “I can only think he developed, there and then, an uncontrollable urge to emulate the great Pete Townshend. It’s a pity the gig hadn’t actually started with more people watching. I think they should definitely keep it in the set.”

Nonetheless, Wytchazle triumphed in east Belper. The venue was intimate and the crowd was in joyful mood. The band left with happy memories.

After a sound sleep, refreshed and indeed excited by the fortunes of unknown adventures ahead, the duo headed northwards into realms of Derbyshire hitherto unexplored. “We must call in to see the 9 ladies” insisted Rob. Daisy, fearing a stop at a local bordello, was hesitant. “No, don’t worry”, said Rob. “The 9 ladies are ancient”. This didn’t reassure the others who were, by now, convinced that Rab was some kind of weirdo with unnatural pursuits. “They are a stone circle you plebs” snorted Rub. The stop proved worthwhile. Material for songs poured forth from the megaliths; mists on the horizon appeared, echoes of ancient wisdoms and the muses of sorcerers formed visions and daydreams in the minds of the travellers. Reverberations of past times transported their waking imaginations into ecstasies of esorteric exhortations, frasmotic and compunctuous at the revelations of wisdoms of the elder epochs. They all stood spellbound. “I’m bloody starving” barked Gazza. Then Tugg barked as well. The spell was broken.

All agreed that the Derbyshire gigs had been a major triumph and that the credit was due in large part, to the organisational work of Steve and Ann McAllister, the highly experienced promoters who had set up these gigs as their own first experience of promoting. “This surpasses anything we have yet achieved in twenty years” remarked Steve. The general opinion was that the couple had found new talents and should pursue further ventures of this sort. “Christ, if you got bands people actually wanted to see, you‘d be laughing” advised Rob sagaciously.

Of course, in every tour there comes a time when band members start to meet exhaustion, physical and mental. A break is needed. Performers can take only so much punishment on the road. So it was that after 2 gruelling gigs which pushed the duo to the very limits of endurance, rest and respite were sought at the Waterside Campsite in downtown Edale. Here, miles from the pressures of constant gigging and the incessant demands of autograph hunters, the duo and road crew took a very welcome and much needed break. Rob sought to cure his sore neck, which made movement from the knees up very difficult. Daisy was enduring a recurrence of “singer’s back”, needing round the clock massage and Jack Daniels. Gazza surpassed all the others with a spectacular outbreak of “Peak District Poo & Puke Syndrome”. He observed “It felt the morning after like I’d been beaten all night long with baseball bats, I was in such agony”. This was quite perceptive of Gazza, because, unbeknown to him, while he slept soundly, the other members of the tour, tired of his incessant narcoleptic moanings, did in fact beat him up with baseball bats, brought along for impromptu games of rounders. Even Tugg, Gazza’s faithful 4 legger was off colour, necessitating a hurried visit to Derbyshire’s foremost veterinarian, Walter “dogbreath” Deepdale.

“We hoped to find true peace here”, observed Annie, the tour nurse and Rob’s wife and driver. “Instead it was a hellhole of disease and despair”.

Rob took a more sanguine view. “ I knew it was a friendly campsite” he said, leaning over the 5 bar gate fronting their field. “The site manager’s dog was very attentive to my trousers, causing me to observe – Oh, he can smell my two, I expect. Rupert & Bertie they are called. It wasn’t until we left days later that I felt I should explain that Rupert & Bertie were, in fact, dogs.”

Daisy meanwhile had struck up an instant rapport with the lady who ran the campsite; the common interest being rare breeds of birds. Noticing the several varieties of hen running about the field, Daisy plucked up courage to enquire further into the breeding habits of the lady in question. “Eeh, by eck we have all sorts” she said “But the main business nowadays is our Yorkshire Pterodactyls. 12 foot wingspan they have. Mind you, when we let them out we have to lock the chickens up for obvious reasons. The eggs go well with the campers, especially the outward bound groups. I mean, one egg can feed up to 20 campers in a sitting,” She made Dainty promise not to tell, however, as the authorities round about were not terribly sympathetic to rare breed management. “One got out once and ate a hang glider, complete with pilot” she remarked ruefully. “I suppose they won’t put up with that sort of thing for long”.

It was time to move swiftly onwards. Thousands of eager fans awaited the duo at the Green Dragon, Hardraw. There was an easy and comfortable route to North Yorkshire along flat motorways, with convenience stops aplenty, but no, the band instead, once again, chose pain. The route West of the Pennies was sought, taking in illustrious destinations such as Holmefirth, Keighley and Skipton, narrowly skirting LA, Quebec, Tokyo, Oolam Bathar  and New York. It was tough terrain. 1 in 4 hills were everywhere. A fact not missed by Dairy – “Gazza wanted to prove something. It’s so like him to shun the easy option. He wanted to show off his clutch control I think, because we had no working handbrake on the van”. There was one sticky moment when, just outside of Keighley, a learner stalled his car on a steep 1 in 3 incline, causing Gazza to slide backwards down the 1 in 2 hill at astonishing speed, nearly wiping out the entire population in the street before screeching to a halt near the bottom of the 1 in 1 slope. “I was always in control” he said immediately afterwards, wiping sweat from his brow and hurriedly changing his trousers.

Hardraw hoved into view and the duo braced itself. This venue had a fearsome reputation for excellence. Grown men had cried before the knowledgeable and demanding regulars, who as always dressed smartly and characteristically in traditional garb as, variously, redundant mill workers, disenfranchised citizens and beaten farm labourers. Others wore more conventional dress, but it was clear that this was an audience of folk music devotees. The performance, they knew, had to be of the highest order. Meeting the band was long time friend and supporter Yorkshire Dougie, who the had duo met a few days previously in 1978, carving trees into large pieces of furniture near a lay-by in Suffolk.

“Dougie is a really great guy” smiled Dainty. “He thought so much of us that he brought us here. It was he and he alone who created this opportunity for us.” Dougie was indeed on hand to meet the band on its arrival. After cordial exchanges they had a beer exchange. And then another and another. Doug liked his pint. He proved to be a genial Yorkshireman, quietly spoken and self effacing and although passionate about his native Yorkshire, he extolled its charms and virtues in a disarmingly understated fashion. “God’s country. Best bloody place in the world”. He kept referring to Gazza as shandy-boy, because of his southern origins and Gary, to his great credit, refrained several times from punching Dougie’s northern lights out, as some southerners might have thought appropriate retaliation under circumstances of acute provocation, choosing instead to cheerily laugh off our playful host’s cleverly disguised chummy banter. Gary is a pure gentleman who knew, as did the rest, that Dougie’s heart was in the right place.

The gig was to be the following night, so the band made camp. Hardraw was famous as the home of England’s highest single drop waterfall. A short stroll was made to see it. It was high and it was wet. Ironically, the campsite next to it was devoid of running water.  There were taps, but no water came out of them. “You’d think there’d be a working tap or something” observed Annie. “They’ve got a huge waterfall, after all”. The irony of the situation powerfully engulfed the members of the party. They all wept openly.

The evening proved a greater success than anyone thought possible. The audience swooned with delight, metaphorically carrying the performers, shoulder height out of the hall chanting their names. “Wytchazle, wytchazle” they cried. The duo was first on a bill of 4 acts and the success was amplified by the realisation that they were the evening’s ”ice breakers”. They left the stage to tumultuous applause indeed and Annie hugged Rob in congratulation as he came off noisily.

They slept soundly that night in their respective camper vans. Daisy and Gazza had chosen a nice big purple one, refitted for the occasion and sparing no comfort. It was lined luxuriously with leopard skin, the seats were covered with pink crushed velvet and a green farmhouse Aga nestled comfortably along the side. The refitted bathroom boasted a Mira 7 speed power shower and a pampus bidet. Flooring throughout was waxed walnut parquet. Tugg also travelled in style, his own feathered plush lined basket having been neatly installed behind the jaccuzzi, complete with soft tone lighting and his favourite piped music. Rob and Annie travelled light in their Bedford Bambi, a mere 21 inches long and barely a foot tall, but nonetheless capable of housing in comfort 2 adults, 2 dogs, a guitar, a bazouki and a banjo. Sleep did not always come easily in such a small space however and at odd times of the night the sounds of strumming escaped from the diminuitive vehicle.

Northumberland beckoned next. The drive northwards proved an enjoyable and easy one. There was only one brief holdup when Rob & Annie became separated from Gazza and Daisy. (Apparently, an articulated lorry carrying 73 tons of Kettles chips (slightly salted variety, the ones in the white bags) had jack knifed off the road, scattering its contents all across the motorway. Daisy was seen some moments later being dragged away from the wreckage, mouth full of the said merchandise, clawing at the road with bleeding fingernails and crying uncontrollably). The destination was Bellingham, in fact, the Bellingham Festival. Dainty had friends here, the Festival’s chief organisers, Fiona and Paul. On arrival at the venue it was noted that the whole place was buzzing with people, mainly musicians, carrying cases of every description. The first gig was to be at the Town Hall, a charming 1930 something venue dating from Tudor times, which exuded the kind of easy charm associated with tea and biscuits and dinner ladies. Thankfully, all three were  present. The set went very well once again, the audience proving as warm as the tea and toast. The duo left the stage, (built in late Jacobean style with pithy overtones of Ogden Nash) broke down their gear quickly, as another band was due on any minute (dressed in Regency peasant livery) and were greeted with a free lunch, a brave move on the part of the organisers, who were quite obviously, blissfully unaware of Daisy and Gary’s formidable reputation at the dinner table. Still, in true festival spirit, profit was not pre eminent in their minds. The people of Northumberland were proving truly generous in spirit and in deed.

Back at camp, the band pulled in opposite a tall imposing grey stone building nestling near to the home and studio of Paul & Fiona. “That’s a nice looking hotel” observed Rob. “4 star at least by the look of it. Look at the quality of that stone work”. “Well, you know” chimed in Daisy, “This is a land of masons”. The others had, at the beginning of the tour, thought Rob incapable of lasting out in a camper van assuming that, sooner or later, he would slope off to some 5 star refuge. They were wrong. Rob had stoically resisted thus far and was not about to crack up. “But I’m quite happy roughing it in the camper” he objected, “even though it’s only 7 feet long and 5 feet high”. In fact it was Gazza who visited the hotel first, noting with some joy that the premises contained a swimming pool and sauna, which were available to non residents at a very reasonable price and, as he had suffered yet another attack of “PDP&P” (see earlier reference) the previous night, was eager to avail himself of this soothing and refreshing experience in order to restore some bodily equalibrium. The previous night’s attack was in truth a seriously nasty one. If there was to be a further one, then new baseball bats would have to be obtained, the old ones having started to crack up. “I’m going over for a sauna and swim if you fancy joining me” he remarked to Rob, who didn’t hesitate. The girls chose to sit out the invitation, preferring instead to stay on camp. It was Rob’s first ever sauna and as he stepped out onto the poolside afterwards he quipped “God, it’s like a Bangalore Indian restaurant without air conditioning in there”. Reb had unknowingly entered non PC hell. He turned to the pool, ready to plunge in and noticed that it had only one occupant, a demure Indian lady, who chose not to remain, leaving instantly. Afterwards, suitably refreshed, Rob returned to the 20 something foot long Bambi camper and Gary focused on his large purple one.

Their gig the following day was on the festival’s main stage. It was an impressive sight. An enormous audience had assembled and once again, the duo tried hard to turn on the usual magic, but, on this occasion things felt a little restrained.. “It’s always a bit stiff at these type of dos” observed Daisy packing her guitar away. Rob agreed. “A bit concert like if you ask me. Maybe it’ll be better up at the smaller tent”. Later that day, they were due to perform in venue B, a small marquee erected just behind the hotel. It indeed proved to be an altogether more relaxing and engaging experience, the audience once again showing its full appreciation this time in more daring and tactile form, with actual physical contact with the emotionally charged performers. “Their hands were all over us. I could cry” observed Rob.

On the road, it must be admitted, performers survive day to day without the many comforts of home and most will cheerfully acknowledge and accept this inevitable state of affairs as part and parcel of becoming famous pampered superstars. However, notwithstanding all this, a special mention must be made of the Happy House chinese take away, the one comfort of this particular road. Everyone has to make a living, it’s true, but if there is a worse Chinese take away in the whole kingdom, then it must have sunk to standards which challenge belief. Rod and Annie, in a state approaching despair, ventured one night to the said establishment where they did, in total innocence it is true, order a take away meal. The menu looked extensive and inviting. “Look at these prices”. Said Rob. “They are really steep. This place must be seriously good.” This drove Rub to order extravagantly and the expectation of a fabulous experience grew accordingly. After all, high prices reflect quality and demand, right? Wrong. When they got the meal back to camp, blood curdling gurgling noises of despair and chagrin greeted the other campers as lids came off containers to reveal a dungeon of culinary horror and hell. Inedible does not come close. Worse was to follow as, driven by acute hunger, they actually went on to taste the unholy concoction. The experience lasted only seconds however, the unhappy diners moving swiftly to close lids, seal away containers and deposit the entire disaster outside the door of the camper. “Twenty Six quid” grieved Rob. “Twenty Six bloody quid”. He had to throw an arm around Ann, who by this time stood, tears welling her already reddening eyes, quivering in an uncontrollable frenzy of  unsatisfied peckishness. Rob shook his head in resignation. “Happy sodding House. Happy for who, I wonder?” Obviously, it was happy for the owner, who by now had the loot of the hapless and hungry would be diners, with a shiny Mercedes parked outside to show how successful he was.

The following morning dawned cool and bright. All of the party were up early, as were indeed the dogs, already sniffing around the Chinese carrier bag from last night, complete with all its contents. With a gesture of still frenzied disgust, lids were torn off the containers once again and all 3 three dogs were treated to an unexpected Chinese. “Look at this. Eat at the Happy House. 3 dogs can’t be wrong” joked Rob.

“I should recommend this place to Rick Astley” snorted Rob. “I’d love to hear them pronounce his name”.

The next afternoon found the band on the road once again. This time the destination was Sunderland. Black and white stripes were exchanged for red and white ones as the party sped inexorably towards Wearside. The Smugglers Inn in Roker was the venue, right on the sea front. They arrived with time to spare. Dairy and Gazza took Tugg for a walk on the beach, while Rob pitched in to some cooking, producing a quick curry for the hungry travellers. An hour later, with mouths still on fire from Rob’s unrestrained use of hotter than expected chillies, the band ventured into the pub. There were to be several performers. The staff were friendly and helpful and the audience turned out to be, possibly, the best of the whole tour. The band was delighted to see Derek, a singer songwriter known to Dainty and Gazza from a previous visit to the North East. Dirk had in fact also visited the pair in Suffolk, playing some gigs locally. He it was who had arranged this particular gig and it was a belter. A strange, larger than life character, Derek proved to be a big hearted guy with a razor sharp wit, who succeeded in lighting up any room he walked into. “Yes” he would remark “this is the light switch” reaching up the wall to a small array of plastic controls. He often wore a distinctive dress, but when he went out his wife made him take it off and put on mans’ clothes. Derek and his family extended true hospitality and generosity to the band, for which they were very grateful.

The following night found the duo in Alnwick, as the guests of Paul Smith on his Lionheart Radio show. Daisy and Rob were put at ease by Paul’s relaxed style, sometimes forgetting completely that they were on the radio and in fact falling asleep several times. The show was a two hour one and the pair played several songs featured on the tour. As usual, Dairy showed herself to be a broadcast natural, with her radio voice and breathtaking sense of timing and turn of phrase. She had no difficulty in talking fluenty with pause. (Gazza nods vigorously in agreement).
Derek and family afterwards hosted an unexpected supper party for the band at their home, Derek keeping his enthralled guests in stitches late into the night with tales of Gordie heroism and amusing shipwrecks. The tired guests retired to their vans happy and satisfied.

The following day was a day off! There was a gig, but later that evening. The day was spent visiting the impressive edifice of Bamburgh castle, because it was cheaper than Alnwick castle to get in. Daisy and Ann visited the conveniences first, leaving Rob and Gazza, wearing his hi vis jacket to approach the main door. On sight of Gazza’s jacket, the curator instantly assumed the two men to be council workers arriving to get stuck into some building renovations, hurrying them to the back of the building and forcing them to rebuild the entire North Tower before their lady friends returned. “That was bloody hard work’ said Gazza. “I’ll think twice before I wear this jacket to a municipal building or place of historic interest again.” “We didn’t even get a cup of tea” rued Rob. “Jesus, you’d think with one of those jackets you’d get a cup of tea!”

Seahouses is not a very famous place. It is, after all over 3 thousand, six hundred and twenty miles from downtown Manhattan and over 6 thousand from the neon delights of Tokyo. However, that night it became the most famous place on the planet due in no small part to the combined appearances of Wytchazle and Derek’s own band We Steal Flyers. Wytchazle emerged into the night late, heads spinning. “Wow,” said an overwhelmed Rob, “It’s still raining”. Daisy put the evening into greater perspective. “This is the last gig in Northumberland for this tour and after this we shall be heading South. I can’t add anything to that” she told waiting reporters. The Schooner in Seahouses is now well on its way to becoming a famous venue. Rob and Annie had booked into a nearby campsite earlier that day, but on arriving back late after the gig found themselves locked out. “Bloody hell” said Rob. There was nothing for it but to speed back to Alnwick scrabble club, where they had stayed previously, the club’s facilities double up for campers, with tents scoring evenly but with campervans and caravans worth double points. “Words fail me, but thank goodness for the scrabble club” said Ann. Scrabble club chiefs said that the club welcomed campers at any hour and failed to understand the attitude of some organisations who lock the gates at 10 pm, disallowing words of complaint. “You have to word your notices very carefully. We literally spell things out for our camping guests.” said the chairman who was, unfortunately unavailable for comment.

It was with a hint of sadness that the party turned Southwards that following morning. The tour wasn’t over. There was in fact a date at the Bear in Alderwasley, Derbyshire to do, supporting Boo Hoo, a Dean, excommunicated years before for his involvment in the pithily ironic religious scandal band called the Bible. But the travellers were now heading South in the direction of home and this fact, coupled with the duo’s undoubted successes scored across the North and North East conjured a sense of wistful loss. Indeed, speeding Southwards in their 75 foot Bambi, Rob and Ann were already summarising the tour. “It’s been a hugely important experience.” said Rob, from the window of the 90 foot camper van. “We return maybe to a hero’s welcome back home in Suffolk, but we have to keep our feet on the ground”. Daisy, meanwhile was said to be very emotional. “I’ve always said there is sunshine above the clouds. I’ll try to catch the moon and tomorrow’s sunrise will show me to be the coolest girl in school, Ruby” she told reporter Ruby Smith.

This stage of the tour brought in a welcome return to the Waterside campsite in Edale. “We were ecstatic to be back” quipped Gazza. “Unfortunately we were driven out on the first night because the whole of Manchester had arrived for a noisy party”. This was artistic license however, as it has been known for some time that the whole of Manchester cannot possibly camp on a one acre field in Derbyshire, but the jist was taken. Later that day however, in a bold move, the whole of Manchester was asked to leave and so the weary band were able to, once again move back in.

Alderwasley was a difficult gig. In fact it was difficult to find. But the travellers found it eventually. Steve and Ann McAllister were there to welcome the duo and to host a fantastic lunch event for us all. The two Anns disappeared, only to reappear later having done some shady dealing in ceramic reptiles and chocolates. Boo Hoo, (a Dean) arrived and the gig was under way. Once again, as was thematic for this tour, Wytchazle triumphed, so much so that the organisers announced that the duo would indeed be invited back. Boo Hoo reads like a who’s Hoo of what’s what in acoustic music and he invited Rob up to share the stage in a couple of numbers. Rob was pleased to help out noting applause levels rocketed significantly after their joint offerings. “I can only think this is because of the massive success of the tour” said Rob, panting heavily after coming off.

Diary was well pleased with the tour. “I’m well pleased with the tour” she said. “Now I’m looking forward to seeing my chickens again and resting up for a while before planning our next world tour of the south west”. However, the duo cannot rest completely. A string of gigs await them on their return and plans are in place for merchandise drives and media commitments. The world is, as they say, at their feet now. Already, the tour of the next decade is being planned for next month. Any regrets from the experience? Daisy summarises, “ You really learn about life and people on this kind of tour”. “Yes” joined Rab, “ and you learn about yourself from other too. I new sod nothing before setting off. Now everyone is telling me I know sod all!” We await the next instalment of “Wytchazle on the Road” in the very near future.