Looking out into the darkness from a high place, across a river – the hundred thousand lights are engulfed in rain. A warm rain like a cat that curls around every corner, a quiet voice from a more subtle world. The musical life has brought me here, far from my ancient hills, round, green and lightly peopled. Last week I journeyed the Long Mynd – heather purple and tawny brackened, rocks far older than any of us creatures – to a high moorland valley in the shade of the Stiperstones. The festival site clings to the wooded hillside, winked at by the Devil’s Chair and on the wind still the cry of a red haired innocent, lost in the mines. Farmer Phil’s festival was still unfinished when we arrived, old farmers in tractors and diggers carrying buildings suspended on chains, as if Dorothy’s Oz had been re-visioned by Mad Max. The band and I sat in the Vintage Tea Tent for hours, served by lovely, long suffering tea ladies as we waited for our venue to be built. We had a wonderful gig full of pine trees and feedback, as the engineers struggled to make it all work – somehow profoundly satisfying, playing on a heap of dirt on a hillside, to an assortment of hippies and farmers, push chairs and mobility carts, even a tiny Scooby Doo in a Mystery Machine, made with love by her Dad. It is great playing in Bangkok – the people are so warm and welcoming and I love it when, as today, the world disappears in the rain. But Farmer Phil’s? It is important to me that these hills are my home.
After this night of whiskey and wildness – a deep country cyber-billy experience, half Mad Max, half the Archers – I drove with the sunrise out for the Shrewsbury Flower Show – we were for a smaller stage, Bellowhead for the main. Long thin ridges broke taupe and golden out of wide patchwork farmland, before rolling back into the depths, like ancient and enormous sea creatures about some mysterious business. The Flower Show was bouncered and Burburry’d, blazered and Panama crowned. That kind of Englishness that is a thin velvet skin over the iron fist of finance. Like nothing else music seems to walk between the worlds, welcome (if not as equally at home) with rich and poor, for the sake of a voice and a guitar.