Music: The Soundtrack of My Life: Summer Holidays
By Leslie Herman Jones
ART TIMES Fall 2014
From the ritual tap of a Wedgewood pottery mug full of hot tea landing on my beside table’s chromed metallic coaster and the BBC Radio pips sounding the sixth hour, to the rocking and rolling of The Delta Breaks and the sultry sounds of Bella Collins and the Blue -- these were music to my ears which, contained in my 36-hour staycation to Wales’ small-but-perfectly-formed west coast, have become a significant chapter in the soundtrack of my life.
36 hours – that’s all it was. Our work-life balance this summer afforded us a one-day staycation, and our get-away was unplanned and completely spur-of-the-moment. There really is no other way here in the UK. If you plan an outdoor event too far in advance you run the risk of being rained out and that in a country which, absurdly enough, doesn’t typically have contingency rain dates, or offer rain checks.
As the August Bank Holiday weekend (equivalent to Labor Day in the USA) approached, we glanced at the forecast. Promising a very nice Saturday at most, we did a quick calculation of things-to-do squared over number-of-mouths-to-feed, then rounded off to the nearest whole number and got one.
Numerous phone calls on Friday night resulted in ‘no vacancies’, but luckily found a suite at Dove Cottage in Goodwick, Pembrokeshire on Airbnb, which we swiftly booked (www.airbnb.com; www.dovecottagebb.co.uk/). Maximising our time, we packed that night, slept fast, and head off on Saturday with the dawn chorus and a box of fresh-baked pastries from our local Portuguese bakery, Nata & Co. (https://twitter.com/natacouk).
The plan was simple: we would get up early and head west until the road ended, to the ferry-port town of Fishguard, then follow our noses, noting the big antiques centre in the area, and fantasising about a long, deep sleep on a sun-warmed blanket on a nearby beach.
Our little Renault Clio is still very new to us (the beautiful, big, old Honda Accord diesel Tourer with 170,000-plus miles on the clock had just died and got towed to Poland to be sold for parts). This transition took all our CDs into the house; hence we left the house that morning without stashing the Clio with music for the journey.
This piece didn’t start out as a confessional but, I have to admit that, while I love music, I also love the rhythms that the spoken word create; I relish the clatter, hum and buzz that everyday sounds around us make; and I am moved by the movement of noises inside my head; and the combination of all of these to produce soundscapes of day-to-day living.
Quite a lot of my writing is inspired by these -- soundscapes which become soundtracks and play a lead rather than supporting role in the work ( Stalemate, 1990). More recently, I am weakened by the power and synchronicity of the interaction between live radio and the thoughts in my head – the harmony created by the fusion of a particular theme I am working on and the serendipitous turning on and tuning in to live radio ( Paradiddle, 2014).
I look for and find music everywhere and in everything. So, not having music CDs was of no consequence: we listened to BBC Radio 4 morning talk shows http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04f89mc until we lost radio signal in the wilds of southwest Wales, and contented ourselves with talking to one another (for a while).
When we spotted a small brown road sign with a picture of a jug on it, we got excited. Follow that jug! The brown signs in the UK are tourist signs -- they indicate attractions and facilities, and usually display an icon and a worded description. This was just a brown sign with the white outline of a jug – how daring! But further on, over the river and through the woods, was another brown sign which read: Pottery. Mystery over, we parked in an empty grassy area/designated car park in a delightfully secluded spot called Wolfscastle, and ventured forth -- passing a picture postcard cottage and into the courtyard, where two more stone buildings formed an L-shape.
Unsure what or who we would find at 10am, a table of seconds beckoned, and then noticed the open door – and went into the studio and gallery. Madeline Cunningham, owner/artist, was as beautiful and charming in the morning light as the location and her handmade, hand-painted pottery collection. Wolfscastle Pottery also offers workshops www.wolfscastlepottery.co.uk.
In our short visit, we connected with Madeline in a meaningful way through an open and informative conversation – her son, a photographer she told us, is currently at Nevada’s Burning Man Festival www.burningman.com/, and her daughter had just left this site for the AberJazz Festival in Fishguard aberjazz.com/. Our ears pricked up at the mention of a jazz festival in the town we were heading for, and with the spirit of adventure still in first gear, we said goodbye and set off, hugging our ceramic cake plate and humming happily.
St Davids, an exquisitely tiny place with ‘city’ status because it is home to a Cathedral, was our next stop, where the silence was golden, and any voices heard were respectful whispers. As the Castlewales website tells us, ‘to understand part of the reason St. Davids is so special, you have to know a little about the history of the area. St. David is the patron saint of Wales. Legend claims he was born around 500 A.D. on the rugged Pembrokeshire coast of southwest Wales. He was the founder of a strict monastic order in the town that bears his name, and was the most influential clergyman in all Wales during the "Age of Saints." His place of birth and the cathedral built in his name became one of the most important shrines of medieval Christendom -- two pilgrimages to St. Davids equals one to Rome www.castlewales.com/stdavid.html. I’ve been to a service at St. Davids before. As a tourist this time, I was inspired by the ‘kneelers’ which bestowed the bottom rung of every chair in the Cathedral, each one a piece of handmade tapestry.
At a local charity shop in the town centre, where CDs were on sale, 3 for £1, instead of picking madrigals and cathedral choristers, we opted for the Fine Young Cannibals’ FYC: The Raw & The Good, 1988; NOW 50 and NOW 56 (from the Now That’s What I Call Music Chart Hits range), offering hits such as: Black Eyed Peas Where is the Love?, and Britney Spears I’m a Slave 4U, and gave our glove compartment something to sing about.
Wool remained front and centre for our next pit stop at Melin Tregwynt (Tregwynt Mill), in Castlemorris. Their designs reflect their Celtic roots, and they have supplied an impressive range of stores, hotels and fashion designers. Their workshops are brown-signed and, while they are off the beaten path, nothing is too far out of the way, and worth a visit.
It was only lunchtime when we arrived at our destination which was, at first sight, hauntingly quiet. First stop was to a music store brandishing closing down signs, where I got a great deal on a beautiful set of bongo drums for my son. But then all the other shops, including the antiques centre, were closed. We were keen to find out where the jazz action was, but agreed it was best to eat, and narrowed our choices down in this sleepy town to The Gourmet Pig or The Gourmet Pig www.gourmetpig.co.uk/.
The jazz festival was definitely the town’s main attraction, and that became blatantly obvious when we found a poster which guided us to The Royal Oak, situated on Fishguard Square, where the historic peace treaty between France and Britain was signed in 1797. The joint was jumping. Perched on the thick-recessed window ledge of this landmark pub, we could see the rest of our trip taking shape. We would pub hop and soak up the groove that was Aber Jazz.
Andrew Morris, the lead singer of the quintet called The Delta Breaks belted out blues, rock and soul covers – perfect at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon in August. Who can resist singing along to Mustang Sally? www.facebook.com/thedeltabreaks
And when you’ve wet your whistle with a beer or two and an opportunity to develop your musical skills presents itself in the shape of a blues harmonica workshop in the venue just down the road, you must promise yourself you will not miss it. The program told us that at 6pm at the Ffwrn (which is Welsh for oven), Rick Asherson of Debbie Bond & The Tru Dats would be offering ‘a practical introduction to cross harp blues harmonica, including rhythm and soloing elements. Suitable for beginners of any age or level and anyone who wants to extend their harmonica playing to the blues. Harmonicas in key of A will be for sale for £5.’
And so we did not (miss it). We spent a tenner on two bits of kit, got stuck right in, and had an absolute blast. It was a privilege to be taught by Rick, whose teaching style was accessible and who talent was abundant. And in the informal and friendly atmosphere that surrounded everyone and everything about this festival, we enjoyed chatting to Rick and Deb afterwards. Rick, originally from London and Deb, originally from California, live in Alabama, and they play the Alabama blues. We were sorry we would have to miss their gig, on late Sunday, but bought their CD, That Thing Called Love, and looked forward to adding it to our growing collection for the Clio. We enjoyed it, but I was disappointed that so little of Rick’s harmonica features on it http://www.debbiebond.com/.
Lobster was the catch of the day at Bar 5 www.barfive.com/, which we ate on the heated terrace overlooking the harbour, while chatting and gaining the acquaintance of another couple from Cardiff, then head back to The Royal Oak to hear The Rumblestrutters, a three-piece ‘jug’ band that play a mix of Memphis jazz, hokum blues and ragtime.
Had we not bumped into these other folk later on in the car park we would have missed their daughter’s gig the next day. After a superb breakfast in the home of John and Maryna at Dove Cottage, we decided to stay in town longer, heading back up by midday to hear Bella Collins at the Ffwrn.
At an eclectic venue that was also a bakery, serving freshly-made pastries, croissants, tea and coffee, as well as beer and savoury pies, Bella’s performance was the cherry on the cake www.facebook.com/bella.collins.blue. 36 hours packed with music, food, new friends and fun. I really must get out more.