There Are Places
My life has been quite a nomadic one. I was born just outside of Brighton and spent my formative years being dragged from pillar to post by a father so restless we might as well have been properly itinerant. Eventually my mother and I (and later my brother too) settled down in Taunton, the county town of Somerset. What a bizarre place to grow up. Thirty years ago it was a quaint market town with a sense of its own history but an unfortunate undercurrent of barely suppressed violence. Today it is something of an eyesore which has been stripped of its market as well as its sense of history. Sadly it retains that undercurrent of barely suppressed violence.!
In my teens and twenties I travelled around England quite a bit, largely by standing at the side of a road and sticking my thumb out. Hitch-hiking was a brilliant way to meet people, step inside their lives for a short while, and to reach a destination extremely cheaply. Often I had no particular destination in mind when I went hitching, and would end up a stranger in many a strange land. I did possess a means by which to swiftly change my status from outsider to accepted welcome guest, however: an acoustic guitar. !
On my longer hitch-hiking excursions away from home, the guitar was not just a way to make new friends pretty darn quickly, it was a source of revenue. Busking is one of the purest musical pleasures I have ever known. It is so honest. If somebody likes what you are playing while you stand on the street, then they might well throw a coin or two into your hat. If they don’t, they won’t. And plenty of others hopefully enjoy the music too, even if they do not have any loose change or time enough to fish it out of their purses or pockets. No fuss, no hype, no glamour, no glitz. Given that my actual career at the time was as a semi-professional and then professional musician, busking was a blessed relief from all the things I found so distasteful about desperate popularity contest which was (and remains) the music industry.!
Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Bristol, Plymouth, Southampton, Derby; these are just some of the cities I can reel off from the top of my head in which I racked up musical adventures and made new friends. There were plenty of smaller towns and even villages too, many of which I can no longer recall the names of. One summer I hitch-hiked my way down to the South of France and back again with a friend. On that trip I added another means of revenue which was to approach managers and owners of the many cafes and restaurants France is awash with and ask them whether I could play for their patrons in return for some food. Given that some of the patrons also often threw money in my direction I was not only singing for my supper but storing up funds for tomorrow’s supper too. !
I am older now and travel less. It’s not that I have become disinterested in travelling; far from it. In recent years I’ve gone further afield and dragged my guitar to Ireland, Germany, Holland and even Dartmouth. But middle age renders the uncertainties and the physical toll of hitch-hiking far less appealing which means travelling has to be a much more organised business. Tickets and transportation timetables and places to stay and spending money and insurance and, and, and…It’s all rather grown up. I’m not really the world’s greatest at being grown up. In my soul I am still the same flighty adolescent who used to wake up at five in the morning and think “Hmm, I fancy heading towards Leeds today and seeing what happens.”! Whether or not I ever brave the highways and byways with my thumb and my guitar again, I have a wealth of memories of places and people. And I guess I have proven that in one
respect at least I am my father’s son – I clearly have as restless a backside as he has.