Hampshire farmer Charlie Flindt has been juggling the run-up to harvest with preparation for a live performance in a band. Does a new career as a rock star beckon?
Agronomists are a curious breed. They wander round farms, mumbling strange chemical names as they go, juggling their clients’ crop budgets with the need to control another flush of silver-leaved widget-fundle grass. My agronomist, Tod, stopped mid-yomp a couple of months ago. “You’ve got an old workshop, haven’t you?” he asked.
“Possibly,” I replied cautiously.
“And has it got power, lots of room and no neighbours?”
I couldn’t deny it. But I was intrigued to know why he was asking.
“I’m in a band, you see,” he explained. “And we have a gig in a few weeks, and nowhere to rehearse. Can we use your workshop?”
Well I was only too pleased to help out, having been in a band 28 years ago. The only conditions I imposed were that I could bring my aged Roland electric piano up to The Shed (as it’s known) to play along quietly, and that the noise stopped by 10.30 there is in fact one neighbour – Steve the builder – who has moved out to the countryside for a bit of peace and quiet. And keeping on side with a local builder is always wise.
“No problem,” said Tod, and got back to spending another four-figure sum on my behalf.
A couple of days later, we gathered for the first rehearsal. There was Dave the Bass, pumping out smooth blues bass-lines that could be picked up by the Edinburgh Seismological Research Institute, Tod and his two sons on vocals and a trio of lead/rhythm guitars, John and his daughter Tessa doing more vocals, and me hiding in the corner with Roland the piano. What about the drums? We don’t worry about drums, I was told. Jake’s a bit good, and doesn’t need many rehearsals.
It became apparent fairly quickly that they were all good – really good. So it was an honour when, after a couple of songs, I was asked if I’d like to join them for the gig.
They thought that my piano playing fitted in well with their eclectic mix of songs, and I had also excelled at playing the cowbell in Jake’s absence for the opening of Honky Tonk Woman. Well, when I say “cowbell”, I mean an old beer can being hit with a 6in nail. Good enough. I’m almost sure that I wasn’t just being asked because I had supplied the rehearsal venue.
We practised hard every week, culling songs that seemed not to work, attempting one or two that showcased the piano, and slotting in ones that should be crowd-pleasers. And what a crowd it was going to be. We were pencilled in as the main act on the Saturday night of the Thomas Lord Beer Festival in the sleepy village of West Meon: Three days and nights of live bands and livelier beer.
So our audience was likely to be a couple of hundred music/beer lovers, probably past their fourth pint of Thrubble’s Old Grudfusters, and, therefore, likely to be highly critical – or comatose. Jake the drummer made it for one-and-a-half rehearsals, and was in fact fantastically good.
As the weeks went by, the messing about and joking got less, the starts and stops got tighter, the solos became more polished, and the nerves started to build.
And then, just as everything seemed to be going to perfect plan, a mini-crisis erupted. In fact, it could have come straight from The Archers: “There’s trouble in Ambridge when some locals seem less than thrilled with late-night music in the pub garden.”
Indeed, this was the case, and our 11.30 finish had been brought forward to 10pm. Some hurried negotiating with the other bands ensued, and the excellent No Through Road volunteered to set up indoors after 10pm – by-passing the outdoor music ban neatly. A reshuffle of songs took place we would open with a couple of slow numbers to break in the sober masses, and leave the rabble-rousing material till later. Now, it was back to rehearsing.
The day of the performance arrived. The winter barley had, helpfully, stayed green – quite handy since the service people hadn’t finished rebuilding the combine. At 7pm, with the sun still bright, and the crowd relatively sparse, we took to the stage, carefully, since it was a bit wobbly. Sure enough, things started quietly.
Then, as the evening went on, the beer flowed, the marquee filled, and we eight members of the Thomas Lord Old Gits warmed to our task. By the time Jake had over-enthusiastically put the pedal through the bass drum, the dancing and sing-alongs had started. How the girls in the crowd cheered as I stumbled my way through that famous opening chord of I Will Survive.
We steamed through the songs so fast that we had time for a couple of unrehearsed ones. The first I knew of them was Tod’s cry of “Runaway in E minor – OK, Charlie?”
I gave the thumbs-up, and then surreptitiously turned my volume control down a bit. On the dot of 10pm, we were finished all that hard work vanishing into the sleepy West Meon night, and Macmillan Cancer Relief were a few quid richer.
On Sunday morning, as the church bells sounded over the Hampshire countryside, we took all our stuff down, rolled up the cables, drank strong coffee and wolfed bacon butties.
Roland the piano made his way back into the farm office, one chair-swivel away from the desk, ready to be used as therapy when form-filling gets a bit too much. Now the show’s over, it’s time to get back to little matters like harvest – and paying my agronomy and agrochemical bills.
But next time Tod and I are stomping round the farm, and he suggests that I try using Abfeb-Ceedag I’ll know better than to assume it’s some new wonder fungicide it could just as easily be a chord sequence. I’d better get on and practise it for next year’s Beer Festival – if I’m asked.