We are so lucky to be doing something that results in us making friends with people throughout Britain and the world. Obviously, I’m aware that Britain is in the world (we’ve not had a referendum about that yet, although I dread to think of the result if we did; it already feels like we’re living on another planet.)
Folk music has brought us into contact with so many incredible people. I remember one particular time I was struck by the magnificent absurdity of our lives. We were walking through a small town in the Netherlands, which played host to a shanty festival that we had done for the last few years. As we walked through this little Dutch town, we were constantly bumping into people we recognised and who recognised us. People from all over Europe, who were also performing at the festival and who had become friends over the years. We were also frequently stopped by people who were local to the town and wanted to say hello, because they recognised us from previous years. I’ve lived in Hartlepool for the majority of my life, but I can easily walk through the town without meeting someone I know, but here we were in a town in Holland, being constantly approached by people.
Nowadays, folk festivals in Britain are like this too. It’s difficult for us to get anywhere on time at a folk festival, because we are constantly being stopped by people, who are either friends or fans who want to chat or just say hello. We’re late for so many soundchecks because of this. Obviously we can’t really use this as an excuse for our lateness. It’s probably not the wisest thing when you arrive at a soundcheck late, to greet the harassed sound team with the excuse that your lateness is down to being stopped to chat by hoards of fans. It may be true, but the idea of an apology is to show a modicum of humility, and this excuse doesn’t really help in that regard. “Sorry for keeping you waiting, but we’re just so damn popular.” So we normally just awkwardly apologise without giving an excuse. However, if there are any folk festival sound engineers reading this, then honestly, you don’t understand what it’s like. You might feel put out by us turning up late to our soundcheck, but you should try taking a walk in our shoes, and you’d soon find that your walk is periodically halted by people wanting to chat; and then you’d understand.
Most of the contact we have with a lot of these people is just very brief chats, because we are trying to get somewhere, and are already running late. Michael and Sean are able to see someone, know who they are, say hello, have a bit of relevant chat to that specific person or group of people and then move on. But for me, not being able to see, it’s a complete cavalcade of confusion.
What normally happens is that someone will stop us, Sean and Michael will say hello, there’ll be a bit of chat, and then we’ll have moved on, which normally coincides with me having just worked out who the person is. But it’s too late to engage in conversation because we’ve moved onto someone else. And everyone probably just assumes that I’m really rude and uninterested. And so it goes, sometimes for a whole hour – a whole hour of meting people, trying desperately to work out who they are, and then, just as I’ve racked my brains and pieced together the clues revealing who it is, they’ve gone and we’re on to someone else.
In fairness to Sean and Michael, they do try and tell me who people are, but often they don’t know their name, but just know who they are in terms of where we met and how we know them, which is enough to engage in conversation. But Sean and Michael don’t want to reveal to the other person that they don’t know their name, and so they can’t really, in earshot of the person, start saying to me, “it’s the really drunk bloke that we met in Huddersfield in 2014, who told us the anecdote about the goldfish.” Incidentally, there is no really drunk man from Huddersfield who told us an anecdote about a goldfish; I just made that up as an example. I’m not sure why goldfish was the first random thing that popped into my head. Any psychologists reading, feel free to interpret and leave your conclusions in a comment on this blog. But don’t go all Freudian on me, and tell me it means I want to have sex with my mother, because that is completely ridiculous and untrue. My mother is dead. If she were still alive than yes, you might be on to something. Oh, I’m sorry, I was trying to make a serious point about my social awkwardness and hang-ups, and I’ve ended up talking about incest.
The other confusing element is that because we are a band who have performed for years at folk festivals, we are known by a lot of people who we’ve never actually met before. The problem is that sometimes we are walking around the festival, constantly being stopped by friends and acquaintances, and there is a lot of hugging going on. I often don’t know who the person is, but I don’t want people to think I’m being rude and reclusive, and so I have to just join in with all the embracing, even if I’ve no idea who the person is. But because I don’t know who the person is that I’m speaking to, I’m not really sure on the appropriate level of enthusiasm to give them. And it’s not as if I can always take my lead from Sean and Michael, because there are so many people, that I can’t be entirely sure who they’ve just hugged, or who they’ve just shaken the hand of. So often I am prone to getting confused, and assuming that the person who’s just said hello to me is an old friend, when actually we’ve never met before and they are just someone who knows who we are because they watched our gig. So if you’ve ever been to one of our gigs, came up to say hello, and ended up getting a massive enthusiastic hug from me, then you know why?
To avoid this common embarrassment, the three of us have tried out a solution whereby if we know the person really well and it’s appropriate to go in for the hug then they will greet the person with a “hi,” but if it’s someone we don’t know so well or at all, and thus the appropriate response would be a hand shake, then they say “hello.” The trouble is that they often forget, and so there are still many times when I’ve heard one of them say “hi” to the person, causing me to enthusiastically pounce upon them and effusively embrace them.
Often another thing that can happen is that I’ll notice Michael and Sean hugging someone, and then I’ll see that person approach me, I’ll give them a massive hug and start chatting to them, only to realise that my lack of vision has meant I’ve got the wrong person, and have ended up hugging someone completely different who we’ve never met before and has no idea who I am. This would be fine if it was someone I might want to be intimately involved with, but sod’s law always seems to prevail in these instances, and I always end up pouncing on eighty-year-old men, and I’m not interested in eighty-year-old men; seventy-year-old men on the other hand … now you’re talking – although I’m not sure who’s talking, if I know you, and whether you’re expecting a hand shake or a hug. What the hell, I’m going in for the hug. Open up your loving arms, watch out, here I come!