Then the lights and the boards. Len crosses to his drum kit and the rest of us move, Ian first, then Steve and Bridie, then me, stepping over cables, threading our way between boxes and equipment to the front of the stage. I look out over the heads of the audience and pick out a few faces. A bright scarf on the aisle. Down at the front somebody’s glasses catching the stage lights. I settle my chin on the fiddle and raise the bow. This is going to be all right.
I had never seen a violin up close before. The golden wood had a deep lustre which soaked up the light of the Tiffany lamp on the table above. There were grey lines on the ebony fingerboard where wire-wound gut had rubbed over the years. It had a sense of age about it, and a slightly dangerous magic. In the old stories, it is always the devil plays the fiddle.
She sorted through the CDs in the glove compartment, stacking them in small piles on the drop-down shelf and leaning forwards against the seat belt to peer at one or two of the inserts by the dim light from inside. When she slid a disc into the player it turned out to be Billie Holiday. We entered the city to the weary fatalism of God Bless the Child.
Cropredy Festival. On a good year a gravid harvest moon used to rise from behind the fenced artists-only area at the bottom of the hill and the crowd used to push to the edge of the stage to be near the music. That was not a good year, I remember. In fact, it pissed down.
We tried out different sections, played rather tentatively through the whole thing, re-wrote part of the introduction, played it again. Then I started the machines running and we did it for real.
The studio was dark apart from the shrouded lights over the music desks. Bits of equipment loomed in the half light. Instrument stands, a stack of speakers. And I could feel them listening from behind the hardware, leaning on their shields, squatting against the wall, head down and bone-weary, smelling of sweat and leather and mud.
Too many battles, too many loads,
Grey with the dust of too many roads
To a bed on a cold hillside.
At the end we sat in silence for a couple of seconds, then Bridie laughed and whispered:
We left that in on the album. Not much more to say, really.
Last of all we play Cold Hillside. Eighty miles to the south-west my brother adjusts the volume and the stereo fills the living room with the drone of the concertina, very soft. Then the fiddle. Then the girl’s voice, phrases fading, lost in the shadows. He pours another tumbler of gin. A little bread to hold it down.
The crowd cries out for more.
Download a copy of Cold Hillside.