The steam train gave a scream that drifted across the estuary as the old VW camper came roaring down the steep hill into dartmouth town and screeched to a halt outside the crowded pub. "Here we are," chortled Bernie from the drivers seat, "The Seale arms.” Leaving the camper running outside Bernie weaved through the crowd to meet Alicia’s parents by the pool table - they had come all the way from North Carolina, in their waterproofs no less, and Bernie welcomed them to sunny old England! "We're on in 5" I said to Alicia and Isaac as the Alfi Romeo band burst into a ripping rendition of Johnny B Goode.
Dartmouth Festival was in full swing, music on every corner and bursting from pub doors, the main stage rang out above the hubbub, and the market and streets were abuzz with tourists and locals alike. Due to a gig in Rugby, we had missed the friday night but we were determined to make up for it by squeezing in five shows while we were in town. At gig number two the rain was waiting for us. We had no sooner ducked into The Floating Bridge when the skies opened up and a deluge of heavy raindrops flew at the window panes. People came seeking shelter, and stayed for the music (and the best fish and chips in the world, they say). Sunday was a scorcher, and between gigs Isaac and I set up busking by the promenade, we met a woman named Ali who may have us down by the coast again for a house concert later in the year, and we ran into Phil Meek from Radio Caroline! It is amazing the connections we have made while busking! You never know who you’ll come across!
Gig number three was behind The Cherub, we helped Alfi set up an outdoor stage, dragging heavy potted plants to the side of the courtyard and set up amps. Alicia hopped up before our set to join Alfie and the guys for a rocking rendition of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door'. The last chorus had hardly faded when the Town Crier got up in full costume and introduced us, bell and all, “Hear ye hear ye! Now you’re in for something different!" That evening he even came across the river to Kingswear for our penultimate show at The Ship Inn, introducing us again with his booming voice, this time it seemed louder than ever, in the cosy pub.
Monday, post-fest, Alfi took us up river to Dittisham. Inside the FBI pub, (if you ever find yourself in Dittisham, it’s the bright pink place by the docks. Well worth a visit) we got to jam by the fireplace, I played slide guitar with a shot glass while Alfi took lead guitar. Alicia’s parents had joined us for the boat trip, they even sang along to our sea shanties on the boat, joining in on the chorus “Leave her Johnny, leave her” (much to the surprise and delight of the two strangers who happened to be on the ferry with us. “What luck! We get a concert of our own!” When we had finished our last refrain of 'Johnny, leave her' the woman, Sara, asked about the meaning of the song. I explained that it is about leaving a ship/leaving work, knowing it will be hard to walk away, but knowing also that it is time to go. Sara told us about her very recent retirement and she was visibly moved by the song. I pinky promised her that we would play it again if she and her husband managed to come to our gig that night and they did!
To close out the evening, and indeed the long weekend, Alfi joined us at The Dolphin, we sang old blues and let the music carry us away.
I guess with anything the leaving can be bitter sweet, it might just be the end of a wonderful weekend, or the end of a career, or even the end of an era, the end of an old habit, the end of the line…letting something come full circle.
The Reverend joined in on our final song, an emotional rendition of 'Knocking on Heavens Door’.