Caught by the River

Pleasures of…February

2nd March 2012

by Jeb Loy Nichols.

From the right, at an unknowable distance, comes the thudding konk, konk of a raven’s call. Marking territory perhaps, testing his voice against the wind. From the left comes the close and constant drumming of a woodpecker. The two birds percuss across empty fields, konk, konk, tap, tap, a winter hammering.

February in mid-Wales. I watch the skies waiting for winter. It hasn’t, so far, come. This time last year we were snowed in; this year it’s been rain and mud. The first week of February I cut, chop and split wood. There’s an ash tree by the brook that’s seen better days. I’m slowly converting it into fuel. I apologize to it and remove a large branch. I chainsaw the branch into metre lengths, load them on a wheel barrow and drag them to my barn. There I cut them into small logs and split them. I never have enough wood. Even when, in the autumn, the wood pile is taller than me and wide, I look at it and know: it’s not enough.

On Tuesday I go to town and buy food. I wander the market looking at things I don’t need. I go to the health food shop and get beans, rice, peanut butter, soya milk, oatcakes; all the usual stuff. I buy a paper and there, between stories about hospital closures and bankers salaries, I read that an actor, a golfer and a businessman have each bought islands. Where they live like kings. They belong to an island club. Flying to and fro, entitled, they say, to privacy. As if the coral reefs and sand crabs exist for just this purpose. To house and protect that which will destroy them.

On Sunday I take the train to London where I rehearse for two days in preparation for a gig at The Jazz CafÈ. The rehearsals go well. Nice to play music with friends and escape the solitude of Wales. At The Jazz CafÈ I see an old friend, someone I knew when I lived in London, someone I haven’t seen in 15 years. He’s a fragile man; no survivor, gentle and awkward, a man who sings beautifully, who has both treated and been treated badly, who has never recovered from the loss of the one person who loved him well. He came into the room sideways, refusing to be happy. I look his way and recognize him, his spoilt and dented eyes, his longing, his malfunction.

The gig goes well. The label people are pleased. The other musicians seem enthusiastic. I’ve enjoyed it and I’m glad it’s finished. The next day I go to Xfm for a session with John Kennedy. I have problems adjusting to the pace of London; the people; the noise, the heat; the go, go, go. People here think I’m the kind that talks easily. One even says, at The Jazz CafÈ, as if he knows me, you’re a social animal. Across the room I watched a silent woman. My eyes are only for her, the non-talker. The one saddened by chat. I watched her and wished us away somewhere quiet, somewhere unruined by voices.

On the train home I feel myself start to relax when we get past Wolverhampton. We speed through Shropshire and into Wales.

On Wednesday I meet John and we go to an auction in Montgomery. We look at the neglected furniture and see nothing that interests us. We drive home through the wet and soggy hills. The first lambs are appearing, pushing at their mothers, wobbling in the short grass.

At home, my wife and I walk through knee high trees, checking them for disease, for dead leaves, for worms, for canker. We planted 2000 tress last year and most of them seem to have survived. We’ve got some bread and tomatoes, peppermint tea and apples. We sit in the cold and eat, looking out across the tiny trees, as if we’re giants.

I’m now getting ready, once again, to leave. I’m spending a week with Shelby Lynne doing some solo acoustic shows. We’re in Glasgow tomorrow, then Newcastle, then Liverpool and finally London. I should be getting my things together but I’m not; I’m looking at the birds that crowd the feeder. I also see, in the dry stone walls, a mouse ducking into darkness. Above them a magpie sits in the laurel. The day is cold but not freezing. The sky is clear; no snow today. Perhaps, later, some rain.

I’m already counting the days until I’m back.

Jeb’s new record, The Jeb Loy Nichols Special, is released on 3rd April.