Jim Ghedi and Toby Hay share highlights from their joint Autumn tour.
Gwastedyn Hill & Bishops Castle
The first week of our tour we spent at Toby’s place in mid-Wales, amidst rehearsals, long walks, good feeding and good drinking. We ventured up Gwastedyn Hill with Toby’s (now) famous dog Bear. Around about half-way up this big climb we came across one of the biggest abandoned quarries I’ve ever seen. Places like this have an eeriness to them, isolated, emptied and abandoned. Man’s mark had been made, digging and opening up the landscape with brute determination, ambitious for its gains – and now it was left alone amongst the animal remains scattered on our path, the circling Red Kites and the hardy sheep ahead of us. We take refuge from the winds at the summit of the hill, grateful for our flasks of warm tea and gloves.
Bishops Castle is a favoured place for the both of us. It has become one of my favourite drives in the UK – along the Shropshire & Welsh borders, down winding hillside roads between ancient lichen-covered trees bending and covering our way. It is a place full of eccentricity, good-natured people, great landscapes and a brewery serving us quality beer. It’s also home to good friends who continue to provide a place for us to play, a welcoming family and a dog called Molly who provides equally good company. The gig was a real highlight for us, a packed out room in the back of a pub which sounded great with what amplification we decided to use. Nattering with people afterwards I discovered some had travelled from fields afar just to see us. It really makes you humble and puts the joy of live music into perspective.
Halifax & The Old Market
I’ve been reading Ben Myers’ book The Gallows Pole, based on the Cragg Vale Coiners, while on this tour, which gave me another reason to enjoy visiting Halifax again this year. I played what has been titled ‘The UK’s smallest venue’ – The Grayston Unity – back in May with my solo project, and returned again for the duo project. I had a strange feeling of coming home – the pub is a real hidden gem and playing the gig was like going into my Nan’s old front room, with memories of The Dubliners bellowing out of the old hi-fi system and far too many people crammed into one room. Me and Toby arrived early to explore, and Michael recommended us to go to the town’s marketplace for something to eat at the ‘Thai place’. I have a real fondness for open markets, especially ones like this – still untouched since the 70s and everywhere you turn real characters with real accents selling amazing produce for the cheapest of prices. We wandered around enjoying every nook and cranny of it, then retiring at the Thai street food place, we were welcomed and served by a kid who couldn’t have been any older than 10 – his social skills were impeccable and the hearty portions cost us no more than £3.99. We walked off the noodles and continued to take in the town, and it really hit me how impressive the architecture is in Halifax – some incredible old stone buildings a reminder of how wealthy this town once was. There is a beauty in its juxtapositions too; seeing emptied retail stores laying there in cheap cladding and Saturday night’s drunken dancers laughing and dancing on the cobbles. I suppose some things don’t change that much.
Upper Derwent & Lankum shows
On a day off around mine I decided to take us up Upper Derwent in the Peak District, a favoured walk and not too strenuous for our beer-bellies and tour-tired legs. The Derwent Reservoir was once home to a village and agricultural community based on farming, the village was ‘drowned’ in 1944 for the ladybower reservoirs in Derbyshire, also taking with it the village of Ashopton, Derwent Woodlands church, and Derwent Hall. This summer has dried up the waters to levels I’ve never seen in my lifetime, exposing remnants of the village’s old buildings and scattered stones. I love the walk for its dynamic landscapes and wildlife, coming across gritstone edges, peering into dams, watching kestrels, grouse, buzzards, and hillside sheep, who don’t pay any attention to us. There are also warming personal touches to discover – on the tops there is a plaque dedicated to a Sheffield Rambler called Desmond Memmott, aged 54 years, and on the way down the rugged stone paths you find an old bothy, which a local school have decorated inside with beautiful artworks and poetry from the pupils.
The day after our ramble we had our Sheffield show supporting Lankum. Those guys are the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a stage with. It was a hometown show for me and as ever this Sheffield gig was a real cracker – with a great reception, catching up with good friends and going out until 4am, however not drinking as driving – but when in good company the time flows regardless.
London is a different beast to what we’re both used to. We travelled down by train, trying to squeeze our guitars in the luggage space above us, anticipating the big city pace ahead of us. Starting to feel travel worn at this stage of tour, we’re out of St Pancras trying to find the cheapest place for food and a pint. We ended up in an Irish bar and drank too much Guiness pre-gig. Arriving at The Social was like arriving into what I wanted London to really be, a small pocket off the main streets full of character and charm. Heading downstairs into the underground gig space, concrete furniture surrounding us and big tall Paul waiting on us to do sound, we both started relaxing into London. The evening’s event was an eclectic mix – poetry from the very talented Holly Corfield Carr, fresh back from her woodland residency – a 1968 film, ‘I A Stranger’ about John Seymour’s Welsh farm in Pembrokeshire, not seen since first aired – and music by yourselves truly. It was a night in London which gives you reason to return and exposes you to the scenes which exist there, creative and giving communities which often get forgotten about in the discussion of London nowadays. After the gig I took the tube to my friend’s house and continued on a similar thread while drinking wine; discussing the old cockney singers and storytellers amongst the rich history of industry, folk song and legends which existed in the capital.
Home and presentation of the History of Phoenix Works
We got the train back from London and hurried to my neighbouring village, Ridgeway, after being asked by the local blacksmith Andrew Renwick to perform a few songs at a presentation on the history of Phoenix Works and the Scythe & Sickle industry. We made it back in good time on a cold November night. The venue was a crowded, sold out church with a wide mix of people attending, all with a shared interest in social history. It showcased archival photos of the industry, community and area, alongside some old collected scythe blades hundreds of years old (on display for the first time). We talked with farmers from Bradfield, historians from Sheffield, conservationists from Derbyshire, wildlife enthusiasts and local people I haven’t said two words with yet. It was a sweet reminder of the importance of getting people together and exploring local history, but more importantly learning from the people around you now. Music and touring has been a great way of doing just that, and continues to play a role in bringing communities and people together. Often on tour it’s easy to forget that – I’ll try and remind myself when I’m next in a place I’ve never visited with a room full of people I’ve never met, to see the beauty in that.
Me and Jim Ghedi spent October and November on the road, a self-booked tour to promote our new album.
We started the tour at the Aberystwyth Comedy Festival, brought to you by the good people who put on the brilliant Machynlleth Comedy Festival, which I highly recommend. We were the only non-comedy act at the festival. We didn’t manage to catch any comedy, but on the drive home we saw a man on a unicycle doing about 40 miles an hour down the main road. Simultaneously one of the most hilarious and terrifying things I have ever seen.
The initial leg of the tour was a long one, with barely a break between the shows and some long drives. It has been an incredibly eclectic tour, playing in a real variety of venues – pubs, galleries, churches, breweries, village halls, bandstands, arts centres, record stores. Before playing in a recording studio in Bristol we returned back to Wales for a couple of days. We climbed Gwastedyn. I have spent most of my life in the shadow of this mountain. Its fun to look over the places that have been so important in your life with a new perspective.
The rhythms of touring are distinct. Your body clock shifts. You are tired most of the day, and wake up in time for the show. Your sleeping patterns and eating routines are smashed to pieces. It’s a very simple, almost childlike way of existing. You take each show as it comes, all you have to worry about is getting there in time, finding some food and playing some tunes. Then you simply repeat the process. It’s quite addictive.
Conversation in the car quickly degenerates into silly in-jokes and sarcasm. Interesting topics do occasionally sneak in, and sometimes intelligent debate ensues, but it rarely lasts for long. I think the more mindless patter is a survival technique.
I was nominated for the Welsh Music Prize, which luckily fell on a day off. I was able to travel down to Cardiff for the ceremony, which was held in the beautiful Coal Exchange. It was a lot of fun, and it was great to catch up with friends old and new. The next day I won the Welsh Hangover Prize.
A break on the tour and a few days at home meant a chance to watch the salmon on their annual migration. The Marteg is a river near my house and a tributary of the upper Wye. It has a fantastic waterfall and is a perfect place to watch the Salmon leap, and frantically fight their way through the current. I make sure I go to watch them return every year.
A couple of shows with the brilliant Stick in the Wheel followed. First up, a very local show in Builth Wells. Next, a trip west to Aberteifi. This meant an excuse to take the mountain road , my favourite drive in the world. It really is stunning.
We played a village hall in Great Longstone, in the Peak District. It had a real ‘community’ feel to the whole thing and it reminded me a little of home. We played two sets, with a raffle in the middle. There is a always a raffle.
The last show of the tour was another one with Stick in the Wheel. A long drive to Norwich and a wonderful evening at the arts centre there. It was a great way to finish a very busy couple of months.
This autumn has flown by for me, I can’t believe winter is here already. Winter is darker days, wet, and cold. Winter is muddy dogs and horse muck. Whereas summer is easy, winter can be hard work. But winter is also wood fires and reflection. Winter is good food and time to think. And it is making plans for the new year to come.
Reading over what I have written here, I appreciate that it is mainly about home. Interesting how when writing about a tour, about travelling, home is never far away. I suppose that is just the way it is.
The Hawksworth Grove Sessions: Duets For 6 & 12 String Guitar is out now and available here.