Psychologist - Writer - MUSICIAN - Steve Bonham
Wide brimmed hat. Long dark coat. Guitar slung on back. 21 years on the road.
A 100,000 miles and half a thousand hotel rooms. From the Berlin Wall to Atlas
Mountains, from Sahara Desert to the streets of Hong Kong: a
memory brewed in the long simmering soup of people and place. A
man who has learned to watch and to listen, to walk and talk in
the ebb and flow of meeting and parting. He is a chronicler of
the human spirit in words. and music.
I gazed around the small bar. It had changed very little since I was in here more than
twenty years ago. My friend Tim and I had played in this pub every Sunday night for over eighteen months. It was one of hundreds of gigs we played at the time.
The years spun back as I gazed into the amber beer in my glass to the time when we belted
out songs and ballads of love, lust and freedom. We juggled a trunk full of guitars,
whistles, mandolins and flutes and Tim had played a fierce and furious fiddle that had
the roll-necked purists tut, tut tutting and everyone else roaring their approval.
We were not so much on the bottom rung of the entertainment ladder, we used to joke,
but still searching for the steps. We played in backroom bars, on the splintered floors
where miners, railway workers and council workers met in frustrated camaraderie.
We played to drown out the fruit machine, the musak and the earnest murmurings
of hopeful young men and pale young girls.
I remember one night in a pub, not far from this one, playing to a packed bar. The room had old wooden beams holding up the floor above, so low you could reach up and touch them. The heat had made people’s faces red and shiny as they stomped, clapped and cheered at Tim as he thundered through a Scottish reel called ‘The De’il Amongst the Tailors’, known to us as ‘The Devil in Your Trousers’. He played faster and faster till it was the pace of a runaway train, with me thrashing along on my guitar until eventually we juddered to halt and the place erupted. I bent over my guitar, now totally out of tune, struggling to hear it above the noise to return it to a passing relationship with decent pitch. As the B string remained stubbornly sharp I looked up as the applause, which has been gently subsiding, suddenly erupted again accompanied by laughter. Tim, with a mischievous look on his face, was balancing his fiddle bow vertically on his forefinger. I grinned to myself and went back my tuning. An instant later the crowd noise had stilled to a disbelieving murmur, there was a palpable sense of collective incredulity. I looked up. Tim had taken his finger away and there, as the slot machine uttered the odd electronic whimper, the fiddle bow floated, unaided in mid-air, defying gravity and the laws of sense.
The pub clock tocked and time stopped.
And then the roar rose, primitive, guttural, sublime, a roar of outraged laughter, as Tim recovered the bow which he’d surreptitiously hung from the rusty old nail hidden in the gnarled timbers above his head and plunged into the next tune. Magic.
There was magic here too,, in this bar, I remembered. A tiny room with red leatherette benches around the outside and three tables with some rickety wooden chairs. Less than twenty people could sit down comfortably, yet nearly ninety people had squeezed in one night to hear Tim and me play.
Our friend Nicci, was singing with us that night and her beautiful wistful version of the old Irish song ‘The Sally Gardens’ had reduced those gathered around to a still, and profound collective silence. It was the sort of silence in which people stare into the middle distance, seeing some half-remembered faces, recalling the soft, murmured words of a stranger still to be met, a kind of exquisite regretfulness. It was the kind of moment when even big railway men with fists like shovels and humour like an old barber’s razor get in touch with their feminine side.
© Steve Bonham 2019
The Bow Hung in The Air
From A Little Nostalgia for Freedom by Steve Bonham.
The Magic of Playing Live