Music on a summer evening or...Rule Britannia in the rain

When I first came to work in London I was introduced to the English tradition of the outdoor concert. On the surface, this seems like a lovely under the stars with a picnic just the perfect way to spend a summer's evening.... Now, of course, we do get lovely summer evenings here and I'm sure there are concerts that go off without a hitch and are a pleasure to play...sadly never one I have been on. Perhaps the words 'classical summer evening concert' has a curse attached to it.

The first outdoor gig I did to start my first freelancing summer was in Glastonbury. Not the cool Glastonbury but this was a series of outdoor concerts in Glastonbury itself under the Tor (for those unfamiliar an Iron Age settlement or if you believe that sort of thing Avalon from Arthurian legend.) Which leads me nicely to our day there. Glastonbury is a gathering place for the New Age community and is notable for myths and legends often related to Glastonbury Tor

our concert venue. The morning after our arrival I go down to breakfast and sit at the communal table where I was joined by members of the goddess convention. ...really. What to talk about? ' What is a goddess'? I ask. 'We have a vision that Mother Earth is inspired by the Lady of Avalon, Great Goddess of love, compassion, healing and transformation on the Sacred Isle of Avalon.' 'Oh'....silence...'Umm can men be Goddesses too? ' Too late now we are in a discussion of how modern pagan males can successfully embrace the Goddess while still remaining faithful to their masculinity. All very interesting at 8:00 in the morning over coffee and toast.

After a day of browsing the New Age shops (I felt the need of some calming crystal after the breakfast encounter) we arrived at the Tor for our concert (did I mention it was raining.) Clearly, the Goddesses in town had no control over Mother Nature which I found quite a disappointment. We, of course, are under cover but I can't describe the feeling of having to play on steel strings in the wet damp cold. I look out to a sight of a full field of people in various forms of rain cover. Upon the Tor, there are a lot of people doing a ritual dance (perhaps our Goddesses making one more attempt at rain help.) As we start to play the Star Wars theme some audience members make their way to the front of the stage wielding light sabres. One was wearing a Chewbacca outfit and as I was playing I couldn't decide if he was smart as it must have been warm or really dumb as can you imagine trying to dry out a rain-soaked furry suit? I also couldn't help but notice some people with a pizza box with the pizza floating around inside. (See you think we are concentrating on the music but..) Then the wind...indescribable. What to you think happens to music in the wind? They give you clothes pegs but really try turning while trying to play, juggle clothes peg and turn a damp page of music. Not nice. At least we managed to keep our music on the stand unlike some of the cellists whose music flew into the audience only to be given back by a Storm Trooper covered in mud.

The next concert in the outdoor summer calendar was Kenwood. Now this one sounded more like it..only a few minutes from where I was living at the time. The stage at Kenwood sits at the bottom of a very large hill with the car park at the top. Now the first hurdle you have to overcome is the inevitable jobsworth car park attendant at the entrance to the orchestra car park. The bass is heavy..and a bit difficult to manage hills with it. No matter how much pleading we would do the car park attendants, however, they would never let us drive our cars down the hill for fear that we would go rogue and actually leave our cars down by the stage. (This is always a no-no at outdoor gigs. The orchestra car park is usually situated as far from the stage as possible so that we have that challenge to look forward to at the end of a freezing cold evening.) You almost have to go into training for Kenwood. Everyone wears trainers or walking boots under their concert clothes and the second the fireworks are over we pack up as quickly as possible (an art in itself) and RUN (yes with the bass on our back) up the hill to the car park. The reason for this is that you have to get there before the audience as for some strange reason, (again an outdoor concert tradition), they let the audience out first unless you beat them to it. It's a bit soul-destroying to have finished a long cold day knowing you are 10 minutes from home only to have to sit in a car park for an hour and a half.

The final outdoor date was one good one at the air force base at Farnborough. You arrived at the car park but this time there was a mini bus with very nice officers to help you on to it with your instruments and they would drive you straight to the stage. The Air Force band was part of the concert too and played so well. While they were playing we could go stand at the back of the stage and watch the WW2 planes and Red Arrows to their fly pasts. Cool.

At the end of the concert, there was no need for walking boots, dodging people with picnic baskets, tying our long dresses up to avoid getting mud on them or wearing a headlamp to see where we were going so not to trip. There was an officer to take my instrument and myself on to the minibus where we were driven to the car park and given a military escort out of the base and onto the motorway ahead of everyone else. That's how to do it! Perhaps that's why the summer of fun finished with that one so that a bit like childbirth, you would forget the pain of what had come before and happily agree to do it again the following year!

Sadly that gig at Farnborough no longer exists due to budget cuts and the Goddesses have yet to master the elements of nature so we are still playing in the rain.

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Laura CampbellComment