I had been expecting Newport Pagnell to be a grim concrete monstrosity built on a modernist grid system with concrete cattle and grey-faced inhabitants- that shows the prejudice an MK postcode can inspire!
I do have a grim grey music story from the 1980s that involves our trumpet player accidentally driving into a serious chap with a grey mackintosh from a synthesiser band at a bunker-type venue in Milton Keynes, and I believe I have told that story already somewhere way back on this blog. It was rather awful and doomy and I think it may have spray-painted my perceptions a rather foggy shade of taupe.
Au contraire, Newport Pagnell is a sweet two-and-a-half horse town with a haunted bridge, according to Andy, the promoter of The Watershed. There is greenery galore and old and new red brick houses and shops; it reminded me a little bit of a mini-Market Harborough.
The venue is situated at the end of a hidden arcade ( I think it was the address 'Unit 5' that made me think of navy-blue New York gloom and multi-tiered car parks!) that looks as though it has magically appeared straight out of a Miss Marple film. A series of little shops painted in eau-de-nil lead the way to The Watershed, which is a really funky bar, with lots of retro video games at one end of it, and a place to sit and yak, and a small outside bit too.
A pair of clogs stood on the floor, for sale.
Upstairs there is a smallish stage, with musical instruments leaning against the wall, cushions to sit on and an atmosphere that I can only describe as 'smiling'. I had driven Acton Bell and myself up from Barnet with four plates of leftover cake from Offsprog Two's birthday, and I put those on the tables before we sound checked; the Anti Poet arrived dressed in identical newly purchased black canvas kilts (well skirts, actually, but there was a smidgin of tartan on them under a pocket, so possibly that topples them into the definition of kilts!).
As a venue, it is perfect; Andy does his work as a promoter and the crowd was young but open-minded and positive, giving all of us a fair listen (though they were in their cups by the time I played, but what the heck, Friday night is Friday night!). He looked after us really well, making sure we were fed and watered, and the relaxed and positive feel of the venue made us all feel welcome; by God, some of the London venues should learn from this!
Acton Bell started the night. She has started to introduce some of her own songs into her set and they hold up very well in her mixture of 1960s songs (her favourite band begins with a 'P'; 'The Searchers', she told me). The sound guy is very very good- that is so important when you come to a venue that you have never played before. Acton Bell's voice sounded lovely and she kicked the evening off to a really good start.
After a short break, Ian and Paul of the Anti Poet came on. Their first piece was called the Gentlemen Duellers and was very funny. I misheard it as The Gentlemen Jewellers because I am massively thick and I spent the poem listening for references to emeralds and rubies, until I saw the words on a card on the floor afterwards and realised my mistake.
They had been a bit nervous because they normally play to a crowd that knows their stuff, but the audience loved them and gave them a really good reception. The double bass sounded thunderously powerful and Paul was gleefully on form, laughing at his own jokes and teasing the audience with impish glee.
Then it was my turn and I really enjoyed playing; I played a song called Three of Us which I haven't played for five years, and Ian and Paul joined me at the end for Loverman. Wilky was there (hi Wilky) and he requested 24 Hours at the end, and I think we managed a passable version! It's funny to thing that even a year ago I was not confident enough to do something like that; even ancient artists like me are capable of progressing! I am not quite in Marple territory yet, age-wise....
Afterwards there was a jam downstairs, it felt almost like being in someone's house.
We all had a good gig and have been invited back as a combination, which I know we would all love to do.
Three cheers for a great venue, a great promoter, a great sound engineer and the friendliest bar manager and staff in the Universe, and roll on next gig there!
If you live in the Milton Keynes area, they have Sunday music sessions with compilations of the videos they make of the artists who play there, and I believe that they are going to expand and have more music and also food. Five stars, Andy!