26 August 2016


Get there and do the gig through Hell or high water!

If you’re a professional performer you’re not allowed to be ill or to miss a gig for any other reason whether it’s your car breaking down, 6ft snow drifts, the world coming to an end…whatever.
Pete and Lucy in the 1990s

I’ve been lucky, I haven’t had to let people down very often and I have built up a reputation for being reliable. People know I will turn up and deliver the goods. I’ve done it when I’ve been feeling really bad. But sometimes dropping out is unavoidable—everyone gets ill and sometimes other things prevent you getting there, things like your car getting ill! Nowadays I can afford a reliable car and if it was off the road I could afford to use public transport (if it went to the right place, of course!) or to hire one but it wasn’t always so.

Back in ‘the good old days’ when I first went professional I was driving old bangers and money was very short. Without mobile phones and the internet it was not easy to organise things at the last minute and outside normal working hours so I can vaguely remember a couple of times when I was transportless and couldn’t get to gigs. Trains were often prohibitively expensive—the fare was more than my fee. One occasion I dimly remember (it must have been about 1980) was a gig in Scarborough to which I took my daughter Lucy, who was 9 or 10 years old, because there was a special ‘parent and child’ ticket to encourage parents to take their children to the seaside by train, which meant that the two of us could get there for a fraction of the price it would have cost me alone! It must have been summer holidays and she was beginning to be fairly competent on the fiddle and enjoyed playing so she came and did a floor spot and probably joined me on a couple in my set. (Child Labour!)
Here she is from 1989 False Knight on the Road 

A recent picture of Pete
 Usually organisers are understanding if your excuses are genuine (word soon gets around if they’re not!) and will rearrange things, but not always. Over the years I’ve had a couple of occurrences of voice trouble—nothing very serious, just overuse, I suppose.

It’s usually gone for no apparent reason and without warning. Twice it’s happened whilst I was actually performing which is awkward. Once I was at a folk club (Didcot, I think) where I’d been many times before and it just faded away. Luckily they were quite happy for me to devote most of the second half to guitar instrumentals and then have me back to sing the songs at a later date. On the other occasion I was storytelling at a school in Nottingham. I managed to, just about,  get through the morning but couldn’t possibly have done the afternoon so I offered to charge them for half a day and then come back and do another full day for nothing. They were very ungracious, didn’t see why I couldn’t carry on, and never had me back. 

On the most severe occasion the doctor told me ‘not to even whisper for a fortnight’. That is difficult anyway but it developed into a farce!  I went around with a note book and wrote down what I wanted to say. You wouldn’t believe the number of times the other person took the book and answered me in writing!

It’s hard to believe that if you can’t hear someone they can’t hear you—or vice versa. It happens with phone conversations; if it’s a bad line and they are very quiet you find yourself shouting, assuming that you must be quiet too even though you might not be.

A ghostly storyteller?
Some years ago I did a very nice storytelling session for a group of adults with various ‘special needs’. When I’d finished and was having a cup of tea with them I was aware of a little group with their heads together plotting away at something. Then they came and told me this story. I don’t know whether they made it up from scratch or based it on something they’d heard elsewhere.

'A storyteller had been booked to tell ghost stories at Halloween. He’d been before but the organiser was a bit surprised that he hadn’t been in touch to confirm details. However, on the appointed day he arrived, looking a bit flustered and at the last minute, and proceeded to do a really good set of stories which went down very well. The audience loved it. When he’d finished he collected his money, said his goodbyes and went off. No-one thought any more of it until the next morning when the organiser received a letter which read:

“Dear Sir, I don’t know whether you’ll got this in time but I’m just writing to inform you that the storyteller died a few days ago. Yours sincerely…”'

Coming back from beyond the grave to do the gig is taking things a bit too far! 

Facts & Fiction  storytelling magazine which Pete edits

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