On The Road Not Taken Blog



Show 1. Bristol Old Vic. Sunday Feb 7th 2016

By pauldodgson, Feb 26 2016 06:06PM

I have a ten minute slot on #bristolopenstage which is part of The Bristol Old Vic’s 250th birthday celebrations. It is the first time I have sung on stage since 1982. I am scared.

I wake in the dark. It is 6.30 am. I am nervous but it is in the background for now. I keep running though the set in my mind and trying to visualise a successful performance as sit up in bed sipping Yorkshire Tea and watching the rain. I imagine myself looking up to the ornate balconies in the theatre and seeing people applauding. In this positive-thinking version of the coming afternoon there are very few people in the audience but they are all enjoying themselves. I monitor my anxiety closely, waiting for the moment where everything seems to fall away and I lose control. It doesn’t happen.

I have been preparing for this moment for a long time, since I decided I was going to do what I was too scared to do when I was 20 years old and go out on the road with a guitar and a headful of songs. First I needed to learn some songs, because the sad truth was I only knew one all the way though. Now I have 20 of them them locked up in my head. Old folk songs, new folk songs, songs from these islands, songs from America, and songs of mine I began but never finished. But what has yet to be tested is that it feels like to sing these songs to a theatre full of strangers. Today I am remembering why I was scared all those years ago.

I walk out of the rain into the Old Vic dead on 2pm. The foyer is packed and people are already queuing for the auditorium right back to the entrance. So it is not going to be empty then. I check in and am taken to the upper bar that is the artists waiting area, but is completely empty until an improvised story teller arrives and we exchange a nervous hello. I hear the murmuring of the arriving audience downstairs. I have been given a my own artist liason person called Jo who is efficient and soothing all at once. She takes my guitar backstage and I am left in the artists waiting area with just my coat and sweaty palms.

I am able to watch the start of the show from the upper circle. The massed ranks of The Gurt Lush Choir are first. I try to count them but get lost after 50. As soon as they start to sing it is a layered, beautiful sound that fills the whole theatre. It seems surreal that I will soon be alone on that vast stage. Then Jo appears and leads me though a warren of corridors. The space in the wings in huge and peopled by figures dressed in black wearing headsets. I pace around, breathing deeply and try to focus. There is an act on stage performing a live radio play. They finish and the sound of applause is thunderous. As they come off, the stage manager beckons me forward. Jo tells me to smash it as I pass her. The lights are so bright I can’t see anything beyond the front row and in the front row is a man I have never spoken to but have seen around Bristol for years. I want to keep looking at him. As I start to play the guitar I have an almost out of body experience as I observe myself and think I am not very good. Then I start to sing. It is a song by Emmylou Harris called Boulder to Birmingham, a song I wish I had written. And it is singing that comes out of my mouth. That is why I am doing this. And when I am halfway though the song I know I can make it to the end.

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