Day 2: a bridge too far?

The 451st Open Mic Surgery at the Stubbing Wharf, Hebden Bridge is unmiked, and isn’t in any sense a surgery. But it’s a friendly, intimate kind of night.

Hebden Bridge looks like a charming town and I’m also quite impressed by the lakeside resort of Smithybridge as we drive through it. Unfortunately, due to interminable traffic jams and a few route-finding difficulties, we get there as it’s getting dark and are unable to get a really good view.

Earlier that day we’d been able to take a look around central Brimingham. The weather is ‘unsettled’. After raining in the morning it turns bright and sunny. Lewis wants to do some busking but isn’t sure about the rules here. The pedestrianised area seems ideal but there’s no other buskers here, which isn’t a good sign, and also means there’s no one to ask.

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery: when is the ruff coming back into fashion?

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery: when is the ruff coming back into fashion?

Kids activities from the heavy metal exhibition.

Kids' activities from the heavy metal exhibition.

We pop into Tesco to get a sandwich. When we come out a heavy shower has started. In true British fashion we persevere with our plan to eat lunch on the steps outside the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG). Managing to do this while holding an umbrella is something of a feat but extrodinary circumstances demand great resourcefulness so somehow we manage. Lewis spots a couple of intrepid old fellows playing accordion while sheltering under a tree. We decide to ask them about busking when we’ve finished eating. But as soon as we do it brigtens up and they’re off, lost in the block-paved potential busking grounds around the Bullring.

The unpredictable weather dissuades Lewis from any further attempts at an impromptu performance so we have a look in the BMAG. I’m quite keen on seeing the famed Pre-Raphaelite collection, which includes a room dedicated to Edward Burne-Jones, who was from the city. Lewis’s interest is sparked by a heavy metal exhibition, centred around Birmingham and the Black Country.

Upon leaving the gallery I suddenly realise that I’ve left the negatives that I developed that morning taped to the window in the hotel room. I’d done that to take pictures of them with my phone (for uploading to this blog). That’s pretty annoying as there were some interesting shots, including some from the Cowley Road carnival on Sunday. A rookie mistake, I’ll be more careful next time.

Apart from a nerve-racking period stuck on the M6 for about 20 miles with the fuel empty light on and no signs of any services, the journey to Hebden Bridge is uneventful, if rather longwinded.

We rock up to the Stubbing Wharf pub wondering if we’ll get a Slaughtered Lamb-type reception but in fact the atmosphere is friendly. There’s even a special offer on swordfish. If I wasn’t such a big fan of swordfish and quite hungry I’d probably moan about the creeping pan-European banality infecting our localities.

We’re slightly early for the open mic, which is upstairs, but as soon as it opens for business we go up and speak to Paul, the promoter, about getting on the list. It’s a purely acoustic affair, although there is an electric piano, which sees a bit of action from a couple of performers.

We each play three songs, two before and one after the break. Performances are all to a high standard, with a leaning towards folk but not exclusively so. Paul plays a couple of amusing numbers, one about cannibal gerbils, the other about wasps.

What really strikes me is how friendly everyone is, coming up during the break to say hello and thanking us for coming there, which to be fair is quite a long way for us. But it’s really nice they make the effort. According to one of the punters Hebden Bridge is a former mill town, saved from abandonment and decline when the factories closed down by hippies who moved in and made the place a bit of a mecca for art-tourists. This figures. But it makes all the difference being made to feel welcome. Will definitely put Hebden Bridge on the list of places to play again in the future.


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