There’s a little village near Oxford where I once spent a happy few months. On Monday there I found myself nearby and, with an open day in front of me in which my only goal was to get home to Glasgow, I found myself driving away from the motorway following old signs on B roads till I turned into the village again. Village is a slight overstatement. The hamlet in question was Shipton On Cherwell which, as far as I can make out boasts a Church and a post box. The nearest pub is a few miles away…more on that anon.
I had driven past this little village once in the last twenty five years but I had never returned to the house where I’d stayed. It’s a beautiful country manor overlooking rolling hills and fields adjacent to that churchyard boasting a well stocked pond and, most significantly, a bespoke 24 track recording facility.
In an attempt to get as far away from our record label as we could manage we all decamped to this house in the early summer of 1992 where we continued on the tricky task of completing (what may well have become) our final record together. The mood was set early; on the first evening one of our crew found a nest of Starling chicks abandoned in the garden and Lorraine (my wife) decided it was our duty to adopt them. When she returned to Glasgow for anti-natal check ups a few days later she left me in charge of feeding and early flying lessons! They lived in the games room and it was my job to go in and feed them every morning with cat food……you can probably tell that the rural idyll was beginning to make a stronger impression than the music.
Of course I was never really going to be in a bad mood. I’d decided to drive my 27 year old car down and the very fact of it making the journey made all seem well with the world. The Manor studio had been the home of Richard Branson. Above the stairwell was a giant mural of Mike Oldfield whose album, Tubular Bells, had been recorded there and had made the young Mr Branson the fortune he was set to spend on interesting projects like the studio where we now were based. It was the summer of a heatwave and none of us really noticed how dilapidated the house was until the inevitable thunderstorm sent rain running through the leaky roof during one of these short summer nights.
There were so many magical times I could fill all this space with stories but as my car nudged along those country lanes yesterday it was one car journey that I remembered. Our band had become friendly with the locals in the pub in the next village. Transport was always an issue as the producer and myself were the only two folks with cars. One night we were all alerted to the sound of a polite parp parp outside the door of the studio as a 1920s vintage car (think Toad of Toad Hall here) pulled up carrying two of our number home from their watering hole. Sitting outside in the January drizzle remembering these sunlit evenings of younger selves and so many changes was a sobering moment. You can’t go home again…but for a minute there outside The Manor, where nothing seemed to have changed, I was back.
Memory of course is set to music. In time the music we made there no longer links me to the place but being there or near there reminded me to acknowledge…on a dull January day….the happiness that came with a particular time.
It’s impossible to create nostalgia but I hope, at the start of a new year, we may be playing you something which might form part of a longer memory. What was I doing in January 2017…and what was I listening to? I hope we might help youth answer that question a few years hence. If you want to make a start we can help supply a possible soundtrack.
This week I hope we’ll create some magical places for you as we bring you new recordings from Holly Macve, Courtney Marie Andrews, Aaron Lee Tasman and Rhiannon Giddens.
We’ll have some lovely old memories from Johnny Horton, Conway Twitty and, of course, Merle Haggard. We’ll talk little about Mac Wiseman and share something new and something old from him and we’ll pay our respects to a much overlooked Irish Americana troubadour, the late Bap Kennedy. So much and only two hours to get it all in. We’re live this Tuesday from five past nine on BBC Radio Scotland. Join me if you can.