Union Chapel in Islington, north London, designed by James Cubitt and built between 1874 and 1877, is a working church, live entertainment venue and charity drop-in centre for the homeless, which describes itself as "liberal, inclusive, non-hierarchical, and non-conformist". Built in the Gothic revival style, the church hosts live music and comedy events, and was voted London's Best Live Music Venue by readers of Time Out magazine in 2012.
The chapel itself could not be more beautiful. Stunning design, superb acoustics, great atmosphere. The high, high ceilings, stained glass windows, stone arches and pews give it a wonderful, spiritual ambiance, further enhanced by the stage lighting and the array of twinkling tea lights.
Upstairs at the back there is a superb bar, a colourful bohemian lounge of old sofas, candle-lit tables and chairs, where you can have a ‘real’ drink before the gig. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate are available from a booth downstairs for during the concert.
It is a wonderful place to experience, and perform, live music.
Backstage: a labyrinth of passageways and paneled rooms, very cold on this frosty February night. Standing around the few scattered heaters, we keep ourselves warm with banter, nervous energy and red wine.
Supported, as throughout the tour, by the wonderful ‘Open Road’ and, for the first time tonight, enigmatic songstress Rachel Sage, we took to the pulpit around 9pm. Singing, dancing, juggling, comedy and drama. Not rock, pop, folk, jazz, country, but a little of each. Sadie and the Hotheads. A kind of cool cabaret.
The Sadie tour. February 6th 2013. Wednesday. 12 noon. Loaded up and pulling out of Mortlake. Matt Hay at the wheel. Heading to Ealing Studios to pick up Elizabeth. Then it’s down the backroads of Brentford to the M3. Lunch stop at Fleet Services… and back on the road, listening to Thelonius Monk. Terl rapping out a rhythm on the back of the headrests.
Arriving Wimborne Minster, Dorset and backing up to the loading bay at the Tivoli Theatre: built in 1936 as a theatre and cinema, it’s Art Deco features include original chrome and Bakelite door handles.
Soundcheck. Pre-gig run through. Support from The Open Road, then we’re on, kicking off our first tour with ‘One Thing Leads To Another’, Elizabeth and Philly making their grand entrance while the boys vamp the chords: In music, a vamp is a repeating musical figure, section, or accompaniment used in jazz, gospel, soul, and musical theater. Also found in rock, funk, reggae, R&B, pop, country, vamps are usually harmonically spare and may consist of a single chord or a sequence of chords played in a repeated rhythm. The term frequently appeared in the instruction 'Vamp till ready' on sheet music for popular songs in the 1930s and 1940s, indicating that the accompanist should repeat the musical phrase until the vocalist was ready…
Post gig drinks in the Minster (minstrel’s) Room at the Kings Head Hotel.
February 7th. Thursday. 11am. On the road to Devon. Dylan on the stereo singing ‘Series of Dreams’. Passing through Hardy country. Dorset's most famous literary figure, he was born and lived most of his life in the county. Many of the major themes in his work, the characters and the landscapes they inhabit, are drawn from the Dorset countryside. Associated with agriculture right up until the late twentieth century, Dorset remains the only county in England without a single mile of motorway… Driving along an impressive mile-long avenue of beech trees, planted in 1835, to Badbury Rings: a hill fort which dates from the Iron Age, a high point in the local landscape which provides excellent views in all directions. It was used as a main cross roads for the Roman empire whose road network cut across Dorset… and on into Somerset… talking about great movies we have seen… ‘A Star Is Born’ with James Mason and Judy Garland, listening to Hacienda Brothers … Rain. Sleet. Devon, and a gig at The Factory in Barnstaple. A small but appreciative crowd braved the weather and gave us a rousing welcome. Some are here out of curiosity, some already fans of the music. Every night is different.
February 8th. Friday. Cross country to the M5. Next stop, Birmingham. Cries from the back … “Are we there yet?” “Is it lunchtime?” “Where’s Ron?” Grey, scudding clouds. Winter sky. Then dappled sunlight on the rolling hills of Somerset. Into Gloucestershire. The Forest of Dean off to our left: The forest is a roughly triangular plateau bounded by the River Wye to the west and north, the River Severn to the south, and the City of Gloucester to the east. The area is characterised by over 110 square kilometres of mixed woodland, one of the surviving ancient woodlands in England. Traditionally the main sources of work in the area have been forestry – including charcoal production - iron working and coal mining. Archaeological studies have dated the earliest use of coal in the forest to Roman times, for domestic heating and industrial processes such as the preparation of iron ore…
Arrived in Birmingham, Adrian Boult Hall, the major concert venue within the walls of the Birmingham Conservatoire. Sir Adrian Cedric Boult, was an English conductor who worked in London for the Royal Opera House and Sergei Diaghilev's ballet company before becoming conductor of the City of Birmingham Orchestra in 1924. He established, and became chief conductor of, the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1930. Boult was known for his championing of British music. He gave the first performance of his friend Gustav Holst's The Planets, and introduced new works by, among others, Bliss, Britten, Delius, Tippett, Vaughan Williams and Walton … not sure what he’d have made of Sadie and the Hotheads… or the autograph hunters waiting outside for “Miss McGovern” to arrive, not knowing she was already chilling out in the dressing room backstage.
February 9th. Saturday. A short drive to Worcester, home of Elgar and the wonderful Huntingdon Hall: Edward Elgar was born in the small village of Lower Broadheath, just outside Worcester. His father, William Henry Elgar worked as a piano tuner and set up a shop selling sheet music and musical instruments. In 1848 he married Ann Greening, daughter of a farm worker. Edward was the fourth of their seven children. All the Elgar children received a musical upbringing and by the age of eight, Elgar was taking piano and violin lessons, and his father, who tuned the pianos at many grand houses in Worcestershire, would sometimes take him along, giving him the chance to display his skill to important local figures. Elgar's mother was interested in the arts and encouraged his musical development, and he inherited from her a discerning taste for literature and a passionate love of the countryside… he could have been a Hothead!
Huntingdon Hall was built as a chapel in 1773 by the very formidable Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, a woman most definitely in touch with her ‘Sadie’. The Chapel prospered until the second half of the 20thC and the last service was held there in 1976. After a period of decline, and due to the considerable efforts of local people, the unique features of the chapel were repaired and restored. This beautiful Hall, the only one of its kind in the country, is a Grade II listed building. The poet John Betjeman described it as "unique and irreplaceable...a Georgian gem"… the best night on the tour so far, a packed house, a great performance from both bands and the chance, for the Nelson Brothers, to renew an old friendship with great local singer/songwriter/broadcaster Johnny Coppin.
February 10th. Sunday. And on to Bristol. St George’s: “one of the country's finest concert halls, with superb acoustics and a unique atmosphere that attracts the world's best artists.” Nice to be amongst such exalted company. Dropped off the gear about 1pm and headed out to Park Street for some lunch and shopping… After a little encouragement Nick bought a wonderful pair of pink, checked ‘punk’ trousers, complete with numerous zips, for the gig. They complemented his tails perfectly. Simon said, “Make sure your flies are done up… all of them!” And so, the last night of the first part of the tour and a fitting end to this part of our journey. Sadie rocked, wine was consumed, gear packed away and we headed out into the dark winter night and a snowy drive back down the M4 to London.
The verdict from the band -
Elizabeth "It was so great to play the warm and charming Tivoli Theatre to the lovely community of Wimborne Minster"
Simon "Lovely venue, lovely people, great vibe"
Nick "Good response and there were a lot of people"
Terl "The ship set sail and a melodious sound filled the sunset"
Ron "An excellent start to the tour"
Steve "Great support from the Open Road, thanks to Matt Hay and enjoying glasses of wine with the band after the gig as I type".
Philly "What a thrill to become a Hothead. First night fantastic"
Just about to go on. Excited Hot Heads have got their dandy togs on.
Elizabeth and Philly are warbling next door and dressed sharp.
Soundcheck sounded good.
The band are ready to go.
The day finally arrives; day one of the first Sadie and the Hotheads UK tour. The splitter wasn't ready, so we're finally heading off at noon. Steve, Matt, Terl, Nick, Philly and Simon.
Crossing the Thames at Kew - low, grey purple cumulus clouds clutter a blue sky.
We pick up Elizabeth from Downton Abbey rehearsals at Ealing Studios. Ealing Studios were set up at White Lodge on Ealing Green in 1902 by Will Barker and is the longest running film studios, famous for Passport to Pimlico and The Ladykillers.
Sheryl Crowe plays at Fleet services.
Conversation meanders; gun laws; acting techniques; 70s TV drama. Terl sings Blue Monk and asked "was I out of tune?" Nick said " it was more the timing I was worried about!" - a slight concern, Terl being the drummer.
Philly: "I have a pink dress"
Steve: "I've got tails for Nick, he looks like Beethoven".
Terl: "do you cook?"
Elizabeth: "I do".
Terl: "Jules used to make banana pizza".
Someone asked Terl "Is your son musical?" "Yeah, he's a drummer"... Raucous laughter.
The gig? It was fabulous. The lovely Tivoli Theatre. Responsive crowd. Sadie went out to sign CDs after the event. Then back to the hotel . Red wine and conversation. This is Sadie and the Hotheads.
As the Central Line pulls out of the tunnel to the West London suburbs sunlight stabs through the trees in to the carriage from an ice-blue, Winter sky. To North Acton - guitar on back and a suitcase full of effects; fuzz, echo, tremolo…
Survival Studios (“The leading provider of music rehearsal facilities in London”) run down but friendly rehearsal rooms. Silver Gaffa tape binds down the frayed ochre carpet; the walls are “off-white”. Bands of all shapes, sizes, ages, styles and genres come and go day and night. Today Sadie and the Hotheads are in room 6. Terl, Nick, Steve, Ron, Philly, Elizabeth and Simon.
Terl is flamboyant, effervescent, dapper and unique; creative and entertaining. Nick spends some moments leaning back against the wall, eyes closed – possibly considering what he will play next, or else just feigning sleep before he sways into action – a kaleidoscope of cubist sound fills the room from deft fingers. Ron slithers on upright – pins it down.
Steve points out errors in the bar-count and weaves bouzouki countermelodies. The girls focus on the meaning of the lyrics and shape the songs.
Small Tasks sounds like Stand By Me. Old Boyfriends is flippant and frivolous. On Blues Song Simon and Nick deliberately push each other further off-key rather like Tom Waits and Marc Ribot – The Piano Has Been Drinking, indeed. A majestic Use It Up soars through the small room like a caged thing trying to make an escape… and it’s done. The UK tour starts here.
There is a palpable sense of excitement on a day when something unusual is going to happen – like a day when, as a child, you are heading off on a summer holiday - early morning, dad packs the Ford Consul and traces an index finger over a multi-coloured map. This morning Sadie and the Hotheads are rehearsing for a live appearance on Weekend Wogan. Sir Terry Wogan, legendary Limerick City born broadcaster, a “national treasure” in the UK since the ‘60s.
Sunday morning tube train to Oxford Circus – the conversation, inevitably, is about music. At the BBC Radio 2 studios we cram into the small lift. Up on the third floor. There is Elton John’s Piano – a Yamaha grand that was lugged up for a performance. Getting the piano to the third floor allegedly proved to be such a hassle that Elton left it there as a ‘donation’ to the BBC. A sign reads “Feel free to have a play but please check with anyone in the vicinity if it will disturb them”. The show is live at 11:00am. 10:30 we sound-check in the studio; two acoustic guitars and three voices. There is something pure about an unplugged performance…..
Sir Terry is genuinely funny, charming, relaxing and a bona fide professional. In the studio the red light goes on – we play LA Days and Drops of Rain, chat… then it’s over. Back down in the lift, handed in our passes at the desk on the way out. Outside the front door a lone autograph hunter holds up a coloured poster of Lady Cora; Elizabeth obliges and signs. We meet the great Huey Morgan, front-man with the Fun Lovin’ Criminals and broadcaster for BBC 6 Music and Radio 2 – on his way to present The Huey Show on 6 Music. He’s wearing a heavy, US Marine camouflage jacket and says “I was in the marines and they keep sending me them, it’s very warm.” It is said that as a juvenile he was in trouble with the law – given a choice of jail or the marines he chose the latter, a subject dealt with in his song The Grave and the Constant. He says in his New York drawl “Hey, I didn’t realise, it’s Elizabeth McGovern”.
A Thursday in December. Grey London sky. Rain. Just a few days before Christmas, 2012. Breakfast in the ‘Queensbury Deli’, Willesden Green, with Toby… bacon sarnies and tea.
The studio: A large poster of a young Bob Dylan greets us … the omens are good. There’s make-up in the ‘Green Room’, drummers drumming, pipers playing, lighting engineers, cameramen, cables and good company. Terl on drums, Ron on bass, Simon on guitar, Toby standing in for Nick (who’s gigging up North) on grand piano, Anna on vocals, myself on bouzouki and Sadie (of course) on guitar and lead vocal.
‘Nothing New’ bursts out of the speakers and we’re off …
“All of the fish in all of the sea, all of the stars we can’t even see”
Later, there’s red wine and Pandoro, the traditional Italian ‘Christmas’ sweet yeast bread, dusted with vanilla scented icing sugar and resembling the snowy peaks of the Italian Alps. Pandoro appeared in remote times, the product of the ancient art of breadmaking. Its name: Pan d'oro means, literally: Golden Bread. Throughout the Middle Ages, sweet breads, enriched with eggs, butter and sugar or honey were reserved for the palaces of the nobility.
Pandoro was also the last meal eaten by the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini before his execution in 1945... hmmm.
Troubadour: any of a class of lyric poets who flourished principally in Provence and N Italy from the 11th to the 13th centuries, writing chiefly on courtly love in complex metric form, a travelling minstrel, a singer of folk songs, jongleur, minstrel, poet-singer.
The Troubadour: Earl’s Court. Famous coffee house, founded in 1954, in the style of the great coffee houses of the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 50′s and 60′s, one of THE centres of London’s bohemian, intellectual and artistic life.
November 2012. Tuesday. The streets already dark and wet with rain. Down to the cellar for afternoon soundcheck. Elizabeth and the boys drifting in, tuning up, plugging in, testing mics, telling tales. Ghosts of the sixties … Dylan’s first port of call when he arrived in London in ’62. Hearing Martin Carthy’s renditions of the trad ballads ‘Scarborough Fair’ and ‘Lord Franklin’ here, inspired his own ‘Girl from the North Country’ and ‘Bob Dylan’s Dream’, while Paul Simon famously appropriated Carthy’s guitar part for his own arrangement of ‘Scarborough Fair’. Tom Paxton wrote ‘Leaving London’ after a gig here in ‘66:
"Last night The Troubadour was so full they barred the door …."
Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello, Adele, Ed Sheerin … Sadie and the Hotheads …
The beatniks have gone but the beat goes on.
Recording in Kipper’s barn in sunny Surrey. Copious amounts of tea and coffee. Brie and chutney on French bread. The majestic Terl Bryant laying down drums to the ghost of Sadie’s vocal. Lizzie tracking harmonies, fingers tap-dancing in the air. The electric guitar soaring into the heavens, howling like Orpheus in the bowels of the earth. A song to charm the birds, fish and wild beasts, coax the trees and rocks into dance, and divert the course of rivers. ‘Use It Up’. Two chords and a heartbeat.