by Richard Lewis


Just nine months after John Green Day 2 I found myself back in Northampton for the third annual John Green Day. I travelled down on Friday evening straight from work thinking that way I could get a good night’s sleep and a leisurely breakfast. Little did I know! The drive was horrendous as I hadn’t started on the motorway until nearly 6pm as I had been standing by a waterlogged pitch in a downpour watching our school football team get beaten 5-0. Anyway I got to the Moat House and checked in around 9.30pm, found my room and headed for the bar. 

There was Paula, Chris (CP), Pam, John, Chris and Dizzy and several others. John, as usual, was worrying about some of the arrangements as there was another function on in our main room until 1am so we couldn’t set up until Saturday morning. Apparently it was the annual dinner of the local netball association, giving rise to some ribald speculation about their dress requirements at such events. Then I saw Rob from Leeds who used to occasionally come to our Dylan meetings when we held them at Mel Gamble’s house. With Rob was his 23-year-old daughter, Hannah, who was just getting into Dylan. We spent a pleasant evening chatting and consuming a couple of bottles of Australian red wine and I then headed to bed around midnight. 

About 4am I was awoken by a loud ringing which at first I mistook for my early alarm call but on finding my glasses and seeing the time I realised it was the Fire Alarm. Grabbing some clothes I headed nervously for the fire escape remembering I was on the 7th floor. In a cold wet car park I came across other Freewheelers and Dylan friends as well as a lot of ill prepared older tourists shivering in their night things. It was over half an hour before we got back inside and to our rooms and like lots of others I spent a restless couple of hours before my real alarm call. 

Not the best start to a long day. Not to worry, the Moat House breakfast was substantial and I was soon ready to face the day. We set up our credentials table (me and Paula) and got John’s lists, spare tickets, programmes and instructions and by 9.30am we were ready for anything. Behind us the merchandise tables were being prepared and our MC Keith Agar was checking his notes and getting his slides and captions in order. John and Chris were trying to find the right leads to connect three different laptops to the projection equipment and there was a general air of chaotic activity. 

Paula and I took it in turns to get a first look at some of the tables behind us and think about which of the various possible purchases was really a necessity. Paula had also brought with her a few spare books to sell which she put out on our table and then pulled another table round so that I could put some of my spares out too. Then things started to get busy. It is amazing how quickly the time goes when you are fully occupied. In no time over a hundred people had arrived, the merchandise tables were doing brisk business and Keith had given one of his famous (or do I mean notorious) opening addresses before introducing Andy Muir as our first speaker. Andy was that very day celebrating the publication of his new book “Troubadour”. As I was on the front desk I didn’t get to hear Andy but managed to pop in to buy a copy of his book. 

I have not yet read it but very much agree with the “critical stance” that Andy outlines in his introduction. Roll on the summer holidays when I might get the chance to read it properly. With Paula and I taking it in turns to pop into the main room or scurry round the merchandise I saw and heard just a bit of CP Lee, missed the quiz but caught a little of Carolyn Hester talking about the early days. I was especially pleased to hear her responses to questions about Richard Farina and Phil Ochs and her tale about Buddy Holly. Along with Paula I also got the chance to say hello to old friends and new as those arriving now numbered over 175 including the fan who paid for his ticket entirely in coins as he had just finished a morning selling from his ice cream van which he had parked outside. I also sold a few books and magazines and then went and spent the proceeds on more books and CDs and DVDs. I was especially pleased with CDs I got. A rare Neil Young from the Bread and Roses Festival in 1980 including a unique performance of “Turbine”, Dylan’s “The October Revolution” which conveniently puts all the covers and one off performances from the autumn tour in one place. Finally there was the wonderful “Once Brave Henry” by Richard and Linda Thompson, which captures two of Richard’s earliest performances after leaving Fairport. It contains rare recordings of two of his vitriolic yet comic songs that he rarely did ever again – “Dragging The River” and “When I Am Prime Minister”. 

Paula, who like me had spent the early hours in the car park, went off for a short nap whilst John went on the desk so I could get something to eat. Refreshed I was able to hear both the fine Dylanesque and the excellent Cold Overture from the front desk. A few more people arrived just for the evening concert and total numbers must have been close to 200. I then shut down the table, packed up all the spare programmes, tickets, lists etc and banked the cash with John before buying another bottle of Australian red and joining the crowd in the main room. I was looking forward to hearing and seeing Carolyn Hester perform and I was not disappointed. 

Backed by her partner David Blume on an electric keyboard she started with a song by her first husband, “Pack Up Your Sorrows”. This was followed by Ed McMurdy’s “Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream” which immediately took me back to those days of beards, sandals and CND marches. There was a fine version of Tom Paxton’s “I Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound”, followed by a beautiful “East Virginia” and Dylan’s “Playboys and Playgirls” and there we were back in the early 60s. David Blume sang as well on his own “I Have A Dream” based on when they heard that Martin Luther King had been murdered. The tune reminded me of Jerry Keller’s “Here Comes Summer” and they ad libbed to include “John Green too!” in the chorus. 

She then sang Buddy Holly’s “Lonesome Tears” mentioning that as a rock ‘n roller he was not well thought of in folk circles but that Dylan had been awestruck enough to say, “Buddy taught you that song!” She continued the Dylan connection by doing “Swing and Turn Jubilee” and “I’ll Fly Away”. As she sang Tom Paxton’s “The Last Thing On My Mind” I was transported back to Bunjies Folk Cellar where I had seen Paxton’s first ever UK appearance nearly 40 years before. Joined by Cold Overture and Stevie Watson we had a communal singsong to end with “Blowin’ In The Wind”. A fitting end to a fine performance and a wonderful 3rd John Green Day. Actually the evening was still going but funnily enough I can’t remember much else!