Food, Fun & Friendship

Bike to The Future ’23 Tour – Part 10

a Band named Brian - Bike to The Future tour '23 - Glastonbury

So now we’d come full circle. Once again, Rob and I set off, heading South from Bath via the Two Tunnels. As before, we navigated the niggly hills and lanes of WeIIow and Shoscombe, then followed the disused railway path to Radstock.


But, this time, we stayed East of the main road towards Shepton. This is a route I only discovered after several trips battling it out with heavy traffic and HGVs. A steep climb out of Radstock rewards you with a lovely stretch up among the hills. There are wide, open views, quiet lanes and one particularly well-placed food opportunity, just before the Mendips properly kick In.

Rob and I grabbed this chance and rather over-indulged in a carb-heavy lunch. Thus refueled, we made our way up and over. There’s then a welcome long descent back down towards Shepton. Then a few short hills, before joining the carefully-controlled queue of traffic heading for the festival.

Familiar Buzz

Being performers, we have the luxury of getting on site before the hordes. Nonetheless, the line of stationary vehicles stretched for a good mile or so. With oncoming traffic also intermittently halted, we relished the opportunity to coast the long downhill approach on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.

Traffic queuing for Glastonbury Festival

This – coupled with the familiar buzz of catching glimpses of the site for the first time – made for an exhilarating final stretch. Marred only slightly by the fact we were unsighted by a waiting truck, just before the traffic lights at Red Gate. As cyclists who are routinely appalled by others that wantonly ignore red lights, we were horrified to realize we’d inadvertently done just that.

In!… Except We Weren’t

So, with our metaphorical tails between our legs (and the traffic Marshall’s yells ringing in our ears), we pedaled on towards the cycle compound at Bronze Gate. Here, we were met with the most helpful and welcoming reception you could imagine. And we were in! Except we weren’t.

There’s a bit of a hike between the cycle park and the gate to actually penetrate Fortress Glastonbury. To go through which – of course – you need a ticket. Which – of course – we had. Or rather I had. Or didn’t.

Expertly Packed

I’d expertly packed to facilitate a quick transition from cycling to walking. And I’d been especially careful to stow the tickets in a safe place. But – no matter how many times I looked – they weren’t there. Impossible.

Fortunately, our guitarist, Stephen, had yet to leave Bath for the festival. So I called to ask him to pop round to mine to look for the missing documents. Having dispatched Stephen on this mission, I immediately remembered moving the tickets to a hidden pocket. And there they were. Sorry Stephen. Stand easy.

En-Suite Reggae

Obviously, what happens at Glastonbury stays at Glastonbury. So, there’s a limit to how much I can report. Suffice to say, we found ourselves a great spot to pitch our tents, among other musicians and crew from The Bandstand, on which we were booked to perform.

a Band named Brian - Bandstand, Glastonbury 2023

It transpired we also had an en-suite reggae band, led by the charismatic ‘king’ Dave. They were together for the first time, so we were treated to lengthy dub jams. Later, we were also joined by a lively bunch from Nottingham. They were performing in various configurations, making up 2 ½  bands between them. And engaged us on their arrival in an energetic (if potentially ill-judged) game of frisbee among the tents.


Wise Wound - Glastonbury 1995

Rob and I’d originally been booked to appear as part of Wise Wound. This was the band with which I made my first Glastonbury appearance, back in 1993. The visionary behind Wise Wound was Sue Chewter. Her pixie-like appearance and punkish performance energy – coupled with the all-acoustic, multi-layered instrumentation – transfixed many an audience, both at festivals and all over London, where we were based.

Sad to say, Sue now has a serious illness. But she’s not beaten. Oh no. In defiance, we’d arranged to have a Wise Wound reunion at Glastonbury – the band’s spiritual home. Unfortunately, Sue’s energy took a downturn during the run-up, which meant she wasn’t able to see it through.

Wall of Emotion

Instead, Rob and I – accompanied by the irrepressible Stephen on guitar – stepped in. We worked out a version of one of Sue’s songs, Blue Room, which has particular resonance for me. Rob and I had made this part of our regular set throughout the tour. So we were well-prepared by the time we got to Glastonbury.

a Band named Brian - Bandstand - Glastonbury 2023

But what I wasn’t prepared for was the wall of emotion that hit me as I introduced the song. My plan was to ask people in the audience to film this and share it via social media. In the event, I messed up explaining who to tag. Fortunately, however, a member of the crew – who has since been away (on a cycle tour!) – has promised to send me his footage. We’ll see, in due course, whether it’s worth sharing.


a Band named Brian - Glastonbury 2023

Apart from that, we settled into the slow, mellow vibe of this year’s festival. Highlights for me were: ADG7 from South Korea (who describe themselves as Korean shamanic folk-pop); Ezra Collective (mercury-nominated London jazz geezers); and The Master Musicians of Joujouka (who play multiple drums and reed instruments in trance-inducing shifting layers). And then, on Sunday afternoon, Usef/Cat Stephens had the whole Pyramid Stage audience in tears when he finished his beautiful ‘Legends’ set with Father & Son. Hugs all round.

Oh – and a bloke called Elton played his last ever UK gig to quite a large gathering on Sunday night. Rob and I foolishly arranged to meet Stephen ‘by the tree’ (if you know Glastonbury, you’ll know the one). Us and about 2,000 others. Needless to say, we never found him.

If I’ve learned one thing over the many years I’ve attended this event, it’s that you should never waste your time trying to meet a specific person in a specific place at a specific time. If you’re meant to find someone, you will. Just not when or where you expected.

So, That’s It

So, that’s it really. We also played a backstage gig in the much-coveted Theatre & Circus green room (now inexplicably renamed ‘Sunny’s Bar’ – yuck!). This was well-received and we acquitted ourselves pretty well for early on the fifth day of the festival.

Monday morning, Rob packed his tent and delivered his gear to the cyclists’ luggage collection point. I’ve failed multiple times to meet that deadline. So, I opted for a more leisurely morning. But would consequently need to carry everything on my bike back to Bath.

I did – of course – get up to see Rob off. He was cycling up to Bristol, to take a train from there to Sheffield, from where he’d cycle to his home in the Peaks. I’m never great with goodbyes. And after such an epic journey, things tend to feel a little anticlimactic.

Much To Celebrate

But there was much to celebrate. Despite interruption and bereavement, we’d proved to ourselves that this thing works. And works well. And we’ve no doubt we’ll do it again before long.

We’ve met some amazing people along the way. Made new friends. Forged new connections. And all this under our own steam. Fueled – quite simply – by food, fun and friendship.

Until next time…

Sunday Service

Bike to The Future ’23 Tour – Part 9

Bike to The Future tour diary - part 9 'Sunday Service'

Had the tour not been cut short, we’d have cycled from Cardigan down to Carmarthen. Here, we were due to play Cwrw. This looks like a terrific venue and the promoter, Michael, had been really helpful during the planning stages. No doubt we’ll return to the area before long to honour that commitment. Naturally, they’d been thoroughly understanding when I’d been in touch to tell them about my bereavement.

Extremely Accommodating

So too the wonderful Annie, at the Whitehall in Llandovery. Annie had been extremely accommodating, finding a date for us at short notice after our itinerary changed. She’d also organised overnight digs and sourced a PA. The Whitehall is a great locals’ hangout that has occasional music and other events. I’d encountered this terrific pub on a cycle tour with my son last year. On that trip, we hadn’t been playing music but did have a great night.

The tour would have then carried on via The forest of Dean and back to Bath. And here we resumed, joined – once again – by guitarist Stephen Dalley Smith. The venue was another great watering hole (what are the chances?), The Grapes.

Well Connected

Bike to The Future tour diary - part 9: The Grapes, Bath

Right in the city centre, this used to be quite a dive, with sIot machines and sports continuously ignored on wall-mounted TV Screens. After a refit, a few years ago, it has been transformed. Now a modern, characterful bar, The Grapes caters to a broad age range, attracting locals and tourists alike.

Ellie, the manager, has been part of the local music scene for many years. She’s well connected, well respected and able to attract the cream of local talent. The music here tends to be informal, with both jazz and folk sessions a regular feature. On Sunday afternoons, Ellie puts on booked acts. And this was the slot we took for our tour date.

Reciprocal Arrangement

A side room, downstairs in the beer cellar, has become something of a repository for local musicians’ equipment. Which is a great reciprocal arrangement. They get somewhere to store gear between gigs and visiting acts get to use this when they play.

Setting up at the front of the bar, I had no idea what to expect. Whereas I’d been to The Grapes many times, I’d not witnessed a Sunday afternoon gig here. I’d imagined either an empty bar or one full of people with no interest in listening to unfamiliar, original songs.

Attentive Throughout

But these fears were unfounded. Just as Ellie had promised, the bar filled nicely with people who’d come for the music. And the makeshift PA worked just fine. Rob joined me, direct off the train from Sheffield, in time for a quick soundcheck. Stephen would come for the second set, having spent the night at Glastonbury (where he’d worked a gate shift during the festival build).

Bike to The Future tour diary - part 9 'Sunday Service'

The gig went well. We had a great crowd, who remained attentive throughout. During the sing-along ‘Calling From The Future’, I was able to make eye contact with those right at the far end of the bar (and it is a long one), who enthusiastically joined in. Especially with the out-of-tune harmonies!

Regroup, Repack & Rehearse

Now there was time to regroup, repack and rehearse before the final leg of the tour. Which would involve retracing our steps South. This time, we’d be stopping at the Somerset village of Pilton…

Over The Hill

Bike to The Future ’23 Tour – Part 8

This morning, we were up at 8 am, ready for early breakfast and a quick get away. Although we were able to order coffee before the cafe’s official opening time, there were unencouraging sounds emanating from the kitchen. Evidently, one of the hobs had packed up. Disaster. Would we have to set off on empty stomachs?

Community Hub

Of course not. The heroic staff managed to feed us with minimum fuss. And, although the place wasn’t yet actually open, there was already quite a gathering inside. You see, The Cellar is more than simply a cafe and music venue.

Like the Yeoman, The Cellar functions as something of a community hub. And many of those it serves aren’t properly catered for by the local or national administrations. Both the Pembroke Yeoman and The Cellar stand as examples of why we should all celebrate and support independent ‘businesses’. I put that last word in parentheses because, although they obviously need to turn a profit, this is clearly not the driving motive in either case.

Differences in Temperament

So now, grateful for our full bellies, we said farewell to Steve and his team. And set forth for Haverfordwest. This meant – as previously mentioned – crossing the Preselis. Our original plan had been to visit Pat and his wife Verity at their home in the area. But that would have to wait for another time. Now we had a train to catch. And hills to cross.

Not surprisingly. this was a serious climb. It was, however, steady. So, whilst a challenge, the ride was both enjoyable and rewarding. Rob and I have differing approaches to tackling hills, largely due to the differences between our bikes (but partly down to temperament). Rob likes to attack and go at them hard. Whereas, I’m more inclined to pace myself.

Quite Something

This meant that, with the hill rising continuously over a couple of miles, Rob disappeared into the distance, while I plodded along – getting steadily further behind. Which was fine. I knew Rob would wait at the top. So, I took the opportunity, part way up, to stop for a banana and to take in the magnificent views.

At the top, there was a parking area, where Rob was waiting. From here you could see for miles around, with views to the coast, both to the North and South of the headland. A couple came over to commend us on our efforts. We told them about our tour and they pointed out the spot from which – recent research has ascertained – the sarsen stones of Stonehenge were transported. Quite something when you think about it.

Quiet Journey To Bristol

There followed a lovely, long, downhill stretch. After which, there wasn’t far to go until we reached Haverfordwest. Here, we killed some time with coffee and cake at the lovely library cafe by the river, before making our way to the station. This time, mercifully, the train wasn’t overcrowded and we were able to stow our bikes in the allotted space. We settled into our seats and prepared for a quiet journey to Bristol.

Until – that is – a couple of stops later, we were joined by a convivial, very camp and slightly tipsy gentleman. Who was clearly intent on conversation. Up until his arrival, Rob and I had been happy to sit in companionable silence. Which was practically a first for the trip. Rob had taken the opportunity to switch off a little, now that we were no longer under the pressures of touring.

Unwitting Counselor

Our new friend took this to be grumpiness on Rob’s part. So, he probed and provoked until Rob, too, joined our chat. He was actually a sweetheart but going through difficult times. And, although neither Rob nor I really wanted another drink at this stage, we graciously accepted his rather persistent offer to join him in a can of lager.

Hopefully, our counselling was of some help. Our friend was clearly in need of a sympathetic ear. And, although he was facing something of a dilemma in both his professional and private lives, it sounded as though he knew – really – the way forward. As we got off to change trains at Cardiff, we saw – looking back through the window of the carriage – that a new, unwitting counselor had been quickly recruited. Good luck to them both.

A Triumph

At Bristol, a train for Bath was imminent. So we decided to forego the cycle back from there. We both had quite a bit to organise before our respective onward journeys. And there was little to prove in cycling the remaining 18 miles or so back.

So that was that, for the time being. As a first run, cycling and performing together as a duo, it had been a triumph. Musically, socially and logistically, we’d established that we make an excellent team. Though interrupted, this was not the end of the tour. And, once it does end, there will certainly be more to follow.

Cosy Cardigan

Bike to The Future ’23 Tour – Part 7

Bike to The Future '23 Tour - Part 7. The Cellar Cardigan

After another late night, chatting around the brazier with appreciative locals at Trehale, we were a little slow to get going this morning. But that was fine. Today, we only had around 25 miles to cover. Taking our leave of Adam and Trish, we headed off towards the coast, which we would then follow (a little inland) towards Cardigan for tonight’s gig at The Cellar.


Having wolfed down the provided microwave porridge, we were still in need of fuel for the ride. So, we took a short diversion towards Fishguard, in search of the hallowed all-day breakfast. And, as we reached the first signs of town-centre, there – across a small square – appeared an oasis.

Bike to The Future '23 Tour - Part 7. The Popty Cafe

Keeping a lid on our expectations, we neared what turned out to be quite a smart café. The first hurdle was to ascertain it was open. Check. But did they do breakfast? Check. And would they serve breakfast so late in the day? Yes, they would! And did they have a vegetarian option? Yes, they did! Bingo!!

And it was honestly one of the finest breakfasts I’ve had in a long time. Even the coffee was good. The price to pay for this indulgence was a steep climb, back up into the hills. But it was well worth it. And now we had the fuel on board to cope with the extra exertion.

Job Done

If was a beautiful, clear, sunny day. We enjoyed wide open views, across both land and water. The scenery in this region is simply stunning: rolling hills; fields of cows and sheep, edged with burgeoning hedgerows, abundant in wildlife. And – of course – the magnificent sea. After one particularly lengthy climb on the approach to Cardigan, we found a grassy field, where we took the time to stop and drink it all in. And have a lie down.

'Cosy Cardigan' Bike to The Future '23 Tour - Part 7. Having a lie down.

And, soon after, we reached Cardigan: a place – it turned out – neither of us had visited before. First impressions were good and we settled at a bar terrace, overlooking the river, for some fluids (no – orange and soda, since you ask). As I returned to my bike, to find the details for tonight’s venue, I glanced up the road and noticed a sign saying ‘Live Music This Evening’. And there we were on the poster. Job done.

Where The Magic Happens

The Cellar is run by a charismatic, larger-than-life character, called Steve. Steve is a natural storyteller and, when he smiles, bears an uncanny likeness to Robert de Nero (he’ll hate me for mentioning that… everyone does). The Cellar itself is an immediately arresting place. Upstairs, there’s a homely, welcoming café. Down below, strangely enough, is the Cellar. And here’s where the magic happens.

Everywhere you look, there are posters, books, vinyl LPs and memorabilia. The furniture is a mixture of old leather sofas, church pews, car seats and goodness knows what. I may have imagined some of that but you get the general picture. Among the signed photos from artists that have appeared here were Robin Williamson, Martin Carthy and John Etheridge. August company indeed!


'Cosy Cardigan' Bike to The Future '23 Tour - Part 7. Green Room

The venue has a green room, complete (thankfully, for all concerned) with shower, plus some rudimentary sleeping options. We were treated to cold plates of tasty morsels in the cafe before soundcheck. These were accompanied by an impromptu lecture in theology from Steve. Which we really hadn’t seen coming.

Taking to the stage area to set up, we were met with scenes of luxury.  A complete P.A. system! With foldback! And all the channels and inputs we could wish for. There was even bottled water waiting for us onstage. We could get used to this.


Come the gig. the audience was, once again, modest but appreciative. Notable among these was an elderly lady in a colourful, sparkly outfit, complete with fringed wig. Steve had told us to expect this individual. Apparently, she attends every gig and always buys a CD.

True to form, this amazing lady (whose name I’ve shamefully forgotten) approached us during the break. She explained she’s always at The Cellar on music nights and – sure enough – asked if she could buy an album. Sadly, for weight-saving reasons, we’d chosen not to bring any ‘merch’ on the tour. We did, however, have some postcards that include a download link. And I promised to send a CD on to Steve, once we returned home from our travels (something – equally shamefully – I’ve yet to do. But I will).

'Cosy Cardigan' Bike to The Future '23 Tour - Part 7. The Cellar Cardigan with dancers

Friends Reunited

Our dear friend Pat – who, since Lockdown, has lived in the nearby PreseIi Hills – also came to see us. The three of us met as music students in London in the late 80s. Back then, Pat and I played in Rob’s band ‘Rob Whale & The MarIeys’ (one of the finest names for a band I’ve had the pleasure to be part of – and there’s been a few). Later, I performed for many years in Pat’s barn-dance band ‘Cartwheel Ceilidh’.

It was great to catch up with a dear friend and spend down-time with the inimitable Steve. Volunteering at the bar was another interesting character (we’ll call him ‘Phil’). Phil lives off-grid, on otherwise disused land. He’s put together an online map to help others find similar spaces to call home. What a terrific initiative.

Unscheduled Interruption

All too soon, it was time to call a halt to our nocturnal socializing. In the morning, Rob and I would need to be up early. We wanted to get an early breakfast before crossing the PreseIi Hills in time to catch our train from Haverfordwest back to Bristol.

Originally, we’d have been continuing the tour, cycling to our next gig in Carmarthen. But now it was time for me to make my way over to Germany for Helga‘s funeral.

We’d pick things up again after that.


Bike to The Future ’23 Tour – Part 6

'Barnstorming' - Part 6 of the Bike to The Future '23 tour diary

Naturally, after yesterday’s exertions, we were keen to get our heads down after the gig. No… of course we weren’t. Anyone who performs will be familiar with the need to ‘come down’ afterwards. And our host at the Pembroke Yeoman understood this well. Moreover, she needed her own downtime after a busy evening’s Work.

Precious Times

So, we spent a very pleasant couple of hours with Jess and one or two of her regulars, chatting into the small hours in the cozy bar. These are the precious times. At the end of a long day’s traveling and performing, when strangers are – temporarily – your new best friends. I’ve no idea what we talked about. But that’s as it should be. What remains are fond memories of happy times well spent in good company.

In the morning, we only had a relatively short distance to ride. So we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the sunny courtyard-garden.  Until, eventually, it was time to leave Jess in peace and make our way to the next venue. This was Trehale Farm, a short hop over the hills near the tiny hamlet of Mathry.

Alternative Scene

Part 6 of the Bike to The Future '23 tour diary - Trehale Farm

For some reason, we’d imagined this to be some kind of ‘glamping’ site, populated by middle-class families from over the border in England. How wrong we were. To be fair, we should have known. The booking had been made after I’d seen that punk-poet Attila The Stockbroker had performed here. And several of the Yeoman’s regulars had reported hedonistic times spent at Trehale.

So it should have been no surprise to find a quite alternative scene on our arrival. The main building was rough and ready, with a broken-down, live-in converted bus parked outside. The surrounding yards and fields were strewn with a variety of vehicles, farm equipment and general gubbins.

All of which sounds rather negative. But the overall impression was of a place where stuff happens. And of an environment not overly concerned with established norms or rules. And so it proved.

Very Thoughtful

We were greeted at the door by ‘Trish’, an eccentric, well-spoken lady of mature years but with a youthful twinkle in the eye, who reminded me, somehow, of Miriam Margolyes. Thankfully, Trish was expecting our arrival. She showed us to our digs, a rather lovely B & B-style room, upstairs in the old farmhouse. Here, we found tea-making facilities, weIshcakes, some pastries and pots of microwave porridge. (And a mini microwave.) Very thoughtful.

Thanking Trish for the pastries, she seemed a little taken aback. “Those were for your breakfast” she exclaimed. No matter. There was still the porridge. And time in the morning to find a cafe for ‘proper’ breakfast.

Keeping The Locals Onside

But, before all that, we needed to find the ‘stage’ and make ourselves known to Adam and his crew. Which is where things started to get interesting. It transpired this was to be the first event at Trehale for some time. Evidently, it had all been going very well. People from round about had enjoyed some wild times at the farm. Including the immediate neighbours.

'Barnstorming' - Part 6 of the Bike to The Future '23 tour diary - preparations begin

Until, one day, those neighbours decided they’d had enough. So they’d taken Adam to court. And lost. So now Adam was starting again. Mindful of wanting to keep the locals on side, he’d decided to go for more acoustic entertainment… us! He also thought it a good idea to use minimal PA.

Well, there’s minimal and there’s inadequate. What we were presented with leaned, dangerously toward the latter. Fortunately, Adam runs a club in nearby St. Davids. So, he arranged for something to be fetched from there. Adam was completely honest about his lack of expertise in this area. So, we agreed to be back in good time to help set up. Meanwhile, we had an urgent appointment with a local beach.

Bracing Waters

Part 6 of the Bike to The Future '23 tour diary - down on the beach

Both Trish and Jess had recommended a little bay called Abermawr. We were warned it would be a steep ride down and – more to the point – back up again. Which it was. What we hadn’t been told was it’s about a twenty minute walk from the nearest road once you get there.

Normally, I’d be delighted by this. But it meant there was little opportunity to linger. One of us did, however, brave the bracing waters. Then it was time to get back to the bikes and haul ourselves up the steep lanes to Trehale.

Up and Running

Returning to the barn, we found this had now been transformed into something resembling a stage. In fact, it was looking pretty good. Except for the random assortment of sound equipment. Somehow, from this jumble of cables, speakers, etc. we needed to piece together a workable PA.

Part 6 of the Bike to The Future '23 tour diary  starting to look good

Fortunately, as we grappled with unserviceable power leads and baffling mixing desks, our ‘support’ for the evening – the wonderful Abbie Jebbers – appeared. Being local, Abbie was totally unfazed by the relative chaos that surrounded us. She’d performed here before and was confident all would be well. And, once she’d nipped home to pick up a few missing components, we soon had everything up and running.

Hearty & Wholesome

Part 6 of the Bike to The Future '23 tour diary - food glorious food

Adam’s crew had been hard at work all afternoon restoring the venue – post hibernation – to its former glory. There were now lights, a bar and – more importantly (from a personal point of view) – a food stall in operation. After this afternoon’s cycle/swim, my normal early evening hunger was reaching peak intensity. And although food had been promised, you can never quite know what that means. In this case, it was hearty, wholesome and very much hit the spot. As did the local ale.

A goodly smattering of faithful Trehaleans then appeared. Clearly not holidaymakers and mostly of a more progressive persuasion, they were a rowdy and colourful bunch. So, it looked like we were in for a good evening.

Festy Vibe

Kicking off the entertainment, Abbie Jebbers was magnificent. She has a rich, deep tone that occasionally brought Joni Mitchell to mind. Her extensive vocal range also takes her to some dizzying heights. Abbie’s delivery was charming, understated and pleasantly ego-free. Interspersing some choice covers with her own songs, these were well-received, with one or two apparently familiar to the locals.

'Barnstorming' - Part 6 of the Bike to The Future '23 tour diary - the gig's under way

Then it was our turn. With the brazier blazing (there was a distinct nip in the air), the beer flowing and the skies darkening, there was something of a ‘festy’ vibe about the place. Our set went down a treat. We managed to get everyone singing and a small gaggle even got up to dance at the end. And, once again, we were treated to some post-match (possibly drink-induced) adulation.

Alcohol-fueled or not – we’ll take it!

The Yeoman & The Guard

Bike to The Future ’23 Tour – Part 5

Bike to The Future tour dairy - part 5 'The Yeoman & The Guard'

What you need after an unscheduled boozy night and (relatively) early start is a gentle cycle to get the limbs warmed up. What we actually got was a ridiculous, gut-wrenching climb out of Chepstow, followed by a prolonged slog up into the surrounding hills. Luckily, we’d fueled up on the well-labeled help-yourself breakfast (‘plates HERE’; ‘milk in fridge’ DO NOT use this dish washer’, etc.etc.) at the hostel.

Pleasant Diversion

Bike to The Future tour dairy - part 5: Chepstow to Haverfordwest

Our assumption that the hills would abate once we left the vicinity of Chepstow were unfounded. However, the scenery was very pleasant and we were mainly traveling on quiet lanes. So, we could enjoy the challenges without the addition of lungfuls of diesel or meaningful hand gestures from passing motorists. Once again, there was an abundance of wild spring flowers (absolutely no idea which) and an accompaniment of buzzards, kestrels and a solitary red kite.

Coming into Cardiff (or, as railway announcements would have it arriving into’ – grrrrrr), we were relieved to find a good supply of cycleways to help navigate the busier approach roads. It transpired I’d selected ‘Cardiff Castle’ rather than ‘Cardiff Central’ when plotting the route. But no matter: the two are not far from one another – and the castle park made for a pleasant diversion.

Easy Part

We’d made good time, so had the opportunity of a coffee and cake in the ‘plaza’ (bit of cobbled pavement with chain-cafe chairs and tables strewn about) outside the station. Then came the easy part. Our itinerary meant we had no option but to take a train from Cardiff to Haverfordwest in time for the gig this evening.

Unfortunately, this ‘easy part’ was anything but. Today was a strike day. We knew that. We’d naively imagined the lack of connecting services would mean fewer passengers. What we’d not reckoned on was the fact this line is shared by Great Western Railways’ services to Port Talbot and Swansea. And that ‘rail provider’ was on strike.

Barricade of Baby Buggies

So, all the passengers who would normally travel by Great Western’s inter-city-style multi-carriage trains, now had to cram onto the ageing two-coach affair that normally serves minor stations to Haverfordwest. To say this was not a good fit would be a dereliction of descriptive duties. As the train pulled into Cardiff, it was already full. And another two train-loads worth of travelers were waiting to board.

Rob and I approached the doors to the portion of the train marked for cycle storage (which we’d pre-booked). That section was already full: cordoned off by a barricade of baby buggies and strollers. In addition, the door area was crowded. And around twenty extra people were eagerly trying to insert themselves into this ‘space’.

Given Up Hope

Faced with the impossibility of this situation, I moved towards the far end of the train, where I – wrongly – assumed there may be more room. Once I’d recognised the futility of that maneouvre, I returned to find Rob now wedged into the first carriage. Through sheer will power and force of personality, he’d somehow got himself and his bike in among the scrum. An elderly passenger was more or less impaled on Rob’s handlebar, his rear wheel was held in place by the legs of a standing occupant.

Bike to The Future tour dairy - part 5: Transport for Wales under strain

Seeing me still on the platform, with the train’s departure imminent, Rob pleaded with the other train ‘customers’. Against all odds, he persuaded them to compress in either direction, away from the doors, sufficiently for me to wedge myself and my heavily-laden bike in between the mess of limbs, suitcases and child-paraphernalia. I’d honestly given up hope and was wondering how Rob would manage a solo performance of songs for which only the bass and violin parts, plus the odd backing vocal, were known to him.

Quite Convivial

Once the train got moving and a little air flowed through the open windows, the atmosphere became quite convivial. To be honest, when you’re pressed so closely to strangers for a prolonged period, it would be hard – nay impolite – not to engage in some kind of conversation. Unless, of course, you are on London Transport.

One exception to this good-naturedness was a fellow who took it upon himself to berate the guard. The guard in question rightly suggested people should move further along the carriage, after a few lucky souls had escaped but others needed to replace them. Our be-tattooed – and rather menacing – cohabitant didn’t seem like someone to mess with. So, the rest of us bravely kept quiet. The guard could perhaps have been a little more conciliatory but, thankfully, there were about thirty people separating the two would-be combatants.

Doctor Marten’s Boots

Eventually, having passed the main stop-off points for most passengers, things became less crammed. We even managed to sit down for the final few stops. And had a pleasant conversation with one woman I’d earlier heard complaining about bikes on trains. Rob won her over by asking what was in her ‘Doc Martens’ bag. It turned out it contained… Doc Martens. Who knew?

And then it was just a small matter of scaling the steep hill to the top of Haverfordwest’s old town. Here, somewhat disheveled and out of breath, we were greeted outside the Pembroke Yeoman by friendly locals, who appeared to be awaiting our arrival. They showed us where to stow the bikes before I ventured inside to find our host, Jess.

Creative Hub

Bike to The Future tour dairy - part 5 'The Yeoman & The Guard'

I’d met Jess before, having played this wonderful establishment a few years back with Rivers of England. Jess is one of a kind. She now single-handedly runs The Pembroke Yeoman: a community centre, social services, creative hub and drinking oasis rolled into one. Despite numerous setbacks, Jess has kept going. She now keeps reduced hours but still serves locally brewed beers and hosts regular music events.

We’d arranged to stay the night and Jess already had food prepared for us, so we could replenish our energy reserves before setting up for the gig. Such little touches of hospitality and generosity can make all the difference to a traveling musician. In mainland Europe, they remain the norm but this side of the channel you need to search a little to find them. But the good guys are still there. Both their regulars and the musicians that entertain them know who and where they are. Long may they continue.

Receptive & Appreciative

Thus refreshed, we quickly set up and were ready in time for the scheduled start. It turned out another local venue also had a music event on this evening. So, the numbers weren’t what they might have been. But that made no difference to those who were there. They were incredibly receptive and appreciative and we all had a wonderful evening.

One local declared “I don’t normally like music – but you’re really good, so I’m sticking around!”.

We’ll take that.

In Fond Memory

Bike to The Future ’23 Tour – Part 4

Bike to The Future tour diary part 5 'In Fond Memory'

As Rob and I were about to leave Bath and make our way to Chepstow, I received a worrying message. My wife, who was visiting her mother in Germany, texted to say she would not be returning that day as planned. Helga – who was in declining health – had taken a turn for the worse and my wife wanted to stay with her. She also wanted to be around to look after her father. However, she was clear she didn’t want us to break off the tour.

Strong Intuition

Bike to The Future tour diary part 5 'In Fond Memory'

Part way along the Bristol to Bath Cycle Path, I had a strong intuition that Helga had left us. Noting the time, I pushed on but was keen to know whether my instinct was correct. On stopping for refreshment at Bitton station, I picked up my phone to check for news. At that moment, my wife rang. Helga had – indeed – died.

Again, my wife insisted we should continue our journey. She’d be there to look after her father and liaise with the rest of the family. Rob had also known Helga. She was someone who particularly treasured music and had, herself, sung for many years in choirs. She’d cherished Rob’s visits when I and my family had been living in Germany.

Best Compromise

So, after a weep and a much needed hug, we continued – in something of a daze – our journey to Bristol. For once, my much-maligned mapping app had chosen a good route. I’ve made the journey from Bath to Wales a few times now and each time taken a slightly different path around North Bristol. And this one had the best compromise to date between directness of travel and main-road avoidance.

Take It To The Bridge

Crossing the Severn Bridge, there were some pretty hefty side-winds, which made for interesting travel. The tide was also very high, something I’d not witnessed before from the saddle. It was apparent there are some strong eddies and currents in those waters. Which made me think back to the last time I cycled across the bridge.

Bike to The Future tour diary part 5 - crossing the Severn Bridge

On that occasion, accompanied by my son Florian, we witnessed multiple emergency vehicles converging. We then heard the unmistakable low rumble of a helicopter at close range. But we couldn’t see the craft at all. Until it emerged from beneath the bridge! A second helicopter soon arrived on the scene and it appeared they were looking for something or someone in the water. Hopefully all was well in the end.

Fitting Tribute

On the way to Chepstow, I had a call from my wife. A funeral date had been set and this would mean cutting the tour short. Once again, my wife said we should continue as far as possible and we agreed this would be a fitting way to pay tribute to Helga. Rob was fantastically supportive and helped organise a return journey in time for the funeral the following week.

An early Night?

Bike to The Future tour diary part 5 - Chepstow

Arriving at our digs, a tidy yet rather impersonal hostel (with shouty instruction signs on every surface), I received another call. This time, it was from a local radio presenter. Amid all the disruption, I’d completely forgotten I’d agreed to take this call to conduct an on-air interview. Fortunately, we’d just installed ourselves in a room where I had time and space to answer the questions – hopefully with some degree of coherence.

We’d promised ourselves an early night in preparation for the early ride to catch our train from Cardiff to Haverfordwest in the morning. However, in the light of recent events, a drink or two seemed to be in order. We repaired to the lively riverside hostelry The Boat Inn. I’d previously spoken with the management to discuss a possible booking but had been told there was an open mic night on this evening.

And The Beers Flowed

Initially, we sat outside, enjoying river views and quirky company. Later, however, we decided to take refuge from the cooling conditions and make use of the pub’s WiFi. To no avail. Repeated attempts to book my trains to Germany ended in frustration. Meanwhile, the beers flowed. Oops.

The open mic was actually good fun. There was a ‘house band’ who backed the majority of have-a-go singers. And some of those were really very good too. Inevitably, we were drawn into the room where this was all happening. And the beers continued to flow.

Bike to The Future tour diary part 5 - The Boat Inn, Chepstow

Let’s Sleep On It

No matter. Only an early dash in the morning, across the hills to Cardiff, to worry about. Followed by a train journey on a major strike day. Followed by a steep climb up to the top end of Haverfordwest. Followed by a quick meal. Followed by a hasty soundcheck. Followed by a gig.

Easy. Let’s sleep on it.

Making a Song & Dance

Bike to The Future ’23 Tour – Part 3

Bike to The Future diary part 3  - Making a Song & Dance

Journeying from Frome to Bath, we only had to cover 16 miles but – courtesy of the aforementioned, untested mapping app – contrived to take in some serious climbs. our route vetoed a descent to the well-surfaced, flat and traffic-free disused railway, in favour of a lengthy climb along a busy main road. And it didn’t end there.

Quaint Little Villages

Bike to The Future diary part 3  - Farleigh Hungerford castle

In actual fact, our reward for said climb was a stretch through some very picturesque villages, which – local as I am – I’d never encountered. The way here was hilly but manageable and brought us to the impressive remains of Farleigh Hungerford Castle. At which point, I uttered the immortal words “it’s really tough in the other direction but don’t think this way is so bad”. How wrong can you be?


With our bikes fully laden, what followed was unrideable. In fact, we’d have been hard-pushed to get up it without any baggage. And a hard push is what we faced. This gradient was the only one of the entire journey to defeat both Rob and I. To give an idea of just how steep it was, when I got off my bike, I actually started sliding backwards with both feet flat on the ground.

Having crested this small but vicious incline, we enjoyed the freewheel down to meet the canal towpath at Freshford. Uncharacteristically, neither of us felt the need for refreshment at the Cross Guns. Rather, we pushed on to Bathampton, where we could shower, change, wash clothes and prepare for the next leg of the tour.

Bike to The Future diary part 3  - along the river Avon

A Big Day

The next day was my Fringe show at Burdall’s Yard in Bath. Local guitarist Stephen Dalley-Smith would be joining us for this. Our set would form the second half of a double-header. The first part was an improvised dance piece ‘2020 Vision‘. I originally created the soundscape for this for an art installation but had to abandon that due to Covid.

So, this was a big day for me. I’d spent months planning and marketing the event. I’d found dancers from various sectors of the local community. I’d rehearsed the band; made preparations with the venue and my dance coordinator, Kara Herbert; and I’d hired-in a sound specialist, Dominic Bailey-Clay, to help run the show.

Enjoyable & Rewarding

Bike to The Future diary part 3  - 2020 Vision

We spent the morning and afternoon workshopping the dancers. Which proved to be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. I’d hoped they would ‘get’ the concept and be up for the challenge of improvising movement in among an audience. And so it proved. They were fantastic. And quickly gelled as a group as well.

During the dance itself, I was manning the lights, which provided cues for the dancers and sections of blackout to focus the audience’s attention on spoken elements of the soundtrack. So, the whole thing passed in something of a blur. But I knew the performers were committed and focused. They understood that whatever happened on the night was intended, as far as the audience was concerned. So, all could really immerse themselves in the moment, without fear of going ‘wrong’.

And the audience – apparently – loved it. Phew! Several people stopped to comment on their way out and many took the time to message after the event saying how much they had enjoyed this unique experience.

Follow That!

Now, Rob, Stephen and I had to follow that powerful and unusual opening act. And I’m happy to report we did so with energy, humour and great audience interaction. Having Stephen come on for the final three numbers meant we could up the energy. We invited the audience to put their chairs away so they could dance for these. Which they did!

Bike to The Future diary part 3  - Making a Song & Dance

Room On Top

Bike to The Future ’23 Tour – Part 2

Bike to The Future tour diary Part 2 'Room on Top'

From Shindig, we made our way in bright sunshine and blustery headwinds North East. Our original booking in Shepton Mallet had fallen through, so an alternative had been found at short notice. Fortunately, we have an insider at The Three Swans in Frome and they were happy to have us play in their upstairs room (not a euphemism).

The Mendips Keep On Dipping

The journey there was 39 miles, back across the Mendips. This took us through some beautiful scenery. And across a fair few hills. Whilst the Mendips are undeniably picturesque, you never quite feel you’ve conquered them. The problem is they just keep… dipping.

Bike to The Future tour diary Part 2 Illminster to Frome

A notable example of this is around Bruton. This historic market town has a high street that’s really quite a challenge to scale by fully-laden bicycle. And the surrounding sharp hills and valleys are impossible to avoid if you want to get there.

Trespassing Again

The weather remained fair and many of the fields we passed were, once again, full of wild flowers. In addition to buzzards and kestrels, we saw our first red kite of the journey: always a thing of majesty and wonder. The farms, however, were of an industrial scale – something hard to sustain as we plunge ever further into environmental catastrophe.

Stopping to eat at a farm shop (oh, the hypocrisy!) we took shelter from the sun beneath some trees by a neighbouring driveway. Not wanting to repeat last year’s inadvertent trespass on my way to Shindig, we quickly moved on once we realised we were being observed. But the sandwiches were good and the shade welcome.

Cosy & Intimate

Avoiding the main road into Frome meant pedaling through the picturesque environs of Nunney. This entailed another steep descent and grueling long climb back up again. But soon we were at our overnight stopover, conveniently situated a short walk from the venue. Our hosts were very accommodating and cooked us a hearty meal before we set off.

As mentioned, this gig had been convened at short notice and was in a small room above the pub. So, the only audience were people that had been contacted directly (as opposed to captive in the bar). This made for a cosy and intimate evening. And a good opportunity to try our material unplugged.

Bike to The Future tour diary Part 2 'Room on Top'

Thought-Provoking & Melodic

Before Rob and I took the floor (to call it a stage would be something of an exaggeration), my friend and Rivers of England bandmate Rob Spalding aired a few of his latest songs. These were characteristically thoughtful, thought-provoking and melodic – and well received by all. He and Rob (the other one) spent a goodly while discussing the merits of John Martyn and alternative tunings… as the rest of us waited patiently for another song!

Kicking Off

Meanwhile, downstairs it was kicking off. Whereas the Three Swans is normally a convivial hangout for locals, it turns out somebody from out of town was camped at the bar and had had a few too many. He was evidently holding forth in a way that was deemed unwelcome and provocative.

Blissfully unaware, we got on with singing songs about love and magic upstairs (also not a euphemism).

A Right Old Shindig

Bike to The Future ’23 Tour – Part 1

Bike to The Future tour diary - part 1 'A Right Old Shindig'

The first leg of the tour saw us cycling 56 miles from Bath to Dillington Park, Ilminster. This is the new home (since 2021) of Shindig Festival: a Drum & Bass-heavy weekend of dance, live music and comedy – in that order. More of which later.

Surely Not

The journey down was tough but familiar – the first section being the well-ridden route to Glastonbury. Along the way, we passed hedgerows full of spring flowers, woodlands brimming with wild garlic and set-aside fields ablaze with colour. Overhead were many birds, among them gold finches, skylarks and buzzards.

Bike to The Future tour diary - part 1: garden of remembrance near Street

This Spring idyll was somewhat marred by ranks of flatbed HGVs taking freshly cut peat from the Somerset Levels. Surely this can’t be allowed when peat bog is know to be a valuable natural carbon sink? Not to mention the devastation caused to this delicate wetland habitat.

Totally Unnecessary

Having made the journey to Shindig (solo) last year, I was confident that the worst of the climbs were behind us once we’d cleared the vicious inclines of the Mendips. But no. This time, I’d prepared the route using a different mapping tool. And this one was, frankly, taking the piss.

Bike to The Future tour diary - part 1 '- recovery stop after High Ham

At one point, we were faced with what appeared a totally unnecessary hill amidst relatively flat surroundings. Our route – naturally – went right over it. On stopping at a hostelry for refreshment on the other side, a local told us that cyclists come from miles around because this is the only ‘proper’ hill in the area. Of course it is.

Pure Joy

Once at the festival site, we quickly regrouped. It’s always amazing how you can feel completely drained but then bounce back after just a few minutes’ rest. The crew camping was spacious, with lush grass in a flat area. Tents were quickly erected and a couple of beers ‘borrowed’ from some friends from Bath.

The festival itself was pure joy. What a relief to be in a place where everyone was just happy to be there. Shindig doesn’t have a ‘main stage’ as such and – aside from one or two well-established names – eschews headline acts. Rather, it feels like one big party: a place to escape the rigours and mundanity of ‘normal’ life

Virtually Horizontal

We were booked to perform on the Hobo Stage: a space with no fixed location and a coordinator (‘Arnie’) so laid back he’s virtually horizontal. Our traveling rig includes travel guitar, fiddle, ukulele bass, ‘stomp’ (a microphone in my guitar case) and vocals. The PA that emerged looked unlikely to cope with our demands.

Fortunately, fellow-performer Marick Baxter had taken the liberty of bringing his own mixing desk. Which had all the channels and inputs we needed. And Marick generously stuck around after his slot to help us set up. All was good: the sun shone, the PA worked and everyone was happy.

Bike to The Future tour diary - part 1 'A Right Old Shindig'