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.