Hatfield And The North, The Stables, Wavendon, 10th October 2005
What better venue than The Stables to see legends, individually and collectively, Hatfield And The North.
Bespoke music theatre, The Stables, situated just outside Milton Keynes, is always a joy to visit, fully seated, with bar (you can take your drinks in to the auditorium) and small CD shop specialising in 'our sort of music' in the main. The staff are friendly and helpful and the atmosphere is relaxed with musicians and audience mingling in the foyer often by the artiste's merchandising stall. With a car park right outside in the venue's own grounds and set back a fair distance along a track from the main road, there is also a great sense of safety, knowing that you and your vehicle are likely to be secure from the ne'er-do-wells who freely roam our streets. (All that should guarantee me a free pass to the theatre for at least 12 months!)
Hatfield And The North. The name evokes memories for me as a youngster in the back of dad's car, travelling on the way back home from north London on the A1M. The road sign I recalled at the time, and before the band was conceived, came just before a roundabout. It stuck in my mind because I hadn't a clue what or where Hatfield was. Having lived in Hertfordshire I knew of Hatfield House but that was hardly what I would call 'north'. North was Birmingham, Leicester, Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow. I was young and hadn't grasped the poetic licence under which sign writers operated. The thing is, if something grabs one's curiosity when very young, it stays in the mind forever complete with misinterpretations.
One thing I have learned from his early years with Caravan is not to ignore anything that involves Richard Sinclair as it is guaranteed to have an inherent quality. Yet in the days before the Internet, we only knew what was happening in the world of 'our' music thanks to the mainstream press, The Old Grey Whistle Test, and our friends tipping us the wink. I regularly took NME (missing the odd edition) and the Hatfields barely got a mention, unless it was in one of those I missed, so I also missed seeing the band, with classic line-up back in the 70's, alas. I was not going to let that happen in 2005.
Thirty years is a long time. Stepping onto the stage to the rapturous applause from the 230-odd audience, Messrs Sinclair, Pyle, Miller and new Hatfielder Alex Maguire (see Psychic Warrior) had a reputation to live up to yet, at the same time, nothing to prove.
Exhausted from performing in Tokyo and jet-lagged from the long flight, Richard was a little prone to the occasional stumble on the cable-strewn stage and frankly, they all looked weary. From the second they started playing, my mind closed to all words, including the song titles.
While not intended as such, this was a music master class.
They rocked from the start. The deep concentration and smiles swept across the musicians faces and of those in the audience. This was complex material yet there was a feeling that these chaps could produce the same coherence ear-plugged and blindfolded. The Hatfield's fusion of jazz and rock varies from the calmer side of Canterbury to an almost unexpected heavy progressive rock equal to anything any of the big names of their era (early to mid 70's) produced. Yet their material sounds as fresh today as it did back then and could have been written in the present day.
Richard's voice is ageless. Compare it as it is now with recordings going back 35 years and you would be pushed to detect any change. New Hatfield member Alex Maguire slipped into the keyboard role comfortably. Seated just a couple of yards from Alex we had an excellent view of his skills. Mr Miller is an extraordinary guitarist. Be it the nature of some of the compositions or just Phil's natural style, there was a distinct resemblance to the sounds of Jan Akkerman and Andy Latimer. Pip Pyle, looking young as ever, more than equals the musicianship of Bill Bruford, and is a top class percussionist. Unbeknown to us until after the performance, Pip was in much pain with a back problem yet still managed to display his usual quality, smiling throughout.
And what did they play? The short answer is the majority of their Hatfield recordings plus one or two songs by the individual musicians (prompting me to purchase one each of Pip's and Phil's solo material).
The Stables has a very strict 'no photography' rule so the picture of the band on stage resulted in the management rushing in to chastise Heather Sinclair (thanks Heather) even though it was nearly the end of the gig.
All things, good or bad, have to come to an end. Far from being a nostalgic trip down faded memory lane, The Hatfield's music is every bit as relevant today. If you get the opportunity to see Hatfield And The North, don't hesitate. Nice one Fitter Stoke!
(Thanks to Heather Sinclair for the photos.)
Below are two photos taken after the show. I had taken the wrong camera (full memory card and low battery) so only took one and unfortunately Phil had disappeared by the time Heather had come to the rescue. Pip, meanwhile, was in deep discussions at the other end of the foyer.
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