‘So,’ says the guy with guitar cutting such a lonely figure on the stage, ‘are you here to see John Martyn?’ Tempting though it is to shout, ‘No, mate, we’re waiting for Guns N’ Roses. Where are they?’ or ‘Well, we didn’t stump up the best part of fifty quid to see you!’ I manage to restrain myself. It’s tough being the support act and even tougher if you’ve been busking in an underpass just moments before being thrust on stage and told to keep the audience amused. Oh, okay, I’ve no evidence for that but it certainly how it sounds, nevertheless I manage to applaud politely when the poor man winds up his set to everyone’s relief.
I’ve been looking forwards to this evening but I’m a bit apprehensive too; some of these songs are going to stir up memories of people no longer in my life, like Kay who disappeared after university never to be seen again. With thoughts of the past reverberating in my head, it’s a shock when a huge fat man in a wheelchair comes on stage and I have to reconcile the John Martyn in front of me with the John Martyn I last saw some twenty years ago. I knew he’d suffered a leg amputation but the physical changes in the man are a sharp reminder of how much time has gone by. It’s a bitter-sweet kind of evening; some of the songs are only saved by a very accomplished band and it feels uncomfortably like watching a tired old boxer in one fight too many, and then there are moments of sheer dazzling genius. One song in particular, almost reduces me to tears because it is so perfect, so painful and so beautiful. Whilst Tom declares the evening to be ‘sheer purgatory’ there’s enough for me to take away and feel glad I went.
It’s lovely to be able to stay with Lily and Russ in their Cardiff Bay flat and we get up the next day and go for a windy walk under a crisp blue sky to the barrage and back before heading into town for the game. Our neighbours, Mr & Mrs Across-the-Road, have been kind enough to offer us spare tickets to watch Wales v All Blacks. They’re ‘getting a few in’ at a town centre pub but it’s a first time at the Millennium Stadium for both me and Tom so we get there early to soak up the atmosphere. OMG! It’s amazing! Everything’s well-organized, our seats are brilliant and, look, there’s James Hook glowing orange in the lights, booting the ball between the posts from the other half of the pitch (why didn’t you do it in the game, James?), there’s Dan Carter, fully clothed, unfortunately, and here come the Regimental Band of the Royal Welsh and the Pontarddulais Male Choir.
The sense of anticipation is enormous; every Welsh supporter in the 75,000 strong crowd firmly believes that the boys are going to win. Mr Across-the-Road gets warm commiserations when Mrs Across-the Road, a Kiwi, bravely sings the New Zealand national anthem and then the rest of us nearly take the roof of with ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nahdau’. ‘Now we get the girly dance,’ Mr Across-the-Road, says dismissively of the Haka and finally, after a bit of posturing, the game begins. Well, Wales do win for a little while before the All Blacks overwhelm them and whilst there is, shall we say, a little disappointment in the crowd there is never any of the aggression and hostility I’ve witnessed at football matches despite the huge amounts of Brains being consumed.
Along the way I make a new best friend when the man on my right stops making rude gestures with his sausage roll to indicate his opinion of the players and suddenly turns his attention to me instead. ‘So, where’re you from, then?’ he says, before determining to discover every detail of my life… (and what was Tom doing whilst this was happening? Nothing! I swear I could have gone off and had a drink with my new chum and Tom wouldn’t have blinked!). Game over, Mrs Across-the-Road takes me down to the front to have my photo taken with Dan Carter; she has a cunning plan to snap us together as he goes into the tunnel. Alas, her timing is a bit off and we end up with a photo of me and a steward instead. We return to our other halves to find Mr Across-the-Road has become rather emotional. He gives us a very stirring rendition of ‘Myfanwy’ which rounds the evening off nicely. And so out into the Cardiff night to find ourselves in the middle of the country’s biggest street party attended by lots of girls with hair straightened to within an inch of its life and wearing tiny skirts made of the Welsh flag. Hard to believe, looking at this lot, that their team has just lost. What a weekend!
And finally…I’m sitting here writing this looking at the view in Tom’s painting, ‘Hidden Summit’ above. It’s a beautiful day with soft light on the hills. Some compensation, perhaps, for the funeral I’m so sad to attend tomorrow.