May 14, 2017
If I had two claims to fame, that I would peddle in North America to court celebrity, then the first is that I have shaken the hand of the future British King, Prince Charles and the second is that I went to the same school as Carson, the butler in Downton Abbey. The latter spoke beautiful English. That, I know, would have a bunch of Americans cooing that they ‘loved his accent’. Well this compliment can be returned because on a Thursday afternoon as I was sweeping the drive (welcome to rock n’ roll) and BBC Radio York interviewed Bennie Pete, the leader of The Hot 8 Brass Band. Bennie has a delicious Louisiana drawl acquired from being a resident of N’Awlinz.
Bennie was on the Afternoon Show promoting their gig at the Pocklington Arts Centre that evening. Pocklington is 15 miles east of York and is a small town of 8,500 folk who mainly use this little town as a dormitory whilst they work elsewhere. Around it is farming land and so if it had an economy that drove it then that would be it. Also within it is a prestigious private school that boasts William Wilberforce as one of its former pupils. He led a campaign in the first half of the 19th Century that led to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire being passed by an Act of Parliament in 1833. He’s not unknown in the USA as I actually cycled past a small town in Ohio called Wilberforce, named after him whilst heading to Nashville via the route of the Underground Railroad in 2015.
So listening to Bennie and his Southern tones I still had to pinch myself that Pocklington could attract such international acts. In fact, Pocklington Arts Centre some time ago had become an important venue for Americana acts to visit whilst in the UK and I was so grateful that I didn’t have always have to troop to Manchester, London or Newcastle to see my heroes or heroines.
Hearing Bennie on the radio and then later that night on the stage made me think how special and unusual this place was and that I should write down its magic and the way it brought American music to East Yorkshire. Bennie between songs talked about their tour and how each venue was a new discovery in the UK. When the band pulled into Pocklington and saw its small market square, little shops and general mid 20th Century feel they were bemused. They were used to checking into a hotel and then using the Sat Nav to get to the venue for a sound check. To stroll across the street was a novel experience and they liked it. They also liked the packed 197 seat venue that danced, whooped and shook as they brought their jazz funk to this sleepy town. In fact we surprised ourselves!
Staying in Pocklington is what 95% of what the artists do, even Rosanne Cash, who’d wanted more upmarket accommodation in York was to be found eating fish and chips at one o’clock in the market square after her set. Such is the footfall of Americana legends to Pocklington that Rodney Crowell couldn’t be fitted in because Jim Lauderdale was booked for the night that he had spare on that tour.
If these Americana artists get together back in the USA I wonder if they talk about Pocklington Arts Centre? I think they might – not least because we’re thrilled and grateful that they brought their talent to us.
For me personally, I got to sit, my then 17 year old daughter, in the audience as Chris Smither captivated the audience with his wondrous Train Home album and not only could he play and sing but that insistent foot tapping was haunting. Lucinda Williams needed a bigger venue up the road but she brought her catalogue to an adoring audience as she reeled off the highlights of her recording career. Tift Merritt alternated between acoustic guitar and piano playing her own uplifting soulful Country. Albert Lee told us of his touring with an icon, Don Everly and lastly would Laura Cantrell remember a bloke rambling on about riding a heavily laden bicycle up 1900 feet to Panguitch Lake, Utah on a cold September morning listening to “Queen Of The Coast”? I’d like to think so because I will always treasure her impersonation of someone riding a bike.
Pockington Arts Centre we salute you.