29 September 2007

Travelling to Frome

I'm on a train to Frome, for a concert by Melanie Safka. It's likely that most reading this have never heard of either.

On second thoughts, anyone reading this has probably hear of Melanie Safka more often than they would have wished (here, for instance)...

Frome (pronounce it "Froom", to rhyme with "broom") is a small town in southern England. From London, trace the M4 motorway west until you reach Bath; then follow a wandering line south through Avoncliff, Freshford, Bradford on Avon, Trowbridge, Wesbury...

Melanie Safka was a singer-songwriter of the musical sixties (which is to say the late nineteen sixties and early nineteen seventies by a conventional calendar). No; she still is a singer songwriter and still pulling audiences ... I mean that the peak of her public visibity was in that other, mythical time. She sings simply as Melanie - but these days we must distinguish from ex spice girls Melanie B and Melanie C. Her surname has for a long time been Schekeryk, or Safka-Schekeryk ... but Safka is shorter so I stick with it.

And tonight she's in Frome. A UK tour: London, Newcastle, Manchester and ... Frome.

It's curious to be travelling to hear a singer whom I last heard perform long before I really noticed her music. I heard her sing Woodstock hippy flower power songs which (despite the fact that I saw myself as a flower carrying hippy) didn't touch me in 1969: Beautiful People[1], for example. My attention was elsewhere. It was four years later, at a party, that I heard her harder edges and became smitten ... and since then have known them only through recordings.

My friend and fellow devotee Barbara, who lives near Sacramento in California, has twice heard Melanie sing live in recent years - and tells enthusiastically and lyrically of both occasions. It was Barbara who told me of this concert.

In 1969 I was in my final year at school, planning to be a photographer. In 1973 I was in the final year of a degree. That's a lot of past to hang on one concert. In matters of revisiting the past I tend to caution and, left to myself, usually decide not to. It was Barbara, again, who persuaded me to go.

So, here I am, on a train to Frome (look at your map and find Freshford - that little dot just heading south from Freshford at 1641 Zulu time is me). I'm looking forward to the evening, and know that I will enjoy it; but the trepidation at walking over so very much "grass in the fields of the past"[2] remains.

[1] Melanie Safka-Schekeryk. Beautiful People. 1969, Woodstock, live performance.

[2] Melanie Safka-Schekeryk. Melanie / Candles in the rain: "Autumn Lady". 1970, New York, Buddah. BDS5060.

Bonus extras...


Frome has changed remarkably (I'm tempted to say 'spookily') little, in thirty years. More cars, of course; and the computer shop is obviously new. Ignore such details, however, and it's the same town: my physical body memory takes me without trouble from place to place.

Right now, my physical body memory is going to take me to chip shop. The concert is billed to start at 2000, so I'll eat my chips and then get to the door for 1930.


I've arrived, but not at the door. There is a queue halfway around the car park perimeter, and I am at the back of it looking across at the door in the distance.

The people in front of me have come from the north Midlands, those behind me from Wales. Most of us are "of a certain age" ... mine is not the only spreading bald patch where, in earlier days, a ponytail used to be.

To the best of my memory the venue for tonight's concert, Cheese & Grain, converted from a warehouse, is (like the computer shop) new.


The queue has doubled; it now extends all the way around the carpark behind me and out of the entrance. Many people joining it are arriving in SUVs ... a long way from the sore feet of 1969.

A gaggle of teenagers just passed by, and one of them said "I do believe this is the entire wrinkly population of Frome", which made everyone laugh.

Actually, now that I've had a quarter of an hour to survey the crowd, I see that there is a surprising sprinkling (no more than five percent of the queue, but still...) in the 18-30 age range.

A young punk woman is playing Melanie songs on a penny whistle, to raise the money for the door. I drop a pound into her hat (she needs only another nineteen people to do the same...) Then I remember that the concert is already sold out. Guiltily unable to face being the one to burst her bubble, I add a fiver instead...


The doors have opened.

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