Thursday, 10 August 2017

Jams, Journeys and Jamborees

Time flies here in sunny Calgary!

It only feels like yesterday that I encountered the all-to-familiar funny looks going through Heathrow Airport with my cello, but the adventure started way back on Sunday 30th July, with a last hug from the sis and a sweaty trawl through the London Underground. There were queues galore at Heathrow, so plenty of opportunity for some classic cello comments.. "Is that where you keep your boyfriend?" "Wow, you must have a dead body in there" "I bet you regret your choice of instrument right now..."
But thankfully, none of the above occurred; just a very cute little girl waiting before me in the line, who look up at me and said, "I bet I could fit in there!" We chatted a while, before another lady piped up, "Can you just whip it out now and calm us all down please!? These places are so stressful!" Although tempted, I politely declined and mumbled something about it being early and there being a lack of coffee in my system..! Lady at check-in was very lovely and found it utterly hilarious that I was going to have to swap seats with my cello (she laughed for a good 20 seconds I'm sure) and similarly the Air Canada host who took my cello onto the plane had a good old chuckle when he suggested showing the cello the on-board menu and checking it had enough leg room. I don't know why I sounds so cynical: I have absolutely named my cello Magnus and treat him a little bit like a human sometimes, so I definitely shouldn't mock..! Magnus was perfect company on the long flight - he knows when to stop talking and provides a pretty comfy shoulder to sleep on!

About 9 hours later, Magnus and I had safely arrived in Calgary where we were greeted by the lovely Justine, who I am staying and playing with for the month. Justine and I met at the Banff Centre last year and really hit it off - it's super fun to play music together and feels very natural, so it's great to get another chance to do this. Justine's flat (or "condo"!) is in the heart of Downtown Calgary, with the Bow River running along one side, and is a really fab space with a balcony and even a gym (no excuses now!) We spent the evening with a friend and musician, Brady, cycling along the river and catching the end of the Calgary Folk Festival, which was a great taste of things to come.

The next day was spent meeting the lovely Erin and Ken, doing a spot of shopping and drinking coffee, before we all came back to Justine's with Brady too for an awesome jam (and a pretty epic curry, cooked by domestic goddess JV). These guys are so real and honest in their approach to making music and their songs are sincere and beautiful, so it's refreshing to hear each of their styles. We decided to hit up our first jam night as a newly formed 'band'! Mikey's on 12th is a fairly new place in town, with regular jam nights - this one was hosted by the super cool Rotary Park - jazzy/folky vibes. Great night, cool music, friendly people, but some shocking snooker playing from the Brit in the room!
Also, weird coincidence #1: there was a very cool accordion player (playing Blues!!!) who had just a few weeks ago been in Warrington and Liverpool, UK! Small world and all that... plenty more of where that came from too!

The next couple of days were pretty chilled - I began to explore further down the river and Justine and I made plans for the weekend ahead... which were so complicated that a google document was necessary to map out our movements. Rock AND Roll! It's been wonderful to have the time and space to rekindle my love of yoga out here, so some balcony yoga has been a real treat.
We also visited a great place called Edelweiss, which is a European store and café, heavily influenced by Austrian and Dutch food, with some token British Yorkshire Tea thrown in! It was a lovely place with amazing food. We were actually there on a date (I played a pretty good third wheel!), but that's a story for another time! Afterwards, JV had the genius idea of going for a mani-pedi in preparation for our epic festival weekend ahead. This was my first ever experience of a mani-pedi... I particularly enjoyed the massage chair and found it hard to control facial expressions during the foot massage. That evening saw us volunteering at Calgary's Cowboy Casino, to raise money for the music teaching foundation that Justine works for. Another first for me - in fact the idea of Polly in a Casino seemed kind of hilarious before I went! My role was "Chip Runner" and the shift was from 7pm until 3am! I met some other lovely volunteers and we had PLENTY of time to get to know each other, as my job was to wait in a room until the phone rang and then to do whatever they asked.. it all felt very 'Lord Sugar will see you now'! In reality, the phone probably rang about 6 times in 8 hours, so by the end of the shift, my teammate Joseph and I were fighting over who would pick up the phone next, as we were just so desperate to do something!! It was kind of fascinating to see inside the betting and casino world. There was some serious money being exchanged, which is great for the charity, but also quite alarming! The security guards in this casino were dressed full-on Cowboy with boots, hats and muscles galore... a whole new world!

The next day, I met another of Justine's friends - Mariel, who is a really cool singer/songwriter with a hilarious sense of humour! We jammed in the morning in preparation for a performance at the Canmore Folk Festival at the weekend. That evening, we had been given tickets to see the legendary Rodriguez in concert. Sadly, in reality it looked as if he didn't really want to be performing anymore. He is about 87 (I think) and has gone almost completely blind. He also seemed to find it difficult to keep a pulse and sing in tune... sounds super harsh perhaps, but it felt like the audience were there because of his incredible life-story, rather than for his musical/performance abilities. I have to mention his daughter though, who took to the stage for 2 songs with a tambourine in hand.... without a doubt, this was the most flamboyant/hippy/creative/intriguing tambourine playing I think I will ever see again. Almost impossible to describe, but it certainly kept me amused. After Rodriguez, we need cheering up, so we ate MEAT and lots of it.

The next day saw the beginnings of our crazy festival weekend, with a pretty epic drive all the way to Camrose (which for Canadians is just like popping down the road to fetch your milk and bread!) to watch the second legend of the week in concert: Willie Nelson at Big Valley Jamboree! This gig did not disappoint - wow, what a guy. Not that age should really figure, but I think it's quite impressive that at 84, Willie still has a palpable passion for making music on stage - pretty inspiring! He sang lots of the classics, like On the Road Again and Always on my Mind. He had an incredibly weathered guitar and hands that told ten thousand stories, as well as just a very chilled demeanour! Big Valley Jamboree is pretty much as country as it gets - so much country music! Justine and I had to be back there the next day to perform, and as part of a crazy plan, we drove all the way back to Calgary in the early hours to catch some sleep, and then we drove all the way back to BVJ the next day for our own performance... crazy, but a cool way to get to see the country!
Btw, weird coincidence #2: We met some guys in the middle of BVJ who Justine knew, and whilst chatting to one of them, it turned out he had recently spent time with a friend in Bakewell, Peak District.. woah there.

Stay tuned for part 2... things are gonna get folky...
Pol x

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