Monday, 10 October 2016

Ruth's 50th Birthday Celebration Gig - a night to remember!

Just over 10 years ago, my wife Ruth celebrated her 40th birthday up at our then home in Bolton, with a band called 'Gary and the Goats', a fab little band featuring a certain Caroline Sharpe, who played a selection of covers of  pop songs old and new. And a great night it was too. As the years passed and the 'big 5 - 0' approached we wondered how we might top that.
Top it? I think we blew it completely out of the water. In truth this was not to be just a birthday party, but actually we wanted it to also be a celebration of our survival after three of the most traumatic and stressful years imaginable. After what we have been through as a family over this time and indeed continue to go through, it is nothing short of a miracle that we are still here to tell the tale. The fact that we are is due in no small part to the help and support of the people on our guest list. The night was a massive thank you to all of you!

They say 'you know who your friends are when the chips are down' and how true that is. One of the most telling things said to me a couple of years ago at the height of the crisis, was by the principal of Hardwicke House, a school for autistic children in Loughborough. She said to Ruth and I, "you know, the miracle is, you two are still together, because most marriages don't make it". She meant that the marriages of most parents who take on the battle to get proper treatment and care for their autistic child don't survive the extreme and unrelenting stress that it brings. Looking back, I don't know how we survived it either. It certainly took its toll on the physical and mental health of both of us but our marriage was never at risk at all, such is its strength. The sad thing is that some people never quite understood what we were going through. On a personal level, my priority became Ruth and the girls above all else and for that I make no apology whatsoever.

So, what did we come up with to celebrate and thank in equal measure? Well, Ruth had a few ideas but settled on a gig. After seeing Chris Hill Jazz a year or two ago, Ruth had pencilled them in for a role. But what else? Hmm, well Ruth and I have been fans of American singer/songwriter Dean Friedman for many years. In fact, to take you right back, we first met via the internet dating site 'Natural Friends'. One of the things mentioned in her profile, was a liking for the music of Dean Friedman. Soon after we met, Ruth gave me a tape cassette (remember them?) of a selection of Dean's music. In the years that followed we saw him in concert countless times, including up in Edinburgh doing a concert for kids where a five year old Amy got up on stage with him for a song called 'Smelly Feet'.

Anyway, earlier this year, we had the crazy thought, what if we could get Dean Friedman to come and sing for us? A recent email from him (he operates an email list and regularly sends out all manner of stuff to his fans) mentioning that he occasionally does private concerts if he can fit them in around his tour dates. Still, it was stretching it a bit to think that he would interrupt his  2016 UK tour just for us right? So we dismissed the notion and thought about maybe a barn dance instead. I can't say I was too enthusiastic about that idea so left the Deano option in the back of my mind. The months passed until the subject came up again and I thought, sod it, I'll email the man! If you don't ask, you don't get. He can only say no!

So I did email Dean Friedman, fully expecting the response, if indeed their was one, to be 'Sorry, thanks for the request, but alas I'm way too busy touring'. When Dean did reply the answer was in fact yes! Well, kind of. Dean was definitely willing to sing for us in a private gig. BUT. On Ruth's actual birthday he would be back in the states before returning for the final leg of his UK tour. He did suggest several alternative dates, one of which was October 1st. So we grabbed it!

There then followed a series of emails between Dean and I that will be trawled out to bore people to death with until the day I croak. "Look everybody, this is the email Dean sent me when......" . Zzzzzzzzzzzzz!  Oh, come on, if I can't bore people with my 'tales of Dean Friedman', then it's a poor do!

Oh Lordy, Dean was actually going to sing for us at Ruth's 50th! This obviously meant we would need to get a sound system worthy of the man. Dean sent me a list and diagram of his minimum requirements, and Premier UK Events of Leicester were engaged to do the honours. As for venue, we had been to a concert at the Carillon Banqueting Rooms in Loughborough a while before and were suitably impressed so they were approached and booked.

Cake. Every party needs cake. It is the law after all and we knew exactly who should be approached to supply it - Chris Barnett of Barnett's coffee shop on Leicester Road. If you've never frequented his place, then do! This guy could thrash everybody currently on 'Bake Off' I reckon, though he says he not great at bread. Anyway, as you'll see later his cakes were fabulous!

Okay, let's fast forward to the day in question. Excitement was reaching fever pitch, particularly when we learnt that we were likely to be moving house in three weeks time! The impending chaos that would throw up had to be pushed to the back of our minds for a few days. first step, pick up aforementioned cakes from Barnett's. Wow! Cakes are awesome and duly delivered to Carillon Rooms around midday. Sorted.

Next, get changed and go to venue and await arrival of Premier's sound engineer and his kit at about 4 pm. Well he did arrive shortly after four - a guy called Jono, who set about unloading and putting it all together.

Jono of Premier UK Events,  our sound engineer for the night
 - top man!
Chris Hill and drummer David James gave their ideas on a suitable layout that should be okay with Dean and it all began to take shape.  Dean was due to arrive at about 6 pm for a sound check at 6.30 pm. By 6.20 pm there was still no sign of Dean though I knew he'd left his Derby hotel cos he'd emailed me to say so and he had posted a photo of a rainbow on Facebook from the hard-shoulder of the M1! At half past six, a figure across the road in a cagoule (it was now lashing down) rummaging in his car boot, emerged with a guitar case. Dean had arrived, and after some hasty and slightly star-struck introductions, Dean quickly got on with the soundcheck.

Now this was impressive, not least for the way Dean was insistent on getting everything just right. I've no idea what 'reverb' is, but there had to be exactly the right amount on each monitor. Chris Hill was clearly impressed by his professionalism. Caroline Sharpe, who was to do a duet with Dean, was introduced to him and they discussed a possible run through.
Dean to Caroline: "Would you like to run through 'Lucky Stars  or shall we just wing it?"
Caroline to Dean: "Nah, let's just wing it".
What a pair of professionals eh?

So, with the selection of music playing from Ruth's tablet (much to Ruth's relief) through the splendid sound system, all we now needed was for guests to show up. And they did, thank heavens, as there was a lot of buffet and cake to get through. Dean needed a bite to eat so I asked for some of our sumptuous buffet to be provided for him. While waiting at the bar for that we had a brief chat, with Dean asking me what I did for a living. Little did I know that he was cleverly fishing for a little bit of info for use in the intro to one of his songs later, the cheeky blighter!

Okay, on with the show. First up was Chris Hill Jazz, featuring not surprisingly, Chris Hill on piano, David James on drums, Fyrish Newton on double bass and Caroline Sharpe on vocals.

Chris Hill Jazz kick things off in style!

Caroline Sharpe

Chris Hill Jazz - 'just background music?
I really don't think so!

I had been talking to Chris earlier in the evening and asked him what we could expect from CHJ and he described them as 'just background music'.
"What?" I said, " if there's one thing Chris Hill Jazz will never be it is 'just background music'". And I think I was right. Far from just chatting and eating their buffet, the audience listened and applauded. Chris Hill Jazz were fabulous and our only regret of the whole night was that we didn't film any of their pieces which is a great shame.

Caroline Sharpe the stand-up comedian was very much in evidence again, telling us that she really needed the words to the next song, which it turned out, consisted of a series of 'do-do-do's! Very amusing Caroline!

After they finished their set, Ruth said a few words, emphasising that as well as it being her birthday party, this was their party too as a big 'thank you !

Thank you Chris Hill Jazz. Fabulous!
While CHJ did their stuff, Dean sneaked a quick look at them, I think to possibly check out Caroline with a view to their duet later. I think he was suitably impressed. By this time it had come to light that some of the older members of the audience might have to leave early for various reasons. Dean was told this and he suggested maybe cutting his set to just 45 minutes instead of the full hour. Well, the look of horror on both mine and Ruth's faces were a picture. Suffice to say, we preferred Dean to do his hour and as it happened everyone stayed to the end. Quite right too!

Then Dean said he was ready to go, so it was my turn to step up and utter a few words. It was all a bit of a blur, but I think I got over how crazy the initial idea of getting Dean Friedman to come and sing for us seemed to be and how utterly surreal it now seemed to be that I was actually standing in front of a microphone, about to introduce him at Ruth's birthday party. It was, and will remain forever I think, the most surreal moment of my life.

And suddenly there he was, standing there, thanking me for my kind words and starting his set with his usual concert opener, 'Company'. 

Dean Friedman.
No, not a tribute act but THE Dean Friedman performing for us at Ruth's party!

Several weeks previously, I had emailed Dean with our favourite Dean songs in the hope that he might include them in his set. He did just that of course, with Ruth's fave song 'Woman of Mine' featuring early on.

The 'one and only' Dean Friedman
I liked Dean's introduction of Anna's favourite song 'Well, well said the Rocking Chair' saying that it was written 'in a herbal state of consciousness'. Can't think what he meant!!!
My fave is 'Shopping Bag Ladies'. If any song serves to emphasise how Dean can move you to tears with his song writing it is this one.  It gets me every time.

The shopping bag ladies, they live in the terminal waiting room,
Patiently whiling their hours away,
Desperately keeping their demons at bay,
Making up lies about times that were good.
Extolling the virtues of motherhood,
Staunchly defending their sanity
Clutching one last shred of vanity
Fixing a kerchief she wears on her head
Covered in posies and lilacs in blues and in reds.

Don't pity me, don't pity me,
You beautiful bastard boy.
I'll be just who I am.

See what I mean? It ends with: 

Shopping bag ladies, it's hard to believe,
But once they were...... children.

Brilliant! The guy is a genius.

One of the highlights of the night was Dean's rendition of Amy's favourite song 'Jennifer's Baby'. Now this is a song that Amy has had on her i-phone and has played constantly for weeks to the point that she knew every nuance of the song and on the night Dean sang it directly to her and she sang every word with him. Around those songs Dean included some of his funny songs like  I Miss Monica, I Never Really Liked You and the very naughty S&M. And of course, following our little chat earlier, he started to introduce one particular song by referring to my job in garden maintenance and my previous occupation in highway design. But Dean knew 'what Alyn's REAL job is! Cue the song I Love My Job, a song about what to say to your wife when she hasn't got a clue what you do for a living!

But it's my job to love you honey,
And I LOVE my job!

AS I said, the man's a genius! He relayed the story of the Half Man Half Biscuit song The Bastard Son of Dean Friedman as an introduction to his hilarious 'revenge' song A Baker's Tale : The hitherto untold story of Nigel Blackwell's dubious origins. This had our dear chum Michelle Oldale in hysterics to a point where it seemed paramedics  might be required. By the end of the song Dean himself pretty much gave up.

As well as requesting a few of our favourites, we had also asked Dean if he would like to do a duet of possibly his most well known hit song, Lucky Stars, with Caroline. Yes indeed he was and he saved this for last. Click on the link below for something of a treat!

Particularly telling is the expression on Dean's face just as Caroline starts singing, a momentary acknowledgement that this girl can really sing! I somehow doubt that Mr Friedman has sung that song with many better singers than Ms Sharpe (he said, without a hint of bias).
And that was it. An hour of Dean Friedman over in a flash, but Dean stayed for a while afterwards to chat, sign CDs and pose for umpteen selfies.

What else can I say about Dean Friedman? His talent as a singer and song writer is unquestionable, but what a thoroughly nice guy he is. Not a hint of ego, just a wonderful human being who went out of his way to make it a night to remember for everyone. What other artist of his standing would do what Dean did for us on October 1st?

Who knows, but all I can add is that together, Dean Friedman and Chris Hill Jazz, made it a night to remember for everyone present. I will leave you with a few more photos from the remainder of the night. And the cakes. Oh yes, THE CAKES!!!


Dean Friedman meeting Ruth's siblings post gig.

Dean, signing a CD

Dean Friedman signing a CD after the gig.
Anna-Ruth and Michelle

Ruth and Anna-Ruth 

Julia Sharpe with Hamish McQuinn !?!

Julia again dancing with sister Ruth while 'Ginger' Mc Quinn looks on...

Morag McSporran - never seen her before in my life!
Shaun and Michelle Oldale (left) and Ruth Friday (centre)

Loads of folks doin' the 'hokey-cokey'!

Put yer right arm in, right arm out.
In out, in out, shake it all about!
There now follows some photos of cakes!
Victoria sponge!

Rhubarb and custard

Lime and coconut cake

Orange Valencia

Rainbow cake - about seven different flavours!

Champagne and strawberry cake - I think!?!

The cakes, courtesy of Barnett's of Leicester Road, Loughborough.