The time I forgot my guitar for a live TV
Philip Pullman didn't seem to mind.
Well… I’ve spoiled the reveal, but at least you’re here now.
Let’s follow our plucky young protagonist, prone to rose-tinted carelessness, as he clings onto the fraying threads of fortune to triumph in the face of pressure entirely of his own making.
I’d been booked to play a gig at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. Can’t remember why now… it certainly wasn’t my literary career which up to that point included only an unpublished novel called Bwobblegaroon about warring tribes of grumpy, furry, fanatically-religious alien creatures that I wrote with my cousin Adam aged 11. Maybe there was a music tent or something.
Broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, smart lady that she is, had set up a TV studio on site to film episodes of her Book Show for Sky Arts. I was invited to perform a song as a musical guest. That’s an easy one, yes please.
Musicians aren’t fond of early starts, but give us enough attention and we’ll sing pretty much any time you like. That day the 5:30am groggies quickly made way for cheery youthful sunglasses advert feelings as I drove down the M40. Isn’t life great? I was perusing the production company PDFs in the car park when a show runner arrived to help with my equipment. Oh right yes my equipment.
I looked in the back seat. No guitar. I checked the boot which I knew I never put my guitar in because it doesn't really fit without a lot of finagling. No guitar. I made a pathetic attempt to peer behind a small cable case. I checked the back seat again because maybe I missed a huge guitar in there the first time. I hadn’t. Still no guitar. Cheery youthful sunglasses advert feelings made way for space horror sucked out airlock feelings, a vacuum of terror.
We tried calling the local guitar shops to borrow a guitar, but guitar shops are run by musicians, and, as we’ve already established, musicians don't like early starts. They like to stay up late doing things you wish you were doing and therefore couldn’t possibly open a guitar shop until at least 10am.
As I sat by the trailers, embarrassed and desolate, a creature approached. Grumpy, furry, possibly alien... but not in fact a Bwobblegaroon. It was a distant relative - The Techie. The Techies are a beautiful race of creatures, dedicated to quietly swearing and solving problems so that other people can take all the glory.
Reaching deep into a nearby storage crate, he produced a beaten-up piece-of-crap guitar that was sometimes used to test the PA before the musicians arrived with their proper instruments. Day saved, I flooded him with gratitude. He received it like low-value currency.
The strings sat about 2 meters from the fretboard. They remembered John Major as Prime Minister. They had once met the concept of staying in tune but their memory of it was a little hazy. It was disconcertingly light. It didn’t have a pick-up, so would need to be tuned by ear and mic’ed up on stage. Playing lap-style on it felt like wrestling an angry monkey and sounded much the same. But it was the only option I had and I was glad to have it.
After a fleeting sound check, I sat down in the green room. Philip Pullman and literary critic John Mullan were debating whether fairy tales represented the deepest expression of our collective wisdom, distilled narrative traditions that transcended language and culture to something beyond, a realm of pure archetypal form. Or something like that. I stared at my shoes and checked my wonky tuning for the 10th time.
The audience filtered in and the show began. Backstage I looked at my piece-of-crap guitar feeling like a piece of crap. This was going to be a disaster. For shame Morley. You distilled narrative twit. You archetypal muppet. You Hansel and Gretel of shoddy judgement.
Then I remembered the song I was about to sing. Freddie Laid The Smackdown. A story of redemption. Strength through adversity. You can take your shots at me but you’ll never take a piece of my soul. I picked up that angry monkey, stormed on stage and played the best damn version of Freddie Laid the Smackdown there ever was. The audience of middle-aged Radio 4 types went bananas and Mariella Frostrup declared it ‘a novel within a song’.
As I was leaving I heard a shout from behind. A grey-haired bloke was chasing after me. It was Philip Pullman. “Incredible stuff Jake. Were you in some kind of open tuning there?”
“Thanks! Yeh, DADGAD. You must know a bit about guitars to spot that.”
“I’m actually learning, but not doing as well as I’d like.”
“Mmm. I know the feeling. Well, good luck. I love your books by the way. It was an honour to meet you.”
A sincere nod. “Cheerio Jake.” It was a fairy-tale ending.
Like a gambler cursed with moments of good fortune, it’s the getting away with it that kills you in the end.
This is a difficult time for (almost) everyone.
If you really want to come to a show but the ticket price is an issue get in touch.
There might be ways we can make it work.
Friday 23rd September - Totnes Barrel House. Tickets.
Friday 30th September - Coatbridge Georgian Hotel. Tickets.
Saturday 1st October - Berwick-upon-Tweed, tickets soon.
Sunday 2nd October - North Yorkshire Old School House. Tickets.
Monday 3rd October - Leeds Oporto. Tickets.
Wednesday 12th October - Suffolk Bull Inn. Tickets.
Thursday 13th October - Suffolk Bull Inn. *SOLD OUT*
Sunday 16th October - London Green Note. Last few tickets.
Friday 21st October - Brighton Folklore Rooms. TICKETS 🙏.
Saturday 22nd October - Winchester Railway Inn. Tickets.
Wednesday 26th October - Manchester Rose & Monkey. Tickets.
Thursday 27th October - Nottingham Running Horse. Tickets.
Friday 28th October - Lintrathen Lodge At Lochside. Tickets.
Saturday 29th October - Carnoustie Dibble Tree Theatre. Tickets.
Sunday 30th October - Tayport The Larick Centre. Tickets.
See all dates on a map here: https://share.jakemorley.com/livemap
Feature photograph by @shuttermug AKA Alex Genn-Bash.