Jack’s Wednesday guest blog post –
It’s Wendy’s birthday at the end of the week and back around the time of my birthday in February she asked me for a very specific present. Not a fancy expensive thing, but just a song. Not any old song, though, and not a traditional song which would have fitted with my usual repertoire.
The song she asked me to learn and then perform publicly at a gig coming up April 30 was ‘500 Miles’ by The Proclaimers!
The Proclaimers are brothers Craig and Charlie Reid, who grew up in Auchtermuchty in my home county of Fife in Scotland, which is also the town where Wendy and I married 18 years ago.
I really wasn’t sure that I could do justice to the song, particularly after watching various excellent performances on YouTube. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I spent weeks going around singing it to myself until I learned the words. But a funny thing began to happen. It may be because the Reids sing in a broad Fife accent very similar to mine or maybe it’s because the sentiments of the song are quintessentially Scottish, but I found myself falling for the song. Of course the idea of demonstrating love by being prepared to travel a long distance – five hundred or even a thousand miles – is a very common motif in folk-songs and that may have chimed with me too.
The opportunity to perform the song had also been a long time in preparation. Almost two years ago our good friend Mark Merz, who leads the excellent Celtic band ‘Night Crossing,’ had proposed a ‘Celtic Clanjamphry’ concert at the historic Lincoln Theater in Marion VA. At the time we weren’t able to pull it off, but with the appointment of a new director for the theater the idea was again raised and the sainted Kristin Untiedt worked enthusiastically with Mark to realize his dream.
Also appearing would be our old friends ‘Sigean’ and another local band ‘Fire in the Kitchen’. The idea was to present a live concert version of my radio show and record the whole event for future broadcasting. So a lot to plan and a lot to potentially go wrong! Sigean were happy to give backing me in the song a go, but our only actual rehearsal opportunity was a brief 15 minutes between the sound check and the start of the concert, back in the Green Room.
Soon the theater began to fill up and the concert began. The first half featured ‘Fire in the Kitchen’ and ‘Night Crossing’ who both played wonderfully. The second half would start with Wendy and me followed by Sigean with ‘500 Miles’ as our last item to make for an easy stage transition.
We announced it was Wendy’s birthday present, and then as I began to sing the first few words, the audience reaction was amazing – an enthusiastic shout went up, and everyone sang along. I hadn’t realized just how popular or well known the song was. There’s a special feeling you just occasionally experience when performing – when everything clicks and the audience is right with you. It was such fun.
I may just have to keep ‘500 Miles’ in my repertoire now! Wendy says I have to sing it to her every year on her birthday. That could happen. We’re going to Asheville this weekend with friends, and I see a rendition on their trolley bar that pedals through the streets, the patrons singing lustily. Or perhaps drunkenly.
If you’d like to see the live performance from the Lincoln, click here.