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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

King John, The Crown Jewels, and my concerts in the south of England

Carlos at Grantham rail station 15 November 2013

Carlos at Grantham rail station 15 November 2013

A week of music and history fill my mind with memory's mysterious moods

I have spent the last week immersed in practice and preparation for two concerts I dispatched on Friday and Saturday. Both were here in the south of England from where I am writing these words, in locations steeped in history. Now there is nothing that sends me into more raptures than playing in small English country towns and villages, where I can feel the long shadow of history cast its silent but embracing spell upon me before and during my performances.

First stop was Sleaford in Lincolnshire where I have had the pleasure of playing for the vibrant music club on various occasions over the years. The concert took place in the Town Hall building. A Council Chamber acted as my dressing room, where I spent some considerable time looking at the wall-mounted photos of past councilors. One face particularly caught my attention: a gentleman with enormous bushy grey side-burns, a splendid example of Victorian facial hair extravaganza. Except he wasn't Victorian, but of the latter part of the 20th century!

Sleaford is mentioned in the 1086 Domesday book. It was already in existence before that. It is a short distance from two interesting towns: Lincoln, with its magnificent cathedral and Grantham.

Grantham is the rail station where I arrived from London, a mere hour out of town but another world. Grantham, whose greatest claim to fame in my book is that it is the birthplace of the late prime minister Margaret Thatcher. The greengrocer’s shop in the high street where she grew up has long gone, but a discrete plaque commemorates her presence. We mustn't forget Isaac Newton either, for he went to school here. And so on by car to Sleaford, a small town which was once witness to the closing chapter in one of England’s most dramatic political events. King John - he of the Magna Carta – sealed his fate and the destiny of England by reneging on various agreements with the Barons. In a desperate flight to save his skin he arrived in Sleaford in 1216 the day after losing most of his worldly goods including the Crown Jewels, which he saw sink to the bottom of the marshes. Days later he was dead.

Now I cannot claim that thoughts of the Crown Jewels spinning slowly to the bottom of a bog had any influence, positive or otherwise on my performance, but certainly they filled me with a sense of wonder and awe, and that is not a bad state of mind in which to start a concert!

Carlos taking applause for his concert at the church of St Mary the Virgin, Widdington, 16th November 2013, photo by Annie Heslop

Carlos in concert at the church of St Mary the Virgin, Widdington, 16th November 2013, photo by Annie Heslop

The next day Saturday I found myself in Widdington, Essex, a mere trifle of a distance (at least by non-British standards) from London. Widdington is a small village with a list as long as your arm of listed historical buildings. It too is named in the Domesday book. I played in the church of St Mary the Virgin where the vestry acted as my dressing room, and once again rather like in Sleaford wall-mounted photos filled my mind with images. Here was a picture of the church in the 1850's and another one from the 1890's. The church is simple and beautiful, seating no more than 120 or so. It was packed to the rafters. Afterwards I met a rich pageantry of local residents and supporters who had come to this benefit concert in aid of the church itself.

Neither Sleaford nor Widdington live in the past, in spite of the history they harbour under every paving stone. They are proud thriving communities firmly rooted in the present. A significant number of their population dedicate many hours of precious free time to worthwhile causes in aid of the community. These include the organisation of concert events for the local music societies, and the raising of funds to maintain their historical heritage. To see and hear and feel their strength is really quite moving, and one of the proudest things to which I can contribute, in my own small way, as a musician.

17th November, 2013, London

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