I was slightly surprised that my previous post to this one was back in July when I wrote about Hoggin’ The Beaver. Well, this one is about the same great bunch of people, Sherwood Chapter of the Harley Owners’ Group. This weekend was their annual rally, Sherwood 11. I have written here about a couple of rallies at Woodland Waters, the last one almost exactly two years ago. I was not involved in last year’s rally at all, but they moved into the heart of Sherwood Forest, and into the shadow of the luxurious Warners Hotel, Thoresby Hall.
This year’s rally was held on the same site, and I was booked to provide the disco for the three nights of the event, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Sue and I were invited to stay for the weekend, but after a great deal of thought and discussion, we decided to travel to and from home each day. This proved to be a good decision as I was able to get a good night’s sleep between each evening’s work. I think that this is a point well worth making, that being a DJ is a job that has to be taken seriously. It’s a shame that there are some DJs who don’t do this.
I rather fear that some DJs at other Harley Rallies may fall into this category because I am always amazed to be told by lots of Sherwood Chapter members that my disco is very good. This weekend, I’m afraid that I couldn’t agree with them on at least two of the nights. Anyway, that analysis can come later.
The site is stunning. Woodland Waters was a great setting, but Thoresby Park is a step forward. There’s much more space for a central rally area with the bar, a lot of trade stands, food outlets and a large arena, with a great focal area – a large brazier with a welcome fire. The site is almost surrounded by woodland, with the imposing face of Thoresby Hall close by across the field. There is a lot of room for the rally to grow as there is another large field beyond a line of trees that was almost unused all weekend.
Even before we had arrived on Thursday afternoon, it was clear that the organisation of the rally had taken a leap forward from my previous experience. A set of very professionally made signs guided us into the venue. I commented to Sue that these were much better than day-glo cardboard signs. This impression was confirmed at the gate where we received a warm welcome and were fitted with our wristbands. The medieval-style black and orange tent at the gate, and its twin a few yards away are a step up from the gazebo of old.
We drove across to the marquee, unloaded and started to set up the gear for the first night’s gig. The band, Crusade, arrived soon after us and we sorted out how we could share the limited space. The gig itself was not one of my best. I have always felt quite strongly that I should make the music I play fit in with the style of the band. Crusade is a rock band, so I played a lot of rock that night. Certainly it was good quality rock and I think most of the people there enjoyed the night. Someone who has never been to a Sherwood Chapter event would probably think, “Bikers – rock, what’s the problem?” For me the problem is that bikers can be as diverse as any other group of people. Certainly there are people whose musical taste goes from A to Z – AC/DC to ZZ Top – all rock. But a lot of Harley owners like other kinds of music, so I came away from Thursday night feeling that I’d let them down a bit.
The complaints about noise from the hotel didn’t help either. We had set up the disco and the band with our PA systems pointing straight at the hotel, so the complaints were justified. When we were staying at Thoresby, we’d have been unhappy if there had been a bunch of noisy, hairy bikers just outside our bedroom window. I’m sure that the lesson has been learned. But I thought that Friday would redeem this. Friday and Saturday night were indoors, in the Riding Hall, Thoresby Park’s beautiful function venue, so there weren’t going to be problems with the hotel. Friday’s band was The Platforms. We first met these guys three or four years ago when the pub at the end of the Hoggin’ The Beaver ride out booked them to play while we were there. They were an out an out glam rock covers band with outrageous make-up to blend in with the Sweet, Bay City Rollers and Gary Glitter songs that they were playing. Absolutely 100% right for the average age of Harley owners. So they got booked for more Sherwood gigs, at rallies and a Christmas Party.
I was quite excited at the prospect of being able to play a lot of sixties and seventies music to fit in with their fun, party style on the Friday. I always ask the band for their set list so that I can try to remember to avoid playing the songs that they are going to do. When I was given the Platforms set list on Friday night, my heart sank. Sure enough, the first set was pretty solid seventies glam rock, but they ended their first set with a nondescript heavy rock cover. Worse still, most of the second set leaned towards hard rock, so I couldn’t use my 30 minute interval set to do much more than thrash out more of the same.
I can understand that a band wants to move on beyond playing the same set for ever, and maybe they had fallen into the trap that bikers = hard rock, but neither I, nor many of the crowd were very satisfied with Friday night. Frankly, the shortage of chairs in the room didn’t encourage people to stay (on either Friday or Saturday night).
Saturday’s band was Bootleg Blondie. They are the only Blondie tribute band to have played at the home of Punk, CBGB’s club in New York and both the band and “Debbie Harris”, the lead singer were great. They put a lot of effort into their sound check, which paid off with a great sound in the room and underlined their experienced, professional approach. The first set was a fantastic flow of Blondie’s hits from “Denee” through to “Maria” and a show-stopping rendition of “Heart Of Glass” as their first set encore.
But I felt almost embarrassed that, for most of that first set, the audience just sat there. Even the applause between songs was lacklustre. I didn’t play between the two sets as this is the time when awards are presented and thanks given. I realise that this is an important part of the weekend, but it may have gone on a little bit too long. I must give the organisers some credit for cutting down on the time that it takes to draw the raffle, but even that backfired because the mass exodus from the room as the band started the second set was dreadful. I feel partly responsible for this because I announced that the raffle prizes were on a table just outside the room. Doh! Bad idea.
The band’s second set saw a little more dance-floor action to some great cover versions of eighties party classics such as “Enola Gay” and “Going Underground” and after they had finished, I played for another three quarters of an hour, which I believe to have been my best set of the whole weekend. Did I really play Dean Martin’s “Amore”?
Whilst I was thanked profusely, my contribution to the rally was not as good as it should have been and I know that I can do better. I’ve already been told that I’ll be there next year, so I’ll do some planning between now and then.
I’ll return for a moment to Saturday afternoon. This was one of my professional and personal highlights of the weekend. I provided a PA system on the field for the arena and other activities. This was to promote the Bike Show, to provide commentary for the games that turned into an international “It’s A Knockout” between a great bunch of HOG members from Belgium and a motley bunch of Englishmen (with an American as well.) This was enormous fun and afterwards, the comment was made that my commentary helped the audience to understand what was going on. However, the real high spot of the afternoon was the arrival of the Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Air Ambulance helicopter which flew in to the empty field that I mentioned earlier.
They came to accept a cheque from the Chapter’s fund-raising activities. Most people there were amazed when a cheque for £9,500 was handed over; a brilliant effort by the Sherwood Chapter and friends.
For my perception of the rest of the rally, I return to my theme as we arrived. As an (almost) outsider looking in, I saw a superbly organised event with a great atmosphere. There have been something of an upheaval in Sherwood Chapter over the last few months and I believe that some of the issues that were bubbling when I left the chapter two years ago have now been resolved. I really hope that the dust finally settles because I saw a renewed Sherwood Chapter this weekend, one that is moving forward with a united commitee and good leadership. Indeed, Sue and I have been talking about rejoining the chapter when our economic situation improves.
My thanks to everyone in Sherwood Chapter for making us feel so welcome.