Published on March 3rd, 2016 | by Alastair Gilmour


Hall in a dream

During a break in one of his regular pub open-mic sessions, singer/songwriter Simma announced he had achieved a long-term goal. 

A lifelong ambition is a weird concept. It’s one of those things that you’re meant to have, like a motto, an epitaph or a favourite song that defines you.

I was never going to pick Kilimanjaro or The New York Marathon, and I’m not the bungee jumping or sports-car type. My lifelong ambition was formulated when I was 12, when I went to my first ever gig. I had been interested in music for as long as I could remember, pinching my Ma’s vinyls and playing them on an ancient Dansette record player, and the previous year I’d put on a Lindisfarne album, Magic In The Air, live from Newcastle City Hall. Apparently they did a Christmas show, a major event in the Geordie calendar. I became obsessed with the record, learning all the songs and even the stage banter on it.

The final track was the one that did it. It was called Clear White Light, and I formulated a childish dream that I could be there at The City Hall, adding to the cacophony of drums and percussion that was its centrepiece.

When I went to my first gig – one of those Christmas shows – I decided that was it. I wanted to be on stage at that venue, with the band, making that noise. One day.

I have always been a lucky boy and over the years I was fortunate enough to meet and even work with some of the band. I hadn’t come any closer to treading those hallowed boards, but that was OK; maybe ambitions aren’t meant to be fulfilled, just hung in the distance as an impossible target to keep you moving forward.

Then in November I got a call from Lindisfarne’s tour manager. I know what you’re thinking, I thought it too – for about a second – that they’d finally given in to my years of gentle, benevolent stalking and were going to ask me to do a song at the show. I wasn’t quite prepared for the actual request. They wanted me to be Santa.

The show is traditionally compèred by Father Christmas and I’d be stepping into the big black boots of such luminaries as Paddy McDee and Mike Elliott – proper local slebs. I’d be there on the stage with Lindisfarne. Sure, I wouldn’t be making music, but this was massive.

But what if I froze? I can talk, sure, but could I talk to that many people at once? I’d spoken to tens of thousands on the radio, but that was different; it’s OK when you can’t see them, when they can’t talk back.

On the day I arrived super-early and it was among the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was literally a little boy’s dream come true. I went backstage exploring, poking my nose into every corner, imagining the Beatles or Dylan hanging out in the corridors. I sat around chatting with the band. It all felt utterly surreal, but I loved every second of it.

When showtime came, not only was I terrified, but I was wearing a huge red velvet suit, wig and beard and I was surrounded by my favourite band. For a moment I considered that it might all be a Christmas cheese-induced nightmare.

I can remember almost nothing of the introductions, just that four minutes is an extremely long time, and I never really got off the back foot until the second night. I think I did OK, and everyone said nice things about it.

The greatest moment of it all was completely unexpected; I finally got that that tick in the box. Amazingly, the band invited me on to play percussion on the last song of the night, Clear White Light. There I was, on stage with Lindisfarne at the City Hall, shaking my shaker like I was never going to need that arm again. They even got me over to take the big bow at the end, and there it was, lifelong ambition complete.

It’s a strange feeling having sat atop my little Everest. I suppose I should find a new ambition, something else apparently unachievable to view from miles away, to keep me going. As long as it doesn’t involve healthy eating or exercise, I’m open to anything.

*Simma plays regularly at (among many other venues) Nancy’s Bordello, Newcastle (Saturdays), The Central, Gateshead, on Sunday afternoons, and the Dun Cow in Sunderland (Thursday nights). His latest album Lychnobite has recently been released. www.newcastlesinger.co.uk


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Alastair Gilmour

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