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Well, it’s Monday lunchtime at work (or at least it was back when wrote this part!) and I really wish that instead of being here that I was currently heading home from the filkcon after a dead-dog filk and a laid-back morning of pleasant socialising and fond farewells.  Ah well, that’s the price of school-age children, alas, at least for a few years yet.  (Not quite sure what we’ll do next year, as obviously Lissa will have to stay for the Sunday -  may well depend on how the kids are behaving by then).
 
So, how was the con?  Well, the most annoying (and worrying) part was that I started getting a sore throat on Saturday which curtailed that night’s filking after just one song as I really didn't want to overstrain it before Sunday - or possibly given the Phoenix set we’d just done, didn’t want to overstrain it *more*!   I got through Sunday just about okay, but wouldn't really have been able to sing at the Dead dog even if I'd stayed, which I suppose I should see as consolation but can't really!  I also didn’t sleep terribly well either night, partly the beds/pillows, partly Alex’s snoring and Amy’s coughing, and partly the incipient tickle in my throat, all of which left me a bit tired even before counting the usual filkcon effects on sleep.  Oh, and the hotel was definitely too hot quite a lot of the time (though fortunately my costume for musical was not the one with the woolly hat and scarf or the full length jacket!).
 
Right, is that me done for minor and/or personal moans?  Probably, because otherwise this con was distinctly excellent in every respect!   I’m not sure I can recall a year when there were so many truly-deserving songs in “best serious”, and even then it was limited because it only included one song from Marilisa’s first set when there were several there which I’m sure would have been nominated in any set that hadn’t closed with the exquisite “999 Stories” which I think blew all the others out of people’s memories!  Was delighted to see Jackie win, and at her first filkcon too (having I am presuming been enticed by some dubious characters from their G&S group into NMC and thus to the filkcon).  But then I can’t help liking Jackie – at one of our rehearsals for the musical, the conversation strayed onto the NMC set and she started enthusing about how much she loved “Golden Gypsy” and wasn’t that such a beautiful song, entirely unaware (until they smilingly told her a few moments later!) that its author was sitting right there listening to (and enjoying) every word!   Moments like that are very precious to a songwriter.  Which said, her reaction on Sunday to my concert song “The One Left Behind” – “You made me cry, you bastard” also comes pretty close in the satisfying reaction stakes!
 
[I also have to say that we’re eternally in Jackie’s debt for lending Alex her DS all weekend in place of the one he’d somehow managed to leave in his bedroom instead of putting it into his “DS bag”.  A circumstance we didn’t realise until we were at Peterborough services with a heartbroken inconsolable little boy…    Because we all know that filkcons are not actually about music but are about being allowed to play DS games with the other kids all weekend without Mum and Dad grumbling about “had your screen time for the day” – poor lamb had been looking forward to it for days, and then … no DS.  But thank goodness Jackie had hers with her, lent it to him for the duration, and so saved our weekend from the misery that would have been a grumpy Alex!  THANK YOU!]
 
Guestwise, I was delighted to see Heather and Ben again, if only to finally get rid of the box of CDs they’d entirely forgotten that they’d left with us last year!   *grin*  Actually, Heather’s piano-ballad Arthurian albums are very high on my list of favourite-ever filk albums, and I was absolutely delighted that suitable technology was pushed into her (probably not terribly reluctant) hands for her second set so we got to hear several of those gorgeous songs/arrangements again (or, in truth, now with even better arrangements as Ben entwined his guitar into the mix).  Not that her first set was anything but excellent too – usually I spend her acoustic/folky sets slightly regretting the lack of the above piano songs (which I’ve adored ever since I first heard them at her Toronto Worldcon gig), but this time I just thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing.  Good song choices, delightful backing, wonderful performances.  Let’s just hope she gets seduced back to the UK filkcon again soon!
 
(Though if I may be slightly mischievous for a moment, I do sometimes wonder if – as with Barbie in the Toy Story 2 “out takes” – whether Heather doesn’t come off stage, say “Is everybody gone?” and then desperately collapse her smile and rub her face saying “Oh, my cheeks ache!”   Or maybe smiling that much just comes naturally to her, who knows!)

Oh, I do have to mention one thing that might help seduce her back – us!  In the penultimate song, one row of (mostly) German fans were swaying side-to-side with the music, so Ben then asked in honest curiosity what it was about Germans that made them want to link arms and sway side to side with the music?  So then on the very last song – Call The Names – the entire audience then spent the whole song swaying to and fro from side to side, occasionally enlivening this with raised jazz-hands or even anti-phase counter-swaying of said hands.  Very Silly.  Somehow Heather managed to keep singing, if not with an altogether straight face, but I don’t think she managed to stop laughing for several minutes after she left the stage!  Very silly.  Much fun.
 
(If anyone can summarise the key points of Heather and Ben’s respective workshops, I’d appreciate it.  It was one of those annoying situations where I wanted to go to both but couldn’t go to either because we had to rehearse for Sunday!   Just not enough time in the day!)
 
Now Marilisa’s guest spots, they pose a most perplexing mystery - if nobody likes an overachiever, why do we all love her so much?   Well, okay, I’ll grant that exceeding (already high) expectations has become something of a habit amongst recent UK guests, but I think she just pushed the bar that bit higher still!   In her first set I just sat there, new song after new song, thinking “That might win the Sam”.  And then “Or maybe that will win the Sam”.  Only for the last 2 songs – OMGWTFBBQ and 999, both co-written with Mich – to leave me (ironically completely wrongly!) quite certain that both were going to storm their respective categories.  As I said, my expectations were already high, and she still managed to exceed them.  And that was only the first set…
 
Because for the second set, she’d only gone and written an entire 14-song, 7-principal, 45-minute musical!  In a matter of a couple of months!  And then cajoled her cast – well, okay, we probably didn't take terribly much arm-twisting! – into frantic January rehearsals to try and put it all together.   Yes, really, we didn’t start until after New Year, mostly because before then (and after!) it was still being written and arranged!  (And poor Rhodri was only able to make one of those rehearsals, so he had an even harder job!) 
 
ML sounded me out about being in the musical on the way back from Filkcontinental last year – leaving me suspecting that our in-car singalongs to Les Mis and Phantom had constituted my unknowing final audition!  Which was all quite daunting as most of the rest of the cast had had real stage musical experience whereas mine was limited to my 4 standalone songs in Before the Dawn!   And this was quite a different beast.
 
Oh, I must just quote ML's first cast email:  “The plot thus far involves four men in a lifeboat (god help me, I've only gone and set it on one small boat... I'll never hear the end of this)…”
 
[Originally there were going to  be 4 men, but it mutated to 3 along the way – I must ask ML what the fourth man would have been and how the show was originally conceived to go!]
 
And lest there be any shortage of stereotyping expectations here, she then cast me as “The Thief”!  Grrrrr.  Then again, this part did mean my record on musicals is now 2 for 2 on getting a pretty girl into my arms in the finale, so it’s definitely a case of mustn’t grumble! *grin*
 
Even more daunting than my fellow cast was the idea of doing it without lyric sheets, as I know from embarrassing experience just how capable my brain is of blanking on the right words to a song (to the point of often having to replace them with some of my own… ).  So cue much singing of my part through January to the point where my own kids were saying “Yes, we know you’re a thief and a liar”…  [I would say I’ll get you for this, Marilisa, but I guess it’s no more than fair payback for what I did you onstage in Thief to Little Pieces!  Not that this will save you…]
 
And I managed to get them right on the day!  Well, mostly.  Ironically, the daunting lyric-torrent that is the Thief’s song came out pretty much perfectly (I think).  Whereas the bit I blanked on (which I realised 2 full songs before we got there!) was a trivial bit of intro which I’d sung zillions of times in rehearsal without the slightest problem.  Sigh!  Fortunately, I did eventually remember most of the right words, if (as the joke has it) not necessarily in the right order!
 
It seemed to go well from our side of the stage – will be fascinated to see how it came over to the audience.  But irrespective it was still an amazing feat of vision, courage and perseverance to even think of writing something like this, yet alone seeing it through to completion.  As I said, the bar has been pushed that little bit higher…
 
…All of which is a bit unfortunate for my beloved wife who, for her sins, has been asked to follow that as next year’s GoH.  [When Annie posted that “Lissa does the jobs in filk that nobody else wants to do” I was sorely tempted to add “Like marrying me”, but decided I’d better not in case too many people agreed! *grin*]   I shall be fascinated to see what she’ll elect to do, and suspect people will again have their expectations exceeded.  Because what was very obvious to me at the con, in both her solo main concert spot and the duet she shared with Fantom, was the progress her singing has made recently in both confidence and technique, even just since Manorcon.   (And lest that comment be misconstrued in any way, I’ll hasten to add that I’d be nothing but delighted were anyone to say the exact same of my singing.)  Which improvement is clear testament to her own dedication and hard work, and to Marilisa’s teaching.
 
Of course it may be safe to assume we already know what one of Lissa’s GoH spots will involve.  Because after a far-too-long gap (a scarily where-did-it-all go 8 years) Phoenix are back!  We decided earlier this year to “put the band back together”, not that we split up so much as all went and had kids which soon made weekend rehearsals just a nightmare for child-wrangling.  But with the kids now getting to the point where they can be left unsupervised without World War Three breaking out – or at least for said war to be fought with James’s massive and comprehensive arsenal of nerf guns! – it felt like time to see if we could make it work again.  Sadly, all our aspirations didn’t quite survive contact with the enemy that is diary congestion, and we had to lower our sights a little regarding how much new stuff we could get worked up.  But we managed a few, if with less rehearsal than we'd prefer!
 
Over “Kingsword”, Annie would probably prefer we draw a polite veil – I suspect that suffered from being seen as “the easier one”.  Much like my vanished-lyric earlier, it’s often the bits you thought would be easy that end up getting you!  “Into the West” seemed to go pretty well though, with the audience very appreciative.  Whilst “Joan” just rocked!  Permit me my brief moment of smugness as it was my initial suggestion that this would be a good song for us to do, but only brief as Annie rapidly proved Lissa correct in saying she could really hear Annie letting rip on this one.  And boy was she right!  And one more reported compliment I think all of us in the band will treasure for years to come was Heather’s “That’s how it was *meant* to sound!”   [Or something very much on those lines]  It doesn’t get much better than that.
 
Except it did!   Because to my complete surprise – I really expected OMGWTFBBQ to stroll to a deserved victory – we won the At-Con Sam!  Which in one sense was deeply deeply gratifying in getting that a warm feeling of “We'd really missed you guys and you still rock”.  And in another was a complete PITA (“discomfort in the posterior”) in that that meant we now had to perform in the Sam’s Concert … and all the Phoenix gear had long since been unplugged and disassembled and repacked…   OMFG (“bother”).  [I fear this may be a running joke starting up!]  Though a quick think showed that if we did the obvious song – Joan – then we didn’t need my amp or electric, and Lissa didn’t need the high-hat or two of the other cymbals and Anne only needed one keyboard, all of which helped cut down the setup time.
 
Incidentally, whilst I remember, do let me compliment Tech on the on-stage sound during the Phoenix set – I’m not sure if that was Keris, Deborah, Rick, David or a combo of them and others, but whoever it was did a fine job from my perspective.  I could always hear enough of me and I could always hear enough of everyone else.  Marvellous.  (I can’t comment on what the audience heard, except one concern over audibility of vocals, though I suspect that was simply a case that they couldn’t actually get them any louder!)
 
Gosh, this is a bit of a scattershot review, isn’t it?  So let’s jump back to Saturday and NMC who were splendid as always.  Especially given they did their arrangement of “Golden Gypsy” again, something that never fails to give me a curious mix of pride, joy and curiosity as I let it wash through me whilst simultaneously trying to register all the ways in which it differs from how I do it.  Am I correct in thinking the piano part had evolved since last time?  I remember finding its rhythms slightly odd last time I heard it – though quite possibly solely because the guitar part is inherently 6 notes per chord change so anything else sounds strange to my ears – but this time it all seemed to blend together far more smoothly.  Regardless, it was gorgeous and I loved it.

Random other memories, observations and thanks...  Kudos to the committee, the hotel and I'm presuming especially Mike for getting the hotel to offer food at reasonable prices.  It just makes such a difference, especially for a family.  Kudos (if possibly not for ethics) to my son for reasoning that a large jar of mints which said "Help yourself" was fair game to be used to fill his Pokemon card box to the brim...  Thanks as usual to the committee and to tech for jobs well done.  And especially to Rick for transportation help with the drum kit and sundry other assorted bits.

Amusing memory - Filkcontinental is long used to SMac using the "lighter flame" app on his iPhone.  But it's obviously the UK is less familiar with this as when (ironically) SMac was helping NMC do "Many hearts, one voice", Mike and I standing at the back pulled out our (respective) iPhone and Android phones, lit up our lighter apps and started waving them above the head in the approved manner.  Cue many amused faces as realisation spread forward through the audience, not to mention at least one (GK!) live app download during the song.  Much fun!

Another bit from Heather's second set.  When Rika did "Sedna" in her GoH, one of our running jokes was the difficulty of my keyboard part - which involved hitting a low string note on my X5D and then treading on the sustain pedal for the rest of the song to hold the note.  Could not therefore help but be amused to see that their keyboard part for Sedna consisted of ... putting a narrow weight on my X5D in the right place and leaving it there for the rest of the song to hold the note!

I'm sure there's much more to say but it's now evening and memory coherence is starting to degrade.  So let's stop here for now.  Fun con, good memories.  And roll on next year (and DFDF and Filkcontinental!).
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