SOTA on Tour 3

Saturday 22nd December 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015

Gig: Motown Gold
Venue: Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire

I figured I couldn’t make enough time in the day to activate a scoring summit in the Yorkshire Dales, as I’ve already done most of those around Skipton in 2018.

Nice little walk up The Cloud though, and a remarkable sequence of three S2S into GW/MW in the first five minutes!

5 QSOs in total, 2 on 70cm FM and 3 on 2m FM.

Monday 24th December 2018 - Christmas Eve - The Cloud G/SP-015

Gig: Busking with Liam
Venue: Exchange Street, Macclesfield Town Centre

Just a daft idea for a bit of seasonal fun. Repertoire included Mud’s “Lonely This Christmas” and East 17’s “Stay Another Day”.

But before all that, I got up at 6am after a poor night’s sleep (got about 3 hours). Straight to Cloudside, straight up to the summit - no pausing for breath (it wasn’t always this way).

20m GP antenna must have been due a refurb - no less than three of its four radials snapped off during this activation! The activation continued after twisting the wires back together, but I’ve now got a little repair job to do before Christmas Day morning.

Eight QSOs made, four each on 20m FT8, and 2m FM. A glorious clear and sunny morning with superb visibility, albeit a bit chilly. That’s it for advent-activating; I’d better start thinking about what to get Marianne for Christmas…

Here’s a picture of me being silly having met Marianne in a pub in town around 2pm. I fully appreciate that the scarf-hat combo is a bit of a colour-coordination fail. The beer is Hobgoblin - always a fine seasonal ale for Christmastime. Marianne on the posh stuff.

Have a lovely Christmas everyone.

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Merry Xmas to you and your family, Tom!

Busking is perhaps the most honest form of music making. The punters haven’t paid to see you and will only donate if they like your sound.

That reminds me (rather obliquely) of a long time ago when in search of expanding my improvisation horizons I joined a “free jazz co-operative” for a while. Free jazz only has a chance of working if the participants really listen to each other, half these guys never learned that! One day the leader decided to stage a free jazz “happening” in the outdoor Birmingham Bull Ring Markets, which I was unable to attend because of another gig. Apparently on several occasions the market traders paid them to move to a different part of the market before the market police closed them down! (I think my finest hour in music was when I slowly and [I admit] maliciously subverted one of their sessions by inserting the odd phrase here and there to gradually nudge them into a good old twelve bar blues. I think they enjoyed it. The leader was furious!)

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True story: My dad used to run a free jazz cooperative, which went by the name of “Avant Garde A Clue”.


Thursday 3rd January 2018 - Bishop Wilton Wold G/TW-004

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Hull New Theatre

I was very last minute choosing my summit to put ahead of this gig. I couldn’t decide between Bishop Wilton Wold G/TW-004 (the highest point of the Yorkshire Wolds), Normanby Top G/TW-005 (the highest point of the Lincolnshire Wolds) or whether to just bag The Cloud G/SP-015 or Gun G/SP-013 at the start of the journey. In the end I was a bit last minute setting off, and the made the decision for me - this dismal roadside summit it would have to be!

But I wasn’t prepared for just how dismal the experience would prove to be. I set up the 20m GP antenna, and connected my FT-817 and tablet - which this time had held its full charge. I was soon decoding lots of mainly North American FT8 traffic on WSJT-X, with some South American DX.

I tried three approaches: I tried self-spotting and calling on 14.074MHz. I tried self-spotting and calling on 14.092MHz. I tried searching & pouncing on 14.074MHz. None of the above resulted in me getting any contacts. For a final throw of the dice, I tried working on 14.018MHz CW, but no joy there either. Time was now marching on, and I reluctantly made the decision to pack up, contactless, and head for soundcheck in Hull.


The Hull New Theatre was lovely, and offered great backstage facilities following a significant investment. After soundcheck, we found a fantastic pub around the back of the theatre. The Old English Gentleman was a proper old fashioned back street boozer, but served delicious Hobgoblin Gold ale, and a superb homemade steak & ale pie and chips. Just the job for the six hungry musicians/soundcrew that had just turned up.

The box office was good for this one, and the theatre was nearly full for Joe’s show in his hometown. After a cracking 90 minute show, I felt wide-awake and full of energy. I knew I shouldn’t, but I couldn’t resist and started thinking about Bishop Wilton Wold again!

I dismissed the idea as daft, knowing that I would be back this way for work several times during 2019. But then I found myself flicking around the 2m FM frequencies. Finding several lively nets all in full flow, I gave in to temptation and added G/TW-004 as a waypoint in my satnav! I guess I had this in the back of my mind all day since the earlier “failure” - I never have been one to take defeat lying down.

By the time I reached the layby on summit, only one net was still in progress - on 145.450MHz FM - but it included a good number of stations, many of them pretty strong on Bishop Wilton Wold. It was a calm and pleasant night, and felt quite mild to me. I was expecting the temperature to be a lot colder with all the gritters I had seen out earlier on.

I wandered up and down the opposite side of the road to the layby, trying to determine the best spot for peak signals. I felt this was by the roadsign opposite the junction of the road that goes off at an angle beside the compound for the covered reservoir.

Not all of the stations in the net could hear me well enough to work me. I was stranded on three QSOs - Alan M7AGB, Sid M3CNU and Ken G3SPX. Ken was asking me about my handie, and when I said “Yaesu FT70D”, he followed up with “Oh is that the one with C4FM?”. So Ken and I QSY’s down to 144.6125MHz C4FM for a QSO, but I would still need one more. To my utter surprise, immediately that QSO was complete, another station broke in on C4FM. Steve M6KIZ therefore qualified the summit for me, and at last, at 2334 UTC, and over 8 hours after first calling CQ on this summit, I had my activator point for 2019!

It was now so close to midnight that I decided to hang around and record a further activation.

Friday 4th January 2019 - Bishop Wilton Wold G/TW-004

I kept myself warm waiting for the UTC rollover by walking briskly along the pavement beside the A166 York to Bridlington road. By the time I’d finished, I’d recorded 3000 steps on my Fitbit watch, more than I would for an activation of The Cloud G/SP-015!

At 0013z I invited myself back onto S18 and worked Ken G3SPX and Alan M7AGB again. Of course, this time there were no activator points available, so there was no compulsion to achieve four distinct QSOs. However, I did put a few calls out on S20 before walking back to my car and resuming the long drive home.

That morning, I had delivered Liam’s radio show to Canalside Radio ahead of next Monday evening’s broadcast slot. This was via memory-stick, which was still in the car. I started the journey operating as M1EYP/M and chatting on the S18 net, but as I passed Leeds, and all stations became unworkable, I switched the audio source to USB and relistened to the Late Night Liam Christmas broadcast! This was very enjoyable and kept me alert for the remainder of the journey.

Friday 18th January 2019 - Leith Hill G/SE-002 & Chanctonbury Ring G/SE-009

Gig: Ragdolls
Venue: Inglenook Hotel, Bognor Regis

So I had a late call to do a dep gig with the Ragdolls - a Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons tribute show - in Bognor Regis. It’s a bit of a trek for a one-nighter gig, but I had an offer of free and comfortable accommodation for the night at my sister-in-law’s in Hampshire - and therefore my mind turned to SOTA possibilities.

I consulted directly with the G Association Manager, who suggested Leith Hill and Chanctonbury Ring to be part of a feasible route between Macclesfield and Bognor. This worked well, and I had a decent run down to the Surrey Hills for the first activation.

It was useful that I’d made good time, as that meant a possibility of making a S2S contact on FT8 with Roger F5LKW. I parked at the Starveall car park and walked the 3/4 mile along the easy and mostly level woodland track to the summit. Well, near to the summit. As I would be setting up the SOTABEAMS Bandhopper 4 linked dipole, I stopped just short of the summit and set up on a large expanse of grass with a fantastic view - and hopefully take-off - to the south.

With everything set up, I checked the spots and noticed Roger was already QRV on 40m FT8. I was receiving his CQ calls really well, so tried to go back to him. Initially, my system played up and I needed to reconnect some cables and restart the Windows 10 tablet. I tried again, and worked Roger first time.

40m FT8 - 7.074MHz - M1EYP/P on G/SE-002 to F5LKW/P on F/AM-362

I don’t know if this was an all-time first FT8 S2S in SOTA. I suspect not, but you never know! Anyway, I was delighted to have made the S2S QSO. I couldn’t then raise any further FT8 QSOs for love nor money, but the shine was not taken off the satisfaction. I complete the activation with 6 QSOs on CW. They took me a total of 4 minutes, compared to the half-an-hour I’d spent getting one QSO on FT8.

I then allowed my satnav to direct me to the parking spot for Chanctonbury Ring on the South Downs near Worthing. After driving up a ramp track to the small car park, the walk to the summit took around 20 minutes. I was now keeping my eye on the time, bearing in mind the soundcheck time for the gig.

As I completed setting up the Bandhopper 4, I overtensed the back-guy and caused one of the radials to snap away from the centrepiece - doh!

I tried to raise some interest on 2m FM with the handie to save time, but it is a bit of a VHF desert down here, and I got no response. Fortunately, I did have the 20m GP with me, so I quickly set that up and got going on CW.

Inside three minutes, I had four QSOs - all from North American SOTA chasers. Many grateful thanks to Phillip @VE1WT, Larry @K0RS, Bob @AC1Z and Walt @NE4TN. I packed up quickly and raced back down to my car.

I made soundcheck on time and had a great gig with the guys, the rest of whom are from Worksop. The venue supplied a complimentary fish supper for us all, and one of the happy ticket holders bought all the band a very welcome pint of Peroni lager after the show - which went down a treat.

When I reached my sister-in-law Charmaine’s in Chandlers Ford, she’d left me a note saying “Tom - turkey sandwich and beer for you in the fridge”. Sometimes, you just have to wonder if life can ever get better!

After a good night’s sleep, I drove back to Macclesfield without any SOTA stops. This meant I made kick-off at the Moss Rose for Macclesfield Town v Oldham Athletic in the football, ahead of going out to see Francis Dunnery (remember him from ‘It Bites’?) and his amazing band at Manchester Academy with Liam.

Liam had received two “guest pass” tickets as a result of his radio show ‘Late Night Liam’ - which is on again this evening around 2215z:

Friday 25th January 2019 - no SOTA

Gig: Liam Read & Dan Toft
Venue: Unicorn Inn, Hanley

A last minute gig came in for me and Liam and Jimmy M0HGY jumped in for the ride, mainly on the promise of a pre-gig curry in Stoke! The gig went on later than I anticipated, and this demotivated me for activating The Cloud G/SP-015 on the way home, as I wouldn’t be able to record it on the date of the 25th. I hadn’t completely discounted the possibility though, but Jimmy “advised” me that it would be better to go straight home.

Saturday 26th January 2019 - Shining Tor G/SP-004

Gig: Funktion & Co.
Venue: Flying Horse Hotel, Rochdale

I was hoping to go for a walk up Kinder Scout G/SP-001 on this Saturday morning, but the weather forecast was a bit grim, and Richard G3CWI didn’t fancy it either. We did decide however to go for a walk up Shining Tor G/SP-004. While driving up the Cat & Fiddle road, I chased Paul MW0PLA/P who was QRV on 2m FM from Moel y Gamelin GW/NW-042.

Richard copied my MO of putting VHF handheld in coat pocket and walking up without a rucksack. It was a pleasant walk despite low visibility, and we hit the limited dry period of the morning perfectly. At the summit I made four contacts on 2m FM. Richard had a fiddle about and listen on 2m on his own HT, but didn’t in the end make any QSOs.

The return walk was equally pleasant, and the post activation pint in Wetherspoons, despite it being only 10am and accompanied by a breakfast wrap, was more pleasant still.

Off up to Rochdale later to play some cheesy 1990s pop - bit of a change from Motown, Frankie Valli and Joe Longthorne!

FB Tom, keep up the reports. I catch up from time to time. Recall watching Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons perform “Oh what a night” at Southport Floral Hall - must have been in the late 70s. Remember all the ladies had their handbags searched due to recent terrorism activity in the UK at that time.
Next week going to watch an Abba Tribute Band in Malton, a first for me. My favourite number Voulez Vous.

73 Phil

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I liked the way Alan Partridge covered Voulez Vous!

We’ve got Mamma Mia in the set tonight BTW Phil.


Saturday 26th January 2019 - The Cloud G/SP-015

Gig: Funktion & Co.
Venue: Flying Horse Hotel, Rochdale

So I got home, caught up on a few emails, Marianne went out shopping, and Richard G3CWI messaged me suggesting an afternoon trip up The Cloud. I had nowt better to do, so I accepted, and this time he drove round and picked me up (I had driven for G/SP-004 earlier).

The Met Office website indicated that we might have two hours to play with before getting a soaking. However, as we were setting up, we could see the grey bank of rain barely a couple of miles away - and advancing rapidly! We both set up on the lower ledge to the north-west of the main summit area, giving significant shelter from the strong wind.

The rain arrived just as we both went QRV though, so we were soon both in our respective bothy bags to operate. Richard was on 40m CW with his very old longwire antenna, while I went on 20m with my newly refurbished groundplane aerial. Conditions were shockingly bad. Richard just about limped to four QSOs, but conditions were the least of my problems.

My tablet was not hearing the FT8 signals through the cable, and was not keying the rig in the other direction. It was able to hear the signals - and indeed decode them - through the tablet’s built-in microphone, but not via the cable. I double checked all the audio settings and poked around, but to no avail. I concluded that another cheap OTG USB to micro USB converter lead had failed, so no FT8 for me.

So, CW then. I got my Palm Paddle out of the Exped Drybag. The I got the Palm Cube. And finally, I didn’t get the mini jack cable out - because it wasn’t there - it was still on the dashboard of my car - where I had sensibly put it after using it in the house for something else earlier in the week - and we’d gone to The Cloud in Richard’s car so it wasn’t there.

Eek. SSB it would have to be. Still, with a self-spot, I’d have a pile-up in no time. I turned the radio on, and the band was so quiet I had to double-check the antenna was connected. It was. I then had to double-check the SWR. It was fine. Brilliant - highly unbrilliant conditions. I called CQ SOTA a lot, with a self-spot - but it was a waste of time. I replied to a powerhouse LZ contest station, who replied “Mike One Echo Japan?” - and that was as good as it got.

The rain was coming down heavier. I could hear Richard chuntering something in my direction. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but got the distinct impression he’d had enough and wanted to call it a day. Me too, to be honest. I called on the handheld, got a couple of 2m FM QSOs so I could at least call it an “activation”, and swiftly packed up.

Rubbish activation. But an activation nonetheless. Now to cheer myself up by playing covers of Abba, Spice Girls, Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, S Club 7, Dolly Parton, Shania Twain, Queen, Bon Jovi and Robbie Williams to a load of inebriated revellers in Rochdale…

There is always a Youtube video for every occasion. I hope your tribute band is as enjoyable as this 1975 clip of the band. n.b. not suitable for minors or elder gentlemen with coronary issues.

The opening still frame is enough for now Andy… better not say anything more or I might get ADD’D!

73 Phil

As the gig above finished at 1am this morning, I’ll put this here…

Sunday 27th January 2019 - The Cloud G/SP-015

Woke up at 1130. Went to big Tescos in Congleton to get the shopping for Sunday dinner. Via Bosley Cloud.

Very windy and gusty. It was hard to stand up on the summit never mind write logs in the notebook. 2m FM HT - 4 QSOs.

Thank you to the station that reported the wind noise to me.

M0HGY and I will now be on cooking duties do that dinner is on the table when the Station Manager gets in from work.

Nothing to do with me!

Still a winter wonderland on our local hills in Cheshire. No snow has fallen the past few days, but temperatures have remained mostly subzero to keep the white stuff on the ground. On the popular paths though, it is getting very compacted, icy and slippery - so bring on that thaw in the next few days!

Sunday 3rd February 2019 - The Cloud G/SP-015

Gig: Stu Clark & Friends
Venue: The Venue, Lymm

It was the 70cm AFS event on the Sunday morning and my contest group (Tall Trees) was asking for participants in order to have at least one full team of four operators. I had a busy Sunday ahead - including the teatime gig above - and also didn’t fancy sitting out in the snow and subzero temperatures for four hours, knowing that three of them would be mind-numbingly slow!

So I figured I’d just go out and do the first hour - I’d get at least 50% of all the contacts I was ever going to make then anyway! My hands got very cold very quickly when I took my gloves off for setting up, but then warmed up during the setting up process. Then they got cold again when resetting the mast which had collapsed, and wouldn’t warm up again.

So back on with the gloves, which were on and off frequently for the next hour! 23 QSOs were made, all on 70cm SSB. Squares worked were IO74, IO81, 82, 83, 91, 92, 93 and JO02. So a very modest contribution, but sufficient to keep the contest manager (Reg G3TDH) happy.

The descent was tricky in places, which the path down The Cloud resembling (and behaving like) a cresta run. I think the cold got to my brain as well. I was focused on safely negotiating a nasty patch of black ice on the hill down to the A54 (Congleton to Buxton) road. I then heard a strange noise from the roof of my car. I stopped and got out to inspect. And there was my SB270 antenna, set as a 6-element beam for 70cm, loose on the roof of my car. Quite remarkable that I had driven a mile from the parking spot and it was still there.

I took a photo of it, as one does in this Facebook-obsessed age and got back into my car to resume the drive home. I heard the same noise again. I stopped again, got out of the car, took the antenna off the roof and actually put it away this time! Yes, previously, having taken the photo, I actually hadn’t bothered to then put the antenna in the car! What a spoon.

It’s not really one of my gigs tonight, but my good friend and superb fingerstyle guitarist Stu Clark has invited Liam and I to perform a guest spot in his show later. That should be good fun, but first we’re off out for a Chinese Sunday lunch. Yum.

Saturday 23rd February 2019 - Bardon Hill G/CE-004

Gig: Serious Hat Band
Venue: Hill Top Farm, Rutland

Rutland is hardly SOTA country, though the venue was indeed on top of a hill. A little hill, but in these parts, probably a fantastic potential VHF contest location!

The choice for SOTA en route was obvious. Not much to report. A bad traffic jam early in the journey gobbled up most of my slack time, so by the time I was parking up on Dauphine Close, Coalville, I’d resigned myself to 2m handheld only.

It was a pleasant walk up under clear blue sky and warm sunshine as the unseasonably high temperatures persisted.

I operated leaning against the trig point. The summit felt like it was even bigger than previously, with the surrounding quarry seemingly deepening with every visit!

Four QSOs, all 2m FM, then back down and onwards to Oakham. This was a dep gig with a bunch of guys I’d never met before, but a great band and top musicians. Great fun - but after 5am by the time I got home!

Sunday 24th February 2019 - The Cloud G/SP-015

Gig: Biscuit Brothers Bandeoke
Venue: Station Bar & Grill, Clitheroe

Easington Fell G/SP-012 might normally be the obvious SOTA to bag en route to this one, but Marianne was cooking roast beef Sunday dinner, to be served at 4pm. I couldn’t miss that! So I nipped out mid-afternoon while she was busy in the kitchen for a rapid activation of the usual.

On another glorious and amazingly mild day, it was no surprise that plenty were out on the hills. There was even a bit of enhancement too, and I received something French on my handheld as I scanned through the 145.350MHz FM frequency.

So, just lolloped against the topograph with my Yaesu FT-70D handheld, I made nine QSOs on 2m FM. This included two S2S - Mike GW7HEM/P on Y Garn GW/NW-004, and Viki MW6BWA/P on Fan Nedd GW/SW-007.

Now on the road to Clitheroe to see what people want to get up and sing with the band. (The kids in this band - the other two are nearly 20 years younger than me - think they’ve invented this ‘Bandeoke’ concept. I haven’t the heart to tell them it’s been going for donkey’s years and used to be called ‘Free and Easy’…!)

As long as Free and Easy doesn’t clash with Quiz Night you’ll be sound.

Tuesday 26th February 2019 - Billinge Hill G/SP-017

Gig: Simon Faulkner Band
Venue: Blackpool Tower Ballroom

I hadn’t anticipated a gig. In fact I’d got up with my alarm at 0630 ad sat by the phone with a mug of coffee and a couple of boiled eggs (with soldiers of course) waiting for the supply teaching agencies to ring. Rather unusually, on this occasion they did not.

My SOTA brain turned to that afternoon and evening. Marianne would be out at work on a late shift, and Liam had afternoon and evening social activities sandwiched around his singing lesson - and would be requiring transport from me. So I was starting to think of what order I would do Gun G/SP-013 and The Cloud G/SP-015 in, and what bands and modes I would deploy.

But just after lunch, the phone did ring. Out of the blue, it was a bandleader needing a bass player at Blackpool Tower Ballroom that evening, soundcheck at 1730. I was on the point of resigning myself to turning it down due to my commitments to Liam - but he (and Marianne) had other ideas, and rather fancied the idea of a run out to Blackpool on a lovely sunny day - and to be fair, neither of them wanted me to pass up a good gig in an iconic venue.

The necessary phone calls were made accepting the booking and sorting out all the other arrangements, and soon Liam and I were on the road. Billinge Hill G/SP-017 was selected as the en route SOTA stop. There was already a car in my usual parking space just off Crank Road, so I pulled my motor tight in at the end of the access road to Beacon Farm. Liam remained in the car, with the mobile rig monitoring 145.400MHz FM, where I anticipated operating.

A brisk walk brought me to a very busy summit, where a chap appeared to be lecturing a large group about local bee colonies. I moved over to the trig point and began calling on 2m FM with the HT.

While motoring along the M55 towards the Fylde coast, I received strong transmissions on 2m FM from Ian GW8OGI/P on Tal y Fan GW/NW-040. It was good to grab a chaser contact and quick natter with him, and good to have Liam in the passenger seat to add the notes to my logbook as I was driving.

Just six minutes operating resulted in seven QSOs - and an actual point, what with this being my first visit to Billinge Hill in 2019. I returned to the car, and Liam reported that he had indeed been able to monitor my entire activation.

Next stop was Blackpool Tower, and Liam kindly loaded all my gear in for me, through security doors, up a goods lift, along corridors and onto the stage in the iconic Tower Ballroom, all while I searched for parking. I first tried the nearby pay-and-display - then I realised that was going to cost me a tenner. I ended up with some back street parking between South Pier and Central Pier - a twenty minute walk away from the venue. Of course, during that twenty minute walk, I did walk past loads of more viable free parking options!

After setting up and soundchecking, we were served a hot meal in our dressing room, but there was then still 90 minutes before we would be on stage. Liam and I walked back up to the car and brought it down to the nearer parking place. I did much much more walking sorting out my parking in the streets of Blackpool than I did earlier going up and down a SOTA hill!

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Saturday 10th March 2019 - The Wrekin G/WB-010

Gig: Simon Faulkner Band
Venue: Rowton Castle, Halfway House, nr Shrewsbury

The extended “quiet time” for gigging has extended an extra month due to some March dates being rescheduled to later in the year to allow Joe Longthorne more time to get over a recent illness. The tour should kick in now at the end of the month. So, since the last gig in this thread, I have been mainly supply teaching in local schools, apart from a midweek gig with my son Liam.

I was pleased therefore to get a callback as a dep with the Simon Faulkner Band. When I looked at where the venue was on the map, it was tempting to head out early and bag the “Welshpool 3” of Long Mountain-Beacon Ring GW/MW-026, Moel y Golfa GW/MW-027 and Y Golfa GW/NW-061 (but sadly not Upper Park GW/MW-032…). However, I decided to be sensible, set off at lunchtime and do a straightforward single activation of The Wrekin G/WB-010.

It was very windy as I reached the busy parking spot, so I abandoned any thoughts of playing with my 30m groundplane antenna, and just went for a pack-free walk with my handheld, up to the summit. I was disciplined enough to stick to the main winding track, avoiding the temptation to head directly up the hillside to the back of the “Cafe In The Woods”. This would cut the corner, and is an established route on the ground, but is steep, and would have been very slippery.

I didn’t exactly feel full of energy, so it was a bit of a slog, but rewarded with the excellent views on the final approach to the trig point. Just using the Yaesu FT70D handheld, I made 14 QSOs, fairly quickly, all 2m FM.

Care was needed on the descent, as much of the path was muddy, even on the main track.

The wedding gig was supposed to be 7.30 to 9.45pm, but like most weddding gigs, things were running very late. I was still driving away and on my way home before midnight though, which is still early for most wedding gigs! Nice gig with a very good five-piece band too, and some unfamiliar (to me) tunes, so some sight-reading necessary!

I submitted to tiredness just after Nantwich and pulled into a layby for a snooze. That’s why I always carry a couple of pillows in my car!