Coffee Time #4 – A Week on the Border of North Wales & England

I’m occasionally known not to work and to take a holiday. It usually serves as a rare time to take stock and unwind. This years seven day adventure sees me venture into the exotic climate of North Wales, not far from the village of Penycae and the border. The accommodation was a rather pretty barn conversion and whilst it took a while to settle in and get creative it was instantly a great place to unwind. As a bonus the barn came with a playful eight week old kitten to distract me from too much productivity.

Antony & Munchkin

Me and the kitten we dubbed ‘Munchkin’

Disclaimer for Southerners – Traveling up there and back from Southampton was far from smooth with plenty of traffic which dragged a three hour drive out to a five hour boredom inducing trip. Anyone fancying a similar trip from the south should ignore the recommended times.

One of my biggest problems when vacationing is stopping the part of my brain that wants to work constantly. The first day I woke up early to start work fleshing out a new track called ‘Wanted’ but the usual post work comatose set-in and I decided to shelve it till I returned home.

I decided to use this change of scenery to get into the right head space for writing a new acoustic piece. I always try to capture something in any piece I’m writing and this time it was the way the space felt in this little converted saddlery. A very hippy-ish way to approach writing I know. Initially the problem I faced with the idea is that it felt somehow connected to another piece I’ve written. Composers rarely mention this but often ideas come in small chunks and require you to assemble them with old and fresh material. It ended up having four sections into total which underwent several revisions and arrangements and now I’m home requires me to revise it after a couple of days space.

On the welsh side of the border we briefly visited the slightly forgotten town of Ruabon as well as Wrexham. Llangollen is a pretty little welsh town with picturesque main street and bridge. A little touristy but well worth the visit even just to explore the antique shops (there was a sad looking autoharp but I resisted). We then detoured to Pontcysyllte Aquaduct which is a world heritage site and a great walk with beautiful views of the Dee valley. We briefly stopped at Chirk castle but didn’t venture inside as it had the sort of sterile characterless feel that National Trust properties often had. We did drive up through the Dee Valley further and it is a stunning mountainous landscape and very inspiring. I think we’ll need another trip to get beyond the surface of the region.

In England I really enjoying Chester, which for those who don’t know it is a beautiful little town with plenty of shops (both chain and independent) and enough coffee shops to give you the caffeine jitters. In was in Chester we meet up with an old friend of Lucys Die Booth (an up and coming author) and his partner Mark in an awesome pub called the Brewers Tap which has a great selection of real ale (highly recommended). We also drove into Liverpool which has that energy and vibrancy you find in old industrial towns that have been reinvested in. Similar to Bristol and Birmingham the outer city limits aren’t the prettiest but the center is great and the amount powerful Victorian architecture gives a sense of grandeur. I’d like to say I was a predictable guitarist and found myself in the Beatles museum and the cavern club (I’d did seek out the site of the original) but instead I found myself in the Walker Art Gallery. It has some excellent pieces and the great surprise was the Victorian Edward Light Dital Harp which was simply stunning to look at.

Antony WalesAntony ‘Old Squinty Eyes’ Cull

Whilst I didn’t find myself in the Beatles museum I did seek out some music shops. I was really impressed at both of the Dawson branches I visited in Chester and Liverpool (which both have an awesome selection of new stock) as well as Curlys in Liverpool which has a very interesting second hand collection.

It was in Dawsons Chester I happened upon my latest musical acquisition, a Merida thinline electro-classical (T45-SSES to be exact). Like many younger guitar companies they used to make guitars for larger companies and naturally their range has something to prove which often means great specifications and build quality. The guitar is beautifully finished with the sort of technical specs that far exceeded its £349. I tried the guitar instore through a Roland acoustic Cube and the Fishman/Merida Isys pre-amp sounded really nice with plenty of string balance and nice warm tone. I promise I’ll do a full review in the near future.

I initially decided to purchase the guitar on finance through the Take it away scheme which thanks to a typo took forever. I can’t recommend this scheme enough for young students or anyone who needs a guitar under the age of 25 who, like myself, can’t just put a chunk of cash down for an instrument. My first second-hand Fender Stratocaster was bought under the scheme when I was 19. It was then that  I discovered it is well worth buying the guitar you actually want as it’s still with me now whilst none of the ‘copies’ held on for very long.

Sadly all holidays seem to end to soon and whilst I have another week off I have so many things I still want to do with my free time. Hopefully a draft of the acoustic piece will be ready soon so I can get everyone opinion.

P.S I finished reading the second book of ‘Preacher’ by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, it’s an excellent graphic novel and the series is well worth a read provided you don’t mind a little violence.

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