Didgeri-Douze convention report by Philip Allcock

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Well, UT have gone home now, so I finally get time to sit down and write a rather long con report...

"It Will Have Been Fun" - A belated Didgeri-12 and after Con Report

Well, the con probably started earlier for us than most, like around 6 o'clock on Thursday morning when Tim and I had to pick UT and Dave Clement up from Heathrow at 8. Though I suppose one could argue it actually started two and half years earlier when thanks to Interfilk we got to meet UT at Second Concerto in New Jersey and decided pretty much there and then that they were just the sort of guests we wanted for our next con. It's thus been a con long in the gestation and anticipation, and through Thursday and Friday it was really hard to believe that the day had finally arrived.

So having set out at some obscene hour, it was a couple of zombies from England who met four equal zombies from Canada, though with 5 hours of jet lag they probably had more of an excuse! Tim departed with Dave and much of the luggage whilst I got the company of three delightful if somewhat demented and sleep-deprived young ladies for the journey home. (It's a hard life running cons sometimes, but someone's got to do it!) Once home, Debbie declared her intention to not sleep until bedtime UK time and managed to persuade the others to do likewise. Instead they did some rather chaotic rehearsal whilst I manufactured the dread 'depress-o-meter' for my Saturday night set with Erica. In the event, Jodi and Allison both decided as the hours passed that some sleep would be a really good idea and I got to do some rehearsing of my own with Debbie an appreciative audience.

Thursday evening, the Gravesend mob and guests all got together, not least because we needed to make the con badges. Now, this was my fourth filk con, and I've done badge-making a-plenty before, but the Decadence- funded filk badge machine is truly a thing of wonder. It wouldn't be out of place on the Krypton Factor or Crystal Maze - green rings, red rings, yellow rings, blue rings, thick and thin grey rings, all of which fit together in various arcane manners to mysteriously produce the finished product. Truly a thing of scariness! Suffice it to say that all present found their brains energetically stressed, especially those functioning on less sleep than was perhaps ideal for such complex tasks! (Lissa: "Allison - putting in a badge back is good...")

Friday dawned, early in my case as I really wanted to get another 'latest-mix' of her CD (up to 10 out of the 15 songs now) done for Erica in time for the con. Of course, with time very much against me, this was the time my CD-writer decided to mysteriously stop working and lo for there was much tearing of hair and blueing of air as having spent several hours frantically mixing down tracks, the prospect of having no CD at the con looked ever more likely. Aaargh! Fortunately, a complete reinstallation of the CD-software eventually fixed the problem and the CD 'burned' merrily as we packed the van.

Simple arithmetic had shown us that 8 adults, one child, 6 acoustic guitars and most of the kit for the con and Phoenix were not going to fit into two cars, even with the quantum-densities achieved by Phoenix- packing (TM). Even with a van, things were looking iffy, but fortunately Jenny had volunteered to provide an extra car and so we just about managed to squeeze everyone and everything in. So - to Milton Keynes once more!

After all our hotel problems on the run-in, we were pleasantly surprised to find we'd been assigned a suite, complete with complimentary fruit basket and bottle of wine, presumably by way of apology and buttering up the committee. Given subsequent events, this was a little like sweeping snow off the drive as an avalanche thunders towards your house, but it was nice while it lasted!

One of the nicer things about the MK PostHouse is that you can park and unload almost directly into the main room, which makes getting the tech gear in much easier than at some hotels one could name. And the tech crew (to whom our profoundest gratitude for a job very well done) did a fast and efficient job of getting set-up, so we were soon all ready to go!

Well... Almost ready. There was one slight hitch, or to be precise, there wasn't one slight Paul. B & B were opening and we had the Dan B (to whom many thanks for Programme Book printing) but not the Paul B. Aargh! Okay we thought, no major problem. There's no major tech setup for Friday's acts and Christo and Talis are troupers who'll cope fine with being rearranged at no notice. Okay, where's Christo...? Christo? Christo? Talis? Christo? Talis? Help!

However fortunately about this point Christo did appear and almost before he could say a cosmic "Hi!" he was on stage and performing. For which a big pat on the back and a lot of respect, because I know that I wouldn't have enjoyed that in his position. Still in headless chicken (not to mention "food since breakfast would be good") mode, I missed most of his set, but frequent roars of laughter and applause from a well-packed programme room told me that things were going very well in there.

On to B & B, whom this time I did manage to catch most of. Very silly and in places very strange! I also worry about the sanity of a man who'd entrust his hair style to the whims of strangers - and they don't come much stranger than Lissa and Smitty. Still, I look forward to seeing Paul with his buzz cut on top and Padawan braid at the side. Just as long as they remember he's not a Star Wars doll and don't dress him in the same way as they did them - however much he might want them to!

And to Talis, with a blend of songs and accompanied storytellings. Very nice, and very well appreciated by the audience. That completed the formal programming for Friday night, and it was upstairs to the small room for the Pick Circle.

That was my idea, and I was a little apprehensive as to whether it would work. In the event, I think I'd have to say that circle was most of the most pleasant filks I've attended in years. Good performers. Popular songs. High entertainment value watching the rust drop off people's brains and fingers as they struggle (mostly very successfully) to remember how to play songs they haven't done in years. Highlights? Seeing the warmth with which Dave Clement was welcomed back. Seeing Rowan persuade Simon to sing a duet with Talis, in the face of his strenuous objections, and listening to the musically and emotionally beautiful result. Hearing Erica's new song 'Almost' which I found incredibly moving and lovely. Bill Sutton's incredible hammed-up version of 'When I was a boy' which was hysterical. Seeing many people's reaction to hearing UT's harmonies for the first time. And many many more. And a particular pat on the back to everyone in the circle for doing an excellent job of picking, and of making sure that picks were well spread over the performers present and (as far as I could see) nobody was left feeling excluded. A wonderful night's filking, the only drawback being the knowledge that getting some sleep would be a good idea in view of the 10 till midnight plus Saturday programme looming the next day. So I folded around 3-ish, IIRC.

Yes, 10 o'clock starts. I think it was Jodi who called it "Cruelty to dumb filkers" but we just had so many good performers and so few hours in each day. And whom would we cut, given there wasn't a single item on that programme that I would have missed given any choice in the matter? Quite. So apologies for our cruelty, but we did try to make sure that those who did get up would be well rewarded for doing so.

Case in point - Just Playin' Folk. Zander and Valerie were as good as one would expect. It was wonderful to hear fiddle at a filkcon for the first time in ages (unless my memory deceives me since Pentatonic). And also wonderful to see Chris O'Shea delurking his vocal and instrumental talents on stage, which he's been mostly hiding under a bushel for far too long. Highlight? The hysterical sight of Zander and Chris with eyeballs rolled right up providing the backing for Necronomicon (IIRC). Wonderful.

If you've read Erica's excellent report, you'll know that alas I can't report on Lawrence's set as we figured that given in our set we planned to do at least three duets we'd never played together before, it might just be a good idea to do so at least once! Plus to plan all our schtick with the dread Depress-o-meter. Oh the joys of set planning over e-mail. Especially when I forgot to bring any of said e-mails, including the one with the set list! but we survived somehow.

And so to Patchwork, playing a set with a more acoustic flavour than last time. Very good. Highlight? Probably hearing 'Without a tomorrow' again, as I think that's such a lovely song. Oh and the booze smuggling song which was a lot of fun.

Lunch kind of wasn't, partly because I was too busy and partly because I was still too full from breakfast. We may have had hotel problems, but the breakfasts were indeed excellent. (Memo for future cons - make a point of remembering to mention to your transatlantic guests that breakfast is included over here. We did - just - but along with the fact that filkcons run through Sunday night, this is a major difference from their practice.)

And so to Brian Biddle. We'd hoped for one of his costumed extravaganzas and we weren't disappointed. Exactly what we'd hoped for, and many thanks to Brian for all the time and effort he put into preparing for it. Highlight? Probably 'Vlad the Impala' which is both a truly delicious pun and a commendably vicious parody into the bargain. Okay so I'm probably letting my evil nature show, but that should hardly come as a surprise to anyone out there!

And to the Main Concert. Which was its usual excellent blend of serious and silly, veteran and novice. The undoubted highlight for me of course, was Lissa&#39;s solo debut at a concert. And very well she did too, especially considering the horribly complex (and variable) songs/tunes I write! Lovely. And thanks to all those who took the time to compliment her afterwards - she was really nervous beforehand (we are talking knee shaking nervous), but the result was well worth it, wasn&#39;t it? Of course now I have to worry about her nicking all my best songs, but I guess some people would see that as nothing more than poetic justice... <grin> <mock sulk>

One minor gripe, and a problem we&#39;ve had before. Timekeeping. Otherwise known as keeping your spot to a sensible and unselfish length. When it says on the sign-up sheet, two short or one long song, it does not mean you can do two five minute plus songs. Or indeed one of ten minutes or more. It&#39;s just selfish. Especially when it&#39;s just been made clear that everyone is going to have to compromise if some people aren&#39;t going to get &#39;bumped&#39; off the back end of the concert. I&#39;m not going to name names, but I think everyone knows who I mean. Fortunately, others were more considerate and nobody had to be cut this time. (Of which I was very glad as I&#39;ve had it happen to me and it&#39;s really not nice.)

What can be done? Okay, so a longer concert would help of course, but I suspect it tends to expand to fill the time available. You can try and make it clear what is considered a reasonable length, but I suspect many people either don&#39;t know how long their songs are, or have different interpretations of what constitutes a &#39;long&#39; or &#39;short&#39; song. (For my money, &#39;short&#39; is probably under 3 minutes and &#39;long&#39; is over 4. And &#39;very long&#39; anything over 6 and a song needs to be special to be that long and get away with it, but I digress.) And if someone does ignore all requests, opening the stage trapdoor (which of course we don&#39;t have anyway!) or reaching out the long crook from the wings to pull them offstage by the neck does seem a tad excessive and unsubtle. But what can one do? <Shrug>

And so to the panic&#39;d and nervous blur that was Phoenix set-up and the run-up to my set. Okay, so actually it was one of the most painless set-ups we&#39;ve ever had (for which all kudos to Tech) but the combination of con, set and Phoenix worries all at once (plus worrying about my part in the UT set which was completely unready at that point) wasn&#39;t helping my nerves.

I hope somebody will post how the workshop and panel went. Annoyingly they were both items I wanted to go to, but repeated attempts had shown there was nowhere else on the programme that either item could reasonably sit. Another case of &#39;too much programme - not enough time&#39;, I&#39;m afraid.

And so to Erica and my set - the &#39;depression session&#39;. The name started as a joke, but we&#39;d decided to go for it, and with the exception of the single &#39;emergency silly song&#39; to do all serious songs - if not necessarily all depressing serious songs. And so we did, with only the schtick and the audience controlled Depress-o-meter (TM) for light relief. But I didn&#39;t see any wrist-slashed corpses being carried out, so I guess we got away with it. And it was fun to see people realise that I hadn&#39;t been kidding when I said she was there to cheer people up between my songs! Next time, trust me...

Sadly, with the threat of the disco looming, we couldn&#39;t afford for UT to run late, and so what little slippage there was came out of our set and we lost two songs off the end. Fortunately neither was one of our new songs, but it was still kind of frustrating. However, it was still a really fun concert to do, to be able to do a string of my serious songs for once, interspersing them with Erica&#39;s gorgeous voice and melodies. I hope the audience enjoyed it, &#39;cause I certainly did. But if we do it again, maybe I&#39;ll slip in a silly song or two. OTOH we do have the depress-o-meter still... <grin>

And so to Urban Tapestry. We were really looking forward to this, and not just to hearing them but also to seeing everyone else&#39;s reactions. And we weren&#39;t disappointed. Okay, so I spent the first part of their set hastily writing my interjections for &#39;Coz he&#39;s a guy&#39;, which I approached with more than a little trepidation having heard them sing the song exactly once - two and a half years ago! - so there was a certain amount of nervousness. But came the moment it all went well and I took great glee in corpsing them and the audience not once but twice. OH YES! Strike! (For the record, the retorts were "Yes, your bum does look big in that" and "You&#39;re just jealous &#39;cause I&#39;ve got better legs". (The audience reaction showed that even nine years on, some notorieties live on! Ah well.) What can I say? Except it served them right for asking me <grin>.

I guess about this point, I need to mention that much accursed awards ceremony and disco. Nobody seems to be blaming us but at root it is partly our fault for not writing a &#39;no other noisy function&#39; requirement into the contract, or at least for not raising it verbally as we&#39;d done at Obliter-8 (where the then hotel conference manager had said "Oh that would be grossly unprofessional and I&#39;d expect to be sacked if I did anything as stupid as that." Are you listening, Sarah Jackson?) All I can say in our defence is that we thought we had all their function space, and it didn&#39;t occur to us that they might throw us out of our dining area and use the Atrium as function space. Live and learn, I guess. But a big &#39;Thank you&#39; to everyone for making the best of it and not dumping on us; to Urban Tapestry for being unruffled and professional about a far-from-ideal situation; and to Tim and Annie who ran themselves ragged trying to keep the situation under control and indeed achieved a lot in keeping the volume of the presentation part down to a reasonable level.

But we did get a new definition of &#39;temptation&#39; out of it. Temptation is discovering that the DJ mic next door is running on the same radio frequency as Mike&#39;s electric guitar transmitter. And that if he turns his volume to max and hits that big power chord, it&#39;s going to go right to their main PA next door... We didn&#39;t, as it wasn&#39;t their fault any more than that of the poor hotel staff caught in the middle, but I&#39;d be lying if I said it wasn&#39;t really tempting for a while!

Anyway, UT finished to a well-deserved standing ovation, and it&#39;s hard to tell who felt happier with that reception, them or us. But then it was Phoenix time, and after the shortest final set-up and sound-check ever, we were on. Or as we put it "Now it&#39;s our turn to make noise!"

What can I say? The best Phoenix set to play ever, even easing out Blankenheim for the sheer warmth and energy we got back off the audience. (And that&#39;s really saying something!) People were up and boogying from the second song, and I almost felt guilty when our fourth song was a ballad and people had to stop dancing for a while. If only for a while. The on-stage sound was superbly balanced (again all kudos to GK and tech) and for once everything but everything seemed to go right. Maybe it was the late hour. Maybe it was the lowered lighting. Maybe it was the pent-up frustration for all the grief everyone had had with the hotel. Maybe it was my new guitar! But it ROCKED! Two encores, and I swear I didn&#39;t come down off the adrenalin high for a good half hour afterwards. Then I was knackered and kind of collapsed in a corner of the circle and ate doughnuts (I&#39;m with Erica on those - thanks!)

Highlights? Too many to mention, but I will anyway. <grin> Watching the audience have a ball. The exquisite sound of harp plus harmony vocals on Crimson and Crystal. Watching (from my seat behind the drums) Lissa go wild on Robot Man. Watching UT as we did The Lady, and in particular their reaction as Mike launched into the guitar part of the solo. And of course &#39;Thank you, kindly&#39; which we&#39;ve been looking forward to doing for months. And having to keep quiet about that was really hard but oh-so worth it. And many congratulations to Anne for making it through the piano part. And commiserations to Mike Richards for being pipped at the post - next time write faster!

I&#39;m afraid the rest of Saturday night is a blur. (And remember I don&#39;t drink!) I remember being in the filk and eating doughnuts and chocolate (I don&#39;t think I&#39;ve ever seen so much chocolate at a filkcon - people sure wanted to keep Debbie happy!). And being way too drained, physically and emotionally, to think about doing anything, but just being too happy to want to end the day and go to bed when there&#39;s friends and music to hang out with.

[Oh gods, I thought this was going to be a long conrep, but I&#39;m still only halfway through the con. Aarrggh!]

And so to Sunday. With unrepentent sadism we&#39;d scheduled UT&#39;s Kiddie Concert for 10 in the morning, an act for which we felt somewhat guilty, but only somewhat as it all worked out really well. They thought they&#39;d be lucky to get maybe a dozen people. We knew better, and were most gratified to see the room packed out with kids small and not-so-small. (We figured people with kids would be up anyway, and that after people&#39;d heard them on Saturday most would go to huge lengths, even getting up for 10, to hear UT again. And we were right! <smug mode> <grin>) And everyone duly had a blast. UT said later it was without the shadow of a doubt the best audience they&#39;d ever had for a kiddie concert. And I think the Franklin-inspired, Annie-led audience &#39;train&#39; will live in their memories for a long time. And the little kids had a great time too. Jared went, in the space of five minutes, from "Sulk, whinge, don&#39;t wanna go see UT, wanna go to the children&#39;s room" to "WE ARE THE DINOSAURS - RARRRRRRRRR!". Okay so they found his weak spot, but it was wonderful to watch him really connect with the music.

Then still on the basis of rewarding the early risers, we had another set from Dave Clement. It&#39;s always wonderful to see guests have such a good time over here that they can&#39;t stay away, and let&#39;s face it we&#39;re certainly not going to complain when the likes of Dave, Bill and Brenda and (not this time alas) Kathy come back time and again. And of course Dave&#39;s set was superb. Highlight? Probably the cover of &#39;The Way Old Friends Do&#39; at the end with everyone singing along and feeling really close. A truly wonderful feeling.

Of the filk fund auction what can I say, after a big thank you to Roger Robinson for his usual excellent job of parting people from their money, except next time I&#39;ll lock Lissa in the bathroom beforehand. Ouch! OTOH we did get the UT tape which I guess I really wanted too. Thanks to everyone who contributed items, and particularly to Dave and UT (I think <snarl> <grin>) for donating such &#39;must have&#39; items. The filk fund is looking really healthy, particularly as even without our screwing money out of the hotel for their screw-up (on which more later), the con should actually have made enough money to refund the cost of UT&#39;s air fares back to the Filk Fund, that&#39;s just over 800 pounds. And hotel refunds will then be on top of that. So even after three transatlantic guests, given what was raised in the auction the FF should end up something over a thousand pounds better off after this convention. And hopefully we can start to increasingly live off interest as well as annual contributions.

And so to Brian&#39;s second set. More excellent songs, and many congratulations to Brian for carrying off two one-hour unaccompanied sets - that&#39;s not an easy thing to do. And the FF collection to hear Ai Cthulhu was a nice touch too. And rounded everything off nicely.

And to NMC. Sorry but it has to be said - Rhodri - you&#39;re a scruff! For shame! <grin> That out of the way, I think I&#39;d have to say that NMC have never sounded better. I think their new members have given them a better balance between the sections, and I suspect the effort of getting songs right for recording has also done them good (it certainly did for Phoenix). I particularly enjoyed the medieval (Edward I?) number which was just slurpily delicious in its harmonies. And Hope Springs of course - it seems ages since I wrote it in the Adelphi lobby one Eastercon and it was a treat to manage not to miss it this time! Yay! (Yes, I know I&#39;m evil. This is news to anyone?)

Sadly I had to miss Taking the Mic, as I (with Tim to scrutinise) had to count the filk award ballots. I&#39;m not entirely sure why, but we seemed to have far less nominations this year. My suspicion is that the whiteboard needs to be in a more public/sociable area than the back of the main programme room. However, in the event, not having to run a shortlist ballot saved me a lot of work (memo - never try and run filk awards and a convention at the same time. Just don&#39;t. And yes, Erica, you can say "I told you so" <grin>) But a big &#39;thank you&#39; again to all those who nominated and voted. Especially those that voted for me! <big grin> <bounce> And congratulations to the other winners, though Annie will soon need a bigger mantelpiece!

And that was that. Time for the goodbyes to start (<sniff>). And for us to relax somewhat, which came as a nice change after the last couple of weeks. And the committee meal was fun, even if the hotel set several records for slowness of service (if due more to short-staffing than to ineptness). But we didn&#39;t care. And Debbie did get her chocolate brioche eventually. And will probably never forget it, either, but that&#39;s another story.

And to the Dead Wombat filk. Quite a sizeable circle for a Sunday night, but a lot of fun nonetheless. Highlight? Getting to do my filks of &#39;Starsoul&#39; and &#39;Puppies Cooked in Brine&#39; to UT, the latter after quietly copying the chords out of Debbie&#39;s song book when she wasn&#39;t looking! Not to mention the fun of having it pointed out to her by Allison (after I&#39;d finished) that I had her songbook and seeing her rush over and hug it to her chest protectively for the next few minutes, knowing of course that she was Too Late... And Zander&#39;s filk of Rattlin&#39; Bog, though I think inflicting the brain stress of having to invent, remember and perform new actions at that time of a con is sheer wanton sadism. (And who should know better? <grin>).

Monday morning. Time to Talk With the Hotel. Oh yes. We&#39;d decided to be very calm and professional about it all, and indeed we were. We roasted them, calmly, coldly and methodically. Annie ran slowly through the list of problems people had encountered, the assurances they&#39;d given us which had been broken and then turned the screw even more by being meticulously fair and praising the hotel staff and the things that they&#39;d done right. (And in being friendly and polite to the maid who brought the tea after the hotel manager had been abrupt with her - it was priceless. Manager (rudely): "No, no! Put the tea things out on the table!" Annie (quietly) "...please.") And every excuse they tried to squim with got ripped apart or just steamrollered by another point. We think they&#39;d gone into this meeting thinking we were a bunch of t-shirted weirdos they could fob off with excuses. Instead, as we took great delight in pointing out, most of us are educated professionals who neither expect nor will put up with this sort of treatment. And that they weren&#39;t going to get off that easy from this sort of unprofessional screw-up. And we (and especially Annie and Tim who&#39;d born the brunt of hotel problems) did get more than a little satisfaction from pointing this out to them and watching realisation dawn.

Bottom line. We&#39;d decided to demand a complete refund of the money (450 pounds) we&#39;d paid for function space and a personal written apology to all members of the convention from the management of the hotel. And they agreed to this, even to providing envelopes, postage and copies of the letter. Perhaps we could have screwed them for more - after all it&#39;s fiddling small change to them - but it felt about right to us. Of course, we have&#39;t received either cheque or letters yet, and if they leave it much longer we really are going to get mad. Head office type mad. And now they&#39;ve admitted liability, as it were, I really hope for their sake they don&#39;t screw us around any more. Or should I hope this is the rope with which they&#39;ll hang themselves?

It&#39;s a shame. It&#39;s a nice hotel with wonderful staff (it&#39;s so pleasant to be greeted politely even by cleaning staff you pass in the corridor) and good facilities. And I&#39;d really like to be able to use the hotel again because we have such wonderful conventions there. But their current stupid management have screwed it up for everybody, and I very much doubt anyone would want to go back for many a year. A great pity.

But I don&#39;t want to end this account on a sour note. In spite of everything, I did have a really great time at the convention, with so many good memories of people and music. Thank you to everyone for coming (however little choice Lissa gave you <grin>) and I hope the good outweighed the bad for all of you too.

Thanks again to everyone who helped out, performed or just listened with pleasure. Thanks to UT for being such great guests (like this was such a surprise to us) and such good friends. We miss you already and the Atlantic is too damn big. But I&#39;m sure we&#39;ll see you again sometime.

And roll on 13...!!!

-- Phil

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