Na-Mara’s 2019 trip to Chongqing, China – Saturday 26th October 2019

If anything, the weather had deteriorated further over Friday night and the clouds seemed lower again on Saturday morning.  However, given we had a day at leisure available to us before the concert, we were not going to be deterred from exploring Hechaun.  So, after breakfast we bundled into a taxi with Clive and drove across town to a Buddhist monastery situated alongside the Jialiang River.

We took our time exploring this fully working and fascinating monastery before crossing the road to admire a monumental golden hand of Buddha and then walking back into Hechuan to have lunch in a restored and reconstructed ‘old town’ area by the river.

Lunch was in an extremely colourful, vibrant, noisy, restaurant and we were made to feel extremely welcome by the raucous (I dare venture slight tipsy) table of diners next to us.  Clive’s expert language skills ensured we had a great selection of food and the lunch was one of the best we had during our stay.

As with most cities, finding a taxi in the rain isn't easy and , eventually, we decided to walk back to the hotel, taking in the experience of a major shopping area in the process.  This was handy.  My fancy boots might have looked nice on but were obviously not made with the concept of rain in mind, especially not in these amounts.  So, begging the permission of others, I sought out a cheap pair of trainers to get me through the rest of the trip.  Retailing in China seems to be a noisy affair, guys at the front of the shop, with p.a. systems, shouting out the latest offers to the background of loud pop music.  Eventually, I found what I needed and, with characteristic Chinese efficiency, was in and out in a matter of minutes.

Then it was home to the hotel to dry off, set the hairdryer on my drowned boots and get ready for the evening’s concert.  As we walked, we talked with sympathy about the poor bands that had had to perform at the festival that afternoon in the pouring rain and, naturally, since we were finishing the show that evening, we were worried if the rain might drive our own audience away and leave us playing to an empty field.

We were scheduled to take to the covered stage at 20.00. So, an hour before, we met our full ‘crew’ of Bonnie, Lucy, Sue, Lizzie, Lennon plus Clive and Jason in the hotel lobby and set off to the concert stage, picking up other friends on route.  The rain had eased slightly but was still falling.  As we approached the sports filed where the concert stage was, we were anxious to see what size the audience might be.  We needn’t have worried.  As we watched Loko start their performance, there were probably between 200 and 300 people in the audience, sheltering under umbrellas to watch them.

Loko are a full-on, experimental, rock band and they were accompanied by a powerful light show on stage and I am happy to confess that I was apprehensive about how the audience might respond to the change in volume levels to our quieter, more melody oriented, music when we took the stage.  Again, I needn’t have worried.  The audience remained very much in place and it was a real pleasure to see them sway and hear them sing along and cheer our music, and it turned out to be a great gig. 

Given that it wouldn’t be easy for some audience members to understand the nuance of our songs, we had decided to focus on a lively, melody rich, largely Irish/Scots, traditional set, with a couple of muineiras and some US folk thrown in.  Rob had also transcribed a beautiful folk melody called Indian Azalea, performed by Chinese star Han Hong, and melded it into a Scots and Irish tune.  This went down very well indeed and, as we played it on stage, we could hear members of the audience singing along.  A beautiful moment , a beautiful melody.

However, neither Rob nor I were prepared for what happened at the end of the performance as crowds of people reached up to stage to shake our hands, calling for photographs together.  Naturally, we obliged and took the traditional selfie - with band in the foreground and audience members waving in the background. This was a new experience for us.  Then substantial numbers of audience members came onto the stage for further photographs and (the first time ever for either of us) there were requests for our picks.  So many lovely things were said and we were happy to be interviewed by Lennon for her campus news programme.

Given we were the last act, it soon became evident that the sound guys were keen to get themselves into the dry and warmth and to get their gear under cover.  So, they gently and courteously encouraged everyone to leave the stage to allow them to safeguard their kit.

So, beaming and elated, we all drifted back across campus to the hotel with our gear and then went in search of an evening meal and beers nearby.  Sadly, Jocelyn, Gwen and Sue couldn’t join us but the rest of us found a restaurant near the hotel and enjoyed a kind of spicy hotpot there.  We had great fun telling funny stories and playing tongue twisters in English and Chinese. Then for Rob, Dave and I it was back to the hotel and, guess what, we bought some more beers and wound down properly after a truly splendid evening.