February 8 2018: Gala occasion

It may no longer be said that Darlington RA secretary Alan Hamilton likes to let his hair down, not since last summer’s sponsored head shave which raised £750 to fix the mower.

When he wants a good night out, however – or, annually, a weekend under Cropredy canvas – he’s a Fairport Convention man.

They’re a folk/rock band, around since 1967 – with numerous personnel changes – and still capable of filling the place, as they do tonight at the Gala Theatre in Durham.

The name came because one of the founder’s parents lived in a houise called Fairport, in Muswell Hill, north London. Since my old dad was also a Muswell Hill lad, it seems appropriate to wear an Arsenal scarf in his memory.

Alan not only pays for me and club chairman Doug Hawman and our wives – “I call it missionary work,” he says  – but stands the pre-show curries, too. Top man.

The Gala’s newish. Most folk would rhyme it with “parlour”, a Durham miner with “jailer.” The only other time I’ve been there was four or five years ago for a very jolly play about West Auckland winning the World Cup. There’s a much b igger audience tonight.

These days the word “gala” is much traduced. A “gala dinner” means the usual tosh with balloons on the table; a “gala supper” is mint sauce with the pie and peas.

This evening’s excellent, though physically – certainly not musically – one or two of the lads are starting to show their age. “If we tour another ten years,” says fiddle player Ric Sanders, “we won’t need roadies we’ll need travelling paramedics.” They hope to, nonetheless.

Some of the jokes may be almost as old as Fairport are, but I liked the one when they contemplating playing a bit of Handel. “Handel merged with Hinge and Bracket. They became The Doors.”

We shall convene again.