Evening, 12 August 2017. For whatever reason, everything was happening on that night. Dead Rat Orchestra plus Support in Atlow; Tony Conrad: Completely In The Present screening at Kunst Art Gallery in Belper and apparently the sky was falling in Wirksworth (Music For Meteors). The Perseid Meteor Shower. I know all this because Facebook reminds me I have events. I’m acutely aware of all of them because Google Calendar tells me when I should leave to arrive on time taking into account traffic. I’ve not even asked.
Fates would decide that I was to attend a mystery meal out with friends on that evening, which was great as catching up and chilling out with people that you can just pick up where you left off always seems at a premium these days. All ogling what each other have ordered, all having buyer’s regret and envy at what was either side of us. Good people. Good times.
Meal over and we all decide to call it a night and go our separate ways. I get to the car and churn over its small engine. The digital dash informs me that it’s around ten past ten. This puts me in a quandary. I’ve no idea how far away Atlow is but I figure even half an hour and I’ll have missed 80% of the gig. The sky however… the sky is falling. I just can’t see it yet. I’m in the city centre and up is a black-grey affair diffused with yellow and the shouts of revellers. Days are merging into one another with work being so busy of late and I’m reminded that it is actually Saturday. Even the quiet of the restaurant threw me.
The sky is falling and I question the last time I did anything on a whim. Anything substantial. It can’t have been driving to Sheffield on a Sunday night from The Blessington Carriage to catch Lightyear and Reel Big Fish at ‘old’ Corporation, can it? Was it? The idea of driving off has set a seed and as I decide to go for it fate plays its cards again. A friend has just finished up at the Tony Conrad screening, so I swing by and acquire them, too. Road trip of sorts, and not knowing the area that well I fire up satnav. I was raised on a diet of X Box and Grand Theft Auto, so having a map to tell me exactly where I’m going is second nature. More technology telling me what to do and where to go.
I don’t know these roads too well at all, and it feels as if it’s taking us into the middle of nowhere. What starts as reasonable open roads with average sized settlements soon turns into single farm tracks. The pitch dark all around us creating a bubble of isolation. I’m loving it. The weaves and meanders but the reassurance of the route on screen. “You’re safe, I know where you are, trust me.” I slow to two miles an hour and briefly kill the lights for half a second. How they managed night driving during the war is a mystery to me but I like to think it was exhilarating. Not now, though. There’s a promise of an ambient set finishing at midnight and I’m determined to catch at least some of it.
Slightly surprised, I decide I’ve never been to Wirksworth. I don’t recognise any of it, but it looks grand. We follow the final section of the route between two houses and concentration is at a high. Surely this isn’t a road? Surely? It’s so tight between buildings I could swear I’d teleported to the back streets of Carcassonne or Florence. We drive right to the top and park at the dog leg near the Stardisc.
We’re clearly late to the game and there are families leaving as we arrive, a treat for the younger ones. We can hear calming sounds, Indonesian pots, Hammonds and Rhodes, washes of slow evolution coming from over the brow, and as we walk in to the Stardisc we are pleasantly surprised by the energy of the atmosphere. There is such an air of calm that it’s difficult to immediately meet it.
Grinning like lunatics we attempt to walk at a slower pace to take it all in, turning right on entry. The area is so much smaller than we anticipated and we find the bar in seconds next to a small fire which even in the relative moderate temperature of this evening is welcomed and appreciated. You start to mistrust your eyes as you notice that the gravel is glowing. It’s extremely useful as with unadjusted eyes you can still see where to place your feet. Then we look up. The moon is around three quarters and bright as a button. I used to know all these stars. Everyone recognises Ursa Major, but that triangle there? That’s a thing. And that ‘W’? Also something. As is that cluster there, but what? I’m still in the halfway point between being fired up and wanting to meet the event on its own level, but I’m not there yet so I dig out my phone and bring up a star chart app that has been sitting there for months. Point and click, what is that constellation called? Cepheus, Cygnus, Perseus, Casseopeia; It all comes flooding back again.
To the left Wirksworth is lit up and my companion compares it to the upper right section of an oil on oak work, The Garden Of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch, but with less smoke. A little on the dark side, we establish that this means we must be stood in the ‘other place’ – Heaven.
We’re beginning to slow now and I begrudge using my phone. The conflict of just enjoying the atmosphere against needing to know absolutely everything. There’s no shouting, but there’s tons of clusters of bodies lying down face up. We’re meant to be meeting friends but can’t see jack all and daren’t yell their names. We head towards the Stardisc itself and see that it’s a wonderful installation. Smooth stone work and each seat is under-lit with lights which gently alter colour over time. We find the audio tent and see at least three musicians plugged in and completely at one with their activity. A super-group of members from Gong, Tomorrow’s Ancestor and Ghostriders. A hive mind. It’s too dark to see what their eyes are focusing on and it’s a little eerie. No stage barrier of any sort bar a series of fire lanterns suspended at intervals across the front of the tent. If I were brave enough I’d suggest that it was almost ritualistic; three druid masters holding court for the populous.
We carry on past and see some steps at the back corner. A high vantage point, maybe we can see who we’re looking for from there. From the viewpoint we see as much as we did on the floor, darkness, clusters, calm, and we can hear the music in a different way here. It’s blended and softer than being in direct line of the PA. In the opposite direction is what looks like a quarry and I pull my phone out again so that the satellite map can confirm what years of experience has already told me. There appears to be a lagoon there, also.
The vantage point clears and we take the chance to occupy a bench each, lie down and look at the stars. That’s when it actually sinks in. I can hear the wind. I can see stars. I must sound like a complete born again new age cultist (and I do have my moments) but seriously, when was the last time that I did this? When was the last time that you did it? Everything is relative, and having part grown up in North London I admit that Derby seems quaint at times, but both robbed me of this, this clear sky, the one I could see in Kent as a child.
When was the last time you looked up?
We lose an hour in near silence like this. People come up to the vantage point and point out the quarry. Their phones tell them there’s a lagoon there. As I chuckle to myself that everyone has the same conversation in some sort of knowledge-based groundhog event, I start to see why this event is happening. The first meteor I catch is a wonderful slow burn off to my peripheral right. We catch around fifty more over the night. It’s utterly captivating and the bench surprisingly comfortable. Completely disarmed and I don’t even know which pocket my phone is in.
The music ends and it pulls us back to what we used to call reality. I message the people we were meant to meet but they don’t see it until after they’ve departed, maybe missed them by three minutes. As we’re waiting for a reply we’re joined by two guys who drove down country lanes from Sheffield to here on a whim. They had no idea that the event was on but assumed there would be something, and proceed to tell us of the hundreds of people in various locations that they’ve flown through, just like this, who have come together to look up. We can’t see their faces at all and spend another hour looking at satellites, meteors and planes with them.
The cold sets and there’s shivers and denial of shivering all round. Eventually we leave at around half past one in the morning and head to the car. The band are still packing away their gear even then, but the lanterns have gone. A half-mystique.
Heaters on full, I drive down the remainder of the road back into Wirksworth and get pulled back to the real world in an unspoken argument with another car regarding traffic priority. My small car with its pea whistle engine may look like it can reverse uphill efficiently to accommodate your 4×4, madam, but I’ll think you’ll find that it struggles and the smell of burning from the engine as I heavy rev to get it to perform is not something I would like to be inhaling again anytime soon. I pull over at the bottom of the hill to let the car rest up and under the glare of yellow lights in the main street can see barely anything above me.
The sky is falling, but I’m no longer aware of it. But I now know the last time I looked up.
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