There is a singer / songwriter called Charlie Landsborough who my mum adores. Originally born in Wrexham, he is very much a Scouser, having grown up in Birkenhead. He is a writer of Country songs, with a little bit of folk also thrown into the mix. He only really came to prominence in the 1990s, whilst in his 50’s, and his live shows are a wonderful mix of excellent music and amusing anecdotes between songs – he is a natural and witty raconteur.
Back in October 2012, I’d bought tickets to see Charlie at the Blackburn King George’s Hall. This was probably the third time I’d taken my mum to one of his gigs and they were always nights we looked forward to. I managed to secure decent seats and we got to the venue in good time. An old lady was sat next to me, I’d guessed in her late-70s, and started chatting. It turned out that Joan was an avid fan of Charlie’s and followed him all over the country. Given that this was a pretty uneventful Sunday night, with the dark winter nights drawing in, it surprised me when Joan said that she lived in the South of England and had travelled up especially for this gig. I thought this was some commitment from any fan, not least one in her early 80s (as Joan confirmed her age to me). Joan’s viewpoint on this still sticks with me to this day: when I expressed this surprise, she said ‘I’m not prepared to sit at home and do nothing simply because of my age. I like live music, I love Charlie, and getting out of the house to see him is one of my great pleasures.’ As someone who books a lot of gig tickets (both music and comedy) and could then easily duck some when they come around for the flimsiest of reasons (‘I’m tired’; ‘It’s cold and grim out there’; ‘I just can’t be bothered’ etc), I was both in awe of Joan and a little bit embarrassed that I sometimes think this way, when here, sat next to me, was a lady of quite advanced years who clearly never had thoughts like those, choosing instead to get up, grab life by the horns, and live it to the fullest.
We chatted again at the interval, with Joan taking an interest in why I was at the gig with my mum. I’d explained that my mum was the big fan though I’d also gotten to really like seeing Charlie play and enjoyed the concerts together. Joan then questioned if my mum had ever met Charlie in person. I said not, though she’d love to, to which Joan replied ‘Oh, I’ll get you backstage after the show.’ When I asked how, she said that Charlie had started to recognise her and they had become friends, given the number of his shows she attended and that she always seemed to be seated on or very near to the front row. With that, Joan was off. She returned a few minutes later and quite nonchalantly said that she’d had a word with one of Charlie’s crew (who she clearly also knew) and the 3 of us would go backstage after the gig. I was astounded. Here was an 80-something year-old lady who had no boundaries and no barriers in life. She thought this to be a perfectly normal thing to do for 2 strangers and sorted it in no time at all.
The show progressed and Charlie was as wonderful as ever. Of course, he caught sight of Joan early on and acknowledged her being there. The end of the show came and whilst everyone filtered out, Joan told us to sit tight for a few minutes. True enough, once the venue had emptied, Charlie’s tour manager came out, stated it was great to see Joan again, and took the three of us backstage. Charlie beamed and said it was wonderful to see Joan again and the two chatted like old friends meeting up for a drink for the first time in a few years. He was warm, funny and also treated my mum like an old friend, which brought a huge smile to her face. It was wonderful to see.
When it was over, I asked Joan where she was staying. Turns out it was a hotel a few miles outside Blackburn town centre. It must have been eleven o’clock at night, the town centre was deserted, and she was prepared to get a taxi there. Again, there was absolutely no fear or thought of this being anything out of the ordinary. It was part and parcel of the life Joan wanted to lead and she was very happy in doing so. I dropped Joan off at the hotel and I was glad I did – it really was in the middle of nowhere, close to the motorway, and it isn’t a journey I’d have liked my mum to have made on her own. Again though, Joan was completely nonplussed by this and didn’t see any issue with it. To her it was commonplace and I’m guessing she must have done something similar dozens of times over. We thanked Joan again for creating such a wonderful opportunity for us and for chatting all night. We watched to make sure she got into the hotel ok and that was that – we never saw Joan again.
The reason I remember this tale so vividly, and likely always will, is that I found Joan to be one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. Here was a lady at an age when many choose to lead a quiet and uneventful life, yet she wasn’t prepared to let that happen. She had a passion and was in a position to be able to pursue that, so she did. She didn’t come up with excuses not to leave the house, nor did she harbour fears that many of her age might have done. As far as she was concerned, travelling up and down the country on her own to watch her favourite musicians was perfectly normal and time well spent. Trying to connect with those people was also time well spent and completely plausible to her. She was pretty fearless (or at least certainly seemed that way) and determined to live life to the fullest. I’d like to think I can live in a similar way to Joan, not just when I hit retirement age but right now! I don’t know what happened to Joan, though I’d like to think she’s still travelling around the country to gigs in her early-90s, continuing to enjoy the life she wants to lead. In a matter of a couple of hours that night, she made a huge impression on me.
The photo shows my mum backstage with Charlie. He’d changed into his everyday clothes by this point and was enjoying a well-deserved whisky or two when we dropped in on him.
As always, thanks for reading, stay safe and be kind to yourself and others. But especially yourself.