If you go down to the woods today...you may find some unlikely wild life. It all started like this ..I saw the Membranes at the wonderful Seachange festival at Totnes, and afterwards chatted with their striking, erudite and approachable front man, John Robb. John is well known as a music journalist, writer and BBC pundit, so we talked about music, until I made chance mention of one of my other interests – I am an ecologist and for 25 years have been leading wildlife tours, mainly for educational charity the ACE Foundation; I was just about to head off to Albania. John said’ Why didn’t you mention this earlier?
All the band are really interested in nature and science!’ Indeed the highly acclaimed Membranes comeback album is called Dark Matter/Dark Energy, and features interviews with CERN scientists along with tracks called The Universe Explodes into a Billion Photons of Pure White Light and catchy rock single Do the Supernova. More to these guys than meets the eye ..which is saying something, as they have a strikingly powerful stage show and look amazing. So, one thing led to another, and we agreed that when they next played near me, I would take them on some kind of nature excursion.
Turns out they were playing Norwich Sound and Vision festival in October, and I was around then. We made a plan to meet at a café in Thetford Forest, on the way to Norwich, and on the appointed day I set off early to figure out an interesting route. I had once years ago seen evidence of red deer rutting near here .. and October is the peak time. So I checked the site, with no real expectations of success...but on approaching I heard the eerie cow-like wail of a male red deer in full testosterone flow, the largest native British land mammal. I watched several stags and lots of hinds for some hours, including two subordinate males who attempted to mate with each other. Then it was time to get the band!
Everyone was as excited as I was, and asked lots of probing questions. The leather jackets, quiffs, DMs and brothel creepers looked slightly out of place, but only just; all dark colours, so good camouflage. There was a lovely mood, all laughing and joking at the weirdness of the occasion until hushed into silence as we approached the rutting grounds.
First we heard them, and had a whispered discussion about using the roaring on the next album. Then we saw the first distant hinds...then a proud male posing with head up. We watched and took photos through my telescope, slowly inching forward. To my surprise two stags actually came towards us! Craning their necks to make us out, as we must have looked like a strange multi-headed leather creature hunched together over the scope.
Everyone could have stayed there all day, but sadly soundchecks beckoned. I mentioned never having found a shed antler...and on return we found one, which the lads insisted I kept. Instant karma! Later at the Owl Sanctuary (great venue, though no sign of owls) the Membranes headlined a great gig, and I got even more rewards.
John asked the crowd if they had any questions for Viv Albertine, whom he was interviewing next day. A less than serious reply ‘What is the Latin name of the heron?’ Rob the drummer shouted ‘ Can we phone a friend? Where’s Kevin?’ and with some difficulty I dragged ‘Ardea cinerea’ out of my memory and shouted it back. A discussion on Latin names of birds ensued ..as I said, not your average band.
At the end of the night I got a signed poster, with cartoon stags and guitarist Pete adding ‘Thanks Kevin, you’re a deer!’. It was agreed that all future band riders should include wildlife experiences. My next challenge is to find badgers for them and the Nightingales (how appropriate!) at their Brighton gig in Feb 2017.
And what we saw through the ‘scope...