Tears in Tamworth

There’s a famous country song by Rascall Flatts called ‘Backwards’ that details how if you were to play any country song backwards you would regain all the things in life you’d lost. I laugh every time I hear it, but as a country-folk writer I resonate with the grain of truth embedded in it. Every country song tells a story, and the story of life involves constant loss and gain, trials followed by triumph, growth through grief.

Tamworth came about in an unexpected way for me. I had emailed a friend (the wonderful musician Phil Davidson) 2 weeks before the festival to ask if he was headed to Tamworth to perform this year. I was thinking of busking on Peel Street and looking around to see if there would be any opportunities for me to take the following year. Well… a string of emails later and I was headed to Tamworth not to busk, but to play on stage.

It was sweltering hot when we arrived, well at least for us it was! The locals assured us it was a very mild summers day and that we really were quite lucky. We took some time to roam the festival, side alleys bustled with entertainment, leather belts and stockman style hats were for sale a plenty and the music! Oh the music was wonderful! Every turn we made hopefuls lined the streets, an eclectic mix of acoustic sounds and all of them quite good!

We took a look at the Scripture Union Café set up alongside the stage I’d be playing on the next day. I loved the thought of people taking refuge in there, grabbing a hot cup of coffee (or more sensibly a cold drink of water) and finding the grace of God in the faces that would serve them there. The opportunity to sing felt exciting, and a little nerve-wracking… but…there was a shadow over all of it for me. The morning we had been packing to leave I’d received a call from my brother. Our Nan was not doing so well. If you know me personally and know my story, then you know how large a part of my life she had always been. I’d been visiting her regularly, never quite knowing whether each time would be the last. But now the end was nearer. I made plans to head straight to her as soon as Tamworth ended, knowing she would have definitely wanted me to go. She had always been wonderfully encouraging about my music.

The next morning was extremely hot so we made the fairly sensible decision to spend the entirety of the morning in the local Tamworth swimming pool. I prepared for my gig in the pool toilet, hair streaming wet and squinting in the bright sunshine attempting to put on some makeup. As I crossed the field towards the stage a familiar voice rang out from my left. My dear friend Elizabeth Rae (another wonderful musician!) was crossing the grass towards me. She had driven 7 hours from Toowoomba to surprise me. Another story for another time will tell how she was the reason I started playing music again, after laying it down for 7 years. Her being in Tamworth as the kick-off of something God had been laying on our hearts for years… was just…  exactly as it should be.

The remainder of the day was a wonderful blur of singing, food, catching up, laughter and sitting in a sea of grey nomads to listen to the country balladeers play on the Toyota stage. It was fantastic.

On the way back to our accommodation I texted my brother. He told me I wasn’t going to make it home in time to say goodbye. We arranged for me to Facetime him at the nursing home first thing… but he wasn’t sure whether or not it may already be too late.

The next morning, I sat in my car in the carpark on Facetime and said goodbye and prayed for the woman who has always showed me what unconditional love looks like. I wiped the tears from my face and climbed up onto the stage, my voice trembling a little as I got started. I sang every song that morning for her. My brother rang me not long after I finished playing, to tell me she was gone.

On the way home in the car I wrote a song called ‘What Kindness Looks Like’. A song about the story that made up her life, her love, her family… her kindness. I played it a week later at her funeral and God willing maybe one day I will record it and share it with you.

If I could play my song ‘’backwards’’ as according to Rascall Flatts , the things I would regain would be immeasurable. But as I can’t, I’ll simply have to be thankful for the stories that were… the moments and memories that will live on in the hearts of those she leaves behind. And I’m thankful too for the gift of country music… a place where I can write my stories down and sing them and sing them, until the pain feels just a little bit lighter.

If I head back to Tamworth next year maybe I’ll play ‘What Kindness Looks like’… and you can bet if I do… I’ll sing it for Nan.

1 comment