Happy days back in Geordie-land

Dear all,

It’s been a busy time since my last blog from Portugal. As soon as we got back it was mass lesson catch up time as well as a couple of lovely ‘outreach’ gigs. A brilliant care home down the road from me hosted me for a lovely afternoon gig where I made someone’s day by singing a song from The Sound Of Music that I’d spent a bit of time figuring out after learning last time I was there that this was, to put it mildly, her favourite song. It was a nice moment! On the same day I played an online gig for World Arthritis Day which was an absolute blast as well. I hadn’t done any online gigs since the old lockdown era so it was quite a surreal experience doing it again. I’d forgotten how weird it is to finish a song and be greeted by utter silence! Delighted faces…but no sound! It was lovely though.

Then followed gigs galore with UFQ playing National Forest Folk Club in Leicestershire which was a delight as that gig always is and then it was back up north to that wonderful city of Newcastle for a gig at Beyond The Moor festival and then an evening gig in Whitby playing lead guitar for my old chum Simma.

Where to start with Simma…he’s an extremely fine singer/songwriter from Newcastle who plays covers gigs in pubs as his primary living. I first met him four days into my university experience when I attended an open mic he was running and we became firm friends. Later on I became one of his pool of lead guitarists for covers gigs around the region. We had such fun I can’t tell you and it was one of the main things I was very sad to leave behind when I left Newcastle. It was so so much fun to do it again! There are two things I get to do very rarely – play lead guitar and play a whole load of covers in a pub. I wish to do neither of those things all the time, but every now and then it is such good craic!

On a similar note the following weekend saw me head back up to the Northeast again as I was depping on banjo and guitar for a country covers band at a big party in County Durham. Again, so so much fun and a great chance to knock out some harmonies too! I also taught at Newcastle University again for the first time in a long time as the folk degree has a new banjo student! Huzzah! He’s mighty talented too so I’m looking forward to working with him over the next few years.

So there it is, it’s been a fun few weeks! Lots of UFQ and a spattering of solo gigs coming up over the next month or two so I do hope I’ll see you somewhere.


Greetings from Portugal

Dear all,

Well here we are at Costa Festival in sunny Portugal. It’s always slightly surreal being in a luxury resort hotel in the Portuguese sun surrounded by…English folk music and folk music audiences. But it’s one hell of a party and yesterday’s gig with Brooks was just lovely and it was great to be joined for the last number by my UFQ chums Joe and Tom. We’ve another set tomorrow too!

Truthfully, I’m not usually much of a lad for package holiday resort type holidays. Hot weather doesn’t really agree with me, generally rendering me tired and a bit grumpy and well just too hot at the risk of stating the obvious. And I’ve never quite understood when everyone says ‘oh hot weather’s great as long as you’re in a pool or there’s air conditioning’. I mean, surely that just proves that being too hot isn’t pleasant if you have to be doing something that cools you down in order to enjoy it?! Surely, it would be easier if it was just…cooler. And honestly, when I go abroad I find it odd to just hole up in one place that could, weather aside, pretty much be anywhere.

But hey, it’s a five star hotel and I can’t really complain given someone else has paid for it! Much more importantly my beloved Nicol has been working so hard being the most amazing mum on the planet all year and this IS her dream holiday – pool, sun and relaxation. And that’s all I wanted for her so I am delighted we came out here as a family. Heidi has loved being in the pool (I mean really loved it) and her smiles when she splashes about just make my heart sing. Plus we’re surrounded by lots of lovely folks that we know and loads of great music and are having a wonderful wonderful time. So really, I’m not complaining one iota!!!

This heralds the start of a busy October. September was busy with gigs too but only up to the midway point and then it was busy at home with session work (including adding banjo, guitar and mandolin parts to an album being recorded in NYC which made feel really cool. Shame it didn’t stretch to a business trip…), teaching, patreon and of course being a dad! October sees a gig with UFQ in Leicestershire and then a solo gig up in wonderful Newcastle which I am very much looking forward to, it being a second home for me. More on that in a future blog! Then follows a couple of rare function gigs actually, a country gig in Durham playing banjo in a six piece band which will be a lot of fun and a wedding later in the month too. So it’s all go! 

Blog vs social media

Dear all,

When I first had a website back in 2009ish, my blog was quite a feature and in fact gained a lot of readership. The format basically was my report of the previous couple of weeks gigs and stuff followed by some sort of daft rant about something. It even resulted in a few other sites hiring me as a writer! But do you know what killed my blog? Social media. The devil that it is.

I resisted social media for as long as I could. Everything that people described to me about it I hated led chiefly by ‘it’s great because anyone can find you’. It struck me as a haven of self indulgence with a fair amount of ignorance thrown in and an ingenious way to divide the population into tribes ever more. Having caved long ago principally because it became apparent that it was actually holding my career back not having the blasted things, my opinion hasn’t changed much! But coming back to this blog…the problem I had was the ‘instantness’ that social media demands in order to be effective. Something every couple of days at least be it a photo, video, rant, advert for gigs – it’s all about content these days. And quite simply I had to prioritise social media because, love it or hate it, it is a supremely effective way of reaching followers and potential followers in a way that a blog on a banjo player’s website can probably never be. So I allowed the blog to slowly slip away until it became an occasional vehicle for posting big news about albums and tours. Many folks have said just how much they miss it, much to my surprise!

So I am back! This is back! Let’s blog…and to go with the formula that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, let’s try the old way. So let me catch up you up as September draws to a close. After the joy of Towersey (see previous blog) came Didmarton Bluegrass Festival, a cracking little fest held unusually in an airfield down in Gloucestershire. I had played the festival many times before but this was my first outing there with the wonderful Brooks Williams and I have to say it was one of the gigs of the year. Sometimes for whatever reason things just click and this was a great marriage of a lovely and lively audience, terrific sound, a well chosen setlist (ok, a bit self congratulatory that bit but it was!) and just being totally up for it.

Then the following Monday, I was off to Chichester for a solo gig at a rather lovely folk club. A great time was had by all it seemed and it was lovely to be welcomed in to such a lovely community of people, especially as they had just lost a friend sadly. It was as though this was a musical celebration which was a rather lovely sentiment.

An enormous amount of teaching followed that week but also a chance to return to one of my favourite care home gigs in Stoke which was lovely as it always is. I’ll jump forward a bit here and mention some other lovely ‘outreach’ gigs I’ve done this month including a particularly lovely one at a spinal unit in Shropshire where a patient loved hearing (and singing!) Loch Lomond and afterwards said to me ‘I remember someone lent me a CD in the mid-90s of a band doing that song and I loved them but I can’t for the life of me remember their name’. ‘That wouldn’t be Runrig would it?’ I said…it was! And now he knew the name he loaded them on his ipad to listen to all afternoon but only once he’d said to me – ‘you’ve brought a tear to my eye today in the best possible way. Ain’t music the best.’ It sure is.

Anyway, other gigs – Brooks and I headed up to surprisingly sunny Scotland for two gigs at the incomparably lovely Swallow Theatre in Dumfries and Galloway. We had a wonderful weekend there as well as a cracker of a show in Staffordshire the following weekend in Moreton. The organiser there is so bloody lovely and had collected raffle money all year to raise for the neonatal unit where my lovely daughter was treated so wonderfully in her early life. One of the nurses was presented with the cheque on the night so it was a lovely gig all round.

To complete my round up of September gigs…I was back in Stafford to play a special show for Pocket Film Festival at the fantastic Candid Beer. I played for an hour before a screening of none other than the greatest ever films Oh Brother Where Art Thou! I’ve mentioned this film in the last blog – it’s ace. Then I was up to Harrogate in Yorkshire to play the wonderful Harrogate Folk Club with the legend Alistair Anderson. We had a wail of a time and we also got to see my uncle, aunt and nana who all loved seeing Heidi!

So there it is folks, this blog is back. Armed and dangerous. We’re off to Portugal next for Costa del Folk, Brooks and I playing two gigs yet somehow we’re staying for a week…the intervention of my wonderful lady there. But I’m not exactly complaining…

Nickel Creek…finally!

Dear all,

Gosh, eight months since the last blog. That really is bad and I intend to put it right! I have a few things I’d like to write about and am keen to return to regular entries to this blog as many of you have said you enjoy reading them and have politely wondered what the hell happened to it!

Of course, it has been quite the year. My last entry was about my baby being born and let’s face it that is the headline news from 2023. Incidentally, my other half Nicol has been far better at blogging than I have! She has a rather splendid blog about parent wins and fails as we navigate being new parents and the complications of travelling with them. It’s an entertaining, informative and honest read as you’d expect if you know anything about my wonderful lady. Check out her blog here: https://bobbinabout.blogspot.com/

As for me, it’s been a good year work-wise. Gigs solo, with UFQ, with Brooks and with the legendary Alistair Anderson have all been pretty damn great and I am enjoying my new work balance with slightly less touring, more teaching at home and the bonus of plenty of session work which I can also do from here. I always wanted to be at home more once I had a baby – it’s such a hard thing as a musician to know what to do for the best as touring and performing is such an important part of who we are as people quite apart from being our main income source usually! But I had always decided I would not be touring like I used to doing 250 gigs a year all over the world with regular month long trips to other countries. I loved that life, and I certainly miss parts of it but being at home with my family is simply more essential for me. So the new way is plenty of gigs all over the UK, and still the odd trip abroad (in fact a particularly exciting one awaits in the new year…) but based here in Shrewsbury doing my teaching, session work and Patreon and doting on my amazing daughter.

But perhaps the main thing I wanted to write about here is seeing Nickel Creek at long last. It’s difficult to put into words how much this band changed my life as a teenager. I had taken up banjo and then discovered the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack and through that discovered incredible artists like Alison Krauss, Ralph Stanley and bluegrass music in general. Having been obsessed with Irish music, Britpop, Paul Simon and 60s pop (an obvious combination for a child of the 90s in Stafford…), my eyes were suddenly opened to this wonderful genre of music.

In those days, there was a website called CD Now which used to throw up excellent recommendations for new music based on similar artists. Amazon and Spotify (more on them in another blog…) do similar now but I found nobody did it quite as well as CD Now. Anyway, unlike now music wasn’t just free to listen to wherever you liked on the internet (ah turns out I might touch on Spotify in this blog entry…) so it was a case of a 30-second sample of a song at best. So I would regularly ‘take a punt’ on an album not knowing what lay therein. I bought a few albums based on recommendations which I either liked or discarded and one or two that I really got into…then along came Nickel Creek.

I bought their self-titled debut album and my world shook. I was initially excited by the clawhammer banjo opening to the first track ‘Ode To A Butterfly’. Then that intro came to a pause and Chris Thile’s mandolin kicked off this extraordinary tune. Guitar, fiddle and mandolin combined for a few minutes of absolute instrumental heaven varying between dizzying virtuosity and sheer melodic beauty. Then came the songs…’Lighthouse’s Tale’, ‘Out Of The Woods’, ‘When You Come Back Down’ and the childlike yet somehow funky as hell ‘The Fox’. I knew I loved folk tunes, I knew I loved pop songs and as of just before I got this album I knew I loved bluegrass. But nothing could have prepared me for this! It was the whole package – all the qualities of catchy, anthemic pop songs but with mind blowing instrumental virtuosity. This album changed my life; one week later I went to HMV and bought the follow up ‘This Side’. It was definitely different with more adventurous arrangements, discordant strings and some studio effects but it was very much the band I’d fallen in love with and plenty more favourite tracks to add to my collection. I was, to put it mildly, hooked. This band changed my whole outlook on music making and music listening.

So how did it take til 2023 to see them play?! Well, by the time I’d got into them first time around their UK tours had been and gone and then the band split after the less consistent ‘Why Should The Fire Die’. It was a long time til they reformed with 2014’s excellent ‘A Dotted Line’. And they did come to the UK…I was in New Zealand. That was it until 2023 when a show was arranged in London in late January at a, for them, tiny venue. I was online frantically clicking for tickets the second they went on sale and was overjoyed to book them. I couldn’t wait…my daughter of course had other ideas. Her unexpected arrival in early January meant once again seeing Nickel Creek was off. I cancelled going to three gigs because of Heidi’s arrival and generally didn’t mind at all…but that one really hurt!!!

Thankfully, Towersey festival came to the rescue booking my band Urban Folk Quartet and crucially NICKEL CREEK!! The decision was made there and then that I wasn’t going anywhere else that weekend and finally I saw my heroes. I didn’t expect anything other than exemplary playing knowing the musicians involved but I was so happy that they played so much material from the albums I adored. I sobbed during Lighthouse’s Tale. Then at the close of their set I went to find my other half Nicol who had very decently told me to go right to the front and be a proper fan while she took care of our daughter at the back of the marquee. I found her, threw my arms round her and cried genuine heartsobs. It was so emotional to finally see the band who rocked my world all those years ago. Music is powerful stuff! 

Quite the start to the year…

Dear all,

It’s a while since I wrote on this blog but I feel the need to tell you all about the start of my year! My beloved Nicol and I announced last year that we were expecting our first baby in March…well on the 2nd January, on the way to a fairly routine appointment it became apparent that our little one wasn’t hanging around and she was born the following day at 18:40 weighing just 3 pounds 8 ounces (actually a remarkably good weight considering her prematurity but tiny nonetheless).

Needless to say, it was quite a different start to the year than we had planned! The plans were to get our kitchen finished, get the house kitted out with all things baby-related, attend a few gigs while we still can and I would work up until the little one arrived before taking a few weeks off prior to starting again. But Heidi had other ideas! Ah well…the kitchen’s finished…

Seriously though, most importantly the little one is doing remarkably well and she is beyond amazing. I write to you from Nailsea ahead of my gig tonight and my face is hurting from the tears I shed having to put her back in her cot to travel down here. How can something so tiny who doesn’t speak or even do a lot capture your heart that much? It truly is a miracle and I am such a besotted father it is not true!

But I also have to pay a marked tribute to the incredible staff at Telford Women and Children’s Centre. I mean, I used to live with two doctors and I am with a nurse; I’ve always known that nurses and doctors are a special kind of person. Seeing it first hand has reenforced that notion twelvefold. Without going into details, we had a few worries during pregnancy in the early days and the early assessment team were just so incredible. Encouraging, reassuring, frank, honest, caring and efficient all at once. How is that even possible? 

Then the delivery team…Midwives are extraordinary. They catch everyone at their worst, they deal with so many unexpected and stressful situations. How the hell are they so damn nice all the time?! They looked after us so well and the sudden delivery was immaculately handled like a well oiled machine as the relevant people just appeared, did their job, said the right things and were just amazing.

Because Heidi is premature she is presently still in the neonatal ward. The staff there once again are just incredible. Nicol and I have both been emotional at different times and they are just such special, caring and wonderful people and of course give us expert advice along the way.

So long live doctors and nurses, and if our government would stop shafting them at every juncture that would be great.

As for me and my work, I took the decision to return to work this week after a couple of weeks off as I want some time at home when my baby does come home! I’m enormously grateful to my students, patrons and care home gig organisers for their understanding and I REALLY enjoyed returning to gigging at National Forest Folk Club, Ely Folk Club, Chirk Community Centre and a function gig with UFQ. Tonight I’m in Nailsea with Brooks too.

I will also have my new album! Indeed I have it already to sell at gigs but the official release is February so more on that in the coming weeks too 🙂

New albums and tours!

Dear all,

It’s a long overdue blog to tell you what’s going on! There’s plenty of news so here we go…


Firstly, there’s a new album on the albums page of this site! I am very excited indeed to tell you all about my brand new album with the legendary Brooks Williams. Brooks is an incredible American singer/guitarist who is now based in these parts. I’ve been wanting to play with Brooks for years so it’s a real thrill to be doing just that.

As many of you know, during lockdown I did umpteen split screen videos and of all of them, the one with this guy was the one everybody talked about and said we should do more…so we have. We’ve been doing gigs and have more on the way (see below…) and now we have the album.


14/10 CHESTER St Mary’s Centre
22/10 BEVERLEY St Nicholas Church
23/11 NORWICH Louis Marchesi
24/11 BASINGSTOKE The Anvil
25/11 DONCASTER Roots Music Club
03/12 BLYTH Royal Lightship


After the success of my book O’Neill’s Tunes for Clawhammer Banjo, I am delighted to say a recording of all the tunes will be available as my new solo album! This is basically the album I’ve been wanting to make my whole career! It’s these wonderful tunes that inspired me to play banjo in the first place played clawhammer style with guitar accompaniment. It’s simple but I’m so happy with it and I can’t wait for you to hear it! Release date to be revealed soon…


It’s been an amazing couple of weeks at Birmingham Symphony Hall playing Kashmiri music! I was asked by the wonderful folks of English Folk Expo to be part of the first ever collaboration of English and Kashmiri folk music. It’s myself and the legendary Alistair Anderson teaming up with Lala Qadeer and Khalil Anjum. It’s sounding great and I’m pleased to say there will be two gigs in October to showcase the results!

15 MANCHESTER Folk Festival
16 BIRMINGHAM Symphony Hall

Very best wishes,

Lovely day?

‘Ooh it’s a lovely day outside’
Is it though? I wake up lying in bed with no duvet or indeed clothes on (sorry for any unwanted images) with the feeling that an unpleasant and powerful electric heater is pointing at my face. So far, so revolting.

Then it’s downstairs to make the morning tea (yes it’s a hot drink in hot weather but it’s tea, it’s obligatory) and oh look at that I’m already sweating profusely after the rigorous activity of…walking down the stairs. Yes, still revolting.

Bring the tea back up, sit back in bed, remove the pyjamas that were utilised on the tea making mission to avoid rendering my neighbours visibly unshockable, and simply marvel at how one can open every single window and block out the sun with blinds/curtains and yet still feel as though I’m sitting inside the sun. I’m still on revolting at this point.

Next up, it’s time to do menial tasks such as breakfast, hanging the washing etc. Ah, terrific! Despite wearing merely a baggy and ‘cooling’ t-shirt and a pair of shorts ‘commando’ (again, sorry) I have that delightful feeling of perspiration rapidly furrowing its way down my entire body, my t-shirt revoltingly sticky to the point where taking it off again is a challenge. Somehow, I’m still landing on the revolting rather than lovely side.

Let’s change things up – a shower. Ah now that’s better! Nice cool water bringing my temperature down to something manageable as well as removing the revolting perspiration. This will keep me cool once I’m out won’t it? There’s a little shady spot on the patio (sounds very grand, trust me it isn’t) so let’s have a cuppa there. Ah, yes that is a bit better. BBBZZZZZ BBBZZZZZ oh lovely, good old hot days where every sodding insect that has ever inhabited Shropshire makes a beeline (pun intended) for my ears in that lovely way that only happens on hot days when you’re taking a sip of tea and suddenly have a minor heart attack as a small buzzing bollock of irritation sails directly past your ear. So despite some recompense from the shower, still revolting.

Finally, to escape the insects I get up, walk back in the house and discover my clothes and body are once again thoroughly moist. So in conclusion, ‘isn’t it a lovely day outside?’. No, it’s absolutely f***ing revolting.

London gig cancelled – yes I have covid…

Dear all,

Sorry to announce that my show in London this weekend, as well as my appearance at a private festival in Staffordshire, are both cancelled owing to that bloody covid. So sorry to anyone hoping to see me play, I was so looking forward to it. I was also going to record my album tomorrow too…heyho. If anyone needs a mega bassy voice recording for anything, today’s the day to ask for it. I’m reaching notes I didn’t know I had in me. I’m generally ok apart from my chest feels like it’s housing a mass population of creatures and I am dreading isolating at home because I don’t do well with doing nothing! So if anyone’s bored give us a shout…

Best wishes,

New album on the way!

Dear all,

Gosh it’s been a while hasn’t it? I do hope you are all very well. I’ve been hard at it in my ‘new normal’ of work life! You may have noticed that the days of me doing 250 gigs a year all over the world are not quite so anymore. As much as performing is my enduring passion it was always my intention to slightly flip the balance of my worklife from gigging the vast majority of the time and doing a little bit of teaching at home to being a bit more home-based. I do however freely admit that covid accelerated this rather dramatically!

Nevertheless, I’m enjoying the way things are. I now teach a lot and it’s more or less my bread and butter income but in addition to this I also run my Patreon page of videos, tabs and performances online, do recording session work at home and write banjo arrangements for folks! And of course I do still perform, I mean how could I not?! It still runs through me and I’ve so enjoyed the steady stream of gigs I still have.

And of course I’m a recording artist and I’m happy to say there is a new album on the way. I’ve been so pleased with success of my book ‘O’Neill’s Tunes For Clawhammer Banjo’ and buoyed by this I’ve decided to get the tunes recorded. Working with my long suffering record producer Mark Hutchinson, we’ll be recording medleys of the tunes with my own guitar accompaniments. I might even scatter a bit of bodhran somewhere too! Here’s a little video snippet for you as a preview, taken by Mark at the studio on Monday 🙂

Hell hath no fury like a driver scorned

Dear all,

For the first time since the pre-pandemic era, I’m on a train! It’s weirdly quite exciting although as yet no memorable tales have arisen. Readers of my blog in the past will recall the tales of attempted robberies of banjos, full-view cup urination and surprise suitcase evacuations. But as yet, this has been a relatively uneventful journey so I thought I’d check when I last blogged and realise it was four months ago!

So what’s been happening – I’ve been jolly well gigging again! What a pleasure it has been to perform again to audiences around the country. There has also been the launch of a new duo with American bluesman Brooks Williams, someone I have long been a fan of. Lots more planned with him so stay tuned! My live album is also finally out there – it was recorded in January 2020 ahead of a busy year of solo gigs which of course turned out a little differently…

I’m off to London this week to do a very special collaboration with one of my favourite musicians from India and then an extremely exciting studio job which regrettably I can’t tell you too much about yet…but all will be revealed. There are as yet, sadly, no plans to play abroad to any great extent owing to the uncertainty of COVID and its impacts on travel etc. There are a couple of short trips to France and Portugal with UFQ though 🙂

Finally, I was reminded yesterday of a very British problem. Hell hath no fury like a British driver who doesn’t get the courtesy wave when stopping to let someone through. Of course I gave him my most disapproving face and disgruntled arm waving. Only a Brit could be so rankled by the absence of what is essentially a voluntary courtesy done to be nice….that they respond by being openly hostile.