Grandpa

Yesterday I attended the celebration of the life of my extraordinary grandfather who passed away a few weeks ago. My mum’s dad was an inspiration to me and a towering presence in my life and my family’s life. In the last couple of years I’ve talked about him a lot from the stage as my trio performed my tune ’80 Years Of Pleasant Half Hours’ which I wrote for his 80th birthday. Sadly by this point he was too ill to come out and see a gig but he loved the fact that he was being talked about up and down the country!

As a kid, he even helped to inspire my obsession with music though he always played down his musical abilities. He performed in a skiffle group called the Cotton Pickin’ Five back in the 50s and he used to play guitar and sing to me in my youth. As I began my musical adventures we also used to play music together, something which I will always treasure. Happily some of this was recorded on video back in 2010 so I have these precious memories to watch.

My sister and I spent many many hours with him, my grandmother and my great grandmother when we were kids. He loved kids and took great delight in playing daft games with us and my cousins. In fact when I think about it, it’s amazing how active our adventures where when you consider that he was already physically not in great shape and his mother was hitting her 90s! As a slightly older kid and into my teens I continued to absolutely adore my extended family and the legendary new years gatherings were my favourite night of the year (and still are). Grandpa absolutely loved being the host and his hospitality was famous. Family meant everything to him – his children, grandchildren, parents and of course my quite phenomenal grandmother. His marriage to her is an inspiration to anyone and a real tale of true love. Family has played such an enormous part of my life and his influence on that is colossal. Yesterday the sense of an end of an era was huge yet his influence will of course live on each and every day.

Grandpa was an unfailingly practical person and it’s fair to say not always the most tactful about it! He had his fallings out with his children at times during his life and was a complicated character. Sometimes he blatantly looked for an argument as well and because he was irritatingly good at having them, the results could be explosive! But for someone who on paper was very conservative and very opinionated, I also found him a good deal more open minded, progressive and willing to learn than my assessment above suggests. It was of course easier for me being one more generation removed as there wasn’t that same ‘parent-child’ difficulty – it’s easier with grandchildren he actually said to me! In addition, he rather liked the fact that I’d give as good as I got and happily we never did fall out. Far from it. We disagreed. A lot. A lot a lot a lot. But we always came away from our discussions with a healthy sense of a debate enjoyed.

I spent my childhood looking up to him but If anything, my relationship with him was probably even closer as I hit adulthood. That practical streak was a big influence on me – I wouldn’t have said I was naturally an organised person or a pro-active person and the idea of me organising my schedule, flights, hotels, finances and everything seemed frankly terrifying in those days! But an immensely practical mother and grandfather and a massively driven self employed Dad were a big influence and somehow I’ve made a career out of this banjo lark. Grandpa embraced email way before most people and we exchanged very regular messages which featured his magnificent way with words, something else which fed into my life as my UFQ bandmates have frequently told me – ‘I don’t know a single other person who says that!’. I absolutely loved telling him about my career and his pride and interest in it continued to drive me on and I will so sorely miss telling him all about my travels. Happily, he did make it to a good few gigs too – my first ‘proper’ theatre show at Stafford Gatehouse and remarkably my appearance at Shrewsbury Folk Festival back in 2011 where he raised his hand as I gave him a shout out from the stage. In the later years, before his health declined further he also attended my gigs at a pub near to where he lived where it so happens I met my future girlfriend too. I played there mainly so he could attend – it is therefore because of him that I’ve met my partner, a fact which he immensely enjoyed! He welcomed her as he welcomed every other partner who has come into the family and it is a source of great joy to me that they got to know each other and he regarded her so highly.

Not going into details too much, but during some very difficult personal periods he was also a tower of strength for me. My grandparents’ location in Shropshire was absolutely ideal. Although I was living in the northeast I was frequently back in Stafford for longish periods and so always took the opportunity to head over on the train where he would meet me at the station in his electric buggy. I relocated back to Stafford in 2012 and recently to Shropshire itself and it has been such a joy to see so much of my grandparents. The many evenings spent ranting away over a glass of something nice were…well as he would say, a very pleasant half hour.

I’ve mentioned his health – he truly was incredible in this regard. He defied the odds year after year despite being medically retired in his late 40s and being convinced he wouldn’t last much beyond 60. I never once heard him complain about it – he had so many conditions and was confined to barracks so much which for a naturally active person who relished travel must have been hard. But he always focused on what he could do and not what he couldn’t and as mentioned above, embraced email very early, wrote books, came to whatever gigs and occasions he could and of course enjoyed the company of his family and in particular his extraordinary wife. He also encouraged my Granny to continue to enjoy trips, outings, walking and all the other activities she loved and relished hearing about them when she returned. The distressing period near the end where he lost his sight and began to lose his faculties was mercifully short and my abiding memories are of a larger than life character with an amazing positivity, wonderful humour, innate hospitality and a very strong moral sense. He adored his family who all adored him and I am of course greatly struggling with the idea of never going round for a rant over a drink again or sending him an email or postcard from my tours abroad. I’ll miss his sage counsel and his unconditional support. But I will forever treasure having 32 years of my life with him firmly a part of it and his colossal influence will live on in me always.

Chicago Airport

Dear all,

Greetings from Chicago Airport where I have been since 617. I don’t mean the year 617 although frankly it slightly feels like it…it’s now 9.30 here and it’s still a good four hours before I board my flight to San Francisco. I’m so grateful to American Airlines for moving my flight from Lansing to Chicago three hours early. Anyway…

I am tired but glowing with pride and happiness about the wonderful Midwest Banjo Camp which I’ve just been teaching and performing at alongside many of the world’s finest banjo players and some of my own heroes. Such a great atmosphere permeated throughout the camp during all the classes, sessions and concerts. Special thanks to my old mentor Ken Perlman for having me and to all the lovely students and fellow instructors. It was an amazing way to start my US tour.

It’s been a busy old time! The trio tour was great fun and it was lovely to see so many of you at the gigs. The album seems to have gone down well too with some lovely reviews (although one spent two paragraphs focusing on a previous one he didn’t like which seemed an odd move…). I’ve been on the radio a fair few times which has been very nice and I gather more is in the offing.

I must say America is great to be in (once you’ve managed to sort your visa and political leaders aside….) but there are some quite interesting misunderstandings. For one thing, I never realised my name was so complicated. I’ve always thought of Dan as quite a simple name. Yet here it causes no end of trouble. A typical introduction to someone goes like this:

‘Sorry what was your name?’

‘Dan’

‘Don?’

‘No, Dan’

‘Don?’

At which point I either have to just go with Don or do a terrible American accent and say ‘Day-en’.

There are one or two other language barriers too. I saw a sign at Chicago airport today which read ‘anyone who asks if you need a ride shouldn’t be giving you one’.

New album and book!

Dear all,

It’s been a rather lengthy break in bloggage for which I apologise and I can only say it’s because I’ve been ferociously busy! Work has been its usual mix of things but I’ve also moved out of Stafford would you believe and am now a resident of Shropshire! So all in all it’s been a rather fun time. I’ll bring you up to speed on all the giggage but firstly two very important announcements…

NEW ALBUM!

Yes I have a new album out and it comes with reinforcements. After two very solo-heavy records, this album is simply called ‘Trio’ and every track features the mighty Ciaran Algar and Nic Zuppardi. I’m really very happy with it and we’re touring it as we type – greetings from a travelodge somewhere near Cambridge…There’s one or two numbers that have been in my set for a while – the bluegrassy opener Late Night Drive and the bluegrassy closer One Eye Open – but largely this is brand new stuff and there’s a fair mix as usual with nods to my fondness for Eastern European and Indian stuff, Irish and Scottish tunes and some fairly optimistic songs (no, really!) about people and places. Check it out and get your copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Trio-Dan-Walsh/dp/B07QDQ141J/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=dan+walsh+trio&qid=1557502488&s=gateway&sr=8-1

Our remaining tour dates are:

Tonight! Cambridge Folk Club

https://cambridgefolkclub.co.uk/

11 WOLVERHAMPTON Newhampton Arts Centre
17 ASHINGTON SUSSEX Music At The Buildings
19 WOODBRIDGE SUFFOLK The Froize
22 STAFFORD Gatehouse Theatre
26 NORTH YORKSHIRE Swaledale Festival (Extra show added due to demand)
28 MALDON Blue Boar
29 MILTON KEYNES The Stables
30 LEICESTER The Musician
31 BRISTOL Folk House

 

NEW BOOK!

My book is out and is available here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tabs-Vaults-clawhammer-compositions-arrangements/dp/1093336242/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=dan+walsh+tabs+from+the+vaults&qid=1557502600&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmrnull

I am so thrilled that this book is finally here. I’ve worked hard on it for quite a while now so I’m really pleased that it’s available online and from me very soon if you’re at a gig! It features tabs of tunes recorded across four studio albums including the new one. It’s aimed primarily at those of you who have been picking for a while rather than beginners, but it does include some helpful tips and guidance (I hope!) alongside the tabs.

So how’s it been going then? Well jolly well. Firstly the UFQ spring tour was a big success with lovely gigs around the country which even included a couple getting engaged at our gig in Church Stretton! That was definitely a first! In amongst the band gigs I was out on my own a few times too including a return to none other than the Market Vaults in Stafford. I never thought I’d be playing the old faithful again with the departure of Oli and the arrival of an absolute bonehead but thankfully bonehead has departed and thanks to the wonderful Ben the pub is back and in sensible hands. It was a great night 🙂

I’ve also been doing some work in schools and care homes which has been absolutely lovely. I watched a BBC show the other night about music and dementia. Hats off to Vicky McClure and her dementia choir for a wonderfully uplifting bit of television and a reminder to everybody of the sheer power of music to those suffering from this highly cruel disease. Music penetrates in a way nothing else does – I’ve never forgotten all these care home gigs where people barely able to speak anymore can still sing the whole of Sunny Side Of The Street and even learn new songs and be familiar with them. Amazing stuff.

Interesting to read about Danny Baker’s dismissal. Leaving aside the fact that I have always found him about as entertaining as touching a raw chilli and then inserting my hands in my eyeballs, I was rather astonished that a man who has been in the media for as long as he has never got the memo that it’s not ok to be a small minded racist idiot not to mention then blaming his entirely appropriate sacking on pomposity. Given that he managed to not post a picture of a chimp in relation to Kate’s children, I’m thinking his claim this wasn’t race related is a little thin…

Trio tour in May

Dan Walsh Trio will be touring England throughout May promoting the brand new album! Dates and ticket links below:

02 PENRITH Sunbeams Music Centre
http://www.wegottickets.com/event/467238
04 KIRKBY FLEETHAM Stapleton House *
Mike Dillon – mdillon847@aol.com
05 NEWCASTLE Gosforth Civic Theatre
09 NORWICH Anteros Arts
10 CAMBRIDGE Folk Club
11 WOLVERHAMPTON Newhampton Arts Centre
17 ASHINGTON SUSSEX Music At The Buildings *
19 WOODBRIDGE SUFFOLK The Froize
22 STAFFORD Gatehouse Theatre
26 NORTH YORKSHIRE Swaledale Festival *
28 MALDON Blue Boar
29 MILTON KEYNES The Stables
30 LEICESTER The Musician
31 BRISTOL Folk House

Pre-packed food

Dear all,

February greetings from me, it’s been one of those starts to the year for me. I’ve had this routine since 2014 where I’ve been out to New Zealand/Australia every other year and the alternate years are very admin heavy! I’ve spent a great deal of time on my laptop organising things! One exciting thing to tell you – I’m writing a book! I’ve been asked quite a number of times over the years by banjo playing fans of my stuff if I plan to do a tab book and it’s one of those things where I’ve planned it but not really done it. However, with Midwest Banjo Camp on the horizon in June, a prime chance to get rid of the things, I thought I’d crack on with it so I’ll be keeping you posted about that.

So all in all, I haven’t done much in the way of gigging yet although that’s about to dramatically change! I did have a lovely trip up to Inverness for a live session on BBC Radio Scotland and a cracking gig at MacGregor’s, run by the legendary fiddler Bruce MacGregor. That was a really top night and a part of the country I have always been extremely fond of so I very much enjoyed that. My only other public gig so far was in Stafford at Coffee Number One in a joint gig with my old friends Fish From Oblivion, a cracking a cappella group based locally who have been going for years and years. My dear and sadly missed friend Camilla (see some blogs back for more about her) was part of that group and this gig served as a launch for their new record which she recorded on as well as a chance to pay tribute to her. It was a really enjoyable evening and I think Stafford has a new gig venue!

I’ve also been getting back into the old outreach work which I must say I had really missed. I was on the books of Live Music Now for years and years (see lots of previous blogs!) which involved playing at care homes, schools, mental health wards and all manner of places. I’m getting back into doing music with younger people in schools and have been thoroughly enjoying it. The care home work was always a very powerful part of my life and I’ve missed it very much. I had a care home concert yesterday and was reminded just how powerful music is on those living with dementia. One man was beside himself with joy and moved to tears by the emotions. There was quite a bit of tension between some of the residents prior to the concert and the room felt decidedly inharmonious but once the music started the atmosphere completely changed and it was lovely to bring people together.

Tomorrow I’m off to Canada for a conference. Yes a conference. It’s called Folk Alliance and it’s essentially the annual convention of the North American folk ‘scene’. It’s packed with delegates so some top level awkward English schmoozing will take place from me…it’s potentially a very useful and fun event but I don’t know what it is about ‘forced networking’ that makes my brain go extremely peculiar. I mean I love meeting people and my job constantly involves it but there’s something about ‘lots of people in a room – go and mingle’ that brings out the very furthest excess of Englishness! Still, there will be lots of people I know there and I’m actually rather looking forward to it. I’ve always found the North American people I’ve played to have very much ‘got’ what I do and have generally found me amusing which is nice. So it’s a part of the world I’d love to do more in.

Now, do you know what drives me mad sometimes? Unnecessarily pre-packaged food. I was about to pick up a small netted bag of onions – by small I mean three onions – for 83p the other day. Then I picked up three loose onions, put them in a little plastic food bag (you know, those ones that can be a bastard to open – maybe that’s the reason for this…) and it came to…22p. It was a similar difference for a ready made bag of bananas. Then I really spotted some daft things – pre-grated cheese, ready chopped carrots but perhaps the ultimate insult to human intelligence: a pre-cracked egg!!!!! I mean actually an egg, ready cracked, in a packet!!!! God help us all.

Happy new year!

Dear all,

A very happy new year to you all. Sorry for the radio silence over the last month or so but 2019 sees me feeling refreshed after the Christmas break and ready to take on the world again! Actually I wouldn’t dare take on this world in a million years (Brexit eh?) but you know what I mean.

2019 sees the release of not one but two new albums! Both UFQ and Dan Walsh Trio will be putting out records in the first part of the year which is extremely exciting. I’m also returning to the USA in June to teach at Midwest Banjo Camp and do a short tour of California. Trips to Canada and Germany are also in the calendar!

Last year was a remarkable year really. Australia and New Zealand kicked things off in style, the former for the first time and the latter for the third. Both places treated me exceptionally well and the people were as delightful as ever. Then two UK tours with UFQ, one with my trio, a splattering of solo gigs, plenty of festivals, trips to Canada and Italy on my own and throughout Europe with UFQ (be interested to see how long that carries on…) So yes it was quite good really. But it was certainly bloody knackering! So I have taken a bit of a new year’s resolution to have one or two breaks here and there but I shall still be out touring plenty and it’ll be great to have more time to actually write music!

So then I’ve got a little bit of a rant for you to begin the year. Stupid sodding phones. I don’t know if you’ve had the same experience but I was waiting in the queue at the tills and there’s two self service machines free and some twit hadn’t noticed because their eyes are glued to the screen of their bastard phone. And the worst part…that twit was me. Happy new year everyone.

‘They just looked so alike’

Dear all,

It’s been a much needed October of not flying anywhere! I’ve had a bit of time at home which has been great to get my breath back and get myself together. But of course it’s been plenty busy too…To begin with I returned to a very old favourite The Haberdashers in Knighton, a pub I first played when I was 16 at the Middle of Nowhere festival and was a very important gig in establishing myself on the Staffordshire scene. I’ve always had a fondness for the place and this was another nice little gig there and included in the audience my old science teacher!

The next weekend I was in action for a lunchtime gig at London’s Southbank Centre which I enjoyed very much before returning to Chelmarsh near Bridgnorth for a gig at the excellent Bulls Head, a fine example of a proper music pub. The next weekend it was off to Witney for a gig with UFQ at Fat Lil’s which was good fun then my trio were back in action at Manchester Folk Festival which also ties in with Folk Expo so there were lots of delegates in the audience with potential usefulness to me…it’s a frightfully strange experience doing a gig when you know the audience is full of such people. Then you have to try and talk to them like a normal person which as an Englishman is difficult enough as it is. Add in the factor of essentially trying to sell yourself and the scene is set for calamity. Perhaps the only more awkward scene featuring me in recent times was me trying to collect my own door money in Kamloops in Canada until an audience member who knew me mercifully stepped in…I never did see that money. That’s a joke just to clarify.

Anyway on we go…to bring you up to speed it was a solo gig in Stourbridge last Saturday which was absolutely lovely not least because a good deal of the audience were members of the superb singing group Stream of Sound many of whom are friends of mine and they contributed some excellent harmonies! Then it was off to Hitchin to play the legendary Hitchin Folk Club with UFQ. It was quite a night and Joe decided mid-gig it would be a great idea to hand me the guitar and for the three of them to wander off leaving me to play Call Me Al…it was quite fun.

Ooh I’ve forgotten one little thing…I guested for a couple of songs at the gig of the wonderful Emily Mae Winters in Leicester too! She’s an amazing singer so do check out her stuff – here’s a little video we recorded back in December last year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4yNxYsu2Xs

I thought I’d just round off with overheard quote of the month, heard on the streets of Stafford: ‘The most guys I’ve ever kissed in one night was two and that’s only because I thought it was the same guy as the first one’. That is such a priceless quote in so many ways. It’s how to try to appear classy one second and then completely ruin it the next! I think the fact it was followed up with ‘they just look so alike’ got me intrigued. Brothers? Look out for them on Jeremy Kyle.

Turn the light on or off

Dear all,

We’re in October, how the hell did that happen?! September was a mightily busy month with trips to Canada and Italy, the former for a fifth time and the latter for the very first time. Canada was a delight as it always is with an excellent gig in Vancouver kicking things off since the last blog. A lovely little house concert it was and then it was off to Kelowna to play Milkcrate Records which was a nice little gig followed by a storming gig in Kamloops at The Art We Are. This was one of my very favourite gigs of this year – thank you all of you who came out. Then it was a return to the heroically named Tractorgrease Cafe in Chilliwack which is a quite amazing place off the beaten track with gigs galore and a great following.

Then it was off to beautiful Vancouver Island with the stint starting and ending in lovely Victoria. The legendary Iredale house concert was as wonderful as last time as was Victoria Folk Society which is a truly brilliant gig. In between were gigs in Port Alberni at Char’s Landing which was a fun gig and then a storming sold out show in Qualicum Beach courtesy of the Beatons. Next up a return to the wonderfully bizarre Duncan Showroom which once again proved a delight then before returning to Victoria it was Sooke for a cracking and packed gig in a lovely church (and having the use of an extraordinarily expensive guitar which was new to the host. That was quite a nerve wracking few songs…).

And so after returning for all of one day, it was off to Italy for the first time with three gigs in the Bolzano region near to the Austrian border. Massive shout to Thomas Blaas who made this all happen! I often get asked who organises my foreign trips – usually it’s me! It requires a lot of emailing looking for gigs, looking at google maps trying to nail down a suitable route, visas, flights, hotels etc. So to have it all done for me this time was VERY NICE! All three gigs were cracking anyway and I had a wonderful time with a lot of truly lovely people who were very welcoming. And what a beautiful part of the country too!

Then it was back to the UK and a weekend of gigs with the legendary Alistair Anderson in Stafford, Bridgwater and Maidenhead. The first was a really special night – Stafford being my hometown I knew most of the audience and nearly all knew that I’d been to Newcastle to study the folk degree so to bring the man who was my degree head to Stafford and collide those two worlds was really special. Bridgwater was also very special as we were playing for a surprise 70th birthday who was pretty stunned when we turned up at the door! Then a great little gig at Norden Farm in Maidenhead as well where Alistair randomly decided to wander off into the audience during a tune whilst playing the concertina and dancing. I hope I have his energy when I’m 70.

Now then, I’ve had this rant with a few people lately and the subject was brilliantly ‘reported’ as ever in the legendary Daily Mash the other day so it’s on my mind. I’ve always been, according to my friends, a bit of a philistine when it comes to matters relating to home decor. I have an astonishing inability to notice when anyone has decorated or even changed the flooring as was pointed out to me vociferously recently on a visit to a friend’s house with their new wooden floor. But there’s one thing I really don’t understand – the big light vs lots of lights thing. See when I walk into the room and it’s a bit dark I turn the light on so I can see. Then when I’m done I turn it off again. Seems to me a very simple process that takes very little time but I have been told I’m rather soulless on the matter because at night ‘mood lighting’ is better. So apparently one should, rather than operating a single light switch, turn on about five different lamps around the room so that when you’re done for the evening and go up to bed it’s important to go round the room turning off each light then doing that really awkward ‘in the dark’ walk out of the room because you can’t see anymore and the big lightswitch is inevitably not nearby. I’ll never understand some things.

The curious case of Serena Williams

It’s been all over the news, radio discussions, website forums and just about everywhere else. Serena Williams and her ‘meltdown’ has been everywhere but is that really what it was? I first heard about it on the radio just after it had happened and as someone who takes an interest in tennis (although I’m not an avid follower) it all sounded rather dramatic and exciting. After all, this is the undisputed leading female tennis player of the last twenty years and undoubtedly one of if not the finest player every to grace a court. And here she was in a major final throwing an almighty tantrum at the umpire after she was penalised for getting coaching then deducted first a point and then a game for showing anger in the form of smashing her racket and launching an accusatory tirade at the umpire. Stephen Nolan on Radio 5live was pretty unequivocal about it as he chaired a phone-in on the subject, simply pointing out her unacceptable behaviour and lambasting her attempts to turn the conversation about it towards sexism, equality and even racism. The subsequent furore over the rather tasteless cartoon in the Australian Herald Sun has only added to the intriguing debate.

To be honest, I’ve been on my own journey about it. Initially I have to say my reaction was to go with Nolan. In truth, the coaching rule was news to me so as far as I was concerned this was a legitimate penalisation which she massively overreacted to and was dealt with accordingly. At this point, I also rather shared Nolan’s view that I couldn’t figure out where women’s equality came into it. I really couldn’t see it – it smacked to me of someone playing the gender card in an issue where it wasn’t relevant. It seemed to me that whether the penalisation for coaching was correct or not (and given the coach admitted it, it would seem to be) the aggression and dissent was an overreaction and unnecessary and while certain allowances must be made for the heat of sporting combat, that doesn’t mean it can go unpunished. I wrestled with this as I listened to the majority of callers side with Nolan, although one or two put some arguments forward about Williams standing up for ‘what she believed in’.

I think at this point I have to say that I take great interest in issues around gender, sexism and equality and listen to many debates on the subject during my insomnia youtube marathons. I regularly read facebook posts from many of my friends in the music world on the subject and many of the things they are subjected to such as personal space invasion, patronising comments regarding how to use equipment and even indecent proposals at gigs or on social media (and that’s before the issue of female bands being turned down from festivals because ‘we’ve already got one female band this year’) make me realise that sexism is sadly alive and well. In truth, I also read plenty of posts where I believe a bit of determined outrage is going on and there are times when I think it can get out of hand but overwhelmingly I come down on this side: I am a firm believer that we, as men, need to be more inclined to look at the way we think and behave in regard to women rather than immediately coming down on the defensive side and saying ‘it’s not all of us’. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t but the fact is even ‘good guys’ can say or do things in regard to our dealings with women that are wide of the mark. Our instinct should be to think about it and think if we can do better instead of immediately going into defensive mode.

So with that in mind, it almost troubled me that I couldn’t see the sexism! My instinct is not to dismiss it and I felt even more troubled when racism was also being suggested as a factor and I couldn’t see that either. There are plenty of instances where I believe that prejudice is looked for rather than actually present and this just seemed to be one of those. Nevertheless, it was on my mind over the next few days.

First things first I thought I’d better do a bit of research on this coaching rule as it was news to me as I said. It does appear it’s not implemented all that often so was this sexist against Williams? In other words does it happen to women considerably more than men? The answer is slightly complicated – men actually get far more violation warnings or docked points in tennis in general than women particularly when it comes to slamming down a racket or using bad language complaining to an official. The coaching one is more interesting – women have actually been penalised for coaching more times than men (152 times over the past 20 years compared to 87 for men). The reason isn’t clear for this so it could be that gender is a factor but the figures are not conclusive enough to be sure of this.

So far so inconclusive. Two more things that kept me with Mr Nolan: firstly, the umpire Ramos. He has a reputation as a strict, almost jobsworth type of umpire so implementing a rarely used violation doesn’t seem specific to Williams. Secondly and significantly, you can hardly blame him for penalising Williams for blatant racket abuse and strong dissent to the point of questioning the umpire’s integrity. The only thing one could say in defence of Williams is there is perhaps a little more of a track record of going with a non-official warning rather than straight to an official warning which is then followed by docked points and games. But all this still doesn’t alter the fact that whether the coaching violation rule was harsh or even wrong, Williams’ behaviour came across as unsporting and bad tempered and although it was slightly negated by her rightly urging the crowd not to boo during the presentation of the trophy to her opponent and to salute a worthy champion and not spoil her moment, it really did seem she had needlessly earned more penalisation and simply lost her cool.

One player has been mentioned many times in this debate – John McEnroe, a notoriously hotheaded player who seems to be almost revered for his passionate antics (although for balance it should also be pointed out he was criticised for it at the time). But note the words I used – ‘revered’ and most significantly ‘passionate’. Finally, I got a whiff of this sexism. McEnroe is ‘legendary’, ‘passionate’, ‘iconic’. Williams was being described as ‘hysterical’. That word is very significant – I have never once heard a man described as hysterical, not once, in any discussion about anything. But I tell you what, I’ve heard it used many times to describe a woman. It got me thinking about other areas too – if men rise to the top of an organisation they are ‘driven’. Women are ‘ruthless’. These are subtle but significant differences and a sign that we still expect men and women to behave a certain way. In my own field of music, men (and actually many women) are ok with female fingerpicking guitarists and singers, harpists, fiddlers. They’re not quite so sure about a blistering flatpicking guitarist or hard driving accompanists. Don’t believe me? Just ask how many female musicians of this type have been told they ‘play like a man’ and you might see what I mean. Williams has an incredibly strong physique, a fiery temper and a willingness to argue a case. Is it perhaps the case that many are uncomfortable with this because it doesn’t fit into the image of a female tennis player?

As indicated already, I don’t dispute that Williams deserved to be sanctioned for what she did (at least for the dissent anyway) and had it been a man I think he would have been dealt with the same way. But this is the crux of this piece – it is not what she did, how she was punished or even her attempt to frame it as sexism that prove sexism. I think she behaved badly and did not need to frame it as a sexism issue because at that point I do not believe it was. What implies sexism is the aftermath. For one thing, this happened a week ago and it is still being discussed in newspapers, magazines, radio shows, breakfast TV shows, the lot. A tennis player having a run-in with an umpire is nothing new, it happens all the time. Granted, this was a high profile match featuring a very high profile player but the fact that I had to spend quite a lot of time finding ANY reports (outside of actual match reports) of a male player ever behaving this way and struggled to do so speaks volumes because it happens enough, as was shown when I looked at the actual match reports!

And then of course there was that cartoon. I think caricaturing Williams as raging and jumping on her racket with a dummy on the floor was fair game as was the quite amusing speech bubble from umpire to her opponent ‘can’t you just let her win’. But to make the fairly dark skinned Osaka totally white with totally blonde hair and Williams a horribly stereotyped big-lipped  ‘angry black woman’ with ludicrously exaggerated body parts is disgraceful and indicative of the debate that has surrounded Williams for much of her career. If I didn’t know the context I would have no idea who it was a drawing of and it’s not as if the artist is incapable, simply that he has focused entirely on racial features (as well as whitewashing Osaka) and played that stereotype of ‘angry black woman’. It belongs in 1850.

I hope that like McEnroe, Williams is revered as an outstandingly brilliant tennis player and an iconic legend. But I also hope that when Williams does retire (or frankly before she retires would be better), this incident and only one or two other similar ones are barely even mentioned. Because they are, or should be, such an extraordinarily insignificant footnote in the story of a player who has defied all the odds and is quite simply a breathtaking sportswoman. With every respect to McEnroe who was undoubtedly a fine player, it is hard to imagine him being quite so iconic without ‘you cannot be serious’ and all that. Ask yourself this: if there had been a female player who exhibited such behaviour on a regular basis would she be remembered as ‘iconic’ or ‘hysterical’. You don’t have to be consciously sexist to be sexist.

The banjo case fiasco

Dear all,

Greetings from sunny Vancouver. I’m still buzzing from a wonderful festival I played over the weekend in beautiful Powell River called Sunshine Music Fest. It is without doubt the only festival I have ever played that required two ferry rides with an hour and a quarter drive in between to get there! Anyway, I turned up at the festival on…no hang on. I should start this story at the beginning shouldn’t I? Got rather ahead of myself there. I’ll start with my journey to my hotel in London prior to flying to Canada which was somewhat fraught thanks to one of my suitcase wheels deciding to escape from its moorings thus leaving me dragging a rather heavy suitcase (probably the issue in the first place…) around the Gatwick district. Then came the flight to Canada which was fine and the arrival in Vancouver which was absolutely bloody awful! Firstly, the bright idea of ‘speeding up’ and ‘modernising’ the border process by doing away with the paper landing cards one fills in on the plane and introducing swanky screens at the airport instead manifestly is about as effective as Theresa May’s dance instructor. So one hour and fifteen minutes after landing I was finally face to face with the immigration person who put the fear of god into me by asking if I had a work permit for my music work. An artist can work in Canada without a visa or permit for three months I thought….I put this to him and his response was ‘that’s right, it’s great that you research it properly’. Well thanks mate. Thanks. That means a lot.

Anyway, finally I arrived and headed to my exceedingly grotty hotel for my first night. Seriously, awful. After changing my booking for the same hotel on Monday night to somewhere mildly more pleasant I headed out for a mighty fine Chinese meal and then to bed. Then it was off to Powell River which as previously mentioned is a gorgeous spot and the music on show was nothing short of outstanding across the board! My set was on Sunday and was a lot of fun and seemingly very well received which was nice. I had great fun having a late night jam with the other artists too and meeting lots of lovely Canadian people. Then it was back to Vancouver for a couple of nights off before the gigging starts again on Wednesday. I went to a bluegrass jam in the park last night and a wee pint afterwards. Lovely.

The rest of August was also highly enjoyable. Purbeck, Folkeast and Whitby completed UK festival season for me and all three were brilliant as ever. It was great to play with UFQ, the trio and Alistair Anderson and the latter was one of many legends on show at Whitby. After Canada comes Italy then it’s a UK tour with UFQ and a few other bits before the year’s out.

Ooh do you know, I’ve forgotten another aspect to the Canada story. My banjo case. Honestly, my ruddy banjo weighs an absolute tonne and delights in destroying case after case that is unfortunate enough to house it. My near indestructible flight case is not even immune. I was in a nice little store in Vancouver, put the banjo down for a minute then picked it up and one of the bolty things holding the handle in shot out. Great. Anyone who knows me knows DIY is far from my strong suit to put it mildly so I was a little torn as to what to do. But in true self sufficient style, I googled hardware stores and went in there and a very nice chap went beyond the call of duty and sorted it all out by drilling a hole, applying screws and whatnot. There was a quite amusing exchange when I walked in with the banjo:

‘Is that a banjo, are you going to play me a tune?’

‘It depends if you’ll do me a big favour’.

It could hardly have sounded more dodgy I have to tell you. Still he fixed it, I played a tune and I have a working banjo case. All good.