Thank you Camilla

It is with great sadness and emotion that I write this. The subject of it would probably tell me off for it, but I simply need to express it. When I was 13, I played one of my first ever public performances supporting legendary banjo player Ken Perlman. Also on the bill were singing group Fish From Oblivion featuring Camilla Kurti who sadly passed away this morning from cancer. From the off, Camilla took great interest in my music and gave me so much encouragement and this continued as we met more or less annually at Ken’s gigs in Stafford. Later in my teens my mum and I attended several singing workshops which Fish staged featuring top singers from around the world, something incredibly exciting for me as a young folk music fan. She continued to look out for me and ask about what I was getting up to as I was gigging more by this stage.

At 18, I headed off to university and I was pretty terrified to be honest and struggled with such a big change. Within two days of being there, Camilla had sent me an email asking how I was getting on and when the honest response came she kept encouraging me, telling me I’d be mad to waste the opportunity to study folk music at university and that I just needed to stick at it. This combination of love, support and encouragement with a nice helping of ‘kick up the arse when needed’ was typical and what made her such a special friend to so many people.

We kept in touch periodically but it was when I moved back to Stafford in 2012 that our very close friendship formed more. Bumping into each other in the street, Camilla suggested we go for a cuppa and so began a lovely routine of meeting up every month or so to catch up on everything going on, a routine that I still can’t quite process is gone but I will always have fond memories of. Camilla essentially became my second mum and a big sister rolled into one. During some quite dark times for me – a major crisis over my career direction, a break up and a spell of depression – Camilla was always there listening patiently, pointing out all the different sides of things and as indicated above telling me to get a bloody grip on occasion. I remember once she called and when I answered she could tell something was wrong – I had lost my passport ahead of a big gig abroad. Straight round she came to help look for it! But more importantly than that we had so many good laughs and plenty of occasionally quite fiery debates which sometimes resulted in me, quite rightly, being rebuked for saying certain unthinking things and I feel a more conscientious and learned person as a result, always one of the best qualities someone can have I think is to make you feel this way.

I’m not sure I’ve ever known a more selfless person and this was shown throughout Camilla’s mercifully fairly short illness. Camilla’s diagnosis was devastating news to all her legions of friends, and to Camilla herself, yet so often during her illness her priority was other people. After a good deal of persuading her, she agreed to allow me to run errands whenever I could so we went on quite a lot of shopping trips to supermarkets, garden centres and the hospital and during all this she was still always asking me how I was doing. As she quickly grew more and more ill in recent weeks, she continued to check on me as I have had a hard time lately for reasons I won’t go into here. She sent a good luck text ahead of my Stafford gig a few weeks ago and said she was really sorry not to be there but was not feeling well enough but she was still aiming to have one of our cafe catch ups. Sadly that was not to be as she grew weaker but just over a week ago I popped round to say goodbye. It was one of the greatest privileges I have ever had to say goodbye to her and to say things that I wanted to say. We still had a good laugh (partly because within five seconds I had managed to kick her crutches over by accident) and she asked me how my tour had gone and how I was doing. And typically of her, when I said I was heading to Oxford that day (where she is from), she asked if one of the ladies looking after her would send a text for her to her friend telling her to come to the gig! Most of all, I thanked her for everything she had done for me and she did likewise to me and said that it was important that different generations had these kind of friendships. How right she was, as ever. Of course I left the house in floods of tears and I feel deeply sad but I feel immensely grateful to have known such a remarkable person so well and better still to have had the chance to say the things that matter to her. Thank you for everything Camilla, I’ll remember you and smile.

Old fashioned phone methods

Dear all,

Greetings to you all on my brand spanking new website – looking rather good eh? It was in need of a bit of a spruce up not least because I was receiving all kinds of random tripe from robotic spammers apparently owing to outdated software. For the record, should you ever think about contacting me on the subject my interest in viagra is rather limited. Anyway the trio tour has kicked off which is terribly exciting and we had a typically wonderful gig in my hometown of Stafford last night where we were joined by some of my oldest and dearest friends. Prior to that we kicked things off in Chesterfield at North Wingfield Resource Centre last Friday which again was a lovely wee gig.

So what else have I been up to? Well first thing after the last blog was a gig at The Big Comfy Bookshop in Coventry which was highly enjoyable and featured great sets from Devon Mayson and Amit Dattani. Then it was back to UFQ action and a cracking gig at Bristol Folk House which has become a big favourite for us on our tours. Next it was off to Chester to play Alexander’s with UFQ which as usual was a lively affair and we even popped into Chester University during the day to do a workshop with the students.

Then came a rather eventful weekend of gigs abroad, firstly sticking with UFQ as we headed to France for a cracker of a gig in Sologne and then I headed to Ibiza. Well this was fun. So the flight from Paris involved changing in Barcelona which is when everything got hideous. At the risk of stating Continue reading “Old fashioned phone methods”

Some dreams can come true…

Dear all,

Hope you had a lovely Easter and April thus far (man it’s moving fast isn’t it?!). My first ever trio tour is drawing ever nearer, do please get your tickets for the gigs. It makes my life a lot more relaxing 🙂 See the homepage for all the details. Don’t forget to catch UFQ as well we’re in Bristol, Chester and France before the month’s out and I even squeeze in a vist to Ibiza, yes IBIZA before the trio fun begins. Those of you know me will be thinking ‘of all the people likely to visit Ibiza, I would put Dan Walsh just about last on the list’. And you’d be right. But I am playing the Costa del Folk festival (yes that really is a thing) with the legendary Alistair Anderson. Not a sentence I ever thought I’d say.

Continue reading “Some dreams can come true…”

Greetings from Costa

Dear all,

I write to you from Costa Coffee in Stourbridge. Because my life is glamorous. I spend a great deal of my time in cafes on a laptop, yes I’m one of those guys. My philosophy generally is if it’s an independent cafe I would always keep buying drinks and not just take up a table for work. In Costa, Cafe Nero et al I feel rather different.

Anyway, there’s some information that won’t be of any use to you whatsoever. So to bring you up to speed, it was straight back into travels albeit on a rather smaller scale as UFQ went to Holland for a one off gig in Zandaam. Joe spent much of the time telling me how good gigging in Holland is and such was borne out by the gig. A lovely host and a great crowd in a packed house. I was of course utterly banjaxed from my Southern Hemisphere travails but I managed to do the gig before collapsing in the car! It was truly Continue reading “Greetings from Costa”

That’s a wrap!

Dear all,

Well that’s a wrap. My Southern Hemisphere tour of 37 gigs, god knows how many miles and countless good times is over. I’ve loved it, I really have and I heartily thank the people from Australia and New Zealand who came to gigs, organised gigs, put me up, fed me, gave me good company and bought CDs. I nearly sold out, not quite but nearly! It was a massive undertaking for me to do such a long tour so far from home and I made no secret I was rather nervous but it was totally worth it.

First let me bring you up to speed. Havelock was an absolute belter of a gig at the Captain’s Daughter with a quite brilliant audience, wonderful atmosphere and a rather clumsy introduction from me – ‘it’s great to be back in the Captain’s Daughter’. I hadn’t quite realised how that would sound…Anyway next it was off to Nelson for a gig at the stunning Fairfield House, a replacement for the sadly stricken Boathouse. It was a wonderful night again and a real candidate for gig of the tour in fact. Next came a bloody long drive to Oamaru Continue reading “That’s a wrap!”

Long live Barrytown Hall!

Dear all,

Greetings from a thoroughly rainy and cyclone threatened south island of New Zealand where I’ve had a great tour although a slightly not in a good way eventful day yesterday…More on that in a minute but first up let me bring you up to speed. After arriving on the south island it was the beautiful (if slightly treacherous) drive over to the legendary Mussel Inn in Golden Bay which lived up to all expectations. Unlike four years ago there was no dancing on the tables, crowd surfing or chanting of Danjo but apparently that was one hell of a one off! This was I guess more usual gig territory of devoted listeners but with a brilliant bit of patter in a fantastic setting. Amazing place this, a gig like no other. Thanks everyone for coming especially the couple who chose to spend their honeymoon there!

Next came up a couple of days off before heading to Picton for a double bill at Le Cafe with the Young Folk from Ireland. It was much enjoyed and a brilliant bonus was jamming with members of the group My Baby and their family after the gig. The three sisters singing I’ll Fly Away in beautiful three part harmony was a privilege and no less. A great night was had!

Then came a trip west to Barrytown Hall, another venue with legendary status but one I hadn’t yet experienced. Well I have now!!!!!! What a place and what a crowd – I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve had half the audience doing the conga round the hall to Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms….quite an atmosphere and a place thoroughly deserving of its status. I dearly hope the gigs keep happening…more below. Anyway from there it was off to Christchurch for a welcome return to the folk club which is always a lovely night. Then came the journey back north…

Twenty minutes into the journey came the apparently obligatory New Zealand car incident. The first time I was here in 2014, I reversed my friend’s car into a post. Definitely my fault. The second time whilst driving the aforementioned treacherous road to the Mussel Inn, my tyre gave way on a bend thus rendering the car unsteerable and heading into a barrier thankfully at a slow speed. Not my fault. This incident – I was hit in the back at a give way point. Most definitely not my fault. But a pain in the bloody buttocks nonetheless. Thankfully I sustained no pain in the buttocks or otherwise and mercifully the car is perfectly driveable if just a bit disfigured around the bumper. A shout out to Jean at Mitre 10 in Rangiora who spent time helping me duct tape the bumper and brake light shield to the car to ensure no debris on the road…thanks Jean!

Anyway after all that there was the little matter of another gig – the Highfield Winery in Blenheim was the venue and a jolly nice one it was too with a delightful audience and a beautiful setting. Regrettably, today’s gig at Punga Cove was cancelled owing to the imminent cyclone in the area so it was deemed unsafe. Such a shame, I was so looking forward to it but needs must and it has been quite nice to have a lazy day today I must admit. Still all should be fine for tomorrow’s gig in Havelock.

So then touching on this Barrytown business. Barrytown is a very remote place (even for New Zealand) and largely consists of the hall, four or five houses and a hotel. The hall happens to be on the same road as the houses and a complaint some time ago about the noise from the gigs threatened the gigs with closure and the threat has still not been completely warded off and all kinds of measures are being taken. It brought back to my mind my time in Newcastle when the legendary Cooperage pub which had been there hundreds of years and hosted many live music evenings was suddenly served notice to close because of some loathsome yuppy who moved in to a property on Newcastle’s quayside, a legendary noisy and party-orientated area, and complained about the noise…Now admittedly if you live somewhere like Barrytown you expect peace I get that. But I ask, would it really hurt you to once or twice a month put up with (or better still join) a gig that emits a bit of noise but makes hundreds of people extremely happy and brings out people of all ages into a glorious community event and experience quality live music. So something changes in your life and routine once or twice a month…big deal. Get over it.

Oz/Nz

Dear all,

Greetings from Wellington, one of my favourite cities in the world where I have had many a happy time during my three visits to this wonderful country. Last night was Wellington Bluegrass Society, one of the finest gigs on the planet and once again it was absolutely wonderful. Thanks to everyone for giving me such a great night and particularly to whoever wrote ‘you were amazing’ on my mailing list! Made me smile no end. God I love New Zealand. And a huge thanks too to the charming couple with whom I shared the Perth hotel drama (see a couple of entries back) who came to see the gig.

So then let me bring you up to speed. After my last blog came Canberra at Smiths Alternative which was a cracking little gig in a brilliant venue. I wandered outside afterwards and played fetch with a random dog and listened to a highly intoxicated man playing actually rather good piano on the public piano. Next up it was the relatively short trip to Braidwood which was a lovely little place and I had a cracker of a gig in the hall there as well as beautiful accommodation courtesy of Sue. The next day was the most definitely not short trip to Continue reading “Oz/Nz”

Let me in!

Dear all,

Another week has passed of my Australian adventure. I’ve actually just had three whole nights off which has been quite nice I must admit and a chance to be a tourist for a bit and catch up on sleep. On Friday I flew into Sydney from Perth at 5.30am (that was really nice) and drove straight to Illawarra Folk Festival where I played an hour or so after my arrival on site. It was a cracking little gig I must say and handily positioned in the middle of the site so by the end the tent was pretty heaving. I then hung out with some new chums that night and watched some fine music before retiring at a reasonable hour to catch up on sleep. Thanks so much to Barbara and Ian for ‘billeting’ me. Incidentally, that means accommodating me and I had never heard the term before it was introduced to me on my New Zealand trip back in 2014. I thought it sounded rather too much like ‘guillotine’ but I am now familiar with its meaning. I had a lovely time at their house and they had a cracking little dog called Buddy who  mysteriously seemed rather fond of me.
Continue reading “Let me in!”

A week in Australia

Dear all,

Incredibly it’s been a week since I arrived in Australia and the first half of the Western stint is done. Tomorrow I fly to Sydney to play Illawarra Folk Festival followed by gigs in Sydney, Canberra, Braidwood, Upper Lansdowne and Camden before returning to the west for three more gigs before heading to New Zealand.

It’s been a mightily enjoyable trip. After the hotel check in drama it was straight into action at the Writers Block in Fremantle, a songwriting focussed gig with quite a few other acts on the bill. I really enjoyed what I heard and of course it was good to finally play here. I was pretty fried I have to say – normally it only takes me a day to get over jetlag but I had a hard time shaking it off this time I must confess. Still much fun was had and this excellent shot captured the glamour of my life – tea brought to the stage. Sometimes I just don’t know how the world copes with my rock’n’roll…

I’ve been mostly been staying with the Ralphs (that is their surname, I don’t mean there’s a house full of people called Ralph) who have been wonderful hosts and made me feel very at home. Between them they’ve been to quite a few of my shows while I’ve been here too! Next on that list of shows was Wanneroo Folk Club which was a really great night. Superb support was provided by the exquisite Continue reading “A week in Australia”

Late night hotel dramas

Dear all,

Greetings from a very sunny Perth, Western Australia. I am finally here and the fun begins tonight in Fremantle. The flight was fairly hitch-free though it is a beastly journey, the one from Dubai to Perth especially so. By the end of that flight I really am screaming to get out…well obviously not really otherwise I would probably encounter other trouble but you know what I mean. I also remembered what a ghastly and contemptible place Dubai Airport is with its singularly unhelpful staff and ridiculous places to check your passports and bags. I have no issue with passports and bags being checked at all but I do ask the question could my passport really have changed dramatically in the space of 20 yards? Yes no sooner had I showed it with my ticket than someone else wanted to see it 20 yards later. Ironically I just accidentally typed 20 years instead of 20 yards twice which probably indicates how long getting out of Dubai Airport feels like. But the bit that really got on my thrupennies was getting to my gate, having got through security where they of course check your bags, and thought I’d buy a couple of big bottles of water for the long flight. I put them in my bag…then we are invited to board which involves having our bags checked…with no liquids allowed…having been through security already…as if that wasn’t painful enough the water was bought from Starbucks so I essentially got ripped off by Starbucks which is the worst way to get ripped off. Maybe it’s punishment for all the times I used their wifi while spending my money in an adjacent cafe (see the archives).

Anyway never mind…I got to Perth. Much to my surprise it was relatively quick to get out the airport then I bumped into a lovely couple who were heading to the same hotel so we shared a taxi. Then we arrived at the hotel where reception was closed and a self-service kiosk was the means of checking in. Now, I really don’t consider myself anti-technology but when it comes to certain things, such as checking into hotels, my heart always sinks when I see these things. And true to form when it said ‘type confirmation number or insert card used for payment’ one produced a ‘system error – restarting’ and one produced ‘your reservation is not recognised’. So in the end there was little option but to ring the emergency number (I mean for the hotel staff not police/fire/ambulance obviously) upon which I spoke to quite possibly the rudest man I have ever encountered in my entire life, and as you can imagine that is up against some pretty stiff competition. The dialogue went roughly as follows:

‘Hello, sorry to trouble you but the self service check in doesn’t appear to be working’
‘Yes it is, just follow the instructions’
‘Yes that was amongst the first things I thought of, but it’s still not working’
‘Yes it is, lots of people have checked in’
‘Well I’m not exactly not getting in by choice. I tried my card…’
‘…it doesn’t say anything about using your card, why you using your card?’
‘It says enter confirmation number or insert your card’
‘It doesn’t say anything about cards’
‘I can take a picture if you don’t believe me’
‘It doesn’t say anything about cards’
‘I am looking at it, yes it does!’
‘Just follow the instructions’
‘That is what I’m doing, on the screen it says…’
‘Why are you looking at the screen?’
‘Because that would appear to be how to check in…’
‘No the piece of paper’
‘Which one?’
‘The one on the other side of the entrance, it’s very simple’
‘Yes why didn’t I think to look there eh? So I enter the numbers assigned to each name and that’s it?’
‘Yes it will work’
‘So will I need to…’
[HE HANGS UP]

Then as if that wasn’t enough, the couple were also getting their keys so we were each holding the door open as a guest sitting in the lobby area had been kind enough to open it for us. As we all got our keys and got in our friend from the phone came out and shouted at the nice couple for holding the door open. The chap explained that it was just while they were making sure they got their keys at which point the cheerful chap said ‘what difference does it make, close the door at once’ and stormed off back to whence he came. Delightful. Ibis Perth Airport hotel – you can be sure of a welcome of some kind.