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.

Lost In Translation

Dear all,

A busy week awaits, it’s off to Purbeck with UFQ tonight then Folkeast with the trio and then off to Whitby both solo and with the legend Alistair Anderson. It should be fun! To bring you up to speed…

The Vaults gig was bloody fantastic. It was epic, emotional, lively, lovely and rocking all at once. It was a very fitting way to end the Oli era and there were more than a few tears at the end. Thanks to Oli for giving the pub such a wonderful six years and thanks to all those fantastic people who make the pub what it is. Time will tell what the future holds, but it’s been an amazing fifteen years.

Then it was off to Norway and a wonderful gig at Meland Jazzkafe in Frekhaug just outside Bergen. That was also a wonderful gig to a packed house and a sterling opening set from Gillian Gjelsvik and co. I am a big fan of Norway – it’s a beautiful country and it seems to me they prioritise a lot of the right things: the environment, education being good and appropriate (i.e. starting school later) and generally being nice to each other! They all seem to be considerably happier, healthier and richer than most of us! It is of course fiendishly expensive for a visitor but it was worth it!

Then I got back and straight off to Broadstairs Folk Week, one of the best festivals in the business and as ever it was bloody brilliant. It was great to get back out with the trio again and we had one of our finest gigs on the main stage. Ciaran and Nic are such exceptional musicians and great people and it really is wonderful to share the stage with them.

The last couple of weeks have seen the loss of two of the most amazing musicians albeit in very different fields. Irish music was my first love really and Tommy Peoples was the most exceptional fiddle player from the genre that I can think of and was a huge influence on me and my tune playing. He was one of those rare musicians who at times, unlike me, was not seemingly very animated but the music that he produced was so magical it was all part of his hypnotic appeal. His playing was unique and individual yet steeped in such strong tradition. A true giant of the field and much missed.

Then of course yesterday saw the passing of Aretha Franklin. Now spending much of my time with musicians, there are plenty of music videos that do the rounds and often there is disagreement about them. One person’s ‘you have got to see this’ is another person’s ‘yeah it’s alright I suppose’. But one video seems to unite just about everyone and it’s THAT performance that reduced Barack Obama to tears. Franklin had a truly unbelievable voice that pulled at you and made you take note of every single word she sang. And of course what she sang about often really mattered – the classic Respect being a prime example. In the pantheon of great singers she is right up there and when it comes to soul she really is untouchable.

For a bit of light hearted fun then, I always enjoy ‘lost in translation moments’. I’ve also always enjoyed bits of English mixed in among foreign language being spoken I don’t know why. I recall an interview with Roy Hodgson the football manager to a Norwegian company and he was speaking Norwegian when all of a sudden the words ‘christmas cake’ popped in! I also remember a German oral exam. I remember listening to all this German trying to pinpoint the odd word I actually knew when all of a sudden the words ‘London Philarmonic Orchestra mit Last Night of the Proms’ popped up. I almost got thrown out of my exam for laughing! But it’s hard to top this Norwegian restaurant’s English-language menu:

Farewell Vaults?

Dear all,

It’s August, how the hell did that happen?! This year is running away. Let me bring you up to speed first of all…July was quite a mixed bag of stuff. June ended with a superb gig at Fortyfest, a private festival in Staffordshire run by some dear friends of mine. In fact one of them used to introduce me on at the legendary jam nights at Joxers (as was, Market Vaults now) as ‘the main boogaloo’. It gave me quite a confidence boost as a scared 16 year old!

After that it was into July and unusually, my first gig of the month was a wake at a Bridgnorth pub. It’s nice how music can make a difference in so many different settings! Next up was a weekend with UFQ firstly at the delightful Kimpton Folk Festival alongside a host of the most excellent acts on the folk scene and then up to Keswick for a banging gig at the Theatre By The Lake.

And then came Valencia…Valencia is mightily warm! We were there for a fabulous four days working with the musicians from Unio Musical. We opened up with a gig of our own then after a few days teaching and rehearsing it was back to the same venue to perform with these wonderful musicians. See the photo, it was quite a big band!

We were also treated to some delicious paella and assorted other mouth watering food and drink. Oh the drink. I chickened out of drinking sangria from one of those natty jug things that you literally pour down your mouth – my fear of clumsiness and indeed my actual clumsiness intervened – but I enjoyed it! We also had a lovely time on the beach, particularly with Joe and Paloma’s delightful daughter Sabela. And it was my birthday!

After returning to England (a day late owing to an unexpected bit of sickness for poor old Tom…on the plane…don’t ask, and don’t use easyjet…) it was back into solo action in Eastbourne and Hull. These two cities are not near each other at all. Anyway, both gigs were jolly nice although the Hull one a little down on numbers. Oh well, can’t have everything. Then it was back into UFQ workshopping action in Taunton as we worked with the musicians from Southwest Music School culminating in a concert at the end of it all. It was rather tiring but the concert was a good, fun, noisy gig!

This weekend sees a gig at the Market Vaults in Stafford, my favourite pub in the world and a wonderful hub for me over the years. It’s where my gigging began, it’s where I’ve met many of my greatest friends, it’s where I’ve spent many of my happiest hours. It could all be about to change. Oli who has done an unbelievable job at the pub is sadly moving on and leaves huge huge shoes to fill. It’s difficult to know quite what the future holds for this dear little place. The gigs there over the years have been legendary and I’m sure this Saturday will be no different. After that, who knows? But I do know that this place has signified everything that can be wonderful about a pub. The people there look after each other, they keep an eye out and people of all walks of life get to know each other. Oli recognised those qualities but transformed its appeal to more people. I hope it stays that way, but whatever happens it’s given me so many amazing times and a bit of security and stability in this mad life. So if you’re in Stafford on Saturday, come on down. If my gigging era at the Vaults is to end, it’d be nice if it ended on a high.

You are allowed out midweek…

Dear all,

Hope you’re all enjoying this here weather. I have to be honest and say I’m not – I get awfully teed off with hot weather and actually rather prefer it when it’s a bit mild but I’m aware I’m probably in a minority on that one. Sorry it’s been a bit of a while since the last bloggage, I’ve been in a bit of a funny place which for any of you who read my most recent effort won’t come as much of a surprise I guess. Truth be told, I’ve also just been bloody knackered. Five and a half months of near constant touring including on the other side of the world has rather taken its toll but I’ve enjoyed this last week of being at home and getting a bit of rest. So here I am back again!

Thanks to everyone who came out to see the trio on our first tour. Those at the gigs seemed to have a good time and we rather did as well! It all seemed to be well received so we shall be back next year and over the summer a wee bit. We did a lot of gigs and they were all pretty good. After Stafford it was off to Norwich for a vibrant gig at Louis Marchesi before we headed back to the Midlands to play in Kingswinford and Alstonefield to packed houses which gave us great nights. Special thanks to the Alstonefield hosts for the wine, whisky and cheese after the gig too 🙂

Then it was off down south to Dartford, London and Winchester for three more excellent gigs with some serious banjo fans at the middle one! Then it was back to the Midlands for Burton Folk Club who as ever were brilliant then to Guildford for the outstanding Trinity Folk Festival and Sunday we were in Oxford to complete the southern leg at the beautiful Holywell Music Rooms once graced by Handel no less. Oh and I also squeezed in a solo show at Chebsey Parish Hall in Staffordshire which was good fun and it was so great to see the old Norton Bridge crowd who used to attend my many gigs at the sadly now gone Railway Inn. I had some fun in those days, a bit of a wild gig at times that one!

Finally the trio headed up north to Ripon, Newcastle and Sheffield with all three bloody superb fun and the latter featuring the saga of Nipplegate which I won’t go into here…then followed an excellent brace of Shropshire gigs in Bishops Castle and Oswestry which were two of the finest of the whole tour and finally it was to Leicester which featured Bragate. Definitely not going into that here…

After precisely no break at all, it was back up north to Northumberland to do a six date tour with the legend that is Alistair Anderson. What a lot of fun we had! Thanks to all those who came out to the gigs, it really was a blast. Thanks to my folks for hosting us after the Cumbria date and providing whisky and cheese…

Then followed a little trip to Stourbridge, home of the marvellous Elmfield Steiner School which for twelve years has hosted an annual folk fortnight run by the superhuman music teacher and master of all things harmonious Caroline Price who also runs the impossibly superb choir Stream of Sound. We basically go there and teach lessons on instruments the kids choose to learn, run various workshops, go to the pub (for legal reasons I should point out this activity does not involve the school children) a lot and also do a gig and a ceilidh! Sadly prior commitments meant I was unable to do the ceilidh but I did three days of teaching, had a jolly good time and caught up with some of my very favourite people. What a marvellous week!

Finally to bring you up to speed, UFQ have been busy too with gigs in Suffolk, Banbury, Canterbury, Shropshire and Oxford in a wholly inconvenient order. All were much enjoyed anyway with a particular shout out to the Oxford crowd who were particularly lively and whooped, cheered, raved, ceilidhed and goodness knows what but didn’t throw bras on the stage…it was great.

So, a little bit of a plea from me as a musician. I’ve noticed more and more people utterly glued to the idea that they cannot possibly go out on a night that isn’t Friday or Saturday. It’s an intriguing one – I know what many of you are thinking. Easy for Mr Musician who doesn’t have an early start to say, right? Well point taken but hear me out. I was speaking to someone a little while ago about a gig that was going on at his local theatre on a Monday night costing £10 and it was his actual hero. Oh and he lives five minutes from the venue. And he was actually debating whether he should go because it was a Monday night. Really??!! He’d be home by 9.30! The world will surely not stop turning because you come out on a weeknight to a gig and get pretty much the exact same amount of sleep or at worst an hour less? Maybe avoid the after party and perhaps not have ten pints and I think you’ll be fine. Which brings me to another point about this – maybe it’s do with the culture that largely pervades when it comes to booze. The idea of just drinking a bit of booze because it’s nice seems to be a dying art to me. It seems so many only ever drink to get utterly tanked and don’t understand why else you would drink. Town centres on a Friday and Saturday make me thoroughly depressed as I see people out of their tree and almost deliberately setting out to not care what they do. I like a drink, God knows, and I’m not suggesting I haven’t put a fair bit away in my time but this determination to genuinely not even be aware of what’s going on is a bit of a mystery to me. You can just have a few and it’s quite nice, people! And more to the point if you only ever to a gig on a Friday or Saturday…there won’t be too many musicians left in business.

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”