Lovely day?

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

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

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

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

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

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

London gig cancelled – yes I have covid…

Dear all,

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

Best wishes,

New album on the way!

Dear all,

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

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

And of course I’m a recording artist and I’m happy to say there is a new album on the way. I’ve been so pleased with success of my book ‘O’Neill’s Tunes For Clawhammer Banjo’ and buoyed by this I’ve decided to get the tunes recorded. Working with my long suffering record producer Mark Hutchinson, we’ll be recording medleys of the tunes with my own guitar accompaniments. I might even scatter a bit of bodhran somewhere too! Here’s a little video snippet for you as a preview, taken by Mark at the studio on Monday ๐Ÿ™‚

Hell hath no fury like a driver scorned

Dear all,

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

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

I’m off to London this week to do a very special collaboration with one of my favourite musicians from India and then an extremely exciting studio job which regrettably I can’t tell you too much about yet…but all will be revealed. There are as yet, sadly, no plans to play abroad to any great extent owing to the uncertainty of COVID and its impacts on travel etc. There are a couple of short trips to France and Portugal with UFQ though ๐Ÿ™‚

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

Whatever happened to a postie’s patience?

I swear this is a brand new phenomenon…since when did postmen or postwomen start simply banging the door as if trying to kill it before leaving the parcel on the doorstep and disappearing quicker than the hopes of England when the final whistle is blown at a major tournament and a penalty shootout is next (too soon?)?

I never thought I was an especially misty eyed or nostalgic person but I think back to the old days when if I heard a knock at the door I had longer than three seconds to get there before the person who had administered the knock had disappeared. Some would even wait til I’d unlocked the door, you know. But now? My house is small, I would have to move agonisingly slowly for it to take longer than five seconds for me to get from any room in the house to the front door. Yet every ruddy time a postie delivers something that’s too big for the letterbox, I get to the door and they’ve disappeared out of sight down the snicket we live which incidentally takes considerably longer to navigate than my ruddy house so christ knows what they’re taking, these people.

Recently my girlfriend and I have occasionally used Hello Fresh (very middle class I know but usually only when there’s an offer which rather spoils the effect). Hello Fresh deliver a box of food and yet if we weren’t home, the bloody box would sit outside our house for hours on end because the postie didn’t hang around long enough to discover we weren’t home. Is their workload really that horrendous? Am I being heartless and not considering their plight? Or should these folks hang around just long enough for me to answer the bloody door?

Thoughts welcome…

This bloody heat

Isn’t this a lovely day? No it bloody isn’t. I really want to vociferate, if that’s the word I’m after, exactly why I regard days with temperatures such as the last week or so as thoroughly thoroughly (yes I did mean to type that twice) unpleasant. Why is it lovely? I shall first lay out my reasons as to why it’s anything but lovely:

1) phenomenally uncomfortable – I’m overheating and feel too hot
2) sheer amounts of sweat – have shower, do almost nothing, need another show…lovely?
3) generally brings all the pillocks out – I don’t know what it is about hot weather but every twit who I usually barely notice seems to appear on these days, wearing very little, in large groups, making lots of noises and having no regard for personal space
4) insects – I hate these bloody things. Every fly or wasp appears during this time buzzing loudly, flying frantically and never going out the bloody window no matter how much you try and tempt them
5) can’t sleep – fairly self explanatory
6) can’t do anything about it – this is the one for me. If cold, I put more clothes on or move about. Very simple. What the hell do you do to get cooler apart from sit in an air conditioned car all day?

That’s not an exhaustive list. But here’s the counter argument I usually hear:

1) it’s fine as long as you dress right – see number 6 above
2) isn’t it lovely to be nice and warm – no, it’s too hot
3) isn’t it nice when everyone’s outside? – see number 3 above
4) it’s fine if you jump in the pool – a) I haven’t got one and b) all that proves is that it’s more pleasant when you’re not hot. You have to go in the pool or the sea to get away from the horrific heat, doesn’t that just prove it is not lovely?
5) it’s fine if you don’t have to do anything – a) we usually do and b) no it bloody isn’t. It’s still too hot. You only have to sit in the bloody sun and problems 1, 2, 4 and 6 above come right in to play
6) it’s fine in the shade – once again, this only proves that it being phenomenally hot is not bloody lovely because the only way to make it nearly bearable is to minimise it

So to be clear: hot weather sucks. Have fun everyone.


Dear all,

It’s awfully exciting to be announcing gigs again! All of them are up on the gigs page so take a look and book a ticket, it would be wonderful to see you all again. St Neots and Shrewsbury were my first two gigs back, the former in a folk club while the latter was in the town centre. It felt so good to be doing it again and thanks to all of you who came out for the shows. St Neots featured the novelty of driving to a gig again which somehow felt more exciting than it used to…no doubt that will wear off.

Last week saw a welcome return to the remarkable Elmfield School in Stourbridge for the annual folk fortnight which has been going since 2006! It sees a bunch of us teach instrumental lessons, workshops and stuff over the course of the fortnight with a concert thrown in too. For obvious reasons it didn’t happen last year but it was wonderful to do it again this year. Two socially distanced concerts is the thing this time with one last week and one tomorrow. Both sold out ๐Ÿ™‚ Utterly fantastic to play with old chums Matt Price and Will Pound in particular.

Of all the gigs coming up, it’s hard not to be enormously excited about my return to Newcastle on July 10th. As many of you may know I spent seven years living up in the Northeast and loved it so the prospect of getting back there and seeing many chums appeals very much indeed!ย 

One last Facebook Live?

Dear all,

Hope you’re all doing ok out there. It’s been a while since I wrote on here…I’ve had quite a few messages asking about real life gigs. I will be doing some. Truth be told I’m pretty busy these days with my teaching, which is lovely, and I was a bit wary of booking too many gigs before the situation became a bit clearer as let me tell you undoing it all is no fun! But I am cautiously optimistic and beginning to book myself in again…

Firstly, I will be returning to real life gigging on June 1st at St Neots Folk Club in Cambridgeshire. I also have a new agent: Graham Smout at Strada Music. I’m really pleased to have Graham on board and he’ll be trying to keep me busy with the gigs! With all this in mind, it feels like the right time to sign off from the Facebook Live era as hopefully it won’t be needed too much anymore. But it really has been amazing – thanks to all of you for donating, tuning in, commenting, making me laugh and keeping me going during some hard times. It seems right to sign off with one more so I’ll be going live on Thursday next week at 7pm. Tune in and donate, it would be lovely to ‘see’ you ๐Ÿ™‚

Much love,


Very special charity live stream on 15th April- 7pm!

I have a great passion for outreach work in music and it has been a privilege for the last few years to work with the extraordinary Codi Wild. Through the wonderful The Amber Trust, I was assigned to work with Codi and he is such an engaging, hilarious and staggeringly musical child and I am so pleased that he gets so much out of our sessions just as I do. His ability to hear tunes, pick them out and play them is absolutely astounding โ€“ perhaps the best example was when he played and sang (in Spanish!) the Real Madrid club song to me in three different keys!

Codi has septo optic dysplasia, meaning codi is visually impaired, lacking in all hormones including growth and sleep and has learning disabilities and difficulties. Codi is 50/50 wheelchair bound due to muscle weakness and twisted thigh bones. He is life limited as infections can be life threatening to him – due to him lacking in cortisol hormone his body can’t fight infections and broken bones can send his body into shock. In all he has 23 different disabilities and health issues.

I found out recently through the family that Codi has frequently asked for a bike. Owing to his physical condition, a regular bike is not an option but a special wheelchair bike is…but it costs ยฃ5,000. So this is what the gig is for โ€“ the usual format for my livestreams will apply which is it’s free to watch but donations are gratefully accepted atยย but this time all monies raised will go to Codi’s bike fund. I really really want to see him get that bike!ย 

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One year on…

Dear all,

I realised this morning that today marks one year to the day since I did my last gig with Urban Folk Quartet in Guildford, my last indoor gig and indeed my last ‘real life’ gig of any kind apart from one gig in Shrewsbury town centre back in the summer. It has been the most extraordinary twelve months of my life (and indeed for everyone of course).

I’ve blogged elsewhere about being a musician in lockdown, but a year on it’s interesting to reflect on that particular gig. It was a very very strange gig and I’ve done some strange gigs in my time! I’ve played a little bit drunk (I didn’t know I was going to be playing or I would have been sober!) at a reenactment festival looking out at Roman gladiators and German Nazis (not real ones just for clarification). I’ve played songs I hadn’t the notion I knew during a four hour epic in Golden Bay in New Zealand before being crowd surfed. But this was a whole different kind of strange…

Four days earlier we’d played in York amid a very different atmosphere. By now of course the pandemic was in the news but to be honest I was still playing it down, as were many of us. The gig felt like a normal gig and the atmosphere in the car its usual jovial kind. Ben, the band’s sound engineer was more concerned than the rest of us it seemed and suggested to me that no this was not another bird flu! By the time of the Guildford gig, we had all realised he was very right indeed…

I turned up at Joe and Paloma’s as usual to travel on to the gig and when they answered the door I tried to jovially say ‘well I guess this is the last time we’ll do this for a while’. I think maybe I was trying to convince myself I was not too worked up about it…but I never was good at hiding things. The atmosphere in the car was bizarre as we sat musing on what beckoned and from a more selfish perspective the prospect of losing a whopping May solo tour and even more heart wrenching, two tours of Canada. I was terrified frankly. It’s not exactly the most secure job at the best of times let alone when something wipes out your work in one fell swoop!

We turned up at the gig and we were all extremely mindful of washing our hands and keeping our distance. Some audience members did same, some went for the usual handshakes…I’m not blaming them. I think we all processed the gravity of the situation at different times and in different ways. But my god, it was weird! We did our usual gig and I have to say it was a good one and the audience seemed to have a great time! Again, we tried to ‘make light’ of it all with jokes about how long it would be til we did this again and how contactless payments might be best in the interval…

The journey home was just horrible. We didn’t say a lot and my own journey home from Birmingham was quite the weirdest feeling. I felt such a contrast with my usual emotion at this stage in my journey – gig high, adrenaline, looking forward to a nightcap and bed…all replaced by discomfort and stress. I was facing the reality of my work disappearing, although I don’t think any of us could have seen for just how long!

I thank my lucky stars that online teaching was something I was already doing as it gave me something to build on. In addition, I embraced Facebook Live gigs for donations which worked brilliantly for a while (and is still something I enjoy) and I’ve now set myself up as a home recording artist, video editor and running a subscription page for banjo players. Somehow, I am still a musician and even more incredibly not all that worse off than I was!

But mentally, I miss performing. I miss travel. I miss my friends. I miss my family. I miss going out not just for a run to relieve the cabin fever! And I really really miss my band. In UFQ we really are great friends as well as colleagues. Not seeing them and indeed Joe and Paloma’s daughter Sabela has been agonising and I dearly hope before too long, we’re back out there or at least in rehearsals! Joining UFQ was an outstanding career and life move – let’s please restart that chapter soon!