Hell hath no fury like a driver scorned

Dear all,

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

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

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

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

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.

REAL GIGS!

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 🙂 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! 

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 🙂

Much love,
Danjo

CHARITY FACEBOOK LIVE – 07/04/21

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 – 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 £5,000. So this is what the gig is for – the usual format for my livestreams will apply which is it’s free to watch but donations are gratefully accepted at www.paypal.me/danwalshbanjo but this time all monies raised will go to Codi’s bike fund. I really really want to see him get that bike! 

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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!

Review of a very weird year…

Dear all,

How are you all doing? What a year eh! I’m treating today as my last working day of the year so my last lessons, recordings and whatnot so thought as part of that I ought to review what has been a mad old year.

It started off quite normal…back in January I was gearing up for my Australian tour in February and all was quite normal. Normal. As if my life has ever been normal of course being a full-time banjo player…but anyway off I went to sunny Perth at the end of January and I enjoyed an immensely fun and successful three week tour of Western Australia. I did plenty of gigs, went to a few sessions and saw some old friends and generally thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was hearing more and more in the news about some virus but I thought I’ve lived through swine flu, bird flu and ebola and nobody in my life had ever seemed to be affected much by them so I figured it would be another one of those…

I returned to Blighty and was gearing up for the annual Urban Folk Quartet spring tour in March/April and then my first UK solo tour in three years in April/May. Even as the UFQ tour started in York on March 9th, I was still quite sceptical as to how much impact this virus really would have…then four days later was our next gig in Guildford. The atmosphere in the car journey was very very different. By now it had become apparent that no this was not another swine flu…this was going to change things a LOT. We knew it was our last gig for a long time and sure enough, day by day, gig after gig disappeared from my diary. I held out hope that my May tour might be salvaged but clearly it wasn’t and then even more heartbreakingly my two tours of Canada in June and August were also off. The devastation was palpable not to mention the sheer terror of what on earth to do for money.

LIVE STREAM GIGS

I suppose in the end, my whole career has been built out of making things happen and being proactive so I set to work on doing live streamed gigs from my home with a paypal donations box. I have to say quite simply…thank you. So many of you donated so generously so many times and helped recreate some of that magic from a live gig with your comments. The withdrawal symptoms I was feeling from the adrenaline of travelling and performing was absolutely horrendous. I never realised just how much it had become a part of me and how horrendous the loss of it really would feel. It was like an alcoholic losing alcohol, a footballer never playing football again (that did also affect me as well of course although not in quite the same way…) or a thrill seeker having no more thrills. Since March 13th I’ve had precisely one in-person gig – in the centre of Shrewsbury. It was an emotional and wonderful occasion but that’s it. I haven’t tried touring – it just isn’t sensible. The live stream gigs plugged the gap, just about. And I will always be grateful to you all for helping me with them.

TEACHING

Where I was more fortunate than other musicians I know is I did at least have one income stream that was unaffected – skype teaching. Thanks to Ian Matthews who back in 2012 asked me ‘do you do skype lessons’ to which my reply was ‘no, but I should’. I didn’t know that eight years later it would save my bacon! My students have been nothing short of amazing and during the very strict lockdown really did help to keep me sane with their studies and companionship. And yes, financially I don’t know what I’d have done without them. I also ended up with a whole bunch of new students who have enriched my life considerably. Thank you, all of you.

VIDEOS!!!

I had never been near video editing in my entire life…but encouraged by Ciaran Algar and other chums doing split screen collaborations I thought what a great idea! So I asked a whole bunch of musicians I’d played with, admired, met, drunk with or thought would be fun to work with if they’d be up for a long distance collaboration. I’ve ended up with over 30 of them with heroes (Sharon Shannon, Gerry O’Connor, Leo Moran, Jez Lowe) students (Joe Danks), former collaborators (Will Pound) and even namesakes (Dan Walsh…from Canada). It’s been so much fun and kept my creative juices flowing. And I discovered editing videos and even ended up being paid for it a few times…whatever next!

PATREON

www.patreon.com/danwalshbanjo
I’d long planned to have some video teaching available to people online…again I bit that particular bullet and launched my patreon page with tabs, videos and whatnot. Thanks to all my patrons – they interact a lot with me and I really love hearing how much people have gained from it. 

HOME RECORDING

Again, I’ve never been a studio engineer. I’ve been in studios hundreds of times and have worked closely with engineers as they press their buttons (as it were) but I’d always been nervous about doing it myself from home. But I finally bit the bullet and am now recording banjo parts a-plenty from my home sort-of studio. I love it!

ARRANGEMENTS

Finally I’ve been writing banjo tabs for people which I did a bit already but I’m now doing a lot!

Lastly, I have to thank my wonderful girlfriend Nicol. I’ve spent 2020 with her and she has been my rock, my strength and the best companion you could ever ask for. I don’t normally do coupley sap on the internet – but I couldn’t write a review of 2020 without mentioning her.

And here I am in December. When I reflect on the year it hasn’t turned out all that badly – I’m still a professional musician and I’m more set up for home earning than I ever have been that’s for sure! It’s forced me in to new directions to keep doing what I love and that will stand me in good stead even when some sort of normality does return. I miss performing like sin – that’s by far the hardest aspect of this whole sorry business. I’ve been through stress, anxiety and depression this year beyond anything I’d experienced in a long, long time. But in the end, it hasn’t turned out too badly. Somehow. But let’s hope 2021 brings some live music eh? Stay safe everyone and keep on keeping on.

Merry christmas y’all,
Dan

New book!

Well look at that, just in time for Christmas it’s here! My new book is available on Amazon in most countries. It’s my clawhammer arrangements of tunes from the legendary O’Neill’s collection of traditional Irish jigs, reels and hornpipes.
 
Included are lots of tunes in different keys within the same tuning so you can build up some sets of tunes for medleys in sessions rather than having to retune or recapo all the time! However, there are plenty of tunes in G tuning, double C tuning and sawmill as well as one in my newly invented A major tuning that allows the banjo to get those lower notes of a tune that are usually out of our range.
 
Please note the book is not aimed at beginners – the tunes are quite challenging although there is a fairly wide cross section of difficulties and there are a lot of detailed notes on how best to approach tabs in general and these tunes in particular. So hopefully there’s something for everyone.
 
It’s been a fun ride getting all of this together and I’ve discovered lots of fantastic new tunes in the process!

In response to Rishi…

Whether you approach it economically, socially, psychologically, culturally…the arts matter. I can talk til I’m blue in the face about all these aspects but let’s start economically since that’s the only thing that matters to this government.

It’s estimated that the arts brings in £10billion a year. Just think how many jobs are wrapped up in arts – everyone who works in a theatre, cinema, concert venue. The many people who work in film and television. Actors, musicians, sound engineers, lighting engineers, directors, road managers, tour managers, agents, drivers. The export and brand value of Britain around the world is massively increased by our arts. When an event is on in town centres people come in and spend money in pubs, restaurants and shops. The vast majority of artists don’t get public money either, it’s not as if we’re all leeching off the government! Most of us are sole traders who pay taxes. So economically it works.

Then we come to what the arts are really all about. You know the way people with dementia transform before my very eyes because of music in to people who smile, sing and remember who they are. You know the way a little child’s face lights up when they see an instrument being played. You know the way I walked past a beer garden yesterday and a table of people were singing along to the song that was playing on the stereo. You know the way songs transport you back to a place in time because you remember the song being played there. You know the way song lyrics touch a nerve and make you cry. You know the way the music in a pub or club when you’re a bit pissed makes you dance. You know the way people smile, cry, laugh or just about any other emotion because of ART.

We need the arts. Without it we’re nothing. Just people existing to work and then die. You might be an enormous music, film, art or theatre fan. You might not be. But however you measure it the arts matter.

I’m not a musician begging to be given shed loads of money or major entitlements just because I’m an artist. I work bloody hard, I always have done and I pay taxes. Prior to the pandemic I had one arts council grant ever and everything else I do is just going about my work and being paid by whoever wants to pay me. I’ve adapted during this time to being an online musician best I can, I haven’t just sat back and waited to be saved. But I will not tolerate being told in an offhand way that we should just retrain and get other jobs because the industry is insignificant, economically unviable and not worth saving because it is incredibly significant, economically crucial to the country and for all of us, well worth saving.