I write to you from beautiful Northumberland where I’m preparing for tonight’s concert with Alistair Anderson. It’s our second house concert with an invited audience with a view to making a live album! It’s such a blast playing with Alistair, a legend of the folk world and one of the most wonderful ambassadors for the music around the world as well as his extraordinary role in keeping the music alive and vibrant for the younger generation. It was Alistair who created the folk degree programme which I was lucky enough to be a part of. We had fun last night so we’re looking forward to this one too!
Since my last blog it’s been typically hectic. The Urban Folk Quartet were hard at it in the latter half of November starting with a memorable gig back in my former home of Newcastle at the Cumberland Arms. The audience were wonderful and I had a lovely time getting pleasantly sozzled with many of my chums out in town afterwards. It’s a funny one with Newcastle really – I yield to no-one in my fondness and admiration for the place but it’s always difficult for me going back because I’m never quite sure how much I still belong there! It’s all so familiar yet my life there was increasingly long ago and I can’t always make up my mind whether it’s still a home or not. But this time was such a blast and I so enjoyed being out with my chums there again it really was just like old times. I felt at home there again and it was a lovely feeling I must say. One thing I will never doubt is it is a special place with special people and a special atmosphere like nowhere else on earth. I love it!
We then played a lovely gig down in Somerset in Wiveliscombe in a brewery (dangerous…) and everyone there gave us a wonderful time. People often ask me whether I prefer quiet seated audiences or noisy jump up and down audiences. I love them both but this one had a good balance of attentive interest and a good bit of banter! Then it was to Nottinghamshire for three gigs in some moderately far flung places. One was frankly a bit odd but two were absolutely wonderful and we really enjoyed ourselves! One was in a library of all things and the other was in a rather smart arts centre as part of the university. That possibly reveals to those who went to the other one that that was the odd one doesn’t it…oh well not to worry.
We completed our tour at the good old homestead – the Gatehouse theatre in Stafford. As always this was a wonderful night and some familar faces there to greet us as we came out. Again, I had a lovely time in the pub afterwards. There’s a theme developing there…ah well it was all marvellous anyway. Between those things I had an amazing week which I will go onto in a minute, but I also played on Saturday night in Shrewsbury with my chums Clutching At Straws who as ever did a sterling show.
So then that week…I’ve said before about Live Music Now, a wonderful scheme who I feel very honoured to work for. Ace mandolinist Nic Zuppardi and I were invited to go up to Yorkshire for four days and play a variety of mental health wards in the region. In my time on the scheme I’ve had so many incredible experiences at special schools, hospices and the like and of course the legendary Glen Mason experience which inspired my song the Song Always Stays sticks out. This week was truly special and I feel that Nic and I made a massive difference to people. The wards varied from older people with dementia to younger adults going through mental difficulties and lots in between. On paper, you might think it would be a challenging environment but we took the approach of let’s roll up, invite requests, have a bit of a chat and keep it relaxed. We had such fun! People dancing who hadn’t danced in years, people who never spoke having lengthy conversations about mandolins and banjos, people who were very solitary being part of the group. Music really does touch nerves that just can’t be touched by anything else. It is forever a magical part of life that I feel very proud to try and contribute to.
Another significant bit of news – I’ve got a new car! Finally, the legendary Ford Fiesta that has been my trusty (for the most part) means of transport since I started terrifying the world by driving back in 2011. It arrived as a perfectly preserved 8 year old car with a low mileage and leaves me a bit battered and with a monster mileage but that little thing, apart from one spectacularly ill timed radiator malfunction just before a big tour in 2015, has been so reliable especially with such a complete car muppet in charge of it. My new Skoda is an altogether superior vehicle but I do retain a fondness for that old fiesta. The main advantage of my new one is I can play my ipod direct through an aux lead instead of faffing about with multiple crap radio transmitter things as I had to on the fiesta. As you can tell, I’m quite the fountain of knowledge when it comes to the mechanical details of cars…