Thank you USA

Dear all,

Well I write to you from New York from where I am, incredibly, soon to fly home. I can’t quite believe this wonderful tour is over and I am actually genuinely sorry that it is. I enjoyed the UK touring I did prior to coming out here very much but this tour has been really special. Right from the opening night in Soquel, the gigs just seemed to click with audiences really loving the material, enjoying my English-ness (seriously being English over here is great!) and showing such a keen interest in the stories and the techniques and emotions in my music. I came away from each gig feeling so pleased and to boot I had some great times with my hosts, some of whom I knew previously and enjoyed hanging out with them again.

All that has largely been reported in my previous blog but that was before the Midwest Banjo Camp which I have just taught and performed at. It was an honour and a privilege to do so. It dawned on me as I got there – here was I, the only non-American, about to teach and perform alongside many of the finest banjo players in the world. I can’t deny the nerves did kick in a touch especially when I realised that the faculty concert would involve 20 banjoists, one after the other, including me! I was anxious to make a good show and it seemed like I did which was lovely! You can see it on the Midwest Camp’s facebook page as the whole thing was captured live on video. The lesso ns were also very enjoyable and the students seemed to get something out of it which is good of course. There were some great jams too and I particularly have to mention an old-time jam with Bobby Taylor the fiddle maestro. Generally speaking, I have always leant more towards the bluegrass world and of course my Scottish and Irish roots more than I have old-time (although I hasten to add I love it too) but this, as a humble visitor, was such an amazing experience because I really felt like I was playing with the real deal. This is a fourth generation fiddler, steeped in tradition and a lovely person too.

Special mention must go to my old mentor Ken Perlman. When I was 13 and learning banjo with the mighty George Davis, Ken’s teaching materials formed much of my repertoire and learning and I got to meet him a good few times owing to George organising workshop weekends for him. He was a great inspiration and his playing and arranging make him, for me, the king of melodic clawhammer banjo. He’s still got it too! I was astonished to learn he was 68 but listening to him play, particularly in the faculty concert just reminded me how good he really is. He’s also a great mentor and has been very supportive throughout my career. So thanks Ken – there’s no question who the biggest influence on my playing is!

There was another aspect to the camp. On the Saturday night my BBC News app notified me of the horrific events in London. It shook me up I don’t mind telling you and tears were streaming down my cheeks as I saw some of the chilling footage of people running away (I wish I hadn’t watched it). The whole thing made me feel very sad and very uneasy and my heart goes out to all those directly affected be it those injured, those in shock and of course those who lost friends or relatives. Watching the one love show in Manchester (or at least footage of it) again filled me with tears. It was emotional and very powerful and reminded me of the great spirit that Brits have in these situations. I’ve never been an enormous patriot and I have many a time ranted about the attitudes of Brits sometimes but this reminded me of what makes us great too. Particularly striking was actually Liam Gallagher! Oasis were at their peak during my childhood and I of course always remember him as the gobby, loudmouth frontman and hardly the most likeable of characters. But here he was clearly feeling the emotion and poignancy of it all and he captured it brilliantly when he sang Live Forever. I thank everyone at the camp for making me feel better – I didn’t talk about it at great length but just playing tunes, having some drinks and feeling a great atmosphere of community that only music seems to conjure up was a huge tonic. I hope to god that one of these days, the violence stops and I don’t just mean in the UK. So many people die in wars and terrorism and it all seems so utterly pointless. It doesn’t make anyone happy and none of the parties ever get what they want. Call it hippy left wing nonsense if you like, but put simply I just wish people would stop killing each other. This isn’t groundbreaking political commentary – just what I’m feeling at the moment.

Look after each other everyone – and once again thank you to everyone who made my American experience so much fun.