The end of a mammoth UK tour has come. Actually it came last weekend but I’ve only just summoned the mental energy to write about it. It was a lot of fun, eventful, varied and insightful all at the same time. As many of you know, Walsh and Pound came to an end towards the end of last year and with the release of ‘The Same But Different’ I decided to launch myself more as a solo artist again after three years spent more duetting than soloing. For various reasons, mostly because last year was such a vile one for me on a personal level, it was getting a little late in the year with 2013 looking a little on the thin side. So I decided to go all out in the spring and put together as long a tour as I could of the UK to get out there and remember what I love doing and get that mojo back for being a musician, a feeling that had suffered a bit last year to be honest.
Then came the totally unexpected role in Seth Lakeman’s band on his winter tour, agreed about a week before it started! This was great and began the process of reinvigorating the Walsh musical flame of passion. I’ll forever be grateful to Seth for this, not that he knew it of course. Then to top it all, in came a trip to India. This is chronicled elsewhere in full, but it meant getting back one evening and starting a tour the next night. Knackering but exciting…I was hopeful of a month or so’s touring – I had a gig in the diary with my old chum Christi Andropolis in the Northeast so thought let’s head back to some of my old haunts from previous visits, and some new ones, in Scotland afterwards. I tried to organise a week’s worth and to my surprise more seemed possible so it became two full weeks with only one night off (which I spent with my uncle which is always a joy). Scotland was fantastic and better than I could have hoped really. The weather for one thing was astounding for late February so I had stunning scenery seen at its best. The old haunts of the Grog in Fort William, Smailholm Village Hall and Market Bar in Inverness were paired with new gigs at Old Bridge Aviemore, Aikman’s in St Andrews and best of all the extraordinary Douglas house concerts in Edinburgh. A bizarre gig in Glasgow aside, this was all a cracking couple of weeks with some unexpected people turning up in odd places and aside from a late mix-up involving playing in Fort William instead of Inverness for a night it was logistically trouble free…
Anyway, I thought I’ll follow Scotland by getting around England as well so in keeping with old haunts I secured a booking at the scene of my first ever gig – The White Horse in Clun, a tiny village in Shropshire. More gigs were secured including new favourite The Cross in Kinver, the Kitchen Garden Cafe and a manic Paddy’s day weekend of 6 gigs in three days…silly boy. Some time before I had raised the idea with some chums of mine in Montacute, Somerset of playing in their village hall so decided to make this happen and get some Southwest gigs around it. So a first trip to Cornwall for two gigs and a return to Bath, scene of some of my finest evenings as a musician, completed that little section. All the gigs were magic they really were, and I had a ball. Then the month finished back in the Midlands in Stourbridge and two favourite gigs of mine – Hales Club in Market Drayton and the best of them all the one and only Joxers in Stafford.
As I said I thought a month or so would be about it, but with a bit interest in Kent, Lincolnshire, Norwich and Ireland as well as a couple of long confirmed gigs in Leicester and Guildford it seemed prudent to stay out on the road for a little longer. April ended up even more mental than the rest! First up was a three day break before heading to the Southeast to do a cracking gig in the Anchor Arts Centre in Kent, Gallery Cafe in London and then the Orange Tree in Baldock. I decided I should do the Eastern side of the country for a week so after the wonderful gig in Louth I decided to get Yorkshire in there for gigs in Leeds, Sheffield and Hull which were great. Then heading South from Leicester, Cambridge was planned but owing to a ‘promoter’ about as bright as an eclipse, this was shelved and instead I spent a fine evening drinking whiskey and playing bluegrass in Norwich before doing roughly the same again except getting paid for it the next night! A small but enthusiastic crowd then made Derby a fun gig before a day off given to me by the cancelling of Chasewater Transport Show’s arena section owing to weather-related site damage. Shame to miss that one, but the band are itching for Stafford Gatehouse in July.
One final bit of the tour remained – Ireland. Again, a link with the past here. Don’t worry I’m not going to give you the tedious ‘my family are Irish, I have Irish heritage’ speech that Brits and Americans are so peculiarly obsessed with reciting. My holidays as a teenager were spent in Ireland with my parents and they are some of my fondest memories. My childhood was a remarkably blessed one with wonderful parents and tremendous friends, but like anyone else I had my troubles. In fact I had far more troubles than many realised and Ireland in its own way was an escape from that before I found performing. Irish music was really my first musical love (Graceland aside of course) and I was just about at an age where I could go to the pub with my folks and listen to the wonderful live sessions that happened and I have always treasured these memories, as well as all the wonderful chats with Irish people. Like scousers, Irish people have such wit and hospitality in their blood and it is a wonderful country. My only visit since those days were to see Horslips at the o2 in Dublin in 2009. This of course, was one of the greatest nights of my life, but Dublin is so different from the rest of Ireland that I was really looking forward to seeing what it was like now.
First up was a ferry ride, a fairly tedious form of transport but necessary to take my car and equipment over. I got into Dublin at 5am and drove out of the city before there was any traffic because it is a quite hateful place to drive. The beauty of having the car became apparent as I stopped at a selection of places I saw signed off the motorway on my way to county Cork, where I didn’t need to be for many hours. First up I popped to Kildare and immediately encountered what I love about Ireland – a lovely chat with the man at the corner shop who told me all about the county and his ancestry while asking me about my own life. I then drove to Kilkenny which I remembered as my favourite city of them all in Ireland. I’m pleased to say it was exactly as I remembered and I regretted greatly having to leave it! The story of the man at the music shop makes it even better – I bought a bodhran aged 14 and got a lesson from the man in the shop which has inspired me to this day. He was still there!
So to county Cork then for one gig in Douglas and two in Cork itself. Now if Kilkenny seemed exactly the same, Cork was virtually the opposite. Those who know me will know that my sense of direction and memory of places is about as useful as a condom machine in the Vatican, but seriously I didn’t recognise Cork. It was so different and looked so like many English cities that I was surprised greatly. A nice city don’t get me wrong, but not at all how I remembered it. As for the gigs, well the two pubs were decent but the main ticketed gig at the Cricket Club was just wonderful – a fantastic audience very into the music and who gave me wonderful banter and a lovely welcome.
To finish off April, a gig at Monroe’s Live in Galway was terrific if late starting (this was a marked feature of Ireland!). Amazingly, the sound man was Jimmy Moran, the son of Saw Doctor Leo Moran who co-wrote ‘At Least Pretend’ a staple of my set! He showed it to his dad who kindly put it on the Saw Doctors facebook page. Happy days! To finish off the Irish jaunt was a wonderful gig in Ballymore Eustace to a wonderful and appreciative crowd.
That marked the end of the official UK tour but the following Saturday came a fantastic gig at Trinity Folk Festival in Guildford. A great crowd and lots of CD’s sold so all round what one wants from a gig.
So my ‘worryingly quiet’ 2013 instead became the busiest period of my working life! Thanks to so many people who put me up, promoted me, paid me, encouraged me, came to watch, bought CD’s, told their friends, gave me food, gave me drink, provided me with great banter and even those who were pillocks. It’s all part of a great tour that I really enjoyed and really needed. The mojo is well and truly back. I needed to play solo a lot, get back into it and remember how passionate I am about music and performing. I earned money and that was great, but most of all I had a lot of fun and enjoyment. I enjoyed myself and I made it happen. I’m very proud of that and I have to thank a very special person at this point – my Sarah. Without her patience, understanding, help and encouragement I would not have got through 2012. Who knows maybe I’d have stupidly jacked in this musician lark by now if it wasn’t for her.
So I’m back, well and truly! Trips abroad to come as well as a very exciting new project for next year…which I can’t tell you about yet! Stay tuned. Thank you to you all for support and for continuing to read my ramblings. I enjoy writing them!