Sunday, 5 August 2018

A working, living church

pic by dave randell

I think I have found my current favourite gig and it stands high among the truly great venues I have played. St John's church in Farncombe is a working, living church and well loved judging by its condition both inside and outside.  We arrived in good time for a sound check. The sun had been punishing in the south for days and only now did a little rain begin to fall from the leaden skies promising some cool relief from the grinding heat. This was another support gig for Focus who I am really warming to, both as performers and people.

As soon as we entered the church it felt very welcoming and it was obvious that the assembled crew and helpers were well used to putting on gigs here. Julian, the promoter has been putting on shows here for 11 years which amounts to over 200 shows.  That says a lot for the church and relationship between the organisers, church and community. There was absolutely nothing wrong with this gig. Everything was well honed and my sound check took little time at all. I was very happy. As soon as the sound check was finished it was outside in the cool air in the midst of a soft cool shower. Getting a little damp was a pleasure. The high temperature began to slowly drop a little and I think all in attendance were thankful.

The dressing room was the vestry in the church and was filled with the trappings and garments of the clergy. This was an indication of the kinds of acts playing at St John's and the respect and trust shown by all to all. I must admit I have come across a few acts who might not have shown the same respect in such an environment. Perhaps I am being a little harsh. No I am not. I have just thought of one hooligan band I would be reluctant to share any space with.

                                                            pic by dave randell

The church soon filled and what a delightful audience they were. There were a few of my fans there and a few more who might have heard something of me but I soon realised most had not seen me before. This always presents something of a challenge but one that I embrace. It is a good opportunity to test new songs as well as the few old songs I still play.
The sound in the church was simply perfect and I revelled in it. Everything sounded so clear and the natural reverberations in the building were exquisite. I played for 45 minutes and I think my only error was not playing The Sound Don't Come. The audience was so nice to me and I left the stage buzzing all over. Job done.

                                                            pic by dave randell

Focus soon followed and they were on really good form. The crowd loved it and I could see why. Actually they are a class act and better than all the other prog acts I have supported in the past few years. Most of them are like pale cover bands of themselves and one band I played with last year was just an hilarious parody of better days.

So time to hit the road and back to London with Ramblin' at the wheel. It rained some more but as we entered London it was clear no rain had fallen and another boiling humid night was coming. 

I really enjoyed this gig so much. It doesn't get any better and if you ever get the chance to get out to Farncombe for a show don't pass it up.

Since the gig I have been mostly recording and trying to keep cool. The recording is going well but I get blocks every so often and lose faith in things. It doesn't last. I know it is part of the process, for me,  so I quickly get back in the stream of things. I'm off to Norway at the end of the week for a few days and the from there to Switzerland for a couple of days. I must admit I am starting to look forward to everything these days. I don't want to miss anything.

Thanks to Dave for looking after me and for the photos.


Wednesday, 18 July 2018

a dream summers night

a dream summers night

In sweltering, humid heat my tour manager John picked me up to drive us to 
Heathrow for the next adventure in Switzerland. We like to stay in a hotel the night before departure. I also try to arrange a flight after mid day. I remember when air travel was much more enjoyable and faster. The time spent hanging around and the increased number of delays is as a direct result of more people travelling with less resources on the ground. In other words, the inconvenience experienced by air travellers is caused by simple greed.

Our flight was delayed by about forty five minutes so not the best start but at least the show was not scheduled until the following day. Our next adventure in Switzerland will be one where we fly in, play the same day and return on the following day. That will be a bit more pressured but do able. The train ride from Zurich to our destination was a treat. The trains are modern, run on time and are very comfortable. The contrast with recent rail debacles here is massive. I like travelling by train and would do so more but for the poor reliability here in the UK.

Our host Kurt Mathis picked us up at the station in Kreuzlingen which is near Lake Constance. The area is very scenic and very clean. People do not drop litter here or anywhere else.
I never know what to expect when I am travelling to a private show but I am never disappointed. Kurt turned out to be a very pleasant and interesting host. I had met him previously at one of the Chappo gigs at the Shepards Bush o2 show but only briefly. Kurt took us into town for dinner. John and I went for the Perch Frites made from the fish called Zander. Delicious.

After our dinner we sat up until around five in the morning drinking fine cognac and getting to know each other. part of the night was spent around the fire Kurt had made in his garden. We all acknowledged the power of fire and how we all gravitate towards a fire in the open, no matter where we come from on the planet. It was a great night. I don't do this often these days although John and I have had a few similar sessions over the years we have been working together. So finally, to bed and I slept like a log.

I'd had all sorts of plans to visit places of local interest but it was so hot I opted to loaf around as preparations were being made for the evening party. The stage was the decking under a balcony of the new house Kurt's brother is building. The garden is large and the whole place was once a factory. A very neat PA system was set up and a hunt for a suitable seat for me was set in motion. Soon I had sound checked the system and I was very pleased with the sound. The sun was hot but there was plenty of shade.
The time passed steadily. My bedroom was a 2 minute walk from the stage so it was perfect for preparing for the show.Kurt had hired a woman to run a bar and a couple who served the best barbecue ever.

Slowly Kurt's guests began to arrive and the  DJ kicked off with a good old selection of the good old days tunes. After sampling the barbecue it was time to perform. As always I had compiled a set list before setting out but I never keep to it. Of course this is not really possible with a band where things are set out with specific keyboard sounds and other constraining but necessary chronological events in mind. Occasionally I would change a song order on stage but rarely.

Halfway through my set some young people began heckling from a garden nearby. I returned fire with some very strange universal/ non language based noise which my audience joined in with. We all had a laugh about that and I continued. My audience was so very attentive and very appreciative. John reckons I played the definitive version of Belle of Trevelyan. I had been recording vocals on it some days before the trip so that seems to have helped. 

The recording of the new album is going well but slowly and I don't mind. It will be finished when I am totally satisfied with it. It is a lot to do by myself but I am enjoying it very much. I do intend to collaborate with a few others as things develop but there is a way to go before that. My mate Ramblin has dropped by to do backing vocals and we have been having fun recording his Korg drum. It is an amazing tool filled with exotic sounds and designed as an instrument to be played rather than programmed. Excellent!

I have been editing my novel The Instantanium and writing new sections. It has been a retreat for me for many years. Somewhere to go to when I need or want to. Now it is time to finish the thing. I could go on and on with it but the time has come to call a halt.

The temperature in Kurt's lovely garden dropped a little as I worked through my set. The audience called for an encore. Actually I felt exhausted. I had poured myself into the songs but I had to return to the stage for my lovely audience. I cracked out a version of There's a hole in it and that was me done. All good. I think most had a good time and I know Kurt had the best time. he had gone to enormous lengths to make this party and my stay with him a success and it was that in spades. My hosts always look after me very well and this was no exception. I had a really great time.

Sitting around the fire again after most people had left was a lovely way to come down after a gig and the company was special. The people who hang around in the early hours are always cool to me. They are still awake for a start and they usually have great tales and wisdom to share. After a few more glasses of cognac and some great interactions I left for my bed. I wanted to be fairly fresh for the flight home.

Next day I got up at about midday and made my way into the sun baked garden. John was about with Kurt. We took a few photos, breakfasted and Kurt took us to the train headed back to Zurich. Everything went smoothly after that and we arrived back at Heathrow on time, collected the car from our hotel and headed to London.

After dropping me off John was heading home to Cornwall. He is one of the few men I know who still loves to drive and he is as good a driver as I have ever had the pleasure to be driven by.  He texted me at around 2.30 am to let me know he was home safe. All good.
We'd had a great time. I like travelling with John and he looks after me very well. We are off to Trondheim in the north of Norway for a few days next and then on to Switzerland again a couple of days later. Thanks from both of us to Kurt who made it all worthwhile.


Wednesday, 4 July 2018


tantulas in bloom

Hi all. I know a few folk have been concerned about the lack of blog posts and why they have gone away for a time. I can assure you all is well with me. As always, thank you for your kind consideration and support.

I decided to take a break from my usual activities including writing here. A change or two is as good as a rest and feeds the musical brain and connections with the muse. Sometimes I come to a point where I am doing what I am doing because I've been doing it, not because I am developing something. The development is important along with new things to know and assimilate such as how to propagate the tantula (see above).  

I have been recording the new album and not doing much of anything else. It is going well if a little slowly at times.
Early on  I realised that this album will be a first, in so far that this is the first time I am making exactly what I want. That presents a new challenge around the responsibility for the end result. It is some times daunting but also exhilarating. I think and hope the result will be surprising in some ways. While some of the songs will be familiar, others will be new and very different from my usual music. I'm having a great time playing with technology and exploring new toys. It is a lot of fun and I do get lost in it all at times. It is a great place to hang out, somewhere in an unfinished song. 

Even fishing has taken a back seat to recording time. Actually the weather hasn't been great for fishing and now it is too hot but I am not complaining. When I look around me today I see every reason to be thankful for my lot. I seem to be increasingly more able to accept the relatively small inconveniences I experience, without complaint. 

I'm off to Switzerland tomorrow with my mate John Bradshaw to play a private gig which promises to be very special. So life is good. When I get back I will resume here with a post about our trip.


Tuesday, 23 January 2018

on the road again

bridge fly by

It seems a long time ago when my friend and road manager John picked me up for a mini tour of the north. He drove from Cornwall on Wednesday morning last week and we drove to a Travel Lodge near York where we holed up until Thursday. It was a couple of hours drive to Newcastle for the next date of The Roger Chapman family and friends tour. I had already played Leicester and London the week before. Two thoroughly enjoyable shows for me. I've decided the Shepards Bush 02 gig is my favourite UK venue. I love the sound in there and the Edwardian interior that still looks fabulous.

The weather forecast for our journeying for the next few days looked a bit rough with snow and ice predicted on all sides. As it turned out, for the entire journey, we some how avoided driving in snow. It threatened to fall in Newcastle but didn't. We'd booked a late leave time so it was around 2pm as we headed for Newcastle on Thursday. We had a great gig there and set out for Kinross in Scotland immediatly after my set. We arrived at around midnight. By now a good few inches of snow had fallen but the roads were clear. The Green Hotel in kinross is home to The Backstage venue. It is a cosy 120 seater with a unique, museum like collection of rock memorabilia put together by promoter Dave Mundell. Dave is one of those guys who brings some thing special to the music scene because it's obvious that he really cares.

After a decent sleep John and I hung out in the rather plush if tired hotel. It is huge and rambling with nearby golf greens and a trout lake. Next time at the gig I shall get some fishing in. We sound checked at around 6 0clock after a splendid lunch. John had fish and chips and I had Scottish mussels in a chilli sauce with chips and delicious bread. They served a very nice pint of bitter so I was very happy. So nice to be able to eat and sleep so close to the venue. In this case the door of my room opened onto a staircase that lead down one flight to the entrance to the venue. This was perfect on a harsh wintery day when the venue would usually be a distance from the hotel. So, my very large bedroom was a very luxurious dressing room.

We were wondering if any one would make it on such a wintery night but we need not have worried. The lovely enthusiastic audience were a delight and it was very different and enjoyable for me to play a full set of material as distinct from a short support set for Chappo. Don't get me wrong. I really enjoy playing a support role. I like the lack of pressure and I enjoy playing a short set also.

The show went very well and I think I moved it it all forward during this one performance. Like having an extra gear. I played the sequel to Evening Over Rooftops for the first time and that was well received. The song is called A Bowl of Flowers. I also played In The Half Light which I hadn't played for a long time. I've decided to include it more often. I was determined to utilise freshly discovered possibilities at the next gig at the British Rock and Blues Fest in Skegness. We had a day between the Back Stage gig and Skeggy so that was good. We would be staying in Skegness at the Butlins Holiday venue the night before my afternoon performance next day.

in the half light

The weather forecasts were still a bit grim but still our road was clear as we drove out of Kinross. The miles flew by and after flat acres of grim, desert like agricultural Lincolnshire country side we arrived at Butlins. After struggling to find the block our apartment was in on the Butlins site, we eventually found it. The apartment was a pleasant surprise once we were installed. 

An early night was order of the day with a 9 am alarm to get to an 11 am sound check. It is not my idea of fun but it is different and I like different. The night before John had scouted the venue and returned with news that it was a cavernous room that would need 800 folk to make any kind of atmosphere. That was a bit daunting but I don't let things like that worry me these days.We arrived at the gig in perfect time and within ten minutes i was doing my sound check with a top pro crew. It took minutes for a big grin to grow on my face as the lush sound of the big rig filled the stage. 
In this cavernous cold place the heating was only just coming on but the dressing room was cosy. The time flew by and soon the very nice young woman who was stage manager called me with five minutes to go. As for the previous, recent shows I had no nerves, just the desire to sing and play.
I peeped through the side curtain and there they were. An audience of about 1800. Now I really wanted to play. I walked out onto the stage and into my second home where I think I gave the best solo performance so far. I feel sure the audience got it and they got me. Enough said.

It was 1.45pm and the rain outside the venue was turning to sleet. Should we stay to spend our artiste food allowances or hit the road. A combination of leaving for every where as soon as possible and a semi intelligent SAT navigation system had served us well so we decided in favour of covering miles as soon a possible. The sleet turned to snow as we drove but didn't settle on the road. It calmed down as we approached Boston and cleared for a while. Driving rain seemed acceptable given all the snow we had managed to avoid. By the time we were in London the rain was gone and that boded well for John's trip home to Cornwall. I guess the total mileage for this trip was around 1500.

Thanks to every one who came and made it a buzzing time. I really had the best time. There were no problems worth a mention. All good. Now a few days off with a little first fishing of 20018 and then I will be recording through February and much of March. 


Thursday, 21 December 2017

Toys or tools for guitar

the vox MV50 AC and a typically sized effects pedal to show scale.

a pencil on top of the speaker cabinet 
to show the miniature scale of the whole set

I am not going to go on and on about the above. I just want to say this is one of the most extra ordinary pieces of work gear I have bought for many a year.
The MV50 comes in three flavours, Clean which is an American styled sound and it is very clean. Then there is the Rock version which is self explanatory with a good modelling of the British rock amps like Marshall. The one I chose is the AC which is a version of the famous Vox AC line. probably the most famous of these amps is the AC30 made famous by the Shadows and the Beatles. Brian May of Queen uses eight Vox AC30s.

The MV50 AC has a lovely sustained chime and a very useful overdrive with lovely over tones. The amp has a 50 watts rating with two speakers and 25 watts with one. It has a headphone / line out which is great for recording and a new kind of valve set up. Portable and well built this is a great tool.

Enough to say working with this amp is addictive. I think it offers high value for a low price and provides a solution to what to do about an on stage spare amp, what to take to the pro studio that doesn't need a transit van and two roadies or what to use in your bedroom studio.  I am teased with getting the extra cabinet for work on my new album.

By the way the pedal in the photo is the JOYO JF-02 Ultimate Overdrive Guitar Effect Pedal. At the price of £39.43 it is probably the best value overdrive pedal going, It is alleged to be a clone of a very expensive US pedal. With the MV50 and my 71 Fender stratocaster it gives great results.


in the bleak midwinter

The UK Christmas spend has been estimated to be more than £78.69 billion in 2017.

A new NHS hospital in the UK with 210 beds cost £75 million plus another £15 million for roads, equipment and infrastructure. That's £90 million.

UNITED KINGDOM achieves a Happy Planet Index Score of 31.9  and ranks 34th of all the countries analysed.

Latest official figures show an estimated 5,174 people were forced to sleep outside in UK in 2016.

The lives and futures of millions of children are in jeopardy. We have a choice: Invest in the most excluded children now or risk a more divided and unfair world.

1 in 10 young women in UK cannot afford to buy sanitary products.

It is estimated that 20% of all Christmas presents are unwanted and unused.

Why don't we protest more? Why don't we care enough to stop austerity?

Leaked report on mental health crisis in UK indicates a rise in suicides and that 75% of people needing help / treatment are not receiving it.

The Trussell Trust is the largest food bank network in the UK, and it handed out around 41,000 food packs in 2009/10 compared to 1.2 million in 2016/17.

Every year we are warned that if the High Street Christmas spend is not enough our economy and therefore our quality of life will suffer. How mad is that?

"I am not dreaming of a white Christmas" - Homeless young woman aged 19.

Why are thing such a mess? Could it be that it is because we want the wrong things.

Why does the UK government increasing appear to be a reactive body that can only see a problem when it is critical to their re-election. Then they act too late with too little? Perhaps it is because they don't know what to do. When questioned in the House of Commons by the opposition leader about the recent UN declaration that austerity had seriously harmed the well being of disabled people, May replied - "There are more employed disabled people than ever before".

While so many are with out essentials, Christmas is a mostly indulgent, bloated festival of self interested greed that doesn't extend to the poor and dispossessed though, it is claimed to be a time of love and good will to all.

Will things have improved by next Christmas? It partly depends on what you want. Time for real change?