Monday, 21 November 2011


some of our friends are silent

A little time ago I got an email from Mr Jerry Dammers of The Specials and now the Spatial AKA Orchestra. He said he had an idea and eventually it turned out to be yours truly singing Frown land, the Beefheart song, at his next gig. I went along to a rhythm section rehearsal where we tried out the idea with bass, drums, two guitars and Jerry on keyboards. I was warmly welcomed and the whole thing was very relaxed for me. I had listened to the song Frownland until my head hurt and I was prepared. The guys soon produced this slippery and slick groove that knocked along like a well oiled machine in no time at all.
I watched them playing some nice dubby ska for the Johnny Clarke songs after my bit. It was clear to see these guys are very good. Johnny had come over from Jamaica for the show and was getting settled in town. We all agreed the Beefheart song would work and I turned up for the full rehearsal the day before the show on Friday. As I walked into the room I was a bit surprised by the sight of the full orchestra and even more blown away when the brass and every one else kicked in to the riff. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end.
We ran through the song three times and that was it. I even got a warm round of applause from the whole orchestra. That was a first. Having the chance to stay around and see how this all worked was fascinating. These folk were all very committed to the project and the atmosphere was special and totally harmonious. I wanted to live there.

sound check

Friday came with a little nervousness. I rose as late as I could but got to the Barbican by 3pm. It is an amazing venue and public space. I had not been previously so it was quite a treat. Most of the orchestra were assembled and Ollie Bayley, electric bass, was directing operations and getting some music going while Jerry was still putting the dots together for new scores for all. Rather him than me. That is plain heroism to me but essential for this band. I sat in the front row drinking it in. Time passed and after my sound check the band continued to work. These guys refine their bits and pieces until it’s always better. Every thing in the set list was rehearsed at the sound check.
johnny clarke and anthony joseph still sound checking
As I got to know people I relaxed and the evening wore on. The doors opened and the show began. I was on fairly quickly after some tunes from the orchestra and the recitation of the words to Frown land by the resident poet Anthony Joseph. I marched out into the lights wearing Jerry’s sartorial idea of The Captain. This consisted of a dark suit with the arms to the elbow, a white dress shirt, a stove pipe hat, black leather shoes and some red beads which were a last minute addition from the very nice man who was in charge of wardrobe. I wore a black mask to hide my true identity ha ha! Every one in the band wore a costume and mask or shades.

We rocked through the song in what seemed like a flash and I walked off to the sound of applause. It was a sold out show and they were very receptive. I headed for my dressing room grabbed some goodies and headed for the roof via a lift. What I didn’t know was that Jerry was calling me back for a curtain call. Oh well! I would get my chance to unmask during the finale so it could still all turn out ok.

still sound checking
I wandered to the top of the balcony, still in my Beefheart clothes to check the band. It sounded fine and the mix was perfect. I got back to watch the rest of the set on a monitor back stage and made sure I was ready for the finale and my unmasking. It really was fun.
There were so many high lights for me, especially seeing my old mate Rick Rogers and his friend who re-counted tales of booking the EBB for Belfast Uni, at the height of “The troubles” when almost no other band would venture there. Great days!
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with these folk. See this band if you can. It’s a vibrant collective with a sound ethos and is a rare and fine thing. I felt proud to have been part of it.

Thanks for asking Jerry. Any time!

Next stop a little village called Russells Water, near Henley on Thames. Where I was to play for Lea at his 53 rd birthday bash. After a brief sojourn at the very smart Red Lion Hotel it was time to taxi out to the gig. Eventually I found the venue and was pleasantly surprised by the neat and well kept village hall with a professional acoustic treatment in what to me seemed the middle of no where. It is a good example of how Lottery funding can be of major benefit when used properly in a community.
Folk were in the middle of setting up a pa system and sound checking. A table was laden with all the good things to eat at a party and there was tea. Magic!
My host, Lea Andrews was in a band some years previously and they were going to play a few numbers with drum parts off a lap top. Their guitarist had a few feedback problems which persisted what ever he did, poor man. Eventually it was sorted and Lea and his daughter Alex (13) kicked of the evening with a couple of songs. It was sweet to hear her clear pure tones against the voice of her dad and it worked nicely. Then Lea’s band played a couple of songs and things were warming up.

It was in many ways a typical FDPFAFDW audience made up of old friends and the family of the host including Lea’s 92 year old dad. I had a long talk with him after the gig. We might have stayed chatting for ages but I think it was time for him to be in his bed.

I began my set with This England which is quickly becoming one of my current favourites. I had to have a polite word with folk and explained I couldn’t really concentrate on what I was doing if people were going talk loudly and soon things settled down. That is the only time this has happened on these gigs and I am surprised it didn’t happen more often. What I do is strong but it does require folks attention. Of course it is not every one’s cup of tea and a party is a party. I never was a party person but at the same time, I would never want to dictate to folk except when  - it is about me (lol) which isn’t very often.
Any way, although the audience thinned out a little after my little chat those that remained were very attentive and warm. I ran through my songs and began to really enjoy myself. There were a few oohs! and ahs! at points in the songs where I have become used to hearing and better – feeling them, which makes it for me. I had some nice feedback from people later and got the chance to meet people face to face. The diversity was again typical of these gigs and as the time wore on it began to dawn on me that this was my last gig of the year. I shall enjoy the break. I will re-charge, write my next show for 2012 and get on with the job of making my new and some old songs and new ideas, part of a full blown electric manifesto.

Mean while my night in Russells Water was a reminder that a minstrel’s life is a good one if you are fortunate to have the kind and supportive patronage that I have received this year. Thanks Lea and all who made it work. It is a great privilege to be invited into folks lives and to be part their history.


Sunday, 13 November 2011

heart of the midlands

the barton arms

Dring - ring – ring – dring – ring – dring. The phone rings at 38 Kipling Avenue, Warwick. It is a hot summer day. Joyce ( mum) gets to the phone first. Joyce answers in her slightly Mrs Bouquet / posh telephone answering voice. “Hello Warwick 43859”. It’s an agent in Birmingham who we have been pestering / harassing to get a gig for The Original Roadrunners ( our name at the time ). He has been let down by a pop group ( sneer!) and asks if we can play at a club in Birmingham called the Elbow Room. This is a coup. Not only that but we will be playing the background music for two strippers. The agent asks if we can play the gig that evening. We agree. We always did at this stage of proceedings. A gig was a gig and it didn’t really matter where or what it was. Later we drive in the dark to Birmingham and find the gig.

The Elbow Room was a narrow corridor and there was little elbow  room hence the name. We set up and wait. It’s a late night job and these always suited me. We play some blues and then the strippers appear. Poor old Barry Compton, our bass player at the time, didn’t know where to look and his serious face reddened up as the girls divested them selves of their flimsies. I knew where to look though and enjoyed every minute. I remember telling Joyce it was playing the gig that was the best bit but I lied. The girls were lovely to me and I liked them. We actually got paid and returned home to Warwick as it was getting light.

Birmingham and it’s people were always part of our life in Warwick. Joyce was a Brummie so we often visited the relatives in Birmingham and our lovely Gran Edie, Joyce’s mother. I’m walking through Birmingham again. It is 40 plus years later. I am with Steve White and his mates and we are headed for the Barton Arms venue for his 55th birthday party and my FDPFAFDW appearance.
As we approached the Barton Arms I glanced across the street and noticed a sign over a small club. It proclaimed The Elbow Room. A small wave of pure nostalgia washed over me for a moment. I was back almost where the story of the EBB began. Full circle and what a journey! I have to say I was pleased not to be playing The Elbow Room though.
The venue was a surprise. We ate some Thai food and I checked out the upstairs room where I was to play. Victoriana and good acoustics. It was obviously a room that had seen some extraordinary scenes. In it’s heyday the Barton was host to the great luminaries of the stage who appeared at The Hippodrome nearby, now sadly gone. The whole building is still in fine condition even though it was set on fire during the recent riots. It must have been a very grand place to drink in and be be able to rub shoulders with the famous stars who stayed there.
the boys

Pete the Scouser ( roadie ) had collected an amp for me but it was more suitable for an electric guitar. He immediately suggested going back for another and re-appeared soon after with a nice little acoustic amp. What a super nice bloke! Thanks Pete.
pete the scouser and crew

Ensconced in a meeting room behind the bar I tuned up and chilled and tried unsuccessfully to finish writing a song I am still working on. Soon it was time to hit the stage and meet my audience who proved to be warm and receptive just like it is on all of these gigs.
I am always pleased and proud to find that so many of the folk, and their friends, who book me to play at their private function are “people workers”. They are social workers, youth workers, nurses, people who work with young offenders and so on. This event was no exception.
steve and yours truly

As it was Steve’s birthday I dedicated a song called This England that had it’s first airing at his gig. I had the printed lyric on the floor but I didn’t need it. Some songs do go in the memory more easily than others.
fari and kash

The evening was going nicely and soon I had come to the end of my show and it was time to mingle and try to get to know a few folk. It was time for the cake and Sue, Steve’s lovely missus, and his son Sean appeared with candles lit. Actually the cake was extremely delicious and I had to resist a second portion.
sean steve and sue

Time for the disco. This was DJ’d by the very able and professional Paul Swaby who hosts a show on local radio. He really knew how to spin some thing for every one. I enjoyed some of the silly, semi - senior dancing which included a very silly dance lead by Steve to the song Monster Mash. It was great to see this diverse gathering of friends having such a good time. It is a privilege for me to join with folk on these gigs and to be welcomed so warmly into their circle.
cheers folks !

It was a proper rocking night and a job well done by all who had worked to make it right. It was time to head off in a cab along with Steve’s mates John and Andy and Jeff who was to be my late night drinking companion at the Adam and Eve pub where we enjoyed some of the coolest dance music around. I wrote about this in a previous post - The young ones – positive images.
I enjoyed my stay in Birmingham. Proper, quality people in the heart of the midlands. Thanks folks! There is one more FDPFAFDW gig left on the date sheet for 2011 and they have all been fantastic for me. I have made many new friends. I am taking bookings for Fair Days Pay For A fair Days Work gigs for 2012 so I hope I will get to meet many more of you.


Tuesday, 8 November 2011

by myself

Wednesday came, as did my good friend John who drove down from the Wigan area to collect and take me to The ROBIN at Bilston. He arrived bang on time and we arrived bang on time at Bilston. This set the tone for the rest of the trip and indeed we were always on time. This was partly due to top driving, a top end and last of the great Rovers that purrs like a pussy cat and a wonderful new satnav system. This thing makes short cuts on the fly and anticipates all traffic conditions. Shame it doesn’t have a guitar tuner and a metronome but there you go. I do love travelling around with no nasty organisational surprises or anything else rearing it’s head that detracts from what should be a buzz. What a joy!

The sound check was a delight and over in a few minutes. The spare guitar was tuned and the drinks bottles filled. The time rolled on and it was time for the opening act and what a surprise. Young Sam Draisey is a man to watch out for. It wouldn't surprise me if we see this youngster climb to a fairly lofty height among his singer song writer peers . Check him out. I'll say no more.

Time to play. The audience was lovely. Many people came to see what had replaced the electric roar and to touch base with this minstrel. Some were new to my music so it was especially interesting to get their feedback. It was good to see some old friends including Story John Edgar and some FDPFAFDW hosts including Steve White and Sue and the Peter Greening family.
The songs went by quickly and I was left buzzing. If the audience response was any thing to go by then I did ok. People were very complimentary afterwards and Paul Broome wrote a very kind review for Midland Rocks.

I love chatting with folk afterwards and it is amazing what people remember from over the years and this is true at all my gigs. They don’t often expect me to remember the same things but some times I do. The ROBIN is always a good place to play. You always get top end sound engineers and the staff are always helpful and friendly.

The set list below is more or less what I played each night with some adjustments at times.

This England
All fall down
Speak down wires
Almost dancing
Cool dark room
Christmas Song
Red star
Soldiers of the light
My salvation
Green lights
There’s a hole in it
Six white horses
Arabesque 2
Evening over rooftops

at the priory - photo by dawn ogden

We drove north after the gig and next day the satnav took us faultlessly through the evening rush hour to THE PRIORY at Birkenhead in The Wirral. If you are ever in the area this is a special place to visit. The oldest part of the medieval priory was first begun in the 11th Century. It survived until the reformation when the monks were forced to leave. Over time it was pillaged and stone was removed for new buildings. Today it houses a small but delightful new space at the top of the chapel. It is a wonderfully elegant geometric structure of wood and glass that sits on top of the medieval walls. The acoustics are superb and again the audience was very warm and very enthusiastic.

The ROBIN at Bilston was the first gig and I was a little tense and wondering how it would be before we arrived there. By the time we got to The Priory I was well chilled and looking forward to every minute. I am playing four or five old songs and the rest are all new so it is pleasantly surprising to get such a good reaction from the new songs. The evening was kicked off by Garron Frith, another fellow acoustic guitarist and singer who ran through a set of songs that sounded like he lived in them. I especially liked his solo harmonica and voice blues rendition.

Last but not least a trip to the THE VERGE a small club that runs in a room on the top floor of The Cheshire Ring a pub in Hyde, Manchester. There is some thing instant and very appealing about the motley co-operative that runs this venue. With the full support of the landlord they have established a very intimate and attractive venue for local talent and artistes from all over. They present an amazingly diverse range of acts and do it with a lot of love and not much cash. They are obviously multi skilled but I can imagine they can and do call on many others who they think might help. It’s clear that they care deeply about their venue and it’s place in the local community. This is the way forward. These are the gigs that we should all support. With out them and their perseverance there would be nowhere to see the kind of acts they promote.

We had time to chat before the gig and I became even more impressed by the whole ethos of the place. Soon it was time to begin proceedings and Garron Frith opened up the show. I got to see more of him than I had on the previous gig. This was his local venue and so I imagine he would be glad to get on with it and into it. There is always a little pressure when you are playing to your home crowd. After the first song he had settled nicely into the mood and began to visibly relax into his songs. He has a good rapport with his audience and mine too. He went down very well. Nice one Garron! Looking forward to next time.

It was my turn now for the slight nervous fluttering in the belly. It is always a good sign before the show. The packed audience gave me a rousing welcome and stayed with me on the whole journey until the last song. What a lovely place and such lovely people!

I will gladly go back to do that all again. John and I had a ball. We were two big boys out to play. We were mostly professional and grown up but the rest of the time we were exchanging tall but true tales or falling about laughing.

Thank you to all who came to see my gigs and to those who pre-ordered my live album BY MYSELF. Thank you to Henry for booking the shows and special thanks to John Bradshaw who drove and looked after me so well on the road. The job’s yours mate. Special thanks to Val Bradshaw for the late suppers and late breakfasts and for all the fun filled hospitality. Here’s to the next time.

By Myself is a compilation of the best of the 2011 live shows plus bonus tracks.  To pre-order the live album email  The album will be delivered to you before the end of november 2011 if you pre-order now.

For more info