Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Well it's been quite a full on three years since I spent a week writing songs in the company of Ray Davies and 15 others wonderful songwriters from around the world. Thanks to Ray for taking the time to listen and gently teaching me that my songs are worth listening to and my ideas and instincts are often pretty spot on!
Thanks also for this memorable exchange;
"Ray you suggested these chords but I'm thinking of doing this..."
"Do it your way it suits you better."
Pause, hand on my shoulder. "It's very John Lennon."
Turns his back and gently walks away. I carry on playing thinking not a lot of it and then realise that has come from a man who actually met and hung out with John Lennon.
A few weeks later I was invited to an art show at his Konk studios and without really saying hello he spots me and sings the chorus of one of my songs at me "Alone now, I'm alone..."
"You remembered it!"
"It's very memorable!"
From the writer of You Really Got Me and Lola.
Thanks Ray!
A few other beautiful and important memories but you know what I might just keep them to myself for a while.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Tour Dates
Nashville in the Round Tour
I'm very excited to be playing the opening slot for a tour featuring Sarah Darling, Jenn Bostic and Kyshona Armstrong.
"An evening in the style of the Nashville’s famous Bluebird CafĂ© as Sarah Darling, Jenn Bostic and Kyshona Armstrong come together."
The 9 dates I'm performing on are;
3 Sept The Winemakers Club London EC2
4 Sept The Musician Pub Leicester
5 Sept The Met Studio Stafford
7 Sept The Green Note London NW1
8 Sept Norden Farm Centre for the Arts Maidenhead
10 Sept The Atkinson Southport
11 Sept The Hive Shrewsbury
12 Sept Kitchen Garden Cafe Birmingham
13 Sept The Bicycle Shop Norwich
30 Sept Foley Arms, Great Malvern
Headline Gig dates
5 Oct Lymington Folk Club
Germany mini tour
27 Oct Kulturcafe Lichtung Cologne
28 Oct House Concert Idstein, near Wiesbaden
29 Oct UnterRock Berlin

Sunday, 10 July 2016

I'm back in my favourite part of the world at the moment. Pembrokeshire, South Wales. I spent a lot of my childhood here and it has remained a special place for me. 

I'm performing this afternoon in Laugharne (in the equally beautiful Camarthenshire) at Browns Hotel, famous as a haunt of Dylan Thomas. I'm playing from 3pm. 

On Tuesday night I'll be gigging at The Lifeboat Tavern, Tenby. 

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Fantastic gig at Wychwood Folk Club last night where I was supporting Ninebarrow. Lovely crowd, some familiar faces who've seen me play at other places in the area. Great chats with people afterwards at the cd selling stand. Pretty perfect!

Later I was sitting outside the venue, Tiddy Hall. It was a pleasant June evening, the birds were singing and Ninebarrow had just started playing again inside. The sky was clear and the sun was setting. It was just one of those moments.

Really lovely!

Friday, 13 May 2016

Germany tour part two; Cologne-Jena

Following the day off in Cologne we needed to get to the train station for an early train to Jena. Jena is a university city almost in the middle of Germany. During the gig in Cologne it became clear that I'd have to work on my pronunciation of Jena as after my performance a couple of audience members were telling me how much I would enjoy Vienna.

The first leg of the journey was a two hour trip to Mainz. The train arrived and on we got, I charged purposefully along the carriage, chose a pair of seats and deposited my suitcase in the overhead rack. At this point Connie noticed and pointed out to me that the seats we reserved, as it seemed all the surrounding ones were. Before we could move the aisle was full of travellers, all examining the reservation notices. Now it would appear that the standard etiquette on German trains when encountering this situation is to be neither rude enough to cause others to move, nor step aside and give way, but instead to remain standing where you are and look at each other. So we were stuck standing next to some seats that we had not reserved, me with a guitar on my back and large suitcase in the luggage rack above me and Connie with her rucksack on her back. The train was moving, we were on our way to our next destination and not exactly in discomfort so we waited in a bemused but happy way to see what happened next. After a while we perched ourselves on the seats. What happened next is that a group of what I can only describe as horrid football wankers, crates of beer in hand, came crushing along the carriage pushing aside all in their way. Old ladies and business men were swept away until they reached their reserved seats. Which were, of course, the seats we were sitting in. The lead wanker shouts at Connie that she's in his seat, she explains that she will be happy to move once it's within the realms of possibility. He tells her "you can move if you want to!" and I lean around the person standing between me and him and suggest he might like to calm down. Another old lady was sent spinning away and this gentleman angrily made his frustrations known; it was clear he wouldn't be waiting for anyone to clear the way. Taking her chance Connie slipped past and then this guy sat in her (or to be more accurate, his) chair, making it even more difficult for me to get my suitcase down. I retrieved it, and made my way down the aisle. Happily the next carriage happened to be the dining car, and we asked if we could sit in there. Certainly we were told, as long as we buy a drink. The dining car was beautiful; quiet and uncrowded, the seats were comfortable and the lady serving us was lovely. We travelled along the Rhine with the river right alongside the train, passing through stunning valleys and attractive little towns and villages. The rainy weather that had been with us since our arrival in Europe had now abated and it was a truly glorious day.

At Mainz we had a five minute transfer which was something we had been nervous about, however it was simply a matter of stepping of the first train and walking across the platform to the next one which was sat there waiting. No reservations on the seats this time so we sat down and had a pleasant three hour journey. One more change at Erfurt at then the final leg to Jena Paradies. On this journey we had our one and only delay of the whole tour; the train sitting at a signal for ten minutes which made us late arriving in Jena. Axel, owner of Brandmarken and organiser of the gig there, was waiting at the station to drive us Radio OKJ for an interview he had organised. 

The interview with Katja went well; her English is very good and she asked some interesting questions. 

Axel dropped us off at a hostel he had arranged for the evening and explained how to find Brandmarken. After a rest and a shower we made our way to the venue and discovered that it was a fantastic bar/restaurant with a shoe shop attached. Axel, his wife Manuela and the rest of the team there were all brilliant and treated us very well. The venue was rammed for the gig and I struggled to finish playing; they kept asking for more! I had assumed the crowd would be regulars at Brandmarken but it turned out that the majority were making their first visit. After my performance I chatted to a lot of them and tried to find out what had attracted them to come to the gig, something that really interests me when I'm playing somewhere new, especially a country I've never visited before. However it turns out nearly everyone had been invited by a friend, husband or wife and I never got to meet any of the people who did the inviting. So I'll guess I'll never know! Another wonderful gig with more names on the mailing list, CDs sold and generous contributions to the hat. 

Only a flying visit as we were off to Dresden the next day, and in future it would be good to explore Jena a little more as it looked to be a very beautiful place. 

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Germany tour part one; Birmingham-Cologne

Tuesday 26th April 2016 
6am train from Birmingham International to London Euston. Excellent sunny landscapes through the window, rather nice bacon bap. 

Arrived London Euston and headed down to the Tube to make our way to St Pancras. We were catching the Eurostar at 8.55 and had left ourselves plenty of time in case of problems with check in, delayed trains etc. 

I should explain that "we" is me and Connie. This trip to Germany consists of four performances and as Connie could join me and the gig schedule was not really heavy we decided to combine the visit with a bit of a holiday. It's a first visit for both of us, and as well as being charming company Connie also has GCSE German, the usefulness of which I looked forward to testing... 

At the last moment I became nervous that there might be some issue travelling with my guitar as part of my luggage allowance. Despite assurances from
not only the Musicians' Union but also Eurostar's own website that a guitar can be included as part of a two bag allowance as long as it's in a case I spent some time picturing a jobsworth check in person refusing to let the guitar past. I even printed out the screen shot from Eurostar's website in order to argue my case if needs be. Rock and Roll. 

St Pancras is quite the statement station with very impressive architecture. The Eurostar check in bit was predictably airport like, and as I was getting ready to put my bags in a tray for the X-ray scanner thing a lady approached from the wrong side of the metal detector tunnel and not only moved in front of me but stole the tray I'd just lifted up onto the desk ready to receive my guitar and suitcase. She stole my tray and I couldn't get to a new one as she was stood in the way. She was being absent mindidly oblivious to the world around her rather than rude I think, and it made me smile. Once past her I said "thank you" in passive aggressive protest and made sure I beat her to the passport check queue. 

Robert, Connie, bags and guitar all through without problems and soon enough were boarding the Eurostar. Through the tunnel, into France. Bottle of water and some Pringles. As we arrive in Brussels the weather gets moody, rain and hail. The city itself looks beautiful in the grey light; as if nature has found a particularly compelling Instagram filter. 

An hour transfer in Brussels and we availed ourselves of a 50 cent wee and a baguette before getting on a Thayls train for the final leg of the journey into Cologne. This was a posh train; big and clean with free wifi. Outside the window Belgium becomes Germany and the view was forests, picture book villages and towns with very pretty pointy houses.

On exiting Cologne station we were greeted with the world famous Cathedral, its size and dominating presence almost beyond words. Work began on it in 1248 and was then halted in 1473 with a massive crane left atop the south tower for 400 years. Work resumed in 1842 and was completed in 1880, making a 632 year building project. Seemingly work continues as it is currently flanked with some very impressive scaffolding, although that doesn't take away from  the impact of the dom (cathedral.) 

We were booked in the station hostel which naturally enough is not far from the station. With a rough idea where we were going we set off, stopping at one point to check the map on my phone. Within seconds of doing this a passerby had stopped to ask if we needed any help and confirmed we were heading in the right direction. What a nice passerby!

We found the hostel and checked in, the lady at reception was happy to show us on a map where the venue for tomorrow night's gig, Kulturekafe Lichtung, was and how to get there. Either via the metro or taking a walk along the Rhine. What a nice lady! Our room was pleasant with it's own bathroom. There's free wifi in the bar downstairs and the place feels very cool and friendly. 

After chilling out for a bit we decided to go for a walk and started with a closer look at the dom. Outside it are some boards with photographs of the area as it looked at the end of World War Two; everything is ruined save the cathedral itself which although damaged remained standing despite being hit serval times in air raids. We had a look inside (only briefly as it was now fairly late in the evening) and the scale and workmanship of the building is truly staggering. 

We wondered through the area around the dom and found many eateries and bars. Checking the map we once again had a helpful local asking if we needed directions, what a nice local! Once pointed in the right direction we were able to set off along the Rhine towards Lichtung. A decent step along that famous river, dodging the bicycles and joggers that sped past. Found Lichtung in a very nice part of town then had a slow walk back stopping for dinner on the way. 

The next day we explored further but didn't go too mad in order to maintain some energy for the gig. We'd walked to the venue the night before but decided that with guitar and other performance paraphernalia it would be wise to use the excellent metro service. However once at the dom underground station we noticed things were eerily quiet and realised that the not only the trams but also the buses were on a 24 hour strike. It was a bit late to do the walk by this point and so we got a taxi. The driver was a lovely fella originally from Turkey who told us his daughter had recently visited London and was desperate to live there, an obsession that had begun through being a One Direction fan. He also corrected our pronunciation of chlodwigplatz, the metro stop directly outside Lichtung. (We were making too much of the ch, it's more clod than chlod.) 

Once at the venue we met the two  Michaels who run the place and learnt more about it; yet another example of a venue/event set up by people passionate about music and attended by audiences who want to support live music and prevent it from disappearing forever. The transport strike may have affected the numbers a bit but the gig was lovely and it was wonderful to make my first performance in Germany and get some names on the mailing list, sell CDs and find out what had attracted people to come along. Perfect night basically. 

Day off followed and now we were able to do some proper exploring; a fabulous day pounding the streets. 

It's a beautiful city with particular highlights including the HohenzollernbrĂĽcke with it's thousands of padlocks and superb view with the dom behind it

The Rhinepark with cute little train 

and the picturesque Hiroshima-Nagasaki -Park. 

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

"The Business of Music"

I've just caught up with BBC Radio 4's "The Business of Music" with Matt Everitt. Very interesting reflection of what happened to the music industry when illegal downloading reared it's head closely followed by iTunes etc. Explores the idea that the labels reaped what they had sown by embracing CDs and repackaging their back catalogues, making huge amounts of money until technology allowed the CDs to be ripped and the music shared for free.  I think it's fairly clear that whilst the industry had a monopoly on the distribution of recorded music consumers could be treated pretty badly. 

I wrote about this subject a few years back when HMV was going into administration. 

"When I was getting into music as a child/teenager HMV was pretty much the only place I could buy music. I’m talking about the late 90s and early 00s. This is before YouTube, Spotify and iTunes. Other music shops existed of course but HMV was ubiquitous in town centres. I didn’t have the knowledge or interest to seek out independent record shops and it seemed that HMV was more likely to have the product I wanted than Virgin Megastores and the others. So for years as I was developing my music tastes and knowledge I used HMV almost exclusively and it seems to me that I was taken advantage of. I collected every Beatles album, I devoured CDs by Travis and Stereophonics. I paid about £10 a pop for this stuff. Very occasionally I purchased singles and that cost £3.99 a go.  Buying a CD was a pretty big deal to me and I had to save up to do it, but it was exciting to have that physical thing that represented a band or artist. This makes me sound about twenty years older than I am but I did indeed sit on the bus home from town and unwrap my new album so that I could sit reading the sleeve. Ah, the sleeve. A little booklet with information, lyrics, photographs, exciting stuff! Except that for many of the albums I bought this was a disappointment. I was collecting albums from the 60s and 70s that had simply been scaled down to a CD booklet from a 12 inch sleeve. A couple of tiny pictures and hardly any information at all. Modern CDs naturally did better in this respect and I have fond memories of some lovely CD artwork that added to my enjoyment of the music. I’d have to pay more for the really good, inventive artwork though. I know that the record industry at large is to blame for all this, but I feel HMV did play it's part. Did they really need to be charging me that much, particularly considering that their clout and very generous arrangements with record labels meant that they helped put many smaller retailers out of business altogether?

Later everyone had the internet at home and illegal downloading started. I wrestled with my conscience over illegal downloads but looking back it’s not hard to see why my generation went for it like mad. Then came legal downloads, why buy a CD in HMV for ten quid when you can get it cheaper and quicker on your iPod/Mp3…for the naff album artwork?  Then what I‘d call a real revolution came with YouTube and streaming. Suddenly you didn’t even need to own music to listen to it whenever you wanted, and not just music but film and TV, so who was going to spend money on it?

Me, that’s who! By this time I was driving so I wanted my music with me in the car. I wanted to be legal so I didn’t bother using YouTube to “steal” music and burn it to CD. I downloaded legally but I also still went into HMV quite often to buy CDs for the car. To be fair I mostly just bought CDs in the rather wonderful 2 for £10 section, but like a fool I did still pay top wack for new albums that I really wanted, even though I knew full well that I was paying more than I really needed to.

Eventually though my attitude and habits changed. I’d find myself setting out to buy a CD or DVD from HMV and actually stopping myself when I saw the price. I’d browse the store and make mental notes to find the stuff I liked the look of online and get it cheaper. A combination of a new car and iTunes match meant I could use my phone to access all the music I’ve ever owned without it taking up physical space in the car or digital space on my phone.

However, even last Christmas I was in HMV buying presents, again knowing that often I was paying more than was really necessary. I still like a physical CD even though really there’s no need for them and they take up too much space. I’m admittedly behind with movie streaming so I still buy DVDs. 

So what’s my conclusion? I don’t know really, just those mixed feelings. A big part of my coming of age was spent in HMV stores deciding what I liked and who I was. Some of my favourite albums came into my life because I happened to notice them on the shelf whilst browsing, something that doesn’t happen online in quite the same way. I feel sorry for people who can’t/don’t/won’t use the internet to get music, and are therefore losing a very important outlet. As I mentioned above its very sad and frightening for a large number of people whose jobs are at risk, a tragedy when added to the numbers who’ve already lost jobs due to the closure of other high street names.

I do think that HMV made mistakes. Mistakes in the way the behaved towards me and their other customers when they pretty much had a monopoly on music sales. Mistakes in the way they reacted to a changing market place, and the mistake of becoming more generalised as the business struggled.

However, perhaps there is a bright future. Perhaps we may finally be moving away from that much criticised high street model that has been the norm for my whole life, the feeling that all town centres are the same. Maybe new and innovative independent stores can now flourish by specialising in something. Who knows, perhaps HMV will be a part of that change."

I'd now add this final thought that my experiences of the last few years have demonstrated that whilst the traditional models of music creation and consumption are moribund, technology is allowing communities of music makers, supporters and enthusiasts to pool resources and share ideas in a way that it seems to me is much fairer than in recent history. The profit margins for selling recorded music may be vastly different, but it wasn't always the creatives who saw the benefit in the "happy times" anyway. I have a sense that we are heading towards a CAMRA situation where sizeable groups of music lovers have decided they want to keep music creation alive and are prepared to support it. Community gigs, house concerts, folk clubs, online radio, podcasts, forums, websites, Twitter feeds, FB recommendations, online record stores like Fish Records, pledge music campaigns and the like are allowing artists to continue to produce music. What's more it's really democratic; people can choose who to support and how to go about it. As an artist I've decided I don't need to follow the business plan or creative models insisted upon by major labels or dyed in the wool media outlets. I can follow my own path and if people want to join me and help with time and investment we can interact directly to decide how this can best be done. What's more this support goes directly to making more music, not funding a creaking colossus who's main concern in making more money from both artist and listener.