Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Best Laid Plans

Sunday 20th September. BB King's, Times Square, New York.
An early start. Kari said it was about three and a half hours from Boston to New York, so we got on the road at nine.
The idea was to arrive at 1 p.m. and then have a couple of hours acting as tourists; but as the saying goes, "The best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry". Once in New York, it took almost as long to get to the venue in Times Square as it had taken to reach the city it self from Boston. It was madness. I did get to spend almost an hour walking around, taking pictures and video of Times Square when the rest of the band were eating; it was the only chance I was going to get. And it was worth it. I’ve never witnessed anything like it - this shameless and massive exhibition of man’s desire for gain and pleasure.

The ‘take’ of one or two band members on the place was interesting when I talked about it later.

One said it was all about greed; I guess it is really, but in my view, greed is something that not only takes many different forms, but can also be interpreted differently. I couldn’t help feeling that this glowing show of capitalism was, more than anything, a testimony to the human spirit, not dissimilar to the way I feel when viewing, lets say, a cathedral or the stunning Renaissance architecture of Florence; it’s less about the actual form in front of me, and more about the wonderment of what drives man to such lengths.
Whether it be money or God, the unrelenting driving force of ‘belief’ itself is there for all behold.

There’s an almost industrial, conveyor belt-like approach to the way BB King’s is run; in the afternoon they staged a gospel production which meant we couldn’t load in and get the equipment onstage until the stage area was completely clear - with every artist and audience member all having left the venue. Yet, despite how it might appear a somewhat cold and impersonal way to run a music club, the staff at BBs were incredibly friendly and helpful. It was the only way a place like this could survive commercially, one of the staff explained.

And when it came to our show, we performed to an audience of around 380; I was told on very good authority it was an excellent crowd for the venue. Monday 21st September. Sellersville Theatre, Sellersville, Pennsylvania.

Picture book American neighbourhoods; this is the only way to describe the communities we passed through on our way to Sellersville. And probably the same should be said of Sellersville itself - a lovely town in which, yet again, we were made to feel so welcome. The theatre was intimate - probably about a 350 / 400 capacity, and it sat a few yards away from a restaurant, run, and possibly owned, I think by the same people.

I have the feeling that as far as entertainment is concerned, there isn’t a great deal going on in these parts, so the theatre looks like a good local focus for music and the arts, and a popular one too. After the sound check we were fed at the restaurant; the food and the choice of beers were both superb, and the too often committed sin of eating before a show was yet again a temptation unable to be declined on my part.

Richard Burgess, Ken and Pete Zorn.

Tuesday 22nd September. Radio - Live session at Sirius XM, Sirius DC.

Another early start, this time so we could get to Sirius DC by 11 a.m. for a show scheduled to be broadcast at 1 p.m. on which we perform a one hour live set. The station blew me away, with it’s ultra modern, state of the art studios.
I was shocked and surprised to discover just how well known some of my past work was with a number of the presenters and production staff here; it seems that the Albion band has some fans in these parts.

A real highlight of the day for me was meeting up with Richard Burgess. Richard was the drummer with Easy Street, the band that, along with Pete Marsh, I had back in the 70s.
Richard had a fair amount of success around that time also with his own band Landscape, having top ten hits with Einstein-A-Go-Go, and Norman Bates. He also made quite a name for himself as a producer, working with a number of successful bands during that so-called ‘romantic’ period of popular music back in the 80s, including Spandau Ballet.

Richard is now the Director of Marketing and Sales for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, and Smithsonian Global Sound in Washington DC

Photo: Daniel Coston

Concert: The Birchmere, Alexandria, Virginia.

We didn’t even have time to check into the hotel before the gig, and if it wasn’t for the shower I took at the venue after the sound check I might have gone crazy.
The word ‘long’ would not even come close to describing how today - Tuesday the 22nd of September - felt, and ‘tired’ would not be an adequate way of conveying the condition of each band member by the end of tonight’s show.
‘Long’ it may have been, but more than anything else I would have to describe it as deeply rewarding.

Wednesday 23rd September. The Ark, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Flight SWA777 took us from Baltimore-Washington airport to Detroit, taking off just after 11 a.m. and arriving at Detroit around 12:30 p.m.

Met with my good friend Gillian from Colorado. Gillian and I met back in nineteen eighty-something when we both worked for Rainbow Kitchen, a modest business in West Hollywood which every morning would supply sandwiches to the likes of us, and other young hopefuls trying to break into the music and film worlds, and we’d then go out selling them office to office around Los Angeles.
I was lousy at this, and found it all quite soul destroying. But, as they say, it’s all part of the great tapestry of life - and along with a considerable number of other very questionable scenarios, I do value what it has added to my own tapestry; I’m just bloody glad it’s over.

Great to see Gillian though.

The Ark is an intimate venue, possibly slightly too intimate for a folk / rock band like Steeleye. I only say this because of the close proximity of the people at the front by the stage.
The problem with this is that, even though to be seated at the front may seem like a choice position to be, there’s always the potential to hear too much of what’s coming directly off the stage, and not enough of that which is actually designed for the audience to hear, i.e. that which comes through the PA system. Consequently, they’ll hear too much drum kit, or electric guitar, for example; some will even be able to hear what’s coming through our stage monitors.
In this kind of room it’s often those people further away that are the ones with the smiles on their faces.
Saying that though, the place itself was fantastic. Cara Dillon and Sam Lakeman opened the evening, and they blew me away.

Thursday 24th September. Travel day.
Travelled the 250 miles from Ann Arbor to Chicago by road.

Checked in to the stylish Majestic Hotel on West Brompton - stylish maybe, but the rooms were just too hot, and the AC system was too noisy, so it was best to just run the fans on the ceilings. I can’t imagine what it like in mid-summer.

Ate out tonight at the superb Angelina Ristorante on North Broadway; very highly recommended.

Friday 25th September. The Old Town School, Chicago.
The Old Town School is a whole building, very community based, that is dedicated to one form of musical activity or another; there’s a lot here that pertains to the history and traditions of folk music. There’s all sorts going on here, including music tuition, and it even has its own music shop.

The concert went well. Maria Dunn from Canada opened the show for us.

During the day I found a music shop on N. Lincoln Avenue called the Chicago Music Exchange , actually it would be more accurately described purely as a guitar shop. The range of electric and acoustic guitars was staggering. I needed to buy a couple of jack to jack cables; one that I’d brought with me had given up the ghost, and so I’d been using one of Pete’s (Knight) for the last couple of shows.
If you like guitar shops, then this is for you. I asked where they kept all the cases, and was told that there’s an area beneath the shop - equally as large, and believe me, it’s large - where all the cases are stored.

Saturday 26th September. Travel day.
Quantas Airlines - Flight QF3106
Chicago to San Francisco
Dep: 17.10
Arr: 19:45
Flying time: 4:35 mins.

Said our the first round of good-byes at the hotel before setting out to O’Hare airport for the short first leg of our journey to Australia. The final good-byes and thank yous were as we parted company with she who had put the tour together, had shown considerable organisational skills, and had put up with the six of us (Brian included) for the last week - Kari. I had been impressed with her whole approach and demeanour. And she’s just a good person to be around.

On arrival at San Francisco decided to have a cappuccino; the choices of coffee outlets were limited, and I ended up in a bookstore that also appeared to have a little cafeteria section. A small Mexican looking lady then proceeded to create the worst cappuccino known to man. Be warned.

Quantas Airlines - Flight QF74 San Francisco to Sydney
Dep: 22:40
Arr: 06:20 Monday 28th September.
Flying time: 13:45 minutes

The longest continuous flight I’ve ever been on. Couldn’t get into the films, but did watch a few documentaries, one being about the Muhammad Ali, Joe Frasier - Thrilla in Manilla fight, and all that led up to it. I suppose on one hand it did disturb the hell out of me - but what a fantastic piece of drama.

Arriving at Sydney I got out my very infrequently used New Zealand passport, and glided through immigration. Next I helped gather the considerable amount of luggage and musical equipment we are carrying, then the final step was to be screened for whether I was carrying food, vegetables, plants, etc. For some reason they seem extremely rigourous down here about such things.
Now our bags were on a number of different trolleys, with the luggage on each one in no way corresponding with the person pushing it. On top of this, everyone had gone through this final checking process at slightly different times, and through different channels.
So, my turn arrived. The bags were placed on the conveyor belt. “Have you got any golf shoes in your luggage?”, the official asked. I said, “yes”, then I realised that someone else had already gone through with my case (I guess they are concerned about what foreign vegetation you might bring stuck to the bottom of your golf shoes).
“Can I see them?”, he asked. “Well, I don’t actually have them with me, in fact I don’t have my suitcase here”, I answered. I went onto explain that the band were randomly carrying each other’s luggage. “Where’s your case then?”. “Out there somewhere”, I said, “shall I go and find it?”.

He looked at me for a moment. “What’s your handicap?”, he asked. “Fourteen”, I replied. “OK, go on then”. . . “and enjoy your golf”, he said, and waved me through.

Once outside the airport, the band was met by Richard James, the tour promoter and manager here. We took a large taxi to Darling Harbour, and checked into the Southern Cross Suites.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Excess Baggage

Tuesday 15th September. Rehearsals, The Warehouse, Kennington, Oxford.

With no car of my own on the road, the only way I was going get all of my equipment down to Oxfordshire was to hire one. Thankfully, the Park Records office took care of this. Right on the dot of 9 a.m. this morning the door bell rang, and their stood Mister Hire-Car Man himself. He drove me to the depot, filled in all the paperwork, and showed me the ins and outs of the new Vauxhall Astra I’d be driving.

I’d been preparing myself and my luggage for quite some time leading up to this day. As from today I won’t be home for, well to be precise - two days short of two months, and between now and then there’s America, Australia and New Zealand. The day I arrive home is Sunday November 8th; on my return I’ll maybe get one, or if Im lucky, two days at home before heading back to Oxford once again in preparation for the winter tour.

So with all this time away, and the logistics of that to consider, what I take with me today - guitars, amps, cables, clothes, etc, has to be carefully thought through. Due to baggage restrictions, what’s going to the States with me on Friday is a scaled down version of what I’d want to take. Then I have to think about whether, with my car problems, I’ll need to take whatever equipment I’m going to use in November on the UK winter tour to Oxford now.
I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I find packing before I go away stressful at the best of times.

It was about 2:30 p.m. by the time I arrived at the Warehouse. The following three hours were spent brushing up on what we played during the Spring dates. Bass player Pete Zorn is back with us for the international gigs; Rick should be back in action on the winter tour.

Thursday 17th September. The Village Hall, Nettlebed, Oxforshire.
The usual warm-up gig. Well it is, this where we always seem to play after the two or three days of rehearsals that precede our tours. It’s certainly one of the larger folk clubs, and can’t recall it being any less than totally sold out whenever the band has played here.

The most unique feature of the venue is the ceiling above the stage; if you’re looking for a good onstage sound, then forget it. It has a concave recess to it that has the effect of eliminating any kind of definition between one instrument and the next - and between one voice and the next.
There’s some law of physics going on here, maybe along the same lines of the famous Whispering Gallery at St Paul’s Cathedral; it’s something I experienced before we even started the sound-check; I was standing stage left when I heard someone speaking, and it was as though they were literally standing right behind me talking into my ear. When I turned around I saw they were in fact positioned on the far side of the stage.
But when the band starts playing, all that pronounced clarity turns into a, well lets say a ‘soup’ of sound, making it impossible much of the time to pick out its individual elements. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve listened to various band members here complaining bitterly that they couldn’t hear their instrument or / and their voice. And of course they’re right - neither could I.

As far as I’m concerned all you can do, to save oneself from any grief, is to trust that out-front in the house it probably sounds just fine; you see, I’ve never witnessed an unhappy audience at Nettlebed, which says it all really.

Friday 18th September. Travel day. London - Boston.
Last nights accommodation was close to Heathrow airport. We made an early start this morning, reaching the airport not much later than 9 a.m.. I got to witness Terminal 5 for the first time - now with all its famous teething problems evidently well and truly in the past.

The flight, British Airways flight BA 213 took off a little later than its scheduled 11:25 time, but once in the air the journey was smooth going. We landed at Boston Logan International, Terminal 3 some seven hours later.

Kari is the tour manager here in the States - she met us at the airport, and we went about loading our considerable quantity of luggage and musical equipment into what appeared from the outside to be a very sizeable Ford touring bus; in fact, to fit everything into the bus, and then to have any room left for humans, involved not an inconsiderable degree of creativity and strategic thought.
This was a job for a drummer, our drummer - Liam, a man who, luckily, just can’t help but to take control in such situations. It seems to be a double sided scenario; a compulsion to both take control, and then to complain about how difficult it is. I have to admit though, it was a heavy job, lifting those cases in and out of what was a fifteen person vehicle, but with seats positioned in such a way that there wasn’t actually any official space for luggage, so all the cases had to be lifted and placed over, onto, and in between the seats - a process to be repeated a multitude of times during the following days.

We checked into the Somerville Holiday Inn, and that evening went out for Mexican food - something I’ve missed terribly since my days in California. I can hardly describe the pleasure; nachos, quesadillas, chili relleno and margaritas - fantastic.

Pete Zorn & Liam doing the organising.

Maddy filming me, filming her.

Saturday 19th September. Somerville Theatre, Somerville, Massachusetts.
Got the train to downtown Boston this afternoon; it wasn’t easy. On arriving at the closest station - Sullivan Square - I was faced with a number of ticket machines; I had no idea where exactly I was heading, and no idea how the machines worked. Oddly, there were no instructions as to how to how the machines worked, and more oddly, no maps of the train system at the station entrance. And there was one more blindingly missing crucial feature - someone who might be able to help me.

I was stood there with a ten dollar bill in my hand; looking at the machine; looking across towards the platforms; watching others confidently inserting money, hitting buttons, taking tickets and picking up change, and moving smoothly through the automated barriers - not one of them noticing my inanimate behaviour. What I had to do, I decided, was to, more-or-less, jump in front of one of these single-minded commuters as they are in full flow, and hope they take pity.

“I’d like to go to downtown Boston”, I asked a young woman. “Could you tell me which station I should get a ticket to?”. “Well, when I lived here”, she replied, “I’d go to . . .”, then she reeled off one station name after another. Eventually, it was decided I would go to Park Street. Great. I said thank you very much, and she walked away through the barrier and towards the trains.
So then I turned to the ticket machine once again - to buy my ticket to Park Street; shit, I’d forgotten to ask about the ticket machine!

The next victim was a young black guy, and very helpful. He took the money out of my hand, and a second or two later issued me with a ticket, my change, and the instruction to get a train on the Orange Line going ‘that’–pointing to the right–‘way’.

I enjoyed walking round Boston; I like it here. First thing I did was find a T-Mobile shop, and buy a sim card.
It’s important if you bring your phone to the US that: 1. Your phone is either a Tri-band or Quad-band phone (UK phones are largely Dual-band, and won’t work here); 2. That one buys an American sim card for the phone - so as to avoid paying hideous international roaming charges; 3. In order to use a different network, your phone will need to be unlocked.

So I got the card into my mobile, and sent a text with my new number to Carol. We have this deal at home in the UK where you can register the house phone with a special website - there are a few of them - the one we use is called Once registered, what you do is dial 18185 before the number you’re calling; this cuts the cost of your calls dramatically. For Carol to phone me here in the States, on my mobile, the cost is 1p a minute.
I remember a time when it was more like £1.00 a minute.

It was time for a coffee now. I noticed in the bookstore Borders there was a coffee shop; it’s usually Starbucks at any Borders I’ve seen in the UK, here it’s Seattle’s Best Coffee; ‘it must be good then’. Ordered a large espresso machiato, drank it and worried about the rest of Seattle’s coffee.

Tonight’s show. The audience was amazing; so vocal; so expressive. They just don’t hold back here.

Under-Rehearsed & Over-Heated

Sunday 30th August. The Cumbria Guitar Show.
I’ve played every year at this guitar show for a decade now, and possibly a bit longer. It was seven years ago when Rick Kemp just happened to walk in during my set, an event that resulted in that historic landmark in the world of folk-rock, the merging of Steeleye Span with myself. Well, in our house it’s an historic landmark.

Just before the band’s 35th anniversary year, the band members were asked to each write a piece that would go into the program, or the brochure to be sold at all the concerts. I chose to tell the tale of that fateful day - it was a kind of ‘Sliding Doors’ scenario; a slice of serendipity. Here are some of the words I wrote …

I’m thinking back to August 25th 2002, a Sunday morning, and a day I been booked to perform at a guitar show in a place called Penrith, a town that sits about ninety miles north of Preston, where I live. I was feeling rather under-rehearsed, having not picked the guitar up for a few days, so I figured I should get some practice in before heading up the M6 motorway.
As I was getting more and more comfortable with my Fylde guitar, I was also getting less and less comfortable with the amount of time left to get to my gig. The agreed performance time was 1 p.m., and I was supposed to arrive forty five minutes before that.

You could say I’ve never been the most successful individual when it comes to arriving places on time - punctuality always appearing to be a most desirable attribute, and a most commendable one in those who achieve it. Today, yet again, the mould would not be broken.

Thankfully though, the organiser of the show was an understanding fellow, and gracefully he swapped my performance time with another artist’s, putting me on at 2 p.m.. So, that’s the time I eventually got up on stage and started my spot, during which, I recall thinking to myself that it was all going quite well and that the practice seemed to be paying off.

Anyway, unbeknown to me, and about halfway through my set, in walked bassist, Rick Kemp, and as they say - ‘the rest is history’.

That’s more or less how I ended up as a Steeleye Span member - something that may never have happened had I been more skilled as a time keeper.

Today’s visit to what is now called The Cumbria Guitar Show, again turned out to be a very eventful occasion, with the first event taking place a mile and a half from junction 40 on the M6, the Penrith turn-off.

On the way there, I could sense that there was something slightly different in the way the car was handling, and then when I put my foot down on the throttle, we started to lose power.
Instinctively, I looked down at the temperature gauge, and I knew we were in trouble.

Carol was travelling with me, along with our mutual friend Val. Carol and I had four nights in Scotland lined up, a mini holiday before I go travelling the world for the next few months. The plan was to play the guitar show (80 miles north of Preston), go on from there to Dumfries for the one night (Sunday), and then on Monday drive up to Ayr for the remaining three. Now we were sitting in a 1994 Toyota Previa on the hard shoulder of the motorway, and I was trying to work out what our next move should be.

The engine had died the moment the car came to a standstill, but once it cooled down a little I managed to get it re-started, and with hazard lights flashing we crawled along the hard shoulder to the turn-off. I parked up at a Little Chef on the A66, about one third of a mile from the Rheged Centre where the two day Bank Holiday weekend show was being staged.

After calling the AA I left Carol and Val with the car, while I set foot to find help; I needed to somehow get my equipment and guitars to the venue. I did find help - in the shape of someone called Simon who offered to drive me back to my car; the whole stretch of road from the venue back to the motorway was a dual carriageway with a central barrier running its entire length, which offered no opportunity for a U-turn. We’d have to go past my car, round the motorway roundabout, and come back on ourselves in order to reach the stricken vehicle.

I was due on at 1:30 p.m.; it was now about 1:25. OK, so we hit the roundabout; at this point Simon went into some kind of default mode - something inside him must of thought, ‘right, we’re going home now’, and he turned, automatically, onto the M6 - southbound. He realised almost instantly what he’d done, but unless we’d have wanted to have reversed the wrong way up a slip road–and ended up as stars of Police, Camera, Action–the only choice was to keep going.

It just so happens that the distance between next turning, junction 39 - the Shap turning, and the one that just led us onto the motorway - junction 40, is possibly the longest distance between two junctions I know of. It was now time to make my grand entry onto the stage, and I was travelling south on the M6 for the next ten minutes, before we could even turn back in the right direction.

It took some work to stay calm, I tell you, but stay calm is what I did. You have to be as pragmatic as you can be, there’s not really any choice if you want to make the best of a scenario like this - or at least if you want to limit the damage as much as is possible.

By the time we’d got to the car, picked up the guitars, and I was ready to launch into my set. it was close to 2 o’clock. It was good though, even if my head wasn’t all there and I’d not had an opportunity to warm up; I had plenty to talk about though when I was up there.

Carol didn’t get to see the show. She’d travelled with the breakdown truck back to Preston, where she dropped my car off outside the mechanics, picked up her own car, and drove back to Penrith. She arrived back at something like 7:30, and we proceeded–both considerably worn out–with our holiday plans.

Monday 31st August to Thursday 3rd September. Ayr, Scotland.
The calm before the storm; a time to relax and an attempted avoidance of any thought or anticipation of what’s to follow in the next few weeks.
First stop was Dumfries on the Sunday night (a late arrival after the car debacle), then on to Ayr the following day.

In Ayr we’d booked three nights in a hotel that in the pictures looked grand, elegant and stately - the pictures didn’t lie. The Name: The Belleisle Hotel. It sits in some spectacular grounds, much of which is the Belleisle golf course. The down side was that much of the hotel was not operational, as we had been led to believe from the advertising; due to the low number of guests the restaurant wasn’t open, and neither was the bar, although they would open it especially for you if you required it.
But it was quiet. And the staff were nothing less than brilliant.

I have to say, I can’t think of many other places I’ve been in the world where people are as downright pleasant and friendly as here in Ayr. I love this town.

On Tuesday we played golf on the Belleisle course, and on Wednesday played at one of the three Troon public courses. These public courses are quite pricey when compared to the equivalent in England, but I’d say they are maintained to a standard that justifies the price - in my opinion the greens are as good as the greens at Royal Lytham and St Annes, where I played just a couple of weeks earlier.

The Devil You Know

Thursday 6th August. Macclesfield Tennis Club.
I’m not certain how what began as a casual invite to play in a charity golf event morphed its way into a solo concert; although, I’m not sure why I said that - I do know how it happened. In fact no morphing took place, it was something that just got added on.

And I still got to play golf, which took place at a particularly good course in Cheshire called Tytherington; it’s a fairly long course; and it was a very long day.

My friend, James, was the organiser of this event; he’s a member of Macclesfield tennis club, and the object of the day was to raise few quid, - one, for the club, and two, for the East Cheshire Hospice.
James originall asked me to play two sets, but I knew a whole evening of performing was going to be asking too much - not just of the performer (me), but of an audience that would be looking for a ‘certain kind’ of entertainment at such an occasion, so I suggested one short set of around 40 minutes, and James agreed to that.

I’ll describe the golf first: pretty steady - as is quite usual these days, but with a couple of complete disasters - as is quite usual these days. If I could only stop the disasters from happening! If it wasn’t for those errant two or three holes in just about every round I play I could be hitting in the 70s - albeit the high 70s. But they do say it’s all about staying in your ‘comfort zone’, and never have I found a comfort zone to be so uncomfortable - still, it is a familiar discomfort, which I guess is what it’s all about; I think it’s called the Devil you know.

If you’ve ever played a little golf you may have discovered that there’s so much about it that tells you about ‘you’, it’s an illustration of how you deal with - life’s challenges and hazards; your ability to think on your feet; to plan, and to stay focused when all doesn’t go according to plan. It’s a conduit, as in - a channel through which your hopes, frustrations, and whatever else you might be harbouring in the deepest recesses of ‘the self’ will be externalised; it’s a mirror that will bring you face to face with your fear - when ‘in truth’ there’s absolutely nothing whatsoever to be all that fearful of.

We may, of course, go through our lives with some level of realisation that certain fears, certain obstacles, are within us; the difference, when it comes to the game of golf, is the way in which one has to continue the desired and considered physical actions–the timing, the tempo, the composure–at the very same time as those often negative psychological influences have a greater or lesser bearing on that process.

Sure, there are a multitude of other areas in life that the same can be said for - performing music is one that instantly springs to mind. But the paradox with golf is so strong, so apparent - possibly because of its outwardly benign persona.

Certainly, if you don’t want to show the world your true colours, it’s best to stay away from the game.

Nicol & Cool
Thursday 13th August. The Cropredy Festival.
Very different from the average festival, this one, certainly when it comes to the age factor. It’s a club, a big one, a large collection of people who–separately–shared an experience once-upon-a-time, one that can now be re-lived, re-captured, reminisced over, and commemorated ‘collectively’ in this regular anniversary of folk music; that’s folk music in its broadest sense. I say broadest despite a personal feeling that although the festival attempts to, and does a good job of, presenting a very broad spectrum of music, one that extends toward genres that ‘typically’ speaking, would have a thread–tenuous to say the least–connecting them to the ‘common’ perception of ‘folk’, my suspicion is that a great many of the attenders would be more than happy with having nothing other than their small handful of favourite way-back-when artists performing here. Much of it is about what’s comfortable.
That’s not intended as an overly negative comment; it’s natural I think that we should reach for those familiar heroes. But in recent years I have reflected so much on the subject of what music actually is, and how it’s possible, or indeed not possible, to evaluate it on the basis of impartial merit.
There is indeed good argument to state that there’s no such thing as ‘impartial merit’ - that ‘skill’, musically speaking, in many peoples eyes certainly does not necessarily constitute ‘good’. This is why so much that’s seen as just ‘brilliant’ out there in the mainstream, would undoubtedly be described by the musically literate as nothing less than remedial.
What is seen as ‘good’ is what ‘connects’, and what ‘connects’ is what has emotional relevance to its listener.

Also, there is the always ‘jazz clap’ scenario - that which is collectively agreed upon as good, whether it sends a shiver down your back or not. It’s a self-induced shiver - induced because the listener has a preconception and expectation that gives cause to a manufactured euphoria, one which corresponds with an abstract, magical notion of how good a particular artist is purported to be.

My own desire to play music came at a time when I was inspired by something I saw within it as ‘absolute’. It was my way, at the time, of finding and expressing truth. Rather simplistic, maybe, but enough to motivate me in a very single-minded way.

Since that time my considerations and observations have become far from single-minded; the result being that the ‘absolute’ has been largely displaced by the ‘subjective’. If I were to put this into more simple language, it’s that I have appreciated more and more the ‘individual take’ that everyone seems to have on all things, music being just one of them.
At some point (or various points) in that observational journey one is bound to experience some disappointment and cynicism, a consequence of when such a majestic view has a little reality beaten into it. But ultimately it is the only way you can go; as a creative musician, or indeed as anyone who feels they have something to say, there is nothing more important than saying it - this is how to stay sane; and whenever ‘what you say’ strikes a chord in the heart of another, it is a ‘by-product’, and one from which you can take great satisfaction.

Just a few thoughts there to pass the time of day; but enough of that for the time being, we’re at a festival. And going back to the point made earlier, the subject of age, it was hard to ignore the significant number of younger faces here. I imagine these are the people who grew up with music echoing through their respective households that fell outside of the mainstream - the music, that is, not the households - although I expect some would see the two as inseparable.

The festival seems to be more popular than ever, and for a first day, a Thursday, the speed at which the field became more and more congested was striking; all this despite these difficult economic times - or maybe because of it?

Phil and I were officially due on stage at 6:30 p.m. It was tight before hand getting things set up - it very often is, and usually because of other acts exceeding their allotted time. But 6:30 it was when we launched into our opener - Sunny Afternoon, the Ray Davies song; and that’s exactly what it was - a sunny afternoon.

After the show, and the forty five minute signing session–they’re quite exhausting these signing sessions–Phil went straight back home to Lancashire to get himself ready for his week to come at the Edinburgh Festival, while Carol and I just hung out for while, with friend Laura Grace - probably until around 10 p.m., then we headed back to the hotel in Banbury. We made an early start the following morning back to Preston.

A great feature for me every time I’m here is the vegetarian Indian food. There’s something about post-show time, and something about the little things you look forward to - it might be the glass of wine or beer; arriving back at the hotel, and turning the television on maybe. One of my favourites has always been the twelve o’clock news on Radio Four as I drive back home. Here at Cropredy it’s about getting a pint of beer, and a mountain of that Indian food on a paper plate.