They’re doing a survey, so we don’t have to.
“A solitary life / A life of small horizons / Dull as the pewter skies over NW11”
For the 0.3% of the blog who don’t own all of Richard Thompson’s albums, this is the chorus to a Solitary Life off Front Parlour Ballads. It’s a bitter lay; some might say typically so. The song finishes on an upbeat note with the subject matter dying of cancer. (Having a bodycount in song qualifies Thommo to play at folk festivals.)
But as I pedalled up the Denbighshire moors on a gloriously sunny Easter, I found myself merrily singing one of the couplets, as I oft have before: “Holidays in the Yorkshire Dales / Cycling tours of the North of Wales” He may sing it with a sneer, but it all sounds lovely to me, as indeed does the solitary life, says someone who has relished living on his own for the last 18 years. So I sing that song with a spring in my step and joy in my heart.
Do you ever find yourself enjoying a song for emotions that are quite clearly the opposite to that which the artist intended?
Architecture is one of the delights in my life. It lightens my daily commute, gives focus to my travels, can challenge the status quo and provides unexpected joys in unlikely places. It’s not just me; architecture matters, or maybe it’s the built environment, rather than the art. It is no exaggeration to say that I can feel the loss of architecture more keenly than the loss of a famous person I don’t know. I find myself saddened more by the footage of Notre Dame in flames, than I do by an obituary, just as I did after fire ripped through the Glasgow School of Art. I note the comments on t’other thread asking which would be the buildings that we would value in the same way as the French do N.D. As for those vandals who ripped through the Firestone Building in 1980, if I had my way, they would be punished as if it were a violent crime against the person.
Of course, those waging war know this – think the Baedeker raids and their reciprocal visitations on Exeter and Coventry among others. The Taliban destroyed the Baliem buddhas. It’s hard for me to comprehend that the antiquities » Continue Reading.
As I succumbed to being bought a fourth pint in the pub yesterday lunchtime, I reflected on the distinct lack of responsibilities I had over the next 36 hours. I’m going out singing this evening, but otherwise the weekend was and is all mine. In fact, my main responsibility, given my early shift tomorrow morning, is that I must take it really really easy today. I reassured myself of this as I snuggled, or was that smuggled, under two duvets this morning, telling myself what a thoroughly dutiful day I was going to have, fire lit, doing very little. A couple of Christmas emails to friends in Australia, a swordfish steak for lunch, what’s left of yesterday’s ‘i’, some lyrics to learn, maybe even some browsing of this blog – I have some @Kaisfatdad gurdy-driven clips to check out.
But even the act of doing nothing needs a soundtrack, eh? My half slumbering mind anticipated this morning’s playlist. I have certain Sunday morning records, just as I have ‘going out on the razz Saturday night’ records: Gorky’s Barafundle; Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter; looking out across heavy frost, Anthony Phillips Beauty and the Beast is a must (I call » Continue Reading.
A few years back in this place, in our time-honoured way, we shared our tales of what happens at the Venn diagram intersection of our own musical world and the normal lives of the rest of our world – family, non-music friends, colleagues. I was reminded of this on this day last year. One of my union muckers, aware that I was unlikely to be doing something straightforward like going to see the Alex, had driven the local train to take me to Crewe and once there, I was greeted with a
“Eh up, lad, where you off to?” “Audlem Bagpipe and Hurdy Gurdy Day.” “Do you know? I regretted asking that question even before I’d finished asking it.”
So how are the experiences with civilians going?
Further, while I know from blogs passim that this musical combination sounds like a real horror show to many of you, and the accompanying link probably won’t convert you. But surely you’ve got to love that, for one day a year, an obscure village on the Cheshire/Shropshire border becomes the focus for drone-driven dance music. There will be Northumbrian pipes, uilleann pipes, border pipes, English bagpipes and so much more than » Continue Reading.
18 months ago I bought a melodeon. This was no rash purchase; it was going to happen some day and I was having a particularly good week and the time felt right, even though I knew it would be some time before I got round to learning to play the thing. So it remains.
I played the piano as a pre-teen. I can read music. But that was all 40 years ago and more. Anyone out there paying any notice to my posts will know that I have recently taken to singing like the proverbial duck to water, but truth be told, I’m a lover of instrumentals at heart. Where I really want to be is in amongst the musicians in a session.
I was at several such sessions over the Easter weekend – fiddlers, guitarists, box players attentive to each other’s chords and progressions, learning from each other, bouncing off each other. I see the fingers feeling their way over frets and keys, familiar with shapes and patterns. I imagine that these old hands know how to translate with facility the note they hear in their head through their digits to expression in sound. I’m sure that those who » Continue Reading.
House Music – in the folk tradition
The folk world has quickly established a new tradition. The deal is this. A houseful of songwriters are packed off to some remote location and told to be creative in each other’s company for the next week, and come back in time for a set concert debut. If this sounds to you like a folkie Big Brother, know that plenty of musicians have already made that observation. We never get to hear how Kathryn Roberts likes her toast, or whether Martin Simpson pulls his weight in the kitchen, but what we do know is that the musical output is often remarkable. It is typically festivals or various arts bodies that commission these and to prompt the creativity, there is usually a kernel of an idea – a concept if you like – to guide the subject matter of the songs. I have sufficient numbers of them to have a dedicated section in my CD racking and they get played more than most.
Last summer, ten women set sail for Eigg in the Inner Hebrides, in the wake of the Scottish referendum, to contemplate ‘separation’ in whatever manifestation they chose. The resulting Songs of » Continue Reading.
I shall be on leave in late June, so today I have applied for my postal vote. If there’s a vote to be had, I shall exercise my democratic right, as fought for by our predecessors.
I shall vote. But truth be told, on this occasion, I don’t think I should have a vote. Referendums just ain’t the way to do things. Every few years. the electorate gets the chance to vote for a parliament that should pull together a coherent plan that integrates policies in all those areas where a government exercises power. Once they have elected that government, they should leave them to it and should not have the chance to vote on one particular decision or policy. An electorate’s decision on one issue may be completely at odds with all other policies, with all the dysfunction that that implies. Put it this way, if you had a referendum on the base rate of tax, and then a referendum on free tertiary education provision on the same day, you can bet that the outcome would a mandate for a low tax rate that could not support the mandate for tertiary education free at the point of provision.
I don’t hibernate. I keep active through the winter. I’m no hypochondriac and I wouldn’t insult genuine sufferers by suggesting I experienced SAD. But I can’t deny that I live for the summer. Life for me revolves around cycling and festivals and there’s no getting away from the fact that both work better with warm sunshine and long hours of daylight. I book my festivals as early as I can; it makes tangible the prospect of a distant season long before it arrives. It helps me cope with the winter sogginess of this England’s cheerless marshes, as someone may have said.
Boy, how I understand why the pagans celebrated certain key dates of the year – the turning points, the banishing of the darkness, the renewal of fertility. But Midwinter’s Day just isn’t, is it? The middle of winter, I mean. There’s far too much still to come. But today it was light as I cycled home at five o’clock, earlier in the week there were blue tits singing like it was spring. By the second weekend in February, you can believe that the end is in sight; we have passed Top Dead Centre of winter. Now we dare celebrate. » Continue Reading.
Evening all. Last minute, my mate can’t make it to tomorrow night’s concert 19.30 at The Bridgewater Hall. So there’s a spare ticket for an evening dubbed Espana, packed with the familiar and the favourite, including Falla’s Three Cornered Hat, Ravel’s Bolero, culminating with Craig Ogden playing Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez. It’s a good circle seat, for which I would only ask a contribution towards the original £40 price. You also would get the pleasure of sitting next to me at a gig which, believe me, is a lot better than sitting behind me. https://tickets.bridgewater-hall.co.uk/single/eventDetail.aspx?p=29405
It’s that time of year again. I have chopped up the rind off a couple of rolled gammon I cooked last week, ready to sprinkle on the wall outside my desk window. The birdfeeder is replenished with a more meticulous regime than is usual. Yes, it’s the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, where the members of the UK’s biggest subscription organisation set time aside to do a proper, and invaluable, biogeographical survey of their own backyard. From this, experts will map and plot the ebb and flow of species, indicating the health or otherwise of our natural and man made habitats.
I love it. Every year, I wonder how I am going to tame my usual tendencies for constant activity and busy schedules, and sit for a whole hour. At first, I find it hard. My eyes haven’t adjusted to pick up on every camouflaged movement, or to differentiate between all the ‘little brown jobs’. I’m much better at identifying birds by their song than by sight. But then, unmoving but thoroughly moved, I detect so much more that is going on around me, presumably all the time. It’s a great piece of downtime. I am forced to sit and observe » Continue Reading.
I’m a crap heckler. But it’s so tempting at folk gigs; they’re usually small audiences and very often you really have had chats with the musicians, so it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you can have a conversation between audience and stage. But the chances are that your supposed choice words were inaudible to all but you and merely disrupted the flow of performance. Some artists probably relish the banter, and it casts them in a good light. Others must find it less welcome; God knows, since I’ve started performing, I can’t imagine how I’d deal with it myself. So, I usually come away from opening my gob, wishing I hadn’t and feeling just a little bit stupid.
That said, I had a proud heckle last month at the Martin Simpson / Dom Flemons gig at Band on the Wall. The set was largely acoustic and they were about to play a jugband number, when Dom walks on stage with an electric kettle. It was clearly a set up, but the cross was well laid, the goal open, so it was irresistible. “Judas!” I cried. Mr Simpson was clearly delighted and, aside, explained to his » Continue Reading.
On Friday morning at 8 o’clock, I will set off at a laden-Landrover-defined speed of around 40 mph for Shrewsbury. I know exactly how long it will take, just under 2 hours, as I make the same journey on the same Friday each year. SatNav? SchmatNav! I don’t even need one of my much loved maps. The route is hardwired. The litany of Marcher placenames is entirely reassuring : Wimboldsley, Sound, Burleydam, Edstaston, Preston Gubbals. At Bomere Heath, I am almost there. No matter the names on the fingerposts, I am familiar enough with the hedgerows to home my way there.
Making the same journey at the same time each year brings other associations: the angle of morning sun, the likelihood of mist and dew on the meadows, the songbirds mustering voice for their last autumn hurrah after the lull of summer. Indeed, until I started doing Shrewsbury, I never realised just how autumnal is the August Bank Holiday weekend.
I could go by a different route, but I never will now. It would be almost blasphemous. It is fair to say that I order my world in geographical terms. So I can appreciate how set paths were used » Continue Reading.
Despite having had plenty of practice over the years, I still like to be well prepared before setting off for a festival. For a few days before departure, my map library – yes, I have a room so designated – serves as a loading bay and is filled up in readiness with all the necessaries. No last minute packing for me, and anyway, it heightens the anticipation. Yet I still worry that I’ve missed an essential. Here’s the list so far.
Airbed / inflater Sleeping bag / pillows Spongebag / Drugs inc inhalers and antihistamines Table / Chairs / Gazebo / Windbreaks / Mallet Celery Salt Worcestershire Sauce Tomato Juice Peppermill Stolichnaya TICKET !!!!! never forgotten it yet, but I live in fear Lyrics for singarounds Kilts (three) x Shirts, where x = y+3z ; y being the number of days ; z being the number of ceilidhs Shreddies Kecks – long and short Wellies / dancing shoes / boots Tumblers Hipflasks (three) Mug / teabags Highland Park Old Pulteney Talisker Laphraoig Oban Scapa Jim Beam Penderyn Waterproofs Flagpoles / flags
Help me out. Have I missed anything?
In case you hadn’t noticed, in less than a decent night’s sleep, the polling booths will open across the UK. I’ve set my alarm 10 minutes earlier than otherwise so that I can cast my vote on the way to the station. In this rural parish, I guarantee I will be the first voter to cross the threshold. In the unlikely event of there being an exit poll, it will throw the pundits into a frenzy, as they extrapolate into a forecast of a kicking for the Chancellor. The two officials, if that is what they be, will resemble the Miss Tibbs, residential at Fawlty Towers, and will cluck and gurgle about their duty. They will comment, as they check my voting paper, that I am the young man (I’m 52) who lives round the back of so-and-so. I will not see them again until the next democratic opportunity. I go dancing at loads of village halls around the country, but this is the only occasion when I visit the one in my home village, tucked away in it’s 1960s prefabness, round the side of the parish church, which in turn is set out in the fields. I haven’t a » Continue Reading.
Two reviews in this month’s issue of fRoots caught my eye – the new albums by Spiro and Lau, two bands to whom I am no stranger. Many of us probably still read stacks of reviews every month. So what does it take to make us sit up and take notice?
The Spiro album is described as ‘acoustic techno early chamber minimalist’. In five words the reviewer has encapsulated a personalised message that might have gone something like this : ‘Dear Mr Cat, You may not have heard of us, but most definitely we have heard of you. We at Real World Records have been monitoring your gig attendance, done a time and motion study of you at festivals, checked what you listen to on Spotify and surreptitiously gained entry to your house to examine your CD collection. Further, a sophisticated program analysed the collected data and ran it past your lobes and synapses for verification. From this information, we know exactly what will float your boat and, as a result, Spiro have fashioned an album for you specifically, to which you will be swooning for the rest of the summer.’
The Lau review begins ‘Lau have never been shy » Continue Reading.
Just caught the train back from town after a leaving do. There was my bike in one piece, but not quite. Here in my prosperous Cheshire market town, someone had made the effort to nick my light brackets, front and back.
As a crime, this must rate as one of the most gratuitous. As you get through front and back lights, you always end up with more brackets than you need, even with the fleet of bikes I’ve got. Other nickable items – saddle, pedals – could just about make sense. But the light brackets?
Any stories to share with this victim of the most literal of petty crimes?
We don’t have the chance to preview posts at the moment. That was useful for checking that links and formatting had worked as planned (and to think again before making a regrettable post.)
Anything else not quite as before that we’d like to mither Admin about (somewhat ungraciously given the overriding euphoria at having the blog back)?