Thursday, March 31, 2022

New Things

I keep thinking of new ways to teach the song writing students. On Monday, we listened to the actor Richard Burton reciting the John Donne poem Catch a Falling Star, and first of all invented all kinds of backing vocal harmonies to it, and then made melodies for it with different moods. Once we got started, we could probably have gone on all afternoon. There is so much to discover in sound and words. Coming back into a teaching room after being away playing music feels very honest: there are no layers of institutional artifice, and it feels as though the students and me are together on a creative mission. I wonder if they feel like that?

Earlier this week, my fingers were literally itching to play guitar. I had to pick it up and play, and I was hoping to do bit more work on my album, although I was awestruck by the quality of Kenji's new songs and the standard of sound he has achieved. Next week, next week... It's weird having made decisions about the songs I want to record because as soon as that decision is made, I immediately start writing more songs that want to compete with the ones I'm committed to. Unfaithful creatures!

There are all sorts of things in the pipeline, but I've yet to see them emerge. I can hear the rumblings, but not see the shape or form. I suppose you could say that about life in general.

Bandcamp Friday: 'The Sea' plus 'The Sea'

Colouring/lyric/chord book plus digital downloads, all for a tenner plus postage and packing.

Printed on high quality paper: sing, while you play, while you colour-in! 

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

At The Beer School

After a day relaxing in Manchester, I caught the train to Westhoughton for the gig at The Beer School. Lovely to see Darren-from-Bolton from Sunday Drawing Club and his partner Becky, and also Phil, the Man-Who-Saws-People-In-Half who I haven't seen for years, and who Lester Square and me know from Edinburgh Fringe shows in the 1980s. Blimey! And he is now a musician, too.

It was a completely informal gig, and we were joined on the decks by Kevin and Linda playing 1980s vinyl treasures, a.k.a. Atomic Pop Disco.

Amy was on fine form, singing some new songs. I particularly liked A Letter to Stephanie. This is another of her songs:

We sang our sets spliced together, two 20 minute slots each. People wandered in and out, ate cakes and drank beer, of course. I do miss Amy- I can understand why she left London and she is much happier in Westhoughton. We all conferred and there will be more gigs afoot at some point, with all of us.

You know what, I was knackered when I got home. More stinky trains, this one 30 minutes late. 

The thing is, it was a great gigging adventure!

At The Glad Café

I had forgotten how much my identity is linked to travelling around and playing music- those rituals! These journeys were all by train, the vomit-inducing stench of Avanti west coast trains convincing me that I'd succumbed to Covid until I disembarked at Glasgow Central and inhaled the fresh-ish Scottish air.

I went straight to the Glad Café via Crossmyloof station (name!) and was delighted to see that everyone was taking sensible precautions and wearing a mask. Saskia and Russ arrived soon afterwards and we did sound checks. There were a few blips: some of their equipment said 'no', and the pizza dough also said 'no'. There were a lot of Covid absences. But the evening was going to go ahead, and go ahead it did.

As soon as Kenji and Till appeared I knew it was all going to be OK. And there was Maria, and Howie, and Joe, and even Allan Dumbreck showed up later.

I asked Saskia and Russ to play because I wanted to see them play live after doing all of those Kevin Younger online nights during lockdown. A huge bunch of us made videos of us playing cover versions around a different monthly theme chosen by Kevin (Mr Unswitchable on Youtube). We became a community of assorted musicians, all held together by Kevin's warmth and wit. Once a month on a Saturday night, you could sit with your laptop, press 'refresh' and see all sorts of people doing their online thing, and you'd stop feeling quite so isolated.

Their cover of Tiger Feet got first prize out of the whole lot, in my estimation:

They were fabulous on Thursday- lo-fi scorching duelling guitars, witty and sometimes moving vocals and a great onstage presence. It was so enjoyable and engaging, and kicked off the night to a great start.

I was unexpectedly nervous, but from what I was told afterwards I think on this occasion it was a good thing. Ritchie the sound engineer needs to take first prize as the best person I've ever worked with for live sound. It was near-on perfect, and he had disinfected everything, even taking the microphone to bits to clean its inside and out. What attention to safety and detail! It's so important to be able to trust the person doing your sound and I absolutely could, and did. I played for an hour which passed in seconds, and I very much hope to be back. Thank you to Kim and everyone else there!

I sneaked a relatively new song in there, but mostly played songs that were comfortable to play, including a couple of singalongs (At The Bathing Pond and The Sea). I could still hear people singing through their masks (they are not 'muzzles': there's even a masked busker at Tottenham Court Road tube station) and it was a warm and lovely evening.

Afterwards we went for chips: huge, huge portions for drunken revellers. We devoured them back at Kenji and Till's even though we were not drunken. These guys were outside the chip shop. Who needs east London hipsters when there are stylers like this roaming the streets in Glasgae?

The next day, Kenji and me went for a long, long walk of more than six miles through the Glasgow streets while Till was at work. It's such an interesting city, full of surprises and beautiful round-the-corners. The evil hand of gentrification has yet to destroy parts of it although the cruel motorway has sliced through swathes of the city like a concrete octopus. Till cooked us a sumptuous dinner when he got back. Thank you guys, and the vegetarian lasagne will be waiting for you when you come to London!

Monday, March 28, 2022

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Pavement Artist

Sunday Drawing Club was on Wednesday this week. This is the pavement artist outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, drawing a donkey.


The scratch plate has just come loose on the Gretsch. I tried to remove the whole thing to get at the screws but I am not in the mood.

Smeg from King Kurt has a Gretsch, a proper vintage version of my green Single Anniversary, and he fixes his with Blu-Tack. If its good enough for him, its good enough for me. So that's exactly what I've done, and it works fine.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Glad Café on Thursday- and listening

It's been a day off- how rare these days! Gina Birch's rough mixes turned up in my inbox and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them. She really has her own sound, her own sonic signature. The album has been along time coming but it's well worth the wait.

I also started running through songs for Thursday's gig. It was so nice to hold my guitar in my arms again and listen to it's twinkly sound. Ah yes- the cutting of the fingernails of the left hand! Those days are back!

And this is who is playing on the bill with me- I first saw them at one of Kevin Younger's lifesaving lockdown nights, where we all were invited to play cover versions on a theme each time. Russ and Saskia always came up with the goods and I can't wait to see them play in real life, although we have met on a couple of occasions.

Tickets on the door, or advance from here:

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Vote Those F*ckers Out!

This is Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby singing Amy's anti-Tr*mp song, which has now been updated by Willie Gibson with UK-appropriate lyrics and an analogue electronic backing. I contributed the vocals and here's the CD and the download link:

All the proceeds from sales go to the Good Law Project, who I support anyway whenever I can.

P.S. there's a word there which I never sing because it won't come out of my mouth. The rest of it did though, easily!

Wednesday, March 16, 2022


Last Friday I got a call from Gina, who has been recording an album in Wandsworth co-produced by her with Youth (of Killing Joke fame). Could I go over and replicate some backing vocals that I'd recorded on one of her songs a few years ago?

I happened to be dropping off Offsprog One just around the corner (she has been staying with me since the beginning of February), and despite two separate Satnavs sending me in different directions before finally singing in unison, I managed to get there. It's one of my favourite Gina-songs, and the melodies came back to mind instantly- well, almost instantly. Fuelled by tea and time constraints, they were done fairly quickly and I also played a bit of fuzz guitar (so unlike me!) and I headed back north with a spring in my car.

I can't wait to hear these songs. Her album has been a long time in the making, but the songs are really strong and memorable. Hooray!

After a day of online tutorials yesterday, I was absolutely bursting to do some work on my own album. I decided to re-record a song I'd done at Ian Button's a couple of years ago that I think I played too fast. Even today, my instinct was to rush through it and it took a while to get into the groove, man. But I've got my singing voice back and I'm sure my mixing ears will follow on shortly. I need a good clear two days to do good vocals on the remaining songs and I may have to wait until after next week, because I'm heading to Glasgow and Westhoughton for gigs and visits. I have thirteen songs recorded now, at every stage from solid demo to finished. I just need time!

Monday, March 14, 2022


After a good two months of hardly playing and never singing, I've dusted off my vocal cords and flexed my fingers ready for the gigs next week and beyond. Thursday is at Glasgow Glad Café with the dynamic duo Big Russ Wilkins and Lightnin' Holling opening the evening. Do come, Glaswegian friends!

I have some new songs to play, which I've been recording for a new album, also stalled and awaiting vocals, guest musicians (watch this space) and a bit of mixing. Shall I relearn At The Bathing Pond? It's been a long time but I love singing it: And if I learn Femme Fatale, will people in the audience join in the chorus? What about The Sea Or even Glasgow Train

I've roughed up my fingertips, made a list, dug out some lost lyrics, and been surprised at exactly how many songs I've written and recorded. What an enjoyable and peaceful evening I've had, pottering in piles of lyrics, set lists and guitar chords. Roll on the gigs!

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

This Is The Kit at the Royal Albert Hall Last Night

Ah! Fingerpickers! Female fingerpickers! 

Fortune struck yesterday and I was unexpectedly given two tickets to see This Is the Kit at the wonderful Albert Hall. I said 'yes' before I even had time to think about the logistics of it all. I was due to drive to Battersea and back, and had had the worst day of the century (in a privileged London way) the day before.

But yes, and despite travelling to South Kensington Station on the Piccadilly tube line (which was closed) a swift race on padded feet through huge central London streets, flanked by enormous buildings, got me to the Albert Hall to meet my Champagne Friend in time. 

It's so 'proper' there! 

Real ushers, older men in smart maroon uniforms, arranged us outside the allotted doors in order of seat number, and ushered us in between songs (that's why they're called ushers!). Jesca Hoop was on stage, and we took our places in the front row just to the side to enjoy equally her snarky asides and her well-crafted songs. She has a lovely voice, and was flanked by a male bass player and a female multi-instrumentalist who sang harmonies with her that rose right up to the rafters of the gigantic ruby cavern. How did they sing so high and with such ease? I have no idea. My voice won't go there without squeaking, but they soared so gracefully that we listened with awe and admiration.

After a short beer-break during which we discussed our natural resistance to going out, This Is The Kit appeared. The centre of their universe, Kate, is tall and slender and had a new hat (she told us) that was absolutely ace. There was something Scottish about it, although she commented that the ribbons made it rather medieval. So Kate started off alone, just her and the banjo slotted into a striped belt. It was gorgeous to hear her voice and the banjo, so clear in such a huge space. One of my favourite female singers is Joan as Policewoman, and Kate's voice has a very similar timbre although I think there is more agility in it. The sound floated above the audience with crystal clarity, and you could feel a wave of affection from them. They had waited a long time for this gig, which had originally been planned for 2018. Picking-wise, she was perfect all night: nothing too tricksy, just absolutely great chords and fantastic songwriting. These were my favourite moments, the times when the band eased off and the whole evening went back to basics. But they were great musicians- a guy playing a Burns guitar traded licks with a mirror-image guy who changed shirts midway to a swanky red velvet number with silver stars. There was a horn section who played lush arrangements that made me turn green with envy in the dark. They kind of reminded me of my own horn players. A lot actually. And one of them played a flugelhorn, with that thick buttery tone filling out the middle of the chords in a very satisfying way. The drummer reminded me of Ian Button- not too much cymbal thrashing, more of a sensitive response to what was happening with the vocals. The band covered a lot of styles rolled into each song: here jazz, there prog rock, never straight rock or folk. They played for the songs, full throated and complete. Kate stood at the front, on tiptoes in pale blue socks, enjoying the hour. There was a lot of gratitude, including to Jesca Moon, who was invited to sing one of her own songs from an album Kate had contributed harmonies too. I thought it very gracious of a headline artist to show such respect to a support artist who has a solid reputation of her own. Indeed, we had all done a Mexican Wave earlier in the evening to thank her, at Kate's request.

The amazing hat was taken off, and then reappeared. The voice was steady and beautiful, and the songs were strong and hearty. It wasn't surprising that they all got a standing ovation from the audience at the end. Standing proud in a theatre-style line, they bowed to the crowd, huge smiles on their faces.

The whole evening was wonderful from start to finish. As we left, the staff thanked us for coming. I could have cried. I seem to have spent so much time in my life being on the receiving end of verbal abuse from students, and having positivity and kindness on tap for a whole evening was completely overwhelming. I was charmed by this alternative universe, by the music, by the atmosphere and by the little details, the best one of which was the point at which the (female) bass player declared: 'I'm starving, actually. I have been far too nervous to eat all day!'.

Playing The Royal Albert Hall is a big deal, isn't it? They did it with splendour, and some very cool back projections.

I went home with a nice chunk of horn riff playing on repeat in my head. In my own music world, that's what you call a 'result'. My own gigs start in two weeks time. I need to up my game, and in an odd sort of way I feel supported by seeing two absolutely ace female fingerpickers doing their stuff so naturally and so skilfully. 

Three cheers for female fingers, and thanks to Amanda and Larry for the night out!

Saturday, March 05, 2022

In Which Aldenham Country Park is Weird

Going stir-crazy, and despite the rain, we hopped into the car and went to Aldenham Country Park. It was strewn with pale green passive-aggressive notices but we ignored them, and went for a walk part of the way around the reservoir. We met some serene sheep on the way, and found some large clam shells in various places that looked as though they might have actually come from reservoir clams. I wonder if they did? There was a large notice telling us that the reservoir belonged to one lot of people, and the park belonged to someone else, and the reservoir owners definitely weren't responsible for any injuries or mishaps. Which is a pity, because there was a loose bit of netting on a wooden viewing platform that was a massive trip hazard. Could they have been trying to do away with us?

When we got hungry and thirsty we went to a little shack in the park and looked at the menu. 

'Can we have two pasties please?'

'Pasties will take 25 minutes. We have some sausage rolls here behind us, or you could have soup'. 

Did that mean we weren't allowed to have pasties? The two men looked at us, challengingly. 

'Is there another café here?'. 

'Yes, over there, but it sells the same things as us'.

The script had been written by Ivor Cutler and the afternoon became ever more surreal. At first, the six quid each plus £4.50 for parking (tokens and coins only) had seemed rather steep, but we were bored and we were there so I coughed up at the counter and we wandered into the farm. 

Small tinny speakers set on poles at intervals along the path were playing Hey Diddle Diddle and what sounded like American children's farm songs, at a low and sinister volume on repeat. We saw angry geese and a 'featured' muck heap. Two very grumpy Shetland ponies turned their backs to us in the drizzle. A batch of piglets suckled frantically in the gloom of a corrugated iron pigsty. Everywhere there were sodden teddies tied to poles and roofs: they were part of some sort of children's trail, and definitely not weatherproof. They drooped in the drizzle. We saw chickens just on the point of turning into hens, and more batches of piglets. There were Guinea pigs and rabbits. There was even an enclosure with baby tractors.

'Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumped over the moon...' drifted weakly behind us. I saw a flash of blue; it was a magnificent peacock was posing for photographs with an Indian family. Disdainfully it leapt down from the fence and marched down the path past us, jewelled tail trembling behind it.

An alpaca tried to make friends with a rabbit (it wasn't interested), and a clutch of turkeys glared at us through their netting enclosure.

A final waterlogged and podgy teddy watched us sadly as we headed into a little shed to wash our hands at child-sized sinks.

'Hey diddle diddle....' we passed more passive-aggressive pale green notices telling us it cost 5 quid to get into the farm (had the cashiers seen those?), and various other commands and instructions. We drove to the gate: 'NO EXIT'. 

Were we stuck here for all time, to be serenaded by the tinny tannoy with the nursery rhymes loop?

Eventually we found the way out. 

Verdict? It was well worth the money to experience surrealism at first hand. No amount of art gallery visits could possibly have been as peculiar as this. I fully expect to try to find the park another time, only to discover that it doesn't actually exist, apart from in my imagination.

Friday, March 04, 2022

Gigs, 2022

2022 gigs, starting with The Glad Café in Glasgow, 24th March

Stop press: Leicester is on the 14th, not the 4th! I missed the 1 off!

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Angel In The Trees

Hidden behind the trees and looming against a grey sky, the Angel of Lords Cricket Ground spreads its bobbly wings.

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Glasgow Glad Café, 24th March

This will be the first gig for ages: I've been semi-locked down for more than a month. I will be playing new songs, and I'm delighted to welcome Big Russ Wilkins and Lightnin' Holling to the bill as support. I'm so looking forward to this!

Tickets here: