Heading back home in a land downunder…

2016 was another busy year split between the UK & Australia

Brocket Hall

This year we flew out of the UK on Jan 6th so that we could play a posh wedding at Brocket Hall in rural Hertfordshire. Where we were playing had a ceiling with amazing rafters and the green room was also fantastic. The ‘green room’ is a space for the players to change before the gig, get refreshments and generally ‘chill out’ if there are any breaks in the performance. The problem with many ‘function’ bookings is that there are no facilities available either due to the venue, or the client not doing anything. Despite having a clause in the contract about this we often had to improvise, or even just sit in the van. So the green room at Brocket Hall was really nice and helped us to get ready both physically and psychologically for the gig.

This time we flew into Sydney so that we could meet up with so friends and relos (that means relations in UK terms!) including my fellow UK MU Executive Committee friend and colleague Andi Hopgood who just happened to be in Sydney when we were there. I also found the time to buy a second hand acoustic guitar – a rather thin Ovation – so that I’d have and acoustic to play for practice and any music sessions / gigs we might get. I have had an Ovation Celebrity in the UK for a number of years which became my favorite gig acoustic so the new one fitted in really well. 

We then planned to head down the coast to Melbourne and look at the places on the way. We were looking for a place to move to when we moved back permanently. I thought that the south coast – say around Tathra might work as it was was mutually inconvenient for the three major cities that I had music connections with – namely Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

Playing with Craig Lee Smith in MelbourneWe got to Melbourne near the end of January and did a few music sessions with friends including Bruce Stephens, Liam Davis and Craig-Lee Smith. February mainly saw us wondering around Melbourne enjoying ourselves and catching up with more muso friends. At the time Melbourne had the most active live music scene in Australia with more people going to gigs than to the various footy matches Melbournians seem to be addicted to. We also recorded a Heywood&Moore track for the Pocket Gods Shakespeare Verses Streaming (100×30) CD on my ancient laptop. The track is Bushed Lullaby  which I had originally created for a millennial Midsummer’s Night Dream production at the Queens Theatre in Hitchin (UK) for which I was musical director.

March was a bit busier with a single release (“Second time around“) which was launched at the Lomond music venue in north Melbourne. The track was played a lot on New Zealand’s TLC radio network so I guess that they loved the pedal steel guitar work from BJ Cole. A couple of days later we did some recording at Hugh McDonald’s studio with Rob Hornbuckle on bass and David Hicks on drums and Hugh engineering and playing some guitar parts. We recorded three tracks for the Heywood & Moore CD (Goodbye Yesterday) which all ended up on the album. Sadly this must have been one of the last albums that Hugh worked on as he passed away later in the year from cancer.

Hugh McDonald playing electric slide on Ticket to paradiseI had originally met up with Hugh, almost by chance, in 2002 when I decided to record my tracks for the WoodworX ‘Two short PlanX’ album in Australia after which we ended up as friends. It was a somewhat strange connection as his band Redgum started around the same time as my first professional band – Bluetongue. Redgum and Bluetongue actually appeared together on an EP released for a Ned Kelly Anniversary in 1980 (“100 YEARS A HERO” Bail Records). He laid down guitar parts for a number of my tracks over the years (40 days of rain, Goodbye Yesterday and Ticket to paradise) and it was a great shock when I heard that he had passed away.

The next stop was The National Festival in Canberra where my Bluetongue Bush Ceilidh Band was performing a late night extra at the Coorong social dance venue. As I mentioned above, Bluetongue was my first professional band which formed up in the late 1970s. This is where I was introduced to social dance when we had a regular gig at a series of bush dances at the Surrey Hills Community Centre in Sydney. This year the band was made up of Peter Anderson (accordion), Greg Hunt (fiddle), Ian Blake (bass) and John Jones (kit drums) while I was on electric guitar and band leader (there’s a bit of video here). We had a very rock based sound, maybe with a bit of jazz rock thrown in, which went down very well with the dancers. As it turns out this performance at the National Music Festival was probably the last gig we would ever do under that name. After I left the Bluetongue Bush Band it ran for a couple of more years but when I heard that it had folded I started using the name in the UK for any Aussie gigs I did over there. This gig featured my daughter Lisa calling which – apart from her fantastic calling – was a pretty amazing connection.

At the beginning of April we headed back to the UK to a packed gig schedule with our first being the Wild Duck holiday resort three days after we landed. From then on it was pretty solid gigs with a high proportion of hog roasts as the food for then band (and guests!). Highlight gigs over the next six months included a Thames River cruise, more holiday resorts, Broadstairs Festival as the band for Liz & John Scholey, an acoustic gig at The Alleycat Club in Denmark Street (London), at gig for Earl Spencer (Princess Di’s brother) at Althorp House, his gaff in Northamptonshire and a Contra gig for my daughter Lisa in Bristol (a first for me). I also started working with live banjo from Guy Rogers which was first time since my time in Bluetongue Bush Band with Lucy Gibson. I’d known Guy for a number of years through our work with the Musicians’ Union but this was the first time I’d actually worked with him in a band – he’s a great player and also did most of the banjo work on the Heywood & Moore album.

Apart from the gigs there was a lot of work handling the business, sorting out the set lists, doing rehearsals and we also did a couple of video shoots(Goodbye Yesterday, Friday feelin’ and Headin’ Home (for Xmas) with Mathew Hamilton Green. 2016 was also a busy year recording and releasing tracks into the real world both as Heywood & Moore and my solo stuff. I will be very brief here as I am going to do a blog on my history of recording and releasing music – maybe the next one. Anyway, I was really chuffed to do a number of gigs at the Alleycat Club in Denmark Street which was one of the classic music venues in the heart of London’s music scene. It was also below the studio where The Rolling Stones recorded their first LP so it had a really historic rock ‘n’ roll feel about it. We also appeared on radio and cable TV to talk about the new Heywood & Moore CD and even do some live acoustic sessions.

Throughout the year we also got a chance to see (and hear!) some great music from performers including Hugh McDonald, Rebecca Hollweg, True Brit, The Seekers (show), Weeping Willows, Stray Hens, McGoozer, Michael Armstrong, Lizzie Dean, Kacey Musgrave (we got caught on the BBC special at 43:15!), Wishbone Ash, Australian Pink Floyd and Lord Algie. I also met John Otway (again), Ginger Gilmour, Paul Brett, Steve Blacknell, Owen Paul, Mungo Jerry (who came along and supported our single launch), Jona G Lewie, Sasha McVeigh and photographer Christina Jansen who was Muhammad Ali’s favorite English photographer.

The last gig of the year was a Hoedown Band gig on New Year’s Eve at The Poacher’s Cottage near Stoke on Trent (UK) which was part of a restaurant chain. The band was a five piece including Guy Rogers on banjo giving a nice big sound. After the gig, Dawn and I headed back to Dunstable to unload the van, pick up our bags and head off to Heathrow Airport to catch a flight to Sydney as part of our continuing search to find a place to live in Australia – as well as do various musical things.

Catch you next year.

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Talking the talk, walking the walk…

Only 5 years to catch up on now so I reckon that I’ll try and power quickly through 2015…

For me (and Dawn), the year starts out in England as we finish off a gig at the Lamb Inn in Burford – which was a regular NYE gig that we’d done for a few years, but this was the first time that we’d done it as a country hoedown (which went down very well indeed). After this we headed home to get ready to fly out to Australia. – the idea was to get sleep on the flight.

As Dawn posted on FB –

  “Well cheerio to 2014. Highs and lows.
    Busy busy busy with 80 plus gigs … No wonder we’re a tad tired!
    Home less than an hour. Van emptied. Showered. Packed our bags and 
   heading off to Heathrow. January 2nd hit Melbourne.
   Awesome start to 2015 … Who Hoo!

I had agreed to play at Tasmania’s Cygnet Folk Festival with my WoodworX trio. No money of course, but it was part of my plan to get back into the Australian music scene. It was the first time I’d been to Tasmania since a trip there when I was at high school, so it was great to get back in touch. I found out more recently that the drummer from my first serious band MSG – Mike Gissing – had moved there so we probably walked past each other without recognition. The other two members of the trio were Marilla Holmes (female vocals) and Peter Anderson (accordion and acoustic guitar). WoodworX was originally a collaboration between myself and another Australian singer Toni Wood (thus the name) playing a mix of Australiana and blues. As Toni had moved to Germany, I needed to find someone to fill her role and I had done some work with Marilla at the National Festival in Canberra a couple of years before. We went down well, though the blues stuff was more successful that the Aussie songs.

After Cygnet we trekked up to the Tamworth Music Festival to help out Marilla who was performing at Andrew Clermont’s Supper Club. It was the first time I’d been to the music festival and met some great performers (and saw some very bad buskers!). One funny thing was that we met some Tamworth residents in Tasmania who had fled south to get away from the festival crowds! The other first for me was to do my first trans gig when asked to play on stage for ladies night. The last gig was another freebie for my cousin’s local Australia day party down in the Hunter Valley – another first for me.

So then back to England to a packed gig schedule with highlights being gigs for the Duke of Bedford, Green King and various festivals including the East Barnet Festival – the biggest Community festival n London. We were booked for the last one by Barry Ainsworth who was the recording engineer for the classic Otis Reading song ‘Sitting on the dock of the bay”. Apparently he was the one who suggested the whistling at the end of the track. The Hoedown Band also did a northern tour with 10 gigs in the week around July 4th and when Mungo Jerry came along to the launch of our Christmas single in London and hopped up on stage to perform his 70’s hit – ‘In the summertime”.

Another highlight was a gig with world famous Pedal Steel guitarist – BJ Cole – who also recorded some parts for the first Heywood & Moore album that we started recording this year. A great bloke and a fantastic musician. I also did an Aussie gig in London in November when I depped on guitar for Doug Jenner’s bush band – Buckley’s Chance – for a gig at the International Maritime Organization that was being hosted by the Australian Government.

On the recording side we provided a Hoedown Band track and I provided three instrumental tracks for Nub Records’ 100×30 album. This CD was a pointed political comment on the way Spotify treated – and paid for – tracks that they streamed and generated quite a bit of journalist comments, got into the Guinness Book of Records and changed the way Spotify regarded tracks (not for the better sadly). We later also did tracks for the Shakespeare and Christmas CDs as well. Other recording and studio included many radio interviews and we also recorded some station idents for our hosts.

The year ended with a NYE party dance in the home counties. No mad flight this time, we waited till Jan 6th before we flew back to Australia. Will say something about this in the next blog.

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Changing places – catchup continued (2014)…

This blog is part of a very rapid tour of what I’ve been up to over the last five years, only four years to go….

So on with the motley…

January was pretty much of a washout as I was moving from the house I had lived in since 1993 into a flat nearby. Moving meant that I also moved away from the recording studio I had built up over the last twenty years. Now having a studio in the house is one of the things that most musicians crave and, while I did make good use of it in both my music and writing work, now that mine is gone there are some thoughts that occur to be about how much of a good idea this is.

The appeal is obvious; any time (night or day) you can pop down to the studio and put down an idea, you can record your next demo or single / album release without the expense of going to a commercial studio, you can even make it into an income stream by recording other musicians or ‘voice overs’. I did all these but not nearly as much as I expected I would. For a start, having it so near, so convenient, is a boon to procrastination. When you hire a commercial studio you have to prepare and work to a deadline which tends to concentrate the mind.

Another advantage of going somewhere else is that you get another pair of ears. If you have to be an engineer, producer and musician all at the same time tends to get confusing. Each of these roles has a seperate set of criteria and trying to do them simultaneously means that you can do none of them well. Having a sound engineer / producer that you trust means that you can concentrate on the main task of doing a good performance without having to control the machinery. After going studioless I developed a great relationship with a local project studio which has not only increased the quality of the music I produce but also the quantity.

Recording other musicians / bands in your studio also sounds like easy money, but it turns out that you are always on the wrong side of the glass, often trying to get the best out of inexperienced (let’s be charitable here) players. If your aim is to create your own music then the time spent is wasted and frustrating to boot. I’ve had some great musos in the studio as well as dire ones – like the bloke who wanted to use his recorded song as a seduction tool and wanted to come back into the studio every time he had a new paramour in mind to change the name of the girl in the song. And at the end of the day, do you really want a bunch of death metal players of dubious intent in your house?

January is always pretty quiet for live music but in February things started moving again though I had a gig cancelled due to stormy weather taking out the power at the venue. After knocking the covers band (Stencil) on the head we decided to give smaller venues a go with a duo doing a mix of country and pop songs with backing tracks to fill out the sound. Our first outing was at Jono’s Bar somewhere in north London which went pretty well for a pub gig.

I also decided to give BASCA (British Academy of Songwriters, Composers & Authors) a go to help push my songwriting and perhaps do a bit of networking. Towards the end of February I went to one of their events at their headquarters in London. The idea was that you would play some of your tracks to a panel from the music industry and they would give you an honest appraisal and advice. For me the whole exercise was something of a washout as it turned out the that the tracks were only shared with the other writers attending who selected one track to put before the panel. I was also called a ‘monkey’ by one of the other writers when I mentioned I was a working musician (she was a photographer BTW). Apparently my practical knowledge of music would sully the high art of writing a pop song!

Spring brought Cheltenham Gold Cup Festival which we were booked for the fourth year running – doing a a mix of celtic, pop and country music. This is the second time we’ve done this as a duo and we decided to use backing tracks again for some of the sets again. Last year I did this using Windows Media Player on a little Samsung Netbook I have. In the intervening year I did some research and settled on Anasoft’s OnStagePlayer which is a dedicated Media Player extension that allows groups of backing tracks to be arranged in sets. As the software is controlled by ‘hot keys’ I purchased a double USB footswitch to control the software; starting and stopping the tracks and selecting the next one etc. I also bought a little Mackie mixing desk with a USB input to keep the audio signal in the digital domain until it reached the link to the PA – a BOSE L1 Compact system.

The gigs went down well but unfortunately I had a RTA (Road Traffic Accident) on the way home when a stupid driver ignored a Giveway sign on a country road and shot out in front of the van and we collided. Luckily no one was injured and I was able to get the damaged van home before it conked out completely. I was registered with the UK Musician’s Motoring and Accident Aftercare benefit which arranged a replacement hire vehicle while they negotiated with the other driver’s insurance company for the cost of repairing the van.

The rest of spring was busy with Hoedown Band gigs including a secret gig in London for which we all had to sign a non-disclosure agreement! Other gigs included Hoedown playing at The White Hart in Alfreton, a large charity event in Stoke-on-Trent and acoustic duo gigs with Dawn Moore for Music in Hospitals. I also had to take a quick trip to Australia for family reasons.

After returning to the UK at the end of May The Hoedown Band performed on Yarmouth ferry dock for the Old Gaffers Festival on the Isle of Wight. Man-mountain Huw Pryce was on bass guitar and this is what he wrote on his Facebook page about it…

Big up to the Hoedowns for a great day out. Odyssey of an outward journey, cliffhanger arrival. To Brian Heywood for doing most of the driving while jetlagged half to death. To Mike and Debbie for not being on Facebook. To Dawn Moore for inviting me and spraying my armpits in the dressing room (ferry terminal car park – we’re more of a piece of street theatre than a band at points). To the feral shanty band named after a mouthwash and their cute girl singer with the black knickers. To the two elderly ladies who came crashing down so spectacularly on the tarmac, to rise immediately and begin dancing again. And to the 18 year old Asian lad who served my exceptional breakfast kebab with extra chilli while fending off the attentions of three really fabulous drunk girls. All with two short sea voyages thrown in.

Not a bad day out all in all.” – Huw Pryce

The rest of the year carried on being very busy for the Hoedown Band with highlights being a fundraising barn dance in aid of a primary school in Fishbourne, Invicta Barracks in Maidstone and another charity gig in Enfield.

One unexpected surprize was meeting up with Anita – who was a lead singer in Rick Cristian’s Open Road at the same I was – at a gig at her school and a massive charity barndance for the National Farmers Union (NFU) which caused a traffic jam in Enfield (north London). I also did a solo gig for Luton promoter PDM at the Four Hourseshoes which stretched my audience engagement skills somewhat.

In August my youngest daughter called at the Towersey Folk Festival Dance tent with one of Simon Care’s ceilidh bands. Lisa has been going to barn dances – and festivals- since she was very young so it’s not surprising that she has a talent for this. It was great to be in the audience for once and have a bit of a dance!

The following month the Hoedown played a rare public ‘pub gig’ at the Nags Head in Dunstable. This type of gig is really very odd and we don’t do them very often. People often consider this kind of gig the basis of live music scene but I’m not sure I entirely agree. While they can help young bands develop their performance skills, unless the pub puts some effort into the staging and advertising the event then it’s just a waste of time for both the band and the pub. There were some good music pubs in the area but random pubs putting on random gigs really don’t cut the mustard and really just keep the standards – and fees – down. This kind of gig also favours the hobby band with a large number of friends and relations (F&R’s) over professional bands so I guess that’s another reason why I’m not keen on this kind of gig.

The end of the year had some remarkable milestones with the first recording sessions for the Heywood-Moore album at Latent Lemon studios in Luton under the amazingly talented and competant Justin Saban. In December my barn dance band had its last gig under the name of the MoonDance

Ceilidh Band (renamed to The Barn Dance Band) after a run of 14 years. This was due to the popularity of the Hoedown Band and the difficulty of competing with hobby bands who charge very low fees – since it really is a form of entertainment to them – paid for by the day job.

The last gig of the year was a NYE gig at the Lamb Inn in Burford and then home in less than an hour. After that we emptied the van, showered, did some final packing, then loaded our bags into a taxi and headed off to Heathrow for our flight to Melbourne.

So goodbye 2014 full of highs and lows with 80 plus gigs and a new world ahead of us with an awesome start to 2015.

See next the next installment for 2015 (only three years to go!).

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Where does the time go – or Catch up (if you can)

It’s been awhile since my last blog, perhaps I shouldn’t have written at the end of the last one;

Well that’s the end of Part One. My next blog will cover the Summer of 2013 and will be posted in the next week or so…

Since then I’ve had quite a ride – over 260 gigs in both the UK and Australia, multiple single releases (two of which charted in Australia), an album release as well as an award nomination from Independent Country Music Australia (ICMA) for the “Most Popular Independent Duo” cataegory for our Heywood-Moore alt.country / country rock project.

Now, as I am in the process of moving back to Australia, hopefully to the NSW north coast near Port Macquarie, I thought I pick up the thred that I dropped in 2014 and bring the this blog up-to-date so that I can start posting more contemporaneous news and get back to being a more opinion and fact based blog based on my day-to-day experience as a freerange musician.

2013 (part 2)

I dropped the ball at the end of spring after playing a cracking gig with my Aussie bush dance band (Bluetongue Dance Band- http://www.bluetongue.co) at the National Festival in Canberra.

Back in England we had a very short break before kicking off with the rest of that years’ schedule of over 50 gigs. Notable bookings included Coleen Nolan’s Wild West Party at the Old Trafford Cricket ground in aid of Sara’s Hope Foundation and – apart from us – featured The Nolan Sisters singing their hit single “I’m In the Mood for Dancing” and one of the Atomic Kittens as a guest.

At the other end of the spectrum we played a couple of open air sets in Luton Town Square in aid of the visit by the Austerity Bus (organised by the Musicians’ Union). The final gig was in The Lamb pub in Burford, Oxfordshire which was the final gig for our rock/pop band Stencil. We decided to concentrate on the country rock band (The Hoedown Band) which was proving very popular with our mixture of raucous rock versions of country favourites and called line and barn dance. This fulfilled a long held ambition of mine to combine song and social dance in a single format.

Another new musical adventure that we embarked on in 2013 was playing concerts for the charity Music in Hospitals. I had originally done some work for the organisation in the 1990’s when I played with Rich Christian’s band – The Open Road. However earlier in the year Dawn and I did an audition for them in Birmingham and from may we started doing more concerts around the country – mainly in aged care homes but also in hospitals, hospices and community social clubs. Our repertoire of popular songs from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s being appropriate to the folk who were now in that form of care. The full name of the charity is “Music in Hospitals & Care” (MiHC) and their aim is to bring interactive live music sessions to people who are receiving care or treatment in healthcare settings across the UK. The aim is to make people feel good, one tune at a time. MiHC is a UK charity, founded in 1948 and the live musical sessions are designed to humanise clinical settings, to reach and connect people, to encourage communication and meaningful interactions and to elicit emotions and memories when it matters most. Our experience was that music is a form of communication that remains after all else has failed. You can find out more about the charity from their website.

One final episode from 2013. I’ve always felt close to grassroots in music and one visitor I had in May was a slow worm, the first I’d ever seen. It’s not a snake but a legless lizard. You can’t get much closer to the grass roots than that!

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A year of living dangerously… [part one]

It’s been more than a year since I’ve put my thoughts down in this blog and what a year it’s been…

So what I’ll do a quick run through peppered with some random thoughts. Pay attention, there may a short quiz at the end (only kidding!)…

January always tends to be a quiet and so after a quick trip to Egypt (the first real holiday for more than a decade) the gig action kicked off towards the end of the month with a Burns’ Night Event in Kimbolton Cambs followed by another one for our friends in the Army Medical Corps at the end of the month in Aldershot.

The first of these was actually a gig that should have been the previous September. An agent that gives me a fair amount of work had asked – as a favour – to give the client an especially good price as a ‘mates rate’. I agreed to this since it seemed to be a good idea to keep on the good side of the agency. The problem was when the client wanted to postpone the gig due to poor ticket sales so I had to decide whether to agree to this or not. To insist on the agreed date and fee would be likely to cause a kerfuffle with the agent, but the postponement meant that I had a hole in an otherwise full calendar.

Furthermore, he proposed new date was a Burns’ Night which tends to be a higher payer due to the demand for bands. I agreed with some reservations – and a higher fee – but still I feel the agent should have known better in the first place than to ask for a lower fee, and then to push me to change the date. The client may be forgiven for not knowing what the score was when booking a professional band, but not so the agent. A good example of the adage “no good deed goes unpunished” I guess.

The Army is almost always a good gig as they have a culture of putting on events, a tradition of how to behave and they know how to let themselves have a good time. This was the fourth year running that we had played for this bunch, though we almost lost the gig the previous year due to the agent (not the same as the one above). The venue was different due to the relocation of the unit within the town. A good time was had by all as usual. I’ve put in a video from an earlier gig to give you a taster…

February was also quiet with just one paid gig at the beginning of the month which was a Hoedown for a 50th birthday party in a church hall in Kent. This gig featured the amazing Liz Scholey calling who I would say is the best caller in the land for this kind of event. Liz is a dance powerhouse and the only person I know who can kick higher than her head. She manages to communicate her amazing enthusiasm for dance to the audience and a good time is guaranteed for all.

This gig was the second we’d done at the this venue and was in the Hoedown Party format which is a mix of rockin’ country songs interspersed with barn and line dance segments. This was the first gig that we used the small BOSE pole system (i.e. the compact) which was loud enough to require that I mic’d up the drum kit. I was very impressed with the system which we had borrowed off Liz for the night. This was also the gig that I realised that the fiddle player was pretty much an optional extra with respect to the band’s sound.

This gig also marks the transition from working mainly as a ceilidh / barn dance musician to mainly playing in the new Hoedown format. In 2012 60% of my gigs were barn dance / ceilidh, either with MoonDance or one of the acoustic lineups (MoonLighting / MoonDance Acoustic), 30% the Hoedown Band and the other 10% a mix of covers / celtic / original and poetry.  In 2013 the Hoedown gigs hit 60% with and increase in the overall number of gigs by over a third.

Since then I’ve thought a lot about the change in direction but, apart from the obvious commercial reasons, it does make sense since my path up to this point had been via the folk rock genre, and country music comes from the same roots, albeit via a different path. Also, the combination of social dance (i.e. barn/line dance) with songs is something that I’ve been trying to do ever since I arrived in England in the early eighties.

The mix of country music and dance is much more compatible than trying to use english folk (or folk rock) – which most English audiences don’t ‘get’. The other thing I tried over the last couple or years was bolting on a covers set to a ceilidh outfit which, with a few exceptions, was just plain awkward – neither fish nor fowl. Also, I reckon I have managed to put somewhat of an original feel on the whole thing, the resulting music having a distinct rock feel which differentiates the sound from a ‘straight’ country band – sort of folk rock with a north american accent. Anyway the audience vote with their feet, in this case by getting up to dance.

Brian Heywood

The Heroes at the Four Horseshoes in Luton

February finished with a rare live gig doing original material for one of the worthy PDM gigs at the Four Horseshoes in Luton. The gig also featured two other bands playing in the rock genre and though, it wasn’t well attended, we went down well. PDM is one of the few promoters around that don’t rip off the bands. PDM are dedicated to promoting original live music and musicians in Luton and Paul Curry – who also plays bass for Third Law, a well known local band that he helped form. I’ve done a number of gigs for him over the years and can highly recommend his dedication to the local music scene.

Hoedown Band

A great barn for a hoedown

March saw things starting to hot up with a Hoedown gig at a amazing barn in Wymondley near Stevenage. It was built by King Henry VIII and apparently has associations with the Knights Templar (not to be confused with the Barron Knights) though we didn’t see any evidence of Dan Brown there. It was a 60th and the birthday girl’s requested song was Country Girl (Shake it for me) which is an interesting mix of rock and (almost) rap. We liked it so much we kept it in the set.

Sloane Rangers

Sloane Rangers at Cheltenham Festival

The following week, Dawn and I did a run of gigs at the Cheltenham Festival which consists of four days of horse racing near the Welsh border. This was the fourth year I’d worked here, but the first as part of a duo. Previously they (i.e. Keith Prowse) had booked me to provide a band playing a mix of celtic and other material. However technical problems with sound isolation at the venue coupled with a tightening of the budget due to the recession meant that they needed to scale down. Luckily we had just started putting together a duo (now called the Sloane Rangers) which meant that I could pitch a cheaper option to them. The new format went down very well and they promised to book us the following year (which they did!).

The end of March saw me playing at the Australian National Folk Festival in Canberra with my Aussie outfit – The Bluetongue Bush Ceilidh Band. This ensemble is designed to bring back to Australia my experience of the current UK ‘e-Ceilidh’ scene. The ‘Nash’ line up featured a great bunch of musicians from both the Australian and English dance scene – namely; Peter Anderson on button accordion (and calling), Greg Hunt on fiddle, Ian Blake on bass, Jon Jones on kit drums and Dawn Moore calling. My aim is to bring the energy of rock and funk that I’ve developed over the years in the UK to the bush dance scene. The band debuted at the Fairbridge Festival in Pinjarra, Western Australiain 2009 and wowed the audiences there with both the ‘full on’ dance music and their approach to calling bush dance. In 2013 the band played at the National Festival In Canberra, receiving comments such as “…best dancing I’ve done in Australia” (Andy Stafford, Chippenham Folk Festival). It’s early days yet, but I hope to develop this idea over the next few years.

Bluetongue at The Nash in 2013

Bluetongue at The Nash in 2013

Well that’s the end of Part One. My next blog will cover the Summer of 2013 and will be posted in the next week or so…



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The death of live music in Luton / Dunstable / UK?

(if you want it)

(if you want it)

Live music is the most engaging – and least monetised – of all the multifarious forms of entertainment available to us here in the UK – and perhaps the western world. 

When I started writing my regular live column in the Luton News & Dunstable Gazette almost exactly 17 years ago, I saw it that my task was to write about the best in the local music scene. I also thought that this was a good place for highlighting interesting stuff which otherwise might not get into the press. So in October 1995 my first column covered local funk band Longevity, a gig at Luton’s 33 Club from the Chicago style blues rock outfit King Bizkit, A Madness / Bad Manners tribute band at Yate’s Wine Bar, a Halloween gig from Longlights’ Promotions in Dunstable and a review of a fund raising barn dance at Whipsnade Zoo.


Queensway HallSince then Dunstable’s Queensway Hall has been knocked down and converted to a supermarket, the 33 Arts Centre in Luton has been closed and now sits empty. We have gained The Grove Theatre and the Hat Factory but neither of these puts on any contemporary professional live music. It’s very easy to view venues like the Queensway and the 33 through rose tinted glasses, but having worked at both venues I know that they had real problems in terms of the sound (Queensway) and the facilities (33artscentre33 Club). However they were both on the touring circuit and both had some amazing acts passing through.

For instance the list of legendary bands that played in Dunstable included Hawkwind, New Model Army, Blue Öyster Cult, Magnum, Killing Joke, REM, Thin Lizzy,  Metallica, Level 42, Uli Jon Roth, Steve Hackett, Dr Feelgood, Marillion, Gary Moore, Pretenders, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motorhead and the Sex Pistols just to mention a few. The 33 Club had a different feel with many great American Jazz acts dropping in, sometimes doing their only UK dates there on the way through to Europe. While the Grove Theatre and the Hat Factory are technically far superior as venues, they don’t seem to be able to match the programming of the older (and now absent) inferior venues.

When I sit down to write my column every week, I get the information from a number of sources. First I rake through the emails people send me – which is mainly from the ‘professional’ theatres, venues, promoters and PR types. I then check any ‘events’ I may have flagged on Facebook and as a ‘last’ resort, search the web – usually via Lemonrock – for local gigs. It always amazes me how little effort most ‘up-and-coming’ local musicians and / or bands put into promoting their band / gig / album / whatever. If there are any ‘hot’ issues that effect the music scene – such as the recent changes in music licencing legislation – then I try to fit in stuff about this as well.

State of the local music scene Luton / Dunstable

One ‘feature’ of the local music scene is the lack of any venues that regularly put on acts that are active on the national music gig circuit. There are a few ‘one off’ gigs on occasion but generally you have to go elsewhere to see an act that you’ve actually heard of previously. You could argue that Luton and Dunstable fall into the ‘rain shadow’ cast by London, but surrounding towns don’t seem to suffer from this as much.

There seem to be more live bands appearing around the local area with mainly cover bands appearing at pubs and clubs in the area. The good new is that mostly the gigs are free to the punter with the venue owners realising that customers like a place with live music. In fact research from PRS for Music (Performing Rights Society) has revealed that live music is the best way for a venue to increase sales with 95% of publicans reporting an increase in takings when music is on their menu. It also turns out that pubs that don’t have live music are three times more likely to go bust than those who book bands.

PDM Gig at the Hat Factory..

PDM Gig at the Hat Factory..

There seems to be a dearth of outlets for any kind of original music. Apart from the Stirling work done by the chaps and chapesses of the PDM and LAMA the only way you get to hear new music / artists is via pub ‘Open Mic’ nights and jam sessions. A lot of pubs have jumped on the ‘Open Mic’ bandwagon and the ones I’ve been to tend to be pretty much of a “Curate’s egg” situation. Perhaps if they were just one part of a more vibrant local music scene then they would feed new talent into the mix. As it is it’s usually just a cheap way for a pub to be able to put ‘live music’ on its blackboard.

Public funding of the arts…

Lost ArtsFunding of the arts – or arts facilities – is a ‘hot topic’ at the moment as Local Authorities all around the country are under pressure to cut funding. In fact Newcastle City Council has completely cut its arts budget which has led to a lot of criticism being levelled at them. However this has also meant that other local authorities around the country are now considering following their lead as the arts are considered a ‘soft target’.

However, research shows that for every pound spent on the arts, two pounds of revenue is generated within the local economy. This means that massive cuts would essentially mean that the council would be shooting itself in the foot. I’ve not been able to get any hard information about the arts spend by the Luton council from their website, but I’m rather wondering if they are planning to penalise the local arts scene for the losses that they accrued from the big Olympic Torch Festival.

HatFActoryLogoThe recent Hat Factory stake holders meeting was an interesting insight into how the arts work in the People’s Republic of Luton. It seems that the council hived off the entire cultural part of the council’s remit to an independent charity that administers the libraries, the museum and all the arts venues. Luton Culture is currently mainly funded by Luton Borough Council (LBC) to the tune of five million pounds which is about 70% of the overall budget of the charity.

Anyway it seems that LBC will be slashing their contribution by around 40% over the next three years. Fortunately the fact that the charity is independent means that the council can’t just shut down the arts in the same way that Newcastle did. The reduction is pretty huge but the team at Luton Culture seem pretty confident that they can survive and continue to provide the core services including a Peripatetic Core arts team operating out the Hat Factory and Library Theatre. There will be cuts but arts will continue to be supported in Luton for the foreseeable future.

Heywood's HeroesWhile it is not the business of our local authorities to subsidise the local music (or arts) scene, they can – and should – consider both the cultural and business aspects of the local cultural scene. It is possible for the holders of our council tax revenue to provide ‘seed corn’ funding to encourage newcomers as well as established artists and promoters and help address any gross distortions in the local scene caused by factors under their control. This is part of their remit as our elected representatives .

The Alternative…

There is always the X-Factor and it’s ilk I suppose. While I realise that there is a place in the music world for the likes of Simon Cowell (presumably under a rock), the bands that really made the UK the leading light in popular music were those who got the top by the hard road through gigs in the pubs and clubs, playing to a live audience. The idea of Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Stones, Coldplay or The Police (to name just a few) getting to the top by going through the X-Factor sausage machine is a bit bizarre. No doubt the audiences will get bored with the pantomime of TV ‘talent’ competitions eventually.

The famous BBC Radio One DJ John Peel once said that the biggest enemy of new music was the music fan. As the mainstream music industry is run by bean counters whose only aim is to get their hands on the cash from the those same music fans then it’s not surprising that the music scene is constantly rehashing the old and ignoring the new. If punters are prepared to take risks and weather Sturgeon’s Law (90% of everything is crap) then there may be some hope of a vibrant music scene in the country and thus our local area. Otherwise we can look forward to a diet of rehashed hits from the 60’s (I can’t get no Satisfaction) and charming viral tosh from YouTube like Gangnam Style.

warning signThe Bottom Line…

We treat the British music scene as a given, a god given attribute of this cold and damp collection of islands perched on the north western edge of Europe. However if the ‘great British public’ don’t get off their collective backsides and go out to see some gigs then the whole shebang will wither on the vine and we’ll end up with a fantasy world of manufactured X-Factor style artists. These artists are chosen by a clique of promoters whose dedication to the music starts and stops at the bottom line.

My next blog will be a catch up on the gigs and other events from my arrival back in the UK in Spring 2012…

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Leaving on a jet plane…

On my recent trip to Australia I flew Qantas and, with one notable exception, I was very happy with the service of the flight and on-ground staff – both in the air and on the ground.

So, I’m at the departures desk at Darwin Airport to check in my baggage and pick up my boarding pass for flight QF0271 from Darwin to Singapore (Changi). Although this is a Qantas flight number, and I purchased all my flights through the Qantas website, this flight is operated by Jetstar (JQ061).

The guitar in question…

On checking in to this flight I was told by the check-in operator that I would be unable to take the travel guitar onto to the flight as the plane was ‘completely full’ (which turned out not to be the case by the way). I tried to explain that I only had one item of cabin baggage and that I had never had any other problems with other carriers. I also pointed out that the instrument was not in a flightcase and that it was likely to be damaged if it was put in the hold.

What other passengers were taking on board as cabin baggage…

I also asked for advice on what I needed to do to sort out the problem the operator basically told me to ‘go away and sort it out’. While this was not done in a particularly rude manner, the desk person was pretty abrupt and unhelpful. I would have thought that a referral to a supervisor or even the flight cabin crew as to whether they would consider that the item would be too bulky would have helped – just one phone call.

If this wasn’t bad enough, after checking the instrument in via the ‘bulky items’ facility and rather hoping that this would be handled separately  Imagine my horror when at Heathrow the instrument came out on the standard baggage carousel amongst all the huge (and heavy) cases that travellers use when travelling to the other side of the world. Luckily the instrument wasn’t damaged so I didn’t have to sort out a claim for compensation. I did have a very brief conversation with a Qantas customer support person in the departure area at Darwin, but while she was friendly, she was unable to help with this problem at that point.

This is the first time that I’ve been unable to take my travel guitar in as cabin baggage and I’ve flown all over the world with this guitar. Even United Airlines in the US – which has something of a reputation – didn’t hassle me. On this JetStar flight, most of the other passengers were taking two large bags – while I had just one small guitar case (see photos above).

I’m a professional musician who works mainly in the UK but, as I am an Australian citizen, I am planning to start working a proportion of the year in Australia, and as it’s such a big country, this will entail flying between various states to appear at festivals and so on. I am aware of the space contraints on flight’s and so for many years I have been flying with a Shapelywood Leisa travel guitar which is a very high quality acoustic instrument with a total length of just 81 cm.

The issue of taking instruments on planes is something of a ‘hot topic’ in recent years with some carriers making a point of being ‘musician friendly’ (UK’s EasyJet for instance). In fact US Congress has just passed legislation reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration to create a uniform policy regarding musical instruments on air planes  Specifically – “Any instrument that can be safely stored in the overhead compartment or under the seat may be brought on board as carry-on luggage.” This certainly would apply to the instrument in question – which is not only designed by the luthier to be so, but long experience with other carriers as proved this to be the case.

Up until this point I’d been extremely happy with Qantas. However, my advice to others in a similar situation would now have to be that musicians travelling with an instrument should think twice before flying with any carrier if Jetstar handle any of the hops. As Dave Carrol – who famously discomfited United Airlines with his “United Breaks Guitars” video – points out. Customer service in the age of the internet is judged on how an organisation handles the ‘special’ cases.

I did contact Qantas when I got back to the UK, though I’m not sure what I expected to get out of this. An apology would’ve been nice. Or perhaps, some kind of statement procedure or strategy that musicians can use when flying the Aussie flag carrier to prevent this kind of thing happening to them. I’d even be happy to distribute to UK musicians via the MU Journal’s correspondence page, my blog and through the various publications I write for. Even if the only advice is ‘Don’t fly Qantas’ if you want to take an instrument into the cabin then this at least would be a useful – and honest – response.

Instead, what I got was “Thank you for getting in touch and I’d like to let you know we were concerned to hear about your dissatisfaction with your Jetstar flight.” Which was good (ish), and then “As Jetstar is operated as a separate company to Qantas, you will need to write to them directly at: Jetstar Customer Care GPO Box 635 Sunshine VIC 3020“. It would seem that Jetstar has such a low budget that they can’t afford email (or is there another reason?).

I did actually write to the Jetstar Customer Care address and received a response along the lines that they were sorry I wasn’t happy with the their service and reiterating their cabin baggage dimensions. Perhaps they should read Dave Carrol’s book – “United Breaks Guitars – The power of one voice in the age of social media“, they may well find it a good read, especially as it happened in their industry.

Oh well, rant over. I’ll still fly Qantas but I’ll think twice (or thrice) before booking a flight via JetStar…

Next Blog I’ll go back to documenting the ‘happy-go-lucky’ life of a free range musician in the UK and elsewhere…

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Veni, Vidi, Exi – I came, I saw, I went away…

Time Flies like an Arrow, Fruit Flies’ like a Banana 

Finally the final instalment about my trip to Australia…

TANSTAALF rehearsal in 1973. Greg (Hough) is at the front playing flute…

After a packed musical weekend at The National Folk Festival in Canberra, I decide to drive up the Western side of the Great Divide to visit an old school friend who lives in Orange. Greg was also in the first band I ever put together – TANSTAAFL (i.e. There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch).

The trip takes me up some relatively minor highways so I get a really good look at the country. It takes this kind of road trip to appreciate the austere beauty of the Australian bush and the shear size of the country. The distance is around 280 kilometres – or in old money – 180 miles which for my English friends is like driving from London to Middlesbrough without going through or past any towns larger than Tring in Hertfordshire (pop. 12,000).

Watercolour by J R Heywood

Listening to the radio in the van, the interviewees talk a lot about the recent high levels of rain and how this has given a real boost to the local economy – which is basically based on cows and sheep. Looking out the wind screen I see a straw coloured landscape of grassy plains, dotted with copses of gum trees against a backdrop of distant ranges.  I have a watercolour painted by my dad on my bedroom wall that captures the mood pretty well.

The Boorowa Pub

I stopped at Boorowa for lunch which has a classic country hotel on the main street with deep verandahs that passing shearers would have bedded down on on their way to and from the seasonal shearing sheds. I wandered around the town a little, wondering what it would be like to live in a place like this. A good place to hunker down and go to seed I guess.

The road to Orange

Back on the road I pushed on to Orange and arrived just as the sun was going down. Orange is a regional centre and has pretty much the same population as Dunstable, where I live in England. Greg and his wife Sue both went to the same Highschool as me and they both went in to the civil service after graduating. They relocated to Orange when Greg’s department was moved there and have now taken advantage of the early retirement available to governments employees. It seems strange to me that one of my school mates is now a pensioner and enjoying all the perquisites of this station in life – including being a member of the lawn bowls club. I’m not sure that I’ll ever retire, or want to, but I don’t have any problems with anyone else taking advantage of the fruits of a life of hard work.

The van on Mt Conobolas

From Orange I took the road to Oberon via Mount Canobolas for the view and the good mobile signal so I could catch up on my email.  I was heading to Oberon to meet up with Mary for lunch. Mary (then Tierney) was a member of the first ‘pro’ band I was in – The Bluetongue Bush Band – back in the late 1970’s. She sang and played tin whistle and was (I thought at the time) from Tasmania. It turns out that she was originally from the same area of Sydney that I grew up in and had just spent some time in Tassie before returning to Sydney, the band and a teaching course. It was great to catch up and she returned to me a watch I had lent to her over 30 year ago when she needed a timepiece for an exam she was sitting. The watch was my father’s, presented to the first time he left Ainsworth Consolidated Industries, a company he helped found which later became extremely successful.

Leanne and friend…

From Oberon I crossed the Blue Mountains on my way to the next stop at Pendle Hill in Sydney where I planned to meet up with Leanne Lawerence, who was my neighbour in Kingsgrove when I was growing up. Pendle Hill is a suburb of Sydney that is just west of Parramatta and she runs a specialist firm that deals with VW parts and repairs called Volksbahn Autos. Again it was great to catch up and especially with someone who shared so many memories of our growing up. I was also very grateful of the offer of accommodation during my stay as she had a spare room available while her son was away.

The old team back together one more time…

During my stay in Sydney I managed to meet up with a few old friends including George Kyprios, who was also an original member of both TANSTAAFL and it’s successor – MSG – playing keys in both. In fact I met up with George a couple of times, once at his place overlooking the George’s River and once in town at a great little bistro overlooking Circular Quay.

In George’s garage, Kingsgrove

George took a different path from me in lots of ways and it was cool to compare notes. Mind you, I think that we may have got pretty much to the same place despite our different routes.

I also took the opportunity to wander around the Circular Quay area of Sydney, checking out some old haunts and just generally chilling out. It’s amazing to think that I can remember the Opera House being built and the number of times I went there to see plays and other gigs.

On the Sydney Opera House patio with the ‘coat hanger’ in the background…

In fact I remember seeing Split Enz (the predecessor of Crowded House) playing at the Recording Theatre soon after they arrived in Sydney from New Zealand. It was for a live broadcast by the infant 2JJ rock radio station and I was totally knocked out by the show. It was the first time that I had seen a band performance as a complete dramatic show integrating the music, lighting and stage antics of the performers. I reckon I’ve been to events in all the performance spaces of the Opera House at various times A great building, and a great feat of engineering. The iconic location also helps, on the harbour next the the Sydney Harbour Bridge (aka ‘The Coathanger’). Went I first saw the publicity pictures of The Sage in Gateshead at Womex in Seville back in 2003, it dead obvious to me that they had modelled them on the classic Sydney Opera House + Bridge pictures.

Where the dog shat in the tucker box, five miles from Gundagai..

From Sydney I had to get back to Melbourne in time for my flight to Darwin, and then back to England. I was originally planning to drive down the coast but a combination of bad weather (storms coming in over the Tasman Sea) and SatNav failure due to operator error I ended up heading straight back down to Melbourne via the Hume Highway. On the way I stopped at a little tourist stop just outside Gundagai which is famous for a story involving a “Bullocky Bill”, a tale of woe about his bullock dray getting stuck in the mud of the creek and all the things that subsequently went wrong, culminating in finding out that his dog had crapped in his tucker box (tucker=food). This is a famous story which was bowdlerised to “The dog sat on the tucker box”converting the dastardly deed into a “good and faithful” pal type story. The former is certainly funnier than the latter.

Crocodile rock…

The desert heart of Australia – Stuart’s Desert Pea?

From Melbourne I flew via Jetstar to Darwin to see my daughter Tahneen and grandson Brayden for a few days. This is the first time I’d been this far north. Darwin is quite a small place and relies on tourism and so has been hit badly by the dip in the tourist trade. During the flight I noticed that the desert was blooming, another result of the floods I guess – the desert plants have a very short life cycle due to the intermittent nature of the rain fall, so I was lucky to be able see this.

Darwin puts the crocodile back into Crocodile Dundee (or visa versa)…

One of the big draws of Darwin is the number of crocodiles found there. It was the first time I’d seen these up close – and one of them was the one that appeared in the Paul Hogan film apparently. There was an opportunity to go swimming in the croc pool in a specially armoured enclosure for an additional which, needless to say, I declined. A couple did so but didn’t get any reaction from the big reptiles – perhaps they weren’t that hungry.

From Darwin it was back to old blighty to a temperature of 5 degrees C from 33 degrees at take off, with fun and games at the airport check-in with regard to my travel guitar…

In the next blog I will be expanding on my ‘customer service’ experience with QANTAS / JetStar – stay in tune…

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Off to Canberra for the National Folk Festival

On the road…

I head up to Canberra on the Wednesday (April 4) to get to the Folklore Conference on the Thursday. After a diversion to the centre of Melbourne to pick up a passenger (Wim) who offered to share the fuel costs. The weather is sunny and warm so it looks hopeful for the festival, though as Canberra is just over475 km away (about 300 miles) it could be quite different. It’s actually about 650 km by road (about 400 miles) but the road is pretty good all the the way, dual carriageway all the way except for two short sections, so the trip took about 8/9 hours with a couple of breaks.

One slightly weird stop was at Holbrook, which has the upper part of the Oberon Class conventional subumarine HMAS Otway in the town park. The point of this was that the town was named after a British submariner who won a Victoria Cross in WW1 for sinking a Turkish battership in the Dardinelles. The town had been called Germanton (i.e. German Town) after a German immigrant, John Christopher Pabst, who was the publican of the Woolpack Hotel. Like many towns with german names they changed it during the first world war – as did the the British Royal family (who changed their family name to ‘Windsor’).

The National Folk Festival (Canberra)…

After stopping off at the festival site to drop off my passenger and pick up my ticket and camping pass I head off meet up with Ian Blake who has kindly offered me a bed and – more importantly – a bathroom during my stay.

In evening I head down to the festival to have a look around and link up with Mandy Connell  and her merry crew only to find myself on-stage at the Flute & Fiddle venue as part of the band (along with Ian Blake on Sax and Marilla on vocals). This is despite the fact that the Festival hasn’t officially started yet. So it looks like it’s going to be a good one…

Thursday was taken up with the Folklore Conference which took place at the Australian National Library and featured talks on the role of music at the Australian Antarctic bases and expeditions by singer / songwriter Bruce Watson and a lecture about the bush poet (and Labour MP) John Keith McDougall who was a contemporary of Henry Lawson. This was presented by Dennis O’Keffe who has just published a book “Waltzing Matlilda – The Secret History of Australia’s Favourite Song”  which I had bought in the local ABC shop as part of my research into the idea of doing a vaguely historical show of Australian song and spoken word. At lunch time there was a concert called “Yarns and Melodies” with a couple of pretty authentic Aussie country / folk characters.

In the afternoon I ‘nicked off’ and walked up to the new Parliament House which I hadn’t seen before. The inmates (i.e. the federal MPs) weren’t there, but I had a wander around and a coffee on the terrace. I couldn’t help but compare it with the Palace of Westminster in London which I visited a few months ago to lobby my MP about the Lost Arts Campaign. As you might image the Aussie Parliament is a lot more relaxed than it’s British counterpart – also a lot more spacious and lighter than it’s predecessor.

On the way back to the car I pass the Aboriginal Embassy on the grounds between the old and new buildings. This has been there since before I left for England in 1979.  As I wander past I muse on the fact that their ancestors also colonised this land by sea, the first humans to do so apparently. It doesn’t effect the justice of their case, but might be considered an example of ‘what goes around, comes around’…

Meanwhile, back at the festival…

Back to the festival for the evening and another gig with Mandy, this time for the VIP Event before the main opening concert. The festival is a ‘green field’ type event except that there are a few permanent structures at the showground which can act as venues.

As I mentioned in my last blog, one of my main aims at being at the festival is to suss out what the state of the social dance scene is. After the VIP gig I check out one of the Bush Dance events and it all seems pretty staid, with an ageing audience and a low altitude band. I’m pretty sure that this audience wouldn’t be into the kind of stuff that I do in the UK. I was beginning to think that if I wanted to work over here then I’d have to apeal to a different audience.

I also get a chance to see the band that Ian plays with at the Flute & Fiddle venue – Cassidy’s Ceili – which sounds pretty good, despite Cassidy wrecking her foot in the preamble to the gig – the show must go on! The repertoire consists of some fairly tasty ‘old school folk rock – right up my street…

Sitting in with the band at the National...On Friday I get to play with the Old Empire Band which is led by Peter Logue on keyboard. There are about 16 people on stage – including Brian Peters and two percussionists – so we’re quite tight for space. I wheel out the electric for this and quite enjoy the music – getting a number of compliments from band members which was nice. A lot of the tunes were familiar as they are from the New Victory Band and similar repotoire. I played a lot of these tunes when I first played in the the UK with the Cluster of Nuts and Roger Watson was still using some of them when we worked together more recently. Still, looking at the audience I’m not sure how Bluetongue / MoonDance Bush Ceilidh would go down…

‘The Nash’ is a great festival as it has a load of things going on at any one time including at least three sessions in the ‘session bar’ as well as at least five ‘blackboard’ venues which have a mix of booked acts, acts which have come down ‘on spec’ to showcase and ad hoc collabourations of performers just taking advantage of the moment to try something new. While I’m not a great fan of musos doing something for no pay, this gives everone an opportunity to have a go. A bit different from the ‘closed shop’ that you get at British Folk Festivals.

Anyway, getting back to my mission of sussing out the social dance scene, by Saturday I was getting the distinct feeling that there wasn’t any space in the Aussie social dance scene for anything as raucous as the sort of stuff that I do in Brit-land with MoonDance. However I popped in to see the Rapscallion album launch (Vagabond King) and was immediately reminded of the gigs that we’ve been doing at GuilFest in terms of the sweaty energy generated by the audience. I spoke with one of the festival organisers later in the week who was very keen on the idea. So as long as I can my act together…

Sunday saw another gig with Mandy at the Bohemian Bar which when down very well, though the stage was pretty crowded. This was a much longer set of one hour so we went though a fair amount of material. I had the electric again and put a killer solo into a rather tasteful harmony song.

Monday saw me performing under my own name at the ‘Stock Camp’ venue with the assistance of Ian Blake on sax and a spot with the lovely and talented Marilla Homes  for a somewhat under-rehearsed version of Summer Time. In the evening we had a final session with Mandy’s band – nicknamed ‘The Minions’ – which had gradualy grown in size over the weekend until it managed to get ten players on stage for the last gig at the Scrumpy Bar. All through the weekend I was knocked out by the wonderful voice of Lindsey Meldrum  who was helping out Mandy on backing vocals and credits also go to Stirling Gill-Chambers on fiddle (Spooky Mens’ Chorale), ‘Charles De Vermin’ (Rapskallion) on mandolin and Leonard Podolak (banjo) from the Dry Bones.

Acts I saw a the festival I would recommend checking out are;
Gleny Rae & her Tamworth Playboys
Mark Cryle & The Redeemers
The WhooHoo Revue
The Lurkers
Jeff Lang
– Dry Bones

My next blog will cover the trip from Canberra to Sydney via Orange and Oberon…

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Back in Australia – and a week passes by….

Another week just flys by in Melbourne…

The weather is not great but still warm enough to have breakfast on the verandah. I spent the the first few days on the phone to various contacts and trying to get into the right time-zone. Somewhat frustrated by people not getting back to me. Basically I use the ‘rule of 3’ which is basically that if I don’t get a response after three tries I write it off.

I do manage to arrange meetings with Bruce Shephens who was a member of my first professional outfit – The Bluetongue Bush Band – which used to gig around Sydney in the late 1970’s with residencies at The Dispensary in Anandale, The Covent Garden Hotel at the bottom of Dixon St and, later, The Governor’s Pleasure in The Rocks. This was the band that originally got me into ‘social dance’ scene as we tapped into the bush dance revival, running a regular monthly dance at the Surrey Hills Community Centre. I also got into this as a dancer and remember going to dances at Balmain Town Hall  including one which featured The Bushwackers.

On Thursday spent all day in Ringwood where my brother lives. The weather had heated up to a nice 28 degrees and the flowers were in bloom at the war memorial. I don’t know if this random chance but the path to the memorial was flanked by blood red blooms . Appropriate I guess, but slightly macabre. It’s ANZAC Day at the end of April, but I’ll be back in England by then….

On Friday I head over to Kew to see Hugh McDonald to say ‘hi!’. I did the track laying to about half the tracks of the WoodworX – Two Short Planx album at his studio and have kept in touch. On the way there I start to wonder whether it would be possible to record my solo album over here with Hugh producing it. As one of my favourite albums of all time is Redgum’s Midnight Sun, this idea appeals to me a lot. There would be quite a few practical difficulties with this, especially with the preproduction phase,  but with the help of Skype and so on it would work. I would mean me spending a couple of months over here next year (Oh dear, what a pity, never mind).

Melbourne is just getting into Autumn and Melbourne is far enough south to support a lot of imported deciduous trees, so it has more of a European autumn than Sydney, where I was bought up.

After Kew had a few hours off before my evening meeting in East Brighton so I drove down to the shore of Port Phillip bay and went for a bit of a walk. Saw some guys para surfing/boarding on the bay, it all looked pretty cool. The edge of the bay is lined with beaches but there’s no surf as it almost completely landlocked. I heard that the bay is actually in pretty good shape in terms of the ecology. There was a potential problem with nitrate run-off, but they are addressing that. More power to the Victorians, they can probably teach the north a thing or two about how to look after the environment.

I ended up up at the St Kilda marina. The pier has a nice little cafe on the end which we went to last time I was in Melbourne when were doing the Fairbridge Folk Festival a few years ago. I was looking forward to a nice cold beer there but unfortunately it was closed for a private function to I had to trek back to the beach where I managed to assuage my thirst.

The weekend started well with a Nudgel’s gig at the Penny Black playing a mix of Cajun influenced rock and blues. The Melbourne music scene at this level seems to revolve around a relatively small number of music venues like the Penny Black (a converted post office) and The Lomond. On Sunday I went to see a gig at another of these venues – the Edinburgh Castle – with Mandy Connell and her band, but unfortunately the agent double booked the venue, and she’s agreed to postpone her residency there for a few weeks. It seems that agents are pretty useless on this side of the world as well…

Later this week I head up to Canberra for the Nation Folklore Conference followed by the National Folk Festival. I have quite a long list of people to meet up with there, so I should be kept pretty busy. With any luck I should get some playing in as well…

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