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Tour Diary: Scunthorpe to Cambridge: The Roman West and the Battle of Naseby: Autumn 2017

A flicker of time, a flicker of images, all accreted into the memory bank to be lost, re-filed or loaned out for stories in later years. The Autumn Tour 2017, me (ready for long drives, nervous for new songs), Paul and Lizzy, reunited for a set of shows. We start high with Café INDIEpendent in Scunthorpe, always a beautiful show and always for good people. The next morning in a café we talk about life, aspiration, Dr Who with Steve and Pip (our hosts) and I struggle to understand the choice given to me of either pork or Lincolnshire sausage. I’m tired, my hearing is not what it used to be but the echo of ‘when in Rome…’ sticks me true. The image turns – a sunny motorway no traffic heading into Sheffield. Such a familiar city to me but a stranger now, like my younger self. A long stretch in the Greystones pub, eating and drinking, waiting, waiting. Neil McSweeney drops in to talk about his new rats and to join us on stage for a number. It’s a busy night the stage lights blinding my train of thought on stage. We survive. 

Next a local show in Chelmsford, the Bassment. Hoxton bands with leather biker jackets and attitude. Corporate rock, early noughties rock. No-one listens, no-one notices our coming and going but we enjoy playing, sharing the stage with each other, me, Paul and Lizzy. Mary and Lizzy smuggle Frittata like snacks in and we feast. In the car park out back, in a queue for halloumi wraps I meet a girl from Columbia, she cannot fathom the elderly Spanish who retire to Bogota. The euro gets you far but the crime is insufferable. She has never lived in Bogota, she came from Madrid and lives in Chelmsford – she thinks it’s OK, kind of quiet. I say it’s a lovely city, I don’t know why, I’m not sure I even believe myself.

Fade to black. A new image returns, one of Stonehenge. Always constant it will outlast the cars and people that slow to look at it today. I point out the barrows that flank it further down the road, no-one bothers to slow for these except us. The Hawthorns Hotel, The Bishop of Bath and Wells, dreadlocks, the Bishop of Glastonbury, old bones. The audience drink heartily tonight and Paul nearly falls into the fireplace mounting the stage for the show. We share a bed in the room overlooking the street and we watch an interview with Henry Rollins on BBC News. Drunks philosophise in the street outside, “ I am not interested in anything Henry Rollins says” pipes up Paul “on account of him wearing black pants and screaming at people in 1984”. But we watch and we are moved by the eloquence and the honesty. I could cry with the profundity of a man that says his best friend is a road manager who he pays a salary to.

The image turns again. I am in the garden of Cecil Sharp House watching Jon Boden sing by a bonfire in a steel barrel, silhouettes creep up to the windows in the block of flats opposite and open the windows ever so slightly to let the beauty in. I am then in a car overshooting the turning for Gwhidhw in Cardiff. There is no Paul, he is unwell, unable to get out of his sick bed. An inordinate amount of time finding a safe car parking space – thieves operate in this area. Girls decorated and flaunting, transmitting an air of ignorance for the acts but balanced with the quiet appreciation of girl students studying classical singing and neuroscience. “We thought we would just try it out – it said folk night”. I think to my days of discovering music on a punt. Wondrous years. 

A night drive to Newport, crumpets and coffee, Mojo and Sita desperate for cuddles and attention. Mojo’s dew claw scratches a scar down my hand. Another bright day follows, Tim nonchalantly takes us on a trip to Caerleon, seat of Roman frontier against the Sitares. Roman fort, hobnailed footprints of men long dead and a legionaries’ swimming pool. Roman amphitheatre! Rudimentary Roman walls and the Legionary museum and garden. A walk over the river Usk back into the green country. Harvest moon, harvest moon! So large a celestial body. Swindon’s Beehive again and a quiet appreciative crowd. Lizzy is taken with a trio who enter, dressed well with accompanying cat. She swears they are mischief makers.

And onwards, with ancient history in our minds to Chester. Up through Hereford, Ludlow, Oswestry. Chester such a sensation. A seventeenth century new town I joke. A mooch for food and books. Booksellers look on me like I was speaking voodoo when I try to find a particular title. Christmas is slowly creeping in through the gift aisle. Winter food in a cellar . Butternut squash salad with walnuts and dates. A show followed by drinking and another Roman amphitheatre. An addictive game that Carl introduces us to – ‘Shut the Box’- is played throughout the night in late night bars. An early start, three hours sleep, Lee creeping out of the house late for work. On the road again stopping at Keele services for coffee, fruit and sandwiches, hangover. Lizzy tries every remedy to sort her throat and head out. She discovers brandy is the best tonic.  

Driving around the village of Naseby, the church being the pivot to our careening car. A quick trip to the Naseby battlefield monuments. A tractor turns the soil in the field before us, I try to imagine the smoke and musket balls but can’t. Finally there and a house concert in the rain, good community vibes and a dog called Charlie. My eyes are blurry as I try to navigate the lanes through Northampton, I am confused and wanting to speed. In Epping it is kicking out time as the drunks sprawl on pavements and Lizzy darts out and onto the central line for home. The image falters and snaps back into Camden Town. Paul is back, feeling better, the Spread Eagle on Parkway smells of drains, Suggs is there making his way to the loo, we make eye contact, ‘don’t talk to me’ his say. A lovely show, Rory is always such a good promoter and human being. Traffic in London is unbearable, Paul plays Husker Du quietly in the car on account that his speakers are broken.

Final scene. Too many bicycles, too many cars. Stony faces of learning protrude from sandstone institute doorways. Cambridge. Unseasonably warm on Norfolk Street – so dead, so empty as if everyone is having a good time somewhere else. In the basement of CB2 we play to a select few. The waiters bang the doors close by. Lizzy plays quiet and then we leave, some for trains others in cars. I take a wrong turning on the way home, through Little Waltham and past country pubs back onto Essex Regiment Way and the vast new development of Beaulieu on the outskirts of Chelmsford. These used to be green fields.

A flicker of time, a flicker of images, all accreted into the memory bank to be lost, re-filed or loaned out for stories in later years.

New EP

The Fishermen’s Chapel in Leigh-on-Sea sits on the other side of the railway track from the old town, on a busy single carriageway it sits analogous with its surroundings, blink and you’ll miss it as you shoot by in your car or look out from the commuter train as it makes its way along the coast towards Southend. Sited in around 1879 and rebuilt in the 1930s the chapel is unassuming and decorated with model boats and photographs of sea cadets and fishermen from the ages. It is here at the end of August I will be recording a new EP with Birmingham based quartet, The Froe.

I originally worked with The Froe in 2014 on my With Wolves the Lamb Will Lie album, where they added mesmerising string arrangements to some of my songs. Helen Bell (violin) is a great arranger who has recently joined me at shows and who I have worked closely with on this project. One weekend in early 2017 in Harbonne, Birmingham, we met with Charlie Wild (violin & viola) and worked on some of the potential songs. Emma Capp (cello) and Ruth Angel (violin) will add further depth to the arrangements with their own individual styles that make The Froe such a great band. Recording us will be my good friend and all round genius, Andy Bell.

And what about the songs? Well, I offered about eight songs to the project which was whittled down to around five. The material is a little darker in subject matter and the plan will be to open with a primer on night time noir in the shape of ‘Blood Moon’. ‘Giving Up the Ghost’ is also a definite inclusion as is the song ‘Night Driving’, which has been in my pocket for a number of years. Who knows what may occur during the week of recording, the unexpected is part of the excitement.

I look forward to sharing the new EP with you all very soon.  

M G Boulter

Tour Diary: Swindon to Stowmarket: Bongo Fury in Bristol and Feeling the Leylines on Glastonbury Tor- April 2017

Prospect Hill, Swindon, a rabbit warren of barely passable lanes and one way systems. Parking spaces a premium in this town, especially now there is the newly built precinct nearby. The same restaurants you find all over the country greet us, the setting sun shining a rose gold pallor over the brown brickwork of Morrison’s. Young men with tattooed sleeves and loosened ties sit on the steps basking in the early spring rays, they look glad to just not be at work and able to enjoy the sun, it’s been absent for so long and today feels like the first light of spring. A teenage couple kiss at the top of the steps, enlarged mobile phones perilously close to falling out of the tight pockets of their jeans. Two suspect looking men in track suits are trying to get into Morrison’s but are being prevented by a cordon of staff, a squat store manager at the centre, arms crossed. The staff look uncomfortable and the two track suits play up to the theatre of it, mock falling on the floor and petitioning the guards for clemency. We eat in a suitably generic Italian restaurant and are soon back in the pub playing to a good crowd. Ags Connolly is the headline act tonight and his classic country song writing style distils my mind, ‘as long as there are bars like this, I think I will survive’. 

Post show we follow our good friend Tim Manning out into the night and on towards the Severn Bridge. There is barely anyone on the road except for the lorries slowly making progress, the Peugeot is rattling to the boom of Nico’s ‘Desertshore’ played loud, the baroque pump organ lending a sinister air to the West Country night. Over the Severn Bridge and into Newport and bed. Paul gets the short straw and sleeps on the floor.

Next day, without rush we explore the centre of Newport. Across the bridge and into the underpass, quickly surveying the remnants of the castle and the famous angel that featured on the cover of a Stone Roses single. There are mud banks upon mud banks with a new build punching through in silver and grey. Through the underpass and up into a high street that teems with life but yet seems so empty. Empty shop windows, boarded pubs but yet behind the main street is a new shopping centre with the obligatory ‘Muffin Stop’ and ‘Tesco’. It seems strange that these shops don’t invest in the already existing properties. We visit Diverse Records and an indoor market where we buy books and CDs to keep us flush for months. A group of misanthropes taunt each other on the benches outside the shops, ‘keep you dog under control!’ one threatens the other.

Settled in the Tiny Rebel Brewery bar we sit watching the late afternoon workers break for the weekend. We say our goodbyes to Tim and head for Bristol, which is a metropolis by comparison. A wrong turn and traffic but at the Premier Inn Haymarket the receptionist politely tells us there will be security on the door tonight with it being a Friday. A party town then.

Our show at Folk House is a wonderful introduction to our touring partner and Nashville resident Sam Lewis. He has been in the country a few weeks and is suffering the mid-tour woes of a bad stomach and lack of sleep. It’s an enjoyable show and myself and Paul manage to find a pub open late enough to have a nightcap. We have to search for it first and we dash across large inner city roundabouts and escape busy student clubs where outside a man on a mobility scooter plays bongos for spare change, until we eventually find an average pub on the other side of the bus depot where vomit and empty beer cans litter the ground; the remnants of those leaving the city for the outliers. The lights are bright in our new abode and it looks bare. The last few stragglers of the night listen to a guy in the corner playing covers of Blink 182 or Wheatus. Paul and I retire to the hotel room and watch the Jonah Hex film before I fall off to sleep, the last sight I see is of John Malcovich firing a gun indiscriminately.

It’s a long drive out of Bristol to Bangor. Colwyn Bay is magnificent in the early afternoon sunshine and makes the crawl through the Cheshire hinterland worthwhile. Bangor does not disappoint either. We are staying in Llanllechid, a small village outside Bangor and the cottage sits on top of a hill side, black slate shards cover the top and Lizzy, who trained up from London, likens it to the jagged vistas of Mordor. The sun is out and it’s so hot it could be summer, I feel I am burning. The Blue Sky Café is a gloriously light and clean venue where the sweet potato soup renews us. It’s a quiet show but the audience are lovely and give us a good feeling. We head back to the cottage and drink lager and play board games. I sleep in the living room and am awoken by Lizzy around 5am who sneaks out to watch the sunrise on top of the slate plateau. I can barely lift my head. 

A few days later and we are back in the clog of north London. I arrive early and sit in the World’s End near Camden Town tube station and people watch. I then move onto wandering the neighbourhood around Cecil Sharp House, the houses so large and quiet. Branches overhang white washed walls, the rustling of the leaves peaceful, novelistic almost. I feel a thousand miles away from the bustle of Parkway. Post show Paul drives us out of the city, away, away into the hinterland of Essex.  

The next night and a local show and Peggy Sue’s Piano Bar on the London Road in Leigh on Sea. We barely have time for five or six songs but we play our best against the restraints of the sound system and have a good time. Friendly familiar faces everywhere.

My birthday sees us heading west to Glastonbury.  I have been gigging on my birthday for years and today I feel frustrated that I cannot spend the day enjoying some time at home. The Good Friday traffic is atrocious and sure enough the hours drift by going over the Dartford Crossing, M25 and then the A303 where Stonehenge, without exception, causes traffic congestion from all the rubber necking. It’s hard not to look at it. At last (and for the first time) we arrive in Glastonbury. The high street is dominated by crystal, shamanic healing and occult book shops. There’s a general decrepitude about the buildings, decay and smoke damage, dirt and grease. It may be my frame of mind. We dine at a fish and chip shop that proudly claims it was rated the twelfth best chip shop in the country by the Guardian. I wouldn’t disagree and sated we head back to the pub where I get talking to a group at the bar. One couple has a small dog, not a Chihuahua I am told but something similar. It’s a pup and regularly falls off the bar stool it has been placed on to scamper about looking for affection. 

We play the show and a lock in ensues mainly in honour of my birthday. Two Welsh ladies from Merthyr Tydfil who talked throughout the whole set latch onto me for an hour or so and bend my ear on flower power and the Glastonbury Festivals of old.  Another lady offers me an escape route but only to find that she wants us to go up to the Glastonbury Tor right now, near to midnight, to feel the energy of the leyline that crosses Bristol and the pyramids of Egypt. I am scuppered on Calsberg Export and the local Butcher come soundman for the evening makes a comedic face behind her as she eloquently explains the mysteries of the Tor. I politely decline and make my excuses to join another conversation. When the promoter falls asleep in the chair we know it is time to retire. 

A fitful sleep, three hours tops and I’m up again checking the car in the cold April morning for parking tickets. I wander the town, hollow and aimless. I eat eggs benedict in a Pink Floyd themed café dribbling absent mindedly on the table; I mooch the abbey gift shop. A medieval fair is being held and people wander the streets in period dress. I meander through a craft fair in the town hall being sucked into the sales patter of the craftsmen. I call Paul to get him up, pick up some fresh sausage rolls from the butcher Soundman and we’re off across country to Stowmarket. 

It’s a pleasant drive past Stonehenge this time and into the green and yellow rape fields of Suffolk towards the John Peel Centre. Stowmarket high street is devoid of any joy and we sit in a Subway with a group of biker kids eating a turkey roll that constitutes our dinner. We play, we mingle and then we say our goodbyes to Sam and ease across town and onto the A12 towards home.

Spring Tour 2017

I'm on tour again in April supporting Nashville's Sam Lewis with additional headline show in Bangor. Looking forward to seeing some new places and old faces. 

Tour Diary: The Ghosts of Dad's Army in the trees, mistaken identity and the Skyline of Frankfurt: Suffolk, Norfolk : Toulouse, Rudolstadt: Summer 2016

3rd – 4th June 2016

It was almost a leisurely drive past the flint churches and gable green hinterland of Suffolk, once we had left the grey cracked surface of the A12 that is. The Red Rooster Festival was set in the grounds of a stately manor in Euston, a small village not far from Thetford. I half expected to see the cast from Dad’s Army stuck in a comic scenario between the trees, ghosts of the seventies when this landscape was used as a set for the make believe Walmington-on-Sea. Me and Paul, erstwhile bass player, surveyed the park as we bumped and jostled across the field towards the parking area. We had heard the house and land (and the temporal title that went with it all) were held by a man in his late thirties- imagine having this we thought. What would you do with it? Go walking in peaceful contemplation we eventually surmised…or put on a festival.

The weather was bitter, not winter bitter, but cold enough for two British men on 3rd June. Our stage was called the Little Rooster Stage and was a small barn like structure (like a prop from a Sesame Street farmyard scene). Details backstage were sketchy so we dumped the kit and ambled across the long grass to meet Lizzy, taking in the western shirt stalls and picking up a carton cup coffee. The festival had yet to wake up or get going and it felt almost like a secret sect camping out in the woods. We sat and watched time pass. Throughout the gig I could barely feel my hands as arctic gusts blew in off the boating lake. I wax lyrical.

In the evening we drove north, into Norfolk, to Latcham and a small cottage where we drank and ate and wondered at the bric a brac of its previous owners; disused pump organs and dry old paperbacks grainy when touched. Me and Paul are consigned to a plush room in the garden annex where spiders have created a kingdom for themselves untouched and unmolested. We disturb the big ones and the small run to crevices and hide, the remnants of their fly victims hanging in the dust motes like a insectoid version of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In the drawers we find abandoned photos of twenty somethings on a boat from the early nineties or maybe eighties. They look happy but not relaxed enough to jape around in front of the camera too much. Maybe they needed to ease into the holiday. Older photos of children with post war hair partings and suited for school. More photos of lovers sharing birthdays, holidays and family gatherings. We wonder why anyone would abandon such memories for us, strangers, to see. We shut the cupboard door, it feels fair game for us – it’s unfathomable how it is fair game for them too.

We return to the festival the next day and play – it is warmer. Myself and Paul say our goodbyes to Lizzy and we’re done and are soon out of Suffolk and heading towards the Dartford Crossing for our next show in Eccles, Kent. It is my first house concert and feels like a community. We break half way through for jacket potatoes and a chat – it doesn’t feel odd at all and beats a soulless green room any day.

I drop Paul home near to 11pm, it’s warmer on the coast. The tide is out and I can see the lights of Sheerness on the other side of the Thames. There’s peace in night time suburbia. But the rustle of trees in the breeze is not the focus tonight, instead it is the fight going on at the top of the road. I skirt the fray as it rolls into the street before me and head for home on the other side of the train tracks.

19th June 2016

I’m out for the count, I’ve taken in so much alcohol and rich food this last week here in Toulouse that come show time I feel exhausted by the fats and sugar making their way through my slovenly body. Rio Loco Festival is nestled on the banks of the Canal du Midi that runs through the city and is a peaceful oasis compared to the week of Euro 2016 supporters merging onto the streets, the intellectual looking and older demographic of the Swedes, the young fun loving Spanish and the slightly more aggressive bent of the Welsh and Irish supporters.

The train journey here with two thirds of the Coracle Band was reminiscent I thought of the train journey Jonathon Harker takes at the beginning of Dracula, arduous and extreme. The Parisian underground as busy as London, the train from Paris to Toulouse covering hundreds of miles in just under six hours, endless flat arable scenery devoid of any human activity it seems until we reach Bordeaux and then the smaller stops of the Aquitaine region. I think of Eleanor of Aquitaine and wonder whether she missed her home when she married into the itinerant lifestyle of medieval monarchy. We pass Angouleme former home of Isobel of Angouleme, King John’s twelve year old bride and no doubt Eleanor, John’s mother, had a major part to play in the betrothal. I try to picture them in the field grass or perhaps on that hill church on the horizon but I falter- I can’t feel them today. The landscape rolls off into unknown and unchartered French territory I will never see. I think of John in Worcester Cathedral entombed in Limestone and surrounded by the deep chestnut hue of the rood screen.

All memory now as we lurch from sound check to gig. The sun peaks out through the heavy rain clouds as we play, Emily Portman singing her wonderful dark fairy tales as the cameramen slide with velvet moves to capture our set for television. It feels alien to play instruments that are not your own but the audience are warm and inviting. We eat well afterwards and twice I have to confirm to officials when making arrangements that I am not with The Super Furry Animals who are playing later in the day. I have the shaggy Welsh look I suppose. We wander about the site before heading back to the hotel. The English themed pub below the hotel, The Melting Pot, lives up to its name and a group of Irish and Welsh supporters sprawl across the pavement drinking, breaking glass and fighting. We enter the hotel via a side entrance, heads down, not making eye contact. Rachel asks whether she can leave her harp in the reception area but we quickly change our minds when the receptionist opens the sliding doors to warn off brawlers from the hotel frontage. It is like a zombie movie where the zombies are violent football hooligans – we’re exposed and there’s nothing between us and the football horde except a polite Frenchman. Me and Ali Roberts shout for Rachel to grab her harp and get in the lift. The doors close and we are safe into the bowels of the hotel. Sleep comes easy and the hubbub of fighting and drunk football fans act only as a lullaby to take me into sleep, like the drone of traffic on a busy Brocco Bank in Sheffield in 2003 I feel the city is alive outside my window and taking care of life while I retire to the womb of bed and soon sleep.

The next morning we are all bleary eyed and I eat my croissant in the hotel breakfast room as the French TV talks of Brexit and the death of MP Jo Cox. I feel disconnected from my own country, far away from it all. I look at the hotel staff for reaction and they are indifferent or objective. It is not their world but that of some place over the Channel . I appreciate the perspective this morning. The driver arrives to take us to the station, she is heavily pregnant and struggles to work the boot. And the trip unwinds the way it came, Toulouse to Paris Montparnasse to Gare Du Nord where me and Rachel have to dash to catch the train after a nightmarish episode booking the harp onto the train. I experience the infamous Parisian shrug from a freight porter. St. Pancras the old familiar and a cab through the north via Old Street down into Liverpool Street and the cosy commuter familiarity of the branch line out to the Essex coast.

9th – 11th July 2016

Another trip to the continent with Emily Portman and the Coracle Band. This is the one hundred metre sprint. 3.50am wakeup call and the bleary eyed drive to Stansted airport with Lucy Farrell in tow. We’re getting each other through this trauma, the airport is heaving already by 5.30am. We sip coffees at ‘Joe and Juice’ in a misguided attempt to wake ourselves up. The coffee sits heavy on my stomach and the young boys with their Top Gun toting blonde highlight comb backs shake their juice and whip the coffee cream as if it’s a Friday night out with the cast of Happy Days. They’re just Essex boys culled from the quiet and polite environs of Great Dunmow and Braintree, this is not international, this is interEssex.

Flight and touchdown at Frankfurt Hahn where Otto, a German of some six foot five plus meets us and drives the five hours to the centre of Germany it seems. Rudolstadt. Homes of cliff top mansions, piney escarpments and articulate older people apologising they cannot speak English like impeccable grammarians. I never learnt German at school and I am the poorer for it. We arrive at the hotel, which sits on the side of the valley looking down into the town of Rudolstadt. Exhausted, nauseous and elated to see friends we order large beers from a nearby town and drink deep.

The hotel becomes our base except for a sojourn in to the busy market square where the festival is in full swing. Restaurants are packed and we settle for an Italian just to keep out of the heat that beats onto the cobblestones. The gig on the Sunday afternoon is in the courtyard of the castle. We arrive just in time from sound check having braved an audience in a hot auditorium to play a few songs and to watch Emily answer questions from Folker magazine and the audience. It’s heartening to hear the audience ask questions about Emily’s ability to sing, write and tour while having a family. Emily deals deftly with questions about Brexit too. The Germans seems puzzled more than anything else as to why the vote went the way it did.

Gig done I replace the fluid I sweated out with lager and am soon swooning back at the hotel over more beer and ice cream to die for. I share a room with Andy the soundman and we stay up watching terrible pop acts lip synch to Euro pop in a town square to largely middle aged audience. DJ Otzi gyrating like a dad at a disco- this is where he went to.

Another morning to kill before a return trip to Frankfurt. Jens ripping up the autobahn as he texts his girlfriend. I note there are so few lorries on the road. Where’s the freight? Where are the traffic jams? We stop to mount a viewing platform to see the sky line of Frankfurt. Pictures taken and an officious lady from Ryanair quibbling over my guitar. More horrible coffee to hurt the stomach. The plane is off and I have three seats to myself. I watch the German landscape twist and turn beneath the port window – discounted perfume and four for five deals on lotto tickets. I don’t know what any of this means, the lives and lights of a nation at night disappear beneath milk white cloud and the eternal darkness of space.

On the corner of my road, under the creaking branches of the trees at the edge of the park I wave to Lucy as she heads for home, another fifty minutes for her to stay awake, read road signs and get home to hers. For me it’s bed so easy. The sprint is over. I survived.

Autumn Tour 2016 Announced

I know, I've been lax this last year updating this website. I've been busy as always and there's plenty of tour diaries to publish on here but the more important news is that I have an autumn tour coming up. Lots of new places to play. Details of where you can purchase tickets will be coming up soon on Facebook and twitter. See you out there.

Norwich to Aberdeen: 'Ditching J G Ballard, Hallucinating in the Highlands of Scotland and Discovering London Pizzas

Wednesday 14th May 2014

The drive into London is warm and the sun shines on the Ford plant at Dagenham casting it in a light that I suddenly find homely and familiar. I know the A13 like the back of my hand; the green and yellow rape fields make way for heavy industry and dockland traffic before entering the suburban spartanism of Dagenham and Barkingside. I’m leaving it all behind today, all the hubbub of a daily toil, to go to Liverpool.

The real tour starts today, that’s what we have all been saying for the last week. I am opening for my friend Blue Rose Code but also playing as part of his band on pedal steel, resonator guitar and backing vocals. The first three shows had sprawled across the previous week, taking in Norwich, Leicester and Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire. Norwich had been one of those serene gigs. After the show I drove through small villages back down onto the A140 and A12, the midnight air cool, the trees dark and sentinel in the blacked out fields around me. So quiet the night, I was half expecting to see the ghosts of lost cavaliers come bustling through the hedgerows, awoken from their eternal slumber to continue the defence of the King’s divine right.

Leicester was the challenge gig with its one way systems and what seemed like an endless amount of traffic lights. A late, late night that sucked at the soul, the dog welcoming me home at the front door shortly before 3am. Finally, Waterbeach (near Cambridge), hosted us with such welcome. A small Methodist chapel built in 1863, an attentive crowd and homemade cake. Cambridge and Norwich have always felt so much like home. In Waterbeach we were barely fifteen miles from Ely and I recalled the times I had visited that town with my parents. I had walked on the roof of the cathedral once and had visited Oliver Cromwell’s house.

But back to today, Stoke Newington is fairly quiet and I manage to park in a leafy street near JP’s house. Ross and Samantha join us and we are soon ambling the van along the high streets of Bounds Green and Green Lanes, heading through Finchley to the M1; our exit out of London and on to Liverpool.

The journey is fraught with traffic jams but we eventually get there and sound check for the gig, which is housed in the function room above the Leaf Cafe. The cafe is bustling and the upstairs room is decked with multi coloured lights and garlands of bunting. It was instantly shaping up for a good night.

Post gig we end up in a cocktail bar near our hotel, The Nadler. The streets are sprawling with the young and the drunk. Women loiter on street corners crying or yelping with equal enthusiasm. The bar is warm and clinging. For some reason, I can’t recall why, I had foolishly brought my reading book out with me. A drunken girl tries to engage me on what book it is...it is J G Ballard’s misanthropic 1965 killer ‘The Drought’. The conversation mercifully dies quickly as she ricochets off punters into the night.

There is an air of danger about Slater Street where our hotel is situated and where we wait for some greasy pizzas. A fight is imminent; we can feel it in the air as three well dressed lads stumble in and try to make eye contact. We leave sharpish. Lights are out around 2am.

Thursday 15th May 2014

A day off. JP needs to catch a mid-morning train back to London so we break the morning with a vegetarian breakfast. The coffee is good and we are left to chat. Ross and Samantha are keen to hit the charity shops, which Ross swears are the best in the country. We duly head down the streets and back ways in pursuit of Oxfam. The architecture of central Liverpool is simple but awe inspiring. Everything seems taller than other northern cities and divided into blocks, a little like New York, which are mostly composed of large warehouses (no doubt converted to flats). Charity shop shopping fulfilled, we hit the road for Derby.

Ross is due at a studio to record parts for a new children’s album by David Gibb. Myself and Samantha tentatively head towards the Cathedral Quarter of the city. We are not holding out our hopes but when we get there, the road leading up to the high street is pretty and keeps us occupied. Samantha buys some new earrings and we eat the best coronation chicken sandwiches ever, courtesy of the Old Bull Inn. I fit in a strawberry milkshake, the sugar pepping me up enough to get back into the van.

Recording done, Ross suggests we just drive north until we find a place to stay. I suggest Whitby but all agree it might be too far of a trek east. We settle for Berwick upon Tweed. Ross knows some people there. The drive is never-ending and we stop at a service station near Lucker. The place looks abandoned by life and haunted only by the ghosts of travellers. Truckers bed down in their cabs in the park adjacent, their shadows playing across the windscreens. It’s quiet as a grave. A man in denim dungarees wanders round the back. He looks like a killer. The air is thick with pollen. You can smell it.

We arrive late in Berwick and head for Spittal and the Roxburgh Bed and Breakfast, which is an eighteenth century house sitting right on the beach. We drop our stuff off in the rooms and head straight for a curry, which is over the bridge in Berwick itself. As we cross, the moon hangs low and red on one side and a viaduct, lit in greens and reds, stands proud on the other side. Berwick is dead and we trace the roads until we reach the Magna Indian Restaurant. The waiter, chin in hand, looks vacantly from the window but stirs when he sees me enter, putting on the charm and patter on cue. We are the only customers so we order and eat quick.

Friday 16th May 2014

This feels like a holiday. Samantha and I share a room and we wake to the bright sun and the beach. People are walking dogs so we make tea and look out of the window while springers play across the sand. J G Ballard is proving tricky. His prose is fantastic but the subject matter is bleak and I’m not in the frame of mind. Samantha meditates. The particular form she practices is also championed by David Lynch and we discuss how he has set up a school to support it.

Berwick boasts its own pleasure hut in the form of The Fun Pavilion. It’s not a patch on Southend but we wander the machines anyway to relive some of our youths. An old lady pumps a machine with 2p coins. It looks like she does it all day, every day. She doesn’t seem sad about it but I do. We make eye contact before I move on. We take a leisurely drive down to Alnwick and wander the gargantuan Barter Books, which is a second hand book shop established in a train station. There’s free coffee and every genre of book you can think of. A toy train completes circuits on top of the thriller and history sections. I wander for at least an hour. I am attracted to a folio society edition of Meso American civilisations but its £40 and will get trashed in the van. I grab a complimentary coffee and try to ring home. My girlfriend is at an awards ceremony in London and I want to hear from her. I don’t get through. We eventually head into the town and have lunch on the square before heading off to Newcastle.

We pick JP up at Newcastle train station. I am elected to go into the station to find him. I place myself next to an elderly man collecting for war heroes, which in turn attracts the charity and attention of an actress from Coronation Street, with someone from TOWIE in toe. The scene soon becomes hectic as people scramble for autographs. I side step and wait for JP.

The Cluny is like an old friend and it’s good to be back. The place is packed and the weather is sweltering. Ross, the soundman, is there and we catch up. He’s professional as ever. We are feeling the vibe on this and I’m flying good. I even manage to avoid a spilt cup of Espresso that Ross launches across the dinner table mid flow. My support show goes really well and I settle into a great set with the band. I meet old friends and myself and Ross (Wilson) end up chatting the night away both at the venue and at the hotel. We order two exotically titled ‘London Pizzas’ (Margaritas with chips on top) from a takeaway close to the hotel. The man delivers four, so we munch away, relinquishing one to a drunken Irishman in the hotel bar. He’s stunned and thankful.

I unsuccessfully try to enter the hotel room without waking JP but he has left his double bass on the floor, prompting a comedic bluster across the darkened room to my bed, where I sleep fitfully.

Saturday 17th May 2014

I wake up with a fug in my head. We leave Newcastle in short order and take the scenic route to Glasgow. The city is one of my favourites. Great Western Road and Byres Road capture my imagination every time. We head to a secluded road of mansions where we are met by Nick, an independent radio producer. We huddle into the studio and record a session for BBC Scotland’s ‘Morton Through Midnight’. Morton himself is listening in from the Shetland Isles and as he interviews Ross I lie on the floor of Nick’s office, relaxing my back and looking up at the ornate carvings on the ceiling. I try and take a photo but it doesn’t come out well.

We spend some time trying to find our hotel which is further out of the city by the Glasgow Rangers stadium. The Swallow Hotel is a tired looking place but we each have a room to ourselves, which is fantastic. We get ten minutes to relax before heading to the venue.

The CCA is a stylish Arts Centre in Sauciehall Street. The front is taken up with a book and gift shop. As you move further in, you enter a tall hall with a mezzanine, Cafe, a cinema and the venue itself, which sits on the first floor. Ross has invited a number of musicians to join us: Mattie Foulds on drums, Jesse Moncrieff on Violin and Rachel Newton on Harp. It’s a beautiful sound when everyone is playing together and I feel privileged to be among them. The crowd is attentive and with over one hundred people there, the after show hubbub is manic. I am feeling tired and exhausted following our late night in Newcastle so it is with some relief that we head back to the hotel fairly early and have a whiskey in the hotel bar before drifting off to sleep while watching ‘Meet the Fokkers’. I do not have a TV at home so it’s always a novelty to watch it as much as I can when away.

Sunday 18th May 2014

Refreshed, alive and happy we converge in the Swallow Hotel lobby the next morning. The breakfast room is very busy and the breakfast sub standard. But I’m hungry and in need of caffeine so it suits me fine. We stumble into the morning light. I’m excited because we’re breaking new ground today, I am entering into unknown territory, for today we head to the Highlands. We are off to Aviemore via Edinburgh.

We have an in store gig at Coda Music and it’s a struggle to get everything in and set up in a small space. It’s a superb record shop. A man feints about four songs in but he is OK and is surrounded by care and attention. A quick sandwich in an Italian cafe before we head to Aviemore. Over the Queensferry Bridge into Fife, the Highlands and Speyside, we wind around the base of mountains behind articulated lorries. The tops of Ben Macdui and Braeriach are snow capped while the lower foothills are barren save for stone and gorse.

The Aviemore Bunk House is our bed for the night. It is a hostel for walkers and the walls are paper thin. Myself and JP pick our bunk from the six on offer and take some time to ourselves. I’m worried we’re going to have to share our room with four burly sports fanatics but JP isn’t convinced, after all, we’re the entertainment for tonight. The Old Bridge Inn which sits snug next to The Bunk House is a pub come restaurant for the local traffic, which includes hikers, holiday makers and locals. The gig is noisy and sweaty. A couple from Inverness are staying in their mobile home in the car park opposite and advise me that Aberdeen, our next stop, is not as wonderful and bright as I imagine.

Post show we wander up to the twenty four hour garage to buy snacks and I leave the others to their soup and rolls and retire to bed. From the corridor I can hear the three male hikers in the room next door snoring. I’d met them on the stairs when we had arrived earlier in the day. Thankfully, the noise doesn’t penetrate to my room just the muffled clacking and subdued chat of my band mates in the kitchen below.

Monday 19th May 2014

JP gets up early for meditation and a run. I linger in bed tired and disorientated. We bumble to the Active Cafe opposite the Inn and up the ridge. I settle for Summer Isle Salmon with scrambled eggs. We chat and laugh and eat Banana loaf. Who knows when next we’ll eat. Today is the last day of the tour, Aberdeen.

I have long waited to visit Aberdeen. There are numerous reasons why but it has long held my attention. I have recounted this wish to many a Scot on the tour and have been met with incredulous looks. The opinion in Scotland is that Aberdeen isn’t worth the travel. The Granite city, the oil city, even Jonathon Meades made a documentary on its architecture. How bad can it be?

As we close in on Aberdeen we hit a run of Whiskey distilleries – Dufftown, Aberlour, Knockando and GlenFiddich, there is one behind every mountain turn it seems. We enter Aberdeen to the strains of Fleetwood Mac, heading for a session with Bruce MacGregor at BBC Scotland. Bruce talks to us on a speaker from Inverness and we set up in the cafeteria while staff eat their lunch, eyeing us suspiciously. Will they be there when we play? Will someone ask them to refrain from making a noise with their crisp packets? It is a good session and Samantha battles courageously though the giggles in the first song.

I speak to a man outside the studio. He’s been painting the white lines in the car park and helps us out of the space while avoiding his new handiwork. He was having his lunch when we were setting up. He’s interested in what we do and I’m likewise impressed with the neatness of his paintwork. I have a trembling hand and all the edges of the walls in my kitchen at home are unpainted. We wander Union Street and grab some noodles, wander through an impressive HMV and get my first caffeine fix for the day.

The Lemon Tree is reminiscent of a working men’s club and has a good sound. We all feel a little jaded from travelling. The audience are very sweet and welcoming. I would like to return. It is only after the show that I learn we are driving back to London. We leave Aberdeen around 11.30pm and stop just outside Montrose for a MacDonald’s. JP and me had sworn we wouldn’t eat one this tour but a post midnight burger outside the drive through on the steel and plastic picnic chairs feels good. It’s breezy and cold and we don’t stay long.

Thick fog, a diversion on the way to Carlisle, we struggle on. We pass mountains, dark and ominous, like beasts sleeping in the night. The moon is a dirty dull yellow and hangs crescent shaped over them, casting a spooky light. I wonder if anyone is sleeping out there tonight. I think of H P Lovecraft and close the window. I try to stay awake for JP, who is driving, but I crash awkwardly on the front seat as we enter Lanarkshire. I wake as we pass the turning for Kendal. The mountains of the Lake District range into the distance in the dusky morning light. It’s beautiful. Heavy dawn rain near Liverpool, the traffic starts to get busy around 4.30am and we reroute through Stafford for Petrol.

There is heavy traffic through Finchley, Bounds Green and Green Lanes. We unload, I repack everything into my car and drive through the suburbs of Stoke Newington and Homerton. The pavements throng with Hassidic Jews and Caribbean women. I will sleep when I get home, I promise. It will feel good. I promise. Curve up onto the A13, through Barkingside, through Dagenham like a life returning on itself. Grays, Tilbury, Pitsea, the white Hollywood style Basildon sign, the Estuary, silvery water breaking on the beach. Home.

New Album- Coming Soon

For the last year or so I have been recording a new album and it seems remiss not to let you all know how I am getting on. The album is provisionally called With Wolves the Lamb will Lie and I have been recording it in a converted farmhouse on the outskirts of Sheffield in South Yorkshire. The producer of the album is Andy Bell, who has produced some of the best records I’ve ever heard. He won the BBC Radio 2 Folk Album of the Year award in 2014 for his work with ‘The Full English’ collective. He is also a great drinking partner and all round good guy.

Andy invited me to record my first foray in December 2013 and I sat in his wooden room laying down some acoustic and vocal parts as I watched the snow drift across the surrounding fields. Sheffield people hold a tradition of meeting every Christmas to sing carols specific and local to the Sheffield area. We head out on the second night to the nearby village of Dungworth to join in. I drink too much and we stumble back bleary eyed using the dry stone walls as a guide and the frosty stars above to illuminate our feet. We repeat this carolling for two nights: recording, drinking and singing Christmas in.

It is a little while into 2014 before I return, this time in the summer. The heat plays across the gravel paths and we keep the windows open when we can. Toby Kearney, a superb percussionist, visits us from London and we record and make alfresco lunches on the patio looking out at the herds of cows that are Andy’s constant companions. We walk along the reservoir to a pub where we meet my friend Neil McSweeney. We play a pub quiz and Toby wins £15 on the bingo afterwards. Later in the week Lucy Farrell travels up from Kent and she sings beautiful harmonies while Neil and his children play football in the field outside.

Weeks later we reconvene in a small poky room in an East Sussex village not far from Brighton. Ben Nicholls, who is Seth Lakeman’s bass player, meets us at his studio to lay down his parts. We drink tea and eat scotch eggs and watch Ben play heavy riffs through a gnarly Hi Watt amp that sounds like thunder. He breathes low end life into the songs. The session lasts a day.

And so I return one final time to the valley in Sheffield in November 2014. We play guitars and sing some newer songs. We add the icing. Days later Thomas Lenthall and Jack McNeill add clarinets and pianos and it’s nearly done, I swear....just a few more yards to go.

Tour Diary: Cork to the Gower: Barley Soup, sinking boats and a gamut of stars

Monday 23rd April 2012

I make my way to the breakfast room around 9.30am and like I do most mornings, I leave Art to get ready in our room in peace. Jack is also an early riser so like most other mornings the two of us sit and share breakfast, today overlooking Cork docks. It’s like a holiday.

We head off from the hotel around noon and after twenty minutes we are in Cobh. Cobh, formerly Queenstown (named after Queen Victoria), had changed its name after independence. It was also the last port of call for the Titanic on 11th April 1912 before she took that fateful journey to New York. The town is picturesque and dominated by a slate grey Cathedral, St. Colman’s, which stands proud on the hill. We park next to the cathedral, the wind and rain lashing at us from up here on the rise. The town itself also nestles on the hill with multi-coloured housing sticking out of the slope like crooked teeth.

The seafront is composed of a collection of hotels, cafes and souvenir shops. In the front window of one souvenir shop they have photos of children with their homemade Titanic models. There is a very short Victorian promenade; jutting out into the water it was the original jetty that people used to board the Titanic. It is wooden and rotting. We pass another sad monument in the form of some figures, wet and distressed, like corpses walking. This is the monument remembering the sinking of the Lusitania, just off the coast here, during World War I. It seems Cobh has had its share of maritime disasters. We walk further along the seafront, skim stones and walk along the concrete sea wall, heavy with seaweed. The sun comes out.

As we walk a man recognises us from the Cork gig and recommends a few places to eat. We end up in Gilbert’s Restaurant where we eat homemade breads and cream of barley soup, which the waiter informs us was the soup that was served in first class on the Titanic. A quick stop off at Auntie Annie’s Old Sweet Shop, stuck behind children building up a sweet bag for one Euro and we are back on the road. Our next stop is Ardmore. We drive up to the ruins of Ardmore church which sits on a hilltop overlooking the most gorgeous view of a bay I have ever seen. The sea is blue and the waves foamy. The church sits on the ruins of St Declan’s Abbey. The church was built in the twelfth century but now it is simply walls and pillar stumps. A frieze still exists on one wall and depicts the judgement of Solomon and the visitation of the Magi. Within the ruins itself sits an Oghan Stone, which looks ancient and knowing. The surrounding graveyard surprisingly contains graves from as late as the 1960s and 1970s. They look incongruous next to the ancient remnants of their ancestors. The name Keeler crops up throughout the centuries. It’s not hard to work out they are a local family as the pub on the way into town was named Keelers.

Within the graveyard stands a round tower (built circa 1170) which the monks used to protect precious books and relics during attacks from local chieftains. It is thirty metres tall and perfectly preserved. The tour of the grounds puts our minds at rest. We briefly visit the bay itself watching the waves meet the sand.

And so we move on around the south east tip of Ireland. Next we stop at another small beach called Balmohonal where the sand is spotted with pink granites and we watch the gulls dive bombing into the surf in search of fish. It is so peaceful. We follow the ‘Copper Coast’ and come to our final most arresting view. We park near an abandoned shaft mine complete with chimney. The grass to the right of the road gives way to cliff edge and a view of the most sublime stack of sea rocks. The light is golden and we lay on a jut of earth just on top of the cliff. Someone has left a mattress in the soft springy grass. Hold a moment for peace.

Now we are in the van for good, we pass Dungarvan, Killeagh, Tranmore. We stop at a small lakeside town called Passage East with its lobster pots stacked on the stony quays, catching a ferry over into County Wexford and Arthurstown, leaving Waterford and Annestown behind us. Throughout the journey the views across the coast, with their rock stacks and lakes are stunning. We arrive is Rosslare at 8pm in time to catch the 9pm Stena ferry to Fishguard. The sublime visions of nature gone now, replaced by brightly lit yellow signs, adverts for vodaphon and all the other baggage of civilisation. When the captain announces that someone has left a pink Blackberry on deck, Simone and Jack shout my name out loud.

The ferry crossing is choppy and we all feel a bit queasy. Staff recommend to Art (who is suffering the worst) that he should get some fresh air. Me, Simi, Aurora and Art head for the deck. It is cold and the wind takes my breath away, which is alarming at first. I look out into the dark water and think of the people on the Titanic, think of all the sailors that have died in the icy depths of the Irish Sea. I think and I am scared; it’s black beyond the immediate side lights of the ferry, nothing but the odd small light from a fishing boat. The vastness is almost overwhelming.

We arrive in Fishguard at 12.20am and Jack drives us to Swansea where we stop on Arthur’s Stone, the highest point in the marshland of the Gower Peninsula. The stars are wondrous and we stand for the briefest moment gazing upon Mars.

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