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NEW EP out on 13th October 2014: M G Boulter & Samantha Whates: The Boatswain's Manual

I met Samantha Whates earlier this year when we both toured with our friend Blue Rose Code. She has a voice like Joni Mitchell and a sense of humour that is infectious. During that tour we sat in a bed and breakfast in Berwick upon Tweed, watching people walk their dogs on the beach, and talked about meditation, books and working late. It wasn’t long before we thought that maybe we could play a few shows together and we arranged a meeting by the seaside to work on songs.

In the height of summer we walked the seashore and meandered around the arcades of Southend, my hometown. Samantha is also from another seaside town, Montrose, so talk inevitably turned to nautical and seaside songs. Thus, our new EP, The Boatswain’s Manual was born. The EP features five new songs including ‘Sailors’ which was written by Samantha and Kathryn Williams and ‘Westcliff’, a new song of mine which meditates on a trip Neil Young once made to Southend in 1974.

The Boatswain’s Manual will be limited to a hundred handmade copies featuring exclusive artwork by Samantha. Release date is 13th October 2014. We will be supporting the release with a short seaside town tour: 

Saturday 18th October: The Fishermen’s Chapel, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

Sunday 19th October: LV21, Deal, Kent

Tour Diary: New York to Winchester: Barn Fevers, Bob Harris and Alfred, King of Wessex

Monday 2nd April 2012

Simone and I catch an overnight flight from Newark to London. Aurora is on a different flight and Art is taking a few more days in New York to meet with friends. Newark looks like a dark kingdom in the dusk, something akin to Mordor, all jaggedy towers and plumes of ominous smoke. We had returned from New York City on the Thursday, stopping briefly in a car park off the motorway in Poughkeepsie to drop an LP off for Nate (Conor Oberst’s manager and CEO of the Team Love record label). This was followed by a show in Woodstock on the Friday.

Over the weekend, I had the barn to myself, what with Art staying in New York after our Mercury Lounge show. As a result I had let the fire in the stove die, a role that Art had fulfilled manfully during our time as barn mates. I recall the immense cold of the night, the pines still outside while icy fingers reached into my soul. The next morning I awoke to a malady that I have since referred to as ‘barn fever’. I could not get warm, I had lost all appetite and it hurt to move my eyes to the side. I spent a lost day huddled by the rekindled stove, Indian rug about my shoulders reading Julian Barnes’s ‘Arthur and George’.

It was with this growing fever that myself and Simone found ourselves in the departures lounge, me with this raging fever and Simone reading ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel and fielding emails on his phone. An Englishman sits alongside us and introduces himself as a friend of Jeremy Backofen, (the Felice Brothers producer who I had met at the Woodstock show where he joined us with some shakers for Radio Song). The English guy is pleasant and says he plays keys in a band called Brakes and was once in British Sea Power. He now lives in New Falls, New York. He makes an effort to light a conversation but I am barely keeping hold of my vital life senses and Simone is adrift on a sea of emails and administration. I haven’t slept for at least twenty four hours and this is added to by the five hours fifty on the red eye to London. I don’t eat and drink little on the flight. I try to fall asleep in various positions but only manage some quiet shut eye when my head is resting on the seat in front.

We arrive and are met by an eastern European chauffeur. He’s not big into talking or helping with our bags. We head for the flat of Simone’s literary agent and I manage to grab two hours rest on a mattress on the floor. I hope for the sweet and blissful release of sleep but I find I simply cannot drift off, which makes me feel worse than ever. I shuffle around the flat fearing that I may never eat or sleep again. We get a cab to Portland Place. I buy a snickers bar and a lucozade from a corner shop. They are the first foodstuffs through my mouth for at least two days. They taste sour and grimy.

On arrival we are shown up to the Radio 2 studios. We set up. Bob Harris comes in soon after and shakes our hand. Simone heads off to the toilet leaving me with Bob in the studio; he behind the gargantuan radio console, me pale and confused with lap steel. Bob is a very pleasant man and we chat about the numerous differences in language between English and American English. I want to say how much I admire him and that I used to listen to his show when I was a student, late on Saturday evenings but I can barely make any sense of my brain. Simone takes a considerable time deciding what songs to play and when he does, they are ones I haven’t played lap steel on or the keys have changed. I look at my hands and ponder whether this will come off good or not. I am going to have to work hard. During the last song Bob leaves briefly to move his car so as to avoid getting a parking ticket, which strikes me as odd. Surely he has a specified bay at the BBC?

The recording is hit and miss. I look up to the producer and label man in the control booth. They put thumbs up so I accept it as OK. We walk out into the corridor. I glimpse Steve Wright’s shoulder through a door as he broadcasts his afternoon show. He looks a big guy. All I can think of is home and bed and the few days rest I am going to get. I manage to navigate London for home and that night the fever breaks after a marathon fourteen hour sleep. I am a new man by morning.

Friday 6th April 2012

Jack picks me up early, having driven from the Gower at dawn. Our first stop is Heathrow to pick up Simone and Simi from the airport and then onto the old capital of England, Winchester. At the venue, The Railway, I instantly feel at home mainly because I have played there so many times before with the Lucky Strikes. Oliver is the promoter and our host. He does an excellent job of both and looks after us. The Railway is decked out with plastic seagulls and homemade portholes - a theme for a club night later on. The gig is good and we stay at Oliver’s house, eating cheese and putting away a prodigious amount of whiskey and coke. Oliver and I talk a lot about the Southend music scene and Dr. Feelgood. We retire late.

Saturday 7th April 2012

The next day is very relaxing and Oliver takes us on a countryside walk into Winchester via a route starting at his house in Twyford and then across to St Katherine’s Hill, which affords us views of the cathedral and its associated ‘hospital’, where the pious practitioners of the Middle Ages would offer free sustenance to poor and needy travellers. Word is that you can still get a portion of beer and cheese there. At the top of the hill, through a dense copse of trees, there is a ground level maze. The grooves seem to have been worn over centuries and the information board links it to an assize ritual of a bygone age. We follow the path down across a field arriving at a church where we sit under an ancient tree for a while, its sprawling branches providing us with shade. We follow the river Itchen (which Oliver tells us is one of the clearest waterways in Europe on account of its short length) and play ‘pooh sticks’, which is a game enshrined by A A Milne in Winnie the Pooh whereby you pick a stick, drop it on the flowing water from a bridge and then race to the other side of the bridge to see whose stick is fastest. Simone and Jack are most excited to start this game and it releases the inner boys in them. It ends with them swinging from a rope above the water further along the path.

We arrive in Winchester feeling exercised but spoil it all by eating pastries in a deli that sits across from the cathedral and is owned by TV chef James Martin. The day is fine and crowds mill about the terrace outside the cathedral. The building itself is subsiding and we walk its perimeter, through the herb garden and around the buttresses. We have no time or money to spare to go inside. So, with bellies full and legs stretched we leave Winchester to its sweet waterways and cobblestones. As we try to find the route to the motorway we find ourselves driving straight towards the giant statue of Alfred the Great, sword brandished in one hand. I wasn’t expecting it to be so large. Simone jokes about pledging one hundred Catskill swords to him.

Our next stop is Oxford, which today is fairly unremarkable although strangely I feel close to home and untroubled. The venue is a wine bar come pub. The gig is the best so far, with the band in light and comedic mood. I even get chance to catch up on my reading. We stay in a Travelodge near Oxford. As all travelling musicians know, there is a degree of order about hotels. Travelodges are OK but Premier Inns are the next step up. Beyond that, you’re kings of the road.

Tour Diary: Milan-Cantu- Pavia: Will, king of Tetris, rumination on the coronation of kings and the best Salami in the world.

Friday 28th February 2014

I wake at two minutes past two in the morning. It’s dark outside and breezy – I can hear the wind playing with the trees in my back garden. My alarm is set for 3.45am but I am up now and it’s best to get ready and wait rather than disturb the rest of the house. I sit and watch the road outside my home, only two cars pass in the time I wait. One is an estate car that is laden with washing bags and the second a small town car zipping up towards the main road. I wonder where they are going. Is it an adventure or a commute? I hope for adventures.

I get bored. I know we have a tight turnaround to get to Gatwick and onto the flight so I decide to stand outside and wait. It’s not often you get time to stand in the still of pre-dawn and so I take my chance. It’s cold but I listen to the cacophony of bird song coming from the trees opposite my home. There’s mistletoe high up in the branches of one tree. Will, The Lucky Strikes drummer, comes hurtling down the road just after 4am. Dave and Paulie are already on board. Everyone has rheumy eyes but spirits are high. We pick up our last man, Toby, and head for the airport.

Will makes good time. Toby suffers motion sickness but does a sterling job as we eat up the A13 and the M25. I suffer non-motion sickness. I have to always move. Will is definitely dad today and we follow him like tired lost sheep over the airport, through security and onto the plane. I get nervous at airports, very nervous. I had some trouble on the US/ Canadian border in Buffalo a few years back and I’ve never quite trusted them since. Eyes forward, affable English smile and no laughing, please.

The flight takes no time at all. I sit next to Will and I find it quite enjoyable to watch him play Tetris on his phone, openly willing him to beat his high score. The other three sit on the opposite side of the aisle. Paul mainly sleeps and Dave is reading The Maltese Falcon. Toby gets the window and spends most of the time listening to his ipod while looking out onto France. An hour into the flight I see the Alps for the first time in my life. They are vast and snowy. I remark to Will that the snow looks like icing sugar, so pristine and innocent of human print. He recounts his snowboarding adventures and tells me how there is a witching hour in the afternoon when the sun makes the treacherous snow look flawless and often the low hanging cloud can look like snow too. People have stepped off of mountains into that cloud expecting snow under foot.

We arrive at Milan Malpensa airport before 10am and I am waved through passport control by a man talking on what looks like his personal mobile phone. Ed, Lowlands’ lead singer and songwriter is waiting for us. It’s our first meeting but it feels like old friends. He buys us an espresso and wow, it is good. Really good. He tells us that Italians drink espresso throughout the day and a cappuccino is for breakfast. No Italian will drink Cappuccino after midday. Marko, a Lowlands acolyte, is our second driver. He’s young and works at SpazioMusica while studying for an Economics degree. He is passionate and air drums to Lowlands tunes as we slice through the monotonous hubbub of the airport (they are the same everywhere) and onto the main road leading south. The countryside is very English, the trees and the fields. The day is grey and wet and every now and then you are reminded of being in a different country when the square brown brick church towers pierce the skyline. We drink it in.

An hour’s drive gets us to Ed’s house in a small town called Cava Manara. Toby crashes straight away while the remaining four of us decide to head into the town square. It’s everything I expected Italy to be. Grey washed cobblestone alleys, yellow and mustard coloured houses, tall and thin with each window sporting wooden shutters. Ornate ironwork covers the lower windows and the roofs are exquisite with crenulated tiles piled upon one another. We head to a local bar. Quiet, clean, epically stylish in a continental way. I try and order three beers and a coke. I speak no Italian but with the use of hand signals we get there and settle into a corner watching MTV. Tears for Fears and Prince. The beer is lager and tastes of cloves. We are all young men in love; with what we’re not really sure.

On our return Ed introduces us to his beautiful family and we get hit with the most exceptional food. At least four varieties of cured pork, hefty cheese and fried dough. It drives us wild. We talk politics and the European Union. We talk about national identity and music. Ed explains that Italy is a country that connects Africa with Europe and how, being only a country since the 1860s (thanks to Garibaldi and Giolitti, if my A-level history recalls) there is a weaker national identity and how northern Italians identify themselves more with the Swiss and the Germans than they do with their southern countrymen.

Our first gig is in Cantu, which is north of Milan. This means a long trip through the Milanese hinterland. We pass through Como and onto our first venue. All’ Unaetrentacinque is a great place. Like an underground cafe with pictures of performers on the wall. Carlo is the owner. We get to meet the rest of Lowlands; Francesco, Alex, Enrico and Mattia. They are warm men with ready smiles; it’s so welcoming. Lowlands soundcheck and it sounds great. The Strikes are bone tired but everyone is putting on a brave face. Ed informs us that gigs don’t start until very late in Italy, we’re headlining – an honour- at around midnight. We share dinner, which is a Lasagne with meat, pesto and walnuts. We drink red wine, (which has a fizz to it) and water. We talk and we laugh and life feels good. Lowlands play a super opening set and the Strikes dance, even though it uses precious energy.

We take to the stage around midnight. The room is so very hot and I feel like I’m wading through treacle but we play for all our worth; five men who have been up for twenty hours and who desperately need to play music to free ourselves from the bonds of our daily lives, of the airports and the roadways. Lowlands join us for a rendition of Fisherman’s Blues as an encore and things take off. People are hollering. I jump around the tables and nearly hit a man in the head with my guitar. Sharing the stage with them is magical. I keep trying to think why it excites me so much. It must be something to do with comradeship. To join forces. I look at Ed at one moment and he is beaming from ear to ear. I know exactly what he’s feeling, I know exactly why he is doing this very same thing that I do even though he is thousands of miles from my home. Shared human experience – you can’t beat it.

We arrive home at gone 4am. I was due to share a bed with Dave but Paulie is too drunk and it’s advised he sleeps downstairs so he doesn’t kill himself on the hard and tiled continental stairs. Toby and I share Ed’s daughter’s room and I am amazed at the luminescent stars that are stuck to the ceiling. It seems one of the most beautiful things....I am so very tired, I can think of no other explanation.

Saturday 1st March 2014

We surface around Noon. Ed says an Espresso is like a full stop to everything; your dinner, your day and your slumber. A few espressos later we are planning lunch and myself, Dave and Will head out to the pizzeria to grab our first Italian pizzas. We toast our first gig with Prosecco while we wait for the pizzas to be cooked. The man making the pizzas smiles when Ed explains we are English. He takes pride in what he is doing and tenderly peels of the cured ham and arranges it onto the pizza as if he is at a demonstration, us being the judges.

The pizzas are good. Ed explains over lunch that most Italian food is simple. Pizzas will only have two or three toppings. Italy has had many periods of poverty and Italians have learnt to eat well but simply. We finish lunch with an espresso.

Our second gig is at SpazioMusica in Pavia. Ed shows us around the town which to this Englishman is truly breathtaking. The lanes twist around the town and we visit Saint Michael’s church. The sandstone is worn on the outside and the faces of the figures are lost. Only the angels, safe under the overhangs of the friezes, are saved. The church is medieval and looks rickety when we enter. The church was the site of the coronation of the Lombard kings in the fifth and sixth centuries and as we pace around I try to imagine those regal events so long ago. Effigies and relics line the alcoves around the nave. Mary holds a distraught and dying Jesus in her arms, life size. I can’t take my eyes of his face. It seems real.

We continue through the rain towards the main square and Dave buys his much needed tobacco. ‘Golden Virginia’ is the same in any language although he nearly gets charged seventy Euros by mistake. We get taken to a bar in the square. Teenagers sprawl around the tables outside and we opt for the warmth inside. Most of us go for hot chocolate. It’s much, much thicker than English chocolate. It’s as if they have melted a chocolate bar. I eat it with a spoon to save my moustache. We hoof around the lanes some more, laughing and joking. I notice elderly ladies in knitted tank tops and white hair peering out of windows high above us. We visit San Teodoro but there is a service.

We walk along the river’s edge and have a photo near the Old Bridge. Ed explains that it was built by the devil himself after the towns folk failed to build one themselves after so many years. The people of Pavia promised the devil the first soul to cross the bridge in payment but they fooled him and tossed a ball across the bridge. A dog chased it and was the first soul to cross. Legend has it that you can still hear the Devil screaming in anger on the bridge in the dead of night.

We head back to the venue and eat another hearty meal with Lowlands and their promoters, Rise Up. A band called Shiver are also there and we chat briefly before we pose for a long table shot. Rise Up have used the gig as a celebration and have put on a selection of wines and some salami. A renouned type of salami is made not far from Pavia and it is tremendous. We eat plenty and feel like sleeping again. Matteo, a partner in Rise Up, shows us the local provincial paper, which carries a picture of us and states we are ‘invading’.

We open for Lowlands tonight and I am able to run around the crowd as far as ten feet. I’m literally in the middle of the audience, Toby is sitting down with a guy in the front as he fiddles away! The carnival starts on Monday so there are a few women dressed as Zoro, with masks and wide brimmed hats. The crowd come up to meet us and by the time Lowlands finish their set, they are moshing and clawing at the stage. We do a rendition of New Avalon and Fisherman’s Blues again. Elation is palpable. The crowd are baying for more and Will jumps over the drum kit to embrace Mattia and ends up kicking the kit across the stage. The atmosphere isn’t violent but by God, this is the closest the Strikes have ever come to a full blown riot at a gig. The walls could have melted for all I know.

Post gig Will and Paul duck out with Mattia to visit Inter-Milan’s stadium and end up in an empty and unfurnished flat by themselves. Myself, Toby and Dave go with Francesco to his house in Corbetta. It’s near Magenta, which is a town where there was a bloody Napoleonic battle. The colour of the French uniform supposedly lends its name to the colour that makes up most of the printer cartridges in this world. We share a bed and I get no sleep. Dave and Toby sleep good.

Sunday 2nd March 2014

We shuffle about tired and worn and eat Gorgonzola for breakfast. It’s great. Francesco is a very entertaining and interesting speaker. He has visited England a lot and we hear lots of stories. He drives us to the airport and I get a view of the Alps again. They are glorious from the ground as well as the air. We hook up with Paul and Will and head back to London. Will beats his high score in Tetris just as the plane breaks through the clouds and we spy the slate grey runway of London Gatwick Airport.

Tour Diary: The Lucky Strikes: February 2012: Musical Post-modernism, Jane Austen and thoughts at the Spoon Museum

The Railway, Winchester, 22nd February 2012

‘Oh to be happy, oh to be free’ I once sang in a song called Mountain Sickness, which never made it beyond a rough hewn demo recorded with my friends Bryan Styles and Oli Howard in between our renditions of Neil Young and Flying Burrito Brothers covers about a year ago. (Until it ended up on 'The Water or the Wave'). But the lyric jumped into my head afresh on the Wednesday Will came to pick me up for the start of our mini tour. There’s nothing quite like being on the road with your band – it’s a spiritual thing to make music with people and to stand together, with your backs against the wall, delivering to audiences in foreign places, be they good or bad experiences – all are welcome and all develop you in some way.

Will lives in a suburb of Southend called Westcliff-on-Sea which has quite a unique and particular architecture about it. It’s hard to explain but it’s kind of a post war, terraced, pseudo turreted affair- very affecting stuff if you find yourself there for prolonged periods. It was there that we made our way to meet with the rest of the band and to check out, for the first time, our new touring van, compete with tables, chairs and DVD player. We're a hard working band and usually our tour transport is far more basic but this time we lucked out when the economy vehicle we had booked was not ready in time and we got upgraded. The van was a dream and having picked up Ambrose on route (another denizen of Westcliff) we settled down for our drive to Winchester.

Talk came easy and we were all excited to be playing Winchester again. We had played the year before at the South by South Central Festival and had enjoyed it immensely. Winchester is a beautiful place and the Railway it is not your usual dirty, back alley venue. Winchester used to be the capital of King Alfred’s kingdom and the Treasury was kept there for centuries afterwards. I keep meaning to find the statue of Alfred in the city centre but as always with touring, we don’t get the time to visit it this trip. Maybe next time…

The gig goes well and despite a few stage problems (mainly Dave’s piano stand collapsing twice) we enjoy ourselves. I always enjoy meeting people after the show and Winchester does not disappoint me and I manage to cover a whole plethora of topics from Tottenham Hotpsur v. Arsenal (I’m not a football fan) to the current state of Southend Pier (alas a boat hit it last week, again, so it’s not in the rudest of health).

Dave, myself and Will are interviewed by Aline, who is studying for a PhD in the popular culture of music. It’s an interesting subject matter that gets us talking about what constitutes the ‘cannon’ of music for our generation. Aline suggests that the reality of musical culture in Britain resides in the regional bars and clubs where people go to listen to people like us. It does not reside in the Brits or the playlist of BBC Radio 1 or 2. It’s an interesting premise. When historians consider reading fiction to better understand the nineteenth century, for example, do they turn to Austen, which has stood the test of time, and affords us a glimpse of how society worked, how it consumed its fiction. Or perhaps, we are better served through the everyday pamphlets that would have had a larger readership but dealt with lower brow topics. Either way, both types of fiction would offer different perspectives. There is a whole sub-genre of music in magazines, fanzines, bootleg discs, forums, websites and weekly music nights in local pubs that attract dedicated and informed support.

The reality of musical culture in Britain is unseen and I hope Aline can shed some light on it – Good luck, Aline! In the van on the way home we decided that we were happy for the Strikes to be pamphlets, although we would not complain if we were to become Austen.

The Greystones, Sheffield, 23rd February 2012

Following the Winchester gig we stay in Newbury with one of Dave’s relatives. It has almost become a ritual part of touring now that at least one night we will all huddle cold, tired and expectant around the kitchen bar as warm homemade chicken soup is poured until our bellies are filled. It’s like Oliver Twist but with more swearing and Kentucky Colonel bowties. We set off early for Sheffield on the Thursday, a beautiful day. Everyone was upbeat because we were due to see friends and there’s nothing that makes you feel more at home when you’re far from home and that’s your friends.

I lived in Sheffield for a number of years and was expecting a few old faces to turn up. A musician friend of ours (the extremely talented Neil McSweeney) had also invited us around for dinner which meant an awful lot. The food was amazing and well received after a day’s travelling with only service station supplies to keep us going. The Greystones is a great venue and we love playing it. As soon as you walk in you are hit with Martin Bedford posters plastered over the walls depicting Wilko Johnson (Dave’s neighbour!) and Eddie and the Hotrods…it’s like you’ve just entered Chinnery’s or the Kursaal Rooms back home. Simon, the promoter, was also very kind to us and gave me a book, recently published, which collected photos of all the gigs that had occurred in the first year of the venue re-opening. The Strikes featured.

Backstage at the Greystones has got to be one of the best. The flat above the pub is converted for use by the bands and you can see the whole vista of Sheffield, nestling on top of its seven hills, turn from daytime splendour to night time magic, orange lights twinkling from the Hallamshire Hospital and Endcliffe to the city centre. There’s a bed that inevitably at least one Lucky Strike ends up having a doze on. Our pre-gig rituals are fairly standard for five men, although we tend to vary between each other. Will likes to go out front of house and stand in the crowd, watch the support band and generally get a feel for the place. I used to do this but now I prefer to sit away from the noise and collect my thoughts for the show ahead. Jim is far more relaxed and tends to have a cigarette and a few beers, Paul the same. Dave is the dynamo and tends to get everyone up before we go on stage, like a rugby team. We need to get that energy on stage. I play one of the best shows I’ve played for a long time and the audience appreciate our quiet tunes, which makes me happy. Jim has a bad gig.

We head for the hotel in the centre of town and are blessed with a Best Western with comfy beds and warm pillows, heaven! (Thanks Martin!). Having promised myself to behave I end up in the hotel bar with the others drinking until the wee hours. Will befriends some guys who design I-pad computer games while I get into a heated debate with Ambrose about the cultural worth of pop rapper, Example. It ends with Will picking Ambrose and his chair up from the table and depositing him outside the bar.

Day Off, Sheffield, 24th February 2012

It’s lovely to wake up in a warm bed with a full English breakfast waiting for you. I may have overdone the drinking and I stumble about the hotel room getting ready. After breakfast I take Will and our friend Martin into the city centre where we visit the Winter Gardens and Millennium Galleries. The Galleries have not changed since I lived here and I have great pleasure in showing them the cutlery gallery – spoons through the ages. Will and I watch video footage of a man making silver spoons (which Will informs me some people suffer from being born with). The whole spoon making process seems incredibly detailed and complex – I am humbled that I take such an everyday item for granted. I once read that it would have taken thousands of years for man to fully harness maize so that it was edible and didn’t kill or make you very ill. I put spoons in the same category – how long must man have slaved away with fingers and hands before the spoon was fully functional. I digress. We pass the morning in pleasant idleness and having pulled a bewildered and hung over Ambrose from his hotel room, we set off for the final show. Newcastle.

The Cluny 2, Newcastle, 25th February 2012

Newcastle surely has to be one of England’s best kept secrets. An American friend once told me that one of the greatest sites he had ever seen was on the night train arriving into Newcastle and looking out across the Tyne as its five bridges align. Newcastle is pretty and clean and like Sheffield, it has a friendly air that always makes you feel welcome. Within Newcastle itself the Cluny 2 is an inspirational venue offering some of the best food we’ve ever eaten on tour. We are unsure of the reception we will receive but the night proves to be one of the most memorable gigs we’ve ever had. About 150 people dance away the night to Jim’s sawing fiddle and Dave and me get into the swing of things trying to push each other over. A great moment for me at these gigs is to watch Will and Dave jump into the crowd with washboard and accordion respectively and lead them into a dance. So many people had been talking to us on Facebook and Twitter from Newcastle that we felt like we knew half the audience. A fantastic night and thank you to all who came. We love you for it. Until next time…

MGB

February 2012

Tour Diary: Leicester to London, November 2013: Sharing a pram with Ted Hughes in the murder death town.

 

Tuesday 19th November 2013

 

I’ve moved into a new house and my favourite place I’ve found is sitting in the bay window with my guitar, writing and looking out on my immediate scene. My place overlooks a park and I watch the kids smoking on the bench when school turns out. I see women walking dogs on autumnal mid-mornings. I’m beginning to understand the rhythm of the place and its people. Old sights are merging with new ones. This morning I saw an old sight in my new setting as the battered white van pulled up just opposite the black railings of the park to take me on a short run of shows with my band The Lucky Strikes.

 

The first gig is a new venue for us – The Cookie, in Leicester. I have always played on the outskirts of Leicester, the old haunts stuck on industrial estates or at the back of multi storey car parks. It’s a first to be in the town centre but it is cold, cold, bitter bone cold and I forgot to bring my coat. We load into the room downstairs and meet Matt the sound man. He has the height of Dave, the haircut and glasses of Will and a thick set beard...if the band had a child it would be him. The music is loud and I feel nauseous as the bass rumbles my stomach but all is good and we settle into a post-soundcheck meal at a pub called The Globe. The food is homely and warm and we are reluctant to venture back out. Could we not forgo the gig and stay here? Springsteen plays on the radio as we eat, the dark wood of the room becoming increasingly darker as the gas lights take over from the natural daylight, which has been decaying fast these last few weeks. Someone informs me later that it is the only gas lit pub in the entire country.

 

The gig goes well and we meet some of the lovely musicians who supported us. Nile MacGregor and Weiki are both insightful and soulful solo artists who take us to a late night bar, the Firebug, after the venue has turned its lights off and the audience have gone home to the warmth of their beds. It’s 1am and the place is buzzing with a happy sort of life, not the dull dim light where drunks go to drown their sorrows. We talk about the local Leicester music scene and the use of these hi-tech glasses that can tell a computer where the person is looking. We leave them both in their discussions, happy to have shared some of their time.

 

We repair to the hotel. Me and Dave share a room and talk until the wee wee hours, drinking can after can of Fosters. My voice is on a collision course.

 

Wednesday 20th November 2013

 

Most of the morning and early afternoon is spent in the hotel lobby in Leicester.  Paul always brings a crossword book with him on tour so we all spend a lot of time thinking up the answers to 5 down and 24 across. I watch the ebb and flow of the room with its strange mixture of clients. There are clusters of business people having meetings and working on their laptops. They meet up on one table occasionally to discuss things. They’re not with the hotel and I wonder whether they are travelling salespeople or whether they just use the lobby as an office because they work from home. Elderly couples sit and talk and a man enters with a book and a coffee. It’s a great place to be, a hotel lobby, you can see new people every day; exotic travellers, strangers and the same lady behind the bar to make your tea.

 

A business conference is taking place in one of the function rooms and there are a lot of people with name tags milling about. Dave and me nearly walk in on a powerpoint presentation. We’re tired.

 

The run to Sheffield is easy and we make it in good time. The weather is even worse, cold sharp rain lashes down and our plan to go hat and tattoo shopping is quickly jettisoned for a quiet pint in our next venue, Shakespeare’s. The alcoholic content of the beer is astronomical in places, 8.1% for one which sports a badger swinging from a rope, cutlass in hand and bandanna on the head. I settle for a milder 5.5% ale called Crazy Horse. It tastes of compost.

 

We dine at a pub just off West Street called the Three Tuns. It’s unique feature being that it is set on a steep hill and the pub narrows as it progressively sticks out from the incline. I must have driven past this pub hundreds of times when I lived in Sheffield but yet I never registered it or thought it a place to visit. Was it Rousseau that said you should explore your home before venturing abroad? There are so many things to see that are right under your nose. You could fill your world with experiences without leaving your home town.

 

It begins to snow and the backstage room is so cold. None of us can keep warm but it is made better by seeing Simon, our fiddle player, who has made it from Sowerby Bridge. He teaches me and Will how to northern soul dance. My back is fused from the cold and I’m slightly delirious from it but we give it our best.

 

The gig is good and we meet a lady who had seen us play at the end of Southend Pier. She says she is in one of the photos, second row. It is things like that which make this worthwhile, another is sharing the stage and bus with your friends. Simon walks about the pub with the badger beer urging people to try it, his brewer’s eye agog at it...it’s full bodied.

 

Thursday 21st November 2013

 

We are kindly put up by Craig, the man behind WagonWheel Media- the Americana promoter in Sheffield. We stay up late again and wake to a cold morning. We head for breakfast at the cafe we always eat at when in Hillsborough. I could stay there all day watching the football sailing over the school wall into the road, time and time again, the little children shouting at passersby to lob it back over into their field of play...but we must be pressing on. We must leave behind friends and move on to the next.

 

Leeds is sprawling and new age compared to Sheffield’s small village feel. Again the cold puts us off and we are tired so we plum to sit in The Duck and Drake with steins of tea to keep warm. Dave goes up to the room we have to sleep. The pub is large and ancient and sits below a train bridge where freighters and commuting trains rumble through at all hours.

 

We set up the PA as there is no soundman for this gig. We live by whits alone. Leeds crowds are always so engaging and forthright. It’s lovely to play for the audience and see old friends and new fans alike. We play two sets and fill them with everything we have. We leave the stage buzzing and promptly stay up until 4am drinking different ales at the bar with the great bar staff- supportive and lovely to the last. 

 

Friday 22nd November 2013

 

Morning sunlight stabs through the curtain. Leeds city centre is alive and awake for its Friday morning. We lurk about the room stunned and groaning. Last day of the tour and we have churned ourselves over too many times. The cleaning ladies downstairs jokingly berate Dave for leaving his beer cans on the table. They are kind and interested in what we play. We cut from Leeds quick as if by leaving we will somehow leave the cold behind. We don’t, we drive further into it.

 

Hebden Bridge is a picturesque town nestled on the river Calder. After a pub meal, desperately trying to generate some body heat and a swift visit to the sweet shop to get some sugar in the system we wander over the bridges, reading the quotes from Ted Hughes engraved on the walls. We are supporting Nine Below Zero, featuring Mark Feltham and Brendan O’Neill who both played with Rory Gallagher on his last album or so. They are phenomenal players and we eat Tibetan stew from The Trades Club as they soundcheck.

 

We play a lively and fervent opening set. We are giving one hundred percent and I turn to Paul at one point, his face beaming from ear to ear. We’re going home tomorrow and it gets everyone excited, makes everyone play the best they can because who knows when we’ll be out again. The crowd are great but it ends too soon.

 

I meet a man called Southend Bill. He was from Southend, Snakes Lane, he says. His life is interesting and he tells me how he went AWOL from the navy on account of his beliefs and was detained in Southend by the military police. He then read about a hippy commune in the Colne Valley. Wrongly suspecting this was up in Yorkshire he had made his way up the spine of the country and ended up in Hebden Bridge. He laughed as he told me he soon found that the Colne was back down in Essex, near Colchester.

 

The evening is for celebration and we toast the tour as Nine Below play their set. The gig finishes and the venue turns into a night club and before our eyes we are surrounded by curving dancing forms. Dave and I head off into the night in search of food but the steer two ladies give us to a pizza shop disappears as we close in on its dark and shuttered shop front. We return to the club to find Will dancing his soul out with Liz the venue booker and the clientele.

 

I get introduced to a gentleman who takes me into his confidence about the show. He was a singer for the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and he talks passionately about how his father had shared a pram with Ted Hughes and how Ted had been a deeply misunderstood man and how Sylvia Plath had felt imprisoned within the tall valley walls of Calderdale when she arrived here with him. He holds my shoulder and effuses.

 

It’s too late but we drive back to our hotel in Todmorden (‘Murder Death Town’ one local reliably informs me) but it’s sweet and cozy. The George Inn is still open so we head inside for a night cap. The place is rough looking and festooned about the rooms are women dressed in basques and looking like zombies. As Will dances about the pool table playing the best of three with a middle aged man called Graham (who had suffered a heart attack not long ago) we discover the gruesome costumes are because the Rocky Horror Picture Show had been in town. We retire again in the wee hours sleep coming fast.

 

Sunday 24th November 2013

 

And so we return home. I spend my Saturday evening catching up with home things and making sure the Strikes Christmas album is underway. I look after the dog who seems to have missed me, constantly nuzzling me for attention. The cold has followed me home but at least I have fresh and warmer clothes to hand. I get a call from my agent; there’s a spot for an acoustic act tomorrow at an upmarket Christmas fair in Tobacco Docks, at the heart of the Docklands in London.

 

The fair is housed in the tobacco storage itself, hundreds of years old with original roof beams, so one of the caterers tells me. The air is bitter and I can’t feel my hands. I meet up with my contact there and he and the soundman, Gareth, help to set me up before shoving thirty pounds of food vouchers into my hand.  I wander the halls and stands of the fair – hot mulled cider from Kent, boutique cheese and exclusive champagne. My vouchers are unable to purchase anything but coffees and overpriced pork bites from a Jamie Oliver stand.

 

 

I have two sets which I play ok, my voice still struggling from the tour. It’s cold on the bandstand and I can barely feel my fingers. I play the late set time and a group of city folk are reeling drunk in front of me, downing frappacino cocktails and wearing jaggermeister bobble hats. I finish and give some quieter ladies my left over vouchers, heading to the train station and home for the rest I have been thinking about since a Leicester hotel room.

Tuesday 19th November 2013

 

 

 

I’ve moved into a new house and my favourite place I’ve found is sitting in the bay window with my guitar, writing and looking out on my immediate scene. My place overlooks a park and I watch the kids smoking on the bench when school turns out. I see women walking dogs on autumnal mid-mornings. I’m beginning to understand the rhythm of the place and its people. Old sights are merging with new ones. This morning I saw an old sight in my new setting as the battered white van pulled up just opposite the black railings of the park to take me on a short run of shows with my band The Lucky Strikes.

 

 

 

The first gig is a new venue for us – The Cookie, in Leicester. I have always played on the outskirts of Leicester, the old haunts stuck on industrial estates or at the back of multi storey car parks. It’s a first to be in the town centre but it is cold, cold, bitter bone cold and I forgot to bring my coat. We load into the room downstairs and meet Matt the sound man. He has the height of Dave, the haircut and glasses of Will and a thick set beard...if the band had a child it would be him. The music is loud and I feel nauseous as the bass rumbles my stomach but all is good and we settle into a post-soundcheck meal at a pub called The Globe. The food is homely and warm and we are reluctant to venture back out. Could we not forgo the gig and stay here? Springsteen plays on the radio as we eat, the dark wood of the room becoming increasingly darker as the gas lights take over from the natural daylight, which has been decaying fast these last few weeks. Someone informs me later that it is the only gas lit pub in the entire country.

 

 

 

The gig goes well and we meet some of the lovely musicians who supported us. Nile MacGregor and Weiki are both insightful and soulful solo artists who take us to a late night bar, the Firebug, after the venue has turned its lights off and the audience have gone home to the warmth of their beds. It’s 1am and the place is buzzing with a happy sort of life, not the dull dim light where drunks go to drown their sorrows. We talk about the local Leicester music scene and the use of these hi-tech glasses that can tell a computer where the person is looking. We leave them both in their discussions, happy to have shared some of their time.

 

 

 

We repair to the hotel. Me and Dave share a room and talk until the wee wee hours, drinking can after can of Fosters. My voice is on a collision course.

 

 

 

Wednesday 20th November 2013

 

 

 

Most of the morning and early afternoon is spent in the hotel lobby in Leicester.  Paul always brings a crossword book with him on tour so we all spend a lot of time thinking up the answers to 5 down and 24 across. I watch the ebb and flow of the room with its strange mixture of clients. There are clusters of business people having meetings and working on their laptops. They meet up on one table occasionally to discuss things. They’re not with the hotel and I wonder whether they are travelling salespeople or whether they just use the lobby as an office because they work from home. Elderly couples sit and talk and a man enters with a book and a coffee. It’s a great place to be, a hotel lobby, you can see new people every day; exotic travellers, strangers and the same lady behind the bar to make your tea.

 

 

 

A business conference is taking place in one of the function rooms and there are a lot of people with name tags milling about. Dave and me nearly walk in on a powerpoint presentation. We’re tired.

 

 

 

The run to Sheffield is easy and we make it in good time. The weather is even worse, cold sharp rain lashes down and our plan to go hat and tattoo shopping is quickly jettisoned for a quiet pint in our next venue, Shakespeare’s. The alcoholic content of the beer is astronomical in places, 8.1% for one which sports a badger swinging from a rope, cutlass in hand and bandanna on the head. I settle for a milder 5.5% ale called Crazy Horse. It tastes of compost.

 

 

 

We dine at a pub just off West Street called the Three Tuns. It’s unique feature being that it is set on a steep hill and the pub narrows as it progressively sticks out from the incline. I must have driven past this pub hundreds of times when I lived in Sheffield but yet I never registered it or thought it a place to visit. Was it Rousseau that said you should explore your home before venturing abroad? There are so many things to see that are right under your nose. You could fill your world with experiences without leaving your home town.

 

 

 

It begins to snow and the backstage room is so cold. None of us can keep warm but it is made better by seeing Simon, our fiddle player, who has made it from Sowerby Bridge. He teaches me and Will how to northern soul dance. My back is fused from the cold and I’m slightly delirious from it but we give it our best.

 

 

 

The gig is good and we meet a lady who had seen us play at the end of Southend Pier. She says she is in one of the photos, second row. It is things like that which make this worthwhile, another is sharing the stage and bus with your friends. Simon walks about the pub with the badger beer urging people to try it, his brewer’s eye agog at it...it’s full bodied.

 

 

 

Thursday 21st November 2013

 

 

 

We are kindly put up by Craig, the man behind WagonWheel Media- the Americana promoter in Sheffield. We stay up late again and wake to a cold morning. We head for breakfast at the cafe we always eat at when in Hillsborough. I could stay there all day watching the football sailing over the school wall into the road, time and time again, the little children shouting at passersby to lob it back over into their field of play...but we must be pressing on. We must leave behind friends and move on to the next.

 

 

 

Leeds is sprawling and new age compared to Sheffield’s small village feel. Again the cold puts us off and we are tired so we plum to sit in The Duck and Drake with steins of tea to keep warm. Dave goes up to the room we have to sleep. The pub is large and ancient and sits below a train bridge where freighters and commuting trains rumble through at all hours.

 

 

 

We set up the PA as there is no soundman for this gig. We live by whits alone. Leeds crowds are always so engaging and forthright. It’s lovely to play for the audience and see old friends and new fans alike. We play two sets and fill them with everything we have. We leave the stage buzzing and promptly stay up until 4am drinking different ales at the bar with the great bar staff- supportive and lovely to the last. 

 

 

 

Friday 22nd November 2013

 

 

 

Morning sunlight stabs through the curtain. Leeds city centre is alive and awake for its Friday morning. We lurk about the room stunned and groaning. Last day of the tour and we have churned ourselves over too many times. The cleaning ladies downstairs jokingly berate Dave for leaving his beer cans on the table. They are kind and interested in what we play. We cut from Leeds quick as if by leaving we will somehow leave the cold behind. We don’t, we drive further into it.

 

 

 

Hebden Bridge is a picturesque town nestled on the river Calder. After a pub meal, desperately trying to generate some body heat and a swift visit to the sweet shop to get some sugar in the system we wander over the bridges, reading the quotes from Ted Hughes engraved on the walls. We are supporting Nine Below Zero, featuring Mark Feltham and Brendan O’Neill who both played with Rory Gallagher on his last album or so. They are phenomenal players and we eat Tibetan stew from The Trades Club as they soundcheck.

 

 

 

We play a lively and fervent opening set. We are giving one hundred percent and I turn to Paul at one point, his face beaming from ear to ear. We’re going home tomorrow and it gets everyone excited, makes everyone play the best they can because who knows when we’ll be out again. The crowd are great but it ends too soon.

 

 

 

I meet a man called Southend Bill. He was from Southend, Snakes Lane, he says. His life is interesting and he tells me how he went AWOL from the navy on account of his beliefs and was detained in Southend by the military police. He then read about a hippy commune in the Colne Valley. Wrongly suspecting this was up in Yorkshire he had made his way up the spine of the country and ended up in Hebden Bridge. He laughed as he told me he soon found that the Colne was back down in Essex, near Colchester.

 

 

 

The evening is for celebration and we toast the tour as Nine Below play their set. The gig finishes and the venue turns into a night club and before our eyes we are surrounded by curving dancing forms. Dave and I head off into the night in search of food but the steer two ladies give us to a pizza shop disappears as we close in on its dark and shuttered shop front. We return to the club to find Will dancing his soul out with Liz the venue booker and the clientele.

 

 

 

I get introduced to a gentleman who takes me into his confidence about the show. He was a singer for the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and he talks passionately about how his father had shared a pram with Ted Hughes and how Ted had been a deeply misunderstood man and how Sylvia Plath had felt imprisoned within the tall valley walls of Calderdale when she arrived here with him. He holds my shoulder and effuses.

 

 

 

It’s too late but we drive back to our hotel in Todmorden (‘Murder Death Town’ one local reliably informs me) but it’s sweet and cozy. The George Inn is still open so we head inside for a night cap. The place is rough looking and festooned about the rooms are women dressed in basques and looking like zombies. As Will dances about the pool table playing the best of three with a middle aged man called Graham (who had suffered a heart attack not long ago) we discover the gruesome costumes are because the Rocky Horror Picture Show had been in town. We retire again in the wee hours sleep coming fast.

 

 

 

Sunday 24th November 2013

 

 

 

And so we return home. I spend my Saturday evening catching up with home things and making sure the Strikes Christmas album is underway. I look after the dog who seems to have missed me, constantly nuzzling me for attention. The cold has followed me home but at least I have fresh and warmer clothes to hand. I get a call from my agent; there’s a spot for an acoustic act tomorrow at an upmarket Christmas fair in Tobacco Docks, at the heart of the Docklands in London.

 

 

 

The fair is housed in the tobacco storage itself, hundreds of years old with original roof beams, so one of the caterers tells me. The air is bitter and I can’t feel my hands. I meet up with my contact there and he and the soundman, Gareth, help to set me up before shoving thirty pounds of food vouchers into my hand.  I wander the halls and stands of the fair – hot mulled cider from Kent, boutique cheese and exclusive champagne. My vouchers are unable to purchase anything but coffees and overpriced pork bites from a Jamie Oliver stand.

 

 

 

I have two sets which I play ok, my voice still struggling from the tour. It’s cold on the bandstand and I can barely feel my fingers. I play the late set time and a group of city folk are reeling drunk in front of me, downing frappacino cocktails and wearing jaggermeister bobble hats. I finish and give some quieter ladies my left over vouchers, heading to the train station and home for the rest I have been thinking about since a Leicester hotel room.

 

 

Tuesday 19th November 2013

 

 

 

I’ve moved into a new house and my favourite place I’ve found is sitting in the bay window with my guitar, writing and looking out on my immediate scene. My place overlooks a park and I watch the kids smoking on the bench when school turns out. I see women walking dogs on autumnal mid-mornings. I’m beginning to understand the rhythm of the place and its people. Old sights are merging with new ones. This morning I saw an old sight in my new setting as the battered white van pulled up just opposite the black railings of the park to take me on a short run of shows with my band The Lucky Strikes.

 

 

 

The first gig is a new venue for us – The Cookie, in Leicester. I have always played on the outskirts of Leicester, the old haunts stuck on industrial estates or at the back of multi storey car parks. It’s a first to be in the town centre but it is cold, cold, bitter bone cold and I forgot to bring my coat. We load into the room downstairs and meet Matt the sound man. He has the height of Dave, the haircut and glasses of Will and a thick set beard...if the band had a child it would be him. The music is loud and I feel nauseous as the bass rumbles my stomach but all is good and we settle into a post-soundcheck meal at a pub called The Globe. The food is homely and warm and we are reluctant to venture back out. Could we not forgo the gig and stay here? Springsteen plays on the radio as we eat, the dark wood of the room becoming increasingly darker as the gas lights take over from the natural daylight, which has been decaying fast these last few weeks. Someone informs me later that it is the only gas lit pub in the entire country.

 

 

 

The gig goes well and we meet some of the lovely musicians who supported us. Nile MacGregor and Weiki are both insightful and soulful solo artists who take us to a late night bar, the Firebug, after the venue has turned its lights off and the audience have gone home to the warmth of their beds. It’s 1am and the place is buzzing with a happy sort of life, not the dull dim light where drunks go to drown their sorrows. We talk about the local Leicester music scene and the use of these hi-tech glasses that can tell a computer where the person is looking. We leave them both in their discussions, happy to have shared some of their time.

 

 

 

We repair to the hotel. Me and Dave share a room and talk until the wee wee hours, drinking can after can of Fosters. My voice is on a collision course.

 

 

 

Wednesday 20th November 2013

 

 

 

Most of the morning and early afternoon is spent in the hotel lobby in Leicester.  Paul always brings a crossword book with him on tour so we all spend a lot of time thinking up the answers to 5 down and 24 across. I watch the ebb and flow of the room with its strange mixture of clients. There are clusters of business people having meetings and working on their laptops. They meet up on one table occasionally to discuss things. They’re not with the hotel and I wonder whether they are travelling salespeople or whether they just use the lobby as an office because they work from home. Elderly couples sit and talk and a man enters with a book and a coffee. It’s a great place to be, a hotel lobby, you can see new people every day; exotic travellers, strangers and the same lady behind the bar to make your tea.

 

 

 

A business conference is taking place in one of the function rooms and there are a lot of people with name tags milling about. Dave and me nearly walk in on a powerpoint presentation. We’re tired.

 

 

 

The run to Sheffield is easy and we make it in good time. The weather is even worse, cold sharp rain lashes down and our plan to go hat and tattoo shopping is quickly jettisoned for a quiet pint in our next venue, Shakespeare’s. The alcoholic content of the beer is astronomical in places, 8.1% for one which sports a badger swinging from a rope, cutlass in hand and bandanna on the head. I settle for a milder 5.5% ale called Crazy Horse. It tastes of compost.

 

 

 

We dine at a pub just off West Street called the Three Tuns. It’s unique feature being that it is set on a steep hill and the pub narrows as it progressively sticks out from the incline. I must have driven past this pub hundreds of times when I lived in Sheffield but yet I never registered it or thought it a place to visit. Was it Rousseau that said you should explore your home before venturing abroad? There are so many things to see that are right under your nose. You could fill your world with experiences without leaving your home town.

 

 

 

It begins to snow and the backstage room is so cold. None of us can keep warm but it is made better by seeing Simon, our fiddle player, who has made it from Sowerby Bridge. He teaches me and Will how to northern soul dance. My back is fused from the cold and I’m slightly delirious from it but we give it our best.

 

 

 

The gig is good and we meet a lady who had seen us play at the end of Southend Pier. She says she is in one of the photos, second row. It is things like that which make this worthwhile, another is sharing the stage and bus with your friends. Simon walks about the pub with the badger beer urging people to try it, his brewer’s eye agog at it...it’s full bodied.

 

 

 

Thursday 21st November 2013

 

 

 

We are kindly put up by Craig, the man behind WagonWheel Media- the Americana promoter in Sheffield. We stay up late again and wake to a cold morning. We head for breakfast at the cafe we always eat at when in Hillsborough. I could stay there all day watching the football sailing over the school wall into the road, time and time again, the little children shouting at passersby to lob it back over into their field of play...but we must be pressing on. We must leave behind friends and move on to the next.

 

 

 

Leeds is sprawling and new age compared to Sheffield’s small village feel. Again the cold puts us off and we are tired so we plum to sit in The Duck and Drake with steins of tea to keep warm. Dave goes up to the room we have to sleep. The pub is large and ancient and sits below a train bridge where freighters and commuting trains rumble through at all hours.

 

 

 

We set up the PA as there is no soundman for this gig. We live by whits alone. Leeds crowds are always so engaging and forthright. It’s lovely to play for the audience and see old friends and new fans alike. We play two sets and fill them with everything we have. We leave the stage buzzing and promptly stay up until 4am drinking different ales at the bar with the great bar staff- supportive and lovely to the last. 

 

 

 

Friday 22nd November 2013

 

 

 

Morning sunlight stabs through the curtain. Leeds city centre is alive and awake for its Friday morning. We lurk about the room stunned and groaning. Last day of the tour and we have churned ourselves over too many times. The cleaning ladies downstairs jokingly berate Dave for leaving his beer cans on the table. They are kind and interested in what we play. We cut from Leeds quick as if by leaving we will somehow leave the cold behind. We don’t, we drive further into it.

 

 

 

Hebden Bridge is a picturesque town nestled on the river Calder. After a pub meal, desperately trying to generate some body heat and a swift visit to the sweet shop to get some sugar in the system we wander over the bridges, reading the quotes from Ted Hughes engraved on the walls. We are supporting Nine Below Zero, featuring Mark Feltham and Brendan O’Neill who both played with Rory Gallagher on his last album or so. They are phenomenal players and we eat Tibetan stew from The Trades Club as they soundcheck.

 

 

 

We play a lively and fervent opening set. We are giving one hundred percent and I turn to Paul at one point, his face beaming from ear to ear. We’re going home tomorrow and it gets everyone excited, makes everyone play the best they can because who knows when we’ll be out again. The crowd are great but it ends too soon.

 

 

 

I meet a man called Southend Bill. He was from Southend, Snakes Lane, he says. His life is interesting and he tells me how he went AWOL from the navy on account of his beliefs and was detained in Southend by the military police. He then read about a hippy commune in the Colne Valley. Wrongly suspecting this was up in Yorkshire he had made his way up the spine of the country and ended up in Hebden Bridge. He laughed as he told me he soon found that the Colne was back down in Essex, near Colchester.

 

 

 

The evening is for celebration and we toast the tour as Nine Below play their set. The gig finishes and the venue turns into a night club and before our eyes we are surrounded by curving dancing forms. Dave and I head off into the night in search of food but the steer two ladies give us to a pizza shop disappears as we close in on its dark and shuttered shop front. We return to the club to find Will dancing his soul out with Liz the venue booker and the clientele.

 

 

 

I get introduced to a gentleman who takes me into his confidence about the show. He was a singer for the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and he talks passionately about how his father had shared a pram with Ted Hughes and how Ted had been a deeply misunderstood man and how Sylvia Plath had felt imprisoned within the tall valley walls of Calderdale when she arrived here with him. He holds my shoulder and effuses.

 

 

 

It’s too late but we drive back to our hotel in Todmorden (‘Murder Death Town’ one local reliably informs me) but it’s sweet and cozy. The George Inn is still open so we head inside for a night cap. The place is rough looking and festooned about the rooms are women dressed in basques and looking like zombies. As Will dances about the pool table playing the best of three with a middle aged man called Graham (who had suffered a heart attack not long ago) we discover the gruesome costumes are because the Rocky Horror Picture Show had been in town. We retire again in the wee hours sleep coming fast.

 

 

 

Sunday 24th November 2013

 

 

 

And so we return home. I spend my Saturday evening catching up with home things and making sure the Strikes Christmas album is underway. I look after the dog who seems to have missed me, constantly nuzzling me for attention. The cold has followed me home but at least I have fresh and warmer clothes to hand. I get a call from my agent; there’s a spot for an acoustic act tomorrow at an upmarket Christmas fair in Tobacco Docks, at the heart of the Docklands in London.

 

 

 

The fair is housed in the tobacco storage itself, hundreds of years old with original roof beams, so one of the caterers tells me. The air is bitter and I can’t feel my hands. I meet up with my contact there and he and the soundman, Gareth, help to set me up before shoving thirty pounds of food vouchers into my hand.  I wander the halls and stands of the fair – hot mulled cider from Kent, boutique cheese and exclusive champagne. My vouchers are unable to purchase anything but coffees and overpriced pork bites from a Jamie Oliver stand.

 

 

 

I have two sets which I play ok, my voice still struggling from the tour. It’s cold on the bandstand and I can barely feel my fingers. I play the late set time and a group of city folk are reeling drunk in front of me, downing frappacino cocktails and wearing jaggermeister bobble hats. I finish and give some quieter ladies my left over vouchers, heading to the train station and home for the rest I have been thinking about since a Leicester hotel room.

 

Tuesday 19th November 2013

 

 

 

I’ve moved into a new house and my favourite place I’ve found is sitting in the bay window with my guitar, writing and looking out on my immediate scene. My place overlooks a park and I watch the kids smoking on the bench when school turns out. I see women walking dogs on autumnal mid-mornings. I’m beginning to understand the rhythm of the place and its people. Old sights are merging with new ones. This morning I saw an old sight in my new setting as the battered white van pulled up just opposite the black railings of the park to take me on a short run of shows with my band The Lucky Strikes.

 

 

 

The first gig is a new venue for us – The Cookie, in Leicester. I have always played on the outskirts of Leicester, the old haunts stuck on industrial estates or at the back of multi storey car parks. It’s a first to be in the town centre but it is cold, cold, bitter bone cold and I forgot to bring my coat. We load into the room downstairs and meet Matt the sound man. He has the height of Dave, the haircut and glasses of Will and a thick set beard...if the band had a child it would be him. The music is loud and I feel nauseous as the bass rumbles my stomach but all is good and we settle into a post-soundcheck meal at a pub called The Globe. The food is homely and warm and we are reluctant to venture back out. Could we not forgo the gig and stay here? Springsteen plays on the radio as we eat, the dark wood of the room becoming increasingly darker as the gas lights take over from the natural daylight, which has been decaying fast these last few weeks. Someone informs me later that it is the only gas lit pub in the entire country.

 

 

 

The gig goes well and we meet some of the lovely musicians who supported us. Nile MacGregor and Weiki are both insightful and soulful solo artists who take us to a late night bar, the Firebug, after the venue has turned its lights off and the audience have gone home to the warmth of their beds. It’s 1am and the place is buzzing with a happy sort of life, not the dull dim light where drunks go to drown their sorrows. We talk about the local Leicester music scene and the use of these hi-tech glasses that can tell a computer where the person is looking. We leave them both in their discussions, happy to have shared some of their time.

 

 

 

We repair to the hotel. Me and Dave share a room and talk until the wee wee hours, drinking can after can of Fosters. My voice is on a collision course.

 

 

 

Wednesday 20th November 2013

 

 

 

Most of the morning and early afternoon is spent in the hotel lobby in Leicester.  Paul always brings a crossword book with him on tour so we all spend a lot of time thinking up the answers to 5 down and 24 across. I watch the ebb and flow of the room with its strange mixture of clients. There are clusters of business people having meetings and working on their laptops. They meet up on one table occasionally to discuss things. They’re not with the hotel and I wonder whether they are travelling salespeople or whether they just use the lobby as an office because they work from home. Elderly couples sit and talk and a man enters with a book and a coffee. It’s a great place to be, a hotel lobby, you can see new people every day; exotic travellers, strangers and the same lady behind the bar to make your tea.

 

 

 

A business conference is taking place in one of the function rooms and there are a lot of people with name tags milling about. Dave and me nearly walk in on a powerpoint presentation. We’re tired.

 

 

 

The run to Sheffield is easy and we make it in good time. The weather is even worse, cold sharp rain lashes down and our plan to go hat and tattoo shopping is quickly jettisoned for a quiet pint in our next venue, Shakespeare’s. The alcoholic content of the beer is astronomical in places, 8.1% for one which sports a badger swinging from a rope, cutlass in hand and bandanna on the head. I settle for a milder 5.5% ale called Crazy Horse. It tastes of compost.

 

 

 

We dine at a pub just off West Street called the Three Tuns. It’s unique feature being that it is set on a steep hill and the pub narrows as it progressively sticks out from the incline. I must have driven past this pub hundreds of times when I lived in Sheffield but yet I never registered it or thought it a place to visit. Was it Rousseau that said you should explore your home before venturing abroad? There are so many things to see that are right under your nose. You could fill your world with experiences without leaving your home town.

 

 

 

It begins to snow and the backstage room is so cold. None of us can keep warm but it is made better by seeing Simon, our fiddle player, who has made it from Sowerby Bridge. He teaches me and Will how to northern soul dance. My back is fused from the cold and I’m slightly delirious from it but we give it our best.

 

 

 

The gig is good and we meet a lady who had seen us play at the end of Southend Pier. She says she is in one of the photos, second row. It is things like that which make this worthwhile, another is sharing the stage and bus with your friends. Simon walks about the pub with the badger beer urging people to try it, his brewer’s eye agog at it...it’s full bodied.

 

 

 

Thursday 21st November 2013

 

 

 

We are kindly put up by Craig, the man behind WagonWheel Media- the Americana promoter in Sheffield. We stay up late again and wake to a cold morning. We head for breakfast at the cafe we always eat at when in Hillsborough. I could stay there all day watching the football sailing over the school wall into the road, time and time again, the little children shouting at passersby to lob it back over into their field of play...but we must be pressing on. We must leave behind friends and move on to the next.

 

 

 

Leeds is sprawling and new age compared to Sheffield’s small village feel. Again the cold puts us off and we are tired so we plum to sit in The Duck and Drake with steins of tea to keep warm. Dave goes up to the room we have to sleep. The pub is large and ancient and sits below a train bridge where freighters and commuting trains rumble through at all hours.

 

 

 

We set up the PA as there is no soundman for this gig. We live by whits alone. Leeds crowds are always so engaging and forthright. It’s lovely to play for the audience and see old friends and new fans alike. We play two sets and fill them with everything we have. We leave the stage buzzing and promptly stay up until 4am drinking different ales at the bar with the great bar staff- supportive and lovely to the last. 

 

 

 

Friday 22nd November 2013

 

 

 

Morning sunlight stabs through the curtain. Leeds city centre is alive and awake for its Friday morning. We lurk about the room stunned and groaning. Last day of the tour and we have churned ourselves over too many times. The cleaning ladies downstairs jokingly berate Dave for leaving his beer cans on the table. They are kind and interested in what we play. We cut from Leeds quick as if by leaving we will somehow leave the cold behind. We don’t, we drive further into it.

 

 

 

Hebden Bridge is a picturesque town nestled on the river Calder. After a pub meal, desperately trying to generate some body heat and a swift visit to the sweet shop to get some sugar in the system we wander over the bridges, reading the quotes from Ted Hughes engraved on the walls. We are supporting Nine Below Zero, featuring Mark Feltham and Brendan O’Neill who both played with Rory Gallagher on his last album or so. They are phenomenal players and we eat Tibetan stew from The Trades Club as they soundcheck.

 

 

 

We play a lively and fervent opening set. We are giving one hundred percent and I turn to Paul at one point, his face beaming from ear to ear. We’re going home tomorrow and it gets everyone excited, makes everyone play the best they can because who knows when we’ll be out again. The crowd are great but it ends too soon.

 

 

 

I meet a man called Southend Bill. He was from Southend, Snakes Lane, he says. His life is interesting and he tells me how he went AWOL from the navy on account of his beliefs and was detained in Southend by the military police. He then read about a hippy commune in the Colne Valley. Wrongly suspecting this was up in Yorkshire he had made his way up the spine of the country and ended up in Hebden Bridge. He laughed as he told me he soon found that the Colne was back down in Essex, near Colchester.

 

 

 

The evening is for celebration and we toast the tour as Nine Below play their set. The gig finishes and the venue turns into a night club and before our eyes we are surrounded by curving dancing forms. Dave and I head off into the night in search of food but the steer two ladies give us to a pizza shop disappears as we close in on its dark and shuttered shop front. We return to the club to find Will dancing his soul out with Liz the venue booker and the clientele.

 

 

 

I get introduced to a gentleman who takes me into his confidence about the show. He was a singer for the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and he talks passionately about how his father had shared a pram with Ted Hughes and how Ted had been a deeply misunderstood man and how Sylvia Plath had felt imprisoned within the tall valley walls of Calderdale when she arrived here with him. He holds my shoulder and effuses.

 

 

 

It’s too late but we drive back to our hotel in Todmorden (‘Murder Death Town’ one local reliably informs me) but it’s sweet and cozy. The George Inn is still open so we head inside for a night cap. The place is rough looking and festooned about the rooms are women dressed in basques and looking like zombies. As Will dances about the pool table playing the best of three with a middle aged man called Graham (who had suffered a heart attack not long ago) we discover the gruesome costumes are because the Rocky Horror Picture Show had been in town. We retire again in the wee hours sleep coming fast.

 

 

 

Sunday 24th November 2013

 

 

 

And so we return home. I spend my Saturday evening catching up with home things and making sure the Strikes Christmas album is underway. I look after the dog who seems to have missed me, constantly nuzzling me for attention. The cold has followed me home but at least I have fresh and warmer clothes to hand. I get a call from my agent; there’s a spot for an acoustic act tomorrow at an upmarket Christmas fair in Tobacco Docks, at the heart of the Docklands in London.

 

 

 

The fair is housed in the tobacco storage itself, hundreds of years old with original roof beams, so one of the caterers tells me. The air is bitter and I can’t feel my hands. I meet up with my contact there and he and the soundman, Gareth, help to set me up before shoving thirty pounds of food vouchers into my hand.  I wander the halls and stands of the fair – hot mulled cider from Kent, boutique cheese and exclusive champagne. My vouchers are unable to purchase anything but coffees and overpriced pork bites from a Jamie Oliver stand.

 

 

 

I have two sets which I play ok, my voice still struggling from the tour. It’s cold on the bandstand and I can barely feel my fingers. I play the late set time and a group of city folk are reeling drunk in front of me, downing frappacino cocktails and wearing jaggermeister bobble hats. I finish and give some quieter ladies my left over vouchers, heading to the train station and home for the rest I have been thinking about since a Leicester hotel room.

 

Tuesday 19th November 2013

 

 

 

I’ve moved into a new house and my favourite place I’ve found is sitting in the bay window with my guitar, writing and looking out on my immediate scene. My place overlooks a park and I watch the kids smoking on the bench when school turns out. I see women walking dogs on autumnal mid-mornings. I’m beginning to understand the rhythm of the place and its people. Old sights are merging with new ones. This morning I saw an old sight in my new setting as the battered white van pulled up just opposite the black railings of the park to take me on a short run of shows with my band The Lucky Strikes.

 

 

 

The first gig is a new venue for us – The Cookie, in Leicester. I have always played on the outskirts of Leicester, the old haunts stuck on industrial estates or at the back of multi storey car parks. It’s a first to be in the town centre but it is cold, cold, bitter bone cold and I forgot to bring my coat. We load into the room downstairs and meet Matt the sound man. He has the height of Dave, the haircut and glasses of Will and a thick set beard...if the band had a child it would be him. The music is loud and I feel nauseous as the bass rumbles my stomach but all is good and we settle into a post-soundcheck meal at a pub called The Globe. The food is homely and warm and we are reluctant to venture back out. Could we not forgo the gig and stay here? Springsteen plays on the radio as we eat, the dark wood of the room becoming increasingly darker as the gas lights take over from the natural daylight, which has been decaying fast these last few weeks. Someone informs me later that it is the only gas lit pub in the entire country.

 

 

 

The gig goes well and we meet some of the lovely musicians who supported us. Nile MacGregor and Weiki are both insightful and soulful solo artists who take us to a late night bar, the Firebug, after the venue has turned its lights off and the audience have gone home to the warmth of their beds. It’s 1am and the place is buzzing with a happy sort of life, not the dull dim light where drunks go to drown their sorrows. We talk about the local Leicester music scene and the use of these hi-tech glasses that can tell a computer where the person is looking. We leave them both in their discussions, happy to have shared some of their time.

 

 

 

We repair to the hotel. Me and Dave share a room and talk until the wee wee hours, drinking can after can of Fosters. My voice is on a collision course.

 

 

 

Wednesday 20th November 2013

 

 

 

Most of the morning and early afternoon is spent in the hotel lobby in Leicester.  Paul always brings a crossword book with him on tour so we all spend a lot of time thinking up the answers to 5 down and 24 across. I watch the ebb and flow of the room with its strange mixture of clients. There are clusters of business people having meetings and working on their laptops. They meet up on one table occasionally to discuss things. They’re not with the hotel and I wonder whether they are travelling salespeople or whether they just use the lobby as an office because they work from home. Elderly couples sit and talk and a man enters with a book and a coffee. It’s a great place to be, a hotel lobby, you can see new people every day; exotic travellers, strangers and the same lady behind the bar to make your tea.

 

 

 

A business conference is taking place in one of the function rooms and there are a lot of people with name tags milling about. Dave and me nearly walk in on a powerpoint presentation. We’re tired.

 

 

 

The run to Sheffield is easy and we make it in good time. The weather is even worse, cold sharp rain lashes down and our plan to go hat and tattoo shopping is quickly jettisoned for a quiet pint in our next venue, Shakespeare’s. The alcoholic content of the beer is astronomical in places, 8.1% for one which sports a badger swinging from a rope, cutlass in hand and bandanna on the head. I settle for a milder 5.5% ale called Crazy Horse. It tastes of compost.

 

 

 

We dine at a pub just off West Street called the Three Tuns. It’s unique feature being that it is set on a steep hill and the pub narrows as it progressively sticks out from the incline. I must have driven past this pub hundreds of times when I lived in Sheffield but yet I never registered it or thought it a place to visit. Was it Rousseau that said you should explore your home before venturing abroad? There are so many things to see that are right under your nose. You could fill your world with experiences without leaving your home town.

 

 

 

It begins to snow and the backstage room is so cold. None of us can keep warm but it is made better by seeing Simon, our fiddle player, who has made it from Sowerby Bridge. He teaches me and Will how to northern soul dance. My back is fused from the cold and I’m slightly delirious from it but we give it our best.

 

 

 

The gig is good and we meet a lady who had seen us play at the end of Southend Pier. She says she is in one of the photos, second row. It is things like that which make this worthwhile, another is sharing the stage and bus with your friends. Simon walks about the pub with the badger beer urging people to try it, his brewer’s eye agog at it...it’s full bodied.

 

 

 

Thursday 21st November 2013

 

 

 

We are kindly put up by Craig, the man behind WagonWheel Media- the Americana promoter in Sheffield. We stay up late again and wake to a cold morning. We head for breakfast at the cafe we always eat at when in Hillsborough. I could stay there all day watching the football sailing over the school wall into the road, time and time again, the little children shouting at passersby to lob it back over into their field of play...but we must be pressing on. We must leave behind friends and move on to the next.

 

 

 

Leeds is sprawling and new age compared to Sheffield’s small village feel. Again the cold puts us off and we are tired so we plum to sit in The Duck and Drake with steins of tea to keep warm. Dave goes up to the room we have to sleep. The pub is large and ancient and sits below a train bridge where freighters and commuting trains rumble through at all hours.

 

 

 

We set up the PA as there is no soundman for this gig. We live by whits alone. Leeds crowds are always so engaging and forthright. It’s lovely to play for the audience and see old friends and new fans alike. We play two sets and fill them with everything we have. We leave the stage buzzing and promptly stay up until 4am drinking different ales at the bar with the great bar staff- supportive and lovely to the last. 

 

 

 

Friday 22nd November 2013

 

 

 

Morning sunlight stabs through the curtain. Leeds city centre is alive and awake for its Friday morning. We lurk about the room stunned and groaning. Last day of the tour and we have churned ourselves over too many times. The cleaning ladies downstairs jokingly berate Dave for leaving his beer cans on the table. They are kind and interested in what we play. We cut from Leeds quick as if by leaving we will somehow leave the cold behind. We don’t, we drive further into it.

 

 

 

Hebden Bridge is a picturesque town nestled on the river Calder. After a pub meal, desperately trying to generate some body heat and a swift visit to the sweet shop to get some sugar in the system we wander over the bridges, reading the quotes from Ted Hughes engraved on the walls. We are supporting Nine Below Zero, featuring Mark Feltham and Brendan O’Neill who both played with Rory Gallagher on his last album or so. They are phenomenal players and we eat Tibetan stew from The Trades Club as they soundcheck.

 

 

 

We play a lively and fervent opening set. We are giving one hundred percent and I turn to Paul at one point, his face beaming from ear to ear. We’re going home tomorrow and it gets everyone excited, makes everyone play the best they can because who knows when we’ll be out again. The crowd are great but it ends too soon.

 

 

 

I meet a man called Southend Bill. He was from Southend, Snakes Lane, he says. His life is interesting and he tells me how he went AWOL from the navy on account of his beliefs and was detained in Southend by the military police. He then read about a hippy commune in the Colne Valley. Wrongly suspecting this was up in Yorkshire he had made his way up the spine of the country and ended up in Hebden Bridge. He laughed as he told me he soon found that the Colne was back down in Essex, near Colchester.

 

 

 

The evening is for celebration and we toast the tour as Nine Below play their set. The gig finishes and the venue turns into a night club and before our eyes we are surrounded by curving dancing forms. Dave and I head off into the night in search of food but the steer two ladies give us to a pizza shop disappears as we close in on its dark and shuttered shop front. We return to the club to find Will dancing his soul out with Liz the venue booker and the clientele.

 

 

 

I get introduced to a gentleman who takes me into his confidence about the show. He was a singer for the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and he talks passionately about how his father had shared a pram with Ted Hughes and how Ted had been a deeply misunderstood man and how Sylvia Plath had felt imprisoned within the tall valley walls of Calderdale when she arrived here with him. He holds my shoulder and effuses.

 

 

 

It’s too late but we drive back to our hotel in Todmorden (‘Murder Death Town’ one local reliably informs me) but it’s sweet and cozy. The George Inn is still open so we head inside for a night cap. The place is rough looking and festooned about the rooms are women dressed in basques and looking like zombies. As Will dances about the pool table playing the best of three with a middle aged man called Graham (who had suffered a heart attack not long ago) we discover the gruesome costumes are because the Rocky Horror Picture Show had been in town. We retire again in the wee hours sleep coming fast.

 

 

 

Sunday 24th November 2013

 

 

 

And so we return home. I spend my Saturday evening catching up with home things and making sure the Strikes Christmas album is underway. I look after the dog who seems to have missed me, constantly nuzzling me for attention. The cold has followed me home but at least I have fresh and warmer clothes to hand. I get a call from my agent; there’s a spot for an acoustic act tomorrow at an upmarket Christmas fair in Tobacco Docks, at the heart of the Docklands in London.

 

 

 

The fair is housed in the tobacco storage itself, hundreds of years old with original roof beams, so one of the caterers tells me. The air is bitter and I can’t feel my hands. I meet up with my contact there and he and the soundman, Gareth, help to set me up before shoving thirty pounds of food vouchers into my hand.  I wander the halls and stands of the fair – hot mulled cider from Kent, boutique cheese and exclusive champagne. My vouchers are unable to purchase anything but coffees and overpriced pork bites from a Jamie Oliver stand.

 

 

 

I have two sets which I play ok, my voice still struggling from the tour. It’s cold on the bandstand and I can barely feel my fingers. I play the late set time and a group of city folk are reeling drunk in front of me, downing frappacino cocktails and wearing jaggermeister bobble hats. I finish and give some quieter ladies my left over vouchers, heading to the train station and home for the rest I have been thinking about since a Leicester hotel room.

 

Tuesday 19th November 2013

 

 

 

I’ve moved into a new house and my favourite place I’ve found is sitting in the bay window with my guitar, writing and looking out on my immediate scene. My place overlooks a park and I watch the kids smoking on the bench when school turns out. I see women walking dogs on autumnal mid-mornings. I’m beginning to understand the rhythm of the place and its people. Old sights are merging with new ones. This morning I saw an old sight in my new setting as the battered white van pulled up just opposite the black railings of the park to take me on a short run of shows with my band The Lucky Strikes.

 

 

 

The first gig is a new venue for us – The Cookie, in Leicester. I have always played on the outskirts of Leicester, the old haunts stuck on industrial estates or at the back of multi storey car parks. It’s a first to be in the town centre but it is cold, cold, bitter bone cold and I forgot to bring my coat. We load into the room downstairs and meet Matt the sound man. He has the height of Dave, the haircut and glasses of Will and a thick set beard...if the band had a child it would be him. The music is loud and I feel nauseous as the bass rumbles my stomach but all is good and we settle into a post-soundcheck meal at a pub called The Globe. The food is homely and warm and we are reluctant to venture back out. Could we not forgo the gig and stay here? Springsteen plays on the radio as we eat, the dark wood of the room becoming increasingly darker as the gas lights take over from the natural daylight, which has been decaying fast these last few weeks. Someone informs me later that it is the only gas lit pub in the entire country.

 

 

 

The gig goes well and we meet some of the lovely musicians who supported us. Nile MacGregor and Weiki are both insightful and soulful solo artists who take us to a late night bar, the Firebug, after the venue has turned its lights off and the audience have gone home to the warmth of their beds. It’s 1am and the place is buzzing with a happy sort of life, not the dull dim light where drunks go to drown their sorrows. We talk about the local Leicester music scene and the use of these hi-tech glasses that can tell a computer where the person is looking. We leave them both in their discussions, happy to have shared some of their time.

 

 

 

We repair to the hotel. Me and Dave share a room and talk until the wee wee hours, drinking can after can of Fosters. My voice is on a collision course.

 

 

 

Wednesday 20th November 2013

 

 

 

Most of the morning and early afternoon is spent in the hotel lobby in Leicester.  Paul always brings a crossword book with him on tour so we all spend a lot of time thinking up the answers to 5 down and 24 across. I watch the ebb and flow of the room with its strange mixture of clients. There are clusters of business people having meetings and working on their laptops. They meet up on one table occasionally to discuss things. They’re not with the hotel and I wonder whether they are travelling salespeople or whether they just use the lobby as an office because they work from home. Elderly couples sit and talk and a man enters with a book and a coffee. It’s a great place to be, a hotel lobby, you can see new people every day; exotic travellers, strangers and the same lady behind the bar to make your tea.

 

 

 

A business conference is taking place in one of the function rooms and there are a lot of people with name tags milling about. Dave and me nearly walk in on a powerpoint presentation. We’re tired.

 

 

 

The run to Sheffield is easy and we make it in good time. The weather is even worse, cold sharp rain lashes down and our plan to go hat and tattoo shopping is quickly jettisoned for a quiet pint in our next venue, Shakespeare’s. The alcoholic content of the beer is astronomical in places, 8.1% for one which sports a badger swinging from a rope, cutlass in hand and bandanna on the head. I settle for a milder 5.5% ale called Crazy Horse. It tastes of compost.

 

 

 

We dine at a pub just off West Street called the Three Tuns. It’s unique feature being that it is set on a steep hill and the pub narrows as it progressively sticks out from the incline. I must have driven past this pub hundreds of times when I lived in Sheffield but yet I never registered it or thought it a place to visit. Was it Rousseau that said you should explore your home before venturing abroad? There are so many things to see that are right under your nose. You could fill your world with experiences without leaving your home town.

 

 

 

It begins to snow and the backstage room is so cold. None of us can keep warm but it is made better by seeing Simon, our fiddle player, who has made it from Sowerby Bridge. He teaches me and Will how to northern soul dance. My back is fused from the cold and I’m slightly delirious from it but we give it our best.

 

 

 

The gig is good and we meet a lady who had seen us play at the end of Southend Pier. She says she is in one of the photos, second row. It is things like that which make this worthwhile, another is sharing the stage and bus with your friends. Simon walks about the pub with the badger beer urging people to try it, his brewer’s eye agog at it...it’s full bodied.

 

 

 

Thursday 21st November 2013

 

 

 

We are kindly put up by Craig, the man behind WagonWheel Media- the Americana promoter in Sheffield. We stay up late again and wake to a cold morning. We head for breakfast at the cafe we always eat at when in Hillsborough. I could stay there all day watching the football sailing over the school wall into the road, time and time again, the little children shouting at passersby to lob it back over into their field of play...but we must be pressing on. We must leave behind friends and move on to the next.

 

 

 

Leeds is sprawling and new age compared to Sheffield’s small village feel. Again the cold puts us off and we are tired so we plum to sit in The Duck and Drake with steins of tea to keep warm. Dave goes up to the room we have to sleep. The pub is large and ancient and sits below a train bridge where freighters and commuting trains rumble through at all hours.

 

 

 

We set up the PA as there is no soundman for this gig. We live by whits alone. Leeds crowds are always so engaging and forthright. It’s lovely to play for the audience and see old friends and new fans alike. We play two sets and fill them with everything we have. We leave the stage buzzing and promptly stay up until 4am drinking different ales at the bar with the great bar staff- supportive and lovely to the last. 

 

 

 

Friday 22nd November 2013

 

 

 

Morning sunlight stabs through the curtain. Leeds city centre is alive and awake for its Friday morning. We lurk about the room stunned and groaning. Last day of the tour and we have churned ourselves over too many times. The cleaning ladies downstairs jokingly berate Dave for leaving his beer cans on the table. They are kind and interested in what we play. We cut from Leeds quick as if by leaving we will somehow leave the cold behind. We don’t, we drive further into it.

 

 

 

Hebden Bridge is a picturesque town nestled on the river Calder. After a pub meal, desperately trying to generate some body heat and a swift visit to the sweet shop to get some sugar in the system we wander over the bridges, reading the quotes from Ted Hughes engraved on the walls. We are supporting Nine Below Zero, featuring Mark Feltham and Brendan O’Neill who both played with Rory Gallagher on his last album or so. They are phenomenal players and we eat Tibetan stew from The Trades Club as they soundcheck.

 

 

 

We play a lively and fervent opening set. We are giving one hundred percent and I turn to Paul at one point, his face beaming from ear to ear. We’re going home tomorrow and it gets everyone excited, makes everyone play the best they can because who knows when we’ll be out again. The crowd are great but it ends too soon.

 

 

 

I meet a man called Southend Bill. He was from Southend, Snakes Lane, he says. His life is interesting and he tells me how he went AWOL from the navy on account of his beliefs and was detained in Southend by the military police. He then read about a hippy commune in the Colne Valley. Wrongly suspecting this was up in Yorkshire he had made his way up the spine of the country and ended up in Hebden Bridge. He laughed as he told me he soon found that the Colne was back down in Essex, near Colchester.

 

 

 

The evening is for celebration and we toast the tour as Nine Below play their set. The gig finishes and the venue turns into a night club and before our eyes we are surrounded by curving dancing forms. Dave and I head off into the night in search of food but the steer two ladies give us to a pizza shop disappears as we close in on its dark and shuttered shop front. We return to the club to find Will dancing his soul out with Liz the venue booker and the clientele.

 

 

 

I get introduced to a gentleman who takes me into his confidence about the show. He was a singer for the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and he talks passionately about how his father had shared a pram with Ted Hughes and how Ted had been a deeply misunderstood man and how Sylvia Plath had felt imprisoned within the tall valley walls of Calderdale when she arrived here with him. He holds my shoulder and effuses.

 

 

 

It’s too late but we drive back to our hotel in Todmorden (‘Murder Death Town’ one local reliably informs me) but it’s sweet and cozy. The George Inn is still open so we head inside for a night cap. The place is rough looking and festooned about the rooms are women dressed in basques and looking like zombies. As Will dances about the pool table playing the best of three with a middle aged man called Graham (who had suffered a heart attack not long ago) we discover the gruesome costumes are because the Rocky Horror Picture Show had been in town. We retire again in the wee hours sleep coming fast.

 

 

 

Sunday 24th November 2013

 

 

 

And so we return home. I spend my Saturday evening catching up with home things and making sure the Strikes Christmas album is underway. I look after the dog who seems to have missed me, constantly nuzzling me for attention. The cold has followed me home but at least I have fresh and warmer clothes to hand. I get a call from my agent; there’s a spot for an acoustic act tomorrow at an upmarket Christmas fair in Tobacco Docks, at the heart of the Docklands in London.

 

 

 

The fair is housed in the tobacco storage itself, hundreds of years old with original roof beams, so one of the caterers tells me. The air is bitter and I can’t feel my hands. I meet up with my contact there and he and the soundman, Gareth, help to set me up before shoving thirty pounds of food vouchers into my hand.  I wander the halls and stands of the fair – hot mulled cider from Kent, boutique cheese and exclusive champagne. My vouchers are unable to purchase anything but coffees and overpriced pork bites from a Jamie Oliver stand.

 

 

 

I have two sets which I play ok, my voice still struggling from the tour. It’s cold on the bandstand and I can barely feel my fingers. I play the late set time and a group of city folk are reeling drunk in front of me, downing frappacino cocktails and wearing jaggermeister bobble hats. I finish and give some quieter ladies my left over vouchers, heading to the train station and home for the rest I have been thinking about since a Leicester hotel room.

 

Tuesday 19th November 2013

 

 

 

I’ve moved into a new house and my favourite place I’ve found is sitting in the bay window with my guitar, writing and looking out on my immediate scene. My place overlooks a park and I watch the kids smoking on the bench when school turns out. I see women walking dogs on autumnal mid-mornings. I’m beginning to understand the rhythm of the place and its people. Old sights are merging with new ones. This morning I saw an old sight in my new setting as the battered white van pulled up just opposite the black railings of the park to take me on a short run of shows with my band The Lucky Strikes.

 

 

 

The first gig is a new venue for us – The Cookie, in Leicester. I have always played on the outskirts of Leicester, the old haunts stuck on industrial estates or at the back of multi storey car parks. It’s a first to be in the town centre but it is cold, cold, bitter bone cold and I forgot to bring my coat. We load into the room downstairs and meet Matt the sound man. He has the height of Dave, the haircut and glasses of Will and a thick set beard...if the band had a child it would be him. The music is loud and I feel nauseous as the bass rumbles my stomach but all is good and we settle into a post-soundcheck meal at a pub called The Globe. The food is homely and warm and we are reluctant to venture back out. Could we not forgo the gig and stay here? Springsteen plays on the radio as we eat, the dark wood of the room becoming increasingly darker as the gas lights take over from the natural daylight, which has been decaying fast these last few weeks. Someone informs me later that it is the only gas lit pub in the entire country.

 

 

 

The gig goes well and we meet some of the lovely musicians who supported us. Nile MacGregor and Weiki are both insightful and soulful solo artists who take us to a late night bar, the Firebug, after the venue has turned its lights off and the audience have gone home to the warmth of their beds. It’s 1am and the place is buzzing with a happy sort of life, not the dull dim light where drunks go to drown their sorrows. We talk about the local Leicester music scene and the use of these hi-tech glasses that can tell a computer where the person is looking. We leave them both in their discussions, happy to have shared some of their time.

 

 

 

We repair to the hotel. Me and Dave share a room and talk until the wee wee hours, drinking can after can of Fosters. My voice is on a collision course.

 

 

 

Wednesday 20th November 2013

 

 

 

Most of the morning and early afternoon is spent in the hotel lobby in Leicester.  Paul always brings a crossword book with him on tour so we all spend a lot of time thinking up the answers to 5 down and 24 across. I watch the ebb and flow of the room with its strange mixture of clients. There are clusters of business people having meetings and working on their laptops. They meet up on one table occasionally to discuss things. They’re not with the hotel and I wonder whether they are travelling salespeople or whether they just use the lobby as an office because they work from home. Elderly couples sit and talk and a man enters with a book and a coffee. It’s a great place to be, a hotel lobby, you can see new people every day; exotic travellers, strangers and the same lady behind the bar to make your tea.

 

 

 

A business conference is taking place in one of the function rooms and there are a lot of people with name tags milling about. Dave and me nearly walk in on a powerpoint presentation. We’re tired.

 

 

 

The run to Sheffield is easy and we make it in good time. The weather is even worse, cold sharp rain lashes down and our plan to go hat and tattoo shopping is quickly jettisoned for a quiet pint in our next venue, Shakespeare’s. The alcoholic content of the beer is astronomical in places, 8.1% for one which sports a badger swinging from a rope, cutlass in hand and bandanna on the head. I settle for a milder 5.5% ale called Crazy Horse. It tastes of compost.

 

 

 

We dine at a pub just off West Street called the Three Tuns. It’s unique feature being that it is set on a steep hill and the pub narrows as it progressively sticks out from the incline. I must have driven past this pub hundreds of times when I lived in Sheffield but yet I never registered it or thought it a place to visit. Was it Rousseau that said you should explore your home before venturing abroad? There are so many things to see that are right under your nose. You could fill your world with experiences without leaving your home town.

 

 

 

It begins to snow and the backstage room is so cold. None of us can keep warm but it is made better by seeing Simon, our fiddle player, who has made it from Sowerby Bridge. He teaches me and Will how to northern soul dance. My back is fused from the cold and I’m slightly delirious from it but we give it our best.

 

 

 

The gig is good and we meet a lady who had seen us play at the end of Southend Pier. She says she is in one of the photos, second row. It is things like that which make this worthwhile, another is sharing the stage and bus with your friends. Simon walks about the pub with the badger beer urging people to try it, his brewer’s eye agog at it...it’s full bodied.

 

 

 

Thursday 21st November 2013

 

 

 

We are kindly put up by Craig, the man behind WagonWheel Media- the Americana promoter in Sheffield. We stay up late again and wake to a cold morning. We head for breakfast at the cafe we always eat at when in Hillsborough. I could stay there all day watching the football sailing over the school wall into the road, time and time again, the little children shouting at passersby to lob it back over into their field of play...but we must be pressing on. We must leave behind friends and move on to the next.

 

 

 

Leeds is sprawling and new age compared to Sheffield’s small village feel. Again the cold puts us off and we are tired so we plum to sit in The Duck and Drake with steins of tea to keep warm. Dave goes up to the room we have to sleep. The pub is large and ancient and sits below a train bridge where freighters and commuting trains rumble through at all hours.

 

 

 

We set up the PA as there is no soundman for this gig. We live by whits alone. Leeds crowds are always so engaging and forthright. It’s lovely to play for the audience and see old friends and new fans alike. We play two sets and fill them with everything we have. We leave the stage buzzing and promptly stay up until 4am drinking different ales at the bar with the great bar staff- supportive and lovely to the last. 

 

 

 

Friday 22nd November 2013

 

 

 

Morning sunlight stabs through the curtain. Leeds city centre is alive and awake for its Friday morning. We lurk about the room stunned and groaning. Last day of the tour and we have churned ourselves over too many times. The cleaning ladies downstairs jokingly berate Dave for leaving his beer cans on the table. They are kind and interested in what we play. We cut from Leeds quick as if by leaving we will somehow leave the cold behind. We don’t, we drive further into it.

 

 

 

Hebden Bridge is a picturesque town nestled on the river Calder. After a pub meal, desperately trying to generate some body heat and a swift visit to the sweet shop to get some sugar in the system we wander over the bridges, reading the quotes from Ted Hughes engraved on the walls. We are supporting Nine Below Zero, featuring Mark Feltham and Brendan O’Neill who both played with Rory Gallagher on his last album or so. They are phenomenal players and we eat Tibetan stew from The Trades Club as they soundcheck.

 

 

 

We play a lively and fervent opening set. We are giving one hundred percent and I turn to Paul at one point, his face beaming from ear to ear. We’re going home tomorrow and it gets everyone excited, makes everyone play the best they can because who knows when we’ll be out again. The crowd are great but it ends too soon.

 

 

 

I meet a man called Southend Bill. He was from Southend, Snakes Lane, he says. His life is interesting and he tells me how he went AWOL from the navy on account of his beliefs and was detained in Southend by the military police. He then read about a hippy commune in the Colne Valley. Wrongly suspecting this was up in Yorkshire he had made his way up the spine of the country and ended up in Hebden Bridge. He laughed as he told me he soon found that the Colne was back down in Essex, near Colchester.

 

 

 

The evening is for celebration and we toast the tour as Nine Below play their set. The gig finishes and the venue turns into a night club and before our eyes we are surrounded by curving dancing forms. Dave and I head off into the night in search of food but the steer two ladies give us to a pizza shop disappears as we close in on its dark and shuttered shop front. We return to the club to find Will dancing his soul out with Liz the venue booker and the clientele.

 

 

 

I get introduced to a gentleman who takes me into his confidence about the show. He was a singer for the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and he talks passionately about how his father had shared a pram with Ted Hughes and how Ted had been a deeply misunderstood man and how Sylvia Plath had felt imprisoned within the tall valley walls of Calderdale when she arrived here with him. He holds my shoulder and effuses.

 

 

 

It’s too late but we drive back to our hotel in Todmorden (‘Murder Death Town’ one local reliably informs me) but it’s sweet and cozy. The George Inn is still open so we head inside for a night cap. The place is rough looking and festooned about the rooms are women dressed in basques and looking like zombies. As Will dances about the pool table playing the best of three with a middle aged man called Graham (who had suffered a heart attack not long ago) we discover the gruesome costumes are because the Rocky Horror Picture Show had been in town. We retire again in the wee hours sleep coming fast.

 

 

 

Sunday 24th November 2013

 

 

 

And so we return home. I spend my Saturday evening catching up with home things and making sure the Strikes Christmas album is underway. I look after the dog who seems to have missed me, constantly nuzzling me for attention. The cold has followed me home but at least I have fresh and warmer clothes to hand. I get a call from my agent; there’s a spot for an acoustic act tomorrow at an upmarket Christmas fair in Tobacco Docks, at the heart of the Docklands in London.

 

 

 

The fair is housed in the tobacco storage itself, hundreds of years old with original roof beams, so one of the caterers tells me. The air is bitter and I can’t feel my hands. I meet up with my contact there and he and the soundman, Gareth, help to set me up before shoving thirty pounds of food vouchers into my hand.  I wander the halls and stands of the fair – hot mulled cider from Kent, boutique cheese and exclusive champagne. My vouchers are unable to purchase anything but coffees and overpriced pork bites from a Jamie Oliver stand.

 

 

 

I have two sets which I play ok, my voice still struggling from the tour. It’s cold on the bandstand and I can barely feel my fingers. I play the late set time and a group of city folk are reeling drunk in front of me, downing frappacino cocktails and wearing jaggermeister bobble hats. I finish and give some quieter ladies my left over vouchers, heading to the train station and home for the rest I have been thinking about since a Leicester hotel room.

 

Tuesday 19th November 2013

 

 

 

I’ve moved into a new house and my favourite place I’ve found is sitting in the bay window with my guitar, writing and looking out on my immediate scene. My place overlooks a park and I watch the kids smoking on the bench when school turns out. I see women walking dogs on autumnal mid-mornings. I’m beginning to understand the rhythm of the place and its people. Old sights are merging with new ones. This morning I saw an old sight in my new setting as the battered white van pulled up just opposite the black railings of the park to take me on a short run of shows with my band The Lucky Strikes.

 

 

 

The first gig is a new venue for us – The Cookie, in Leicester. I have always played on the outskirts of Leicester, the old haunts stuck on industrial estates or at the back of multi storey car parks. It’s a first to be in the town centre but it is cold, cold, bitter bone cold and I forgot to bring my coat. We load into the room downstairs and meet Matt the sound man. He has the height of Dave, the haircut and glasses of Will and a thick set beard...if the band had a child it would be him. The music is loud and I feel nauseous as the bass rumbles my stomach but all is good and we settle into a post-soundcheck meal at a pub called The Globe. The food is homely and warm and we are reluctant to venture back out. Could we not forgo the gig and stay here? Springsteen plays on the radio as we eat, the dark wood of the room becoming increasingly darker as the gas lights take over from the natural daylight, which has been decaying fast these last few weeks. Someone informs me later that it is the only gas lit pub in the entire country.

 

 

 

The gig goes well and we meet some of the lovely musicians who supported us. Nile MacGregor and Weiki are both insightful and soulful solo artists who take us to a late night bar, the Firebug, after the venue has turned its lights off and the audience have gone home to the warmth of their beds. It’s 1am and the place is buzzing with a happy sort of life, not the dull dim light where drunks go to drown their sorrows. We talk about the local Leicester music scene and the use of these hi-tech glasses that can tell a computer where the person is looking. We leave them both in their discussions, happy to have shared some of their time.

 

 

 

We repair to the hotel. Me and Dave share a room and talk until the wee wee hours, drinking can after can of Fosters. My voice is on a collision course.

 

 

 

Wednesday 20th November 2013

 

 

 

Most of the morning and early afternoon is spent in the hotel lobby in Leicester.  Paul always brings a crossword book with him on tour so we all spend a lot of time thinking up the answers to 5 down and 24 across. I watch the ebb and flow of the room with its strange mixture of clients. There are clusters of business people having meetings and working on their laptops. They meet up on one table occasionally to discuss things. They’re not with the hotel and I wonder whether they are travelling salespeople or whether they just use the lobby as an office because they work from home. Elderly couples sit and talk and a man enters with a book and a coffee. It’s a great place to be, a hotel lobby, you can see new people every day; exotic travellers, strangers and the same lady behind the bar to make your tea.

 

 

 

A business conference is taking place in one of the function rooms and there are a lot of people with name tags milling about. Dave and me nearly walk in on a powerpoint presentation. We’re tired.

 

 

 

The run to Sheffield is easy and we make it in good time. The weather is even worse, cold sharp rain lashes down and our plan to go hat and tattoo shopping is quickly jettisoned for a quiet pint in our next venue, Shakespeare’s. The alcoholic content of the beer is astronomical in places, 8.1% for one which sports a badger swinging from a rope, cutlass in hand and bandanna on the head. I settle for a milder 5.5% ale called Crazy Horse. It tastes of compost.

 

 

 

We dine at a pub just off West Street called the Three Tuns. It’s unique feature being that it is set on a steep hill and the pub narrows as it progressively sticks out from the incline. I must have driven past this pub hundreds of times when I lived in Sheffield but yet I never registered it or thought it a place to visit. Was it Rousseau that said you should explore your home before venturing abroad? There are so many things to see that are right under your nose. You could fill your world with experiences without leaving your home town.

 

 

 

It begins to snow and the backstage room is so cold. None of us can keep warm but it is made better by seeing Simon, our fiddle player, who has made it from Sowerby Bridge. He teaches me and Will how to northern soul dance. My back is fused from the cold and I’m slightly delirious from it but we give it our best.

 

 

 

The gig is good and we meet a lady who had seen us play at the end of Southend Pier. She says she is in one of the photos, second row. It is things like that which make this worthwhile, another is sharing the stage and bus with your friends. Simon walks about the pub with the badger beer urging people to try it, his brewer’s eye agog at it...it’s full bodied.

 

 

 

Thursday 21st November 2013

 

 

 

We are kindly put up by Craig, the man behind WagonWheel Media- the Americana promoter in Sheffield. We stay up late again and wake to a cold morning. We head for breakfast at the cafe we always eat at when in Hillsborough. I could stay there all day watching the football sailing over the school wall into the road, time and time again, the little children shouting at passersby to lob it back over into their field of play...but we must be pressing on. We must leave behind friends and move on to the next.

 

 

 

Leeds is sprawling and new age compared to Sheffield’s small village feel. Again the cold puts us off and we are tired so we plum to sit in The Duck and Drake with steins of tea to keep warm. Dave goes up to the room we have to sleep. The pub is large and ancient and sits below a train bridge where freighters and commuting trains rumble through at all hours.

 

 

 

We set up the PA as there is no soundman for this gig. We live by whits alone. Leeds crowds are always so engaging and forthright. It’s lovely to play for the audience and see old friends and new fans alike. We play two sets and fill them with everything we have. We leave the stage buzzing and promptly stay up until 4am drinking different ales at the bar with the great bar staff- supportive and lovely to the last. 

 

 

 

Friday 22nd November 2013

 

 

 

Morning sunlight stabs through the curtain. Leeds city centre is alive and awake for its Friday morning. We lurk about the room stunned and groaning. Last day of the tour and we have churned ourselves over too many times. The cleaning ladies downstairs jokingly berate Dave for leaving his beer cans on the table. They are kind and interested in what we play. We cut from Leeds quick as if by leaving we will somehow leave the cold behind. We don’t, we drive further into it.

 

 

 

Hebden Bridge is a picturesque town nestled on the river Calder. After a pub meal, desperately trying to generate some body heat and a swift visit to the sweet shop to get some sugar in the system we wander over the bridges, reading the quotes from Ted Hughes engraved on the walls. We are supporting Nine Below Zero, featuring Mark Feltham and Brendan O’Neill who both played with Rory Gallagher on his last album or so. They are phenomenal players and we eat Tibetan stew from The Trades Club as they soundcheck.

 

 

 

We play a lively and fervent opening set. We are giving one hundred percent and I turn to Paul at one point, his face beaming from ear to ear. We’re going home tomorrow and it gets everyone excited, makes everyone play the best they can because who knows when we’ll be out again. The crowd are great but it ends too soon.

 

 

 

I meet a man called Southend Bill. He was from Southend, Snakes Lane, he says. His life is interesting and he tells me how he went AWOL from the navy on account of his beliefs and was detained in Southend by the military police. He then read about a hippy commune in the Colne Valley. Wrongly suspecting this was up in Yorkshire he had made his way up the spine of the country and ended up in Hebden Bridge. He laughed as he told me he soon found that the Colne was back down in Essex, near Colchester.

 

 

 

The evening is for celebration and we toast the tour as Nine Below play their set. The gig finishes and the venue turns into a night club and before our eyes we are surrounded by curving dancing forms. Dave and I head off into the night in search of food but the steer two ladies give us to a pizza shop disappears as we close in on its dark and shuttered shop front. We return to the club to find Will dancing his soul out with Liz the venue booker and the clientele.

 

 

 

I get introduced to a gentleman who takes me into his confidence about the show. He was a singer for the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and he talks passionately about how his father had shared a pram with Ted Hughes and how Ted had been a deeply misunderstood man and how Sylvia Plath had felt imprisoned within the tall valley walls of Calderdale when she arrived here with him. He holds my shoulder and effuses.

 

 

 

It’s too late but we drive back to our hotel in Todmorden (‘Murder Death Town’ one local reliably informs me) but it’s sweet and cozy. The George Inn is still open so we head inside for a night cap. The place is rough looking and festooned about the rooms are women dressed in basques and looking like zombies. As Will dances about the pool table playing the best of three with a middle aged man called Graham (who had suffered a heart attack not long ago) we discover the gruesome costumes are because the Rocky Horror Picture Show had been in town. We retire again in the wee hours sleep coming fast.

 

 

 

Sunday 24th November 2013

 

 

 

And so we return home. I spend my Saturday evening catching up with home things and making sure the Strikes Christmas album is underway. I look after the dog who seems to have missed me, constantly nuzzling me for attention. The cold has followed me home but at least I have fresh and warmer clothes to hand. I get a call from my agent; there’s a spot for an acoustic act tomorrow at an upmarket Christmas fair in Tobacco Docks, at the heart of the Docklands in London.

 

 

 

The fair is housed in the tobacco storage itself, hundreds of years old with original roof beams, so one of the caterers tells me. The air is bitter and I can’t feel my hands. I meet up with my contact there and he and the soundman, Gareth, help to set me up before shoving thirty pounds of food vouchers into my hand.  I wander the halls and stands of the fair – hot mulled cider from Kent, boutique cheese and exclusive champagne. My vouchers are unable to purchase anything but coffees and overpriced pork bites from a Jamie Oliver stand.

 

 

 

I have two sets which I play ok, my voice still struggling from the tour. It’s cold on the bandstand and I can barely feel my fingers. I play the late set time and a group of city folk are reeling drunk in front of me, downing frappacino cocktails and wearing jaggermeister bobble hats. I finish and give some quieter ladies my left over vouchers, heading to the train station and home for the rest I have been thinking about since a Leicester hotel room.

 

Tuesday 19th November 2013

 

 

 

I’ve moved into a new house and my favourite place I’ve found is sitting in the bay window with my guitar, writing and looking out on my immediate scene. My place overlooks a park and I watch the kids smoking on the bench when school turns out. I see women walking dogs on autumnal mid-mornings. I’m beginning to understand the rhythm of the place and its people. Old sights are merging with new ones. This morning I saw an old sight in my new setting as the battered white van pulled up just opposite the black railings of the park to take me on a short run of shows with my band The Lucky Strikes.

 

 

 

The first gig is a new venue for us – The Cookie, in Leicester. I have always played on the outskirts of Leicester, the old haunts stuck on industrial estates or at the back of multi storey car parks. It’s a first to be in the town centre but it is cold, cold, bitter bone cold and I forgot to bring my coat. We load into the room downstairs and meet Matt the sound man. He has the height of Dave, the haircut and glasses of Will and a thick set beard...if the band had a child it would be him. The music is loud and I feel nauseous as the bass rumbles my stomach but all is good and we settle into a post-soundcheck meal at a pub called The Globe. The food is homely and warm and we are reluctant to venture back out. Could we not forgo the gig and stay here? Springsteen plays on the radio as we eat, the dark wood of the room becoming increasingly darker as the gas lights take over from the natural daylight, which has been decaying fast these last few weeks. Someone informs me later that it is the only gas lit pub in the entire country.

 

 

 

The gig goes well and we meet some of the lovely musicians who supported us. Nile MacGregor and Weiki are both insightful and soulful solo artists who take us to a late night bar, the Firebug, after the venue has turned its lights off and the audience have gone home to the warmth of their beds. It’s 1am and the place is buzzing with a happy sort of life, not the dull dim light where drunks go to drown their sorrows. We talk about the local Leicester music scene and the use of these hi-tech glasses that can tell a computer where the person is looking. We leave them both in their discussions, happy to have shared some of their time.

 

 

 

We repair to the hotel. Me and Dave share a room and talk until the wee wee hours, drinking can after can of Fosters. My voice is on a collision course.

 

 

 

Wednesday 20th November 2013

 

 

 

Most of the morning and early afternoon is spent in the hotel lobby in Leicester.  Paul always brings a crossword book with him on tour so we all spend a lot of time thinking up the answers to 5 down and 24 across. I watch the ebb and flow of the room with its strange mixture of clients. There are clusters of business people having meetings and working on their laptops. They meet up on one table occasionally to discuss things. They’re not with the hotel and I wonder whether they are travelling salespeople or whether they just use the lobby as an office because they work from home. Elderly couples sit and talk and a man enters with a book and a coffee. It’s a great place to be, a hotel lobby, you can see new people every day; exotic travellers, strangers and the same lady behind the bar to make your tea.

 

 

 

A business conference is taking place in one of the function rooms and there are a lot of people with name tags milling about. Dave and me nearly walk in on a powerpoint presentation. We’re tired.

 

 

 

The run to Sheffield is easy and we make it in good time. The weather is even worse, cold sharp rain lashes down and our plan to go hat and tattoo shopping is quickly jettisoned for a quiet pint in our next venue, Shakespeare’s. The alcoholic content of the beer is astronomical in places, 8.1% for one which sports a badger swinging from a rope, cutlass in hand and bandanna on the head. I settle for a milder 5.5% ale called Crazy Horse. It tastes of compost.

 

 

 

We dine at a pub just off West Street called the Three Tuns. It’s unique feature being that it is set on a steep hill and the pub narrows as it progressively sticks out from the incline. I must have driven past this pub hundreds of times when I lived in Sheffield but yet I never registered it or thought it a place to visit. Was it Rousseau that said you should explore your home before venturing abroad? There are so many things to see that are right under your nose. You could fill your world with experiences without leaving your home town.

 

 

 

It begins to snow and the backstage room is so cold. None of us can keep warm but it is made better by seeing Simon, our fiddle player, who has made it from Sowerby Bridge. He teaches me and Will how to northern soul dance. My back is fused from the cold and I’m slightly delirious from it but we give it our best.

 

 

 

The gig is good and we meet a lady who had seen us play at the end of Southend Pier. She says she is in one of the photos, second row. It is things like that which make this worthwhile, another is sharing the stage and bus with your friends. Simon walks about the pub with the badger beer urging people to try it, his brewer’s eye agog at it...it’s full bodied.

 

 

 

Thursday 21st November 2013

 

 

 

We are kindly put up by Craig, the man behind WagonWheel Media- the Americana promoter in Sheffield. We stay up late again and wake to a cold morning. We head for breakfast at the cafe we always eat at when in Hillsborough. I could stay there all day watching the football sailing over the school wall into the road, time and time again, the little children shouting at passersby to lob it back over into their field of play...but we must be pressing on. We must leave behind friends and move on to the next.

 

 

 

Leeds is sprawling and new age compared to Sheffield’s small village feel. Again the cold puts us off and we are tired so we plum to sit in The Duck and Drake with steins of tea to keep warm. Dave goes up to the room we have to sleep. The pub is large and ancient and sits below a train bridge where freighters and commuting trains rumble through at all hours.

 

 

 

We set up the PA as there is no soundman for this gig. We live by whits alone. Leeds crowds are always so engaging and forthright. It’s lovely to play for the audience and see old friends and new fans alike. We play two sets and fill them with everything we have. We leave the stage buzzing and promptly stay up until 4am drinking different ales at the bar with the great bar staff- supportive and lovely to the last. 

 

 

 

Friday 22nd November 2013

 

 

 

Morning sunlight stabs through the curtain. Leeds city centre is alive and awake for its Friday morning. We lurk about the room stunned and groaning. Last day of the tour and we have churned ourselves over too many times. The cleaning ladies downstairs jokingly berate Dave for leaving his beer cans on the table. They are kind and interested in what we play. We cut from Leeds quick as if by leaving we will somehow leave the cold behind. We don’t, we drive further into it.

 

 

 

Hebden Bridge is a picturesque town nestled on the river Calder. After a pub meal, desperately trying to generate some body heat and a swift visit to the sweet shop to get some sugar in the system we wander over the bridges, reading the quotes from Ted Hughes engraved on the walls. We are supporting Nine Below Zero, featuring Mark Feltham and Brendan O’Neill who both played with Rory Gallagher on his last album or so. They are phenomenal players and we eat Tibetan stew from The Trades Club as they soundcheck.

 

 

 

We play a lively and fervent opening set. We are giving one hundred percent and I turn to Paul at one point, his face beaming from ear to ear. We’re going home tomorrow and it gets everyone excited, makes everyone play the best they can because who knows when we’ll be out again. The crowd are great but it ends too soon.

 

 

 

I meet a man called Southend Bill. He was from Southend, Snakes Lane, he says. His life is interesting and he tells me how he went AWOL from the navy on account of his beliefs and was detained in Southend by the military police. He then read about a hippy commune in the Colne Valley. Wrongly suspecting this was up in Yorkshire he had made his way up the spine of the country and ended up in Hebden Bridge. He laughed as he told me he soon found that the Colne was back down in Essex, near Colchester.

 

 

 

The evening is for celebration and we toast the tour as Nine Below play their set. The gig finishes and the venue turns into a night club and before our eyes we are surrounded by curving dancing forms. Dave and I head off into the night in search of food but the steer two ladies give us to a pizza shop disappears as we close in on its dark and shuttered shop front. We return to the club to find Will dancing his soul out with Liz the venue booker and the clientele.

 

 

 

I get introduced to a gentleman who takes me into his confidence about the show. He was a singer for the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and he talks passionately about how his father had shared a pram with Ted Hughes and how Ted had been a deeply misunderstood man and how Sylvia Plath had felt imprisoned within the tall valley walls of Calderdale when she arrived here with him. He holds my shoulder and effuses.

 

 

 

It’s too late but we drive back to our hotel in Todmorden (‘Murder Death Town’ one local reliably informs me) but it’s sweet and cozy. The George Inn is still open so we head inside for a night cap. The place is rough looking and festooned about the rooms are women dressed in basques and looking like zombies. As Will dances about the pool table playing the best of three with a middle aged man called Graham (who had suffered a heart attack not long ago) we discover the gruesome costumes are because the Rocky Horror Picture Show had been in town. We retire again in the wee hours sleep coming fast.

 

 

 

Sunday 24th November 2013

 

 

 

And so we return home. I spend my Saturday evening catching up with home things and making sure the Strikes Christmas album is underway. I look after the dog who seems to have missed me, constantly nuzzling me for attention. The cold has followed me home but at least I have fresh and warmer clothes to hand. I get a call from my agent; there’s a spot for an acoustic act tomorrow at an upmarket Christmas fair in Tobacco Docks, at the heart of the Docklands in London.

 

 

 

The fair is housed in the tobacco storage itself, hundreds of years old with original roof beams, so one of the caterers tells me. The air is bitter and I can’t feel my hands. I meet up with my contact there and he and the soundman, Gareth, help to set me up before shoving thirty pounds of food vouchers into my hand.  I wander the halls and stands of the fair – hot mulled cider from Kent, boutique cheese and exclusive champagne. My vouchers are unable to purchase anything but coffees and overpriced pork bites from a Jamie Oliver stand.

 

 

 

I have two sets which I play ok, my voice still struggling from the tour. It’s cold on the bandstand and I can barely feel my fingers. I play the late set time and a group of city folk are reeling drunk in front of me, downing frappacino cocktails and wearing jaggermeister bobble hats. I finish and give some quieter ladies my left over vouchers, heading to the train station and home for the rest I have been thinking about since a Leicester hotel room.

 

 

Tuesday 19th November 2013

 

 I’ve moved into a new house and my favourite place I’ve found is sitting in the bay window with my guitar, writing and looking out on my immediate scene. My place overlooks a park and I watch the kids smoking on the bench when school turns out. I see women walking dogs on autumnal mid-mornings. I’m beginning to understand the rhythm of the place and its people. Old sights are merging with new ones. This morning I saw an old sight in my new setting as the battered white van pulled up just opposite the black railings of the park to take me on a short run of shows with my band The Lucky Strikes.

 

 The first gig is a new venue for us – The Cookie, in Leicester. I have always played on the outskirts of Leicester, the old haunts stuck on industrial estates or at the back of multi storey car parks. It’s a first to be in the town centre but it is cold, cold, bitter bone cold and I forgot to bring my coat. We load into the room downstairs and meet Matt the sound man. He has the height of Dave, the haircut and glasses of Will and a thick set beard...if the band had a child it would be him. The music is loud and I feel nauseous as the bass rumbles my stomach but all is good and we settle into a post-soundcheck meal at a pub called The Globe. The food is homely and warm and we are reluctant to venture back out. Could we not forgo the gig and stay here? Springsteen plays on the radio as we eat, the dark wood of the room becoming increasingly darker as the gas lights take over from the natural daylight, which has been decaying fast these last few weeks. Someone informs me later that it is the only gas lit pub in the entire country.

 

 The gig goes well and we meet some of the lovely musicians who supported us. Nile MacGregor and Weiki are both insightful and soulful solo artists who take us to a late night bar, the Firebug, after the venue has turned its lights off and the audience have gone home to the warmth of their beds. It’s 1am and the place is buzzing with a happy sort of life, not the dull dim light where drunks go to drown their sorrows. We talk about the local Leicester music scene and the use of these hi-tech glasses that can tell a computer where the person is looking. We leave them both in their discussions, happy to have shared some of their time.

 

 We repair to the hotel. Me and Dave share a room and talk until the wee wee hours, drinking can after can of Fosters. My voice is on a collision course.

 

 Wednesday 20th November 2013

 

 Most of the morning and early afternoon is spent in the hotel lobby in Leicester.  Paul always brings a crossword book with him on tour so we all spend a lot of time thinking up the answers to 5 down and 24 across. I watch the ebb and flow of the room with its strange mixture of clients. There are clusters of business people having meetings and working on their laptops. They meet up on one table occasionally to discuss things. They’re not with the hotel and I wonder whether they are travelling salespeople or whether they just use the lobby as an office because they work from home. Elderly couples sit and talk and a man enters with a book and a coffee. It’s a great place to be, a hotel lobby, you can see new people every day; exotic travellers, strangers and the same lady behind the bar to make your tea.

 

 A business conference is taking place in one of the function rooms and there are a lot of people with name tags milling about. Dave and me nearly walk in on a powerpoint presentation. We’re tired.

 

 The run to Sheffield is easy and we make it in good time. The weather is even worse, cold sharp rain lashes down and our plan to go hat and tattoo shopping is quickly jettisoned for a quiet pint in our next venue, Shakespeare’s. The alcoholic content of the beer is astronomical in places, 8.1% for one which sports a badger swinging from a rope, cutlass in hand and bandanna on the head. I settle for a milder 5.5% ale called Crazy Horse. It tastes of compost.

 

 We dine at a pub just off West Street called the Three Tuns. It’s unique feature being that it is set on a steep hill and the pub narrows as it progressively sticks out from the incline. I must have driven past this pub hundreds of times when I lived in Sheffield but yet I never registered it or thought it a place to visit. Was it Rousseau that said you should explore your home before venturing abroad? There are so many things to see that are right under your nose. You could fill your world with experiences without leaving your home town.

 

 It begins to snow and the backstage room is so cold. None of us can keep warm but it is made better by seeing Simon, our fiddle player, who has made it from Sowerby Bridge. He teaches me and Will how to northern soul dance. My back is fused from the cold and I’m slightly delirious from it but we give it our best.

 

 The gig is good and we meet a lady who had seen us play at the end of Southend Pier. She says she is in one of the photos, second row. It is things like that which make this worthwhile, another is sharing the stage and bus with your friends. Simon walks about the pub with the badger beer urging people to try it, his brewer’s eye agog at it...it’s full bodied.

 

 Thursday 21st November 2013

 

 We are kindly put up by Craig, the man behind WagonWheel Media- the Americana promoter in Sheffield. We stay up late again and wake to a cold morning. We head for breakfast at the cafe we always eat at when in Hillsborough. I could stay there all day watching the football sailing over the school wall into the road, time and time again, the little children shouting at passersby to lob it back over into their field of play...but we must be pressing on. We must leave behind friends and move on to the next.

 

 Leeds is sprawling and new age compared to Sheffield’s small village feel. Again the cold puts us off and we are tired so we plum to sit in The Duck and Drake with steins of tea to keep warm. Dave goes up to the room we have to sleep. The pub is large and ancient and sits below a train bridge where freighters and commuting trains rumble through at all hours.

 

 We set up the PA as there is no soundman for this gig. We live by whits alone. Leeds crowds are always so engaging and forthright. It’s lovely to play for the audience and see old friends and new fans alike. We play two sets and fill them with everything we have. We leave the stage buzzing and promptly stay up until 4am drinking different ales at the bar with the great bar staff- supportive and lovely to the last. 

 

 Friday 22nd November 2013

 

Morning sunlight stabs through the curtain. Leeds city centre is alive and awake for its Friday morning. We lurk about the room stunned and groaning. Last day of the tour and we have churned ourselves over too many times. The cleaning ladies downstairs jokingly berate Dave for leaving his beer cans on the table. They are kind and interested in what we play. We cut from Leeds quick as if by leaving we will somehow leave the cold behind. We don’t, we drive further into it.

 

 Hebden Bridge is a picturesque town nestled on the river Calder. After a pub meal, desperately trying to generate some body heat and a swift visit to the sweet shop to get some sugar in the system we wander over the bridges, reading the quotes from Ted Hughes engraved on the walls. We are supporting Nine Below Zero, featuring Mark Feltham and Brendan O’Neill who both played with Rory Gallagher on his last album or so. They are phenomenal players and we eat Tibetan stew from The Trades Club as they soundcheck.

 

 We play a lively and fervent opening set. We are giving one hundred percent and I turn to Paul at one point, his face beaming from ear to ear. We’re going home tomorrow and it gets everyone excited, makes everyone play the best they can because who knows when we’ll be out again. The crowd are great but it ends too soon.

 

 I meet a man called Southend Bill. He was from Southend, Snakes Lane, he says. His life is interesting and he tells me how he went AWOL from the navy on account of his beliefs and was detained in Southend by the military police. He then read about a hippy commune in the Colne Valley. Wrongly suspecting this was up in Yorkshire he had made his way up the spine of the country and ended up in Hebden Bridge. He laughed as he told me he soon found that the Colne was back down in Essex, near Colchester.

 

 The evening is for celebration and we toast the tour as Nine Below play their set. The gig finishes and the venue turns into a night club and before our eyes we are surrounded by curving dancing forms. Dave and I head off into the night in search of food but the steer two ladies give us to a pizza shop disappears as we close in on its dark and shuttered shop front. We return to the club to find Will dancing his soul out with Liz the venue booker and the clientele.

 

 I get introduced to a gentleman who takes me into his confidence about the show. He was a singer for the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and he talks passionately about how his father had shared a pram with Ted Hughes and how Ted had been a deeply misunderstood man and how Sylvia Plath had felt imprisoned within the tall valley walls of Calderdale when she arrived here with him. He holds my shoulder and effuses.

 

 It’s too late but we drive back to our hotel in Todmorden (‘Murder Death Town’ one local reliably informs me) but it’s sweet and cozy. The George Inn is still open so we head inside for a night cap. The place is rough looking and festooned about the rooms are women dressed in basques and looking like zombies. As Will dances about the pool table playing the best of three with a middle aged man called Graham (who had suffered a heart attack not long ago) we discover the gruesome costumes are because the Rocky Horror Picture Show had been in town. We retire again in the wee hours sleep coming fast.

 

 Sunday 24th November 2013

 

 And so we return home. I spend my Saturday evening catching up with home things and making sure the Strikes Christmas album is underway. I look after the dog who seems to have missed me, constantly nuzzling me for attention. The cold has followed me home but at least I have fresh and warmer clothes to hand. I get a call from my agent; there’s a spot for an acoustic act tomorrow at an upmarket Christmas fair in Tobacco Docks, at the heart of the Docklands in London.

 

 The fair is housed in the tobacco storage itself, hundreds of years old with original roof beams, so one of the caterers tells me. The air is bitter and I can’t feel my hands. I meet up with my contact there and he and the soundman, Gareth, help to set me up before shoving thirty pounds of food vouchers into my hand.  I wander the halls and stands of the fair – hot mulled cider from Kent, boutique cheese and exclusive champagne. My vouchers are unable to purchase anything but coffees and overpriced pork bites from a Jamie Oliver stand.

 

 I have two sets which I play ok, my voice still struggling from the tour. It’s cold on the bandstand and I can barely feel my fingers. I play the late set time and a group of city folk are reeling drunk in front of me, downing frappacino cocktails and wearing jaggermeister bobble hats. I finish and give some quieter ladies my left over vouchers, heading to the train station and home for the rest I have been thinking about since a Leicester hotel room.

 

Tour Diary: Long Division Festival, Wakefield, 8th June 2013 : Hi fiving Jeffrey Lewis on the street corner; Megaliths; One Way Systems

We were heading the wrong way down a one way street and everyone was letting rip on their horns to let us know. Thank God it wasn’t busy. I’d hit the road before 8am in order to get up to the Long Division Festival in Wakefield. I’d been up late the night before supporting the Ugly Guys at my local club, the Pink Flamingo. The Guys were like a laid back Commander Cody, Paul Shuttleworth and Vic Collins, formerly of the Kursaal Flyers were in the band. Vic had taught me many a pedal steel lick in my time. Anyway, it was a late one – a lot of friends and a lot of love.

So I was tired, that’s a fact but I had my girl beside me and that means a lot in the directions department. Wakefield was a good four hour drive away from home. It was overcast and dull until we reached Ackworth when the sun came out pretty intense. It seemed a nice town. We reached Wakefield and I got lost on the one way system which caused all the hooting.

I was due to play at a place called the Orangery, which was a beautiful Georgian style single storey house sitting just behind the railway station. It seemed to have once been the abode of a wealthy gentleman, one of only six in Wakefield who could afford a carriage drawn by four horses. It reminded me that capitalism is an old thing indeed.

The stage was being run by my good friends Brett and Tre from Hee Haw Sessions and it was great to see them again. We had arrived early to see Neil McSweeney’s set but upon arrival were drawn in by the booming funk rock that was being smashed out of the empty Drury Lane Library.  Modeliste were showing the festival how to get started and we hung at the back of the room as they broke song after song, like waves, across the audience. We hurried back in time to see Neil, who played a wonderful and engaging set as always.

It was time to go wandering. Myself, the loved one, Neil and his friend Kieran from the band The Shaking Whips headed out into Wakefield town. Neil recounted his time as a Wakefield resident in his student days and we headed further in. There was an air of danger, well to me anyway and I was aware of a nagging possibility that violence may erupt at any time. We ended up around the cathedral, which was beautiful in its little square. We slunk back to the festival, the sun bearing down intense now.

At the Orangery I managed to catch the Dead Flowers set. They weaved some lovely melodies around their guitars and piano and the crowd were digging it. I had put some pedal steel down on their album and it was good to finally meet Ian and chat. A cool guy.

We lazed on the lawn in front of the Orangery a bit more. Laura from the Shaking Whips turned up from a rally in Sheffield. The English Defence League had requested from the Council that they be allowed to hold a commemoration for dead soldiers at the war memorial. Laura said there had been no violence but the EDL had zeig heiled – which seemed a total contradiction in my understanding. I could not see how you could use a Nazi salute to recognise English war dead...on a purely historical and ideological level, it didn’t work, let alone in the current context.

The audience had dwindled by the time The Whips took to the stage but they played a cool form of blues, just overdriven guitar and two vocals. I followed this up with my own set. I felt good about it and I enjoyed.

With pressure off I headed for the Theatre Royal and caught Jeffrey Lewis’s set. I sympathised with the lack of a soundcheck but they played well and were joined by Peter Stampfell from The Holy Modal Rounders. Jeffrey’s ‘Legend of the Fall’ was really good.

The evening was light and we were still wandering around the town centre at 9.45pm in the fading light. After a quick Italian meal we met up with Brett and Tre at a venue called Warehouse 23, to see The Fall. I was thoroughly exhausted and the venue was hot and sweaty with sticky floors. Bouncers were pulling middle aged men out of the crowd and throwing them through the open double doors while Mark E Smith groaned and gesticulated from the stage. It was heavy stuff. We saw it through to the end before heading back to the car.

At night, Wakefield had awoken as a different beast. Women washed about over the streets dressed in bunny suits and roustabouts hung on every street corner enticing the young to enter their clubs and bars. We met Jeffrey Lewis on the corner of the Theatre Royal. We chatted and he asked us what we were doing and where we were going. I think he wanted to hang but we had to sleep. We left him on the corner, baseball cap staring at a pay as you go phone, backpack between his feet.

I gave the Hee Haw guys a lift home to Leeds. Brett and I stayed up until 3am listening to vinyl (Dead Kennedys, German Industrial Electronica etc) and talking about moving to Leeds, the Hacienda in Manchester in the 90s and the survey of megalithic structures across the UK, aided by Julian Cope’s seminal book on the subject....

Winter Storm- Short Story

What could you possibly say or do when someone like Felder turns up at your door roaring drunk and putting his one good eye, all damp and rheumy, to your spy hole. “I know you’re in there!” he shouts as he braces the door frame trying not to over pitch himself into the snow that is heaped on your front porch. It’s too cold to be out anywhere, it’s too close to Christmas for excuses so it is with reluctance that you open the door and smile wide and feign delight. “Felder!”

 

It takes a little while to get the coat off of him. It’s damp and cold from the weather and he’s pivoting on the balls of his heels trying not to fall over in the hallway, a bottle of Corona in one steak blue mitt and a clump of your laurel wreath in the other, except this hand is gloved. Who knows where its partner is. He becomes placid for a short while and sways by the banister smugly looking at Katie, self content in the warmth of your home. The three of you stand silent for the briefest of moments before you herd him further into the house. “Just sit him down in the living room! For God’s sake!”, spits Katie under her breath.

 

So he settles on the corner chair goggled eyed and staring about the room in wonderment at “your splendid trinkets and baubles” and “your opulent manor”. Brief respite will inevitably come when your children rush down, hair all downy with slumber excitedly rushing forth across the room towards him. They hesitate when they smell the whiskey and the schnapps on his breath. “It’s all they had in the garage Aden, it’s all they had”. You picture the look of the fifty year old attendant behind the counter looking grimly on as Felder stumbles through the aisles towards her. It’s Christmas time and she gave the kids the holidays off- she prefers it that way. It’s quiet and she can think. She observes Felder leaning in close to the labels on the bottles. He should have grown out of this she thinks. She remembers him as a boy who used to play trumpet in the school band. The teachers thought he showed promise. He was such a nice boy.

 

The children move away now and go find Katie in the kitchen. You went to school together and he played a mean trumpet in your band when you were sixteen. But he looks old beyond his years now. Tired and dead in the eyes. “It’s just a few drinks; it’s Christmas!” You recall the last time you saw him, April, drunk on the playing field.  “It’s just a bit of fun. Live for once in your life!”

 

Katie brings a cup of tea which he drinks slow. He’s got a gig, he knows a contact, a man in fact, down south who has promised to hook him up with some mean players who are looking for a new trumpeter. He just needs to get a trumpet and he’ll be made. “Ha! You should have stuck with it Aden, hard work and dedication!” He sold his last trumpet, the one he bought with the money he earned from his Saturday job and a little bit of cash from his aunt before she died. He had never got enough cash together to buy another after he sold that to pay rent back in ‘03.

 

He finishes the tea and Katie gets up to see him out. It’s awkward and he’s oblivious. He closes his eyes and for a moment you see the boy, your friend, full of youth and love and laughter and you feel like crying. You want to put your hand deep into the past and pull him back, you want to pull the whole bloody thing back, your life, his, the joy, the times you spent spilling out onto the street at night like speckled fish looking for the sea. Crazy, reckless. Pull the bloody tarpaulin over this life, cover this house and these kids and this existence in the middle. Live for the moment, live like you never lived in your life. But you never will. Sometimes life calls time on your chances and the carnival must move on to the next town leaving nothing but imprints in the grass.

 

You see him to the door. Katie kisses him lightly on the cheek. “We have a Christmas present for you!” you say cheerily moving into the next room and scouring the festive bounty for something, anything. You hand him some sugared almonds and a fruit cake. He smiles and is genuinely pleased. The night is cold and crisp and quiet. He fumbles for his missing glove, consternation on his face. He forgives, he forgets. “Merry Christmas!” he shouts as he follows the path to the pavement. He produces another Corona from his coat pocket and moves down the street.   

Tour Diary: Newcastle-Sheffield-Sowerby Bridge-Newport 26th-29th September 2013:Reality spins on its axis in the Baltic to boys hanging off beams in Newport

Life can be dirty and muddled and reality doesn’t really figure. That was what I was thinking as I lay on a pile of pillows at the Baltic Art Gallery in Newcastle. You have to create your own reality because it is essentially what you make it. There’s the reality of rent and hunger but beyond that money is just figures in a bank account and obligation is a social construct if you take it to a purely philosophical level. (I have a lot of commitment and would not necessarily ditch those for the sake of perceived freedom).

 

I had played a fantastic show at the Cluny in Newcastle the night before, supporting my good friend Ross Wilson, aka Blue Rose Code. We had played to an attentive crowd and had spent the early morning hours eating pizza in the hotel we were staying at. Ross is a vegetarian so stuck to the four cheese and I the chicken. The Cluny is based close to the ring road in Lime Street and is just a perfect mix of diner/bar and venue. They do the best chilli con carne and we sat for some time relaxing into things. It’s a gig of two fronts as the two seating areas sit at right angles to each other and you have to face different audiences throughout.

 

I played a new song about a guy I met in a bar back home. He was young and had moved to the town on his own. He knew no-one, he was his own reality I suppose. He said that he was going to go out dancing on his own to practice his moves. There was something admirable in his way. All his friends smoked pot, he said, and he had no time for that. Why waste your life like that when you could be dancing.

 

Anyway, I digress. I spent the following day walking around the town and checking out the florists and coffee shops. I went to an archway cafe housed within an amusements arcade. The coffee tasted like ash but the waitress had a nice way about her and the food was cheap. At the Baltic I caught two exhibitions, the latter being by an artist called Phillippa Hatherty. She uses film and colourful stage sets to draw the audience into short films about her perceptions of life. I sat in a neon yellow Peugeot 406 and watched a film about a trip to France about how life and love can be a disappointing thing. We’re taught to wash our hands at a young age, she says, and we spend our lives washing our hands metaphorically about unpleasant things- war, failed love, misconceptions. I went with a companion and we came out altered somehow. We shuffled into the afternoon sunlight of Newcastle, calm and certain that life was not greater than us, simply our own creation. 

 

So the moving on came and I headed to Sheffield getting snarled up in the God awful ring road. Sheffield drivers beeping me and getting pissed that I didn’t know where I was going. I never understand people’s short tempers in cities, surely that’s how it goes in big smokes. I played Shakespeare’s for WagonWheel Promotions – a great little promotion company. I’ve played Shakespeare’s a lot now. The man who runs the curry house next door used to live in Romford, “via Slough” he tells me when we visit this time round. He likes it here, it’s quiet and his grandchildren go to a good school.

 

I shared the bill with Neil McSweeney. We’ve played lots of shows together now and it is always good to see him. I use Neil’s house as my base and head into the city centre the next day. I eat lunch in the same place I used to take my mum and dad when they visited me when I used to live here. Sheffield has the best Waterstone’s in the country in my humble opinion. It’s one of refuges and I instantly feel at home there. I like to get lost on the road so it’s surprising to find yourself out there sometimes.

 

On to Sowerby Bridge. I rent a bed and breakfast. It’s a miller’s house built in 1828. It’s beautiful and the anaglyptic walls are intricate with fruit bowls and hanging leaves. There’s an old ginger tom who is looking for affection. It cries every time you enter the house. He is eighteen years old. I prep the show whilst sitting on the bed and looking out onto the sculptured gardens and valley.

 

It’s an early start for I need to get to Newport for the following afternoon. It’s Diverse Music’s 25th Anniversary. They are a cool record shop in Cardiff that work hard to bring music to people. I met Matt at the bar and he looks jaded...two nights of rock n roll is taking it out of him. This gig is a quieter affair and I make some new friends in the bill- Paper Aeroplanes, Stephen James Adams and Polly Paulisma. Everyone is so nice and friendly. It’s good to be in their company.   Matt shows me pictures of the night before; boys hanging off beams and beer being spilt. I play, my acoustic cuts out.

 

I stay with Tim Manning of Blind River Scare, a singer songwriter who visits my home town regularly to play. It’s always good to see him and catch up on his news. He’s working on new songs with a bassist and pedal steel player. It sounds like he’s cooking up something good. We get treated to midnight chocolate cake but it’s all too brief and I’m on the road early morning heading for home.

Tour Diary - 3rd September 2013 - A man who loses his shadow; Ghosts in the Caves of Nottingham

In July I released my album ‘The Water or the Wave’ and I went on the road, for the first time, as a solo performer. The first stop, sticking out like a rose amongst the shire sticks by being a full three weeks before, was The Malt Cross in Nottingham’s city centre. It was drivable from home and I spent a lazy morning starting a new book called ‘Peter Schlemiel’, an eighteenth century novella about a man who trades his shadow for all the riches in the world. The devil was involved of course, he always is. I also indulged in my addiction for coffee and having decided not to take my dog with me, I set off for the highway.

 

Nottingham seemed a city trying hard to shed its recent notoriety as being the gun capital of England. The city centre seemed to have an impenetrable shell of overpriced NCP car parks but once inside this shell there were broad lanes overlooked by large ornate guild hall like buildings. The town hall sat proud in the centre like a mini-St. Paul’s Cathedral. I milled about The Works Bookshop and purchased a few books.

 

The Malt Cross was a beautifully ornate music hall built in 1877. I was lucky enough to be shown around the building and was led down an iron gated staircase from the street down into the sub street levels. The Malt Cross had originally been composed of two mezzanine levels and two floors. The very bottom floor, below ground level had been an ice skating rink and then a billiard hall. The ground floor, which now housed the drinking area, was originally a glass floor that allowed people to watch the skating from above. I was told by the promoter that the hall had lost its licence every two or three years due to prostitution or other misdemeanours. Now, we stood in the musty darkness of a gutted Indian restaurant that had been closed for a couple of years.

 

We wandered the debris and found treasures at every turn. The banister, it was believed, was from an old boat or galleon and exposed brick work would have been from an eighteenth century pub that had originally been across the road. The hall was built opposite the site of a mediaeval monastery and I bore that in mind as we descended yet more stairs.

 

It got colder and darker and we eventually found ourselves in sandstone caves. The people of Nottingham regularly lived in these caves throughout the centuries, as late as the 1920s I was told. It was mystical down in those caves and we saw ancient gate pins and sandstone shelves where they would keep the carcasses of cows ready to be cooked for the patrons upstairs. There were black soot marks on the wall, possibly left by the monks. A well stood at one end of the room, choked now with leaves and debris. In the next room an ornate boiler, the like of which I have never seen, sat squat in the darkness; all pipes and grills spanning out like spider’s legs across the walls. We turned back ready to find street level again, like a deep sea diver we ascended each floor, each becoming more modern and closer to the sounds of life out on the street. But I will never forget, as we left the dank hollow of the cave, I swear I could see out of the corner of my eye the furtive movement of robed men in the shadows.

Festival Time

I thought it would be worthwhile to update you all on my various travels this past month or so. We have entered festival season so my days have been filled in country fields, avoiding the sun and eating world cuisine from the back of trailers.

Up first was a repeat performance at Wallingford’s Rugfest. I have played the festival once before with The Lucky Strikes and we were excited to be playing it again. The festival is set in the grounds of the Rugby club and once you have swung off the M25 and the other motorways you enter a labyrinth of country lanes where chocolate box villages nestle at various crossroads. We arrived late in the day which meant we didn’t suffer the tedium that sometimes settles in to festival shows; just hanging around waiting to go on.

We are on second to last and when our time comes we set up and play out. Last year we managed to get everybody waltzing in the rain but this year it’s hot and the sun is still shining, even though it is heading west for the day. It’s a good gig and afterwards we stand side stage as a man in leather trousers sets off a firework behind a truck for the last band’s entrance. We drink beer and watch the blooms of red and gold. Backstage there is a sofa and there’s graffiti on the arm proclaiming ‘Jackie Leven sat here- Legend’.  I played with Jackie only once in a pub in Leytonstone. He was a warm man and I’d like to think that he could see those fireworks from up above.

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29th June welcomed my local festival, the Leigh Folk Festival and I was honoured to be part of it again this year. On that Friday I joined Michael Chapman and Jason Steel, both lovely, lovely men to play a special night of music. The venue was the Leigh Methodist Church which stands almost on the marsh itself. I have known the church for so long but had never been inside. What first took me when I entered was the stain glass window of a cockle fisherman untangling his nets on the beach. It was glorious. It was truly a special gig and an attentive audience. 

The rest of the weekend was a manic itinerary of seeing some good friends and new acquaintances play. In no particular order I saw great sets from Micky Denny, Crafting for Foes, Oli Howard, Bob Collum and the Welfare Mothers, the Delta Jacks, Troubadour Rose, The Reverend Casey and Alisdair Roberts. It makes you feel truly alive to know so many great musicians and to call them friends. I took to the stage at 7.30pm on the Sunday with The Strikes. A good few technical difficulties but when you’re playing with brothers, it’s not that bad a deal. Long live the Leigh Folk Festival!

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Me and The Strikes’ piano player, Dave, drove up to North Wales last weekend to play the Ymuno Festival. A small festival of five hundred, it was one of the best festival gigs we have played. Well worth the nine hours driving! It was a sublime drive, talking about life and music and moving on. The band are due back in the studio in early August and we’re excited to be working on new material.

We eventually hit Colwyn Bay around lunch time and are in awe of the beautiful sea. We head up through the mountains and past a spooky village populated by scarecrow cyclists and hangmen. We keep driving. We meet the rest of the boys at the festival and our erstwhile fiddler Simon who has travelled from Halifax. Simon is a legend and a master brewer. Our good friend Neil McSweeney played the previous night and he is wearing his hangover well when we meet up. We do the gig, pack away and then me, Dave and Neil film an impromptu interview for the festival organisers before we part ways, heading back home tired and hungry for bed.

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