Saturday, 7 August 2010

Been away?

Yes - I went up to my mother's 90th birthday.

Braved the warning of my parents ("be careful, I wouldnt like to come back from there after the pubs have closed") to go to a nice open mike. There were abut fifty people.

But what do you sing at a strange open mike when you only have one song?

That's a great question. There was a bluesman who ddid Skip James. Some kids who attempted Django.

Answer: "All shall be well".

Why? An original ssong
A story Song
A character song
A song with a big finish

Saturday, 31 July 2010

What, back already?

Yes, it's like this.

I set off early and started singing in Abergavenny. I must admit, I was euphoric after about two songs because money was showering in. One lady said, "Didn't I hear you on the radio?" Saw some people from Abertillery. So, I'd made probably about thirty-five pounds in a ccouple of hours. Saw a few people from Abertillery, so that was great.

Then, I decided to go to Brecon. Had to pay to park for a start. Only a pound but, still. Plus you had to put in the last three "digits" from your registration number. What they meant was "letters", I reckon. Very irritating.

There were quite a few people around but it was quite hard to tell where there was any concentration of people to speak of. Had two falsish starts - about four songs for a ccouplle of pounds. Then, I asked a local for advice and she directed me to the entrance to the indoor market.

The acoustics were really great in there - a wooden roof - but that didn't really translate into anything much. Had a great chat with a bloke who'd been to the Abertillery Blues Festival. Sand for about an hour for about five pounds.

Then, I decided to have lunch and that was £1.80 out of the five pounds kitty in Brecon. Then it started to rain really hard with more forecast. So, I was a bit discouraged and decided to come home at that point. Petrol money to be considered as well.

Is this viable, I asked myself? Made fifty pounds in Raglan this morning with lots of good chat with the locals and not much sense of the same people giving over and over again. Decided to start singing "Don't think twice, it's all right" and the sublime "last thing on my mind" by Tom Paxton.

I think I will have another go later in the summer.

Went to the Monmouth Festival in the evening. Got some brownie points with the kids by pointing out the lead singer of the Automatic in the crowd milling around. They were pretty good, I thought but they're not the same without Pennie - obviously. First became aware of them on the Adam Walton show long before Monster came out. Began to sing it at youth club and promised the kids they'd soon be familiar with that chorus!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Setting off soon?

I thought I'd have a go tomorrow.

Actually, I was all set to start off this morning but remembered a piano lesson. Plus, I hadn't packed or anything.

Incidentally, both the pupils I put in for exams got distinctions this time. Can't be bad.

On other fronts, it's a sad day for music.

We find out that Plastic Bertrand didn't sing on "Ca Plane pour Moi". Ah, but did he sing on "Sentimental moi?" We'll have to ask his producer, Lou Deprijck.

Also, the death of Ben Keith, Neil Young's steel guitar player. Great moment, this:
"Lookout Joe" from "Tonight's the Night", Chorus finishes, Neil says, "Take it, Ben." A tramshackle solo ensues. What an album that is.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Are you watching "Rev"?

Yes, I am, and I'm enjoying it.

And if I didn't know the meaning of the word "trope", I sure do now.

As I understand it, the word trope refers to a chunk of material that is just plonked down in a setting.

Tropes in "Rev" include:
* innocent vicar overwhelmed by the inner city
* vicar has a sidekick who is a homeless man and has interesting take on spiritual life
* needy parishioners predatory in their need
* vicar has all-powerful superior whom he has to manage as best he can
* vicar has to deal with more successful colleagues
* vicar has to remain true to himself
* vicar undercuts "vicar"

How could it be otherwise?

Interestingly (?) some time ago, I wrote a novel called "Playing at the Roxy" about a church meeting in a converted cinema in Bordeaux. Surprise, surprise, it contains all of these tropes.

It's available at Amazon if anyone is interested in reading a load of old tropes.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

And the latest?

Well, I didn't get onto the Music in Hospitals thing. As I suspected, they didn't like me talking to the imaginary inmates during my songs and thought I should have dressed in evening dress to play Dylan covers. Funny old world.

On the other hand, the busking continues to go well. Fifty pounds last Saturday morning, talking the total to about £500.

Also did an open mike with Rachel last week in the Ship in Raglan. Her usual guitarist wasn't about so I learned half a dozen of her songs and played them. Had a good time. There's another one tonight. Don't know if I can face another one so soon, though. Not when television has reached such a highly developed level of entertainment.

Reminds me: I Said to Charles Fountain after the Ship, "These open mikes are conclusive proof of evolution. At the age of fifty everyone has developed a distinctive style and repertoire and is now fossilised in that."

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Did you busk at the Royal Welsh Show?

Unfortunately not.

I made a strategic error.

When I was in Paris, I used to conduct a little choir and we wanted to sing outside a metro station. I suggested we contact the town hall or the police and ask permission but was told if we asked we'd be refused so just carry on anyway. You spend a lot of your time in France being ignored by the authorities so it's good to return the compliment. I remember writing assiduously month after month to the Mayor of Villejuif asking for a community hall to show a film and I never got a reply.

Anyway, I wrote to the organisers of the show talking about the parable of the talents project and the busking part of it and they somehow got the impression in spite of my lucid exposition of my request to busk around the site that I was offering to come and entertain the crowds. I think if I'd just slipped in with my guitar and sign everything would have been fine.

Had a nice day at Builth, as usual. Came back with a free energy saving device for the telly, a badge saying "I heart wind power" and the autograph of the actor who plays Hywel Llewelyn in Pobol y Cwm dedicated to the family. I shall prop it up by the TV each time the show comes on.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

How did the audition for Music in Hospitals go?

I really enjoyed it but I don't think I really fit in so I'm not expecting too much.

I arrived in Bristol with a couple of hours to spare and I was fortunate enough to find a parking space just round the corrner from the Victoria Halls where the audition was. Wandered up and down Park Street for a while.

A lady called Diane showed me into the warm up room and I had a chat with a lady harpist who was going on after me. Very nice Bosendorfer grand to warm up on.

What a nice surprise when I went in! "This is Bill", "Nice to meet you, Bill." "This is Lisa." "Nice to meet you."

"And this is Heather."
"Not Heather Jones?!"
"The singer?!"

At the end of the audition I said I was unfeignedly thrilled to have met her. After all, she was absolutely central to the early success of Meic Stephens (qv). She was very positive throughout the audition, too. She even said she'd heard of the busking tour when I talked about it. She also said she sings the kind of things I did when she goes into care homes but they tend to want things like, "Pack up your troubles."

They pointed out to me that they were expecting rather more forrmal dress than I had on collarless shirt, black linen trousers with my piano belt. I don't think they really liked my efforts to chat with them during the songs either and they thought I could have spoken up more. Still, there were only four of them, and they were only pretendding to be a hospital/care home audience.

Played the Entertainer. Piano was a bit dead, I thought. Then I sang Blowin in the Wind and You've got a friend.

I should hear about it in a couple of days but as I said, I don't really think I'm what they are looking for.

Still, I'm off to the Royal Welsh Show tomorrow to be on the Roy Noble show so I'll be able to recount my meeting with Heather Jones and explain that she quite fancies busking!

Sunday, 18 July 2010

It's all gone quiet again, hasn't it?

Yes, but I've been busy.

I've been working out my audition for Music in Hospitals.

Also. on Saturday, my usual busking day, I had to go to a funeral. I was glad to do that, of course.

I've also been writing a talk for the Roy Noble show on Wednesday from the Royal Welsh Show. Guess what it's about? Auditioning for Music in Hospitals, of course.

I did write to them asking if I could busk on the field but they somehow got the impression I was offering to provide entertainment and they declined my kind offer.

Oh well, must get used to being misunderstood when writing simple prose, I suppose.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

So you're a professional musician now?

I think that's a very interesting question.

Certainly, I could easily live on this kind of busking money if it wasn't going to the church. Then there's all the piano teaching and sundries.

But something has just happened to me that only happens to professional musicians and it's made me think.

There's a charity called "Music in Hospitals" that does what it says on the tin except it also works in care homes and so on. It exists to bring music of the highest quality into those settings. That's very creditable, I think.

A couple of friends, Catherine Handley and Huw Chidgey have been doing gigs for Music in Hospitals for some time so when Catherine put something about it on Facebook I thought I'd look into it and sent off for a form.

I filled it in thinking it was wasted effort because it says you need to be a professional musician and asks you to put down your qualifications and experience.

So, I put down that I could play grade 8 piano stuff and I mentioned about Frost at Midnight - and the songs on the radio and the busking tour and thought nothing of it.

And now I've got an audition. Now, by talking to Catherine Handley I've found out that it's entertainment first in this world and not by any means all classical although that's included. So I'm thinking at the moment about playing the Scott Joplin rag, The Entertainer and a couple of songs people can join in with like Blowin in the Wind and You've got a Friend.

Whether I get the gig or not, I'm quite chuffed to have been asked. In any case, I'm giving a talk on the Roy Noble programme from the Royal Welsh Show next week the day after the audition so I intend to use the experience to talk about how we need to find ways to make our faith and experience work together.

I'll let you know how I get on.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Don't you realise people will lose interest if you stay in Raglan?

It's alright.

I went to Abergavenny this morning to test the waters.

I had to pay some money into the bank so decided to have a go. There was a spot outside the former Chinese pharmacy so I set up camp there.

At first I was dismayed - there are lots more people than in Raglan, of course, but people find it natural to scurry past or even saunter by without acknowledging your presence at all. This has always seemed rude to me towards anyone - homeless, charity collectors, anybody.

Little by little, a trickle of coin (like that?). I sang a song with a lady who had a learning disability. "I want to see the Bright Lights Tonight." That was a nice moment - the kind of moment you'd like to come back in the last moments. Met a couple of people from Abertillery who go way back.

And, at the end of the hour, £23. That does include a five pounds gift from a well-meaning friend. Thanks! But still, £23.

It's time to do some sums. Petrol money. Lunch money. It's not all that clear that it's worth leaving Raglan.

What do you think?

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Ever do open mikes?

Very occasionally.

Went to one last night in the Carpenter's Arms at Coed y Paen with Rachel and Sam. And do you know, I drove them all the way up there and Rachel didn't even buy me a drink.

There were quite a few people taking part. It was nice to see the couple who run Newport Folk Club again. They used to come up to the Star in Llansoy when Huw Chidgey and Catherine Handley were running the folk night. Those were good times. They did a version of "Cousin Jack" by Steve Knightley. A good open mike song.

In fact, it's quite a tease knowing what to sing at these events. We were discussing that in the car on the way home. It's got to be well known but not too well known.

The first song I did last night is probably the ideal song. You start, "Here I go, out to sea again . . ." People think, "Heard this before somewhere . . ." "Look at me standing, here on my own again . . . " Singer-songwriter pose. And then the dramatic A minor chord and the chorus, "No need to run and hide, it's a WONDERFUL, WONDERFUL LIFE." And people can join in.

Another song like that? "Look around you, how it will astound you . . ." "What is this song? It's driving me mad!" And the chorus comes in "Everybody's got to learn sometime . . . " "Oh yes, I remember that. I'm so much wiser now etc. etc." And that sets up another nagging quest in the audience to try to remember who sang it.

Rachel and Sam did "I bet that you look good on the dance floor." A little too populist perhaps? I countered with "Big Yellow Taxi". Is this kind of thing really playing the open mike game?

Best song of the evening? "Don't think twice, it's all right." By far the best song. I'm not talking about performances but material.

So, the search is on for something familiar but not too faamiliar. Upbeat but not mindless. How about "Baby, I don't care" by Transvision Vamp?

A closing thought: "Live at Sine" by Jeff Buckley is the ultimate demonstration of how to choose open mike songs. Every one a winner; every one transformed.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Got any good busking stories?

This one is excellent, so thanks to Jan Sutton for sending it to me.

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007.

The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes.

During that time approx. two thousand people went through the station, most
of them on their way to work.

After three minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing.
He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet
his schedule.

Four minutes later:

the violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the
hat and, without stopping, continued to walk..

Six minutes:

A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his
watch and started to walk again.

Ten minutes:

A three year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The
kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and
the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was
repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced
their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes:

The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a
short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace.
The man collected a total of $32.

One hour:

He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded,
nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest
musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever
written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua
Bell sold out a theatre in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station
was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about
perception, taste and people's priorities.. The questions raised: in a
common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do
we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we
do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the
world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most
beautiful instruments ever made.... How many other things are we missing?

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Colin - that's not a very good name for a rock star, is it?

Have you forgotten Colin Blunstone?

In 1970, I was just getting interested in music after my brother bought "Full House" by Fairport Convention (my copy has three out of four signatures of the members by now).

My cousin is ten years older than me and he was obviously interested in quality music. I used to go up to his house and borrow things to play on our Dansette.

The two records that made the biggest impact were "Court of the Crimson King" and "One Year" by Colin Blunstone. I used to put them on while playing Subbuteo with my friends. Play them over and over again.

Years later I got my own copy of "One Year" in Beanos in Croydon for 20p (no sleeve). It was hard to come by on CD for many years but it came through eventually. Those string arrangements by Chris Gunning! That evocation of young love! Smokey Day!

I somehow missed seeing Colin Blunstone for nearly all of his later career but about three years ago I was free on the night he played Beaufort ballroom with the Zombies. I was surprised by the power of what had always seemed such a fragile voice. And the string of hits! Too many exclamation marks.

"Say you don't mind"
"Misty Roses" etc.

Keith Airey on guitar! Rod Argent on keyboards! "Old and Wise"! I'm incoherent . . .

We took Catherine Handley our classical flautist friend with us. We were all so impressed we went up to Stratford the following night to hear them again.

Colin showcased his new album about a year later with a show in the Globe, Albany Road in Cardiff. "Any other way!" "The Ghost of you and me!"

If there's a better British male singer even now I'd be surprised.

Colin's a great name for a rock singer.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Any feedback?

Of course not, I'm performing acoustically in the open air.

Seriously, though, I've been approached a couple of times in the last couple of days about Black aka Colin Vearncombe. I think he's such an underrated songwriter. As well as "Wonderful Life" from the "Black" album I do two others from the "Comedy" album.

Becaause of this interest I've been inspired to learn is it "Give us the Means" from "Comedy". It brilliantly conveys ecomomic depression in Liverpool in the late eighties but never gives up hope. I must admit, I don't think the word "means" fits in the song unless of course it's a conscious echo of "means test".

I don't want to give the impression that I'm only interested in Colin's old songs. He's still writing and recording brilliant material. See his website for details:

The myspace of his little band Dog Tail Soup is highly recommended.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Why are you always talking about money?

Well, it's going quite well, really, so I am a bit excited.

Yesterday morning I did just under an hour in two goes on Raglan High Street and made sixty pounds.

This afternoon, I went down to the Usk Open Gardens open-air service and busked outside as people went in. First time outside the village.

I think the numbers were a bit down but that's not suprising considering kick-off in Usk was at the same moment as England started their World Cup match against Germany.

Did about forty minutes before the service and about ten minutes after and came away with forty-five pounds.

So, over a hundred pounds for the weekend.

This morning I gave my third hundred to the treasurer, bringing the parable of the talents total to about £560 in the bank.

I am excited but there are more interesting things to talk about than money, I agree.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

What about Kate and Anna?

They're not forgotten.

I saw the McGarrigle sisters when they were on Whistle Test in the mid seventies and got their first album.

I think it's patchy - I can do without "Jigsaw Puzzle of Life" and even sometimes "My town" and always the one that starts "My daddy came to see me". Mawkish is the word. But it's worth it for "Mendocino", "heart like a wheel" et al. I can even understand the lyrics to "Complainte pour Sainte Catherine" now! Yesterday, I had a go at singing "Kiss and say Goodbye". Works well.

All their albums are patchy, I think. I got the two after the first one, "Dancer with bruised knees" and thee other one when they closed the record shop in Abertillery that was then in Somerset Street and became a card shop after. I think that was the same shop that moved from the corner of Carmel Street just along from the Palace, opposite the Midland Bank. All this for future historians. To be honest, I wish I'd bought the whole stock - it wouldd be worth a packet now - all those early Island albums by people like Alan Bown, Amazing Blondel and If.

On every Kate and Anna album there are these two or three excruciating dirges or something like "NaCl" but there's also ALWAYS something that'll stay with you for ever - "Leave me be . . ." Or is that one of the excruciating dirges. That's part ont he charm. Some days one, other days the other.

Saw them live in Croydon in the mid-eighties. Pat Donaldson on bass, Gerry Conway on drums. Don't know who played guitar. They started with "Swimming Song".

So, there must be two or three things of theirs worth taking busking.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Any more songs?


I love Black, aka Colin Vearncombe.

Of course, everyone loves "Wonderful Life" and I sing that but he has written some of the best songs around in the last twenty odd years.

What about this for a simile? "You always makee me feel like I've just received an invite to last week's Halloween." I'm usually laughing too much to go on after that.

Then, there's "i caan laugh about it now." What about these lines? "You made me ache so I went for a run in the pouring rain in your neighbourhood streets. And there you were - a silhouette in the wet night air. Me in my pumps in the driving rain . . . " Vivid. "Your friends caught my eye: 'We know you love her - we saw you dancing with her shadow.'"

Colin's songs are full of great stuff like that. The only problem is wanting to cry out, "Listen to this! Listen to this!" while you're singing. A very underrated songwriter, in spite of the success of "Wonderful Life".

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Are you never going to leave Raglan?

There doesn't seem to be any need at the moment.

This morning, I finished rehearsing my choir, the Saturday Singers and decided to do half an hour on the High Street. Sounds busy, doesn't it? It isn't though, but I still made £25.

In the afternoon, the school fete was on and they'd given me a spot up on the banking near the refreshments.

It was a little bit more difficult than last week but I still came away with £30.

Legitimately sang in French three times today: twice when French people were present and once for a lady who teached French and does translation.

Then, I was just in time to go and have a cream tea at Janet's. I bet she was grateful it wasn't pelting it down like yesterday afternoon.

There was a good crowd there and after the ladies had finished selling cakes at our coffee morning I expect we made getting on for £150 between us today.

Note to self - in the words of the mighty Bob Dylan, "I'll know my song well before I start singing." Only found out half way through that I don't really know "Sunshine Superman" by Donovan.

Friday, 18 June 2010

I heard you broke a string?

Yes, but that's an occupational hazard.

It's what you do next that's important.

In Toulouse we would occasionally allow people to sleep in the chapel, upstairs in the office. We allowed Tadzo to do that for quite a long time.

He was an illegal immigrant: he'd turned up with a passport photocopied on an irregularly shaped piece of what looked like grey blotting paper.

He had no French and no English but pretty soon he'd taught himself French with the aid of a Rumanian Bible and a copy of John's gospel in French.

He had toured with a Rumanian orchestra playing double bass but like lots of the homeless people he was a great guitarist.

I'm a big fan of Bartok's Rumanian folk dances suite so I jumped at the chance of learning some of Tadzo's music.

Then, one day a string broke on my guitar. I reached for the case for the spare set.

"No, no, I repair it."

And that's what he did - he repaired the string with fuse wire. Waste not, want not.

Later on, Tadzo got arrested by the border police on his wedding day. At the ceremony itself.

Later still, he was killed in a car crash.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Any immediate plans?

Yes, I'm going to be busking at the Raglan VC Primary School Fete this Saturday, 19th June.

Before that, I intend to take my guitar and sign to Cwmmera to busk at the Rural Churches Fellowship Rally. Just hope I can make myself heard over all those rally cars.

Then, I want to go to the Usk Open Gardens on 27th June.

So, all in all there are still some opportunities round here before taking to the open road.

By the way, I know there are several people reading this who are not yet "Followers" and who don't "Comment". It would be great if people could declare themselves by doing one of those things. Look forward to hearing from you.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Anything else to report from Raglan Festival?

We were supporting Amy Wadge last night.

I ended up doing the sound but I quite enjoyed it because we'd borrowed Col Knight's PA.

Amy's musicians Bobby and Pete arrived first from Liverpool so we got a good sound with them first and then Amy turned up about five o'clock so that gave us plenty of time.

We had about eighty people in including some hardcore Amy fans from Penarth, Tonypandy etc.

We went on first and had a very enjoyable time with a warm and appreciative crowd.

Amy went on on at 8.30 and torre the place up. Very dynamic with great support from Pete who played one jazzy and one bluesey solo with style and energy.

Oh, and I busked before the gig and made £30 again. A grand total of £110 for the whole weekend.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

How's the Raglan Festival going?

Very well.

This morning I was on duty to do the announcements at the children's workshops so I carted the amplifier and mike and guitar and placard along.

I tried not to be too intrusive - except when I was making the announcements, of course?

Between stints at the microphone I went around singing, "Busking for Raglan Baptist Church" to little groups of people.

Made almost exactly £30 this morning.

It was great to see my old French Horn teacher, David Davies. Those were the days! We didn't have the instruments they have today. The horn I learned on had the mouthpipe bent at such an angle that I learned to play blowing out of the side of my mouth. That's the standard embouchure for playing the renaissance cornett but not much good for modern orchestral horn playing. I always had a lot of sensitivity but not much volume.

Didn't stop me getting on the National Youth Orchestra, though. Cheers, David - a wonderful, inspirational teacher.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Are you doing anything at Raglan Festival?

Just did.

We had the magnificent Devil's Violin Company at the chapel tonight. As usual, Daniel, Oli, Luke and Sarah did a fabulous job, weaving together stories and tunes. There were loads of children there but they didn't lose them for an instant. What a great advert for the power of story-telling even in a video age.

So, I sang outside with my busking sign and then processed in singing Blowin in the Wind. I improvised a little blues:

"Woke up this morning, found I had a disabled toilet to pay
Woke up this morning, found I had a disabled toilet to pay for
So all you praying people - that'll give you something to pray for.

Woke up this morning, found I had seven and a half thousand pounds missin
Woke up this morning, found I had seven and a half thousand pounds missin
But let me tell you people, at least we've got something to . . . show for it."

Result? Forty-two pounds!

I was able to give a hundred pounds to the treasurer and the grand total is up to about £160.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Anything in French?

Funny you should ask that.

Only yesterday, I got an email from someone in France who goes way back to my time in Toulouse.

So, I'd arrived in Toulouse to this church building in a modern shopping centre - the church was a kind of plate glass shop front. I was going to sit in my office reading for my PhD in French catholicism (I got it, but only nine years later and that's another story).

Anyway, as I looked out of my office window, I could see people using drugs and a guy sleeping it off on the doorstep till about midday. I had to decide whether to chase them off or invite them in so I chose the latter and started giving coffee.

Shortly after this, a young couple arrived in the church and told me they'd had a background in homelessness, drugs, alcohol and the like. Between them, they set up a charitable association and together we set up the practical side of making breakfasts for about thirty homeless people - and their dogs, another nother story.

The bloke, Patrick I shall call him, had been a founder member of one of France's most notorious punk bands - Berurier Noir. He'd been thrown out of that for being too extreme (!) and had begun a long career of petty crime, suicide attempts, prison and the dreaded bottle.

Patrick and Myriam had become Christians just before joining out church. It was a tempestuous, turbulent time but eventually Patrick was accepted on a course to be a kind of street-based social worker but unfortunately the influence of some of the other students led to him having an alcoholic relapse. I'll always remember that night. About two in the morning going up in a lift to the ninth floor with INXS getting stronger on every landing. I've never been so sure of being thrown off a balcony in my life.

If you are interested, you can read all about Patrick in a novel I wrote in a previous life. It's called Playing at the Roxy and you can get it on Amazon.

Patrick and I wrote two songs together: "Brisons les Murs" and "Au cours d'une nuit de printemps" which is all about a homeless person being set alight in his cardboard box refuge. True story. i still sing these songs today and I find them very poignant.

Patrick died in 2007 of Hepatitis C. He was only 44. Myriam emailed me yesterday and she's doing well. She always was a calming influence on Patrick . . . and me.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Gone quiet?

Kind of.

Went to Abergavenny this morning to do some publicity for a concert we're doing with Amy Wadge this Saturday.

It's part of the Raglan Festival

Did some 4-up invitations and touted them around on market day and did some windscreens.

I must say how much I admire Paolo Nutini. Rachel, our daughter sings Rewind and Last Request but I think the whole of the first album is pretty good and I've liked what I've heard of the second. Heard him do a great cover of "Beeswing" by Richard Thompson, too. Whisper this: is he overdoing the vocal mannerisms now? But he's still so young!

So, I think I'll add Rewind to my own set.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Why don't you start?

I have now.

I was so motivated by seeing the new disabled toilet that I made a start this morning.

Everybody was thrilled with the new facilities and I made sure everybody at our coffee morning went in to have a look, although I didn't stand over them to make sure they had a go. The actual WC part is very spacious and has baby changing facilities as well as the usual handles and so on. Also, we've somehow managed to enlarge the lobby betwwen the toilets and the kitchen. The whole lot is sky blue and so light . . .

Anyway, just as I was about to go out singing, a lady gave me £20. Great start.

I stood by the post office next to Steph and Shirley who were selling tickets for the Festival next weekend.

"Blowin' in the Wind." What else can you sing to inaugurate a tour raising funds for a toilet?
"Streets of Raglan"
I was fortunate enough to be singing in French when Megan, a former French teacher at the girls' school went by, so we did an impromptu rendition of "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" - the Habanera from "Carmen"

I told everybody about our fundraising activities - sometimes in song and people were generous beyondd what I thought.

A couple of hightlights - the two people who came up and spoke about disabled relatives and a career working with disabled people respectively.

About £45 on the street and £20 before setting out.

This disabled toilet has been a long time coming. This busking trip, too.

My running total is about £120 now - can't be bad.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

What are the ground rules?

I thought I'd better be fairly clear about the financial aspect of the trip.

After all, we were looking at Ananaias and Sapphira in last night's fellowship group. Just shows what can happen if you're not upfront about your expenses. I notice that most of the erring MPs are still alive however, even if no longer in post.

Anyway, the money comes in. So far, so good. My running total is well into the forty-odd pounds now.

I think petrol at 40p a mile is ok.
Food is ok.
Emergency accomodation is ok.
Phone is ok.

I probably won't go out and buy one of these netbooks to do this blog on while I'm on the road. I'll probably buy an in-car charger for my phone,though.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Is there no other way?

I am rereading "UK on a G string" by Justin Brown for inspiration.

He is a New Zealander who made a bet over a rugby match with an Australian.

If New Zealand lost, he had to go to Britain and raise the money for his return ticket by busking door to door.

I might have gone busking in Abergavenny today but it was raining hard - I felt sorry for the three kids turning up with their saxophones and music stands for their stint.

I was travelling around with the Grass Routes bus in preparation for my test next week. It was surprisingly intensive. We picked the customers up in Glascoed, Goitre and Usk, went to Abergavenny and then came back for another set of people from Raglan and area. Then we went back to Abergavenny and picked them all up again - twice. There was just time for a bacon sandwich in between trips. What a great service!

I resisted the temptation to burst into song and pass the hat round on the bus.

Plus, I am not really looking forward to those country lanes when I get behind the wheel.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Why the pause?

We've been asked to do a fiftieth wedding anniversary.

So we're dusting off the Beatles items we do:
you've got to hide your love away
Things we said today (beautiful middle 8)
Hey Jude
Let it be

One more controversial request has been for some Abba. Catherine doesn't really want to do that so I'm going to do Dancing Queen and Knowing me, Knowing You

All these on top of numbers like:
wild World
Big Yellow Taxi
Who Knows where the time goes
Dylan songs

Not many lively, uplifting numbers in that lot, I hear you say.

This is true, but that's another story.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

other Meic Stevens songs?

Yes - and this one is quite easy to learn.

Tryweryn is about the flooding of the valley in 1965 to provide a reservoir for Liverpool.

Today, there's a lot of canoeing and white water rafting on the river but back then, the story of the rehousing of 67 residents was front page news and a cause celebre.

Meic Stevens's song - quite an early one - is a simple folky item about how there are no flowers left in the gardens of Tryweryn while the fish swim peacefully above the houses.

Quite a surreal word picture of a real reality as "Cold water is sleeping in Tryweryn."

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Why are there no apostrophes in this post?

Its simple, really.

Usually I update this blog using Catherines computer. So far, so good.

This morning, Im on our church laptop and one of the keys is missing. Its the one with "at" as in email addresses and the apostrophe.

Sometimes I go to the trouble of copying and pasting all the apostrophes but this time I dont think I will.

Great feedback on yesterdays appearance on the Roy Noble show. It seems to me to be quite a precisely defined audience in terms of age but, boy, does it reach that group!

Ive done quite a lot of "Thought for the Day" type material for BBC Radio 2 as well as Radio Wales and theres no comparison between the reaction you get from the two.

In fact, there is a comparison and here it is:

The Radio Two talks go out late at night and early in the morning. It is extremely rare for anyone to mention hearing them. I can remember perhaps three or four reactions to something like fifteen talks. All these numbers are guesses, by the way.

On the other hand, the Radio Wales ones are heard by a large number of people in the community here. And then, if you go somewhere else in Wales, its not unusual at all to get people coming up and referring to things theyve heard.

Better get busking soon.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Not more media appearances?

'Fraid so.

Went on the Roy Noble programmes on BBC Radio Wales this afternoon. Just over an hour in here:

Cath Martin was producing. It was nice to see her again. She's been off having a baby.

They were talking about songs to do with the sea and had wrongly said that Sailing By was the theme of the TV series Owen MD. I pointed out that it was Sleepy Shores by the Johnny Pearson Orchestra.

We chatted about the parable of the talents project and then about busking in general and I sand snatches of some famous busking songs: Blowin' in the Wind and Streets of London.

Near the end, I accidentally upset the whole of Merthyr by saying I was too frightened to busk there. And that from a Valleys Boy, too !

Roy Noble gave me £20 live on air, so the project is coming along nicely from a financial point of view.

I was quite nervous - nowhere near as nervous as for my piano exam but enough, all the same. As I told Roy, Catherine can sing whereas I can remember the words to all the songs but can hardly sing at all.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

It's about time, isn't it?

Yes, so Meic Stevens, finally.

Meic's autobiography says that in the sixties he wrote a song in English about his uncle Walter who went off to war on the submarine Tarpon (appears as Tarpan in the song). It was sunk in the Baltic campaign in 1940 and Walter never came back to Solva.

When Meic began to wonder about singing in Welsh, he just knew a few folk songs but they went down very well on the radio and TV so he thought about writing his own material. He took Walter's song to a teacher he knew and they put together "Can (circumflex over the a) Walter."

There's a nice version with a female harmony vocal by Heather Jones and organ and guitar accompaniment but Meic's own solo version with guitar is probably better. Less is more, as they say.

Meic is bringing out another English record later this year and this is going to be on it. The title is, "Bound for the Baltic Sea".

Of course, my fear is that if I learn this Welsh song, Welsh people will say, "Oh, for goodness sake, not "Can Walter" again !" A bit like English people think about "Streets of London"

Having said that, though, try looking for the lyrics in Welsh on the internet. You'll look for a long time and still not turn up very much so perhaps it isn't done to death just yet.

Monday, 24 May 2010


Not just yet.

Every Monday morning I go in to Raglan Primary School and do an assembly.

We normally do lively songs. There's one I like at the moment with the action of a submarine submerging. Don't ask.

This morning, I decided to have a dry run for Wednesday afternoon when I have to sing live on the Roy Noble show on BBC Radio Wales.

So, I asked if they knew what busking was - they did. I asked who the greatest living songwriter is but they didn't know. Fortunately, one of the staff did, so I sang Blowin in the Wind and Streets of London. The, I made some point about war, homelessness and people's indifference to the problems of others.

I got the staff to pretend to be passers-by and they did a good job, making encouraging remarks, not paying any attention and sometimes pretending to throw money.

Anyway, I glanced into my guitar case - great: full of money! Twenty pence pieces and fifty pences mainly.

Then, when I came to put my guitar away, what a let down . . . PLASTIC MONEY.

Well, that's primary schools for you.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Are you never going to get to the point?

Not just yet.

Last night I was in Abergavenny autograph hunting.

In the summer of 1970 we had to trail all round Cardiff with my brother looking for an album called "Full House" by Fairport Convention. We finally found it in Spillers on the Hayes (where else?)

Reader, it changed everything for me. Particularly the personality of Dave Swarbrick in singing and fiddle playing. I'd thought the violin was for classical music alone. How wrong I was.

A long time ago I gave away my brother's copy of Full House in a vain attempt to convert someone. But I've got another one - pink label, 1970.

Last year, Dave Swarbrick came to our Raglan Festival. What an example of a life and character at the service of the Music.

He signed the textured sleeve of my "Full House". So when I saw that Fairport Convention were in Abergavenny, I just had to go. Not for the music - I didn't even go to the show - but for the symbolism.

I hung around outside. Simon Nicol was the first into the sultry street. "Guilty as charged," he said as he signed. He opened up the sleeve to the russet photo and pointed to the child. "She's 44!"

Dave Pegg came down later and was as cheerful as ever, and as personal: "What's your name?" "To Rob, Cheers, Dave Pegg," reads the dedication.

Only Richard Thompson and Dave Mattacks to go.

Thank you, guys. Music for me begins in the summer of 1970. You changed my life.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Surely not another interruption?

Yes, I'm afraid so.

Yesterday, Cath Martin of the Roy Noble show phoned up from BBC Radio Wales.

Could I come down next Wednesday at three and be on the programme?

I was already booked in to do the Wednesday Word - a kind of Thought for the Day - the following week and I must admit I was hoping to get away with mentioning the busking trip but this is better. Perhaps they'll let me mention it next Wednesday, too.

So, they want me to sing some typical busking songs. Asked Steve Ashley and he said "Ballad of a Thin Man" and "Like a Rolling Stone" but I think I've already mentioned that they have too many words.

I need to cut to the chase, so "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Streets of Cardiff (London)" it is.

Charlie also suggested writing a song about the busking trip so here it is:

"Busking for Raglan Baptist Church, doo dah, doo dah,
Wherever I can find a perch, oh doo dah day.
Going to sing all night
Going to sing all day
Unless you get your money out
I won't go away."

Oh, the report should be at today

Friday, 21 May 2010

Wasn't it Welsh songs today?

Yes it was but sometimes things happen and you change your plan.

So, yesterday Andy Sherwill of came to the Senior's luncheon.

That was great - cottage pie and veg and rhubarb and ice cream to follow. The disruption caused by the work on the disabled toilet didn't seem too bad, either.

Then, after the lunch we had an interview outside and then inaugurated the busking tour of Wales!

We went down to the Ship (under new management now) and I sang "Is Your Love in Vain". £7.21 made. Can't be bad for one song. If it's always like that I won't complain.

Oh, and one of the neighbours said she'd sent the South Wales Argus report to Roy Noble at BBC Radio Wales. I'm on the show on 2nd June so you never know.

The report should appear at over the weekend.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

So what are the Welsh songs?

The local web TV people are coming round today to do a piece about the busking project.

I've been listening to BBC Radio Cymru for some time looking out for songs for this trip.

There's a good thing going on in Welsh music at the moment.

I already knew about that by listening to the Adam Walton show on BBC Radio Wales late on Sunday but C2 is on every night late on Radio Cymru.

Sometimes the old ones are the best, though. I've settled on some songs by Meic Stevens - "the Welsh Bob Dylan".

Meic's autobiography is available in English under the title "Solva Blues" as well as in Welsh - "Hunangofiant y Brawd Houdini". It's a great short read with lists and lists of famous people making brief appearances: Dylan himself is in there.

He was a pioneer in the Welsh music scene in the sixties and seventies and one funny bit is where he puts together a group to ridicule a particular style of music and accidentally hits the big time.

I expect he gets his fair share of that kind of treatment himself now but that doesn't take anything away from the quality of his songs.

First one tomorrow.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Wait! What is the money for, exactly?

If you read this blog, please become a "follower" - side bar to the right. Also, take the time to comment.

I'm glad you asked about the money because the work begins today.

Here at Raglan Baptist we have two buildings - a chapel from the 1860s and a converted house from who knows when. We call this the Fellowship Centre.

Both buildings are at full stretch now.

As well as Sunday services, we have keep fit and dance classes in the chapel.

In the Fellowship Centre, the list is long and constantly changing.

Raglan Rhythm and Rhyme caters for babies and toddlers
Delight is for Infants - games and Bible stories and singing
Fortified is for Juniors - ditto
Friday youth club for Secondary school students

Women's Institute
Ladies' Fellowship
Bible study and prayer group
Seniors' luncheon club

Welsh playgroup
Welsh Conversation
Music Appreciation
Fat Fighters
Coffee pot
Friends of Chernobyl Children
Raglan Saturday Singers
Holiday Club

We have a versatile and hard-wearing set of premises but, boy, do they need refreshing!

We also need a disabled toilet and baby-changing facilities.

So, today, the workmen are going to be knocking the gents and ladies into one and ripping out the plumbing and putting in new fittings and redoing the walls. Well, today and the next three weeks.

When all of that is done, we are going to redecorate and the Fellowship Centre will be ready for the long haul.

Hence the Parable of the Talents. And hence the busking round Wales project.

Donations gratefully received at
Raglan Baptist Church
Usk Road
NP15 2EB

Welsh songs tomorrow

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Did you mention songs in Welsh?

Yes, I did.

Like many people of my generation, I have an odd relationship with the Welsh language.

I like to say that I come from Abertillery, which was Welsh speaking when nobody lived there!

All branches of my family arrived there in the mid to late 19th century, from Bristol, Cornwall, Carmarthen and over the "mountain" from Blaenavon.

My parents speak no Welsh and neither did their parents.

Cut to the sixtties. Yes, you'd hear it on the radio every morning piped in by Rediffusion and you'd watch the odd episode of Pobl or Disc a Dawn. So you know what it sounds like and you know the odd few words.

And I've oscillated between support and disdain. Sometimes bewilderingly for family and friends. For myself, too, actually.

And now there's been this immense increase in the use of Welsh. Our French-born children have learned the language in school. Etc. Well, I expect you know how much more Welsh there is around than when I was a kid. Why, I heard it in Monmouth only the other day and not in a staged situation.

And there is a thriving and exciting Welsh music scene.

More tomorrow.

Monday, 17 May 2010

So what's the latest on other activities?

Cheryl has added £10 to my original loan and writes about:

MUSABE Valentine who owns a clinic of Kinesitherapi in Rwanda. She started this clinic in 2006 .she helps people like those who suffered from muscle pains. Like massage, she helps different patients who have pain, those who have difficulties in chest, legs, sports like Jim tonic, food supplement, and consultation.Valentine is married with two children. is where Cheryl met Valentine.

Ian has set up his website at The content is soon to follow.

Terri has made £50 already on sales of the cards she has made. Well done, Terri !

Anne is going to raise some goslings.

Jan and Paul are making soup, bread and cake and selling them at work. Hundreds of pounds to be made there!

The local PTA has decided they don't want the school fete to be taken over with our stalls, though ! Wise decision.

Tomorrow, I'll start writing about some Welsh songs I'm learning for my trip.

Things are looking

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Yes, and?

I'll give an update about people's moneymaking enterprises tomorrow.

Today, I've just got time to write about one more Dylan song.

I was reading this week that Joni Mitchell was dissing Bob for being a fake.
I love Joni and think she's a big talent both lyrically and musically:

"White flags of winter chimneys wave truce against the moon
In the mirrors of a modern bank, from the windows of a hotel room."

And, I know about the lifting that Dylan has done from various sources.

However, somebody who can write this is the genuine article and not a fake by any measure:

"Senor, Senor, can you tell me where we're heading,
Lincoln County Road or Armageddon?
Seems like we've been down this way before.
Is there any truth in that, Senor?"

This is from "Street Legal". It's his final album before the Christian trilogy and has always sounded like a "searching" album but it's unusually dense lyrically so it's sometimes hard to know what's going on.

In this context, "Is you love in vain?" is quite direct but of course there's a twist. Dylan can't really be this chauvinistic ! Or can he?

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Was it what I thought?

Of course. What else?

To my shame, I must confess that it passed me by on "Shot of Love". I'd been heavily into his Christian phase so I was probably a bit disappointed that there wasn't enough directly Christian input on that album. Of course, there's plenty really, just not on his sleeve. I think he already recognised he had some "scars that the Son didn't heal."

But that second CD of Biograph is about as convincing a demonstration of Dylan's lyrical depth and diversity as there is. Oh, and the booklets included with the set are about as good an inroduction to this many-facetted man as there is, I think.

And the song is . . . "Every grain of sand".

Stately. Gospel. Blues. Art song.

For years we've been singing it with "Frost at Midnight" We add a harmony vocal on the second half of every verse and do a key change and unison vocal for the last verse, "i have gone from rags to riches". Then we sing, "I hear the ancient footsteps" in unaccompanied harmony. And because we repeat that with instruments, it gives us a chance to sing both alternative endings: "I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man" and "I am hanging in the balance of a perfect, finished plan."

Too much barnstorming? Well, as I said in my previous post about "Dark Eyes", you need to consider people hearing the song for the first time, so perhaps you need to be a bit vulgar to get it across.

I've studied theology since I heard that. The balance between divine power and human free will and the doctrine of providence are well expressed in this song.

There are not too many songs as good as this one.

Thanks, by the way to for drawing attention to this blog.

Friday, 14 May 2010

What are you going to sing?

Well, it has to start with Bob Dylan, of course.

But which songs?

Generally speaking, I don't do the really famous ones although this might be a good time to start.

So, that would be things like:
Blowing in the Wind
Forever Young
Knocking on Heaven's Door
All along the Watchtower

All safely committed to memory long ago. Like a Rolling Stone has too many words for me to remember it easily.

I'm very committed thought to a couple of "end of album" songs.

Bobcats know what I mean. You bring it home. You put it on. You listen. You are dismayed. It's been a mediocre album.

Then, the last song is one that, make no mistake, would make the name of a young singer appearing for the first time on record.

Such is the magnificent "Dark Eyes". "Empire Burlesque" isn't in my top ten Dylan albums but who would want to go through life without the wisdom of "Dark Eyes"?

"They tell me to be discreet for all intended purposes.
They tell me that revenge is sweet and I'm sure from where they stand it is."

But here is the problem of the busker and in fact of the bobcat clearly expressed in terms of this one song.

This is clearly a masterpiece. But how communicative is it going to be in the open air with people rushing by? Isn't it like reciting Hamlet's soliloquies at the hot dog stall at a baseball game?

Well you must try. After all, as Bob Dylan puts it in "Dark Eyes."

"Time is short and the hours are sweet and passion rules the arrow that flies."

So, the first song, is "Dark Eyes".

Tomorrow, another great Dylan album closer. I'm sure you can all guess what it is.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Any interest yet?

Quite a lot.

The South Wales Argus phoned up yesterday and even sent a photographer up to Raglan.

I just hope it's not going to be another "Rockin' Reverend" story.

The reporter asked me to try and get some people together for the photo so Cheryl, Ian and Julie were available. They talked about their own ten pound projects.

Cheryl has invested in development in Africa - a gentleman buying and selling beans and potatoes. Julie's project is a swimming club. Ian has set up a website to license . . . Was it things he's invented to make life easier for people who use computers? Something like that.

Should appear at and in the paper in the next few days.

Or you could just search the web for "Rockin' Vicar".

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Other times?


Once in Toulouse we decided to put on the film "The Hiding Place" about the Dutch writer Corrie Ten Boom's experiences in a concentration camp. Great name, by the way.

The film is called "Dieu en Enfer" in French - "God in Hell". I'd done some publicity material showing a swastika covering a map of Europe.

We went out busking to make it known. Ian Thomas of Carcassonne was with us on sax. Great musician and all by ear. F# major? No problem . . .

Of course, some locals got the wrong idea about the flyers and threw a tear gas device into the chapel as the film began. Streaming eyes for weeks after that.

I think you need to be a bit more careful about what you put on your publicity in France.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Any other busking experience?


Once, Jim and I were stuck in Toulouse after the homeless people's breakfast with no money for the car park.

Out came the guitar - "Desperado, why don't you come to your senses." Result.

The only problem with that spot was there was a homeless chap called Patrick who'd come up and play the harmonica. He was brilliant but unfortunately he had this infection or something all round his mouth. Don't know what it's called in English but in French it's called "la gale."

So that's when I bought some Steradent and started soaking the mouth organs overnight.

Monday, 10 May 2010

What are other people doing?

This Parable of the Talents idea has caught people's imagination.

People are getting together and making:
Soup and bread

There's a computer whizz setting up a website. Sorry, don't know the address yet.

Somebody who's fired up by development issues is going to lend my money to an organisation in Africa. Details at

Best of all, people are talking together about their projects.

Why, people are talking together so much, we may be able to form the next government!

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Ever busked before?

Why, yes. Quite a lot really.

When I was living in Paris, I had a market stall in Villejuif. There was a bloke who went with me who was meant to be keeping me company and encouraging me. It was a Bible stall. This man spent all his time arguing with me and he got quite animated and sometimes people would stand and watch. Of course, he was doing the arguing, not me. Theological points, mainly. Still, he did introduce me to tarte tatin, so that was good.

We hardly ever sold any Bibles or anything except when I had the idea of gift wrapping the things in the runup to Christmas so I didn't really feel I was letting the side down by sloping off with my guitar.

And people started throwing money. That felt quite nice so I just carried on. Gave that money to the Vitry church on top of the Bible sales money. It was quite a lot of money really.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

What's it all about?

It's about the parable of the talents.

I gave ten pounds to all the people in our service in Raglan on Sunday 2nd May 2010.

They had to go away and make as much money as they could with their ten pounds.

I'm supposed to get my dough back on 5th October,

As for me, I'm getting a sign made with "busking for Raglan Baptist" on it along with the church website address:

I'm going to set out with my guitar in August after a couple of dry runs at the school fete and the music festival. The money I make, I'm going to reinvest in petrol and food and start from Abergavenny, going on to Brecon and then all points west.