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.