Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Folk, Roots, Acoustic and The Woodcut Process

It's all about Music 11th Oct 2008

Hello all and welcome to my blog.
I have been inspired to write a blog after reading my colleague, Andy Ollerenshaw's, book version of his enlightening Wick to Wembley and FA Vase blogs. In it, he describes his FA Cup trip via his local club then following the winning team of subsequent ties to its Final conclusion. His is all about football. Mine is all about music. The thing I like about Oller's magnus opus is the way he describes the passion felt by local people who are fans of local clubs, and the dedication of volunteers to the team. What he describes is the real World, the real England. And it was still interesting! The matches we see on TV are so detached from reality, it is almost surreal, and what really worries me is that some people regard this tilted view as reality.
I'm not even a "proper" football fan, but I enjoyed his book because it was a comment on the Nation. Anyway, enough free publicity for his book (Wick to Wembley- I don't think I'm mentioned in it once!!), and why, and how am I doing my quest? I am a music fan, I love the way a song or piece of music can lift you up, and speak to you. If you've never felt like that about a song, you've never heard a real song. I also love the spectacle of live music: an individual, or group of individuals, letting an audience know what they're all about in words and chords.
Living in the shadow of Twickenham Stadium as I do, I quite frequently encounter road congestion. This is caused not only by rugby fans, but, more frequently by music ones too. In the recent past, the Stadium has hosted, amongst others, Rod Stewart, The Police, The Eagles, and Iron Maiden. All of them class acts I have to admit; musically very different, but with at least one thing in common…. astronomical entrance fees. Tickets were costing over £60 for all of the bands. A friend of mine paid £75 to see Rod, that's a lot of money! These bands generate a lot of publicity, and people start getting used to these ticket rates. Like the football we see on TV, the good folk of England can believe that this is reality. Some may think you can only witness live music if you have a spare ton in you pocket. I'm going to dispel this myth so people can start to sleep easy again!
How you may ask? I am going to visit a different "folk" club every fortnight for the next year. I'll be going to places where you can see the whites of the performers' eyes, chat to artists who've played hundreds of gigs all over the world, and visit the volunteers whose dedication keeps these clubs a-float. The way I will decide which club to visit next, is by picking the first one mentioned on the first flyer I'm given at a gig, regardless of the act (unless it's the venue I'm already at). That way I hope to see a good cross section of clubs at different locations so I can comment on their similarities and differences. Of course you'll be treated to a review of the concert too!! If any of my entrance fees are over £20 I will warn you in advance so you can sit down before reading the price- I honestly don't think there will be many, if any though.
Keep reading and please comment. Cheers, Mark.
Folk 12th Oct. 2008
The observant amongst you may have noticed that in my previous blog I put quotations around the word folk in "folk" club. It was done deliberately, and the reason for it is that of genre. In my humble opinion, the main problem "folk" has is that many people associate it with out of tune guitars, out of key singers, and the '70s. The modern folk I have seen can be no further from these stereotype ideas. Ok, some of the floor singers (locals who play a couple of tunes before the main act) have been a bit ropy- but they are only amateurs, and they'd think themselves lucky if they make half a mild for their efforts. But even most of them are accomplished musicians.
Back to the genre issue- what makes one type of music a different variety to another? While I write this I am listening to the Absolution CD. It is sub-titled Rock the Alternative Way as it is a compilation of 1990's "Indie" songs by bands ranging from Fields of the Nephilim to Siousie and the Banshees. Of the 18 tunes on the album, 10 are about Love, 2 the Sea, 3 Deliverance, 2 are about problems faced by the young 'uns, and the last song is Ziggy Stardust! I suppose that one's about a heroic character with mythical status. Believe it or not, Gary Moore produced the disc. Only the lead guitarist of the band that made the Irish Folk song Whiskey in the Jar a rock classic!
I was chatting with my friend Barry yesterday, and he was telling me about a show he saw recently where the tattoo artist who decorated many of the Gangster Rappers in America was being interviewed. According to him most rappers weren't about glamorising gun crime and violence, they were stating what life was like on the street. I have just returned from a holiday to the States, and even in San Fran, a city most people would associate with free love and pacifism, there are many streets you wouldn't want to walk down after dark. …… was glad he managed to get out of it all, then he was shot.
Last week I saw Martin Simpson in concert. I haven't got a precise break down of the themes of his songs (it was pre my blog), but I reckon a few were about love, some were tales of the sea, some about guilt and deliverance…. One was about a girl who was murdered by her sister, and had violin made out of her body parts by a wandering musician who found it on a riverbank!! If anyone knows the name of the song, let me know.
What I'm getting at here (as if you haven't already realised) is that throughout the generations, the tunes, and the instrumentation of songs has changed. The emotions that drive people to put down words is still pretty much the same as those felt by folk who sung about being driven from their land, losing loved ones at sea, and struggling to bring up a family in an uncertain world.
Well, the venues I will be visiting, I expect will in general, be small, perhaps a bit run-down, and have an earthy feel to them. In some ways I'll be a bit disappointed if they don't. And most artists I see will probably recant tales of drowning on the ocean, not shootings in an alley. So, if we're talking stereotypes, yes, I'll be in "Folk" clubs listening to "Folk" singers, but to quote
Louis Armstrong: "all music is folk".

The Other Mission
As well as a journey of discovering new (to me) bands, and venues, I intend to use the time I spend blogging- the word blogging isn't recognised by my spell checker, is it a real one? But then again nor is scree and I'm sure I wrote an essay on the stuff as part of a geological study of North Wales at Uni.- to re-discover my music collection. On my shelf are over 200 CDs, some of which haven't graced the tray of my player for many a year. I'll be working methodically through them from Absolution, to Roddy Woomble. Here I admit that I really should get a few XTC discs, and perhaps ZZ Tops greatest hits. As for Yazoo, I'm sure I had reason enough for not getting any of their stuff in the first place. The raw tones of Bon Scott of ACDC singing the High Voltage album are currently being "appreciated" by my housemates as they filter through my walls.
I will also indulge myself by imaging that somewhere along the line, Radio 4 has considered me worthy of being castaway on a desert island. Instead of 10 songs to bring, I can take 26! A blog a fortnight for 1 year, if my maths is correct, that makes 26- a track for each.
My 1st is Hollow Horse by the Icicle Works. I was reminded of the brilliance of this song, which is played, it seems to me, for the pure ecstasy of making music, whilst listening to Radio 6 Music earlier this week. They have a slot where they play a classic from the Peel Sessions, and the Work's 1984 masterpiece was the offering on that occasion. From the unmistakable opening guitar rift, to the joyous lyrics voiced by Ian McNabb, Chris Layhe's driving bass, and Chris Sharrock's frantic drumming, this is song one that unquestionably deserves the prestige of being on John Peel's show!

The Main Mission
It all starts tonight. The first leg of my trip begins at 8pm in the Cabbage Patch Pub, home of Twickenham Folk Club, 67 London Road, Twickenham, TW1 3SZ. Post-code's added in case you fancy a visit, and will be sat-navving (how considerate is that?). Performing is Vin Garbutt. No idea who he is or what he'll be playing, but I'm looking forward to seeing him. I will let you know how it went.

A Change of Plan 13th Oct 2008
I'm now listening to my second AC/DC disc, Back in Black. If I have go through with my original plan of listening to all my albums in alphabetical order by artist, that means it'll be Who Made Who, again by AC/DC, next. Gawd knows I love 'em, but three in a row- it will drive me nuts. And when I get to Iron Maiden, it'll be seven of theirs in a row. What was I thinking when I bought 'em?? Certainly not playing them back- to- back…. I hope.
What I'll do from now is listen to my discs in alphabetical order, however, only the first from each letter. When I reach the end, I'll repeat until all albums have been heard.
Now that's cleared up, let me tell you about last night:
Gig 1 Cathryn Craig and Brian Willoughby
Attendance: 50ish
Price: £10
My Location: second row from the front

Firstly I must apologise for my ignorance. When I arrived at the club, I was surprised to see a sizeable gathering of folkies; there was a buzz, with Vin's name being mentioned in excited tones. He is a well known and popular artist on the folk circuit. He's just as famous for his story telling as his musicianship. I will from now give the performers I'll be seeing the justice they deserve, with some research.
The chance to see him had brought in a few new faces. Unfortunately for the fans, the lad was suffering from laryngitis and was unable to make the gig. I was informed by a very apologetic club organiser- Gerry, as I was going in. But he'd managed to secure Catheryn Craig and Brian Willoughby, if I wanted to see them instead. No worries. I paid my entrance. I took a flyer!
The next person I spoke to was a gent who lived in a canal boat. I didn't ask him if he lived in a canal boat, I didn't even ask him where he lived, he just told me. He then proceeded to inform me about the in-efficiencies of his local neighbourhood watch, his dog, the advantages of a 24 hour mooring, his trip to Eel Pie Island, and a joke about a fisherman and a mere-maid! I wonder if living in a boat had something to do with his willingness to tell random facts to strangers? I thought about buying a canal boat once! A bloke I work with has one on order, I wonder if his taciturn nature will change when he moves in?
I quickly made my excuses and had a chat with the lady next to me. She was from the North East, she apologised, and it was she who gave me the heads up on Garbut.
The first floor spot singer, Wendy Grossman, with banjo played a couple of good tunes to warm up the crowd. On leaving the stage, she was asked to play another. The next act wasn't ready yet- word got round that he'd got his beard tangled in his ukulele!! After Wendy's third, Gerry introduced the oncoming performer: Fang. Up shuffled the 65 year old Fang on his crutches. He then broke into Paranoid by Black Sabbath, followed by Anarchy in the UK by the Pistols, strumming away competently on the ukulele. You honestly could not make it up! Like iron filings to a magnet, this thing called Folk attracts the talented, the talented eccentric, and the eccentric.
Fang was dutifully given his deserved applause, and he made way for Catheryn and Brian. They had been at the same hotel as Vin Garbut the previous night, and in the message they relayed from him, he seemed genuinely upset about missing this gig. Luckily, they had agreed to stand in. Like many small clubs, pubs, and banks, the difficult financial climate that is the mid '08s has had an effect on Twickenham Folk club, and if the gig had to have been cancelled, the loss of revenue would have been bad. Catheryn showed her appreciation of the crowd for supporting live music. The thing is, when it's of the quality we'd seen that evening, I think word will get around, and people will start filling seats.
The gig was performed effortlessly. Catheryn's really got a powerful but controlled voice. I've never seen anyone standing so far away from the mic, yet still get every syllable amplified so perfectly. The last song before the break, about Princess Pocohantis, was truly great. It would be a hard-hearted person who wasn't touched by it after being told tragic tale of her short-lived life. I was also mesmerised by Brian's guitar playing. It sounded alternately like Floyd and Knopfler- I can't think of many higher compliments, but it was unbelievable! And I've seen some good axe-men.
During one song in the performance, I thought, "if the Boss himself was playing now, it wouldn't be any better" the tone, the guitar, and venue complemented each other perfectly. That's not to say they are better than the Boss, no sir-rie. Only on two occasions have I witnessed live music I thought bettered his seminal Earl's Court appearance in 2000- and that was special!
In conclusion, I had a great night out, was well pleased to see the act, and will see them again. As they exited the stage, Catheryn and Brian said they were going to be playing at the Bull's Head in Barnes Bridge for an important gig later in the week. Last time I was there, I was watching the lovely Helen Baden, whose CD I've just listened to (B for Baden see), and I've had the honour of playing support act to, singing jazz.
Time to sign out now, Radcliffe and Maconie are playing the Charlatans on the wireless. Oh yeah! Sorry, that "oh yeah" should have read: oh yeah, where am I going for my next journey in folk? Well a fortnight from Sunday on my flyer would have had me watching Bob Fox and Stu Luckley at the Cabbage Patch in Twickenham. I must move on, so the next date on the hand out is 28th Oct, at Dartford Folk Club, Dartford. Dartford is a place rated highly by me mate Ollers in his book- he watched their team play more that once, so I look forward to the trip and writing all about it.