Friday, 28 December 2012

RAIN, RAIN GO AWAY



Here in Somerset, the rain continues to fall and the ensuing chaos leaves us all over the place. The train line between Taunton and Exeter is closed, the levels are flooded, the rivers high and still it pours down. Not that this state of affairs is confined to Somerset and Devon.

The extremely wet summer meant that the ground everywhere is saturated, as I noticed last Friday coming back from Avebury. I was following the satnav on my phone only to be met by flooded road after flooded road.  It does take me some interesting ways.

Yesterday I went to look at the Somerset Levels. It must be twelve years or so since they were this flooded. Here are some photographs. 



Burrow Mump, an old church seen across fields of water



I’ve been playing with form recently. Here are some poems I wrote in Plymouth the other week, I say wrote I dashed this one down in the back of a taxi. You know the deal, you are waiting at the lights and the car next to you is determined to get there before you.

aggressive clio at the lights in the night taxi right of way bus lane change and you so not looking pedal to metal accelerate beyond cool just because you can

This one was sparked by the shenanigans of that car. I remembered how years before, when I was a student, me and a friend had hitched a lift into town with these lads in a new car. They clashed gears and kangarooed at traffic lights, my friend got out very quickly but I rode into town with them, oblivious to what it all meant.

stolen car boogie

kate said after she got out of the car she hugged the wall and laughed in hysteric relief
why did you not get out could you not see they had stolen the car
those days i could not drive paid no heed to the crashed gears or jumping car at green light go
I knew they were bullshitting assumed them as stoned as we were kate you got out i stayed into town walked off saw all that jazz caught a bus back home for no one gave rides out of Plymouth
to be truthful i’d had weirder lifts


Both poems came out in a sprawl on the paper and as I attempted later to make sense of the words I thought I’d go with the flow. Similarly with this one.

there are days when Monk will sound exactly like a migraine settling over your left eye nerves then twitch and shudder under a skin that feels like anothers from then on the day will deteriorate

The monk is Thelonius Sphere Monk, that wonderful pianist. Have a good week. If this means the start of another year for you then I hope it is everything you could want and more. 

I will be back next Friday.






Monday, 24 December 2012

MERRY WINTER SOLSTICE



A brief post today to wish you and yours a Merry Winter Solstice. The fuzzy photos are of our tree. I would like to draw your attention to the angel. It was made by my youngest daughter many years ago. The wings have fallen off and the halo has slipped away, as has mine, but it has to crown the tree every year.


I wanted to share with you all my father’s recipe for mincemeat. Being a veggie I can’t eat shop bought mince pies as they have suet in them and my father always used to make his own vegetarian version.  It’s very simple:

CHARLIE’S VEGETARIAN MINCEMEAT

500g Sultanas
500g Raisins
Box of vegetarian suet
Brown sugar (a shake)
½ teaspoon of Mixed Spice
4 Sweet Apples; peeled cored and sliced.
½ litre of Brandy

Put in a bowl, mix, cover and leave for a few days.
This recipe will keep for ages in a sealed jar. If it dries out, add a generous amount of brandy.
Make your pastry as you will and enjoy.

A couple of unseasonal poems to end with:

SNAPSHOT 6

there is no absolution
don’t worry no one knows
no way to iron the creases
from that shiny suit of clothes
no wait for hell to freeze
or adopt some holy pose
no point to the crucifixion
don’t worry no one knows

A rather bleak perspective really. The shiny suit of clothes came from an old tutor of mine, who wore the same shiny, blue crimplene suit for the three years I was an undergraduate.

Here is one I wrote for my first born.

on the night you were born
I shot eighteen red lights
as calm and as cool as I could
your mother in labour beside me
our journey to Bath the overture to your life

Have a good Solstice.

Friday, 21 December 2012

SUNRISE AVEBURY 21.12.12



It was more crowded than usual this year, I suppose that was due to the Mayan Calendar, but the weather conditions were better than normal. In previous years I’ve driven through the snow to get there. It’s about 90 miles from where I live and this year the drive was ok.

I am not going to say much about it, here are some photographs. 











The launch party for Freeze Frame is this evening, contact me if you want to come, it’s on Google +. I am reading a poem and I think being interviewed it starts at 6pm GMT.

Here are a couple of videos I made for the promotion. What do you think?

video

video


Lastly a poem. Hot off the press, or at least the fevered brow of the poet:

THE PROBLEM of WORDS

A flatpack of language awaited each of us;
Good to go; make sense of it as you will,
Along the pathways it creates
As it scoops thoughts from our brains,
Shapes, packages information says it out loud.
It’s no wonder wars start and lovers turn to haters.
But words are all we have,
Cobble them together as clearly as you can,
Then hope for the best.

Have a good weekend.


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR


No interview this week. I thought instead I’d talk about the cds I’ve most enjoyed listening to, not all them are new but they are the ones that have given me the most listening pleasure. They are in no particular order, nor I am able to pluck one out of the pile and say this is the best I’ve heard. If I could it would change tomorrow or this afternoon. 


ANNABELLE CHVOSTEK: RISE
I reviewed this when it came out and still I think it it’s a mature work by a confident artist. She’s touring England in March and it will be good to see her again.


PROCOL HARUM: A SALTY DOG (40th Anniversary re-issue 2009)
This is a really good, complete album, the best thing that Procol Harum ever did. You probably know Whiter Shade of Pale, and if you are as ancient as I am you may be able to do the man thing of listing their lps. I saw them a number of times in the 70’s and they were an excellent live band. A Salty Dog has it all, there are blues tunes, quiet reflective songs and orchestral tracks. This is a band at the very top of their game.


LIZZIE NUNNERY & VIDAR NORHEIM: BLACK HOUND HOWLING

I reviewed this too when it came out, I think I caught them four times live as well. This album deserves to be on every ones play list, it is simply superb. Vidar’s production and arrangements raise Lizzie’s lyrics and vocals to another level. The single Poverty Knocks should be the Christmas number one.



What a find, I saw these in Bury, they were magnificent, so much so in fact I bought the album (and a T-shirt). Harp and a Monkey are like no one else. I can believe their claim that they have not played anywhere and not been asked back. I wonder when they will tour the south west?




I love this band, the harmonies, Maya’s wonderful voice and their musicianship serve the self written material on this their debut album. I’ve yet to play it to someone who doesn’t like it on first listen. Again when are they touring England?


SPIRIT: THE FAMILY THAT PLAYS TOGETHER

This is a gem. The original Spirit never sounded better. Don’t believe people when they try and tell you that 12 Dreams is their finest hour, it wasn’t - this was. Even Jay Furguson, their weakest member, a real rawk singer-if you get my drift, has a light touch. And Randy California! Well, his guitar is on fire. It was downhill all the way for the original Spirit after this. Each of their subsequent releases yielding less reward, until Randy and Ed reformed and cut the sublime Spirit of 76, but that’s for another time...


THE UNRELEASED ART PEPPER VOLUME 7: SANKEI HALL, OSAKA

I get blasé about this series, I take it for granted that Laurie will deliver the goods once again and she does, every time. If you are not familiar with the work of Art Pepper then any release in this series will do. They are all stunning examples of a man at the peak of his creative powers, this 1980 date is awesome.



What comes across on all of his later albums is his humanity. On his latest record he is backed by a crack band-The New Ukrainians and he has never sounded batter. This is such good music. Why haven’t you got a copy?


PODCAST HERO OF THE YEAR!

This award can only go to the majestic Jeff Japers who weekly track on itunes has been a delight. Magpie Bridge salutes the unsung genius that is Gaudy Orde









Saturday, 15 December 2012

FREEZE FRAME COVER



This is the cover of Freeze Frame, the poetry anthology that I am in. What do you think of the cover? I like it myself, it is original idea and I think it stands out. The kind of cover that would appeal to me. You can read an interview with the artist here.

I have to say Oscar Sparrow has done a great job of coordinating and holding us to a deadline. I think that it must have been like herding cats trying to pull the six of us together, and he did it with such charm. Well done Oscar.

There is a Facebookpage for Freeze Frame and you will find information about the launch date and links to audio and video readings by the talented poets who feature in the anthology.

I had some trouble with my phone yesterday, I have no idea what happened but I could not access some photographs I’d taken earlier in the week in Widnes. I turned it off and back on again today and that seemed to do the trick suddenly the phone went from having no mail to bulging with messages.


What I liked about this photo was that it was taken on one of those rare, cold, still days, when the hot air from the power station cooling towers just rises upwards and hangs like cloth in the sky. I could not get a picture of the power station but I don’t think that matters. The smoke sculpture is impressive by itself.




 The next day I was in Manchester to see the Peter Blake exhibition, which is well worth a look if you can get there. I was taken by the stillness of the water, it’s no wonder that the Celts thought that pools were a gateway to another world.





The following sequence is of the approach to the New Bridge (it opened in 1961 folks, I remember standing by the side of the road with a little union flag waving a Princess Alexandra passed on her way to the opening ceremony).






The bridge always resonates with me I don’t know why, possibly it’s because I remember it being built; two curing arcs that met over the Mersey. It’s just such an impressive space.



No poems today, but there will be next week. Have a good one.






Monday, 10 December 2012

BRIAN PATTEN: The Interview.

photograph by Apex, used with thanks


There are many good poets about the place, there are even some excellent poets and a few truly great poets around, but there is a small select band whose words have become part of all of everyday lives, they transcend their creator and become part of our tradition. An example of this being Stevie Smith’s poem Waving Not Drowning, a phrase that is part of our shared language, people use it without realising where it comes from. Another example is today’s guest, Brian Patten, whose poem So Many Different Lengths of Time has become part of our oral tradition, it is a poem we turn to to express those feelings of grief that we cannot articulate. It speaks for us at a time when grief has silenced us. I have to confess I read it at my brother-in-laws funeral. It has left its author and is there for all.

So many Different Lengths of Time was written as a response to a poem by Pablo Neruda, the first verse is a translation of Neruda's lines. Brian then goes on to answer in the rest of the poem.

What can I tell you about Brian Patten? A list of achievements, a potted biography? I am happy to do so; Brian has the Freedom of the City of Liverpool, where he was born. The anthology The Mersey Sound which featured Brian along with Adrian Henri and Roger McGough has sold well over 500,000 copies, a phenomenal amount for a poetry book. His first collection was Little Johnny's Confessions (1967); he won a special award from the Mystery Writers of America Guild for his children’s novel Mr Moon’s Last Case (well worth a read).  He has read alongside Pablo Neruda, Stevie Smith, Alan Ginsberg and Robert Lowell. He has written comic verse for children Gargling With Jelly and Thawing Frozen Frogs are wonderful for people of any age. His collection Armada, which includes Some Many Different Lengths of Time has been by my bedside since I bought a copy off Brian in the late 90’s at a reading in Williton, it houses many unforgettable poems. As does Love Poems, another of those poem books I keep returning to.



What is important about Brian and that does not come across in that list of achievements is his honesty, his lyricism of his writing, his humour and his humanity. All of these shine through in his writing. If you do not know his work then start with Armada and Love Poems and work your way back. If you only know him for his early work such as The Mersey Sound then read his later books, their poems will live with you for the rest of your life.

How did you get started?

When i was thirteen I was at the bottom of my stream at a secondary modern school in Liverpool. The week before we’d all been set an essay to write. The usual stuff: “What I did in the summer holidays” kind of thing. The head cam storming into the classroom a couple of days later saying he was very much impressed with the essay and moved me from the C stream into the A stream. I was a bit of a trouble maker, so I guess coming from me, the essay must have seemed extra good ...I discovered I could get out of doing PE and lessons I didn’t want to do by saying “Can I write a story/poem/essay instead Sir?” It was a no-brainer, sitting in a warm classroom scribbling a story while the rest of the class were out jogging through the park in the freezing wind seemed preferable. Been doing it ever since.

Who has influenced you?

Lots of poets – Lorca, Rimbaud, Whitman, Frost, much earlier ones as well -  too many to name. Really it was the individual poems or simply phrases that stuck with me as a young teenager that mattered. Poems don’t arrive fully made. Sometimes lines that ended up halfway through a poem or become the last lines often come first. They are the lines that contain the poems essence. For example, Frost’s great poem Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening  - it’s the last lines that make the poem work so well – they send a shiver up the back of the spine of it.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Cut up a pencil into bits, so you’ve always got something to write with and grab a line or an idea and get it down right away when it comes. Otherwise the Muse will say, “Bugger you I’m off to whisper in the ear of someone who pays attention.”



What’s in the pipeline?

I’m writing a radio documentary about William Burroughs, Ginsberg and the other Beats, circa New York 1959.

If you were a poem what would you be?

Adlestrop, I could laze the days away.

Thanks Brian.

Friday, 7 December 2012

THE JOWLER REVEALED!


Here is the cover of my novel The Jowler. The book is released as an ebook this month, date still to be finalised. The tactile edition will be out in April. If I am honest I still can’t believe it.

Long strange trip doesn’t begin to describe the journey from idea to completed novel. I have to thank my good friends at Corvus Press UK for the belief and support.
What do you think of the design? I like it.

Write to me if you would like to read the first chapter, I’ll be happy to send it to you.
I would also like to draw your attention to the anthology Oscar Sparrow is editing and helming through the choppy waters from a metaphor to a collection of six poets work. Visit his site and read the interviews with the wonderfully talented and diverse poets he assembled for the book.

Last night at a poetry meeting I read a poem I thought I’d submitted for the anthology. I thought I would share it with you today.

A REAL MAN

My grandfather wasn’t interested in the likes of me.
He got good and drunk as real men did back then,
And raged as only the unfulfilled can.
Rolling home, jolly and violent,
Shallow as a bone china saucer.
He pissed on the fire, while my mother, her twin
And my grandmother hid in the neighbours’ outside toilet,
Waiting for him to fall into a snoring, soulless slumber.
He left her with seven children.

Years later he and the poor fool
He ended up with conspired
To cheat my Granny out of her pension.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

BOB PEGG: AN INSPIRATION

Bob Pegg, me & Anne, Warrington, 1979.

This week’s interviewee is someone whose career I have been following since the 1970’s, as you might guess from the photographs. Bob Pegg is many things, one of the best songwriters this country has ever produced, a skilled musician, a story teller, an author, a researcher into the folklore of these islands, a historian – oh the list goes on. I first saw him on a late night television programme from a pub in Manchester, his band, the magnificent Mr. Fox were filmed live, for a short programme, the other band on was if I remember correctly The Natural Acoustic Band. That would be around 1970/1. I did not see him live until 1977 at the first July Wakes Festival (incidently one of the best festivals I have ever been to). By then Mr Fox had imploded-acrimoniously, it would have been near impossible for a group of such talent and vision not to have crashed and burned, they were the Buffalo Springfield of 70’s English folk rock, the best of the bunch, bold, original and truly mesmerising.  Bob's website.




But there is more to Bob than Mr Fox, Folk published in 1976 predates Imagined Village and Electric Eden and examines what we mean by the term folk music. Bob has released many albums over the years and more books. He was someone I always went to see when i had the chance and I never saw a bad gig. However as the 1980’s ground inexorably into the 90’s Bob moved to Scotland and became a part time arts worker. I moved to the south west and lost contact with him sometime after he appeared at my university, I’d booked him when I was President of the Student’s Union and he and Julie Fullerton gave an unforgettable performance. Sadly, the person in charge of the video/recordings of the night disappeared never to be seen again.

Bob and Barry

I could big up Bob for hours, he is one of the touchstones of my musical landscape. I cannot recommend strongly enough that you listen to his work, here’s a track by Mr Fox. 



How did you begin to write?

In the first or second year at Grange Primary School in Long Eaton I wrote a poem called Ships:

There are big ships and little ships
And there are all kinds of ships
Some take us trips to far off lands
Some take us trips far from the sands

Something along those lines. Mrs Barsby, who could make you cry just by looking in your direction, said she liked it – which gave me confidence to do more writing. Amazing, even at such an early age, what a difference someone’s approval can make.

The idea of writing songs came much later, I think, in the early 1960s. I was still at school, and a regular of the Nottingham Folk Workshop, one of the earliest British folk clubs. The Folk Workshop had a great range of performers: Hope Howard, who came from the West Indies, and sang calypsos and spirituals; Quentin Hood, a dashing balladeer; bearded Sonny Ford, who worked at a gas station, wore cowboy boots, and worshipped Rambling Jack Elliott; Carole Butler, my future wife; and Spike Woods, who wrote songs which were influenced by his Catholic faith. One of Spike’s songs in particular was very popular. It was called When the Big Bird Comes. Later, Carole and I adopted it into our own repertoire; and I think it was Spike’s example that gave me the idea to write a song, together with having heard Ewan MacColl, Charles Parker and Peggy Seeger’s original Radio Ballads – particularly The Ballad of John Axon, Singing the Fishing and The Big Hewer, which were broadcast on the Home Service in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. They included some wonderful songs by MacColl which endeavoured to incorporate the speech rhythms and phraseology of the people who worked in the industries that the programmes dealt with: the railways, fishing, coal mining.

 So I came up with Nottingham Town. It was a love song. Fifty years on I can still feel the embarrassment creeping up my spine as I performed it, for the first and last time, on the stage in the Folk Workshop, as I realised more and more, with each line uttered, how bad it was. It was a long time before I wrote another song.

What influences your work?

Early memories are of my Mum reading to me from Palgrave’s Golden Treasury. My favourite poem began:

What was he doing, the great god Pan,
Down in the reeds by the river?

It’s by Elizabeth Barratt Browning, and it’s called A Musical Instrument. Musical instruments (especially ancient ones like the panpipes), narratives (what happens next?), strange and mythological creatures, are all now part of my life and work as a musician, storyteller and writer.

At Grange Primary one of my favourite times was when the whole school gathered together in the hall to sing folk songs. Songs like The Raggle Taggle Gypsies, and The Golden Vanity – bold tunes, and stories of adventure, bravery, passion, betrayal. It’s easy to mock those Folk Songs for Schools sessions, with their rather relentless piano accompaniments – and I know they put many people of my generation off folk songs for the rest of their lives – but I used to love them.

At Nottingham High School – which was an all boys public day school – I was lucky enough to have three wonderful English teachers over three consecutive years: Robin Williams, Ted Davies, and Alan Locke. Robin had a great enthusiasm for the Border Ballads, whose influence on my songs has been huge, and he introduced us to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which was a primary inspiration for my 1974 album The Shipbuilder (the lyric insert reproduces one of Gustav Doré’s images for The Rime.

Alan showed us all by example that, in grey times, it wasn’t necessary to be a grey person. Ted Davies was a fan of both contemporary English writing and film. A lesson was as likely to be concerned with the relative merits of the novel Room at the Top and its film version (great film, crap book, was Ted’s verdict) as with anything directly linked to the curriculum. In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s Nottingham had three art house flea-pits, as well as at least the same number of big, mainstream cinemas. My home town of Long Eaton had The Empire, The Scala, and The Palace (where my Dad worked when he was in his teens as an assistant projectionist). From the moment I was allowed in unaccompanied, I would go to “the pictures” two or three times a week, uncritically enjoying everything from John Ford to Truffaut, through Kubrick, Antonioni, Bergman, Cassavetes, Fellini, Hawks, Wajda, Godard, and lots of the other great directors who were banging out movies in those days. Film had an enormous influence on my songwriting. When I wrote the songs, and when I sang them, I would be aware of a screen in my head, seeing them as moving images.

There are lots of other influences: Methodist hymns; Grimm’s fairy tales; the music and lyrics of Arthur Sullivan and W S Gilbert; T S Eliot’s poetry; Basil Bunting’s poem Briggflatts (and the peace of Briggflatts itself, a Quaker Meeting House near Sedbergh); the music of early Fairport Convention; Scottish, Irish and English Traveller storytellers and singers; Sinfonye, a medieval revivalist band; the poet George Macbeth; Jack Kerouac, particularly On the Road; Nick Strutt, who taught me how rich and complex is the world of Country Music; Bill Leader, the legendary folk record producer. It’s a long list, but I’d like to give a special mention to the late Warren Zevon, who wrote and recorded so many wonderful songs. If I want cheering up, odds are I’ll put on some Warren, and sing along to Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner, or Play It All Night Long, his riposte to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama:

Gran’pa pissed his pants again
He don’t give a damn
Brother Billy has both guns drawn
He ain’t been right since Vietnam

Sweet home, Alabama
Play that dead band’s song
Turn those speakers up full blast
Play it all night long


After the interview Bob wrote to me to say he'd forgotten to mention two people who have influenced him for most of his life Charles Fort and Alfred Watkins, he of The Old Straight Track.


Where do the ideas come from?

Early on, in my twenties, the ideas definitely come from some mysterious place, presumably a storehouse where all the bits and pieces had been accumulating and cross-fertilising since I was little. The opening of the storehouse doors, if you like, was Bill Leader offering Carole Pegg and I a contract, in 1969, to record for his Trailer label. From then on I began to write songs, and kept going on doing so through the next decade, never wondering whether the stuff would stop tumbling out. The fact that there was always another record to be made was a great stimulus. There were so many ideas for songs. The story for The Gipsy, the title track of the second Mr Fox album, came to me as I was driving round a roundabout in Stevenage, where I taught English for a year before Carole and I formed the band. I wrote the lyrics for Dancing Song, from the same album, in an hour or so, lying on a bed in our rented house in Stevenage Old Town, without thinking what they were about. After the albums (for Transatlantic Records) there were some commissions. Towards the end of the 70s I wrote the song cycle Bones, about a dying Viking, for the Ilkley Literature Festival (it was later broadcast on Radio 3, thanks to George Macbeth), and not long after that, the Calderdale Songs, for the Hebden Bridge Festival. By this time writing involved a lot more conscious effort. The spontaneity of the early work had gone, and I spent more time crafting songs. I was harder on myself, with both lyrics and music. Not a good or a bad thing particularly. For me those later songs are the equal of, if not superior to, the early ones, including those written for Mr Fox on which whatever reputation I have as a songwriter rests. But by the time they were available – the Calderdale Songs in 1996, Bones in 2006 – there was very limited interest in my work, and I was no longer gigging in folk clubs and festivals; so few people have actually heard them. I also think that, with Mr Fox, Carole Pegg and I, together with Barry Lyons and Alan Eden, produced a unique sound which stands alone in early 70s folk rock, something whose equivalent I’ve never been able to come up with since, though I’ve played with some wonderful musicians over the years.

There was a time in the 1970s when I stopped writing songs for a while, because the apparently fictional scenarios seemed to be predicting what would happen to me (none of it good).

A short, alternative answer to the question, is that place influences my work: the two Mr Fox albums were informed primarily by the Yorkshire Dales; Bob Pegg and Nick Strutt by Leeds, Lancashire and Cumbria; The Shipbuilder by North Yorkshire; Ancient Maps by the landscape of Alfred Watkins’ book The Old Straight Track; Bones, again by North Yorkshire; the songs on The Last Wolf by the Pennine Dales, and by the Highlands of Scotland. My recent book, Highland Folk Tales (The History Press 2012), which comes out of my work as a storyteller living in the Highlands, links the stories to the places that have given them homes, and to journeys through the physical landscape between those places.

Lastly, it occurs to me that the lives of other people have always inspired me. A lot of the songs I wrote for Mr Fox were taken from stories I had heard from people who lived in the Yorkshire Dales, the same goes for the Calderdale songs and the memories of the inhabitants of the West Yorkshire Pennines.
                                                                                                                        


Which comes first lyric or music?

Could be either. Sometimes a bit of a tune will pop into your head, and you think, “I quite like that”. Best to note it down immediately, or inevitably it will slip away (these days I always have a notebook with me). You may never use that tune; in a week’s time it may seem utterly banal. But it might become the basis for a composition or a song at some time in the future. A lot of my songs are narratives, in ballad form, and they usually rhyme (a writing habit I’ve tried to break free of, but always seem to come back to), so it often makes sense to write the lyrics first – though a melody will probably suggest itself as you’re putting down the words. But there’s usually nothing particularly subtle or sophisticated about the tunes, though I tend to put in a bit of effort to keep them simple.

And on the odd occasion a fragment of a lyric will pop up with a tune already attached.


What advice would you give to anyone starting out?

Just get on with it. Things have changed so much during the time when I started out and now. You can become a famous and successful musician without leaving your bedroom. You no longer need to be in thrall to the record company, and sign away your life. Though at the same time you, or your agent/manager, need to be very skilled in contemporary promotion techniques – social media and so on.

When I started off in the music industry, in the early 70s, there was a lot less music released on an annual basis than there is now. All the different stages of issuing and promoting an LP were controlled by specialists – recording studios, mastering, pressing, sleeve design and printing, promotion, distribution. Now you can do it all on your laptop. But at the same time the competition is probably much greater. Within a very short period of time Mr Fox, coming pretty much out of nowhere, had signed up with Translantic Records, made their first album, debuted at the Royal Festival Hall, got loads of publicity – half a page feature in the Guardian, awards (Melody Maker Folk Album of the Year, I think) – John Peel and other radio sessions, a BBC1 documentary. I’m sure that now it’s possible under your own steam to reach at least a certain level of success, in terms of people being able to access your music and information about it and you, that in my day would have been inconceivable without your being supported by the machinery of a record label, or being individually wealthy. And that elusive thing talent often has a part to play.

For someone like me, who needs a periodic shot of positive audience interaction, the best thing you can do is just get out and do whatever it is you do. Go to open mic sessions, perform for free at local festivals, busk, set up our own gig in the café down the road, and put everything you can into promoting it. You’ll be doing it all anyway, and lots of other things too.

I would also suggest to any young singer/songwriter that they be more circumspect in airing their opinions than I was at their age. I managed to upset just about everybody, and it did my career no good at all. Though, of course, if I were to offer this advice, any young singer/songwriter worth his or her salt would probably tell me to bugger off.

An old music paper advert 


How many songs have you written that you have not recorded?

Quite a few. There’s a long song sequence called The Ballad of Wayland Smith, which I wrote, and performed a few times, back in the late 70s. It’s quite a tough story, with some extreme violence and a rape, and I attempted to set the old legend in a post-apocalyptic future. In the mid 80s Taffy Thomas and I talked about the possibility of a large-scale outdoor version set by the White Horse of Uffington, the chalk hill carving in Oxfordshire, which is by the prehistoric track known as The Ridgeway, and close to the long barrow called Wayland’s Smithy. At the end of the show, Wayland, who in the story escapes from captivity by flying off on a set of gold wings he’s been secretly building, would launch himself from the White Horse on a hang glider into the valley below. It wasn’t an entirely improbable scenario, as Taffy’s theatre company Charivari had already staged a big outdoor production of my song sequence The Shipbuilder for two thousand people over two nights on the beach at Whitby during the Folk Week. But it never quite got beyond enthusiastic discussion.

There are also lots of unrecorded songs going right back to the 70s and up to the present. Enough for a couple of albums of stuff that I’d be happy to see the light of day.


What’s in the pipeline?

There are a couple more books for The History Press. The Little Book of Hogmanay has a March 2013 deadline, and Folk Tales of Argyll is due to be handed in a year after that.

I’ve written the music for Graham Williamson’s documentary film, Heads!, about mysterious Celtic Stone Heads. There’s already a trailer on YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gd8-61Froi4&feature=player_detailpage and I’m looking forward to seeing the whole thing.

Every Picture Tells a Story, an exhibition of very large prints of John Hodkinson’s black and white illustrations for my Highland Folk Tales book, was launched on 16th November in The Stables gallery in Cromarty. For three days I was installed in the gallery, telling the stories behind the images, as well as playing music on my Native American flutes, ocarinas, jaw harps, etc. My partner, Mairi MacArthur, and I did all the promotion and publicity ourselves.

There’s been a long-standing offer from The Folk Police label to put out a CD of songs, which I hope to take up soon – though I’ve been saying this for three or four years now.

 If you were a song what would it be and why!

Probably an ancient Gaelic song, sung at night by a Tinker camp fire, somewhere among the hills of the Highlands in the early 1950s, just at the time when the old, semi-nomadic Traveller way of life was coming to an end. I would enjoy being breathed out on to the night air, to join the smells of the burning wood and peat, the tobacco smoke, and the aroma of whiskey from a tin mug.

Pure poetry, thanks Bob.

I thought I’d share with you the programme to the 3rd Warrington Revelry from 22nd September 1979 at which Bob performed and where I took the photographs. I happened to find it in my parents loft when we were clearing out the house following my father's death.





I love the description of Mr Fox as "ill-fated"