Friday, 31 August 2012


Every year since the very first Purbeck Folk Festival there has been a wishing tree somewhere on the festival site and every year at some point during the festival I write a wish on a scrap of fabric and tie it to the tree. My question to you is what would you wish for?

Here you can see me making a tapa: pimentos de pardon. Small peppers every tenth one of which is hot, you just never know which one.  

Thought I’d better show you some of the music. Here is Jack McNeill and Charlie Hayes playing on the Fire stage. These are an excellent duo, thoughtful lyrics and amazing interplay between the two of them.

Here is the good old camper van at night.

And here are some Maypole dancers. This took me back to my school days, as every year we would dance around the Maypole on the first day of May.

All you really need for a festival is a ukulele and paella pan!

Here is the finished product vegetable paella.

I had wanted my face painted like The Green Man, but it is nearer Tolkien. Still it hides my physog.

Now for some poems.

This first one is, as the title suggests, about the time I went to see Arthur Lee in Frome. Arthur was the man behind one of my favourite albums from the 1960’s Forever Changes by his band Love. It’s fairly as it happened.

Arthur Lee in Frome

Our three lives lead to this point.
An evening’s intersection,
To stand outside the hall and read:
“Due to unforeseen circumstances,
Arthur Lee will not be playing.”
The night takes another turn,
The map of our memories will declare
We told one another stories,
Sat under the oil flares
As the turquoise sky turned Prussian Blue


We talk of truth
Compare our examples
Sketch the authentic outline

Linda in Bob’s Car

Turn the engine over,
It has sat on the drive
For the past year.
Turn the engine over,
This December afternoon
And I will follow you homeward,
In the M5 drizzle,
In the winter dusk.
Turn the engine over,
Let the machine live
While the owner dies.
Measure it in morphine,
The sound of the syringe driver,
The sound of the road,
And the windscreen wiper.
Turn the engine over
And I will follow you homeward,
As night falls by Bridgwater,
Which tail lights are yours?

This last poem, again is autobiographical.

I want to end though by asking you what wish would you tie to the Wishing Tree?

Tuesday, 28 August 2012


 Today’s post is a treat for me, John is one of my favourite songwriters. If you do not know his work then you are also in for a treat. There is passion, humour and most of all humanity in his writing. His belief in the essential dignity of humankind shines through, as does his anger at injustice. The easiest description I can give to John’s music is consciousness music- a term coined amongst reggae artists to describe those who sing of injustice. It’s a good phrase and it describes John’s work.

I didn’t coin the title of today’s post, I stole it from John’s website ( Those of us who do not live in Australia may not be familiar with John’s work , it is our loss. In his homeland John’s lyrics are on the school curriculum, a tribute to the fact he has always worked towards authentically describing what it is to be Australian.

In 1982 I was given a bootleg cassette from Bali, it contained half of a live album by a band called Redgum. The first song was called I Was Only 19, a walk in the light green, it blew me away. I have never heard a song that so described the Vietnam experience. The song haunted me for years, I pestered Australians I met for tapes of Redgum and with the advent of the internet slowly collected every cd I could get (at the time the whole of the Redgum catalogue was out of print and apart from two best of releases is still unavailable).

Before I go any further here’s the spoken intro from the live album recording:
It’s a song about two mates of mine who went to Vietnam and came back Agent Orange victims...the tile a walk in the light green stems from the fact that when the Australian soldiers in Vietnam were given their missions they looked at the areas they’d be working in on the map and if it was dark green on the map then there was cause for some consolation as dark green meant thick jungle, lots of cover and there were no mines. If they were working in areas that were light green on the map that meant light jungle, not much cover and heaps of mines. This is a song for Mick and Frankie...

John was by no means a one trick pony, Redgum produced many fine songs and I am fighting the urge to list them all as I write. John released two solo albums after leaving Redgum and they are now available on his website.
In 2004 John released Lawson a celebration of the poet Henry Lawson, it is such a good album, the recording is warm and it seems like John and The Vagabond Crew are there singing in the room. I think I wore out my copy through repeated playing. 

Anyway, enough preamble let’s hear the man himself.

It’s rumoured that your band Redgum submitted a song instead of an essay when you were students (I heard this from James Fagin just before he played your song Peter The Cabby)?

When Brian Medlin, convenor of the Politics and Art course in 1975, suggested that some people might like to co-operate on a music project, three people raised their hands - Michael Atkinson, Verity Truman and me.

We performed the songs to the class and met such a strong and positive reaction that we decided to accept some of the invitations that followed to play at various gatherings.

At a function held by the Progressive Art Movement, Chris Timms, a former student of Flinders University Philosophy, offered his services as a violinist. A friend from university, Steve Brown, suggested the name Redgum and for want of anything better we adopted it.

Redgum started on the South Australian campus circuit. The strikingly original material and the uncompromising delivery won us a small but very supportive following. A campus tour of Melbourne was organised and during that hectic week, the ABC recorded some of our songs. Community radio 3CR taped the band and played the songs regularly to a responsive listenership.

The band returned to Melbourne several times during 1976 and 1977, sometimes sponsored by 3CR, sometimes by progressive groups, to play concerts, rallies, benifits and the odd pub. We quickly established a sizeable and quite general audience.
Back in Adelaide, we performed "live to air" for 5UV, the radio station attached to the University of Adelaide. At folk concerts, union nights, rallies and benefits, Redgum would appear sporadically in Adelaide until our self-produced show 'One more boring Thursday night in Adelaide' established us outside of campuses. This show was part of the Festival of Arts Focus program in 1978 and was listed by The National Times as an attraction not to be missed.

It was shortly after this, and numerous enquiries in Adelaide and Melbourne as to the availability of tapes, that 3CR asked Redgum's permission to run off tapes for the people who had asked for them. On hearing that there were two hundred people listed as wanting copies we decided to make an album.
The sales of the album "If You Don't Fight, You Lose" surprised everyone concerned. It became Larrikin Records' best seller and received airplay on most on the non-commercial stations around the country.

On the strength of the album, Redgum ventured to Sydney and Newcastle. We  played a number of shows for the Amalgamated Metal Workers and Shipwrights Union, a concert at the Balmain Town Hall and a couple of folk clubs.
It is interesting to note that all this time, Michael, Chris, Verity and I all held full time jobs in Adelaide. Michael was teaching part time and studying, Verity had disappeared into the bowels of the Public Service,

Chris was Academic assistant at the South Australian School of Art and I was an English and Drama teacher at Marion High School. Trips interstate were made on weekends and in school holidays. This madness persisted until December 1980.
The bands trip to Melbourne in 1980 saw Dave Flett playing bass and Gordon Mclean drummin. In Adelaide, Chris Boath played bass and Geoff Gifford played drums.

During the middle of 1980 Redgum began work on 'Virgin Ground', our second album. It was released late in 1980 and, like its predecessor, it met strong critical acclaim.

Michael, Chris, Verity, Chris Gunn and I made a number of important decisions regarding the bands future in 1981. We decided to give up full time employment in favor of Redgum. Tom Stehlik, an Adelaide drummer was recruited and with Dave Flett Redgum passed the sixth month mark as a professional band.
The band's third album, 'Brown Rice and Kerosene', introduced the single '100 Year On/ Nuclear Cop'. The Redgum Songbook 'Stubborn Words, Flagrant Vices' was also published in 1981.

In May 1982, long-serving member Chris Timms left the band to be replaced by Hugh McDonald (violin, guitar, vocals). The 12-inch EP 'Cut to the Quick' was released in September 1982 and contained four tracks.

By 1983 we were one of the biggest crowd-pulling bands on the Australian scene. The live album 'Caught in the Act' produced the classic song 'I was only Nineteen (A Walk in the Light Green) which reached #1 and stayed in the top 40 for four months.

Caught In the Act was produced by former folk musician Trevor Lucas (author of Poor Ned). By 1984, the Redgum line-up comprised Truman, Atkinson, McDonald, Stephen Cooney (bass,didgeridoo, mandolin, banjo), Michael Spicer (piano), Brian Czempinski (drums) and me.

Our fifth album, Frontline, was released in August 1984. A compilation album 'Everythings Legal Anything Goes' was released in November 1984.

We toured the UK and Europe in the latter half of 1985 and released a compilation album in a number of territories. The band was well received on the festival circuit and earned itself a strong and loyal following in London during its time there.

In May 1986, I surprised fans by leaving the band. I signed with CBS as a solo artist and I recorded the album 'Etched in Blue' at the Music Farm in Byron Bay in 1987. My touring band included Mal Logan, Louis McManus, David Dharamaesena, Mark Peters and a trio of backing vocalists Deborah Paul, Melinda Pike and Nicky Schultz.

In 1989 I produced a childrens' record, 'Looby Loo', for CBS. In September 1992 I recorded the single 'Eyes on fire' on the Sony label. This was the first of two singles released from the 1993 album 'True Believers'.

How did you start writing?

I started writing for the Politics and Art assignment. To that time I’d never written a song. Politics and Art examined the nature of the relationship between art and politics. The central tenet of the course was that, unless specifically created to do otherwise, art in all its forms serves the interests of the dominant social and economic class - either by commission or omission. The course allowed students to present work for assessment that was either theoretical and/or practical. Practical work involved the creation of artistic products in any medium by an individual or group. These works were assessed and criticised by the class.

What comes first the lyric or the tune?

How do I start writing? With an idea, a drum feel, a hook line, some peace and quiet and a 44 gallon drum of coffee. Sometimes the lyric comes first, sometimes the tune but generally I start with a few words, a few chords and I just tease what I have out from both ends until it’s long enough for a song.

Who are your influences?

Musical influences  were what I was listening to when I was a kid - Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne. Nowadays, I listen to anything and everything and my inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere

What would you say to someone starting out?

What advice would I give to someone starting out? Just start. Don’t listen to what anyone else says about your work and for God’s sake, don’t listen to or read what dipshit music journalists think. If they could do it they’d be doing it, not writing about other people. 

What’s in the pipeline?

The pipeline? My band the Vagabond Crew – look us up on Facebook and Youtube – have another album to make and some gigs in the pipeline. We toured Afghanistan in Sept/Oct 2011 to play for the Australian Forces there. We played similarly in East Timor in 2009.

Will a complete set of Redgum cds ever be released?

A Redgum complete set? It would be good and I get asked all the time – but the question is more properly addressed to Sony-BMG Australia. They have our catalogue.

If you were a colour what colour would you be?

I would be blue – like the sky … Or red, like the South Australian desert.

Thanks John. 

As the man says check him out on YouTube, it's well worth it.

Thursday, 23 August 2012


I seem to be destined to be plagued by computer issues at the moment-perhaps its my geasa. A quick word of explanation- in Irish Celtic mythology a geasa is a curse placed upon a person. I think this word came to mind after reading an excellent interview with Alan Garner in The Guardian ( ). If you do not know his novels then you are in for a treat, I would recommend Red Shift and The Owl Service to begin with, all of his books are well worth a read. He has an excellent style that is both accessible and oblique at the same time.

I digress, apologies for no Tuesday Talent this week blame the provider of my broadband who decided half way through my post to break down and thus deprive me of the chance to write about John Schumann, an Australian singer/songwriter. So you will have to wait until next week for that treat-and believe me, a treat it is. Here is a video of John's song I Was Only 19 covered by The Herd.

John will be telling us how he came to write the song on Tuesday.

I am looking forward to going to the 4th Purbeck Folk Festival tomorrow. Lots of good music to be enjoyed with good friends. As I write I am also baking some flat bread to take to have with a cider and vegetable stew tomorrow night. I have a slow cooker and I will make the stew overnight and serve it with basmati and wild rice, along with the flat bread.

I am hoping to meet up with Dave of tattoo blues fame and sing him my latest version of his blues.  Speaking of singing I was in Glossop at the weekend watching The Solid Air Band, who play the music of the late, great John Matryn. I have been a fan of John's music since the early 1970's and on a couple of occasions I had a pint with him, a very complex man, but a wonderful guitarist. Here is Spencer The Rover, his take an a traditional song, usually associated with the Copper family from Sussex.

Supporting The Solid Air Band was Lizzie Nunnery and I have to say I was bowled over by her set, she sang mostly new material from her forthcoming album. More on that in a later post.

Before I  go and pack my camper van for the trek to Dorset tomorrow, I just want to mention Jack McNeil and Charlie Hayes who are appearing at Purbeck this weekend. they are an excellent duo and I am looking forward to seeing them again. Have a good weekend whatever you are up to. I know we will be having a hoot.

Friday, 17 August 2012


This week’s post is a little ramshackle and bitty, some photos I’ve been meaning to share, some poems, the stray thought stitching them all together into some shape or other.

These photos of the magpies I found stencilled on an old fire station in Sheffield, it’s now a bar/cafe. I like the way they just were, immediate, unpretentious, and magpies.

The heads are in a museum in Glasgow.  Again I like their positioning, in the large hall they look perfect.

Here is one of our cats, resting in a rare slice of sunlight. As I say positioning is all and this cat knows how to make an impression.

The other Sunday we went walking in Dorset, Hive Beach. As we strolled by the sea we came across this sculpture made of beachcombed material. There is a poem in this somewhere, it’s hiding in my head. Does it inspire you? 

I liked this headlight, it feels like it has grown there.

The way the light floods into the space made me think you can see it as energy, movement, a force of nature or science. Whichever of them claims to name and categorise such things.

A couple of poems to end with. The first was written very quickly-and it probably shows.


Take a step back into your past,
Four whole year’s worth,
Observe their faces,
Polish your brass neck.
Later there will be talk,
Can you believe it? They will say,
For now their smiles are to your face.
Ask yourself again why you are here,
If there is no convincing answer in five minutes...

Not sure where this second one came from either, but I liked the idea of words sewing a couple together, but only if they agree on exact meanings.

With the ambivalence of the almost committed,
He chooses every word for its ambiguity,
Weighs the advantage each would gain him.
She imbues each with firm meaning,
Assumes his mirrors her,
Embroiders emotion, hand stitches their future.

He knows he will wriggle through the needle holes.

I want to end with a trailer for next Tuesday. I am interviewing a songwriter from Australia, a man who had a number one single, one of a band that redefined what is was to be Australian in the 1980’s. Miss it at your peril.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012


This week I am really pleased to interview Lizzie Nunnery, a singer/songwriter and playwright. Lizzie’s debut album Company of Ghosts was, for me, one of the best albums of 2010. She managed to capture slices of life with honesty and a simplicity in her lyrics that was laced with an underlying humour.  It was a beguiling debut. Her appearance at Purbeck Folk Festival that year was a high point. She is a fantastic performer, if you get the chance to see her live, take it, you will not be disappointed.

But not only does Lizzie write excellent songs she is also an accomplished playwright; Intemperance was given five stars by The Guardian, and has had plays broadcast by radio 4 and a short film on Channel Four.

She is in the process of releasing her second album, and at the moment, she is promoting her new single Poverty Knocks – all the proceeds from which go to the charity for homeless people Crisis ( ). On the single she is joined by the Liverpool Socialist Singers, it is a great single and could be yours for one pound ( ).

Anyway, let’s here from Lizzie.

Where do the ideas come from?

I'm always wary of getting too self conscious about that, in case it means the ideas stop. A lot of my song ideas come from things I've read and seen, or they're exaggerated versions of things that have happened to me or people close to me. I write a lot about my family in my songs and lately I'm increasingly inspired by politics. The best things come when you're not really trying- when I'm out running or in the shower. The enemy of a good idea is a blank piece of paper.  

Who influences you?

If I'm honest it's a pretty strange list... Neil Young, Patti Smith, Graham Coxon, Jonathan Swift, Brian Friel, Henrik Ibsen, Leonard Cohen, Adrian Henri, Gill Scott Heron, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush,  Arthur Miller, John Steinbeck, The National, Wes Anderson, Sufjan Stevens, Belle and Sebastian, Peggy Seeger....
I don't think you can necessarily hear any of those people in my music or my plays either- but in the big swamp of ideas they're all in there somewhere.

Which comes first, lyrics or music?

Usually a lyric and a melody line come at once and I work from there but occasionally I'll just have a load of words and I'll have to hunt out the tune. It always starts with something I want to say.

How does being a Liverpudlian affect your work?

Liverpool's a great city to make stuff in. It's busy without being overcrowded, vibrant and inspiring without being expensive. There's a village-like inclusiveness to the music scene which isn't overly defined by genre, and lots of talented musicians and songwriters open to collaborating. I think there's something great about living somewhere you feel real ownership over- everything becomes so familiar you can dream on top of it, think around it, rather than being bombarded by new information all the time. There's plenty of innovative stuff going on creatively but the attitude of the place is nicely laid back and friendly. It's a perfect little big city.

As a playwright is your vision changed by interacting with the actors?

Definitely. I've been lucky enough to work with some incredible actors and their energy and understanding can really shift perspective on the words in brilliant ways. When you're rehearsing a play it's always a balancing act between keeping hold of the clarity of your intention and knowing when to let it go. On one hand a writer knows the thing they've written better than anyone, but on the other hand you can be so close to the script it's like snow blindness. The same goes for songs within the recording process- sometimes there's nothing better than an outside eye.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

I wish I'd started to play the guitar at a younger age. And I wish I'd stuck with piano lessons when I was seven, even though the teacher made me cry. I regret that I'm not a more technical musician. Sometimes instinct is all you need, but sometimes it isn't.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Be creative as much as you like or want, but don't try and live by being creative unless you love it so much you have no choice- unless it's bursting out of you and nothing else can make you happy. It's not likely to make you rich and it's very likely to make you tired, but if you love it, it will be all you need.

What's in the pipeline?

Loads. The new download single, Poverty Knocks was released via my website yesterday. It features the Liverpool Socialist Singers and all profits go to Crisis, the national UK charity for single homeless people. It's the most directly political song I've ever written but it feels like the right time for it.

I've also been working on a co-written play called Life for Beginners which is on at Theatre503 in London throughout September. The other writers are Alice Birch, Rex Obano, Matt Hartley and Ben Ellis. ( It's a tangled comedy about birth, love, death and everything in between, and it's been brilliant working on something cheerful for a change.

With the new album coming out soon I've got lots of great gigs to look forward to. I'm so excited about being part ofThe Irish Sea Sessions 2012 in Liverpool Philharmonic Hall and Belfast Waterfront Hall in October. I get to perform as part of a super group of Irish and Liverpool musicians... can't wait.

When is the new album out?

September 17th! It's called Black Hound Howling and it's a collaboration with Norwegian producer and multi-instrumentalist, Vidar Norheim. There's are strings, there's a brass section, there's a choir on one track, there are quiet little moments between me and a piano... It's much more ambitious lyrically and sonically than anything I've ever worked on before and I'm really proud of it. All the info about where to buy it will be up on my site:

If you were a colour what colour would you be and why?

I love blue because it's a calm colour. I aspire to be blue but sometime I'm probably more of an angry orange.

Thanks Lizzie.

I am looking forward to seeing her at The Festival of Jim ( ) September 1 & 2. I’ll be reviewing her new album when it’s out.