Lucky the mole born into a musical family…


The title of this blog post comes from the first line of a book I love ‘The Musical Life of Gustav Mole’.  It’s not a book many other people I know have heard of, but I had it as a child and it was illustrated by my Grandmother’s friend Kathy Meyrick.  The Amazon review says ‘Gustav Mole is lucky enough to be born into a musical family, and this charming tale traces the enriching role that music plays in his life. Gustav’s musical education is rich and diverse, covering a wide variety of genres and styles. This is the perfect introduction to musical instruments, ensembles and occasions, and a humourous and sensitive exploration of what music can bring to our lives.’

Gustav starts off playing pots and pans on the kitchen floor, moves on to other instruments at school and eventually learns violin.  It’s a beautiful book in many ways and that opening line as always stuck with me.  Lucky the mole born into a musical family.  I consider myself to be a lucky mole.  My mother was a dancer, my father probably could have played instruments but didn’t, I think he sang well but it was mostly under his breath.

As I was walking back through Brackley to Turweston this afternoon I was thinking about how lucky I have been because of little things that have happened and how they have helped shape me into who I am now…  I spent years away from music because other things got in the way and I lost touch with people lost confidence in myself and then was a little scared to throw myself back into it.  But spending the weekend at Warwick Folk Festival has helped to change my perspective again.  I had forgotten the friendliness of people within this community, I had forgotten the safe, welcoming atmosphere of a good festival, I had forgotten the enjoyment you can have singing in front of an audience.

If Mum had not decided that she wanted to learn to clog dance, if Delphine hadn’t put up an ad in Brackley Town Hall advertising clog within Owlswick Morris which Mum saw and joined, if Dad hadn’t been keen on the Corries, Fairport Convention, The Oysterband, if there had never been a degree set up in folk music, I might never have taken the path through life that I have so far.

I was nervous about heading to the festival this weekend.  It’s all very well sending off an email asking for a gig when you are living on a different continent, but it’s another thing when all that’s standing between you and singing, on your own, in front of people.  I’m not going to lie, I did think about ringing up to say I was ill and couldn’t make it, but having worked the other side, I know how much hassle that would cause, even though I’m not at all known as a performer.  And were I to have done that, it would have been another example of my self-sabotage, which I am trying to avoid.

So Richard dropped me off at the bus stop, I got the train and started frantically trying to remember songs and roughly time them to help plan my sets.  There was a moment of panic when I thought I only knew 5 songs, but soon they started to come back to me.  A short taxi ride and I arrived at the festival.

My first impression was that it was relaxed and smaller than I’d expected based on the line up.  There were no barriers between the main site and campsites, giving it a more relaxed feel in that respect than others I’ve been to.

My first gig was on the Co-op stage, a small raised platform with about 25 seats in front.  The first half of the show came from The Wild Man of the Woods, who told us tales about the woodland, the history of ‘The Green Man’ and how our modern idea of him may have come about along with songs.  It was great and we had a few chats over the course of the weekend.

Then it was me.  There was one face I recognised in the audience, Maurice, who was vocal in his appreciation of the songs. Thanks for that! And when I was done thankfully people came up to talk to me and tell me they enjoyed it.  It’s always nice when people do that.

Work done for the day I had some amazing jerk chicken, pork and curried goat from the Caribbean stall (take a look at the food blog in a few days for my review) and then I watched the concert featuring Demon Barbers XL, O’Hooley and Tidow and  Jim Moray and the Skulk Ensemble.  They were all brilliant, but the highlight for me was definitely O’Hooley and Tidow, who I’d not seen on a main stage before.  Their nomination for best duo at the Folk Awards was well deserved and I bought their beautiful album ‘The Fragile’.  Although my ipod was sadly drowned in my tent during the festival, once it is either restored or replaced (more likely) I am sure I’ll be listening to ‘The Fragile’ on repeat.

Saturday’s lunchtime concert was in a cafe in town and a slightly different atmosphere.  I didn’t feel quite as comfortable and I think perhaps that came across during the performance, but it’s good practise.  My sister and her family came along to watch and afterwards we headed back to the main festival site, playing ‘spot the castle’ with Imogen.

We didn’t get far into the festival as the kids wanted to watch the morris dancers.  Having grown up with morris, Alex and I are pretty used to the inherent strangeness of it – people dressed in funny colours, bells, flowers, clogs – but the kids were mesmerized.  One asked if they could come in their van and stay sometime.  I think they will also be moles born into a musical family.

Time spent wandering around, trying to get a fiddle fixed, feeding children passed and they had to go and I had to get ready for the next gig.  This one was in the Music Department and I was so tired from being kept up by my tent neighbours I had to sit down for half of it.  I don’t think anyone minded too much and I’ve written my first song based upon those neighbours.   I got soaked heading back to the tent and that’s when I found the death of the ipod.  Let’s just take a minute to mourn a friend of over 6 years.

Sunday morning was crisp, cool and glorious.  I sat and chatted to Jan of Jan’s Van for about an hour or so about anything and everything.  I wanted to get a portrait of her and although it’s not what I had in my head, i still like it.

I had one more concert to do and it turned out to be my favourite.  A sing around style concert ‘Women’s Song’ in the title, me, Rosie Hood and Salvation Jane.  I’d not heard Rosie or Salvation Jane before so when they were singing I was just sitting and listening, almost startled when it came to be my turn.

It was one of the most enjoyable gigs I’ve ever had, relaxed, warm (atmosphere, physically I was freezing!) and I had some lovely chats with people afterwards.  (Seriously, if you ever happen to come to one of my gigs – please do – and want to say anything afterwards, please do, despite appearances I’m not overly confident and it’s helpful to hear what people want to say!)

So I could relax, wander around taking photos and was called over by the lovely Amy Davenport and introduced to her in-laws Paul and Liz Davenport, who very kindly bought me dinner, provided me with an amazing chocolate cake and gave me advice about promoting myself and getting recording.  I’m sure I’ve bumped into them before over the course of my festivals and folking, but it was lovely to talk to them.

Of course there was lots more but if I go on I’ll bore you further, but one of the last things that I heard before I left came from my former boss, Jonathan, who said that the good thing about Warwick as a festival is that children can, even for a weekend, have a bit of a free childhood.  They can go off and wander, explore, play, watch musicians and dancers, try different things in a safe environment.  I think this is part of why I love folk music so much, it’s a community, it’s a family and I’m a lucky mole to have been born into it.

‘Of all the money that ere I spent, I spent it in good company’

Jan told me to take a portrait when she wasn't looking.  This is it.

Jan told me to take a portrait when she wasn’t looking. This is it.

Men of Morris

Men of Morris

Passing on knowledge

Passing on knowledge

Jan and her Van

Jan and her Van

The Wild Man of the Woods

The Wild Man of the Woods

Crab apple or unripe apple?

Crab apple or unripe apple?

Jim Moray

Jim Moray

Teardrop

Teardrop

O'Hooley and Tidow

O’Hooley and Tidow

Slow-Mo XL

Slow-Mo XL

Belinda O'Hooley

Belinda O’Hooley

Heidi Tidow

Heidi Tidow

Demon Barbers XL

Demon Barbers XL

Clogging

Clogging

Demon Barbers XL in action

Demon Barbers XL in action

Unicycle

Unicycle

A perfect time for dinner

A perfect time for dinner

Blue skies over Warwick

Blue skies over Warwick

Amy Davenport dancing.

Amy Davenport dancing.

Fun at the Festival

Fun at the Festival

Jan's Van

Jan’s Van

For more of my Warwick Festival Pictures, take a look at my new Flickr page.

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Begin the Begin


“Fresh starts: thanks to the calendar they happen every year —just set your watch to January, our reward for surviving the holiday season is a new year. Bringing on the great tradition of new years resolutions, put your past behind you and start over. It’s hard to resist the chance of a new beginning, a chance to put the problems of last year to bed.”

Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy [2.13]

It’s nearly the end of the year, very soon I will be by a beach overlooking the Indian Ocean and so many things have changed.  The Mayans thought the world would end today.  They were wrong but for me, this year, a good many things have ended.

The first, in January, was a three year relationship, I thought that we would get married (mainly because he said we would), I thought that we would have children and that I would live in a cottage somewhere in the North East (he said all that too…).  Last December I sat at my sister’s and then at my brother’s playing with their children and decided that enough was enough.  Enough making do with someone who couldn’t look after himself, enough hoping that if I was supportive and patient that things would pay off and we would be happy.  Enough of being afraid that I couldn’t cope on my own without him, despite him dragging me down gradually with him. So I told him that this was it and he agreed.

Continue reading

The sun’s coming over the hill.


“Oh how the nights are long
But life is longer still
Oh how the nights are long
But the sun’s coming over the hill.

I can’t say there’s many things I wouldn’t change
There are better days gone than those that remain
But I can find joy in the sound of the rain
You have to find joy where you can.”

Karine Polwart

So three funerals in 3 days, Gaggy, Dad’s cremation then his memorial.  What do we do now?  I came back for five weeks with the intention of spending time with Dad, he died 3 days after I got back, so then time was focused on talking to undertakers (the most unintentionally hilarious one), booking churches, ordering flowers, picking music.  My brother made an urn.  And it all happened yesterday, so what do we fill our days with now?

My friends have booked me a train ticket to Newcastle for tomorrow, then I’m going to Birmingham on Monday to see some cousins and Grandad after his heart attack after that who knows?

I’ve seen some people that I’ve not seen for years and it’s made me think about things.  I’ve made some predictions about my life that people think I’ll probably change my mind about but I know now that it’s likely the way things would pan out.  But that’s ok, I’m letting people know how I feel about them.  Which means that I can make some decisions about who I want to be and what I want to do.  Sometimes we hold onto the past without realising, but at somepoint you have to draw a line and make a change.  So I have two and a half weeks before I go back to work out what that change will be.

Travelling in time


I’ve come to my grandmother’s house to clean up before my aunt gets here tomorrow; I pressed play on my ipod – there’s 7144 tracks ont here at the moment (I really should get some more) and the first that came up was this song by Katriona Gilmore and Jamie Roberts .  Jamie is the little brother of Kathryn Roberts that I linked to earlier in this blog, talented family.

Travelling in Time:

I wandered off today, back to the house we lived in then, the sound of voices play, the children are young 5, 8 and 10.

The rooms seem darker to me, but everyone else says they can see fine, shapes are all I can see, your voice calls me back to present day time.

It seemed to fit with what I’m doing.  I’m picking up some cds I loaned to Dad, pinching back the DVD The West that I gave him, and getting rid of the mess I made staying here last week.  It doesn’t seem fair for my aunt to come here to come to say goodbye to her brother and mother with some of my washing up still here.

It’s a different house now.  It has been in our family for 80 years or so – I think my great-grandmother lived here, my great-uncle, great-aunt, my grandmother moved here after her husband died 38 years ago, my dad moved in 9 years ago after he and mum split up.  The house will be sold now, maybe it will stay with another family for as long, but more likely someone will buy it and  build something in the garden, sell it for much more.  I don’t want to stay here now, it was fine when I was staying to visit dad, my cat was here, but now the cat has gone to live with my oldest brother and his family, so nothing living is here now.  It still has its familiar books and pictures, models that dad made, plates, pencils that went towards Gaggy’s collection.

I know that this seems morbid or melancholic, but I don’t think it is really.  People are what makes something or somewhere make you feel like you belong.  I’ve been very lucky, I’ve lived with 18 people in the last 9 years and I’ve felt at home nearly everywhere I’ve been.  I’ve had a good week – I’ve been singing with my old choir, I’ve sat in on some lessons at my old school to see the sorts of things I should be doing when I get back to Tanzania, I’ve bumped into people I’ve not seen for years.  Although I can’t picture myself ever living permanently in Northamptonshire or even in England for quite a while, it’s good to know I can fit back in relatively easily.  And I know I’ll fit back in Tanzania when I go back there.

It’s been interesting watching people since I’ve been back because I’m the only one on my own – in some respects that gives me a fair bit of freedom because I can decide what I want to do without having to co-ordinate plans with someone else, or think about what they want to do.  It’s good to be a bit selfish sometimes.  But it’s also good to see people being able to support each other, being happy, doing silly little things together, I do miss that a bit but for now, it’s just me on my own and it’s time for that.  I’ve completely lost my train of thought now and should probably get back to cleaning things up…

Burt Bacharach and Hal David put it well, Ella Fitzgerald sings it best

(Although, I don’t think you have to have a man around to make your house a home, but that’s not the point of the song.)

Wide Open Spaces


Sometimes in my current job we have a bit of quiet time and have to entertain ourselves with questions and games. 

A recent question that was set was ‘What song would you use to sum up your life or personality?’  Most people struggled to think of one, but mine sprung to mind straight away.  I’ll post the lyrics below:

Taking the Long Way Around
 
My friends from high school married their high school boyfriends.
Moved into houses in the same ZIP codes where their parents live
But I, I could never follow. No I, I could never follow.
I hit the highway in a pink RV with stars on the ceiling.
Lived like a gypsy, six strong hands on the steering wheel.
I’ve been a long time gone now maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down
But I’ve always found my way somehow
By takin’ the long way. Takin’ the long way around.
 
I met the queen of whatever, drank with the Irish and smoked with the hippies.
Moved with the shakers, wouldn’t kiss all the asses that they told me to
No I, I could never follow.  No I, I could never follow.
It’s been two long years now since the top of the world came crashing down
And I’m getting’ it back on the road now
But I’m takin’ the long way, takin’ the long way around.
 
Well I fought with a stranger and I met myself
I opened my mouth and I heard myself
It can get pretty lonely when you show yourself
Guess I could have made it easier on myself
But I, I could never follow. No I, I could never follow
Well I never seem to do it like anybody else maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down
If you ever want to find me I can still be found
Takin’ the long way, takin’ the long way around
 
The Dixie Chicks
 
 
When I first heard this song it reminded me of a conversation I had in a pub with my best friend from school in 2004.
I was 20 and had gone home for Easter.  I’d met up with Clare and other friends and we were discussing what we wanted from our lives.  I had a plan (as people tend to do at 20ish) of what the next ten years would probably bring.  I would be 23 by the time I finished my degree, I would work and take a part time Masters in Music and Education, train as a primary teacher, work for a few years and hopefully start having kids at about 30. 
Clare baulked at this idea, saying 30 was pretty old to start having kids, she wanted one as soon as possible.  My mum had me at 30, although her first child was when she was 21 and the 5th at 34, so 30ish seemed a good time to get going.  We were at different stages in our lives – Clare had been working since she left school, was settled with her boyfriend and either had just, or was just about to, buy a flat.  I was part way through my first year of university and had almost had a relationship with someone who liked to dress as an elf.
 
Eight years on from that night in the pub and Clare has a lovely little boy, has been married to that boyfriend for about 6 years and is still very settled.  I finished the folk degree, started the masters, dropped out because I didn’t get a job I was relying on.  So I ended up working in a homeless hostel for two years before finding the careers advice job. So I’m still no closer to having kids unless someone hands them to me, but I’ve mostly achieved what I set out to do.  Still taking the long way but sometimes that can be a bit more interesting I guess.
 
What would your song be?