Sunday, 27 January 2019

We are The Old Folk

I've lost count the number of times we've been introduced as The Old Folk, it's become a running joke now, and we've long had plans to dress up and shuffle on stage with a zimmer frame, or push the piano player on in a wheelchair. But we really are getting on now; 8 years is a long time and it's not just realfuckinglife that's slowing us down, it's our body's too. The bass player has just recovered from a major shoulder operation and now the piano player is about to have hip surgery. And that's not artistic license, that's the truth! The drummer phoned me the other day to say he was selling his motorbike cause it's wrecking havoc with the arthritis in his fingers. And the others; despite running a gardening company the guitar player has long suffered with tendonitis in his left knee and the accordion player, his erstwhile replacement, he's got a bad back and he's the only one of us under 30, not yet over the hill. In June we will have fathered 7 children between us and brokered 4 mortgages! Looking back we seemed so young and naive; me and the guitar player had just turned 27, we were carefree and single; pre children and debt, in the innocent spring or our lives; young enough to make mistakes, or change our minds. The piano player was barely 22, living at home with his mum, no income, yet to hold down a job. The bass player at 23, fresh out of university, blissfully unaware that in two years his life would change forever when he agreed to dep at our album launch; he's only missed 4 gigs since. Even the drummer was youngish back then, well mid 30's, my age now, which is actually feeling rather old. The accordion player was still a teenager! 200 gigs later, we're all a bit jaded, worn down by misadventure, weathered by the storm.

Morgan, Shelley and Oscar discussing their 20th album

Usually in January I write a detailed account of the year that was, some of you love this I know, others think it's a tired attempt at a blog, regurgitating 12 months of chapters and condensing them into one. You'd much rather we talked about the year ahead or the piano player's latest misdemeanour. My grandfather, the author Denys Val Baker, was criticised for exactly this towards the end of his life. He'd publish whole books full of material from previous releases. It was a sentimental but unimaginative approach; perhaps because of age, because of pining for the good old days. It was his way of dealing with growing old, to surround himself with memories of his youth. And perhaps we do the same. It's hard to think of the year ahead, easier to remember the one that's been. Forever nostalgic aren't we? Always looking back. Scared of the future. Scared of another year. 7 children seems like a lot to carry.

I thought I'd try something different this year; I won't stick to type and write a paragraph on every month, list the gigs in bold, count them up and clap ourselves on the back. Instead i'll write a single entry on what was our 7th year and then I promise I'll talk about the future and the time the piano player went to the gym in a pair of steel toe cap boots and overalls.

2018... The bass player moved to Berlin, that lasted 6 weeks. The piano player tried to move to Berlin and ended up in Portugal and then fell in love. The band toured, our biggest one yet, in the crisp month of march, 3000 km in a broken van; 10 gigs in 10 days, home with a profit. We stopped. We recuperate. Didn't play again till June; Fire in the Mountain festival, main stage. Took the family. Spent the weekend in the sauna, mmmm.. St. Just Town Hall was a strange one, dressed up as cowboys, hmmm..? Opening Golowan Festival was an honour, we had a bigger crowd than The Herbalizer! Ale and Anchor in Mousehole for the 6th year in a row. Standard. Port Eliot again, that was nice, despite the rain. Then we discovered Lott Festival; back to Germany for the best weekend of our lives. We played a wedding in Cornwall; that was the best weekend of the couples lives... hopefully!? Open air in Penlee Park was special, as was playing in the woods at Kerris. And The Mexico Inn, well that was as rowdy as ever. Merry Folking Christmas sold out a week in advance, beyond capacity with a waiting list of 95. It was a year of travel, adventure, a year of change. The year of the wags, someone said. "You're all shacked up!". It was 24 gigs. Shall we clap ourselves on the back now! Boy's done good. 

And now, as promised, I guess it's time to talk about the future. Talk it up a bit. The year ahead. 2019. I don't know why I find it so hard, and I wonder if my fellows furrow their brows as much as I? January is a strange one; famous for it's optimism and resolution but universally considered the most depressing month. You would think talking up the future is as a good a tonic as anything to combat the blues but it's hard to find your voice, almost like you haven't quite woken up yet. In truth I have no idea what we are doing, whether we'll play 24 gigs or 5 and predicting the future is a fools game. But here goes... we're still haggling over our Brexit Tour, a little like the government; we can't quite get the right deal. A couple of venues have let us down and we're not quite over the line with it... yet! But the will is there, so we'll find the way. For the record, The Odd Folk think leaving the EU is lunacy. We're better together. And after that? The third and some say, final, album is due this year, which means it should be released in 2020, just in time for our decade. It's not that scary really. The future. You just need to get your head in the right place. Hope for the best, expect the worst, and take what you're given. Oh wait, I forgot about the 7 children and the hip surgery and the arthritic fingers. 

We are The Old Folk ;)

Saturday, 15 December 2018


The piano player turns 30 today and I thought it would be a good chance to look back over his time with us, now totalling 8 years. None of us can really remember the beginnings too well. Myself and the guitar player started the band at the tail end of 2010, initially as a duo, but that format quickly became boring and it was suggested that perhaps we trial my young cousin, someone I had long earmarked as a future bandmate but someone I was unconvinced was quite ready. He shuffled into the room with a keyboard under his arm, a mop of unbrushed, unwashed hair sprouting up like broccoli. He mumbled a little, something he still does to this day as he set up his piano stand and tripped over the wire. We played through our repertoire of 5 songs and tried to coax the shy boy into singing harmonies, which he only did with his eyes closed. "He's pretty good" said the guitar player, after he'd gone home leaving his piano leads behind. "lets sign him up!"
"I'm not sure he's quite ready" I countered, "he doesn't drive and he lives in the middle of nowhere, and I'm not even sure he owns that keyboard?".
"Sign him up" he said again with a wry smile, "it'll be more fun this way. Keep us on our toes!"

And it certainly has. But it would be wrong of me to start this tribute with a list of misdemeanours and all the trials and tribulations that come with having such a maverick member in the ranks. So instead i'll start with the positives, of which there are many. Blessed with a wonderful ability to create music; he can pluck the most exquisite melody from the air, that's never been a problem, it's his ability to remember it that has! He's a world musician, a true musician. And yes he can't read a single note, give him a page of music and he'd probably use it to wrap his lunch in, but hum him a tune and he'll write you a song. From the ear, from the heart, like the best of the them. When it comes to 'jamming' he's in a league of his own; blessed with a speed of thought and a change of pace, unmatched. Rhythmically he's exceptional, far better than many professional drummers I know. He's got groove and stamina but most of all he's got feeling; whether creating some uplifting solo or just simply laying two chords together in such a way that you well up inside. His playing is at times inspired, evocative and infectious. I've said it before, immortalised forever in the film How NOT to be in a Band; but 'out of all of us he is the true musician'. And a few people have bought me up on this since, as though perhaps it has irked them that I have put him above even myself. But what I mean is this; he is somebody that lives and breathes music, his life is a song and a dance, it is all he has ever wanted to do, and when playing, it brings out the very best in him. It's the parts before and after playing where he can sometimes come unstuck, often with hilarious consequences. It's easy to laugh about it now but every time he's turned up to a gig without his piano leads it's like being smacked in the gut. And there's been 7 of them. We should have known it on that very first day in my kitchen when he shuffled off leaving them neatly plugged in next to the toaster. Leads aren't the only thing he forgets. Plastic bags containing clothes, bananas, his passport, a bankcard. He's left coats and jumpers and piano stands, he even left his shoes at one venue, and once famously left my chainsaw on the Edinburgh train, instead arriving at the station with a lady's bag full of makeup and toiletries. He's messy and untidy and was even mistaken for a tramp at one gig. He's clumsy and

disorganised and at times utterly infuriating. But he's charming too and cheeky and charismatic and people love him, he has an innate ability to get a 'little extra' out of everybody, whether it's a free meal or an extra drink, or a second chance. He is the 'odd' to our folk, he has shaped our trajectory, lost us a few key battles but won us many admirers. And it's worth mentioning his journey and growth over the years. From that tousled haired young boy that couldn't sing in public and could't play out front. Who'd disappear at the end of every gig to avoid pack-down. Who'd forget structures to songs and even his own lyrics. Who was shy but desperate for the limelight, a fierce contradiction of wanting it but not knowing how to get it, and attempting it in all the wrong ways. I realised how far he'd come when at Merry Folking Christmas last year, in front of 300 people he stepped out onto the stage and played 3 of his own compositions, sang from the heart and bought the house down. And although he still hasn't learnt to drive and is as reliant as ever on the lifts of others; at least he's left home, moved house, changed job, gone traveling, found love. He's been knocked down countless times, mostly from his own doing, but he's always picked himself up, brushed himself down and come again. Like a terrier. He's adapted. Reinvented himself. And yes, he can still go awol and his diction is terrible, he still forgets piano leads and turns up late, but at the end of the day, when all is said and done, I have no regrets about hiring him. He's flamboyant and funny and mischievous, he embodies the spontaneity of this band. He's enthusiastic and eager; the dreamer, the believer. Head in the clouds, feet in the clouds, the melody maker, the mover, the shaker, the inspiration for this blog, he's the one that makes us 'odd', with a different velvet jacket for everyday of the week. With a dancing smile and dancing feet and a pirouette like a ballerina.

So raise your glass, and raise it high. To Shelley! 

Tuesday, 2 October 2018


"So are we ever going to do another album?" the piano player's been like a record on repeat all year. We've been pacifying him. "Dreckly" we'd say, which translated from Cornish means; an unspecified time in the future, a little like 'mañana' without all the rushing about. It must be the fifth or sixth time this year, and we're sitting at Battery Rocks in that late evening glow, feeling the tingle of the salt on our skin, looking out across Mount's Bay.
"We just need to do one?" he says out of the blue.
"Do what?" I say
"A third album!"
I roll my eyes "We haven't got any money!"
"That's cause we keep spending it, the band's paid us well this summer!"
And it's true, we've had a fairly productive year, we could have kept a cut aside for the band, like we used to, before we became greedy, before the guitar player quit and left the finances to me. Instead we've been trying to make a living off it, trying to use it as a means of income, when it always used to be pocket money, loose change, chicken feed. I turn to him, his eyes wide and innocent with that look that says anything is possible.

"You're right" I say. "You're riight, we'll do it, we'll save up and do it"
"Great, we'll get the bass player to record it, he'll do it for nothing..." he says
I laugh out loud incredulously, but it does little to break his flow.
"... yeah it would great, and we can have guest appearances from all the people that have played with us over the years, just imagine it!"
And I can and it would be absolute mayhem; half a dozen drummers and the guitar player's 5 replacements, all wanting a solo! There'd be too many cooks, and no room to breath!

I do imagine a third album.
I always have. 
Number 3. Homemade. Organic. Local. And I guess I've been scared to push for it, scared to commit to another chapter. We all have. But since we announced we were ending, since we did our big farewell concert two years ago, we've been stronger, we've actually gigged more and better. It seems to have had a galvanising effect. There is new material, some of which has found it's way into the live shows, some half written, some half forgotten. Some old classics never been captured, twice overlooked, wanting their day in the sun. 
"We could use Brooksie, all the Brookes'; Aaron, Jamie..." he's still talking and I smile as the late sun hits his face, making his beard even redder. 
And it is a good idea really, to get some of the old faces back, they all bring something unique. They're all good musicians, locally sourced.
"... yeah I can imagine a brass section of you and both the Louis', and Daisy on the clarinet..." he continues, his head bobbing around like a goldfish.
But I'm nodding too now. We'd do it here, we'd do it at home and we'd do it our way, without a big shot producer running the show. It's no secret we suffered a bit of a sophomore slump with 'the dreaded second album!' because we lost our voice and got swept up in the game. And I know there are many of you reading who will disagree and might champion Haul Away over The Sweet Release and that's amazing, but it's had a mixed reaction and it's split the fanbase down the middle, like a jar of marmite. But a return home for number 3 would be welcome, and of course we'd have outside ears, there's enough of them around to guide us. I start to feel positive, his enthusiasm is infectious. We're both sat there smiling like schoolgirls.
"...imagine the launch party!" he says "4 guitarists, 3 drummers, 2 bass players! They'll be more of us than them!"

Later on that evening I sit with an old friend nursing a cool pint of Portland in The Lamp and Whistle. The very same friend that told me to start this blog way back in 2013 and has diligently read all 59 entries. "It seems to me that there's a certain nostalgia creeping in" he sips and smiles. "I knew it would. You were all so young when this started, it was a comic throwaway, each entry was a disaster, a sort of careless abandon, and now it's got serious. You've grown up with it and it's become a way of life. It's your release, all of you. And without it you would be lost. It's not just about us, the fans, anymore, it's about you. You need it and whenever there's doubt it creeps into the writing and it's fucking beautiful man, it pulls us in emotionally, and we live it, these ups and downs, we live it!" and he leans in, "like when Oscar is moving to Berlin, I mean that's touch and go, man, and I feel your alarm. Cause you can't carry on without him. He's so much more than a bass player, he's irreplaceable! Not like when Brooksie left, which was hard enough but you were clever then and got Louis in, changed the sound!" I'm speechless so I take a couple of gulps of the pale ale, but he's right, even though I can't imagine half the readership getting this swept up in the subplot. But perhaps you are!? Perhaps Dondu Cort is emotionally 'pulled in' over in Turkey, and the Third Britannia Royal Anglican Regiment in Suffolk, they follow this blog, perhaps their all feeling trepidation about the bass player's move to Berlin! 

"I can't believe Oscar's moving to Berlin!"

It is certainly food for thought and both of them are right; this has become something much greater; a platform to express ourselves, a vehicle to travel. It's become a release from realfuckinglife, a way to meet new people, and a way of discovery, not just of new lands, but discovery of ourselves. When we took a bow at Lott Festival in Germany this summer, just the three of us, I realised how far we'd come and it was emotional, cause you never know how long you've got left, how long you can keep going, keep juggling babies and business' and mortgages and marriages. "Then make another record!" said my friend as he ordered a pair of pints. "That's another chapter right there!"

And I smiled. "Dreckly" I said.

Friday, 17 August 2018


"Don't play the bongo while we're driving!" I barked as we sped along the autobahn. "I'm not" said the piano player from the back seat. I looked across at the bass player sitting co-pilot, "I heard it too" he said as he turned down the music. And then it dawn on all three of us, our necks snapped back in unison, the boot was wide open and the bongo had fallen out! We skidded to a stop, cut the engine, dreading what else had fallen and what damage it could have done to innocent drivers trying to dodge bass amps and trumpets. We chanced our way to the back of the van, cars thumping past us like angry wasps, the heat of the tarmac was like walking on a hotplate. A quick inspection found nothing else missing. We glanced down the highway, standing perfectly upright in the middle of the road was the bongo. The bass player bounded off, his orange hair like flickering flames in the heat distortion. He tiptoed into the blaze, scooping the drum into his arms like it was a runaway toddler. "It's only a scuff, she still plays" he said after slamming the boot so hard the van nudged forward. "We were lucky."

And we were. During the whole of the 1200 mile mini-tour to Lott Festival, we were lucky. Lucky to be able to borrow a decent affordable van. Lucky that the bass player's work didn't put a spanner in the our path. Lucky to be able to travel with good friends through beautiful lands and get paid to do it. Lucky to be looked after so well by our friends on the continent. Everything seemed to fall into place in just the right way. 

Weeks ago when we gatecrashed Lafrowda Day and played a gorilla gig almost in protest at being overlooked once again, there was an air of defeat as we shared out £40 from CD sales between the four of us. Scant reward for a day's work and scarcely worth the fuel down. Luck seemed a long way off then. But you speculate to accumulate, and a few days later a fan got in touch, he'd seen us play and wanted to book us for a festival in Truro. And it just so happened that the day they offered was the day we were beginning our latest adventure and so a slight detour to a children's circus was well worth the while, particularly for the much needed revenue towards our many, many miles ahead. 

Later on in Bristol; noodle soup and a bad horror movie; we stole an early night and rose with the dawn. Despite getting to Folkestone early we missed our connection by faffing in the service station and arrived in Calais behind schedule. We were further delayed trying to find a petrol station and drove around a small town 3 times before a mobile baker took pity on us and led us there in convoy. Tanked up, we hit the pencil straight roads like an arrow and clawed back some time. Antwerp's roadworks were navigated with relative ease and we pulled up outside Cafe Den Hopsack for the 2nd time this year. Unload, un-pack, set-up, trip over the wires, get in each other's way, drop the keyboard, forget to tune the instruments, eat a plate of food, drink a beer, drink another, smile to the friends, count the crowd, play the songs, forget to sell merchandise, order a round of drinks, then another, stand at the bar and sing songs with new fans, arm in arm like old friends, wobble out into the warm evening and roll in at dawn. Night's in Antwerp usually follow the same patten. It's our 4th time here in 3 years and each time the welcome's warmer.

The next morning we're all a little listless;
 we we need eggs. We ride the tram into the centre looking for the perfect spot and then bundle into a cafe under the scratch of a hangover. A round of orange juice takes the edge off but the boiled egg is a frustrating option; it's like peeling a hot coal and it's over in a mouthful. We order another which only seems to makes the problem worse and does little to alleviate our hunger but it's all we can afford. We head to Den Hopsack, load up the van and then post the key back through number 11, amazed and honoured that we are entrusted with the keys to a cafe with 800 beers behind the bar! We say goodbye to our Belgian friends and head south, not stoping until the bongo falls out on the autobahn. God know's how long the boot's been open, perhaps that's why the petrol is disappearing faster than normal, we could have been driving like this for miles, unable to see the car's flashing us cause of the bright sun, unable to hear their horns cause the wind is blowing in and the music is on. Hot and bothered, we pull off the autobahn and climb up to an old volcanic crater lake called Pulvemaar. We can see people swimming so we strip off, duck under a cordon and slip into the clear waters. It's only when we are getting changed again that we read of people disappearing in the whirlpools in the centre and that you must only swim in the designated areas. Oops, seems luck was on our side again. The last few miles are breathtaking as we cross the Eifel Range and arrive at Lott Festival. We meet Geia, the booker, she has kind eyes and we warm to her immediately. Her first impression of us might be slightly tested though as we turn up late, bare foot and without any of the correct paperwork. She sends a runner off to collect our hotel keys cause we've failed to read any of the emails instructing us to do this on the way. But there is a warmth about her as she talks to us and she smiles a lot. "You have to buy into the spirit of this place." she says waving her hands around like a painter. We take a beer and a plate of food and walk around the site, sitting up on the hill that focuses down onto a huge stage. The evening light is done and electric beams flash out across the sky, a huge roar welcomes a band on stage and suddenly the peace is broken and thousands of German's gear themselves up for another night. We slip off to our hotel, back down the mountain, to the banks of the Mosel, with it's steep vineyards, past fairytale towns with castles on the hill.
Lott Festival

The next morning I wake up early and print off all the relevant documents, determined to be more professional. We arrive in good time for the sound check and remember to tune our instruments. The sun's out and people are starting to surface. I'm worried that we're just going to disappear on that big stage; we'll be lost; too static on the box drum, too limited to a single kick. If ever we needed the numbers this was it. 19 people have donned our colours, if only we could have just one of them now. "We've gotta trust our sound" says the bass player and he's right. No point worrying about what's missing. Focus on what you've got. I take a deep breath and climb the stairs to the giant stage, imagining the reception you'd get with an evening slot at this place. It's hard to say how many people are out there, they are all spread up the hill, lolling about in the sun. It's a lovely view from up here. We bring them down, a nice crowd forms at the front as we play through our songs. We finish up and take a bow, then sell 14 CD's at the merch desk at the side, talking with new fans and soaking up the praise as humbly as we can. Geia is pleased, "You guys should stay and play for the crew at the party tonight!".
I set out to persuade the others; postpone a work commitment and change the crossing home, but we're all keen. We take a few beers and skip out into the sunshine, dancing to the next band, in the dry heat, with the happy people. We sit with Geia up on the hill in that golden hour, late afternoon, rusty coloured. "The festival finishes early today, and then it's our time" she smiles, a culmination of months of work no doubt. "6pm and they all go home" her hands are painting again. "Tomorrow the kids go back to school, it's realfuckinglife again!"

And she's right, the last band bow, there is a huge cheer and then thousands leave, the hill empties and we are left with 300 crew. We set up at on the grass, powered by a 4-way extension lead, totally unfazed by the impromtu; immune to the demands other bands would make, able to play at the drop of a hat, spontaneous, on the grass, in bare feet. So perhaps our spirit is rubbing off on Lott now. People dance and cheer, the sun dips and flickers. It's a wicked light. Others join us; on violin, on harmonica, on hand drums, and then we step aside and they use our instruments and we watch them. 6 tractors pull up with large trailers and people run to greet them, "Jump on" says Geia, "this is a tradition at Lott" and so we oblige, squeezing into one wagon with 30 others, and holding on tight as we lurch forward up to the top of the hill. We sing 'whisky drunk', we raise our bottles at this extraordinary scene; in the purple dusk, with quads like terriers at our feet, kicking up the dust. 6 tractors on the hilltop, like drunken 
tractors in the dusk
pirate ships swaying and singing songs at each other across the bay. This is the spirit of Lott. In the twilight, here amongst strangers fast becoming friends. I catch the bass player's eye, no words, a look is enough. This is a moment we won't forget. We party with them; the people of Lott. We dance and make merry and then we ride a taxi home, back down the mountain to the fairytale town.

It's farewell to Geia in the morning and we're grateful to have met her. "You're taking the spirit with you!" she smiles and we set off on a 13 hour journey back to 'realfuckinglife'. The way home is hopelessly long, insufferably hot, but we are all smiling at another great adventure. Blessed that this is our job. That that we can bring our music to weird and wonderful places, to meet beautiful people in strange lands and have a little money at the end. And it's hard work, but it is rewarding, and it reaffirms your desire to keep going. Keep adapting. Keep learning. Not just as a band, but as people. 
And we'll keep that 'spirit' too.  And here's to luck. You play your part. I'll tip my hat to you.

And the boot stayed closed all the way home.    

Monday, 9 July 2018

The Odd Folk Spreadsheet

The bass player overtook the guitar player as the third most decorated in the band. This was a rather large milestone that received no fanfare and was lost somewhere in the backwaters of Germany. I still can’t get my head around it as the latter founded this outfit and played for two years prior to him even joining so to be usurped already means our output must be very top heavy. 
With this in mind I thought it could be fun to take a look at the old spreadsheet and see what other interesting facts there are? The drummer tries to leave the band every 30 gigs or so, does that mean he’s only got another 10 in him as he approaches 90? How many festivals, weddings, tours? How many times has the piano player actually forgotten his leads? What’s the biggest audience we played? The smallest crowd? The highs and lows are all marked. We’re famous for our disorganisation, forgetting instruments, getting lost, doing things the wrong way round, but when it comes to logging it we’re on point. Every little detail, every whoopsie is filed and saved for a rainy day... or a heatwave!

So, what's the most popular gig then? Well, unsurprisingly our hometown of Penzance is our most frequented. It tops the list at 22. Exactly half of them have been at The Acorn. Incidentally the guitar player’s home of Zennor is on 12. The bass player’s home of St. Just is fast catching up on 9, while the piano player’s home has seen only 1 solitary gig. For the record the drummer’s birthplace of Grimsby has seen no action and it is highly unlikely to either.
Festivals are the next most popular location for an Odd Folk gig at 21, while 18 people have requested us at their wedding. Bristol and Europe are locked in forth place on 15.

Our biggest crowd? Indoors we regularly sell out the Acorn at 320 and that’s about as many as we can manage. But we have played more; The Guidhall with Johnny Flynn holds the record at 490 people. Outside is an unknown science; Don't Wake The Fish has up to 600. Shambala Festival; who knows, how do you count a crowd? Best attended pub gig would have to be The Mexico which resembled a pack of sardines, without the smell. Of course we all thought playing on The Great British Bake Off would expose us to 13 million but we were victims of the cutting room floor. 
The Islington, London, was a disaster played out to room of 7. The best paid gig is £1500 (they offered!) while the worst is one of the many freebee’s we’ve done, which end up costing us in fuel. The Islington, above, actually cost us £40! But the biggest loss came at The Cube in Bristol, which cost us £81, despite being sold out!?

How about the most popular formation? That throws throws up interesting findings. I wonder what people picture when they imagine The Odd Folk - apart from a piano player panicking because he’s forgotten his leads while we zip in half an hour late and launch into a 100 mile an hour set with 100 different styles. But how many of us are there; 5? 4? 3? Probably four you’d say. Well you’d be wrong. It’s actually the quintet at 72, with the trio literally breathing down its neck at 71. The quartet is miles off the pace with only 15. Don’t be fooled by our previous guise, The Sam Brookes Quartet only had three members!

And as for the piano players leads; he's lost or forgotten them on 8 separate occasions and been bailed out in 7 different ways. 

1. His father nips home to fetch them
2. Borrows another band's keyboard
3. Uses the the out of tune piano in the pub
4. Plays a ukulele instead
5. Nips to a music shop in Bournemouth 

6. Orders next day delivery on Amazon
7. Doesn't play the gig

They have been left all over the place too; in a field at Mr and Mrs Panbottom's wedding, at the Eden Project, in the basement of The Gladstone Arms in London (now demolished), in a dance studio in Arnhem.

Over the last seven years we've taken around £51,000 in payment, which when you look at it is a massive amount of money for a hobby. But when you split it over the 174 odd gigs it only works out as £290 per performance, and that includes getting there, and considering some the gigs are 100's of miles away and there are 5 of us, it isn't much of a wage. £57 pounds for all the admin, practicing, driving there, unloading, performing, packing up and driving home. It's more often than not a full day's work. Obviously some of them are well paid, but a quarter of them were done for peanuts, and many of those for free! But it's never been about the money, if it was we'd be a covers band and stick to weddings and corporate functions, or better still write a pop song and all dress the same and use autotuner, and buy 'likes' on Facebook.

Other facts; we've been on 7 tours, played in 7 countries, used 15 instruments, 19 members, played such a variety of places; in pubs and clubs, arts centres and cafes, in galleries, in churches, in a castle, in a field, in the woods, a leaking marquee, the corner of an old barn, somebody's living room, somebody's kitchen, a sawmill, a vicarage, in a cinema, on a bus. 

And I'll leave you with one last fact, and probably my favourite; every single gig has come from our own hustle, every song from our mouths, every opportunity has been crafted by our hands. So to achieve as much as we have and been on as many adventures is a nice reward for all the graft. And one we've earned. And the £57 is a bonus! :-) 

Thursday, 3 May 2018

The March About Tour

Meet Doug: 20 years old, half a million miles on the clock, with a tug to the left that needs constant attention. The front seat is in a state of permanent lift off and needs strapping down with bungees. The accelerator peddle has snapped off leaving a sharp spike that gnaws away at the soles of your shoes. The turbo and power steering only work after a strategic pull-over on the hard shoulder, where by you switch off the engine for a minute and then pull away revving hard. These little pick-me-up party lines give you about 45 miles of normal speed before he crashes back into tractor mode, humming like a giant bee as he hovers around the 50 mark, and less on the hills. The smashed wing mirror has been replaced by plastic glass that distorts cars like a funfair and the bouncy suspension feels like your riding on a trampoline. The dashboard lights don't work, neither does the horn. The slow puncture needs pumping at every pit stop and the temperamental tail light needs daily tweaking or you run the risk of being pulled. When stationary and without power steering turning him round is a three man job; one on the ground and two heaving on the wheel like a tug-of-war. Swapped for a jar of marmalade and with more than enough room for a touring band, he has however been a wonderful companion and despite his ailments we wouldn't change him for the world. Would we boys?

Meet the band: spread across Europe like a fog. Piano player in Portugal.

Bass player in Berlin. The accordion player's on holiday somewhere in Spain, and the drummer's off climbing windmills. And then there's me; down in Cornwall trying to call them all together like a matron with a bell. We arrive, dis'band'ed and disorganised, and bundle our belongings into Doug's vast chambers. Instruments, bedding, merchandise, all thrown together, yet to learn their places, there's no time for Tetris as we heave the steering wheel round the tight Cornish bends and roar into Mousehole like a lorry.

Mousehole is a nice opening gig; well attended and we sit just above the acoustic level which is always our favourite sound. CD sales are down, probably because we forget to bring them, but we shift 8 t-shirts and make some much needed dollar in order to leave the county. Spirits are high, Doug's rather heavy to manoeuvre but we're all feeling strong. The drive north is slow until we discover the tactical turbo pit-stops and then he screams up to Bristol like a tank on steroids. We have a rehearsal space booked in an old warehouse that looks like the sort of place people are taken to be murdered. A giant garage door opens electronically, sounding like a 100 fingernails on a blackboard. There is no heating and we shiver through some new songs and try and cement the old ones. I sleep in the van as there isn't enough space in the house. It's freezing and I put on so many clothes that I can barely move.

We arrive into Stroud
 and the sun's out, spirits are trying to be high but we're all a little directionless without the steady hand of Sam Brookes. There's biting and backstabbing and a lot of fussing over nothing. Funnily enough the guitar player does turn up as if by magic but his surprise inclusion has an unsettling effect on the music. The gig offers a little bit of everything, including mistakes. Lovely pin drop moments and tight harmonies ruined by the wrong chord or some random unintelligible chat. Our founding member is a little out of place, squeezed onto the stage like an upright soldier scared to move, standing through new song's he doesn't yet know because he physically can't get out. The gig is enjoyed by the audience more than us, and perhaps that's the way it should be, but heads are down. It's badly paid too and we leave three coats in the venue.

Bristol is a better gig; better attended and better paid, largely due to the huge generosity of our new number one fan. She will of course remain nameless in part due to her philanthropic gesture. Other friends were there too, cheering us on, buying us drinks, but none saw fit to slip us £100 for a t-shirt "and keep the change!" It really was a massive act of kindness and it won't go unnoticed.

Doug starts on the 4th attempt, pulls out of the city in a cloud of black smoke like a moving garden fire. The drummer's driving, already he's complaining about "Doug's tug" which is so bad it can take a left corner without steering. We get lost in Tunbridge Wells and drive around hopelessly trying to follow the sat nav which continuously tells us to drive across a golf course. Eventually we find Steve and Lynn's house which also happens to be our next venue. What follows is perhaps one of the nicest evenings in the history of this band. We set up in a large spacious living room and then nip downstairs for some beef stew and a couple of bottles of red. When we return the room is full of people; 40 of them on sofas and armchairs and sitting on the floor. Friends of the owners,

responding to invitation but coming on trust. We play through our repertoire and tell our stories and both fall out of us with truth. "This is the future of music" I announce on more than one occasion. "We could do a tour called 'Live in your front room!' " I declare eagerly. "If only someone filmed it!" They did. Steve points to a chap in the far corner stood behind a tri-pod. Later on while counting the spoils I feel almost guilty that we take all donations when we've been so looked after by Steve and Lynn. They've opened up their house, provided food and drink not just to us but all the guests and now's there five little beds made up. "We do it because we love music and we love hosting" says Steve as he clears away the chairs. "Breakfast's at 8am" 

There's no drama as we cross the channel and Europe's road's are largely empty. We arrive in Antwerp in good time and then loose it all trying to get to the venue. Every road is either one-way or closed for building works. It's another tug-of-war trying to weave Doug around the cobbled streets, through the hustle and bustle and hundreds of bikes. We slide up beside the famous old venue, our third time back at the Café Den Hopsack, quickly unload and then wolf down some beef stew. We begin soundchecking but already the place is filling up and old friends are distracting us so we kind of give up and leave it all to chance. The audience enjoy it more than us, it's another one of those. Perhaps we're too high up on this big stage, we're missing the intimacy of the living room. Post show we sit with our friends and enjoy the wonderful beers that makes this place so special. Ever more intriguing names; Gulden Draak, Old Bruin, Delirium, stronger and stronger until we wobble to the door. We sleep at our friend's Jan and Lieve's, but not before beef stew number 3, the best of the bunch. Sat sipping round the table, swapping tales with old friends, this is a happy time despite the nagging presence of dawn. There's no rest for the wicked.

Up and off early after not enough sleep. This is the life is real rockstars. I try to catch up in Doug's big bed but it's like sleeping on a bouncy castle and more than a little nauseating. We approach Amersfoort clutching a dossier on the perils of finding the venue, but actually locate it rather easily. The town is beautiful, like a walled city surrounded by a medieval moat, and our venue is packed full of bikers in thick black leather, who seem to have chosen it as a refreshing pitstop. We meet Joroen, a tall gangly man like a velociraptor who runs the place and does the sound. We start later than planned partly because they aren't at all prepared for our amount of instruments. We concede a few and buzz through the set as best we can but fatigue is evident and as we sit waiting for dinner we resemble a table of zombies, as tired as tombstones. Our host for the evening is an old friend called Auke who sits co-pilot as I steer Doug out of the moat. A little way down the road we are pulled by the police for having a faulty tail light and fined €200 because we don't have the correct papers. At one point it's looking like the van will be impounded. It's all a little uneasy; 3 cars and 6 policeman make it look more like a drugs bust as they snoop around the van checking to see if we have any "Romanians" in the back. 

Down into Germany and we climb into the hills, weaving past large swathes of birch forests and tall pines. We arrive into the village of Nümbrecht, or rather the area of Nümbrecht, which makes it even more vague, especially as fans in Cologne have expressed interest in coming. But this is a remote one; a large farm spilling out of a hill with a dozen chickens pecking at the gate. It's another house concert, hosted by a tall German man called Rolf who has a collection of 32 guitars and his own recording studio. We're shown into a large living room which rather resembles a church hall, with it's exposed beams and decorative windows. We set up and soundcheck and then eat the best soup I've ever had and play the best gig we've ever done. I'm pretty sure about both the soup and the gig and can't work out which one I like better. The soup is a creamy leak and meat soup; a desert island disc contender, if given a choice of eating one thing for the rest of your life. And the gig; hovering just above that acoustic level and sitting with a room full of lovely people, telling our stories with truth and humour, letting our songs float out of us as though we'd just written them. It was a perfect evening; even when the piano player, still believing us to be in Holland, announced how much we loved the Dutch people! Well that one bought the house down.

Doug on the autobahn!
It's a day off but we're on the road early, heading east to the capital; the big B. We take a wrong turn, hit roadworks, then smash the passenger wing mirror off. The autobahn is relentless, sending a conveyor belt of cars like angry wasps. No speed limit. No hardshoulder. Doug is as slow as pondwater; keeping pace with the lorries. With light failing and us hardly making a dent in the distance we pull over on a slip-road in order to utilise the turbo and then lurch forwards like a ship in a storm. Skidding through the rain. Spurred on by the excitement of a night out in Berlin. In hindsight we should have used the day off as a day off and got our heads down, but your only young twice and we skip out to a couple of classy bars and knock back Negroni's like the folk stars that we are.

In the morning our plans for a spa day are shelved when the drummer notices Doug has a flat tyre. I pretend not to hear him, like he's a bad dream that will dissolve if you turn away. But he's not going away and I know it's something we can't ignore. We borrow a cycle pump and inflate it as best we can then drive around Kreuzberg in the snow looking for a garage. Finding none and with the weather worsening we decide to use the spare tyre for now and deal with the problem another day. Except the wheel spanner snaps and we're left with with very few options other than call the breakdown people. We decide to order lunch on the band account and sit watching the blizzard outside. Later on in a packed Kallasch bar we bow to healthy applause and despite another very solid gig we're a little deflated, partly because our expectation of this place is sky high and it would take a miracle to top. But also, because we're absolutely knackered. This is the 8th consecutive night we've been drinking ales and telling tales, with hardly anytime to repair as we drive our broken home across the continent in a state of Groundhog Day.

On the road to Bremen we encounter no new problems, the spare tyre (fixed by the breakdown team outside the venue late last night) seems to hold up despite the extra weight of two passengers. That's the one thing that Doug's still got going for him, space, so we open our doors to a couple of friends. He chugs along today, no pitstop party lines, just the low growl of his engine as he wobbles along the autobahn like a plate of jelly. We enter the city, drive around in circles, find the venue, can't find a parking space, double park, unload all our gear onto the street and then pull away, can't find a parking space again so triple park and make contact with the host. Albert is a smily man who beckons us in and pours us all a Becks beer, "It's original, brewed here, no poison!" he says as he hands them round. The venue is called Litfass but I reckon a better name would be Smokey Joe's; the place is like a long thin ashtray getting more vaporous the further you venture from the large front windows. It seems that everyone is smoking, certainly the ban isn't being enforced in Bremen. We eat a bowl a spaghetti, neck a

couple more Becks and introduce our music to the ash-heads. And they seem to like it. Some in the front are dancing, some in the middle are table tapping, and those at the back, well I can't see through the smoke and i'm not even sure our sound can penetrate the fug; it's as thick as a thunderstorm. We thank the ash-heads, sign a few CD's and make a fairly swift exit to our digs on a friend's diary farm up in Teufelsmoor.

The morning breakfast is the best we've encountered, not just on tour, but possibly in life. The large family table is piled high with everything you could possible want to eat and more. It seems that our hosts are all trying to outdo each other; who can go out of their way the furthest to provide for a smelly band of Cornish boys who arrive late, eat all of their food, fart in their beds and drive off in a cloud of diesel smoke in the morning!? Our departure is delayed by Doug needing his nappy changed. This is the term affectionately coined for tweaking the tail lights, re-tying down the front seat, re-attached his distorted glass wing-mirror and pumping up the tyre. Doug starts on the 6th attempt and we pull out of the farm in a cloud of black smoke like the aftermath of a bomb. We're on time arriving into Raamsdonksveer but Jo, who runs the Swamp Studio, is still tut-tutting and looking at his watch. The place is as pristine as we left it, the equipment as first rate as ever. This is like playing in the foyer of a 5 star hotel. The whole setup is immaculate and then 5 grubby boys stroll in, sleep deprived, with a 10 day hangover and set upon the stage with their 50 instruments demanding to have a little more of this and a little less of that. We really aren't an easy bunch to soundcheck, and hat's must go off to our bass player who, being a sound-designer in his spare time, is often lumped with the task of mixing us in. The gig is good, we play as well as you'd expect on the last night, there are no mistakes, we're tight, but there isn't perhaps the same energy as in earlier showings.

And then just like that it's over. I remember packing down the gear and lining all the cases up next to each other. All black and uniform, as neat as a postman's knock. Professional. Never thought I'd say it, but we were. Never late. Never lary. We played our little hearts out and told our tall tales. We engaged with our fans and raised them a glass. Raised them an ale. We loved and we learnt. We shared. 3000 km across northern Europe with not a penny to our name. We built this tour from scratch. Left Cornwall with bag of loose change and the rest was left to chance. And of course we are indebted to the hospitality of our hosts and the generosity of our fans, without each we'd never of made it past Stroud. So here's to the house concerts and bustling bars, to Bristol and Belgium and Bremen. Here's to beers and beef stew and broken tail lights, farms and favours and friendships. Here's to the songs, each of them like our offspring, some older, some with confidence, others like little hachlings running the gauntlet. Here's to luck, cause you need it. And faith, that you can do it. It still amazes me that a scruffy bunch of musos from the far west with no 'industry helping hand' can book a 10 day tour, with all expenses paid and come home with a weekly wage. And it's down to you. The fans. Whether you are long suffering friends or brand new playmates, you have all backed us and believed in us and we are able to do this because of you. And it wasn't all plane sailing. It can't be. The amount of work that goes into doing one gig let alone 10. And the stress of pulling off another 'miracle' is huge. We bickered a little. We weren't as true to each other as we were to you, but you can't win them all, and you're the ones who deserve it. And i'll drink to that.

But what of Doug? Our trusty steed. Our mobile home. The rock on which we lean. He made it back, if not in one piece, then a couple. And thanks must go to his owner, who swapped him for a jar of marmalade, not because he needed it, but because he believed in us too. And I'll drink to that. 


Saturday, 17 March 2018

Adventures in Europa

And we’re off. 

Our third European Tour kicks off tonight at The Solomon Browne Hall in the theme park of Mousehole. I say theme park because sadly that is what the quaint fishing village has become, as summer’s kiss brings tones of tourists to the harbours edge crammed in likes sardines with camera’s clicking at the famous ‘mouse hole’. Giant family cars try to drive along the narrow streets and end up stuck in a fug of fumes as they honk there way to catering cottages and holiday homes. “When is the mouse hole open?” ask eager Americans, and “are the Christmas lights on all year round?”.

But to us, those that know the rabbit routes and wiggles, the little alcoves and hidden spots, the village still offers a sanctuary, in the close season, when the hum of traffic is on the horizon and not the doorstep. And so here we are,
using the village as a working/living place instead of a tourist trap, we begin our long journey that will take us 3000km to the far east of Germany and back. 

Of course, all the usual mishaps are firmly in place, I am on my way to pick up the bus, an old Mercedes called Doug, that we are borrowing off a fiend who assured me that despite his list of ailments the old boy will see us good. I am to expect a fair few idiosyncrasies but my friend is confident we’ll make it. 

We are totally skint, indeed we are rather in debt as I write and we’re kicking off procedures tonight in Mousehole tactically in order to actually leave Cornwall. 

We haven’t been in the same room since Christmas let alone played any music, the piano player has only just arrived back from Portugal penniless but purring from his recent new relationship. The guitar player is still absent, I wonder how long I can keep this up without admitting that he isn’t in the band anymore. His replacement is Louis Gulliver King who from now on will be known as ‘the accordion player’ to keep with tradition. This is a massive generalisation as he plays 4 other instruments for us but it seems better than ‘the multi player’ which sounds like a games console. 
The drummer isn’t coming to the launch party tonight because we can’t afford to pay for him to come down, that goes without saying if we can’t afford to leave!

We have a few new songs that are at best ideas without structure and lyrics and have never been played live but in time and as the days fall about they will find there way into our repertoire. I hope. Otherwise we are taking 4 year old material while trying to ‘re sell’ people CD’s that they bought on the last two tours.

We are playing a few new venues at least, a castle in Nümbrecht is one that sticks out and on a farm somewhere near Bremen. 

We have new t-shirts too that we borrowed money to make and need to sell 38 in order to breakeven, otherwise more debt occurs. 

The train is approaching Par now, where I will meet my friend and get introduced to Doug and hope that his symptoms aren’t too problematic. Surely he’ll be in better shape than dear old Walter from the last tour; the old motorhome without windscreen wipers who needed a pint of antifreeze in order to even entertain starting. 

A friend of mine recently asked me why I keep running this ship, at least in such a haphazard manner. I thought about this a lot and yes we could run a tighter ship. We could buckle up and get serious but somehow much of the magic would be lost. And it’s not that we go out of our way to flirt with disaster but you try borrowing a big enough van off a friend with only a pot of homemade marmalade in exchange. You take what you are given. We are just a bunch of Cornish friends trying the best we can with what we have and what we’ve learnt. We travel miles and miles to bring our music to as many of you as we can, not for money, but for the love of the story and sweetness of sharing.

So here we go again.

Looking forward :)