Thursday, 16 January 2020

Year 10

It's a new year, another new year, another set of resolutions, of renewed optimism, of vows and promises. It's like getting married every year isn't it! Do you promise to eat better and lower your carbon footprint? I do. And will you promise to engage more with your family? I will. And will you endeavour to take the band to more varied and interesting places? I will. And do you promise to never forget your piano leads again. I do. And then sometime in early spring it all comes tumbling down; you're eating pizza with peppers flown over from Mexico. You skipped the family reunion cause you had a hangover. You're taking the band to the same places you did the year before and the piano player has already forgotten his leads and we're only in March. March, that month where January's resolutions go to die.

All that aside this year we turn 10, that's kind of a big deal, no? When we started this band at the turn of the decade, I never imagined it would run this long, cover this many miles and take us on quite so many madcap adventures. It's a decade of pubs and clubs and shaky old barns, of weddings and churches and peoples front rooms. Of arguments and countless wrong turns. It's a decade of getting it wrong but making it right. Of making it up. It's a decade of love. Relationships, mortgages, babies and jobs. Of moving city. Moving county. Of moving on. Or trying to. But staying together. Somehow. Through all the upheaval of turning into adults we've kept this band going. Kept it earning. Kept it fun. It's a decade of laughter; of side splitting giggles and loud raucous cheers, of laughing so hard that you bring on the tears. It's a decade of friendships. Of growing older. Growing closer. A decade of making people dance. Of making them groove. Meeting and greeting and back on the move. A decade of Cornwall. Of Bristol. London. The Forest of Dean. Scattered the south like chaff to the wind. It's a decade of travel, escape, gone continental; the Low Countries, the Effel Range, the Berlin wall. A decade of festivals. Putting up tents and taking them down again in the rain. It's a Decade of tours; of miles in a van, to the furthest flung places all over our land. It's a decade of vehicles, eccentric old buses with weird little quirks, of breaking down, being pulled by the police and hit with a fine, and a search. It's a decade of success. Of near misses. Of nearly's. Of almost's. Of try again next year's. And we did. Year after year. And it's bridged our lives from directionless youths to grown-ups with babies and death-grips. And we've lived it. Oh how we've lived it. Every triumph. Every disaster. Every gig. All 208 of them. Even the 5 we can't remember.

Our 9th year was a good year but it was the same year. In many ways we've plateaued. If we compared this year with the one before, they are remarkably similar. Toured Europe. Tick. Half a dozen festivals. Tick. A few weddings. Tick. All the usual local gigs. Tick. And a few further afield. Tick. Finishing up with our christmas party. Tick tock. Clock is ticking. What are you doing? What are you thinking? How do you get better? What do you do different? A new album? 
I'd say. America? We're trying! 

"Don't put all your eggs into one basket!" said my friend as we sipped calvados in the corner of the pub. "We kinda have to" I replied. "We won't have time to book anything when this American fantasy falls short." 
"That's where you're wrong" said my friend, brandy glass in hand. "You book them both simultaneously, that way when one breaks down you have another readymade!" As if it was all that simple? As if I had that much time on my hands? What planet was he on? I'm juggling three kids, a house move and my own work and I keep on dropping everything as it is. 
I can't even book one tour let alone two different ones in two continents at the same time! But he was right, if perhaps a little thick-skinned. In an ideal world when one broke down we would have a backup plan. But then nobody lives in an ideal world. In an ideal world there would be no Tories and no Brexit. In an ideal world I'd have enough money and a stream at the bottom of my garden. We finished our drinks and slipped out into the night, it was crisp and cold and our breathe danced in the air, making us blend in with the smokers. "Why don't you get one of the others to book the tour?" said my friend adjusting his scarf. "Yeah right!" I scoffed and we set off up the hill.

But I did think about it. Tried to imagine how each tour would turn out. The drummer's tour would be very practical and professional, and not dissimilar to mine, but it would be swift due to childcare commitments and it wouldn't be very profitable due to us forking out most of the budget on hiring a sexy new splitter van with heated seats and tv's in the back! The bass player's tour would be fun and full of adventure but it wouldn't get finished cause he would run out of time due to work commitments and we'd have to go on it without him. And then the piano player's tour; where to begin? It would be fantastical and nonsensical, beset with criminal logistics; a gig in Penzance followed by one in Berlin the next night. There would be mystery and intrigue of course, with gigs in obscure places in Luxembourg that don't even exist and contact numbers for the wrong people. We would be paid in vegetables and we'd come home early cause the second half of it was booked for 2021 by accident. Nope, that wouldn't do. I'd have to do it on my own. Somehow. Somewhere. In the quiet times. Those stolen moments so few and far between.

And so there we have it, this is the rather unenviable life of leader of The Odd Folk; booking a tour of America and at the same time booking a back-up one in Europe in case that never takes off and at the same time booking a third one in Scotland in case a 'Bad Brexit' happens and working in Europe becomes as hard as working in the States. Of course you've got to keep one eye on the summer cause otherwise festivals pass you by. And then all those emails from Mr and Mrs NewlyWed and we know all about t
hem! Not to mention our terrible maintenance of the online shop, with customers frequently waiting two or three months for their CD's. We need a secretary, an assistant, a helping hand! It's a full time job and we can offer you a generous salary of vegetables and free audio editing, some advise on renewable energy and a rehearsed reading of your favourite play. Your position will be part time but you will be needed at all times, particularly spur of the moment times and without warning. Tasks will include reminding us to post a CD to Camborne, or better still driving there yourself. Assisting in the booking of tours and making sure we don't stray too far from the path, but not sticking to the path too much that you loose that sense of adventure. 
You will need editing skills and to be able to find your way around our complicated website, or better still make a new one. You will need to finally upload our albums onto Spotify after 10 years of trying. You need to drive and own a house big enough that we can practice in at unusual times. You will need to dash off to fetch the piano players leads just before the gig, or better still buy a load in bulk for those all two frequent occurrences. You will need to manage our finances, making sure we get paid on time while keeping some money in the kitty for the next adventure but only if we have been paid enough, in which case the bank will have to remain empty. You will need to cut a promo video before the deadline three weeks ago and advise us whether we should blow all the money for the third album on a flight of fancy in California? You must do all this punctually and efficiently but not enough to damage our image. We are The Odd Folk and this is How NOT to be in a Band. 

Oh and did I mention the position is unpaid!? 

Sunday, 17 November 2019

America part 1

We've often said we'll one day do a tour in America; almost flippantly, like you say you'll start going to the gym in the New Year. It's a semi sincere remark without much attachment. And like many resolutions it's shelved in February. We do have a fanbase out there, largely due to the piano player and I traveling down the west coast the year before this band was born. A following strengthened
a couple of years later when I went out there to try and be a hollywood actor. Our American friends have been very supportive of our music too and 20% of the Haul Away album was funded by our cousins across the pond. The blog readership - just having a look at it now - is 8912, of which 2k, or one quarter, come from the States. So imagining a tour over there isn't quite as outlandish as it seems, it's just the impracticality of getting there that makes us give up, a little like the idea of going to the gym on a rainy Tuesday morning when your partner's using the car. This year however we had an actual offer of a gig out there - nothing like a free month's voucher at the gym to get you up and running again! - and so the possibilities are being explored once more, in ernest. The gig is paid which is helpful, but we're still a long way from being able to afford 5 flights and don't even get me started on working visas, they cost more than you're ever likely to earn out here in 3 months! But you can't earn a penny out there without them, unless of course you don't earn a penny!? But I have to be careful what I write here. Let's just say we're looking into it, quite seriously. Perhaps because of the uncertainty of touring in Europe due to the 'Hokey Cokey' Brexit dance and the lack of support for bands trying to do it our own country, America seems like an option.

The tickets are 'almost affordable' at the minute, but of course the band doesn't have any money, as we touched on in the last blog, but there is a chance that we as players could always front our own, or borrow it; a very big risk without any guarantee of getting it back. We even went to the post office the other day to ask about travel insurance to protect us in the likely event of having to cancel the tour due to no shows. Sound familiar? So something is happening, something is brewing, our friends out there are working on potential openings, the idea of The Odd Folk playing a gig in Vegas seems as fanciful as snow on

Christmas day but it could actually happen.
I do have a friend there! I can see us now driving down route 1 on our way to play a house concert at a pool party in Malibu, the orange sun like an Instagram filter and the warm wind in our hair like the blowdryer at the end of a haircut. Of course I have been known to get a little carried away with things and it's usually the drummer who will reel me back to reality.

"You've seen the cost of it I presume?"
"Yep" I say trying to sound confident.
"How an earth are we going to afford it? The price of fights alone..."
"... we have friends out there!" I say sounding entirely unconvincing.
"And have you told your friends out there that not only do they have to book us gigs, but they have to lend us a van too, and instruments, and a PA, and probably put us up in their homes!"

And the truth is I haven't and there's a very good chance that a few of them are reading this now and thinking, "Fuck that!" There's an awful lot to do and despite all the initial support we've received so far we have to be realistic; the initial costings for 2 weeks out there are more than the band take in a year. But the one thing that's keeping the dream alive is it's never really been about the money, it's about the ride, the adventure, the stories, the people. We wouldn't go out there for fame and fortune, we'd go out there to test ourselves. Like a week on Dartmoor. It's an exercise in survival.

The accordion player called me the other day, he's certainly stepped up, burrowing himself in band matters like a puppy in an unmade bed. He's recently taken over the logic we lost when the guitar player went on gardening leave. And it's just dawned on me that the band is a bit like a brain, and on the left the drummer and accordion player perform tasks that have to do with analytic thought and reasoning, whereas over on the right the bass and piano players
are more focused with creativity and dreaming. I guess I am somewhere in the middle, or heck what am I saying, I have the least amount of common sense of all of us and have sailed us into many a storm as a result of careless abandon, wonderful though it may be.  We are a lopsided bunch; as a quintet we're weighed down to the right, as a trio we are totally right sided. Blindsided. Anyhow I digress. The accordion player called me the other day, his gruff tones a little clipped, matter of fact, not as natural on a telephone.

"We need to fly to Seattle" he states "It's the cheapest destination."
"But the gig's in San Francisco, that's..." I try to imagine the distance, "... a long way north."
"It's the only flight that's almost affordable" he says.
"But we don't know anyone up there!" I protest
"Well we better find someone." he says and ends the call leaving me starring at the map and a city almost a thousand miles north of where we have any friends. A city basically in Canada that's closer to Alaska than where we are going. I start to smile and left to my own devices this is where I can become dangerous. Luckily my children arrive home and remind me that I am a father and supposedly responsible, and that steering the band into the frozen wilderness of Canada is up there with taking a broken and illegal motorhome into Germany without any breakdown cover.

This tour, not even a tour; it's one gig and a bag of dreams, it's a hopelessly romantic idea that is so expensive it's never going to be within reach. I did a little research into equipment hire in Seattle, gawped at the price and then walked to the gym. In the rain. On the way home I was about to ready to throw it all in and try my luck in Ireland instead when I got a message from a musician friend out in LA who'd replied to my sos call with: "I've got you brother!" Intrigued, I dug a little deeper. What does 'I've got you brother' actually mean? Do we take it at face value? Have you got us covered? Have you got our backs? Are you suggesting you'll sort out all the logistics? "Morgan man, I've got this. Just get out here and we'll work it out." As if it's that's easy. As if we just go out there and leave it all to chance. Sometimes Americans are just too positive. It's unrealistic and if that doesn't sound like a recipe for disaster I don't know what does? But in a way it's right up our street; like driving through Europe without any legal papers, like turning up to a house concert without a PA, like leaving our instruments on the side of the road overnight. This one would top them all. "I know, I've got a good idea, instead of making a new album let's borrow thousands of pounds and fly to a city three States north of where we're going, buy secondhand instruments from a charity shop and a dodgy van from a con-man and drive off into the Golden State all because someone said "I've got you Brother".
Sound familiar? This is How NOT to be in a Band ;)

to be continued...

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Financial Fair Play

It's me again. The one that's been hosting you for the last five years. And it's just dawned on me that I have never written about myself before. I am therefore nameless on this site. The Singer, i've been referred to in the last few entries. Anyhow it's me, and we're back to normal now; not that this experiment of new voices is coming to an end, far from it; The Guitar Player is thoughtfully penning his entry as we speak and I'm particularly looking forward to hearing from a man who hasn't picked up his instrument in two years having let 'real life' get firmly in his way. But I wanted to take a little time to talk about something that has started to creep into our enterprise lately and it feels an important subject to tackle. Financial Fair Play. And many people will bristle and immediately feel uncomfortable and question why an earth we are disclosing such personal information to an enormous online reach, but this blog has been nothing if it hasn't been honest. This is How NOT to be in a Band; we're not scared to admit our downfalls, it's part of life and it's part of learning and growing up. 

I want to talk about Financial Fair Play and how we use money. Football clubs adhere to it and now, dear readers, so do The Odd Folk. Cause let me tell you something; running a band is bloody hard work; it is hours of emails and promoting yourselves and haggling prices and posting CD's to far flung places and lugging heavy speakers up your stairs. It is squeezing into small cars to save on fuel, and hiring PA's because you can't afford your own. It's packing and unpacking and trying to mix your sound levels while the DJ is playing really loud cause if he doesn't the atmosphere will die. It is endless rejection from venues and the realisation that people think that music should be free, and try as you might you just can't make a living out of this. It is being polite and courteous but retaining that mischievous air. It is being punctual and professional and presentable and yes, a tiny part of it is actually playing music and dancing around on stage enjoying yourself, and that, dear friends, is the part you see. All the stuff mentioned before is largely unseen. It goes unnoticed, often unrewarded and sometimes unacknowledged, even by your own bandmates. But it very much exists and without it we wouldn't be a band and there wouldn't be any gigs. The point I am trying to make is this; up until fairly recently none of that time consuming backstage work was ever addressed; the band would charge said amount and split it equally between however many musicians were present for the engagement. It was simple and for years nobody questioned it.

Now I run most of the administration side of things, I don't mind it and it's easier if one person is leading this. The Drummer always comes in and helps on the bigger tours. 
The Bass Player does all the sound work we need. We all do our bits, some more than others granted, but that is the way of the world, and sometimes too many chefs spoil the broth. The guitar player doubled for a while as the financial manager, we even opened a savings account but we were never very good at putting anything in it. And so for years we just bumbled along, living gig to gig without saving for the future like you would in real life. Cause this wasn't real life was it!? It was a sort of hobby and it almost seems like you're taking it a bit too seriously if you start banking! And besides everyone was always too skint to give over half their wage for a rainy day. That's what pensions are for!? It's all a bit grown up for us! And so we've been careless; even CD sales are shared out and we are going to get a nasty shock when we eventually make a third record, cause let me tell you, there ain't no dosh. One thousand copies of The Sweet Release have gone; sold, given away, lost, used as door stops I don't know, but they're gone. Haul Away is much younger and so hasn't been frittered away as much but still nearly half of them have gone too, meaning that almost £15,000 worth of merchandise has disappeared and there is nothing to show for it. Well obviously there is in our personal lives; we're fed and clothed, watered and well kept, bills have been covered, debts repaid, whatever the money has been put towards it's had it's use, personally, but professionally we have nothing to show for it. The money from CD sales alone should be enough to make three albums and we are going struggle to even record one track! This is How NOT to be in a Band; we have a bank account that's been empty for so long it's just been closed, our European Tour's are booked on borrowed money and built on risk. Vehicles are swapped for jars of marmalade and we can never afford breakdown cover. Money, when it comes in is shared out equally despite a massively uneven workload and all the while the kitty jar remains empty. If this can educate just one person in the pitfalls of being in a band then I will be a happy man and this will have served its purpose. 

But it's never too late to start again. So how do we go about it? And who gets what? And when? Well, understandably, with this idea in its infant stages, we haven't worked it all out yet. And I must admit it does seem a complicated breakdown; there needs to be an admin fee, and assuming we need to do our own sound then the person who does that needs something too. And the driver should get a cut. And the vehicle used for wear and tear. And then the remaining moneys need to be spilt between however many musicians are present. And really the band should take a cut too so there is something in the kitty for the next time we have to fork out our own money to drive to Cirencester and back. Of course some gigs are easy and some are hard, and usually that is reflected in the price but not always. Oh god don't go into prices! It's one thing hanging your laundry out, but let's not pin the underwear up too! Don't worry, i'll keep that under my hat. We don't have a set price anyway; every gig is different and that's what makes FFP such a hard thing to implement. Some negotiations are simple; 'Hello, we'd like to book The Odd Folk on this date, at this time and we have this much money?' to which we can reply yes or no and that's pretty much the extent of the conversation and taking a cut for that seems a little unfair. But then some negotiations are far from easy and this is where FFP needs to come in. And it usually begins with an email from Mr.

- 'Hello, we're getting married this spring, can you play at our wedding?'
A little vague, but we are all about in spring, let's focus it a little.
- 'Firstly congratulations! Where and when is the big day?'
- 'It's in Devon, and it's in May!'
Are they playing hard to get or what? Be specific man!

- 'A lovely month; if you give me the date I can run it past the boys?'
- 'It's on the 21st, we'd like you to play under the wildflower arch?'
Oh god, sounds like a logistical nightmare.

- 'Sounds lovely; the quintet is £%, the quartet is £& and the trio is £$'
No reply. Perhaps we've scared him off. And then...
- 'Can we have the quintet for this much?'

I knew it.
- 'I'm afraid not, sorry.'
- 'Ok, my wife's going to freak but let's do it! Arrrghhh!'

Oh god, are we doing it!?
- 'Sounds great, i'll run it past the boys.'
I email the boys; the bass player agrees, the drummer agrees, the piano player doesn't reply. Hmmm. They wanted five. The guitar player has left the band and the accordion player is away. I phone the dep, he agrees. Back to the thread; now at 10 emails long.

- 'Hello again, we are available and all set to confirm, do you have a PA?'
- 'What's a PA?' 

I knew it. I explain a PA. They don't have one. I tell him we can hire one for this much? He tells me his wife really is going to kill him, but ok. It takes until email number 25 to establish the wildflower arch is in fact in the woods and nowhere near any power source. Email 30 and I educate him of the impracticality of getting drums in the woods. We agree to play that part acoustically. Email 38 and we are still discussing what time we can set up so we're not in anyone's way. Email 40 is about food. 42 and they have changed the times and then a day before the event they ask if we can play 'Earth Angel' by The Penguins.

Now it's these negotiations where you feel you have earned a little extra, 40 emails and trying to hire a PA and assuming the bass player will run the sound for you, thus giving him extra work with no guarantee of any extra money. Wedding prices are high for a reason; they are incredibly long days, usually with multiple requirements and rarely on your doorstep. But they are beautiful occasions; poignant, funny and we are always made to feel so welcome. 40 emails to the band, how many to the catering company and the marquee hire!? It just goes to show, if we are working for our money, they are certainly working hard to spend theirs. So hats off to all you newly weds and soon to be weds!

But where does that leave us? Does it mean we have to increase our fee, or lower our wage in order to achieve Financial Fair Play? I don't know. It's early days and I will write again and let you know how it's working. Or whether we have shelved it and returned to the rash payment plan we began with. It's always hard to talk about money, and this entry has been quite frank, some people like that, others not so much. But as well as being a band, I like to think of us as a self-help guide to others. How NOT to be in a Band. It's how this blog started and why it's so popular. Because writing about how amazing you are and how perfectly things appear isn't half as entertaining, and it isn't half as true.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

I am the drummer

PING! ‘You could call your blog, 99 not out!” It's The Singer on WhatsApp.

Since The Bass Player and even The Piano Player have managed to smash out a blog each it seemed only right that the e-quill was passed over and I shared my own perspective of being the rusty spoke (if only an occasional one these days) in the wheel of the Oddest Folkers

around. You may or may not have gathered by now that The Singer, and our dear leader, has a thing for stats. He’s the band ‘stato’, the keeper of the facts and figures, the “filler inner” of the infamous spreadsheet of Odd Factoids. So when I was reminded of my commitment to this task I immediately requested that the ‘old boy’ (as this is how we lovingly refer to one another these days) send me a list of facts about my time with the band and unlike the keyboard player, bless his heart, I won’t give you my entire life story from the second I was born as that would take far too long due to my senior years in comparison and I’ve forgotten most of the cool stuff, distant memories lost along a dusty backroad in Tennessee or Louisiana ... so I’ll keep it Odd.

And here’s what I received from the singer via our WhatsApp conversation...
“...Joined the band in September 2013, it’s now September 2019 so that’s 6 years exactly. In that time, you have amassed 99 gigs. You average 16 and a half gigs a year (half a gig haha!) although a closer look tells us you did a whopping 21 gigs in 2014 and only 11 in 2016 (where were you!?) You have been on 6 and a half tours (you only did the beginning and end of the Lakes Tour you see!) and have played in 6 countries. You tried to leave the band after Boomtown (2015) and again in 2017, both unsuccessfully! Looking closer, 22 gigs in Europe, 15 festivals, 13 in Bristol (unlucky for some!), a perfect 10 in London (no need for any more over there then!), 9 at the acorn (‘Merry Folking Christmas’ is gonna be a milestone for you!), if I delve deeper I could probably tell you how many different gig shirts you’ve worn. You’ve never been late, never failed to put the work in and kept your head when all about you are losing theirs. And in this time, you have become a trusted friend and ‘adopted’ Cornishman and I very much look forward to the future...”

And I must say this brought a tear to my eye. You see Cornwall, and specifically West Penwith, now feels like a home from home. Like many a Grimsby mariner I have found my way to Penzance and even to The Swordfish Inn in Newlyn for good ale and a rum or two, or three. From GY to PZ. I feel like part of a family; a band of brothers, blood brothers (blood, sweat and tears more like) and like a family of brothers blood is thicker than water, so although we sometimes become frustrated with one another’s foibles, wo betide anyone that comes between us and stirs the pot! I love these boys and can’t imagine trying to leave the band again; although according to the stats I do attempt to leave every two years, so I’m due a failed resignation; maybe this blog is it…

It is exactly six years to the day (at the time of writing this) that The Singer and I finally met in an organic, fair trade supermarket in the heart of Bristol’s ‘hipster and yummy-mummy’ quarter to discuss my potential joining of the band over an over-priced, skinny hipster, coconut milk turmeric latte. It was a quick “interview” that was six months in the making having first responded to a gumtree advert which had been initially ignored, The Singer sighting his ‘acting duties’ as the reason; I later discovered they were trying out other drummers. One who was even older than me, one who couldn’t keep time and another who didn’t show up to a gig. Anyway, the interview mostly entailed working out who our mutual friends were within Bristol’s incestuous Circus family and the wider music scene; after quickly working out we were probably related it seemed I was in. A week later I was embroiled in intensive rehearsals learning the entire back catalogue in preparation for the pending tour, which turned out to be the film ‘How NOT to be in a band’. Rehearsals were fun and fractious in equal measure; The guitar player and the singer had pre-warned me to ignore anything that squeaked from The Piano Players’ lips, and let the constant demands for cymbal flourishes in every gap (that would only be capable if one was an octopus or owned an 808 to take care of the beat) fall on deaf ears. I should have spotted the warning signs. My place within the band dynamic very quickly found itself and I soon became part of the triumvirate of common sense and organisation; along with The Singer and the now lesser spotted guitarist. Learning to deal with the incredulous shenanigans of ‘the band kids’ as they were then known, often to be found in nearby eateries demolishing their ‘must have’ three course, pre-gig dinner just minutes prior to our stage call, I have since learned to breathe deeply as a coping mechanism to the constant affronts to my OCD of being ‘on time’. It’s good to challenge yourself right?

As The Guitar Player is now permanently absent, The Singer and I have become even closer due to our annual planning sessions for our forays into Europe: the tours, the cement that holds this thing together. Without these tours I can’t imagine we’d carry on. It’s what keeps everything exciting. We also have the now permanent part-timer who is The Accordion Player - one who shares my OCD’s - having replaced the guitarist within the triumvirate of common sense and order. Despite being the youngest brother, he is wise and experienced beyond his years and without him - his local knowledge of seemingly every European city and his language skills - we’d have been stuck in many a bind and would have certainly gone hungry in Utrecht! He also shares the driving; which is a godsend as the singer and I both have a plethora of injuries and niggles that limit our ability do those long-haul stints from Antwerp to Timbuktu, in ancient borrowed vans without power steering.

Driving one of the many borrowed and woefully
inadequate vehicles on the road to Berlin.

So, what about the future? I’m currently stuck on ninety-nine gigs and the hundredth is proving illusive. There have been numerous times this summer when I received garbled voice messages on WhatsApp with an offer of a gig only for it to be either too short notice or that my attendance is no longer required due to the bride being allergic to high “cymbalic” frequencies! I would have been a ton up by now if it wasn’t for the cancelled second gig at Fire In The Mountain; and only yesterday I had word about a gig “up country” in north Kernow (south for me) that required my bashing of the tubs and pans; but again too short notice due to child care responsibilities. I’m now left wondering when I’ll get to hold up my bat and acknowledge the crowd. At present it’s looking like it’ll be our annual festive bash at The Acorn theatre in Penzance for ‘Merry Folking Christmas’. Although I'm not sure my bodily organs will survive another so maybe it'll be 100 and out!

It’s also likely that by then we’ll have booked next year’s post Brexit trudge around our former homeland of Europe; if they’ll let us in that is! It would be easy at this point to dwell on the dark depressive thoughts brought on by the UK’s pending minority suicide pact; but as I sit here watching the muppet show that is parliamentary questions I have a glimmer of hope. The lunatics may well be running the asylum; but they’ve been found out and I have all my fingers and toes crossed for an 11th hour reprieve or that I’ll wake up tomorrow and all this nonsense will have just been a bad dream; and to cheer me up I also have the words of my six year old son laughing in my ears… “Boris Johnsons nonsense” sung to the theme tune of some crappy kids TV show.

“How’s your blog coming along?” was the distorted voice message via WhatsApp from The Singer. “I’m on it, should be with you by the end of the week, old boy” was my immediate response. Only problem was I hadn’t really started it; in my head I had, but the reality was that I hadn’t penned a word. Luckily all the usual things that consume my time had gone so there’s a patch of slack water in which to paddle… so here I am paddling like f*** trying to get this blog completed before I am late for the first time in my ‘Odd’ career, wouldn’t want to blot my copy book now! “Anything else new going on?” he asked. “I’ve got a new girlfriend” I added with trepidation, wondering how many times I’d said that for it to spectacularly fall apart three months later. There was no response. The Singer was obviously not wanting to jinx this one with all the usual questions. Instead he informed me that this Friday was his 200th gig, and that it was in St. Mawgan of all places, and that’s quite apt!

Two hundredth gig? Wow, one hundred and one gigs adrift of my dear colleague! I admire his staying power and dedication to the cause; because without him this ship would have sunk many moons ago and just like ‘The Wolf’, the band would have been a distant memory of which my old grey matter wouldn’t recall playing. But due to his tenacity, skills of persuasion, love of the music and the whole process we’re still on board and sailing the choppy sea that is the career of The Odd Folk. There are even plans for new promotional videos to help with our endeavours to play to new audiences in 2020 which is The Band’s decade year! Despite the rumours and thoughts of throwing in the towel; we are very much still in this together and as The Singer said earlier today, very much looking forward to the future! Alas, it’s time for me to save, exit and send. I only wanted to share a little of my thoughts on being in this band of brothers, lovely boys to the last and life wouldn’t be the same without them; but I appear to have rambled on beyond my word limit; so let’s hope the editor forgives me and leaves this mini memoir intact.

Hello. Goodbye. 

Sunday, 25 August 2019

I am the bass player

‘Your turn to write a blog’ The Singer says, ‘Really?! But what’s left to write about?’ I ask. It was true, he had rather eloquently covered all of our adventures and misadventures since he started writing these back in 2013. And anything that he hadn’t covered The Piano Player certainly had in his previous account; recalling every memory from the age of two onwards. It felt wholly unnecessary.

So here I sit, silently, the background hum of my laptop fan kicking into gear, doing battle with the morning heat. Music rides the breeze over a neighbour’s wall. Sleep-deprived and drifting, I enjoy all the well-told symptoms of being a brand-new dad.
The Odd Folk... I close my eyes and picture my time in The Band, but it was brief. Not the years themselves; they totalled 7 and counting, but the memories. They came in snippets and shards. No particular gigs or anecdotes, no chronological rhyme or reason, just served to me without request. A bit like the Bee Gees track that had now started playing next door.

“Left or right” The Singer cries out from the front seat, “Left, like the sat-nav’s been telling you for the past 2 minutes” I call back, competing with the engine noise of his old Renault 4. I duck my head, looking out of it’s little-letterbox windows. There’s only about half a foot visibility between the top of the hedgerows and the start of the Renault’s roof, but it’s enough to see the beauty of the countryside around us; hills bowing to rivers, riding under golden clouds. As my Granny would say ‘it’s a picture painted with a magic brush’. It was also just enough to see tonight’s venue; a quaint little village hall roughly two minutes to our left. It’s a joy being in this band, I smile to myself as The Singer heaves the wheel hard to the right. We get lost a lot.

I pour the coffee. The music’s stopped now but someone’s singing the hook instead. ‘More Than a Woman to me’.

His head throws back and his eyes close when he laughs, and he never laughs more than when we’re in Antwerp. The Piano Player. We’re at our good friend’s family home and it’s sort of become our home from home too. We’re in the upstairs bathroom and he’s propping himself up with some plaster casts of our host’s legs she made when she was 20. I think I’m crying because I can hardly focus. The laughing goes on, and on, until we find ourselves parked up in a wooded area outside of Cologne. I think it’s a house concert because there aren’t any houses nearby. Now The Drummer’s laughing too, this isn’t a good sign, yep; the brake pedal has fallen off and we’re lost again. We laugh a lot.

I’m struggling now, the sun hits it’s peak and me and the black dog crawl to the shade, the white one perseveres. Too hot for thoughts.

We argue a lot. I’ll leave it at that.

We travel a lot and sometimes that’s the real tie that keeps us ticking. We see places between the bold ones on the map; the one’s that you may catch a glimpse of as you travel through. A pub with a fairly ambiguous name like ‘The Bowl of Something’ or ’The Royal Bits’. And a town centre that just directs you to bigger town’s centre’s. We actually stop at these places. And sometimes we have so much fun we come back the following year.

I come round just in time to drag the white dog into the shade; a move she wouldn’t have made on her own despite almost dying in the heat. And I wonder why all these moments only come to me in fragments? Possibly because of the coffee, heat and lack of sleep, but mostly because at times I feel like a fly-on-the-wall in this band. I witness bizarre situations unfolding before me and smile. Of course I’d always step in before things got really bad - as has been the case a few times in the past - but things going slightly South seems part and parcel of being The Odd Folk. Maybe I’m less a fly-on-the-wall and more a worker-ant-in-the-wings? I definitely don’t crave the spotlight and plaudits in the same way The Piano Player and Singer might, but I don’t suppose I’d be The Bass Player if I did!

“Roll up! Roll up!” the Ring Master cries! ... That’s right, we joined the circus once. Only for about 45 minutes and completely unintentionally, but a few misread emails later we were being ushered into the centre ring of a bustling Big-Top. It’s surprisingly difficult to concentrate on your chord changes whilst a man in a leotard directs you to play the ‘dramatic bits’ with his left hand, and swallows swords from his right. Other oddities include the gig in Matlock where a bold red line was painted 3 feet from the edge of the stage. We never found out why, but the elderly couple who organised the event looked on at us with unadulterated terror whenever we got within a few steps of it. Occasionally they’ll ask for a little ‘something extra’ too, these obscure gigs; “Could you possibly parade around the pagoda, playing only the chorus of a Toploader song Jeremy heard during his travels of Asia” ... “errrrm, I suppose we could”. And we do. And we never agree to - nor get asked to - again. We performed a song called ‘Earth Angel’ by Marvin Berry once. I still don’t know any of the lyrics other than ‘Earth Angel’ because that’s all The Piano Player sang, in varying melodies, over and over again. “It’s fine” The Singer said, while The Piano Player struggled to remember any of the verse lyrics during a rehearsal, “They won’t be listening anyway once they’re all up and dancing.” But they weren’t all up and dancing; just the two of them, the married couple during their first dance, as we reinvented their favourite song.

“It’s a bit bitty” my partner says, reading through. It really is. But that’s how it feels in this band. Bits of activity over the course of a year. Bits of songs that are never penned to completion. Bits of memories during an entire gig. I’m thinking this as I look up and smile towards The Guitar Player, dropping sweet-note after sweet-note, turn my head towards our stand-in guitarist, the aforementioned’s cousin and an expert with the tremolo, “It sounds great” I shout out to our back-up guitarist; his head swaying with each solo. “It’s funny how often we change guitarist” I joke with our new guitarist, although I haven’t met him yet.

But it’s frustrating. I sometimes feel that if we took the same zeal for finding new players and put it to writing new songs then we’d stop the see-saw of brilliant adventures / imminent disbanding and just stick sitting on the brilliant adventures. But maybe that’s not the goal? It would surely take more than a bi-yearly practice.
And we don’t practice a lot.

We swim a lot. That - along with the fact that we’re all childhood friends and two of the band members are related - is what binds us. We’ve swam in mountain-top lakes, plunged naked into icy rivers, dived off bridges and waded through mud just to reach that bit of sweet-water. We once bathed in an extinct water-filled volcano on our way to Lott Festival. The trio travelling from South-West Cornwall to South-West Germany and back again, just for the swim. And of course the magical 3-day event that will perpetually hold it’s place amongst The Band’s special memories. We like Lott, a fair bit.

I’m inside now, and truth be told it’s a different day. Sorry if that shatters the flow. But on this day things have turned a corner, The Band now owns a sound system and the Piano Player’s bought his own leads. We’ve invested in kit that will see us through for many years, a favour to our future selves and a statement of intent. And we’re learning too; we’ve stopped chasing the silly gigs that leave us bewildered and deflated but pick the ones that keep us light. We’ve given up replacing guitarists and given the role to The Accordion Player. We won’t repeat our biggest mistakes but will continue to make the necessary ones. We’re becoming efficient, logistical, almost teetering on professional, and we have fun. Are we soon to drop the ‘Odd’ and just become ‘The Folk’? No that won’t rub - we scarcely play ‘folk music’ these days - perhaps ‘The Mostly Professional and Polite Gentleman Who Trial as Many Musical Styles as They Do Musicians? Yes, that’s got some truth to it; we are getting things together, penning new songs, plotting our trajectory onto the path of proper-professionalism... but then again, we do still get lost a lot.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

I am the piano player

Hello there, it’s me… the piano player. I do apologise for taking so long to write in, but then again, I’ve never been that punctual. So at least I am being true to my nature in being consistently unpunctual, in fact I actually won a disposable camera for holding the record of late attendance for class to which I was honestly late to collect. Right, let’s move on, shall we? So we have established that I am in fact the piano player and that I’m usually late. The rest of the blanks have been filled in by my fellow bandmate the odd blog king himself, Morgan Val Baker, and I am slightly embarrassed to admit that mostly all of what he says about me is indeed true.
Me, forgetful, well I guess… I suppose... what were we talking about again? Ok, yes, it’s all true. I’ve lost lyrics, forgotten melodies, lost my voice, my clothes, my shoes, and of course, my piano leads! Actually, I wrote a song about that, not to mention leaving Morgan’s chainsaw on a train, yes, yes, yes, it’s all true I confess! It’s amazing I haven’t been fired yet. Or maybe I was, and just forgot! It’s at this point that I would just like to thank my band for putting up with me and my chaotic snail trail of lost belongings. But I’d just like to point out that I have actually remembered to turn up to nearly 200 gigs now.

I guess my life with music all started by banging a bongo from the age of two, then I worked my way up to school tables until eventually I got a real life big boy’s drum kit. After a few lessons from my aunty Demelza I decided to embark on a passionate affair

with music. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with the guitar, after years of watching my Dad I finally plucked up the courage to do so myself. Then came the piano and one day even a little voice sprouted from the depths of me; my inner musician took hold and demanded that I fed it. I even started jamming with others and in amongst them were future odd folker Oscar Bloomfield-Crowe, aka The Bass Player. We formed a band called Universal Groove and even played at Laforwda Day, something The Odd Folk still haven’t managed to do! I actually didn’t play any instruments in the band, I was too shy, it was just me, myself and my little voice which turned out to be quite big when I closed my eyes. This was my first experience playing in front of a crowd. It was terrifying but fun. After a few years and a few different lineups we got bored and drifted apart. My musical life didn’t really start again until I got a call that would change my life forever… 

"Hey Shell, me and Sam Brookes are starting a band, and we need a piano player, you keen?"
"Sure" I said, a little too excitedly.
"Now, remember” said Morgan - backtracking slightly - "this is just a try out, do you understand?" So we met up and made some music and I guess I passed the test. Or if I didn't I forgot and stayed anyway. I was in. Into what I wasn’t sure. We didn’t have a name or any particularly style. But I knew I liked to be a part of it. Eventually we settled on a name, being a three piece, we felt it made perfect sense to go by the name The Sam Brookes Quartet, a

The Sam Brookes Quartet
natural fit, I’m sure you’d agree. The Sailing Song was the first to jump out of the bag, then quickly followed by a slightly awkward Franz Kafka, and of course Whisky Drunk. “Four more tunes and we will be gig worthy!”, Morg said - and so it was. He was on a roll hurtling us down the hill towards our first gig at The Acorn Theatre in Penzance. A baptism of fire if ever there was one. 
After a nervous start, eventually I found my feet, then followed by my legs, head, and the words to the songs. Slowly but surely we were sounding like a real band. It was ramshackle but with the raw passion that seemed to tickle audiences in the right way. Before we knew it, the gigs came rolling in, and with that, new songs came – up stepped Strangled Cat - my first lead vocal; a cross between medieval folk and a cat being strangled. Unfortunately he didn’t last long, rumour has it he lost his voice trying to hit those high notes. Kayleigh Jane soon followed, came stomping into the scene in her Celtic boots, violin in hand demanding everybody dance. And they did in those wild old days. Finally I found my own song, it came Tumbling Down the mountainside, landing just in time to make the cut on our first album, The Sweet Release.

Anyway, I could end up going through every song at this rate; I must conclude my blog before I run out of words. And where better to conclude than where we are right now, having returned from our favourite festival called Fire in the Mountain. This stunning location in the heart of the hills trembled in anticipation of the imminent onslaught of 2000 hillbilly hippies all playing violin at once, or so it sounded at times. It’s predominantly a bluegrass festival but it also has strong folk roots and a sweet world music smell to the air. As we seemed to harbour all three styles I guess we were the perfect fit. It was our third year in a row, and it certainly wasn’t without its hiccups. First of all we had to assemble a makeshift band, out of spare parts that we achieved with the return of Mr. multi instrumentalist and music connoisseur Pat Moran on the bass and Mr. Brookes was back. That’s right, Brookes, not Sam, alas he is somewhere in Bristol drowning in a pile of babies. Instead he kindly lent us his equally charming cousin Aaron to try and find those sweet notes. We met Morgan in Bristol to the tale of a broken down van and lost wonderings in the dark. Not to mention his team had lost 4-1 in their only chance of silverware. He was grumpy and it was a bumpy start. We set sail to Wales, only for our sail to catch in a buckle of a blundering mechanic, giving us the chance to relive Morgan’s previous night of endless calls to the RAC as we sat on the sidewalk and twiddled our thumbs. "What do you mean you can’t get us a van? We have a gig in 5 hours!" I heard Morgan politely shout from across the street. Basically, a long story short, we ended up being lent two cars by a kind garage man who took pity on us putting the RAC well and truly to shame. We arrived safely alongside our fellow hillbilly brothers and sisters to the sound of violins, so many violins, until I was sure there was a tiny Welshman playing violin on my head. On the day of our gig we assembled at the stage, me arriving conveniently late to the realisation that all our instruments had been set up as if by magic! "Nice one guys, and sorry I’m late and how about an energy ball to make up for it!?" They all accepted and united through the balls, energy flowing through our veins, we bounded onto the stage to the result of a couple of people shuffling about nervously. Not to be undone we ploughed on as passionately as ever, and with each song we seduced more and more until we had a handsome crowd to be proud of. We sang, we sweated, we danced, the crowd danced, fuelled on by the music and the festival dreams, and at the end of many laughs and miles walked and stories talked, we left in our fleet of borrowed cars. And here we are now, back to the world outside the band, back to market stalls and theatre work and I can’t really remember what my bandmates actually do!?

Anyway I’ve run out of words and not for the first time ;)

cheeeeeeeers n Gone !!! (as they say in Cornwall) Xx

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

The Others

I’ve long asked my band mates to contribute to this site, provide a new prospective, a fresh look at 'How NOT to be in a Band'. And despite their eagerness to get involved, at the end of each month there is never any material sent in for me to upload. And so once again I write another one-sided account of what we’re all doing, what’s gone wrong and what’s in the pipeline. And this month is no different. The piano player had promised to write this one and indeed has written it but I still haven't received it so until that day you're left
with me. But it would be interesting to hear their voices, see things through their eyes, perhaps as much for me as for you, our devoted readers. It is no secret that this platform is more successful than the band itself, the readership here far outstrips those that have seen us play, indeed if you rounded up all the people that have ever watched us live I’m not sure it would even come close to the reach of these words, in this digital age of instant sharing and followers in all corners of the globe.
It has certainly got me thinking. What is it like to be the piano player? To live in the middle of nowhere without a car and constantly a slave to the favour? He’s perhaps much maligned on this site and definitely the scapegoat, but is it fair? And am I fair? Or am I a dictator? I know I work very hard to keep this vehicle moving and I've often wondered what would happen if I just stopped? Would we stop or would the others step up? Perhaps I am the one constantly steering this ship because I don't let anyone else into the driving seat? Perhaps the piano player would eventually start booking us gigs in far flung places that are impossible to get to. And maybe they would propel us to future stardom?

And what’s it like being the drummer? Why does he try and leave the band every 33 gigs? He’s one shy of 100 now does that means he’s planning on walking away for a third time? And the bass player, does he know how important he is and that without his encouragement over the last few years I’d have chucked this in? How does he feel about Pat Moran coming in on the last tour and us replacing the ‘irreplaceable’ without much fuss? And the accordion player; he’s done 50 gigs now but is he even in the band? And what about the guitar player, who’s managed just 3 gigs in the last 2 years, doesn’t he miss it? Taking live music out of a musician’s life is like taking jam out of a doughnut. Is he satisfied? I know I wouldn’t be. 

But mostly I want to read something new; I want to see the achievements and failures through their eyes, I want all of them to have a say and what a rich tapestry of contradiction we’d have in front of us then! People have such different views of things; sometimes I come off stage and I feel deflated and yet my band mates are buzzing from a “great gig!”. Sometimes a certain song has left half of us elated and the other half think it’s fallen on its face. Is Whisky Drunk a crowd favourite and therefore un’droppable or is it overplayed and holding us back from making anything new? That can be said for half our material. When it comes to set-lists it’s always a case of “Oh we can’t not play that!” which means there is never any space for anything else.

We actually managed to crowbar open the set list on our latest 'giggle' and shoehorn in a brand new song; an unfinished idea we had been carrying around for a whole year and finally found an hour to finish it. And it went down well, some may say it was the pierce de resistance, it certainly drew the biggest cheers but perhaps that's because you are desperate to hear new songs too! It was a boisterous affair, our first hometown gig of the year, and full of smiley happy people. It was the drummer's 99th outing as well, and hat's off to him for driving all the way down and playing for no money, because I had forgotten to tell him otherwise. Perhaps one day he will write a blog too and I'll find our what it's like to be told hours before you set off that we don't have any money left to pay you! But he's used to it; 100 gigs and you've seen the best and worst of us. Or maybe it's mishaps like that that make him want to leave!?

There are a lot of unanswered questions flying about and I'm struggling to answer them all. It’s our decade next year. What do we want? A brand new sound or a nice easy coda? Will we ever get our music on spotify? A third album? A final film? And what's all this about touring in America? Another decade? We’re at a crossroads and there’s a lot of lose ends to tie together and perhaps by hearing from ‘the others’ it might just help us shed light on them. 

So, the next voice you hear from will be…?