Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Everyone's moving to fucking Berlin!

When the bass player announced he was moving to Berlin in November, I raised an eyelid, but also a smile. We had talked many times about just that, sat sipping redbush tea on the swing chair in his garden. Since moving from London back to his roots here in West Cornwall he had walked away from a lucrative job and into the unknown climbs of the autonomous district of 'Freelancia'. Now, having lived in Freelancia most of my working life I was only too happy to welcome him, and he soon found the benefits of being his own boss and taking jobs when he needed them while working exclusively from home. But as time went on he realised more and more that the latter need not apply. He could work from anywhere, not just home. Indeed, he could move to Berlin in November and continue doing exactly the same job as he was in his bedroom overlooking the garden. In those early days as we swung on the same garden chair, I encouraged him about the move abroad. If he could work in Berlin, he could work in Lisbon, Rome, any of the great capitals, but not only that, with good wifi he could work almost anywhere, even places off the beaten track. He was moving out for 5 months. It wouldn't harm the band much as we seldom gig in the colder months, usually starting the year with a spring tour to... Germany! Perfect.

When the piano player announced he was moving to Berlin in November, I raised an eyelid, then another, then I raised my mouth to speak and uttered the third most common word in the English Language, "What!?". He proceeded to explain his reasoning; his enthusiasm came tumbling out. I heard snippets; of needing a change, of feeling inspired. But I couldn't help feeling a little uneasy about this latest bombshell. His theories of sharing his friends van and busking to earn money sounded less like a romantic journey and more like a Bear Grylls endurance test. Winters in Berlin are very cold with temperatures frequently below freezing and snow and ice often covers the city for periods. Quite how he imagines making ends meat while busking with frost bitten fingers and then sharing an ageing van that has no heaters or log burner with a chap he barely knows!? It sounds like the premise of an Odd Folk tour. Perhaps that's why he's so keen! Would this harm the band? Well I suppose not, but it leaves us extremely weak, and precariously balanced. And I must admit I feel a tad venerable, being the only full time member of the band in the country.

That aside, for now, let's fill in some blanks since we arrived home from Shambala Festival having welcomed two more additions to The Odd Folk Private Members Club, now totalling 19 members. In late September we took to the stage at The Cornish Barn, our first gig in Penzance for a year! It was a "barnstorming" set which resulted in a fevered atmosphere of people 'table drumming' and 'glass chinking' along to the songs. The term packed to the 

rafters is one I like, with many fans watching through the windows from the
street outside. It was hot and sweaty and "the audience were virtually on top of us!" commented Louis Gulliver King who had been parachuted back in after a year away. With the same lineup we upped sticks and upped instruments to The Mexico Inn, just a mile outside of our hometown and what can I say, we seemed to bring half the population of Penzance with us. The place was heaving, it was stuffed to the gunnels, as crowded as a beehive. It was, in truth a little too well attended. And not that it was a particularly small place either. The four barmaids were run ragged, as busy as pigeons at a shooting match. Still the front row found some room to dance, or wiggle at least, or bum shuffle. We played through our repertoire and once again Louis Gulliver King was the star of the show, angling his trombone to the ceiling and blowing up a storm, and then furiously strumming the mandolin, but it was his accordion that drew the biggest cheers, his hands like electric shocks up and down keyboard while the bellow's opened and closed like a whale's gills.

It was wonderful to be back on home turf, and both gigs had happened organically and on the spur of the moment, something which will now be harder to accomplish with the bass player and piano player in Berlin! Our travel expenses will far outweigh our fee; and the logistics of operations (something we are famously bad at) will become unimaginable and unnavigable. Needless to say, taking random gigs willy nilly will seise with immediate effect. And that makes me sad, and I feel sour weights on my shoulders, inhibiters, because that's what's beautiful about this band; we go on adventures at the drop of a hat, we drive off into the sunset without any money and a couple of contacts and we make a tour, make it up on the spot and come home richer. Spontaneity, that's us. Impromptu, off-hand and unplanned. But now, it'll just be me, and the drummer in Bristol, and the memory of the guitar player, and the 16 other private members that donned our colours. 

"Everyone's moving to fucking Berlin!" I off-loaded

"You could always go solo?" said my friend as he sipped a cup of plum tea,
"I suppose" I said.
"... and plus you guys seldom do anything in the winter, it's too cold for aimless adventuring!"
"That's true" I said
"... and before you know it it'll be spring again and...?"
"...and the boys will have loved Berlin so much they'll want to live their forever!" I sobbed, the sour weights tightening around my shoulders. It was a very real possibility. But then I wondered if the piano player would last that long living in his friends van, and would he manage to earn enough busking to rent his own an apartment. No, surely he'd be home soon with frost-bitten fingers and holes in his shoes, with a clutch of memories and the benefit of experience. But then he has surprised me more than once before. And as for the bass player, he could well move on to Lisbon or Rome or any of the great capitals but my hunch was that Cornwall's magnet would draw him home, and of course the untold promise that comes with this band; of all of us he buys into the romance of this venture the most; that spur of the moment freedom when you throw figs to the wind, here today and gone tomorrow.

And now that he's a paid up resident of Freelancia, the two go hand in hand like a dance. And at that moment I saw the picture for what it was; two people experiencing a new challenge, just like the band, here today and gone tomorrow, and they'd both be back, richer and wiser. And just then the sour weights fell from my shoulders and bounced like hollow echoes, and I was left to see how simple it all was, and not at all depressing, if you only look at it the right way, and don't go chasing rainbows round the corner.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

The Odd Folk Private Members Club

As fans at Shambala Festival whistled and whooped and waved their hands in appreciation of our latest new additions, I felt a dual sense of achievement and displacement. Theo Black put his old Gibson down and walked off stage becoming the 19th member of the band. He followed Daisy Rickman, private member number 18, into the back stage compound and together they heaved a sigh of relief. Having learnt the entire repertoire in a couple of rushed evenings in a dark cellar, both had performed amazingly. "Who's the new drummer, she's beautiful!" chirped eager fans as I packed away the violin. "and that guitarist, going all Djanjo on the solo's!". 

19 members hey, for a band that's played over half it's it's gigs as a 3 piece, that's a big old revolving door. That's some achievement. And it's telling that for the first three years we used only 6 members and the three that followed saw 13 new additions come through the doors. And that's the part that feel's a little displaced; the core members are becoming harder to pin. We've had 5 different drummers, 3 guitar players, 2 bass players, an all rounder, a mandolin player, a percussionist and a cellist. But who are they I hear you ask?

Well, shall we meet them?

MORGAN VAL BAKER - 144 performances
guitar, violin, mandolin, banjo, trumpet, percussion, vocals
I am indeed the record holder, courtesy of two solo performances on the BBC and a duo gig with the bass player. I founded the band in late 2010 with long-term musical partner Sam Brookes and am largely responsible for the running of the ship. And the sinking of it. 

SHELLEY MACPHAIL - 141 performances
piano, guitar, percussion, ukulele, vocals
It's remarkable that the Piano Player has played as much as he has, considering how many times he's arrived at gigs without his leads. Constantly bailed out by the venue, his father, the postman and various local music outlets. He was invited along right at the band's inception and we've been trying to sack him ever since!

SAM BROOKES - 108 performances
guitar, bass
Founding member, bookkeeper, finance manager and the writer of the only song to win a prize; The first gig that the Guitar Player missed was only last spring, since then he's only played 5 of 31. I guess having a child, buying a house and running a company is largely to blame. His long list of replacements all bring something new, but nobody has come close to replicating those sweet notes.

OSCAR BLOOMFIELD-CROWE - 100 performances
bass, drums, guitar, mandolin, kora, vocals
Well here's a milestone to commend. 100 performances from the first new member we ever drafted in some 4 years ago at the first album launch. What's even more remarkable is that he's only missed 2 gigs since that day! Talk about commitment. He's become so important to us that I couldn't imagine music without him.

ANDY WATSON - 63 performances
drums, percussion
Much has been written about The Drummer since's his debut in late 2013. He traveled all over Europe with us, moved house and changed job even more times than I have, and tried to leave the band twice. But something remains, it's never been a match-made in heaven, and that's why I think it's worked. You can't fault Andy, for professionalism and organisation, and there aren't many more versatile drummer's around.

LOUIS GULLIVER KING - 16 performances
guitar, accordion, banjo, mandolin, trombone, percussion, vocals
16 performances from the honorary member, all of them came in 12 little months. He came in to help the guitar player on the launch of our second album and then ended up replacing him. He's played 7 different instruments, come on two tours and inspired a new dress code. He'll be back.

FRAZER YOUNG - 3 performances
drums, percussion
Rhythmically Frazer was a perfect fit for us on drums, but logistically it was a nightmare. Living 100 miles away with no drum kit and no car was the reason we only managed 3 gigs. 

LUKAS DRINKWATER - 2 performances
bass, vocals
This famous bass dep even has a blog written about him! He's an amazing multi-instrumentalist and the busiest man in folk music!

CATRINA DAVIES - 2 performances
cello, vocals
2 albums and 2 launches from this gorgeous cellist. She's flavoured many of our ditties and I've only pretended to have played her parts a couple of times! Sure to be there for the third album if we ever get round to it.

NICK McLEOD - 1 performance
The first addition of the '1 club', Nick was the first drummer we drafted in and was a big improvement to the percussion being played with my feet. 

DEMELZA VAL BAKER - 1 performance
You've got to get your mum involved, especially when she's played with Bowie, Dylan, Windwood and Oldfield to namedrop a few!

MARTIN JACKSON - 1 performance
1 gig, would have been more but he pulled out and was replaced by Louis Gulliver King. His vocals are however hauntingly immortalised in the first album.

AARON BROOKES - 1 performance
The first of the Guitar Players' cousins that joined up; Aaron gave us finger picking dexterity at a New Year's Eve party in Zennor.

 - 1 performance
Cousin Jamie learnt 16 songs in a day and absolutely smashed the Ale and Anchor Festival.

MIKEY PONDSFORD - 1 performance
One gig, should have been more. Mikey, of Flats and Sharps fame, was penciled in for a at least 4 others but went awol.

CONNIE CROSBY - performance
Probably the most memorable addition, Connie appeared at the second album launch dressed as a ghost and floated through the auditorium while singing.

JACK WATSON - 1 performance
Young Jack Watson (no relation to The Drummer) gave a faultless performance earlier this year so why was he dropped for the next one!?

 - 1 performance
drums, bass, vocals
"We've found your replacement, and she's female!" That sure did make The Drummer squirm. Daisy is fantastic and I really hope we work with her again.

THEO BLACK - 1 performance
guitar, vocals
The latest in the long line of guitar replacements and the final, and very worthy entry into the member's club. 

And there you have it. Excluding the 'core team' that's 14 individuals that have come in, most of them for very little money, and learnt 15 odd songs in a very short amount of time. Some, like Jamie Brookes and Lukas Drinkwater, seasoned pro's with years of experience who can take it in their stride and feel the changes before they happen. Others like Louis Gulliver King afforded time to really hone their contributions, and some like young Jack Watson and Theo Black, just starting out with their music careers, bundled in at the last minute and thrust up on stage in front of expectant crowds. All of them have been a crucial cog in this machine and added their own stamp. It's meant the band has adapted by adding new styles, and instead of writing new songs we just stick new instruments in and it becomes fresh again. And perhaps that's how it'll continue, we'll have a totally different repertoire depending on who replaces who? The Drummer recently suggested that with so many new members, we could actually create The Odd Folk Tribute Band and send them out on the road while we sit back and wait for the money to roll in! Although it wouldn't amount to much, if anything! It would be like the worst royalties ever. If 5 shady people
had been taking a cut of our earnings all this time, we'd be unprosperous indeed, we'd be pinched and scanty and flat broke. And besides, the 'drive' is not the meager money we make, but those sweet stolen moments after Whisky Drunk, when the crowd erupts and we feel on top of the world... No tribute band would be able to bottle that up, and if they tried; the damp, sweaty odours of spilt beer and faded perfume would be scant reward. 

So let's raise our glasses to The Private Members Club, to each and every one of you; thank you for your time and your creativity, and we hope you gain from this as much as we do. Bon chance!


Thursday, 3 August 2017

The Welsh Academy of Memory and Remembering

It's been a while, perhaps the longest between blogs since blogs began.
4 months; which considering we average a blog a month means that this one should be 4 times as long, and 4 times as interesting. Well it won't be 4 times as long, and interesting? I'll leave that up to you.

It has been an interesting few months for us though. The Odd Folk Trio took a residency at Nancarrow Farm, a fortnightly gig for a series of functions; almost like large auditions to attract potential couples to wed at the sprawling idyllic organic farm. The first one was certainly interesting, the piano player forgot his leads (again for the 100th time) despite having two pairs, and so the trio became a duo; myself and bass player trying our best to sound professional. We had to take a hard stance this time, refusing to pay mr. forgetful, hitting him where it hurt, and perhaps that's the wake call up he needed. He hasn't forgot them since. 

Back as a 5 piece we traveled up to a gorgeous festival in Wales called Fire in the mountain. En route we stopped off in Bristol to rehearse, having not played together for an age. However the piano player had booked the rehearsal space was for the wrong day so we played hacky sack by the side of the road instead and left the music to chance.

The festival had long been recommended to us; a nice small one at the foot of a mountain; the kind you don't need your phone at (not that we had signal anyway). There were 3 stages; a big one, a medium one and a small one. There was a sauna, a river to dip in. Lots of crafts, lots of busking and the quality of music was amazing. We played twice, at the medium stage (powered by people riding bicycles) and then on the sunday at the small stage while 100's lolled around in the breezy sun. Having all of us together again was nice, the guitar player slotting back in with all those sweet notes that makes him almost irreplaceable, the drummer, with his son perched on his lap, tapping away like he was giving a drum lesson. And the people, the 3000 that populated that festival really are the trump card. We made so many new friends and fans. With smiles as constant as the sun.

Back to Nancarrow, this time with piano leads and then on to Ale and Anchor Festival in Mousehole; back on demand, headlining to a capacity crowd and with a brand new member, young Jack Watson who learnt 14 songs in a day to become the guitar player's latest replacement. He's a talent this one; specialising in desert blues and the highlife licks of African music.

In the meantime I took a theatre job, became bumble bee busy for 6 weeks and found out it was suddenly August! The piano player went up to Cardiff and enrolled in WAMAR (the Welsh Academy of Memory and Remembering) and the bass player went off to Berlin. The drummer completed the finishing touches to the the van that he'd bought for the Canceled Tour of Northern Europe back in March, including the installation of a 2k soundsystem that he purchased when he was pissed! The guitar player did stuff with a shovel and built fences, and rebuilt his house again. Oh, and Louis Gulliver King, our honorary member, still doing Bear Hunt in Bahrain and Bognor and Basingstoke.

And what's next? Another 4 month absence? Another new member? Another tale of misplaced leads? Largely, yes. Having a newborn means free time is scarce; I am writing this on a crowded train back from an audition for Dawn French's new TV show and any other spare time I have is used up (you guessed it) rehearsing in 2 brand new members for the upcoming gigs at Shambala Festival. And as for the curse of the missing leads? Try as I might, and despite all he's learnt up at WAMAR, I think he is fundamentally incapable of remembering things, and so another episode of sitting in a field contemplating just what he's done is only an adventure away.

Thanks for bearing with us and we'll see you soon, either at Shambala or in Portugal, or we'll be touring again in autumn no doubt, with more new members probably, perhaps we'll even replace ourselves and let younger blood take our songs out on the road ;-)


Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Kestle Mill Soap Company

“I’ve got to cancel the tour!”
“The tour, I’ve got to cancel it!”
My friend stared at me from behind his cup of pomegranate tea. “Why!?”
“Why? Let’s see. Two players have pulled out. The drummer’s fucked his shoulder and might not be able to drive, let alone drum. Leaving me the only driver with over 2000 miles of road ahead. My girlfriend’s heavily pregnant. We have no accommodation for half the venues. Oh, and the band have £19 to our name!”
“It sounds like the premise to all your tours” my friend reminded me. And it did. How often have we started an adventure with a list of mishaps, all the odds stacked heavily against us and yet always we’ve made it work? Heck, that’s what we were about? We’re The Odd Folk. This was what we did best. But this time we couldn’t pull it off. This was the straw that broke the camels back. Was it the guitar player pulling out? Was it the lack of funds? Was it the pregnancy gnawing away at me? Or was it, simply, fatigue catching up with us at long last.
“You better call the boys” said my friend refilling his cup.
“The boys?” I grimaced. “I’m more worried about the fans!”
I did phone the boys though, outside in the rain. The drummer understood. The bass player was gutted and the piano player didn’t even know we were touring!

Almost two months have passed since then and I still feel guilt about the whole thing. Not regret. Just guilt; a little self reproach, a little melancholy. These are what we live for, these trips. This wild abandon, these reckless jaunts on the open road. Meeting new faces in new places is what it’s all about. Yes, seeing the familiar faces in our old haunts is just as much a part of us, but there’s something really rewarding about taking a plunge into the unknown. And something really frustrating about turning it down. I guess, because you don’t know how many more adventures are left. In this tank. Under this banner. It’s no secret we’ve found it hard to commit to this ship in recent times. The ever changing lineup is proof of that. In our first three years we used a total of just four musicians. In the following three, we’ve used twelve. Real life wins over in the end. This is just a passion project after all.

But there is still passion, don’t worry. Still a project, if not entirely to the description of the word: A major undertaking, especially one involving considerable money, personnel and equipment. Perhaps we can better rephrase that: We are a small undertaking, one involving little money, lessening personnel and dated equipment. There you go. Passion project; tick.
The months that followed were, on a personal level, monumental. I gave birth to my second son, or rather my partner did. Little Enys became the 4th OddFolk baby born under our watch. A number almost as many as we. The future’s bright. Even if the present is a little unknown. I suppose it’s only fair to fill you in on the rest of the gang; the guitar player moved a stone patio from Mrs Bansell's front garden to the back. The piano player broke his phone, lost his leads and turned up to a gig that we didn't have. The bass played staged-managed the young classical musicians of the year masterclass in Prussia Cove and then dislocated his shoulder while snowboarding through the Swedish mountains, and the drummer did stuff in Bristol.

But the band did little. Did nothing. And as the long winter months trickled by the distance between our last live performance totalled 6 months, our longest abstinence. It appeared at one stage, after the cancelation of our tour, that perhaps it was also to be a cancelation of our time. How ironic it would be to organise a farewell gig only to tell the packed arena that we weren’t quitting and then in the months that followed: quit anyway. As it happened something small made us change our mind, a CD order came through on the online shop, nothing new there, 100’s have come in with not much thought about it. Usually it’s my mother who takes on this most mundane job of posting and packaging to Camborne and Crewe and Cricklewood. Only this time I did it and the address really tickled me: Marc Porll from Junglinster in Luxombourg! Wow, how did Marc hear about us? Intrigued I scrolled down the list of previous buyers, in amongst the Plymouth’s and Peterborough’s were
Rhidorroch House in the
Rhidorroch House
Scottish Highlands and The Kestle Mill Soap Company. And further down, 6 CD’s were sent to a villa in Tuscany, 4 to the Third Britannia Royal Anglian Regiment in Suffolk. A chap named Peter Jackson bought one from Wellington New Zealand fuelling speculation it could be a famous movie director!? Others of note are Warrick University and the university of St Andrews in Scotland and a chap named Dondu Cort from Turkey. As well as half of Europe, CD’s have been posted to the US, Canada, Mexico and as far as Tasmania! Uplifted I phoned the guitar player and persuaded him to come gigging again. After that I answered a few emails and suddenly we had a summer of gigs in front of us. The passion project fully restored. Inspired by the length of our reach, inspired by soldiers in Suffolk and Dondu Cort, by how far we’re loved and how so many of our fans have never seen us play. And so I set about trying to find them. And the upshot is we’re back! A limited addition bumper summer season that see’s us at Fire in the Mountain, Ale and Anchor, Shambala Festival, Costa Del Folk and various local jaunts up and down the country.
You never know, with all this tracking the fans malarkey, we might even play at The Kestle Mill Soap Company ;-)

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Into the wild

It's that time of year again. When nothing much is happening over here. Nothing's been happening for months now. We're all a bit a bored, sitting idling, itching our feet. After the misadventures of last year's musical pilgrimage to Berlin in a 30 year old broken motorhome, this year we've turned our attentions to Scandinavia. Utterly foolhardy. Bold and brassy. Reckless. We do have a decent van this this time, the drummer's bought one and is doing it up ready for the road ahead. That, however, is the only thing we have. We have no money
this year. No new merchandise. Dwindling CD stocks. No new songs. The guitar player has just pulled out. His replacement, the ever dependable Louis Gulliver King, still hasn't received clearance from his theatre contract. The piano player can't afford to come. The bass player finishes his audio contract a matter of days before and is praying that they don't run over. I am having a baby at the end of March and am praying it doesn't come early. Sound familiar? Welcome to The Odd Folk!

Temperatures in southern Sweden could drop to minus 5, with an icy Baltic wind. We have no snow tyres. No breakdown cover. We have no money to book any accommodation and so are completely reliant on the generosity of the crowds in order to get a roof over our heads, otherwise we'll all be huddled together in the van. The drummer will be huddled in the van regardless. NOT because he snores. Just in order to protect the thousands of pounds worth of equipment we carry with us.

This time, even I am pessimistic. There is so much at stake it'll be a miracle if we get through it. To start with; money. We have none. Since the guitar player's paternity leave, bookkeeping has gone out of the window, funds are shared out after every gig and the 'band' (the 6th member) hasn't been paid for months now. This is bad form. Bad practice. No doubt influenced by the fact we were winding down, parking the old bus, putting this baby out to pasture. In many ways we were liquidating The Odd Folk before we walked away. But that didn't happen, as many of you know, we organised a farewell party only to announce we weren't quitting! So, the bank is empty. We can't afford to get to the first gig.

What else? Availability. The drummer is the only one who is 100% sure he can attend. The guitar player has pulled out. There is a chance his replacement, Louis Gulliver King, will be denied clearance meaning we are one man down. The piano player can't afford to come, he owes money in every direction and is being carefully monitored by his landlady, escaping off on tour with us could result in him being homeless upon his return; that would leave us two men down. The bass player's contract could well overrun meaning we are three men down. And finally, my partner could go into labour 2 weeks early (not unheard of) meaning we are four men down!

Anything else? Oh, did we I say we are completely unprepared for a journey of this magnitude. We're effectively driving 1250 miles to Malmö to play in a 'folk kitchen' run by hippies where they will serve us a vegan meal and probably little else. Our gig in Copenhagen is in the autonomous neighborhood of Freetown Christiania, where the police aren't allowed, meaning our two fans in Denmark, both police officers, can't even attend! The booker in Hamburg has gone quite on us, though the venue receptionist says this is normal and just "turn up" on the day and he'll be here. Nice and vague. We haven't sorted a gig in Holland, the only country we have a fanbase, and instead travel to places where we know nobody. At least we're returning to Den Hopsack in Antwerp for the third year in a row. You can always guarantee a bit of dosh there, shame it's right at the end of the tour and not at the beginning when we desperately need it. 

Any amount of scenarios could happen; the worse being that the drummer tours alone because nobody else is available. Now, obviously that wouldn't happen. But perhaps this could...

... Having rounded
all the troops we set off to Tunbridge Wells for our first gig. The drummer's filled the tank with his own money and we're banking on some cold hard cash for the performance. But the gig is a house concert and only a handful of people turn up, probably because we forgot to promote it and we don't know anyone in Tunbridge! We make enough money to pay the drummer back and arrive at the tunnel penniless again, having to re-borrow the money in order to cross the channel. In Europe we make it as far as Holland as night draws in. The drummer's shattered as he's doing all the driving because we can't afford to put anyone else on the insurance! In Holland we have 100's of fans but no gig. We stay with a couple of them, grateful for a plate of food and curse ourselves for not organising a house concert here where we actually know people. Our Dutch friends buy some CD's off us even though they already have them, probably out of pity, just so we have some cash to get to... Herning!? Where's that? DENMARK - 500 miles into the frozen north.

The drummer drives on into a headwind, progress is slow and the piano player receives a text saying 'all of your belongings are in the front garden!' Ouch. We arrive in Herning for our gig but there is no gig. It never got 'green lit' and we hadn't read the email. With no money we huddle in the van, much to the drummer's distress. The next day in Copenhagen, we approach the 'homemade' city of Freetown Christiania; a maze of wooden houses and shacks propped up against each other, workshops and arts galleries and hippies selling hash all along Pusher Street. Our excitement is shortlived when we realise no cars are allowed. Our gig starts in 2 hours and we're late for our soundcheck! We're forced to carry our gear while friendly freetowners ask us where we're playing. Some offer to help but we are unsure whether they might run off with our instruments. The gig is pleasant enough but we make little to no money and to make matters worse the bass player recieves an email from his work saying some of the scenes need re-editing and he is forced to buy an expensive dongle and start work immediately in the van. We cross the bridge to Malmö, to the 'folk kitchen' and play for our supper, but that is about all. From the last two gigs, we've raise enough money to pay the drummer back again. The next night in Hamburg, the booker never does materialise and therefore nor does our fee! We play the gig regardless, passing a hat around the audience and raising just enough for the road ahead. En route to Belgium I receive the call that my partner has started contractions and immediately fly home only to find it's only Braxton Hicks! The final venue is canceled. The tour is abandoned. The piano player is homeless. The bass player is being docked his salary because of unfinished edits and we all owe the drummer money. The guitar player chuckles to himself, glad he stayed at home.

Only, The Odd Folk ;-)

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Oh what a wonderful year (2016)

The year began... not with delicious low sunlight that broke through the trees, nor an orange glow sweeping across the bay. There was no light. Just grey light. It was raining. It rained all day. There was no joy. I really think we shouldn't have drunk quite so much! My band-mates and I, strewn across the land like empty bottles from the night before. It is hard to find optimism on these such days. New Year's Eve should be a summer affair really, the whole year is set up wrong. It's hard to find enthusiasm when faced with the worst two months of weather. Surely it would be kinder if January the 1st was on June the 1st. I think I'll write to them.

JANUARY arrived with it's usual resolutions, mostly from the piano player, his optimism outstripped us all. "Perhaps this year we'll get to America?" and "Shall we make another album?". More questions than resolutions I know, but one that does stick out is: "This year I am not going to loose my piano leeds!". All I can say to that is; read on! And anyway, in the words of Oscar Wilde, "good resolutions are simply cheques that we draw in a bank where we have no account.” I used to always make resolutions, eagerly I would scribble them down in a mad flash of clarity and then watch them dissolve slowly by the following month; indeed, mid-February is the place where January's resolutions go to die. Enough of all this; we're not here to talk about promises of self improvement or something slightly nice, we here to talk about the band. But nothing happened, we barely spoke, the online calendar looked unusually empty with only Don't Wake The Fish and Sea, Salts and Sail booked in, both of which we've done to death. There were a couple of wedding offers; Mr and Mrs Panbottom were tying the knot and of course Shambala may well book us for the third year running. But nothing new and exciting was happening, it seemed a little stagnant, a little apathetic, almost a little safe and boring and so, perhaps in defiance as much as anything, I decided to book a 9 day, 2600 mile tour to East Germany and concluded that a 30 year old motorhome with a host of problems was the perfect vehicle in which to travel.

FEBRUARY was the month in which I booked the tour. Endless hours trawling the internet to find suitable venues, then back and forth emails with the owners to find the right deal. And of course you've picked the route already so you are limited to where you can play on what days. It's a tireless process. You've got to book accommodation too with money you don't yet have, and of course nobody can afford to do the tour so the band has to pay but the band's only got £107 in the bank. You call in the debts, collect some CD sales from The Painted Bird, that's another £51. Surely we'd sold more than that? Oh well, better book a gig in London to start the tour, get a bit of money in, only to realise much later that the motorhome you borrowed from your cousin can't even drive into the capital because of the emissions charge. Oh well, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it, more importantly the guitar player says he can't do the tour! You sweet-talk him, wine and dine him, offer him things on a whim, a free week of work, that'll do the trick. Meanwhile, the van won't start and your cousin is away in Spain or ignoring your calls I can't remember which. Then, in the midst of important negotiations you and the bass player fly to Sweden on a whim and spend a week living in a Elkman's hut on the snowy tundra with no electricity let alone wifi!

MARCH has got to be the biggest month in the history of this band, and the best. The most exhilarating. The most foolhardy. The biggest adventure we'd ever had. And unless we manage to organise another one, perhaps ever will. I think we would all agree; those 8 days on the road were all we could have dreamed of. Beginning at The Magic Garden in Battersea for some much needed cash, the following night we topped up the coffers yet further at The Gladstone. Following our footsteps from the last tour, we returned to Cafe Den Hopsack in the Belgium city of Antwerp. Much needed record CD sales of 28 gave us the money we desperately needed after the guitar player realised he'd left his wallet with all band finances back in London. The following day we played The Phoenix in Arnhem and the piano player lost his voice and refused to sing. More CD sales, a quick rendezvous with music producer Stephen who found fame in our last movie, The Right Way Round, and we were away to Berlin. With a couple of days off we explored the city, got drunk and the motorhome broke down en route to Kallasch& Moabiter Barprojekt. Needless to say we made it on time and played what we considered to be our finest performance to date. It was short lived as the following night we played at The Hole which was an even better atmosphere and one we were completely in control of. Returning home with a profit, having not spent a penny was a huge achievement, but the biggest triumph was that we came to Germany on a whim, not knowing a soul, and returned with 100's of new fans. It was a huge risk to travel to a place that our music had not yet reached. And as I said before, I hope it gives other small bands the confidence to follow their dreams. You don't need an agent or big bossy manager picking and choosing your gigs. Just find a venue that suits your style and fix it up yourself. Find a bus, plan your route and go out and play for your supper; you'll come home a richer man, in more ways than one. If you thought that was enough in March think again, perhaps spurred on by the success of touring Europe, we organised a mini tour of the Isles of Scilly at the month's end. Beginning with a homecoming gig at The Ritz in Penzance, we all sailed out to the Cornish archipelago for gigs at The New Inn, then the next day at The New Inn II, and then again after getting stranded due to bad weather we hosted an impromptu open mic at The New Inn III

"APRIL comes like an idiot, babbling and stewing flowers". And in this idiotic month, we did sweet nothing. We'd earned it, March's 10 gigs had broken our record that had should since the May Day Tour of 2014. 

MAY was almost as empty, bar of course Don't Wake The Fish where we returned for the 5th year running and performed to a capacity crowd of 600. It is always a favourite of ours, one we can let our wilder side out, get dolled up and prance around a bit, drink ales on stage, that kinda thing. The month's end saw the drummer hand in his notice and call time on his 3 years with the band.

JUNE saw us tour again, The World's Smallest Tour took us to a Dorset Festival in the afternoon and Under the edge Arts the very same evening. The latter was a particularly nice affair, a little under-attended and underpaid but a very attentive audience. Louis Gulliver King had now been drafted in to plug the hole caused by the guitar player's paternity leave. His use of accordion was particularly arresting and more than made up for losing the finger picking dexterity and sweet notes of our founding member. 

We were busy in JULY, sharing top bill at Sea, Salts and Sail Festival with the awesome Sandy Acre 7, who's infectious grooves saw the whole of
fans at Lafrowda
Mousehole up and dancing. After that we were so hot we took a midnight skinny dip. The following weekend we took the stage at Lafrowda Day in St. Just, this time as a trio, as Louis Gulliver King was away on business. Any pre-show apprehensions at how this lesser format would go down were blown away as a capacity crowd filled the town's historic square and danced and swayed in the sunshine. The following weekend saw us up at Womad Festival again as a trio. First up was a Radio 3 slot where we shared the billing King Creosote before taking to the stage that night at Coyote Moon to a tent so packed that people had to sit outside and listen in.

"AUGUST rain: the best of the summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. This is an odd, uneven time." So says Sylvia Plath and it was a odd month I must admit. Myself and bass player cycled over to France and spent a wonderful week exploring Brittany only to return to the news that my partner's father had passed away, slipped his moorings, joined the choir invisible. We played one gig at The Knut, the room full to brimming, full of faces old and new. We raised a toast to John Voogd and in my heart I wept; a touching tribute to great, great man.

SEPTEMBER had been long billed as our Farewell month. With the departure of the drummer and the increasing absence of the guitar player we had decided to call time on a career stretching 6 years. Had it not been for the success of the quartet and trio formation, however. They had prompted a rethink. The success of Lafrowda and Womad Festival particularly had given us food for thought, something to chew on. And chew we did. It tasted good so we booked another weekend in the Scillies. This time flying out to the Tresco Island and playing at The Abbey. The following day we took to the stage at The Flying Boatclub and just as in March, bad weather meant we were stranded an extra day. The following weekend we played at Little Orchard Festival at BBC Introducing, then reunited with the guitar player and drummer we took to the stage at The Acorn for A Farewell to Arms, which saw us address a capacity crowd and inform them that we were no longer throwing the towel in. Indeed, we had new towels, new ways to combat the loss of key players. We were once again forced into a re-shuffle the next day at the Ale and Anchor Festival and, despite the hangover from the night before, it worked well enough.

On The Road Tour - poster by Mae Voogd

"OCTOBER has tremendous possibility. The summer's oppressive heat is a distant memory and the golden leaves promise a world full of adventures." And with that in mind we embarked on our second large adventure of the year. With the bass player's father owning a cottage in the Lake District and us keen to climb some of England's largest mountains, we booked a tour up North, a place we've never visited with this band, with a wealth of gigs spread across the southern belt of England, the furthest north we'd been was Matlock which is borderline. The On the Road Tour stretched 1200 miles from The Eden Project to a glorious intimate gig at Totnes's Acoustic Haven. Next we traveled to Bournemouth and played at a rowdy Firkin Shed before heading north into the wide open wilds of the land. The Wassdale Head, The Old Dungeon Ghyll and The Strands Inn were three lovely little alehouses nestled under green mountains in this glorious corner of the England. The days were spent scaling the heights, swimming in frozen emerald pools, drinking our weight in micro breweries and making Ray Mears spoof survival videos. To finish off we ducked into Bristol and played The Greenbank which was the first time we'd played in our home city for over a year.

NOVEMBER and DECEMBER were quiet months, time spent in real life, earning money doing day jobs and the like. So often it's easy to get swept up the game of being in a band, but after a busy autumn came a reality check. What goes up must come down. Life on the road is fun, fast, romantic, but it doesn't pay the bills. Us "coming home with profit" isn't enough to live on, it's just a nice bit of pocket money, like a birthday card from your grandmother! The bread and butter can never be earned from this ship. We had plans for Merry Folking Christmas to return but The Acorn demanded we use bouncers despite selling out many events there in the past and never having any trouble, so we shelved it. They later relented but by then the bass player had returned to Lake District for Christmas.

And so what a year that was hey? To sum it all up... It's funny, really, you spend the whole blog 'summing up' all the blogs from the past year, condensing them into one manageable helping, and then you find yourself 'summing up' what you've just written! Anyhow, a year in which we pushed the boundaries, traveled over 5000 miles to bring our music to 4 countries. We drove motorhomes, vans, cars, sailed ferry's, flew in airplanes, played mainstream festivals, prime time radio shows, saw record CD sales, made money, lost money, lost our drummer, re-signed him, had fist fights, skinny dips, had a baby, conceived another, organised a farewell concert only to inform people we weren't splitting up (that probably looked like a ego-boost!), climbed mountains, conqured the north, overplayed the south, lost piano leads (what did I tell you!), downsized to a quartet, then a trio, played 30 times, equalling our record set from 2014 and more than doubling last year's. And we did a lot of this without our founding member, the guitar player, the band elder, the head of finance, all decisions went through him, and so to loose to him was a huge setback. And of course, credit must go to Louis Gulliver King who deputised 14 times. He was more than a quick fix, more than a hole plugger, he added his own stamp, changed our sound, warmed it up, folked it up. Hat's off to him. Now officially part of the family.

Louis Gulliver King