What a few weeks. After five months of various temporary living arrangements and an awful lot of living out of a suitcase (‘the in-limbo months’), the start of October heralded yet another new home, this time I hope a more permanent one. Back in the Cowley Road area of Oxford where I have lived for the past five years and where I recorded Harpsichord Row, I could finally set about creating some semblance of a settled life once again. But wait!!!! Not yet!!!! Several gigs awaited…

To start with my UK AUTUMN MINI-TOUR, a sort of warm up for my inaugural music trip abroad, the DUTCH TOUR. Ooh, I can almost feel you quaking with anticipation at the prospect. So where did I go? What did I do? Did I have fun? Did I make friends? Did I sell CDs? Did I visit any motorway service stations? Did I travel on any Dutch trains? Well folks, here’s what happened, UK is up first…

The Klondyke Club, Manchester  –  21/10
Sofar Sounds, Oxford  –  24/10
South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell  –  27/10
The Candle Club, Bristol  –  28/10
Dada Bar, Sheffield  –  01/11

Early on the morning of Sunday 21st October I set off for Manchester in my new for me but old car (think back to Urban Hymns, Mezzanine, erm… Titanic, Armageddon), crossing my fingers that I would manage the day’s seven plus hours of driving without having to call the AA. Listened to: a lot of Radio 4. Drank: several cups of tea. Ate: a Costa sandwich setting me back £4. Learnt: take a thermos + make my own food. After inadvertently seeing the sights of the neighbouring suburbs, I arrived at the Klondyke Club in the Levenshulme area of the city for the afternoon’s show – Tracey Browne’s Sunday Songwriter Session. Warm welcome number one of the tour from Tracey (splendid folky singer plus member of Thea Gilmore’s band), her partner Fran, the other musicians (Chris Capel and Robert John) and assorted regulars. So, an afternoon of songs and song chat. Just what I love. Fun times. I shall most definitely return to Manchester, though maybe not travelling there and back in one day. The drive home… Listened to: anything that kept me awake. Drank: anything that kept me awake. Ate: 2 brioche, a cold and not particularly pleasant Burger King bean burger in utter desperation, a Starbuck’s oat cookie (as a keen avoider of global coffee shop chains this was maybe my fourth ever experience of Starbucks, damn tasty mind you, shame about the tax avoidance). Saw: crazy shit when I momentarily started doing ‘Magic Eye Driving’ (at which point I stopped for a break). Learnt: really really make my own food & persuade somebody else to drive me. Made it back safely to Oxford. Songs sung: 8. Hours driving: 8. A long but rewarding day.

A few days later…

Gig #2 SOFAR OXFORD. Wednesday October 24th. Ooh I loved this one. A secret living room gig run by the Sofar Oxford team led by the very lovely and magnificently moustached Oli Steadman from Stornoway. Venue and line-up remain a secret until the day so I was really pleased to discover that it was at the house of Caroline who helped organise the Oxjam Rooftop gig I played back in September. Somebody I knew! Relief! Atmosphere: crowded but chilled out house party. Bands: Josh Flowers & The Wild, Dancing Years, Huw Olesker, and er.. Bethany Weimers. Ate: a sandwich. Drank: red wine. Songs: three on guitar, three on Caroline’s real life upright piano. Afterparty: attack of the Steadman Family Dog when briefly popping into Oli’s house on way home. One of his pet dogs really didn’t like me… Eek.

Gig #3 Folking Live @ The Cellar Bar, South Hill Arts Centre, Bracknell. Saturday 27th November. Another goody. Shared the bill with a whole load of lovely folk and fabulous bands. First up were two solo male artists Patrick Plunkett and Jamie Wisker. I enjoyed both sets but particularly loved Jamie’s sound – his deep raw voice loaded with restrained passion and yearning, his songs leaving me moved, my heart touched. A ten minute break to gather myself then I was on. And my – what a pleasure! Sometimes I’ll play a gig and think ‘wow this feels fucking amazing, I could do this and only this forever and ever’ (obvs exaggerated commitment level) – and it’s nearly always down to rapport with the audience and the sound quality. Mmm. Special evening. Things continued in this vein with a fairly new band called Affa David from London. I’d heard them in soundcheck and been captivated, now 30-odd minutes of pure musical heaven to delve into. Four men, three with guitars, one on percussion, harmonies, well-crafted songs, catchy tunes, ruggedness, pretty damn hot to be honest. I definitely recommend catching them live at some point. As well as filming the gig, Artree Live who put on the night invited each act to perform one track completely unplugged upstairs in one of the arts centre’s function rooms. The building was once upon time a stately home and so surrounded by ornate plasterwork, grand sash windows and sumptuous acoustics, I quickly sang Silver Moon which you can watch below and the Artree YouTube Channel has more songs from the gig.

Gig #4 The Candle Club @ The Golden Guinea, Bristol. Sunday October 28th. Bristol!!! Sunday lunch with my Granny!!! Inspiration for the song Harpsichord Row (‘smiling and gracious wherever she goes…’), granddaughter of William (as in ‘and His Ghost’), great great granddaughter of 1784 star ‘they’ll christen him John and his whole life long he will be bold, he will be strong’. Spent a lovely afternoon chilling out with family before pottering off to The Candle Club Halloween Special where I er… played… survived… learnt a few good lessons… met a few friendly musical folk. Lonely Tourist sticks in my mind – v enjoyable performance plus he was most welcoming & helpful – thanks! On the way home my twitter feed was full of news of the death of Terry Callier. Saddened, I nostalgically recalled standing in the queue at Sussex University bookshop and glancing over at an appealing display of CDs, each with a handwritten blurb enticing queuers to pick them up and take them home. On Terry Callier’s ‘What Colour is Love’ was written “Silky soul, jazz & folk & a voice that’ll warm even the coldest of bedsits. Ooooh”. How could I resist? A decade later and it remains one of my favourite albums. Dancing Girl. Beautiful. Please go and listen and love and appreciate.

Gig #5 Salon Dada @ Dada Bar, Sheffield. Thursday November 1st. By this point I had given up on any desire to travel and gig by myself and had well and truly roped my mum into driving me, again. Slightly hungover from Halloween shenanigans, knackered from work, life and gigs, and armed with an amazing Hummingbird Bakery Nutty Apple Loaf made the day day before, I swallowed my pride and hoped her kind offer to help me out (that I had previously refused) was still open. Of course it was, I couldn’t wish for a more supportive and encouraging mother. Feel that I learnt a valuable lesson that day – never be ashamed to ask for help when you need it. Yes, so off we went. Sharing a little adventure. My mum even came prepared with a picnic supper. HERO. Venue was called Dada Bar, not too surreal but I certainly liked it a lot. Every Thursday is Salon Dada, a night of acoustic music curated by local musician Harmonjolist. Ah, good vibes. Played my usual mix of guitar and piano songs, sold CDs, chatted about future gigs – shall most definitely be returning to Sheffield.

Arrived back home and managed to stumble into bed by about 3.30 am. Up for work at 8.30 am. Me on five hours sleep = mess. But I battled through the day, slightly dazed, and the following evening I was lucky enough to go to the sold out Alt-J show at the O2 in Oxford (thanks Victoria & Mrs Spoodle!!!). To think that the previous night the band had won the Mercury Music Prize and now here they were, playing to a packed room in Oxford just round the corner from my house… well, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling inspired. An audience buzzing with excitement, getting joy from singing songs of your creation, connecting with each other, connecting with you – wow, this is what it’s about.

So that’s what happened in the UK. Phew. End of Part One. Long blog.

Part Two AKA ‘The Clog Blog’ arriving very very soon…

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