No complaints (well maybe a few). 2019, the round up.

Well, here we are hurtling toward the end of another year (I may well have said that at this time last year and, if spared, I probably will do again next year). When I was a kid I never understood it when adults would say that time travels faster as you get older – one day at school seemed like an eternity to me back then – but there’s no doubting it does. I dare say Stephen Hawking could explain the reason for this if he were still with us, but the chances of me understanding it would be pretty remote. Having said that, we watched The Theory of Everything recently in which Eddie Redmayne brilliantly portrays Stephen Hawking. It’s a wonderful film, well worth a watch and has bugger all to do with this blog.

Back to the plot.

This isn’t intended to sound smug, but it may well do. We’ve had a cracking year. Given that the world is definitely going nuts, we have reached the end of 2019 in pretty good shape. A few creaking bones, aching joints (fewer teeth on my part) and several more wrinkles, but all are a small price to pay for the adventures, the laughs and the lovely folks we’ve met along the way.

Our first gig of the year was a return visit to the Illawarra Folk Festival in New South Wales, Australia. We spent most of January and February performing in NSW and Queensland, which was great (check out our Ozblog for the stories) . It wasn’t all glory though, we both started the tour bunged up with cold, I had a tooth infection (extraction number one) and performed the latter half of the tour in mono as my left ear got an attack of the gunge through too much swimming in the sea. Kip also managed to leave her flute at the very last gig, but thanks to some good friends and Australia post, we got it back several weeks later.

Once back in the UK we had a couple of weeks at home to get the house sorted, visit family and friends and start working on tour promo for a string of dates up and down the country.

In May we had a few days in Spain courtesy of the the English Folk Club of the Costa Blanca – very nice indeed! Then a few festivals and clubs back in Blighty along with a trip to play in Belgium for the Ghent festival in July.

August was flat out with festivals along with one night in Edinburgh to perform on the Fringe.

August also saw the launch of Live & Unconventional, our live album which we’d recorded on the road in 2018 while touring with Fairport Convention. The launch took place at Fairport’s Cropredy Festival and as always they were very generous and gave the album a huge push.

The reviews for Live & Unconventional were far better than we could have hoped for. We were absolutely delighted with it and huge thanks go out to the brilliant Johnny Gale who was on the sound desk for all of the Fairport tour and also mixed the album for us. Johnny’s magic ears have placed him amongst the cream of sound engineers, a highlight of his work this year being his collaboration with Bjork to help produce her amazing Cornucopia show.

Not that we had a lot of time to sit back reading album reviews. Following the August festivals we had three days at home and then headed off for our our first tour of Canada.

We were in New Zealand in 2017 and a Canadian by the name of Dan Tonner guy came along to a gig. Dan suggested we tour Canada. “They’ll love you” he said. That set me off on a quest to set up a tour. After one false start, a stack of emails and hundreds of hours in front of a computer screen, it all started to come together and we finished up with an eighteen-date tour over twenty four days. Kip, the logistical maestro, sorted out flights, accommodation and car hire etc (as with all overseas tours) and the whole thing went very well. We had one gig cancelled due to slow ticket sales and another streamed a gig live because it had sold out and many of their regulars couldn’t get tickets, so they let them watch for free. Swings and roundabouts. Check out Canadablog for all of the details.

We arrived back in the UK on Tuesday October 1st feeling elated, jet lagged and knackered. On Friday October 4th we went to Derby to perform at the Folk Weekender. Someone posted some photos of us on stage – our eyes looked like p*** holes in the snow.

We knew that Canada would leave us feeling drained. Some of the drives between gigs were tough and we clocked up several thousand kilometres without including the flights. Not that it wasn’t worth it mind, and plans are afoot to return. After Derby we had the rest of October free so we went on holiday to the Canary Islands, doing very little other than swimming and sleeping (sometimes at the same time).

November saw us back on the road for our annual “Must raise some cash for Christmas tour” (nine grandkids don’t you know). We saw a sizeable chunk of motorways with gigs from Aberdeenshire to Cornwall and various points in between.

We do appreciate how lucky we are and count our blessings daily. There is no master plan; our only goal is to keep doing this for a living until we croak or decide to retire. We’re eternally grateful for the support we receive for people all over. From the folks that pay their money to see us perform, buy the CDs, whoop and cheer at the right time (there isn’t a wrong time), to those that put on the gigs, feed us, give us beds, let us do our washing and sit up for hours on end putting the world to rights.

We will be doing more of the same next year. We have plenty of gigs lined up for the UK and a couple of short tours into Europe are in the can. We have also applied for some festivals in Canada that take place in the summer, we’ll have to wait and see how that pans out.

We hope you have a great Christmas and wish you all good things for the year ahead.

We can’t do this without you, thanks again for another great year.

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Oh Canada…..

A Case of You written by Joni Mitchell, (one of the finest love songs ever written in my humble opinion) contains the line “I drew a map of Canada, oh Canada”. It tugs at my heart every time I hear that line. That song has been a close companion for over forty years and once again it’s running through my mind as we sit here at Heathrow waiting for our flight to Vancouver.

Kip has been to Canada in a former life whereas I (Dave) never have. I thought Joni’s beautiful song would be as close as I’d get. Once again I’m counting my blessings.

The seed for this trip was sown in February 2017 when we were playing some gigs in Palmerston North, New Zealand. At the end of the gig a guy called Dan Tonner came up and bought a CD (nice man). He said, “You guys should come to Canada; they’d love you there”. Dan explained that he and his wife were in New Zealand house sitting for three months. He gave us his email and invited us to stay at his place in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

As many people have found out to their cost, casually dropping an invite into the conversation very often leads to us turning up on their doorstep and asking for directions to the shower (we spend a lot of time in our van). To be fair to Dan his invite was most definitely genuine and when we returned to the UK I started plotting a trip to Canada. Initially I contacted a load of folk clubs and festivals for the summer of 2018. I got bugger all back from the festivals but quite a bit of interest from the clubs. But they all pointed out that they don’t run in the summer as they all go to the festivals.

A plan B was needed. Unlike our government, we gave it some thought and came up with a plan B.

We decided to try again for September this year just when the festivals finish and the clubs/house concert season kicks off. There’s a strong house concert scene in Canada, which is the back bone of many a tour schedule such as ours.

I took the same scattergun approach that I’d taken when putting together our first tour of Australia. I emailed every folk club, Arts centre, house concert, theatre, busking opportunity that I found on Google and sat back waiting for the gigs to flood/trickle in. It’s a bit like fishing, you try all over until you get a bite and then concentrate on that area. As it is we got a lot of interest out west but hardly a nibble on the east side. As much as we’d have liked to have checked out Dan Tonner’s shower it isn’t going to happen this time.

Foot note. I delivered a songwriting forum at a festival recently and a lady said that men write the best love songs. I urged her to listen to A Case of You – I could never get close.

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Outbound, Canadablog #2

We’ve done a few of what we consider to be big trips and despite Kip’s meticulous planning there’s usually something that occurs on the journey out that sets the nerves jangling.

The plan this time being, catch a flight from Heathrow to Vancouver City, arrive at 2:30pm local time, pick up a car at the airport, drive out to the ferry terminal to catch the 5:45pm ferry over to Vancouver Island (2hr journey). Once docked, drive to a different ferry terminal to catch the 9pm ferry over to Gabriola Island and then drive over to the house of our hosts Brian and Megan arriving at around 10pm local time thoroughly knackered.

What could possibly go wrong?

Nothing as it turned out, that is pretty much what happened as everything went to plan. Not that that stopped the nerves from jangling.

Even the passage through customs was pretty uneventful. Just the usual long snaking queues and forms to fill in. Even the lady at the passport check-in desk had a sense of humour “Have you brought any cannabis with you into the county sir?” “No we thought we’d get some here” (thump in the ribs from Kip) I pointed out that it’s been legalised in Canada and the lady checking our passports just laughed and said she didn’t know why it’s not legal everywhere. (If you’re reading this kids I don’t, okay? You know the story)

Brian had hoped to meet us on the ferry to Vancouver Island as he’d been working in Vancouver that day. We’d never met before and hadn’t picked up his email saying his plans had changed. As such we spent two hours on the ferry walking around smiling in anticipation at men we thought might be Brian. Kip nearly pulled four times and me just the once.

Brian had caught a sea hopper (an air taxi that takes off and lands on the water) from Vancouver City to the Gabriola ferry terminal on Vancouver Island. He’d spotted us driving onto the ferry and introduced himself to us as it left the terminal. Which was great as he then came with us in the car and could direct us to his and Megan’s house.

A cup of tea, a few minutes chat and then bed.

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Killerwhale look out. Canadablog #3

So the plan was to try and sleep for ten hours and awake at about 9am local time fully refreshed with no jet lag. Nearly, but not quite. Kip got a good few hours in but I was wide awake at 2:30am writing song lyrics. This wouldn’t have been so bad had I finished up with the makings of a decent song, but when I looked back later in the day, it wasn’t worth losing sleep over.

Gabriola Island is a small island about a twenty min ferry ride from Vancouver island. It has quite an arty/hippy vibe and everyone we met was very friendly. They also have some amusing street names.

I had a “let’s eat grandma ” moment when I saw this sign. Imagine if someone had missed off some punctuation. “Killer whale, lookout!” Maybe it’s just me.

Our hosts Brian and Megan have a lovely place called Birdsong. It’s surrounded by trees (the island is covered in trees) and they have an outside deck that doubles up as a stage for house concerts. There are no friendlier gigs than house concerts. Folks turn up with drinks and snacks and those who’ve not been before are welcomed in. It’s all very chilled and a damn fine way to ease ourselves in gently.

The gig pootled along nicely and during the break a chap called Bob Bossin came up for a chat. We had mentioned that we’d toured with Fairport Convention last year. Bob was very complimentary and said he’d once opened up for Fairport back in the days when Sandy Denny was with them. We had a chat about the books of Jack London and Bob recommended that I look up ‘The league of the old men’ (was that a subtle message?). He then apologised and told us that he’d have to go as he was suffering with a very painful neck problem. We had no idea who Bob was and only found out later that we’d been talking to Canadian folk royalty. By the time we’d finished the gig Bob had got home and emailed me a link to the Jack London story and told us to look up Ginger Goodwin and pass on his regards when we get to Cumberland. The following day I checked out Bob’s website – he’s a good soul. A long-term campaigner on environmental issues who clearly cares for the planet and those on it, as well as a talented performer and songwriter.

“I’m gonna ask him straight why the good die young, while the bastards just roll on and on” (from Bob’s song Victors Guitar) Check out his work.

The following day we loaded up the car and said our goodbyes to the lovely Brian and Megan.

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Ginger Goodwin was a Yorkshire lad. Canadablog #4

I often bang on about the good people we meet when we’re on our travels and it’s the same the world over. There’s more good than dickheads; it’s just that the dickheads tend to make the most noise.

We’d taken the ferry from Gabriola to Vancouver Island and were heading to Cumberland for a gig at the Cumberland hotel. The gig had been set up by Diane, a lady we’d never met, but she’s active on the local folk scene and has been helping organise events and volunteering at festivals etc for many years. Diane had phoned and said that she wouldn’t be at home when we arrived but she’d left the door open. “Just make sure you introduce yourselves to Parker the dog.” Which is what we did. Parker sniffed us suspiciously but after a few soothing words and then giving his back a good scratch he decided we were okay and went to sleep on the couch.

After Bob’s email (see #3) I’d I been intrigued to find out about Albert “Ginger” Goodwin. I hopped onto Diane’s WiFi and googled him and Wikipedia led the way.

Ginger was born in Yorkshire, emigrated to Canada aged 23 in 1910 and found work as a miner, eventually settling in Cumberland. He was an activist for social change and fought hard to improve the lot of the mine workers which resulted in him being blacklisted by the mine owners.

Ginger was also a conscientious objector and fled to the hills with others to avoid being conscripted in 1918. It was while there that he was shot dead in suspicious circumstances and his death sparked the first Vancouver national strike. Check out the whole article here

It’s amazing how many people take for granted things like annual leave, sick pay, healthcare etc etc. Very few of these benefits are gifts from generous employers. They were hard fought for by those who withdrew their labour (it was the only bargaining tool they had). Many were jailed, beaten up on picket lines, vilified in the press and plenty, as with Ginger, paid the ultimate sacrifice. None of those benefits would have come about without sacrifices made by the likes of Ginger and many many more and there’s plenty in this world would like to see them taken away.

Diane came home and we let her in and made her welcome – it was the least that we could do in her own house and she seemed to appreciate it. As you’d expect from someone who opens her doors to strangers, she was great company with plenty of stories to tell and, as is nearly always the case, we found out we had friends in common.

The gig at the Cumberland ran from 7pm to 9pm which was very civilised and by 9:30pm we were in the bar with Diana watching the locals perform on Karaoke. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world it’s always “entertaining”.

The next day we had a gig back down the coast in Parksville. We had plenty of time so we decided to take the scenic coastal road. After about 20 kilometres we found barriers across the road and no diversion signs. We turned around and headed back to the highway, where the view was less scenic and coastal, but it did take us to Parksville.

That night we were at The Ground Zero Acoustic Lounge, which is an unusual venue to say the least. From the front it looks like an industrial unit with a double garage roller door, because that’s what it is. But when you go in, it has a stage, with PA and lighting rig and the walls are decorated with paintings, musical instruments, posters, old albums and all manner of things (see the pics below). We didn’t get much of a crowd, but it was a smashing night. Bill the sound engineer was a delight as were the ladies who manned the door and welcomed those that came. They were all volunteers and did it because they love the music there.

Thanks to Jack Harynuk for this photo, check out his website by clicking on the photo.

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Enlightenment on a spring, Canadablog #5

I know, you see the title and think what has he been taking (dope is legal here, but no). I was looking around the gift shop at Departure Bay Nanaimo while waiting for the ferry to take us back to Vancouver City and found this. A dashboard Jesus. I was sorely tempted to buy it, but having got this far I’m going to risk the rest of my days without.

The crossing was pleasant enough although the weather had taken a turn for the worse, it being overcast and rainy. We did get a brief glimpse of an Orca/killer whale. We saw its back breaking the surface of the water as we were sat in the cafe area having some breakfast. It beats watching breakfast tv.

We now have three days in the same place, that being Vancouver City. Kip had booked us an Airb&b which was great. The couple (Jen and Andy) whose house it is used to be in the punk band Submission Hold a few years back. They’re very arty and the house is home to many paintings and quirky objects as well as their son Sam, two cats and a dog.

We were made very welcome (just don’t run two appliances at once, you’ll trip the electric), the bed was comfy and the shower was hot. It’s all you need – well, that and decent coffee, which Jen also provided.

That night we drove into downtown Vancouver and we were both shocked by the amount of people we saw living on the streets and so many of them obviously had serious health/addiction problems. You get a bit immune to seeing homeless people to a degree (shameful I know) as you see it in so many cities in the UK these days, but we’d never seen it on this scale before. The following day Kip was talking about it to Jen (who works in a detox centre) and Jen explained that Vancouver is something of a magnet for this issue. It’s the warmest city in Canada, it’s the largest port on the west coast and they have a reputation for providing some of the best support services for people with addiction issues. As a result people with similar problems in other cities are often given one-way tickets by the authorities to get to Vancouver and get cleaned up. One three-kilometre bus ride down East and onto to West Hastings into the city centre takes you from an average street with shops and restaurants, past people laid out on the pavements, sleeping under umbrellas, wandering with all of their worldly goods on their back, to a beautiful and affluent city centre, with its high-rise buildings, conference centres, shops and cruise ships in the harbour.

Our gig on the Sunday night was fine and as we’d not got a gig on the Monday we had the whole day to ourselves. It pissed down rain nearly all day. Not that that stopped us; we took the hire car back in the morning and then walked until our bones ached before getting the bus back to our Airb&b late afternoon.

Later that evening we became hungry and walked out in search of food. We settled on a tiny Indian takeaway that also seated about six people. If you can remember Julie Walters doing the brilliant “two soups” sketch on Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques, you’ll get a rough idea of the service in this place. The whole operation from taking phone orders, orders from people calling in, to cooking the food, serving and waiting on tables was done by one elderly gent. He was a grafter – I’ll give him credit for that and his food was tasty.

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What are we doing here? Canadablog #6

I’ve said it scores of times, but I really do believe I’m a lucky so and so.

I was sat on stage at The Roundhouse Arts in Vancouver with Kip on my right and Ben Mink on my left. “Ben who?” you may say. Read on my friends, read on.

Ben was a long time collaborator/producer and band member of KD Lang. And he was talking to the audience about playing live at the Grammy awards with KD. They were playing her big hit Constant Craving, (which they had written together) and Ben was playing guitar in the band. He said, “I was very nervous; we were doing just the one song and the show was going out live on American TV. I noticed someone on the front row tapping their foot in time with the song. I looked up and the foot belonged to Paul McCartney”.

The song won the Grammy that night – just one of many awards he’s received. He has also produced and/or performed on recordings by Roy Orbison, Alison Kraus, Bruce Cockburn, Elton John, Feist, Daniel Lanois and many, many more.

You may be wondering how the hell did we get to be on stage alongside this man. That is exactly what I was thinking. I refer you back the first line – I’m a lucky so and so.

The evening was a part of a concert series called “Songbird North, where writers show and tell,” put together by Shari Ulrich which receives sponsorship from the Songwriters Association of Canada. Shari gets four songwriters together (including herself) and each takes it in turn to chat about a song and then sing it. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I’d emailed Shari by mistake. I thought I was emailing a venue promoter (Shari was performing there) but I’d clicked on the wrong email address. Aside from being one of Canada’s most highly respected singer/songwriters Shari is also a genuinely lovely lady. She emailed back giving me the correct email address and several other recommendations and offered us the Songbird gig. Lucky or what!

The day of the gig we were out walking in downtown Vancouver and came across the British Columbia entertainment walk of fame. A series of plaques set in the pavement honouring those who’ve made waves in the entertainment industry. This was genuinely the first plaque we noticed.

Also on the bill were Warren Murfitt and Kate Main (Murfitt & Main) two Vancouver-based writers/performers who have amassed a fine collection of Country/Western Swing songs. As well as being a smart flat-pick guitarist, Warren builds guitars in his warehouse in Vancouver which also doubles up as a live music venue.

Shari introduced us all and then sang the first song, after which we took it in turns to sing a song and and joined in with harmonies etc on others where it fitted in. Kate played some smokey double bass on a blues that Kip sang and Shari put some fiddle on our song Far Off on the Horizon.

Ben then introduced a friend to the stage, CR Avery. If Tom Waits and Lou Reed had got drunk and produced a love child, it could have been C.R. His performance was stunning.

To quote Frankie Valli “Oh what a night ”

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