Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Review: Van Morrison At Glastonbury Abbey Extravaganza August 6th 2016

Van Morrison on Cypress Avenue was undoubtedly the Van gig of 2015 but Van's concert at Glastonbury Abbey must be a contender for the Van concert of 2016. This is what happened. When I woke up on Saturday morning I opened the curtains and the light came shining through. "Brilliant", I thought to myself. It was a hot sunny day and I kicked my heels for hours waiting for the afternoon. Finally I met the others in the pub and fifteen of us set off in a minibus from the Market Place in Westbury at 4.15. There was me, Sian, Colin, Sharon, Mark, Angela, Chris, Chrissie, Jacquie, Phil, Marty, Ann, Phil, Tommy the driver and his sister & her husband. I got Tommy to play the Into The Music album by Van and we passed the time chatting and drinking wine.

In next to no time we arrived outside Glastonbury Abbey where about 10.000 people were still pouring into The Abbey grounds. As soon as we set up camp Jacquie served up a delicious picnic while we listened to the Wells Cathedral School Big Band. I didn't avalot (geddit!) of food, I concentrated on the wine. After a while me and Sian decided to go for a walk and see if I could find any of the other Vanatics. It was great to bump into Howard and his family and Sue & Colin who I hadn't seen since Belfast last year. It was really nice to meet Simon & Sandra in the George & Pilgrim pub and we had a chat with them out the back of the pub for a while. Finally time was getting on and we returned to the Abbey.

Jamie Cullum was just finishing his set when we returned. I wasn't all that fussed about seeing him but a lot of the others later said he was really good. There is a Van connection with Jamie because when he was only 16 he was credited as an assistant engineer on Van's Days Like This album which must have been a valuable experience for him.

Finally I heard the familiar sound of Moondance  and said to Sian, " Come on, he's on, lets get down the front". Half way to the front though she didn't want to go any further saying it was too crowded, so that's where we stayed for the rest of the concert. I was pleased that Van had changed the intro to the concert though. Then Van introduced Clare Teal who actually lives in Glastonbury these days so she must have enjoyed singing to her neighbours.  They sang Way Young Lovers Do from the Astral Weeks album and Carrying A Torch which was one of the highlights of  the Duets album from last year. Clare departed and Van sang By His Grace  which was very spiritual and fitting for the mystical surroundings of the abbey. This theme continued with When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God? from the Avalon Sunset album and the lyrics of the song are perfect for this concert, ' The sun was setting over Avalon, the last time we stood in the west'.

The mood was much more up-beat then for Precious Time which went down a storm for those in the audience who just wanted to party and have a dance. Then Van said, "This might blow your mind", and introduced Joss Stone. Joss is local to the West Country as well. I think she lives in Devon somewhere. Some people I spoke to afterwards thought her performance was too over the top while others thought she was great. Anyway, They sang Wild Honey also from the Duets album and the classic Crazy Love. After Joss left the stage the dancing started again with Wild Night  and then the audience sang along with Have I Told You Lately in which Dana got the chance to show she is just as good a singer as Clare or Joss.

The medley of  Baby Please Don't Go/ Don't Start Crying Now  followed and Here Comes The Night. I thought Van's choice of songs for this gig was perfect with songs for the party people and also songs for those who preferred the less well known music. Haunts Of Ancient Peace was another brilliant choice of song for these surroundings which inspired Van to write some of his most spiritual music in the first place. Van played the keyboards on this song. Van even mentioned the church of Saint John which is actually in Glastonbury High Street which shows how familiar he is with this town.

Dana got the chance again to show how good she is when Van and herself sang Sometimes We Cry. This was followed by Whenever God Shines His Light  which isn't one of my favourites but this audience loved it. In The Afternoon/Ancient Highway/ Joe Turner Sings Flip Flop And Fly was a great medley of songs and included  Raincheck  which shows Van has no intentions of fading away anytime soon.
Think Twice Before You Go and Rock Me Baby were next and then Van played sax on I believe To My Soul which was great. Brown Eyed Girl and Gloria brought the proceedings to a close. When Van left the stage during Gloria the band played on as fireworks started erupting in the sky and we went back to base to collect our stuff. It must have been about midnight when we got back to Westbury after a brilliant night. It wasn't the greatest Van concert but for a great night out in nice weather with some great friends it was perfect. Thank you very much to Michael Eavis for organising such a great event.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Petals. By Rhonda Batchelor

This is a poem written by my friend Rhonda in memory of Max Croskery.


The morning you left—not this earth, but my little patch of it—I waited
while you, on the phone, tried to sort out that business with your in-transit camera, held up
by the courier company and Canada Customs.  It was never going to catch up with you,
you explained—again. Just send it back to New Zealand.
You’d be on the road.

You needed to be at the airport by noon and we wouldn’t have time for the breakfast
we’d planned. Still on hold, you gestured apologetically. To keep busy, I tidied a bit—
carried a spent bouquet of blowsy tulips through to the kitchen, out the back door
and across the yard to the compost. You watched me through the window.
My mind was on your leaving.

And then it was time to go. I locked up while you went ahead, pulling your suitcase
through the grass, along the stepping stones now strewn with tulip petals.
Are these for me? you asked, and we laughed. But later, coming home alone
only to find those petals, and the deep tracks you’d left, I said Yes,
they are, my love. Yes.

Max ,Born September 19th 1960, Died July 20th 2016.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Lonesome Traveller In Bristol.

I had a really nice afternoon and evening in Bristol yesterday. I Arrived at Temple Meads Station at about 3.00 and as I had lots of time on my hands decided to walk into town. I hadn't gone fifty yards when I saw a sign saying 'Book Fair, Here Today'. I went in and inside was the most amazing book fair going on. They had 110 book dealers from all over the country and a restaurant and even a band playing some nice jazzy background music. I was pleased to see some dealers had quite a few books of 50's and 60's counter culture and Beat Generation which I am interested in. I spotted an original American paperback copy of Junky by William Lee (William Burroughs) but when I asked the price it was £250 which was way beyond my means. I did want to buy something though so I bought a First UK edition of Lonesome Traveller by Jack Kerouac. I couldn't really afford it but hey, I was having a nice day out.

Wandering on, I saw that one dealer had some inscribed books by Allen Ginsberg. When I talked to the dealer though the prices again were way beyond my means. The man was really friendly though and we had a chat for a few minutes. He seemed really familiar and I asked him if I had met him before. He smiled wryly and said he didn't think so. When I left he gave me his card. Later on when I looked at the card his name was Neil Pearson and it suddenly came to me where I had seen him before. It was on the telly. He was none other than the  famous actor Neil Pearson of Drop The Dead Donkey, Waterloo Road and lots of other shows. I looked him up on the internet this morning and sure enough there was an article in The Independent about the actor and his passion for rare books.      (See photo)

I spent a happy hour at the fair browsing through the amazing books and wishing I was rich. I could easily have spent £1,000 in there if I had the money. Time was getting on so I hurried on through the bustling streets of Bristol. In Queens Square there was the most incredible market going on with hundreds of vendors selling exotic food and products from all over the world. Finally I reached the harbour. It is Bristol Harbour Festival this weekend so the harbour was crammed with hundreds of boats all decorated with flags and bunting which was quite a spectacular sight. There was also live music. Echo & The Bunnymen were playing but I didn't have time for that.
I was hungry & thirsty now so I had some food and a pint of cider in a harbourside pub. When it got to 6.00 I thought I better get a move on and left the pub. On the waterfront I saw a face from the past. It was Moussa Kouyate. He is a Kora player from Senegal and the last time I saw him was about ten years ago when he was busking on the streets of Bath. On that occasion I bought his CD because the kora is a beautiful instrument to listen to but today I just said hello and listened for a few minutes and gave him some change. What a great guy he is. If you scroll down you can watch Moussa playing the Kora in Bristol.

Finally I arrived at the Colston Hall and I relaxed outside on the piazza with a drink and read my book. Within a few minutes I was joined by an old friend Kev who lives in Bristol and later his partner Ingrid. They weren't going to the concert but it was nice of them to come along and hang out for a while. We chatted about books and music for an hour or so until finally it was showtime. I said cheerio and went inside to catch some of the support act. They were called The Pierce Brothers and came from Australia I think. I only heard about three songs but they sounded like quite good fun. I had a spare ticket because my friend Fred hadn't been able to come so during the interval I asked people outside if anyone wanted a spare ticket but there were no takers. That was a shame to have a ticket go to waste because Lucinda Williams performance was brilliant.

Lucinda came on stage with just a small four piece band including herself. Most people think of her as a country singer but this band rocked !. The young bass player looked like a cross between Sid Vicious and Keith Richard with his spiky hair and he really enjoyed himself all night. The guitarist also played harmonica and he was great. His guitar sounded like Duane Eddy to me at times. Lucinda dedicated the first song to the victims of the terrible outrage in Nice the night before. It was called World Without Tears. The audience applauded and it was really moving. What a nice person Lucinda is. You can see that just by the way she talks to the audience and the roadies etc. The next song was called Protection which was great and reminded me that I had seen Lucinda before. It was at Glastonbury three years ago but on that occasion I was so drunk it was just a blur afterwards.Tonight was a lot better. I must confess that I only actually have one album by Lucinda which is her most famous album Car Wheels On A gravel Road so I didn't recognise all of the songs. She did sing one really moving song about a poet called Frank Stanford I think his name was. I think he was a student of her dad and he took his own life. Crescent City was a really nice song about New Orleans. Drunken Angel was a song I know really well and the audience loved it as well. West Memphis (Arkansas) was a scathing attack on parts of America and not the sort of place I would like to live in. The Ghost Of Highway 20 from a recent album was magnificent. I love the song Lake Charles and so did most of the audience. Are you Alright? I think was the title of the next song and Lucinda thanked all of the band and all of the crew. Bleeding Fingers And Broken Guitar Strings was really great. Boy do this band rock !. The mood changed then to a song where Lucinda had added music to a poem written by her father which was called Dust I think. It was fabulous. Changed The Locks was another great song. Foolishness was a brilliant song and in it Lucinda took the opportunity to give Donald Trump a good lambasting. I don't know why though in England that Americans have to apologise for their politicians. Bonnie Raitt did the same a few weeks ago. We have enough embarrassing moronic politicians of our own as the events of the last 3 weeks have shown. Joy was a fabulous song and the band really took the chance to rock out. They were even doing Led Zeppelin riffs in this, much to the delight of the audience. I think the next song was called  Get Right With God. I can't remember what happened after that because it was the encore and I had put my notebook away and moved right to the front just a few feet away from Lucinda. I know I had a wonderful evening though.

After the show I scurried to the taxi rank and just managed to catch the last train to Westbury with a minute to spare. The train was full of jolly Friday night drunks but I kept myself to myself and read my Lonesome Traveller and arrived back in Westbury in next to no time where a taxi was waiting to take me safely home after a great day. Thank you very much Bristol Harbour Festival, Bristol Book Fair, Neil Pearson, Moussa Kouyate, Kev, Ingrid and most of all Lucinda Williams and her great band for a brilliant day in Bristol.

Moussa Kouyate plays Kora at St Stephens, Bristol, on 6 May 2011

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Lily By Christy Moore. Review

The new album by Christy Moore called Lily popped through my letterbox about a week ago but I have been so busy lately that it is only today that I have had time to write a review.
This is the first Christy album I have bought since I bought Folk Tale at a gig at Bath Pavilion about three years ago and thanks to my friend Hilary I managed to get Christy to sign it. Anyway, I love the new album Lily. As soon as I opened the package I was struck by the cover artwork which is very eye catching. Inside is a painting called 'Lilies' by the Irish expressionist artist Brian Maguire. Like Christy Brian is also an Irish artist with his heart in the right place. I have just been reading about him. There are also some very informative notes by Christy about the various songs.
I love the opening song Mandolin Mountain which Christy tells us was written by the late Tony Small. I had never heard of Tony before but I have now, thanks to Christy. I have been listening to him on youtube the last few days. The lyrics are very inspiring such as 'Love is for the patient ones, the honest and the good'. It is the kind of song that makes you aspire to be a better person. I must say Christy's voice sounds better than ever on this album when lots of other singers of his generation can't hit the notes any more. Also Christy enunciates every word perfectly so that even on the first listen of a song you know what he is singing. A lot of other singers can't tell talk from mutter!
I first heard The Tuam Beat written by Padraig Stevens many years ago when it was a track on a Saw Doctors single called The World Of Good. Christy's version is just as much fun and I must say I love the banjo playing on it by Cathel Hayden. Although it is a joyful fun song there is still that little political message, 'Fair play to the travelling man'.
The Gardener is the perfect song for this time of year. I first heard it at Christy's Brighton concert a few weeks ago. It is written by Paul Doran and reminds me that I must get out in my own garden which I have neglected lately.
Lily is a song that reminds me a bit of a song from Folk Tale about a little Honda 50 but that doesn't bother me. I like the reference to the 'waters of the fen' which reminds me of my childhood in Peterborough. I see that the song is co-written with  Wally Page who Christy has collaborated with before.

I have always liked Peter Gabriel who is another artist of great political integrity. He actually lives near here in the village of Box. We had a walk around Box a few months ago to admire his Real World Studio. I wasn't familiar with Wallflower  though until I heard Christy's version. Peter's version was actually banned in South Africa during the Apartheid era which is a good sign in a way because when they are so rattled they ban your songs it shows you have got them on the run. Both Peter and Christy have recorded great songs about Steve Biko in the past.
Another powerful political song is Oblivious  written by Mick Blake. I had never heard of Mick Blake till Christy sang this song in Brighton and now Mick is a Facebook friend. Such is the power of Christy.  The song is about how the dreams of the people who founded the Irish republic have been squandered by the scoundrels and fools and how people don't even get angry about it. The great deception has happened all over the world with the bankers and speculators gambling with other peoples money and awarding themselves bonuses for doing it and it's not even classed as a crime. I bet Christy didn't get a massive annual bonus when he worked in a bank.
John Spillane is another singer who I have discovered via Christy. I love his songs such as 'Dance Of The Cherry Trees' & 'The Mad Woman Of Cork'. The Ballad Of Patrick Murphy is the fifth of John's songs to be recorded by Christy and tells the sad and true tale of a fisherman murdered by the Murricaune who were gangsters in the service of the crown.
Lightning, Bird,Wind, River Man is a delightful happy song written by Declan O'Rourke. I have actually seen Declan twice playing live. Both occasions were purely by chance. The first time was at the Fleadh in Finsbury Park in 99 and the second was in the Acoustic tent at Glastonbury in 2005 I think it was. We left before the end to see another Declan who was Declan McManus better known as Elvis Costello. Anyway, on both those occasions I didn't pay much heed to Declan O'Rourke because I wasn't familiar with the music. However, if he is capable of songs as great as this one I will certainly give him another listen.
Green Grows The Laurel is a traditional song that Christy first heard sung by John Reilly in 1965 and more recently by Helen Grehan. Christy has added a verse of his own. It is a beautiful haunting ballad.
Dave Lordan is a poet and playwright who was born in Derby in 1975 and grew up in West Cork. The Lost Tribe Of The Wicklow Hills was written by him and Christy recites it brilliantly to bring this great album to a close. It shows what a great speaking voice Christy has. He would be great for talking books reciting Irish myths and legends or something like that but I expect Christy has enough on his plate as it is.

I have really enjoyed listening to this album so thank you very much Christy, Declan, Jimmy, Seamie, Mairtin, Cathal, Vickie, Andy and anybody else associated with this wonderful album.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Blues Run The Game: The Story Of Jackson C. Frank.

I intended doing some gardening today but it rained non-stop so I spent the afternoon in the kitchen listening to an album that I bought recently. It is called Blues Run The Game by Jackson C. Frank. I am indebted to an internet friend  for bringing this influential singer-songwriter to my attention because I had never heard of him before. I think he must have read some of my previous stories of musicians who had faded into obscurity and are only now being re-discovered and thought I might be interested in listening to Jackson C. Frank.
I am really pleased I bought this album because some of the songs are as good as any I have heard in the folk genre. The story of Jackson C. Frank is also one of the saddest I have ever read about any musician.  Although he released only one official album in his lifetime he was very influential on the likes of Paul Simon, Sandy Denny, Al Stewart, Dave Cousins,John Renbourn, Bert Jansch,Nick Drake and Roy Harper. It was only a series of misfortunes that stopped him from being remembered as one of the great folk singers.

Tragedy struck early in his life at the age of eleven. He was attending elementary school in a suburb of New York when a heating furnace exploded which caused a fire that killed fifteen of his classmates including his first girlfriend Marlene Du Pont. He later wrote a song about Marlene which is on the album. Jackson survived the fire but had burns to 50% of his body. It was during the long recovery process that he learned to play the guitar and began writing songs. In 1965 while studying journalism at Gettysburg College he received $100,000 in  insurance  compensation for his injuries. He dropped out of college and sailed to England to try his luck on the folk scene. It was on that voyage that he wrote the song Blues Run The Game.
Jackson soon made a name for himself in the Folk Clubs of London and made friends with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. Paul Simon was so impressed with his talent that he offered to produce an album. The whole album was recorded in only three hours. Before long Jackson became quite famous in Britain. He persuaded his girlfriend at the time Sandy Denny to give up her job as a nurse and concentrate on singing. We should be grateful to him for that act alone because Sandy became arguably the greatest British female singer of all. Sandy recorded three of Jackson's songs for her first solo album in her pre-Fairport Convention days.

The following year though things began to go wrong. Firstly, he developed writers block and was never happy with the songs he came up with and also he began to suffer with really bad stage fright. It was the beginning of the mental illness that was to haunt him for years to come. Also his money ran out. In only two years he had managed to blow the lot. He returned to the states and moved to Woodstock which was a haven for many artistic people at that time. He landed a job as a journalist and married a former fashion model. New songs were written and he was just about to relaunch his music career when disaster struck once again. His infant son died of cystic fibrosis and the marriage fell apart. These events drove him over the edge and he descended into an abyss of depression, finally ending up homeless on the streets of New York. Things got even worse when he was shot by a gang of street toughs which left him blinded in the left eye. For twenty years he was virtually forgotten and had lost all touch with family and friends.

A guardian angel then appeared by the name of Jim Abbott who was an American folk music fan who managed to track down the long lost singer. Jim took Jackson to see sympathetic doctors and his condition immediately began to improve. He had been mis-diagnosed as paranoid-schizophrenic but what he was actually suffering from was post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the terrible fire of his childhood. As soon as was taken off the anti-depressants and given trauma therapy instead there was a remarkable recovery. His music career was revived and his work was issued for the first time on CD with previously unreleased material.
Sadly, in 1999 Jackson C. Frank caught pneumonia and died of a cardiac arrest at the age of only 56. He has left a small but great legacy of music though and his influence continues to grow. His songs have been covered by Simon & Garfunkel, Counting Crows, Laura Marling, Robin Pecknold of the Fleet Foxes, Marianne Faithful and many others. His songs have also appeared in movie soundtracks such as Daft Punk's Electroma. Only today I discovered there is a book about him by Jim Abbott and a documentary film is a work in progress at the moment. His legend is finally beginning to grow.

The album I am listening to at this very moment contains all the songs from his eponymous album of 1965 plus five unreleased songs from 1975. I must say I love it, you can see the influence he had on Paul Simon on songs like Dialogue. To hear these haunting songs live in a folk club back in 65 must have been an amazing experience. The five songs from 1975 make me think what a shame it is that he left such a small body of work. One song called Madonna Of Swans I find particularly powerful.

 Marlene,the song about his girlfriend who perished in the fire is also very moving. To give you a taste of the album I have put a video of Blues Run The Game below which I urge you to listen to. Thank you very much once again to Gerard  for turning me on to the music of Jackson C.Frank.