Tuesday, March 29, 2016

National Folk Festival - the Infinite Song Contest

Nicole was a finalist in the Infinite Song Contest with a bit of an all-star scratch band!

The Infinite's theme this year was Top 100 songs of 1967, the year the National Folk Festival started, and I wrote a parody of Penny Lane, called Budawang.

Keith Donnelly enthusiastically agreed to back me on guitar and we spent a bit of time finding out how clever the Beatles were by looking up the chords on my phone. When we got to the Marquee for the heat, by happy accident Peter Grayling and George Butrumlis were backstage and also keen to make mischief, so a rather good instant band got through to the final, and actually got to sing the song, which is a bit of a love song to the festival's main venue, in the Budawang!

A few people have asked for the words, so here they are, to the tune of Penny Lane. A one two three..

Budawang (Infinite Song Contest 2016 finalist)
Nicole Murray

Penny Lane was once a bar down by the Budawang,
Where we would head to drink our pleasure, you know
And all the people that come and go, stop and say hello

On the corner is a busker with accordion
The Morris dancers laugh at him behind his back
And the busker doesn't make a zac, in the pouring rain
Very strange

Budawang is in my ears and in my eyes,
There beneath the blue Canberran skies
I sit and lean right back.

In the Container is the Pride Choir for an hour or so
And their supporters are all dancing with the queens
With cups of coffee from the espresso team
With their clean machine

Budawang is in my ears and in my eyes
Coorong, Marquee, Carnival, Piazza
Meanwhile back

Behind a table in the middle of the session bar
The volunteers are selling Guinness from a tray
Surrounded by the violins that play
Through the night and day.

In Budawang we'd rather have another Fagans song
We see the audience all waiting for a sing
And then the Fiddle Rally rushes in, from the pouring rain
Very strange

Budawang is in my ears and in my eyes
With four-part harmony it flies, in autumn
Meanwhile back in

Budawang is in my heart and in my mind
There beneath the flags and sunny skies

(performed by Nicole Murray, Keith Donnelly, Peter Grayling and George Butrumlis)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Clouded House!

CD LAUNCH - 2pm, Sunday 20 March, at The Danish Club, Brisbane.

We are at last celebrating our latest album, “Clouded House” and we're doing it in style - a double CD launch with our great friends, Rebecca Wright and Donald McKay, who are launching their brand new recording, “Over Burns and Braes” with us in Brisbane on March 20. The concert will showcase beautiful acoustic music from the heart, with luscious harmonies and instrumentation in a family-friendly Sunday afternoon show at the Danish Club, Austin Street, Newstead.

‘Clouded House’, our eighth album, combines traditional folk music and originals that we think are pretty compelling.  From flying monks and homeless beavers to convict escapees and desperate lovers, the album is packed with captivating Australian and Anglo-Celtic stories. The mix of originals and trad is a result of our regular touring, when we have taken Australia’s unknown stories to overseas audiences and collected choice songs to share at home, a very enjoyable cultural exchange!  We've enriched our sound by inviting our long-time collaborator Emma Nixon to join the band, adding viola, violin and voice to our mix. Emma loved touring with us in the UK in 2015, and as a triple Golden Fiddle winner, for her solo album and for teaching, she enhances our performances, and runs great workshops at festivals, too!

We are sharing the launch with the wonderful Rebecca Wright and Donald McKay, who finished their new album last month. Here's a little about it:

With a cover design that would be just as at home on a 19th Century bookshelf as it is on a modern day coffee table, Wright & McKay’s new album ‘Over Burns and Braes’ is a true work of art. Historic songs of Highlanders, pipers and convicts from Donald’s homeland transport listeners to another place and time, whilst Rebecca’s self-penned lullabies and true tales, along with a stunning rendition of Judy Small’s ‘Sky of the Southern Cross’, bring them back to Australia today. “We are very proud of this album, as it reflects not only our connection with Scotland and the past, but also explores our current journey of making a life together in Australia,” Rebecca said.

The Double CD Launch will take place at The Danish Club, Austin Street, Newstead, on Sunday 20th March. Doors open 2pm. $20 Adult, $15 Concession $40 Family. Tickets available from TryBooking.

Keep up with the event news on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/549825091862733/

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Touring Fun

We find ourselves in the delightful village of Tuddenham, outside Bury St Edmunds, with a night off that coincides with the magnificence of the Eurovision final!

Much cheering and dancing that is best imagined rather than described.

The gigs have been coming thick and fast, with many miles passing by.  It's been fun but the driving has taken a bit of getting used to.  It's been a particular delight to see old friends again.

Here's a pic from one of our early gigs in Coventry (thanks to John Wright for this one). We had a lovely time seeing Denise Bull and some of her family while we were there.

We've made a point of spending some time on this trip exploring some of the places where we've been playing.  After three previous trips, we finally took the time to visit Arundel Castle, for example.  The weather was kind and the trip was unforgettable.

Alnwick Castle was on the list earlier,

Along with Deal Castle,

and the occasional shopping arcade (we decided there was no room for the horsey)

Tomorrow we're heading off to the Chester Festival for a couple of days of fun and song.  But first a long drive!

More news to follow,

Love to all

John, Nic and Em

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Onward we roll

We're over a week into the tour and it's proving to be an exhausting delight to be back.

Last night saw us at Deal in Kent. Lovely club.  We've already racked up 2000 miles, with many more to go. We took the time to enjoy the seafront today, along with a quick visit to Dover before heading back inland. Tonight we'll be playing at edenbridge (still in Kent but up the other end). The new songs from Clouded House are going down well (especially beaver!). Much fun.

The road rolls on.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

On the road again....

And so we're back once more. 

Landed at Heathrow yesterday afternoon in a fog of sleeplessness and geographical dislocation. Immigration/customs (both official and strange local), then car, drive, hotel, food, shower, pillow slam.

Awoke to find the outskirts of Hounslow as inviting as ever.  Ah, Costa!

A long slow breakfast, slightly quicker packing of the car and then on our way.  Google said 6 and a bit hours so of course bank holiday Friday saw us arrive at Susan and Malcolm's just South of Alnwick Castle just shy of 11 hours after we left.  The sign that said "Queues Likely Until August 2015" seemed prescient.  An all-too-brief stop at Jacey and Brian's helped us to maintain reasonable caffeine levels.

Another bed beckoned but the lag of the jet sees me up and sort of about at the unfamiliar hour of 7 in the morning.

Slowly becoming used once more to the ways of the road.  

We settle in now for a for a spell of recovery, unsheathing the instruments and the employment of loin-girders for what lies ahead. 

More to follow.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

John Is Running Away To The Theatre

The big news that we've been keeping to ourselves is that John is joining the cast of the Australian production of War Horse, the wonderful play from the National Theatre of Great Britain.

Rehearsals start next week, with the show opening at the end of the year in Melbourne, before touring to Sydney and Brisbane.  At this stage, the show is expected to run into August, 2013, although further touring is possible.

John's role as the Song Man will see him narrating the show in songs, linking scenes, leading the cast in chorus and playing the piano accordion.  It is the role currently being performed by Bob Fox in the West End production.

While this is an immensely exciting turn of events, it does mean that cloudstreet will be taking a break from active performances during the Australian run of the play.

If you'd like to learn more about the show, visit warhorseonstage.com.

The next step in the journey!

Nicole and John.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Back from the big tour. Whatever can be next?

Our latest UK tour was a load of fun. We're back in the land of Oz, recovered from jet lag, and back with the delightful Morningsong Choir. Coming up in September, we'll be at the wonderful gathering that is the Neurum Creek Music Festival. In the meantime, we are sitting on some most wonderful news that will have a big impact on the world of cloudstreet. For now, all is hush-hush, but we promise to share as soon as we can.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Day Eleven of Eleven!

Day Eleven.
Stonehaven Folk Club.
I cannot believe this amazing Scottish weather. The fair, sunny days continue, after an early fog, through which I slept. I'm so tired, I could barely wake up, and I'm not as sharp as usual. John was up early, dealing with some business things in Australia on Skype, and when I finally woke I tried to ring my Aunty Wil for her birthday, but couldn't get through. I'll speak to her tomorrow, because now its the middle of the night in Brisbane.

We packed up. Again. I can hardly wait for the day when I don't have to do that in the morning. The more tired I get, the further I seem to be able to spread out my stuff. I had a huge dose of Vitamin C, which cleared my stuffy nose, and off we went along the highway. The route took us past the western side of Stirling, and the view of the Castle and Wallace Monument in the bright sunshine literally made us gasp.

By lunch time we were at Perth, and with a bit of cajoling from John, we went back to the Toby Carvery, because it was cheaper than buying picnic things at the supermarket, and I could have lots of veggies. The big picture windows looking out over sunny Perth are pretty good too. But there's still a 90 minute drive to Stonehaven, our destination.

These carvings are on the river walk in Perth.

Hours later…..and now we are done. We drove in to the pretty little town of Stonehaven, found the B&B, which is run by members of the folk club, Lorna and Dennis, and John had a sleep. I went to the beach!! It was ten minutes walk away, and the magical blue of the sea and sky met the shingle and sand beach, all looking glorious.

After dinner, we drove the tiny distance to the club. Stonehaven Folk Club has recently moved to new premises at the Community Centre, slightly out of the centre of town. They put up a backdrop and make the room comfortable, and are running it as a byo venue. With Eddi Reader on the same night, and a sunny beach just outside, we certainly drew a small crowd, but they were keen singers and did wonderful floorspots too. Everyone was friendly and chatty, and it was so relaxing to see the pale blue sea through the window as we sang, including Scots of the Riverina and Ship-Repairing Men in the set. We had a delightful night, and finished it by sharing some fiddle and concertina tunes with Sandy, who had played some fiddle tunes as a floorspot. So lovely to play Bethany's Waltz, Union Street Session and Josefin's Waltz!

We packed up slowly because I was chatting, drove back the long way to the B&B (oops), and I shared a couple of single malts with Dennis while John enjoyed some cheese! And so we reach the end of our eleven show marathon, and have TWO CONSECUTIVE NIGHTS IN ONE PLACE…. the weekend in Aberdeen!

Day Ten of Eleven.

Day Ten.
The Star Folk Club, Glasgow.
Edinburgh was basking in the sun when we awoke, and experiencing record high temperatures. John went out on a little foray and did some Field Agent jobs - he has been using an app to find little marketing jobs and earn small amounts of money to save up for his camera. When he returned we packed up and clunked down the 47 steps, stored our luggage and went for a walk round Holyrood Park, past the fantasy towers of Pollock Halls, part of the university student accommodation, and round to Parliament. The park was full of Scottish people startlingly dressed in shorts and singlets. "Did they just have them ready to go?" wondered John. It was winter till three days ago.

We found a terrific cafe called Foodie, with delicious healthy food and appealing cakes (though we couldn't fit one in). 

Asking Satnat lady for guidance, we joined the M8 and headed for Glasgow. On the way, John wanted to fit in a couple more Field Agent jobs, and we got a tour of some very dilapidated outer suburbs or villages along the route of the M8. Although many houses had nicely kept hedges, I don't think there is a sadder wall surface than mildew-stained grey pebble dash, one of the few building materials that is not cheered up by sunshine. 

A little sleep at the Travelodge got me ready to drag on the costume and boots again and set off into Glasgow to the remarkable St Andrews in the Square, where the Star Folk Club is held.

I am always astonished by this building, though I have seen it many times. In the sunlight it was particularly striking, with beautiful stone details on the columns and tower, and inside, the hall upstairs is a soaring space, with golden angels and thistles in the ceiling.

There is a 3.6 second echo in the room, and it can be fierce to sing in time against that, but Ian did a good job on sound. We had a very mixed audience, including our old friend Grant, Donald Mackay's mum and dad, and twenty young travellers from Salzburg.

There was a hot trad trio opening the night, playing formula-one-speed tunes on guitar, concertina and fiddle. Check them out at www.muran.co.uk/

One day to go. Then I can rest.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Day Nine of Eleven.

Day Nine.
Edinburgh Folk Club.
Ok, we're getting quite fatigued now. It takes a long time to get dressed. But it was helped somewhat by a night in the lovely, old-fashioned Links Hotel in Montrose, where the Folk Club is held. We have played there before, and our poster is one of the decorations in the hotel corridor. The room was so old-world it had a trouser press, and a king-size bed. 

We woke to another day of bright sunshine and clear skies, and on our way out of Montrose, stopped to take photos of the viaduct and little colourful boats scattered on the tidal mud.

A little further on, a wonderful wide beach with small surf was visible from the highway, so we made a detour and had a wander and a paddle on Lunan Beach, in sight of the ruined Red Tower.

It was still a long drive to Edinburgh, so we passed Claypotts Castle in Broughty Ferry without dropping in on my relatives nearby. I hope to see them on the way back. The Forth Bridge gave us breathtaking views of the Firth, and a huge cruise liner entering the waterway under the rosy railway bridge.

In Edinburgh we went to our B&B, climbed the 47 steps with all our luggage, moved the car around the block to the carpark, and had a rest. The room could best be described as Very Pink. The shower is a bit dicey but eventually delivers hot water. Doesn't want to let it drain away, though.

I was inspired by the balmy Edinburgh evening to walk the 1.3 miles to the gig. John drove. 1.3 miles turned out to be about half as long again as I expected, so I had to really leg it, but it was a beautiful walk, past wonderfully imaginative stone houses, and along a street with views of the hills beside Holyrood.

I recognised the club venue when I saw it, and we set about soundchecking and eating. The Edinburgh Folk Club is held in a university bar, which means uni priced meals and drinks, too. Jack, who was doing sound, was immensely obliging and very skillful. We drew a medium sized crowd and even had a support act - Kentucky singer Brigid Kaelin, who sang some great songs with guitar, then topped it all off by playing the saw, which John now wants to do.

John's voice was completely recovered and we really enjoyed singing together and pushing into those harmonies till the room rattled. People sang along terrifically, and we had a relaxed and lovely gig. In the last two shows we have done Scots of the Riverina, which is a huge emotional contrast to our more joyful Australian material, like Stringybark and Greenhide. The combination we're choosing creates an emotional journey through the set.

After the show, Paddy Bort, the organiser, informed us they were repairing to Sandy Bell's, and in the hope of a session, I dropped tired John off at the B&B, and went along. There was a small session happening, but I ended up enjoying a conversation with Paddy and Alan from the club, and John, who was Eric Bogle's agent. Quite a lot of the conversation centred on Paddy and Alan's anticipation of a Paul Kelly gig coming up in August in Edinburgh!

Day Eight of Eleven

Day Eight.
Montrose Folk Club.
We stayed under the lee of the Ochill Hills with Brenda and Richard last night, and they gave us good directions to get to Clackmannan tower. I wanted to see it because I painted a representation of it in my portrait of Alasdair Fraser. The weather continued to be dreamily sunny and wispy, and I couldn't think of more perfect conditions to see the tower, last lived in by the last of Robert the Bruce's line, Lady Catherine, in the late 1700s. Built in pink sandstone, with crenellations, it was an evocative sight, set on a hill with a panoramic backdrop of the Ochills. John used his new camera to take lots of creative shots. Now he wants a polarising filter. The other feature of Clackmannan was this intriguing stone edifice....

We stopped for lunch in Perth. We meant to just drop in, but everything was so gorgeous in the sun…. We came across the Toby Carvery straight away, and had been given a two-meals-for-ten-quid voucher earlier in the trip, so we used it! If you are up for a roast lunch, this isn't a bad way to get one, lots of vegies, choice of meats. We sat in a sunlit booth overlooking the River Tay and Perth city. After lunch we walked across the bridge to buy a paper, and I've never seen the Tay look so inviting, I almost could have jumped in, but the fisherman wouldn't have liked it!

I saw a little bit of art in Perth, and enjoyed a walk around, but frustratingly, found the huge art gallery with no time to spare to look inside. We drove on to Montrose, admiring the countryside and getting excited when we glimpsed the sea.

Montrose Folk Club is held at the Links Hotel, where they also put us up. Its a classic old hotel, quite big and full of fading grandeur, like huge mirrors, small sculptures and some really wonderful stained glass windows by the aesthetic movement pioneer, Daniel Cottier. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Cottier)

We had a keen crowd and some terrific floorspots including poet Rachel Fox, who presented a chapter of her epic poem about the mental hospital in Montrose. For all of her poem, look here: http://balladoffearandnow.blogspot.co.uk/

Day Seven of Eleven

Day Seven.
Stirling Folk Club.
Scotland!! The drive up from Newcastle to Scotland is full of glorious vistas and picturesque stone villages. The sun is gone again but the moors are still beautiful.

We stopped in Wooler, where John went to the Angel pub and I walked up and down the town, seeing some very interesting landscapes in The Design Room gallery, and having lunch at Ramblers Cafe, where Dawn and Ivan make good coffee.

We had another change-of-driver stop at Lauder - we swap driver every hour - where there was another interesting gallery called the Flat Cat.

In Scotland the weather cleared to broad blue skies. We had sweeping views of Edinburgh and the Forth as we drove in and up to Stirling. We parked at the Rugby Club, where the folk club meets, and so does a very noisy aerobics class. The grounds of the club have a spectacular view of the Wallace monument and its escarpment. We walked into town in the beautiful sunlight. Our way took us over the footbridge where the Battle of Stirling happened in the 14th century, and past the lovely river bank, through the pedestrian tunnel and up the hill past St Mary's, to  the town centre, which is a carbon copy of high streets everywhere. But either side of the central section the shops get more interesting. We ate in town and walked back to the Rugby Club, entering it through a swarm of sweating aerobicists.

This is a club that really knows how to sing, and when Big John did three songs to start off, he did one with a quirky story about a beggar who gets conscripted. It reminded me of Bert Murray, my grandfather, both the way he sang and the stories he loved.

We stood in front of the high-octane tartan curtains and started with The Briar and the Rose. There was a visitor from Glenfarg Folk Club, Issy, and I could tell we'd won her heart with that one.

We had a terrific night with everyone at Stirling. John's voice is still not 100%, because he hasn't been able to rest it this week, but he is taking care of it and singing well. Quite amazing.

Day Six of Eleven.

Day Six.
South Shields Folk Club.
Its Sunday, and in the world of John Thompson, that means Sunday Roast. We left Jacey's and came down the side of the Pennines on the lookout for John's quarry, a carvery. The idea of roast is quite thoroughly entrenched across the UK, and pretty much any pub that can do food will do a roast on Sunday. After a couple of false starts, we found a place called the Black Bull, which had a beautiful carvery with lots of vegies.

The drive north is beautiful, and as the clouds began to clear and the sky got higher and bluer, our spirits lifted. All the young spring growth glows in the sunlight, and the fields and towns are pretty. Coming into Gateshead, we drove past the welcoming open arms of the Angel of the North, the sculpture that is human, plane and indomitable spirit all in one.

We had a Travelodge room again, and John's voice is still tender from his cold, so he went straight to bed for a rest. I went for a walk and discovered we were opposite Newcastle Racecourse at Gosforth Park. It was once used as a scout and guide camp too, in amongst the spreading woodlands, and I had a pleasant walk along inviting paths through the woods.

We took the Tyne Tunnel to South Shields, and had dinner in a pub with Susan and Malcolm Craven, champions of the Northumbrian smallpipes, and organisers of the Singing Weekend we are running on June 9-10 in North Broomhall, Northumberland. We'd love you to come along! Here are the details again:
A weekend workshop for singers of all abilities.
“Sandpipers”, North Broomhill, NE65 9UL
10 am - 5 pm each day. Cost: £90
Price includes lunches, tea and coffee
Bookings: Susan Craven, Tel. (01670) 761872
Email: Susan@NorthumbriansAnd Pipers.com

Down to Westoe Football Club, current home of South Shields Folk Club, and Brian, Brian and Ken, the organisers, managed to badger Susan into doing a floorspot, after she got her pipes out to play a few tunes with us. She did three tunes and finished with that devilish array of arpeggios, The De'il Amang the Tailors.

All the floorspots were entertaining, sometimes moving, and there is certainly a strong singing tradition in this club. In spite of a smallish crowd last night, it was one of the strongest nights of singing along we have had on the tour.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Day Five of Eleven.

Day Five.
Wortley Folk Club, Stocksbridge.
On the way north through Nottinghamshire from Bury, we were scooting along by Clumber Park when John exclaimed, "There was an elephant by the side of the road." We turned around to investigate, to the consternation of Satnav Lady, and John found this friend.

We drove up to Yorkshire to Jacey Bedford's house. She is our agent and we've staying there so many times, it was a homecoming. We got a wonderful warm welcome and the use of a washing machine - really like home! 

Al Parrish, the great big bass player from Tanglefoot, the big-voiced Canadian band, is doing a solo tour, and he came with us to Wortley Folk Club and did a great floor spot. We discovered, as part of our fact-finding tour of the UK, that Wortley is pronounced 'wertly' and is actually held in Stocksbridge.

There were several floor singers (people who get up to do a couple of songs, for those in Australia who don't know the term), and they were all great. The audience was very attentive and we had a most enjoyable gig, except for the bit where John knocked his drink into all the leads!

Day Four of Eleven.

Day Four.
The Milkmaid Folk Club, Bury St Edmunds.
We packed up our suitcases, loaded the car and drove back to Dartford. John took the train in to London, where he had a few things to do, and I went to visit my second cousin once removed, Sadie. That means she's my gran's niece. Sadie was looking wonderful, as well as I've ever seen her, but she had a heart attack last month. She was amazingly recovered, and filled me in on the doings of many people to whom I am related in the UK, but haven't met.

Then I drove to Cambridge. Cambridge is one of my favourite towns, because it's outrageously beautiful, with breathtaking architectural grace realised in a lovely light-hued stone, and is one of the few towns where my personality seems normal. Even slightly staid. 

People were rushing about on black bicycles with wicker baskets on the front, tourists were queuing for the visually lush experience of punting on the Cam, there was a sense of rightness in the world that comes from a group of people realising their full potential. That was what I felt. There are so few places in the world where many people are stretching and challenging their intellects, finding opportunities and expanding their horizons as a matter of course, but Cambridge feels like one of them. We all deserve a chance to excel.

But I was there to collect John from the train, on the way to our gig. I was fortunate to have a little bit of time for a wander and to see a contemporary art gallery. Then we paid for it by driving in peak hour traffic to my second cousin Gerald's place near Bury St Edmunds, where our gig was.

Gerald came with us to the gig, and being an art teacher, he was very instructive about the fascinating array of architecture we were passing on the way in to Bury. There is a huge church, which was regarded as a small church in the grounds of the Abbey, when the Abbey existed. But Henry VIII got rid of that. A prosperous market town for centuries, Bury is full of wonderful, airy, beautifully built merchants houses, and a massive Corn Exchange, all columns and neoclassical lines, which is currently being turned into a Wetherspoon, upon which opinion is divided in the town.

Our gig turned out to be part of the Bury Arts Festival, so to our delight, the room was overflowing with people who wouldn't normally hear about folk gigs, but who really enjoyed our music. It was a marvellous night, with about 90 people, and a support act called The Larks. Marvellous.

Day Three of Eleven.

Day Three.
Folk at the Drum, Folkestone.
We're staying in the excruciatingly modernised bit of Maidstone, (Travelodge, Matalan, Asda, Lidl) but a few hundred metres along the River Medway, the century changes. Glorious stone buildings reflect serenely in the Medway, and secret lives are lived along the river. I greeted a man who was sitting quietly, waiting for passing foot traffic to subside so his tame water rat would come over and eat. I saw a man sitting by the river beside the travelodge, juggling three swords. The church had unusual, cylindrical graves, and much of the area was built in the fourteenth century.

There are advantages in the modern bit too. Crowing with success, I discovered that Hobbycraft has almost everything I need to put on my art exhibition in Derry. They're not in Northern Ireland, but I can buy up my supplies before we drive onto the ferry.

Folk at the Drum had a full house, which was 28 people - its a cosy room! There were terrific floorspots, lots of harmonies, our friends Brian and Marian sang a rousing song about Jackie Frost, and most of our songs were augmented by voices in harmony.