Friday, October 15, 2010

The Last Night of the Tour!

The last night of the tour is upon us!!

This Cloudstreet tour has had a bit of everything, long drives, sightseeing, friends, festivals, teaching, sessions, art galleries, three countries so far, shopping, and of course, long drives bear another mention. But two things have been missing so far: narrow boats, and respiratory illness. We normally encounter both on a tour. And while we still haven't been on any narrow boats, Nic has managed to develop a cold in the last few days. Her vocals are still ok, but not perfect, so we've taken her solo pieces out of the set for the last two nights, as her harmonies are still fine, and she can still play the flute, whistle, fiddle and percussion. It happened as the weather turned colder, and autumn really took hold, about four days ago.

Its been a whirlwind end to the tour, with lots of gigs end to end and lots of people to catch up with. In the last news we were about to do Maidenhead Folk Club, which is held in the beautifully resonant skittle alley at the Seven Stars. One of the highlights of the floorspots that night was Terry, a regular, playing The Entertainer on the tin whistle, a creditable interpretation on a single melody line instrument of a piece written for ten fingers.

We were in Southampton next night for the Fo'c'sle Folk Club, a wonderful night in a very, very warm room. For Nic this is bliss and her flute loves the warmth too. For John this is a chance to visibly melt. Before the show we visited the pleasant village of Hamble-le-Rice for a glass of wine, and on the way to the show we could see the new Cunard liner, Queen Elizabeth, which was named that day by the Queen. She (the ship, not the monarch) was lit up like a city.

Our day off was spent driving to Essex and getting the washing done, very rock n roll. We stayed once again with good friends Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer, and Vicki and Nic spent the evening having a nyckelharpa session. Vicki tuned one of her nyckelharpas to viola tuning, and taught Nic two Swedish tunes. Google nyckelharpa to see pictures of this beautiful keyed Swedish fiddle with sympathetic strings, its a wonder of cabinet-making.

Next night we played at the Hoy at Anchor Folk Club at Leigh on Sea. From previous visits we knew there wasn't much dinner available right near the pub, so we employed the Magic iPhone, solver of problems and oracle, and discovered a website called Sarfend which told us Hamlet Court Road in Westcliff, about a mile away, was the source of many restaurants. We parked the car, and practically the first restaurant we found was a soup noodle house, which was like a dream come true. Westcliff Noodle House. Try it, you'll like it.

The Hoy has just celebrated its 40th anniversary as a folk club and have a bright new backdrop declaring this milestone. Its a fascinating club with posters of amazing gigs from over the years framed and hung all up the stairs and in the anteroom.

That night Nic's cold really hit, and we spent the next day resting and taking every cold remedy - vitamin c, salt gargles, hot bath, sleep, panadol. And Dad, you'll be pleased to know, Throaties!

That afternoon we packed up and drove to Ely, where Ruth and Robert looked after us with an onion-free vegetarian dinner involving yummy lentils. Its so rare to have lentils that haven't been paired with onion, Nic almost never gets to eat them.

We drove across the fens to the club, under the shadow of Ely Cathedral, for a lovely show, supported by Winter Wilson, a Lincolnshire duo (, who sounded great. John took on some extra lead singing at this gig, and we put in a little more instrumental stuff to rest Nic's voice.

It was exciting to have Hemlock Morris attending the gig from Bedford, and some of Nic's relatives too.

The next drive took us to Dungeness. This remote shingle spit at the bottom southeast corner of England overlooks the cliffs of Dover, and on a relatively clear day reveals the coast of France on the horizon too. At the end of the spit is the eerie sight of a nuclear power station, and the stark shingle environment is home to rare lichens, a steam railway, a couple of pubs, a lighthouse and the former home of filmmaker Derek Jarman.

A.S.Byatt's novel, The Children's Book, is set in this area of Romney Marsh and Dungeness, and it's fascinating to place the action in the wild landscape.

The Drum club at Folkestone was a delight, with many friends coming out and everyone having a sing!

And now its the last night, in Guildford. See you after the show!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Typical Night at a Folk Club.

And here's a picture drawn on our mailing list!

A typical gig night for us goes something like this: first we spend the day aware that we have a gig, and trying not to wear ourselves out too early. We drive to the gig, which has been anything from half an hour to five hours' drive. After a long drive, Nic likes to have a little nap to get body and soul back together. This can be as short as 20 minutes, and often happens in the car. At this point John likes to read the Guardian. He says he could read forever and why isn't the Guardian bigger?

Then we go in search of a sustaining dinner and eat about 6.30pm. We both really need to eat before gigs, as the concentration uses up a lot of fuel. The food choices are limited by Nic's inability to eat onion, and some places that we know are excellent in a hurry include Pizza Express (where they do a great salad with torn chicken, avocado, beans, egg, potatoes and some strips of cooked pizza dough), and Wetherspoons which is reliable and well priced. Sometimes we can eat at the venue, which is often a pub that does food.

If there is a p.a. for the gig, we go in to the venue early and set up our gear, say hello to the organisers, and do a sound check. When there is a p.a., Nic uses her stomp box and flute microphone. We do line checks on everything and get the sound as clear as possible, so we can hear the vocals in particular. Clear vocal sound means we can sing in tune, hearing each other's harmonics.

Everything else gets a check, and the list includes concertina, guitar, percussion kit (tambourine on a stand played with brushes, cymbal), stomp box, wooden and silver flutes, whistle, fiddle. Nic has to make sure the shaker egg and f-whistle are in reach, not in a bag..... If there is no p.a., we set our gear up and check how resonant the room is, which dictates how much we need to face towards each other to hear.

Sometimes there is a support act who also sound checks, more often there is a selection of resident musicians from the club or floorsingers who have asked for a spot, and this starts the night. Residents and floorsingers often do amazing songs.

Then Cloudstreet is introduced, and we do our first 45 minute set. For us, 45 minutes is seven songs, with some chatter in between. If we try to squeeze more in, the show is not as relaxed and flowing. We like to start with a couple of songs that are very strong, so that people can relax into a good night, knowing we are safe up on that stage. We took this idea on from Kristina Olsen's performance notes, and its true, you don't want to worry that the performer up there is a bit shaky, you want to immerse yourself in the music they make.

We have been finishing the first half with Bill and the Bear, because its a good spot in the set for Nic to put on extra costume - that corset and tutu from Thailand have been getting a real workout! And it's an uplifting and fun song to take us to the break.

In the break we replenish our drinks, make sure the mailing list is passing round the room, talk to people about music, ideas, songs, sell them cds if they would like them, and give away postcards.

Then we're into set two, and it can be shorter or longer than set one, depending on the club's timing, but is usually another 45 minutes. We move our songs around each night, because we have more songs than we can perform in one night. We design the set to have a dynamic flow, changing pace, making sure we don't put two slow, thoughtful songs together, making sure we change key a lot to keep the ear fresh. We put in requests from the audience as much as we can, which sometimes redesigns the set completely!

There is often time for an encore, and we usually do something acapella as a way of rounding out the night.

Then there is a period of socializing and a few more cd sales, during which Nic tries to pack up her collection of instruments and not lose anything. At last night's club, the mailing list on a clipboard which we lost at Fylde festival over a month ago, was returned to us!

And we load the car, say farewell, and drive to the accommodation, slowly losing the adrenalin from our systems and getting tired. We usually get to bed between 1 and 2am, sometimes earlier, and try to get enough sleep to do it all again tomorrow!

News in from the last week: after the Red Lion we had the pleasure of staying with Vin and Pat Garbutt up on Teesside for a couple of nights, and found out just how comforting an Aga stove in the kitchen can be. Vin's discovered a new bird called the Great Grey Tunkle, so he's very pleased with himself.

From their place we went to do our gig at Guisborough, and we had trouble finding the venue (driving up and down the street going, no, not that building, what about that one), so we worried that no-one else would find it, but they did, and it was a great night with a singing club. The only worry was when Nic wore that tutu into the general bar, full of squash players, to buy a drink. "One of the singers, are yeh?" said a man at the bar, in a very understated way, glancing sideways.

We had a look round Saltburn, and Vin pointed out the chimney of the steelworks that made the steel for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, north at Redcar. We walked down the pier past the funicular railway and watched the brave surfers.

The drive from there to Southport was long, about 4 hours, but spectacular, as we drove over the high moors into Cumbria, on a sun and showers day with sunlight picking out glorious pieces of the view.

Southport is a fun place to go shopping, and we hit the charity shops next day and got some flash winter gear for the next few weeks. Not sure if it will come back to Australian summer with us. The Bothy Folk Club there is a beauty, wonderful resident musicians and a lovely room.

Next night we were in Runcorn, not too far away, at a club with a lot of heart, in a tiny venue where we played in front of the door. Once again, impressive resident singers led the way.

And we followed that with two nights with Dave and Linda, who used to live in Townsville, North Queensland, but happily for us, now live near Northwich! Nic had a walk down the cut and found a late fruiting damson tree to raid. We went from there to our show in Blackpool, at the Clarence. W

e have played there three times before, and its always a good night. Eddie does lovely sound and is a luthier. Last night Richard, the support act, was playing a most delectable guitar that Eddie made for him. Nic has tried Eddie's mandolins in the past and continues to covet one. He hasn't made any this year yet.

And now we prepare to drive to Maidenhead.

Skeletor the sheep, in Skipton, Nth Yorks.

A sign in the toilets at the motorway services.

A Roast, A Birthday and A Red Lion.

Its Sunday. That means there is roast for lunch. Everywhere. I think its a UK rule that there must be roast on Sunday. This Sunday, we both had roast turkey, with mashed potato, peas, carrots, Yorkshire pudding, cauliflower and cranberry sauce. Its a kind of antidote to the thoroughly rainy weather today. We have a four hour drive ahead, and our show tonight is in Southport, right across the country.

A week ago, we celebrated Jacey's birthday in Yorkshire. The party was also enjoyed by lots of her family and friends, and her enormous German Shepherd, Diezel, who is tall enough to reach everything on the table without stretching. He's not sure why everyone keeps preventing him from exercising this talent!

We caught up with some amazing people, including Will Noble, who is a traditional Yorkshire singer, and a master stonemason and dry stone waller, whose talents have been employed by environmental sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. I also had a fascinating talk about touring and piano music with Bob, a jazz and boogie-woogie pianist.

We got Jacey some vampire teeth for a laugh, and managed to get a photo of her as a creature of the night before Diezel tried them out for size.

Our next stop was Sheffield, once the home of steel and cutlery, now the home of James and Nancy and their new son Hamish. Its also the home of a great deal of folk music and a very lively city. We had two days off, singing baby songs and playing Texas Holdem Poker for the prize (every hand) of choosing a favourite song from Spotify. A very wide range of songs were played, from punk to Aussie pub rock, with much singing.

I also had the best chicken shwarma (like a chicken doner kebab) I've ever had, at a tiny cafe called Shaz. The succulent chicken was sliced off the big rotisserie while the flat bread was cooking, daubed onto the inside of the tandoor oven. A bit of salad and garlic sauce, and it was the most delicious £2.50 ever!

The Red Lion Folk Club in Birmingham has moved to Wednesdays, and it was our next gig. We have had a long association with the Red Lion, first attending there to see James and Nancy play in 2003. Since then we've played there several times and stayed with organisers Chris and Della in their inspiring house which is like a jumping off point to Narnia. Lots of magical things like tapestries and intriguing dried flowers and books EVERYWHERE, with comfy places to curl up and read.

Cloudstreet shared the night at the club with our friends Isambarde. it was especially good fun when they invited us up with no warning to play the Kesh Jig in their final number and we leapt at the chance, and sang harmonies too. The song was "Hard Times of Old England", but the times had never seemed better.

Monday, September 27, 2010

From the Atlantic coast to the Dales.

Just finished a wonderful gig at Reeth Village Hall. We did a bit of everything, harmonies, drums, concertina, fiddlesinging, guitar, flute, whistle, costume change. Loads of fun. Rebecca Findlay did the support and really impressed me with her breadth of skills, fiddlesinging, lovely guitar work and interesting choice of tradition-based songs. After the show, she couldn't stay for a session because she had to go and pack up a p.a. at another gig. We trooped down to the nearest pub with our hosts, Tracy and John, and soon had a few tunes and songs and a chat with the locals and a lad from New Zealand.

Reeth is a beautiful village in the middle of Swaledale, and the road in leads over the dales amongst the heather. Wouldn't want to be on those slopes and curves in ice, though! We drove in past Bolton Castle, which looms ominously above as you drive the tiny road, and we also saw lots of animals: pheasant, grouse, sheep, horses including Clydesdales, big grey and cream spotty cows (I just know someone's going to tell me what kind they are) and bunnies. The stark ridges and purple heather, and the moving pattern of sunlight and cloud, were stunning.

Since the last blog entry, Cloudstreet has been All Over The Country! Following our Isle of Wight odyssey, we played in Chipping Norton, surely one of the prettiest villages we've seen. We last played there five years ago, and stayed once again with Dave and Jill, who have now finished that room at the back!

We had a support act, and it was Tribal Hart, a band fronted by our old friend from Brisbane, Jan Davis. Jan's joyful style, and upbeat guitar and accordion playing, is complemented by Lefty on cajon and Paul on bass, and they chose party-style covers and had everyone singing. The audience was full of Aussies; Lindsey, Suzanne and Anna, friends from Music Under the Southern Cross, were all there, and quite a few others too. The choruses were big on harmony, and after the show, we repaired to a local pub and had a session, ripping out some of those Scottish fiddle tunes with Anna, and letting several Middle Bar veterans fly on chorus songs.

The weather turned cold. We drove to Devon. The weather improved. Lovely gig at Folk on the Moor in Devon, with some very fine floor singers too. We stayed with Colin and Monique. Monique couldn't make it to the show, but when we discovered she was a keen Beatles fan, we sang her our slow version of "In My Life" before we left, as a thankyou.

The day was bright, sunny and warm. We enjoyed the drive to Newquay and had a marvellous day off where I got to sit on the beach at Porth and draw pictures in the sand in a very unstructured and restful way! Then I had a lovely cloudy cider, and enjoyed the gorgeous sunset. In the morning, as another clear day dawned, we walked out to the headland at Porth where there was once a prehistoric roundhouse, and looked at the magnificent cliff-edged coastline to the north.

Our next show was in Arundel, a town with a remarkably intact castle, and a sandwich shop rather worryingly called "The Edible Sandwich Co". Why are they making such a big thing about that? Isn't it normal? 

A campervan was parked outside the venue and I somehow suspected the inhabitants might come to our gig. I was surprised, though, to see Rian and Lindsay, from Queensland, climb out. Lovely to see friends from the Aus folk scene. They had no news of home, they've been here longer than us, and taken their campervan everywhere from Orkney to Ireland to Arundel.

Our next show was two days later in North Yorkshire. That's a long drive from the south coast and we were getting a bit weary of the road. We sheltered for a night at Chris and Sophie's in Coventry, and set out again next day. The drive was a bit of a killer but the Bacca Pipes club at Keighley was worth it. A secret club, it is held in the Ukrainian Club on Henry Street. We were parked on Henry Street and had inspected every building without identifiying that we were parked outside the Ukrainian Club! The club like it that way, but they do make the concession of putting a sign in the window during the show! What a great singing club, very friendly and the floorspots were terrific. 

Carol and Ken put us up in their fascinating house, which I'm sure could have been involved in the Narnia books. We had the attic bedroom, and when I looked out the window next morning, it was like a painting. The stone houses at the bottom of the dale led upwards to a huge, close, green hill with stone walls criss-crossing it, and a mere wisp of ufo-shaped cloud above it. The day continued to look spectacular as we drove up into the Dales and over the heather-covered hills.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dartford, Romford, Isle of Wight. Doo dah. Doo dah.

We started yesterday with a walk up to the site of an ancient roundhouse and fortification on the headland at Porth Beach, in Cornwall. The views in every direction were spectacular, from the Victorian seaside town of Newquay to the wild, untouched Atlantic coast with cliffs and rolling breakers to the north.

We tottered and plunged in the stiff breeze along with the swirling gulls and rooks, back to the beach, and up to our budget room. Deciding to forgo the breakfast there, we packed up and returned to a lovely Newquay cafe, which we found yesterday.

Cafe Irie, at 38 Fore Street, Newquay,, has a yummy menu, and for Maleny people, is like a tiny 

combined version of the Club and the Co-op. Ecover bulk refills and calendula deodorant deck the shelves, handmade jewellery and felt seagulls hang decoratively, and there are comfy old couches and a piano. The menu includes the Canadian Deluxe: Cornish bacon, pancakes, maple syrup, blueberries and scrambled eggs (£5.95). Great idea, yummy, although the pancakes were, surprisingly, a little tough! Other choices include Organic Porridge: organic oat flakes and warm milk served with a blob of cornish clotted cream and a dollop of honey (£2.65), or eggs benedict, including thick granary bread, thick cut grilled ham, two poached eggs and home made hollandaise (£5.95).

So what jewels and excitement have filled the past week?

On Sunday we played at "A Shed Full of Folk" in Bedford. Organised by our friend Andy Miller, it was a mini-festival, a whole afternoon of acts, with Cloudstreet finishing the evening. Andy's Morris side, Hemlock Morris, gave us some mighty sticking and viciously self-deprecating humour in the true tradition of Morris. Their dance with one long stick and one short stick each was breath-taking, the likelihood of finger removal, while palpable, was never realised.

After this tantalising taste, we spent our night off with Jonny Dyer and Vicki Swan, rewatching that cult film classic, "Morris - A Life With Bells On". We first saw it with all the Dance Up the Sun crew in Brisbane last May, and it was worth another viewing just to see the improvised French morris dancing fueled by Wookie Hole cider, the American Morris spectacle, and to see Derecq offered a second chance to complete a Threeple Hammer Damson. Enough!

We played in Dartford on Tuesday. Staying in Thurrock, we discovered a kind of shopping suburb, just beside the Dartford Bridge, with food venues, cinema, huge retail complexes, and roads joining them all up. The times I've driven past here and had no idea all that was going on.

My cousin-once-removed (we decided in the end that must be the title as she's my gran's niece), Sadie, and her husband Frank came to the Dartford gig. It is always a great pleasure to talk with Sadie. Frank had a sad story - the model engineering society to which he belongs has closed because the power station, whose land they used, wanted the land back after many years.  When I first visited Frank and Sadie, I was immensely impressed with Frank's steam engines, miniature, working locomotives, which he had built from scratch in his shed. They were exquisite.

From Dartford, it was a short hop to our next show in Romford. Because it was all in the London area, I took the opportunity to have an art excursion. I went by train to Whitechapel Gallery, and saw the Alice Neel retrospective. I was introduced to the work of Alice Neel, an unflinching portrait painter from New York, only a few months ago. Seeing it 'in the flesh' was a feast. I saw the whole exhibition just to get to know her subjects first, and only later went through again studying her expressive technique. She seemed to capture spontaneity in her subjects by drawing them quite quickly to begin with, then working up the painting from there, combining areas of i

mpasto and blending with areas of totally blank canvas. Google Alice Neel images to see what I mean.

Our Romford show was in a 15th century pub. It was a pleasure to play to such an appreciative crowd who hadn't seen us before. Our friend John Hare attended unexpectedly, and did a floor spot too. He saved the day when our van was stolen all those years ago.

The next part of the journey was all new to us. We took the ferry to the Isle of Wight. Everything about it was fascinating, beautiful, and lovely in the sunshine. We were accommodated at a comfy old hotel in Ventnor, which is a pretty town with an enticing beach. We played in St Mary's Church, refurbished and light, a stunning backdrop to a concert. And the show was filmed for UK Entertainment channel by the local film crew. We did costume changes, we changed pace and instruments. It was a bit nerve-wracking. But everyone in the audience was into it, and we had quite a long chat with people at interval over cups of tea. After our second set, and packing up, we met quite a few of the same people at the evocative Spyglass Inn, right down on the beach. 

We saw a little bit of the footage, and it looks pre

tty good, so we'll let you know where you can find it as soon as its available.

Next day (after the obligatory paddle down the beach in the sparkling sun), we did an interview to complement the concert. Then Rodney, the producer/cameraman/organiser, suggested we perform a few more songs outdoors, to get a completely different feel, and possibly create content for another show. We did seven songs in the end, and really had to rush to catch the ferry.

The whole experience was way too quick, and told me I'd like to get back to the Isle of Wight and explore it. One small experience that I loved happened over breakfast at the Eversley Hotel. As soon as I entered the dining room I was aware of the wonderful paintings on the walls. I wasn't expecting quality art in a hotel dining room, and these were spectacular. The largest was a painting of a sky, with a view of Ventnor from the beach. The feathered clouds 

and blue sky was the dramatic focus of the work. And then I met the artist, Kerrie Stritton! She was working in the hotel. Trained at the Royal Academy, she seems to be getting established, and her work was an inspiration. You can contact her at kerriestritton[at]

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sent to Coventry.

Coventry Cathedral area - the cathedral was destroyed by a firestorm in WWII.

Quote from John: "I realise why that sign says 'Drive Safely', but wouldn't it be nice if sometimes it said 'Bang into each other for fun'?

Last blog we were just about to play in Nottingham, and we went on BBC Nottingham in the afternoon of the gig. Alan, the announcer, managed to get us talking about the relative merits of yeast extracts and how our parliament is more hung than his. The Carrington Triangle club was well attended and the floor spots (singers who do one or two songs, for those uninitiated or overseas) were excellent; some good singers and guitarists.

Next morning we went to the new Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery, just because I wanted to go and see what it was like, and we were treated to the biggest collection of Diane Arbus photography ever put together. Fascinating and moving, they were a sharp observation of people. Have a look here to see most of the show:

One night later, Cloudstreet went to Coventry. We played at Maudslay Thursday, a folk club started by our friend Chris Green, from the band Isambarde, because he wanted to see if he could do it. And he can! Cabaret style table seating, in a barrel-ceilinged upstairs room at the Maudslay pub, welcomes his crowd of mainly local residents to  his concerts. 

Chris opened the night with his new duo with Becky Price the accordion whiz, and their repertoire is uplifting and well-arranged renditions of 18th century tunes which they have meticulously researched, but play in a lively way. Check out their myspace at, which is worth it just to read what they say about themselves and nice beer.

Our show went over a treat (as they say) and Chris did great sound. The corset and tutu are very popular. Our thanks go to people we know who travelled a long way to be there. And brought us fine examples of English wine.

Chris went to Swanage next day to play the festival with Isambarde, and we stayed for two more nights with Sophie, his partner. Sophie is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for heritage instruments. She took us to an Irish session in the barn-like, half-timbered attic of a pub called Whitefriars, and she played some tunes on English mediaeval bagpipes. Some Melbournians we know arrived at the session, which just goes to show you can't get away with anything, no matter where you are.

In the morning, Sophie was working at the Guildhall, demonstrating a wide variety of instruments while dressed in spectacular Tudor kit. We popped by for a look at the impressive Guildhall (Mary Queen of Scots was housed here for a time, there is a great hall lined with armour (helmets and chest plates), and the roof bosses all depict wonderful musical angels and crazy creatures).

I also saw the art museum, and printed out some photos at Boots, making use of the opportunity to be in a big shopping town. We 

went for a pub meal wiith Sophie for dinner, and I went to show her some of the photos I took... and that's when I realised I didn't have my camera any more. Some brain-racking made me suspect I might have left it at Boots.

Boots' photolab wasn't answering the phone, so I just went in there next morning. I wanted to cheer for the generous city of Coventry from the rooftops when they gave my camera back to me at Boots, 49 Lower Precinct!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Two muso, two clubs, two festivals, two days off.

I know all about driving while tired! Six hours from Glasgow to Birmingham, an extra hour because there was a car fire on the M6 and the whole motorway was stopped for 45 mins, so we broke our rule (always stay on the big blue roads even if they're really slow, because they're quicker than the little green roads. Make a cuppa. That's what the thermos is for) and diverted along A roads. Took forever. We were less stressed than we might have been, and practised cloudstreet songs as we drove along.

The last time we played at the Black Diamond in Birmingham, we were stopped midway through our third song by the fire brigade. It had just come to their attention that the folk club room, upstairs in the pub, didn't have proper fire escapes, and they kicked us out! Undeterred, we did a deal with the dominoes players downstairs and squeezed the audience into a small downstairs room where we finished the show singing in the doorway. When we got to the club this time, everyone remembered the goings on of last time, and in a bid to tempt fate, we put that same song, Miner's Washing, second in the set just to see what would happen. But no firemen materialized and the gig went smoothly.

The next step, Birmingham to Wallingford, only took about 2.5 hours. Wallingford was fantastic, the first gig was in a sports club which had been recruited at the last minute when another venue fell through, and although there was a stage, p.a. and lights, it wasn't set up as a venue, and people were in dribs and drabs around the walls, or walking in, looking at the uninviting room and leaving again. There was also a rugby game going on outside.

I spoke to the MC, and when the act on stage finished, John and she and I zoomed around and set up 6 rows of seats in front of the stage, and it made the hugest difference to how the audience behaved. We then removed a few tables and chairs further back in the room to discourage groups from sitting and chatting at the back, and it worked well. The next act went on and people moved up to the chairs and listened. By the time we went on, we had a full crowd and people were creating more rows of chairs themselves. I knew they'd get the idea if we but showed them the way....

Our set was fun, a number of fans from our mailing list showed up, and some whole families who were fans. We sold a few cds afterwards, then hurried off to soundcheck for our next gig. It was in a church in the centre of town. The church had been refurbished inside to let in lots of light, and it was the most perfect singing environment. They used a p.a., but only to lightly boost the sound. Did the soundcheck, which took a while, then found a Pizza Express, a particularly reliable and delicious restaurant chain. Not cheap, but worth it.

Got totally costumed up for that one, tutu, corset, the works. The cameras came out when we walked on. The sound was so perfect in there, we were singing into condenser mics, and I could hear so clearly, we could play around with the dynamics in a way that is often impossible. Wonderful! Stayed to the end of the next act, our agent's band, Artisan. By that I mean, she sings in it, as well as being our agent. In fact, she seems to have taken on all our friends lately, so Isambarde and Vicki Swan and Jonny Dyer are all now on Jacey's books, plus a troupe of Zulu singers and dancers, all of whom were playing this festival. Artisan's harmony blend was sublime, delicious three part harmony and firmly tongue in cheek banter.

We had an accommodation malfunction at this festival, and so did the guys from Isambarde. The room we were offered actually had no bed at all. Although there were camp beds in other rooms, we weren't confident two of them would have our names on them by the time we managed to return to the room, so John talked to some people and managed to secure a billet for us.

Wallingford was full of friends and we caught up with lots of musicians after our show, including lovely Leeds songwriter Tom Bliss, and Chris, Em and Jude from Isambarde. 

We were up at 6 next morning, left at 7 and drove for nearly 5 hours to get to the next gig, Fylde Festival in Lancashire. Sunday morning, the traffic wasn't too bad, but it was a long drive. We took turns driving and napping. Got there, got wristbands, put flyers on every second seat in the main theatre, then went to our first gig in the hotel bar. Big crowd, big Balkan band on before us, did a quick set up and had a very breezy chat with the audience throughout the gig. So glad this low key gig was our first job, it warmed up those tired voices and made a strong connection with the audience which carried through to our later and much more formal gig on the main stage. We hurried over to the Marine Hall after the first gig, and soundchecked very efficiently. Had a dressing room here and everything!

And finally, we got to see our great friends Jonny and Vicki. We've been here nearly a month, we've stayed in their house, but this was the first time we'd laid eyes on them. They are two of my best friends in the world. And they were playing with another dear friend, George Papavgeris, who has toured in Australia a couple of times. They mainly do George's songs, as his band. Vicki plays double bass and flute in this lineup, and Jonny plays lead/rhythm guitar, piano accordion and piano. They also do harmonies. George had teed up with us to come on and do several songs with them, and this meant we had to be totally ready for our set before they started. John was nervous. I was not, but I made sure I was very organised. We walked on during the second verse of George's song "Friends Like These" and joined in the chorus. George knows about symbolism.

Our gig went like a dream, sound was good, vibe was good, we were relaxed. Bill and the Bear is going down a storm with audiences, and my drumming is improving, I think. For the last song we did Green Man, and we asked George, Jonny and Vicki to come up and play. So we did it with guitar, bass, accordion and 5 voices. It was big.

We sold lots of cds afterwards, we actually had a queue!

And then we stayed in the hotel from the dawn of time... it was like Fawlty Towers. Inexplicable architectural features (enter the door of your room, and you are faced with the end of a wall, weirdly dividing two doorless rooms), slow service, super-creaky floors, pathetic shower, a drop of blood on the wall, filthy carpet, three televisions, no space. There were two single beds in each tiny room. It turned out I got the firmest bed. John came back later than me and said he actually giggled when he lay on his bed, it was just like a hammock. The hotel was very convenient for the venues, though!

The last time we played Fylde, we stayed in single rooms in the Nautical College, and they were austere but very clean. I liked them better.

So after two days of recovery in Yorkshire, tonight we play in Nottingham, and we're singing on the radio this afternoon!

Tegeingl 2010 Cloudstreet

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Ship Repairing Men at the Black Swan Folk Club

Right round the UK the long way.

North Wales to South Wales via Shropshire.

We travelled back to Shropshire after our adventure in Liverpool and Mold, to return Trevor's borrowed fiddle. It gave us an opportunity to pop in to Shrewsbury prior to the festival to swap some of our cds for a different title with Graham from Roots Music.  On a long day of travel, we then drove to Hay-on-Wye for lunch. In the rain. But no matter, Hay is a town of bookshops and we enjoyed a browse in a big, satisfying one before driving on over the Welsh mountains in the mist to Llantrisant.

Pat was ever-welcoming and put a delicious dinner on for us before the gig. We drove over to the pub in the constant rain, dressed in our finest, and put on a show. The night included floor-singers, and a very entertaining raffle which involved a recitation by all the regulars about the qualities of the bottle of wine, and the prize was a choice of the wine, or a mystery box. The brave winner chose the mystery box and to everyone's joy won a huge zucchini. Courgette. Marrow. Big vegie.

South Wales to York via Sheffield.

Next morning we were away by 8, on a long run up to Sheffield, where we visited friends to borrow another fiddle, and had a short break. From Sheffield we went to Birdsedge, our first chance to see Jacey, our agent, who has been on tour herself, in Canada. And there was still a drive to go, up to York, for our show at the Black Swan.

When we arrived in York, we were soon joined by Emma Nixon, the director of the Brisbane Celtic Fiddle Club, who has been in Scotland and Northumberland, attending fiddle courses, presenting a paper at a conference, and teaching fiddle for a week at Sandpipers, a teaching venue near Alnmouth. We rehearsed a couple of tunes and Emma joined us during the gig for two songs with tunes. 


We headed up to Northumberland next day, where we had a fascinating couple of days with Malcolm and Susan, two Northumbrian pipers who are running a workshop venue and putting on concerts of traditional Northumbrian music, accompanied by a selection of Northumbrian cheeses, and rather sensibly, Australian wines. How many times can you fit the word Northumbrian into a sentence?

When we arrived, not only was Emma there, but also Caitlin from Melbourne. Cait and I went for a walk across the fields, eating blackberries off the hedgerows as we walked, and sheltering in the pine wood when a rainshower blew over, until we arrived at the beach. Druridge Bay has a long, sweeping and beautiful beach, along which we walked, enjoying the sea and the sunset.

Susan and Malcolm put on a session for us, inviting their friends who play pipes, whistles, concertinas and fiddle. We shared some of our Australian and Irish tunes, including Blacktown Jig and Colin Charlton's Reel, and learned several Northumbrian tunes on the fly. Can't remember them now, but we'd pick them up again quickly.

Scotland and the biggest festival in the world.

On Sunday we packed up and followed the guys in to Alnmouth for a look. Its a beautiful town on the beach where the river meets the sea, and the weather was very unfriendly. We had a quick look at the beach and the town, then took refuge from the freezing wind in a lovely cafe attached to a hotel, with a big conservatory-roofed room. After cakes and tea and promises to keep in touch, we hit the road for Scotland.

The drive up past Berwick is spectacular, with gorgeous sea views, and the Firth of Forth and Edinburgh coming into view at the top of the drive.

We made our way into the centre of the jumping festival town and actually found a park. 

And then we caught up with Bec and Donald. This is one of the most romantic stories of our touring, really. In 2008, Cloudstreet came on tour in the UK and brought Rebecca Wright, guitarist, songwriter, and cellist. She toured with us for 4 months, and in that time we came up to Scotland for a couple of gigs, and stayed in Glasgow with a friend from previous tours, Donald, a fine traditional singer and guitarist. After our Scottish gigs we went to visit relatives in Italy, and on our return, we found Bec and Donald were holding hands. And smiling a lot. And they have continued their adventure together through two Scottish winters, and a visit to Australia. They'll be back in Australia for Christmas this year. Its all Very Lovely.

Visiting Edinburgh on Sunday was really all about seeing Bec, and seeing a gig with her current band, The Wishing Well. Have a look at their crazy European touring schedule here:

Their gig started at midnight at Whistlebinkies. That gave us quite a lot of time to do other festivally things. We all decided to go to David Ferrard's show, "Scottish Folk Roots and Offshoots", an hour of songs exploring his links with Scotland and America. Lots of harmony choruses, people from many countries in attendance. ( We followed this enjoyable show with a scrumptious Indian tapas-style dinner at Mother India next door, where we met Jeff, David's bass-player friend from the US.

Our next diversion was to visit Sandy Bell's, a pub famous for music sessions, where we caught up with Camilla from the Perch Creek Family Jug Band. ( There are more Aussies in Edinburgh during the festival than you can poke a stick at. Camilla was playing banjo in a session, where a bloke from Melbourne with Proclaimers glasses was singing a laconic song about that old Jack Daniels number 7 (I think it was seven). He soon lent the guitar to John, and an extremely obliging flute and whistle player called Edmund lent me a flute, and we had some tunes and songs. Jeff took up the bass and showed us he was a virtuoso!

It was soon time to go to Bec's gig, at the noisy, dark, friendly live music venue, Whistlebinkies. The band was unloading gear onto the cobbles outside, the girls all rushed off and reappeared decked out with makeup and corsets, and soon the band was onstage, playing a thoughtful and musically interesting set of good Australian folk-pop, and struggling with a fair bit of feedback from the monitors. Donald and I sat down the front and acted like the fanclub for the first set, after which I was fading and knew I needed to get to my bed, 90 minutes drive away.

John had met some Americans and was happily talking politics at the bar. He decided to stay in Edinburgh and party on!

We've now been in Glasgow for 4 days in the most glorious sunny weather (mostly). I've seen the Glasgow Sculpture Studios (, I've driven across the country to visit my relations in Broughty Ferry, where I walked on the beach in the sunshine and saw Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument on the way back and practised singing for about 3 hours of the drive.

Nicole at Claypotts Castle, Broughty Ferry.

Tonight we play at The Star Folk Club at St Andrews in the Square, and tomorrow we drive to Birmingham!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

First Hope, then Mold, then Liverpool.

We had a most gorgeous gig at the Hope Village Hall in Shropshire, the night after our week-long singing course finished. It's the third time we've played at Hope, and the community there never fails to have joyful enthusiasm and strong singing voices. 

The hall has lovely acoustics, and for the first time, it was set up sideways - the stage space was halfway down the long side of the room, and the chairs were lined up wider than they were deep. This created an intimate feel, and also gave us access to the curtained bay windows, which we spontaneously decided to use as a costume change space. I put on my circus tutu just before we sang Bill and the Bear, and John wore his gold lamé jacket for The Van Song.

There were some Australians in the audience, with whom we had mutterings about the incredibly indeterminate result so far in the Australian Federal election, held that day.

After such a big week and delightful gig, it was sadly time to leave our lodgings in the Byre at Gleanings, and we had to do it pretty quickly next morning. We were on the way to Tegeingl Festival, an hour-and-a-half's drive away in North Wales. We had a sound check at 10.30am and our first show at 11am.

The weather suddenly turned sunny, after rain almost all week, so the drive was spectacular, the green fields, hedgerows and long views across farmland all sparkling. We arrived in the strangely named town of Mold (its Welsh name is much nicer - Yr Wyddgrug) and with the aid of googlemaps found the Clwb Rugbi (the rugby club) and shortly after, a beaming Les Barker.

Just before the show, the other member of the line-up drove in. It was Pete Morton, and we were collaborating on a set of Border Ballads. Because it was us, with Pete, the concert was anything but earnest. We all take the ballads seriously, and we think the way to do that is to entertain people with their brilliant stories, so we've all got extremely varied arrangements of them. We started with Two Sisters, which Pete pronounced the chirpiest song about death he'd ever heard, and we went turn-about. The most academic moment of the show was when Pete did his version of Geordie, and we decided to follow it with our version of Geordie, which was so different in sound and even lyrics, only the salient points remained the same (pregnant woman tries to save her lover from the noose after he's caught poaching sixteen of the King's deer).

Immediately after that concert, we had a soundcheck at the Main Stage, which was being run by a very capable sound crew headed by Simon, and the sound was superb. After our soundcheck we had several hours before our concert, and went off to discover the festival. The first thing we discovered was the green room, in an army tent behind the stage, where Jill was making sandwiches, and there was fruit and hot cuppas, and biscuits and scotch eggs. What a supportive place for artists, its amazing how helpful it is to be able to get something to snack on quickly when you're concentrating on getting on stage.

The festival was set out around the rugby club field, with stalls and food, and a bar in a tent, and activities happening in the main building as well as the two marquees. We went to a woodwind workshop run by Jem Hammond, who was playing hornpipe, literally a pipe with a cow's horn on each end, one to direct the breath to the reed, and the other to act as a bell at the bottom for volume. We got there towards the end but still managed to learn a Welsh dance tune. And Jem turned out to be a total flute nut with a collection of instruments, and was totally up for a session later in the evening. Music to my ears.

Before us on the main stage was a stunning act, in which Jem was involved. Clerorfa...... is a Welsh traditional music orchestra, involving 37 players on this occasion but sometimes many more, and using harps (they had lots of harps), flutes, fiddles, and sundry other things you might see on the short video. They played Welsh tunes with big, orchestral arrangements with syncopated parts and they were magnificent. The sound was tight and reminded me of the big sound of the Melbourne Scottish Fiddle Club, but with a lot of harps. And in Welsh.

And then it was us. It was hot. My new flute likes hot, so it was very happy and sounded good, and we had a pretty good gig, except for the bit where we forgot a couple of words. I think it was the swimmy, sweaty heat that stole them from us, but a couple of gulps of water put us back together. It was a very enjoyable gig and we actually got an encore, at a festival! 

We performed Down in the Goldmine during the concert, and afterwards, Ioan the MC told me briefly of the famous local mining disaster, where three hundred men were trapped in the mine, and when it seemed they would be too hard to get out, the mine authorities sealed them in, to save the mine. A man's live was worth less than a bag of coal then, said Ioan.

Our Townsville/Chester friends Dave and Linda ran a cd stall for us while we played and it was great to see them and get to hang out at a festival with them, especially when we sat in Pete Morton's mainstage gig and sang loads of harmonies.

As we spoke to people after the gig, the tent demolishers came in, and by the time we'd come back to pack up our gear, the stage was pretty unrecognisable! But in spite of starting so promptly, the packer-uppers worked for many hours and finally joined us in the pub for a proper sing at about 10pm. And what a session! We moved through tunes, into harmonies, and eventually there were some mightly Welsh songs, with the Welsh lyrics being called out so we had a chance.

Jem suggested if we had a night free, Mondays in Liverpool there was a good irish session. John suggested the following night would be good. Our host, Ann, said we were welcome to stay another night if we wanted to go sessioning in Liverpool, so after spending Monday (our first day off for 7 days) looking round Mold, (lovely half-timbered buildings and eleven charity shops), we had an adventure to Liverpool.

And we got lost.

The lessons we learned from getting lost in the middle of Liverpool: always go by the big blue roads on the map if you can. They go longer distances, but they're quicker and easier to figure out; even googlemaps gets lost in Liverpool; Nic gets carsick if she has to look down at the map for a long time, she'd be better driving.

Eventually, we found The Edinburgh in Wavertree, and of course a cup of tea (50p) and three hours of tunes fixed everything. There were some lovely players including Chris on the whistle and Sean on the whistle and flute, and of course Jem was there, and Mike on flute, plus a couple of fiddles. Its obvious Liverpool has a strong tunes community, and it was a night of solid playing.

Feeling much better, we drove out under a full moon and took the big blue roads home.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Day two of the singing workshop week at Gleanings, in Shropshire, and we are working hard on harmonies, and technical singing issues, with our small but intent group. The venue is utterly gorgeous, and John and Yvonne who run it make wonderful food and are also running a smallholding. In practice what that means is that after singing yesterday, we both went down to the hayfield to give a hand, because yesterday's clear weather would not last, and John stayed down there for several hours to give a hand. I came back to the house to prepare for the next day's workshop, and saw him carting hay bales, riding on the back of the trailer, and at one stage backing a full trailerload of hay up to the barn.

We have sung a variety of songs in three languages in the last two days, including Allez Allelujah ( a three part processional we learned from Margret Roadknight), One More Day (a hopefully four part capstan shanty we first did at Music Under the Southern Cross), and Suo Gan (a Welsh lullaby in two parts so far, taught to us by Vicki and Trefor Williams, and both times we've taught it we've had a Welsh speaker in our group to guide us!).

Above is a rather delicious picture of the cottage in which we are staying and the car we have hired for the 10 weeks of the tour. And John, in the Gleanings, which is the teaching space, totally fabulous. More from the road soon.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Shropshire too far away

Seems like its taking us all day to get to Shropshire from Essex, but delightfully, we managed to fit in lunch at a pub called the Boot and Slipper, with singer-songwriter George Papavgeris and his wife Vanessa. Now we're driving through picturesque squalls of rain and beams of sun, and have stopped at Frankley Services. Frankley not as bad as Bolton services, but probably runner up.

Heading for the wilds of Shropshire, thought by some poets and painters to be the most beautiful countryside in England. Can't wait.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Before you can tour overseas, you have to get there.

We've packed up our house and stored our stuff. We've put upon our kind friends to help us cart things and clean things. I've finished a major painting and delivered it to its new owner. John has put on a beautiful concert, "An Intimate Evening with John Thompson" at Clovelly Cellars in Red Hill, with lots of guest musicians. We pared down our luggage to a minimum (but mine still contained two flutes, a drum, a stomp box, a pair of curly-toed boots, a tutu and a sleeping bag, just the essentials really).

And then that journey ended, and the new one began. As the plane pulled away from the airbridge into a dark, wet Brisbane night, we stepped into our 6th UK tour, and headed for Brunei.

Royal Brunei has upgraded their fleet, so the plane was new and comfortable. I slept most of the flight to Brunei's capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, and we arrived there at dawn. Very straightforward customs and immigration, followed by the short bus trip to Orchid Garden Hotel, where we spent our 14 hour stopover. Our voucher said we could have the hotel room for 6 hours, but in a wonderful development, we were checked in overnight, so we could stay there all day, sleep, shower, and eat yummy roti chanai with beef rendang and dahl. Hotel prices, always inflated, were $5 per curry. I'll be back for more!

On the plane again, John had booked me in for meals without onion, which I can't eat, and I got super-healthy food, and lots of fruit.

When we arrived in London, at dawn again, we jumped on the tube into town and organised to go to our friends' house in Essex. We could have planned this a bit better, and ended up walking from Piccadilly station to Charing Cross Station, right round the picturesque Trafalgar Square, before deciding we needed more information to get to Liverpool Street Station.

We also needed a cuppa. I perversely chose the Blue Onion cafe in a barrel-vaulted laneway near Charing Cross Station. I chose it largely because it had tables away from the traffic and we could sit there with all our luggage. We had an espresso each (£1.30) and two-toast baked beans (yes, with two bits of toast) (£2), and then a big cup of tea, and chatted to Hassan who runs it. He's from Cairo. He's been in London awhile though; he says things like "innit". His cafe was perfect.

Eventually we managed to navigate various tube stations and jump on a train at Liverpool Street, which took us to Witham in Essex. We got a cab to our friends' house, and at about 3 I thought I might have a lie down for an hour. Six hours later I woke up, feeling just about ready for a good night's sleep!

ps, you can see the painting I finished on my blog,!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A warmup technique video

Here's a simple but effective physical warmup technique.

Thanks to Lindsay for suggesting that we post this one.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Why cloudstreet use Vistaprint

I love this company (with all their foibles) but recently had an issue with them.

Here's how it was resolved.

My message:

Hi I've been a regular user of Vistaprint for a few years now. I love your company and the services you provide. But....

I've just read that Vistaprint is one of the few companies still advertising on Glenn Beck's show on the Fox Network in the US. That your company would make this choice makes me wonder about what other poor business practices you may be pursuing.

I hope that you reconsider this placement of advertising material. Biased commentary, with an ignorance or avoidance of fact-based reporting is an anathema to good business practice. Please re-assure me that these ads are only a short-term arrangement and will end soon.

I would like to continue my relationship with Vistaprint, but will find this difficult if you maintain this position.

I would appreciate your advice in this regard.

Yours faithfully

John Thompson

Their Response:

Dear John Thompson,

Thanks for contacting Vistaprint, where it’s easy to make an impression for less.

We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience experienced.

We are pleased to inform you that we are not a sponsor of the Glenn Beck's crazy hatemongering show on Fox "news. (emphasis added)

The TV ad promotion that we are currently offering was promoted on his show, however Vistaprint is not a sponsor of this show.

We hope you find this information helpful and hope you will consider Vistaprint for your future printing needs.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

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Tishoy Allen
Vistaprint Customer Service

When choosing a printing service free of hatemongering, cloudstreet use Vistaprint!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Up before the dawn

A fabulous May Day on Mount Coot-tha in Brisbane. For more photos, check out Mary Brettel's site -

(photo by Chris Wandley)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Oh, What a launch!

With the Circus of Desires upon us, we had a fab time at the Trocadero at this year's National Folk Festival. Mal and Sophie joined us on horns for the Bill and the Bear finale. A hoot (in every sense of the word).

And in typical cloudstreet fashion, we launched the CD with the title track forming the background music to a top-notch balloon frenzy. The lucky winner took away one of the first copies out of the box.

Our special thanks go to Gerard Hudson for his stage-management and photography multi-tasking.

Back home for a short while now before we head South again for the next festival.

Time to unpack and find the desk.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Circus of Desires

At last! We've finished the recording, we're absolutely over the moon about the results and the discs are off being pressed, with an Easter delivery in sight.

You can have a first listen to a tiny medley of snippets at

We're loving it, especially with the addition of Jonny and Vicki (via the magical web), as well as Erin Sulman and the magical Webb that is Mal.

More news to follow

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Singing in the Pool at Celtic Southern Cross

Alistair Hulett

Alistair Hulett has has died

Icon of Scottish folk music, international socialism, and Australian punk rock dead at 57

Today is my daughter Leila's fourth birthday, and while this occasion brings my thoughts back to the day she was born, the past 24 hours have otherwise been full of fairly devastating news.

If the left can admit to having icons, then two of them have just died. Yesterday it was the great historian and activist Howard Zinn, with whom I had the pleasure of sharing many stages around the US over many years. Much has been written about Zinn's death at the age of 87, and I think many more people will be discovering his groundbreaking work who may not have heard of him til now.

And then less than a full day later I heard the news that my dear friend, comrade and fellow musician Alistair Hulett died today. He was thirty years younger than Professor Zinn, 57 years old, give or take a year (I'm shit at remembering birthdays, but he was definitely still years shy of 60). Ally had an aggressive form of cancer in his liver, lungs and stomach.

I last saw Alistair last summer at his flat in Glasgow where he had lived with his wife Fatima for many years. (Fatima, a wonderful woman about whom Ally wrote his love song, “Militant Red.”) He seemed healthy and spry as usual, with plenty to say about the state of the world as always. He was working on a new song about a Scottish anarchist who had run the English radio broadcast for the Spanish Republic in the 1930's.

I first met Ally in 2005, at least that's what he said. I seem to recall meeting him earlier than that, but maybe it's just that I was already familiar with his music and had been to his home town of Glasgow many times before I actually met him. His reputation preceded him – in my mind he was already one of those enviably great guitarists who along with people like Dick Gaughan had done so much to breath new life into the Scottish folk music tradition. I had also already heard some of his own wonderful compositions, sung by him as well as by other artists.

In 2005 the Scottish left was well mobilized, organizing the people's response to the G8 meetings that were happening in the wooded countryside not far from Edinburgh. Alistair was involved both as an organizer and a musician, and we hung out in Edinburgh, in Glasgow, outside a detention center somewhere, and out by the G8 meetings in an opulent little town with an unpronounceable Scottish name.

I asked him then if he wanted to do a tour with me in the US. He took me up on that a year or so later and we traveled from Boston to Minneapolis over the course of two weeks or so, doing concerts along the way. Many people who came to our shows were already familiar with Alistair's music, while many were hearing it for the first time and were generally well impressed with his work as well as his congenial personality, despite the fact that many people reported to me discreetly that they couldn't understand a word he was saying.

Americans aren't so good with accents at the best of times, and to make matters worse Alistair was largely doing songs from his Red Clydeside CD, which is a themed recording all about the anti-capitalist/anti-imperialist rebellion that rocked Glasgow in 1917. Naturally the songs from that CD are also sung in a Glaswegian dialect which can only be understood by non-Scottish people in written form, if you take your time.

Alistair was determined to retaliate for my having organized a tour for us in the US, which he did three years later in a big way, organizing a five-week tour for us of Australia and New Zealand from late November 2008 until early January of last year.

Our tour began in Christchurch, New Zealand. This turned out to seem very fitting, since Christchurch is where Alistair moved as a teenager, along with his parents and his sister, in the mid-1960's. He resented having to leave Glasgow, which was at that time a major hotbed of the 1960's global cultural and political renaissance -- a renaissance which had decidedly not yet made its way to little Christchurch, New Zealand. Alistair described to me how the streets of this small city were filled with proper English ladies wearing white gloves when he moved there as a restless youth.

The folk scare came to Christchurch, though, as with so many other corners of the world at that time, and at the age of 17 Alistair was in the heart of it. Our tour of New Zealand included a whole bunch of great gigs, but it was also like a tour of the beginning of Alistair's varied musical career. All along the way on both the south and north islands I met people Alistair hadn't seen for years or sometimes decades. I cringed as someone gave us a bootleg recording of Alistair as a teenager, figuring wrongly that it would be a reminder of a musically unstable early period, but it turned out to be a fine recording, a vibrant but nuanced rendition of some old songs from the folk tradition.

After two weeks exploring the postcard-perfect New Zealand countryside, smelling a lot of sheep shit, and getting in a car accident while parked, we headed to Sydney. Upon arriving in Australia I discovered a whole other side to Alistair and his impact on the world. Though his Scottish accent never seemed to thin out much, he lived for 25 years in Sydney and was on the ground floor of the Australian punk rock scene, playing in towns and cities throughout Australia with his band, Roaring Jack. The band broke up decades ago but still has a loyal following throughout the country, as I discovered first-hand night after night. In contrast with the nuanced and often quite obscure stories told in the traditional ballads which Alistair rendered so well, Roaring Jack was a brash, in-your-face musical experience, championing the militant end of the Australian labor movement and leftwing causes generally, fueled by equal parts rage against injustice, love of humanity and alcohol.

Since the 90's Alistair has lived in his native Glasgow, while regularly touring elsewhere in Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. He's played in various musical ensembles including most recently his band the Malkies, but mostly his work has been as a songwriter and solo performer, also recording and occasionally touring with the great fiddler of Fairport Convention fame, Dave Swarbrick. His more recent songs have run the gamut from a strictly local Glasgow song written to support a campaign to save a public swimming pool to the timelessly beautiful song recorded by June Tabor and others, “He Fades Away.”

“He Fades Away” is about an Australian miner dying young of asbestosis, from massive exposure to asbestos, a long-lasting, daily tragedy of massive proportions fueled by, well, greedy capitalists. It is surely more than a little ironic that Alistair was taken from us at such a young age by the industrial-world epidemic known as cancer, so much like the subject of his most well-known song.

The song is written from the perspective of the wife of a miner who is dying of asbestosis. The melody of the song is so beautiful that quoting the lyrics can't come close to doing it justice, and I won't do the song that injustice here – just go to the web and search for “He Fades Away,” it's right there in various forms.

It is undoubtedly a privilege of someone like Alistair that he will be remembered passionately by people, young and old and on several continents, long after today – by friends, lovers, fellow activists, fellow musicians, and many times as many fans. And he will long be remembered also as one of the innumerable great people, including so many great musicians, who died too young.

On our last tour, so recently, he was meeting new friends and renewing old friendships every single day, so very full of life. Among the friendships he was renewing was that with his elderly parents, who came to our show in Brisbane, a couple hours from where they retired on the east coast of Australia. Though the exact causes of Alistair's illness will probably never be known, it seems to be a hallmark not just of war, but especially of the industrialized world's ever-worsening cancer epidemic, that so many parents have to see their children die so young.

David Rovics