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!