Saturday, May 26, 2012

Day Eleven of Eleven!

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

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

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

These carvings are on the river walk in Perth.

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

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

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

Day Ten of Eleven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One day to go. Then I can rest.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Day Nine of Eleven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day Eight of Eleven

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

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

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

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

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

Day Seven of Eleven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day Six of Eleven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Day Five of Eleven.

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

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

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

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

Day Four of Eleven.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day Three of Eleven.

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

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

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

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Day Two of Eleven.

Day Two. 
Haverfolk, Romford.
Tips for touring musicians: the cornerstones of survival on tour in UK are surely Wetherspoons and Travelodge. Look for cheap rooms on Travelodge's website, you can often get them for £19. Wetherspoon's huge chain of pubs does food all day, which is when you need it! Its tasty, its cheap, their coffee is good and 99p, they have free wi-fi. These two tips apply all over the UK.

But sometimes, a tip comes up for a good place to eat in the town you're in. Because Dartford Folk Club wrote the tip on our contract, we had good soup noodles at Twin chinese restaurant in Dartford last night, with char siu pork and pak choy! Go there.

Thanks to the magic of earplugs, I woke at 11 and had to go and move the car out of the shopping centre car park into the Travelodge car park which now had spaces, before we got a ticket. At least we didn't have to move it by 8am like we did in Blackpool. Sigh. How glamorous.

Wetherspoons was the breakfast choice, because we were too hungry to go exploring first, and our walk there took us across the lovely River Medway. 

English rivers always put the word "river" before their names. Australian rivers use the river's name as an adjective: The Burdekin River, the Brisbane River, the Ross River. In the UK we have seen such delights as the River Ribble, the River Erewash, and the River Wantsum. Well, said John, the river can't have any.

Maidstone is a surprising mixture of roadworks, hideous shopping malls from the 1980s and amazing old buildings. The high street is the story of architecture in Britain over the last 500 years, writ large in the facades.

This afternoon we practised concertina and fiddle and got our paperwork up to date. We were advised not to bother using the Dartford Crossing between 5 and 7pm because it was too busy, so we rushed about and had a quick dinner in Maidstone before driving the hour up to Romford, where they were just about to kick off the night with a wide selection of floor singers.

Haverfolk Club has moved to a long, pleasant room at the back of the White Horse in Chadwell, and its great singing ethos remains strong. John is at the end of a cold, so we have left a couple of more taxing vocal workouts like King Willy off the list for a few days to let him recover. We made sure we had plenty of chorus songs there, and were rewarded with powerful singing from the audience.

And here is the floorspot with the shiniest tambourine - it actually had fairy lights wrapped round it!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Day One of Eleven.

Day One.
Its day one of our epic eleven day run of consecutive shows, and tonight we are playing in Dartford. The challenge of these eleven days is to try to appreciate new and interesting things in the UK, while on a gruelling schedule.

And we've made a brilliant start. Last night, we made a trip to London's West End and saw a show. Any show in the West End would do, really, to tick that box. But we saw Warhorse, the show that has been winning awards, and wowing audiences with its incredible storytelling, following the life of a Devon horse who goes to the trenches of France, and using larger than life puppetry to bring it alive. It was a powerful evening of theatre.

We came back to Essex by tube and then car, and spent Day One (today) tying up more details of my June art exhibition, practising, and finally, driving to Dartford Working Men's club over the Dartford Crossing.

Almost full house at Dartford (more than 70), and the opening act was usually a session at the Mick Jagger Centre. They were called Jaggerfolk. Lovely tunes and songs. We enjoyed bringing our new swag of Australian songs to the old Dart, and lots of people sang, and even (shhh) did actions to The Miner's Washing. Sheepskin Creek was requested, we did it. And our dear friend Debbie Carmi, last seen in Brisbane, has moved back to London, and came along with her parents. A delight to see her. She's an acupuncturist and massage therapist and naturopath - anyone need one in London? She loosened up my sore shoulder (too much flute) just while sitting there talking to me.

Now we are at a Travelodge in Maidstone, with the tiniest room I've ever seen at Travelodge, but still bigger than a 3rd floor BnB room we once had in Dorset. Its clean, its comfy, the shower's hot, its two in the morning and time for sleep.

Did I manage something cultural or interesting in all that lot?