Here we go with the third installment of words and pics from my Smiles and Miles Mugshot 2017 UK tour in Oct and Nov. I’m writing from Nashville on an early Spring morning, having just finished some yoga. I’m sipping some Guayusa tea to get my motor running, sitting on the futon watching the change of light, a time I always am grateful for.
With Halloween behind us, Sue and I headed for the lovely village of Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, to stay with good friends, Rick and Alison. I met Rick Sweetnam at the Beverley Folk Festival in 2010 and have been friends ever since. We enjoy talking about music and particularly all things Led Zeppelin. Rick smiled as I told him a story about seeing Led Zeppelin open for The Who in 1969 at Merriwether Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. Rick puts on shows at the Trades Club in Hebden but thought it might be fun for me to play at The Live Room, a venue in nearby Saltaire, a World Heritage Site. I had visited Saltaire a few years ago and had enjoyed seeing the Salts Mill, a textile mill built in 1853, now an art gallery that hosts the world’s largest permanent collection of David Hockney artworks. The Live Room is located in the Caroline Social Club in Saltaire. The promoters, Ron and Hilary were gracious hosts, and the mixing desk was a bigger version of the Allen & Heath Zed mixer that I use in my studio. The room was good sounding, cabaret style with a pub on the side. The soundcheck was fun with the room empty, a nice resonance bounced off all of the wood. Ron was a superb mixer. Ron had this to say about the evening: There were many outdoor fireworks displays on Friday night. Indoors at the Live Room, however, we had some musical pyrotechnics to match anything going on outside. The opening act was Billy Kemp, born in Baltimore but a long time Nashville resident who played a 1930’s Martin guitar and an opened backed banjo, named Moe and Bart, respectively. A Grand Ole Opry performer and a great songwriter and raconteur who had a very relaxed and accomplished manner. Opening with ‘Death & Taxes’, his delivery reminded me very much of Loudon Wainwright III. In the 1980’s Billy hosted writers nights at the legendary Bluebird Cafe. He mixed great stories with very well-crafted songs, many from his new album, Another Life, all delivered in a very clear distinct voice with great musicianship on both guitar and banjo. He finished his set to great applause with ‘Mr. Wilson, the Stonecutter’, stone cutter being a term used to describe people who drank too much ‘falling down water’. Ron mentioned the fireworks because Guy Fawkes day or Bonfire night was only two days away. Thanks Ron, I had a wonderful time performing for you. I’m looking forward to my next visit to The Live Room. Thanks to Rick and Alison for taking Sue and I on a few wanders Saturday while in Hebden Bridge.
Sunday morning it was off to Manchester for a show at the Players Theater in Cheadle Hulme in Cheshire. My good friends Chris and Ian promoted this show and delivered a full house by twisting the arms of most of the attendees. We decided to name their production company, Arm Twister Productions. Needless to say, the company is just staying afloat because of their liability insurance costs. Thank goodness they didn’t have to twist my arm to get me to the show. I may not have been able to play all of the demolished chords in my song for Willie Nelson, I Wish You Well. The show was in the pub above the theater, and it was a wonderful evening, seeing some folks I knew and then making some new friends.
Just a bit east of Cheadle, across the Peak District National Park, we headed out early Monday morning to the former coal mining community of Barnsley to teach a songwriting class at the Honley School and perform at a guest spot at the Barnsley Folk Club. We stayed in nearby Penistone with good friends, Dave and Joy Bottomley. Dave is an Epiphone guitar enthusiast and a fantastic Piedmont style guitar player. He coordinates the shows at the folk club in Barnsley. Later on in the tour I played a show with Dave in Newcastle. The Honley school songwriting day was a real joy. Sue and I got to spend an hour with two middle school classes and write a song in each class. Then in the afternoon, each class performed the newly written song in a concert for an assembly. The students were studying space, and the songs they composed were called Light Years Away and You Take Me To The Galaxy. It is pure magic to see the students come alive and work on a song together. Thanks to Nicole and everyone at the Honley school for making the song writing day possible.
Just a couple of days later, it was an evening of tunes, songs and stouts at the Barnsley Folk club. Dave Bottomley has been keeping this folk club together for many years, and I must say, it is one of my favorite places to play in all of England because of the spirit and enthusiasm of Dave and so many of the singers and musicians there. We were on the second floor of the Trades Club, and Sue and I had a big time with everyone. Thanks to all of the singers and musicians for their songs and tunes. I am already looking forward to visiting again in 2019. Thank you Dave for your passion, playing and time that you always seem to find to give to the club. And thanks for taking Sue and I to the chip shop to have lunch with you and Sarah in Penistone.
Our next stop was back to Filey on the northeast coast of England in North Yorkshire. We were hosted by Chris Lee, who was promoting the show for Friday night at the Woodend Creative in Scarborough, just north of Filey. The show at Woodend was a co-bill with the King Courgette band from York, hands-down my favorite vegetable string band in the world. Chris has been promoting shows there for many years, and it always proves to be an event to celebrate. There was a fashion exhibit on at the gallery/concert space and getting to dance with the mannequins was an added bonus. I definitely had my daily amount of fiber intake that day considering the mannequins and the Courgettes. King Courgette was ripe, bursting with syncopated sweetness, string fever flavor and toe-tapping, boys in the band shouting that convinced all of us that vegetables really are good for you. Many thanks to Alfred Hickling for coming to Nashville last spring and sharing warm drinks and co-writing a few songs on Another Life.
The next morning, Saturday, Nov 11, it was off to Newcastle for a show with Piedmont singer and musician, Dave Bottomley, for a Sunday afternoon show at the Monkey Junk Blues club in The Cluny. Sue and I drove up the coast and spent a few hours in the seaside village of Whitby, a place I have wanted to go for years. Whitby has a maritime and mineral heritage, and is also home to the gothic Whitby Abbey ruins, an inspiration for Bram Stoker’s, Dracula. I found it ironic that Whitby, in old Norse means white settlement, while the town is famous for its Whitby Jet, a black gemstone which is actually a mineraloid, derived from decaying wood under extreme pressure, similar to coal. Come to Whitby where things are black & white. Sue and I had a lovely wander through the town and found a small cafe for lunch. It was a bit windy with a chill that day, and I had a big mug of cocoa while Sue had a cup of joe.
We arrived in Newcastle that evening, my first visit, and stayed with our friends, Dave and Joy from Barnsley. The Monkey Junk show was the next day, and it was a wonderful afternoon, shuffling through a mixed bag of blues with Dave. We shared the presentation going back and forth with various blues numbers that we both knew. I hadn’t done a blues gig in a long time and was grateful for the opportunity. Dave is an amazing musician, singer and writer. For those of you in the UK and for others who will be visiting, a trip to see Dave Bottomley perform is recommended; well-crafted original songs, obscure covers, passionate singing and superb finger-style guitar playing.
On Monday, Nov 13, we were off to the Lake District, southwest of Newcastle, a three hour trip, for a house concert in Windermere and the final show of the tour at Zeffirellis, a cabaret style restaurant and music venue in Ambleside. We gently drove on the A roads for most of the trip as to avoid the motorway and to see the beautiful countryside, just north of the Yorkshire Dales. We were heading to the home of John and Annie Hawson, friends I had met years ago at the North Wales Bluegrass festival in Conwy. John is a songmaker and singer who writes narrative, catchy melodic tales; my favorite being about a wild back country woman and another about a pesky, bothersome black crow. Annie, originally from Scotland, a singer who makes music with a choral group in Windermere, is the kindest, gentlest person in the multi-verse, always ready for a chat, a listen and a smile. We stayed for days, and Annie and I got to collaborate on several meals together, which was fun for me, mixing ideas and ingredients and getting to cook on an AGA cooker, which was in their home when they moved in. The perfect stovetop for a simmering pot of beans and drying your jeans. Needless to say, it was mid-November, and many cups of tea were also enjoyed.
The house concert at John and Annie’s was on Wednesday evening in the Yoga and Music studio. The wood stove was in good form, and folks piled in for an evening of songs and stories. John sang a few, Richard Tordoff played some tunes that had rich, harmonic arrangements, Matt France sang his own songs, and Tony Rothwell played his Martin guitar and sang a song about a desk…. A few ales, stouts and nibbles were consumed besides the music. A few friends from previous visits were on hand, and some new ones were made. John’s friend and an acquaintance of mine, Jonty, showed up and had some fun stories to share as well as a can of beer he gave to me that I can’t remember the name of but was one of the strongest beers I had ever sipped, and I really only took two sips, but don’t tell Jonty, he would be disappointed. I am drinking a tea to John and Jonty this morning. Here’s to the next time we are together for story, song and sipping.
The last show of the tour wasn’t far from John and Annie’s in the lovely village of Ambleside, just north of Lake Windermere. Zeffirellis had a cabaret style room upstairs, and the crowd was nearly full and ready for a show. The soundcheck went well, and I had a good long chat with the soundman who had recently been to Southern California. We shared people and places that we knew. It is a small planet with a big smile.
Of the three, people, places and things, the one that I hold closest are the people. Thank you to all of the hosts for sharing a pallet, the presenters for sharing a stage, and the folks and fans, old and new, for sharing their listening skills and time at the gigs. Sue and I are thankful and grateful for every cuppa, every conversation and every M & S on the motorways. And also to all of the English motorway drivers who managed to navigate around me without incident. There is a warning on the motorways of England that says Keep Your Distance, which is good advice that I tried to follow during the tour. Richard Thompson wrote a song by that title that has to do with affairs of the heart. I saw him at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum a few years back as part of the Americana Music Festival and Awards, and I got to ask him if the song title came from the motorway sign, and he said, “yes, you’re on to me, it’s awful isn’t it, having to stoop to motorway signage for inspiration.” Do keep your distance on the motorways, but please keep in touch when a thought occurs that you would like to share. I am raising my mug this morning to our friendship and am looking forward to the next time. Onward and upward.
I hope you have enjoyed these recollections. They are most likely dotted with exaggerations, memory distortions, stretchers, inventions and other thoughts bordering the truth. I can’t claim accuracy but am grateful for the memories I now share with all of you who were there…