Tuesday, 5 March 2019

The Nature of My Mental Illness

You know how it is – you get up, have breakfast, have a shower, get dressed and are making plans for the rest of the day. Okay, it’s raining just now but it might brighten up later. There are so many possibilities. Yes, there are chores to do like shopping, as you’re nearly out of washing up liquid, and you really need to get a haircut but maybe you could go swimming today.

Then it happens. Some part of your brain says, “Stop. You aren’t going anywhere.” A wave of anxiety floods your mind and you feel almost paralysed. You feel like crying. The tears well up in your eyes but even the act of crying seems too much. Another part of your brain is saying, “Come on, don’t give in to this. This is bullshit.” But it feels so real. All your plans go out the window. You just want to stay indoors. No, you need to stay indoors. You look out the window and see one of your neighbours going out. To her, this is just another day of coping with the kids and going to work. She gets in her car and off she goes.

You try and remember what it was like, being able to do all these things that other people take for granted and you know that when you’re having a good day you too can do these things. You sit at your computer and feel that at least you can do stuff online. You order a new ink cartridge for you printer. Hey, I’ve done something. You post on social media. Someone likes your post and you don’t feel quite so alone.

You make a coffee. Drink it down and make another. Towards the end of this one you add a slug of whisky. You hear that voice in your head telling you, you shouldn’t do this but it tastes nice and you relax a bit. You make another hot drink and add a bit more alcohol. You know you have your pills upstairs but they often don’t seem to make much difference.

Whatever happened to Valium? You remember that bit in Trainspotting where Renton, as part of his preparation to come off smack, nicks some of his mum’s pills? He describes her as being, in her own way, a junkie as well but her drugs were on prescription. But these days such medication is out of fashion. It’s all anti-depressants and beta blockers. No wonder so many people self-medicate with alcohol and smoke weed to alleviate their symptoms.

There’s so much shit to cope with. Is it any wonder we are facing an epidemic of mental illness, self-harming, alcohol and drug abuse, gambling addiction, domestic violence, increasing levels of racism, antisemitism and God knows what else? The planet is burning, there are dire warnings about our very survival and don’t get me started on Brexit.

But there is hope. There has to be. We need to cling on to the belief that things will work out for the best. It’s hard, often very hard to stay positive but for the sake of our loved ones and future generations we mustn’t give in to the fear-mongers. Those in the tabloid press who make money from spreading their own brand of fake, or at least distorted, news to enrage their readers. These poor sods who then consciously or unconsciously become more extreme in their views blaming immigrants, remainers, the liberal elite or whoever for all the troubles apparently afflicting our society.

But fuck it. Whether you think that Winston Churchill was a hero or a villain, he did come up with the acronym KBO which stood for Keep Buggering On. At the end of the day that’s all we can keep doing. I heard something on a play on the radio the other day where a character was going to throw herself into the sea but was persuaded not to and was told that we just have to keep going, even if it’s just out of habit, until things get better.

Me, I have music that has so often pulled me back from the edge. Today it’s been UK band Bruise followed by Buffalo Springfield and now The Black Crowes that is keeping me here. And the rain has stopped and the sun is out. I might get to the swimming pool tomorrow.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Favourite albums of 2018

Many of the albums on this list have been sent to me by Jane Brace so my thanks to her for her support. These are my 20 recommendations for 2018 in alphabetic order. I hope you have enjoyed listening to some of these too.

To hear tracks from most of these albums have a listen to this selection on Mixcloud

Cardboard Fox - Topspin
Damien O'Kane & Ron Block - Banjophony
Davy Lees - One of Those Days
Gilmore & Roberts - A Problem of Our Kind
Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar - Utopia and Wasteland
Hannah Sanders & Ben Savage - Awake
Hickory Signals - Turn To Fray
Karine Polwart - Laws of Motion
Kelly Oliver - Botany Bay
Kitty MacFarlane - Namer of Clouds
Mike Vass - Notes from the Boat
Ninebarrow - The Waters and the Wild
Salt House - Undersong
Sarah McQuaid - If We Dig Any Deeper It Could Get Dangerous
The Broken-Hearted Few - You Can Never Come Back
The Low Countries - We Weathered the Storm
The Willows - Through The Wild
Will Pound - Through The Seasons
William the Conqueror - Proud Disturber of the Peace 
Yves Lambert Trio - Tentation

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Cara Dillon gig review

Cara Dillon played at The Platform in Morecambe last night (15 Sept), these dates being billed as the Duo Tour. Cara told us that she and husband Sam started doing low-key gigs, just the two of them, around their home in Somerset but found that they were proving more popular than the band shows so they are out on the road together with Cara on vocals and occasional whistle and Sam on piano and guitar. I must say that not having seen them for a few years, Sam's guitar playing has greatly improved. Previously his guitar work seemed to be mainly influenced by his brother Sean, who has quite an aggressive style of playing, but Sam has obviously been working on his finger-picking so there is more variation, which is never a bad thing.

We were treated to most of the songs from her latest "Wanderer" album plus a selection of older material including 'There Were Roses', 'She's Like The Swallow' and 'The Hill of Thieves'. According to Sam, Cara had been reluctant to record 'Blackwater Side' as it is such a classic folk song. This surprised me a bit as she had previously recorded 'She Moved Through The Fair' which I would have said was a more iconic song, especially the Fairport version with Sandy Denny on vocals. Cara's take on 'Blackwater Side' is good enough but the times I've heard her sing ...Fair, it has sent shivers up and down my spine. Sadly we didn't get to hear it last night.

But of the songs from the new album, 'Both Sides of the Tweed' sounded good and Cara's interest in songs about emigration was revisited in her composition 'The Leaving Song' which was written about the living wakes they used to have in Ireland. These were evenings of song and dance, and doubtless a few drinks, to celebrate the life of someone who was leaving for a new life across the ocean. And as Cara said, these people were often never heard from again.

While many of the songs were quite downbeat, in the best folk tradition, there were plenty of laughs from the stories we got from both Cara and Sam with one lovely one concerning their twin boys' first day at big school. Back when I first saw them in the early 2000s, when brother Seth was third member of the group, Sam was the quiet, sombre-looking presence behind his keyboard. But these days he is much more relaxed which makes for a more enjoyable evening out. 

And as the first Xmas card junk mail comes through the door, it seemed timely for Cara to mention her Christmas tour when she and Sam will be joined by other musicians for some seasonal tunes. The tour is coming to Manchester on the 9th of December.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Some words on Wes Martin

I first met Wes Martin when he and Nigel were running the Open Mic night at the Gregson Centre. Wes would play his banjo and as I subsequently discovered, he was equally good on guitar and ukulele among other instruments. Back then he was a member of Nigel and Els’ band, The Low Countries, and contributed to their album, "The Failing of the Strains" which was influenced by the film The Wicker Man. Later on, when he and I co-presented Off The Beaten Tracks on Diversity FM, I played ‘Summerisle’ by The Bailey Sisters and Wes would join in singing the chorus with great gusto.

I can’t remember how it came about that Wes joined me on the radio station but I think it was because I wasn’t happy doing the show on my own and someone suggested that I find a co-presenter. At that time Wes was a full-time house-husband looking after two young sons and I got the impression that family life was, at times, quite stressful. Initially when Wes joined me we were doing live shows and he would often arrive with minutes to spare and then rush off at the end as there was some chore to do or a kid to be collected from school or wherever. But for those hours in the studio on a Friday lunchtime he could relax. To say he messed around would be unfair, as he was knowledgeable about the tracks he brought to the studio, but he certainly lightened the mood and I regained my love of broadcasting thanks to him.

We really were the classic straight man/funny man duo with me driving the desk (sliding faders up and down, playing jingles etc) while Wes brought his unique personality to the show. There was a book lying about in the studio titled something like This Day In History and it became a regular feature of the show with Wes reading bits from the book. He always had to mention who had died on this day in whichever year. He did seem to have something of a preoccupation with death though he never seemed to take it too seriously.

We recorded our final show in March 2012 when the funding ran out for Diversity FM and the YMCA pulled the plug on it. Wes had sometimes sat in with Reza Mills on his show and the three of us did one last live broadcast together on the day Diversity went off air. 

I didn’t see much of Wes after that, apart from one very drunken Xmas night out with Oli joining myself, Wes and Reza and the only other time I saw him was when we saw Mike Harding at the Lancaster Grand Theatre. We went for a drink after the show and Wes had got a real buzz from Mike’s brand of humour. He was a proud Northerner was Wes and I think he had a lot of admiration for Mike, both of them being from the North and having a shared love of folk and roots music.

But now Wes is gone. Inevitably, in these tragic circumstances, all his friends and family will find themselves asking why, and what we could have done to stop Wes from taking his own life. But ultimately it’s a pointless exercise. I, like many others, have been in the very dark places that depression can take you. It doesn’t matter how many people love you or how many friends you have offering you their support - when you are alone and the black cloud envelopes you, death can seem like the only way out and the only solution to your problems.

We will miss you Wes. We have your music, your paintings and I have a few recordings of our radio shows. The final song you selected on Off The Beaten Tracks was 'We’ll Meet Again' by Johnny Cash. I hope we do. So long Wes. It was a real pleasure knowing you.


Listen to our final Diversity FM show on Mixcloud


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Top Folk & Acoustic Albums of 2017

I've put together my list of favourite albums of the year. As ever, thanks go to the promoters and artists who have sent me cds and free downloads. Along with the albums listed below I should mention a couple of releases which were made up of just a few tracks - they might have been called EPs back in the days of vinyl - namely 'Five Songs' by Barbara Dickson and 'The Wren And The Salt Air' by Jenny Sturgeon.

2017 must be the first year in quite a long time that I didn't make it to any music festivals apart from the one here in Lancaster. I've only been to about a dozen gigs this year but most have been very enjoyable, the best being the Pitmen Poets, Breabach, John Doyle, Jamie Smith's Mabon, The Young 'Uns, Rory McLeod and Edgelarks. 

My favourite album and gig would probably go to The Young 'Uns as I was blown away by their harmony singing when they came to the Dukes Theatre here in Lancaster and their album "Strangers" is packed full of brilliant songs. 

Top UK Albums 

Ross Ainslie - Sanctuary
The Deadly Winters - Ravynstoun
Amy Duncan - Antidote
Robert Foster - Raven
Peter Knight's Gigspanner - The Wife of Urban Law
Rosie Hood - The Beautiful & The Actual
Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys - Pretty Peggy
Geoff Lakeman - After All These Years
Madam Tsunami - Long Way From Home
Siobhan Miller - Strata
Moonlight Gazette - Moonlight Gazette
Damien O'Kane - Avenging & Bright
Oka Vanga - Dance Of The Copper Trail
Old Blind Dogs - Room With A View
Skinner & T'witch - The Fool's Journey
Turnstone - Hollow Ground
The Young 'Uns - Strangers 

Top Albums from North America

Bruce Cockburn - Bone On Bone 
Brigitte DeMeyer & Will Kimbrough - Mockingbird Soul
Stephen Fearing - Every Soul's a Sailor
Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors - Souvenir
Steve Hussey & Jake Eddy - The Miller Girl 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Lancaster, UK

Friday, 27 October 2017

Off The Beaten Tracks radio show 27 October

I thought I'd record a show with songs written about refugees and immigrants and their journeys around the world. I found quite a few suitable ones just by UK artists, though there is a song by German group Fellerband, with my first choice being a very powerful song by The Young 'Uns titled 'Dark Water'. It was written about two young men who decided to swim across the sea to Greece as they didn't have the money to pay the people smugglers. There are a couple of songs about Calais where people used to gather in a camp called the Jungle though it has since been destroyed by the French authorities. But I'm sure people are still heading there to try and get across the Channel to England. 


Darwin Song Project - Trust in the Rolling Ocean
Roving Crows - Refugee
Richard Thompson - Take Care the Road You Choose
Gilmore & Roberts - Warmonger
The Young 'Uns - Dark Water
Kate Rusby - Life in a Paper Boat
Fellerband - Road to Calais
Skinner & T'Witch - Calais Nights
Thea Gilmore - I Pity the Poor Immigrant
David Ferrard - I am an Immigrant (I'm From Here)
Julie Matthews - Road to Eden
Geoff Lakeman - The Road Together
June Tabor - Across the Wide Ocean

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Breabach gig review

Breabach at the Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal - 25 Feb 2017

At the start of this gig singer and guitarist Ewan Robertson said it had been a few years since they had played at the Brewery Arts Centre and asked if anyone in the audience had been there on that previous occasion. The silence was deafening, which took Ewan aback a bit, but by the end of the evening it didn't matter where all their old fans had gone as the new audience were on their feet applauding them like they were homecoming heroes.

Ewan, along with fiddler Megan Henderson, double bass player James Lindsay and pipers James Mackenzie and Calum MacCrimmon were in good spirits thanks to the Scottish victory over the Welsh at Murrayfield and the Cumbrian crowd was happy to join in the celebrations. While I'm sure I wasn't the only Scot in the audience, that old saying about the enemy of your enemy being your friend certainly applies in the Six Nations rugby tournament.

As for the music, there were plenty of tracks from their latest cd 'Astar' which includes compositions written on their travels to Scandanavia and Down Under. Each band member took it in turn to chat between numbers and there was some nice Outer Hebrides humour from James (We were poor but we were miserable!). I was mighty impressed with his flute playing - they are all accomplished musicians but I felt James' playing in particular was superb. Megan's Gaelic singing and step dancing are also worth a mention and there were some nice vocal harmonies when Ewan and Calum stepped up to their mics to accompany Megan. Ewan also gave us a lovely rendition of the Dick Gaughan song, "Outlaws and Dreamers".

With this having been the final date of the English leg of their current tour, they had the unenviable task of driving up to Inverness for a gig the following night, but on their current form I'm sure they will go down a storm in the Highlands. 

Hopefully it won't be another few years before Breabach play in the north-west of England again and all I can say to the band is, haste ye back!