At The Garden Museum

 

I was at the Garden Museum in Lambeth this morning. At the moment they have an amazing exhibition on war gardens: there are very moving photographs of gardens in modern day war-zones & a great exhibition on gardening and the Great War. One photo particularly inspired me which is the one you see above of the soldier tending his garden in the trench. Soldiers on both sides of the divide made gardens. I wrote this song about it.

IN THE MORNING I’M A GARDENER

There are shells in the garden by my place
The earth is fertile here on Flanders fields
My herbs & vegetables are growing in my gaze
& for a moment I am far from here

Dirt on my uniform is preferable to me
Than the alternatives I rather would forget
& I’ve seen a lot of things I wish I could unsee
But this garden sets me free from all of that

In the morning I tend the earth
In the morning I’m a gardener

Some men make poetry while I am planting seeds
Gentle souls like me in savage times
Back home they’re harvesting I should be in the fields
So I’ve bought a little bit of home with me

In the morning I tend the earth
In the morning I’m a gardener

All my friends & I responded to the call
Now we’re falling in the rain
Maybe on the other side there is someone like me
Tilling his little plot of home

In the morning I tend the earth
In the morning I’m a gardener

 

 

I was at the Garden Museum to help a group of 5 year olds write a song. It was a particularly fun session, we had the kids up & making actions for the words they came up with.

Here is a recording of the workshop.

 

 

& here is a recording of the song we cooked up! Great work kids!

 

Sun & moon shine on our garden

Rain & sunshine & thunder & lightning

Puddles & flowers & plants in the garden

Day & night they keep on growing

Water the plants, make things grow

Digging, jumping & trampolining

Bumblebee, dragonfly, ladybirds, caterpillars

Butterflies, moths, snails, slugs, centipede

Snakes & spiders & worms

Frogs, lizards & fish in the pond

In the garden…

There’s a rainbow over the garden

The garden’s a happy place with some gold!

Recording GentleFolk: Robin Hood & The Pedlar

Performed by GentleFolk 18/10/2014

ROBIN HOOD & THE PEDLAR

It’s of a pedlar, pedlar bold
A pedlar bold there chanced to be.
He took his pack all on his back,
& Merrily trudged o’er the lea.

By chance he met two troublesome men,
Two troublesome men they chanced to be;
Then one of them was bold Robin Hood
& The other was Little John so free.

‘Oh pedlar, pedlar, what’s in thy pack?
Come speedily & tell to me.’
‘I’ve several suits of the gay green cloth,
& Silken bowstrings by two or three.’

‘If you’ve several suits of then gay green cloth,
& Silken bowstrings two or three,
Then by my body’ cries Little John,
‘One half your pack shall belong to me.’

‘Oh no, oh no,’ says the pedlar bold,
‘Oh no,oh no, that never can be,
For there’s never a man in fair Nottingham
Can take one half my pack from me.’

Then the pedlar he pulled off his pack,
& put it a little below his knee,
Saying: ‘If you do move me one perch from this,
My pack & all shall go with thee.’

Then Little John he drew his sword,
The pedlar by his pack did stand,
They fought until they both did sweat,
& John cried: ‘Pedlar, pray hold your hand.’

Then Robin Hood he was standing by,
& He did laugh most heartily,
‘I could find a man of shorter scale,
Could thrash the pedlar & also thee.’

‘Go you try master,’ says Little John,
‘& Go you try most speedily,
For by my body,’ says Little John,
‘I’m sure this night you will know me.’

Then Robin Hood he drew his sword,
& The pedlar by his pack did stand;
They fought until the blood in streams did flow,
Till he cried: ‘Pedlar, pray hold your hand.’

‘Oh pedlar, pedlar, what is thy name?
Come speedily & tell to me.’
‘Well now, my name I never will tell
Till both your names you have told me.’

‘The one of us is bold Robin Hood
& The other one is Little John so free.’
‘Now,’ says the pedlar, ‘it lays to my good will
Whether my name I choose to tell thee.

‘I’m Gamble Gold of the gay green woods,
& Travelled far beyond the sea.
For killing a man in my father’s land,
Far from my country I was forced to flee.’

‘If you’re Gamble Gold of the gay green woods,
& Travelled far beyond the sea,
You are my mother’s own sister’s son,
What nearer cousins can we be?’

They sheathed their swords with friendly words,
So merrily they did agree.
They went to a tavern & there they dined,
& Crackèd bottles most merrily.
This ballad can be found in the A.L.Lloyd/Ralph Vaughan Williams Penguin book of English folk songs.
Collected by Lucy Broadwood in 1906 from Mr Verrall, Horsham, Sussex. Broadsides of this ballad were printed in the 19th century. In earlier forms the pedlar is a gentleman in silks by the name of Gamwell. Gamwell & Gamble Gold may be corruptions of Gamelyn.

The ballad may be a fragment from the Tale Of Gamelyn, one of the outlaw legends of medieval times, one of the tales of the greenwood (which probably only survived because of it’s inclusion into one of the versions of the Canterbury Tales).

In The Tale Of Gamelyn the youngest of three brothers is deprived of his inheritance by his greedy elder brother. Once of age, Gamelyn realizes that he has been wronged and begins to exert himself, deploying his immense strength and the loyalty of his father’s steward, Adam. Gamelyn’s evil brother gets him outlawed and he goes into the forest. Here he battles with the mysterious king of the outlaws and wins his welcome. (There is speculation that this king of the outlaws is Robin; The Tale Of Gamelyn is thought to predate the Robin Hood legend so who knows)

Gamelyn’s second brother tries to help through court channels, but evil brother wants to destroy them both. In a typical medieval happy ending, Gamelyn bursts into the court, seizes the judge’s place and has the judge, evil brother and the jury who outlawed him executed, before being pardoned by the king and living happily ever after.

 

We recorded this track last night in the upstairs “studio”. Note the cunning use of mattress as sound absorber. We recorded the instrumental track live as a band, and then recorded the four voices together over that. We used 2 Neumann km 184 on guitar and whistle, Neumann tlm 103 on violin and an AKG 414 on shruti. Then used the tlm 103 to record Elizabeth and I singing and the AKG 414 to record Sarah and Ian.

Naturally Smudge the cat was present for recording duties. The recording process was helped along by home made ginger beer, and a wonderful cheese, ham and vegetable pie with egg pastry. More recordings coming soon

Recording GentleFolk: Into The Greenwood

This weekend I am going to start recording  a new work called “Into The Greenwood” It is a story & song piece in which I travel through the south of England in search of Herne the Hunter, encountering folktales of the woods along the way.

There are songs about Blean Woods, the Forest of Anderida, the Elms of Brighton, Badbury Rings, the New Forest & Wistman’s Wood in there, with accompanying tales of faeries, foresters, wild hunts and the spilling of royal blood.

I will be recording this piece over the next month or so with my band, GentleFolk. Elzabeth, Sarah, Ian, myself & Smudge will be retiring to the shed in the back garden with plenty of provisions this Sunday to make a start.

The musical arrangements are pretty much there, it’s more a question of how to capture the performances. Live or overdub? I have been thinking about the best way to do this for a month or two. I am coming to the conclusion that tracking the guitar and violin and other instruments live, then adding the vocals as overdubs is the way ahead. But we shall see. The most important thing is to preserve the feel of the performances. We have been playing for a fair few months now and I really like the chemistry between us; I need to balance the fidelity of multi-tracking against the feel of live performance. Much mulling will be done….

Cunning Folk at Sutton House

A few months ago I got the notion of starting a folk club called Cunning Folk & the first one is on Saturday at Sutton House. Sutton House is a Tudor house in Homerton, around the corner from Hackney Central. It’s a find; beautiful rooms, a fascinating history &, importantly, a bar.

I have two acts performing on the night. Stick In The Wheel are a very interesting London folk band. I first saw them at Tooting Folk in January to a packed house & have made the effort to see them whenever I can since. I was impressed to see a folk singer wearing a Spacemen 3 t-shirt,  and was taken out when they started playing. Basically, I’m a fan. They are going great guns this year with 6music/XFM radio play & live sessions, excellent reviews and ever stronger live performances.

John Crow A.K.A. John Constable is a great poet. I first encountered him performing excerpts from his Southwark Mysteries in a disused carpet showroom on Borough High Street 5 or 6 years ago & our paths have crossed, intersected even, at regular intervals since. He is a poet, playwright, songwriter, expert on Southwark history & champion of the Cross Bones burial ground. I find him very inspirational, so I am really glad to have the opportunity to get him to perform new and older works.

I performed at Sutton House in the spring & am delighted to have the first Cunning Folk night here. So delighted, in fact, that I wrote a song biography of the place to be performed on the night which you can hear a recording of above.

I am putting together line-ups for the 2015 Cunning Folk evenings; 2014 is taken care of, with events in esoteric bookshops & minesweepers pending…

If you are interested in coming on Saturday follow this link.

Gentlefolk & The Lucky Dandy

This is Gentlefolk, the new band I have put together, playing on One Tree Hill this July. Ian Kennedy, Sarah Lloyd, Elizabeth Forrester and myself have been getting together and practicing regularly for a few months. Preceding each practice is a fine meal; homemade pizza, hotpot homemade biscuits. The tempo of the practices are determined by the size and richness of the meal…

Here we are playing at Tiller Flat this last Friday. Ian is playing cello out of shot, Sarah is on violin, Elizabeth is on shruti box and vocal and I am singing and playing guitar. Mike Watts took the pictures on the night…

Tiller Flat is the folk club on the Golden Hinde by London Bridge and is a wonderful gig. Bands and audiences alike warm to the place. The first time I went I saw the excellent Stick In The Wheel play…

Gentlefolk sing songs about the woodlands of England. We are currently working towards recording material while playing around London this Autumn. Next year a tour of woodlands of England is on the cards. I shall keep you posted…

Here is a snippet of myself and my pal Rocco (Rod Rands-Webb) on banjo and washboard respectively….

I love fingerpicking guitar and banjo and have started playing out under the name “The Lucky Dandy”. Rocco is “The Known Associate”. Get ready for other players like “The Fiddler” and “Uncle Sam”…

Here we are playing “Folking The Strawberries” near Sevenoaks…

For some reason, Kinks songs sound excellent on the banjo.

I am off in a few hours to play Meatopia, a feastival of culinary delight at Tobacco Dock. Lucky Dandy has been playing quite a few events this summer and more bookings keep rolling in…

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And through it all, Nigel Of Bermondsey keeps popping up. I am particularly excited to be on a bill with Stewart Lee, one of my heroes in a few weeks time. I will be playing tunes from my Gemini City album. Esoteric stories and songs of forgotten London in a graveyard on an October night…

Sound Diaries

As part of my new piece, “Into The Greenwood”, I have been making recordings of different woodlands of England to have as a sound bed. The process of making field recordings has been fascinating and I have taken to recording things that happen along the day. Listening to the ambience of different places is interesting, background traffic hum is everywhere, however different roads have their own aural personalities, just as different woodlands do.

I am starting to record snippets of conversation too. Snapshots of moments.

Gemini City

The 17th Century astrologer, William Lilly, believed that London had the star sign of Gemini. His almanacs were best sellers, but did land him in a spot of hot water. After the great fire of London, he was brought up in front of the Judges because of a picture of the Gemini twins hanging over a fire with the date 1677 written by it, in an almanac from 10 years before. His friendship with Charles II’s astrologer Elias Ashmole saved his bacon.

The London Plane is a hybrid of the Oriental and American Planes. This hybridization most likely occurred in the 17th century in the Nurseries of the Tradescants, a family of plant collectors, in Vauxhall. You will see it buckling the city streets all over with it’s beautiful grey “camouflage” bark and maple like leaf.

Cockney visionary Austin Osman Spare was the youngest artist to exhibit in the Royal Academy in the early 20th century, was a war artist in WW1, a fire marshall in WWII, and a magician. He exhibited in pubs, and drank in them too. His striking work was all but forgotten, but has experienced a revitalization of interest in recent years.

This song basically is what I think of when I think about London

A13 Trunk Road To The Sea

I am really looking forward to playing the Leigh Folk Festival this Sunday at 5.20 in the Clarendon Scout Hut. So excited that I had to learn this Billy Bragg song which honours the road I will be driving down to get there. He knows how to write a song.

The Woman In Black

Philip Whiteread was a clerk of the Bank of England on Threadneedle Street until 1811 when he was brought to the Old Bailey to stand trial for feloniously forging and counterfeiting a bill of exchange. He was found guilty and executed.
The family felt it best if the news of the verdict and punishment were kept from his dear sister Sarah and she was oblivious to his fate. One day she went to the bank to look for her brother. She asked a clerk who, not knowing who she was, told her the verdict and the sentence. This drove her mad. She would return to the bank daily, dressed in mourning attire with rouge on her cheeks to ask for her brother. This continued from 1812 until 1837, the year of her death. If the stories are to be believed she continues to make the journey from Fleet Street to Threadneedle Street to this very day. She is known as the Woman in Black. Maybe her thousands of pilgrimages to the Bank wore an emotional imprint into the flagstones which continue to echo to this day……

 

You may be interested to know that I will be having a song promenade on Sunday 6th July, from London Bridge regions to Rotherhithe regions. Follow the link for details…


We Love To Play. Ghosts Of London Underground

This city is built on blood & bones, layers of humanity going back thousands of years. When you tunnels through it you are passing into the places of our ancestors. The London Underground has a rich history of hauntings. There is a fun documentary on the subject on Youtube:

I got inspired to write a song after watching this. If you listen to the song you will hear my good friend Katy Carr being a ghost!