Archive | writings

RSS feed for this section

Count Your Blessings

I wish I could remember which book it was.  It was one of those New Age self-help books…how to live a happier life sort of thing.  I read quite a lot of those.  And have become a happier and better person for it, I believe.  The particular book I refer to had a little exercise in it.  I must have known that I’d forget the name of the book, because I decided to write a song based on the exercise so that I didn’t forget the exercise.

The exercise went as follows:  Start the day – before anything else – by making a quick mental list (or physical if you prefer) of things you have in your life that you are grateful for.  10 things.  At first it can be difficult.  But there’s…water?  Electricity? A roof over your head?  Maybe someone loves you?  Maybe you have a small skill or talent?  Go through them and feel grateful.  Say a little thank you.  If a negative thought comes in, try and let it go and go back to a positive that you can be grateful for.  Then go get your breakfast or whatever comes next.

The idea is that as we consciously practice gratitude we open up our minds to the positive things in life.  Then we see positivity in more things – things we took for granted.  Things we thought were negative.

It worked for me…so I wrote this song to remind myself to keep doing it.



I would wake up in the morning
rush out of my sleep
drag a comb across my head
as I stumble to the street
morning coffee down my shirt
and sleep around my eyes
as the rain pounds down around me
into the world of fear and lies

a change of thought can shape your destiny
make a little list of things your glad you’ve got
water, food, shelter what you have not what you’ve not

count your blessings, and when you get to ten
start all over
start counting once again
And when you notice blessings that you never knew you had
Oh-oh-oh-oh count your blessings

So the silence of another night
is shattered by the dawn
but instead of pressing snooze
I now start every morn
with a tally of my blessings
what I am grateful for
count ten things that I love
and each day there appear more

a change of thought can shape your destiny
make a little list of things your glad you’ve got
the seas the breeze the trees – the birds and the bees
what you have not what you’ve not

Albums that formed me: Space Oddity

The first cassette I wore out was the second I was given by my brother…it had Genesis Live on the one side and David Bowie’s first (actually second, but the actual first is something completely different and we won’t dwell too long on that).  It is commonly known as “Space Oddity” although it was I believe originally just called “David Bowie”.  Space Oddity was, of course, the lead single from it and the song that shot Bowie into the fame he maintained the next 5 decades. 

Space Oddity is a song that encapsulates many of my favourite things: A story, acoustic guitars playing interesting chords, clever harmonies, unpredictable bassline and a great melody.  There’s even a tiny guitar solo and a bag of psychedelia.  A great song and released just at the right time, when the world was in a space travel mania.

Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed again mixes the acoustic guitar (with it’s Bo Diddly rhythm) with a rock backing, with again the bass in a John Entwistle style freestyle…generally a lot of the album sounds almost jammed and therefore very honest and authentic.  It’s a great rehearsal room sort of vibe, with blues harmonica mixing with the wild 60’s rock band freak out.

Letter to Hermoine is a beautifully written love song – and in it’s honesty manages to avoid all the clichés that usually put me off love songs…Bowie in these moments competes with even Dylan as songwriter and folk singer.

With brings us to the fantastic Cygnet Committee.   This song – for me – is Bowie at his absolute best.  Like Dylan but with more complex composition and arrangement…the story of how youthful hope and revolutionary activism becomes dissillusionment and corruption is way ahead of what could be expected of a 21 year old.  Also he taskes the time needed to complete the story…you could do that back then.  Nine and a half minutes is usually deemed too long for modern concentration levels.  It’s a work of genius and I could live on a desert island with no other music than this one song and not get bored for many years.

Janine is another guitar driven singer-songwriter song that – in the spirit of the late 60’s – let’s a rock band do what it wants behind the song.  I love the freedom of it all.  Not the strongest song on the album but still a good melody and a song that would actually sit really well on even his quite late albums like Hours or Heathen.

An Occasional Dream takes us back into the psychedelic with a Syd Barrett- like vibe along with a 12-string guitar that must surely have been an influence on the early Genesis repertoire.  Lots of harmony recorders – again…who would dare try that nowadays?

Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud was my favourite on the album when I was young.  Again there’s a good story…skilfully told.  There’s a version on a collection of recordings Bowie made at the BBC that I absolutely love…the orchestration is unnecessarily dramatic I feel and I adore his voice and the acoustic guitar and the passion he puts in – they could have kept the bass too, but the orchestra only detracts from what is a great performance of a fabulous song.

God Knows I’m Good was in the first solo sets I ever played…it was the first Bowie song I learnt to play and one what I still think fits many occasions.  Again a great little story – totally everyday stuff about shoplifting but getting the point of view of the “offender”.  The orchestration here is all acoustic guitars – at least 3 different parts…and gives it that folk feel I love.

Memory of The Free Festival is one of my absolute favourite Bowie songs.  When I first heard it I knew nothing of festivals but the joy and ecstacy in the lyrics may well be why I became such a huge fan of festivals later.  This song was one of my “signature” songs when I used to busk and play at gatherings and festivals as a youth.  It’s going to get it’s own video at some point cos it’s a classic…what a chord sequence apart from anything else!  But for now you can settle for the title track in this little performance from the studio.


Guilty Feeling

Guilty Feeling

I was playing in a band called “Whirly Pits” in the year of Our Lord 1988, and our keyboardist was recounting some exploits from a night out in Wombourne the previous Friday.  In his narrative the phrase “woke up with a guilty feeling” came forth, and I made a mental note that there could be a song in there.  I had recently discovered the Blues…I mean discovered the old acoustic Delta Blues.  Blues was familiar to me from the records I had by Rolling Stones, Canned Heat and many others.  But a friend of ours called Simon had a collection of ancient recordings of artists like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Big Bill Broonzy, Lead Belly, Robert Johnson and so on along with slightly later offerings by Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker.  I was mesmerized by the sound…particularly the really old recordings, where it seemed they’d just managed to capture a ghost before it faded.  And I was taken away to another world – totally alien to me –  where the memory of slavery was still fresh in the memory of the singers and their voices were filled with a connection to pain and a channeling of spirit that few since had had.

So the song Guilty Feeling was always going to start with “I woke up this morning”…and so it became a delta style blues affair.  We played it with Whirly Pits, but soon after we started playing with a Simon on guitar – and to acknowledge the change in musical direction we called the band “Whirly Blues”.  This was the first incarnation of the band of that name.  We played Blues – obviously – but also mixed with psychedelia and Indie ideas – hence still Whirly.  Whirly Blues changed to a more Psychedelic Rock and Indie band after Simon left and was replaced by Rob Challenor (aka Dr. South) and Bebee…we were eventually persuaded to change the name as we no longer played blues…which ultimately was a terrible mistake.  Moody Blues didn’t.  Nor did Climax Blues Band.

The actual story in the song is a combination of many different post-alchohol situations: some of them auto-biographical, most not.  What the guilt is about is left a mystery, as it was in the original story.

It’s a fairly old recording:  from the days when I had a studio in Copenhagen with Brian Armstrong…and it’s using his SPL channel one channel strip and SE5600 microphone…which inspired me to get one.  I’m playing –  as ever – the Martin HD28V guitar, an unidentified Harmonica and there’s no overdubs  or anything.  Keeping it authentic man…


The words….

I woke up this morning with a bruise on my face

Champagne matted hair – my clothes all over the place

Lying next to a girl, I don’t think I know her name

Can’t recall last night so won’t you tell me what’s to blame

For this Guilty Feeling.  A Guilty Feeling’s what I’ve got

I’’ve got a Guilty Feeling.  Must have done something bad but I don’t know what

I looked in the mirror – bags under my bloodshot eyes

A lovebite on the neck, a shiner on the rise

Oh my God – my face is a weary white

There’s blood on my shirt – it must have been quite a night

I’’ve got a Guilty Feeling. A Guilty Feeling’s what I’ve got

I’’ve got a Guilty Feeling.  Must have done something bad but I don’t know what

I want a drink – I don’t feel so young

I want an asprin but I ain’t got none

I wanna go out but I daren’t see my friends

If they know what happened then I’ll never hear the end

I’’ve got a Guilty Feeling.  A Guilty Feeling’s what I’ve got

I’’ve got a Guilty Feeling.  Must have done something bad but I don’t know what

Albums that formed me: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan – as I wrote in the song “Carried on a-changing” – has been my hero in so many ways.

I eyed up my sister’s guitar that she’d left next to the piano in the living room when she went to university.  With it were 2 songbooks (with diagrams of where to put your fingers).  One was Simon and Garfunkel’s greatest hits.  The other was a Bob Dylan songbook.

The first song I learned on the guitar was out of this book:  Blowing in the Wind.  I didn’t learn it to be a pop star, because it was cool, to get girls or to be like Dylan.  I just loved the songs and the sound of an acoustic guitar with a voice.  And the songs spoke to me a truth I found no place but in music.  It was a truth very different to what my teachers were teaching at school.  And set in a world very different from my life in England.  But somehow I had more in common – it felt – with Dylan than with anyone I knew in real life (except my brother – it was him that introduced me to Dylan and much much more).

Bob is a controversial chap – and he knows it and loves it, I’m sure.  He has made many incredible records over the years – and some that I would consider truly terrible.  There’s something for everyone – so long as they can get past the voices he uses and that instrument of Satan – the harmonica.  I don’t dis the harp itself…only when it’s in the holder round Zimmermann’s neck.  The absolute greatest album he made though – in my opinion – is his second.

It starts with “How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?”  It was the song that helped catapult Dylan to fame (mostly through Peter Paul and Mary’s version).  It’s an amazing composition.  And bear in mind the boy is 21 years old at this point (just turned 22 when it was released).  For me he was asking the questions no-one around me was asking.  The BIG questions…how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?  Dylan cared.  The grown ups in my world didn’t.

Girl from the North country was an early example of Dylan putting his words to an established folk song melody (in this case Scarborough Fair).  This he presumably learnt from Martin Carthy who he had met while in London shortly before.  Paul Simon brought the same song (though with the traditional words) back from his time with Carthy in London.  It’s a similar theme to Scarborough fair lyrically too.

Masters of War spoke to me too…it was just before my punk phase, but there was a lot of teenage anger boiling up inside me at the state of the world and the politicians who waged war for profit and killed for corporations.  The bite in the lyrics and the disdain for the warmongering leaders struck a chord in my embryonic rebel soul.  Lennon was anti-war, Dylan was anti-war…these were people to look up to when those I was taught to look up to were part of the system that create war.

Hard Rain’s a gonna Fall was another of the first songs I learnt…and performed a lot in the early days of me singing with an acoustic guitar (mostly round camp fires and at after-pub “parties”).  I always loved the poetry in this and the imagery – everything is so easy to picture and yet can be examined in so many layers.  And I absolutely love the humour of the last line…in a song so incredibly hard to remember all the words to…”I’ll know my song well before I start singing”.  Not necessarily a motto I have lived by since!

Don’t Think Twice is the Dylan song I sing most – maybe equalled by Like a Rolling Stone.  It’s cleverly written and puts a bunch of emotion in about a relationship without the slightest trace of cheesiness or cliché.  It’s fantastic songwriting.  All the songs are, of course, recorded just with guitar, voice and harmonica…this could be a time to mention the beautiful quality of the recording….I haven’t looked into what microphones and preamps were used, but as soon as I’m finished writing this I will…

Bob Dylan’s Dream is another folk tune…and one that I play.  Lord Franklin’s Lament I learned from Pentangle, but I must have known Dylan’s song with the same tune before that.  It all seems so long ago now.

Oxford Town was an anti-racism protest song, responding to an incident in Oxford Mississippi, but was still relevant to stories I heard of racial hatred from the States in the 80’s.  And even now.  Not that we didn’t have racism in the UK, but I grew up in a school with people from all over the world, in a town with a huge black and Asian population, going to church in a predominately black area and with parents who had black and Asian friends, so I never got to understand the whole racism thing.  I’ve studied it a great deal since, and have conclusions regarding tribalism and evolution that I’ll bore you with some other time, but sometimes you just have to sing that hatred away.

Talking WWIII Blues.  Again, Dylan is talking about stuff I was worried about – both 1963 when this album was released, and 1980 when I first heard the album were in the Cold War period.  We were actually taught at school about how Nukes could destroy our town, and shown films of what the devastation would be.  I’m glad we were told, but it was terrifying.  I never saw us as the good guys…by the time I understood the Cold War it was Thatcher and Reagan on “our” side.  And I knew that THEY were Masters Of War.  I couldn’t understand how anyone could think we were the good guys with them in charge.  Soviet Pseudo-communism (let’s face it, it certainly wasn’t ACTUAL communism) was scary too, and the few grainy pictures of decaying high-rise blocks and military parades did nothing to make it look a better option.

Corrina Corrina is a beautiful song…though not one of Dylan’s  I didn’t realise it was a cover until recently.  The same applies to Honey Just Allow Me One More Chance, which showcases Dylan’s fun side, and reminds us how amazing a performer he must have been in the early days.

It’s a terrific album and in my view the best singer-songwriter album of all time.  And there’s nothing there but his voice, a guitar, a mouth-organ and the songs.  Amazing.


The Mermaid Of Zennor

The Mermaid Of Zennor

It being St Piran’s Day this Friday (The National Day of Cornwall) I thought I’d share with you a song I wrote called The Mermaid Of Zennor. The story is an old Cornish folk tale that I remember my mother telling me as a child. Also we visited the church in Zennor on one of Dad’s legendary “mystery trips” where a rather ancient mermaid is carved into one of the pews. I returned as an adult, and the mermaid was less disappointing –  the church is lovely and the coastline stunning. It is every bit as beautifully Cornish as you can get. Way out in the wild windy west.

The reason for writing this story as a song was that I couldn’t find any versions of the many Cornish folk tales I heard as a child done as songs, and felt that it would be a fun project to make an album of said stories. I do love a story in a song – and there are some great stories in the myths and legends of Cornwall. So I began writing the songs and now have an album worth of Cornish myths and legends ready to record and release…

This then is a preview.

The story tells of a mermaid who falls in love with a man who sings in the church at Zennor, and comes ashore to hear him. He inevitably falls in love with her and vanishes into the sea with her never to be seen again. But they say that if you listen closely when standing on the headland you can hear him singing to this day…go there and listen. It’s worth it.

Albums that formed me: Selling England By The Pound

Selling England By the Pound

The first music I ever owned was Pinapple Poll – the music of Arthur Sullivan (Of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) on an LP.  I played it on my sister’s Philip’s Stereogram with it’s auto-change function and 4 speeds (16, 33, 45 and 78) that was passed down from my music-loving grandpa.  This and my 2nd LP (The Wombles – Mike Batt’s novelty project and still a great album to this day!) were presents from my sister (I’m guessing I was 6 and 8 years old).  I would sit in her room and listen to these and some of her records (Leo Sayer, David Essex, Abba…and stuff handed down like Pinky and Perky – thank heaven for the 16RPM button which played Pinky and Perky at the speed it was recorded…ah…google it!)

From the room next door (or when I was in my room, the room upstairs) came a very different sound:  Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Caravan, David Bowie, Jethro Tull and much more.  My brother was (is) a music enthusiast and appreciates music and lyrics with depth and quality.  It was him who introduced me to the music that would soundtrack my life…starting with The Beatles (he gave me a cassette player and Beatles tape when I was 8) and then a year or so later another 2 tapes:  Genesis Live with David Bowie’s Space Oddity on the other side and Nursery Cryme with Selling England By The Pound.

I know these 4 albums inside out and upside down.  A short while later he gave me his entire cassette collection…many many amazing albums, a lot of which I still listen to (though not on cassette!).  I will always be grateful.

Selling England was made when Genesis were at their absolute peak.  The 3rd album with Steve Hackett on guitar and Phil Collins on drums, and when the band was really creative and still enjoying what they were doing.  When I briefly worked with Steve Hackett in the early 90’s he said it was his favourite Genesis album and that he enjoyed making it…his playing is absolutely sublime on it.

It starts with Peter Gabriel’s voice a cappello – like an unaccompanied folk song: “Can you tell me where my country lies?”…Dancing Out With The Moonlit Knight is a perfect example of how Genesis in those days played with words – something that has profoundly influenced my songwriting.  Here too is a way of describing the disintegration of England and the infiltration of American culture in a way that is both tragic and fun.  Uplifting even.  The complexity of the composition and the stunning guitar solo – more a composition than a solo – are the epitome of mid 70’s Genesis.

Next comes the sound of a lawnmower.  Genesis up to this point had never had a single in the charts.  Since the awful Jonathan King production of the first album they had become an album band – most songs were too long to get on radio anyway.  “I Know What I Like (in your wardrobe)” became their first “hit”…something I’ve always struggled to understand.  Not the hottest track on the album, but it is pleasant and quirky.  And it’s hard to say “it’s one o’clock” without saying “and time for lunch umdidumdidum”.

Firth of Fifth is one of the best things Genesis ever did in my opinion.  The classical piano intro is a work of art in itself, but the way it explodes to life when the band come in, dips, dives and develops, as if following the river it describes is fascinating and symphonic.  Then there’s the guitar solo…possibly Hackett’s finest?  Tony Banks said he wasn’t happy with the lyrics, but I think it’s a beautiful piece of poetry.

Then comes “More Fool Me”.  I think the less I say about that song the better.  Suffice it to say that I always stop the record before the start.  In retrospect it shows where Genesis were eventually going to head, and makes some of the 80’s material less surprising (particularly Collins’ and Rutherford’s solo material).  Anyway…

Side 2…

I was once asked what my favourite song on the album was, and I replied “The Battle Of Epping Forest” much to the amazement of the questioner.  I wouldn’t give the same answer again – Moonlight Knight, Firth of Fifth or Cinema Show definitely beat it – but the fact is that it is an amazing piece of work.  It tells a story (as many Genesis songs did) about a fight between 2 rival London gangs, and for it Gabriel invented characters and plots and added stacks of humour, whilst the band went full on fusion in one of the most complex arrangements they ever made.  The ending is simultaneously hilarious and poignant.

After the Ordeal is classic Hackett and a beautiful number.  I discovered that the band weren’t keen on including it, but I think it fits perfectly and ties together “Epping Forest” and “Cinema Show”.  Also it kind of signals the emphasis on the folk music element of the album.  And it has great melodies.  Both guitar styles: the acoustic and electric parts have been a huge part of where I come from as a guitarist…although I only gently scratch the surface!

Cinema Show is the archetypal Genesis song of this era.  The 12 string guitars in the soft build up.  The classical mythology references.  The flute link up.  The keyboard solo over 7/8 rhythm – as Prog Rock as you get…but yet very melodic.  The ending was one of the few pieces from the Gabriel era that the band played when I saw them in 1981.

Aisle Of Plenty brings back the themes and melody from the opening song, along with more of the playful puns.  And creates the feeling of a concept album…just in time for “The Lamb Lies Down” to take it all the way.

I never tire of this amazing record, because no matter how many times you hear it, something new pops out.  On top of that it has the vibe of a band that is bursting with creativity and enjoying their first taste of large-scale success…and are keen to remind themselves of their British roots as they conquer the world.  It’s a beautifully English album…in a thatched cottages and cream teas sort of way…and is a “go to” record for me when I want to feel my own roots.



Stitches reclines upon the top of the boiler – the warmest place in the workshop.  Her un-feline friendliness and ratting abilities are her insurance policy against a second bout of homelessness.  Her first eviction was doubtless caused by her eating disorder (which has thus far only banished her from the kitchen here at Avalon) though maybe an occasional tendency to pee in places pee should never be. Therefore she is either in the workshop or outside, never in the house (not legitimately anyway). We didn’t know when we went to the cat rescue.  It didn’t matter – she chose us.  As soon as we walked in she jumped up to us and clung on.  “Come on, let’s go home”.

She’s not magazine material, but all who come this way fall in love with her.  As soon as you’re seated, she’s seated. On you.  Purr.

Those occasions when she makes a successful dash to the kitchen she heads instinctively for the ice-cream tub we use to store waste destined for the chickens…she knows this is the most likely place to get a meal.  And this instinct has saved many meals that have lain unnoticed (and uncleared) on the stove or work-surface.

Sometimes the dog will fetch me to deal with her and I’ll find her with her head in the sugar bowl…

…or making unpleasant a pheasant breast that was out to thaw…

Then comes the banishing ceremony.  Picked up with one hand – doors being opened with the other.  Out she flies.  Landing on her feet.  Scowling at me.  As if it’s me who’s the thief.

The extent of her eating disorder is such that we hardly need to feed her.  She catches so many rats, moles, mice and voles and eats them whole.  Starting at the nose.  Until the tip of the tail finally slips into her mouth.  With the scraps she steals from the chickens and her bounteous daily catch of rodents she hardly needs the handful of cat pills we tempt her in with in the morning and out with at night.

Her official title in the Kingdom of Avalon is:

HRH Princess Stitches, Duchess Of The Workshop, Slayer of Wee Beasties and Cuddler in Chief