Wanna inspire a song?

As some have heard at recent live shows or in conversation, I’m working on writing an album of songs now that tell stories from the global south- either giving voice to particular individuals whom I’ve met on my travels or learned about, or songs detailing sustainable development issues and themes along with the challenges and richness of life in ‘developing’ nations. I’m excited to write and share these meaningful songs and stories. I see this as music, and the folk music tradition, at its core and deepest expression- delivering important, inspired messages about life, the world, and our actions within it through poetry and song. A few of the songs for the album will have appeared before (“Don Fernando”, and “Diamonds” from the forthcoming Mali album, Dugu Wolo), but will be rerecorded and presented with a new sound. One or two others have been played at recent shows.

The record will feature issues and stories about which I’m passionate, but need not stem from my experiences alone. In fact, I wouldn’t even try now to put into song or writing all of the different people, issues, or moments I’ve been moved by in my travels and Peace Corps experience in Mali. I hope these will emerge at the right time. So, I’d love to hear about the issues you’re passionate about and try to write a few songs for this record which come from you. I invite you to share the story of an individual fighting for dignity, human rights, and development, or an issue you care about from the global south. I’ll work on writing a song about it for possible inclusion on this unnamed, work-in-progress album. You can’t force a song, of course. They’re tricky, unpredictable beasts. But I’ll give it a shot.

Email to suggest a song that matters to you- specific details on a compelling issue (sanitation, education, rural public health, labor rights, etc.) or a special person you believe is SONGWORTHY. Please include a phone number and I will either email or call to learn more about your song!

All song ideas submitted will be included on a website devoted to this record when the album comes out at a future date. Represent, y’all.

Hope to hear from ya soon,

Camelot, drop bears & Irish pubs

Backtracking, again, to the Netherlands..

Tuesday we made it to Nijmegen in the afternoon, left our bags at the venue, and wandered around to look for a hostel. No luck. None in town, actually. Passed the next few hours too tired to really do anything and just sitting around and waiting. In the evening we met up with the folks running the show, and were offered a free meal and drinks. Had fun playing there- small corner stage at Cafe Camelot. Good ambiance and there were a few people familiar with my stuff there, which is always a surprise and an honor. Got to hang out with them before going to our host’s place to crash. Played some music back at his place, and Crash played some fantastic songs he’s written, and that was that.

Wednesday we made our way to Alem to stay at a hostel I had been to in August ’09 for a few days. Had an amazing dinner at Theo’s, the proprietor, a workhorse and a supporter, and listened to the Counting Crows’ August & Everything After, which I haven’t heard in a while. Back at the hostel we sat with an Australian who lived way out in the country by Darwin. Heard some wild stories about crocodiles, swimming with sharks, wallaby hunts, and other Ozzie stuff, and made my way upstairs to sleep at the fine, rare hour of ten pm. Turns out the whole ‘drop bear’ phenomenon (koala bears getting high high up in the eucalyptus trees by eating the leaves, occasionally getting too dizzy, falling out of the trees, and, at times, killing people below by dropping directly on their heads), by the way, is the Ozzies taking the piss out of travelers. Still think it’s a great band name. The next night we played at the Irish Pub in Rossum, for Saint Patrick’s Day. Think this was the day we walked the three kilometers into Rossum to get food, walked back, and then walked back to town to the pub with our gear. Neat pub I’d been to and played in before (last time I remember walking around behind the bar and singing and playing from there) and people having a good time for the ‘holiday’. There was no amplification, and I practically destroyed my voice trying to sing out, but there was a group of cool youngsters listening and enjoying. Hung out with them afterwards- Theo, Lies, Gert, Tim, Thomas, and others. As we left I mentioned to one of the girls there, Maureen, a midwife, that maybe, whenever I get married, I’ll come back and she can help my wife give birth. She thought I said I was gonna come back, marry her, and we’d have kids together. She laughed and said “You’ll have to ask him”, pointing to her boyfriend.

Friday we helped Theo move a refrigerator and some other junk to his car and then the local dump, and caught a train north to Assen, where we were met by a prince among men, Thomas Kaldijk of Blueprint Radio. He took us to his place and we had some down time before heading into Veendam for the live radio show with studio audience. It was a cool show with a good audience, and a friend and Mali project supporter came in from a nearby village for the show. Had a full dinner back at Thomas and his lovely wife’s and spent a while perusing his massive music collection, listening, and talking about music. Good stuff indeed- love those nights. The next day they took us into Groningen and we checked into a hostel and walked around town looking for a potential venue to play that night. Ended up getting permission to play at O’Cealligh’s Irish pub and played solo acoustic there that night and hung out. Turned into a super late night as we ended up going to another bar after O’Ceallaigh’s closed. Got home at four or five. Slept in, got up, had some falafel, and made my way past the art museum to the train station intending to go visit Harlingen, a large fishing village on the coast and a departure point for the Frisian Islands. But decided to hang back and take it easy in Groningen instead. Crash and I went back to O’Ceallaigh’s and hung out with the staff and our new friend Rimt into the night. On Monday we headed to Leeuwarden in Friesland and met up with Marthijn de Witt, a really cool guy and radio dj. Had an incredible fish curry soup, or something of the sort, at his place, with Marthijn, his wife, and their three week old, and went to the radio station to record a session. Fun times there, playing and chatting into the night. He took us back to the guest house around midnight. We went back to Amsterdam the next day and visited a few friends- Valentine, a Dutch actress whom we had drinks with in Vondelpark, and Naomi Backer whom I met up with in a cafe that night. Good day there, and roamed the streets in search of food for a while, a long walk around that led to the Maoz falafel joint around the corner from the hostel. There was an Israeli guy at the hostel who had just fled from Israel, and apparently owes a ton in unpaid taxes, and he was on the lookout for a job to try to get started and settled in The Netherlands. He told Crash his father was from Ukraine, or Kazakhstan, and when he finally went to meet him at age twenty-five or so, he discovered that his father was a drunk just like everyone had said. Yikes.

The final push of shows began on Wednesday back in Alem, this time doing a house concert in a barn at the old hostel. Had to walk with our bags and guitars, again, from Rossum to Alem, which was another long and heavy stretch. First we swept and cleared the room of old furniture, wood, and all sorts of old stuff. Darius, a Latvian in Netherlands to buy cars and take back to his country to resell, was there, and managed to tow out of the barn an old Land Rover with no battery. “Dis is my biziness. My biziness iz carz.” Ended up being a great night. Thirty-plus people came, including our new friends in town, and we played for a while. There was a fire outside the barn door and we hung out by the fire for a bit and then got roped in by a drunk girl and her boyfriend to do a bit more. A few songs in, the electricity went out and the night winded down by the fire.Travelled to Bergen op Zoom Thursday for Jos Van den Boom’s Crossroads radio show. Beautiful sound and venue, and found a bit of time to sit back in the green room and strum around after we were treated to a good dinner of bread, cheese, and jelly. Enjoyed another night checking out our host, Bert’s, massive cd collection, chatting, and having some late night food.

Next day we had some down time at Bert’s and did laundry before catching the train for Leiden. A bit tricky getting to the venue, but we made it to Q-Bus just in time for a fantastic meal of Chinese takeout and played a show to a small listening crowd. One guy was in the back laid out on some sort of riser like he was tanning. Pretty funny when I noticed him in the darkness in the back posing like a model for some sort of nude painting. Never seen someone at a show sprawled out like that. I got to sit and play some guitar that night and work on a song while Crash hung out upstairs with a party band that was recording in the complex. Apparently they had some incredibly lewd lyrics which I can’t seem to remember, but really raunchy stuff.

It had rained in the night, first time it was overcast and really chilly, and we trained to the small town of Deurne and were picked up by Hans for the house concert that night in the smaller town of Vlierden. Enjoyed a nice dinner with the family and their gerbil who rolled around the kitchen and under the table in a little plastic round cage. We saw Lois extract a few teeth from the pet, too, with a pair of pliers, careful not to snap off his tongue. Wild. Lovely back yard- a lot of open space and fields for the kids to play in. Their kids opened the show- the son played one or two piano songs and the daughter on guitar. Very cute. We played and got to meet the folks briefly before rushing out to the train station to catch our bus in Eindhoven in time. I’ve always loved doing house concerts and getting to meet and hang out with the audience and hosts after the show, so it was unfortunate to jet outta there immediately after playing. Hopefully we can visit again and have more time with the folks in Vlierden. We got the train but it stopped at the next stop due to some sort of rail troubles, so we grabbed a taxi along with an Irish guy living in the area to Eindoven and got the bus in time. It was an overnight bus headed to London. We, as it turned out, were not.

Dirty Clyde & the Zuiderzee

Next in the blog series. You’ll see when this one got started..

I’m on the train from Glasgow to Edinburgh, catching a flight this morning to Vienna to visit my parents. It’s early (7:15am or so), and the sky is overcast grey clouds hanging low. Slivers of light from the east up ahead are fighting their way through and a cloudy mist is touching the tops of the hills. The landscape is at times open and broad, farm fields with sheep, a river dyke, groups of houses and gently sloping hills. Now a fiery white sun reveals itself like the moon in the day.

Last night was fantastic. Long, full day on the bus from Bath to Glasgow. Slept a good bit and finished reading Hemingway’s short story collection Men Without Women, which I’d picked up in Bath and started in the park. Took a bus to the venue easily, put down my bags and walked along the Clyde and around the area in search of a Tesco to get flowers for the Larkin Poe team. Could only find a Spar convenience store (no flowers) so had to settle for some chocolates instead. What a venue. It’s called The Ferry and it’s a big boat with an upstairs dining hall which overlooks the stage and downstairs music room. It’s a small stage and the drummer sits in an alcove with a low ceiling. Has hosted a lot of great acts- Gillian Welch, The Jayhawks, and others. Backstage looked out on the Clyde and the sludgy brown water on its edges. Rebecca asked “Would you rather sing into a mic covered in cow dung or a mic covered in someone else’s vomit?” Cow dung, no question. I added, “Cow dung or the River Clyde?”. Cow dung, again, for me. Intimate show with a wonderful small audience, and enjoyed meeting everyone. Turns out the Low Anthem were in town as well. Figured I’d pass some time at a bar in town until it closed and then make my way to the train station to either catch a late night train or wait a few hours for the first morning train to Edinburgh. Instead Graeme and his wife Christine invited me over, and I had a great night chatting with them about Mali, music, travels, and listening to Hazeldine and my Mali album. Had some fine Laphroaig Scottish whiskey from Islay in the southern Hebrides (George Orwell’s writing retreat, apparently), which was the smoothest and most pleasant I’ve ever had. Graeme walked me to the train station early and I’m on the move again. Got to see the ‘west end’, I think, of Glasgow and it’s a nice area.. nicest I’ve seen, actually, Glasgow definitely has an edge, and everyone warned me not to pick a fight there. Was happy to see another side, so to speak.

The Netherlands. Feels far removed now, having just finished the UK leg of the tour. But it was a great two weeks. Met Crash at the train station in Amsterdam and the dragging began as we lugged our bags around a few streets in search of the bus we needed for Edam. Finally got it, with a bit of direction from a bus driver, and we slowly and painfully made our way to De Harmonie, a really cool bar, cafe, pension, and music room along one of the canals in the center of town. Got a bit of a nap in and played a fun show. Hung out with some cool people there as a party band played the late night set. De Harmonie always seems to be the spot for Sunday night fun in Edam. Next day we walked along the dykes to Volendam and back. Nice little town, a bit touristy along the waterfront, but a neat place. I decided I needed to lighten my load because my bags were way too heavy to endure for the whole time in The Netherlands, so I estimated how many CDs and t-shirts I might need in Netherlands and sent a number of shirts and cds away to England to pick up upon arrival there two weeks later. Still felt heavy, plus the rolling bag had busted on the flight over, and continued to warp itself as I rolled it down the many cobblestone streets around the country. By the end of The Netherlands one wheel was completely gone and two others were misshaped and didn’t roll well, so the bag got scraped to bits as we went along. Anyway, we got to Amsterdam and checked into a cheap hostel in the Red Light district, across from a place called “Gay Cinema”. The Decemberists were playing at Paradiso, and we went down there to see if there were any tickets. We found a guy selling two for face value and decided to go for it. It was packed in there, and we were standing right in the middle of an unmarked route linking the floor of the venue and the bar just outside the show room. So I got bumped constantly and kept moving back and forth to dodge the hundreds of pilgrims passing on the way. Loved the show, though. I have all their albums and had never seen them. Great band, and a totally fun show. They finished with “June Hymn” from the new album, The King is Dead (love it!), and the song was stuck in my head for the next ten days or so. “Summer comes to Springville.. Hill”. Crash got annoyed as I would start humming or singing it without realizing, over and over for days. Had some local beer next to the Grasshopper and called it a night, sleeping in a tiny room about four feet wide with some friendly, stoned German roommates.

Bath & banter

Next came Bath. Unbelievable little city. World Heritage, in fact. Even getting there was breathtaking. Took a scenic road that overlooked the picturesque town and valley of Box. Checked into a hostel in early afternoon and went to the town center beside the Abbey (site of the coronation of England’s first king a long time ago) to try to join a tour bus going to Stonehenge. Three hour journey that also takes you to some crop circles and mysterious grass mounds. The bus was full, though, so I didn’t get to go. Would have been expensive anyway, and I had a really nice day walking around a bit (no bags!). Ducked into the Abbey for a quick look inside (beautiful church, impressive stained-glass windows and arches), wandered in a gallery with market stalls and bought a pickle, olives, and some kind of cheese with apricot, and spent some time scouring the book collection there. Walked a bit more and sat down in a beautiful park beside a reservoir and read from Hemingway’s Men Without Women, which I picked up at the bookshop. The went to another book store which sells old and rare books. Found some awesome stuff, including Alexander Dumas books published in 1800s, a Robert Louis Stevenson travelogue published in 1911 detailing a journey through the American West. Hard to pass on it, but I’ll plan on getting a version of it later. Got to drop off laundry at the hostel, which was clutch, and headed out to find the venue. Yet again, another great spot and a fun night. Got to meet Bob and Claire, who had arranged for me to gain entry into UK over the course of a single day (!), and others of Larkin Poe’s UK team. Strummed around for a little bit before the show and ate a memorable meal in the cafe at Chapel Arts Centre. Some kind of flat bread pizza with tons of veggies and tomato soup. Heard a bit from Rebecca about her experience working in an orphanage in Haiti for some time this past summer. She’s remarkable. Impressive and good folks, the Lovell ladies. The songs are fully realized, catchy, dynamic, and their musicianship is amazing (Rebecca on mandolin, guitar, and now fiddle, and Megan on dobro and lap steel). Plus they’ve got charisma and a charming stage presence. And the boys of Larkin Poe are fine fellows.

I’m pretty sure this was my first time doing a string of shows as an opener for another act and it was an interesting experience. It’s a challenge. My sets were usually thirty minutes (I could easily play double that length, and more) and choosing songs was a bit tough. Do I go with a few songs from Wounded Electric Youth, as it is the new record I’m promoting, and play “To Be a Loner” and “Wayward Son” to make sure the performance is a bit varied, with some more upbeat songs for good measure against the slower ballads and story-songs? Skip “Of Pirates and Vagabonds” and other WEY tracks to make way for songs I just felt like playing, including newer ones such as “Keeper of the Flame”, “Volcano Queen” or the long personal favorite, “Dead Cow Hill”? In the end, most of the thirty minute opening sets included “Nomie Wise”, “To Be a Loner”, “Jesse’s Mind”, “Tired Afternoon”, “Naduah”, “Keeper of the Flame”, and sometimes “Wayward Son”. A bit light on WEY songs but I wanted to save others like “Driftin’” for band shows. And then there’s the challenge of delivering a performance and trying to connect with the audience via five or six songs, and still fit in some natural banter, share about the various projects I have going on and coming down the pipe (Mali album and film, Cowboy Angel), etc. I would say the least successful night of achieving, or cramming, what I wanted into my set was Bath, where I got carried away a bit in the chatting. Really liked the night, though. It was great to get to play in some really neat small to mid-size venues (the whole deal- great sound, promoters/venue managers, green rooms, food, and hospitality, important community rooms and series..) and connect with the audiences. I plan on trying to get back to every town and area I played to get to see all the new friends out there and hopefully meet new music loving folks in the scene. After the show in Bath I met some cool people back at the hostel, staff mainly, and went out to a bar across the street for a few drinks, conversation, and few minutes of dancing to some pounding music. Love entering the traveller’s scene and meeting open-minded, cool people from around the world. Watched part of an absurd South Park episode and chatted back at the hostel, and went to sleep ~ 3am. Bus left Bath at 7am.

Travels with an Oxonian, a hot date, murders & more..

Here’s the next installment of the ‘travelogue’ folks..

Good time in London. Got connected online for a bit at inSpiral Lounge, a cool veggie eatery and hangout on the Camden Locks, beside the famous long-running Camden market. Walked around a bit and met Philippa for dinner and catching up. Bumped into Boy George’s band, too, getting out of taxis and rushing into Jazz Cafe, where they played. We caught a show at inSpiral that evening, songwriters-in-the-round featuring Alex Berger, who writes great songs. His piano ballads made me think of Randy Newman. He had me up for a few songs as well. Next morning rushed to Victoria Station and caught an all-day bus to Newcastle. Pretty out of it for most of the ride, but managed to watch the scenery and read a bit from Travels with a Tangerine, which I slowly worked my way through the past few weeks. It’s a good read with some admirable adventures and travels, although the author, Oxford-educated Tim Mackintosh-Smith, flashes some high language which is way beyond a lay person’s capacity. It’s over the top, actually.

Got to Newcastle and enjoyed a nice night at Jumpin Hot Club, opening for Manitoba’s Cam Penner and his brilliant guitar/lap steel player Jon Wood. Saw some familiar faces- folks who were at my last Newcastle show in late summer 2009. The series is run by Graham Anderson, who’s a good guy and big roots music supporter. Nice to see him and Sid, another music lover and supporter who came to the last show. He has one of the hardest accents to understand. Thick Jordie Newcastle accent. Got some take-out Chinese (food) and hung out with Cam and John late night at the hotel talking shop about music.

Next show was in Belper, near Nottingham in Derbyshire. Beautiful area. Drove in with Cam and John and stopped off for a pint at a local pub. Were told we were staying with Dick, who was a character they’d spoken about on the drive. When we got to Dick’s I asked about a chip shop to find some fish and chips, since I’d somehow managed to spend three days in England without eating any yet. He gave his ten year old daughter Tia some change and told her to bring me to George’s. Busy spot, great fish and chips. Tia warned me as we started our little date “I should let you know I talk a lot.” And she launched into a number of topics, including school, Wii, and a Super Mario Bros. game with cheating codes which allows her to change into Luigi whenever she wants. Heard a good bit of detail on that. At the chip shop she saw a teacher at school and tried to hide, whispering “Oh no. I don’t want to see her. She’s a teacher at school,” as if the lady were covered with maggots. Full blown accent. Back at Dick’s we watched the end of a rugby match and hung out in the large backyard patio where Dick’s sons and a ton of friends were having a bbq, the grille sitting on the table. The house swarmed at all times with people, mainly teenagers and young ones. They get free reign over there in language and action. Good bit more open than most family homes I’ve typically seen. Pretty empowering for the kids, perhaps. Had a good time at the venue and show, playing in an intimate space with fine ambiance. Listening crowd which enjoyed the show, and I met some folks and hung out. John Wood joined me on lap steel and guitar for a few songs. Fantastic player, sparse and precise with feeling. Back at Dick’s place we ravaged on English muffins, bread, and made weird sandwiches with stuff lying around- cheese, some sort of pickle spread, hot sauce. Serious eating session, and other friends from town were there. Then the kids came back smashed and the party got rowdy. All the while Tia was sleeping upstairs. As the night died down Cam, John, Dick and I sat chatting about a number of interesting things- the need for more community co-ops, English farming (cheese & bread are imported), economics, etc.

This morning Dick cooked a fine breakfast of eggs with tomatoes, mushrooms, and toast, and the day got going. The boys had been out until 8am, but were moving around by 10 o’clock. I asked Aaron, Dick’s son who just returned the day before from Germany, where he recorded a hip hop record, and who’s off to Australia to be a cowboy tomorrow, how he was already awake and active, and he said “You can’t miss the day. It’s awful to miss the day!”. Scanned a bit of Norman Lewis’ The World The World (Dick had recommended him) and soon after parted with Cam and John and headed to the bus station. Gorgeous scenery driving the Peak District with its old millworks (many converted into shops), Matlock Bath, a lovely town that had five or six fish and chips shops on the main drag alone, bikers were out in full force and others walking around town, going into the chocolate shops, eating out on patios overlooking the river, lounging, and enjoying the beautiful day. Passed the Derbyshire Dales on the river and drove across from rocky cliffs and a view point above called the Heights of Abraham. Old, short rock walls separated land plots with light and lush dark green grasses and grazing cows and sheep into different sizes and shapes on the hills on either side. As we crested a hill dark clouds suddenly loomed low above and the rain tore down. First rain on the whole tour I’ve seen. As it stopped a tremendous rainbow arched itself above the distant hills. Made it to Manchester and with some help from folks on the bus, got to The Cheshire Ring for the gig. Put my bags down and enjoyed the rare tour experience of walking unburdened, no guitar, duffel bag, or rolling bag, heading into the center of Hyde past a closed market. Got some Indian take-out and stopped off at the town hall to check out a statue on the Chartists. Apparently Hyde played an important role in the social movement for labor rights in England, circa 1838- 1848. Over the rest of the century and into the early 20th century labor improved in baby steps following the Hyde Charters. First the number of hours children could work was limited to twelve, then the work age was raised, etc., culminating, it seems, in minimum age of fourteen years to work. Turns out Hyde is also known as the murder capital of the world. A friendly local doctor killed 200- 300 patients over the years. Everyone seems to have known a few of the murdered. Even the doctor was said to be nice if a bit old-fashioned. The case came to trial only a few years ago, roughly, and the doctor hanged himself. Heard from Graham, banjo player from Mr. Biggles War Time Band, who also runs the show, that a body was found a few doors down from his place. Also, a couple who lived just outside of town murdered children forty or fifty years ago, and buried them in the moors. All in all a great visit, though- met some nice folks and it’s a good series in a great room. Definitely hope to make it back again.

Had an interesting return visit to London. Didn’t get to sleep that night until after seven in the morning, but a fun time at the show. Skipping to Monday, did some ‘business’ online in the late morning and made my way to London Victoria for the mid-afternoon bus to Swindon. Was hoping to do a few things- go back to my favorite fish and chips place near Covent Garden, walk to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and Parliament, and also walk along the south bank of the Thames to the Globe Theatre. Timing and the weight of my bags won out, and I didn’t make it to any of those spots, unfortunately. Really liked the time in Swindon. Loved the Arts Centre- great room and excellent sound run by a cool chap name Alan. Fun night- met some neat folks and enjoyed meeting up with Larkin Poe again and opening the show. Managed to get a room at a local ‘hostel’ (w/ excellent British breakfast of eggs, bread and toast, and tea), a shave, fish & chips, sound check, and some hangin backstage before the show. Worked on a song for a while backstage and caught the last few songs of Larkin Poe, which were terrific. With all the running around on the tour, getting to the next town and making my way to the venue, hanging out and chatting, etc., I didn’t make much time to actually sit and play and work on new material. So it was always nice to step out of things for as long as possible and think about the scraps of new songs I’m working with.