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Nine weeks, thirty shows. Thats 3.333333 shows a week. I'm approaching 60 and I'm knackered. It finished the night before last and I'm hibernating at home. If all goes well I'll surface tomorrow and go and catch the Melrose Quartet at my local in Topsham. What better way to wind down. In the meantime, after staggering down to view the unfeasible amount of mail, ones eye is drawn by a curiously shaped square thin package which beckons to be opened first. In it is a thing of beauty that reels back the years and suddenly the weariness seems to dissolve and I'm an excited 15 year old again. Its simply the topic re-release of the Davy Graham/Alexis Korner EP 3/4 AD on vinyl. I know, it doesn't sound that exciting but it takes me back once again to the reason that we do what we do. No gig goes by for me without referencing Davy Graham and playing 'Cocaine' or 'I cannot keep from crying' or even both. They've stuck to the original artwork and colours. Just makes me want to put out a vinyl album again. Nice one!
Solo gigs start in earnest next week. I've done two warm-ups so far at Worcester and South Petherton which have been very enjoyable. Lots of new songs and reviving of old ones. I started doing 'Tommy' again towards the end of last year and have been inundated with requests for it so it's firmly back in the set again. Looking forward to going to see Kelly Jo Phelps later next month who wrote it.
Contrary to the general doom and gloom around at the moment, many of the immediate up and coming shows are either already sold out or nearly sold out. Brilliant! Thankyou all very much.
I'm also pleased to announce that Edwina Hayes will be opening on several shows in march and Miranda and Rex will also be joining me for one or two. We'll post the definitive information as soon as everything's confirmed. Edwina joined me at Huntingdon Hall last week and also was my special guest at the Dartford folk club before christmas. She won many new friends at both these shows.
Please check the date sheet in a couple of days time for additions including another reunion with my old mate Johnny Coppin later in the year and also a Downes and Beer reunion date coming up soon at Sowerby Bridge.
Also, I will be doing more Feast of Fiddles gigs this year as the tour doesn't clash with Show of Hands activities. Particularly check out the big FOF gig at St Albans arena which includes everyone who has ever been involved. There could be as many as twenty fiddles and certainly two drummers.
Happy New Year to everyone out there!
Just a quick reminder about Phil Beer gigs in 2013. We kick off the new year with a solo in South Petherton, followed by a series of gigs with the great Bully Wee Band (www.bullyweeband.com) starting at Devoran Village Hall tomorrow (19th January) - see www.devoranvillagehall.org.uk for tickets.
For all Phils 2013 gigs see www.philbeer.co.uk or why not sign up to Phils' newsletter by texting PHILBEER to 22828
We can also confirm that Emily Slade (www.emilyslade.co.uk) will be supporting Phil at Hitchin Folk Club on Sunday 2nd June
Thats all for now - more to come soon!
A quick update to say that a matinee performance is now available this Sunday at Green Note in Camden. Doors open at 2pm, music starts at 2.30. The evening performance is now sold out!
Click here for more information and tickets
Big apologies, but we've had to change some gigs around in February 2013 -
Sunday 3rd Feb at the Minstrel Room, Cowbridge has had to be cancelled - we are currently looking for an alternative date and will keep you posted
Friday 15th February 2013 will now be at The Chapel, Canterbury Christchurch University, Canterbury - for tickets see www.folkinthebarn.co.uk
Saturday 16th February 2013 is now the Edith Hall, Kemsing, for tickets call 01732 440470 or www.wegottickkets.com/event/192420
Due to circumstances beyond our control, the gig at St Marys Arts Centre, Sandwich has had to be cancelled - apologies. If you have tickets to that gig and can make it to Canterbury then we will transfer them, or give you a refund.
Its been a very interesting week. Bellowhead up in the main charts and now Show of Hands creeping up behind them. Whilst its almost meaningless in terms of what the charts originally meant in the early years of volume of sales its just very interesting that our music seems to be percolating through without any significant mainstream airplay or promotion. Its solely about the live shows and the number of new folks who've seen us and liked what they heard. Bring it on.
On a somewhat sombre note, I was saddened to discover that Mike Harding has been ousted from the Folk show. He was by far the best choice 15 years ago. He's knowledgeable and dedicated and has superbly walked the very hard tightrope of trying to keep everyone engaged in a pitifully short one hour show. Under his stewardship, the programme has increased its listenership tenfold. Not bad for a 'minority' music show. Whilst I have no issue with his replacement, Mark Radcliffe, who is also an excellent broadcaster and all round good bloke, I do feel that it wasn't necessary to make a change. It wasn't broken and it didn't require fixing.
One or two kind folks have suggested on internet groups that I should have the job. I'm very flattered but I have absolutely no desire to do anything like that. I actually wouldn't want to present any type of specialist show. The only form of music radio that I would be in any way interested in being involved in is already well covered by Bob Harris. I.E. a huge range of good music both old and new with Folk/Blues/World/Jazz integrated and embedded. I don't view music in a genre specific way. I'm also a full time working musician with no desire for a career change. Pidgeonholes No!
Don't you just hate it--------------
Upon settling in to watch the Fairport night on the tele last week and then observing the reaction on various internet boards.
Had a rare evening in and settled down to watch the show. Part of the weakness of the vocals was entirely due to the appalling mix I'm afraid. Simon has developed into a fine singer over the years and I also love Chris's voice. Admittedly I've had the pleasure and privilege of playing with these guys over the years so maybe I'm biased. If I'd never played the guitar but had just been a singer, Simon would be number one on my list of excellent and tasteful accompanists to work with. I would go as far as to say he is greatly underrated but then he's a modest bloke. I have also done some 10/12 shows opening for Richard and Linda in the early days and can vouch for the utter individuality of both his acoustic and electric playing. I know no other more inventive and unique sounding player. He simply and plainly does things that no other guitar player does.
Oddly enough, the album that ignited my interest was actually Full House. The sheer swagger of the opening bars of Patrick Spens rekindled my interest in the fiddle and I still don't think there's anything plodding or pedestrian about the approach. I love it.
The most important thing to say, however, is that AshleyH, Simon, Richard, DM, Swarb and Peggy et al are responsible for inventing something which wasn't there before. None of the rest of us will ever be able to make that claim. Some folks may not like it. Fair enough. Nevertheless, the world is better off with it than without it. Good luck to 'em.
So here we are again. Another three years gone by, another set of new songs and a record to make. The business of making the next album is always both something to look forward to and a cause of concern. Will anybody like it? Will anybody buy it? Do we have anything left to say? Does anyone care? After 20 years on the road, are we yet another band going through the motions?
This time around, we elected to use a location to work in rather than a fixed studio. Many of our more recent albums were made at Riverside courtesy of our good friends Mick and Brenda Burch but that space is now being rebuilt and turned back into a house. This time we are in a lovely barn conversion on the edge of Topsham which is used as a meeting house/ small conference centre. It has a strong ambient acoustic of its own which can be easily heard on some of the album tracks. Our good friend Mark Tucker is the co-producer of this album.
This is the first album in six years that we have taken a production hand in ourselves. We had made most of our studio recordings co-producing with our two long standing live engineers, Gerard O'Farrell and Mick Dolan. I think that we had reached a crossroads with Country Life and that it was time to ring the changes. Steve had had a conversation with Simon Emmerson from the Afro Celts at a folk awards evening and we subsequently engaged both him and Simon Massey to take over and produce an album for us. The result was 'Witness' which broke the mould we had designed for ourselves by using extensive percussion and fairly lavish arrangements which we had often heard in our heads but had always lacked the ability to bring about under our own steam. For us this album was a great artistic success and we learned a huge amount from the experience. Carrying on in the 'lets keep doing something different' vein, we were both enamored with the crisp and clear production of Benjy Kirkpatricks solo album which was done by Stu Hanna of Megson. When it came to doing AIG, we both agreed that we should do something different again and brought in Stu. His vision is very clear and we gave him full license to do what he wished with us. The result was our most critically acclaimed album to date but one which some of our hardcore audience were less than enthusiastic about. Ce'st La Vie. You can only do the thing you set out to do. If you start trying to design something to please everyone you might as well give up and go home. The plot is lost! I especially enjoyed working with Stu and did a lot more spontaneous string arrangements with him at the helm. We spent a lot of time in the studio together building up parts and it gave me a good new perspective on what I do. You're never too old to learn!
Back to Wake the Union. With the benefit of all this experience, we felt able to take a hand again and Mark Tucker is probably the best person we know to do that with. He moved the gear into our temporary studio and Steve spent the first 3/4 days putting down the basic versions of some of the songs. I dip in from time to time to see whats going on but generally don't engage. I dislike hanging around intensely. I will take away rough mixes to listen to and play around with in my own studio in the attic. I will often record definitive parts at home and bring them back to fly in. The actual track Wake the Union was recorded over two evenings at my place whilst Mark was away on another session for a few days.
Once there is a significant body of songs to work with, Steve generally went away to ponder lyrics and nuances whilst I came in and start overdubbing. Steve sometimes has some melodic arrangement ideas which he will suggest, an example being the background underpinning melody which crops up in this version of Stop Copying Me. This song is a classic example of a one that works live with its implied reggae beat but then sounds utterly useless when you try to record it hence the rather different version on the album. It still works live the other way! This process goes on until we have most of the basic songs and arrangements down.
I guess it was at this stage of the game that I realised that there was a sort of pattern emerging here. From the first hearing of the superb American band 'Nickel Creek' some eight years ago right through to "East Mountain South' (which we heard courtesy of Sean Lakeman) and which had been our interval music on shows for a long time, coupled with constant listening to the particularly fine 'Scoville Units' album, we were naturally evolving an album that had much more American influence in it than ever before. That tight modern sound that is now heavily associated with modern American acoustic music was beginning to stick.
We decamped back to Marks Studio out beyond Honiton and started to do a lot of vocals, both lead and harmony. Miranda spent three days doing bass parts and voices then we were able to sit back and start to appraise what we had. It was clear that a couple of the tracks including the existing version of 'Now You Know' were simply not making the grade. Its another song that works great live but the version we had recorded sounded limp and unfocussed. We started again on that one. The other problematic song was 'We're all in it together' which Steve wrote for the TUC rally in Hyde park. He re-wrote it for the album and came up with more verses. At the point that Mark was away for a few days, that was the song that I was preparing to record in my attic after doing some vocal parts to a new version of the Dylan song 'Old Riley'. When Steve arrived at the appointed time, however, he came in with a completely new song which references the gig we did Canary Wharf. One fondly imagines the financial district quailing under the barbed references of a song like AIG. It failed to bring about the downfall of the banking industry by and large!
Anyway, we started from scratch thus coming up with the title for the album contained in the new lyrics. Wake the Union works on many levels and no doubt everyone will place their own interpretation on it. Many of our best mates make appearances on this album and some contributions are very off the wall not least Leonard Podoluks iPhone recorded banjo tune at the end of the song 'Katrina'. Paul Sartins Oboe is to be heard on 'Wake the Union' as is Paul Downes old time banjo. I recorded overdubs at the Sark festival with Martin Simpson and Andy Cutting. Cormac Byrne plays his amazing array of percussion instruments and Seth Lakeman contributes bazouki and vocals. BJ Cole appears on the blatently countryfied 'Who gets to feel good'. Philip Henry, Hannah Martin and the wonderful mandolin playing of Rex Preston also feature on several tracks. A pretty full house. This could well be the best album we've ever made. We hope so.
Phil will be appearing in concert for the Wren Trust on 15th September at 7.30pm. The gig will be held at the Fairplace Church, Mill Road, Okehampton. Tickets are £10 for adults, £5 for under 18's and £25 for a family ticket (up to 2 adults and 3 children).
See www.wrenmusic.co.uk for tickets, which will be available up to 12 noon on Friday 14th September and then on the door on the night until sold out.
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