Nitin Sawhney,James Walsh & Bill Ryder Jones

Friday 24th April, 2020

A trio of livestreams. I was worried there would be a clash, but it worked out. Yes, many of the livestreams are being put up on youtube or are available to watch again (and some are pre-recorded anyhow), but, there is something special about watching them live. It makes it feel more like a real gig and less like a facsimile.

Nitin Sawhney’s set was part of PRS Lckdwn, a 24 hour live music event to raise funds for the PRS emergency relief fund. Musicians have lost an enormous chunk of income and if we can afford to support them, we should. We need music, art and entertainment now more than ever and it cannot be made for free.

Nitin is someone I’ve wanted to see live for a while, his music is such fusion and joy. Besides Anna Phoebe is in the band and she is the most dynamic and exciting violinist I’ve seen. This 20 minute set didn’t disappoint. I hope, really hope, that one day I’ll be able to get out to see and hear the real thing live. Until then, this wonderful combination of guitar, violin and two voices will have to do. It was calming and uplifting and I wish it had been longer.

James Walsh is playing live on Instagram every Friday night, what a treat right? Tonight’s highlights included Tell Me Its Not Over and Boy In Waiting, which I’ve not heard for ages and was aces. There were some excellent covers too, including Ring Of Fire and there was also a new tune, written this week, which I liked the sound of. See you all there next week?

Bill Ryder Jones. Bill. Oh Bill. Lovely, lovely Bill. He was just as shambolic and brilliant as ever. I fell in love with Bill’s voice the first time I heard him live, when I had no idea who he was. The fragility, vulnerability and beauty with which he sings just gets me every time. There is a very special quality to his voice, a tone, a magic something that melts me. He is one heck of a guitarist and is also very funny and sweet. He gives good hug, too, I mean not as good as Guy Garvey, but you know, it’ll do. Christ, its been seven weeks since I had a hug with anyone other than my stroppy teenage son and who the heck knows when I’ll next feel close to another adult again. 

Don’t Be Scared I Love You made me cry, it always makes me cry when I hear Bill play it live. That line “with six words and one kiss” is lyrical perfection. God Only Knows sounded fantastic, and the rock organ, well, I didn’t expect to hear a Procol Harum cover this evening! That’s the thing about Bill live, and live in lockdown as well it seems, you never know what you are going to get. Other than that gorgeous voice, of course. 

Thank you to all the artists I saw and heard tonight, it is a vital lifeline for me. Live music is one of the few things that makes my life worthwhile and to be without gigs for months, possibly years, has been breaking my heart. Being able to tune in live and hear you play eases that pain. I am not alone when I am listening to music. Music is my family and my home. All of you, in some shape of form, have helped to fill the void. That is why I made a donation (small, sorry) to the PRS and will be buying Bill’s music on Bandcamp ASAP. James, I already own everything Starsailor ever released in every format (including test pressings, promo copies and DJ copies) so I don’t feel too bad about watching you for free. Hope that’s alright.

To anyone reading this that loves music and has a little bit of spare cash, maybe go and buy some music on bandcamp or order CD’s or vinyl from an independent record shop, or direct from an artists website. Or donate to the PRS fund. Music has given me so much, it is only fair to give a little back.

Folk on Foot Front Room Festival

Monday 13th April, 2020

A seven hour long folk festival, broadcast live from the artists living rooms to mine. Oh yes, thank you very much, Folk on Foot. I was directed to this festival by Peggy Seeger, who advertised it in her newsletter.

The line up is stacked with fantastic folk artists so I was more than happy to make a donation. Half of the money going to the artists, half to a musicians charity.

Each artist is playing a short set of about half an hour and with 16 acts on the bill that’s a full afternoon and evening of music. I may not review each one in full, forgive me that.

Karine Polwart was funny and sweet, and has a beautiful voice. I will be looking out for chances to hear her live in person when all this is over as I found her whimsical humour very charming.

Bella Hardy is an artist I’ve been trying to see live for ages, but the dates never seemed to work, so getting to hear her singing as part of this festival was pretty cool. She played a relaxing set that fitted the late afternoon slot well.

Sam Lee’s voice is one of those I could listen to forever, deep, connecting and soulful. Enclosed in his cosy living room with fire going and low lighting, it felt very intimate.

Lisa Knapp did a fantastic version of Stepping Out on the harmonium and the family harmonising sounded amazing.

I’ve seen Kris Drever solo and with Lau and loved him both times. I am hoping to see Lau unplugged later this year, pandemic willing. He has another of those voices that transport you somewhere beautiful and relaxing but with the hint of something darker waiting round the corner. A bit like the landscapes of the Scottish islands I suppose. It must be my Scottish roots that make me find empty islands, moors and mountains shrouded in mist comforting. Kris Drever’s voice is like a fine single malt, smooth, rounded and warming. This sort of music is comfort food for the soul. And yes, he made me cry.

Kerry Andrew made clever use of the corridor outside her flat to create a cavern like sound, with reverb and echo, making it sound like she was in a Church rather than a block of flats! One day maybe I’ll get to hear Kerry’s lovely voice in person, I would like that.

Jackie Morris painted a pair of beautiful otters, with Kris Drever on guitar as backing. It was tremendously relaxing to watch and I was glad I had a wee dram on the go. All bank holidays should be like this, pandemic or not!

I had to duck out for a short while, I needed to eat for goodness sake, which meant missing a couple of acts, honestly the music has just been non-stop for hours. I vaguely caught some gorgeous harp sounds but that was all.

Peggy Seeger, the the artist who had drawn me to the festival in the first place gave us a sing a long set for all the family. Deceptively simple songs to join in with, including sung times tables. That was toe tapping and I couldn’t help but have a go. It felt like your Nanna was singing down a video call, rather than an icon of folk of decades standing. I’ve been lucky enough to see and hear Peggy Seeger more than once, meeting her both times. She is generous, witty and still has a wonderful voice in her 80’s. This was a mini folk masterclass.

The last act I caught was Seth Lakeman, one of the most popular folk performers out there but one I don’t really know. I’m contrary and if something is popular that is usually enough to make me not like it! I can see why he is so popular, but his music isn’t for me, sorry.

It has been a wonderful day of folk music. Huge congratulations to Folk on Foot for collating it all and raising so much. Touring is about the only way most artists make any money and with months of income gone in one fell swoop, well, it will be hard for many of them to keep going. Events like this one today help on so many levels. As I’m writing and publishing this, the festival is continuing, but I am leaving before the end. It’s been fantastic to stay in touch with some of the music, musicians and fellow fans today. See you all again soon, I hope, from your living room or in a concert hall. Music unites us, wherever we are.









James Walsh live from his living room

Thursday 9th April, 2020

Love is Here, Starsailor’s debut album will be 20 years old next year. There will hopefully be a tour to celebrate that, but for now, James Walsh, the bands lead singer, decided to treat us all to a play through of it acoustically from his living room with the aim of raising £2000 for NHS charities.

I have loved Starsailor’s music since almost the very beginning. It was 2001 that I first saw them play live and well, life never was the same after that. There have been dozens of gigs, dozens of stories and almost two decades of friendship and music. Those friendships and this music have lasted longer than and meant more than almost any other relationship in my life. There aren’t the words, really.

James was in tremendous voice this evening and the sound quality was far better than I expected. Perhaps helped by me remembering to use headphones this time round, and not my phone speaker!

There are tracks on Love Is Here I’ve not heard live in a very long time and ones I’ve heard in almost every set. They all sounded wonderful tonight, just James and his guitar. There may have been a few tears shed. There may have been some very bad singing along and yes, I did clap at the end of every song even though James couldn’t hear me.

It has been another strange week for us all, full of emotion. One friend has recovered, another is now ill and in hospital. Someone else lost their wife. Another their father in law. This awful pandemic is starting to circle ever closer. I needed the escape and release of live music.

It may seem silly, but for this lockdown live, I dressed up and put on make up and I turned all the living room lights right down low, so I could get the closest feeling I could to being out at a gig somewhere. It has helped. It has lifted and lightened. Seeing the numbers climbing, the comments rolling in and recognising some of the names, helped me feel connected to that musical community again.

I am nearly three weeks into a twelve week isolation. I live alone. Other than my son (and his Dad when he picks him up/drops him off once a week) I see no-one. I cannot go for a walk or to buy provisions. I have become reliant on the kindness of others, often strangers. I am working in the NHS during this, thankfully admin jobs can sometimes be done at home, thinking of my colleagues who are continuing to care for patients every day and hoping that they will all still be there when all this is over.

Thank you, James. For tonight making me feel less alone. For raising over £5000 to help.  But mostly for nearly twenty years of music. That fabulous voice of yours continues to move me. Until I can hear it again, live in the same room, from your living room to mine is a pretty amazing substitute.