Thursday, 23 February 2012


it sounds like an old cliche
but sometimes it gets to the point
where it almost feels pointless carrying on
where the insanity becomes an overwhelming burden
this relentless murder and mayhem in syria tears at my heart
it is sickening and traumatising
this callous slaughter that our elected leaders have no interest in halting
while instead they crank up the war rhetoric against iran
while the media conveniently turns two blind eyes to israel
a state already in possession of large quantities of horrible wmd
the pm waffles about anti-business snobbery
while the only thing he knows how to do
(the only thing the culture he represents knows how to do)
is to convert the living into the dead
real dangerous living breathing people, animals and plants
into safe abstract lifeless odourless, tasteless money
and so the fish disappear from the oceans
the birds disappear from the sky
the bees disappear from the flowerbeds
and i ask myself:
how can those who do not value life
those who destroy
be stopped?

Tuesday, 21 February 2012


a friend sends me a link to a short clip on youtube
it is an image that disgusts and haunts me
it almost makes me gag
i so wish that i hadn't seen it
and i am so glad that i did
it drives home the cost of war and violence
in a way that a thousand bland bbc propaganda reports never could
it kept me awake last night
and it will probably keep me awake for many nights to come
it makes me want to hug my family and friends so tight
but makes me realise how ultimately powerless i am to protect them
words alone cannot do justice to the stomach-churning horror of this image
never in a million years
but to post a link would feel to me like voyeurism
it may put you off ever visiting this blog again
so if you want to see it
do a search on youtube
the film clip was taken in syria
i am guessing at some point during the current conflict
possibly in homs
possibly just yesterday
a young man stares hopelessly at the camera
while out of shot voices scream and shout in arabic all around him
his dark sorrowful eyes bore into my soul like a drill
pleading for help
for some kind of human response in the face of his plight
he is perhaps a teenager
maybe even as young as twelve
it is hard to tell
for where his mouth and throat should be
there is a great gaping bloody dark crater
chunks of bright pink plasticated flesh surround the gaping wound
it is a terrifying scene from a horror movie
but this is real
this pitiable creature staring at the camera is someone's brother
some mother's son
he is right now on the other side of the mediterranean sea
nursing this unimaginably terrible wound
which he will carry for the rest of his life
that is if he lives
for it is hard to comprehend how someone so maimed could go on living
i want to scream in impotent rage
i want to do something to help this poor wretch
to heal his wounds
to make his life bearable
i want to take some responsibility for what is happening
in syria
in iraq
in afghanistan
in every fucked-up still-colonial country
that we civilized europeans have enslaved over the years
what one observer journalist (talking about violence in algeria)
once called 'europe's gas bill'
to stop all this
we need love and rage
we need it badly
and we need it right now

Monday, 20 February 2012


the radio 4 news anchor witters speciously about 'job creation'
as if the object of existence is to find unnecessary work for people to do
instead of simply returning the stolen means of them eking out their own livelihoods
and allowing them to get on with it self-directed and unmolested
bbc editors hang your heads in shame yet again!


it is something of a disaster at the brown lion
i invite fifteen people to my spontaneous gig
earned off the previous night's performance
i trek my hoarse voice across the city to the pub
on a cold sunday evening
i dare to go on after steve ajao's electric blues band
has literally brought the house down
they are loud and they are hot!!!
no-one i've invited turns up (it was admittedly a late invite)
and the landlord suddenly informs me
he doesn't think it's the 'right night'
i remember a story told by john york
bassist in the byrds' second incarnation
of a disastrous gig where the band arrives several hours late
and plays a much-truncated set
york is disappointed for the audience's sake
but mcguinn tells him
'don't worry john, we'll get them the next time around'
mcguinn was talking like a professional
(mcguinn is the ultimate professional)
as for me
i'm trying to think like a professional
so not to worry
i'll get them the next time around
steve ajao catches me just as i'm leaving
(he's seen me take out my guitar and then put it away again)
we exchange a few words
he is a friendly bloke and a top performer
i know the pianist in his jazz band
i chat with his drummer too
apparently they have played a monumental three-hour set
of which i only got to see twenty minutes
as i walk home through the empty disconsolate streets
i get my compensation
out of the knock-back
a brand new song is conceived:

"I've been disillusioned
Cheated and let down
I've been taken for granted
Forgotten about
But all my disappointments
Are nothing in life's schemes
For what are my tears
To the fallen trees?"

Sunday, 19 February 2012


back at the brown lion
two weeks on
and how times have changed
last time around there were four inches of snow on the ground
and a half-empty pub
this evening as the house band's set gets underway
a steady flow of punters stream through the doors
and the atmosphere steadily builds
thirsty work play bluesy covers of pop standards
solidly buttressed on a three-pronged attack
elegant eighties synth
rhythm guitar that cuts through the mix
and bluesy electric lead
the two vocalists are strong too
the rhythm guitarist pulls off an impressive stevie winwood vocal
to do justice to the intensity of 'keep on running'
i feel a bit outraged on their behalf
on account of the luke-warm applause
from a half-attentive audience
as the band conclude their opening set
a group of party-goers dressed as wizards wander in
could this be a positive omen for the night?
i plug in my fender and step up to the mike
i begin with a slow-burning version of 'obsession'
the timing is just right
the pub has reached a critical mass
and people are actually paying the paisley-shirted troubador some attention
my second gig has become my first 'proper' gig
i am receiving generous applause
people are even taking photos!
'birdman' gets its first ever live airing
dedicated to its co-writer brother jw
'as wide as the sky' has me in the zone
for the first time
i am not frantically trying to remember its lyrics
before i know it it is all over
'fucking good!' is e's feedback
perhaps stoked by too much two towers beer
a couple of girls who have been listening in the corner also enthuse:
'your music is beautiful'
the kind of comment that makes it all worthwhile
my brother's contribution:
'less grimacing when you're really going for it'
my harshest critic
the person i listen to most
when i want someone to tell me how it really is

Friday, 17 February 2012


it's colin's birthday bash at the prince of wales
i meet up with j and a in the post office vaults
running on spanish time
no moments to linger
we climb the steep flight of steps up to the street
and hurry through victoria and chamberlain squares
past the council house
and statues and fountains all lit up
to the small L-shaped public house by the canal
we bag a small table and some stools by the door
and huddle over our ales
a fair few players are here tonight
and mic time will be precious
maybe just three songs
alert to my tuning problems the last time he was hosting
and mindful of the long bill
aidan asks me if i'm happy to use his takamine
rather than plugging in my own six-string
naturally i defer
(he's getting a great sound out of it after all)
i get my call and strap on aidan's tak
i wish colin many happy returns
and then launch straight into 'relationship'
immediately i am 100% in the zone
i spit out the words
while my hands and fingers move on auto-pilot
it is as if aidan's guitar is playing itself
the last chord sounds and brings me suddenly back to reality
i dedicate mikel erentxun's 'a un minuto de ti'
to our delightful spanish guest of the night
finishing with a decent version of 'claustrophia' dedicated to j
as i return to my seat
i receive plaudits for 'relationship'
('who wrote that song?' / ', well, actually...')
it's only after i sit down
that i notice that the fingers of my right-hand are bleeding!

Sunday, 12 February 2012


I try to say what I want to say
Where there's a will there must be a way
To get my feelings off my chest
But it feels like climbing Everest

It doesn't matter what I say or do
I can't get through to you
My words fall upon death ears
I watch them splash into a pool of tears

All I'm looking for
Is a relationship

It's like driving up a one-way street
It's like kicking with two left feet
It's like Canute facing the waves
It's like the charge of the Light Brigade

All I'm looking for
Is a relationship

It's the loneliness I can't take
The disconnection
The only thing I crave
Is your attention

It's like yelling at an aeroplane
It's like screaming in a howling gale
It's like swimming to America
It's like digging to Australia

I can't reach you though you're so near
You can't see me though I'm right here
The sun is shining but I'm fading to grey
All my lifeblood is draining away

All I'm looking for
Is a relationship
I want nothing more
Than a relationship

Sunday, 5 February 2012



defying the divine intervention of several inches of snow
i play my first ever solo gig
at the brown lion in the jewellery quarter
o and j are there in support
(though there is no simpson)
it seems a long way from open mikes at the station last summer
more like playing in my front room
there is a flow that comes from rehearsing the material
allowing me to own the songs in a way i haven't up to now
the digital tuner i bought on tuesday proves a good investment
cutting down on the fiddling about between songs
the crowd is sparse but not unappreciative
there are even a few chuckles at some of my 'witticisms'
it's a pity that some people couldn't make it through the blizzard conditions
but there will be another time...

Wednesday, 1 February 2012


ten am in st philip's churchyard
it is bright sunshine but freezing cold
i lay out my guitar case
scattering a pound's worth of coins across it
and launch into lunatic driver
the guitar strings and fret board are freezing
and my fingers quickly go numb
as my digits navigate the neck of the guitar
i can barely finger the chords
local boy in the photograph fares little better
at least i can move my lips
as the sun slowly rises
and the songs proceed
i start to thaw a little
there is a steady flow of human traffic
but after half an hour i haven't received a penny
i'm just wondering whether to cut my losses
and try harborne high street instead
when at long last a little chinese chap tosses a pound coin into my case
i could almost hug him!
my spirits immediately lift
my reinvigorated playing seems to temporarily open the floodgates
and several more donations quickly follow
then i spot a couple of fluorescent-jacketed cops entering the far corner of the square
in seconds i have packed up and am heading to the other pitch i've identified
in the not-so-great eastern arcade
here most of the shops have closed down
but there's a decent footfall
again, after a slow start
the tips seem to gather momentum
despite the lack of sunshine
it is warmer here
the enclosed space boosts the sound of my unamplified voice and guitar
the proximity of passers-by creates a more intimate, shared feel to the street-scene
i'm doing well and starting to really enjoy myself
when i notice a small gaggle of house of fraser managers pottering around
they are looking a bit officious
a few minutes later two polite security people turn up and relay a message
the management wants me to clear off
apparently there a few visiting bigwigs at the store
and we wouldn't want to upset them now would we?
at least they seem apologetic
it feels like quite a gentle eviction but an eviction all the same
i use it as an excuse to buy a hot vegetable pasty and defrost for a few minutes
then i'm back in the square with similar results to last time
no luck for what seems like ages
then a rush of coins
i try to spot a pattern among my benefactors
to my surprise, on balance
i get more joy from older people
especially women
one gives me a welcome cup of hot vegetable soup!
on the other hand
ethnic minorities don't tend to give much
though there are some exceptions to these trends
i get quite a few pound coins but no notes
as the sun disappears behind a tower block
i'm just about to pack up and treat myself to a costa coffee
(a third-off-the-price happy hour from 3-5pm)
when i get pounced on by a street warden
dressed in a ridiculous yellow and purple alice in wonderland uniform
'you can't busk in the cathedral square' he says
i nod and pick up my stuff
('don't talk to the cops' i'm thinking)
'do you speak english?' street warden asks
i grunt and, leaving him standing there, head off to the cafe to rethaw
back in the great eastern arcade
the temperatures are seriously dropping again
i do a final burst without interruption
before i spot a couple more fluorescent jackets
i grab my case to avoid another lecture
and dart off to the station to catch the train home
glowing in the warmth of the train
i do the maths on one of the toughest days' work of my life
final accounts are disappointing but could be worse:
earnings = 12.68 from 4 sessions (about 45-50 minutes each)
outgoings (train, pasty, coffee) = 4.12
profit  = 8.56