Monday, 30 April 2012


the swallows
hadron colliders
skim the somber surface
darting this way and that
snapping up insects
oblivious to human presence
brushing clothes with their twitchy tails

the grebes
glide calmly across the pock-marked lake
leaving no ripples
diving deep to search for titbits
coming up for air
gulping down their silver treasure

the bullrushes
sway in the stiff breeze
whispering in hushed voices
keeping the secrets of the silent water

the watcher
keeps a stony eye on the boathouse
penetrating the stillness


Push the boat off from the shore
I've never been this far before
Who knows what lies beyond?
Out of sight of anyone

Reel me in
I'll take the bait
For I've no time to sit and wait
I've found out what I've waited for
It's out there on some distant shore

It's out there on the blue water
And who knows what lies so deep?
You'll always be your mother's daughter
You'll always have your father's heart to keep
But think of me sometimes

I've never been where I couldn't stand
Always kept my feet upon dry land
Always kept the Great Bear overhead
And now you rock the cobwebs off my bed

Make it last
I'll take the bait
For I've no time to sit and wait
I've found out what I've waited for
And tasted once I want it more

It's out there on the blue water
And who knows we lie so deep?
You'll always be your mother's daughter
You'll always have someone else to please
But dream of me sometimes

Remember all the days that you've been mine
Lying on my bed our arms entwined
And now our futures lead us on
But please don't ever think that I am gone

I'm out there on the blue water
I'll always be my father's son
Out there on the blue water
You'll always be the only one
So think of me sometimes


life as a tangled web of experience
the little connections both numerous and nebulous
micro-fibres that bind events together
fine filaments
delicate tendrils that extend and grasp
we struggle free
only to find ourselves caught up in the same dramas again
the stone of gronw
pierced by a spear
yields ghostly images
the watcher by the lake
penetrating the landscape
frames the boathouse
the serpentine severn
gurgling up from its welsh spring
slides by impassively like melted chocolate

Sunday, 29 April 2012


it can be tough rowing upstream
forever marching out of step with others
hearing the beat of a different drum
as my grandmother used to say:
a prophet hath no honour in his own land
being a fearless pioneer can be a painful experience
opening oneself up to the scorn and ridicule
of those who cannot see the value of the vision
it can be a lonely existence
without safety in numbers
the lone wolf who refuses to run with the pack
the bear who retreats deep into the forest
the mountain goat perched stubbornly on his windswept rock
but when the sacrifices weigh heavy on aching shoulders
it is worth remembering
that freedom from the stifling conformity of the herd
is ample reward

Friday, 27 April 2012


i'm back at my old om haunt from last summer
it feels like another kind of homecoming
the familiar smell of the beer-soaked seats
the night lights on the wooden tables glowing in the darkness
the faded lived-in decor
i'm here early for a change and it's a quiet night
so i get the first spot after the host has warmed up the audience
when i say quiet
i'm forgetting one large table of about twenty people
who insist on talking loudly through the warm-up slot
i wonder why they are here in the back room
rather than staying in the main section of the pub
the host is admittedly not very inspiring
he pulls up his hood like a gangster
and starts to strum clumsily at a slightly out-of-tune guitar
his vocals an incoherent wine
he actually interrupts his performance to take a phonecall
it is a couple of friends he's invited
who are sitting in the bar next to me but haven't even recognised him
talk about stage presence!
eventually i get the call, plug in and fine tune my fender
the large group are still chatting noisily
tonight i make my debut as fireseed
i've also decided that i'm going to work on my banter
partly to compensate for the tuning issues i'm having with the fender
i tell the audience how happy i am to find my trusty old plectrum
under the bed
but i'm struggling to compete with the racket to my left
i'm also grappling with the dodgy mic stand and weak sound system
i launch into relationship
the tuning almost immediately slips but it's not bad
coming home is better especially as i'm debuting it tonight
asleep-awake (second performance) and street executive complete the set
the banter is good but wasted on them
i sit down at the back feeling a bit cheated
but perk up when last week's voucher winner buys me a pint of moondance
and i get a couple of generous compliments on the performance
i get into an interesting conversation with a couple who have moved up from london
to build a recording studio in newtown
they organise festivals in europe and already have a couple of studios down south
they are impressed by the om scene in birmingham
they say that it barely exists in london
they think everyone is really friendly up here
londoners are like robots in comparison
that's scary considering how robotic this culture seems to me here
n is black and he tells me shocking stories about the the xenophobia in russia
racist lynch mobs against non-whites that sound far worse than the bnp
they are planning to leave the country in the medium term
sick of the way that musicians are treated and under-valued in the uk
meanwhile i have realised why the noisy group are here
one of their number
an irish guy
has stepped forward to regale us with a u2 ditty
and a few more covers
his guitar badly needs new strings and a proper tune
he fires out volleys of expletives to the sniggers of his mates
of course he wins the fifteen quid beer voucher
by virtue of having the most whooping mates to call on in the vote
as the evening ends and queen's we are the champions plays on the pa
the boozy party begins to cavort drunkenly round the room
slurring out the hackneyed lyrics at the tops of their ugly voices
this is about as far from artistic expression as it is possible to get
could this be my last om at this venue?

Thursday, 26 April 2012


i have finally made it to the red lion folk club
kings heath's worst kept secret
i'm still kicking myself about missing the sensational chris wood
who was here back in march
but am heartened by the first thing i see above the ticket desk
a large colour poster of jake thackray in his pomp
yes - the leeds legend played here once upon a time!
i'm partly here to catch layla tutt
she of layla and the goodlads fame
who so captivated me at the yardbird on sunday night
with her rhythmic acoustic guitar
floaty ethereal vocals
and intriguing lyrics
not to mention a graceful stage presence beyond her years
and i kick myself for not getting here sooner
for as i take my seat layla is most of the way through her support set
(i have not been aided by a cross-town cycle ride into a fierce rain squall)
i'm relieved when she announces she's returning for a second spot later
and pleased to have a brief chat during the break
it's a great little venue
a decent-sized but still intimate affair
with proper lighting rig, soundboard and foldback monitors
a guitar-playing red lion draped behind the diminutive raised stage
the old dance school are the main act tonight
and the seven members barely fit on the tiny stage
it's a versatile and nicely balanced line-up
two violins/violas
one guitarist/vocalist
one whistle player/vocalist
a trumpet player/weird sound effects man
double bassist
together they produce some dense textures
underpinned by a rock-solid rhythm section
uncannily the welsh 'coming home' connection rears its head yet again
one of the songs is called something like 'herud'(?)
a welsh word which roughly translates as 'a longing for home or place'
another song references bardsey island
which i'd never heard of until i looked it up the other day
after spying it among the panorama from atop the chair of idris
all this is getting weirder and weirder!
layla's second set does not disappoint
an intense affair
and it's reassuring that other guitarists have similar tuning problems to me
would i like to play this venue?
you bet i would
must pass them a demo cd pronto!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012


it has been too long since there has been much humour on this blog
but something really tickled me yesterday
hannah woo and i were just about to leave the house for my parents' place
when the phone rang
we were running late
and i assumed it must be my brother or dad
wondering where we'd got to
woodle kept repeating the same phrase down the phone
in a funny high-pitched voice
'i'm a munchkin!'
she was dressed up in this role for the family party
'who is it?' i asked after a while
'it's uncle john' she said
eventually a few i'm a munchkins later
i managed to grab the receiver
but the voice at the other end was unfamiliar
"i'm calling on behalf of eddie freeman, your local councillor" the man said
"i was trying to play along with your daughter
but every time i asked her who she was
or if i could talk to someone else in the house
she kept repeating 'i'm a munchkin!'"


i am borrowing a book by alan garner
an uncivilised author i've never read before
though i used to have a copy of elidor on my bookshelf as a kid
the book is called the owl service
its home until recently was the gravity-defying shelf
on the wall of the living room
in woodle's piano teacher's house
the story happens to be set in a welsh valley
and draws on ancient welsh mythology
it is slowly but steadily drawing me in
today i pick up the book and this is what i read
the main protagonist is talking to his mother:
"Mam, just listen - please, Mam!"
Nancy was silent.
"You told me so much about the valley," said Gwyn, "it was like coming home. All my life I've known this place better than Aber. Mam, I even know who people are when I see them, you described them that good!"
as i read this
a tingle passes down my spine
that phrase 'coming home' jumps out at me
the title of the song i penned on my return from wales last week
on another page Gwyn exclaims:
"Land of my crumbling fathers!"
another line from the song
something is resonating really powerfully here
there is a synchronicity
a rightness
a match of experience, emotion, mythology, story and song
and it is freaking me out!

Monday, 23 April 2012


as the red cross of saint george
once again flutters uneasily in the chilly april breeze
my thoughts return to the eternal question
what does it mean to be english?
what does it mean to be an english patriot?
when so much of this country's history
is drenched in a bodily fluid the colour of the cross
when this nation state cannot give up its chronic addiction
to bloody conquest abroad
being english means living with an appalling legacy
of (neo-)colonism
the evils of empire and slavery
'the white man's burden'
(never the white woman's)
the absolute corruption of absolute power
being english means being marked by an indelible class-consciousness
from its anachronistic monarchy down
which pervades all relationships
which divides and conquers
being english means inheriting the culpability
for setting in train the merciless tide and squalor of industrialisation
which has harnessed the 'ghost slave' machines of the fossil fuel age
in short being english means acquiring all the trappings of civilisation
how have we treated even our closest neighbours?
especially our closest neigbours?
the welsh
the scottish
the irish
the answer is aboninably
it is hard to be a patriot in this regard
unless one aspires to being the playground bully
thankfully these horrors are leavened a little
by some more palatable elements
the climate and landscape of this sullied but still beautiful land
the plants, flowers, animals and birds
the magical language of english itself
the folklore, music and art that this land has inspired
the good food and ale
last but not least the people who genuinely love our unhappy land
unfortunately a small minority
but worthy fellow resisters to the fascism of the 'good germans'
who enter into a mestophalesian pact to sell england to the devil

Sunday, 22 April 2012


Coming home to the valleys and rivers
Coming home to the place of my birth
Coming home to the land of my fathers
Coming home to the memory of these hills

I breathe the rarefied air
I climb the contours
Across the hillside I stare
To Arcadian shores

Step across the threshold
Step out of the rain
Come in from the wind and cold
Dry your boots and ease your pain

Coming home to the valleys and rivers
Coming home to the place of my birth
Coming home to the land of my fathers
Coming home to the memory of these hills

I slide on blankets of scree
I clamber over boulders
How much further I see
When I stand on giants’ shoulders

Sit down by the hearthside
Pour yourself a glass
Listen to your heart sigh
Feel your throat catch

It’s a different language
It’s written in the stones
It's wild and it's savage
You can feel it in your bones

Coming home to the valleys and rivers
Coming home to the place of my birth
Coming home to the land of my fathers
Coming home to the memory of these hills

Saturday, 21 April 2012


an old thinking notebook tells me
that we met at the station pub
on the evening of wednesday 8 december 2010
i have some hazy recollections of the evening
i remember how a copy of 'free to be human' changed hands
and there was much talk of our plans and directions for the new year
if i were to trawl through some of my other old notebooks
i would find further records of other meetings at the station
especially over the summer
when i was grateful for the moral support and cameraderie
at my weekly open mikes
i was more than happy to return the favour
as you took to tredding your own boards
as the year began to wane
the venues for our rendezvous diversified
the red lion
the british oak
the country girl
the selly park tavern
the whore and hands
the old moseley arms
all became our watering holes
but the format remained the same
good ale
good conversation
time and space to explore the kind of personal stuff
that is often difficult to explore
intellectual inquiry
spiritual sustenance
all while avoiding pub quizzes!
back at the station on thursday night
we came full circle
there was a nice sense of symmetry
that we should end up there again
two travellers on railway lines to who knows where
you in the audience
as i debuted a song inspired by a comment you threw into the mix
on a night not long ago
'you're either asleep or awake'
i recall you saying
'and most people are asleep'
thanks for the inspiration
thanks for the warmth and the friendship
it's been an interesting journey
i'm already looking forward to the time
when our tracks cross again
hasta la vista amigo

Friday, 20 April 2012


if democracy is
government of the people
by the people
for the people
then condemocracy is
government of the people
by the rich
for the rich

Thursday, 19 April 2012


it is a farewell dinner for a group of visiting students at the university
we are in a basement spanish tapas bar by the canal
munching on a cornucopia of tasty delicacies
the vegan options are surprisingly good
quinoa salad and fried mushrooms
generous plates of patatas bravas
the sangria is flowing nicely
in between the various demands for photo opportunities
and noisy whoopings at the sniff of a suspected romantic liaison
between members of the party
i keep up a playful if fragmented conversation
with three girls from indonesia and india
the general atmosphere puts me in mind of a birthday party
of mixed fourteen-year-olds from rather privileged backgrounds
the kind of party i was never invited to
and never dreamed of going to when i was a kid
i notice one member of the group sitting alone
seemingly not interested in interacting with his fellow students
or the members of staff who have turned up to see him off
he is spending most of his time tapping at his phone
tapping into my own outsider mentality
i find a suitable opportunity to go over and have a chat
it turns out that he is disdainful of the superficiality of the evening
and i can't disagree with his sentiments
i ask him about his experience of visiting england
'disappointing' is the main adjective he uses
the formerly pre-eminent colonial power
reduced to a country of faded grandeur
wallowing in nostalgia and a backwards-looking mentality
hardly surprising given that he lives in go-ahead singapore
looking around him
he talks dismissively of the culture of individualism
the narcissistic era of the facebook page
(not to mention the blog!)
where his monied peers post endless snapshots of themselves
grinning inanely in front of some or other international cultural icon
while gaining no understanding of the deeper significance of the place
or emotional experience of visiting it
i say it's all part of the cultural zeitgeist
a manifestation of our collective lack or loss of wisdom
and so we sit there
a pair of outsiders
looking in
and shaking our heads...
until we are asked to pose for a group photo in front of the bar

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


it all seems so much clearer up here on the dark mountain
among the majesty and the grandeur
breathing the rarefied air
up here there is a sense of scale
that dwarfs the petty concerns of women and men
the views panoramic
a broad concave arc of coastline
a craggy range of snow-capped peaks
this topography demands a radically different literacy
far removed from the impotent lines and squiggles of the page
the close contours stiffen the sinew
this timeless wilderness whispers of how our ancestors once lived
without creature comforts
free from the tyranny of the clock
out of the harm's way of lunatic drivers
undisturbed by ice cream vans and amusement arcades
even communication signals are blocked by the mountain's uncompromising bulk
leaving the poor believers tapping frantically at their palm pilots
helplessly scratching their heads
this mountain has stood the test of time
it has watched as men crawled out of their primordial swamps
and scuttled about in the valleys below like busy ants
just as easily crushed
up here the freshly fallen snow lies unsoiled
an unprivatised common that knows no hosepipe ban
glacial lakes hold up mirrors to the sky
and delight in what they see
like its fluid counterpart the broiling sea
the dark mountain forces us to confront existence in extremis
heals us with its beauty and drama
reminds us of where we came from
and what we have forgotten


it sounds like a headline from the front page of the sun snoozepaper
a crude attention-grabbing non-story
a pile of read-all-about-it cadswollop
how i wish i was making this up
but no!
as regular readers of this blog (unfortunately not the sun) will know
the civilised will not stop
until they have wrung every last drop of profit
from our ravaged earth
this time it's a wheeze with an appropriately anglo-saxon-sounding name
fracturing (destroying) the shale rock below the earth's surface
while pumping chemicals into (poisoning) the aquifiers of fossil water
to extract (steal) the gas contained in the seams
a panel of scientists has been commissioned
to tell government ministers what they want to hear
that the earthquakes caused by previous tests
present no significant risk to the public
the experts who don't come up with the required results
are as always quietly removed
the damage is being done by a us corporation
given licence to destroy a distant colonial outpost (the uk)
the profits will be funnelled to wealthy shareholders around the world
the pieces will be picked up by us
the uk taxpayers
this is our very own athabasca tar sands
and it is happening right here on our doorstep!

Monday, 16 April 2012


wandering the shore
wondering what she will find
chased by the sand spirits
the whirling dervishes
urged on by the roar of the waves
the beach gradually surrenders
pieces of driftwood
worn smooth by insistent tide
sharp-edged razor shells
fit for a barber's salon
shiny pebbles
beady eyes plucked from a sea monster
the happy curator
lays out her acquisitions on the sand
like a mermaid at her dressing table
in the distance
a seagull cries
the marram grass whispers
a crab scuttles away

Friday, 13 April 2012


the condemn government's new bill
apparently rests on the presumption of 'sustainable development'
returning to our first working definition
the one that seems to ignore the wider ecology
this is surely an oxymoron
a crass cognitive dissonance
an orwellian doublethink
which echoes pretty much all government- and media-speak
not to mention the world of academia
like talking about 'humane slaughter' or 'sensitive culling'
but looking at our revised definition
it actually makes perfect sense
for repair, nurture and healing are surely necessary
to sustain the remaining life on this planet


an author i admire recently put development another way
he described it as 'destroying beauty for money'
what a powerful evocation!
returning to part one of this post last week
we could adapt our working definition to 'destroying beauty for comfort'
which begs the question
are beauty and comfort opposites?
are they mutually exclusive?
where seven - soon to be nine? - billion humans are concerned
perhaps the answer is yes
as for rampant uncontrolled greed
the grasping accumulation of stored personal wealth
capitalism itself
these things must surely be incompatible with beauty
so where does this leave development?
perhaps what it is really about is repairing and rediscovering beauty
about nurturing relationships
healing mind and body
opening up to the sheer bliss the natural world offers
if only we were willing to look


"jesus died to save our sins" screams the poster
" that we don't have to" i think to myself
so that we don't have to do anything
so that there is no need for us to act or to buck the system
so that all we need do is have faith in divine intervention
so that we can abdicate all responsibility for the parlous state of the world
and surrender it to a cosmic deity floating on a cloud
so that we can wait patiently for a beautiful new millennial era
while all around is havoc, death and destruction
so that we can bow down to a superior power
greater and better than ourselves
and be rendered weak, pliant and impotent
good germans indeed!

Thursday, 12 April 2012


The sign in the park reads:
Please keep your gods on a lead
And clean up after them

Tuesday, 10 April 2012


I don't believe in progress
I don't believe in rules
I don't believe in science
And I don't believe in school

I don't believe in Jesus
I don't believe in sin
I don't believe the preachers
When they tell me what to think

Because I am an infidel
And I live by different truths

I don't believe in murder
I don't believe in death
I don't believe in taking
And I don't believe in theft

I don't believe in violence
I don't believe in war
I don't believe in justice
And I don't believe in law

Because I am an infidel
And I live by different truths

Suddenly it doesn't make any sense
Honestly I can't sit on the fence

I believe in nature
I believe I owe a debt
I believe in saving
What we have left

Because I am an infidel
And I live by different truths

Because I am an infidel
And I live by my own truths

Monday, 9 April 2012


the piano is in the front room
a grand piled high with music scores that 'needs tuning'
above it hangs an ethnic fabric
on the windowsill a multi-coloured candle
the sitting room next door is chaotic and eclectic
two giant armchairs and an oversized sofa shrink the room
a bay window with patio doors overlooks an unkempt back garden
vertically-striped wallpaper and cheap-looking door frames jar
the woodle's piano-playing spills untidily through the dividing doors
upstairs a well-spoken man's voice resonates
regaling a disembodied interlocutor at the other end of the phone line
a half-read book rests on the arm of one of the giants
'enemies of god - scottish witch-hunts of the 18th century'
on the wall opposite a striking colour print
the temptation of st anthony by grunewald
peopled by grotesque demons and plague victims
an odour of pharmacy and cat urine permeates
i seat myself tentatively on the sofa
its cat blanket thrown aside
and peer timidly upwards
where perilously overburdened bookshelves threaten impending collapse
alan garner stories
volumes full of colour plates of mediaeval paintings
over the mantelpiece a rusty old french horn holds centrestage
an ugly electric fire occupies the grate
altogether an unprepossessing but characterful house
who lives here?
what is their story?
i am about to find out

Sunday, 8 April 2012


They know the cost of everything
They know the value of nothing

Competition or cooperation?
Common interest or exploitation?
Experience or mediation?
A schooling or an education?

From right to left the pendulum swings
Right or wrong they are in conflict

They teach the cost of everything
They learn the value of nothing

Context or abstraction?
Aloofness or interaction?
Object or relation?
Connection or dislocation?

From right to left the pendulum swings
Right or wrong they are in conflict

They know the cost of everything
They know the value of nothing

They teach the cost of everything
They learn the value of nothing