Monday, 19 February 2018

The tide is turning...

Turning the Tide...

Hi Folks!!!
A busy beginning to the new year has kept me away from media, but already I have made a good start with concerts, gigs and rehearsals.  As I am still also committed to an operatic career, I am really enjoying the varied mix of repertoire from opera, classical song, music theatre and folk.  I love too, the interaction of talented singers and musicians that I am privileged to work with.

with Helen England at Crimble Hall, Lancashire.

Helen and I returned to this popular venue in January for an evening of music by Andrew Lloyd-Webber.  I even got to accompany myself with guitar for the title song from 'Whistle down the wind'.
I have worked with Helen and her husband, Phil (sound engineer) for a decade now and we have become great friends.  We always have a crazy time together with a lot of laughter.

The variety of my work also brings a whole lot of fun and 'Madness'...

Mad as a Hatter with Helen England

I'm always excited at the opportunity to 'dress up' and 'make-up' and there was a lot of wonder as we stepped through the looking glass at this celebrity charity ball in aid of NSPCC at Mottram Hall, Greater Manchester.

Mad for it - with Helen

The wonder of it all...

More fairy-tale shenanigans continue this season as I take the role of Ramiro (Prince Charming) in La Cenerentola (Rossini's comic-opera version of Cinderella).  It is over a decade since I last sang this role - it doesn't get any easier...

Dates for your diary

Cinderella - Oh! No it isn't...

Oh! Yes it is...

Great news on the album front!!!  All the tracks are finally finished and ready to press.  My first studio album as Islander entitled 'Turning the Tide' contains 14 tracks of traditional, contemporary and original folk ballads.  On all the tracks I am accompanied by myself on guitar and joined for 7 tracks by fellow opera singer James McOran-Campbell, on keyboards.  James kindly lends his dulcet baritone to duet with me in 'The West's awake'.

Keeping the West awake - with James McOran-Campbell

This is an exciting time for me as I embark on this new path in my career; something I have forged for myself out of a natural turn of events and the desire for a change, hence the album title 'Turning the Tide' .
One of the tracks is a song of my own composition, 'The Loveliest of Days'.  It began as a poem inspired by a moment of revelation while at my house in France.  It truly was the loveliest of days with the summer sun shining bright and all of nature in this 'remote and rural' idyll in full natural flow and I believe was a nudge from the natural world to stop 'doing' and encompass the joy of 'being'.
The song was completely organic as it wrote itself with complete ease - the lyrics, the music, the concept and the making of the accompanying music video were all born at home in France - I hope you like it...

Two more music videos are on their way to accompany the album release - which will be in early Spring.  And another two music videos are scheduled to follow soon after - so look out for those.

In the meantime, after our successful collaboration in almost two decades of music-making, James and I are busy rehearsing, compiling and putting together a concert of popular classical songs and traditional, contemporary and original folk songs that we call 'Classi-Folk'.



This heady mix of Spanish, Italian, French, English, Scottish, Irish and American song is a pure joy to put together. As tenor (myself) and baritone (James) we accompany ourselves with guitar, keyboard and percussion.  It is great fun so look out for our tour dates.  There's bound to be one or two of your favorite songs in the programme.  First performance kicking off on Saturday 7th April at 7:30pm - The Victory Room, Bucklebury Village, Reading RG7 6PG.

The tide turns...

Silver light...

Life on the Island is pretty quiet during these chilly winter months, but some of the migrating birds have already begun to return to the shallow surf of the sea 300 meters from my house.  My hands and face are often frozen as I walk on the shore and I'm reminded of the opening lines of a song, 'The beach is a lonely place, this time of year...'
All the early spring buds and bulbs are fattening and swelling in the 'Greening' which I so love and its really wonderful to watch and feel nature slowly awakening.

If I am not travelling, performing or rehearsing, I will be walking, writing or snuggled up by a driftwood fire swathed in blankets with a large single malt, courtesy of the generosity of Christmas past.

But I headed off for a well deserved city break to Madrid this month.  It's been decades since I was last there and it was like visiting for the first time - I recognized absolutely nothing - which was quite refreshing, as was the chilly breeze.  It was an inspiring trip taking in museums, galleries, palaces, streets, restaurants and bars.  I even got to the Opera at Teatro Real and took in a fabulous Flamenco show at Casa Patas - which I definitely recommend.  The musicians and dancers were awesome and the cultural fix really fired me up.

Madrid from the rooftop terrace at Circulo de Bellas Artes

El Retiro

Busman's Holiday at Opera Teatro Real

Flamenco at Casa Patas

I have some really exciting art projects to begin (and continue) as soon as some freer time becomes available - probably later in the spring.  I have been working on some textured street-scapes on canvas that I would like to explore.

'On the street where you live...' (work in progress)
Media: Card on canvas

A friend has offered to help me produce and publish an illustrated book of my poetry, so I need to get back to work on that.  And I have been invited to produce an exhibition for a concert of Schubert's song cycle 'Dichterlebe' (A poet's love) - this will be a nice challenge, much like the exhibition I did a few years ago for Schubert's song cycle 'Winterreise'.

Media: Twigs, cloth, acrylics on canvas

Perhaps I might do something similar to accompany the 'Classi-Folk' tour - watch this space...

I'm looking ahead to getting back on the water soon in my Kayak - 'The Jolly Roger'.

and to renovating my 1973 Mirror Dinghy 'Undine'.

First renovation
...we are sailing...

I had some great sailing last season with this old girl until on the very last day, in a gust of wind, before the final tack - the mast collapsed as the main sheets came away from the gunwales.  I had to dive in and swim us back to shore...

Meantime, keep warm and well - More soon - That's all for now Folks!!!

Monday, 18 December 2017

Glaedelig Jul!

Glaedelig Jul!

'Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas...'

Gud Yule
noun - archaic term for Christmas.

Can you see the reindeer?

Yule or Yuletide ("Yule time") was and is a festival observed by the historical Germanic peoples. Scholars have connected the celebration to the Wild Hunt, the god Odin, and the pagan Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht. It later underwent Christianised reformulation resulting in the term Christmastide.

'Jewelled quiet times...'

Hello Folks!  It really is that time of year when the magic of the season twinkles and catches you by surprise.  I'm still a big kid at heart and have some wonderful festive memories, but the older I grow -  the more I love Yuletide! It must be the Viking in me. Although, I realise that it isn't the same for everyone and I have my own private wishes and thoughts for the troubled, the lonely, the homeless, the sick and the oppressed, particularly at this time of year.  So may the cheer and magic of Yuletide drive away the cold and the sorrow from your festivities...

This is what my Christmas looks like...

...warm yourself by the fire...

Take time to reflect...

Ahhhh! Christmas...

So, with the recording all but finished, I am now waiting on Sean Kenny at Ten21 to add the finishing touches to the mixing and editing and hopefully soon in the new year - I will have my first folk ballads album.  It's been an exciting and inspiring project - one I am looking forward to repeating later in 2018 with a second album.  I am already scanning around for new material and have a huge bundle of music to choose from, including some compositions of my own.

Here are a few video clips as a taster from the final recording sessions at Ten21.

Now I have to focus on pressing, marketing and performing.  I have venues booked in the Spring of 2018 around the South East and South West for 'Classi-Folk' an eclectic mix of  music from all over the globe and I am already looking at venues further afield for later in the year.

On a much needed day trip, James and I headed off to St. Margaret's Cove for inspiration and to blow away some cobwebs...

Always looking out to see what I can see...

Planning something...

On the edge...
This fantastic boat shed on the beach was designed and built by local student architects.  It has inspired me to re-think an idea I have had for years to build a boat porch at home - I was going to use an old boat - but now...

And with all the magic that this month brings, also comes the madness:  On the first day of December - I put up two trees and decorated two sitting rooms with festive cheer (as you have witnessed in some of the photos), I got tickets to see Cara Dillon at the Gulbenkian - an excellent festive show - with great visuals, beautiful singing and fantastic band.  The dry ice was a tad too heavy though! We spent the afternoon sipping hot chocolate, mulled wine and tramping the Dickensian cobbles of the narrow streets in the old part of town. A lovely prequel to Christmas.  Then comes the crush, the constant shopping for loved ones, the lists to be made and executed, visits and logistics, traffic...  It can and does get one down.  In fact I succumbed after a 600 mile round trip for a concert gig up near Chester after a whiteout blizzard on the winding roads of the Peak District and fell foul to a really nasty throat virus, in which I completely lost my voice.  It came with no warning and wiped the floor with me for at least 10 days - in which time I had given it (though luckily with less venom) to those closest to me - Sorry guys!!!
One good thing to come out of the two days I spent in bed with a high fever was that I have written two new songs - I think I have enough material now for an album of my own music.  As usual when I seem to grind to a halt, something takes over and just rolls.  The inspiration for one song is a local true story of John Dyke, the last man to be publicly hanged on Penenden Heath, here in Kent.  The tragedy of this tale is that he was innocent... The other song is a Lullaby.

I'm heading off to France with my folks for the festivities, to snuggle down in the country and try to blow away the last traces of the bugs and stresses in the glorious tracks and trails that I have come to call my second home.  I will be a land-locked Islander, but the sea will never be far from my thoughts - but I do need a break and a change of scene.

'Mistletoe and wine'

'The Holly and the Ivy

'Skye Time'


'In the bleak mid-winter'

So this week in arctic conditions I had an idea for the designs of my album cover - I won't reveal the album title just yet as it is still gestating in my mind, but there are clues in the photos we took down at the shore-line on Saturday morning in minus 4 weather conditions.  Certainly a case of suffering for your art though, we dashed out nearly one hundred images in about 45 minutes  - I lost the sensation in my face and fingers in the end and James, with the camera, categorically declined skinny-dipping! But it was a beautifully sunny morning and just the right kind of crisp light that I wanted.

'Wave to the ocean...'

'My love will keep me warm...'

'Had enough...'

But this time of year is mostly about hunkering down and recalling the memories of before and hoping for the brightness of tomorrow and of course - it is about love.  So I'm going to leave you with a few words that I wrote for a recent Yuletide and hope that its light will warm and cheer you.  I wish you and yours a bright, beautiful, cosy and joyous Christmas, followed by a prosperous, healthy and a completely 'Folky' 2018.

Winter White

The purity of winter white curls around your head in swathes
and makes stars of your eyes.
Your voice in rhythmic tones lifts the frosty air in clouds
and perfumes the silent snow with song.
And a smile that shines and glistens bright
melts my heart again, with love.

That's all for now Folks!!!

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Autumn Glory

"lest we forget..."

Hello Folks!
I can't believe that we are already mid-late November.  'Who knows where the time goes...'  Night's are long and getting longer - the mornings are crisp and stark.  It is a time for hearty meals, roaring fires, warm clothes and cosy beds.  I love this time of year though - I find it magical, beautiful and inspiring - I love that although nature begins to slow down and sleep, the promise of renewal is everywhere.  My garden is still full of colour from autumn flowering shrubs and we will be eating the fruit of our orchards labours until the spring.
I'm out at first light all togged up and scavenging the beach for something interesting, watching the birds, or busy clearing the garden and lighting bonfires of leaves and twigs - that smell is so intoxicating.  Puts me in mind of the poem by John Greenleaf Whittier.

Before my driftwood fire I sit,
And see with every waif I burn,
Old dreams and fancies colouring it,
And folly's unlaid ghosts return...

From 'Burning Driftwood'


The evening fire whispers and puffs
Its flames, crackling its secret tales,
And you, I know will watch and let
Your fancy fashion a hearth-side yarn...

From 'Drifting home' by James McOran-Campbell

And it gives me an idea for the setting of another music video to go with a track from my Folk Ballads album.  It doesn't however, give me any inspiration as to a title for it...

Fire-side tales

So this last few weeks has been busy with concerts and travel, my bread and butter, but rather excitingly, more recording sessions at Ten21 recording studio.  Evenings have been spent sitting in front of the fire working out backing vocals, or working in my music studio on arrangements for keyboards and percussion along with my keyboardist James.  After one session I met up with James at my local folk club to hear 'Gilmore and Roberts' - they are an awesome team and I was so inspired by their unique sound and finely crafted songwriting, I came up with the lyrics for a new folk tale and arranged it into an uptempo folk-song.  So keep an ear out for that...

'The engine room' at Ten21

The tracks for the album are really coming together and sound great, but I didn't expect to find the process so nerve-wracking and exhausting, especially recording my own backing vocals, but Sean Kenny's energy and enthusiasm is insatiable!  The last session was particularly exciting because James and I were finally laying down the final four tracks for the album that we had rehearsed with keyboard and percussion (an uplifting detour from the tracks with just guitar and voice), one of the tracks is a duet.  James adds a touch of grandeur with strings, piano, ethnic flute, oboe and a mix of woodwind and of course, his dulcet baritone - it sounds wonderful! 

James and the 'Tyros'

Sitting pretty...

On one particular track, I was looking for a very haunting martial bass drum and snare.  After playing around with my Bodhran and a home made beater that I carved from a hazel wand cut from my woods in France. I hit upon an idea - literally...

Bodhran and home-made beater (carved Hazel wand, sheep's wool and the rags of an old shirt) 

I beat the distant war drum for the track, but was stumped when it came to the military snare sound.  Fortunately Sean Kenny is a drummer, and a very good one...

Sean Kenny at Ten21 - a paradidle-diddle

Setting up takes ages, so we drown ourselves with tea and coffee...

Soooo rock and roll...

Rack and stack...

Taking a break



One, two, three

And so with all the main tracks laid down, it just remains for me to finish working-in the backing vocals (I had a great idea for one of the tracks and have worked in a backing line of a different folk song over the top - so two for one - never let it be said that you don't get good value with Islander), and James and I will join forces again to complete the keyboards on the rest.

James duetting...

with me...

This weekend was meant to be putting the finishing filming touches to 'The old churchyard' music video - but time and weather got the better of us and the underwhelming response to my invites to over 20 local drama groups to help me with a few group scenes has forced us to retreat into the studio to rehearse -  and a great session it was, with some lovely touches accomplished and ready to record at the beginning of December.  At least we are being productive!

I'm itching to get back into my art studio and get started on some new projects, but for now here is a selection of archive artwork...

Media: Poster paint on plasterboard

'Chakra Angelis'
Media: Poster paint on plasterboard

'Autumn Glory'
Media: Acrylic on Canvas

'You push all my buttons...'
Media: Buttons, poster paint on Plasterboard

'Stonehenge' A copy on Thomas Gainsborough
Media: Pastel on pastel paper

Keep warm and wrap up.  Look to the skies for the glory of Autumn Sunsets and keep 'folk-ing it up', for folks sake! 

That's all Folks!!!