Sunday 15th November 2009
It's been quite a year so far.
Started out with a trip across to Ireland in January for gigs in Lurgan, Manorhamilton, Dublin and Belfast, then back for Celtic Connections which this year involved the Burns concert at the Concert Hall and then the Rambling Boys concert, also at the Concert Hall, with the usual suspects and our guest, Arlo Guthrie.
February/March were mostly gigs around Scotland but also a very sad quick trip south to Milton Keynes for the funeral of old friend Matt Armour. I wasn't able to stick around after the service as I had to get up to Yorkshire for gigs. March also involved shooting across to Ireland again for a gig for RTE radio and I managed to grab a couple of days in Sligo to sit in for an informal country-rock blast with Seamie O'Dowd and his band at the Strand Bar in Strandhill and Barry's in Grange. Great weekend altogether.
Another quick drive south to Peterborough for yet another funeral in April, this time one of my oldest friends, Brian Coverdale. He was one of the bunch of us who cut our teeth in the Waverley Bar in the late 60s. I realise I've reached the age where I probably have more dead friends than living.
Back over to Ireland again for the May Day celebration concert in Liberty Hall in Dublin with Andy Irvine and Tommy Sands then it was a short tour in England and back to Scotland for a gig in Greenock with Andy Irvine. Andy's in terrific form and we actually managed to do a few things together.
And then in July/August, the trip I'd really been looking forward to - Canada. Too many highlights to talk about. Started out at Vancouver Island's MusicFest, most of the time spent in catching up with old friends I hadn't seen in a while. Then back on the ferry to Vancouver for a gig at the Rogue club and then the Vancouver Folk Festival.
After that I had 5 days to get to Calgary so I took it easy, stopping for nights wherever I felt like it.
The main meat of the Canadian festivals is what they call the "workshop stages" where they throw together a bunch of diverse musicians and see what happens. You never know who you're going to end up sharing a stage with, and although they don't always work out, sometimes pure magic can result. When I got to Calgary I checked my schedule and found that on the Sunday afternoon there was to be a workshop which consisted of US hip-hop band Arrested Development, Jamaican Rasta poet Mutabaruka, a reggae band from Toronto called the Jason Wilson band - and me! I predicted to myself that I was going to fit in like a herring in a dish of oranges. It turned out to be one of the most inspiring afternoons I have ever spent, absolutely superb experience.
When I arrived at the backstage area, a guy came up and introduced himself as Jason Wilson in an impeccable west of Scotland accent and said, "Fancy doing a reggae version of No Gods"? He was actually Canadian but his parents were Scots and everything about him roared "Scot". Turned out he'd been collaborating with David Francey and Dave Swarbrick, his cousin was the keyboard player with UB40, and he was as enthusiastic about "folk" as he was about reggae.
The outcome was that we decided that there was a lot of musical territory to be explored so Jason's bringing his band over to Scotland in January and we're doing a gig together for Celtic Connections at the ABC in Glasgow on the 23rd January. They're a superb bunch and I'm really looking forward to playing with them again.
The whole experience at Calgary was one of the best I've ever had. I've played there quite a few times but this year was very special. Thanks to Kerry Clarke and her team for making it so.
I then had 10 days to wander about in the Rockies before hitting Edmonton for the festival there. If there is anyone on this planet who knows how to make a festival work, it's Terry Wickham at Edmonton, and I had a superb time there as always, including a bleary-eyed early morning workshop with James Keelaghan and Tony McManus, and singing a reggae version of the Band's "Up On Cripple Creek" with Jason Wilson's band and Dave Swarbrick. As I got up to join them, something occurred to me and I leaned over to Swarb and said, "For all the years we've known each other, you realise this is the first time we've ever been on a stage together?"
I love Western Canada and I love having the time between the festivals there to just wander around wherever the road takes me. There is something wonderful about stopping, checking in to a motel and thinking, "For the next 16 hours, there is not a soul on the planet knows where I am." I need to do that every so often.
Thanks a million to the massive teams of volunteers and organisers at those festivals who make it all happen, you create an atmosphere which makes musicians want to give their very best.
Back to Scotland in time to leave again and head to Denmark for Tønder Festival. Tønder is always superb and this year I think was probably the best Tønder I can remember. What I enjoyed most was the opportunity to get together with Brian McNeill, Ron Kavana, Bruce Molsky, Tim O'Brien, the McCalmans, James Keelahan, Seamie O'Dowd and a whole bunch of other great people/musicians I only ever really get to meet up with at festivals. Thanks to Tønder Festival director Carsten Panduro, not just for this year, but for all the years of keeping it going as one of the truly great festivals and a home-from-home for so many of us.
When I finally get back home after schlepping around all over the Northern Hemisphere, my agent John Barrow informs me that I am to be inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame.
My first thought is "Oh shite, being inducted into Halls of Fame can often mean people think that either you're over the hill and past it or that you're about to drop dead."
Then I think "Stop being so bloody curmudgeonly for once in your life, Gaughan, they're saying that they think you've done something useful in some way or other at some time so stop being a divvie."
Problem is, I can't be there to accept in person as I'll be out on the road doing what I suspect it is that they're inducting me for!
So now I'm on the road again for the annual Nov/Dec tour in England and Wales. Only done three gigs so far but they've all been superb.
The tour kicked off at The Davy Lamp Folk Club in Washington, a place I've played more times over the years than I could hope to remember. I think I've known most of the audience for decades and it's a bit like dropping in to visit old friends. Terri and Eric Freeman have kept it going through some lean times in the past and all praise to them and all the other residents there. Everything a folk club should be. And my old mate Geoff Heslop was there with most of the Heslop clan, magic to see them all.
Then on to Coventry. It's been some years since Coventry had a folk venue but Chris Green and a huge team of helpers are now running one with very infectious enthusiasm at The Maudsley. Very friendly, and couldn't have been more welcoming and hospitable. Thanks to all of you. One great surprise was Sean Cannon turning up. Haven't seen him in a few years but we go back a long way. Sean was the first person I heard sing Phil and June Colclough's Song for Ireland back in the late 70s.
Two of the greatest words any performer can ever see at a venue are "Sold Out". You see those words and think, "Streuth, all these people are coming to hear me!" Guaranteed to pull the best efforts out of you. North London's Kalamazoo Club at the King's Head on Crouch End Hill is on my list of All-Time Favourite Places To Play. It was very hot and sweaty but worth every drop of sweat.