Nightingales – as so many of our best loved birds – have taken a hard hit in recent times. In the last 40 years they have declined by 90% which means that where 10 may have been singing when I was young, only one is singing today. So when a friend told me he had never heard a nightingale, I thought we had better put that right quickly before we lose them altogether.

On Sunday morning we set out for a place near to us that has bucked the trend, and still holds good numbers of of the legendary songsters – Paxton Pits, near to St Neots. We were treated to at least six different nightingales, and at one time could hear four of them carolling together. I managed to make a rough recording of one of them, who is joined towards the end in a duet by a second bird:

I’m not the first poet or lyricist to be stunned by the beauty and intensity of the nightingale’s song, but I’ll probably restrict myself to the one that features briefly, and eight miles from home, in ‘The last bus to Leeds’. But it does give me an excuse to quote a few lines from Keats’ ode, one of my favourite poems:

‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,—
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

The corn bunting and the grey partridge may not have the nightingale’s ‘full-throated ease’, but they do most certainly ‘sing of summer’ and they too have declined by 90% since 1970. Later on Sunday evening we wondered around the countryside behind Addenbrookes Hospital listening to them.

Our City Council is keen to build on green belt and threaten the habitat of these quintessential farmland birds and last night I spoke to the council’s ‘Planning and Development Scrutiny Committee’ to encourage them to think again. It was a disappointing meeting – the committee members seemed to regard the occasion as an opportunity to proof-read the local plan and discuss minor points of detail, rather than to debate points of principle and ask the civil servants to find better solutions. The reply to my own statement was ill-informed. It was not a good advert for democracy.

Of course people need places to live – but so does wildlife and we need to do a better, more imaginative job of reconciling our own needs with those of our companions on this planet. It would be criminal if future generations were unable to hear the ‘light-winged Dryad of the trees’ or his arable counterparts.

But I’ll sign off for now with a little more Keats:

O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim…

PS Here’s a link to an earlier blog and you can also download report of a more recent survey I carried out this year below:


Cambridge Folk Club

Last night, May 24th, the band and I played the closing set at the Cambridge Folk Club, as part of one of their showcase evenings It was a fantastic evening and I’m most grateful to the band for their fine musicianship and support. I hope to post a recording or video soon.

Cambridge Folk Club is a wonderful venue. It began in 1959, and became known as the Cambridge Folk Club in November 1964. By 1965 Ken Woolard, the originator of the Cambridge Folk Festival, was a committee member and his influence was to steer the Club into a broad eclectic approach to folk music, an influence still promoted today. Early guests included Paul Simon and Stefan Grossman and the club has made its mark on the local live music scene ever since. Each Friday night sees music that can incude jazz, blues, folk, singer-songwriters, traditional English and Irish music, instrumental guitar, story telling, poetry and open stage. Audiences have commented on the friendly, intimate atmosphere of the club, still a mainstay for live roots music in Cambridge after all these years. It is this, along with a varied music programme which has changed with the times that is seen as the main reasons for the club’s survival and for audiences coming back again and again.

There were also great sets from Rosie Eade and the Sheri Kershaw band. Rosie played with Steve Matthews on mandolin and tenor guitar, and Jim Gair on bass. Rosie plays lively and evocative life-inspired songs of her own, interspersed with carefully chosen traditional songs, all arranged around her love of folk rock, and thrashing her old nylon strung guitar. Rosie’s “sprightly and pleasing blend of contemporary singer-songwriter and folk stylings.” has been praised by Rock-n-Reel (2013).

Sheri’s recent work showcases her song writing and vocal skills and a typical set includes soulful ballads written straight from the heart, laced with numbers with almost a West Coast American feel, right through to more hard edged blues numbers, all delivered by three incredibly talented musicians, being Sheri herself (vocals and guitar), Martyn Hewitt (guitar) and Chris Brimley (guitar and bass). ‘For such a slight lady, Sheri’s vocals pack a real punch and she undoubtedly possesses one of the most natural and expressive singing voices on the current circuit.