The 12 Bar Club

We played a one-hour set at the 12 Bar Cub in its new home of 203 Holloway Road, London N7 8DL on January 31st.

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The 12 Bar Club is a legendary venue. The original club was founded in Denmark Street in 1994. Jeff Buckley played an impromptu set there before the launch of his debut album Grace. Adele, Martha Wainwright, Joanna Newsom and KT Tunstall all played their first London dates there. Other people who have played the club include Bert Jansch, Nick Harper, The Albion Band, Steve Jones, Boo Hewerdine, Damien Rice, Regina Spektor, The Libertines, Pete Doherty, Keane, Seasick Steve and Gordon Giltrap. When it was threatened with closure more than 25,000 people, including Pete Townshend and Marc Almond signed a petition to keep the club.

The club relocated from Denmark Street to the Holloway Road in 2015 and continues to offer live music most nights.

Here is the video of The Hills of Arran.

 

New album The Hills of Arran

My sixth album The Hills of Arran is now available for order.  You can listen to the songs, order the CD or download the tracks. The CD costs £7 (plus postage) while the album download is £6 (plus VAT in the EU). People who have already had a chance to listen have said ‘the new album is superb’, ‘beautiful and impressively varied in genre and production style’, ‘the more I hear the songs the more enjoyable they are’ and ‘hauntingly beautiful’. A critic from Rock Society has said:

‘The evocative and delicate acoustic performances are a delightful and blessed relief from the current trend for over-produced, overloaded layers of music. A breath of fresh, mellow and unpretentious folk air.’

Here is the video for the title track, featuring Myke Clifford on wooden flutes.

Cambridge News ran a feature about one of the songs, White crosses. Last week I played some of the songs live on the second half of Cambridge 105’s Strummers and Dreamers show. We launched the album at CB2 in Cambridge on Saturday December 5th.

The album was co-produced by Rhys Wilson, who also plays piano and additional guitars. The full track listing is:

1   The Hills of Arran
2   Andalucia
3   Chasing shadows
4   Replacement valve
5   White crosses
6   Remember me?
7   Beautiful people
8   Ashes and rust
9   Santa Maria
10 Muddling through
11 Heroes of the floes
12 The lives of others

Walking in the Hills of Arran

Where no-one was was where my world was stilled
Into hills that hung behind the lasting water (Alastair Reid, ‘Isle of Arran’)

The Hills of Arran is the title track of my next album, due for release on December 5th with a launch event at CB2 in Cambridge that evening. We needed a photo shoot for the cover and some film for the video. We had never been to Arran, and it came with high recommendations, especially from my grandparents. All good reasons to visit the island that is described as ‘Scotland in miniature’.

Arran2Our ferry had brought us into Lochranza the day before, and we had stayed just outside Blackwaterfoot on the western coast.

The weather forecast for our first full day was poor, so we decided on a valley walk up Glenrosa rather than risking rain and strong winds on the hills. In the event the rain held off for the morning and we rambled up a classic glacial valley with Goatfell, Arran’s highest peak, on our right.

Arran4

Half way up the valley, the first of two remarkable encounters with wild Arran took place. Two golden eagles soared into view and one came quite close to us as three buzzards also appeared. For a while they soared just under Goatfell together, and then suddenly the eagle tumbled earthwards and seized one of the buzzards by the talons. The buzzard managed to fly off a couple of times but each time the eagle went for it again. The two went to ground and as neither bird flew off again we could only assume that a young and very inexperienced buzzard had become the eagle’s lunch.

After our own rather more vegetarian picnic the rain began, the hills did indeed ‘hang behind the lasting water’ and we turned back, well wet by the time we reached the car, but satisfied to be back in the Scottish hills. That evening we watched the rain pile in across Kilbrannan Sound from Kintyre.

Arran_stonesThe next day we walked along the beach out towards Drumadoon Point, scattering oystercatchers as yet more showers built over the mainland. We continued on to the remarkable stone circles of Machrie Moor – Stonehenge without the crowds, the fences or the A303 and all the more magical for that.

For our final day the weather at last settled down a little. We set off from Thundergay up the hillside towards the delightful Coire Fhionn Lochan.

About half way to the lochan a group of red deer hinds were silhouetted against the distant Sound of Bute.

Red deer

Clouds still hung around the hilltops as we reached the lake, Arran1and it would be some time before the sun timidly appeared. Inspired, we set off up the steep slope of Meall Biorach, reaching the first summit just as the mist rolled away from the surrounding hills. As the sun steadily grew in strength, we carried on up Meall Donn, to be treated to magnificent views across the Arran hills and the surrounding mainland.

An eagle flew past us, hugging the ground as it reached a nearby pass before descending into Glen Catacol towards Loch Tanna.

Arran5Heading down towards the other side of the lake we heard a red deer stag roaring and watched as his herd moved up the hill opposite. The early evening light showed the lochan in its full glory.

We were taking a short break walking back down from the lochan when our second remarkable encounter with wild Arran took place. A young meadow pipit flew under our legs and a moment later there was a rush of wind as a female merlin aborted her dive on the pipit. The pipit fluttered out two or three times and each time the merlin attacked again. Eventually another walker went by and the pipit flew off using him as cover. I saw the merlin fly off, apparently with empty talons. We appeared to have saved the pipit but left the merlin hungry.

The following morning we left Arran with heavy hearts. The filming was successful, though, and I’ll post a link to the video as soon as it is available!

Arran3

Concerts with French choir Un Choeur pour Boala

This July we welcomed some very special visitors from Cognac in France. Un Choeur pour Boala (a choir for Boala) stayed with us from July 11th to 18th, and we played three concerts together.

We began on Sunday July 12th in Felsham church, Suffolk, as part of their patronal festival. Here we are singing Thesalonika:

Boala_Felsham

We moved on the following evening to the delightful Kettlebaston church, also in Suffolk:

Boala_Kettlebaston

John_TaraAnd on Friday July 17th at 7.45pm we rounded things off in the Friends Meeting House, 91–93 Hartington Grove, Cambridge CB1 7UB.

I first sang with the choir in July 2011 when they invited me to join them for a concert in the Mynydd Seion Chapel in Abergele in North Wales. Here is a rough recording of us singing Thesalonika together on that occasion:

affiche_generiqueThe choir had formed two years earlier when ten singers from the Cognac Conservatoire de Musique gave a concert in Boala. Moved by the welcome and kindness of the people, they decided to continue singing as a choir in order to raise money for the villages. The money raised from the three concerts will go to the charity Les Amis de Boala which supports projects in the rural community.

The choir’s repertoire includes songs from across the world in a variety of languages and styles which range from traditional Catalan or Jewish pieces to the music of the Beatles and George Gershwin.

Boala is a rural community in Burkino Faso, made up of 16 villages with about 25,000 inhabitants about 150 km north east of Ouagadougou. For a long time it has had very little contact with the outside world. As a result it has kept alive its traditional way of life, its dress, crafts (pottery, basket weaving and ironwork), customs and animist religion. They wish to have more contact with the outside world while keeping their traditions alive and enabling young people to stay in the area.

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Cambridge Folk Club’s 50th anniversary

This weekend has seen the celebrations of Cambridge Folk Club’s 50th anniversary. And a very fine weekend it has been.

Back in 1965 the Folk Club got off to an inspired start by inviting a young Paul Simon to play, just as he was releasing his first single, I am a rock. Since then many of the greats of the folk world have graced the stage, including Show of Hands, Ralph McTell, Dick Gaughan and Martin Carthy. And of course the club has always had close connections with the Cambridge Folk Festival.

However, alongside its national and international guests the club has above all supported local musicians and they were the focus of the weekend’s celebrations. The Friday night (May 29) got things off to a remarkable start with the Inspiration session, where 10 local songwriters – Tom Conway, Liz Cotton, Paul Goodwin, Kevin Hunt, Stella Hensley and Chris Newman, Tony Phillips, Lizzie J. Taylor, Red Velvet and Richard Wildman, and myself – each performed songs by artists who had influenced our own writing, together with our own songs that had resulted from that inspiration. I played Michael Chapman’s Postcards of Scarborough and my own Clarendon Road in the first half, and Jacques Brel’s The Devil (ça va) and Rue Mouffetard in the second half. Other people chose to cover Christy Moore, Nick Drake, Jake Thackray and Rory Gallagher. As Jim Schwabe from the club said when wrapping up the evening there was not a bad song all night – the quality of the music and the atmosphere through the evening made for one of the best live events I have seen in many years.

CFC_programmeA marathon session on the Saturday (May 30) from 11am to well after 11pm saw 25 local bands and musicians take the stage and illustrate the broad swathe of music that the club chooses to call folk – from traditional songs through country, bluegrass, jazz, blues, rock and pop to covers of The Who!

We came during the afternoon – when there was already a packed house – and again in the evening where we were delighted to see our good friends Red House Radio (below) reform for a one-off gig after a break of three years, and were simply blown away by Myke Clifford’s Bophouse Blues. Again, the atmosphere was tremendous as people crammed into the upstairs room of the Golden Hind.

Redhouse

On a personal level, it has left me reflecting on the huge amount of support the club has given me since I got back into playing music seriously 15 years ago. As they have done with so many other people they nurtured me through the nerves, the inexperience and the false starts of those early days, and have continued to encourage me, even inviting me to support Waterson Carthy. My gigs there remain among the very best and most enjoyable that I play. But above all it is the warmth and friendliness of the club committee that make it one of the very best venues in the country. Thankyou all.

Here’s to the next 50 years!

LandscapeLogocoloured

Election reflections

I had been planning to write a blog about the recent election result, which has left me – as many others – feeling thoroughly depressed. One of the things I found most troubling was the way that the Labour party had attacked the people who it should have been courting as future allies – notably the SNP and the Greens (for whom I voted). And I am still waiting for some recognition from the Labour party that they will need to reach out to other parties on the left if they are to have any hope of unseating the conservatives in the future.

Then I came across this from someone called Annette, who blogs under the name of Virtuella. It puts things so well that I thought I should just reblog it. Here are Annette’s words:

“Thanks a lot, Labour Party. Thanks to you we will be governed for another five years by the party that has pushed people into poverty in their droves, that has seen suicide rates soar among the sick and disabled, and food banks spread like a fungus. Thanks to you the party that has brought the UK’s economic recovery to a standstill whilst doubling the national debt can go on wrecking what is left of our assets and destroy the environment as collateral damage. Thanks to you, Ian Duncan Smith will be allowed to continue his assault on the most vulnerable and Theresa May can go on slashing our civil rights in the name of fighting terrorism. Thanks to you the rich will get even richer while everyone else will get poorer and the NHS in England may as well pack up and go home. It is your fault, Labour Party, that the Tories now have a clear majority, unchecked even by what little moderation the Lib Dems might have been able to impose. The Tory reign has been so abysmal, you ought to have won this election by a landslide. You failed.

Now don’t you dare even think of blaming Scotland. In Scotland, we did our bit to bring down the ConLib coalition: we ousted all but two of them. Actually, Carmichael and Mundell won by very narrow margins and if you hadn’t been so hell-bent on fighting your potential allies, the SNP, we might have got rid of those two as well. In any case, Scotland has reduced the coalition’s seat count by ten. All you had to do was add a little to the Labour seats in England and Wales and we’d have been home and dry. But no, not you. You lost big time.

I’m going to help you out here, Labour, because I have watched your decline for a long time and it seems clear that you have not the foggiest idea where you have gone wrong. That is why almost everything you did to improve your prospects has only made things worse. So let me try to explain, and let me tell you in advance that everyone I have spoken to over the last few days agrees with me. Not because I am so super-clever, but because it is blatantly obvious. Only Labour seem to be unable to see it.

Forget Blairism. The con Blair pulled off worked once, but it will not work again in our lifetime, because there are things people don’t forget. Blairism gained Labour the support of a certain number of swing voters and that helped you as long as your core supporters loyally stood by you. Whatever made you think, though, that you could give up the goals and values of your real clientele and that nevertheless they would keep voting for you indefinitely? Sure, many people feel loyal to a party and are patient with it, and there is a certain inertia that needs to be overcome before some voters desert their traditional party. But if that party continually fails to represent their supporter’s interests, these supporters will eventually walk away. The sentence I heard again and again and again these last few months was this: “I have not left Labour, Labour have left me.” That is the core of the problem.

So listen to me well, Labour Party, because if you get this wrong again you will be done for, once and for all: Don’t try to appeal to Tory voters. Tory-leaning voters might vote Labour as a one-off protest vote, but by pandering to them you alienate the people who are your natural clientele. For a few years that might work out, but eventually the Tory-leaning voters will return to the Tory fold and your own supporters will decide you’re just not worth it anymore. If they have any sense, they’ll move on to the Greens, and if not, there’s always UKIP. If they feel seriously conflicted, they might just stay at home and not vote at all. In Scotland, they have serious alternative now. In any case, you’re unlikely to gain back their trust as long as you present yourself as a paler copy of the Tories. Nicola Sturgeon did give you the heads-up in the leadership debate. She said that of course there is a difference between Tories and Labour, but the problem is that the difference is not big enough. It is nowhere near big enough.

There are several ways in which this failure to be properly Labour instead of Tory-lite has played out.

1. You have failed to be an effective opposition. Instead of challenging the Tories’ brutal austerity policies, their hair-raising incompetence with the economy, their blatant favouring of the rich elites, you have done little else than bicker about details. You have allowed the electorate in England and Wales to believe against all evidence to the contrary that what the Tories have done is basically right. You voted with them for more austerity cuts. You voted with them for Trident renewal. You voted with them for more foolish military interventions in the Middle East, even though you must know by now how the Iraq War has damaged you. You abstained from the vote on the fracking moratorium which would have succeeded had you not been so cowardly. You have not been a counterweight to the nasty coalition, you have enabled them.

2. You have allowed the Tories to determine the political narrative. Instead of countering their agenda with your own agenda, you kept telling us you would do much the same as the Tories, only in a nicer way, and you deluded yourself that this would keep everyone happy. All this nonsense about cutting the deficit by slashing public services and restricting government spending, when it is standard textbook economy that in times of recession the government must increase spending to help the economy recover – you could have called the Tories out on this, you could have presented the figures of how the Tory approach had made the economy much, much worse. Why did it have to be Nigel Farage of all people who pointed out in the leaders’ debate that the Tories had doubled the national debt? That would have been your role, you should have hammered this message home relentlessly instead of letting them get away with their ludicrous claim that they had fixed the economy. You even allowed UKIP to set your agenda: Instead of making it clear, like Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood and Nicola Sturgeon did, that immigration really, really isn’t a relevant problem, you went about printing “Controls on immigration” on mugs and even inscribing it on your ridiculous monolith.

3. Instead of fighting the Tories, you fought your potential allies. This wasn’t so disastrous in the case of the Greens and Plaid Cymru, given their small numbers, but I will say that having a big campaign to unseat Caroline was not only mean-spirited but stupid; those resources should have gone into targeting a Tory seat. However, it was your treatment of the SNP that might well have cost you the election. Again, you let the Tories determine the narrative. They crowed about a constitutional crisis, about a second referendum which neither the SNP nor the wider YES movement are seeking within the next few years anyway, about “breaking up our (sic!) country,” about chaos and nationalism and England being held to ransom. They and their compliant media outlets abused the SNP and the people of Scotland on a daily basis in the most despicable terms. And all you did was parrot them. Nicola Sturgeon could not have held out her hand any more sincerely, and yet you sneered at it.

What you could have done, should have done, was to challenge the Tory narrative. The SNP have been riding sky-high in the polls since September; and you had known for months that you could only form a government with their help. Plenty time to come up with a constructive strategy. You could have pointed out that the SNP are a moderate party of the centre left. You could have pointed out that they have a track record of eight years of competent and sensible and not-at-all-outrageous government in Holyrood. You could have pointed out that they stood for the kind of temperate progressive policies that many, many people in England would have been delighted to see. You could have pointed out that in no imaginable universe would even 59 SNP MPs be able to call the shots in a 650-strong parliament; that you would always be the boss in any kind of arrangement. You could have thrown all your might into convincing the English electorate that a Labour/SNP team effort would be good for the whole of the UK, as it undoubtedly would have been. Instead you declared a week before the election on national television that you would rather see the Tories return to power than work with the SNP. The stupidity of this is mind-blowing. And all under the banner of “not working with a party that seeks to break up the UK.” Tell me, what is your deal again with the SDLP, a party that seeks to unite Northern Ireland with the republic? You don’t even field candidates against them to give them a better chance? If you can work with them, why not with the SNP? But even today you still harp on about “nationalism” when in fact what the people of Scotland have opted for is the moderate social democratic policies which you should have offered but didn’t.

4. Having alienated your core supporters and turned your back on your potential allies, and with no progressive track record as an effective opposition to show to the electorate, you have based your election campaign on sound bites, PR stunts and silly gimmicks. Just after Nicola Sturgeon presented her gender-balanced cabinet and promised to work tirelessly on shattering the glass ceiling, you insulted the women of the UK by inviting them to talk “around the kitchen table” about “women’s issues,” proudly brought to us by a pink van. And you didn’t see it coming that people would call it the Barbie Bus and laugh it out-of-town? You allowed Jim Murphy to run amok in Scotland with one insane “policy announcement” after another – remember the “1000 more nurses than anything the SNP promises?” Why not promise weekend breaks on Jupiter for the over 65s? You wheeled out Gordon Brown at random intervals to make meaningless promises and you expected people to be swayed by the pledges of a retiring back bencher? You had some wishy-washy election promises carved in a massive gravestone and you thought that was a good idea?

Yours was a hopeless, hopeless campaign from beginning to end, without vision, without structure, without conviction. And yet I, like so many, clung to the hope that surely people in England must be so fed up with the Tories by now that they’d vote for you anyway and that surely once the election day dust had settled you’d see sense and head a progressive alliance with the SNP, SDLP, Plaid Cymru and the lovely Caroline Lucas who is worth her weight in diamonds. We could have turned things around for the good of the many rather than the few. Instead the Tories now have carte blanche to suck dry the people of the UK and grin smugly while they feast on our bones. All thanks to you, Labour Party. Now get your act together and make sure this will never happen again. I cannot spell it out any clearer.”

Looking back on 2014

It’s getting to that time of year for reflections on the year almost past.

I’ve really enjoyed the past year musically. My fifth album, The dust of time, received a pleasing amount of radio play, especially on Radio Scotland and Radio Wales. The band and I have been made most welcome at my favourite clubs in Eastern England – Cambridge Folk Club and Royston Folk Club – and I also really enjoyed giving a concert in Felsham Church in Suffolk in July. This autumn I’ve been able to play a couple of songs in especially appropriate places – You and John Peel in The John Peel Centre and a new song, Replacement valve, in my favourite pub in Cambridge, the Flying Pig.

For other people’s music, I’ve recently been bowled over by French singer Maissiat’s Tropiques. Don’t worry if your French isn’t great – the lyrics are almost as impenetrable in their native language, but they don’t half sound good! I have only just discovered The War on Drugs‘ Lost in the Dream. And we’ve still been listening to Daughter’s album If you leave. Finally, if you’ve not yet heard the assured new album by our friends The Willows, do have a listen.

Live performance of the year was one of my favourite songwriters, Elvis Costello, playing solo in the Royal Albert Hall – fabulous; closely followed by the remarkable Nicolas from French band Juice who we heard in Nimes sadly the online stuff doesn’t do justice to his astonishing voice). Film of the year for me was Pride and my favourite reading has been by short-story writer Alice Munro, who I have only just discovered. I’ve also been researching the French Revolution – no songs yet, but who knows…

Learners First publications have now published a book of 32 of my song lyrics, drawn from my first five albums and entitled Hold on: Selected lyrics 20014-2014. It is available in three formats, all costing £5:

– Printed edition, 44 pages, fully illustrated in colour – I will have copies at gigs etc. or you can order them online. If you order online you need to pay postage, but you get a free download of Rue Mouffetard!

– There is also a fully illustrated ebook edition on the Apple ibooks store. This version additionally contains links to songs and videos.

– There is an unillustrated Kindle edition from Amazon.

Thankyou again for your support through the year. I’ll leave you in peace for a while, so I’ll take this rather early opportunity to wish you all the best for 2015.

PS A date for your diaries – I shall be playing Cambridge Folk Club again with the band on Friday April 17th

Hold on: Selected lyrics 2004–2014 now available

Hold_on_coverLearners First publications have now published a book of 32 of my song lyrics. Here’s the blurb:

In this selection of lyrics – written between 2004 and 2014 – John Meed explores the themes that have informed his songwriting – love and loss, belonging and exile, growing up and growing older, the unexpected inevitability of change.

The lyrics are taken from his first five albums: The children of the sea (2005), Powder of the stars (2007), When the music ends (2009), Pavilion Parade (2011) and The dust of time (2013).

‘Meed has a real way of telling a story in song’ – Trevor Raggatt
‘Meed’s songs are both thoughtful and thought-provoking’ – R2 Rock’n’reel

The book is available in three formats, all costing £5:

Printed copies, fully illustrated – I will be selling these at gigs or you can order them online. If you order online you need to pay postage, but you get a free download of Rue Mouffetard!

There is also a fully illustrated ebook edition on the Apple ibooks store. This version additionally contains links to songs and videos.

There is an unillustrated Kindle edition from Amazon.

Here is the full contents list:

Contents

 

The Woodstock Rest Home

At last night’s gig at CB2 I had requests for links for the Woodstock Rest Home.

So here’s a link to the recorded version:

And here’s a live video of the song from Cambridge Folk Club:

It’s on iTunes and Amazon as well.

You and John Peel

Ever JP Centresince the John Peel Centre for Creative Arts opened in Stowmarket in Suffolk I have wanted to go there to perform ‘You and John Peel’. It just seemed appropriate to play the song that I had written for John Peel and my grandfather – two people who helped me survive my teenage years – in the town where both had lived. This autumn I managed to do this and here is a video of the performance:

I wrote the song in 2004, many years after my grandfather had died. Before moving to Suffolk my grandparents had lived in Eastbourne where I stayed with them many times in the seventies. My grandfather and I regularly walked the Seven Sisters – from Beachy Head we would leave behind the crowds and trace the vertiginous path along the clifftops to Birling Gap, where if time was on our side we would scramble down the cliff to the beach while fulmars hung in the air above us. Back on the cliff path the grass glowed silver in the morning light and stonechats stood sentry on the gorse bushes.

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On sunny days the views west along the coast were breathtaking, but on foggy days we would stray further inland through the sheep folds, and my grandfather, already well into his seventies, would lie on the damp grass and roll under the wire fences. As the walking rhythm led to gentle conversation, my grandfather (a Telegraph reader, ‘for the cricket reports’) would ask whether I shared his belief that one day socialism would come. We would end our walk in the pub in Exceat, close to Cuckmere Haven.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

These memories came to inform the song and once I had completed it, I realised that it was almost entirely about my grandfather, and was on the point of changing the title. But in one of those strange coincidences that seem to follow my songwriting around, in the afternoon before I planned to play the song in public for the first time a friend told me that John Peel had just died. I could hardly leave him out in such circumstances.

I did once meet John Peel in person. For a while his wife sang in the same choir as my mother, and during a concert they gave I found myself sitting next to him. I didn’t tell him how much he had meant to me during those difficult teenage years and perhaps should have done. But I found him a gentle and unassuming companion.

You and John Peel

We walked all day through meadows of silver
Over the cliffs where the white gulls play
And we rolled down the hill to the inn at the end of the day
Long summer days echoed with leather on willow
My childhood days could never end
Through my teenage torments you were still my best friend
You gave me hope
When others were dragging me down
And I was alone – you and John Peel

We talked all day about cricket and politics
You said that socialism would come one day
And I dreamed a world that was fashioned your way
On the old people’s ward you said you would never come home
And honesty ploughed up your honest brow
Half a lifetime on I miss you now
You kept me sane when I was close to the edge
And I was lost – you and John Peel

You never lost your temper or your cool
But I learnt more from you than I learnt at school
And you gave me the shoes for my journey through life
And I never thanked you half enough
Now I spend my days far from meadows of silver
Far from the cliffs where the white gulls mew
Further still from the days I spent with you