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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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

It’s summer! Must be camper van time…

As summer seems to be here it must be time to venture out into the countryside. So I have posted a video of a live, full-band version of the Camper Van Song, which even features Rhys on electric guitar and a couple of photos of Mike Harding’s camper van (thanks, Mike)! There are also photos of our friends Kevin and Amanda Goode in and around a purple VW –  I wrote the song for their wedding, and they have just had a baby boy. It must be something to do with the second verse… Anyway – here it is:

If after all that you could face coming to a gig, I’m playing Cambridge Folk Club on May 30th with Brian (bass) and Rhys (guitar and keyboard). It’s a showcase event with two other acts: Holly Tamar and Matt Woosey. It would be lovely to see you there – we shall open the evening at 8pm with a 45 minute set. Cambridge Folk Club takes place in the Golden Hind on Milton Road.

Ahead of the folk club gig I shall be joining Les Ray on his Strummers and Dreamers radio show, and playing four songs live. The show goes out from 7-8pm on Sunday May 25th on Cambridge 105FM. Outside the Cambridge area it is possible to listen on-line.

Then on June 13th Brian, Rhys and I are playing Royston Folk Club, and this time Dawn will also be joining us on accordion. We’ll be playing a half hour slot later on in the evening, and there are 7 other local performers on the bill. The club will be meeting this evening in Melbourne at The Bungalow, Royston Road, Melbourn, SG8 6DG – leave the A10 at the southern Melbourne exit (Royston Road) and then turn immediately right.

In addition I’m playing a few other gigs over the next month or so:

– Saturday May 31st, the Acoustic Routes CB2 basement session with Bernard, Dave and Rhys (with Jacqui and Geoff as special guests)
– Wednesday June 5th, the Ship Inn, Brandon Creek, Downham Market
– Monday June 9, the Boat House on Chesterton Road.
– Saturday July 5th, the Felsham Festival.

It would be lovely to see you if you can make any of these. And let’s hope the sun keeps shining! Have a very good summer.

Andalucia

IMG_0797 We have just got back from a couple of weeks traveling around Andalucia; we visited El Puerto de Santa Maria, Cádiz, Sevilla, Córdoba and Granada before taking the train to Madrid and then on to France.

MezquitaIt was good both to catch up with good friends and to see again the astonishing Moorish architecture of the Mesquita in Cordoba and the Alhambra in Granada – two of the most remarkable buildings ever constructed.

Leones

FlamencoWe also did our best to take in some Flamenco, though it’s always hard to pick one’s way through the abundance of shows for tourists which, while often good, are nonetheless expensive and lack a certain something. We managed to find three young performers in a bar in Sevilla who were both competent and very committed.

However the highlight was the Peña Flamenca El Almíbar in Cordoba. While the main part of the evening – a lecture about two styles of Solea (from Utrera and Lebrija) – left my Spanish far behind, at certain points the discussion became more heated and a couple of men who had left youth some way behind burst into song to illustrate their point. I have rarely heard singing like it. The two singers we later heard in Granada were rather pale by comparison.

It left me wanting to do greater justice to my song Andalucia (there’s an old version below) so Miguel and I plan to re-record it at some point. Many, many years ago my friend Gordon and I walked right across the Sierra Nevada – we took the bus from Granada and spent the first night in a simple refuge just under the summit of Veleta. The following day we bathed under a waterfall before following the Rio Lanjarón down the valley. We saw no-one else all day other than a goat herd who waved from the hills on the other side of the valley and spent the night in the open air of a pine forest. The following day we found we had taken the wrong path, so that rather than arriving in Lanjarón before the sun became too hot, we had to trek for hours as our water ran out. Fortunately, we made it before sunstroke set in. Alhambra This time we contented ourselves with an afternoon walking up the valley of the Rio Darro – the views were still remarkable. Darro

Reviews of ‘The dust of time’

Here are some highlights of the reviews my fifth album, The dust of time.

‘Meed has a real way of telling a story in song. Whether it’s a love song to a VW camper van, or bittersweet Moroccan memories, they are all beautifully told.’ (R2 Rock’n’reel)

‘Meed delivers his lyrics in a style very similar to Leonard Cohen…Standout tracks include Rue Mouffetard (concerning the famous Parisian street once frequented by Verlaine and Joyce) and Sirocco, which departs from the gentle acoustic theme of the album to provide a Spanish flavour complete with whirling Spanish guitar.’ (Americana UK)

‘This is down to the floor folk music and in that arena, “The Dust Of Time”, John Meed’s fifth album, is a well worthy release and one that shows local perspectives do matter in a globalised world.’ (FATEA)

The full reviews, warts and all, are on my reviews page.