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.

boala-c0cd9

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 and Waterson Carthy.

However, the club has above all supported local musicians and this was the focus of the weekend’s celebrations. The Friday night got 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 their own writing, together with their own songs that had resulted from that inspiration. I played Michael Chapman’s Postcards of Scarborough and Clarendon Road in the first half, and Jacque Brel’s The Devil (ca va) and Rue Mouffetard in the second half. 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.

A marathon session on the Saturday 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 reform for a one-off gig after a break of three years, and were simply blown away by Myke Clifford’s Bophouse Blues.

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.

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 , 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 . 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.

Hold on: Selected lyrics 2004–2014 now available

Learners First publications have now published a book of 32 of song my 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:

I have printed copies, fully illustrated – I will be selling these at gigs or you can order them online (https://johnmeed.bandcamp.com/merch/hold-on-selected-lyrics-2004-2014). 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. https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/hold-on/id937717330

There is an unillustrated Kindle edition from Amazon http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00P84H7B8

You and John Peel

Ever since the John Peel Centre for Creative Arts http://www.johnpeelcentre.com/ 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.

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.

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:

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.

Flamenco legends – Camarón and Paco de Lucia

Paco de Lucia, one of the finest flamenco guitarists, died today at the all-too-young age of 66. He will be greatly missed – guitarists of his calibre and influence do not come along every day. Here is a recording of him with singer Camarón de la Isla, playing a siguiryas in a small and presumably smoky club. Fabulous guitar and some of the most passionate singing you could ever hear.

I first encountered Camarón’s music in 1983 – we were staying in Nerja on the Andalucian Mediterranean coast and the family who ran a local bar also became a flamenco troupe in the evening. The daughter and lead singer was a passionate fan of Camarón and each night she more or less worked through his seminal album, La leyenda del tiempo.

I tracked down a copy of the album and from there sprang my love of flamenco music. On La leyenda del tiempo Camarón, accompanied by the young guitarist Tomatito, combined flamenco with rock and jazz. The record has been described by Flamenco World as ‘a turning point, one that by breaking up preconceived ideas changed our concept of flamenco music’. It was one of the first flamenco discs to feature electric guitar, bass and synthesiser.

Much of Camarón’s earlier work was, though, with Paco de Lucia. Under Franco, flamenco had been co-opted to support the dictator’s stifling views of traditional Spain. As the country began to emerge from fascism, Camarón and Paco helped restate flamenco as a vibrant, sensual music and to re-establish it as a major art form. Camarón also sang some of the poems of Federico Garcia Lorca, one of the many victims of Franco. Aged just 42, and ravaged by cigarettes and heroin, Camarón died of lung cancer in 1992.

Flamenco is made up of a number of palos or styles of which the siguiryas is the darkest – the cante jondo at its most profound. As with many flamenco palos, the siguiryas has a compas of 12 beats, counted 1 and 2 and 3 and a 4 and a 5 and… Other 12-beat palos include the wonderful soleares and the much more upbeat bulerías. Here is a link to another piece by Camarón and Paco de Lucia, this time por bulerías.

By coincidence, we also today had the visit of our friend, Miguel, also a fine guitarist and with whom I have had the great fortune to play and record. Miguel grew up in Seville where he lived close to and got to know Ricardo Pachón, who had worked closely with Camarón and had produced La leyenda del tiempo. Here is Miguel’s wonderful playing on Sirocco, which is set to the rumba flamenca rhythm.

October wind

I’ve prepared a new video of October Wind which is available here:

The song is the next single from my album ‘The dust of time’ and you can download it here:

I wrote the song after a chance encounter by Grantchester mill, just outside Cambridge, and much of the video is filmed there, together with some footage from my last concert at Cambridge Folk Club. It features Tara Westover on harmony vocals and Rhys Wilson on guitar and piano. Rhys also produced the song.

The story of Moelfre Hill

As if a child could learn
What joys and sorrows fill

The roads of no return
Away from Moelfre Hill

In July 2011 I was invited to join the French choir Ensemble pour Boala in a concert in the Mynydd Seion Chapel in Abergele in North Wales. The concert also featured local choir Coastal voices.

We got together to rehearse over the days preceding the concert in a farmhouse in the hills a few miles inland from Abergele. Isabelle and I stayed nearby in a little hut half way up Moelfre Isaf – there was no water or electricity, plenty of night-time visitors, and it took a half mile walk to get there, but the view out across the Elwy valley in the morning was remarkable.

I knew vaguely that there was some connection between the family of my best friend, Dave, and the area, so I had mentioned the concert to his widow and sister. They came over and brought his mother, who lives in Abergele, to the concert. The following morning, as rain hurtled down, we met them for breakfast in a café on Abergele high street. Dave’s sister asked me to show her on the map exactly where we had been staying.

It turned out that their family had been tenant sheep farmers of the land around our hut for generations. What is more, a white farmhouse that we could see from our hillside vantage point was the place where they had spent their summer holidays as children. And when I had phoned to give them final details of the concert, I had been leaning on a gate looking towards this farmhouse, on the fifth anniversary of his death.

On the way home down the M6 we stopped at a service station and I jotted down the beginnings of what was to become the song, Moelfre Hill. You can listen to the eventual recording here:

The recording, included on my fifth album The dust of time, features Cliff Ward from The Willows on violin, and Brian Harvey on bass. The song has been has played both on Celtic Heartbeat on BBC Radio Wales and on BBC Radio Scotland (twice) by Iain Anderson who commented ‘rather nice – we liked that’. There was also an article about the song in the Abergele Post.