And thus, almost everything mentioned in the June 2015 update came to pass… The one exception, at the time of writing, is the Record Collector feature on Peter Eden and British Jazz circa 1970. Maybe next month…
My two books, The Wheels of the World: 300 Years of Irish Uilleann Pipers (with John McSherry) and Eyes Wide Open: True Tales of a Wishbone Ash Warrior (with Andy Powell), were both published, by Jawbone Press, in late 2015. The official publication dates were September and October, respectively, but they both ended up in the shops during September – a rather remarkable situation of having two books published in one calendar month, which I can’t see being repeated!
The reception for The Wheels of the World has been tremendous, with a number of generous reviews and some fun appearances on radio shows in Belfast and Dublin, along with, from memory, eight or nine public events involving readings and music. John McSherry was able to join me for some of these, when his gig diary allowed, bringing along his ace piping cohort Frances McIlduff – appearances of this trio at sister Tíona’s trad festival in Castlewellan and at Dublin’s splendid Hodges & Figgis bookshop were really enjoyable. Hodges & Figgis had very kindly gone to town with a week-long window display. At some other events, I was joined by either John’s unperturbable nieceMiadhach Lughain O’Donnell with her pal Jamie (on flute and pipes, respectively) or by Aaron O’Hagan (pipes), and a good time was had by all – hopefully! Authors aren’t necessarily natural raconteurs, but it’s a case of feeling the fear and doing it anyway, and I enjoyed this block of public speaking more than I have done with similar events in the past. It’s a matter of thinking, ‘Well, what’s the worst that can happen?’ During October, Tíona very kindly organised three concerts to promote the book: in Belfast, Westport and Strabane. Piping legend Paddy Keenan headlined, with John McSherry and Francis McIlduff also on the bill. I was at two of the three and they were fabulous evenings. Paddy was on form and John and Frances enjoyed playing with him onstage as much as the reverse, I think.
Adapted extracts from the book appeared in The Irish Times, The (Belfast) News Letter and fRoots. The Irish Times extract can be found here:
Because of funding niceties, the book is a limited edition of 2000 copies and almost half of that print run has now been sold. Hopefully a second edition (and eBook) will prove possible.
Here’s a link to John and myself appearing on RTÉ’s Arena show in August 2015 with presenter and all-round good guy Jim Lockhart:
Eyes Wide Open, Andy Powell’s memoir with my assistance, has, curiously, yet to receive much in the way of print reviews, although an extract was featured in December’s issue of Record Collector. It was a total pleasure working on the book with Andy – how he manages to juggle all his commitments (including periodic bursts of energy working on the book, in between horrendous touring schedules wherein he often drives the van himself) – and remain so full of energy and so positive I don’t know. Aside from touring, there were a number of other projects fighting for his attention last year, including a terrific three-night run, filmed for a DVD (now out), at a theatre in Paris and a direct-to-vinyl live recording at Metropolis Studios in London (also now out). Work on the book went right up to the wire, with Andy delivering extra content above and beyond expectations. I don’t actually know how long the book ended up being, but it is well beyond the anticipated 120,000 words.
The CD projects I detailed in the last Update – Chris Spedding’sSongs Without Words (Hux) and the 3CD box set Turtle Records: Pioneering British Jazz 1970-71 (RPM) – both appeared in late 2015, featuring extensive CH sleeve notes. Indeed, Mark Stratford at RPM really grasped the nettle with the Turtle project and commissioned a perfect-bound luxuriantly illustrated and designed mini-book format for the 17,000 word essay and discography I provided. It was, again, a delight to be involved with, and the reviews have been generous and widespread. Off the back of that, I was interviewed in December for a prospective film documentary on British folk, pop and jazz producer Peter Eden’s career, along with jazz expert Linley Hamilton. Peter Eden and Mike Cooper had already been filmed in interview, and other great musicians are lined up. Sadly, they won’t include pianist John Taylor, who passed on unexpectedly only a few weeks after I had interviewed him for the box set notes. His album for the Turtle label, Pause… and Think Again remains a magical piece of work.
At short notice, I also contributed a 2,000 word note (alas, I was restricted to eight pages…) to the Wishbone Ash 4CD live box set Road Works (Talking Elephant), which was released in December. This set is terrific value for money, gathering up four previous merchandise-stand-only short-run live albums spanning 2010-14 and giving them wide availability. I made a point of interviewing all four of the current Ash members. It’s a great way to hear the latest (and longest-lasting) of the band’s many line-ups.
Back in September I was asked by the arts editor of the Irish Times if I fancied interviewing Stereophonics when they did a one-off show in Belfast. ‘Why not,’ I thought. I don’t want to get back to doing routine journalistic stuff, but the idea of doing the odd thing if I fancy it, if somebody asks, is fine. I’d reviewed Stereophonics live for the IT back in 1999 or thereabouts, and couldn’t quite see what the fuss was about. I saw a bit of their live show this time around and, while their stagecraft has improved, it was still not quite my thing. Still, I enjoyed the new album they were promoting (better on record than live, for me – more nuance and variety) and I liked them as people. Here’s a link to the resulting feature:
My album Sunset Cavaliers is released nationally through Market Square on February 19. The great Mick Houghton is very kindly helping with PR to radio. Early feedback from a few friends suggests that my notion of an album hanging together with an autumnal/evening sort of feeling seems to be holding water. Which, I suppose, makes it a wet weekend in November. I’m very pleased with the album, and honoured to have had so many wonderful players on it – not least my regular collaborators Cormac O’Kane and Ali MacKenzie. The album is dedicated to Duffy Power. I’ll be appearing on Radio Ulster’s Arts Show on February 12 to talk about it, with punk legend Mickey Bradley asking the questions (no doubt kicking off with: ‘Progressive rock in 2016 – why?’).
The exciting project of early 2016, for me, is a forthcoming 2CD set of unreleased Quintessence studio recordings from their Island Records era (1969-71). Band members Phil Jones and Maha Dev are in the loop, as is original producer John Barham. The project has required a lot of (expensive) tape research, with 16 two-inch multi-track reels and 7 quarter-inch mix-down reels (out of 32 that we had hoped to access) digitised at Abbey Road, based on the sometimes cryptic scribblings on the tape boxes. The next stage is searching through those reels for unreleased performances of high quality. At the time of writing, the mixing is almost complete and over 100 minutes of remarkable content – six hitherto wholly unknown compositions and a number of breathtakingly good alternate takes of familiar songs – will be included across the two discs. The set is provisionally entitled Spirits From Another Time: Island Studios 1969-71 and will hopefully appear around May 2016. I take my hat off to Brian O’Reilly at Hux: this will be his most expensive archive CD project to date, out of 150 releases. I think I’ve been involved in around 20 of those releases – some of which have been good sellers, others less so. Fingers crossed for this one!It’s a privilege to be involved in bringing (yet more) unheard wonders from the glory days of Quintessence into the world, and I’ll be doing everything I can to get this release noticed. With a fair wind, there may well be another Quintessence project in due course.
In a more semi-detached way, I’m involved in a couple of projects from Earth Vinyl, a boutique vinyl label. Their forthcoming deluxe vinyl reissue of Bert Jansch’s sublime 1979 LP Avocet looks amazing. It will include my mid-2000s Sanctuary CD reissue notes. Over the past few weeks I have digitised a lot of my 1990s photos and soundboard recordings of Bert towards a future 4-LP vinyl box set comprising his three mid-90s albums and a disc of rare and unissued recordings, compiled by Adam Jansch.
Not before time, and taking merciless advantage of web-meister Uncle Spike having a bit of unexpected time on his hands, I have updated a fair amount of content on the rest of this site.
In the Books section, I have created new pages for Bathed in Lightning, The Wheels of theWorld and Eyes Wide Open plus an additional page featuring the December 2015 fRoots adapted extract from the piping book, on the great Séamus Ennis.
In the Musical Projects section, I have updated the intro page and added a new page and retail link for Sunset Cavaliers.
In the CD Reissue Projects section, I have updated the intro page and updated the Quintessence page.
I have also revamped the About section.
After all that, I have a feeling Uncle Spike will be expecting a very serious high-end coffee shop experience, huge muffin included.