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Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Poor Songwriter Tour#7 (Last)

Bloomin' heck, it's finished.

Home now and tired. Travelling (lots of) and gigging is great to do - and the last clutch of gigs was splendid - but it's tiring (and not just physically, but emotionally, too) so here's a truncated report on the final phase of summer '12.

We left cousin Ian's behind (see below) on Saturday and drove to Lauder (a pretty Borders town) our base for a couple of days while we played...

Wee Folk Club
It's the smallest folk club with the biggest heart. Paddy (Eberhart) Bort, a displaced German with fine folk instincts, creates a feeling in the room that makes paying there a pleasure. (He's also my gateway into Germany, having booked the Trio into the Phoenix Folk Club in Lauffen, near Stuttgart and subsequently into their festival.) Acoustic, lovely.

Brecon Folk Club
How a club in Houghton-le-Spring in the north-east of England came to be called The Brecon Folk Club, I dont know, but it has some of the finest floor singers. Garth, the booker, is a fine musician himself. They appreciate good songwriting there, too, which is good for a songwriter.

A long drive home after this gig (and a longer one for Andee!) means, however, that we're no longer on the road - although there are three dates still to do. Nice to sleep in my own bed. Being away, being 'the musician' has its joys, but eventually there's no substitute for your own bed and bath.

White Horse Folk Club
We had the Brecon FC in the north-east, now we have the White Horse FC in the Fox Inn. Another acoustic gig, this time with a different Simon Hopper Duo - with Leigh rather than Andee. No double-bass, but a guitar - and a different harmony, sometimes on different lines of the same song. But, more significantly, a different set of songs. It's interesting playing with a shifting array of accompanists. The playing is fresh and it keeps me on my toes.

A small room with a big crowd made us feel welcome and responded well to our songs, joining in where appropriate. And they were patient with what seemed afterwards to be a more than usually garrulous performer. I'm sure the intros were longer than the songs sometimes. That side of the performance - if it isn't to be stilted and flat - seems to have a life of its own. Thanks for your patience, Derrick and all.

Brunel Museum Shaft
Our most unusual venue with its own series of acoustic challenges. We had a lovely evening here after Andee had exercised her sound-engineer's skills to make us work sonically in an interesting space. Yet one more different - less folk-oriented - set was a further refresher and we played well. The audience gave off a special energy here. Thanks to Judith, Joe and Angelika for their crowd-boosting activities - you made the evening. And thanks to Eleanor and Robert at the Museum for the opportunity to play in their shaft

The Song Loft
So to our final gig of the summer. Fitting that it was in Trio form. The traffic was dreadful on the way up to Stoney Stratford from London and I was aware that Andee had an hour or more further to travel than I but still had to negotiate the same stretch of M1. We decided to play acoustically to save setting up time and it turned out to be a great idea.

I've played at the Loft four times now and never managed to pull a big crowd for them - I guess people turn out for artists they know well. But it's always a good gig. Matt Armour, the club's founder and inspiration, died three years ago, but his spirit lives on in the club, fostered by his widow, the splendid Jane, and a bevvy of helpers including Maurice and Colin. And they appreciate contemporary writing.

We were all tired. The emotional 'let down' reflex resulting from this being our last gig of the tour/summer contributed to a feeling of uncertainty about how the gig would go. In the event I think we played our best concert of the year - perhaps ever. Andee and Leigh were on great form and I felt the vibe and seemed to float throgh the concert buoyed by their energy. I sang well, made Trowbridge giggle so much that he had to sit down for a moment, and we had a great gig. Andee's soloing during the coda to Two Virgins was sublime.

No more touring for the moment. Watch this space, though - there are ideas brewing and at least one new CD in the offing. Thanks for reading.

(I want to say thank you to Pete & Mary Smith and Ian & Fiora MacFarlane, friends who accommodated us on our travels. The practical assistance is one thing, but it's heartening to know that there are those who will contribute to the quixotic enterprise which is my music. Ta all.)

Saturday, 15 September 2012

The Poor Songwriter Tour#6

(It occurred to me that, unless you have been to one of the gigs on the tour, you will have no clue as to the significance of the tour title: it refers to one of the (self-penned) 'folk' songs we're performing on the trip. For the lyrics see Pity The Poor Songwriter below. It's my plea on behalf the sometimes-derided contemporary songwriter who writes 'in the tradition' as I sometimes do.)

Dunfermline Folk Club
Wednesday 12th: Off to Dunfermline for a 'paid by collection' gig at a folk club which, interestingly, combines paid gigs (presumably for those artists they know and are confident of pulling an audience for) and those who are new to them. No probs with that - it's hard for the clubs to make ends meet and this is a way of offering new artists a gig without too much risk. It's a bit disheartening, though, to be greeted with the news that several of the regular attendees are on holiday and the group of TEFL teachers who come fortnightly came last week.

As predicted, the numbers were modest and, oddly and a little disconcertingly, one chap who'd had a little more to drink than he could manage sat at the rear of the room chatting and doing some kind of paperwork for the duration of the gig. Nowt so queer, eh...

Gifford (who sang some wry self-penned songs) and Jeanie, the organisers, were genial hosts - Gifford acknowledged the shortage of audience members but insisted that this shouldn't impair the quality of the evening - quite right, too. Andee wasn't well this evening, though, and I wasn't 100% either. She was a trouper, the show must, indeed go on, and we both dug in and gave a performance.

They're a good bunch of singers at Dunfermline. Despite the sparse crowd, the joining in was admirable. The club's regulars included an accomplished Jew's Harp player who accepted my invitation to join us on our last song, A Body Needs A Body To Hold. That was jolly.

Re the collection: under the circumstances, the pint glass full of money I was handed at the end was most generous. It was equivalent to the fees we have been paid ay other clubs - and more than at some. That's why I'll play for a collection - people are generous. And we sold a modest amount of CDs. Thanks folks.

Falkirk Folk Club
Thurday 13th: having played at Falkirk previously (in 2010), we knew more about what to expect. Stuart is a lively compere and organiser and the room reflected his persona.

The new venue is a smallish room above a pub (The Tolbooth Tavern) which was well-filled by the time the evening began. Great floor-singers opened and we had a good evening. There's a critical mass of audience that gives an evening energy and tonight it was achieved. We were both feeling better than the previous night - seemingly getting over our viruses - and didn't have to dig in to perform. I wonder to what extent the performance reflected it.

We had a good time at Falkirk - as we had the last time we played there - and drove home feeling buoyed. Good room, good host, good vibe...

Friday, 14 September 2012

Pity The Poor Songwriter

Every song one day was new
Listen what we sing to you

There is something wrong I'm told
With a song that isn't old
Why should those who wrote today
Feel they've somehow gone astray?
Every folk song once was written
Often in a part of Britan
Well that's where I come from too
Even though my songs are new

Every song...

I must write for there's no doubt
There is much to write about
Older song are fine but they
Don't deal with issues of today
Like Blair and Bush and oil and ozone
And the Parliament square no-go zone
In which we're denied free speech
Of such as this a song may teach

Every song...

Thompson writes and so does Knightly
Oft sedately, sometimes sprightly
They sell CDs by the shed-load
They're not writers who are dead though
Maybe there's something we are missing
Let's all take another listen
Could it be perchance, mayhap
It's just that people don't like crap?

Every song...

So if you think my songs are boring
So bad they deserve ignoring
Do what you think you should do
But don't ignore them 'cause they're new
For they may have something to tell
Importance and germane as well
So, sympathy, please, for my plight
Have pity on the poor songwriter

Every song...

Brunel Museum Gig

Simon Hopper Trio
Brunel Museum Tunnel Shaft
Thursday 20th Sept

Here are the links to the info re the gig:

Brunel Museum Info
Facebook Event Page

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

A portrait of the artist

A drawing by my son Thom from a photograph of me performing in Germany recently.

The Poor Songwriter Tour#5

Ah ha!

I remembered why I'm doing this last night at

They apologised for the size of the audience - we thought there was a good crowd (at least in the context of this trip).

The people at Glenfarg are properly nice people, make you feel welcome and valued and know about songs, ideas set to music and singing. I played well, Andee played well, and together we had our best night of the tour so far. (Of course, the fact that we hadn't had to drive loads of mile to get to the gig and were relaxed and rested helped. I must think more about that aspect of planning tours in future. But the financial imperative does push you towards accepting what is available.)

One thing worth saying about the club is the way in which it typifies something that I think is particularly Scottish: it is run co-operatively. Several people play a part in organising it and you can feel the group ethic at work in the way it all comes together on the night, It's warming to the heart.

Andee's playing gets better and better and I was particularly pleased with Rope Ladder and The Compass - pieces that require several factors (my playing and singing and a listening, sympathetic audience) to come together for them to work well.

And Stan Ginter, gentle banjo-playing stalwart of Glenfarg, has gone completist on Simon Hopper CDs. Good on you, Stan. And we love your playing.

And I got a large single malt at the gig's end. :)

(Then home to watch Andee Murray win his first Grand Slam event at Flushing Meadows - fitting that we were in Scotland at the time.)

Now a day off...

Monday, 10 September 2012

The Poor Songwriter Tour#4

I'd fitted the MacSorley's gig in at very short notice to make up for a lost gig. As I mentioned earlier, sitting around for too many free days takes the energy out of the tour and removes the possibility of re-bookings, CD sales and other serendipitous gig-arisings. And I had to meet Andee's fee for the missing gig given that I wasn't able to give decent notice.

So I was happy that we had a late afternoon opportunity in a dedicated music bar - even though we were receiving no fee and relying on a collection from whatever audience might show up on a wet Sunday afternoon in Glasgow.

It's a good room, MacSorley's, and it has a great character. We played well, but there weren't many in. It was cousin Ian's party that made the difference between us having a meaningful number to play to and not. (Having come up with the goods on Thursday at The Star Folk Club (see below), he and his lovely wife, Fiora, brought a possee to watch his older relative - as he likes to point out - live in downtown Glasgae.)

We made a little money - more than if we'd been sitting at home, anyway.

And I had a giggly moment - 'corpsing' in the language of the stage - that meant I had to re-start a song. Don't make up spoof lyrics to your own songs in rehearsal lest they come back to bite you in performance is the message of that particular moment.

Glenfarg tonight.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Poor Songwriter Tour#3

Cripes, ten minutes doesn't seem to have passed and we're already five gigs into the tour. I'm falling behind with my reporting, so here's a summary of the last four gigs:

Monday 2nd / Aycliffe Folk Club: in the spirit of this blog I have to be straight with you - it's not often I feel that an audience is out of sympathy with what I'm doing, but that's how it felt here. That's not something that I hold them responsible for, though. It's always the performer's job to win the listeners over. I didn't feel I did this here.

John Snowball, the ever-enthusiastic club organiser insisted that the crowd is merely one that listens more intently than others. Thanks for the thought, John. And thanks, too, to Janet and John for their kindness and hospitality in putting us up afterwards.

As an aside - and an unrelated point - I'm selling no CDs on this trip. In Germany they accounted for almost half of revenue. Hmmm.

Tuesday 3rd / Acoustic Collective, Stalybridge: the AC has some of the best floor-singers I've com across - worth the trip themselves. The room is a nice one with a wooden (dance-) floor and we played acoustically again (haven't done a PA gig yet), and, I think played well to a sympathetic audience which included my sis, Brigid who had turned up unannounced - a nice surprise.

By way of an insight into the financing of a trip like this, an anecdote: I offered Paul, the co-host of the club, a freebie gig (they don't book many guests) if we could could make a collection. Enquiries were made about accommodation. After some shilly-shallying, I arranged to stay with my chums, Pete and Mary Smith (with whom we stayed the following night and were treated to a multi-meat BBQ - tasty). Paul then contacted me to say that he'd booked us into rooms in the pub we were staying in, but that the club would pay. What I hadn't appreciated was that this was in lieu of the collection. We did sell some CDs, but the trip's financing is not looking great.

Lovely night, though

Thursday 6th / The Star Folk Club, Glasgow: a lovely venue with high standards, the right attitude to the music, great people and a very interesting echo. Leigh flew up from London to make us a trio. Always good to have him on stage with his extra instrument, harmony and general presence. Leigh's shirts are always worth the entrance price; he sported a charming pink one this evening.

(The experience of the evening was made more special by the arrival of my lady, Angelika who had gone to no ends of trouble to get to the gig.)

An intimidatingly large space was conspicuously empty just a few minutes before the support act (a splendid trad fiddler whose name, I'm embarrassed to say, escapes me) played. Cousin Ian's friendly group of supporters filled a gap in the centre of the room, though, providing the extra bodies that was needed to make an audience.

We didn't play perfectly - the echo providing a timing challenge - but, judging by the audience response, we seem to have played to good effect. Cousin Ian's later comment that he liked Two Virgins and that it seemed especially sophisticated was a nice thing to hear.

We repaired to Ian's for post-gig red wine, cheese and whisky. It's not sensible, but it makes you happy. How Trowbridge managed to get up for a 7.30 flight back to London the next day, I don't know.

Friday 7th / The Loft, Forres. Because I couldn't book another gig in the area, this booking entailed a seven and three-quarter hour round trip all for itself. This was a long way to go for a gig the second set of which was to five people. They were nice people, song-writingly itelligent and appreciative - and a joy to play to, as it happens, but a reminder that I must be more careful about where I book myself and that I try harder to group the gigs together to make sense of the travelling.

We were well looked after and fed - and we played and sang well - and the drive up there, through the Cairngorms and up into the Highlands, was stunning on a lovely late summer's day.

As has happened before, people asked to buy the CD that contained this or that unrecorded song - this time, in particular, The Compass. Al least I know that the songs on the soon-to-be-recorded CD already have the audience seal of approval.

New Gig Sunday 9th. We're playing in MacSorley's tomorrow at 4.30 - see gig list to the right. Glasgow's premier music bar restaurant, cousin Ian says. I booked it fill a space that had developed - let's see how it goes...


Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Poor Songwriter Tour#2

First gig was at Robin Hood's Bay folk club.

It's an interesting place in that the club takes place in the restaurant room of the Dolphin Pub immediately after the pub stops serving food. Many - maybe most - of the diners are not expecting live music as they finish their meals. It's an unusual arrangement, but one that works because of the charm and charisma of Jim, the club's founder and organiser.

It was rammed when we arrived. Rammed-like-there's-no-room-to-leave-the-instruments-never-mind-set-up rammed. 40 minutes later, with Jim's intervention, we were playing to an audience, largely of folk-club virgins, who had finished their meals and were open-minded enough to listen to some original, sometimes challenging, songs. The Simon Hopper gig song-sheets were well used with the audience joining in with songs as diverse as Bell The Cat, Travelling People, Two In The Margins and A Body Needs A Body To Hold.

It was a great evening with CDs sold and a healthy take from the raffle (our only source of gig-fee-revenue for that evening).

My usual lack of marketing nous (playing songs I can't yet sell on CD) lead to several promises to buy the next CD - the one that contains the songs we played that have not yet been recorded - especially Going and Rope Ladder.

Back to Ugthorp Lodge, our home for the weekend, No more gigs 'till Monday.

It robs the tour of its energy to have a two-day break so early, but that's how it is. Just have to take advantage of the opportunity to rest, read, write and pop down the road to visit with the Wilkinson family at their twice-yearly folk singaround held in their barn at Tranmire on the lovely North Yorks moors. There are worse things. And I heard the Wilkinson family ensemble sing. Magic.

The Poor Songwriter Tour#1

So, off we are again, Andee Price and me in her Nissan Almera. How we get all that gear into a small hatchback is a wonder. We have:

Double Bass
Jumbo Guitar
Non-Jumbo Guitar
Music Stands x 2
Guitar Stand (Double)
Mandola Stand
Mandolin Stand
CD Box
T-Shirts/T-Shirt Bag
Leads Bag/Leads x 2
Compact PA System
Mic Stands x 3
Mics x 3
Mixing Unit
4-Way Extension Lead
Bass Amp
Guitar Amp
Andee's Clothing Bag
Simon's Clothing Bag
Squash Racquet (don't ask!)
Andee's Gig Clothes Carrier
Simon's Gig Clothes Carrier

We must be breaking at least one of Newton's laws.

But we manage it...