December 31st, 2012

End of year review...

End of year catch-up... let’s have a look at 2012, shall we?

Well, I started the year with a LOT of gigs booked up, and the band expanded to 6 strong for a while, so rehearsing and arranging expanded to match for much of the year. As usual several of them were overnighters, some festivals, others simply far enough away that they made a good excuse to visit nearby friends for the night!

So, lots of gigs, good, right? Some lovely, a few I’d probably not do again, with honest hindsight. Top of the list in my memory was the gig in Lincoln, where the vibe was lovely, we played as well as we ever have, and all the green songs were just eaten up by the audience and stallholders at the event. We made new friends there, and spent time with old ones, and that was a joy. Band changes followed shortly, as we said goodbye to one bandmate, and another felt it wasn't right for her, so we dropped to three/four. In practice, we're mostly three now - Simon and Chantelle and me (with occasional Jan) - and we have done a lot of excellent work in this new and tighter lineup, stressing the harmonies and streamlining the instrumentation. Accordian’s out, bassoon’s back in and loving the fiddle parts, percussion’s lighter and tighter, and several songs have more schtick than they did when we first performed them. The Fforde Ffiesta (Spoons!) and Little Green Gathering (Steps of St Pauls, and Canterbury Tales, oh yes!) were also especially enjoyable gigs, alongside my Seattle coffeeshop gig at the Soul Food Cafe (all there on Youtube!) – in company of transpondial bandmates Dave Clement and Betsy Tinney on ‘Cello. However, Festival at the Edge takes the crown for, well, just having it all, really! (Shonaleigh Cumbers, Ruth Bramley, The Bailey Sisters, a romany vardo and Peter Chand’s fantastic grin...)

I'm still loving my concertina though I am no better on it than I was a year ago. I played it for the carols in the pub again before Christmas, and I keep meaning to find ways to bring it into arrangements for songs. I've written several things I treasure this year – ‘Cecilia's Face’, after a trip to the Da Vinci exhibit, a series of songs inspired by BBC’s ‘Wartime Farm’, and ‘Second Born’, inspired by a workshop on ancient and Icelandic music, are foremost in my mind. My writing’s been as prolific as ever but I’ve slowed down on arranging them for band as we’ve been enjoying the existing extensive repertoire a great deal! Checking back, I see that ‘Can You Knit, Brave Boys’, ‘Canterbury Tales’ and ‘Common Ground’ are all this year’s vintage as well, plus the political ranty-shanty ‘Damned if you Don’t’, Autumn’s introspective ‘Dragonfly’, and the herbalist fantasy ‘Ladies of the Bower’.

I’m refocussing my gigs chiefly in the folk music world as a change from flitting between several other communities, so I'm doing my apprenticeship twenty years late, by attending folk clubs and taking floor spots to introduce my music to people. This is proving a positive step, and is great fun besides.

The garden shows nearly three years' neglect, and this 'Summer' was a great one for slugs. Call me Kali of the trowel. Organic, fast, unequivocal. However, thanks to two garden angels, I have found my garden mojo at last, and have tackled the potager again this Winter - when it's not raining. I hope for better gardening next year, and indeed expect it, now that I have some space clear, and a plan, and local friends to swap seeds, energies and ideas with.

There was rather more in the way of medical emergencies amongst my tribe than I strictly needed. Let's just say Longest Night came early this year. That made a few things... trickier, but we managed not to let anyone down, after all, with regard to gigs booked.

One of this year's changes in my thinking has been a growing awareness of the UK’s benefit cuts and the fact that they're targeted at the poorest and the sick and disabled. My friendlist here and elsenet has widened to include some very articulate and frank reading on such subjects. Please, if you think I'm exaggerating, go read 'Diary of a benefit Scrounger' (online blog) and other such. I am ashamed that in this country I have friends who work and haven't enough to live on, and others who are too ill to work and are having their living reduced and reduced along with their care allocation, in circumstances where they are made to battle the system repeatedly to get even the little the system says they are due.

I'm struggling to get all that into song, however...

Other random highlights of the year would include sitting round the new firepit singing with friends... a birthday party for a special sheep, a lovely visit to Shrewsbury (Laura's Tower! Must finish arranging that song!) and a house concert for Heather Dale - another, from 'Folk at the Green' for Dave Clement later on; my new black fair trade dress, many snuzzes with the boycats, red enamel pots from France, Ruth's dragons, singing rounds with the Bailey Sisters, Aquae Sulis with C, Avebury several times in assorted company, many more things I've forgotten, and others I'll remember after posting... it's been a year.

So much of the world is going to hell in a handbasket - even so, there are things we can all do: plant beans, build social capital, and make stuff happen.

Next year, I plan on better gardening, more local community stuff, more recording, more new songs brought to life, and performing with my splendid band at plenty of folk clubs and festivals.

...and maybe do a bit of patchwork in there as well. It's a good analogy for a lot of things, is patchwork, after all.