Andrew Hawkey's Blog

20 July 2017 - Mole Lodge meanderings ... It's been a mighty long time since I updated, so, with an hour or two to spare, here are a scattering of thoughts from HQ ... just in case anyone ever visits these pages! So much water has passed under the bridge: perhaps the most significant, and by far the saddest, was the passing of my dear old friend and musical sidekick Pat Grover, who finally succumbed to the Big C last August, following a heroic battle by that bravest and most uncomplaining of men. His funeral broke with convention by eschewing any of the normal trappings - solemnity, awkward hymns, prayers, and the like - but was instead a true celebration of his life and his music, led by his beautiful and charismatic daughters Ariel and Alder, and son Ellis, and followed by a get-together at which a number of us ex-Blue Zeros and associated musicians played for an hour or two in Pat's memory. It was a fitting send-off. Remarkably, by dint of much secretive behind-the-scenes organization, Pat was driven from Carmarthen to Bristol a scant 3 weeks before his death to attend the great Bonnie Raitt's gig at the Colston Hall: Bonnie, a lifetime favourite of his, had generously agreed to meet with Pat, and they duly got together backstage after the performance and talked about the blues for half an hour or so ... Bonnie was kindness and compassion personified, and Pat was thrilled beyond measure. The framed photograph of them together took pride of place on his bedside table till the day he died.
   As you'll have seen from my Gigs page, I've been joined in recent months by the lovely Zoe Spencer for a handful of gigs. Zoe's untamed approach is just hugely refreshing and she's a delight to collaborate with ... it's like being plugged into the mains. She sings and writes with the same joy and abandon as she paints ... I hear something of several of my favourite artists in her: Judy Mayhan, Elyse Weinberg, Sandy Denny are just three. 'Genius' is not a word to be used lightly, but I'll stand on anyone's coffee table and defend my application of the term to her.
    Our recreational blues quintet The Blues Occasionals has sadly disbanded, but I've been keeping my hand in at some of the regular acoustic pub sessions around town, and Stuart Maman Bolton and I are bringing our Senior Moments duo project to The Old Mill in Llanidloes on 1 September. 
   I've recently re-established contact with my old Cornish-based friend Nigel Mazlyn Jones, who recorded and produced my first cassette album back in the early '80s. We're hoping to meet up later in the autumn, and look at the possibility of doing something vaguely collaborative ... I have some new material that might benefit from Nigel's input. His first album, 1975's Ship to Shore, was a major part of the soundtrack to my far-off 5-year idyll up at Maes Mynach, and still resonates to this day.
   The vinyl collection still grows inexorably ... recent arrivals include, thanks to my chum Jon Groocock, a copy of Now and Then, the notoriously rare sole album by Jack Downing from 1970: Downing was a Swedish-based US expat folk-rocker (a big fish in a small pond ...) and RCA saw fit to release this only in Sweden ... it's accordingly about as rare as rocking-horse droppings. As fine a rough-hewn stoned country-tinged rock album of its time as you could wish to hear, everyone having a great time in the studio, rather in the vein of the great Randy Burns, with Kris Kristofferson and Zal Yanovsky helping out at the sessions. A local source is selling a vast Americana CD collection at give-away prices, so the house (and car) have been ringing of late to the sounds of the likes of Kimmie Rhodes (lovely), Bap Kennedy (essential), The Tractors, Terry Allen's monumental Salivation, the Texas Tornados, Stephen Bruton, Rod Picott (hmm, not sure), Calvin Russell (who may just be a bit too strong even for my broad taste!), and the late-lamented Jimmy LaFave, whose voice moves me more than anybody's, perhaps. And there's more to come from the same source. Not that I have any spare shelf space, mind, but hey, who cares!  

12 March 2016 - Mole Lodge musings ... Long overdue, you might say, with some justification. ​How time marches on. The CD's relatively modest sales - rave reviews and generous airplay notwithstanding - only serve to illustrate the peculiar dynamics of music sales, especially in niche markets like folk/roots/songwriter, in our rapidly-changing times ... If I was out there on the road travelling and facing an audience three or four nights a week, as I might have chosen to do twenty or thirty years ago, I guess the pile of unsold copies here at Mole Lodge HQ would by now be smaller, but overall I'm happy that those who have purchased a copy love it, for the most part. For me, the creation and bringing-into-being of the CD is enough ... I'd rather it resonated with, and was cherished by a (very) few hundred than bought and quickly cast aside by thousands. 
   My lifelong music collecting habit shows no sign of abating with the onset of (er ...) seniority, and I'm powerless to resist the chance to add to my increasingly problematic lack of shelf space, in a tiny house. I recently heard a fellow collector of obscure vinyl justify his passion in these terms: 'I'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it,' and it's this indelible mindset that still pulls me inexorably into ill-lit and faintly malodorous charity shops, in the hope that in among the boxes on the floor of tattered Don Williams, Max Boyce, and My Fair Lady soundtrack albums there may still lurk occasional treasures waiting to be rescued (I see it as my public duty) ... sadly, these 'Eureka!' moments are now rare, but you can't change the habits of a lifetime. Hitting occasional paydirt invariably prompts conjecture as to how such sought-after items end up consigned to dusty oblivion in 'chazzas': for instance, by what weirdly serendipitous set of circumstances did I recently pull a near-mint copy of The Paupers/Magic People (legendary Canadian psychedelia, an original 1967 copy on the Canadian arm of the Verve label) in my neighbourhood hospice shop for a paltry £1.99? Plus a mint copy of the great US blues harmonica maestro Charlie Musselwhite's 1968 LP Stone Blues for 99p.! What in the name of all that's holy were they doing there? Who knows ... but it's on such infrequent occasions that your scribe emerges blinking into the fresh air offering up thanks to whatever gods are, temporarily, on my side. A fellow ex-rare vinyl dealer, who shares my predilection for the more arcane byways of music, periodically puts good things my way ... Jon's most recent package in the mail contained something I've been obsessing over somewhat of late, Gypsy Moth, the sole 1972 album by Stephen Ambrose on the tiny US Barnaby label: Ambrose was blessed with a voice that often rivals that of Tim Buckley, and he serves up a set of truly wondrous and uplifting songs that exactly match the romantic restless troubadour optimism of their time, supported by stellar playing from top West Coast session men ... Josh Rosenthal, in his book The Record Store of The Mind (essential reading for all vinyl junkies) hits the nail on the head by summing this up as 'Bread meets Tim Buckley'. Anyway, for the time being, I'm pitching this as the best uncelebrated early-70s singer-songwriter album I've heard in many years (and which badly needs reissuing on CD) ... until I discover something better. Which I might. Or I might not. Who knows ...
   To buy a CD purely on spec - or on the strength of a seemingly favourable review - is something of a lottery these days, and I'm more often disappointed than not. That said, I'll put in a good word for the following recent acquisitions, which certainly hit the spot here at Mole Lodge:

Ryley Walker/Primrose Green: still in his 20s, this Illinois guitarist/writer/singer channels the spirits of Tim Buckley, Bert Jansch, Davey Graham, and John Martyn (among others) to stimulating effect: backed by the cream of the young Chicago jazz crowd, this is freewheeling jazz/folk that's risky, loose, spontaneous and uplifting by turns ... an album that could just as easily date from the 1970s, though it's by no means a pastiche. Check him on Youtube.
Aldous Harding/Aldous Harding: Stop-you-in-your-tracks debut from this intriguing young (female, despite her name) New Zealand contemporary folkie. Her voice is witchy and intimate, and her subject material isn't comfy by any means ... her promo videos - available on Youtube - are puzzling and disturbing. Aldous's  partner, Marlon Williams, is an equally promising prospect in his own right. Both have attracted rave reviews of their recent CD releases, and merit checking out.
Spencer Burton/ Don't Let The World See Your Love: This young US folk songwriter's plaid-shirt-and-beard farmer image makes his music all the more unexpected - delicate and spacious acoustic folky country-rock with pedal steel and harmonies to die for, this too harks back to left-field country bands from the '70s (in particular the criminally under-appreciated Borderline). Burton's wondrous 'Can't Stop Thinking About You' is just about the finest wanting-someone-back song you're ever likely to hear. The whole CD feels like a hike in the mountains ... refreshing, moving, addictive ...

... and I'm currently hooked on the CD Lake Songs From Red Waters: The Best of Gay & Terry Woods. Gay and Terry were in the early lineup of Steeleye Span, but left, to escape to a remote gamekeeper's cottage in rural Ireland. Through the 1970s they released 4 wonderful major-label electric folk-rock LPs that reflected their isolated idyll (I can relate to that so easily ...), but which sold in tiny quantities - and which are now much pursued by collectors. Terry's voice was keening and bleak, while Gay's was more ethereal, yet with a knowing edge, and each was blessed with multi-acoustic-instrumental and songcrafting skills. There's something so appealing and fragile about their under-appreciated songs, with their frequently unconventional melodic structure, despite being often set in the framework of the kind of bombastic Pegg'n'Mattacks heavy-drums-and-posturing-lead-guitar production approach that characterized (plagued?) so much of UK folk-rock at the time. After splitting, Gay reinvented herself as glam-pop Irish diva in Auto Da Fé, while Terry melted from view before later re-emerging as a cornerstone in the Pogues. Their albums as a couple, as uneven and frustrating as they often are, evoke a uniquely addictive melancholic rural Celtic mood that will repay your perseverence, but the availability of this CD is sporadic and elusive. Worth the search, though ...
   Parting shot ... let's embrace the spring ... winter felt as if it would never end this year.

10 June 2015 - Here's the melancholy tale of the day I was obliged to turn down the chance to open for the mighty Chip Taylor! Sad but true ... My friends Ron Dukelow and Hilary Booth, with whom I co-ran the Live at The Talbot roots music venue in Tregaron from 1999 to 2007, recently visited en route home to Bradford (where they now run the wonderful Live Room venue)​ following the annual BBC Folk Awards beanfeast in Cardiff: they told me they'd managed to book, at very short notice, our old friend, and regular Tregaron visitor, the legendary and venerable Chip Taylor (writer of Wild Thing, Angel of The Morning, and countless other timeless songs, and a very good egg to boot) together with his equally illustrious guitarist sidekick John Platania (for many years Van Morrison's road guitarist of choice) to play for them at the Live Room, on Friday 22 May, and over a tasty Indian meal they broke the news that they'd really like to book me to play the support spot! When I'd picked myself up off the floor, I said YES (like you do on such occasions) with alacrity ... then consulted my diary. 22 May: The Blues Occasionals at The Stag, Llanidloes!!
    Even I can't be in two places at once ... our return to The Stag was a stonking good night, and we pulled a great crowd ... but if my wizened features occasionally betrayed a smidgeon of wistfulness, I hope I can be forgiven. ​This clash of dates may haunt me for the rest of my life ....

24 April 2015 - So, why the heck, I hear you ask, would a grizzled senior citizen well into his eighth decade elect to record and release a solo CD? Hmm, good question. Well, it's not a conventional career move, that's for sure ... But the fact is, I've been dreaming for a long time about assembling and releasing a representative collection of meaningful songs before old age completely swamps me, and in the spring of last year it all fell into place: my neighbour and good friend Stuart Maman Bolton - a veteran of over forty years playing professionally in numerous lineups in Australia - declared himself willing to handle the recording and engineering side of things, and to contribute his various instrumental skills; the muse struck and some good new songs arrived (luckily I was in the office at the time); and there were enough funds in the coffers to pay for it. Twelve months on, What Did I Come Up Here For? exists ... There it is, look, over there in the corner of the room, over 900 copies of it lurking in their boxes, each one deserving of a home, each one potentially capable of bringing something to somebody's life: a clutch of words here, a turn of phrase there, a snatch of melody, an image, maybe, a sense of place, a little something that resonates, rings true ... that's my hope. A good old-fashioned sepia-tinted voice-led singer-songwriter album of the kind that I've always collected and loved (think Townes Van Zandt, Bob Carpenter, Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin, David Blue, Eric Kaz, David Ackles, Judee Sill, Marc Benno, Gene Clark, and so many others, still further beneath the radar: David Wiffen, Bob Martin, Ron Davies, Randy Burns, Ron Elliott, Bill Fay, Bap Kennedy, Dave Schramm, Shelagh Macdonald, John Manning, the list goes on ...) ... So, here I am, j​ust four weeks on from delivery day, and I'm already learning that patience is a virtue: review and airplay copies are in circulation, a distributor has been approached but has yet to respond, some shops have copies in stock, and feedback from initial purchasers is genuinely positive. A couple of them even came back for extra copies to give to friends. What I need now is a lucky break: a fluke Radio 2 airplay will do nicely! Possibly unrealistic, but hey, it doesn't hurt to hope. The lap of the gods is what it's in ...​