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March 1st, 2012 Cotherstone

Spring is ever closer – in fact a couple of days ago some blue sky appeared overhead on my afternoon walk, the birds were in full throat (well, almost), the views across the dale were distinctly softer, and I had me a new spring song by the time I got home…

I’ve been checking out the local music scene – singing with two different community choruses (the choir thing is very strong in this part of the world) and playing/singing at a couple of different folk music venues. The choruses rehearse in schools – both in Barnard Castle, the local market town (Barney, as it’s known), one in the state school, the other in the private one, or “public” as they’re called here, very confusing – and the music is made in pubs – one at the Old Well in Barney, a monthly gathering of the B.C.Folk Club, and the other in the tiny hamlet of Butterknowle, a half-hour drive along tortuous back roads to the back of beyond, but a thriving community and happening gathering. A wide range of talent from beginner to pretty great, they’ve all been very welcoming to a stranger from across the pond playing ‘foreign’ music – tho’ I do know some traditional tunes, and am spending time with the mandolin learning more – I’ve been taken under the wing of a whistle player who lives in the village, so I have some local cred… And the choir singing is really good for the wind, after years of singing on a microphone… all grist to the mill…


February 12th, 2012 Cotherstone, Co.Durham

It’s strange… it’s still winter, but you can feel the burgeoning of the coming spring… the birdsong has shifted, and not only are the snowdrops out in force (not in themselves a signal, they stick their heads up happily through the snow) but I caught the first sight of a crocus bud yesterday, and even, down in the lowlands of Richmond this afternoon, where I’d gone for an Alexander technique lesson, the first daffodils – hallelujah. However, I always want to shout “go back, go back!”, as we are sure to get more frost and snow before the winter is out, and things are already confused enough, with the mild january followed by a real deep freeze for the past couple weeks – poor trees don’t know if they’re coming or going…

The sudden frosts create the most fantastic ice patterns on the banks of the river – with the rapid drop in temperature, and the consequent slight drop in water level, the most amazing ice crystals form around the rocks by the water’s edge, star bursts of crystals up to 4 or 5 inches long… and one morning a skin on the surface of the river like cellophane…

After 6 weeks of family visits, it’s just me and my 91-year-old mum (and her two ancient dogs, and my ancient aunt down the road). Theoretically I should be able to get down to work, now that my studio doesn’t have californians staying in it, but it is surprisingly hard… I am not accustomed to grabbing an hour here or there in between caring for other people (unlike some people I know who have written whole books – mainly between the hours of 2 and 4 a.m. – while raising children and holding down a job)… I guess I’m spoiled rotten, having lived alone for the past ten years, and so used to being able to just disappear down the rabbit hole when the spirit (or deadline) moves me, leaving the world behind… is it too late to teach this old dog new tricks?

I caught the David Hockney exhibit at the Royal Academy in London – what a colour bath for the eyes – he is a wonder. He lives and works in Yorkshire now, not so very far from here, and I recognise his landscape – he too moved back to be near his aged mum, and reconnected with his roots after a lifetime away in the States – strange…


December 1st, 2011, New York

I’ve been home for 3 weeks, and the city has been seducing me all over again – warm days, cold nights, blue skies and riotous colours in the foliage – yes, it’s autumn in new york…

a couple of great gigs last week – first, the public debut of a new band, at the favourite small venue, Barbes in Park Slope Brooklyn. (If someone had told me years ago that I would end up living in the west village and going out to brooklyn to play I would have laughed – but hey, just call me old-fashioned… we are all eternally grateful to Olivier & Vincent for providing the musical community with such a wonderful home.) The brainchild of Doug Wieselman, clarinetist extraordinaire, the Funes play “mostly quirky tunes suited for an urban tight rope walker – most of which came to Doug Wieselman while walking”. The other members are Don Falzone on bass and Jim Pugliese on drums, and it’s a total pleasure playing accordion with them all (and not being in charge!) – I look forward to more… the second was a house concert on the sunday after Thanksgiving, for an invited audience at a beautiful West Village home, that was a total delight: a gorgeous autumn afternoon turning to evening, birds singing outside the window, making music in a room that sounded sooo good… with no piano and no bass player, I combined the”In My Skin” and “Baseless Rumors” quartets for the baritone uke/accordion repertoire – what a joy…
with me were Charlie Burnham on violin, Marika Hughes on cello, Doug W on clarinet and the incomparable Matt Munisteri on guitar. I’ve been working with Charlie, Marika and Doug a fair bit this year, both on Baseless Rumors and Septimus & Clarissa, but it felt like an age since Matt and I had played, so it was a real pleasure…

I got back to town just in time to join a good friend at the bi-annual gathering of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, held at the NYPL. Gilberto Gil talked, and sang solo with his guitar – what a shining light he is… Osvaldo Golijov turns out to be as articulate and inspiring a speaker as he is a composer – I hope to pursue that some day… Brian Eno talked of the choice between creating from the top down or the bottom up – “do you want to be an architect, or a gardener?” – a revelation – I realise I need to do more gardening… And then that strange moment when Gilberto, Jessye Norman and Jose van Dam, put on the spot, jammed on The Girl From Ipanema – could have been embarrassing in the extreme but was in fact totally charming… and witnessed by about 30 of us… only in new york…

Speaking of which, I’ve walked the length of the HIgh Line a couple times recently – this is a great time to be up there, with the grasses and foliage all turning – first time I’ve seen the new section – the variety in astounding… what a great addition to the community, it’s the best thing that’s happened to the city since the opening of the Hudson River Park. I look forward to when they finish the final section of the High Line and you can walk all the way to the river… the opening up of the riverfront reminds me of what’s happened in London – back in the day, that city had its back to the Thames, now it’s becoming the centre, with the south bank as vibrant as the north, and river traffic flowing. More of that…

Having finally completed Septimus and Clarissa in September, and having also put Baseless Rumors out into the world this year, completing the trilogy of ‘solo’ projects that began with Bed Time, I now feel ready to work on a bigger canvas again… I’m going to be spending some time in a beautiful but remote part of the north of England, for family reasons, and have decided to use this time out of the hurly-burly as a gift, to work on a new opera, one that’s been on the back burner for far too long. Third time’s a charm…


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