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2007 Newsletter

For those interested in such fundamentals, this year was The Year of The Golden Pig, an encouraging omen if ever there was one! It commenced, as Chinese New Years always do, at the beginning of the first lunar month in their lunar-solar calendar, which happened to be February 18th on this occasion. So now you know! Heavenly felicitations for Year of Honourable Auriferous Porker!

I was due down in Switzerland for a short tour in the third week of January, so after re-charging the van battery, discovering it was flat again, buying a new one and watching that go flat as well, I blessed the ADAC man (ie: AA., RAC., et al) who finally located the fault. Once he’d got me started I drove to Heidelberg and back to re-juice and, a few days later, with fingers firmly crossed, headed off down the A5.

My first port of call was Ljubo’s studio, in Baden, where I recorded the guitar and vocal tracks of three new songs. Experience has taught me that it’s infinitely less stressful to record songs as they’re written, instead of letting them build up. So, the next CD is slowly fermenting. (Another current project is the publication of a volume of thirty of my poems. So, if anyone feels up to subscribing, do let me know. I imagine they’ll probably cost about £10.00 (€ 15.00) a volume.)

Staying with Paul and Alice Rostetter, in Mühlehorn, I took advantage of the clear, blue weather to walk in the neighbouring mountain meadows, climbing through frosty fields and woods where the fallen leaves were veined with ice and Dame Nature was still deep in her winter dreams. There then followed concerts in Pfäffikon, St. Gallen, Mollis and Flims.

The last time I’d played in Pfäffikon, close to the lake of Zürich, must have been when the world was young, or at least when I was young, which, increasingly, begins to feel like the same thing; but perhaps it was only eight or nine years ago. My hosts, Stefan and Barbara Hutter, were as hospitable as ever, and I celebrated the renewal of our acquaintance by gently reversing into a wall and cracking my brake light. This being Switzerland, a replacement was ordered, delivered and fitted within twenty-four hours!

The St. Gallen concert was greatly enlivened by the surprise arrival of friends, and, staying the night with Gabriela and Bruno Peter, I couldn’t help recalling that it was Gabriela who, in the early eighties, had furnished me with my first list of Swiss club addresses; and Bruno who had ‘lent’ me his 12-string guitar, refusing to let me buy it, but insisting I keep it. A photo taken by Gabriela appears on the back of my first album, and the twelve-string features on several more.

(Gabriela’s photo shows me playing harmonica to a fascinated Swiss cow. I suppose it’s about time I added it to the Photo Gallery. After all, why should the pigs have it all to themselves?)

Unusually the Mollis concert was in the clubhouse of a small airfield where military helicopters were buzzing up and down during the afternoon, carrying bits and pieces into the mountains. Afterwards I drove back to Mühlehorn with Alice and, the following morning, was convinced that the military had followed us, in order to conduct dawntime manœuvres in the flat above, but my hosts insisted that it was only the neighbours ‘getting up.’

The next day was windy, whipping the Walensee into a veritable stampede of white horses’ manes, and when I dropped in on Arno and Ursula, at Haldenstein, the rain was bucketing down. Disappointingly the Flims gig was more of a pub thrash than a concert, but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. The Australian cook gave me his recipe for brandy snaps, and I loaded the van under brilliant stars and thin cloud, with Saturn glowing in Leo’s jaws.

I always seem to lose an item of jewellery on these Swiss trips, (last time my Lesbian amber earring - no, no! It was an amber earring bought in Lesbos - disappeared, following a walk in snowy woods), and this trip was no exception. After setting up for the Flims gig I glanced down at my watch chain, only to discover that the beautiful gold, black onyx and moss -agate fob, which I’d bought in Exeter a year or so previously had dematerialized. A painstaking search, both before and after the concert, failed to recover it, so I can only hope that it is presently giving pleasure to whoever found it!

January ended with a dusting of snow, and February began with concerts and English lessons. I played in Bensheim, at the Pi Pa Po, on February 1st, my third or fourth appearance there, and, the following week, was able to combine a performance in Nettetal with a visit to Nijmegen, just over the border into Holland, where I spent a day with Paul Jansen, my Dutch ex-agent, and Desirée his partner. Musically, things are dead as a dodo in Holland nowadays, and Paul’s efforts to re-start touring there seem to have fallen on stony ground, but it was good to see them again, and to find Holland just as I remembered it; with swarms of cyclists on sit-up-and-beg bicycles, sometimes bearing a leg-swinging passenger sidesaddle on the back panniers; lakes and flowers, carillons, windmills, and brick-built houses with guilelessly uncurtained windows.

My route then led past Antwerp to Calais and, once over the Channel, along Kentish motorways and twilit Sussex lanes to the ever hospitable home of Tony and Jennie where, after a wonderful meal and evening’s companionship, I slept with the rain pattering against the window.

I was in England for the annual Creative Music course at Kilve, in north Somerset, and, when that was over, to visit John and Annie Moat in north Devon, and spend some time in Kenton with Mum. Despite increasing bureacracy and organizational idiocy the music course is still a pleasure to run, and this was my eighteenth consecutive year as a tutor there.

Back in Frankfurt I gave a concert at Das Bett, my favourite Alt Sachsenhausen venue. Das Bett simply translates as The Bed, so it’s an additional pleasure to be able to invite attractive female acquaintances to join you there. I only play in Frankfurt a couple of times a year, to avoid wearing out the carpet locally, and recently Das Bett has always been the venue. It’s one of the few clubs in Old Sachsenhausen which offers a genuine programme, and is definately worth a visit if you’re in Frankfurt.

At the end of March, I visited Peter Coura’s stall at the Musik Fair, meeting several old friends, and chatting to Vicki Genfen, one of the world’s more impressive guitar-players. How she does what she does, using only the standard issue of fingers and thumbs, is a source of wonder, and I can certainly recommend a visit to one of her performances if you have the opportunity. She uses a multitude of open tunings, and a new one I learned from her has, so far, resulted in five new songs. Thanks Vicki.

In the middle of April I was in Switzerland again. This time the destination was Bern, where I played at a surprise sixtieth birthday party for another friend.

Meanwhile Gabriele was packing her bags, and books of Italian grammar, in preparation for nine weeks of intensive linguistics in Naples. But before she could leave a shocking disaster occurred.

Having received subtle hints, from the aforesaid student of Neapolitan persuasion techniques, that my hair was becoming a bit too long and floppy, I cased the local cheap hairdressers and, astonishingly, caught them at a moment when there wasn’t a single old granny waiting. This was most unusual, and promised a providentially quick snip. So, in I went, explained to a young man with a head resembling a worn out toothbrush dipped in iodine, that I wanted about a centimetre off all round (but no more!), sat back, closed my eyes (so the cut hair didn’t fall into them), and let the young chap go to work. And pretty damned fast he worked too! By the time I opened my eyes again the mirror presented me with the unsettling image of an object resembling a psychotic skittle. On closer examination it proved to be me, with my hair shorter than it had ever been since leaving school in 1968! Counting rapidly up to two or three thousand, I informed Herr Schnipper-Schnapper, in a strangled whisper, that this was somewhat shorter than I had requested, whereupon he looked perplexed and asked whether I hadn’t specified a length of about one centimetre all over!

1) Always ensure that your instructions to the hairdresser have been correctly interpreted.
2) Never close your eyes while in the barber’s chair!

(I can also claim the distinction of having composed a Spencerian sonnet while waiting, in the dentist’s chair, but that’s another story. See last year’s newsletter!)

Being a stoical and phlegmatic personality I, naturally, took all this in my stride. Rushing home with my jacket drawn over my head I bounded upstairs, locked all the doors, emitted a primal scream of several minutes’ duration, rolled on the carpet, ran against the wall and instantly resolved to sell all my worldly possessions and enlist in the Foreign Legion. Fortunately Gabriele was able to dissuade me from this impetuous course by reminding me that legionnaires speak French and suffer from horrible diseases picked up from flirtatious camels.

Thus, having ensured that I was as close to being in my right mind as was reasonable to expect, with many a tearful addio and arrivederci the queen of my heart entrained for the south, leaving me in a house with drawn curtains, muffled mirrors and imaginary ravens croaking, “Nevermore” from every available pelmet.

Ten days later, as arranged, I followed her to that giddy, mercurial city of reeking fish, benzine, bakery and bag-snatchers. Napoli, where beauty is fierce and ephemeral, where Vesuvius broods over the blue bay, and life must be lived for the burning present moment, in certain knowledge it can never last.

We spent a few days there, staying with delightful, diminutive, non-stop, motor-mouth Ida and her Mamoni (the Italian name for adult sons who still live with Mama!); then we embarked for the Aeolian Islands.

A couple of years ago, on another of Gabriele’s Italian language expeditions, we had taken a boat trip to this archipelago of seven islands - situated just north-east of Sicily, and also known as the Lipari Islands - and both of us had fantasized about how amazing it would be to actually spend some time there. Stromboli is probably the best known of these islands, and Vulcano has given its name to every volcano in the world, but we were attracted to the smallest of the group, Alicudi, and now, thanks to Gabriele’s internet wizardry, that was our destination.

The boat, which was not in the sort of condition to inspire boundless confidence, went grumbling out of Naples in the evening and, as it was still too cold and blustery up on deck, we unrolled our sleeping bags in a suitable corner. A clear moon above Capri, and Venus setting over Baia sent us dreamily to our imperfect slumbers, and we surfaced stiffly the next morning to the sight of an ink-dark sea with Stromboli looming out of the haze.

Changing vessels at Salina, we were the only passengers on the Alicudi boat, which certainly made it simple for our German landlady, who is married to one of the islanders, to identify us when we disembarked.

There are no roads on Alicudi, only steep, stepped, stone trackways, so anything too heavy to be readily backpacked is carried up by donkey or mule. (Ours was called Otto!) After a stiff twenty-five minute climb, the little place we stayed in was high up in the fragrant broom and lavender, surrounded by singing birds, and with a view of the neighbouring islands over a misty sea. We were there for ten days of unmitigated peace. The silence had to be heard to be believed!

I then had to nip back to Germany for a couple of gigs: Artern, near Eisenach, in the east; and Borken, in the north.

Artern is situated in former East Germany, so very few of the audience understood English. Russian would have been comprehensible, if I’d been able to speak it, but the only practical choice was German, so I took the plunge, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I wasn’t too far adrift. On the way home the silhouette of the Wartburg, where Luther threw an ink pot at the Devil, stood out against the sky; and Kyffhäuserberg, the mountain where, according to tradition, Barbarossa sleeps, with all his company of knights, was also part of the impressive scenery, but time was, as ever, pressing.

Borken is way beyond Oberhausen, and the event was a stadtfest, guarenteeing a well-oiled and boisterous audience. So, with little prospect of presenting any suggestion of bleeding hearts or personal sensibility, I thrashed out the Blues and Golden Oldies, to everyone’s vociferous pleasure, spent a restful night and motored back to Frankfurt the next morning.

I then returned to Naples, by train this time, and, while Gabriele continued honing her Italian to a suitably Neapolitan stiletto keeness, I went back, alone, to Alicudi to luxuriate in twenty-three days of stillness, solitude and sun and rain, with the wind and the ocean whispering, and the birds jubilant amid riotous flowers. I departed ten poems and four songs the richer; and also one year older, having idled softly into my fifty-seventh year while scribbling, strumming and scrambling about on this little ante-room to Paradise.

Dolphins gambolled around the boat on the way back to Naples, and I slept out on deck; passing a puffing Stromboli as dusk descended, laying out my sleeping bag under the benign glow of three planets and a heaven of glistering stars. I woke at 5.15 a.m., with Capri on the port bow, the sun rising above the Amalfitana, and Vesuvius brooding in the smog of Naples. I’d like to be more poetic, but smog it certainly is. There are still shoreside streets with names alluding to salubrious air and bracing sea breezes, but nowadays no-one in their right mind would visit this madcap city for the purpose of improving their health!

Just to round off the idyll, our taxi driver to the railway station, for the return trip to Frankfurt, was a Neapolitan guitarist/songwriter who played excellent recordings of his compositions as we wove through the mayhem which constitutes Neapolitan traffic to the Stazione Centrale, where he bade us farewell, begging me to send him one of my CDs. Of course I did so, but whether he ever received it or, if he did, whether he liked it, I have no idea.

As might easily be imagained, after such an unstinting gust of other-worldly peace and all-too-worldly madness, it wasn’t easy for either of us to settle back into humdrum reality!

Not that it was all humdrum. While I was visiting Mum in Kenton, Gabriele was attending a course in Vienna, and having all kinds of oddball adventures in quest of accommodation. There were more guests from England and, in August, two wonderful weddings, and yet another Swiss celebration.

Karlheinz and Sandra first met at Gabriele’s Fiftieth Birthday party, so it was a double delight for us to be there, and for me to contribute some songs. The wedding reception, also featured a rock and roll band, and authentic Argentinian tango; a perfect blend of the groom’s German roots and drumming passion, and the bride’s south American origins and professional dancing.

Next came Angelika and Ralf, marrying in the unspoiled countryside near Bayreuth, and celebrating in a wonderful old castle where the weather, untypically for this summer, smiled on them, making possible a truly mediæval feast and entertainment in an ancient courtyard lit by starlight and flickering candles. Alchemy, classical cellos, myself, and numerous other ‘acts’ contributed to the festivities.

Towards the end of the month we were invited to celebrate Paul and Brigitta’s thirty-five years of happy marriage, in the little village of Grabs, not far from St. Gallen. So we decided to make the most of it by spending a couple of days in the Ticino beforehand. Accordingly we drove through the San Gotthard and then followed our instincts, which led us up a tiny, spiralling road of endless hairpins, to a beautiful little village set among thick chestnut woods. Here we ate in a homely open air albergo, slept in the van, and walked in the mountains. Then it was over the moonlit peaks, through the San Bernardino and on to Grabs, where there was a welcoming fireside, and an equally welcoming bed at the house of Paul and Brigitta’s daughter Jennifer and her husband Marcus.

The next morning there was circle dancing, led by two professional teachers who are friends of Paul and Brigitta, and I was delighted to be asked to play a few songs as well. In view of my two left feet I was also granted special permission to sit out the dancing, which was a huge relief as far as I was concerned, but of course Gabriele joined in enthusiastically.

September saw another great concert at Das Bett (there’s now a five minute video clip, taken from this evening, here on my homepage, and on You Tube), and at the end of the month I was in England again.

After a few days in Kenton I drove up to Liverpool, where Eve Goldsmith had arranged a reading at the The Liverpool Wellbeing Centre, together with the poet Joan Poulson. I was able to give some of the Alicudi poems their first public performance, as usual the evening was a firelit, candlelit success, and the following day Eve presented me with my portrait, which she’s been painting over the past few of years; a wonderful surprise, particularly as it depicts a rather younger man than the one rattling out this newsletter!

Leaving Liverpool I turned the van north to Pateley Bridge, to spend a couple of days up on the moor with Mike and Elizabeth Campbell-Cole, and their one remaining pig! Sadly the seemingly eternal Mango and Chutney partnership is no more, and no-one seems sure whether the surviving porker is Mango or Chutney. But, having said this, it would be less than true to assert that the resulting self-identity trauma has put the survivor off her food!

A week or so later I drove to Oxford, to chat with various printers about the production costs of my projected volume of poetry, and this also meant I could pass an evening with Laura King, a good friend from the poetry scene, who lives in the city of dreaming spires. Next day I was in London, in order to give a repeat talk at Treadwells bookshop, near Covent Garden, on Alchemical Symbolism. Gratifyingly, this was booked out, and I was promptly snapped up for yet another rendition on February 6th 2008. www.treadwells-london.com

A late October tour in Croatia didn’t work out in time, and was postponed until next May, but the usual schools concerts in Austria occupied the first couple of weeks of Novemeber. This meant I also had the opportunity to visit Uschi Laar, my harpist friend, on the way to Vienna, and Robbie and Doris Pleier on the way back.

Even so, my guardian angel had to work overtime, because, somewhere between Ulm and Augsburg, on a Friday evening, the van’s exhaust system suddenly gave out and I was reduced to a loud, tractoring drag which threatened to put paid to any touring at all. As I later discovered, at a Ford specialist in Vienna, the necessary parts would have taken over a week to obtain, but my angel was on top form. Turning off the motorway at the next exit, I immediately found a small garage where a Turkish mechanic nonchalantly welded everything back together again, within three-quarters of an hour! This not only made the tour possible once more, but it also meant that I lost virtually no time. May the man reap all the blessings he so richly deserves! I don’t know whether he was a practicing moslem or not, but he certainly saved my bacon!

So, the tour proceeded, in glorious autumn sunshine, while rain fell on Frankfurt, and snow fell on Salzburg. I had a cold, windy, but enjoyable day in Vienna, despite the fact that the Völkerkunde Museum, which I wanted to visit, was closed; but thereafter, down along the Slovenian border it was all golden leaves and blue skies.

Ten days after returning to Frankfurt I was in England again, giving yet another Kilve Court course, while Gabriele took advantage of my absence to make another trip to Naples. We spent Christmas in Frankfurt, with snow, and a candlelit Christmas tree; and while sitting in snowy woods near Laufach, on Christmas Day itself, eating our packed lunch, who should pass by, to wish us the compliments of the season, but a wild pig. What more (or should that be ‘boar’?) can I say!