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Newsletter July 2001

'There's ne'er a villain dwelling in all Denmark, but he's an arrant knave.' (Hamlet I : v)

The most significant development this summer, if 'development' is the rightword, has been the mildly acrimonious severing of contacts with Juergen, my Danish agent. It's been a long time coming, but wasn't planned by either party.

In the Spring of 2000 he and I agreed to move the pre-arranged dates of my September tour one week forward. He promptly forgot all about this, and by the time I found out it was too late to re-group. So that was my autumn tour down the Swanee. He didn't seem to feel the need for any kind of apology, so I let it go at that.

This Spring, as detailed in the previous newsletter, I was due to drive up from Holland for a couple of Danish weekends, but as the first weekend boasted only one gig it was agreed that it hardly made sense to head north until the following Thursday. Then, a day or so later, I received a phone call from my sister telling me that Mum was seriously ill. She is now eighty-five, and the doctor's report was not encouraging. I therefore called Juergen, apologised for messing him around, but explained the situation and cancelled the remaining three gigs.

Happily, Mum made a full recovery, and as soon as I was back in Germany I hastened to e-mail Juergen and confirm the June dates. He never responds to communications anyway so I didn't expect an acknowledgement.

A week prior to the tour I phoned, as usual, only to be told I was considered 'unreliable' and consequently there would be no summer tour. With admirable restraint I pointed out that an autumn tour lost due to his incompetence last year, and a second, half-booked, tour cancelled due to my mother's serious illness this year hardly constituted unreliability, except perhaps where his contribution was concerned, but if after eight years, sixteen tours and one-hundred and three gigs, all without a hitch, that was his attitude then he had my blessing to go forth and multiply!

So that's Denmark off the list. I do have other contacts there and could probably continue to tour Queen Margaret's realm on a smaller scale, but I've never loved those thrice-yearly circuits of smoky stews and pixilated pubs and have often muttered darkly about ditching them, "..... if it wasn't for the money." Well, in the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

'God answers sharp and sudden on some prayers, and thrusts the thing we have prayed for in our face, a gauntlet with a gift in't.'

I choose to take all this as a sign that new directions must now be vigorously explored in order to replace what I rarely enjoyed with something more positive.

As it turned out the timing was perfect because that same weekend Mum was very ill again. The doctor said she couldn't be left on her own, and was talking about temporary hospitalization or a Rest Home. I therefore dropped everything and was in Kenton by Monday evening.

Once more Mum pulled out of the nose-dive, and a fortnight later I was down in Switzerland to finalize the graphics for VIDEO TRIPS, which is now scheduled for release by the end of August at the latest. Diro, the graphic artist, lives in an old station through which trains still pass, but where they only stop if requested. All very quaint and noisy because, although the station is right out in the middle of nowhere, a bell attached to the wooden building just below the room I slept in jangles every time there's a train approaching; beginning at 6.30 each morning and recurring every thirty minutes or so! In addition, the woman in the neighbouring house breeds dogs, fifteen of them, all vociferous souls perpetually alert for the slightest opportunity of broadcasting their vocal solidarity. Not a recipe for repose. Still, it's not often you can grill your supper sitting on the station platform at a table laid up with cloth, cutlery, glasses etc., and wave to the friendly guards of passing trains.

The new CD will, of course, be featured on this homepage, and the homepage of Brambus Records (songs.com/brambus), as soon as possible, complete with sound samples, and will be on sale thereafter. It's the usual Cowlan charivari of eclectic troubadouring; covering topics as varied as insensitive tourism, suicide bombers, subconscious simians, posers, pensioners, fatuous T.V. shows, the advertising industry, lost loves, and Don Juan on a bad night (or rather the morning after a bad night); and that ain't all!

There's a preface by Harvey Andrews; and my vocals, guitar and occasional harmonica are greatly enhanced by Chris Leslie's fiery/tender fiddle and mandolin; Sandro Friedrich's characteristically well-conceived shawm, sax, flute and darabouka; Geoff Palmer's mellifluous cello; and, as ever, Ljubo Majstorovic's basses, synths and percussion, featured on no less than nine of the seventeen tracks. A sneak preview of the running order is as follows:

VIDEO TRIPS

1) DONNY JOHNNY 3.05
2) MONKEY IN THE SUBWAY 3.56
3) VIDEO TRIPS 5.29
4) WANNABE BLUES 2.57
5) GUESS WHO! 3.37
6) FROM A SILENT TOWN 3.38
7) COUNTDOWN 3.24
8) BEST WE COULD DO 4.49
9) GAMES 2.41
10) LEARNING TO FLY 3.05
11) HIGH LIFE 4.16
12) ON THE CORNER 3.15
13) SIMPLE 3.39
14) BURA 3.01
15) THE ADMIRAL 3.27
16) MISSING 4.38
17) .....AND A FORGETTING 5.34

Total playing time 64.40

In Austria, back in May, despite the unexpected paucity of gigs, I gave two concerts, as well as enjoying a beautiful woodland walk by the 16th century Burg Greifenstein, during which I heard the cuckoo for the first time this year. I also discovered the site of the greatest archeological excavation of alchemical laboratory equipment in the world, at Schloss Oberstockstal and Kirchberg just north west of Vienna, and visited the site where the 25,000 year old figurine of the Venus of Willendorf was discovered at the beginning of this century.

This route, along the north bank of the Danube, also passes under the ruined castle of Duernstein, where Richard Coeur de Leon spent much of his thumb-twiddlling captivity, and where his minstrel Blondel le Nesle is popularly supposed to have finally located him by plumping down under the castle window in dejected exhaustion, only to suddenly hear the beloved voice of his royal master belting out one of his latest compositions. (Yes, Richard The Lionheart was a songwriter, when he wasn't too busy invading the personal space of the Caliph and his subjects.) Perhaps, on this occasion, he was singing 'Ja Nun Non Pris', in which he voices plaintive regrets that (having virtually guarenteed his own arrest by grossly insulting Leopold of Austria, and following up with rank carelessness and devil-may-care abandon), his subjects are a wee bit slow to impoverish themselves again merely for the pleasure of having him back.

Another onetime denizen of this area was Conrad Lorenz, the Nobel Prize- winner of 'King Solomon's Ring' fame, who once lived in the village of St. Andrae Woerdern. At that time the river's shores were unspoiled by the industrial excrescences which mar it now, and his opposition to these developments made him unpopular locally. After all, who wants dreaming river bends, thriving wetlands and lush woods and fields ringing with birdsong if you can have concrete, steel, industry, pollution and, above all, money.

After imposing on Tom and Hannelore Kleemaier for ten days, in Traun near Linz, Tom and I set off over the mountains for Croatia and Slovenia, where the indefatigable Berislav had set up three great concerts in Opatija, Karlovac and Novo Mesto. Sweltering summer days on the Adriatic coast and the islands, followed by wild storms of cannonading thunder, shivering lightning, gusting winds and driving hail.

This was my sixth visit to Karlovac, close to the Slovenian border, and we overnighted in the wonderful old thirteenth century castle of Dubovac, where I've stayed once before. As on the previous visit it was everything a castle should be, with bats fluttering round the tower while Mars and the moon glowed among wheeling stars.

Following a great gig in Novo Mesto the next day I dropped Tom back at Traun on Whit Sunday and completed the eleven and a half hour drive back to Frankfurt. The Danish non-episodes followed swiftly thereafter.

So, unlike my own description of life on the moon (in 'Walking To The Moon', two CDs ago), the pace of life is NOT slow, and hasn't been so all year! I have a gig down in Ettlingen on August 25th, and the October/ November British tour has three venues booked so far. Watch the touring plan for details.