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Newsletter May 1st 2002

The year got off to a great start with an early concert here in Frankfurt, the first I've played so close to home for ages. We later realized the January 10th date wasn't ideal because a lot of people were still on holiday, but even so the venue at the Tanz-und Theaterwerkstatt, Frankfurt, was full, and we had a great evening.

In February I was in England, beginning with an evening at The Merryhills, in Oakwood, north London, where Phil Peacock runs a really friendly club with a full and varied musical programme. Then it was off down to Devon for a local concert at The Poachers in Ide, followed by a week's residential course at Kilve Court up in north Somerset.

Kilve is always rewarding, stimulating and exhausting, with teenies drawn from a number of schools, all equipped with instruments of varying descriptions and volume capacity, and all chock full of inexhaustible energy. This was my tenth Kilve Music Week, and the visit of Zimbabwean singer/dancer Simon Rainbow Banda provided a suitably voluble and kinetic climax to the course. As Simon explained, in Zimbabwe you can't sing and not dance (which demolished at a stroke my standard excuse for my two left feet, namely, 'Musicians can never dance.'), and the kids were soon harmonizing and shimmying with enviable panache. I helped out in the bass register and did my best to sway eloquently as instructed, but this didn't prevent one of the girls coming up to me afterwards with a smile and a sympathetic shake of her head, 'You're a really great guitarist.' she said, then, after a slight pause. 'But you're a lousy dancer!' Coming from the generation for whom 'dancing' meant clearing a large circular space on the floor and then proceeding to 'freak-out', I was left with nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. 'You're right of course.' I agreed.

Fortunately there was no dancing involved in the following three gigs; Poetry and Song at Salisbury House in Enfield, a House Concert in Brighton, and The White Horse Folk Club in Bodle Street Green, Sussex. At Salisbury House I gave the second public performance of my long poem 'Stages', with Sarah de Nordwall, Jenny Page and Sarah Fordham lending their voices to the female characters. We had a full house, and a great evening. Sarah de N. had made a particular effort to be there because she was in the process of seeing off a richly bubbling cold, and would have been much better off in bed. However she dosed herself expertly with modest shots of whisky, with the result that no-one hearing her read would have suspected the presence of a single malefic microbe, or, indeed, detected the faintest waft of malt.

March saw Gabriele and I driving madly southwards for three weeks of Calabrian and Sicilian hail, rain, high wind and 'old stones'. Of course, we had a great time, despite the weather, but gathering driftwood on the shore, under grey, chilly skies, in order to have a comforting fire in the evening, wasn't originally on our list of 'things to do in Sicily'. There was a brief flash of sunlight one day, during which I was able to confirm that, if I wore my new, white Panama hat when there was no wind I looked a little like Clint Eastwood; however, if there was wind, and if the brim was therefore blown upward, I suddenly bore an uncomfortable resemblance to Fatty Arbuckle. Such insights are, of course, the reason one goes on holiday in the first place.On our way back we heard the cuckoo for the first time this year, among Tuscan olive groves swept by fine rain.

Knowing I had a short Swiss tour immediately after the holiday I'd rather optimistically, packed my little 1/8th-scale guitar; the one which rattled and bounced round south-east Asia with me in 1980, and later did sterling 'bottleneck' service on 'Quantum, Relative Cosmic Blues', one album back. I fully intended to practice hard whenever our schedule allowed, but Sumatran buses and bottleneck are not quite the same as open-tuned fingerstyle ranging the full length of the fretboard, and the best I actually managed was the occasional half-hour thrash to preserve my fingertip calluses.

Stopping off near Chur on the way back up to Frankfurt, I picked up the van, which I'd left with Paul Rostetter, my Swiss agent, on the way down, and while Gabriele continued to Frankfurt I did a frantic day of practicing to recall the more recently written songs.

It's a strange thing, but usually the release of an album precedes a period of creative calm. I keep the spiritual doors and windows open of course, and continue to supply the bird-table with choice morsels, but usually there aren't any new songs for a while thereafter. Not so this time. Whoever is responsible for my creative output was clearly in no mood for a rest, and since the release of VIDEO TRIPS last summer I've written six songs, with two more circling somewhere out in the aether, awaiting landing permission. Already the new arrivals have elbowed their way into the performance programme, so at this rate it won't be too long before the next album!

The Swiss tour was an unmitigated delight; The laid-back Werkstatt in Chur; the intimate, and strictly acoustic, Atelier Hinterrüti; the Sternen, in Obstalden, high in the mountains above the Walensee and, finally, the Rössli, in Stäfa on the east shore of the Lake of Zürich. This last concert was a double delight because I was joined by Ljubo Majstorovic, heroic recording engineer for my last three albums, and versatile guitarist, bass- player, percussionist, synth-wizard and more, on the last four. We're hoping to make a short Croatian tour together in June so this was a chance to finally occupy the same stage, and to have a whale of a time into the bargain. The fact that the entire centre of Zürich was closed for the Sechseleute celebrations, involving us in bewildering back-doubles and endless traffic, and the fact that it was bucketing with rain the entire evening made not a jot of difference. Ljubo backed two of my songs during my first set, the audience were awed by his breathtaking guitar technique in his two solo numbers, and we then did a blistering encore of Cowlan rockers, finishing off with The Howling Wolf's classic 'Howling (Calling) on my Darling'. Oooh eee!