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HOPING FOR BETTER

by Richard Lewis

This year has been quite a difficult one for me. As I mentioned in my first Freewheelin’ article of 2004 my mum died in January and I‘ve been trying to adjust to it ever since. I seem to have spent most of the year dealing with solicitors, accountants, tax officers, estate agents, insurance companies and utility providers. Still it’s nearly over now so, as John always tells us, things can only get better.

It was only a little thing but one of the hardest days for me was on my birthday last month when for the first time in over 50 years there was no card from my mum.

Chronicles
An absolute joy as I said last month. I’ve been re-reading sections again, especially when Dylan first arrives in New York, and keep finding new descriptions of people and places to wonder at. The highlight of the year for me without any doubt.

London Eye
For Jenny’s birthday this year the four of us (Me, Jenny and our two sons Martin and Peter) got together in London and took a flight on the London Eye big wheel and then a cruise on the River Thames. It was absolutely fantastic and I thoroughly recommend it to everyone. As a Londoner I thought I knew quite a bit about the Thames and its buildings but our guide on the cruise kept us entertained with loads of new facts and anecdotes. We were lucky with the weather and the view from the top of the Eye was tremendous. We could see clear up to Ally Pally.

Trowbridge
At the beginning of the Summer Holidays we went to the 31st Annual Trowbridge Village Pump Folk Festival. The weather was fine and as we were camping this was important. We met up with a couple of friends from Oxford, which made everything more enjoyable. The site was well set out and the line up of artists was great. We saw Eliza Carthy, Richard Thompson, Eddie Reader, the Albion Dance Band and Show of Hands. A magical weekend.

Reflections on a Summer Sea
The summer before last we spent a fortnight in Ireland and while there visited the area around Skibereen in the South West. One of the places we visited was Lough Ine where Jenny had spent two summers on field trips while studying at UEA in Norwich in the early 1970s. The professor of Biology at UEA, Jack Kitching, owned some land around Lough Ine and had been taking parties of students there to do marine biological and ecological research work there since the 1930s. So it was with real pleasure that I bought for Jenny a book all about the people and the work done at Lough Ine. After Jenny read it I did too and it was absolutely delightful. It is called “Reflections On A Summer Sea” by Trevor Norton and is available as an Arrow paperback. In some ways it is a bit like “Swallows and Amazons” for grown ups.

Apart from the usual crime fiction that I am addicted to I also found time to read a parody of Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” entitled “A Year in Muswell Hill” by Pierre La Poste. Not as funny as the original but still an entertaining read. My boys always enjoyed the stories about Mr Majeika when they were younger so I was intrigued to see a book by their author Humphrey Carpenter as I was browsing in the bookshop under the Hockney gallery in Saltaire. It was called “The Angry Young Men” and subtitled “A Literary Comedy of the 1950s”. It is a fascinating glimpse into the world of Philip Larkin, Kinsley Amis, John Osborne, Colin Wilson, John Braine and many others. Just as I am writing this I did an Internet search to check on his other books only to learn that he has just died. He also wrote biographies of Tolkien, WH Auden, Benjamin Britton and Ezra Pound.

Joan Baez Live
A number of good concerts this year and one of the best was seeing Joan Baez in Sheffield at the beginning of the year. The support act, Josh Ritter, was also very good. Baez did a couple of Gillian Welch songs, a great version of Steve Earle’s “Christmas In Washington” and a fine version of “Dink’s Song” as well as telling a very funny joke about George Bush. I was also lucky enough to see an acoustic Fairport Convention play a marvellous concert just a mile away from my house in Saltaire at the venue where I celebrated my 50th birthday a few years ago. Other good shows were Richard Thompson in York, Kris Kristofferson in Manchester, Jackson Browne in York and Show of Hands in Leeds. There was also here in Bradford at our own Love Apple the famous Demon Barber Sessions with Emily Druce, the amazing Black Swan Rappers (a punk dance group!) and the spellbinding Martin Simpson.

The Street Was Always There
This is the title of the new album by Eric Andersen who, as I’m sure you know by now, is one of my favourite artists. It is volume 1 in the “Great American Song Series” and put out by Appleseed records one of my favourite companies. As well as Eric they have put out three volumes of songs by Pete Seeger and the latest Donovan. They say, “Appleseed Recordings is dedicated to sowing the seeds of social justice through music and exploring the roots and branches of folk and world music”. Eric’s records features him singing new recordings of songs by Fred Neil, David Blue, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Peter La Farge, Paul Siebel, Tim Hardin, Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan and Patrick Sky as well as two of his own compositions. It ends with Phil Ochs speaking in an excerpt from an interview from Folkways records. It is well worth a listen. Other CDs I have enjoyed this year have been the three Richard and Linda Thompson reissues, the Paul Siebel reissue on Elektra, and the new ones by Leonard Cohen and Donovan. The latter features Donovan playing with just Danny Thompson on double bass and Jim Keltner on drums plus on some tracks the producer John Chelew on keyboards. The version of “The Cuckoo” with just Thompson and Keltner is simply mesmerising. Another CD I just can’t stop playing is the Warren Zevon tribute “Enjoy Every Sandwich” featuring not only Dylan and Springsteen but a host of other great acts including a new Zevon composition “Studebaker” sung by his son Jordan.

The Motorcycle Diaries
Just a couple of really good films that I’ve seen this year both of them based on true events though both seemed to stretch the truth quite a bit. “The Motorcycle Diaries” was about the young Che Guevara and “Grand Theft Parsons” was about what happened to Gram Parson’s body after his untimely death. Both were well done featuring impressive scenery.

Fly Jefferson Airplane
In September 1968 I saw Jefferson Airplane give a free concert on Primrose Hill near Parliament Hill Fields in Hampstead in North London. They were supported by a young Fairport Convention who still occasionally played “Plastic Fantastic Lover” in their sets. I have recently bought a DVD entitled “Fly Jefferson Airplane” which is chock full of goodies for those of you whose memories go back that far.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
When my boys were little they loved hearing these stories and they served us well as bedtime stories for many years. The BBC did some wonderful versions, which we all watched several times. This year for a Christmas treat we took my sons plus three young cousins and three younger nephews and a niece to see the theatrical production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. It was tremendous with a technologically amazing set and even the few songs were bearable. Also at the theatre this year we saw a wonderful stage adaptation of “The Life of Pi” whose tiger was easily the rival of the lion in the previous play.

Christmas
A strange, quiet but very enjoyable Christmas this year as it was just the four of us. A nice meal, a game or two and Harry Potter on the telly followed by an invigorating walk on Boxing Day.

PS Not forgetting all things Freewheelin’ including special events in Northampton (John Green Day 4) and Cambridge (20th Anniversary).

 
 
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