Monday, June 04, 2012

Bruce Emmerson 1929 - 2012


This blog over recent years has become primarily a Christmas blog, reflecting back on the last 12 months and offering insight into what might lie ahead. It occurs to me that 2011 is missing so at some point I need to put up the few words I wrote for friends and family.

Today though I am breaking with tradition and putting a blog up dedicated to my Dad who died recently. To most who stumble across this blog, you will never have met him, but for the few who have, I hope that your memories are similar to those of myself and my family, of a man whose constant giving to others never ceased to his dying days.

I plan to offer no words of my own here. Instead I am simply re-printing extracts from the Celebration service that was held to remember him. It was a service primarily led by myself, my brother and my sister. My father was Australian and very proud of his heritage. So it was fitting that there was a strong Australian theme. The poem (which I read) I am re-printing here is probably Australia's most famous. Many of the flowers were imported from Australia, and at the reception afterwards there was no shortage of Australian memorabilia, with boomerangs, kangeroos and koala bears in abundance. As we celebrated my Dad's life in the UK, similar celebrations were taking place in Australia, and to mark his contribution within the United Nations, prayers were said at their Headquarters in New York.

The tribute was written by my brother, with contributions from the rest of the family. I've tried over recent weeks to sum up who/what was my Dad. My conclusion has been that he was just one of those unsung heroes who a few were lucky enough to have met. In his work he was the leading expert on radiation safety in the world, and in his home life, he was someone who clearly found it difficult to say no to helping.

So this is my Dad.

My Country – Dorothy Mackellar
The love of field and coppice,
Of green and shaded lanes.
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins,
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dim skies
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror -
The wide brown land for me!

A stark white ring-barked forest
All tragic to the moon,
The sapphire-misted mountains,
The hot gold hush of noon.
Green tangle of the brushes,
Where lithe lianas coil,
And orchids deck the tree-tops
And ferns the warm dark soil.

Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart, around us,
We see the cattle die -
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army,
The steady, soaking rain.

Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the Rainbow Gold,
For flood and fire and famine,
She pays us back threefold -
Over the thirsty paddocks,
Watch, after many days,
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze.

An opal-hearted country,
A wilful, lavish land -
All you who have not loved her,
You will not understand -
Though earth holds many splendours,
Wherever I may die,
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.


As I’m sure you will all appreciate, standing up here to give a few personal reflections about my father is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. This, however, is mainly due to the fact that I’m very aware that many of you would like to be reaching home this evening … sometime before midnight …. hhmmmm…..

In January, 1929, a new addition to the Emmerson family was born in Melbourne, Australia, and a young boy, now remembered with much love by those who grew up with him, began his remarkable life.

Looking at some photographs of Daddy, taken when he was a young boy, I was very struck by how the hobbies and values he took on board during his formative years remained with him throughout his life. Pushing an oversized wheelbarrow in one photo was obviously a forerunner to his enjoyment as a member of the Kington horticultural society; the sheer look of concentration on his young face as he played cricket in another photo, this desire to win always continued, as my uncle will testify, when he played tennis against him in the 60s and the 70s.

And one photograph, in particular, stands out – with my father in his garden, still a young boy, pointing with a rather large stick to an easel, on which he had drawn in chalk a picture of the ocean, with an impressive looking fish in the foreground. Daddy’s love of art and painting began at an early age, as did his mission to explore the globe. Also, from this early age, he had a desire to impart information to others … and for all of us who have only known him from his twenties onwards … he had a remarkable amount of hair!

Daddy was always proud of his Australian heritage, and today in Melbourne, members of our family are also celebrating my father’s life and remembering their time with him as they grew up in the Australian 30s and 40s.

However, all that was to change …. on a boat called the Strathmore. Amongst the passenger list was a young Australian radio technician, with a sense of wonderlust, setting off to visit the UK, and a young English teacher, returning to London. Apparently, the air conditioning in the cabins broke down and passengers took to sleeping on the deck. Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, under a balmy but starry night, their pillows collided …. and I could say that the rest is history.

Their fondness for travel never wavered. Margaret remembers that as a young girl, she used to play with the other girls and their dolls. But Margaret’s dolls were different though – they were all from foreign countries, dressed in national costumes and far more exotic.

Many years later, to celebrate their retirement, my parents boarded a rather larger liner to retrace their steps back to Australia….. although by now the air conditioning had been fixed.

Margaret, David and I all have our own very special memories of Daddy, but all of our memories very much draw the three of us to the same conclusion – that nothing was too much trouble for him to help, guide and protect us, both during our childhood years and subsequently through our adult lives.

Daddy was very much a hands-on father, who took great pleasure in applying his craft to a surprisingly wide variety of forms:

The art of cookery – especially omelets and barbeques – reached new heights when my father doned his apron. Bread making and marmalade, in his later years, also proved to be unknown talents ….. and then … there were the cakes…

The chocolate fort, the basket of flowers, the Hansel and Gretel Smartie house …. The train …. The rocket …. When Daddy had a piping bag filled with icing in his hand, the sky … literally … was the limit for our birthday cakes.

Daddy excelled in using his hands to create our presents whilst we were growing up …. Margaret’s first proper bike – lovingly put together and painted a burgundy red …. David’s scalelectic, with all the individual cars and pieces of track stored in a hand-built wooden chest …. Whilst I received one Christmas, not just a train set, but an entire model railway layout … painted a fetching colour of green as I recall.

Daddy was a doer – and he had a unique gift of involvement, which touched the lives of countless numbers of people around the world.

In my childhood I joined the Life Boys – the junior section of the Boys Brigade, based at our church. Unfortunately, there was no senior section, but this proved to be no problem for Daddy – he first of all started a senior section at the church and then subsequently became an officer in the Boys Brigade in Chelmsford – a dozen miles away – in order that I, and some young lads from a nearby housing estate, could fulfill our ambitions. Daddy taught us marching and drill, navigational skills – and his classes for the proficiency badge in nuclear physics were particularly popular!

A further example of Daddy’s wish to help those who didn’t have the same start in life which my parents provided for Margaret, David and myself, occurred whilst living in Liverpool. He spent countless weekends on hiking and camping expeditions leading a group of girls in care to achieve their Duke of Edinburgh awards – for many of them, this was the first time in their lives that they were doing something which had a real purpose.

My father spent his working life in the nuclear industry … and although ambitious, he never let his work interfere with the love of his home life and family. Daddy had to learn at an early age how to take on the responsibility of being the man of the family, because his own father died when he was only twelve.

He never really told my mother exactly what he did in the nuclear industry (or how to programme the video recorder in later years for that matter). It came as rather a shock, when a national paper asked my mother for an interview on what is was like to be the wife of the youngest nuclear health physicist in the country.

When only 32, Daddy was sent to Thailand in order to commission the first nuclear reactor in that country. This was followed by the commissioning of the reactors at Bradwell Nuclear Power Station, where our young family spent many happy years, living in Maldon.

Daddy’s work in the nuclear industry – particularly during his time at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, provided guidance and help during world-wide nuclear emergencies – nowhere was his work more critical than throughout the period of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Thousands of people who will perhaps never personally know my father owe their safety to his leadership.

Ten years after the Chernobyl accident, Daddy and I had reason to reflect on the event once again. My job as a foreign news producer led me to be assigned to visit Chernobyl to mark the anniversary. Daddy always took great interest in any foreign location I visited, but never more so than this particular project – unfortunately his lack of fluency in the Russian language or knowledge of cheap Russian vodkas meant that he couldn’t pass himself off as our interpreter for the trip.

Years later though, he still provided help and expertise during the Japanese nuclear disaster at Fukushima. Not only did my father act as a consultant to the BBC High Risk Team, but at a more personal level, he wrote to a friend of mine in Japan who had requested his help. Helen sent me the following message last week:

I am very grateful for your father’s letter about radiation problems. It gave me peace of mind, information I could depend on & a sense of balance. His letter was forwarded to lots of worried people here. Many of whom wrote back to say thank you & that they'd forwarded it on further. His advice reached hundreds of people within Japan!

Daddy had a way with words – he could put peoples minds at rest. However, when it came to Halloween, he could scare the living daylights out of Margaret, David and myself with his ghost stories. I (allegedly) always took comfort in hiding in a particular spot behind the settee. David also remembers a Sunday school talk, with Daddy illustrating a particular point (I’m not exactly sure what!) by using a geiga counter and several pieces of radioactive material, which he just happened to have lying around our garage at home.

My parents moved a couple of times after they returned from Vienna – to Penarth and finally to Evenjobb.

I must admit that I was a little worried when they moved to Evenjobb – as they seemed to be moving to the middle of nowhere. How wrong could I have been. They had actually moved to the middle of an extraordinary community of friends and neighbours.

In both Penarth and Evenjobb, my father continued to play a very active role – in the church, with the horticultural society …. And in particular, with the Kington Art Society …. and was always there to help in any way he could – my father, the doer.

However, I will always remember one evening phone call I made to my parents … whilst they were living in Penarth. My father answered the phone – and in a voice, which could barely suppress his admiration and pride he said: “would you like to speak to Counsellor Emmerson”. My mother had just been elected to the Vale of Glamorgan Council and Daddy was the proudest man in all Penarth.

Whilst still in Vienna, our family grew, to include Chris – and my father, remarkably quickly, acquired an expert knowledge of fine wines and breeds of dogs. Two subsequent happy family occasions …welcomed Helen and Kyoko to the Emmerson family and to them all, Daddy became much more than just a father in law.

There are so many, many memories each of us here today have of my father. But even now, I’m sure Daddy is still the doer, still being hands-on. We often hear talk of a choir of angels. I’m certain that not only has Daddy joined the choir, but he has already taken up the post of treasurer.

It is this spirit of adventure, of wanting to do everything he could for his family and friends, that will always bring a broad smile to anyone’s face when the words Bruce Emmerson are spoken.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

So another year has past by and I find myself sat once more in a pub at lunchtime on Christmas Day. Unlike the last 2 years where I was in the fabulous Bull in Little Walsingham, partaking in a festive drink with friends, this year I find myself back in London. I have no “local” so today was more a case of driving around to choose where to go. Finally went for Hoopers as a great local real ale pub and I occasionally come to watch football here. So here I sit drinking a pint of “Chocoholic” – a sort of Baileys dark ale.

I’m writing this without first reading last year’s Christmas blog. I suspect it said lots of stuff about builders and project managers, as well as redundancy and expectations for 2010.

Well 2010 has not turned out to be the year I had expected – but maybe that was where things changed. Expectations are simply that….expectations. What you actually get is often of your own making.

The year started with a contract lined up to work on a series of rail bids. But then came the election and economic change, and contracts were no more. We have waited patiently for news and finally it has started to drip feed out. Looks like there will be a few bids commencing in 2011 and 2012 but there remains a lot of uncertainty.

Uncertainty does not pay the bills so I will continue to look at alternative areas of work in 2011. I twice came close in 2010 to moving into new sectors, narrowly missing out with the decision to stick with people from within those industries.

On the plus side I got my accreditation as a tutor for Glasgow Caledonian University and I am working part-time on finance/economics module of their rail degree course.

I started 2010 with a lot of ideas - some that created quite a bit of interest. 2011 will be the year I turn ideas into reality.

Summer and Autumn was spent in Norfolk and I used this time to work on a project I had originally proposed a few years ago – setting up a micro-brewery in Walsingham. I’ve still got some work to do on it, but I believe it will happen if the “business partners” can be persuaded to part with their money. It’s been interesting looking at different product options and seeing how other breweries operate. Potential premises were identified but they have just been acquired for overhauling the local narrow guage railway stock (the building is an old engine shed so kind of makes sense). Hopefully the building will be available again next year.

2010 has been mainly about re-building our lives after 4 years of mayhem.
We made the most of being in Norfolk, enjoying a very relaxed life-style with lazy afternoons spent on the beach or by a lake, and in the colder winter months, in front of log fires in cosy pubs, or afternoon tea at the Hoste in Burnham Market.

The weather was very kind to us and we only left for London when we saw the forecast of snow.

Before Norfolk we did a few “firsts” for both of us, the most memorable being a trip on the London Eye which had always seemed an impossibility, but thanks to the kind London Eye folk, we were able to turn up and simply walk straight on.

Trips back to London were fairly limited – the odd business meetings, interviews, and seeing builders back at the house as we looked to finally finish the works. 2010 saw us get the building works officially signed off by the Building Control Officer. Since taking back control of the project I have had to work out how to resolve various design faults on a very limited budget. With the installation of a new boiler and the glass splashback in the kitchen, the house was pretty much complete in November.
Finally, just before Christmas, our garden arrived in 3 large boxes! The garden (which I have been landscaping over the last 12 months) will be planted out with grasses. We have a separate courtyard area that looks like will be more of a mini cottage garden effect using lots of pots. There are still problems with the house, in particular the kitchen floor, but at least we can now enjoy it.

Since being back in London we have had a whirlwind time of socialising as it has been 3 years since last here for Christmas. We also managed to fit in the 2nd half at the theatre – we only ever see the 2nd half as this ties in with when Helen is able to go out.
I got to see my brother and his wife to pick up last year’s Christmas presents! Rest of my family all together at parents in Wales and Helen’s all at her mum’s in Liverpool – so just the two of us, two Christmas trees and a very large turkey.

On the music front it was a mixed year. Michael McDermott came over to play Greenbelt and I spent about 24 hours there to see him play. The gigs were great but the festival experience was just a bit too weird for me this year. 2010 saw the break-up of the Panama Kings. It is always sad to see a band split at a point when they are producing some of their best music and getting good radio play and tour offers – but without sufficient funding it is hard to keep going. On the plus side I got introduced to a new band, Kaiser Cartel from Brooklyn. I instantly fell in love with their music and ended up organising part of their UK tour late in the year. We have been discussing 2011 and I am hopeful they will be back for the festival season.

With the 20th anniversary of the release of 620 West Surf by Michael McDermott next year I hope to be able to go and see it performed live in Chicago. No idea how this will happen at the moment but it is pencilled in my diary. Helen and I talk about the future and what we want to do with our lives. There is no point dwelling on the here and now, that’s history, and it is the future that provides future exciting opportunities.

I wish you a very happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year. Hopefully we will meet at at some point.


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Life as a Greenbelt Venue Manager

Much of my recent visit to the Greenbelt Festival was spent catching up with old friends and their news. This forms part of my main enjoyment of being at the festival and amongst those I tend to bump into, are people who I have previously worked with at the festival, either as part of the Performing Arts and Classical Music group, or venue management.

The conversation with one of these people prompted this blog.

One of the key areas which Greenbelt has to fill each year is the role of venue manager in each of the tents, rooms and fields where it is holding events over the weekend. It is a role that goes fairly unnoticed by the public – the manager will often be seen hovering around in the background, possibly making platform announcements, and depending on the venue, introducing the next artist or speaker.

I started my working life at Greenbelt as a Venue Manager back in 1993 when the festival moved to Deene Park. It was triggered by a call from the then General Manager of the festival, saying he had a job that he thought would be ideal for me. Deene had a de-consecrated church and it had been decided to use it for a mix of classical music and speakers. Unusually for Greenbelt, the venue was off-site, a good 20 minute walk through the village.

For me it was a case of being thrown in at the deep end. It soon became apparent that the church was held in high esteem by the locals and that whatever we did there would impact significantly on our relationship with the village. As a venue it was brilliant, but it had been empty for some time and was covered in dust and cobwebs, plus the electrics were something out of the Ark. In the week running up to the festival locals came together and volunteered to clean the church. I spent much of my time talking with locals and we used the church as a form of PR with the village. Access for locals during the festival was free and the front row was always kept available for the owners of Deene Park. Lady Brudenell arranged for huge bouquets of flowers to be made up and placed in the church. The evening classical concerts conducted by candlelight were breath-taking.

The other great thing about the church was the fact that it had failed to appear on any officialdom radar in its first year. We had no capacity limit set, and were left to our own devices. The sound desk and lighting was extremely basic – any more and the electrics would have blown. My best memory of the weekend was when Adrian Plass was speaking in the church. This was a venue that held at best 200-300 people. We crammed about 500-600 inside. There was literally no space to breathe with all the aisles filled with people sitting. Outside the church people were climbing the walls, clinging to the window ledges to watch the event.

Of course this couldn’t last forever, and the following year saw firecrew inspections, stewards and capacity limits imposed. Having the freedom though for that one year to create something from scratch paved the way for what was to be 12 years of managing venues.

Over those 12 years I worked with some amazing people and was lucky enough to have the best seat in the house for some of the most popular events. We created venues out of nothing and during Greenbelt’s darkest financial hours, even shared a venue with the Fine Arts team. For me the best venues were the courtyard stable at Deene Park, and the Hall of Fame at Cheltenham. The stable courtyard was highly commended for the Green Room, which was in the pig sty. And of course our first job on site was to muck out the pig sty. My final role before having to retire due to family priorities, was to jointly manage the inaugural year of using Centaur at Cheltenham. This fantastic purpose built venue also proved to be about the most difficult to manage. It was new, had cost several million pounds, and the company responsible for day-to-day running of the venue was very worried a weekend of Greenbelt could see it burnt to the ground.

We spent most of the weekend in meetings with the Racecourse, discussing each event, providing the necessary assurances. Somehow we scraped through, learning as we went along. We had some pretty hairy moments when mothers were separated from their children as the only toilets were across the way from the venue, and stewards would not allow re-access as the venue was full. And I squeezed about 2,500 people into the arena for the sing-along to Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, whilost keeping about 2,000 young children entertained for over 30 minutes as we attempted to get everyone in.

It’s been several years now since I venue managed. Would I do it again? Yes, definitely if I had the time. Would I encourage others to get involved with the festival and sign up as venue managers? Yes, it is a great way to become part of the Greenbelt family and gives you the chance to put into practice all those skills you never realised you had.

At times it can be quite a lonely job, but the constant changeovers mean you are never sitting still.

What skills are required? To a certain extent it depends on where you are managing. Something like the big top requires an ability to multi-task and see the stuff others have failed to spot. Often you may find the crew is used to working on single events. So when presented with 9am worship, followed by a speaker, followed by theatre, followed by music, followed by dance followed by an orchestra etc, it can be a bit daunting.

A key skill is pre-planning, gathering information about events and making sure everyone involved with the venue is singing off the same hymn sheet. A good example of where it can go wrong was the first year of Centaur. We hosted The Rising. On day one, the tech crew set up a rig for one man and his guitar. The stage manager hadn’t registered that it involved 4 people. But the venue managers knew the set-up by heart so crisis averted.

Always follow the rules and ensure others know them and follow them. We once blew up a £7000 lighting desk because the artist went and plugged an incorrectly wired light into the system.

Be prepared to take tough decisions – don’t lose sight of your role and the importance of delivering the events people have paid to come and see. We once held an emergency meeting at 3am to discuss a growing problem and agree the steps necessary to resolve.

Listen, and then listen again. There is much that you will learn from colleagues, especially the Operations Team which probably has 150 years plus experience between them.

Know who to speak to. Few venues escape the weekend without at least one thing going wrong. If you are luck the biggest hurdle you will face is ensuring you have power connected up before you are due to go live. This is something that can often require the need to sit on the site crew, especially if you are due to open earlier than other venues.

Make your needs and your priority known early on. And don’t let the sparky out of your sight when he/she turns up, else they will be gone, off to another emergency call.

Always carry a notebook with you. Take notes of what worked well, and what didn’t. These days Centaur seems to run like clockwork. Much of this though is down to the feedback received from venue managers and others that first year.

Know you crew and be nice to the stewards. I always made a point of chatting to the stewards when they came on duty, explaining to them what was going to be happening, and making them feel at home.

Remember that you are ultimately in charge. Others may be keen to take decisions and I’ve met plenty of artists who were determined to do things their own way. Your job is to stick to the rule book, possibly bending it a bit where it is for the good of the festival. Don’t be afraid to say no. And if you feel out of depth, you can always call in one of the Operations Team for support and guidance.

Most of all, enjoy yourself. Take pride in what you have achieved, knowing that Greenbelters will be saying “what a great venue”.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Michael McDermott - Greenbelt 2010

My blog page has become an annual affair over the last couple of years as I moved into Facebook and then Twitter territory. But when I was reading some old blogs yesterday, I was reminded that I have always blogged about Michael McDermott’s visits to Greenbelt. So in breaking with my new found laziness, here is my take on Greenbelt and specifically Michael McDermott.

It’s been 3 years since Michael last graced Greenbelt with his presence. Last time round he had been booked to play a couple of big gigs and I had launched a mini gorilla campaign to ensure no one at the festival had an excuse to say they didn’t know he was on. Wall to wall posters plastered the site, so much so they even got mentioned in one of the main festival reviews that year.

The tactic worked and Michael played to packed houses all weekend and lots of new fans were made. This time round there were no posters. Pre the festival various Facebook sites were used to remind people who Michael is, and Steve Foster wrote a beautiful piece for the Greenbelt website on why he was excited by Michael playing the festival.

Coming to England to play when you live in Chicago is expensive, so the choice of gigs and venues was very important to ensure people would see Michael play and and then buy the CD. So thanks go to Rachel and the music team for Performance Café and The Rising, Last Order’s team for their show, and also the CD store guys for giving Michael a good afternoon slot.

I met Michael shortly before he was due to play Saturday night in the performance Café. He had already told me how tired he was - combination of jet lag and lack of sleep from being a proud new father. He looked weary and I wondered whether this could impact on the performance.

Come kick-off time the Performance Café was bursting at the seams with not a chair or space on the floor to be found. I made do with a space at the side of the stage, with two of Michael’s biggest fans, Mike and Hannah, just behind me. I spend half my time at a McDermott gig scanning the audience, watching their reactions, soaking in the emotions that they show from their listening. Even before the show started it was clear this was an audience that included people who already knew and love Michael’s music. Yes, even in England there are hardcore fans!

The front of the stage was packed with youngsters seated on the ground. One of the most notable bits about this weekend was the impact Michael clearly had on teenagers and I would love to see him do a workshop/show in the youth area at Greenbelt in the future.

So it’s showtime. Another of Michael’s biggest fans over here also happens to be the compere for this venue, so after several superlatives from Paul in the build-up, Michael hit the stage. Don’t ask me for the track list - I don’t remember. Total running time was 45-50 minutes (thanks Paul). Favourites such as So Am I, Wall, LA Woman rolled of Michael’s tongue. And it was all very weird. Michael played with such ferocity and emotion you might have expected this to be the start of some rallying cry to go forth into battle. Except that the audience was silent - totally silent. None of the constant background chattering you get in videos on YouTube of Michael playing bars and clubs in the States. Here was an audience that was totally stunned and shaken by the outpouring from Michael.

Quieter moments came with Wounded, which in itself carries such weight and power, and I was pleased that Carry Your Cross was chosen to be the closing song as Michael brought us gently back down to earth. He intertwined this with an old American gospel song which he sang un-miked as he strolled off through the crowd and off into the moonlight. Take a look at Flickr for pictures of Michael in the Performance Café - it’s a great venue, by far the best looking one at the festival.

No polite applause for Michael at the end of the performance, just an eruption of yelps and cheers.

Michael was to perform one song later that night at the Last Orders show - a kind of chat show/video and music event. Big venue and fairly full which is never easy at 11pm. I like to catch a bit of Last Orders each year as I was involved with them when they first got going. I have always wanted to see Michael play on the show so it was great to be sat amongst so many people to witness this. To be honest it was all over a bit too quickly and I cannot remember what he sang (may have been a new song).

Greenbelt for me is very much a time to catch up with old friends. I don’t have the luxury of many who go off on holidays to exotic places - my sole holiday each year is 2days spent at Greenbelt. It’s a strange place to go and try and unwind but most of my life long friends are also there and there is much catching up to be done. So for me, the rest of the evening was bar-side chats and early to bed. Michael, I believe, kept others entertained with his Springsteen repertoire. Would love to have heard it but life is about priorities, and for me that was sleep.

Sunday at Greenbelt is dominated by the coming together of 20,000 plus people for a morning service. So often in recent years I have been busy doing other stuff (last year I was arranging the communion taking place after the service, busy opening wine bottles) and only manage to dip into it. This year I was able to be there in its entirety. For the last 30 years I have always been with the same group of friends when I go to the service, and this year was no exception. Sadly the service failed to have the impact on me that it did on others. Poor sound and lack of video screen to the left of the stage made it difficult to follow the proceedings. But it is still a great feeling to be stood amongst so many.

The next chapter of Michael at Greenbelt was about to unfold. There is one "must-do" gig in my eyes for Michael at Greenbelt, and that is to stand alongside Martyn Joseph at The Rising. Three artists are chosen to appear with Martyn, and get to discuss their inspiration etc and sing a couple of songs. Martyn talked about the passion Michael puts into every word and note when he performs, and Michael duly delivered. This is a gig that is impossible to get into, such are the sizes of the queue, so grateful for friends who enabled for me to have the best view in the house. From memory Michael sang Wall and LA Woman (OK Still Aint Over You Yet - but LA Woman is easier to type). Michael then joined in on harmonies with Martyn on a Springsteen song. As with the Performance Café, Michael gave it everything. The messages from the States were true - he is singing the best people can remember. Audience reaction told you that he had nailed it.

A quick bite to eat and then it was off to the CD store for his final performance that weekend. A decent crowd was there to see him play and he gave 20 Miles an outing as his closing number. This was followed by a CD signing session, using his very own ("Michael McDermott Autograph Pen" - I kid you not!). The queue was great, and as with the rest of the weekend, Michael showed a warmness and engagement with fans that I had never witnessed before. None of the nerves that had been present on previous trips were evident and Greenbelters went away happy with their photo with Michael memento.

The weekend was almost over for both of us - I had to go home early the following day, Michael was flying back to Heather and Rain. There was time for an interview at the press office, and whilst Michael was doing that I had an interesting discussion with a journalist about music stuff.

Michael was clearly shattered and I dropped him back at the hotel. I caught up on some paperwork that I had promised myself I would do during the weekend and then met up with friends back at the festival. Later I joined the Pip Wilson crew in the bar and we chatted to the small hours with Gil Scott-heron’s band - wonderful stuff from them. Sadly Gil failed to show on the Monday, but that’s another story.

Monday morning I dropped Michael off at the coach station, said my farewells to people and headed home in a record 3 and a half hours, helped by the tribute show on Radio 4 to Humphrey Lyttelton.

I was away from home for about 52 hours. Not the longest holiday I have ever had! It had moments of joy, sadness, reflection and at times was just plain weird. Was it all worth it - YES.


Friday, December 25, 2009

It seems appropriate that today should be the day I update this blog, exactly one year since the last entry and I am back in The Bull in Walsingham enjoying the hospitality on Christmas day of the landlord.

The year has been different from recent years with the expected news in February that my post would be made redundant. Months of messing around by HR meant that I finally left in August and I am still trying to sort out my leaving terms.

2008 was the year from hell with the house in London and work, and 2009 has been about fixing 2008! The house is still not quite finished (but almost) as resolving snagging has been long and complicated. Eventually I brought in a solicitor to terminate contracts and have been acting as project manager for last 6 months.

With no day job we have been fortunate having the cottage in Norfolk and have been staying there since June. This has given us a chance to live again after the previous 12 months. I’ve had various job interviews but no success and to be honest, non of the jobs ever felt really right. The plan at the moment is to go self-employed. For this though I need to be back in London as not much demand for rail advice in Norfolk. So our plan is to move back soon after Christmas – unless I can think of a way of earning some money in Norfolk.

I have also spent the last few months working on a project which may one day see the light of day. At the moment I spend time travelling to London to see Dragons Den type folk to persuade them I’m a good investment!

For Helen the last year has also been a chance to relax more and being in Norfolk over the entire summer was great as we seemed to be one of the few areas with good weather the entire time. Much of our time was spent on the beach and at Pensthorpe (watch BBC Springwatch).

Christmas is just the two of us at home in Walsingham. Parents are at my brother and his wife in London. This nearly got cancelled when Peter ended up stranded in Afghanistan after producing Radio 1 from there. Eventually the RAF got its act together though. Unlike last year though, our local friends are all here over Christmas so hopefully we will be able to manage the odd bit of hospitality.

No idea what 2010 will bring. I have a head full of ideas and I’m training to put these ideas into practice. I need to find some paid work fairly quickly to keep the wolves from the door, but whatever I do I want it to feel right.

Have a very Happy Christmas and New Year. There's a pint of Rudolf sitting on the bar for you, but be quick as they shut at 2.30.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

As the classic rock song said...”it’s been a long time since I Rock and Rolled”. And in my case it’s been a long time since I blogged.

But it’s Christmas Day and I’m sat in our local pub with the computer, so feel this is as good as time as any to write a few words.

Those who have seen our Christmas news letter will now that the last few months haven’t been the easiest. At work I got involved in a project in August which was expected to last a few weeks - a few months later and it is still on-going - albeit with an end in sight. Co-inciding with this was a separate project that I ended up leading which involved many late nights in the office in the run-up to Christmas and a few hours decamped in hotel rooms. Fortunately my sanity was maintained by being able to rush out for a couple of hours to join up with the curry crowd, and also to see a local showcase gig by the emerging Panama Kings.

We had planned to be back in London at the end of September but for reasons I best no go fully into on the internet, the building works we have been having done on our house are still on-going and so we are spending Christmas at our cottage in North Norfolk, having been staying here since June. This has both positives and negatives about it. It means being a very quiet time for us as our local friends are away until the new year so it will be just the two of us. It will also be the first time for me that I will not see any family on Christmas Day for probably about 20 years - the last time I can remember was when I used to work with Crisis over the Christmas period, de-licing weary travellers and other such joys! The rest of my direct family are gathering at my parents in Wales which is good and I will at least be able to link up via Skype. Hopefully my brother will not be called away - I think in the last 5 years he has ended up having to pack his bags on Boxing Day at least 3 times to go and cover a major news story the other side of the world.

The big positive for Helen and I is that we get the inglenook fireplace and log burning stove to look forward to each day, and the amazing countryside and coastal views. Prior to turning up at the pub today I did a grand tour of the North Norfolk area, eating sausage rolls in Burnham Market, whilst devouring hot croissants overlooking the bay at Wells. Tonight we will eat a Turkey, fresh from a local farm - I have yet to decide though whether to follow their advice and cook it upside down as this allows the juices to run from he fattier legs onto the breast meat. I would like to use the Rayburn (Aga) but having done few meals in it it is probably too big a risk.

There is not much to do in this part of the world once Christmas is upon us as January tends to be the month when most local shops shut their doors and take a well deserved break. On Christmas Eve we paid a visit to Pensthorpe to watch the wild birds being fed. We never tire of going to Pensthorpe and Helen has become very well known amongst the staff - particularly the wardens - for her wit. I expect we will be paying a few more visits over the next couple of weeks before I return to work.

2008 has been a year of challenges. Work has not been easy at times and next year is going to be dominated by the recession as company’s such as my own are forced to reduce staff numbers in an effort to survive. At the moment I am waiting to hear if we have been short-listed for something that would keep me busy for at least the first six months of 2009.

Whatever 2009 brings I hope that the experiences of 2008 have helped to make Helen and I much stronger and ready to face new challenges. There is nothing we want more than to see Helen start to show real signs of improvement in her health.

I guess I am still the little boy with dreams, never ever really growing up. 2008 saw Michael McDermott undertaking a major tour in the UK and Italy and I hope that 2009 will see him emerging over here as a name that is more familiar, and several appearances at Greenbelt. I will be following the progress of the Panama Kings with interest - really nice people and the nicest management you could ever wish to meet. And after working briefly with Justine Berry in 2008 I hope that we can put together some ground-breaking gigs in 2009.

I hope you all have a peaceful Christmas and that you find yourselves re-energised for 2009, and that whatever the challenges you face ahead of you, that you will undertake them with new found enthusiasm.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lyrics for Pip - In The Year It all Went Wrong

i lost a grand in memphis
i bought a gun in reno
i sold my train milan
i missed a plane in dublin
i hopped the boat in frisco
i miss my pretty girl
who’s memory lingers on

i drank alot in houston
was a whore in chicago
did alot of powder.....everywhere i could
but its so damned confusing -all this abusing
i never seem to do,,...the things i know i should

i don’t know if i’ll make it to heaven
i can’t’[ tell between the sunset and the dawn........i’m just a pawn
from may to december.....i’ll always remember
the year it all went wrong

I hurt some friends in new york....
i lost a girl from england
i wondered where i might be
a year from now
would i be breathing
or still deceiving...
i'm runnin out of time
to turn this ship around

i scarred a scarlet sunset.
i painted a fallen rainbow
i saw an ancient castle
that had lost its king

i don’t know if i’ll make it to heaven
i’m not sure what street its on........what have i done
maybe i’ll awaken,.....from this dream where i'm forsaken
in the year it all went wrong

i’m searching and seeking....
though my boat seems to be leaking
and maybe someday i’ll l find the shore
where peace flows is an river
and the good lord still will deliver
on a journey inward.....toward a heavenly door

i smoked my dreams in hollywood
built em back up in philly
had a friend die in st louis
who was looking to score

got towed in saint paul
got snowed in, in denver
got picked up in detroit
got blown off in baltimore

i don’t know if i’ll make it to heaven
i don’t know,.....if i’m that strong.....or if i belong
i did nothing,.....i shoulda done something
the day it all went wrong

And the songwriter's comment after finishing writing ..."Shit it's only September"

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