Sunday, September 30, 2007
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Monday, September 24, 2007
We had a relaxed weekend although I did seem to work my way through the jobs to be done list. On Saturday it was warm enough to do our usual trip to the abbey grounds and sit and watch the world go by whilst discussing the design of front driveways.
There is little left of the the original abbey - Henry VIII saw to that. It is a strange experience eating my lunch on the same spot where Kings of England once came to be crowned and buried, and where 100s of monks and nuns will have been slaughtered in the name of religion.
In more recent years it became one of the many Norfolk homes of the Gurneys, one of the wealthiest families in the UK at one time, and co-founders of Barclays Bank. Elizabeth Gurney is perhaps the most well known in the family, although more under her married name of Elizabeth Fry, the founder of prison reforms. A few Gurneys still remain at the very large house that was built in the abbey grounds, but my understanding is that the ones with the money are more likely to be found in London than Walsingham. They remain a large landowner and most of Walsingham and the surrounding area is owned by the estate. They never seem to be short of money, judging by the number of empty properties they own that could be sold for large amounts for redevelopment.
In recent years the estate has been a bit more adventurous, converting a series of barns into a farm shop which it runs, together with 2 other units that are let as retail units. And in Great Walsingham there are a series of barns that were converted several years ago and now include our local rural post office (which will no doubt go under planned cuts).
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Friday, September 21, 2007
The cottage is not for the squeamish, especially if you are scared of spiders. The house is full of them and every few weeks we have a major cull removing them all by fair means or foul. For those high up on the kitchen wall/ceiling the only practicable way is to use the vacuum hose, I'm told death is instant and relatively painless.
The house building works continue to move slowly forward. The front driveway work is reliant on the delivery of a new skip each day so the builders tend to come and go a lot. I took a half day holiday yesterday to go and sign off the new windows. Only problem was that there were still 2 to finish and the workmen had decided to take the afternoon off. This will probably become their problem going forward as it may be difficult now to inspect the windows for a while - so they won't get paid.
I thought I might have found an option for Michael McDermott to play a few dates in the UK in October but after checking his confirmed dates in the States it was clear that there would be too many clashes. At the moment he is touring with Mindy Smith. She was one of my sugestions for playing Greenbelt this year but with so many other female singers on the bill (albeit rather less known outside of Greenbelt) it came to nothing. It would be good if the two of them could do a short UK tour as then I get to see them both. The last time she was due to visit these shores she cancelled at the last minute. I'm sure between them they could probably fill a few small decent venues athough I have no idea how popular she is here. I still think that amongst Christian female singer/songwriters she will become one of the bigger stars around. There is always the danger though that the label loses patience if she fails to sell a million CDs and drops her.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
A beautiful 'noise'
interview Michael McDermott cuts through all the pain the only way he knows how
September 2, 2007
BY MIRIAM DI NUNZIO Sunday Show Editor
When life gives you a bowl of lemons, you can make lemonade, or you can get rip-roaring drunk.
Singer Michael McDermott opted for the latter throughout much of his career, openly admitting he spent a lot of time with a bottle of Jack Daniel's and plenty of other "pleasures" that took him down a deep, dark path. Through it all, the singer-songwriter managed to keep the faith, both literally and in his music, which has always leaned toward the spiritual.
McDermott has just released "Noise From Words" (One Little Indian Records), a collection of intimate, introspective roots-rock that reflects the last few years of the Chicago singer's tumultuous life.
Never shy about answering any question, McDermott is so candid it's scary. If his songs lay bare his soul, his spoken words reveal a truth even more deep.
"I just got back from playing some small clubs in England and I'm not sure people knew what to make of me, with my level 5 honesty," McDermott says with a laugh. "I was just hanging out at the hotel lobby one night and I overheard some folks saying, 'We have to go see this McDermott guy because we hear he's a madman.' [Laughing.] Whatever. I've been called worse."
He may have been called worse in his 38 years, but his life probably couldn't get much worse than it did in 2004 when he spent a night in Cook County Jail for cocaine possession.
"Jakob Dylan is a good buddy of mine and he was playing House of Blues and I went to see him and they're searching everyone at the door and well, they searched me and I had [the stuff] in my pocket," McDermott says. "It got real ugly and I got arrested."
McDermott, who ultimately got probabtion and drug counseling for the Class 3 felony, spent one night in general lockup, in the very cell occupied by his father a couple of years earlier.
"[My dad] was in jail for a gun charge," he says. "If you knew him, you'd realize how insane that is. He's this Irish, Paul Newman-looking guy whose so easygoing."
Jail became the catalyst for the some of the songs on "Noise From Words." Being in jail can do things to a man's soul.
"Revolutionary moments come from something that dark," McDermott says. "It was not fun. [Laughs.] I spent a great deal of time against the glass [partition] blowing hot air onto it and writing 'Help Me' with my finger in the [misty] circle. I realized then and there this was not my life. And the music came out of all that."
Other lyrics on the album came from a painful emotional episode last New Year's Eve when McDermott, ring in hand, was ready to propose to his lady love. Turns out, she found out something about him that was, well, not the kind of thing you want your future fiancee to discover when you're going to pop the question, and she sent him packing. He wrote the hauntingly beautiful "Still Ain't Over You Yet," a song that, as far as he knows, still has not been listened to by the lady in question.
The songs on "Noise From Words" run the gamut from gorgeous ballads to gentle folk to grand storytelling to rollicking anthems. The arrangements are subtle and pure: plenty of guitar, bass and piano. Nothing too rock 'n' roll.
"There's something to be said for staying out of the way of things," McDermott says. "I've been trying to be a rock star for so long. Forget it. I'm a folk singer, I'm a drunken Irish storyteller. Why not stick with that?"
Ironically, in high school, McDermott was attending daily mass and contemplating the priesthood. "The problem was, I realized that if I was a priest I'd be a bad whiskey priest," he says laughing. "But I've been searching for Jesus all my life. I always wanted to be his poet, his singer, to represent him. People come up to me and say, 'I found Jesus through your music." Really? Well he stopped returning my calls long ago. So next time you hear from him, tell him to give me a call."
For a moment it's as if that "bad whiskey priest" is unleashed, cutting through the layers of "tough guy" the singer has built up over the past 20 years. In truth, he now speaks to Christian groups about his checkered past, about jail, about finding meaning in life no matter how hard you fall. He wrote "My Father's Son," a heartrending ballad about that oh-so-precious relationship shared by him and his father over the years. He says he remains devoutly close to his parents.
"The older you get, you realize how beautiful your parents are and how much like them you really are. One day you realize that's not such a bad thing."
The album's closing cut, "I Shall Be Healed," bookends the opener, "Mess of Things," quite nicely. The journey takes the listener from the really bad times to the redemption born of them.
"When I got out of jail on that Sunday morning, I just walked straight to a church, to the side chapel where I was all alone and just broke down," McDermott says. "There was a mass going on and you know those words you say right before communion, 'Say the word and I shall be healed'? That became my mantra. I went home and I was like, 'That would make a great song.' I truly believe that I shall be healed.
"And maybe one day Jesus will return my calls."
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
So far the week has not quite gone as planned and tomorrow, instead of working from home, I will be dashing down to London for a meeting, and then dashing back again as I am supposed to be on holiday in the afternoon. I had to spend part of today working from home in London as I needed to give keys to the builders. Work has already started on clearing the front and the first skip has been filled. Worringly they don't appear to have got very far with the actual clearing so I expect it will take more than than the planned 3 skips.
My boss rang whilst I was at the house, wondering where I was - with most of his team currently spread across America he has to do a headcount every so often. He had a new piece of work for me to do - just one minor problem being that it is in Plymouth. By my reckoning the commute from Norfolk will be about 7 hours so America is possibly quicker to get to. We agreed that the only way for it to work would be to stay over-night. I don't know Plymouth apart from the fact that it has got some historic naval connections. Not sure staying there late September will be much fun but maybe I will find time for agame of bowls.
And before I forget, had long chat with Andrew today, fresh from his return from the States where he seemed to last about 18 hours with M0rrissey. No one seems to be certain what went wrong but my money is on him ordering a steak sandwich during a lengthy drinking bout. Anyway it was good to see him back and so cheerful. There's quite a bit happening with Hey Gravity! at the moment and it looks like there will be a short tour in December - chance to promote new CD in UK - the first 100 people at gigs get free copy of the new album. So far London, Manchester booked and Glasgow reserved. I'll publicise dates at some point.
Monday, September 17, 2007
The afternoon was spent over at Titchwell, the biggest RSPB place in the country which is home to about 50,000 geese over the winter. Helen spent most of the time going round saying "he's got a big one hasn't he". She was referring to the size of binoculars of course which ranged from large to gi-normous. These birdwatchers take life very seriously dressed in their identicle twitching outfits. I think we lowered the tone a bit as we sat in the cafe and I discussed whether we should be eating the remains of the duck later. Anyway, it was a good afternoon and we did our usual stop and stare into the distance routine, forcing all the birdwatchers to hurriedly get out their binoculars and check out what we had seen - well nothing really but its fun to watch!
Currently sitting on the train on my way to work. I had expected rain this morning but it doesn't seem to have arrived yet. The 40 minute drive to the station is fine except when it rains or is snowing. I usually only have a margin of about 2 minutes in catching my train so potential disruptions are not welcome. First week back in the office and it will be busy. I've been monitoring my work emails whilst on holiday, but not responded to any. It is clear that I will spend much of my time over the coming months working on the bus side. I've also been asked to do work on the next rail bid although this will not be for a while yet. Being a large company there is always something new happening so I expect things to be added to my workload over the next couple of months.
This week work also starts on the new house so I will need to get over there a few times to check everything is OK. The sash windows are all being double glazed and draught proofed and I hope the Polish builders turn up to start digging out the front garden concrete lawn. We have worked out how to convert the undertsairs cupboard without the enormous expense of having to move the electricity meter. It will be the smallest cloakroom in history but will still have a certain "wow" factor about it when finished. Now all we need to do is find a decorator who is good, cheap, and available at short notice. My brother-in-law stays there during the week so I will have to ensure paint brushes and tins of paint are left invitingly around the house. Being an Evertonian though he seems to be fixated with the idea of painting it all blue. The sooner we get the front door painted red the better.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Saturday, September 15, 2007
The onset of winter means there are several new faces appearing down on the coast and perhaps nothing is more majestic than the snowy sea gulls that fly gracefully along the edge of the water, perhaps no more than one metre from the ground. Their wing span is much bigger than your nomal seagull. Later in the day we watched from our garden against the setting sunset of the arrival of hundreds more heading for their winter home.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Niva Bringas rest in peace.
I heard the very sad news last night that Niva, one of Michael McD's closest and oldest friends, died a couple of nights ago. He had been ill for a while now but was still out there doing what he does best, taking pictures of the biggest rock stars in the world. My personal favourite is one of his most recent, Joss Stone playing in Chicago.
This photo is of Niva taken by Von a week ago at the official launch of Michael's new album. In all the many pictures I have seen of Niva he always seemed to have a smiling woman on his arms. May your spirit live on through your wonderful photographs and the happy memories that you left with so many people.
The only time we really see the police is mid August when the travellers arrive for the Assension pilgrammage. They arrive in their hundreds, white vans and caravans in tow. The children drive around in their Mercedes, trying to find a glimmer of excitement. Most shops shut in the village for the week in fearf of trouble, and The Bull becomes a private party for the week with entry to locals only. The police even locate an incident portacabin in the middle of the village. At the end of the day trouble is limited and they do put on a good firework display during their stay. The two incidents I did hear of this year were the stealing of 7000 litres of diesel fuel from a local farm, and the rustling of a large number of weeners. The police tracked them down to near Thursford Forest where I can only assume they were preparing one hell of a BBQ!
We live up the road in Great Walsingham and though less than a mile away it is like a different world. It is also a gateway to the may delights of North Norfolk and with a decent knowledge of the back roads you can get nearly anywhere without getting stuck behind a caravan. Aside from glorious beaches, pubs, restaurants, coffee shops and the market towns to visit, there are several stately homes on our door step which hold summer concerts. This year the range was from Peter Gabriel to Girls Aloud. Guess which one I chose!
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Our own lodgers have now leftg for warmer climates. We have house martins and swifts who nest in and under our roof. The swifts left a while ago but the house martins left promptly on 1st September, only to return briefly a few days ago - not sure why - maybe they forgot a suitcase. They are gone again now though and I don't expect they will be back until next May/June. I miss my chats with the new born house martins who lived outside the bedroom window. They would give me long hard stares, as if to say, go away you're too old to play with. Very much a family thing - arriving home about 8pm each night there would be a flurry of chatter coming from the nests as they insisted on one more bedtime story about the perils of flying thousands of miles every year.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Friday, September 07, 2007
The last few weeks have been a bit of a whirl wind. Michael McDermott blew in and then blew out again. Work has been a bit like the English summer, on and off and then on again. One project has kept me tied up the last couple of months but the submission date is today so that will be that. I had hoped to have finished it earlier in the week but instead it has gone right to the wire meaning my plans to spend the day with John in my old college town of Hull have had to be cancelled.
So where to start. Greenbelt is probably the best place and by now most people I know who blog and go to Greenbelt have already said many wonderful things about the festival and so in many ways it's all been said. For me it was extra special as not only was Michael McDermott playing at the festival, but it was also the first time my god daughter had been. For her, the run up to going had been very negative as she didn't know any of the bands who would be playing. But she came away thinking what a cool place it had been. My only regret is that I was too busy looking after a crazy IrishAmerican to spend much time with her and her family - who were working the whole weekend running the Guild Shop on the site.
I have read so many kind comments about Michael from friends and people I don't know, saying how much they enjoyed his performances at the festival. I was emailed the other night by someone within the Greenbelt set up who had been listening to Cross Rhythms radio station (he hastily added this was not a normal occurrence) and they had been debating if it was OK to say the lyrics from the song Still Ain't Over You Yet where Michael refers to"Jesus Christ doesn't know the piss-pot shape that I'm in". The lyrics have already caused a few comments in the States so I was amazed to hear that CR gave it the OK. In addition the review of Michael at Greenbelt was very glowing and they have approached us to do a full interview. Like a lot of people at the festival, they saw through the external layer of Michael (which is enough to scare most people off) and found a frankness and openness that is very rarely found these days amongst people.
My one regret with Greenbelt was that it was all over too quickly - for me that meant going home Monday morning as I had a growing workload to deal with. But it was a good send off as I was up early (having just gone to bed) to see Michael off to the airport. We sat outside the front of the hotel as others slept, waiting for his lift, and he played me a new song that he had written on the flight over. A touch of the Waterboys in its sound, beautiful words and melody. He played it a few days later in New York as he finished a residency at The Living Room that he'd been doing for the last few weeks.
We sold a lot of CDs over the weekend - they kept flying off the shelf as fast as I could supply the music store. I think we must have been one of the best sellers - certainly for a fairly unknown artist - even though they had sold out Monday morning. So unusually for me when taking artists to Greenbelt, we made a profit! There's lots more I could say but won't.A big thanks goes to all those who befriended Michael and made him feel so welcome and the child labour gang who ensured Michael's face was everywhere to be seen on site. So many special moments - the complete silence in Centaur and the Performance Cafe as he sang Wounded, the playing of Grace of God on Greenbelt Radio-described by them as the special moment of their weekend, the realisation that Steve and Michael were separated at birth.
In another lifetime I would now be in Chicago for the official launch of the album Noise From Words, but instead my place is at home with Helen who has seen little of me the past few weeks.
The Thursday after Greenbelt we finally moved house so I was in London for a couple of days- first getting old house ready for new tennants, and then helping to start clean the new house. The old house looks great - newly decorated, nice carpets etc. The new house is OK but really needs to be redecorated and we have to install off-street parking (so far the council has lowered the kerb but now the raised concrete front garden has to be dug out). We also want the understairs cupboard converted into a cloakroom. All the sash windows are to be renovated and have double glazing inserted. The big jobs come later when we have managed to rob a bank.
Like all the best laid plans though we have hit a major problem. The decorator we use, who is a friend from Walsingham, has developed a problem and needs to be operated on mid September so it is now unclear if we will be able to get the decorating done as planned before returning to London. Not such a problem for me as I am out each day, but for Helen it would be no fun having to stare at the walls and cracks all day long. So if you fancy a holiday in London, combined with a bit of decorating let me know!
As for the new house itself, it is very different to the old one. It swallowed up all the packing boxes and the study quickly became the dumping ground, replacing the garage from the old house. They say location, location, location and I guess this is about as good as it gets for East Dulwich. Still close to the train station and 3 minutes walk to all the trendy bars on the high street. The house will swallow up a lot of money to get it exactly right and this will take a few years to do as we look to find the finances and have the main works done when staying in Norfolk. But at the end of it I hope we will have somewhere we can really call home.
The last few days have been tinged with sadness for us. Helen has a soul mate, someone who she is able to share the ups and downs of her life and via text they spend much time encouraging each other. We heard this week though the news we had half been expecting, that tests had shown she has a cancerous tumour that is too close to the heart to operate on. So it comes down to prayer and a decision whether to go for radiation or chemotherapy. E is such a lovely person and all prayers will be welcomed.
Next week we have a real holiday - no plans for any interruptions from the office. I may have to spend a day in London at the house doing some DIY but otherwise I hope the weather will be warm enough for a few afternoons out, preferably down the beach. I also need to do some exercise as the last 18 months of bidding work has left me carrying too much excess weight. If time I would like to go and see the geese which have started arriving for the winter up on the marshes. I would like to go power boating but the money is best spent on the house. And if the weather is fine, no doubt a few evenings will be spent sat outside the Bull, drinking Norfolk's finest ales. The perfect spot to think about future plans - the success of Michael at Greenbelt has to be maintained, just a question of how best to do it. And I am already thinking about next year and who I would like to see play at the festival. Michael would be great but it is an unofficial policy not to invite artists back 2 consecutive years. I have a few names in mind of others who might grace mainstage c/of Music Output Productions (aka Emmo Productions).