There were some very welcome new acts this evening as well as many familiar friends; there was even a smattering of audience. The variety of genres and topics on offer was spicy indeed.
I opened with Mean Old Frisco, a song I learned from Eric Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard and haven’t played since my 1980s blues days in London. Lee, a newcomer to the club, but not to the Six Bells, came up to do two of his own songs. Lee has played in the much heavier Friday and Saturday night sessions, but came to the club happy to be able to do his own stuff. His original subject in 29/5/53 was the ascent of Everest, told at epic length and from memory. He then picked up his admirable 12-string to do a same-sex love song for a sailor. A great wordsmith and very welcome to come again, just like the next new act up, Anna. Anna read an epic poem – a fantasy based on a conceit of Eve having a dinner date with The Devil. She read from her pamphlet with language which varied from the exotic to the erotic, with lots of gourmet food and drink thrown in. Anna can be seen at an open mic in Lewes.
Lisa, unusually performing without Jason, who was prevented from singing by a cold, performed The Bolt from the Blue in her wonderful soprano voice. She was joined by Laura, her tambourine-wielding twin, for Let Your love Flow, originally by the Bellamy brothers. Lyric sheets were handed round and Laura’s infectious enthusiasm catalysed a good old sing-song.
Manus, the resident jazzer, paid a tribute to Jeff Beck with Charles Mingus’s Goodbye Pork Pie Hat. Jeff, who was a resident of nearby Wadhurst, can be seen playing the song on You Tube. Mingus wrote it on the night he heard that Lester Young had died - tributes within tributes. I did my best on the jazz chords under Manus’s bluesy plucking. We went on to do I Ain’t Superstitious, a much less taxing three-chorder.
Chris Martin, the prolific songwriter, sang his own Tick Tock, with Laura on Tambourine. Followed by a satire on blues playing ‘Scuse Me While I Play My Scrappy Blues.
Emma writes laconic lyrics to die for. Strumming on her ukulele, and declaiming in a low register sprechgesang, she dealt admirably with dogs and doggy poo. We were very amused.
Another newcomer, Nancy, walked on clad in clogs. We hastily assembled a rhythm section to back her, made by Helga on flute, Laura on Tambourine and Moi on guitar. We managed to cobble (!) together a kind of appropriate backing as she danced a reel and then a march. Let no one say there is not variety at the Bells.
Helga was up next with flute. A free improvisation in the Dorian mode with Manus on guitar.
She then called me up to do my own Baby Steps, which has plenty of space for her beautiful melodic lines.
Heather, now with many songs and recordings under her belt, delved into the world of civil engineering, specifically concrete, with a catchy little number Granular Sub-Base Type 1, which even managed to include a kind of singalong chorus. She followed up with her song of relationship-related obliviousness Yes Dear.
Jason, wielding a new solid-body electric, performed his own tribute to Jeff Beck, using many of Beck’s techniques. At the end Brenda announced ‘That was serious guitar playing!’ Oh yes.
It was Brenda’s birthday and we had a special short break to eat the cakes she’d kindly brought and, of course, to sing Happy Birthday. Having managed to reassemble the throng from their conversations (probably the reason we don’t usually have breaks) she performed a political poem Empathy about the attitudes of the rich towards the poor. Oh yes, again. She then turned to a story of unrealised love Aspects of Love.
Steph, with her unique haunting voice, sang Don’t Leave Your Husband in Winter, a song about how it’s never the right time to leave someone, but ending on the positive note: ‘just run for your life.’ She then did the pop ballad You Say it Best When You Say Nothing at All.
John played a very convincing opening to McCartney’s Band on the Run, getting the very individual tone of the guitar track just right, and then launched into Hendrix’s Hey Joe. Thanks to John for patiently waiting his turn as the audience progressively thinned, and the same to the very last act Frank. With great drive and enthusiasm, as always, Frank played Carmelina and finished off the evening with Dylan’s Love Minus Zero, No Limit.
Thanks to Jason on sound and those who set up and dismantled the PA. It really was an exciting evening, with lots of new faces, much original material and a thoroughly engaged audience. One of those evenings when you remember why you do it.
It was a pleasure to see so many people turn out for this first Singers Evening of the New Year. The dark evening outside was full of pummelling wind-blown rain. But inside, the room had been set up by Jason and Simon earlier on. It has to be said, that if some generous souls didn’t regularly offer their time to do this, these evenings would likely start with some degree of chaos or worse. Jason ran the sound desk with Simon standing in when Jason was under the spotlight.
I eventually got things moving, beginning with ‘Long Time Traveller’, a traditional song from across the Atlantic, and Kate Rusby’s ‘Walk the Road Together’. As usual with my performances, there is always room for improvement, so I was very pleased to have Bob Melrose swiftly moving things into far more confident and competent territory. He sang John Martyn’s ‘Jelly Roll’ (Mr Jelly Roll Baker), then in a far softer style, the Beatles’ ‘Once There Was a Way’.
The volume went up somewhat as Frank took the stage with his impromptu band which included Helga on flute and Laura on tambourine. I believe his first song was translated from the Spanish meaning ‘Spanish the Loving Tongue’ which was followed by ‘Mr Bo Jangles’ . This song was originally written and performed by country artist Jerry Jeff Walker in 1968 but covered by many artists including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Bob Dylan, Christian McBride Big Band, Brendan Grace, Sammy Davis Jnr, Nina Simone and doubtless many others. Helga provided flute solo and accompaniment and Laura provided some vigorous percussion with the tambourine.
Brenda stepped up with some poetry, ‘Return Us to the Light’ (I didn’t catch the name of the poet’), but it was a cry from the heart to return to simpler ways to save and restore our precious planet. The last of three poems by her elderly neighbour Tom Riley, had a Christmas theme and spoke of wide-eyed orphan boys enthralled by a table piled high with toys. This was called ‘The Tram Conductor’s Set’, reminiscent of times when tickets were issued by the ‘conductor’ walking among the passengers in the carriage taking money and issuing tickets from a ticket machine hanging over his shoulder. I would imagine a conductor’s hat may have been involved. To the boy it was definitely exciting.
Jason took his seat at the mic to sing a New Year song ‘Another Year, Another Song’ and sang about standing up strong and taking the pain….. ‘loving you once again’. Lisa joined him for the next two songs, after re-organising the performance area somewhat, with their own song ‘Leave the Light on for Me’. Their second song, self-penned had them happy at home, solving the world’s problems: ‘Where on earth would we rather be?’
Wearing a cap, Chris (CJM) sang ‘Hair’ about being ‘follically challenged’ and then a song about singing and performing, among other things: ‘What’s in a Life’. He is not keen on people who hold up proceedings whilst tuning guitars and concluded this piece with the observation ‘For pluck’s sake tune up before you go on’, adding that this comment was not directed at anyone in the room.
We were fortunate to have Terry Lees with us and he played us an instrumental inspired by a combination of the Allman Brothers and other musicians: ‘Little Martha’. He then sang Bob Dylan’s ‘ She Belongs to Me’….’she’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist…’. Terry mentioned, as he introduced his songs, that he had performed his first gig in 1965. Well here we are now well into the twenty first century. It’s a different world in many ways, but the open mic and live music definitely lives on.
Simon followed Terry and was not excited about being in that position, but managed to sing a couple of songs anyway. The first, very sad and haunting, was ‘Magnolia Wind’, a country song by John Prine: ‘I’d rather die young than live without you’. Magnolias do have a rather lovely scent, especially the evergreen ones. He livened up the mood a bit with ‘I don’t look good naked any more’. The song attracted a variety of remarks from the audience.
We had the pleasure of hearing Mark Basford play Irish music on mandolin. He had come along with his wife Ruth all the way from Hong Kong, having recently returned to the UK and now settled in Eastbourne. Irish music is unlikely to come to mind when thinking about Hong Kong, but apparently Mark played in an ‘Irish’ band there. He linked two jigs and it was a treat to hear. There was a lot of keen foot-tapping. He intends to return and we look forward to it.
Heather sang her own song of recollections: ‘Lady by the Shore’ …. ‘at last you’ve come to take me home’. ‘Resolution’ was written as part of a song-writing group this time last year. She delivered both with confidence and some obvious satisfaction, since she had remembered all of the words and not needed her lyrics on the music stand.
Helga created an opportunity for flute by getting Jason to play ‘John Henry Blues’. She had already invited Terry to play ‘All Along the Watchtower’ and he was joined by Jason and Bob also on guitar, and Frank on piano. With this jam, we had arrived at the end of ‘the list’ and there was time for those who wanted, to sing a third song.
Bob came to the mic and gave us ‘The Man with the Child in His Eyes’, released on Kate Bush’s debut album ‘The Kick Inside’ in 1978. Beautiful, romantic and soft-focus.
Far less romantic was Frank’s final song of the evening ‘Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner’. The contrast with Bob’s song could not have been more sharp. Helga and Laura supported and embellished this song too. (The Tommy Gun, was originally invented by US Brigadier General John T Thompson to break the stalemate of trench warfare in WWI but was not finished until the end of the war. It became notorious as the readily available weapon of choice during the Prohibition Era in the USA. It was used by both the police and organised crime syndicates and later widely used in WWII, where ‘Headless Roland’ made his appearance).
Chris returned to the subject of ageing playing his ‘Acoustic Blues and Me’. We were moving very nicely onward then with Terry playing ‘The Roving Gambler’, a traditional American song apparently first recorded and released in 1924 by Samantha Bumgarner. She was the first female Country recording artist. The song has been recorded by many other artists since.
Foot-tapping was engaged again, but rather more restrained than earlier, for Simon’s version of ‘After You’ve Gone (and left me crying)’. This too is a song with a very long history and an even earlier beginning, having first been recorded in 1918 by Marion Harris. It has since been re-recorded by all manner of well-known singers, from the 1920s with the likes Sophie Tucker and Bessie Smith, through every decade since including Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, to Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, and coming forward through Nina Simone, Loudon Wainwright III and Jamie Cullum to name but a few.
Heather went very Country and Western with ‘I’m Gonna be a Country Girl Again’ from the album of the same name by Cree singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte Marie released in 1968. Foot-tapping resumed and there was audience participation in the choruses.
I wound up the evening singing Patty Griffin’s ‘Truth’, a song made famous by The Chicks.
So an evening of great variety, some great musicianship and songs to match. There was a general sense of well-being and feeling somehow as if we had been sitting around a glowing fire. (There was a fire that gradually faded having warmed the room earlier.) The ambience remained even though the fire had turned to ashes. It was a great way to begin a new year and registered a commitment to continuing in a similar vein over the months ahead.
Wishing you all peace, more peace, lots of love, some joy and outbreaks of contentment maybe, even financial reward? See you again soon, Ella
For videos I would recommend a search on YouTube:
Lisa Jackson and Jason Loughran, Terry Lees, Bob Melrose, Simon Watt, Chris Mansell, Keith Willson, Manus McDaid, Helga Dittmar, C J Martin, Heather Curry, Frank Xerox, Lance Maleski and others whom I cannot immediately call to mind, who also visit these open mic evenings. With apologies to anyone I have omitted. I was not a very regular visitor during 2022.
“Midwinter Folk Together”, a poem by Jason Loughran in thanks
Singing from the window above
This one is for only you, my love
Not a bear, but a poet of Green
Ruperts’s scarf it did complete the scene
Let’s sing the tale of history’s great artists
Living life beside a race course’s fast twists
So all humanity in the Big Apple it does thrive
While we wait for all the family to arrive
“La Bamba” the cry from the Spanish plains
Bleak Midwinter flows through our blood blue veins
Suffering in this world should give way to peace
Leadbelly’s howl bring forth the Lord to release
Dogs they bound through seasonal snow
Leaving their presents for Father Time, a warming glow
Hotel you can check out of, but can never leave
With letters L-O-V-E, a rich tapestry you can weave
Come up and see the Rock Legend of Cockney charm
Leading a blues full of love that no bad mouth can disarm . . .
Thank you to Rupert Green, Simon, Brenda, Rob & Julia, Emma, Clive, Helga, Lance, Ella, Keith & James, John Villiers, Frank, Ian Roland, John Stephens, and Lisa & Jason.
Wonderful performers all of you. See you next year for more great times.
The person that runs the evening writes the blog
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