I’m trading Beatles-bafoonery for Carnival-chaos. This packed, bank holiday coach I’m on is taking me back to London, where I’ll have to fight my way through the Notting Hill Carnival to get back home to Shepherd’s Bush. I’ve just spent a week in Liverpool, which is equally in party mode with Liverpool International Music Festival and Beatles Week all rolled into one. Just arriving in Leicester, I thought I’d use the remaining two hours of this rather tedious journey to do something a little more productive. I’ve caught up with global affairs over the last hour, reading the news and it doesn’t look too good now, does it? Terminology and categorisation bouncing off the pages, when murder is murder, rape is rape and a crime is a crime. It’s very easy to feel powerless and small when there are children dying, people taking sides and you’re in a minuscule corner of the world where you’ll probably get through the day unscathed.
There are those who dedicate their time to positivity, and that, ultimately, is the best you can do. Manchester based Ruth Daniel brings many worthy projects into life, and ‘In place of War‘ is one of them. She’s organised for a group of international musicians to all get together here in England to collaborate, performing across the country and recording a rather special record. Last Sunday I got to be a part of it. Ruth invited us all into her house for a living room gig. We were to rehearse during the day and perform together in the evening. I’m so used to playing solo, it was quite a challenge to just play along to other people’s songs, especially when instruments, melody lines and languages were exotic and unfamiliar to my ears. There was something so beautiful and powerful about a circle of strangers, all taking turns to accompany and support one another. It really was very humbling to be amongst them. I can’t tell you how excited I was to perform together with a Sitar player – Shama Rahman is from Bangladesh, but based in London and plays a very unique, fusion style of music. I played my new songs ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Seeing You’ with her and sung some backing vocals on one of her tracks. She was so amazing, not only learning the songs so quickly, but singing beautifully improvised harmonies and just being wonderful.
It was also amazing to finally meet Louis Barabbas, who’s performance had the whole room in stitches. I asked Ruth beforehand what kind of music he does, her answer: “Folk, but a bit mad”, sort of hits the nail on the proverbial head. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay for the whole night, but I also really enjoyed seeing the Zimbabwe vocal group, Gabriel Konyai Makamanzi on the amazing finger piano and the charming Elemotho from Namibia. Today the project culminates at the Shambala Festival, where the ‘In place of War’ musicians are accompanying Sandie Shaw and Martin Ware, as well as playing solo and improvised sets. I know that everybody watching will have a great time. Thanks for the great work and thank you very much for having me. I hope to cross paths with all of the musicians again.
Do you know that scene in Yellow Submarine when young Fred runs up the hill and knocks on the door of that Georgian magic house looking for help? That’s what the Bluecaot reminds me of. It used to be a school of architecture, now it’s a gallery and hosts many events, workshops and other fun things. It’s one of my favourite places in the world, for some sentimental reason or another, and yesterday I got to perform there. Liverpool Acoustic hosted a weekend of live music in line with Liverpool International Music Festival. It was great to see a lot of familiar faces in the front rows and really great to meet so many musicians.
Johnny Sands invited me down to Heebie Jeebies to play a couple of songs after the Bluecoat gig, The sun came out and we all spent the entire day playing and listening to music, which is sort of what one does in Liverpool, it breaths music and it seeps through every poor, spilling out onto the streets, one song fading into another, a perpetual city mix, be it drunken karaoke heroes, Beatles tribute acts, or the many, many talented songwriters, all strumming away to the beat of the town. Or is it the other way around? It’s hard to tell. Especially when the sun’s gone down.