Sunday, 11 December 2011

StringFing's ChristmasFing

YAY!! It’s Christmaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaas!!

StringFing’s ChristmasFing
Wednesday December 14th
Holy Inadequate, Etruria

with guests
Lynda Fox, percussion, and blooz boys
Pete Latham & Chris Bingham

8.30pm start. Bring yourself along. You deserve it!

Hey, hey, go merrily on your way,



Thursday, 1 December 2011


Jimmy Saville is dead.

I met him just once, back in the 60s. Saville was on the upward curve of his rainbow then. I was playing a gig with the New Vaudeville Band in Manchester (Belle Vue?) where he was how’s-about-that’ing on the turntables and being ultra-enthusiastic about the utter crap he was playing – much the same as I was on the piano.

A local story about your man Saville is that he was the guest celebrity who officially opened Mow Cop and Mount Pleasant Village Hall on 20th May 1965. This is the version of events that was passed on to me:

Saville had been a wrestler and wrestled on the same circuit as a wrestler resident of Mow. When it came to discussions about the official opening of the village hall, the good-natured Mow dood said, ‘I’ll see if I can get my mate Jimmy Saville to do it for us.’ Brilliant! Saville was big time and would do the occasion proud and, it was hoped, for free.

When it came to the day, Saville allegedly charged them a fee of £200 (evidently his agent had insisted). Two-hundred notes! - and they were notes then - a whopping amount of money in those days. To give you an idea of how much: Lynda and I bought a house around the corner from the village hall five years later and paid £950. It’d had taken the Village Hall committee six years of hard work to raise the £1500 for the hall. That’s a rate of £250 a year . . .

The Village Hall Committee was naturally disappointed, not to say financially embarrassed. ‘Never mind,’ Saville allegedly said, pausing to drag on a cigar the size of a toddler’s arm, ‘I’ll send you the latest Top Twenty records for you to play on your social nights.’ The Committee waited eagerly for the records to arrive.

They’ve been waiting forty-six years. They’ll never get them now.


The Right On! night at Congleton library was ace. Mike Drew staged an excellent show of poetry and song - voices speaking out against political exploitation, injustice and persecution.

The poetry was the absolute business, with contributions from The Nomads, Phil Williams and that shining star of the Cheshire Poet Laureate Scheme, John Lindley.

The songs were provided by yours truly, Dave Wedgebury, Dave Dove, Andy Stubbs and Phil Maddocks. As Phil remarked after the early evening sound check, it’s amazing how five singer/acoustic guitarists, inspired by the same coterie of predecessors, can come together on the same night and play songs on the same theme and be so different one from the other:

Dave Wedgebury with his Bob Marley-influenced high tenor voice; Dave Dove with his smooth West Coast approach, Andy Stubbs with his in-your-face Anglo-American proto punk, high-energy vibe; Phil Maddocks with his sophisticated English balladeer approach and me . . . er . . . whatever, I don’t know, none of the above, I suppose . . . me with my bag of rough n ready homemade songs, erratically performed.

The audience was up for it and receptive to the cause and to the individual offerings.

'Twas Right On! right enough.


I was on Red Shift Radio on Tuesday promoting the Poetry Party taking place at the Alsager Library on Friday December 9th with Angus Varley the library manager.

We were interviewed by Simon Newbury whose is a fine photographer with his other hat on. It was a good interview. I read: Homage to Cheshire, Talking Blues and Heathery Weathery Hill.

Angus read a couple of monkey poems written by his brother. I mean, they were about monkeys. I’m not suggesting Angus' brother is a monkey. Though, on the other hand, we are all brother and sister monkeys according to Mr. Monkey Darwin, ain’t we?

Simon liked the imagery of my Homage to Cheshire and asked if he could use it for a series of new photographs. I was quick to agree to the collaboration. Delighted actually. Simon is so good in the old art of light and shade malarky and I’m looking forward what he comes up with. I’ll keep you posted.

Why not come along to the poetry party? It’s a sort of open mic night for poets. I’m hosting it and I know that we have some very exciting poets coming along. There’ll be lots of lovely stuff for the poetry fan and there will be refreshments too.

Libraries are shaping up to be the most happening of places. Make sure you support your local library.

Those in government, local and national, who propose the closing down of public libraries (how stupid, how sinister a suggestion that is) ought give up their own private libraries by way of example.

And yes, David Cameron, that means both your books, even the one you haven't finished colouring in.


I’m going off for a swing in my rubber tyre now.

Hope to see you at the Alsager Library Poetry Party on the 9th.

Please take care of yourselves and everyone you meet,



Monday, 7 November 2011


I do understand the whole blogging bag, really I do. You’re suppose to blog up gigs and stuff you’re about to do, aren’t you? - so people can come along if they want to. Soz.

BUT blimey, mates! blogging is taking time out and I get so busy doing stuff I have little time left to post anything, and no mistake.

My last blog was on August 9th. It seems like I were only a bit of a lad back then in those olden times. A callow youth with an optimistic smile on his spotty face, blissfully unaware of the cruelties of human existence that lay in wait for him . . .

. . . like finding out there are people who go around calling themselves poets when they clearly don’t know what a poem is and who should be prosecuted under the trades description act. I can’t name names for legal and social reasons and, sadly, they’ve no idea who they are.

I do write blogs in my head, though. And that’s where they stay most of the time. It ain’t my fault that communications technology is so ill-advanced that we still have to use computers and phones and things instead of being able to think stuff out to people.

The necessity is there, so get inventing mother . . .


WARNING: This posting will be long and rambling cuz, like the man said, I haven’t got time to write a shorter one.



Not previously given much thought to my initials. They were just the first letter of each of my given names, that’s all. Then the glorious short-handing of cell phone texting came along and re-invented their meaning altogether. I now like them very much indeed, not only as my initials, but also as my waking thought for each day.



I’m back teaching again at MMU Cheshire and loving it. Some triffick students this year.

On the down side, the whole uni vibe has changed to become a more-muted, more-restrained, more calculated gig since fees were introduced.

Fees!! What liberty that is!! Undergraduates, in my view, are academic apprentices and should be paid for studying just like any trade apprentice.

Tuition fees have turned the whole uni Creative Writing experience into an extension of compulsory education with classes getting more and more prescriptive.

A digital wedge is being driven between teaching staff and students with the increasing use of computerised interaction – paving the way, it seems, for turning the whole thing into a correspondence course.

Anyhow what ain’t changed is the students are ace and it’s a pleasure to be working with them.



This in reply to Phil, one of the founder members of the Danger Mouse Rally Club, who kindly got in touch with me in search of recordings of Heymaker:

There are some out there Phil. Unfortunately, I don't have any as I tend not to keep hold of any of my past stuff. Rightly or wrongly, I suppose I see it as merely leading up to what I am currently doing. I am obsessive, but I am not a hoarder, and people borrow stuff from me and I don't get it back or I probably haven't bothered to get a copy for myself in the first place.

Sometimes I think it would be nice to hear some of my old tracks. When I occasionally do, though, I'm disappointed and immediately want to do it again only better.

Can anyone help Phil? Please let me know.



Philip K. Leese’s book of the above title is out now, and jolly good it is too! You’ll find it on sale all around Kidsgrove. I couldn’t get along to the book launch so picked up a copy from Bargain Booze in the Rookery.

Among his glorious, painstakingly-researched anecdotes and facts of life on ‘The Hill’, Philip has kindly quoted from my Village Verse collection. It’s curious, ain’t it, how a writer becomes part of the history of what they write about?

Philip and I have both approached our writing of Mow Cop in a celebratory way. The indigenous people of Mow are a rare breed. People are, after all, products of their landscape. Mow Cop is a unique place.

Philip is kind enough to express regret in his writing that he did not have enough space to print my Heathery Weathery Hill, so here tis folks:


Are you never quiet and still
Heathery Weathery Hill
Where leaves riot in the thrush-loud wood
And seeds burst green where the hay bales stood
And out of the byre cattle spill
Heathery Weathery Hill?

Are you never quiet and still
Heathery Weathery Hill
Where the sun beats in the lark-loud sky
And the hyssop bows as bees hymn by
And moths at dusk dance at the sill,
Heathery Weathery Hill?

Are you never quiet and still
Heathery Weathery Hill
Where the Ferguson ploughs a gull-loud rut
And old leaves slop in the gutter’s glut
And the waters rush to Moreton Mill
Heathery Weathery Hill?

Are you never quiet and still
Heathery Weathery Hill
Where the fox trots in the owl-loud night
And lanes are lost in drifts of white
And the wind through the castle tower blows shrill
Heathery Weathery Hill?



StringFing is having some excellent nights at the Holy Inadequate on the second Wednesday of each month. We’re there this Wednesday (9th Nov). Come along. It’s a great pub. We’re working on a Christmas Special too for December 14th.



I played a cool gig at Keele University’s Postgraduate Society bistro in September. Spike Crossley, the incomparable manager of said venue who’s revolutionised the place and brought it out of the 1950s into the 21st Century, staged his first beer festival there.

He brought in shelf upon shelf of firkins of guest ales – firkin marvellous! (well, you were all thinking that, weren’t you?).

The place was crowded and I was jammed up in a corner with my SM 58 and my J-45 going through my Marshall AS50, having a great time knocking out the songs.

The noise of happy real ale drinkers was awesome. Half way though my first song, I thought no one was listening and that I was in for an introspective evening. Not a bit of it, doods. The response was more than gratifying and I ended up having the best time and extending my set by half an hour.


Talking of the AS50 Marshall acoustic guitar amplifier, when I was carrying it out of the KPA I noticed the handle stitching was coming away. I phoned Marshall to get the price of a replacement: £21.76 plus postage plus fitting.

That strikes me as relatively a touch expensive for a handle that clearly is a design weak point since the amp’s fairly new and I’m needing a replacement already. I told the Marshall sales person, ‘I really need this handle, but I’m going to have to sell the amp to afford it. I’ll get back to you.’ Well, it amused me, anyway.



Jason Hill – folk legend – phoned me: would I support that wonderful Irish singer and member of the Dubliners, Sean Cannon, at the Potteries Folk Club on Friday 28th October.

Who wouldn’t want to do that? Ah, but I was scheduled to have a practice of some Alf-Alfa Ceili Band tunes with blues maestro and mandolin picker Pete Latham on the same night.

Why don’t me and Pete do the gig together? Excellent! And excellent it was. Sean was his usual self. In other words: top drawer, effortlessly beautiful singing of a whole range of traditional and contemporary folk songs sewn together with Sean’s humorous introductions.

Here’s one of Sean’s jokes:

A consultant was showing a new intern around a ward where there was a whole lot of mumbling and talking going on. The consultant led the young doctor over to the first bed where the patient was lying with his eyes closed mumbling: ‘Wee sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie, O, what panic’s in they breastie . . .’ The consultant looked at the patient’s chart and moved on.

In the next bed a patient was anxiously declaiming: ‘Ye banks and braes and streams around the castle o’ Montgomery! Green be your woods, and fair your flowers, your waters never drumlie . . .’ The consultant looked at the patients chart and moved on.

In the third bed, its occupant was practically screaming, ‘How lang and dreary is the night when I am frae my dearie . . .’ The consultant looked at the patient’s chart and moved on. For bed after bed the patterned was repeated.

When they came out of the ward, the young doctor asked, ‘What on earth is going on in there?’

‘Oh,’ the consultant replied, ‘that’s the serious Burns unit.’

Me and Pete went up together and took turns with our offerings. A bottle necking blues from him, a homemade song from me, and so on, turn and turn about. It worked well. We were a nice counterpoint to each other. I wouldn’t mind doing a whole night with Pete like that.


Goodness me, is that the time? I’ve got to sort out some material for my new class. I’ve been given a second year Culture and Popular Music class to teach in addition to my Creative Writing classes. We’re currently working on the origins of the blues. Celtic music is scheduled for our attention after the blues assignment. Culture and Popular Music, eh? - what a brilliant subject to be lecturing in, doods. I’m a lucky geezer, to be sure.



Just got time to tell you about another upcoming gig:

Congleton Library’s Mike Drew is presenting an evening of live music and poetry celebrating the right to speak out ‘featuring Phil Maddocks, WT Fox, Dave Dove, Dave Wedgebury, John Lindley, Andy Stubbs and others’ on Wednesday 16th November, 7:30pm – 10:00pm. There’s a bar on and tickets are £6.50 or £5.50 with a library card. It’s going be right on right enough.

Gotta go. Tra-ra. Keep safe,


Tuesday, 9 August 2011


Hi blog buddies, we were having a bit of a sing song round our gaff the other night and Rob got his camera out for this one:

Seeya later,


Friday, 22 July 2011


StringFing had a good time at the New Inn last night. Not so many people came along this month as schools have broken up and we’re into the big holiday season, but there was well enough for a good time.

Many of you will be aware of the name of legendary singer/songwriter Mick Softley.

Back in the days of the St. Albans beatnik music scene of the early 60s - a motley and loosely assembled crew consisting of the likes of Mac Macleod, Pops Kerr, Henri Harrison, Donovan, yours truly, Maddy Prior and a dozen other guitar strumming (piano strumming in my case) musos coming and going – Mick Softley was the guv’nor; the godfather; the standard to reach for.

His rambling ways and roving eye, his biting politically aware songs, his anarchic attitude were the bench mark.

The main model behind the music was perhaps Jesse Fuller, an American one man band who played guitar alongside a large homemade bass guitar type instrument played with his right foot and a lo hat played with his left foot. On a neck harness he carried a mouth harp and a kazoo. Have a look:

Fuller’s San Francisco Bay Blues, a one-time favourite of Mick’s, spawned a lot of new and similar songs from the St. Albans ravers.

Mick, though, was our local role model: a terrific singer, guitar picker and writer, an accessible dood who was living the life.

After the Cops and Robbers had brought about Donovan’s fame (and not in the fanciful, self-aggrandising way Don likes to tell it), Donovan recorded a couple of Mick’s songs (from memory they were: Gold Watch Blues and War Drags On), but, in my view he didn’t pay him the dues he should have done.

Anyway that was then and this is now. And now, Mick lies in a bed in a Northern Ireland hospital recovering from a severe stroke.

I had a phone call last week from Gladys, the lovely lady who is looking after him. Gladys says Mick is doing well, but it’s a long hard road he’s travelling on.

While I was thinking about him, I thought of how, in the days I remember him best, he would have relished the latest political shenanigans and how he might have responded to them in song.

So, I came up with one myself: Lyin’ Politican Blues. StringFing played it last night. Twice, by request, in fact.

It’s a rocky bluesy jazzy 12-bar vamp in the key of F. The audience joined in on percussion and singing. It was a joy to be a part of.

We did it to try to send a good vibe across the water to NI to speed Mick’s recovery.

Here’s the song:


Woke up this morning switched on the news
Gotta tell ya people I got the blues –
If it doesn’t make ya larf, gonna to make ya cry
Why does every politician think they got permission to lie?

It really doesn’t matter which way ya vote
Conservative or labour, or even if ya float
When ya cross is on the paper, God knows why
Every politician thinks they got permission to lie

Black is white, they say without a smile
Half a millimetre, it’s a country mile
Stick em in a pot an’ boil the friggin lot, say I
Why does every politician think they got permission to lie?

There’s a house on the river, a den of thieves
Their lyin’ ways bringing Britain to its knees
They wouldn’t know the truth if it punched them in the eye
Why does every politician think they got permission to lie?

I saw a politician, his face all creased
From living in the pocket of the chief of police
Polish on his lips from licking Murdoch’s shoes
Yeah, an’ that’s why I got these Lyin’ Politician Blues.


I hope it worked. Get well soon, Michael.

I’ll blog off now and catch you later. I've got a form to fill in.


Tuesday, 12 July 2011


Twizzlebird Creative, the Chester-based web design and branding partnership completed their first year of business on July 8th 2011.


And what a year it has been for them! Their talent and capacity for creative work is awesome.

They moved up from Bristol to settle in the beautiful Chester, launched their business and hit the road running with their empathetic attention to their client’s needs and up-to-the-minute grasp of contemporary design and technology.

They have been gathering speed ever since, leaving a continuing succession of very happy clients in their wake.

A vested interest has to be declared here: Amy is our lovely, lovely daughter and Dave is her lovely, lovely partner. Two nicer people have never walked the earth and they are both unfeasibly gifted. They have integrity too – a rare combination.

Talking about Amy like this recalls what Jackie Turpin once said to me about his daughter, Gina: ‘I know I shouldn’t boast about her,’ he said, ‘but I can’t help it cuz she really is great!’

Keep flying high Twizzlebird. Here’s to your second year. XXX


StringFing is playing at Keele University Postgraduate Association Club this Sunday afternoon as part of a grand reunion day for past students.

Fingers crossed for the weather as we hope to be playing outside. People are coming from all corners to be there. Can’t wait.

Travel safe, one and all,


Tuesday, 28 June 2011


For your barn dance, for your wedding, for your ceili or social get-together, book The Woodlanders:

The Woodlanders Country Dance Band - locally produced, matured over a great number of years. The farmer’s choice.

What a fabulous time we’ve been having, mates!!

We were down in Chebsey, a small village near Cheadle, on Saturday night to play for a wedding ceili: great people, beyootiful setting.

Steve Share called the dances for us – triffick job as always – and started off appropriately with Lover’s Knot and took the wedding guests through his pantheon of moves: the like Nervous Breakdown, the Cumberland Long Eight, and the Holmfirth Square. Yee-ha!

The Woodlanders came storming southern-slow and rocking: Speed the Plough, Curly-Headed Ploughboy, Jumping Joan, Bacca Pipes Jig, Salmon Tails Up In the Water, Winster Gallup, Harvest Home . . .

Have a long and happy life together Jenny and Chris.


Late night, early morning cos, next day The Woodlanders was the band in the street at Congleton Food and Drink Festival.

It was Jo Money and her Congleton Community Projects team who set up this celebration of victuals various and delightful. Jo’s events always have a tang of party and Rio about them, a vibe reinforced this time round by glorious Brazilian-type weather.

Congleton High Street was closed to traffic and lined with stalls selling cheeses and ciders and wines and breads, ice-creams, the soon-to-be-side-lined-back-to-kids-parties-cuz-the-market’s-been-saturated-and-it-was-only-a-fad-anyway cup cakes and other assorted tongue teasers.

The aromas of korma curries cooking and Gloucester Old Spot sausages getting sizzed in family-size frying pans wafted past the music tent where us four happy trad musos were laying it down in the shade.

We played sets from 11am through to 4.30pm and had more enquiries for future bookings than we could possibly play.


Off with the corduroys and oak leaf hat, and on with the suit and tie: Monday was the finals of the SG World National Poetry Competition for Schools.

This competition is in support of Whizz-Kidz, the charity that supplies wheelchairs for disabled kids to give them the opportunity of more independence.

As Cheshire’s longest-serving poet laureate, I was invited to be the poetry judge and charged with selecting the nine worthy finalists from the post bag of hundreds and hundreds of poems.

This is the second year running that I have had the privilege of being involved. It’s the hardest kind of work for a poet geezer to do, I reckon, to make judgements on the work of young writers. Having said that, it is also immensely rewarding. The decisions to be made are many and complex.

The event was held at the Manchester United Football ground at Old Trafford, Manchester.

The theme of the competition this year was: Our Wonderful World. The winning poems are posted on the SG World website. I’ll give the link later on in this blog.

Steve Floodgate of SG World and his team organised the event with immense skill and imagination. He’s a really warm and amusing presenter too.

Steve recruited Sam and Mark of childrens’ TV fame to assist with the presentation. Nice guys. The kids loved them.

What prizes the young writers were given too!: X-Boxes for each of the finalists and flat-screen TVs for the winner in each of three categories.

The judging panel consisted of Arnold Haase CEO of SG World, myself, Ash from Whizz-Kidz, and Sam and Mark.

One young finalist (he’s five) didn’t end up winning, but I wanted to give his poem special attention here. His parents were pleased to give me permission. I’m showing you Josh's work for its utter visual charm and because it’s a great illustration of how an unconscious non-standard use of English can regenerate the meaning of a word and recreate a sense of discovery and wonder.

The young poet’s name is Josh, and here is his poem called Our Wonderful World:

In our wonderful world I can see
Leydeybords is spotty.
In our wonderful world I can hear
Birds sigig.
In our wonderful world I can smell
Fish and chips. meyk me hungry.
In our wonderful world I can feel
Leaves are spotty.
In our wonderful world I can taste
Ice scream is joosey.


SG World do a wonderful job raising the profile of poetry among young writers. It is a privilege for me to be invited to work with them on these projects. I am grateful to them.

Here’s the promised link to the SG World website where you can see a scan of Josh’s poem and those of all the other competition finalists.

I had to say a few words to the young writers and their assembled schoolmates and parents and teachers. SG World commissioned a poem from me too. It’s site-specific and occasion-specific and a bit of a performance poem so it might not come off the screen as well as it could, but here it is anyway:


When I was nine and ten and more,
The thing I spent time longing for
Was to be the hero of a football cup:
To be hugged and kissed and lifted up,

And, swaying and bobbing proud,
Be run around the football ground
On the shoulders of my team,
Each one his eyes agleam,

Shouting, ‘AIN’T HE G-REAT!’
He’s not scored one, he’s scored eight!!
This magic, gifted demigod’s fate
Was to hand us victory on a plate.

     No one’s ever seen such play!
     History has been made today.’

Will they never cease, this fevered crowd,
From chanting long and chanting loud,
From terrace and director’s box,
‘There’s only one Terry Fox’ . . .?

An odd, odd dream, I must confess,
For a boy whose sports prowess,
Was little less than,
Well . . . a mess.

When I kicked a ball, it made no sound,
But slowly rolled along the ground
And stopped, a mere spit away,
Till Mr. Rolf felt bound to say:

     ‘The beautiful game’s not for you.
     Find another thing to do.’

I now play games inside my head,
Kicking words around instead.
The goals are different, to be sure,
But the thrill’s the same if you score:

Tackling stanzas, knocking them clear;
Bending them like Shakespeare;
Running them from the half-way line,
To a perfect finish at full time.

As all you young poets know,
There’s glory in a phrase’s flow.
Some folk are born with a life all set
For putting ‘em in the back of the net.

     At the end of the day, I’m excited,
     By the nouns and verbs of Words United.


Here's the Woodies at Congleton Food and Drink Festival 2011:

Keep smiling and piling on the sun bloc,