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,


Friday, 17 June 2011


Anyone calling at the New Inn in Derby Street Hanley will immediately gather that the landlord, Les, is an Elvis Presley fan.

There are more pictures of the legendary American yodelling dood on the walls of the New Inn’s back room than I have ever seen outside of books on Elvis Presley.

StringFing played that room last night as one of its regular 3rd Thursday of the month gigs there.

After StringFing had set up, we were having a drink and I was looking at the Elvis-covered walls and thinking, ‘I bet this is exactly what the inside of Les’s mind looks like,’ when who should walk through the door but . . . John Lindley.

Soz to all those of you who thought it was going to be Elvis, but he really is dead, you know.

John Lindley has a permanent open invitation to come along on StringFing nights to read for us - he’d be welcome anyway, of course. But, until last night, he hadn’t been able to get there. He’s a busy guy, John; much in demand. He would be. He’s more than a little bit good at what he does.

After StringFing's first set, in which we included a version of Matty Groves - we like to include one traditional song each time out - John did just one poem for us. And John being John, it was exactly the right poem in exactly the right place at exactly the right time: a new poem of his, a long, long poem: God Bless Elvis Presley.

I haven’t checked the title so, for all I know, John might call it something different, but that’ll do for me. That is certainly the refrain of the piece and, I tell you, it is a tour de force of writing; a magnificent, secular hymn to life and love; to earthly struggles and to triumphs of the spirit. John’s reading of it was inspired and inspiring. Breath-taking stuff.

Our audiences have been fewer these last couple of times at the New Inn. We’ve been hammering it a bit locally, and it’s start of the holiday season and those factors have had an effect on attendance. Those of you who didn’t show up, though, missed a treat, several treats, in fact.

We were one lucky bunch of doods gathered in that room.

Next up, Pete Latham played for us.

I’ve heard Pete a lot of times over the years and I don’t do the blues thing myself anymore, but when I did do it, I lived and breathed it as a self-taught blues and boogie piano player, there at the birth of the British blues.

I cut my musical teeth at the feet of its founding fathers: Alexis Korner, Cyril Davis. I’ve played with British blues legends such Tony McPhee, Eric Clapton, and John Mayall as well as some of the world’s greatest exponents like Screaming Jay Hawkins, Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker. I know what I am listening to. I know the difference between the phoney and the phoned. Pete's always good, but last night, Pete Latham played beautifully; BEA-U-TIFULLY.

Pete’s laid-back rendition of How Long Blues, was the tenderest, most soulful exploration of the riches of that song since Leroy Carr recorded his version of it on Vocalion Records in 1928 with Scrapper Blackwell. I take my fedora off to you Pete.

As if all of that was nay enough, my Lynda had contacted a mouth harp player, Purcy, via FaceBook and he came down to the New Inn as well.

Our great friend, wine expert/bluesman/singer-songwriter and all-round thoroughly lovely bloke, Jimmy Gillespie, invited Lynda and I to his recent birthday party at the Leopard in Burslem. There was much music making. There always is around Jimmy. Purcy was amongst several mighty fine harp players there. It was good to see him again.

Purcy is a sharp-dressed fella and a mean, mean harp player. He and Pete had an immediate blues-brotherly rapport and knocked us out with some of the finest blues wailing ever blues wailed round these ‘ere parts.

I can’t leave out Adam and Emily either. They were at the top of their game. They always are outstanding, ain't they? They are recognised as having raised the bar for the playing of Anglo-Celtic traditional music and its off spring.

For the record, to correct what I sometimes hear said, and sometimes see in print, Adam Fenn is neither my mandolin player nor is Emily Tellwright my cello player. They are both their own people in their own independent right with complex musical lives of their own. I am fortunate that they both agree to include me in their continuing musical adventures.

My thanks to Adam and Emily. My thanks to Pete and Purcy. My thanks to John. My thanks to Les and Yvonne of the New Inn. My thanks to everyone who came along to listen last night.

Uh, huh, may your gods bless you each and all, and to paraphrase a line of John’s poem: God bless Elvis Presley, and God bless God too if God exists.

Till next time, travel safe.


Sunday, 5 June 2011


I've been asked to post in my blog the song I wrote for Adoption Matters North West. Toebrt filmed this in my writing room for YouTube. Hopefully StringFing will record a version of this later in the year. We will definitely be performing it tonight at the Holy Inadequate, Etruria. Come along and sing along. Tra-ra. Terry

Friday, 27 May 2011


When Dean posted his kind comment on my previous blog – thanks for that, Dean - I was reminded once again of how lucky I was to have taught Creative Writing at the MMU.

At my graduation in 1997, John Singleton (RIP), then head of Writing, asked me to come back in the new academic year and take some classes for him. I remained a part-time member of the MMU Writing team for the following dozen years.

I was happily employed by Keele university too, on and off, but my heart is in the Manchester based institution where I spent my own student days.

The money the two unis paid me was well enough to pay the bills and the hours were such as to give me time for my own writing. Sorted.

As a student, my eyes had been opened to a million new ideas as well as confirming, to my great relief and vindication (and with all the necessary back up data), conclusions I had already drawn that were out of step with the people I had been surrounded by up until I took my place at that hallowed seat of learning.

‘My’ students were a constant, life-affirming inspiration to me. You simply cannot be around such bright, gifted, funny, profound, kindly, enthused younger people for any length of time without being immensely rewarded.

In all those years I can count on the fingers of two fingers, the students I’d rather not have met – that precise number of fingers being appropriate, you will agree.

The two exceptions were both equally talented and equally obnoxious people. I haven’t troubled to follow their subsequent careers, but no doubt, in the way things often are, they have done well for themselves.

Apart from those two fading shadows, I am immensely grateful to each one of the thousands of students I have had the good fortune to work with in all those years. Thank you each, severally and all.


On the music front: StringFing is playing the Etruria Canals Festival on Saturday 4th June between 12 noon and 5pm.

We are delighted to be sharing the gig with multi-instrumentalist and top performer Andy Casserley. Andy specialises in music hall songs. Right up my street, doods.

My old grandfather, William Theodore Palin, could knock out a music hall song or ten on the old Joanna.

He never had a music lesson in his entire life, my old Bampa. For him, rules were for fools in schools. He demonstrated that there are other kinds of music from the music schools of hard knocks whose pupils obey no clocks and follow the sounds of their own worlds and the rhythms of their own hearts.

Picture me old granddad in our best room, sat at my mum’s creaking Broadwood upright with the bad yellow grin, jacket off, waistcoat buttoned all the way; watch chain hung with rugby medals glinting in the light from the candles in the brass sconces on the mother-of pearl inlaid front board of the piano; silver armbands holding his shirt sleeves away from his pounding fingers: bass and chord/bass and chord/bass and chord/twiddly bit . . .

‘I’m going to sing a song for you this evening
I’ve been a lovely singer since me berf
And when you hear my lov-e-ly notes aringing
You’ll say I got the finest voice on erf

Before the king I once appeared and when I sang, he loudly cheered
He said to me, ‘You really are a marvel, of singing you have really got the knack’
And from his scarf he took a diamond tie pin
Smiled at me . . . and then he put it back.’

That’s a fragment of the first song I recall hearing him singing at the ol’ ivories. I don’t even know what the proper title of the song is, and what’s written above is all I can remember of the lyric. Maybe some of it’s misremembered. I can’t say for sure.

What I can say for sure is something that I will never ever misremember, and that is the sheer human joy of his performances; their cavalier rawness and audacity; his indomitable don’tletthebastardsgrindyoudown sense of humour. His whisky and tea breath. How I loved that man.

Hey if anyone does happen to know that song, please let me know.


StringFing is starting a new regular monthly gig at the Holy Inadequate, Etruria – 1st Sunday of each month – on 5th June.

StringFing will be playing its existing regular gig at The New Inn, Derby Street, Hanley, on the 16th of June

The Woodlanders are down in Chebsey on 25th June and the main band at Congleton’s Food and Drink Festival on the 26th June.

Alf-Alfa is out on 3rd June.

I have the pleasure of helping to judge the SG World Schools National Poetry Competition Finals later on in June, on a date to be arranged. I am preparing my short list from hundreds of entries – more than ever this year. A hard slog, but hugely interesting and entertaining.

Lynda and I have been invited to a couple of parties as well.

Festivals, pub gigs, barn dances, poetry competitions and parties, June is, as they say, busting out all over.

Have a good one.


Sunday, 1 May 2011


What a beautiful month April has been! Spring has fulfilled its promise. May is usually my most favourite month of the year, but it really will have to go some this time round to beat April.

Lynda, Phil Johnson and I are going along to play a few tunes at the annual Seed Swap at Astbury Mere on the afternoon of the 8th of May. I love this event. The planting of seeds is such an optimistic life-affirming gesture. It’s comforting to think that there are some people left who believe in respecting and nurturing the earth instead of putting it under concrete and tarmac and paving blocks and hideous housing.

Talking of the earth and growing things, The Woodlanders played a great Young Farmers gig last night. It just don’t get much better than a farm barn dance with great people, a great repertoire of traditional English tunes, an ace caller (Steve Share is among the best in the business), and a band of mates – me, Lynda, Phil Johnson and Neil Hulse.

And talking of religion which we weren’t, but we are now: me and Lynda went to Barthomley to have a look at the church there and have a jar in the White Lion. The church is dedicated to an 8th century saint, Saint Bertoline. History has it that during the civil war, 17 local people took refuge in the bell tower, but were smoked out by the Kings Men and slaughtered on the spot. They cut the throat of a minor (under 21), John Fowler, inside the church on the bell tower floor. Also in the church are brass plaques commemorating the local dead of the 1st and 2nd world wars. This collection of facts and artefacts begged an obvious question, and a walk around the graveyard prompted the following song:


Where were you, St. Bertoline
In their needful hour -
The seventeen, St. Bertoline
Driven from the tower?
Where was: the bolt of thunder
To bring the King’s Men to their knees
When John Fowler bled under
The bells of Barthomley?

And where were you, St. Bertoline
At Ypres and the Somme
For Joe and George, St. Bertoline
For Harry Jenkinson?
Where was: the angels gathered round
Singing ‘Peace be unto thee’
When the rattling guns were mowing down
The boys from Barthomley?

And where were you, St. Bertoline
For Edwin Farrington
For Reg Holland, St. Bertoline -
Plunged into death so young?
Where was: the hand born of your will
To pluck them mercif’ly
From Hitler’s rage, to this green hill
To age in Barthomley?

Where are you now St. Bertoline
At this thoughtful hour -
By the stream, St. Bertoline?
In the breeze that blows the flower?
Do you nightly stalk the nave
Your head hung ashamedly
For all you never did to save
The boys of Barthomley?

Where will you be, St. Bertoline
When the new war comes -
When buckles gleam, St. Bertoline
At the thumping of the drums?
Ah, let me guess! – same as before:
With this useless company
When the next cruel war comes begging for
The blood of Barthomley.


Adam Fenn says I only write miserable songs. He’s quite wrong, of course. It’s only just that they mainly are.

Happy May days,


Thursday, 14 April 2011


Chris Ellis, our old buddy, ex-Radio Stoke DJ and Etruria Garden Festival musicians' manager has requested stories from Stoke bands for a publication he's editing. Lynda asked me to tell him about Magnum's PA at Bingley Hall. I thought I'd post it here too. As I was writing it I thought of a much more interesting thing that happened that day which I will post in a few days or so when I have more time.

By the way, StringFing is on Radio Shropshire (96FM) on Sunday 17th April on Genevieve Tudor's rather excellent 2-hour folk programme.
Here's the Magnum story:

Heymaker (me, Lynda, our Jack, Phil Johnson and Mickey Gibson) was booked to play at Bingley Hall, Stafford as part of a 12-hour rock extravaganza staged by the Motorcycle Riders Association, Top of the bill was Magnum with Wishbone Ash snapping at their heels and a whole host of biker-proven, biker-approved below them. Bingley Hall is a big venue, and by that I mean B-I-I-I-I-I-I-G. Magnum had ordered a 32K PA which was to be used by each band in turn.

Just to give you an idea of the unusual magnitude of that number of Ks: If you were staging a gig on the moon and wanted the people of Mow Cop to be able to dance along with the music, you would probably go for a 31K PA. In other words, the 32K ordered by Magnum was more than slightly overkill even for Bingley Hall.

When we did our sound check in the afternoon, I walked on stage, plugged in, drew the bow across my fiddle and it seemed the whole of the London Philharmonic Orchestra struck up with me. It was awesome, my doods, awesome.

Heymaker went on fairly early in the day by arrangement as we had a gig to play that night as well and had to get on the road in time. We played our half-hour set (hey, went down a storm too), drew our money and went off to our next gig. Job done.

We were, I'm told, one of the few bands to actually get paid out. I forget what the problem with the money was, but I know it was nothing to do with the MRA itself.

I’ll always remember, though, what a massive, massive a sound we got that afternoon of rocking pleasure. However, when Magnum turned up to do their sound check, they said, ‘What the f***’s this? This ain’t no 32K!’ Their people checked the rig and the jolly rockers were right. It was only a mere 30K (!) Magnum refused to play until the 2 missing Ks had been brought in.

I never had a chance to meet the band as we had to leave for our next gig. So, if you ever meet Magnum, ask them for me why they felt the need for such a huge PA. Mind you, you’ll probably have to use sign language.

Gotta rush orf now to a poetry seminar.

Tootle pip.

Sunday, 6 March 2011


At four minutes past midday on Monday 21st February 2011, there took place, at the Swan Bank Methodist Church in Stoke on Trent’s mother town of Burslem, the farewell to the local radio icon Sam Plank.

Sam, less commonly known by his given name of Terry Hilton, was an old friend of mine – an old friend of so many people, in fact, that the Swan Bank church was cram packed full. You had to be on the family’s guest list to get inside.

Loudspeakers were set up to relay the service to the crowd of people that the church, large as it is, wasn’t big enough to hold. Potteries folk had lined the streets to pay their respects to Sam as the cortege wound its way from Hanley along the streets to Burslem.

One of Sam’s trade marks was that he had worn a red scarf when he was out and about his outside broadcast work and it was one of his requests was that everybody attending the church should wear something red. So, suited in a dark blue double-breasted pinstripe, I booted up in my red doc’ers and stuck a red silk handkerchief in my top pocket for good measure.

Sam’s son wore Sam’s actual red scarf; pastor Ashley Cooper, the minister conducting the service, wore a set of red trainers (I have to say this was a sight reminiscent of Tony Blair wearing those getting-down-with-the-kids jeans); there were women and girls with red roses in their hair; some mourners wore red scarves similar to Sam’s; Joan Walley (MP, Labour, Stoke North) wore a string of red beads.

Joan gave a speech that struck absolutely the right tone being both amusing and very moving.

The one hymn, How Great Thou Art! was chokingly emotional even to this non-believer.

You know, in truth, I didn’t know Sam that well at all. We had bumped into each other professionally several times over the years and he had interviewed me for his Radio Stoke and Signal Radio programmes. But, such was Sam’s sincerity, charm and charisma he immediately made you feel that you were not only a friend of his, but a special one at that.

I was Sam’s last interviewee an Signal Radio. The topic was my book Battling Jack. Sam asked proper good questions and read out parts of the book beautifully. He had incredible empathy.

To me and many others the hugely popular Sam Plank was the voice of Stoke on Trent. But, through his programmes he also gave a voice to many, many other people who otherwise would have remained unheard.

He took up their issues with councils and corporations and more often than not won the day for them. It is well known that having Sam on your side was at least half the battle in resolving a problem. There was love in the room on Monday right enough.

Sam fought his illness with great bravery and without self-pity. Huge condolences to Verity and her family. Lynda and I are thinking of you.

What can be said when some one like Sam Plank is lost to us?

Well from me, I reckon the very least Sam deserves is the highest personal accolade I as a southerner can give him:


Saturday, 12 February 2011


Hey, BIG GREETINGS either and several; eachly, both, one and all.

As usual I’ve been up to too much to get a new blog written earlier. I’ll try to catch up a little bit even though life's still hectic. I wanted to post the true history of the The Canalsiders Ceili Band too, but that’ll have to wait till later.

StringFing did an unusual gig, back in early January, at Gorton Monastery for Adoption Matters North West. The event was the grand finals of a poetry competition on the theme of ‘Belonging’. There were a huge number of entries. Some good uns an’ all.

The judges were: Joy Winkler, John Lindley, Jim Bennett, Copland Smith, Gill McEvoy, Carol Fenlon, Elizabeth Burns, Sarah Hymas and yours truly. We had poems from Joy, John, Jim, Copland and Carol. All excellent wordsmiths.

I was the link person for the event – introducing everybody and stuff. StringFing played a few English traditional dance tunes while the folks got seated.

The short-listed poems were read by the guest poets and the winners announced. I presented the top scribblers in each region with their prizes.

I was commissioned to write a song for the event on the theme of ‘Belonging’ Here’s the lyric:


All across the world
In every land is heard
Voices of dissent and division
Whoever it is you serve
However your heart is stirred
Whatever your race or religion:

You and me, we’re family
We belong together
You and me, let’s all agree
We belong together

You may not be free
They may call you enemy
And use their guns to defeat you
Such bigotry fails to see
We are linked inextricably
From pole to pole, through and through

You and me, we’re family
We belong together
You and me, let’s all agree
We belong together

You’re stumbling along your rugged road
With your pockets full of stones
You’re hitting the wall; you’re ready to fall
You’ve never felt more alone . . .

When you’ve been hurt by love
You may think the worst of love
You may think love pure invention
When we’ve been cursed by love
In our thirst for love
Remember our true connection:

You and me, we’re family
We belong together
You and me, let’s all agree
We belong together.

© W. Terry Fox

If you want to hear the tune I came up with too, there’s a rough version of me playing it on me Jack Jones in our back bedroom via this link:

Now you can see why I have Adam and Emily making music with me. On the day, StringFing did the song twice and the whole audience sang along to it. I love it when people join in.

The event was master-minded by deWinter PR and Marketing of Chester. If you ever get a chance to work with them, do so. They are a dream to work with.

I’ve got a photo for you: StringFing playing Pity the Poor Poor Pig at our Xmas do at the New Inn, sent in by our buddy Chris Malkin:

Where’s Emily? you may well ask. Chris couldn’t get her in the shot cuz of the crowd at the front, so here’s Emily playing the tune on a long-previous occasion:

We usually play this instrumental piece after we have handed percussion instruments out to our long-suffering and highly rhythmic audiences. And, of course, as well as putting them to work on tambourines, bells and shakers, we get them yelling out the refrain:


‘What is that all about then?’ I’m commonly asked by the uninitiated - that is to say that I am asked often. I’m not inferring that the people who ask me the question come from a inferior class than wot I does for I doubt there is one. If so, it’s probable they have't learnt to walk upright yet.

Which reminds me: The great Charlie Mingus (RIP), jazz bassist and composer extraordinaire wrote an autobiography with a classic, unbeatable, down-trodden class reference in its title: Beneath the Underdog. How about that?! Awesome.

Which Mingus reference reminds me: Hey Anna, thanks for posting your comment and for your good wishes. It goes both ways, mate. I really miss teaching at the MMU.

Which in turn reminds me: I heard Jo Bell’s jacked in my old job already. One term, Jo? What the hell can the students be like this year? They seemed harmless enough when I met the new intake briefly on Mow Day. You never can tell though, with students, eh? Come to think of it, hmmm, there does happen to be a fire extinguisher in every room . . .

Which reminds me – the student ‘riots’ (should it be ‘police or state riots’?) which seem so long ago now thanks to my fecklessness over blog writing: I reckon that young geezer - as senselessly reckless as his fire-extinguisher-over-the-balcony action was - is now paying the price for everybody who dared to dissent.

Be warned, next time, my protesting students and friends of equal opportunity and education for all, behave impeccably, max up your numbers and pile on the political pressure. Governments are like spoilt kids. You’ve got to handle them with care before you can get them under control, otherwise they just kick off in tantrums and manage to sidetrack the masses from the real issue being contested. Hand in hand with their close friends of the print media, of course.

An example of how to do it might be Egypt. We’ll have to see how that turns out.

Back to Pity the Poor Poor Pig: I wrote it when I was idling around on a guitar in the kitchen waiting for the kettle to boil. I got so into the licks I had to reboil the kettle a few times before I’d got the tune nailed and could reward myself with a cup of Rosie Lee.

The resulting tune is a kind of boogie, but then again it has a kind of shuffle beat. It mostly feels like a Cajun groove to me, and when ever I think of Cajun music I think of a woodland glade with a row of musos (the word row has an interesting ambiguity in this context) sitting along the trunk of a felled tree going diddy-diddy-diddy-diddy on squeeze boxes with someone beating out 'dinner’s ready' on a big triangle. In the right hand corner of this mind picture, a sacrificial pig, slaughtered and gutted, shaved and impaled in the prime of its fat pigging life, is slowly rotating on a spit over an open fire.

The hog roast is a cliché of Louisiana swamp music along with dungarees, baseball caps, moody splay-toothed alligators, mango trees, and a kind of French nobody bothers to speak anymore.

Plusly, Cajun music has an infectious, hypnotic beat. Great to dance to, but, hey, what a shame a piggywig has to die every time the two-steppers put on their tartan shirts for a shindig.

My Lynda is a vegetarian. I am as well, a bit. Hey, I wonder if they have swine bars down there in Cajun country for the upwardly mobile?

StringFing has done its first New Inn gig of the year. Lots of our lovely StringFing mates were there so it was a good audience in spite of a number of people kept away by the freezing fog. We were fortunate to have as a guest muso the one-and-only Chris Bingham on mouth harp. Most people know Chris as an outstanding jazz funk bass player he is. Not so many know that he is a fine blues harp player too.

Sharing a couple of numbers with us also was our inimitable blues bro Pete Latham. If there’s anyone who spends more time thinking about music than Pete, it’s someone who never goes to sleep. Pete is a wonderful musician. He has eclectic tastes and a vast knowledge of blues and folk history.

Me and Pete go back a long way, but we lost contact for a few years (I think of this period of time as Pete’s wilderness years lol). We’ve been sessioning a few Alf-Alfa tunes together recently – him on mandolin, me scraping the fiddle.

Check out Pete via this link:

Good ain’t he?

Right, I’ve got other stuff to get up to now.


Tuesday, 4 January 2011


Hey, Xmas have been an gorn. Hope yours was a happy one, and while we are about it, a very happy and peaceful 2011 to you an yours, my ducks.

We had our Jack to dinner on Christmas Eve, went over to Amy and Dave’s for dinner on Christmas day, and had Marion, Jane, Graham and Katy over for drinks an stuff on Boxing Day. Oh the lovely yuletide mulled wine warmth of it all.

My Christmas poetry gig with the Congleton Choral Society was cancelled ‘due to bad weather’. Ironically, they forgot to let me know and I found out when I arrived smoothly and on time at the venue for the afternoon rehearsal. Wha? Bad weather? But, I’ve got here all right. How do you explain that then? They graciously gave me my fee, but missing the gig gave me a, ‘Now where have I put that drink I was half-way through?’ feeling that I couldn’t shake off for days.

On Christmas Day we had our jolly seasonal telephone call from Cyril Lawton, The mighty bearded one of the golden days of the Bridge Street Arts Centre.

Cyril and I have a chequered history – we had a fight soon after we first met. My fault really. Cyril is a sly mover and after a sophisticated ‘play dead’ ploy by him, I came a rapid second best (I’m crap at the noble art anyway) and had to have a gash over my left eye stitched up at Hartshill A&E.

That Friday night at the A&E unit was a vision of hell: lads by the score with broken limbs, slashed faces, some with axes and bottles sticking out of their heads, and all with Madam Alcohol to thank for it. My newly-humbled self included. Ah, the sad sad wreckage of that woman's followers.

The nurse reckoned I was at least the 500th person that night to have sustained their injuries ‘falling down the stairs’.

As I say, I’m useless at fighting, to which my blacked eyes, split lips and six stitches clearly bore testimony. But, strangely, those injuries gained me something of a reputation for being a hard nut. Huh? Thankfully this reputation was short-lived for I’d be completely unable to live up to it.
Since those misguided drunken fisticuffs, and in the course of hundreds of gigs, Cyril and my family became firm friends. It was great to hear from him on Christmas Day. Cyril asked me if I had seen Robbie Williams on TV recently when the ol’ Stokie songbird mentioned Bridge Street?

Robbie reckoned, in his teens, Bridge Street was a source of top and inspirational music for him. This cleared up a small mystery for me: Lynda was chatting to Robbie in the Mill Hill Tavern one night and Heymaker came up in the conversation. ‘I used to go and see you at Bridge Street,‘ Robbie told her.
‘Gerroff,’ Lynda said. ‘You’d have only been about 14!’
‘Yeah, that’s right,’ said Robert cheerfully.

There seemed to be a ring of truth about it: he knew exactly what the Heymaker line-up was and the sort of stuff we played then, but it was hard to credit that he was down Bridge Street at such a young age. I suspected a wind-up. In Robbie's parlance: you're joking me.

‘He was a good kid,’ Cyril told me. ‘I used to let him sit in a corner and watch the bands. Heymaker was number one band there and he saw you a lot.’

We didn’t become mates with Robbie until the early days of Take That. Our Amy was in their target age group and was totally captivated by them as were her mates.

In the dim and smoky past, I had worked in bands on the same bill as Robbie’s comedian dad, Pete (aka Pete Conway), in various working mens clubs and later had been hired by him to play gigs for his staff when he was at the Valiant’s Social Club.

Lynda’s memories of Pete are of when he was in the same short-hand and typing class as her, both studying for their future careers – Lynda’s as a secretary and Pete’s as a policeman. Yes, a policeman. Lynda said Pete cracked jokes the whole time and had them all falling about laughing. He never did wear the blue helmet. That is to say, he never became a policeman.

We did the pub quiz at the Tavern with Robbie one night. There were a dozen or so teams and we came second – second from last, that is. Rob knew more about 60s music than I did and I was there at the time. Then, again, that’s what they say about the 60s, ain’t it?

You have to give your quiz team a name. Robbie chose ‘The Nomads’. He’d just come back from a social trip to Glastonbury with M People and was full of inspiration for the gypsy life. He was to storm Glastonbury with his own gig not long after. And then he stormed in the wilderness for a bit, and now he’s gone full circle, singing with Take That again. Amy’s over you now Robbie. Sorry dood.

We’re off to play the Stoke Hornpipe with Greg and Kate’s team at the Glebe tonight.

Be of good cheer,