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,