O Drom


British 'TRAVELLING' Soul-Singer Songmaker, Storytelling harmonica-playing, tap-dancing one-man-rhythmic-dance-band 'BLETHERS'.

How did you become a professional singer?

I never thought I could be a professional singer The first time I was paid for enjoying myself, for doing something I loved, I thought, that's the secret to life, I'm getting paid for doing something I enjoy, so I am a success, I have a job! Actually, the first time all I really got paid was my tube train fare.

Where did you start to sing? What kind of venue types, bars or folk clubs?

I started playing for dancing, some Folk clubs said I was too political or not traditional, their reaction to me told as much, or more about their politics as it did mine.

I always joke that I'll teach my Grandma my songs…. then learn them back off her, I can call them Traditional songs then!

Every folk club is different. Some organizers are more open than others. I still feel a great debt is owed to Folk club organizers, who arrange, invite, advertise and take risks for no reward but the pleasure of being involved in such a movement.

A couple of folk clubs I played wouldn't allow the audience to dance, one promoter got very physically abusive and stroppy with someone who was dancing, which upset me, some of the people were asking me why I was playing in such an unfriendly place like this. I found that I was playing to both a folk club, listening crowd and a younger more Punky or "alternative" crowd, I'd attracted from playing at Glastonbury Festival and or, miners benefits, or who I'd reached when supporting Michelle Shocked.

Some clubs were very small, but they let everyone in, so that was a big crowd, and it started getting uncomfortable for people, especially those who felt their folk club had suddenly been overrun and changed ambience for a night. They were great steamy gigs, sweaty and the magic was created because they were so very intimate and acoustic, with no mikes. (Some clubs I remember enjoying were The Bacca Pipes, Empress Of Russia, and Jolly Collier) I was happy, also believing this was the only way to change the Folk Club atmosphere was from the inside, by playing in them, not by turning your back on them! But it started to get ridiculous, people sitting on floors, folks at the back trying to see and hear. Me losing my voice, and some people wanting to dance.

I started wanting to play bars again instead, with Microphones and PA, not so precious, and play, again, for people to dance to as well as to listen. I wanted to take people on a journey with my stories, inside themselves, but also physically, singing my Dance stories, celebrating life, moving around and not feeling like I was playing in some church museum, library, classical, precious concert situation all the time.

I wanted both. I like variety, not playing only one kind of venue. I do not just want to play for people to dance. I want to nourish them too, heal something, and open up. I'm not talking in a religious sense, but I'm talking about what people, we all, want to experience directly, to feel it, touch it. It's not just about picking up CDs in a shop and playing it at home, but people holding instruments themselves, joining in, being part of it all, participating, not being a tourist, standing outside, spectating.

I still play folk clubs, but not everywhere. Because I wanted there to be room for people to dance as well. Even in a folk Club, I don't think of it as playing to a "Folk Club audience" "Stamp collectors" or "Train-spotters" It is "An Audience" whoever is there, is there and I don't like stereotyping. To me it's dangerous, I take everyone at face value, however, they're dressed, straight, with short hair, long dreadlocks, trendy or not, old young, uniformed.

I couldn't get gigs in the "bigoted" or 'conservative' folk clubs at the time, even though the audience enjoyed my songs, the organizers didn't. I did better busking and playing at some of the country fayres, i.e. Anyway I took off again travelling. For a couple of years and then came back again.

Give me music outside around a fire anytime.

What kind of people come to hear you sing?

I have more than one kind of audience, some people come to hear the harp playing, Other people come to hear songs, others politics, and others dance and travel. Young and old. Some for everything, the variety. I've had people bringing their Grandmas and mums to hear me and I've had Grandmas and dads bringing their sons or Grandchildren.

I have played despite the audience, played with them, or against them, but with respect, I have always wilfully, played for myself, I won't adapt what I do for "The Big Audience". I play as if it were my last gig, maybe that is self-indulgent to some people I'd play 3-4 hour gigs because I played for the dancers, Movement is also good for the arthritis! But then some people come and hear me by accident too, turning up and not knowing what they're in for. They come up to me at the end, clearly affected and touched and moved and have been challenged and disturbed and excited by something new for them. Some, in the past, have also walked out, but that is their right.

People are always coming back to listen to a song again and hear something else, they are quite dense songs. People come and hear something they never heard the first time. Songs can change, depending on how I perform them and in what context I'm singing them. It's not always about what songs you make and sing but about how you relate to an audience, the context, and the places you sing in. The directness, an intimate relationship. It is magical if you can make a big audience feel like they're in a living room.

How do you think people perceive your work?

I wanted folks to hear a song and experience a personal sense of discovery. I just do my work. I know for some people my singing voice sounds ludicrous, I ruined it by shouting, not singing, on the street etc, and the rawness. I used to use my falsetto a lot more. It's funny though, how my voice changes when I'm singing lullabies and holding my 5-month-old baby boy Solly, I am singing lower and quieter, there's more resonance, I'm relaxed and I'm trying to sing him to sleep. I am singing with a different attitude, more tuneful and soulful in a small, darker room. I am not a choir boy or a "pretty" singer. But I don't care, I don't want to be. I enjoy singing. I'm not trying to sell culture. I know I talk too much between songs, there are stories behind each song, and they are part of the song, I suppose I'm giving background you wouldn't get just listening to a CD, the stories are almost inseparable from my songs now, I'm just not singing them, maybe I should sing my intros! I wish my talking at a gig could be a conversation with the audience, Of course when I'm playing for dancing, I'll be keeping the flow, not interrupting the flow with talk. Back to the talking though...That's why certain kinds of "Heckling" are welcome, questions. observations, opinions, as long as they aren't while you're singing. It's all audience participation.

Do you feel like you are part of a tradition?

Yes, I do feel that I am part of a tradition like Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, and George Formby, Bob Marley, Sam Cooke. Robbie Burns. Louis Armstrong Bessie Smith. I related in some way to the experiences they expressed. Some would say that they aren't my own cultural traditions, but that is what I grew up with. I blame the parents! (Joke) But as an influence, It's integral, not consciously, but it's so intertwined an influence, something like oxygen maybe?

The Music I love to hear is nothing like the music I make and I play. I wouldn't want to listen to my music myself, there's not enough space in it, or enough soul and I make too many words! I think words can get in the way of emotions in a song. So I like short, simple strong songs, unlike a lot of my own songs. i.e. I love " A Change is gonna come" By Sam Cooke or Otis Redding. Hank Williams touched me, he had a way of expressing emotions, a real magic that has never gone away. Timeless.

β€˜Buddy Can you Spare a Dime’, is a beautiful Yip Harburg song from the Depression. I once was given Yip's phone number in South Mexico by a woman who’d worked for him, she’d heard me sing and thought he and I would get along well. I never got to New York City to meet him.

What traditions do you come from?

My traditions are from wherever I have been, travelled, who I played with, heard talked with, I was young when I left the UK. So I wasn't brought up listening to English/British traditional music, I was ignorant of it, I knew Woody Guthrie, Rock n' Roll like Eddie Cochran's, music Hall, Bob Marley etc. all songwriters are links in a chain. My mum and dad ran away to get married because my Dad wasn't Jewish and he was an Atheist. A Red. Whatever my Traditions are what Rock and Roll my mum liked to jive to, and What musicals my dad liked to sing in the shower etc.

Tell us what kind of music you like.

I love all music, from English to Galician music from Spain to China. Singing is my favourite kind of music, from Gospel to Waulking songs to Sardinian polyphony singing and Mongolian. and I adore the Big Band music of Duke Ellington, all those instruments and musicians that he used, playing live around one mike. He used instruments for their colour, texture, their voices, he got all that individual expressiveness from each instrument's voice out and playing together in an ensemble, those orchestras, and those arrangements, what a vision! You can hear all that life, no overdubs, life That's how it should be, recording, trying to capture a moment. Not falsify a moment.

I like simple tunes, and songs, they have a pure strength. The sincerity of the heart, honest not pretentious music or posing. None of the hype and myth-making, but the reality. I don't think I find drug-induced music interesting. What I mean is that I never liked the psychedelic pretentious experiments in public that took place in the sixties, all that unintelligible mysticism. It was a bit like the emperor's new clothes for me. I preferred Muddy Waters and Blind Willie Johnson, The Humble-bums and Otis Redding, an eccentric songwriter called Dory Previn etc. Jazz. John Prine, Stevie Wonder, Clash, Chuck Berry. Bert Lloyd, some Ewan MacColl songs. I love ballads, story songs, love songs, Topical, George Jones, Songs and music that take me on a journey make me cry, laugh, move me, joy, and feet jumping all that I need to get from music. You can hear that some of the music I make is influenced directly by Black blues music, not white blues, but the Afro-American soul singers. I can't play like them, don't want to, but I did learn and use what I learned because I was playing with a jug band on streets etc. those years ago, that's what we played, so I was trying to make songs that we could sing in the band. But I could never be a black Afro-American man. I sang in my own accent, which annoyed my mates who wanted me to phrase Americanisms like them, and I wanted to be myself, not pretend. It was the Emotions, the soul, or 'duende' as the Spanish call it, the spirit in the music that I loved, and was moved by. I did make songs and we sang them, the young band had an attitude which was the rawness we liked. No limp, fay, namby-pamby folk songs for us we were boys who wanted to be MEN! I liked all kinds of stuff back then, Country and Rock 'n' Roll. I made all the connections between the music, where it came from Blues to Jazz, Louis Armstrong playing blues trumpet, those wonderful double time, stops soloing flying around Bertha Chippie Hills voice like a lyrical honey bee. I was brought up on 78 records my mum had a wind-up gramophone player, which we played with like a toy, as 9-year-old kids would do. records by Tennessee Ernie Ford, Danny Kaye, Stan Freberg, and Musicals like Oklahoma, The first records we bought were Beatles 'All you need is love', 'Hello Goodbye', 'I'm a Walrus' 'Strawberry Fields' singles. We had gone to Butlins Holiday Camp for a holiday and The Beatles Hit was played and played as we drove on the bumper cars) That song stuck in our heads. My mum had a Tijuana brass record that I liked to play, and I also heard Rock and Roll into Rhythm and blues and Blues…. I didn't know what British Folk music was, But the first song I learned to play on Guitar was Woody Guthrie's Song 'Blowing Down the Road'. 3 chords, that's all I needed. I went to a record library in my teens and heard The Radio Ballads Ewan MacColl and Bert Lloyd singing and that was my first listening. It was the Songs I loved, stories about people, Bert Lloyd sang with a laughing voice, to me it was like Louis Armstrong's, 'What a Wonderful World' voice, or Billie Holiday's, voice, my favourite singers with Otis Redding later. I was borrowing records that I could never buy in a shop, stuff I found by accident in the library. I listened to Dylan, Beatles, Tamla Motown, Django Reinhardt, Herb Alpert, Tijuana brass music, Shankar, Captain Beefheart, and Radio Luxembourg, I'd listen to that in the bath, The Persuasions they were one of my favourites, singing acapella soul music.

Are you happy if other people sing your songs?

I'm very flattered and I'm happy that my songs can travel without me. I like to think that people will take my songs and add to them, change them around, (they aren't written in stone,) borrow them and that they, like me, are part of the folk process, it's a currency. I made a song in Southville like that for folks who live there, for them to sing. After we all performed it, I left it with them to keep or forget and asked people to add their own verses etc. to make it their own. It is about them and for them. to use or forget. It belongs to them. I have borrowed from them too….reminiscences, from their pasts, my past, our past. etc… (I have a song about Borrowing somewhere) Maybe, You have to borrow something before you can develop. I'm just a link in the chain. I am traditional in the way that I am part of the tradition of people making music! Just attempting to communicate.

So do you believe that English Folk Traditions and music are still alive?

That 'British, or English' culture whatever it might be, that folk tradition, art, history etc. Is still there, we are all struggling to keep it alive and help it grow, change, adapt and develop. To keep it relevant. The Church stole our culture years ago, and Capitalism broke up communities, and families, The English ruling class, elite, Victorian priests, and teachers all tried to destroy "folk culture" make it polite, tame it whatever. Tie it up, kill it, and pacify it. This thing that people were making for themselves, for the sake of it.

I, like many other singers and musicians, would play and make songs even if no one paid me. Between jobs, after work, I would carry on. If I couldn't get a gig, I busked, when I was arrested for that I'd sing in people's kitchens, parties, weddings, whatever. I am Stubborn. But to me it's like eating, I don't care about artistic judgements that people make about what I do. There's music I don't like or is boring to me. But I think all kinds of music can exist together and meet sometimes. I want diversity. It's healthier and more exciting. It's happening all over the world. We need it when we're sad, we cry, maybe in singing and dancing, we cry till we laugh.

I need the soulful way a tune and rhythm can liberate us from the sadness of a song. The blues work that way. It's like the slow, sad slow burning Jewish melody played on a violin, so melancholy, crying, lamenting but then a rhythm is found, very very slowly it is found, and the feet start to move slowly and the rhythm picks up more speed. You rise from your chair, and your body moves with your feet as the tune pulls you up, and your heavy heart starts to rise like bread in the oven and you realize that despite all this sadness etc that life must go on, and we survive with that.

So in that way rhythm and tempo and melody can liberate us. Or am I the only one that happens to?

I don't believe so. I think It can be the same In Irish Music, with a slow lament on the Uillean pipes that speeds up and becomes a reel or a jig. You get that surge of inner strength that stirs you, moves you fills you up and makes you Yelp like a happy dog and encourage the piper to "throw it off you Mucker" Tradition doesn't stand still it evolves technically, I hope I'm part of that journey of discovery, the soul or spirit still has to be there in the music for it to survive. It is soul music to me.

My Grandma again maybe. There are songs for all moments of life, we all have songs inside.

No one in my family played instruments, busy trying to earn a living, they hadn't much time to learn, but they all enjoyed singing and dancing.

Al Jolson, old songs, music hall.

Bands like the Pogues maybe helped to get the young interested in "traditional", and folk musical forms" as opposed to corporate pop music, that is a good move reclaiming our folk culture and evolving it, adding to it, inventing, making new songs, for today.

If you play a live instrument people are fascinated by it. For young DJs, real instruments are a novelty, I played spoons for a friend DJ on DAT tape with some Latin music. He wanted to mix them into the track as he played the record. Also, a young sound engineering student in Bristol visited me on my bus and got me to play and sing my harp for manipulation later on, some mixing, and sampling she was welding and splicing together later on. I don't know what she did with it. Maybe it became part of another new folk process!

Where are you born? Where are you from?

My first identity is not exactly English. I'll half joke and say I was born in London so I could be near to my Mum!

My dad is from the Govan shipyards of Glasgow, I suppose I am part of a long journey of my ancestors, refugees from Russia, Jewish, and work seekers from Scottish Islands, fortune seekers and adventurers from Scotland and Russia, a mongrel. etc. I am British.

I/we are all/am the sum of what I have heard, who I have met, my lingo, jokes, places, family, divorce, everything.

I never wrote a song and said this is a British, song or going to be a Cajun or even Latin.

I evolved a style without really knowing I was evolving a style.

I am a British man, singing a song that I made up about my travels in Mexico, using a kind of, Mexican feel tune but actually, it isn't Mexican. Maybe the Polka part is kind of Mexican. I don't know where the tune came from, my voice and guitar, improvised and blossomed, but in the end, it's the story, it happens to be my story, biographical, but it's all I know about, what to sing about, my life, about my family my mum, Shirley and people I've met. etc.

I think people have seen me as some kind of Maverick, a loner. I'm not a loner. I don't like herds or Gangs but I do like togetherness.

I returned to the UK. London after some 10 years away, just like Ossian or Rip Van Winkle might, to a strange country I was born in and raised in. Yet I still wondered where my home was. I was seeing my country and culture with new eyes. Also, in the midst of travelling, I wondered if I was going somewhere or running away. My family had split up, and I was feeling very sorry for myself at the time. I thought travelling might heal my wounds. But in the end, You can't run away from yourself, and all that emotional baggage is carried on your back with you wherever you go.

Labels are always a problem. For Rock music stations maybe I was always folky and for folky I was always too contemporary not traditional enough. I joke and say. You'll find my record in the "Difficult Listening" section of the record shop! I feel maybe I should be in the Soul, Folk, pop, rock, country and Eastern sections. All labels are straight jackets and I never feel like I belong. I always feel like I am a soul singer, because I sing my own songs, from my soul. That's where my songs are really rooted, not in a country or part of a clan or tribe, club, or gang. We are soul singers. At times, depending on what I'm singing about, I do have a strong sense of singing for my class of people, sometimes, it was the way I was brought up. Class conscious,

It's a journey to me, the threads, you can see how styles, ideas, stories, tunes, travel, like language, immigrants, etc. There are medieval Greek words in the Romany language that is spoken in Wales by ROM peoples, Yiddish is made up of German and other languages mixed, borrowed, twisted, and adapted.

The Oud, Lute that became the guitar, brought back by the crusades, string harps that were left in Vera Cruz, South America by sailors. I left a harmonica or two in Afghanistan, a gift for hospitality or traded for something else. Baksheesh. I wonder what they are playing or trying to play on those harmonicas. Music has journeyed, from Africa to Morocco, to Flamenco Spain. To South America, Cuba, and back again to Africa, cross-fertilizing, using accordions that were made in Germany, Harmonicas and accordions then going back to China where they started as an ancient mouth accordion, harmonica, with free-flowing reeds, a sheng. The Drones in music, that thick river of light, universal like blood and pulse and....from Eire, Scotland, Galicia, Australia, India.

People always want to separate, pigeon-hole, and yes folk music is separate in its forms and aesthetics, but I can't help making the connections, it must be the hippie in me. Fighting the Teddy Boy Rocker and skinhead punk in me! The fascist in me, fighting the communist in me. The Cynic, fighting the sentimental. The believer fighting the unbeliever. All the contradictions I have, we all have. It keeps life interesting I suppose.

You told me you're an internationalist, does that mean you aren't patriotic?

I am not Patriotic in the sense that I believe my country can do no wrong, Government wise, and the colonialist mentality of the ruling classes. Etc. I'd be the same with a friend I loved, I'd still tell them off. Criticize them. I do love the British Isles, travelling around it, the richness. The language, the humour and the character, But I still see squalor, poverty, racism, selfish greed and fear. I can't ignore the evidence that the 'third world' is in our own backyard. Most Countries I have visited I have loved. There are rich and poor and dispossessed everywhere.

But you are a world musician yourself aren't you?

I don't know, It's a name, another label, that is marketable, whereas 'Folk' isn't as trendy.

World music, is that like travelling without leaving your armchair? Or is it another name for 'Black' music? Or Music that comes from the 'so-called' third world, the exploited world?

World Music, that label, the exotic. Doesn't everyone play World Music? Or is everything else from Mars? Maybe there has been some misappropriation? I am suspicious of music that tries to come from everywhere but comes from nowhere in particular. It's all world/folk music to me, from a Suffolk melodeon player to Argentines Bandonean player Astor Piazzola, to Zulu Jive, it's all music only two kinds to me and my taste, just 'good or bad'. but there may be a positive side to its popularization because part of this fashion has led people to re-discover their own cultural roots in a 'World' context and revived an interest in exploring their own traditions and keeping them alive. singing in their own accents, and dialects, re-discovering their identity. i.e. Welsh, Geordie, Cockney, Gaelic etc, Which to me, has always been a battle against what I might call the "cultural colonialism" of the ruling class of corporate pop industry, etc. It is something to do with reclaiming language and our own history or our own truths about ourselves. It's realizing how rich we are with all that. Stuff that the church stole or appropriated somehow, some centuries ago.

Travelling away, and feeling 'exiled' made me want to know my own country, and culture more, as much as I wanted to know the culture and lingo of the countries I travelled to and had to find work and survive in.

I always wrote and sang in my own accent, that was one way, perhaps, of retaining, and holding onto my identity, even though some folks I sang to, that far away, never understood my words or accent, the rhythms and feelings were always there. Within that search and discovery was also an internationalism for me, a feeling of being rich, encouraged by other peoples keeping their cultures and lingo alive too, that common struggle, and celebrating our differences and our similarities, sharing the same journey, just different roads. All singing love songs and our histories in our own lingoes. All Fighting against dispossession, all, organizing against our poverty and bad living conditions etc. Folk music is everywhere just different labels. It's the same in the way Rap music is all over the world, often has close ties to local, hometowns, posses, collective groups, uniting musicians. Singing words and rhythm and making their own local songs about local problems in local dialects. It's more natural. To me that's folk music.

Also, the immigration of peoples has affected our traditions in positive ways, I went to school with West Indians and Asians, and so grew up hearing ska and reggae at school youth clubs etc. Music has become a way of overcoming cultural differences and fighting racial intolerance. New sounds and music were brought here, like food recipes and spices, by immigrants, like my Gran, and now people are being made aware of problems that occur when people of different nationalities live together and also the richness of their culture and arts. Maybe blending "British" sounds with those of immigrant cultures helps to smooth over the differences and reduce hostilities between ethnic groups. That's what emerging young musicians seem to be doing. It's a meeting too between cultures, jamming, a meeting, crossing each other's borders together and that's a positive thing about the umbrella or label that is 'World Music'.

Also personally, in my own family, me singing songs about my mum, gran, dad etc, was the same for me, it was a yearning for community and also, since my folks had divorced, etc. My parents eventually became like friends of mine, as vulnerable and as lonely as we all get sometimes in our lives.

I sing and play for all ages. We are all young and old, childish and wise and ignorant at different times about different things.

I've heard you play the Bandorea, What other strange instruments do you play?

I love instruments for their colour, texture and moods they can create, not because of where they're from or because they are exotic, but because of what they can do. I love Dobro, or lap steel pipes, Harp or Kora, Hurdy Gurdy drones, musical saws etc (I don't play them all). It's their voices, it all comes down to the voice for me too, the pipes are an interpretation of the human voice and vice versa. Fiddle too, slow airs. etc lilting grace notes bending, sliding and quivering, fingering. I love the pipes, Voice of the fingers. A Pedal steel guitar can create angels, high stratospheric notes, floating, like a wash. That's why I used it on 'London Kisses.'

It is strange how things like 'folk music' are devalued here because they are familiar because they are not from some remote exotic place. Our own culture. I love singing the songs I made about London, invoking place names, pride and love of place, of lingo, and nostalgia of a childhood growing up in London. Singing my truth fills me up to bursting sometimes, an overwhelming feeling, a connection is made for me when I sing those songs. Singing the memory of my Gran or people I know, I've met and love, all part of me, inseparable. It's become a mission for me now!

You play the Trombone?

I'm a trombone owner! That's different. Yes, I've enjoyed playing sessions with my fretless bass Kazoo, my trombone. Sessions are my favourite, they're unpretentious and not "prestigious" and not 'precious' at all, but I like them best. In a session I'm a professional musician who plays amateurly as well, with everyone else, there is sometimes a clique at a session, But normally it is on the same level, no mikes etc, anyone can join in etc. I have a big appetite for them. it's a pleasure for me as I never play my trombone anywhere else! (The only thing I hate is the smoke. I prefer outside sessions, fresh air, the sky and no passive smoking. I've become an asthmatic playing and singing in smoky bars.)

I've had folk coming up to me saying how they like the trombone on some reels and jigs, it is quite an effective big-bodied addition to a sound, especially when the session is all strings or soprano melody instruments.

I try to make the traditional reels or jigs swing a little. Accenting the b parts or underpinning a drone underneath, as a piper might. Then I might pump the rhythm on one round and the next round come in with a melodic syncopating swinging riff, that pushes the tune, at the same time as giving it a very simple counter melody. It might just be four or five notes, but because of the range of the Trombone, it can give a tune 'body'. Also building up a set of tunes, just like when the pipes come in and stir, and lift the tunes a notch.

I played a bass harmonica which was so wonderfully fat and resonant but just too quiet, it needed a mike. I bought the Trombone in a Leeds pawn shop for Fifty Quid. You don't have to plug in a trombone as a bass instrument it's very flexible, playing quietly and concentrating on tone is my ideal, also a trombone can play grace notes, slides and all! In the right hands (or mouth)!

Being in a horn section too is fun, wandering around festivals all night with my mates Bob and Richard we'd join in with bands, intuitively working out harmonic and rhythmic horn parts together, or we'd just play my tunes that we had brass arrangements for.

Some folks would rather hear me play the harp than Trombone. They say that they think that it takes too much time away from my 'moothy' (Harmonica) playing. But to me it's like being BI-lingual, you want to communicate in either, English or Japanese, so I want to communicate with the bone, get a good sound and pick out the notes that sound good to me.

I can say a lot of things with music that I can't say just talking. Playing is like breathing, it might not make sense to you, but it's still communicating or trying to.

Let's talk about your songwriting and your approach.

My approach has changed over the years. I decided, years before, that the songs I make should be understood by my Grandma, mum etc my own, background, soul music, not too introverted angst-ridden, too poetic, or intellectual but a celebration of life. That doesn't mean to say I've never made songs that are soul-searching. We need all kinds of songs, but at the time, there were always people singing those kinds of songs but not singing about people or politics.

I am very committed to my own songs, stubbornly, even when I busked, I only ever sang my own songs. It wasn't an 'arrogance' as much as... that's all I do. My identity, people do come to hear me sing my songs cos no one else sings them. I like to hear good original songs I've never heard before. I do lose interest hearing the cliche overplayed covers, maybe as they are never normally done justice to. I'd rather hear an original "good" song even if it wasn't performed as well. I guess that's because great songs are strong enough to stand up on their own. I do sing other folks' songs. ( maybe I'm not the kind of Traditional musician or singer, Folks wouldn't come to hear the way I play or interpret a traditional tune. i.e. an inside audience who knows that kind of tune/song quality.)

I always joke, pretending arrogance, and say that I won't play any Dylan songs, as he never plays any of mine. (Joke) I have sung and still do sing other people's songs live i.e. Woody Guthrie, Sam Cooke, Ewan MacColl, Yip Harburg, Hammerstein, but haven't recorded many.

I write new songs mainly cause I'm tired of the old ones. Some melodies are folk derivative melodies, simple chords I use.

It's quite unique the way you sing and using your accent.

I'm not good enough to copy anyone else I don't have the technical skills required or the time to be bothered trying anyway. I just sing and play my own songs mostly, that's all I do. It's the telling of the story that's important to me, communicating the emotional content of my story. I taught myself the bad habits I play with!

I'm not that kind of interpretive singer. I just do what I enjoy and that is my secret, not pretending to be a black blues man or American country singer etc.

I can be stubborn sometimes, it comes from my dad telling me what to do maybe, and me defiantly going my own way. I came bottom in music at school so maybe I had something I had to prove.

Sometimes, I might make up a pretty tune but it doesn't always suit the subject or voice in the song/story. Even though I might like the melodic idea. It distracts from the idea of that song. It might be too clever, or too sophisticated with too many chords for the voice in that song, i.e. 'The Farming Woman's War', has just 3 chords, which is simple but stronger for the voice of that white farming woman.

The melody for my song-making springs out of the words and rhythm, but there are no rules to the creative process. Songs and tunes get constructed in completely different ways. Most of the work can be in editing, or distilling, you might get too many ideas, details, images, and words and then have to prune things away to get to the essence and focus. These days I like to make every line count. Then I like to work out melodic lines for the guitar or my voice in the song to make it richer, give it more variation, and depth of movement, decorate the story, or make it more fun for myself to sing. Or to give the listener a rest from all those words I might be using. Then I might stop myself and ask myself. Is this accessible to my grandma, am I being oblique, too clever? Am I being self-indulgent at all? Does it move me to sing this song? I can't always decide, and I might chuck it away and abandon it for a year or two and come back to it if I remember. Then I might see what's wrong or right with it. see if it holds up. Some of my songs are long, so I try to create melodic changes to keep them interesting. Sometimes I fail.

Have you collaborated with anyone else in writing?

No, not really, I did, in an indirect way, with students I was teaching when I gave a songwriting workshop a few years ago. I did also work with a goal in mind when I was writing for a theatre group in Aberdeen. Songs were needed to move the plot or create a mood or express the feelings of a character. Making up songs to that kind of deadline is easier because in a way the song is more functional.

Collaborating with someone else can make that process much faster, that weeding or editing. Someone you trust, who is objective can help to focus and iron out any misunderstandings, unclear phrases or foggy poetics in a song etc. to help achieve clarity and simplicity and directness. I have asked for a friend's opinion before about a line or a verse, whether it made sense to them. It can be very helpful to ask someone who might hear or see things you have missed because you are too close to them. Being the creator, You know what you are trying to say, or what story you are trying to tell, but does anyone else?

I suppose that is what a producer does in a recording studio. But I am talking about songs that you are making to perform live. Not writing in an expensive womb-like studio, and then recording something that has never been tested on a live audience.

I do try to make the song interesting and give it richness, craft it so that it will reach more people, i.e. I like to make melody with surprises and a tunefulness that takes you somewhere, and makes you want to sing or whistle along too. There aren't always set rules though. Everyone works in different ways.

Maybe using a traditional tune for some words is helping to evolve the music, and keep it alive, some old words might not mean anything anymore, so change them. For me It's not enough to sing a song cause it's got a nice tune, it has to mean something to me, for me to connect to it emotionally.

Maybe I'm an avant-garde traditionalist! (Joke)

Maybe, You have to borrow something before you can develop. Songs are always there to re-discover. I suppose you want to make a song to give you that feeling that some song has given you, yet you don't want it to be like that song, you want it to be your own thing. Yet in a deeper sense, all those kinds of songs are like each other.

Hank, Williams, like Woody, was a performer too, and that's a thing that separates a person who just writes songs, who needs a song to play on stage year after year. A good performer can always make a bad song sound good, (i.e. Billy Holiday) Sometimes you might hear a good song, and wonder who wrote it, maybe because the performers; are not as good as the song, maybe?

The best songs, for me, are made very quickly. But many I make never make it and haven't survived, I might come back and listen to them again maybe and try to reconnect with an idea or feeling I started before. But it's nearly impossible to succeed with that. It's a game, rhyming and sitting around working out a rhyme, getting a rhyme and working it backwards, staying in an unconscious frame of mind to pull it off.

Some songs are made up in peace and quiet and delivered in turmoil, others might be made up in turmoil and delivered in a peaceful, quiet way.

It's Funny why or how you can like a song because of what it reminds you of, a time, a place, someone. Something you heard on the radio, music is evocative in that special way, put you in touch with a moment. A smell can do the same. It's funny I remember the smell of my grandma's coat in her wardrobe where I would hide in a game. I didn't know what that smell was till years later. It was mothballs! All those words! In your songs! You're a poet. I'm not a poet, poets don't drive cars do they or they don't wash up dishes they drown in lakes.

Some songs don't need words.

Some songs, for me, could go on forever, there are too many verses and there are not enough. It's too much and not enough. Other songs won't stop, where do you end? It doesn't stop!

You could still be making it, a work continually in progress, a myriad of verses! a hundred stories in one story growing, being lived, breathing and continuous. I am quite aware of writing lies, i.e. "I love you" when I don't mean it. I'm looking for truth. I try to be careful when I use the words "Love" or "Freedom" While I make and sing my songs and tunes. I still look for the core of the song when I'm performing it and recording it. I don't want prettiness or decorations, I'm looking for the emotional truth in the story, wanting to keep the strength, not to dilute it and paint and varnish it over but keep the raw wood grain, and brass! Let the songs breathe.

My arrangements are becoming more simple these days, also the melodies, so that the story doesn't get buried.

I was making songs before I ever played a guitar or harp I sang them acapella to myself. And when I was 10 years old I was given a broken old reel-to-reel tape recorder by an uncle, I fixed it by accident and experimented with my voice singing and speeding up the tape, messing around. I also borrowed an old cheap, Woolworth's organ that got very hot, I thought it might melt. I made up tunes and recorded them on the tape machine. I borrowed it from a friend and had to give the organ back.

I wanted a piano but we couldn't get one, no room, etc. I remember being on a holiday on the Isle of Wight. I must have been 7 or 8 years old, staying in a B+B. There was an upright piano. I remember sitting there playing notes on it, making up simple tunes, enjoying the flats and sharps, the feel of the black notes, the feel of the keys, and trying to reach the accelerator pedal. The next day I went to play it again but, It had been locked. I was always a slow learner, I had no one to show me. I was told I was a failure when I was at school. That was a disadvantage in one way, in another it made me try hard as I had no talent, and I always had to work hard at it.

I craved praise and encouragement from my peers, as I never received it when I was younger. My self-esteem was low, and I always had much self-doubt. I always received criticism. It probably seemed like a kind of egoism, to want to be loved, and respected, but I also wanted constructive criticism, and discussion, to learn from others, not just flattery, which embarrasses me if it is blind.

Could you talk about your political songs?

I don't think I write political songs, or preaching songs, definitely not protest songs but love songs. Some are angrier than others. I've always said that. Not ambiguous songs but explicit, to draw attention to why something happened and what can be done etc. I like to confront an audience with an issue, it does take some kind of courage maybe. I have upset some people.

I do like the ones that deal with the real feelings of the people in the song, However hard they are to listen to, and if they upset anyone because they aren't ideologically correct. Those songs do teach us about our attitudes, attitudes that are often unacceptable. Men do reject real feelings all the time, their feelings are never expressed by themselves often.

I don't believe my "political" songs will convert anyone, ( I used to joke, and say that the Apartheid System will collapse after I sing this song!) Maybe they will make us feel stronger together when we sing them together which we did with 'Defending Our Homes' a Song I made for our action group. Westminster Tory Council wanted to evict us all from the tower blocks we lived in on Elgin Estate, West Kilburn, London. The most militant was the 'old folks' Molly was 87 years young. They had a lot more to lose than us young folks. Singing at the police, and the Tory councillors. It did bring us together, all practising the song I'd made, singing on the bus on the way to the property developer's offices, the developers weren't expecting us. Then singing together when we got there and wanted them to listen to us tenants, they called the police and we still sang. Eventually, they did meet and talk with us and did pull out of the deal. And we still sing the song at our neighbourhood parties that we'd hold at the Asentewa Afro Caribbean community arts Centre.

I write from my experiences, I don't get my information from the television set. Away From Britain, I felt like a political deserter. I had involved myself politically, and socially wherever I had gone, as much as someone can, not being part of a settled community as such. Back in London, my experiences, to talk of, were only of the road and Mexico or other places. That past of mine was all I knew or could talk about. To some, it might seem I was boasting, like saying, "I've been there, done that" kind of a thing, yet I desperately was trying to fit in, and I didn't know where I fitted in culturally all these sub-cultural groups. I was never a "hippie", whatever that is. I grew up with mates who were skinheads, and I identified with punk. In the end, I can remember being reluctant to talk about my past, it seemed like another life, another world and landscape, and who could relate to that time, and share it with me? I was a loner, not out of choice. I remember telling someone that I'd been away for a while. I didn't realize till later that they thought I'd been "Away in prison"! I love singing.

Singing acapella has a way of focusing attention on the words of a song. I do like to move when I sing, I'd always sing while I was working, digging, cycling as a delivery boy, walking etc.

What else do you want to do with your songs?

I still want to express the absurdity, vulnerability, and insecurities we all feel about our lives too.

I have made songs and played different characters in them without feeling like it compromises my personality. I can separate myself from the song. Before I used to feel like the song is me and I have to be in the song. A couple of songs now have their own itinerary, not mine. i.e. God Loves Me, Punchinello's confession. Those songs do different things to people than other songs I make. They can upset more too. Naked, Shock, "You can't behave like that"! I believe that the way we touch each other is political too. Sex.

Some of my songs are theatrical performances, not propaganda statements or bulletins. I am trying to use stories and conflicts and people in specific situations to bring out some kind of meaning or to make some kind of sense of the world, to experience the feelings a character might have. It's not that I want anyone to agree or to disagree with some statement I've made, not that simple. I want to interest people in these stories and characters. A personal world. Each of us is the core of our own experience and knowledge but inextricably bound up with the social-political world outside. Even people who will not agree with my politics, I hope will listen and make sense of them. I do make songs for the barricades too, for picket lines and demonstrations. I wouldn't always want to sing those songs in concert or always have to make those kinds of songs. I want to reach others who aren't converted, not just members of a political group, not exclude others. I might make them have doubts and they'll have to cope with these people's feelings I am singing about. I try and give them space to think things for themselves. In making songs or anything we make, maybe I'm trying to give shape and form to experience, which we can all share in, to heighten the humdrum everyday world that we live in, to deepen our experiences of ourselves and others in the world we live in. To broaden our perspective and our understanding, give some heightened quality, to try to make life worth living. The world can be disheartening so I want to give people heart. I don't mean in an introverted way or a religious way, but trying to raise wakefulness and knowledge somehow. I believe in the ability of human beings to transcend the most appalling conditions, and, to be able to create something out of them, says something about the human spirit and our ability to defy the worst. Of course, I can't guarantee that effect! I know I've made songs that don't work. Some songs seem to, some do by accident. I want people to have a good time too, party-like. It's also a physical thing. (You can learn a lot from a song you make by living with it and singing it live for a few years. Performance is part of the creation of a song. I'm not making up songs to go into a book, but to be performed. That can be the test if a new song works or not, singing naked in front of an audience. There might be a word or line that isn't clear and I can hear that right away. See the hole in the song. I make up many songs and they can lie around for two or three years before I sing them. I'm too busy gigging or doing other things. I always have enough songs.) A couple of songs might come from just walking, working and singing something to myself, maybe some are worth remembering, and some aren't. I've never felt a pressure to make songs, I made some for a theatre group, on demand, but that was easier, having a deadline and promises to keep.

Do you make songs for Children?

For me my songs are Kid's songs and adult songs, I don't distinguish I don't like the kind of songs that sing down to kids. But I think a chorus and some repetition is a good thing, for kids to sing along, and join in with. I don't think my songs about sex have any vulgarity in them, but I hope they have a certain amount of realism in them. No pat, fairy tales, Not happy endings, I feel they always create an alienation, in children.

Kids will ask me, 'Why don't I have this happiness thing you're telling me about?' And comes to think that when his joy stops, that he has failed, that it won't come back. I don't want to mislead kids or adults of all ages! They are all real people in my songs from my history, half-remembered, half-made up.

Sometimes a song can seem a very limiting form, the tight, demands of rhyming, the tune, rhythms etc. but it makes the song a very dramatic thing. I'm trying to stretch it all of the time, Experimenting, having no repeated choruses, how to perform it live, to take people on a journey and capture them somehow.

Speech patterns can dictate a song's rhythm. Sometimes I have a more verbal approach than a musical approach when making a song.

I am trying to sing a little piece of reality without being a messiah. I do all the arrangements on my recordings. Some of the horn parts... I do. There are some horn parts I wouldn't have done on my own. Bob and Richard came up with some horn ideas on Travelling Home, on 'Spring is returning' I don't think I can take all the credit, there is also a chemistry with friends I play with. They create some magic, we are friends who love each other, and we all depend on some kind of chemistry when we play music with others. 'Back To Donegal' is like that too, I made the song, the story and then between us, Paul on banjo, Steve on Mandolin we worked out which tunes would flow in and out of the story, those traditional tunes. We were using the minor tune to come out of a verse that was quite wistful and sad. Then using the rolling thunderous tune outro at the end, I wanted to capture the sense of life that the song's story was about, I made it up as a celebration of times we all played sessions together here and there. I made it up as a leaving present, I was going away for a while travelling off to China and Australia, and my mates couldn't come with me, and I wanted them to. So it was a song I left behind for them. We recorded it much later. We recorded it as live as possible, all together in the same room. I searched for a studio that was spacious enough. Just a couple of overdubs. Many of my serious songs are funny and some of my sad songs have happy bouncy melodies. That's because I want "Life" in my songs, breathing and sweating too. Humour is very important for me in Life, apart from a song. The idea of making people laugh is irresistible to me even in quite tragic, dark situations, I can't help it. I laugh at it then I don't laugh at it because it is serious. There is a Dreadful seriousness really.

I make myself laugh more than I make other people, Cause I'm not a comedian. I was the class clown at school for a while though. Maybe laughter is a nervous release teetering on the edge of despair, But I can't help but see the funny side of dark moments. Laughing and crying are like two sides of the same coin. So I do like to get people to laugh at something serious. Otherwise, life would be miserable, wouldn't it? It keeps me balanced maybe. I prefer the kind of humour that never grows old. I am becoming more responsible in my old age. Some songs are like painting for the ears. Other songs are rude buggers who want to be around you all the time. My choruses change as the song progresses, which does make it hard for people to join in, they aren't predictable. I try to create a particular moment in a song. A chord change, to the bridge, surprises, instead of a jump up, you go down to a minor key, and softly. Or a rhythmic change. It might be a cowbell, or a shaker that moves the feel, adds fluidity., It's trial and error and sometimes in performance, I might discover something, or change something, so the song is evolving and reinterpreted each time. I guess like a traditional song might be?

There's a difference between a great song and a great record. A great song, for me, could be sung with just a guitar in the simplest way, even unaccompanied and it would still stand up. Sometimes on a record, the production of the record has become a greater part of the song, so it's only then, a great song if you are listening to the great production on the record.

I think I wrote more songs when I couldn't drive a car.

When I had more time to think, a paper round, milk round when I was younger cycling or working in fields of a Mexican farm in the mountains there. Training my eye on the horizons, the mountains affected my visual sense, even though I was born in London. Touring is nothing like the same as travelling., i.e. You have to be somewhere, to arrive for a gig, then tear yourself away again from people you meet and the places, there's not so much time for contemplation or developing relationships with folks.

I should have been a plough boy walking behind a horse (Joke) Songs are all born in different ways. I heard someone say once. Sometimes I feel like the old mountaineer, talking about climbing mountains. The songs, like the mountains. just happen to be there.

I've tried to help people make songs. To get their juices flowing.

I say things like: 'If you get stuck making a song, use the past, the present and the future to get more verses.

Every line is important. Draw someone in from the very first line, Make them want to stay with the song till the very last note. There aren't any rules but you might make your own.' Try to inspire folks, and say. 'There's no time like the present. Let's go to a coffee shop or pub and make up a song together.' I like to make songs that leave you feeling ennobled, Humanised.

Moving from the bus and re-discovering songs I'd made up years ago at the bottom of a bin bag or box, testing the old songs to see if they are workable, good enough to still sing if they still mean anything to me or not. Some are too topical, and out of date.

some aren't workable without 10 singers, collective story song ideas like a mini short musical play.

You're very prolific!

Sometimes I'm the laziest person in the world, Other times I am so busy I can't do any one thing right and spread myself too thin.

Tell us about producing your own records.

I'm self-financed so as money doesn't grow on trees,(I've looked everywhere for those trees) It's all that I can afford to spend to do what I do. There's the amount of risk involved, how weird can I get and still make a living? I like to experiment with longer story songs, the things I happen to like best are things that people in "The Marketplace" would find uninteresting. A lot of people's favourite songs might be 'Love Like a Rock' or My Mum's song, Shirley. But they might have little concept of what some of the more adventurous things would have been. i.e. "TV Melodrama or Stranger God."

I don't want music to be reduced to wallpaper, repeated over and over again.

Each recording is an experiment for me with my intuitive arrangements, some songs succeed, some, I know, failed, but I can never afford to re-record them, they're all demos in a way, my albums, learning in public all the way. I don't assume people will like the records, but I try to capture a moment, even if I have lost my voice, as on Travelling home, tried to do everything, produce, write extra parts for people, no sleep, organize rehearsals, keep everyone happy, feed them etc I have hit chairs in the studio, bits of rubbish, hub caps. Cheese graters. I always prefer the early takes. And the "Live" vocal, more than the "soulless" overdub.

I don't want to overwhelm a song or overproduce it. A song might get put down in 10 minutes but I might have had 10 months to think about it. On a bus ticket, napkin, my hand. I try to keep the life and the rough and tumble in when I record a song. The breathing, a dog barking. People, producers, and engineers try to keep sounds out of a studio. I'm happy to let them in, my surroundings, weave them allow them to become part of the tune, a squeaky chair whatever. I've got a gentle babies lullaby cradle song where I use the squeaking of a rocking chair as the rhythm. etc. I've always ended up with too much, and have too many songs recorded for the next album, so there are always old songs mixed with newer songs on my albums, it's never chronological at all. To me, songs are timeless, the good ones, there are some I make that I never recorded and they will be out of date now. I might reissue my next album before it comes out for the first time! (joke)

I'd been against recording for a long time, my work was street work, in bars etc, and the last thing I wanted people to do was to stay at home and listen to an album. I wanted people out on the streets.

In 1982, I experimented with sound collages and monologue/story poems. I had borrowed a portastudio to sketch some arrangements of songs, horn parts harmonies, and drum patterns, to save time and money when I would finally go into the "real" studio. That I would hire and pay for when I came to record for 'real'. A couple of those sketches made it to vinyl. One collage appeared on the Double, "Commentator cried'. But another never got released, too much tape hiss. It was a monologue I made called 'A TV Melodrama'. I took sounds, bits, sound effects, seagull cries, and a phone ringing to create tension in a dramatic piece which was essentially about a woman being raped outside, and another woman inside, watching TV with her husband. The woman inside hears a scream, the husband assures her it's the TV next door, a murder on channel 3, That TV room becomes claustrophobic and the husband too seems, slowly, gradually, to become like a prison guard and a threat himself.

I only performed my monologue with a backing tape once at a poetry performance gig I did in London, I put the guitar down for a change and got the sound man to play the backing track sound collage. It was effective, as theatre can be, like a radio drama, creating moods, and tension with sound. But I never wanted to rely on technology. It could always let you down. I had looked into using drum triggers on my feet, and tap shoes, but I still prefer the dynamics of my real feet tapping, the touch-sensitive dynamics that triggers don't have, no matter how light I tap, the pads still trigger at the same volume. I wanted to be able to play if there was a power cut. I did before now, in a small Guatemalan discotheque years ago, it's amazing how the atmosphere changed in that loud disco, when there's no electricity, everyone started talking and meeting each other, they could hear each other suddenly! Candles were lit and I had my guitar and we sang songs, and drank and all socialized. The DJ was redundant that night.

Do you think you're fashionable?

I don't know what that means. Being flavour of the month and then not being the right flavour and so being dismissed, very fickle! I was never into the cool, or fashionable for the sake of being fashionable. It always seemed too detached to me from life, my reality and Feelings, there was always a guard being put up by the cool crowd, a shield, up as a defence. Life is too short for me to play those kinds of guessing games.

I don't like fashion, the idea of it, just a flicker of life for a week or month and then it's considered old or dead, that snootiness that surrounds things, like the emperor's new clothes, dismissing resonances and meanings, I know that is somehow unreal. Trying to live as an outsider perhaps. But I like timeless things that speak from the soul for the moment.

I don't like prettiness, which can leave me empty, but I like beauty, I like things that go deeper than the just surface and the superficial, I like things that move me. I've never changed what I do to be fashionable. What about competition in the industry? Competition is divisive. I'm not a racehorse! I'm not competing, there's room for everyone.

I have, at odd times, felt from other singers or 'moothy' (harmonica) players there was a slight element of rivalry, they never felt comfortable with me playing the harmonica too, or anyone else for that matter! Also after supporting a singer (no names mentioned) some years ago and going down better with the crowd. He sacked his manager for putting us on the same bill.

It's a strange feeling when you realize that someone is intimidated by you when they don't even know you. And I'm not one for putting on airs or talking down to people. I think it is because I'm upfront with myself on stage and I save that upfrontness for that performance of my songs when actually I am not like that all of the time. I can be very quiet, I listen a lot more than talk. Here I am talking to you about myself being interviewed, what an ego trip, here I am blethering away and it's because you are a good listener. On stage, it is a kind of nervous energy I talk with, about myself, people, and family. Politics, anger etc. I don't like elitism or aloofness, not to confuse that with shyness or feeling unconfident and insecure.

I want to be accessible, that's why I don't try to be famous or have ambitions to be famous. I couldn't handle it, being a prisoner. Fate is being kind to me, it doesn't want me to be famous too soon! Being recognized means people will pay you money to play. So publicity is necessary, there's a strong economic pressure. There was a time I would even dress boring or colourless most of the time, so I won't attract attention to myself because I am more interested in other people, not myself or creating some kind of impression or fashion statement. I am not interested in what is fashionable. manufactured or how trends are manipulated.

I either like music or a work of art or I don't like it. I'm like the little kids who questioned the Emperor's new clothes. Very often I can't see what all the fuss is about. I am looking for truths in some kind of way, not pretendings, or illusion creating so much. unless it is a way to show a truth about something, i.e. an emotion or history or story. or to find the humour in it all. the ridiculous. I do look for the beauty in the truth too, and I would like to make people feel good sometimes, I try hard to do that, that's about as healing as I can get my music songs to be...not in that pretentious "new age' way like some middle-class guru on some power trip but in an earthy way of laughing, celebrating life and being aware of my/our weaknesses, vulnerabilities, etc, things that we all have in common with each other but that we hide, and deny that we have. Fashion. There are some things I love that become fashionable. To be 'fresh and new' in rock/pop music is usually accomplished by Changing a hairdo or wardrobe. And copying what everyone else is doing. Don't use chords that give too many surprises. Etc. I don't want to compromise

So you don't identify with mainstream musicians? Whatever mainstream means?!

Singers are marginalised as being angry or pretty, or a rebel singing about taboo subjects, whether those subjects and issues are attractive or not. People will come and say "That's me" But I never could say it." The personal and private 'exposed' is universally felt. I don't judge anyone's art in public negatively. I could be wrong. Sometimes people, everyone, likes some new kind of music that becomes fashionable but I can't get into it at all.

I came bottom in music at school, that stubbornness again, being told I can't do something. I believe that 'Talent' is a word used to stop people from trying. I don't judge. I just know what I like. I'll still listen and go through all the "bad" singers to get to the truth of what they're singing about. That emotional truth, human joy, passion and life are more important to me than someone's prejudices about tunefulness, "proper" "Snobbery", I try to keep an open mind about it all. In the end, it's about people expressing themselves. The production might not be perfect, and tuning might be out sometimes, but the intention and content and other elements are there…of course. I want things to be in tune, in time etc. That kind of aesthetics but I always try not to forget that folks like me are learning a craft and sometimes we have to do it in public. I cringe when I hear some of my performances on previous recordings! We grow, and we learn how to sing, craft, and play our instruments. I'd never want to discourage that. We are all looking for our voices, that's partly what punk was all about, expression and learning to express and vocalize feelings, and ideas through music. I would rather listen to some great performance emotionally and great songs and music than overproduced empty pop 'jingles' That passion, maybe that's why I love the blues so much or Jewish Doinas and Irish Airs or laments.

Do you want to be very famous?

I have no fantasies or delusions of grandeur, about being famous, Just give me the dosh, so I can go and record my friends and we can tour together. And I can pay them properly. I don't want to be a prisoner of fame like some I have seen. It wouldn't suit my personality, It's not shyness, but I like to be private and sane. Not like a Machine. I'm not trying to be impenetrable or enigmatic. What can you know about anybody really?

I am part of a process, interactive, jamming. I am still learning, I am Lazy, I'd sooner jam, and I rarely ever practice my instruments. I'd often unconsciously tried to sabotage my own career if I thought it was going to go too well! I'd resist everything, and be uncooperative, I was scared of making it big, I liked the idea but it frightened me, somehow I wanted my freedom more. Not the hype and stuff, I was suspicious of, that might go with "being Big" Having to go around singing my "Hit Song" all the time. Shit, no way! I wanted to be happy singing the songs I wanted to sing. So my reaction was to say 'no' a lot, and sign nothing! Find other employment for a while! Maybe I'm still trying "not to be a success. I am privileged to be doing something I enjoy, something I would do for nothing, and get paid for it. I am successful, I've got a job! It's funny because I like John Peel and what Andy Kershaw has done to get great music across that would never be played anywhere else. Apparently, according to Pete Lawrence who used to run Cooking Vinyl, Andy didn't like my stuff, for whatever reason, I don't know. So he wouldn't play it. Which I think is fine, because in the end, he is being honest in only playing what he likes, they have to have their own taste and artistic control. Like I have to, not what Pete from Cooking Vinyl might have tried to persuade them to play because I was on Cooking Vinyl. It's nothing personal, I won't take it that way, just cause someone doesn't like the way I sing. And the real thing is that I have survived for quite a few years by playing my songs without relying at all on the music business, radio airplay, or having a record released by a big company etc. The schmoozing again. I always produced my own records. And So I just carry on and play gigs and make those people happy who come and want to hear me.

How did you end up with Cooking Vinyl?

I happened to meet Martin Goldsmith of Forward Sounds, which then became Cooking Vinyl, when I was playing at a miner's benefit, he liked my cassette tape I was flogging at the time called 'Talkative Songs.' I'd recorded it myself all handmade and so I gave him Angry Love and Kicking The Sawdust for nothing.

People have urged me to take a go at commercial, fame, but I enjoyed my freedom more than schmoozing and kissing arse to go on TV. Talk to 20 million people I can't see. No. You need big company clout to get on etc. I wouldn't say no if I was asked, I'd say…" maybe." But I wouldn't compromise what I do.

There is a contradiction or a catch twenty-two of course because, like any singer, I do want to share my songs with the world. I have an ego, and ideas, want to be articulate to communicate, but in my own way. If it is good, it's too good not to share.

I feel that some artists aren't always being given enough time to develop, nipped in the bud, the overnight success, it's not their fault, as competition is so great in that pop world of hype etc, and the promise of wealth, fame, girls etc. I was always moving around, I never mixed in those kinds of circles, I flirted with music business people a couple of times, then ran, scared of the psychosis that comes with all that. That, "It's who you know, not what you know, schmoozing etc. i.e. "Do I need to know you? or can you be useful to me"? Etc It's ugly to me. I am crap at it. I've nothing to say to those kinds of people. It's the kind of business that seems to break up bands and destroy solidarity. It happened to an Irish band I knew in Derry. They just signed the singer/writer and guitarist from the band, who didn't say, "It's all the band or none." They were recording, writing publishing advances etc. etc, but never played a gig. For me, the gig is where it all begins and ends. Live. They don't sing anymore. That's very sad.

I would hate to be worshipped like some god, an untouchable idol. That would be too far away from the humanity and life that I love and always want to be a part of. I want to be equal to be a good friend, brother and father, and there is a contradiction between wanting attention and showing off, impressing people but wanting privacy and anonymity.?

I love the music more than the money. But we have to earn a living. If I can, I'll stop touring so much in a couple of years, a change, and just play locally up here in Scotland, study something, teaching. Travelling again, instead of touring. You're quite the sex symbol, I mean women seem to be attracted to your dark looks.

How does that make you feel?

Embarrassed about the use of the word. 'Sex Symbol' I don't want to symbolize anything and be an object. We all love sex. I want to enjoy pleasures with the woman I love not everyone I see! Sex Symbol! It might be good for the ego, but it sounds lonely to me, like Judy Garland or Marylyn Monroe it's like having all that applause but you can't take that applause home to bed with you. Just as women are regarded as sex objects, some musicians are too. I love women. I love their company, my best friends are women and men who love women too. I like what they talk about, feelings, love, kids, etc. It has got me in trouble, "being friends friendly, accessible, listening, counselling, and having role boundaries get confused by people when they are needy. I am more careful now. Not to lead anyone in the way that I think I am 'being caring' or making friends. I am a very tactile person, so I have to be careful with that, women and uptight heterosexual men who might think I'm gay and feel threatened by my manner. Some of my best friends are white straight men! (laughs) After playing, I like to talk to people, be accessible, to men or women, to meet who I've just spent three hours singing to. What kinds of people are out there? Yes, some lonely and sad people will project things onto performers and fantasize. You have to be aware that there are people like that. I suppose that performing is a sexy thing to people, it's not in my head at all, Maybe when you're so much into the music and the music is so much part of you, you can project the feeling to someone. And sometimes, usually, it's a man up there doing it and a woman out there, She feels that the spirit is so strong or this thing he's projected, she must have this- this thing- though it's coming from somewhere else- but it comes through him. It's so strong, but she can't collect that thing where it's coming from, so she has to collect the person it's coming through.

Anyway, I'm already spoken for, hitched and happy!

I've been told you like to play all night and party!

I partied nonstop, played bars, drank drugs, and worked but wearing myself out and doing all that I felt my life stand still. I don't party so much now. I've done so much partying till the sun came up, I can stay indoors with my sweetheart and baby knowing that whatever party is going on out there I've been to one just as good!

What do you enjoy relaxing with?

I love to play football and kick around a ball, I don't enjoy watching it on TV though. I enjoy a game of tennis, I'm crap at it though. I'll like to talk about tools, kids, wood and craft, building, relationships, Love, farming, fishing, planting food, politics anything. I love swapping jokes and laughing till the tears roll down our faces.

What music Groups have you been part of?

I played with my friends Paul Rodden and Steve Grocott and we called ourselves The Pyrotechnicos. The fact that we never really formed a group meant that we never really broke up. We just stopped playing together for a while. Then with mates Bob Morgan and Richard playing my songs, we were called 'The Firewalkers.' Sometimes 'The Familiar Strangers'. When I play with Bob and Richard I'd play an hour and a half alone, a listening set, then I'd bring them up for the second half and we'd be an ensemble, a band singing my songs, tunes, dancing, trombone etc. I never wanted to play on my own, I still don't, and partly it became economics. I only started playing on my own those years ago cause a musician mate let me down and didn't show up for gigs I had arranged, he let me down more than twice! Then I thought to myself. "I've made up these songs, I'll have to sing them. And learn to play them on guitar". Up to then, after my mate left me in the lurch, I was playing and singing my songs with just my Harmonica all night. I found that to get work, if I was going to, I had to do it alone, my own way, I had my own songs. I didn't want to sing anything else anymore that didn't speak for me and the way I felt or how I saw the world. There's still so much to do. I'm not at all satisfied with what I've done. It's not the kind of music or songs I want to carry on singing. It's funny how you learn and know all this other stuff and yet, people would prefer to hear me play and sing some of these old songs I've made up because I had nothing better to do at the time. I can't do that all of my life playing harmonica and singing, there are so many other exciting things to do.

What are you trying to prove?

Maybe I'm trying to prove my manhood? Humanity? That 100 billion is one! I would love to travel and tour with a band/small orchestra, that's my dream, it's economics that stops me, I have played gigs with a horn section and bass, accordion/marimba, banjo, mandolin etc. I would add pipes, cello, and tabla, and have a few singers, singing harmonies, cross rhythms, bass vocals, 'clapapella'- (that's my word for ensemble percussive hand-clapping.) I have a sound in my head, I always wanted to base/focus it around a musical theatre idea. I'd like to work with others and create musical theatre, and other ways of singing stories. To tour with that theatre, like a circus on village greens. Working with all my old mates, performers, puppeteers, mask, costume designers, writers, sculptors, scenic designers, horse handlers. It's still the beginning for me, I want to go slowly. I'm still finding new things, and learning. I feel I'm going to be doing this for the next 20 years, so I don't want to hurry it.

Is there anything else you'd like to say?

I think I've said too much. But yes, thanks for listening and…. I think that Music should be on the National Health!