Six years ago, I wrote “I do like Adele’s version of Make You Feel My Love, and of all the Dylan songs I know it’s the one I am least unlikely to do myself. Probably not coincidentally, it’s one of his more harmonically richest songs.”
A couple of weeks ago, this prediction came true, in the first set I’ve done since before the start of the pandemic. As The Taylor Family (shades of the Von Trapps), we played in Mitcheldean Festival’s showcase concert on Saturday 16th July — my wife Fiona on flute, our youngest son Jonno on cello, me on guitar, and all of us on vocals.
I recorded this song for a Christmas event at my church. It was written by Graham Kendrick, who is best known for congegational worship songs of 1980s that have not necessarily aged very well; but he was also rather a good singer-songwriter. This is his meditation on what Mary must have felt on the first Christmas, and whether even then she saw in Christmas the seeds of Easter.
Yes, it could do with a lot of tidying up; yes, I’m flat on the first high note on the chorus (“did she see there“); yes, there’s a fluff on on the guitar chord just after “here it comes again”. But at least there is a scientifically rigorous Brachiosaurus model on the mantelpiece behind me.
For what it’s worth, I find this song genuinely moving.
Let’s just pretend today’s election never happened, and speak of better things.
Around the turn of the millennium, I worked at a small company in North London. We had a shared MP3 server: we all put some of our favourite songs on it, and we could all listen to each other’s. That’s how I discovered the brilliant singer-songwriter Dar Williams, who was the choice of my colleague Andrew Eland. In 2009, reading a review of one of Dar’s albums, I read on to the second half of that article which was about Richard Shindell’s album Reunion Hill. Based on the very positive review, I bought the album and loved it.
A little over two years ago, I cracked the problem of how to write a song: let go of the idea that it needs to be a perfect, precious jewel, such as Paul Simon or Joni Mitchell might produce. As I put it at the time: “write a bad song. It doesn’t matter. Just write a song.”
So, needless to say, in the intervening time, I have written absolutely no songs at all.
The wretched summer of 2016 has not offered us much good news. But for me at least, that’s about to change. Next Saturday (16th July) is the 2016 Mitcheldean Folk Festival, and our prog-rock back Crooked End will be closing the show from 8:30 till 9pm.
Crooked End playing at the 2014 festival. Left to right: Fiona (flute, keyboards), Mike (guitar), Dan (drums), Mario (bass).
My sister Lindsey (that’s her at the bottom of the photo, enjoying experiencing my performance) recently found this old photo, taken in our back garden when I was about three years old. So that would be 1972, the year of Fragile, Machine Head, For the Roses and Paul Simon’s first solo album.
Just in case anyone’s brave enough to want to hear our set from Saturday night, I’ve been sent some rather good recordings by David Stephens, who ran the PA. If anything, the recording quality is rather too good, as it’s very unforgiving of my decidedly wobbly pitching. Fiona sounds superb, though.
Just a brief note for anyone who’s in the area: Fiona and I have a half-hour set this Saturday evening at the pre-Festival warm-up concert for this year’s Mitcheldean Folk Festival. We’re one of eight acts in a line-up running for a total of four hours from 7pm till 11pm. The gig is at the Bespoke Brewery in Mitcheldean which I can tell you from experience has a whole range of excellent beers. It’s a free-entry event.