Simon and I are on the train rolling back up the East Coast Line to Edinburgh. We change trains in Edinburgh for Glasgow Central where we are picked up by taxi and deposited over at the Holiday Inn on West Nile Street.
Glasgow is buzzing on this, the last weekend of Celtic Connections 2014. Checking in, the lobby is teeming with musicians: beautiful songstress Shawn Colvin and the legendary Jerry Douglas. Phil Cunningham. Last time I saw Phil in person he was performing with Silly Wizard on a beautiful starry summer night at the Bermuda Folk Club.
Turns out the whole Transatlantic Sessions band is in town. Over the weekend we spotted Darrell Scott, Nashville songwriter, guitarist, banjo, pedal steel and mandolin player extraordinaire, the great bluegrass picker Tim O’Brien, fiddler Aly Bain and bassist Danny Thompson…personal heroes and stalwarts of the folk and country music scene. It’s a privilege to be in the same town as these guys, let alone the same hotel…
After dinner at La Bonne Auberge with our sound engineer Chris (Maddy Prior, Steeleye Span) we head over to the Mitchell Library to catch Gretchen Peters and Barry Walsh, who deliver a fantastic set to a packed house. Great way to start the weekend. Like true rock ’n rollers we head back to the hotel for an early night! Simon is knackered after three weeks out on the road and I have an eye infection which makes me look like the Cyclops!
After Breakfast on Sunday, Jack Henderson drops by for a chinwag. Jack, a friend for many years, is a great guitar player and songwriter and it’s good to catch up over coffee and hot chocolate. The rest of the band are flying in this morning, from Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow and at 11.30 Simon, Chris, Jack and I head down to the venue for load-in and soundcheck.
The Old Fruitmarket is a beautiful, atmospheric venue which retains its market hall character. As part of the City Halls complex designed by John Carrick in 1882, The Old Fruitmarket directly adjoins the Grand Hall and was a functioning market until the 1970s. Once home to bustling fresh fruit, flower and cheese stalls, it has been protected as a category A listed building since 1970.
We finish sound checking, dodge out for a bite to eat, then it’s back to the dressing room for the pre-gig rituals. Armed with our ‘long’set plus a couple of new numbers we hit the stage at 9.10 and wind up an hour and a half later with ‘Open Mic Blues’, featuring the fabulous Gretchen Peters on vocals and Barry Walsh on accordion…
Back at the hotel the old timers headed off to bed while the youngsters (and Ian) went off to party at the Hard Rock Cafe…don’t know where they get their energy.
Monday morning, 7.30am. I’m waiting to take the elevator down to breakfast from my room on the 3rd floor. It arrives from the 4th floor, the door opens and there stands Shawn Colvin, alone. I step in, a little starstruck but trying to act cool and press the button…for the 4th floor. Shawn says, “I was going to the ground floor”and I reply, “Er, yes, so was I”…
Lillie Yard, next to the Lillie Langtry pub, opposite the Prince of Wales in Lillie Road, Fulham.
Lillie was a famous actress, admired by women, desired by men, painted by Whistler, praised by Twain, close friends with Oscar Wilde and Prime Minister William Gladstone and, most famously, the lover of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales who later became King Edward VII.
Witty and confident, she had the most beautiful skin and her sex appeal was electric. She was scooped up by the Pears Company as one of the first celebrities to endorse a product. Her picture was put on postcards and could be seen in army barracks, student dormitories and on naval office walls. ‘Jersey Lily’ was the first real pinup.
Today another beautiful actress is in town. After weeks of intense work and fun at Kipper’s barn, Sadie and her hotheads are gathered in the Lillie Yard Studios, home of Cameron Craig, to listen to final mixes of the new album ‘Still Waiting’.
Cameron learned his trade in Australia, before relocating to the UK where he has built a repertoire of record producer credits alongside the likes of U.N.K.L.E, Joe Strummer and Suzanne Vega - for which he won the 'Best Engineered' Grammy.
Sitting on the sofa are Sadie and the Nelsons. Gathered round the desk, Craig, Brad and Kipper. The first track rolls out of the speakers and Sadie says “It doesn’t get any better than this”. But it does! Track after track brought to life under Cameron’s touch. A little tweaking here and there and everyone’s smiling…
Ian and James arrive and we head out to the Prince of Wales to meet publisher Stuart Ongley to talk… publishing! After a sandwich and a pint or two (fish and chips for Simon) we head back to the studio for another listen… video director Rupert Styles arrives, video and album artwork are discussed… and all the while Cameron, who doesn’t say a word, performs his magic.
Can’t wait for y’all to hear it!
I love the banjo. The butt of many musician jokes, the banjo is enjoying a resurgence in popularity due to the likes of Mumford and Sons.
Modern banjo-playing has historical roots that go back over 150 years.
The idea of stretching a skin tightly across a resonating chamber, attaching a neck, adding one or more drone strings, and playing in a rhythmical and percussive manner originated in West Africa.
I have been a guitar player most of my life and only took up the banjo a couple of years ago. I’m an enthusiastic beginner! It was a 60thbirthday present from Simon, a 5 string, open back ‘old-time’ banjo, the sound of which, for me, creates an atmosphere which is ancient, earthy, otherworldly. The deep-rooted folk-blues and country music with which it is associated touch me in ways that are hard to explain.
From West Africa to the Americas and back to the ‘old country’, from the Appalachian Mountains to Ireland and beyond, the banjo is truly a melting-pot instrument, made in a diverse country through cultural exchange.
Today old-time banjo players most commonly utilize the clawhammer style, but there were originally several other styles, most of which are still in use, loosely grouped by region, including two-finger index lead (also called "North Carolina picking"), two-finger thumb lead (Kentucky and East Tennessee), and a three-finger "fiddle style" that seems to have been influenced in part by late-19th century urban classical style.
Because playing with more fingers meant being able to put in more notes, three-finger styles intrigued many players. Individualistic three-finger styles were developed independently by such important figures as Uncle Dave Macon, Dock Boggs, and Snuffy Jenkins.
Don’t you just love those names? I also found some interesting old-time tune titles:
Anyone for: ‘Who Shit In Grandpa’s Hat?’
Ha, ha, love it. Would love to know which real-life event inspired it.
Being a guitar picker I struggle with the clawhammer style and tend to do whatever I can to make it sound good. The more I look into it, the more I realize there are no rules… there are lots of great banjo pickers out there and I’m not one of them (yet!).
What I do know is, there’s going to be a lot more banjo on the new Sadie songs!
The Nelson Brothers are heading down to Kipper’s studio on a beautiful blue and gold autumn morning. After hot chocolate in the station café, we take the train from Clapham Junction to Haslemere… then stroll down to the barn, guitars on backs…
Sadie is already there, working on vocals for the wonderful, ‘Everybody’s Got A Song’…
Simon’s tweeting with Jack Harris, chirping about their favourite guitarists in an ongoing conversation. James Taylor, John Martyn, Nic Jones, Marc Ribot and Bill Frisell all get a mention.
Meanwhile, I’m sitting on the sofa, the lava lamp in full flow, smiling at the comic touches in Sadie’s great new lyrics. It’s a long journey from the blank page to the airwaves but we’re all looking forward to hearing the reaction to these new songs…
After tea and muffins, we jam on acoustic guitars and dobro, turning a 70’s pop hit into a dark slice of Appalachia. Making mountain music in the heart of Surrey.
On the train home we met a young mandolin player heading up to London to perform in ‘Dirty Dancing’ in the West End. We exchanged names and he promised to look us up…
Maybe he’ll be a Hothead one day.
Shows included equestrian acts, elephants and polar bears, and acrobats who would dive into a 100,000 gallon water tank from the Minstrel Gallery above.
In 1910, Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’ received its English première here and in 1919, the Hippodrome hosted the first official jazz gig in the United Kingdom, by the ‘Original Dixieland Jazz Band’.
In 1958, the original interior was demolished and the London Hippodrome was converted into a nightclub. ‘The Talk of the Town’ featured many of the popular artists of the time, including Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra and Stevie Wonder, but by 1982 this form of entertainment had fallen out of public favour and the venue closed.
In 1983, it was renovated yet again and reopened as a nightclub/restaurant by Peter Stringfellow, but after selling it some years later the club went out of fashion and it wasn't until April 2004 that the Hippodrome regained its standing when it was transformed into ‘Cirque at the Hippodrome’, with Burlesque as the theme.
In December 2005, the club was forced to close, following reports of violence involving rival gangs.
In 2009, the Hippodrome underwent an extensive restoration programme. Returned to its original splendour, the venue opened on July 13, 2012, with four floors for gaming including a Gold Room casino sited in the original basementwith access directly into Chinatown to the rear of the building, the Heliot restaurant, six bars, a smoking terrace and The Matcham Room cabaret theatre… home to
Sadie and the Hotheads for three Thursdays in November…we arrive from all over London and beyond, some by train and bus, some in taxis and some by car… set up and soundchecked we settle down in the Heliot restaurant for a meal… appearing on stage at 9pm… hope to see you there for the end of the run this Thursday, the 28th.
Pulborough is a large village in West Sussex with some 5,000 inhabitants. Near the confluence of the rivers Arun and Rother, the village looks southwards over the broad flood plain of the tidal Arun to a backdrop of the South Downs.
Historically, it was a fording place over the River Arun used by the Romans en route from Chichester to London. The Saxons also bridged the river here and it became an important watering hole and overnight halt for cattle drovers.
Each year, Pulborough hosts the 12 hour Lawn Mower race which runs continuously for 12 hours and on August Bank Holiday, the Pulborough Duck Race Society hosts its annual charity event.
On Wednesday 13th November Sadie and the Hotheads pulled in to town, or rather pulled in to Blackgate Lane, one mile north of Pulborough, in search of Blakewood, home of the Blue Coconut Club.
Founded in 1987 and described as a “little bit off beat and a bit off the beaten track”, the venue features acoustic music from jazz to blues, folk and country.
After a couple of wrong turns we spotted the sign, missing some letters and obscured by foliage, and pulled in to the parking lot. It reminded me of some backwoods barn in Tennessee. Who knew what might await us?
Inside, Jim Lee, singer, musician and genial host, welcomed us to his world. Candle-lit tables, comfy chairs, sofas and a big log fire … introductions and a few tall tales over, we set to work. Ron had arrived first and was already setting up the PA with his usual enthusiasm and diligence. Instruments were tuned, voices warmed up, set list approved and sound checked … then we headed out for the local Indian restaurant, “best in the world” according to Jim.
When we returned, the place was heaving, two of the glam Sadie sisters were there – Shelley and Kirsty (all the way from Cornwall!), the audience friendly and welcoming. After a short set by Jim and an interval, during which bread, chips and cheese were served (!), we hit the stage running.
As warm up gigs go this was pretty special. The audience, unsure what to expect, responded with great enthusiasm and warmth, gave us a standing ovation, bought loads of CDs, chatted with Sadie and, much later, bid us all a cheery country farewell on this dank, dark, memorable November night.
It’s been a busy time post Sweden. Elizabeth has been to New York and Sierra Leone, with World Vision.
Meanwhile we have been trawling through songs and ideas, working up material for the new album at Kipper’s studio, Simon’s flat and Elizabeth’s house. New lyrics have been drafted, rhythm tracks laid out, chord sequences and melodies tried out. The songwriting process is both intimidating and exhilarating and we have some very exciting works in progress, including a couple of tracks which feature the wonderful Gretchen Peters and Barry Walsh.
As Nick Lacey is away until the new year, we have also been rehearsing for the November gigs with our stand-in keyboard player, jazz-blues master Jeff Hammer. Look forward to seeing y’all out there soon.
Wow, it’s been a busy few weeks. Don’t know how I ever had time to go to work! It’s almost a month ago already and I’m just finding the time to sit down and write this. The trip to Sweden began on the evening of Wednesday 4th September when we gathered in the grimy rehearsal room at Survival Studios in Acton Town. Rotten carpets, microphones that smell of beer, faulty channels on the pa, machine coffee, indie rock and Sadie. As well as running the set, which now includes a couple more songs from the first album, this evening’s get together gave us all a chance to digest the marvelous book compiled by Shelley Hasseldine. Bound in leather and titled ‘Sadie and the Hotheads, From The Beginning’, the compilation of thoughts, dreams, observations, quotations, photos, facts and figures, is a labour of love which took Shelley eight months to complete. The research and presentation are phenomenal and we turned the pages in wonder. Thank you Shelley for your time and dedication, it was inspiring and energizing to see our history laid out before us and we’ll be bringing the book to the Hippodrome gigs in November for those who would like a peek…
And so, to September 6th. Autumn closing in. A dark, 5.15am start, leaving sleeping families, riding the rails from all corners of the capital (and beyond) to Gatwick. Rattling through South London, a few zombies on the whistle past platforms and a scattering of thoughtful souls en route to who knows where. 6.50am. Gatwick. The minutes tick by as the airport comes to life, filling up with early travelers. By 9am we’re boarded and ready for take-off on Norwegian Airlines, bound for Stockholm. England is shrouded in mist and it’s raining for the first time in a long time…. flying east, there are storm clouds on the horizon, while here, up above the clouds, the sun is shining…
11.40am and we’re over the west coast of the Kingdom of Sweden, third largest country in the EU by area, with a low population density concentrated mostly in the south. Since 1814, Sweden has been at peace, practicing “non-participation in military alliances during peacetime and neutrality during wartime”. In 2013, ‘The Economist’ declared the Nordic countries to be “probably the best governed in the world” with Sweden in first place…. 50 minutes from touchdown, looking down on lakes and forest… later, after checking in at the Hotel Rica on Kungsgaten we walk over to Nalen for load in and soundcheck… the staff are fantastic, the backstage hospitality marvelous and the gig a resounding success…. it was great to perform ‘Mama’s Hands’ and ‘I Miss You’ for the first time….
On Saturday 7th we took the 10.21am train from Stockholm to Malmo. Four and half hours of blue sky, farmland, more lakes and forests. The landscape is largely deserted with about 85% of the population living in urban areas…. after hot chocolate and a cinnamon bun in the bistro car we pull into Malmo… the commercial centre of southern Sweden with 300,000 residents from around 170 different nationalities. The city is part of the expanding Oresund region and is joined to Copenhagen in Denmark by the magnificent Oresund bridge. Tonight’s gig is at the unique Victoria Theatre. Over 100 years old, this old silent movie theatre houses ‘picnic’ concerts and events where the audience bring their own food and drink. We are arriving at these gigs with little idea of what to expect and loved this from the moment we entered the building. Stepping out on the stage and gazing out at the candle-lit audience was thrilling and magical. This was Sadie’s perfect venue and, thanks to the people of Malmo a very special, two encore, evening…
Sunday 8th, after a lie-in and late breakfast, we catch the 12.02 train to Gothenburg. The weather still good as we roll north… Gothenburg, home of Volvo and the second largest city in Sweden, is currently making a name for itself as a new hive of the creative arts. With its homegrown fashion labels and upstart indie bands, its rollicking craft beer bars and alternative arts scene, Gothenburg is also the fitting host to Scandinavia’s leading film festival and hugely popular music festivals, including Summerburst and Way Out West (maybe next summer?!)…. after a quick check-in at the hotel it’s over to the legendary Nefertiti Jazz Club for the final gig of our short visit. All the gigs are different and tonight’s dimly lit basement, cramped stage and up-close audience creates its own special atmosphere… a more subdued but highly enjoyable end to the mini-tour… Monday 9th. After a stroll around the lovely lanes and avenues of the city we head out to the airport for the return flight to Gatwick… can’t wait till next time. Thank you Sweden.
Ah Sweden! The land of the flat pack wardrobe, Ulrikakakaka, 4 months of darkness and amazing chocolate (the latter may actually be Switzerland but as we're now such seasoned travellers and Montreux was our last SHH adventure, it does rather get confusing!)
My last visit to Sweden many years hence involved sliding across frozen lakes and tramping through snowy landscapes with something like tennis rackets attached to one's lower limbs, so a Sadie and the Hotheads tour during the out-takes of Summer promised to be quite a different experience.
While Britain plummeted into a foretaste of Autumn, we basked in the relatively balmy Swedish sunshine! Wandering from plane to hotel, to train, to venue, back to hotel, to another train and another venue (oh, yes, we are on tour!) in flip flops makes it much easier to don a shockingly high pair of heels for each performance. And what performances we had! An amazingly appreciative full house in Stockholm followed by my favourite audience to date in the fantastically unique Viktoria Picnikteatre (yes, everyone brought their own picnic complete with checked table cloths!), topped off by the more intimate but nonetheless appreciative Nefertiti jazz club in Gothenburg.
But these weren't the only performances of merit. There was the ever increasing size of Matt's breakfast threatening to topple from the plate as he nonchalantly wandered back to the table (all to be expertly made into sandwiches for the daily train journey); Nick and Terl's heated debate about politics over a £10(!) whiskey; the hilarious rounds of the movie game ("let's play the movie game let's play hang man let's see who can light a match with just one hand") abandoned in grand style following Ron's suggestion that Elizabeth starred in Coming to America alongside Eddie Murphy (oh how we laughed!)
For a fee I'll dish the dirt on what really goes down on a SHH tour but for now suffice it to say, you couldn't spend 4 days with a better bunch of people. Tack Sweden. We'll be back anytime you want us even in Winter!
Saturday 24th August. This morning Elizabeth, Terl and myself take part in the recording of Amnesty International’s ‘live’ Secret Comedy Podcast.
Amnesty International was founded in London in 1961 by the lawyer Peter Benenson and is a non-governmental organisation focused on human rights. The objective of the organisation is "to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated." It works to mobilise public opinion to put pressure on governments that let abuse take place.The organisation was awarded the 1977 Nobel Peace Prize for its "campaign against torture” and the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 1978.
Today’s show was hosted by comedian, writer and TV presenter Mark Dolan and featured comic turns and interviews.
If you navigate through NEWS AND EVENTS to EDINBURGH FESTIVAL you can subscribe and listen to the show, which played out with ‘Superficial’ to a very appreciative crowd...
The ‘hotheads’ are a great bunch of people to hang out with and, though we’re all missing our families, every day is filled with laughter and banter... there is a very tight turnaround time at the theatre as the previous act finishes at 9.20. We have to carry all the instruments and backline up from the storeroom in the bowels of the building and set everything up afresh each night. To make the process a great deal easier, all the mic leads are taped together in a ‘loom’ and clearly labelled. Mine says ‘BAZ VOX’ (bouzouki/vocals)... Matt suggests this should be my stage name from now on... and I kinda like it... while Terl comments on the ‘dance’ I do onstage (which usually involves a simple up and down movement)... as the bouzouki is originally a Greek instrument he proposes we call it the ‘Greek Dip’... the week is winding down now, time moving faster. Our performance improves every night and the show has been well attended... though some are clearly there out of curiosity and are slightly bemused, if not completely dumbfounded, by Lady Cora’s ‘rock chick’ persona... after tonight’s show we head back to Darroch Court for an intimate ‘end of run’ party. One more gig tomorrow night but we have to pack and load all the gear in Ron’s van ready for the long drive home... rumour also has it that as the theatre is a temporary set-up for the festival (it’s really the Freemason’s Hall), we have to drink the bar dry!
Sunday 25th August. After last night’s celebrations, a late start this morning, though, ever the professional, Sadie has called a vocal rehearsal for 11.30am... late breakfast, laundry done, a lazy afternoon before we head out for something to eat. Edinburgh is basking in the late summer sun, bags are packed... tomorrow morning we catch the 10am train and make the return journey down the East Coast Main Line... next up, three dates in Sweden.