As usual I am late off the starting blocks with last years news and views and already this year is racing away at the usual alarming rate. One month gone already and as I am starting to write this up on the last day of January I note that there are now only 329 more shopping days to Christmas.

The main reason for this delay is that I have been writing up an in depth and detailed account of the Australian tour that Iris Bishop and I did from February to the beginning of May last year and this has been taking up most of my time as I relive each day, mind you Dan and I had a good few days over in sunny Portugal but that’s another story so on with 2011.

The first day of last year had the unusual date of 1.1.11. and then a few days later we had 11.1.11 but we managed to survive both of these. During January Dan and I had a quick trip over to France and to catch up with friends and there I saw my first primrose of this year always a most welcome sight. February saw the preparation of my being away for an extended tour but to start the month off with Dan and I were invited up to London and to the Folk Awards which we had never been to before and it was certainly good to catch up with friends old and new. Jess and our son-in-law Jonny had arranged for us to be chauffeur driven up to these awards so we did literally arrive in luxury and were collected in luxury to go back as well. It was a most interesting event. Departure day arrived on February 20th and away I went. As I have said this is currently being written up and is in it’s final stages awaiting proof reading and photos that Iris took to be placed in appropriate places so watch this space. I have written just about thirty full pages of this so it may well be too much for the website so if anyone is interested I could print it out in the form of a small book. Suffice to say it was a fantastic tour arranged by Sandy Merrigan of Merrigoround Music.

Back on May 6th after having done a performance of ‘Down The Lawson Track’ in Hong Kong with Australian narrators in the form and shape of Heidi Petrick and Damien Coory both did an excellent job and we had the honour of the Australian Consul General, attending this performance. It was good to be back and with Dan and the family and then so on into June. Iris and I had a day’s tutoring at the excellent Lewes Saturday Folk club where we spent most of the day tutoring to a great group of people interested in song and accompaniment  and then we performed at the folk club in the evening. This whole day is organised by Valmai Goodyear and is certainly worth looking up for an interesting and informative day as she has some excellent and diverse people tutoring various song, music, her website has it all and this has been going on for several years now and is well established in Lewes as is of course the great club run by Vic and Tina Smith

There is a small local festival held near to Basingstoke in the middle of June and I had been asked to do an afternoon concert on the Saturday and as Mike Silver, Mike Silver is worth his weight in gold, was going to be there I seized the opportunity to perform with him. Also it being a Saturday afternoon Dan and I took our eleven year old granddaughter Harriet along with us as well. Harriet has been singing at our Maypoles to Mistletoe Christmas show since she was four years old and we have learnt a few songs to do together which I do so enjoy she is a great singer and enjoys performing so Harriet came up during our spot and did a couple of songs and was well received by the audience. At the end of June, Iris and I did a concert at the Crawley Festival with the complete Copper Family which was just terrific, everything that I like about folk music is within the Copper Family and what they have preserved and continue to enthuse over after so many years of singing these songs handed down through the generations is to be admired.

Up to the Wirral the day after for another festival and the chance to meet up with more friends from days gone by, Ruth and John Williams along with Bob and Moyra Buckle. Beginning of July saw me invited to a surprise birthday party for Kitty Vernon, and being the gentleman that I try to be I will not tell you her age other than there is a 0 in it and also a 6 but I am not telling you which way round those numbers are. Kitty and Derek sing Silence and Tears which is originally a poem by Lord Byron which I wrote a tune for. Actually the words were written by Ron but most people know him better as Lord Byron. Interesting about that tune as I wrote it back in the mid 1980’s in Hong Kong on my way back from a tour in Australia and I had found this poem in a book that Pete and Iris Benzie had and with whom I was staying. I sang Silence and Tears once in a folk club in Pennsylvania USA and a friend came up after and told me that there was a Blue Grass version of this. I was interested to hear this and went round to his place the following day. I am afraid that my memory fails me as to which LP it was on and who performed it and had written the tune in the 1960’s but the tune was almost identical to the one that I had written and I can say here and now categorically that I had never heard this tune before I wrote mine back in the mid ’80’s. So as with most tunes it is the words and the metre that dictate the tune. On with the year as it races away.

Our next major event was to perform ‘Down The Lawson Track’ with Shirley Collins, Pip Barnes, Iris Bishop, Gary Holder and Jon Wigg with Dan presenting the power point display throughout the performance. This was at The Sidmouth Folk Festival and in the Manor Pavilion managed by our good friend Lawrence Heath. It was indeed a great pleasure to perform this with such a great group of people and in such a fine place. We were then due for our La Jeuss reunion up in Borwick Hall, Lancashire. Just a brief note about the background to this for those not in the know about La Jeuss. Dan  and I lived for fifteen years in France on the Brittany, Normandy borders in an old farm called La Jeusseliniere and for the last seven of these years we ran folk music courses and these La Jeuss reunions are where people who attended these courses all meet up and spend time together. The inspiration for these reunions is the great friend and songwriter Stan Graham and for the past couple of years they have been run up in the splendid location of Dunoon, Argylshire, Scotland and they were just so good and what a great time we all had. This year however we have decided on a different location for a change and Borwick Hall was  chosen after Stan and Julie had been round to see if it would work. We had originally been made aware of Borwick Hall by our good friends Chris and Helen Brown who had been there for a meeting. So the dates were set and the places filled and this was to be the week just before the Whitby Folk Week. I can tell you that it was such a good week and to meet up with so many good friends all bent on enjoying the music and good companionship. Borwick Hall and the staff could not have been a better choice and plans for another La Jeuss reunion are being put in place for the Springtime of 2013, watch this space.

Whitby with Iris was just such a joy to be at and each year now that Dan and I have been going we have stayed with the lovely Mollie Grove and who better to stay with such a remarkable lady. Sue Houston had asked me to come up with another themed concert to do at Whitby and I have always had the greatest respect and admiration for the early convicts and settlers of Australia and in particular the women who went out their either as transportees or pioneering settlers. So I came up with this concept called ‘Ladies of the Outback’ which would show and demonstrate the courage and fortitude of these ladies and also to show some recognition for their helping to shape the Australian character . Luckily we had Ken Prato over from Australia on holiday here on these shores , Sue Houston and also we asked Carolyn Robson, Annie Winter, to be part of this concert. I have always enjoyed Carolyn and Annie’s singing so this was a great opportunity to be with them. Also during the Festival Iris led a whole group of musicians in an Australian tunes session which was also a joy to be part of.

Sadly the month ended with the passing on of Ray Fisher such a top singer and person and to spend time in her company was always full of laughter and joy. Many years ago I recorded the song The Rose for Joe Stead’s record label Greenwich Village, we also made a single of this with Ray joining me in the song. Whenever I was on tour somewhere and singing in a folk club I would look to see who the next guest would be and if it was Ray I would always arrange for someone to present her with a single rose and this went on for a few years, she was a very special person. When she died Cilla and Artie Trezise, Cilla being Ray’s sister, asked me if I would sing The Rose at Ray’s funeral. This was indeed the highest of honours and I duly went up for this where it was held in Whitley Bay, a very moving experience and one that affected me deeply, so deeply in fact that I could not go to the reception held afterwards where so many people gathered and the Fisher family were all there of course in force.

Later on in September saw the departure back up to Scotland of Carol and Alan Prior, both Alan and Carol have been great supporters and singers for quite a number of years now in and around the South East area and they are heading back up to live near to Edinburgh so we will keep in touch and still be able to enjoy their music.

October saw Iris and No Man’s Band performing at the excellent Willows Folk Club in Arundel and then Iris and I headed of to be at the excellent Derby Live Festival which we enjoyed being at. Iris headed off back down south while I headed off in a different direction.

A quick trip over to France then for Dan and I as we had been invited to our good friends and neighbours when we were living at La Jeusseliniere Alain and Isobel. This was for a surprise anniversary party for them organised by their daughter Maude and fiancée Freddie and also their son Simon. I had been asked to sing at this and on these occasions in France when a man sings for the honoured couple it is the tradition that all the women line up in turn to kiss the singer. Now there were 70 invited guests and all the women lined up to kiss me, in total I sang the song about twenty eight times !!!!!!!!

Into November and the year was now getting closer to Maypoles to Mistletoe time but also the joy of travelling round singing at folk clubs. When I was away touring in Australia I had suggested to Dan that it would be a great chance for her to paint and thereby assemble enough paintings to present an Art Exhibition. She agreed to this and we expanded it to incorporate some other artists. So we approached Lawrence Heath, he of Electric Voices, Iris Bishop the musical genius, and yet another good friend of ours in France Mary Kent, Mary did the picture on the front cover of my last CD Back to You. The date had been fixed for the opening on Saturday November 26th to Sunday 27th and this would be at The Farnham Maltings here in Farnham. We had asked Shirley Collins if she would open this exhibition aptly called Four Artists In Search Of An Exhibition, and she did this with her usual charm and excellence. The exhibition was a tremendous success and throughout these two days there was a continuous stream of people coming to view each of these artists works. Pictures of this exhibition can be viewed on Dan’s news page.

Final countdown to the end of the year began, as always, with the arrival of December and Maypoles to Mistletoe was looming on the horizon. So another quick dash across the channel was called for as we needed mistletoe for the concert. My son-in-law Johnny and I set off for this and came back with the car bulging with mistletoe collected for us from a close by farm by Alison Benn who now runs music courses at her house near to the village of Carelles, in Normandy  indeed Iris and I are doing a weeks course at Alison’s in September of this year 23rd-28th. Whilst we were staying at Alison’s on one of my daily walks I saw my first primrose of the new season, as this is my favourite flower of all I have this tradition that I have to kiss the first one I see, unfortunately this one was in the bottom of a ditch with running water so this act was a bit of a challenge and God knows what the passing motorists would have thought was going on.

Our first performance of Maypoles was at the Studio in The Hawth Crawley, and we were without two of our long serving performers for this. Colin Gates who has been in and part of Maypoles since it’s conception and beginning back in 1972, close on to forty years ago, and also Jim Ward who was in at the start when he danced with the Broadwood Men and then took over singing as well as the basic administration. Colin Gates was one third of the trio Arky’s Toast who were so prominent as a top group in the 70’s and they were on the very first LP that we recorded of Maypoles to Mistletoe with Bill Leader in the mid 70’s. They were of course sadly missed as each had their own particular input to the show. However we were extremely lucky to have Carolyn Robson and Mike Nicholson to step into their vacant shoes.  So with a final performance of Maypoles at Lawrence Heath’s venue the Electric Theatre in Guildford the year was very nearly at an end and after a good festive season with the family and a day out on Boxing Day to see and hear the Broadwood Men and the Rusper Mummers perform, the lights were going down and so to 2012.

Just a quick note of plans for this year of 2012. Firstly our daughter Lucy continues with her fitness business and exciting things are lining up for this year with books, apps, and travel promoting her fitness regime her website will tell you more about her We are going to record another CD of Maypoles to Mistletoe using different songs and narration, I am going to record another CD, both of these will be at Jim Ward’s recording studio in Crawley, The Country Branch, and then there is the celebration of Maypoles to Mistletoe being in it’s fortieth year and we are planning to perform this around the country at different places using local singers and local Morris dancers, and there are loads more things in the pipeline, watch this space again.