Author Archive

My Career As Village Crank

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My career as village crank, banging out letters to the editor, is on the upswing! Two letters published in the past three weeks! One in the Guardian, one in the International New York Times. They trimmed them a bit, so I’ll let you read them as nature, well me anyway, intended:

To the Guardian:


I congratulate the sub-editor who struck this blow for grammatical sobriety. The ‘festival of song’ is, indeed, “kitsch”, not “kitschy”. Too often, your reviewers and journalists have been allowed to pin an unsightly tail on this poor word and on its “camp” mate as well. Each is as ridiculous as describing Usain Bolt as “fasty” or “Joanna Lumley” as “glamorousy”.

Yours sincerely,

Joe Boyd

To the New York Times:

Mark Lynas (INYT April 25/26) knocks down a straw man. Informed objections to GMO crops are not, as he suggests, because they are intrinsically harmful to human health. Lynas purports to support GMO food as a means of limiting pesticide use, but the most widely planted GMO crops are corn and soya plants genetically engineered to permit and encourage the use of pesticides and herbicides, Monsanto’s Roundup in particular.

The primary interest of GMO-developing corporations is in profiting from the sale of chemicals and fertiliser as well as securing copyright on ‘dead-end’ seeds. Cartoonish descriptions of GMO-objectors as Luddite and anti-scientific is a destructive distraction from scholarly studies that show putting the future of the world’s agriculture in the hands of such companies is a path towards the planet’s impoverishment, not its enrichment. This view is not irrational but evidence-based and scientific.

Yours sincerely,

Joe Boyd

Ashley Hutchings – Gold Badge Award

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I had a most enjoyable evening last at London’s Kings Place Hall. During a Christmas Concert by the Albion Band, I presented its leader, Ashley Hutchings, with the EFDSS Gold Badge Award for Lifetime Achievement. For the uninitiated, EFDSS stands for “English Folk Dance and Song Society”. Don’t laugh! Folk music is hip again in England, 48 years after Dylan put an electric knife in its back…

Here is the speech I gave (my second Gold Badge speech – I presented one to Eliza Carthy a few years back):

Nearly 45 years ago, an electric bass player for a band known for its American West Coast style, walked into the Cecil Sharp House Library. Looking back, it could be said that his arrival there was one of the most fortuitous events in the modern history of traditional music in this country.

Listing an honoree’s accomplishments can be a tedious business, a scroll down worthy events that blur in their repetitive similarity. But not so for the recipient tonight of the EFDSS Gold Badge, that bass player – Ashley Hutchings.

Let’s start with the bands he created. In 1967, he was part of the founding core of Fairport Convention, a band that, two years later, was searching for a new path in the wake of a tragic car crash. With Ashley taking the lead, Fairport created Liege and Lief, an album which has been hailed as the most influential folk album of all time, opening up the world of traditional music to an entirely new audience and to this day, setting a very high bar for any musicians wishing to enliven rock music or folk music by combining elements of the two.

Ashley’s immersion course in British traditional music set him on a path that eventually led out of Fairport and into a collaboration with Martin Carthy and Maddy Prior called Steeleye Span. Footnote here – are there any more enduring insititutions in the world of English folk music than Fairport and Steeleye or any rituals beloved by so many as Fairport’s Cropredy Festival every August?

It was another visit to the EFDSS library that drove Ashley into his next phase.  When he arrived at Cecil Sharp House that day, he overhead an old recording by William Kimber. By the time he left that afternoon, Ashley’s career had taken a new direction – from the “British” traditions that had formed the basis of Fairport’s and Steeleye’s repertoires, to the strictly “English” music that would form the basis of the rest of his life’s work. From that revelation emerged the immortal Morris On album and the ever-evolving lineups and incarnations of the Albion Band.

And he quickly found yet another outlet for his talents and his new enthusiasms. Bill Bryden was creating a body of very English drama at the National Theatre and Ashley brought to The Mysteries, The World Turned Upside Down and Larkrise to Candleford the music that transformed those productions from worthy exercises in historical drama to unforgettable evenings of theatrical magic. I was very fortunate to witness all those plays as well as a special evening that would mark the start of yet another string to Ashley’s bow, those projects that blend musical tradition, story-telling and history in his own signature fashion. The evening was called The Compleat Dancing Master and included recitations by such luminaries as Michael Horden and Michael Gough and comprised an unforgettable journey through the history of English dancing, both rural and urban.

Dancing Master also became a recording, the first of many such projects, including: 

Rattelbone & Poughjack, which explored Molly and Welsh Border dance traditions via readings, actuality, dramatisation and new and archive recordings

Twangin & Traddin, a record that reimagined traditional dance tunes as rock n roll and vice versa – Horse’s Brawl a la Eddie Cochran and Telstar as a Galliard.

An Evening with Cecil Sharp and Ashley Hutchings – arriving on a bike, Ashley spent a couple of hours in the guise of Sharp, describing his life and career and playing old cylinder recordings.

Kicking Up Sawdust – commissioned by EMI who wanted an LP of traditional dance tunes to aid the revival of folk dance in schools

Street Cries – an album on which Ashley updated some of the best known English folk songs including songs created as part of his “Public Domain” project that encouraged schoolchildren to work with traditional material to develop their own original songs.

These last two projects pointed the way to one of the most important aspects of Ashley’s career, his school workshops that introduce students to folk song and dance.

But we mustn’t forget that Ashley is a consummate professional, a wonderfully original and skilful bass player,  a musician’s musician, whose vision has been realized not only in theatre and schoolroom, but also on the indelible recordings he has created. With Fairport and Steeleye, he helped create perfect settings for two of England’s greatest singers, Sandy Denny and Maddy Prior. With the Albion Band, he provided the foundation for some of John Tams and Shirley Collins most memorable performances. An argument could be made for Shirley’s album with the Albion Band, No Roses, to stand with the better-known Liege and Lief as the benchmark for modern settings of traditional music.

But we can’t conclude without touching on yet another crowning achievement of Ashley’s career. A few years ago, I attended a weekend at the South Bank celebrating Morris Dance. There were teams from all over the country including the all-girl Belles of London, David Owen’s brilliantly witty graphics, and crowded workshops in every direction. Morris Dance was, finally and amazingly, hip! At the core of the weekend was a concert tribute to the recording that made it all possible, Ashley’s Morris On. It was great to hear young musicians rendering those immortal tracks in their own style, but nothing will ever top the brilliant original.

If forty five years ago, someone had predicted that a rock bass player would almost single-handedly transform the image of Morris dance in this country and provide so many of the sparks that have led to a tectonic shift in the way England looks at its own musical traditions, they would have been called crazy. Call me crazy, but having known Ashley for 47 years, having been the beneficiary of his acute ears in tipping me to the music of Nick Drake, as well having enjoyed many collaborations with him over the years, I have to say that nothing he accomplishes surprises me. And I think the EFDSS has learned that in Ashley Hutchings English folk music possesses a treasure and a more than worthy recipient of their Gold Badge Award.

Ladies and Gentlemen – Ashley Hutchings.

See you at the Morris Dances next May!


Sing Me The Songs

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Where’s that Newsletter? I have been asking myself that very question, waiting for the Web Muses to pay me a visit. One complicating factor is that I am now the proud possessor of a Facebook page! (joeboydproducer – please visit and “Like” it if you are so inclined…) How do I reconcile the expansive vistas of my occasional newsletters with the compact and frequent communications preferred by Social Media? I confess I’m not sure, but I’m sending out a long, wordy Newsletter anyway and worry about Facebook later…

In June, Nonesuch released the 2-cd set of the Kate McGarrigle Celebration concerts I produced over the past few years in London, New York and Toronto. It’s called “Sing Me The Songs” and includes performances by Rufus, Martha and Anna, naturally, plus Norah Jones, Teddy Thompson, Antony Hegarty, Linda Thompson, Emmy Lou Harris, Jimmy Fallon and many more. There is also a film called “Sing Me The Songs That Say I Love You”, which is built around footage of the Thursday evening show at Town Hall in New York in May, 2011. It has been shown at a few festivals, at BAM and had a run at Film Forum in New York in late June. It will soon be available on line for downloading – I’ll keep you posted.

Producing those shows – and the cd set – was very gratifying for me. Of course I like to be proved right and I thought the concerts convinced (and surprised) everyone in the audience about Kate’s greatness as a songwriter. I love the way her songs connected the precise with the eternal:

So I’ll just pin this note within your coat

And leave the garden gate unlocked.

from “I Cried For Us”. Always so practical! The tiniest gesture filled with emotion….

One line that became a favourite of mine (sung by Rufus at all four concerts), is the closing couplet of “Southern Boys”:

And don’t extend your hand

‘Cause I couldn’t move at all

Perhaps you need to have experienced first hand a visit to the southern gentry to appreciate it. In the rest of the civilized world, such a moment usually triggers a “please don’t get up” as you are introduced to a seated person who struggles to rise. But Kate’s line perfectly captures the off-hand arrogance of the southerner who trumps your ‘don’t get up’ with ‘wouldn’t dream of it, it’s far too hot and I’m too lazy’. Which chimes perfectly with the irresistible drawl of the heart-breaker boy whose ‘breath in your ear is as soft as the cotton’.

One line that took us all by surprise at the first concert was from a song I’d long forgotten and Kate never recorded. I came across it by accident while trawling among the demo cassettes for a song for Teddy Thompson. One of Kate’s most powerful images emerged from the requiem for a glorious vacation that is “Saratoga Summer Song”:

This crazy summer is over

No more bees, no more clover

And the rope at the swimming hole swings by the weight of the wind

Then, in the last stanza, after rhyming lox with equinox, she emits a cry to hold back the passage of time:

Bring back the laughs, bring back the tears

Bring back the beers

Bring back the dope and the rope

Which, you could say, is a theme running through Kate’s writing, from the

No more candlelight

No more romance

No more small talk

When the hunger stops

of “I Eat Dinner”, to the practical advice of “On My Way To Town”

I’m dropping pebbles in my path

I will not get lost when I come back

to “Go Leave”’s genius triplet

We could talk ‘til words were coming out our ears

Not just for days or weeks or months, but it’s been years

And here they come, here come my tears

and culminating in her final plea

So make the world slow down a bit

It’s going way too fast,

and I just want it to last.

Kate never let go of the past. These days, that can sound like a criticism, but therein lay her genius. Her father was born in the 19th century. She, Anna and Jane grew up in a household that sang around the piano in the evenings instead of watching tv. As she recounts in “Work Song” –

Sing me songs of days gone by

Make me laugh, make me cry

Kate connected us to our true selves, our culture, our history, our emotions both raw and repressed. There was no shame for her in looking back at her life, at her culture, her musical history, the friends and lovers with whom she had made music. But she brought it right into the moment, to life in front our eyes with a joyfulness and wit at which we could but marvel.

The moment in the concerts I found most moving was hearing Martha sing what I consider Kate’s life motto, from “Matapedia”:

But I could not slow down

No, I could not slow down

And I was not afraid

No, I was not afraid

True words; Kate was unafraid. Knowing her for 35 years was a great gift, a stimulating presence in my life. I produced the last concert she gave, the family’s Christmas show at Royal Albert Hall in London. Kate knew she was dying, but she worked tirelessly preparing the music. At rehearsals, she would curl up on a sofa and sleep until she was called up, then sing her part and go back to sleep. Of course, she stole the show with her performance of the last song she wrote, Proserpina.

Everyone (producer and label included) has waived their royalties so that the income is all for Kate’s Cancer Foundation. So go on, do yourself a favour and buy “Sing Me The Songs”.

My own wish, in this moment, would be to bring back those golden moments in my life when I was in the presence of Kate McGarrigle, singing.

News from the Boyd Cage

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Dear Mailing List,

News from the Boyd Cage has been thin on the ground for a while, but Change Is NOW! So much to report, I might even resort to bullet points….

  • “Way To Blue”, the live cd of the Songs of Nick Drake concerts of the last three years is out April 15 on Carthage/Navigator in the UK and Carthage/StorySound in the US. And, if you must, you can buy it then from iTunes and other ‘low down’ – I mean ‘download’ – sites. A single of two out-takes is being released for Retail Store Day in the UK.
  • The audio book of “White Bicycles”, read by yours truly is available at It should also now be available at and iTunes. If any of you are new to audio books, I get a nice bonus if you use “White Bicycles” as your initial order upon becoming a subscriber to And you can follow the music as you read – or listen – on…

Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis on April 23

and rounded off by an event at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles April 29. (tickets on sale soon)

Each event will feature clips from the Barbican concert and live performances by excellent singers paying homage to Nick’s songs

– more info on that to follow

  • I am doing a bit of talking about Nick Drake and his songs at the Laugharne Weekend in Wales on April 5. Robyn Hitchcock, Charlotte Greig and Keitel Keinig will interrupt me to sing a Nick Drake song or two.
  • A double cd of the Kate McGarrigle concerts in London, New York and Toronto called “Sing Me The Songs” will be released in June by Nonesuch, coinciding with the release of the film of the New York Town Hall concert – “Sing Me The Songs (Which Say I Love You)”.
  • There will be a two-day event at Brooklyn Academy of Music June 25 and 26 with a screening of the film on the 25th followed by a discussion about Kate’s legacy as a songwriter, then a concert starring Kate’s children Rufus and Martha Wainwright with a glittering array of guests.
  • And speaking of Brooklyn, I will host two rare US screenings of “A Skin Too Few” at the Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg at noon on Saturday and Sunday, April 13 and 14.
  • On Thursday April 18 at 6:30pm I will give a keynote address to the EMP Pop Music Conference on the NYU campus in New York. It is free and open to the public.
  • And yes, loyal readers, on airplanes, in hotels, in borrowed offices, at home and anywhere I can find a flat surface and some peace and quiet, I will continue to write my as-yet-untitled book on World Music….

I was intending to reflect on what this all means in an engaging literary fashion, but I need to get this info out into the cyber-ether NOW – so stay tuned, I’ll fill you in with the appropriate platitudes at a later date.

Hope to see you here, there or everywhere!



Graceland and Google

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Dear Mailing List,

It’s been quite a while. The usual excuses, I’ve been busy etc., travelling a lot. Rajasthan for research on the book (about World Music, no title yet), Toronto for a Kate McGarrigle tribute concert and Australia (with Way To Blue) and South East Asia at the end of last year. A kind of pathology builds up – falling behind on the book, I feel guilty if any peaceful creative time at the computer is devoted to something other than the Primary Task At Hand! I have also, you may be pleased to hear, been working on Live CDs of the Way To Blue and Kate McGarrigle concerts.

But a couple of recent events have prodded me to sit down and write to you, my treasured Mailing List. One involves a present-day madness and the other a reminder of madness from the not-so-distant past.

Let’s start with the latter. Stuart Jeffries, reviewing “Under African Skies” (a film about the making of Graceland) in the Guardian, reprised the attacks on Paul Simon – “the flouter’”-  for his “disrespect to the black men and woman of the ANC and Artists Against Apartheid”.

His review took me back to a time in my own life, before Graceland, when I got involved with a musical play called Poppie Nongena. I had seen it off-Broadway and was so inspired by the music, the cast and the story (an anti-Apartheid drama about the insanity of the Bantustans project) that I ended up bringing the show to the Edinburgh Festival on my credit card. That led to a run at the Riverside Studios in London (April 1984), rave reviews and a move to the Donmar Warehouse in the West End. Working with that (mostly Xhosa) cast and (white) director Hilary Blecher was a joy, an experience to treasure, to say nothing of seeing audiences on their feet in tears every night, singing Nkosi Sikel Iafrica along with the cast.

We didn’t get any Jeffries-like attacks, but why not? The play was based on a book by a white South African writer; it had been created at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre; the cast was a mixture of actors still resident in South Africa and others in exile. In other words, a walking, talking violation of the Cultural Boycott. But its subjective credentials as a rebuke to apartheid gave it safe, hypocritical passage.

Which leads me back to Graceland. The UN and the ANC condemned it when its release was announced, but both withdrew their condemnation when they realized what a profound boost it gave the anti-apartheid cause (and just in time for the Grammy ceremonies). There is a lot of credit to spread around for the world-wide surge of sympathy that led to Mandela’s release from prison and the first free elections in 1994: Tony Hollingsworth and the Mandela Birthday concert at Wembley and Jerry Dammers’ great Free Nelson Mandela single, for example. But it must not be forgotten that the US Congress over-rode Reagan’s veto of the bill enshrining the Boycott in U.S. law an intriguing 8 months after the release of Graceland. I remember feeling at the time that the work of activists over decades might never have succeeded without that final, emotional push fuelled by the inexorable power of Graceland’s message that the culture being suppressed in South Africa was far more rich, interesting and exciting than the culture of those doing the suppressing. I am convinced this shift in attitudes was fatal to the Boer cause. It certainly wouldn’t have unfolded as it did without Simon’s ‘treacherous’ trip to Johannesburg.

(The film, by the way, is very much worth seeing. Good as it is, I was relieved to see that it didn’t touch on a number of fascinating aspects of the Graceland story I have included in the South African chapter of my book!)

The Cultural Commissars eventually found a way to torpedo Poppie Nongena. As we were preparing our move from the Riverside to the Donmar, an official from Actor’s Equity came to see me. We would have to re-cast at least two of the leading roles with black, UK-based Equity members. I explained that the cast had created the play with Blecher – many of the lines were their own improvisations. The English dialogue was surrounded by Xhosa asides, while the music was all traditional songs full of clicks impossible for a non-Xhosa to replicate. Replacing my cast with Anglo-Caribbean or Nigerian-born actors would kill the show. Too bad, he said, that’s not my problem, it’s yours.

In desperation, I persuaded one of Thatcher’s ministers to write to the Employment Secretary about the matter, thereby kicking the issue of our Work Permit extensions into, as they say, the long grass. We were able to run for four months at the Donmar before it reached the top of the pile at the Department of Employment and they confirmed Equity’s dictum – replace members of the cast with locals or close the show. We found a refugee from the cast of Ipi-Tombi (a ‘70s “happy natives” musical that had a run in London before being shut by anti-apartheid pickets) who spoke a bit of Xhosa (but was a hopeless actor). It was too dispiriting, so we packed it in. (We went on to runs in Australia, Canada and Chicago.)

I have often reflected on the irony that if Labour had been in power, they would have been far less willing to defy, however briefly, the actors’ union and we probably would not have been able to move to the West End at all. In so many countries today, the Left is on the back foot, out-manoeuvred by the forces of Reaction. Could this have something to do with the rigidity of thought represented by the likes of Jeffries’? Do his ilk really believe it would have been worth more years of apartheid, more deaths, more blighted lives, rather than allow for flexibility in the struggle? I suspect many of them do.

An issue occupying at least as much attention as apartheid did 25 years ago, is the Internet. I took part one recent Saturday, in a panel discussion (in a tent in Glastonbury) about the Internet’s effect on music. I think the delegate from Google was expecting accolades for the resulting ‘democratization’ of music and was a bit shocked by the push-back from panellists and audience. Moderator Kirsty Lang was relying on me to be the nay-sayer (a role I was, as you can imagine, happy to fill) but the other panellists also expressed reservations. What was most interesting was that my little injection of bile got such a hearty round of applause!

I voiced three gripes, starting with the quality of sound. The notion that a generation has grown up listening to music via Mp3 files on ear-buds is depressing, and it has the knock-on effect of encouraging recordings in dead rooms with close mic-ing, sampling, and all the other modern scourges of the kind of sonic richness people now pay £75 pounds for in the ever-growing vinyl racks of music shops.

Another obvious complaint involves remuneration. Piracy and free downloads are just part of a general de-valuing of artists’ (and producers’) right to be paid for the music people enjoy and share. This is, to my mind, part of a downward spiral involving ever thinner, shinier, digital recording, the lowering of prices, the ease of purchase (or theft) and the reduction of quality in the music and sound that gets released into the avalanche of new music every week.

Which brings us to the third point. The man from Google proudly showed us clips from a YouTube site of a classical pianist of moderate talent whose entire career has been based on viral internet distribution. The fact that she had circumnavigated the stuffy, closed world of classical promoters, agents and record labels was, we were told, something to be celebrated. I confess to not being certain we should celebrate the fact that this mediocre talent is now better known and perhaps better paid than Murray Perahia. This leads to my central curmudgeonly point – is the avalanche of mediocre music on the Internet a good thing? As we Americans say in support of good lawyers and rigorously fair trials in capital cases, better to let a few killers walk free than to execute an innocent man. Is it likewise true that it’s better to endure so much mediocrity so that one Laura Marling (who is good, I admit) gets her big break?

Playing King Canute to the tides of modernity is obviously pointless, but it is worth noting a conundrum. The ‘60s “record label / A&R man / expensive studio” filter may have been hard to break into, but for whatever reason, it seems to have produced a lot more artists whose box sets are piled by the register than any decade since.

A bizarre punch line to this panel was provided by the man who raised his hand to express his gratitude to YouTube for providing him with an annual income of £200,000 a year. We were all so stunned that no one had the presence of mind to ask him what was on his lucrative (thanks to sponsorship) YouTube channel. The same fellow approached me later outside another tent to say he appreciated my comments etc. I asked him what his content was. Looking around furtively, he leaned close to me and muttered…. “fox hunting videos”.

So there we have it. Musicians’ creations are valued ever lower, none I know makes any kind of a living off the Internet and a bunch of right-wingers in Barbour jackets get their companies to sponsor footage of beagles tearing foxes apart. (This is conjecture – a cursory look on Google for ‘fox hunting’ failed to produce any evidence – but how else would someone make £200,000 from fox hunting videos?)

This seems like an admirably hypocritical moment to announce that I am in the process of launching a “White Bicycles” YouTube Channel. I’ve trawled the Internet looking for decent footage of the artists and the music I describe in the book. It will be organized by Chapter and is tied to the upcoming (this autumn) release of the White Bicycles audio book, read by Yours Truly.

More news to follow in a forthcoming letter – I have tried your patience enough.



November Dates

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Hello Music Lovers, (as Spike Jones used to say at the start of his 1950s television shows… he was kidding, I’m not!)

Every time I take a shower these days, I am transfixed by the whirlpool of the drain and reveling in the thought that soon I will be watching water leave the building THE OTHER WAY AROUND!! Yes, I am going South of the Equator, where Stars and Loos work quite differently. If you know anyone who lives in the distant land they call DOWN UNDER, please tell them that:

* Robyn Hitchcock and I are presenting our “Live and Direct from 1967” two-hander at THE BASEMENT in SYDNEY on November 9 at 9:30pm.

* The “Way To Blue” concert in tribute to the music of Nick Drake is on November 11 at the SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE. The band includes usual suspects such as Danny Thompson, Zoe Rahman, Kate St John & co (& strings) with local guests Shane Nicholson and Luluc joining regulars Lisa Hannigan, Robyn H, Vashti Bunyan, Green Gartside, Krystle Warren and Scott Matthews.

* The “Way To Blue” show then moves to the MELBOURNE RECITAL HALL for a three-night run November 13, 14 and 15.

For those of you who reside in the so-called “Northern” half of the globe (keeping in mind that in space, “up” and “down” are arbitrary ‘north-ist’ concepts) and are thus about to put on your warm clothes and brace yourselves for WINTER, you can warm yourselves in the glow of Hitchcock/Boyd reprising our Antipodean exploits at:

* THE PURCELL ROOM in London on December 1 at 7:45 pm.

I will no doubt be flogging and signing books and cds in the various lobbies, so please say hello and give me the Mailing List’s Secret Handshake.

And for those unable to be present at any of these evenings, console yourselves with the knowledge that the AUDIO BOOK of WHITE BICYCLES, read by Yours Truly is in production and will soon be available to download. More on that soon…

I will report in due course on our adventures in Botany Bay. I suspect that given the parlous state of Euro-American finances and the rude health of the Aussie dollar, we will be treated much as Barry McKenzie was in London on his first visit in the 1960s. Wish us luck!

Ciao for Niao


Late Junction

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Dear Mailing List,

The Late Charlie Gillett used to do something on his radio show he called “Ping Pong”. A guest would bring a stack of recordings and he would answer each selection with one of his own that related to it somehow. I was fortunate enough to play the game with Charlie once and came away with a list of records I had to track down and buy. Plus it was fun.

Nick Luscombe on BBC Radio 3’s “Late Junction” has revived the practice in his own fashion. I will be his guest this coming Tuesday night from 10 to midnight; we’ve already recorded it so I can alert you to the fact that I played a live recording of Teddy Thompson singing a Kate McGarrigle song at Town Hall last May, a rare Zulu harmony track I just bought on vinyl via the internet, a wonderful 1930s calypso about how “of all the singers on the movie screen, the negroes are the best ever heard and seen” and a couple of the examples The Lion uses to make his point. And that’s not all! I even play a few WPSEs that have made it through my exceedingly fine singer-songwriter filter.

For those of you out of range of the BBC, or who better things to do of a Tuesday night, you can hear it for 7 days thereafter via

I have also confirmed more “Chinese White Bicycles” date with Robyn Hitchcock:

Oct 4: Santa Fe NM / James A Little Theatre

Oct 7: Austin TX / Cactus Cafe

Oct 8: Houston TX / Mucky Duck

and not to forget Dec 1 in London at the Purcell Room.

Final piece of news is that, never able to resist an opportunity to enjoy the sound of my own voice, I will be recording the audio version of “White Bicycles” in September for I’ll let you know the release date as soon as its ready to go.

Now I’m off to hear the steel bands rehearse for the London Carnival.



Chinese White Bicycles

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Dear Mailing List, 

I’m setting off this weekend for Great Malvern and the Big Chill Festival. Robyn Hitchcock and I are bringing our ‘double-act’ on Sunday afternoon at 1700 to the White Rabbit Lounge there. If any Mailing-Listers are present, please say hello! 

Meanwhile, you can all see the miniature version of the show we did in Washington DC earlier this year in the office of National Public Radio – the American equivalent of the BBC, sort of…

We’ve been doing this ‘dialectic’ for a few years now, off and on, and great fun it is, too. It began at SXSW in Austin, Texas over four years ago, when Robyn came to a Q&A for the US launch of White Bicycles and invited me to read something about Syd Barrett at his web-site broadcast the next afternoon. He sang the relevant song and the audience seemed to like the combination. We’ve done it in all manner of locations and regions since then. 

I particularly enjoy the memory of performing “in the round” at a sold-out Poisson Rouge in New York (the old Village Gate). I circled the stage with a wireless mic telling stories of Greenwich Village in the Sixties, some scenes taking place in bars less than100 yards away. I told of my minor role in the Lovin’ Spoonful story, setting Robyn up for his performance of “Daydream”. On “Back in the 1960s”, his opening song, Robyn had approached the mic stand from one side, then straight ahead, then moving to the other side as he glanced anxiously at the section of the audience behind his ‘front-on’ position.  Now, as he strummed the opening chords to “Daydream”, he suddenly fell down on his back, guitar across his chest like Gregor Samsa in a rock ‘n’ roll version of “Matamorphosis” and motioned with his eyebrows for me to crank the microphone down over his mouth. At least this way, no one would be facing his back!

We’ve done the show we sometimes call “Chinese White Bicycles” or “Live and Direct From 1967” about 15 times now, from Norway to Los Angeles. We’re bringing it to London on December 1, at the Purcell Room on the South Bank. Some October dates in the US southwest are currently under discussion. And we’re going to slip out the side door of the Sydney Opera House and do it during the Australian “Way To Blue” tour in November. (More info on that to follow.) 

Robyn explains that, as a provincial teenager with his nose pressed up against the glass of the Sixties, he relied on Incredible String Band, Pink Floyd, Fairport Convention and Nick Drake Lps (and Dylan, of course) for his education. I became his “Frankenstein” and he my “monster”. All I know is that Robyn channels the spirits of those records I made and the music I heard back in the decade of our Glorious Revolution and sings them all with the vivid and authentic spirit for which he is so renowned. 

We always try to include “local content”. New York was a breeze, but other cities have been trickier. I wanted to read my chapter about Bob Horne’s Bandstand when we performed in Philadelphia and Robyn recalled vaguely that he had sung the doo-wop classic “To The Aisle” by the Five Satins. His brilliant version was preceded by a speech concerning the song’s relevance to everyone in the audience, charting as it does the progress from “a little conversation” to procreation. He then forced all of us to ponder the fact that our presence was proof that our parents had committed sexual intercourse at least once and that said act had provided satisfaction for “at least one of them.” 

I have forced Robyn to refresh his memory of Chicago blues, the Move’s version of “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” and, at a festival in Egersund, Norway, to learn “Sunny Girl”, an early Hep-Stars hit composed by Benny Andersson. He never complains, although he did refuse to learn Jesse Colin Young’s “Hippie From Olema”, a piss-take of Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee” from the ill-fated Medicine Ball Caravan film during our visit to Los Angeles. 

White Bicycles is being published this autumn in Russia. I am trying to persuade the Muscovites that bringing “Chinese White Bicycles” to Moscow, St Petersburg and Perm would be a wonderful idea. I’m sure some interesting additions to Robyn’s repertoire would result. 

I don’t just talk on these tours, of course, I also listen. My favourite story came from Joe Thompson, founder of the wonderful Museum of Contemporary Arts where we performed in North Adams, Massachusetts. Having started the project under the benign, arts-encouraging regime of Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988, he was being thwarted by the new budget-cutting Republican Governor William Weld – sound familiar? He managed to clean up one small room in the immense derelict mill complex he had acquired and installed an exhibition of David Byrne photographs, complete with a specially composed, completely obscene tape by Byrne which accompanied the viewing experience.

Weld had, over a couple of years, warmed slightly to the project and had taken to stopping by occasionally on his way to hunt ducks in the Adirondacks. Shortly before the exhibit closed, on a deserted Thursday afternoon, Weld appeared and asked to view the exhibit. Terrified at the idea of this rather right-wing Republican hearing Byrne’s foul-mouthed tape, he tried desperately to put Weld off the idea. Then, as he ushered the Governor in, he began planning for his future as an insurance salesman. Weld emerged, sat down, fixed him with a beady stare and said: “name a David Byrne song”. “What?” “You heard me, name a David Byrne song, any David Byrne song.”  Thompson threw out a title from Remain In Light and Weld sang it, beginning to end, word for word. 

“Name another”, said Weld to the speechless Thompson. He sang that one, too. The governor, it seemed, was an obsessive fan. Mass MOCA got the funding and is now a flourishing hub with exhibits, concerts, restaurants etc, which has rescued the moribund mill-town of North Adams. What are the odds against a member of the Tea Party being a David Byrne fan these days…..

Come see the show, buy a book afterwards and tell me a good story. 

Ciao for niao 



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You know about the Celebration of Kate’s music I produced at the Festival Hall in London. This is a reprise of the same event with many of the same participants plus some new ones. Anna, Rufus, Martha, Chaim, Emmy Lou etc will all be on hand plus some surprise guests we are not yet at liberty to reveal!

IMPORTANT! – I felt badly that tickets sold so fast in London many of you weren’t able to secure any. There is no way to provide a head start for my list here, either. I can only hope that anyone who wants to go takes the bull immediately by the horns and clicks on Ticketmaster . Tickets are on sale from 12 noon Monday, February 7 (Eastern Standard Time = GMT -5)


Robyn H and I are doing 6 more US dates in March. If we come to your neck of the woods, please come to the show and say hello. I’ll be signing books and cds after the show. For those who haven’t heard about this, it’s basically me reading or telling anecdotes and Robyn singing the relevant songs. He has been known to sing “My White Bicycle”, “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”, “Chinese White”, “Bike”, “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” and “The Deserter”. Only Robyn could sing all these songs so convincingly – as if it were the mid-‘60s once again….

Tickets available from the venues:

March 9:  Alexandria, VA:  The Birchmere

March 11:  NYC, NY:  Le Poisson Rouge

March 12:  North Adams, MA:  MASSMoCA

March 14:  Philadelphia, PA:  World Cafe Live

March 18:  Detroit, MI:  Detroit Institute of The Arts

March 19:  Chicago, IL:  Old Town School of Music


Many Brits among you will be aware what a good programme this is – presenter and two guests each bring a favourite book the other two must read, then we discuss them. There have probably been many such instances, but I must say I can’t imagine three more disparate sensibilities than those represented by Muriel Sparks’ Memento Mori, (presenter Harriet Gilbert), Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love (Mat Fraser) and George Dangerfield’s The Strange Death of Liberal England (yours truly). A popular British novel from the 1950s, a cult ‘80s book about a family of carnival freaks and a waspish history of the momentous 1910-14 period in British history that has been obscured by the terrible World War that followed. Should be interesting!

From March 8 for 7 days, you can go to BBC iPlayer , click on “radio” and search for A Good Read.


5 x 15 is a series inspired by the “TED” lectures, where speakers are limited to 15 minutes. I will devote my quarter hour to “Mano a Mano”, a famous tango sung by Carlos Gardel (Each chapter of my upcoming book on World Music will finish with a detailed history and translation of a song and this is the song for the Argentina chapter.)

My fellow speakers include: James Brabazon who will discuss the notorious attempted coup in Equatorial Guinea that involved Mark Thatcher; Andrew Simms talking about the fall of BP and the explosion in the Gulf of Mexico; Justine Picardie on Coco Chanel, and Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues discussing her work. (I have met Eve Ensler and she is an extraordinary woman now doing a wonderful project in the Eastern Congo where rape has become a weapon of war.)

5 x 15 usually sells out, so go on line for tickets at Ticketweb

The Tabernacle is on Talbot Rd in Notting Hill Gate.


I’ve had fun doing the first 13 episodes of “Joe Boyd’s Lucky 13” on Resonance FM radio. It is inspired by the fact that 4 years ago I moved flats and decided to re-organize my vinyl collection, all 5,000 of them!  I deliberately jumbled them up, then started counting 13 with a divider, listening to whatever came up and filing it in the new system (or giving it to Oxfam if it was crap). It was such a pleasure being surprised every day with some unexpected music that I decided to turn the idea into a radio show. Fortunately, I have also marked the good stuff and figured out a way to combine my vinyl and cd collections (plus the cassettes I am transferring to cd…) so that I can start at arbitrary points and count 13 good ones and pull out a plum. Then I use my favourite track on the album the system gives me as part of a short set of tunes related by genre, location, artist, subject matter or whimsy. I’ve rather reluctantly provided Resonance with a track-listing – in an ideal world you wouldn’t be able to view it until you’d listened to the show! I like people being surprised by what comes next…

I plan to revisit this once I have my new book under control. I found  myself sitting on buses and tubes thinking about what tracks to combine instead of thinking about how to begin the next paragraph. And that will never do!!

If you want to check out one of the episodes, go to Resonance FM , then click on “Podcasts” and my name is under “J” in the left hand column. There are 10 up now, with three more coming before the end of February.

I hope to see you at one of the events

All the best


Way to Blue and Robert Kirby Memorial

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Greetings, Mailing List

More Nick Drake concerts coming up. Following the January shows and the BBC’s broadcast of the Barbican show this past spring, we’re doing 6 more shows, 2 in Italy and 4 in Britain.

The lineup and dates for the UK are:

Vashti Bunyan, Green Gartside, Robyn Hitchcock, Scott Matthews, Karine Polwart, Teddy Thompson, Krystle Warren

Thur 14 October
Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
Tel: 0151 709 3789

Sat 16 October
Usher Hall
Tel: 0131 228 1155

Sun 17 October
Sage Gateshead
Tel: 0191 443 4666

Mon 18 October
Bridgewater Hall
Tel: 0161 907 9000

The UK Press Release can be found attached to this email

The lineup and dates for Italy are:

Roberto Angelini, Vashti Bunyan, Green Gartside, Robyn Hitchcock, Scott Matthews, Violante Placido, Teddy Thompson, Krystle Warren

Sunday 10 October
Teatro Kursaal Santa Lucia,
Largo Adua, 5

Tuesday 12 October
Auditorium Parco della Musica, Teatro Studio
Viale de Coubertin, 30
Website –

I’ll be at all the shows and doing on-stage interviews in Bari at 6.30pm on Friday October 8 at Teatro Kursaal and in Rome at 11am on Sunday October 10 at Auditorium Parco della Musica. After both of these events there will be a special screening of the Nick Drake documentary ‘A Skin Too Few’.

There is also a tribute concert to the late Robert Kirby at the Cecil Sharpe House in London on Sunday Oct 3 at 2.30pm (doors 1.30pm), organized by his son Henry. The lineup includes the following artists Teddy Thompson, Ben & Jason, Vashti Bunyan, Luke Jackson, Steve Ashley, Harvey Brough & Clara Sanabras, Fab Cabs, and Danny Thompson. For tickets and further details please visit Robert Kirby’s website

ciao for now,