One cold day in December 2015 and with the kind help of my dear friend and then manager, Sophie Bostock, and label Smugglers Record Shop I made a live instore recording down at the labels record store in Deal, Kent. The quality of the recording was outstanding however the circumstances surrounding the event led to me only temporarily making it available online. Over the years since, many fans who heard it have commented that it contained some of their favourite recordings of mine- particularly the rendition of 'Sunflowers in my Head'.
I've learned a lot about what makes for an interesting record (subjective, yes) over my many years of playing. This is most definitely an interesting record. I've decided to make it available again via Bandcamp and I thought you might like to hear the background story too... including my reasons for pulling it and ultimately putting in back up there.
In late Summer 2015 we scheduled the event for December; I'd head down to label HQ in Deal, Kent, and record live in front of a small audience. However, in late November of that year, my dear Gran passed away and her funeral service was arranged for the very same day as the recording. I didn't know what to do... under no circumstance was I prepared to miss her funeral and yet we'd sold out the event and arranged the recording engineering, I was a new act on the Smugglers label and at the time felt like cancelling the first opportunity that they had arranged for me would be detrimental to my career.
I know now that they would've completely understood but back then many of the people involved were new to me; it felt like a big deal. In the end, I decided that I would attend both. I felt that my Gran, who had always supported me, would've understood and wouldn't have wanted me to miss the opportunity so, I booked a train ticket from Liverpool to Deal.
One cold morning in December 2015, I went with family to Springwood Crematorium, Liverpool, to say farewell to my much-loved Gran before taking a lunchtime train the 6 hour journey to Deal, Kent. There was a lot of quiet reflection on that journey.
When I arrived, I met with Sophie and went for tea at the Ship Inn before heading over the Smugglers Record Shop to set up. As people were arriving, it hit me how emotionally frayed and exhausted I was feeling. I wandered out of the store to the Boathouse Bar where I bought a glass of red wine before taking it outside and sitting on the beach with it. As I sat there on the pebbles in my funeral suit, I watched the moon rise up out of the English channel and into the sky. I raised a toast towards it but I was really imagining it was my Gran looking down over me and saying that it was all ok. I picked myself up and wandered back to the Smugglers store and the gig began.
I don't remember much about the performance - I went into a trance, as I always do - and it just flew past me. I remember feeling very distant and emotional. I also remember that it was quite cold in there.
Listening back to the recording early on, I decided that I didn't like it. I make what I know to be mistakes. My fiddle playing is almost violent. I remember that, it being the middle of winter, my fingers were frozen and I was struggling to play the fiddle. The fiddle itself didn't help; it was during the time that I was taking a 7/8 size, oddly built late 17th century, homemade instrument with me. Later I learned just how detrimental that instrument was to my playing however beautiful a keepsake it is.
The recording felt fragile and vulnerable... and my ego was terrified of it... so I released it temporarily so as not offend anybody at Smugglers, despite being at odds with it, and then not long after I took it down and hid it away from the world.
Recently, my cherished Grandad also passed away. His funeral also took place at Springwood Crematorium, Liverpool, and I found myself reflecting on that solemn and turbulent day back in 2015.
A strong urge to listen to the recording took over me and I heard it again with more experienced and understanding ears.
Now, experience has changed my mind. I think it's a very special recording. It captures a fragility and intimacy that is very difficult to obtain. The only thing that I still struggle with is my fiddle playing. It doesn't sound like me (to me)... It is raw and vicious… almost like an electric guitar. Yes, there are moments where I forget verses but it's only going to be obvious to me or a diehard fan... the moments where I forget lines, I improvise lines and they reveal quite a lot about the moment I'm experiencing... "And I feel, how this is all overwhelming, making my mark on the passage of time"... These are straight out of subconsciousness. There's a lot of improvisation in this recording but it's so subtle that you'd never guess. I noticed that I'm extremely adept at covering my tracks with improv whenever I make a mistake.
So, I lay it all bare and make it available to you again. The only thing that I've cut from the original is the set of traditional Irish fiddle tunes that I played. With frozen fingers, I played them badly and I think they don't make much sense in the middle of a recording full of emotional and reflective songs. They break the spell a little, so I've taken them away and I think this record is better for it.
The cover art was made by Billy Glinn. At the time, I didn't really understand its relationship with my own experience during the recording but I liked it and it paired well with my own absurdist humour so I went with it. Now it has a more significant meaning to me... as I later began having those recurring dreams about a white bear which I've documented many times in song. So Billy was either a prophet or he cursed me with some ancient bear-dream curse! Whatever the case, thank you Billy - I love the cover and I'm so glad to have it out there again.
Sending mighty love to all my family, to Sophie Bostock, to Billy Glinn and all the kind folks at Smugglers Records...
But most of all to my dear grandparents.
Beryl and Frank Warner.
I wish I had found the time to see more of you during my adult life instead of working all the time.
All my love,