In de trein

Hello, all. As you can see from the subject line, I’ve been brushing up on my Nederlands (note that the titles of some of the pics on my Photos page have been changed accordingly), and it’s come in very handy over the last few days. I am indeed in the train, somewhere between Rotterdam and Brussels as I type, heading home after three lovely gigs in Holland.

The first gig was in a church that hosts a folk club called, wait for it, ‘The Holy Ground’. A few weeks ago, the organiser sent me an email explaining that it was a tradition for all the artists who appear there to sing the song ‘The Holy Ground’ – not the beautiful song written by Gerry O’Beirne (, but the tankard-thumping ballad popularised by The Dubliners and their ilk. My initial reaction, as you can imagine, was oh, no, no, no. However, as it happened, a day or so later I was doing a bit of research prepatory to writing a review of a Clancy Brothers ‘Best Of’ compilation, and came across an interview with Liam Clancy in which he explained how the band came up with their signature sound. Back when they first arrived in New York in 1956, they held an informal meeting to discuss what kind of “show” they could put on (remember, at that point they were actors first and musicians second). Liam Clancy was bouncing up and down on a very springy sofa, and suggested to the others that they try singing traditional Irish songs to the upbeat rhythm he was producing with his exertions. Next thing you know, they were sporting their mammy’s hand-knitted Aran jumpers on the Ed Sullivan show ... and the rest, as they say, is history. Fortunately for me, the process works equally well in reverse, and when I took the metaphorical springs OUT of the metaphorical sofa, I discovered that ‘The Holy Ground’ is actually a beautiful song. Having sung it at two of the venues in Holland, I think I might just keep it in the set list. Many, many thanks to The Holy Ground’s Barend van Straten for bringing it to my attention.

On Sunday, I had the best gig of my life thus far. Down in the south of Holland, in the town of Sevenum, Piet Snellen hosts De Fookhook ( at De Sevewaeg, an “echt gezellig” (warm, cosy, friendly) bar/restaurant with candles on the tables, brilliant sound and the most appreciative audience I’ve ever played for: two standing ovations complete with stomping feet, and three encores! Here’s a photo taken by Piet (there are a couple more on the Photos page):

Gigs at the Fookhook take place on Sundays from 4 to 6pm – a format I heartily wish other folk clubs would adopt. It’s wonderful, because musicians and punters alike can have dinner AFTER the gig, which for artists means that they don’t have to worry about singing on a full stomach, and for audiences means that they can discuss the pluses and minuses of the concert over a relaxed meal. It’s also good for the proprietors, as they’re getting a drink-buying crowd in at a time that would be quiet otherwise. Venues everywhere, please take note! Piet has a great lineup of acts coming through in the coming months, notably my pals in Carmina ( on Sunday 6 April.

Monday I visited my great friend Danny Guinan ( and his wife Tanja in Haarlem, and Tuesday I headed way up north to Friesland, where I not only had a very nice gig at Folk in de Wâlden ( but also met a lovely singer called Linde Nijland (, who used to be half of the acclaimed duo Yggdrasil and has just released a solo album featuring songs of Sandy Denny. She has a tour coming up in the UK including dates in Devon and Cornwall, so I’m hoping to catch one of her gigs myself.

May I once again extol the merits of travel by train? I’m sorry if I’m becoming a bit of a bore about this, but I’ve just taken the train from Penzance to London to Brussels to Dordrecht to Haarlem to Leeuwarden to Rotterdam to Brussels to London to Penzance, and I wouldn’t for a millisecond have traded the experience for a shorter journey by air, even leaving aside carbon footprint issues. So very nice to be able to stretch my legs, to see the changing scenery through the window, to load my suitcase with books and CDs without worrying about weight issues, and most of all to be able to keep my guitar in my sight at all times. The sleeper train from Penzance to London was particularly nice – a cosy bunk in which to rock to sleep like a baby in a papoose, and a cup of tea brought to my door in the morning – what luxury!

Oh, and if anyone else out there wants to brush up on their Dutch, check out the ever-fascinating “Dutch word of the day” website: -- great fun to read even if you’ve no interest in learning the lingo. The other bit of news is that the estimable Jean Camp is now looking after my booking in the UK and Ireland, which leaves me more time to practise my guitar chops and learn new songs. If you’d like to contact her directly, she can be reached on I’ll be heading up to Scotland for a week in February, then over to the Netherlands again in March before my Ireland tour in late March and early April. As always, for full details see my Calendar. Happy New Year to all of you!