What I’ve been up to lately ...

Hello there! I hope you’re all managing to stay safe and sane in these bewildering times. Pictured above are two things that have been helping me to get through them. There’s a further explanation below — but before I get to that, I should mention that since sending my previous newsletter back in July, I’ve made a couple more “How to Play ...” and “Story Behind The Song” videos for my Patreon supporters, and have also made a “Live From Home” video of my song “The Tide”, which is available for all to watch as a public video on YouTube – so do check it out by clicking here or on this thumbnail image:

Back to those two photographs: I was tremendously honoured to be asked by my wonderful friend Lawrence Illsley (whose forthcoming debut album I recorded backing vocals for earlier this year) to compose a score for a short film featuring the first poem in a narrative series entitled A Brief History Of Trees, which is about to be published by the Live Canon Poetry Press and is now available to pre-order from the Live Canon website — highly recommended! 

Scoring a film is not something in which I have any training or experience whatsoever, but it IS something I’ve always wanted to do, and it was wonderful to find myself actually creating new music for a change. Since the whole Covid thing started I haven’t even been having ideas for songs, let alone the impetus to write them, and I’d been feeling kind of down about that, but the film score assignment seemed to unleash all my blocked-up creativity: for about two weeks I was in a frenzy of composing, even getting out of bed in the middle of the night to hum bits of music into my phone so I wouldn’t forget them. And I felt totally joyous doing it. 

Shot by Sean Lovell and directed by Ben Harris, the film starts and finishes with snippets of songs from Lawrence’s album, and part of the brief was to incorporate melodic themes from those two songs into the score, which made it an even more interesting challenge (and that’s “interesting” in the positive sense, not as in “may you live in interesting times”!). I decided to write for a small ensemble consisting of piano, trumpet, viola and cello, in the hope that the project could eventually become a live multimedia show, with Lawrence, myself and two other musicians onstage (Lawrence plays cello as well as guitar) and the film onscreen behind us. 

It was a massive new skill set to try and acquire very quickly, but I’m so grateful to Lawrence for giving me the opportunity. I also need to thank Ralph Houston for the long-term loan of his keyboard, which I’ve been borrowing from him for over three years now and without which I wouldn’t have been able to do this kind of work — it’s got the full 88 keys, same as a grand piano, and they’re weighted, so that when I play loud or soft or use the sustain pedal, all that information is translated to the computer: if I hit the key harder, the note is louder. All this is old hat to proper composers who’ve been working with MIDI (which stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, in case you were wondering) for years, but for me it was totally mindblowing to be able to play a phrase on a piano keyboard and have it come out sounding like a trumpet, a cello or whatever I choose, with the musical notation of what I’ve just played laid out beautifully on the screen. 

Also, in a crazy coincidence/serendipity, the scene I was scoring when I took the first of the two photos above has the same shot as a photo I‘d taken the previous day (on the South West Coast Path just above Pendeen Lighthouse, nine miles from my house) when we went for an afternoon family walk. It was the last photo I took during the walk — I only noticed that it was the same setting when I scrolled back through my camera roll. Have a close look at the two photos and you’ll see what I mean. Spooky ... 

My longtime manager and sound engineer Martin Stansbury (who also mixed and mastered Lawrence’s album) is looking after sound design for the film and is currently whipping the MIDI files I’ve sent him into shape; as soon as he’s finished with that, he’ll be back to work on the mixing of my St Buryan Sessions recordings. 

Speaking of which, it was disappointing to be notified this week that my Arts Council project grant application for funding to complete the St Buryan Sessions project was unsuccessful. Thanks to the lovely contributors to my FundRazr campaign, I was able to pay Martin, filmmaker Mawgan Lewis and 2nd camera operator John Crooks for the filming and recording in St Buryan Church back in July, and there’s enough left over to pay Martin for the mixing and Mawgan for the editing of the first few song videos; but to get all the videos edited and the album manufactured and released, I’ll need to raise more funds. I’ve already applied to both Help Musicians UK and the PRS Foundation and am hoping for a positive response from one or both, and I’ll also re-apply to the Arts Council, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. In the meantime, if you’d like to make an extra contribution, the FundRazr campaign page is still open, or you can use the Donate button on my homepage

As you may already know, I should have been on tour in the USA right now, but that’s not happening, and all but one of my November UK shows have either been cancelled outright or postponed to next year, in some cases even the year after next. I do still have concerts scheduled for Friday 27 November at The Hat Factory in Luton, Thursday 21 January at The Acorn Penzance, and Friday 12 February at the Phoenix Arts Centre in Bordon, Hampshire, with tours of Europe, the UK, Ireland and the USA to follow – see the Tour page of my website for full details — but I’m not holding my breath. It feels to me like it’s going to be a long, long time before I or any of my fellow musicians will be able to get back to full-scale touring. 

Which is why I’d be tremendously grateful if you could consider joining me on Patreon. For as little as £1, $1 or €1 a month (or more if you can manage it), you’ll get exclusive access to the aforementioned patron-only “How to Play ...” (DADGAD guitar tutorial) and “Story Behind The Song” videos, plus sheet music downloads, artwork, updates and more. I’d also be grateful if you could help spread the word about this platform and see if you can persuade a few more people to join up. I’ve got 40 patrons as of today; if we can bump that figure up to my initial goal of 200 patrons, we’ll have a Zoom hangout/live Q&A online to celebrate. 

Now that I have the score finished, I’ll be getting back to making more of those videos; the good news is that with Ralph’s keyboard all MIDI’ed up, I should be able to make my sheet music downloads considerably more quickly and efficiently than before. Other projects I’m hoping to spend more time on include the cover artwork for the St Buryan Sessions album, which we’ll also be using as the intro/end screen of the videos; doing a massive clearout of our bramble-choked garden; and a whole lot of cooking and jam-making — we’ve still have a big glut of apples and crabapples to get through. And hopefully that songwriting train will come along again one of these days ... 

As always, massive thanks for all your kindness and support. Please do keep the feedback, comments, shares and reposts coming.