24 July 2016


On the whole I enjoy driving and that’s a good thing as, over the years I’ve clocked up quite a few miles travelling to clubs, festivals and other venues. But it’s not all plain sailing.

The news this weekend has been dominated by the queues of traffic trying to get to the Channel Tunnel and Dover Port. Because of hold-ups on the French side—increased security etc—travellers are having to wait up to 16 hours in their cars and all the roads approaching Folkestone and Dover are blocked up. It reminded me of a story I tell occasionally:

LP cover from 1982

You know how it sometimes happens, you get just past the point of no return, just on the motorway itself or too far down the slip road to change your mind, when you realise you should have gone another way!
I could see immediately that the traffic was going slow and after a mile or two it stopped… and then started again… and stopped… and stayed stopped. Drivers turned off their engines. Some got out and stretched. It became clear that we weren’t going to be moving soon so little conversations started; and impromptu picnics on the hard shoulder. Families shared biscuits and sandwiches and flasks. And then there was the call of nature. People sidled off up the bank to find a bush…

To cut a long story short (and it was long, long story take my word for it!) we were there so long that a couple of old people died, a baby was born, a young couple met, fell in love, and found a vicar to marry them!
And then you heard it, from up ahead, the roar of engines and everyone rushed back to their cars, clambered in and sped off down the now-clear motorway. There was no sign of why it was stopped and I never did find out.

This one did me for about 120,000 miles!

That’s just a story but if, like me, you’ve spent 40 years doing one-night-stands in folk clubs around the country you know that that kind of thing happens.
There was a trip to the south coast which would normally have taken about 4 hours but because of the weather (rain) and traffic it took 7½. Then I had to park some way from the venue so arrived wet and bedraggled about an hour after the club had  started. My greeting was “You’re on after this song!”
Coming home to Belper on one occasion I passed J20 on the M1 and hit a queue. From there to J21 is about 5 miles. It took 5 hours! Apparently the motorway was closed because of a factory fire and the fear of flying debris.
Once you start the stories just go on and on…
going home to Luton when we lived there, from somewhere near Bristol—hours of 40mph into the teeth of a blizzard. I knew if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to start again and, luckily, there was no other traffic to get in the way—when I eventually left the motorway and tried to slow I couldn’t! A big ball of ice had built up in the engine and was stopping the accelerator cable from moving! Luckily, it soon thawed.

Scottish folk singer Dick Gaughan has, I believe, described himself as a professional driver who is sometimes allowed to sing a few songs. It does feel like that when you drive 4 hours each way to do your 1 hour performance.

Travel has always been like that. It’s a joy, a great adventure, but is also dangerous.
It’s a great source of stories and always has been.

A couple of hundred years ago a man ventured out after a tremendous storm of rain and saw his friend’s head sticking up out of a pot hole. “Do you need a hand out?” he asked. “No, I’m alright, but it’s my horse I’m sorry for” he replied.

Dr Foster went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain,
He fell in a puddle right up to his middle,
And never went there again.

Honister through the windscreen
All those mishaps are, of course, balanced by some great joys. You discover amazing places which you would not normally come across and see glorious sights. You see the countryside in all its changing moods. I remember taking a detour through the Honister Pass while I was in the Lake district. The first time was amazing and I’ve done it several times since just for the joy of it... I stopped for an hour at around one in the morning on the hills in the Peak District to watch the Perseid meteor shower, natural fireworks… Quite recently I drove home accompanied by a huge, red moon down low on the horizon—magical.

I could go on and on… I haven’t mentioned the ‘characters’ you meet; getting lost; asking for directions; or even SatNav adventures!

As I write this I realise that the ‘bad’ bits which stick in my mind happened mainly on the way to a gig which is when you are worried and have time restraints. The ‘good’ bits are mainly on the way home when you are relaxed, can enjoy it and, hopefully, have the memory of a good gig to cheer you along.

Oh the farmer’s heart with joy is filled
When the crops are good and sound;
But that cannot match the sheer delight
Of the traveller, homeward bound….
(from ‘The traveller, homeward bound’ on my CD False Waters)

FACTS & FICTION storytelling magazine which Pete edits

4 July 2016



Well, I am at home, but it doesn’t feel like it and in many ways I’m ashamed of what's happening to my country.

The referendum has happened and the result was not to my liking nor to the liking of 99% of my friends. We are divided and suspicious. I suppose the nearest I've experienced before is the aftermath of the Miner's Strike in 1984. It's a bit like after a civil war! No, that's too much of an exaggeration, but you see what I mean. It is too early to see what is going to happen yet and there is a lot of complacency around—'see the Markets haven’t crashed that much…’ But I suspect that the dominoes have only just started to tumble. One of the most horrible aspects of the result is that some people have decided to drive unwanted immigrants out now—particularly the Polish for some reason. Not long ago it was the Romanians who were singled out. Ironically some of those I’ve heard dishing out the ‘immigrants go home line’ have been 1st generation British of Indian or Pakistani origin! They must have short memories. Another thing I don’t quite understand is why the Poles have been particularly chosen as the target, why not the Danes or Latvians or Hungarians?

There have always been Polish builders in Britain. When I was small—about 5 or 6 years old—we moved into our first proper family home on a new council estate. (Previously we had been in a prefab). We were one of the first families to move in and much of the estate was still under construction—by Polish builders. Well, not all of them were Polish but the pair who somehow befriended my family were. Sylvester and Marion had escaped to Britain after the war and couldn’t return for some reason all linked up with the Communist government, but I was only young so I didn’t understand much of that. I think Mum made them cups of tea and in return they used some ‘spare’ concrete to make us a garden path and things like that. I remember them coming to tea one Christmas and doing party tricks like attaching an apple to a string, swallowing it, and then pulling it back up! They even got Dad drinking and playing cards! Not things he’d usually do. We lost touch when the work was finished and they moved on.

For quite a long time I played Romanian music with the band Popeluc and that influenced my English music a lot—listen to my CD Mearcstapa or Popeluc’s Blue Dor. Now I help run a U3A World Music group and a lot of the music I choose to play comes from Eastern Europe.
The more I study folklore—both songs and stories—the more I become aware of how we all share a common heritage. We listen to the same stories, we sing songs about the same things. The tunes and chords might be different, the accents of the stories vary, but the ideas and plots are the same.

Here is a perfect example.
Way back in the 1960s The Dubliners had a Top 10 hit with a truncated, cleaned up version of an  Irish folk song Seven Drunken Nights. For several decades I’ve been singing an English version As I Came Home which was collected by Fred Hamer in Bedfordshire. 

Listen to it here:
 Pete sings As I Came Home

Last year there was a Danish series on TV about the 1864 war between Denmark and Prussia, a stupid war fought by stupid politicians if ever there was one. It definitely proved that David can’t always beat Goliath and sometimes you need to know when you’re on to a loser!
At one point towards the end of the series, when the Danes were being slaughtered in their trenches, there was a brilliant rendition of a Danish folk song. A gang of war-weary soldiers bellowed out a piece of bawdiness in a truly authentic way. It was exactly the same song as I mention above.It's in Child (#274) as Our Goodman

 Here is a transcript taken from the subtitles:

The man into the farmyard came
Oh see, oh see, oh see,
Three guardsman's horses all lined up
And one and two and three.
The man then asked his wife
What the horses were doing there
They are three Greek cows
That my mother sent to me.
Oh well, oh well, all's well,
Greek cows all saddled up
I am a man and I have wisened up.

The man into the hall then came
Oh see, oh see, oh see,
Three guardsman's boots all lined up
And one and two and three.
The man then asked his wife
What the boots were doing there
They are three dice cups
That my mother sent to me.
Oh well, oh well, all's well,
Dice cups all booted up
I am a man and I have wisened up.

The man into the hall then looked
Oh see, oh see, oh see,
Three guardsman's hats all lined up
And one and two and three.
The man then asked his wife
What the hats were doing there
They are three milk pails
That my mother sent to me.
Oh well, oh well, all's well,
Milk pails all brimmed up
I am a man and I have wisened up.

The man then peered into the bed
Oh see, oh see, oh see,
Three guardsman's heads all lined up
And one and two and three.
The man then asked his wife
What the heads were doing there
They are three cabbage heads
That my mother sent to me.
Oh well, oh well, all's well,
Cabbage heads all nosed up
I am a man and I have wisened up.

The man then saw beneath the covers
Oh see, oh see, oh see,
Three guardsman's cocks all lined up
And one and two and three.
The man then asked his wife
What the cocks were doing there
They are three carrots
That my mother sent to me.
Oh well, oh well, all's well,
Carrots all eyed up
I am a man and I have wisened up.

I think that is a very fitting contribution to the EU debate!



Pete edits FACTS & FICTION storytelling magazine;