Two sat navs, an atlas plus 3 extra hours …

Two sat navs, an atlas plus 3 extra hours on top of the required 5, afforded us the luxury of checking into our hotel before sound check.  We rewarded ourselves with a cup of tea and homemade shortbread biscuits stacked pretty in a jar by the kettle.

Victoria Hall in Settle is a wonderful venue, it’s a joy to play and The Lion on Duke Street is a delightful place to eat and stay.  The food is amazing as is the beer, Hetton Pale Ale from the Dark Horse Brewery (just lovely).  Newsflash: Car and Kitchen has reopened! After a great gig we were further treated to some fantastic live music back at The Lion – Thursday Night Folk with Mike Harding.

Bright and breezy the next morning we headed up to Durham, managing to catch up with friends for lunch in the process. Mid fish finger sandwich I received a phone call from Mister-Sir Van Morrison regarding his excellent new album “You’re Driving Me Crazy” it was only when I finished the call did I realise I was standing up in the middle of the restaurant shouting with my finger in my ear – I’ll be singing folk songs before you know it.

From Durham to Winchester (whose idea was that?) Mud decided we’d be better off driving home after the gig rather than the next morning as the roads have been shocking of late, sat nav 1 was on top form, and despite the curious route, got us back to Chippenham in record time.

Winchester is a very pretty town and again we arrived early enough to buy artisan fudge and have a quick mooch about.  On unpacking the band’s delicious Indian takeaway, I realised why it was so heavy not to mention expensive.  My request for 4 onion bhajis, had become onion bhajis  for 4… as a main.  Twelve cricket ball size bhajis!

The weekend’s long journeys had provided really useful listening and research time for the big interview, ahead of my Sunday evening Radio 2 show, with the amazing composer, arranger and conductor Vince Mendoza.  Not only does he compose incredible music under his own name, this chap has won 6 Grammys and received 31 nominations he has arranged sumptuous scores for Joni Mitchel, Gregory Porter, Kurt Elling, Joe Zawinal, Björk, Sting, Robbie Williams….  He was the cherry on the top of what was a most memorable weekend.


Third is my gear of choice …

For the sake of humanity and the world at large, I refrain from driving wherever possible but then Muddy is a brilliant driver, so we’re all lucky that I don’t often need to get behind the wheel.   Mud seems to have eyes in the back of her head and can spot potential hazards a mile off, I’m more like Flash the sloth in the cartoon Zootopia, I don’t catch half the things she does and because of this I tend to drive at a speed I feel will give me time to catch up.  Third is my gear of choice, I think the others are overrated, besides I like the noise.

Imagine my surprise then, when I received a speeding notice through the post.  Initially Mud thought it was hers as the car is registered in her name.  When she realised it was for a journey I’d made to Bristol on my own, she laughed her head off.  You won’t be startled to learn that I wasn’t going very fast, just a little over the limit and I’m virtually certain I’d have been in 3rd gear at the time my speed was recorded.

Instead of taking the 3 points I gladly accepted Avon and Somerset Constabulary’s invitation to attend a speed awareness course, as our friend Charlotte often says, she learns something new every time she goes on one!

Our course took place in a nice country hotel and was jam packed with both offenders and tourists.  I’d heard mixed reviews from various friends so didn’t really know what to expect other than numb bum – having to sit on an uncomfortable chair for four hours.

We had two fantastic speakers John and Selena, who took it turns to take us through the necessary information.  I found the whole thing brilliantly informative and couldn’t believe how much I’d forgotten in the 28 years I’ve been in the road (in third gear), I feel we also all benefited from the dedicated persistence of one of our party, a motorist of advanced years who has driven all over the world since passing her test in 1953 to clarify and discuss absolutely every single key point made throughout the afternoon.

Other than the absence of a nice plate of biscuits, I couldn’t fault the course.  I wouldn’t even complain if it became compulsory for all drivers to attend one every now and then.


The cost of a 5 mins conversation …

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of presenting and performing with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. It was the launch of a yearlong programme of events and initiatives called The EQ Project designed to remix the gender balance in jazz.  The concert celebrated compositions and songs written by women from the 30’s through to present day.

We started with a beautiful piece, and a favourite of the band, called Hush by pianist Nikki Illes.  I then sang a selection of songs by the likes of Marilyn (And Alan) Bergman (What are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life), Doris Fisher (That Old Devil Called Love) and er…me.  Then came a stunning work titled El Viento, composed and arranged by the incredible musician and American band leader Maria Schneider.

Excitingly it was then time to unleash the first brand new commissioned piece of the evening.  You Do? By saxophonist Issie Barratt. It was very well played and brilliantly received.

We opened the 2nd half with songs written by Dorothy Fields (A Fine Romance), Peggy Lee (alternative lyrics to Fever) and Ann Ronell (Willow Weep For Me) before moving on to pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams’ Zodiac Suite written in 1947 and very recently orchestrated for big band, by young trumpeter and composer Laura Jurd who herself was a member of NYJO till 2011.

I am a big Mary Lou Williams fan, to me she was as great as Duke Ellington. He was a great admirer himself, saying “Mary Lou Williams is perpetually contemporary. Her writing and performing have always been a little ahead throughout her career. Her music retains, and maintains, a standard of quality that is timeless. She is like soul on soul.”

Laura’s reading of Mary Lou’s work was just brilliant.  At the end of the concert whilst searching for the trumpet 4 part of A Fine Romance, I had a 5 minute chat with Laura and Issie about the wonderful Ms Williams.

Muddy and I finally set off only to find ourselves stranded on the M4, 30 cars behind a broken down lorry in single lane roadworks.  Although she never said a word I could sense that the question on Muddy’s lips went along the lines of, “When does a 5 minute conversation about one of the jazz world’s most unsung heroes warrant sitting in the dark for 3 hours in the freezing cold. Discuss.”