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EFDSS Halsway Manor Weekend, 19th – 21st April, 2013

Halsway Manor sits grandly in the heart of the Quantocks, the best-named bunch of hills I know. It’s beautiful there. If you take the train from London Paddington, via Reading, Swindon and so forth, you can tell when you reach the West Country, because the flat lands start to rise and the countryside puts on its colours. The Manor itself is then about twenty minutes drive from the town of Taunton. This is the journey I made on the weekend, thanks to my friends at the English Folk Dance and Song Society; EFDSS hereafter.

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Flannery and The Birds

When the late American writer Flannery O’Connor was six years old, she had a chicken she taught to walk backwards. She became so famous for her backwards-walking chicken that Pathé News came from Paris to the O’Connor farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, to make a short film about little Flannery and her talented bird. Anyone familiar with her life could conjure the scene: a curious little girl in glasses, looking like a miniature librarian, shyly showing a strange French camera crew around a Southern backwater.

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Last Night, Two Journeys… (en route to Falkirk Folk Club, March 2013)

“So we’re all asleep in the same dream, in the snort fort, in the snort fort…” – Leo Kottke

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“Love and Theft” – Versions of Dylan

You’ll forigve my invocation of the c-word when I say that in the world of recorded music, the songs of Bob Dylan have yielded a lot of cover versions. Many of these are great, but none beat their original. Even Hendrix’s brilliant, incendiary ‘All Along the Watch Tower’ is only the equal of its stark, quietly foreboding predecessor. Many of them are just dreadful, though it would be invidious of me to name names.

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New Year’s Resolutions…

And then a hand moved across the top of a clock face and nothing changed save the sky, momentarily a gaudy mess of flame.

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Richie Havens

Richie Havens grew up singing in Doowap and Gospel harmony groups. This was Brooklyn in the 50s, and these were local children, gathered by Richie to sing on street corners. He’d already had some small measure of fame, being recognised by ‘Star Time USA’, a corny old talent show where the likes of Connie Francis and Bobby Darin had also started out. I can’t find any footage of this, but I imagine it –  a poor, skinny kid, blinking shyly under the lights, singing out his keen, young heart.

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Talking to Sylvia Plath

Here we are, Sylvia. It’s 51 years to the day of your death, and I wonder if the arc of your still-lofted legacy, were you aware of it, might now salve the burn of your life. Your slim body of work is still seen as some of the canon’s most vital, which I know you wanted. I’ve carried it closely over the last 8 years for my own part. Silly though it may sound, I feel in one way like I’ve been carrying you too.

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The Slug

I’ve been away a while. Three months in, and I’ve already broken my resolution to write this thing once a month. It’s a pretty poor show, though I’ve pretty good reason: moving out of my former flat in early March meant that most of my time since was taken up in finding a new one. I could then add wholesale technological blowout to the record of distraction: my laptop and phone, dead within a week of each other. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I’d be calling suicide pact.

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