Monday 30 March 2020

Fire & Rain......

After a few weeks of mostly decent, Spring-like weather, we've had snow today. An unexpected surprise for sure but hardly the white-stuff as we're used to it. If anything, it was a minor flurry which has continued all day. Wispy stuff with no substance, it didn't lie, and simply dissolved on hitting ground. It made me laugh to catch some friends in northern France, particularly in Brittany, wailing about cold winds and snowfall as if it was likely to have any affect on them in reality.

In Sweden we were used to somewhat more serious amounts with temps that remained well below zero for months on end and a metre or so of snow to struggle through. Strangely enough, it's something that you get used to, even sort-of look forward to and enjoy! Even J had to admit she enjoyed clearing the white stuff to keep a track in and out of house possible:

And the track to the cottage/Bagarstuga had to be kept open with a track through for ease of access to our main freezer which was housed there:

It was a time, five years or so when life was definitely different from the French experience, with snowfall that has no meaning or significance:

And the old woodstore also needed a track down kept open, an essential need to keep temps and spirits up in winter:

Of course with wooden houses, we were invariably warm and comfortable whatever temperatures were:

The house at night:                                

Now with Easter approaching and everyone in lockdown, I'll be unable to grab a few of these absolutely delicious Swedish buns, Semlor (plural of Semla), wonderfully marzipanny (is that even a word?!) confections which I can buy at this time of year in London. I once managed to eat both of these in a single sitting, a bit like a surfeit of Lampreys maybe, but evidently more survivable:  

The other beauty of Springtime oop North is the beauty about to unfold like this view from our old garden: 

And even the worst of weather here in France has never brought about the need to resort to one of these for travel, a perfectly normal method in northern Sweden: 

I've been promised some interview time with this guy in near future, one of my favourite musicians with a truly excellent new album just out:

Monday 16 March 2020

On The Road Again!

Well.....Covid-19 is sure grabbing attention. France has been fairly swift to close most services down. Macron has closed all education stuff; bars, cafes; cinemas; assemblies and the first blues festival of year, which we always attend, has been pulled. All to be expected really. We're not yet quite in lockdown like Spain and Italy but I expect that will be next announcement from Macron who is due to address nation on TV this evening. Food stores, banks and petrol stations etc currently remain open together with les Tabacs - an essential French service that did make me snigger!

We have put the house on the market as we plan a move...again!  Not entirely sure where to head yet. We're torn between the Pyrenees, in southern France - an area we love and know very well having spent much time there over the years when younger. Other options include a return to Andalucia where the weather and general cost of living is tempting: on holiday there in January, we were relieved to find our Spanish lingo skills returned to an extent very readily. So it is a possibility! The other is the wild card: Sweden again. Our Swedish friends all tell us we should return as we have our Swedish ID numbers; as a result they all consider us Swedish, in effect! For my part, I'd be happy to return as I miss the madness of the place with its extremes of weather and sheer beauty. I don't miss the cost but on a personal level we have always maintained our connections with the country, running cars registered there, insurances etc., all based in Sweden. It means we are still engaged in the system.

This is the house I'm currently temped by in Sweden. It fits most of our needs, I'd say. J is not so keen on a move back to Scandiland and speaks fluent French so prefers to remain here but is also very tempted by Spain. I'll have to work on the Swedish option, though she is also tempted cos of many friends we have up there etc.  Of course, who knows how long it might take to flog the house before we can move! The house of interest:

With Brexshit, these are important issues. We have our lifeime cartes des sejour for France now, so can remain in France whatever happens. I reckon it also means we can move around a bit within EU without real issues arising. Fingers firmly crossed. We now have ID numbers in Spain; Sweden and France! Weird or what!

The Cranes, or Tranor, as known in Sweden have been flying over heading North for summer/breeding etc. We had them in garden and all around when living in Sweden and the racket they make flying overhead always makes us smile and is a pleasure, a squabbling, jostling noise like no other:

I addition, the first Hoopoes have arrived and are visible in garden but not making much noise. Seems early for them but that's maybe cos we've had a terribly wet winter here so it seems like a delayed Spring in some ways. Yet to hear a cuckoo or an Oriole though the Barn Owls are noisily checking out the competition and nest sites again each evening at dusk.

Hope you all stay safe. Take care out there. A bientot!  Vi ses!  Hasta luego!

Maybe appropriate in the circumstances:

Monday 7 October 2019

Kinky Boots.......

Just when we thought the French system had locked our CDS application in a cabinet at the local prefecture office in Angouleme, we received an unexpected missive asking us to attend a meeting with them towards the end of the month. A genuine surprise as we understood applications to have been frozen till they knew what was happening with the Brexshit nonsense.

The CDS is a Carte de Sejour, a card/approval confirming a right/entitlement to remain/reside in the country. Brits have been forced to consider applying for these solely cause of the threat imposed on them by Brexshit. As EU members, the CDS is not required but if UK drops out of EU it becomes a near-essential, for stability if nought else. Understandably to a fair extent we could see why applications were being frozen due to the sheer expense involved in dealing with the troublesome CDS process. The French are famously bureaucratic and the sheer volume of paperwork required - a whole folder of supporting documents for each of us  - is a prize pain. So, if UK in the end remains within the EU, there will again be no need for a CDS at all. All most troublesome.

Ironically, I'm off to Sweden tomorrow. We've bought a used car up there - where, surprisingly, used cars are relatively inexpensive and generally always represent good value - and I must pick it up and drive back down here. My initial plan was to spend a month or so up there but now I must curtail it and return doe the CDS meeting with the French machine. So, fingers crossed on that front. Another irony is that at present we both have our Swedish ID numbers and also have Spanish NIE/ID numbers but no French number...........yet!

I must be back for the meeting and then we are due in London early - mid November for meetings with a bunch of touring musicians, including the elderly UK bluesman, John Mayall, the guy who started the careers of Eric Clapton, Mick Fleetwood, Mick Taylor and countless other huge names. He's a cool guy and I spoke to him earlier this year and we got on really well. He is notoriously difficult with press, but was great, so he has given me a couple of Guesties - All Access Passes - for his London gig, where he usually refuses press access and restricts Guesties to his personal friends and family, all of whom want to see him when he visits London from his US, Laurel Canyon, LA home.

We meet and see Mayall on the Friday evening, followed by similar passes for a Norwegian blues festival weekend at the RAH (Norway has a busy, thriving blues music scene!), then on the Tuesday we have a similar Guestie pass for a visiting US musician, Kenny Wayne Shepherd. KWS's manager is a good, personal friend of us both and is on the road with the the KWS band in Europe. So, gonna be a busy weekend, also with a meeting with a lovely friend, a Canadian musician now resident in London, whose music I love and who is a truly lovely lady. Now in her late seventies, she worked with John Lee Hooker, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Gordon Lightfoot and everyone of note in 1960s New York. Back then TIME magazine said there were three great US female musicians - Joan Baez, Judy Collins and her, Bonnie Dobson.  These days she lives around the corner from ex-Led Zep frontman, Robert Plant., whom she also works with from time to time nowadays. I usually pop round to Plant's place when in London, he's a lovely guy with no front of any kind and a near-obsession with Welsh mysticism!!  Last time I called round to her and his place, I literally bumped into a guy oozing affluence and style, a face from the sixties, Kinky Ray Davies!

I leave you with Bonnie in full flow signing her own song - the first song she ever wrote as a teenager and one that became the signature tune of US band, Grateful Dead, back in the day - alongside her neighbour, Rob:

Tuesday 1 October 2019

On The Road Again.......

Well, ain't life a surprise at times!  We've been here in SW France around seven years, now based in a pleasant small village with no services but generally friendly residents. However, a Brit couple have recently arrived and they're mad Tories - 'Give Boris a chance....' and the likes. I suspect they're also Brexiteers though they keep stum on that one.
Anyway, with Brexshit around the corner, possibly, we reckon it's time to head off and return to Sweden where we already have ID numbers etc. and have always kept links so we remained within the system. The French have been a pain over the issue. I've now been waiting over 18 months just to swap my driving licence from UK to French and the bods responsible for this cannot be contacted. In addition, we applied for French ID numbers etc., around same time, over 18 months ago, and again have heard nothing. A neighbour who works with the local prefecture tells us that all applications have been frozen, all files locked in storage and will only be considered once Brexshit has been finally sorted. Such impossible indecision is far from helpful, so we reached a decision that maybe it was time to head off back to the Nordics, where we can drop back into the system easily. All of our friends up there tell us to do this and say we're basically Swedish and won't have any issues. So, who knows? Firstly, however, we must sell our house here.
I'm in process of buying another car in Sweden and will be heading up there asap to collect, tax & insure it and swap my licence for a Swedish one - a simple process that will take a few weeks and requires my personal presence.
In truth, I'm looking forward to returning. I miss the damn place. It gets under the skin and we've many good friends there - many of them musicians. It will be good to get back and dip into the music world there in a more significant way.
So that's it for now. A brief update. I expect when I get back up and running in Sweden again, I might start reposting more frequently. Again, who knows?!

Tuesday 8 January 2019

Staying alive......

Lawdy, doesn't time just fly!?  Some years since I been here but maybe because I now spend so much time writing inerviews, features and music reviews I just seldom find the time to update these days. That's my excuse anyway.
We moved house about 18 months ago, a few hundred kilometers south, into a part of France we know well and have long loved. Now based in a small village in the Charente region we are about 10 kms from the Dordogne and in an area surrounded by lakes - not as many as Sweden - and rolling countryside. All very 1960s Herefordshire in look and feel.
I've taken overe a editor with the UK's leading blues magazine, a full-colour print thingy that takes up much of my time and provides bags of music, passes, opportunities and little income, sadly! However, this past summer, we spent most of the time out in the USA, travelling around meeting musicians, attending festivals and generally having a grand time from Atlanta - known as Hotlanta, for good reason - Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Colorado, Utah and Oregon. All very pleasant but also a tad tiring given the travel demands and the vast distances covered.
New Orleans was a dissappointment, though we were based in a plush hotel right in the centre of the music action.The whole place is just way too busy, tourist over-run and dirty and noisy. Good music was hard to find and, in truth, we were glad to escape and return north to Tuscaloosa, Alabama,where we stayed a month or so with good musician firends.

Returning home to France, we were glad to be back to sanity and loads of cheap wine and decent food. However, after barely a week, we had to head to a music festival in the south of France, where we met many old friends and had a great time. T one point, to my astonishment, I was thrust a Mic and had to address the crowd in my basic French! Memorable but hopefully not to be repeated.

I had interview time with the legendary Carlos Santana who was touring Europe, and he has invited me over to USA, for the 50th anniversary Woodstock festival in summer 2019. He played the first, original and famous event and is again booked for the 50th bash; he wants me to join in and come on stage with him and his band. An offer that might prove hard to resist. Gotta be a blast!
I also spoke to my own personal gutar hero recently, Ry Cooder, a guy who has made a name for himself as the world's number one acoustic and slide guitarist, played with the Stones, and everybody else of note, and introduced the world to Cuban music with the Beauna Vista Social Club a decade ago.

Another surprisingly nice, laid-back guy I hooked-up with recently was the wild-looking ZZ Top frontman, Billy F Gibbons, while he was passing through London. Why do all these guys, generally rebelluous types, stay at the Savoy, one of London's most expensive joints, when in town? Could it be they now love luxury and food? 

Led Zeppelin frontman, Robert Plant, was also a delight, a genuinely easy-going, interesting guy with absolutely no front. We shared loads of things in common having lived as near-neighbours in the Herefordshire/Monmouthshire border country for many years. So we had mutual friends, favourite local ales and ciders, and bags of other surprising links. He's invited me along to his London home, given me his address and seemed genuinely open and friendly. I must make an effort to keep in touch.

Another great time was had with Mr American Pie, Don MacLean, again he was touring Europe and was a delight to chat with. And so it goes.

Although we're now sort of settled here in SW France, I still hanker after and miss the wild beauty of Sweden, despite its startling low winter temps and the just gets under your ski, I guess. We still visit at least once every year, now spending time mostly in Stockholm with musician friends, and going on a Press jolly, a Blues at Sea cruise affair where we are given first-class cabins, bags of good food and unlimited plonk! So, can't be bad. In addition, one of our musician friends, Brian Kramer, from Brooklyn, has lived in Sweden over 20 years and is married to a Swede, so we invariably hook-up and stay with them for a bit.

This year, 2019, we plan to spent the summer in Sweden and Scandiland doing the music thing and catching up with old friends and former neighbours etc. I'm already looking forward to that though I expect it will fuel my longing to return to the crazy place.

With bleeding crazy Brexashit looming, we are furious about it all. We could have easily had Swedish citizenship when living ther but now no longer instantly qualify as we've been out of the country for too long. This despite retianing strong links and addresses etc., in the country. However, on the plus side, Sweden has confitrmed it will give Brits who are either resident on Mrch 29th or with any implementation periad dates, the same rights as are currently available. The only snag with this may be the loss of Freedom of Movement, though in effect we have European registered cars - one French, the other Swedish - so can readily travel around freely in Europe as Shengen means no border checks for the most part. Only time will tell how that works out.

Well, that's about it for now. Odd to be here, blogging again but maybe I'll try to become a bit more active again. Who knows!

To close, try this one. He was a delight to talk to about this very song:

Or this one, a personal long-time favourite with a history I now know, straight from the writer/horses mouth:

Sunday 11 September 2016

Mister Bojangles, Dance.....

Had an interview with one of my own personal US music favourites on Friday, while he was vacationing here in France. I've been a huge fan of David Bromberg since first hearing him back around 1970 or so. Over the years I've managed to get a fair number of his albums and I've also caught him play a storming live set out in NC, USA. His people in USA connected me with him as they knew I wanted to talk with him about his forthcoming new album due for release in mid-October. Thankfully, they sent me a few copies and helped arrange the hook-up.

Bromberg was the guitarist with Jerry Jeff Walker's Band for many years, Walker being the guy who wrote the wonderful song 'Mister Bojangles' many moons ago. Bromberg did what is probably - and generally acknowledged to be - the definitive version of the song, though these days he tries to avoid playing it. He laughed when I mentioned it to him but in part it has earned him the title of the Godfather of Americana music out in the States. In addition to this he has co-written songs and toured and recorded with George HArrison, often plays as first-choice sideman with Bob Dylan and worked many times with the late BB King and countless others.

An Ozzie magazine wants a full feature about him as does a major US title, plus Sweden France, UK and Netherlands. Bromberg seldom does press, so I reckon I'm bound to be quids-in. He turned out to be really friendly, amusing, easy-going and interesting. I had a wonderful time chatting with him. He is a genuine US roots music icon, much loved by most in the know and most other musicians.

I leave you with Mister David Bromberg:

Thursday 8 September 2016

Some Like It Hot.....

Summer is drifting to a hot, sweaty close here in SW France. It's been an unusually bitty season for the region; we've had early chilly weather with some rain followed by week after week of searing heat and not a drop of precipitation, with temps reaching almost 40C at times. It reminds us of our time in Andalucia, where these temps were a daily thing throughout both July and August. As a result, the garden potager has been a bit of a flop this year with Peppers,  Aubergines and Melons all being small and poor. Pots are also small but plentiful and we had loads of good Garlic early on. Strawbs, Rasps nd Blackcurrants all poor and only a handful of Goosegogs. Leeks are okay but Cauli, Sprouts and cabbages all poor quality, stunted and too small. It has been just way too dry and the sun has been burning much of the crop. Toms have been good and luckily the freezer is fairly well stocked.

                                                        The garden in early Spring:

                                                        The garden this Summer:

We've taken on a fair sized plot of previously well-manured and used veg garden with a useful stone shed from a weekender, a French neighbour who had virtually given up on it after many years. It adjoins our own land and we'd noted his increasing absences and disinterest, so asked about it. The result, we have it free of charge. It will be used for Pots, Leeks etc next year.

We've been out following the music festival trail around France, meeting many musicians, promoters and organisers etc., and receiving mountains of Press/promo CDs for review etc. The sprog, LVP, made it over for a few weeks with the grandsprog in tow and the weather was fortunately, as above, hot and dry. They seemed to have a good time and we booked them both cabins etc for the ferry crossing on one of Britanny Ferries bigger boats plying the cross-channel routes, together with hotels in Portsmouth each end of the journey to make life easier.

Back in May, I went to cover a Blues Festival in a delightful small Belgian town, Purrs, about midway between Antwerp and Brussels.I arranged accomm thru the online site AirBnB, and it turned out perfect. To my astonishment, the hosts also have an elderly Renault 4 GTL, just like our own, albeit a different colour. We were all equally surprised:

                                                                 The Belgian R4:

An old war-time fort, now an inviting cafe/bar in Purrs:
Add caption

 Unexpectedly, due to one band I'd expected to meet (Bert Deivert & Copperhead Run from Sweden) pulling out due to illness, they booked in one of my favourite US soul-bluesmen, Johnny Rawls, as a last minute addition because he was in France touring. By chance I 'd received a phone all from his record company boss and band bassist a few days earlier, so we met up by chance.

 I caught his soundcheck while having a beer just outside the marquee he was to play, ran in, discovered it was indeed him and armed with me backstage pass walked up to him as he came off-stage, me singing one of his songs back to him. The look on his face of pure surprise, not to say shock, was priceless but we got on well and had a fine time sitting chatting about mutual buddies, one of whom the wonderful Otis Clay, with whom Johnny had recorded a great album in 2014, had just passed back in January. Otis' manager is a close mutual friend, so we got on well discussing the problems she was now facing out in USA - she was also Otis's partner, and J and I were invited to attend his funeral out in Chicago but couldn't afford the travel. We received a copy of the Order of Service etc, however.

                                               Johny Rawls in action in Belgium:

More recently, attending a blues festival in the Nievre/Burgundy borderlands, we found ourselves driving past t a small place named - 'Bellebouche', which I reckon is where a couple of UK bloggers I follow when they post are based. It was tempting to make a detour to see them, but sense and the searing heat prevailed and we passed by. Maybe next year we'll check it out.

We're setting off to a Swedish Blues Cruise affair again in a few weeks time. The boat sails from Stockholm out to Finland and back with about 2,000 Scandinavian music fans and about a dozen bands on board, including some pretty fine US players we already know. We're planning to buy an elderly, preferably 1980s, Saab or Volvo while there and drive back home, so have booked only one-way flights so far.

Towards the tail end of last year/2015, a grey tabby cat appeared around the garden. He was a whole male, looked aggressive and down on his luck, eating the chicken-food etc. As it turned out to be a particularly dry winter, with very little rain and mild weather overall, we started to feed him daily with dried cat-tucker and he gradually worked his way into the menagerie, albeit with a few cat-fights and loads of spitting and hissing from our three moggies. Now, he's part of the family and seems happy to be around, scrounging food and generally making himself at home. A local cat charity helped with a subsidised neutering etc., at a local vet and he's now just another of the cat-gang. It took him ages to figure out how to use the catflap, mind you. We think he was probably dumped by somebody as he's not a known village cat, though he's now part of the furniture and the hissing is steadily diminishing in force. We call him 'Catty' which he readily answers too. Thankfully!


I'm now working regularly with music magazines in Australia and a major title in the USA, so get passes etc., to events almost anywhere and interview access to many big-names, these days. All very satisfying as I also get their albums etc no problem.

We have bought a UK trailer tent, a Conway Camargue affair, that turned up for sale on a French Brit sales site at a very good price; it makes life attending fests etc.,m much more manageable and a lot less expensive. It was owned by a Brit who returned home having sold it another Brit who then went on to buy a campervan and are now moving to live in Spain: if you'd told me I'd be happy to have one of these some years ago, I'd have sneered and laughed like a drain, but it sure is impressive and I'm delighted with it, esp given what we're up to and the travel involved. Although now receiving regular income from some music magazines, the expense of travel and accomm was always a killer at times:

We were also down to again meet Johnny Rawls a week or so ago when he was playing in Lucerne, Switzerland along with Rufus Thomas's daughter, a very fine singer herself, Vaneese Thomas and an old buddy fron North Carolina, ex-guitarist with Otis Redding & Solomon Burke and Stevie Wonder, Roy Roberts. He played Cognac Blues Fest early this year where we again met up. Iggy Pop was also there but he was a prize pest:

                                                             Roy Roberts at Cognac:

A bientot. Must try to keep up a bit.....: Johny Rawls and the song we sing together when we meet: