Chickenbone John's Review of the Year 2023

Chickenbone John's Review of the Year 2023 0

Well, here we are at the end of another year, and it's been an eventful one. We decided to venture out a bit more after not doing festivals or guitar shows for a couple of years after Covid.

We started out in January with a guitar making at the Lampworks in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter, a new venue for us. We loved the rough and ready industrial vibe of the place.

February was another new event for us, the Wirral Guitar Show, a very successful event at Port Sunlight near Liverpool, and it reminded us that doing guitar shows could still be a viable commercial enterprise for us. We have to balance the potential income with the time and effort we have to out in, and Anne is much more focussed on this equation than I am, so the business is in good hands in that respect.

Gigging is still part of my regular work, and here I am at one of my regular haunts, Henry's Bluehouse in Birmingham with ace harmonica player Ricky Cool. I've been very fortunate in been able to call on the services of some great harmonica players, and Ricky is one of the best in the business.

Northampton Guitar Show and Bristol were our next shows...I was very pleased to be sharing the same stage as James Oliver. If you haven't seen him, check him out, hes an excellent player, very talented and very entertaining too.

I learned that my good friend Hans Siongers from Belgium was on holiday on the UK, touring on his motorbike, so we arranged to meet up. Hans has hosted me and Hollowbelly on many occasions at his Palieter bar in Belgium, organising gigs and workshops for us. We had a few drinks in Birmingham, together with Tim Carley , from Joe Carley's Old Dry's Hans at the Black Sabbath bridge on Birmingham's Broad Street.

 Soon after this things started getting difficult for us, as my mother suddenly fell ill and was admitted to hospital. My mum had been living independently for the past few years since my father died, and despite having being diagnosed with bone cancer a couple of years back was coping very well and was still living in the family home that I'd known since my childhood. It wasn't looking good for her, and I spent a lot of time travelling up and down to Yorkshire to visit her in hospital several times a week. This was a real and sudden shock to me, seeing her so diminished in spirit and physically.  Over these weeks I spent a lot of time up in Yorkshire, and took some solace in visiting some of the wild places that were familiar to me in my youth, the moors and hills above Holmfirth , Barnsley and Sheffield and some places in Barnsley, such as the Town Hall, changing and unchanged at the same time.

We soldiered on and did the Bristol Guitar Show, then Boxtock was looming in a few weeks. All the while mum seemed to be declining quite rapidly and the week before Boxstock we had to cancel our much looked forward to holiday to Sorrento, as it was apparent that I had to be close by her, and I was driving up to Yorkshire from Birmingham pretty much every other day. It turned out that she'd got ovarian cancer and it was inoperable. Fortunately, she was moved from hospital to a nursing home almost within site of her house, so this was some comfort and relief for us, but every day was a hard day, and getting harder to bear each day. 

Boxstock was the result of a lot of planning, and me and Anne drew up a "Plan B" in case I had to rush up to Yorkshire, but the weekend came round and everything went as planned. The venue, Halton Turner Brewing Co. turned out great, and as the weather was good we were able to run some of the event outdoors in the courtyard under the railway arches during the day.




The week after Boxstock my dear mum passed away, and as her only child I had a lot to do in organising the funeral and beginning to come to terms with things. With so much to do at work, I think that things didn't really sink in, so we just stuck to our schedule and ploughed on...what else could we do?

Three days after the funeral we were on our way to the first festival of the summer season, Black Deer in Kent. It was a shock to the system to be doing a festival after a break of three years, as Covid had really interrupted the whole summer season thing. I remember the first night there, sitting in the tent and wondering why I was doing this at my age, but over the weekend we had good weather, a great crowd and good customers. The music was excellent too, with Steve Earl, Bonnie Rait and The Pretenders among the highlights.


We were shortly back on the road for the Maverick Festival in Suffolk, a small event, but another good one. I did a learn to play workshop which was absolutely packed, and met some nice folk who dropped in to to see us and jam, including the Burner Band and Debbie Bond & Radiator Rick. Debbie spoke to me about going to Alabama for the Huntsville Cigar Box Guitar Festival - this is one of the things that only really happens when you go out and meet people face to face.

Back home and the Birmingham Jazz Festival was next on my schedule, with quite a few gigs, solo and duo, including one of my favorites the Wellington in Birmingham City Centre, with Ricky on harp...

...and a last minute one in Birmingham's poshest furniture store, Lee Longlands, where the audience had the luxury of deluxe designer chairs and glasses of prosecco being served.

And yet another, a busy night at Birmingham Rep Theatre cafe bar, this time with Darren Mather on harp.

Off again to North Yorkshire for the Deershed Festival. We'd  done this event a few times and always had good weekend, but this time it just didn't work for us, with very poor weather and a definite change in the demographic of the audience. This was a real disappointment, as it wasn't cheap to go there, a long way to travel and a long time on site.

This was followed by another hard weekend at Upton Blues Festival. The weather was unremittingly appalling, and the organisers had fenced us into a  totally enclosed compound isolated from the main campsite, so virtually no passing trade. We really were really hacked off with this and decided to go home every evening as it was only about 40 minutes away, but we did keep up our part of the deal and returned to site every day.

Next up was the Coventry Guitar Show, another new event for us, and it went well. It was the first outing for my new Fender Deluxe Reverb amp, and I was well pleased with it.

I got the old band together for a gig at Henry's Blueshouse on Birmingham's Broad Street (close by Black Sabbath Bridge).

So, the year was rounded off with something a little more upbeat, the marriage of my younger daughter Liz to Joe Brinsdon. This was a trip down to London for us, with the wedding in the splendid Old Marylebone Town Hall followed by dinner at l'Escargot in Soho's Greek Street, with an elegant private dining room.


 We did a bit of sightseeing, Oxford Street, the British Museum, and for me a quick visit to Denmark Street, much depleted these days since it's heyday as "Tin Pan Alley", London's home of music publishing  and music shops, but still worth a visit nonetheless.

So, with the year nearly at an end, we are looking forward to a break to refresh us ready for 2024. Onwards and upwards.





  • John Wormald
Summer 2023 Festivals

Summer 2023 Festivals 0

This year we decided to get back into doing some festival events. We got offered a spot a Glastonbury, but despite having already done it three times, we decided to turn it down as the pitch we were offered wasn't good for us, and as we'd asked for a wider stall frontage and more staff, the price was getting a bit high for us. A bit of  asking around and we secured a place at Black Deer Festival in Kent. We reckoned this might suit us, as it's an Americana festival, so already was potentially right up our street, and it lived up to our expectations. Not a huge event at around 20,000 people, we had a lot of interest and plenty of sales, and we heard some great music - I managed to take an hour off and see Bonnie Raitt on the main stage.

It's a very cool event, great bars, barbecue pit food stalls, vintage American cars, a whole Harley Davidson dealer's section, funfair, and lots of nice people and great music.  I did an impromptu  Sunday morning "Gospel Hour Show" from our stall. The weather was on the whole pretty good and we went home well pleased with the experience.

We had nearly three weeks before our next event, another Americana themed festival, Maverick in Suffolk, much smaller, but a nice event to go to.

I was surprised and please to meet up with Jason Thompson, who was performing, and who I last met at a Van Thom Weekender in  Bremen.

Being a small event, meant that there was plenty of contact with the performers.

Canadian singer Evangeline Gentle dropped in to ask if I could fix her guitar, which I did, and then I went to listen to her set.

The Burner Band from Leeds invaded our stall and jammed with me - great fun and it attracted plenty of attention. I also did a learn to play cigar box guitar workshop and the place was packed!

We were also joined in thew jam by Radiator Rick, harp player with Debbie Bond from Alabama. Debbie was very supportive and said she could put me in touch with the Huntsville Cigar Box Guitar Festival in Alabama, which was very nice of her.  I've now been in touch with them, so we'll see what happens.

A couple of weeks later was Birmingham Jazz and Blues Festival, right on the doorstep, and I had some cracking gigs, solo, duo and with the full band.

The Wellington pub, with Ricky Cool on harp


Birmingham Rep Theatre cafe bar


At Birmingham's poshest furniture store, Lee Longlands on Broad Street.


Henry's Blueshouse, full band with Tony Stokes on harp

Straight after the Jazz Fest was another event near home, a weekend at the Upton upon Severn Blues Festival. Unfortunately the location on the campsite was far from ideal, and the weather on Saturday didn't help, but at least we were close to home, so we bottled out and went home every night instead of camping! It was handy for a bit of networking, and I reckon I've got a new act for next year's Boxstock sorted.

Another couple of days in the workshop and then and we were away up in North Yorkshire for the family friendly Deershed Festival. Sadly, the crowds seemed down in number compared to previous years, and the weather was very changeable over the weekend, but we managed to survive it and make a little money. It seems that a lot of traders are finding things difficult...prices for pitches have gone up, money is tight for people attending, so times are pretty hard.

So that was our summer season...very, very tiring, but overall a positive experience, we just need a few days to recover and we'll be steering towards our next objectives of preparing for Christmas and getting next year's Boxstock organised, plus the possibility of a trip to Alabama...and we need to take a proper holiday!







  • John Wormald
SLAVA UKRAINI!  Blues For Ukraine fundraiser.

SLAVA UKRAINI! Blues For Ukraine fundraiser. 0

I've honored to say that I was asked by Jim Simpson of Big Bear Music to play at a fundraiser for Ukraine, along with around another 25 musicians. We managed to raise nearly £4000 for the cause at a special Henry's Blues House event a few weeks back.

I donated a special  3 string guitar to be auctioned, and it raised a good amount of money thanks to some very generous people in the audience.

It seemed a small gesture, given the enormity of the situation in Ukraine, but the least I could do to help out. At Chickenbone John Guitars our thoughts are with the people of Ukraine at this incredibly difficult time and under the brutal inhumane attacks on their lives and liberty. Slava Ukraini -Glory to Ukraine!

  • John Wormald


It all started a long time ago. Back in 2009 I’d been making cigar box guitars for a few years, having made my first one in 2005. At that time, the main point of contact of most people in the UK was the American based website There was (and still is) a UK group on there, and I’d also seen a few people on YouTube playing cigar box guitar. At that time I was running a weekly blues club in Birmingham, called “The Crossroads Blues Club” at The Tower Of Song, a small music bar. I played there regularly with my band Chickenbone Blues, and used my cigar box guitar during our set.

There was obviously some interest in cigar box guitars, as by then I’d made and sold over a hundred of them, and somebody on CBN said it would be nice if we could have a UK festival, as they seemed to be able to run them in America. I said that I had a venue which might work, and before I knew it I was organising the first UK Cigar Box Guitar Festival. I’d seen this guy “Hollowbelly” on YouTube, and so I invited him to play (little did I know it, but he'd bought his first cigar box guitar from me on eBay).

I also tracked down a young firebrand performing under the stage name of “Bluesbeaten Redshaw” and “Tinqui8” from France’s Basque Country.  I decided to run it as an all day event with a sort of meet and greet, demos, stalls and talks, rounded off with an evening gig. A few of us met up on the Friday night and went for a curry, which was a great opportunity to put some real names and faces to the people that we only really knew by their internet “handles”. It all panned out pretty well, we had a busy day, and the place was packed for the evening gig. The only disappointment was that Tinqui8 couldn’t make it as the guy who was arranging a lift for him had let him down - he’d made it all the way from the Basque Country to Calais only to be left stranded. All in all it was a success, there were some great performances, everyone seemed to have good time, and I didn’t loose any money.

Throughout the years that I’ve run Boxstock, my aim has been to run it as a fun get-together for the cigar box guitar community and to spread the word, rather than as a commercial venture, so my philosophy has been to try and give people a good event and to try and break even.

Here’s a quick summary of the past editions of Boxstock.

2009    Tower of Song, Birmingham
Hollowbelly, Bluesbeaten Redshaw, ChickenboneJohn


2010    The Public, West Bromwich   

Hollowbelly, Tinqui8, Bluesbeaten Redshaw, ChickenboneJohn


2011    The Public, West Bromwich
Ben Prestage (USA), Hollowbelly, Tinqui8, (France), Andy Bole and the Khalghani Dance Troup


2012    Band on The Wall, Manchester
Dave Acari, Babajack, Blackriver Bluesman and Bad Mood Hudson (Finland), Mike Snowden (USA)


2013    The Musician, Leicester
Vinylhed, King Size Slim, Lewis Floyd Henry


2014-2016     No festival
2017     The Slade Rooms, Wolverhampton
Hollowbelly, Dusk Brothers, Chickenbone Blues, Cap’n Catfish (Germany)

2018    The Slade Rooms, Wolverhampton
Blackriver Bluesman & Bad Mood Hudson (Finland), Dusk Brothers, Bemuzic, Chickenbone John & Dave Smith

2019     No festival
2020     Postponed due to Covid


I‘ve tried a few different things for the festival - a couple of times we’ve run an informal Friday night open mic. gig, and this year we are again reinstating the Friday night gig. On several occasions we’ve had international artists from the USA, Finland, Germany and France. It is not an easy task to run these events, and indeed after the 2013 edition I felt I needed some time out from it. I did try to run the event in 2016 and had got things all arranged but unfortunately the venue closed and we had to cancel. Determined to revive the event, I contacted the Slade Rooms in Wolverhampton and struck a deal with them. It worked well for the event, and so we ran it there again in 2018, which had the extra bonus of having Virginia Heath and her film crew there, which resulted in the UK cigar box guitar scene  getting national TV exposure on BBC 1 and BBC 4 in the film "Cigar Box Blues - The Makers Of A Revolution".

I let another year pass without organising the event, as we were very busy developing the business, having a busy summer season of festivals, shows and overseas touring, but managed to get everything in place to run Boxstock again in the spring of 2020 - and of course Covid 19 put paid to that.

So, here we are with another edition of Boxstock lined up - at a new venue, The Lighthouse, Wolverhampton, Friday night 15th October with Hollowbelly and Philbilly One Man Band, Saturday 16th October  all-dayer with workshops, demos, film show, trade stalls etc, and an evening gig with Kevin Brown and The Dusk Brothers. I’ve still got plenty of other goodies up my sleeve which I am in process of finalising, so watch out for more news!!!

  • John Wormald


  • John Wormald
5 string banjo refurb

5 string banjo refurb 2

I don't get involved with banjos that often , but I've made a few, replaced  torn skins  and restored an Appalachian style mountain banjo that belonged to Neil Young, so I know my way round the basics.

Here's one that came in last week - it's an old English "zither" banjo - why on earth they call them that I don't know, as it's got nothing to do with any zither that I've seen. Anyhow, it had been picked up cheap, it's probably around 100 years old, the skin was torn and it was unplayable. The plus point was that it had all of it's hardware, and it had the stamp "John Alvey Turner - London". I Googled it, and surprise surprise, the company is still in existence!

First job was to take it apart so that I could get the skin off and replace it. I cleaned up the pot, the rim and fixing brackets, and fitted a new head. It's not that hard - these old banjos don't have pre-formed skin mounted on a ring, you have to soak the skin in water and wrap it round a metal hoop, mount it onto the flange and tension ring and let it dry overnight. At all looked OK, although it needed a little fettling to replace a missing pearl dot, re-mount the machineheads (which are non-original), plug holes and replace missing and mis-matching screws, trim the fret ends, polish the frets and condition the fretboard. It was obvious that the instrument had been fixed-up and tinkered with several times.

When I put it together it was obvious that the action was totally unplayable, and I'd need to re-set the neck angle, which required quite bit of work to the dowel stick and neck heel to put a bit of angle onto the neck. This was very time consuming, as I had to put it together and take it part about ten times,  before determining that it was about right.  A fresh set of d'Addario strings and deepening the nut slots got it playable, so here it is.


These old English made banjos can make a decent starter instrument - they are often for sale cheap online or at car boot sales, but there are a few eccentricities and points to watch out for. There are usually fairly well made, but each maker seemed to do things their own way, so don't expect modern banjo hardware to fit. It's therefore import to make sure that  there are no vital parts missing, particularly the rim tension brackets and fittings, as replacements are sometimes impossible to find. It's almost inevitable that it will need a new vellum (calfskin head), but they are readily available and it's not that difficult to learn how to fit one. Machineheads are a bit of a lottery - this one originally had sets of 3 on a plate, but had newer individual ones fitted. The post holes  were on a different spacing to modern ones, so I couldn't fit a replacement set of modern 3 on a plate, and had to re-use the ones that came with it, drilling out a broken fixing screw and plugging the original screw holes. Talking of machineheads, take a look at the photo - 6 machineheads, it's a six string, right? No, wrong.

It's a 5 string and they just left one of the tuners unused - this was a very common approach amongst English makers. Also look how the 5th drone G string is mounted - there's no peg at the 5th fret, but the string is tunnelled under the  fretboard through a little brass tube, and emerges at the headstock. This was a typical English way of doing it, so watch out for this if you are scouting round for one.

So there you go, a 100 year old instrument back in action, after a bit of care and attention.

  • John Wormald