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. 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
BOXSTOCK, THE UK CIGAR BOX GUITAR FESTIVAL - A BRIEF HISTORY 0
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 www.cigarboxnation.com. 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
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
Glastonbury 2019 - it doesnt get any easier! 1
Glastonbury had a "fallow" year in 2018 to allow the land to recover, so we had a year off (we did WOMAD instead...but we'll not talk about that...). So, we submitted our application to trade in October last year, and heard late February 2019 that we'd been accepted. That was the starting gun for our preparation. My daughter Anne Zilpha made an analysis of the previous two years sales figures and we drew up a schedule of the stuff we had to make and buy-in. The daunting prospect was that we reckoned that we needed to to take 100 guitars and 50 amps with us to be confident that we could meet the demand.
A couple of weeks to go, and here are 50 fretless guitars ready.
It was a really tough couple of months making so many guitars and amps, but we managed it it in time. We'd already lined up Hollowbelly to help out, but felt we needed to up our game in terms of presentation, so that involved making a full plywood floor for the marquee, overhauling the guitar hanging racks inside the marquee, arranging a proper electrical installation inside the marquee, with new lighting and 16 high-level power outlets, a cotton muslin lining for the marquee, new signage and making some new display racks for outside, with roofs over them to keep off the worst of the weather.
Preparation for an event like this is very serious - we have to be ready for 8 days on site, totally self contained and ready for any weather conditions, rain or shine. With one very wet and one very hot Glastonbury behind us, we were confident that we could cope and that we knew how to deal with it. Little tweaks such as a groundsheet under the timber floor of the marquee, a tarpaulin awning fixed to the side of the van for rain protection and/or shade can make all the difference. As we had so many more guitars and lots of new product lines, we needed to pack down really tight, so we made sure our guitars were neatly packed in cartons in batches of 20 rather than individual boxes in order to make the most of the available space in the van, and even then it meant that we'd be carrying 96 guitar kits and 40 amps on the roof, together with various display racks.
New display racks and the all-important travelling cocktail cabinet being prepared.
We ordered in a fair bit of new stuff, such as shakers, harmonicas, tee shirts etc so that was quite a serious financial commitment on top of the other stuff such as site fee and electrical supply. There's also a lot of documentation to get ready - public liability insurance, employers insurance, PAT electrical certificates, health and safety assessment, sustainability statement, so if you are thinking of doing this sort of thing, be warned, you need to be on top of all this sort of stuff.
We'd been watching the weather forecast for 2 or 3 weeks, and we were worried that it might be a wet one, as there was lot of rain for a couple of weeks beforehand, and Glastonbury is notorious for not coping well with rain, but as time drew on, it looked like we might have a couple of days of rain during the set-up and decent weather for the event itself.
On Monday morning before the weekend we were loading up, and en-route we dropped by our printers to pick up some new tee shirts, then we were on our way to Portishead just outside Bristol where we'd arranged to pick up Hollowbelly at a midway point. I drove very steadily, as with a full load on the roof rack and the back of the van absolutely packed to the roof I didn't want to take any risks at all.
We had an uneventful journey, although fitting in Hollowbelly's gear was bit tricky, and we ended up having to spread his sleeping bag across the seats in the van, and ride with his merch box in the footwell of the cab.
After a couple of Glastonburys, checking in and finding out pitch was fairly routine for us, so by around 7.00pm on Monday evening we were at our pitch and ready to set up our tent and our trading marquee.
During Monday night we had a bit of rain, but Tuesday was dry enough, so we managed to get completely set-up. It took us quite a bit longer than we expected, as we had a lot of new stuff to set up. We were all totally exhausted by the evening, and were looking forward to a good night's sleep before having to face the public on Wednesday morning.
After a leisurely breakfast, me and Hollowbelly took a brief walk round the neighbourhood of the Silver Hayes area and the Gulley Blues, watching thousands of visitors dragging their possessions with them to try and grab a prime camping spot.
One of the advantages of trading, is that you get a decent spot to pitch your tent, and your own toilets and water supply - hardly luxury, but much more civilised than fighting it out with 200 000 other people.
All set up and ready for business.
So, the actual business of Glastonbury itself, well, we traded from Wednesday morning to Sunday night, working about 14-15 hours a day, as we were open from around 10am until midnight most days. This year, none of us saw any acts at all, as we were just so busy, and too tired after shutting up shop to do anything other than have a beer and go to bed. This year it seemed much quieter than previous years, and none of us had any difficulty sleeping. It's all relative, as there was a continuous powerful bass from various dance venues that was more of a physical force rather than an audible sound.
Anne Zilpha looking pensive and proprietorial
My daughter kept a very accurate sales ledger, and it was apparent that on Thursday and Friday sales figures were well down on what we had hoped, so that was tough one to deal with, but we soldiered on, and had decent enough trade on Saturday. Saturday was particularly hot, so Hollowbelly and myself had to take it in shifts to do the demonstrating out front in the unrelenting heat, and Anne did her best to clean off the dust off everything that was constantly kicked up by tens of thousands of tramping feet.
Open all hours..playing music for 15 hours a day!
We'd had a few musicians who were playing at the festival drop by, DJs Acido Pantera from Colombia, and a band from Taiwan, who came back the following day and bought two of our best guitars!. We spotted a few celebs, including Fat Boy Slim and Martin Roberts from Homes Under The Hammer, who'd bought a guitar from us at the last festival. We also met a lot of previous customers, and a few old friends such as Chris, the owner of one of our favorite venues, The Chambers in Folkestone. I also gave a short interview for Radio Shepton - in my experience it's almost inevitable that I'll end up giving at least one interview at a festival like Glastonbury.
Hollowbelly...illustrating an article on Music Radar about the 13 best guitar acts at Glastonbury!
Sunday, our last day of trading was going to be a busy one, we knew that, but it exceeded all our expectations, and more than made up for a couple of relatively quietish (by Glastonbury standards) days. The people looking after security to our service area were on their last shift, so I offered them a glass of Jack Daniels and Coke, as we were also indulging and feeling a bit "demob happy" by late afternoon. After closing up I headed over to the John Peel Stage backstage crew lounge for an hour or so, but I was too tired to stay and play onstage, so I headed back to camp and slept the sleep of the just.
Monday was simply a day for breaking all the gear down in an orderly manner and getting it into the van and onto the roofrack. We were all very tired, so we didn't rush things and tried to be as methodical as we could. We offer a service where customers can leave their purchases with us and collect at the end of the event, so we had a few customers arrive to collect their purchases, but by mid-morning all that was finished, and we steadily broke the gear down and packed it away. At least we had a lot less to take back with us, so that made things a bit easier, and by 6.00pm we were off and away - nothing left on our pitch, and just a few empty cardboard boxes for the recycling. It took about 50 minutes to get off site,and then a steady drive back to Bristol to drop John off at a friends where he picked up his van and made his way home. For me and Anne we had a couple of hours steady drive, and we took a leisurely stop at Gloucester services (the best coffee I've had at any motorway services...probably because its a family run business not a chain or franchise) before arriving home at about 11.pm.
We even took our own stage - an 8 x 4 sheet of plywood!
After the event we found that images and videos had started to crop up on the internet, including the official Glastonbury website photo gallery, which is quite flattering.
Taiwanese band members making their purchase at the counter
So will we do it again? Maybe - it is profitable, but it is hugely demanding in terms of time and energy, particularly in the pre-event organisation and preparation. We are still recovering, so we'll see how it goes, but I'm sure the date for us having to apply again will soon roll round...and we'll have to make a decision.
Saturday, bringing in the customers - it was a long day, and a long week!
- John Wormald