Chickenbone John's Review of the Year 2023
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 Skulls..here'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