A.J. Walker

writerer

November 2021

Keystone Two Twenty Three

Yesterday I made a later call to go to the open mic at the Keystone. This is just the second one, run by John Witherspoon, and only one week after the previous open mic too. The Keystone has so many events on during the week that there needed to be some changes as there was a Cinema Club upstairs (showing the Hitchcock, Jimmy Stewart/Kim Novak’s ‘Vertigo’ I think) so instead of the front room of the bar we were sent into the depths of Bar 23 to avoid noise cross over between the two events. The downstairs proved to be a great space for an intimate performance.

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This week there were possible a couple fewer people up for playing but not significantly (I think it was 8 or so after about 10 last week). Several of the guys (including me) were repeat offenders from last week but it was good to see a few new guys too (including a great guitarist who I’d previously seen at the last Head of Steam open mic). There was a great mix of folk, blues, jazz and pop (and all points in between) and plenty of humour too. Many of the performers were doing their own songs rather than covers and thus showed off their talents even more.

I stuck with tried and tested songs (though somehow I still managed to fook one up):

‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’ - cos it always gets me going in the right mode/mood
‘Somewhere Down the Road’
‘Whiskey In My Whiskey’
‘Heart Breaks Like the Dawn’
and
‘Splendid Isolation’

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Out of all those songs the easiest - and the one I’ve probably played the most - is Warren Zevon’s ‘Splendid Isolation’ and yet somehow I got lost for words in it. Yet it has so few. I’m not entirely sure what happened to be honest. Anyway I did between 4.5 an 5 songs; which is more than I usually end up playing. Maybe I should stop at 4 in future though.

It was a really lovely night with great songs and camaraderie between everyone there and I’m glad I made the rush effort to get into town to show up again. Not sure whether I’ll make it next week but having made two appearances now at the Sanctuary, Head of Steam, Angus and now the Keystone then I’ve gone above and beyond anywhere I’d have thought I’d have made it to. I still have to thank the beer makes for the Dutch courage provided is a necessity: I always need to be on my second beverage beverage before getting up. The lovely cask on last night included ‘Taller Than A House’ Chapter Brewery, ‘Forecast (Bullion)’ Neptune Brewery, and ‘Kandata’ Chapter Brewery (which came on when Forecast was drunk dry). Nice beers all.

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So thanks again to the Keystone and John Witherspoon for a cracking night all round.

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The next day we found out that whilst we were having such a good time on Hope Street a young life was ending when a 12 year old girl – Ava White – was being murdered by children barely older than her just 0.7 miles away from where we were. There really are no words.
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The Tour Continues...

The Tour Continues… The Keystone Leg

Yesterday the lovely
Keystone on Hope Street held it's first Open Mic event, hosted by John Witherspoon. It's always difficult to know how the first event will go and how people find out about it. Not everyone is on social media all the time (apparently – hard to believe I know). And even if you are it is easy to miss announcements. Pubs often rely on word of mouth and people learn about events through chat in one pub or another. This one wasn't saturating social media, but that means nothing. It's down to who knows and how many are motivated to leave the house (along with a guitar or a plectrum).

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I've been to the Opening Open Mic now at the
Angus (fronted by Ali Horn), the Head of Steam (fronted by Jack Malone), and now the Keystone over the last two months or so (I also went to the first one of the reopened Sanctuary fronted by Barry Sutton). I am definitely getting to the point where I'll be getting a tour t-shirt before too long. This one at the Keystone was so well attended with musicians that John, the host, barely played himself because there were so many volunteers there was no time to fill in!

WalkerAndLee
Sam & I in the Keystone – cheers!

This time my drinking and music buddy, Sam, came along to play too – he hadn't played live in a pub for years. We spoke to John at the bar before it kicked off at 8pm and said we'd both play. John played two or three songs and then I went up (so I was the first one at the Opening Open Mic or should I say I opened for the opening open mic?). Anyway, it was definitely nice to play first after being last man standing last week at the Angus as I could then relax and watch everyone else. First up after me was Sam with three of his own songs. Damn cool. Maybe I need to pen and perform a few myself. It definitely did not appear like Sam hadn't done it in years. He was excellent – and I now he'll be back again soon. After that there was performer after performer after performer – who were all too bloody good. Wish I had everyone's names so could namecheck them. But kudos to everyone who played; and I wasn't even the only one in a red-checked shirt.

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I'm sure it was as big a success as it could have been. No more could have played really. Everyone was allowed no more than three songs and everyone kept to that. There wasn't even anyone bending that rule by playing American Pie, Telegraph Road and an extended version of Two Tribes. Not that I could do that if I wanted to. Though I've got a longer list of possible songs to do these days I went with three of my now standard standards: 'Oh My Sweet Carolina' (Ryan Adams), 'Heart Breaks Like the Dawn' (Chuck Prophet), and 'You Couldn't Get Arrested' (Green on Red). This time I actually had a list of eight songs to pick from in case there was a shortage of performers. Such a list was definitely not required.

Anyway, congratulations to the Keystone and to John for an excellent night and roll on the next one(s).
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Some Writing

It's been a while since I've been featured in an anthology - or even submitted for one (those two facts may be kinda related). The last books I featured in were back in 2019 which seems a lifetime ago but at the same time doesn't sound that long. Have recently written a story for an upcoming anthology which I've been told has been accepted. It'll be the 17th book I've featured in, which sounds mighty impressive - kind of.

Of course I've still got to finish the damn novel. It is nice to get that short story done (and I may be doing one for another anthology too) but ultimately I need to finish the novel this year. I had aimed to write it in NaNoWriMo month (i.e. this month) but working on the short stories have got a little in the way. We'll see how much I can manage of it later on down the road.

Onwards and Upwards.
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Second Angus Open Mic

Went to the second Angus Open Mic Night last week. That makes me an ever present. There were more performers this week. I got there after it had started and there was already a list of people to play and I added my name to the bottom. Every performer seemed to have bought their own guitar rather than use Ali's. Just me then that turned up with only a plectrum.

As I watched the performers play one by one I had a couple of Cross Bay '
Zenits.' I was hopeful that one or two would be poorer than they turned out so my playing wouldn't stand up next to them too badly. I was disappointed as each was bloody excellent and briefly considered going to cross my name off the list. In the end I did play and was the last one on (bar Ali).

Ended up playing three of the songs I did last week at
Head of Steam:

AngusTakeTwo

‘Somewhere Down the Road’ (Chuck Prophet)
‘Down By The Water’
(Decemberists)
‘Whiskey In My Whiskey’
(Felice Brothers)

It went pretty well really despite not being up to the standard of the other guys and gals. Roll on the next one.

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Cycling in the Dark

This cycling malarkey has continued. So far I've not yet had to go back to the cycle shop to get the gears readjusted (I was told they would need it a few weeks after getting them sorted). The cycling is a lot easier that it was on ZevonOne – not that much faster but easier and more comfortable at the moment. I dare say speed will improve with practice. I'm getting fitter in any case and have had to add another hole in to my belt. Not bad after about two months of cycling (especially as it's a by-product not an aim). A Brucey Bonus.

The other day I commuted in a van and it took over twenty minutes and cycling it is taking me as little as 32 minutes. So the time aspect is not really critical. The issues really are the impact of weather (a cold, wet, and windy day is a lot easier to face in the front of a van listening to your favourite music) and safety. Yesterday was my first time riding home all the way (i.e. not using the train to take any of the strain) and at this time of the year (especially after the clocks have changed) it means the later afternoon requires cycling in the pitch black. It was my first time so I thought I'd go with the same route I do in the morning – i.e. along the canal. Riding home in the pitch dark was exciting and it went fine – amazingly even in total darkness it only took me 3 minutes longer to get home than on the reverse of the trip in fine daylight. However in the long term I feel maybe that it is an accident waiting to happen: I was stopped the other day on a cycle path by a fallen tree for example. There are no lights at all along the canal path and whist my lamp on the bike is good it cannot replicate daylight. I'm thinking that I need to find a route on roads (or at least to make the trip a bit more on the road) as the roads are lit up and less susceptible to issues like holes in the ground, running dogs or swans, fallen branches and the severe wetness and deepness of a canal.

It seems a little counter intuitive to think going towards roads and drivers is safer but i think maybe the advantage of some lighting outweighs the fear of damn drivers…

I'll have to look at some maps and see what options reveal themselves.
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HoS Take Two

Last night I went to Jack's second Head of Steam Open Mic. It was a rush to get down there after a cycle ride home in the cold dark, but I made my way there; helped by the anticipation of a few pints of the Thornbridge/Neptune collaboration American Brown Ale ‘Beacon.’

Was a different crowd than the first one and probably a bit busier. The position of the musical gear was the other side of the room from last time. So I ended up, after moving from one table to another, sat in my usual corner of the pub to watch and listen to the music.

There was top music from multiple guitarists and singers. And then I was asked if I was going to play. I agreed that I would. It was after all my initial aim: even if everyone else was more accomplished than me. I’d said over the intervening month since the first Open Mic that I would play different songs than I did at the first one. Not sure it was an entirely good idea. After all it was an entirely new crowd from the first one so I could have played the same songs and (other than Jack (the host)) no-one would have been any the wiser.

Anyway – as promised – I ended up playing different songs than the previous Open Mic with:

‘Somewhere Down the Road’ (Chuck Prophet)
‘Down By The Water’
(Decemberists)
‘The One I Love’
(REM)
‘Whiskey In My Whiskey’
(Felice Brothers)

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It largely went okay with the exception of fooking up Down By The Water. Need to ensure I play and play these songs at home so that they become almost muscle memory. I ended up messing it up a little and instead of playing through the mistake I got a bit flustered. I could have tried again from the start but made the decision to move on to a definite muscle memory one (The Swan Song).

I considered playing another song but volunteered to leave after the fourth. There were better people to follow after all.

Later on two Americans told me as they leaving that they really enjoyed my set. It was nice to hear, even if it was just down to my Americana choices. I’ll take that.

Oh and the Beacon was lovely and flowed very easily.

Of course this morning I got up and played Down By the Water straight through a few times without even trying.
C'est la vie.
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