A.J. Walker

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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.

_____________

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)

HoSTake2

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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NoNaNoWriMoNo

It’s the end of October which means one thing to a lot of aspiring writers looking to motivate themselves and give their muse a burst of energy. Yep, it’s time for NaNoWriMo – or National Write A Novel In A Month month. I’ve done it a couple of times and each time hit the magic 50k words in a month. I didn’t do it last week when the NaNo website was properly messed up and it ate my previous records up whilst I registering to do it. This year I’m not trying again to register on it partly due to the chastening experience on the website.

I had aimed a few months ago to finish my last NaNo novel off (
The Wobbly Odyssey). However with one thing and another in my life getting in the way I’ve not aged to yet. But I have written some more on it which has furthered the story a bit. So this NaNo month I’ll aim to finish off the first draft. After all I wrote 50 words originally in the month and I should really only have about 15k words left to finish it.

So there won’t be regular graphs of progress as produced on the NaNoWriMo site (when it works) but hopefully a simple ‘Finished’ by the end of November. After all it will require only an average of about 500 words a day, so the word count won’t be the issue then, it will just be the problem of finding the story in the ether and telling it without killing everyone off. Unless the story takes a sudden turn and it tells me I have to kill them all off.

Incidentally I will also not be growing a moustache this Movember either – other than through occasional laziness or lack of razors.

Anways to all those of you going forward with your NaNo this coming November I wish you all the very best with it. Good luck, and enjoy it. Let the words flow and story become a wonderful living thing.
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Gearing Up With ZevonTwo

Well I got and changed the inner tube. Must have been the first time I have done anything like that since I was a teenager. Went easily enough. Though I dare say it will be harder with the back wheel when I need to do that one.

Rode ZevonTwo a couple of times last week and as suspected the gears were not working. I could change to a couple of low gears only. I was stuck on the smallest chainring so found myself pedalling hard with little effect ie it wasn’t hard going but I couldn’t get any speed up, and going downhill I could not pedal fast enough to keep up with the wheels. So last weekend I took the bike to get the gears sorted. I took it to Parker’s Cycles in Burscough on a recommendation. Not near to me at all, but it’s best to go from recommendations when it’s for things you know nothing about! In any case it was a few doors down from two pubs that I could check out when I left it there.

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ZevonTwo in Walton Hall Park

Had a nice enough pint in the Hop Vine after leaving my bike with Barry, then went on to the Thirsty Duck and had a lovely pint of Ossett Silver King. Ormskirk afterwards was very disappointing. For a big student town it is mad that it doesn’t have more ale options. Still I had a couple of nice jars in Tap Room No.12 before heading back into Liverpool.

On Saturday I didn’t get a call until it was too late to get to Burscough unless I’d already been at Liverpool Central so I couldn’t pick her up until Monday. The gears were sorted anyway. Cosmetically the covers are missing on the gear selections on the handlebars but there is nothing to say that the shouldn’t work. No idea how they’ve ended up both missing – just tiny bits of plastic. But both? One of the gear cables (the one for the front crankset) had been in a perplexing situation in the bike. It apparently went back on itself somehow and was not simply seized or rusted. But whatever had been wrong with it it would have needed to be dealt with.

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Me & My Girl in Walton Hall Park

I got the train back to Liverpool and took Zev2 home with just a two mile ride from Orrell Park so didn’t get to go through all the gears. In any case I don’t think my legs could yet go through the gears anyways! Today I went out for a 4.5 mile or so ride and took it through a few gears and at least got it onto the second wheel of the crankset (sorry I don’t know the correct terms yet). I’ll know more tomorrow about how well it is now when I go out on a familiar 5.75 mile trip on the Leeds–Liverpool Canal towpath. Shame the weather forecast at the moment isn’t great for that. The bike anyway should be better for me one way or another. Incidentally I’ve definitely been getting fitter over just this first six weeks. Think I may need to add another hole in my belt already!
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The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen

About five weeks ago or so I started riding a bike again for the first time in over thirty years. It’s been fine really. And I can definitely feel a fitness benefit in just four weeks – the small hill (well bridge) that I went over each day is now easier than it was (I don’t think the bridge has been lowered).

The bike I’ve been riding is an old BSA, which had been my dad’s – five gears and very basic (and not great brakes). Anyway last week my friend said I could have his old bike which he doesn’t use (he has another one of the same brand I think). It’s a lovely looking bike and after a few days I thought why not. I made the mistake of saying it out loud though. I think my current bike – aka
ZevonOne – overheard me. And while she understood, she had to show some degree of hurt. So it was than on my last scheduled ride on her before picking up my new buddy (ZevonTwo, of course) she presented me with a flat tire on a six mile ride back to my house. But, to be fair, she was good to me. The flat could have come at a much worse place over the six miles but she decided to make her point to me just a few hundred metres from home rather than a few hundred metres from the start. Thank you, ZevonOne. It has been a quite short but interesting journey with you.

The next day I picked up ZevonTwo from my mate – and it also had a flat tyre. It has been sat in a garage for a few years unused. I’ve taken the wheel off and tyre too – I found the inner tube had an awful small split just by the valve – and I’m now awaiting a delivery of a new inner tube before I can get out and ride ZevTwo. It’s got many, many more gears but I think possibly only half work at the moment. I suspect ZevTwo may need a service of some sort. But even with half the gears working it will still have double what I had with One. The build of the bike will be better too. I'm looking forward to getting out on it (even as the darkness of winter approaches).

Will have to report back on her once I’ve got out on it and seen how it goes.

The Queen is Dead, Long Live the Queen.
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Tour T-Shirt

Up until last week I had only ever done Open Mic in one venue – the Sanctuary – on Lime Street. As of this week I have now played in THREE venues. Amazing really. Last week it was the great Head of Steam on Hanover Street when Jake hosted had their first OM event and this week I strummed through the same mumbled songs as last week (Oh My Sweet Carolina, Heart Breaks Like the Dawn, and You Couldn’t Get Arrested) at the Angus on Dale Street. This was the first Open Mic at the pub and I was keen to show support to it. It is always difficult starting new stuff in venues as so much is down to word of mouth and repetition. Well I’m okay with chatting to people sometimes and all too good at repetition too – so it’s easy to do my bit.

The night was hosted by a brilliant singer –
Ali Horn – who plays there regularly (on Friday nights if I remember rightly). He’s got a great knowledge of songs and those he doesn’t know he’s happy to use Doctor Google to find the lyrics then launch into it. Jealous of both his knowledge and ability. He writes his own stuff to. Definitely worth popping in to see him when you can. The sound system at the venue is really nice. They’ve set it up so the sound goes all around the pub without the need for speakers and amps to be lugged in by the performers. So Ali has an easy night in that respect anyway.

I made the mistake of going back up and playing a second time as there were not many volunteers this week (I missed the start of the OM but I think there were just four or five people who went up). This time I went with
Splendid Isolation (which went okay) and then Van Diemen’s Land (which was not). I don’t know what was happening, but my fingers wouldn’t get into the right position for the B minor (Bm) chord – every time. It was all very odd and maddening. Not sure what was the cause of that as I don’t usually have a problem with it. Don’t think it was MS related but I guess I’ll have to keep and eye on it: and keep playing the damn Bm chord as often as I can. I was lugging heavy weighted things around all day so maybe it was my hands saying enough is enough fella, give it a rest.

Anyway I had a nice evening, and on a school night too. Chatted to some people I know and some I didn’t know before. Survived standing on the stage (and even the Bm debacle). Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger they say – but
they know fuck all. But I had a boss night and hope to get back sometime. As people learn it is on (apart from on Liverpool Champions League nights of course) then it will become more popular definitely.

Now I’ve played in three venues I’m pretty much wondering about sorting out a Tour T-shirt:

Sanctuary
Head of Steam
Angus


What’s next? Maybe the
Denbigh Castle who have recently put their toe in the water with OM too. To think that until I played the Sanctuary – shit scared – that once a few years ago when I thought that maybe I’d give it a go and do it once…

I do need to do a few things going forward, namely; learn some different songs, and some strumming patterns. Oh, and see if I can play the Bm chord again. That’d all help.

Onwards and Strumwards.
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