A.J. Walker

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My Return to the Sofar

My Return to the Sofar (and Another Fine Return)

I last went to a Sofar gig in September in a place called Slate. It featured the excellent Heavy North who have subsequently gone on to release a really rather wicked album. Get on it. But last week I got a ticket for my second event. For those that don't know the deal, the ticket is for £10 and you don't find out the location (other than the city) until 36 hours before – and you don't know who is playing until they get up on the stage (or their name is on their kit!).

Last week the venue was
One Fine Day on Old Hall Street. The venue itself is not currently permanently open, but is used for individual events and weddings etc. I'd never been to there before and it proved to be a nice place with good acoustics. It was really busy with not a seat left as far as I could see and I ended up sat at the front. I moved along to help a couple of later comers get nearer and sit together – and therefore I ended up in a nice padded seat instead of a plastic one. Win win.IMG_2860

The three acts of the night were all fab. Loved the local singer songwriter
Eleanor Nelly's stories and attitude – and her songs and singing was excellent. Taylor the Chapter, who wants to never be known as Gary, was solid. And finally the main act were a Wigan four piece called Stanleys. They looked so young to me, but so does everyone these days. There songs and assuredness were great. I've already spent some time listening to them on Spotify. They could definitely go on to be pretty successful if this performace was anything to go by. I believe they have already supported the Lathums, which is pretty impressive.

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The Stanleys played five songs:

'What's Been and Gone'
'Why Would I?'
'A Better Life'
'Look Back'
'Maybe'


Check them out on
Spotify, or better still get on down to see them when they're next playing near you.

The following day was the return of the Open Mic hosted by John Witherspoon. The
Belvedere pub had snaffled the gentleman and given him the opportunity to host the event following the recent demise of the Keystone. It was held in the upstairs room on the left. Despite the announcement on just being made earlier in the week the news had spread very well amongst all the regulars from just that short distance down the road.

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The beer was on.

Great to see so many turn up. It became a most memorable night when the entire area around this part of Liverpool was plunged into a power cut and the playing continued without the PA and under candle light. Moody stuff.

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The lights were on…

Guy2
… the lights were off.
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A Poignant Affair

Another Strange Thursday

After a strange night last Thursday and the a good, strange one last week it was time for another strange Thursday–and this one a very sad and poignant want. At the start of the week there came an announcement that had been mooted for a short while that the Keystone was to close down. The home of my almost weekly open mic nights out. Closing. Bloody hell. And although the announcement was only made on Tuesday it was not a 'heads up' it'll happen eventually, it was a 'it's closing this very week.' Bloody awful.

Really feel for all the great staff who are having to look to ply their trade elsewhere. Thankfully it appears that, at least some of them, have quickly found some work in other Liverpool city centre pubs and (at least one) in a new brewery tap–and another returning to another field that she hasn't worked in for a while. Sometimes an end is an opportunity. Good luck to them all of course.

Personally to me it is a sorry shame to lose one of my favourite pubs of the last year. Last year it burst onto the scene due to its great garden, when so many pubs in the city don't have them. It allowed them to open up when most pubs couldn't. I had many a nice afternoon and evening there either reading, or writing, or just chatting with the staff and the regulars (and sometimes very irregulars). I did my best to introduce it to friends and drinkers, whilst hoping it wouldn't become too popular with the wrong regulars. Then in November the open mic was started, hosted by John Witherspoon, and that quickly became one of the first things in my weekly diary (along with European footy nights in the Head of Steam or the Fly).

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I hadn't been playing my guitar that much in the last year. The whole MS thing was worrying earlier in the year when I couldn't even feel my fingers and wondered at one stage whether I'd ever pick up a guitar again. To go from hardly playing at all to playing in front of people at least twice a month was brilliant.


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With the demise of the venue I dare say I'll look into playing in other places. But I am certainly going to miss John and the regulars (and irregulars) who played at the Keystone. This last open mic I had plenty of songs to choose from. I thankfully didn't have to follow Ian Prowse again. I played three of my most regular songs: 'Oh My Sweet Carolina', 'You Couldn't Get Arrested' and 'Whiskey in my Whiskey.' I played the latter one for Ben who had requested it the previous week. He was deep in loud conversation with Si and didn't even notice I'd played–let alone notice I'd played his request (albeit a week late).

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There were lots of chatting with the staff and regulars who were all pretty surprised and depressed about the news. But I was glad I made the effort to go–even though I had to leave early as I was working the next day. Ho hum.

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My last strum through a C-F-G ditty for a while I dare say.

Onwards and Upwards.

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Does This Train Stop?

Not One Thing, Another

After a strange night last Thursday mixing a tiring week, not sure I was going to go to the open mic, and then difficult travel, this week I was always going to play. It was again affected by none running buses but I got there about 8:30pm this week. It ended with me playing and going up to play straight AFTER we'd been given four songs by Ian Prowse. Yes, people. The local legend that is Mr Prowse opened for me. Who'd have thunk it??

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John

John was hosting as usual and then a few newbies arrived to the evening including Ian. Flippin' heck. Obviously I'd have preferred to get on and off the stage early doors to relax, but I had to wait until our new arrivals played. There was a lot of "
this is from my new album," and "this was off my first album," going on from several of the players this week. I am not worthy.

Meanwhile in the conservatory there was a
Ladies That Beer event hosted by a couple of my colleagues. Beers were being drunk, and beers were being talked about. It was a busy night in the Key'.

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Liam Sweeney

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Ian Prowse

The Procrastinator
Your's Truly, aka The Procrastinator

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John Lindsay playing a new song

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Soft and cool, Ike

After far too long wondering when (or, at one stage, if) I was going to get on, I'd ummed and ahhd about whether to play some stuff I don't normally play, but as the evening lengthened I decided my only real option was to play the ones I know best - and not worry about peering through the gloom at written lyrics. As it was the nerves got to me a little (yes, I got nerves - even if the MS seems to hate them) and I misplayed some chord changes and played through a few times when I had a bit of a lyrical mind melt. Still, I got through it in the end and was happy to have played the same night as Ian and the others - even if I didn't entirely do myself justice.

John was happy to see my Procrastinator T-shirt again. He says he likes my T-shirts, which is odd as other than the two times I've worn this I've pretty much been lumberjack shirts all the way. It's like going back to glasses from wearing contacts, people soon forget you ever did anything else. Meanwhile I just forget whether the next chord is an A minor or an F. Or maybe a C.

The next time I play on the same stage as Ian I hope it will be at the Cavern where he hosts an Open Mic - but for none covers only. I better get writing a hit then. Meanwhile here is a classic from the gentleman, '
Does This Train Stop on Merseyside?'

Onwards and Upwards.










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Balinese Dancer

A Last Minute Call to the Balinese Dancr

After a strange and a bit of a tough day at work I was undecided whether to go to the regular Open Mic at the Keystone. I ended up home later than usual and a bit knackered. I hadn't seen anything saying the open mic was on for sure (even though it is pretty much always on) and contemplated staying in. When I looked on Instagram there was a message saying the open mic was on and hosted by John Witherspoon as usual. But there was a second photo - and when I looked at it, it was me playing last week with my Procrastinators T-shirt on. And to top it off they name checked me with; '
Guest appearance from our very very regular who DEFINITELY knows we are using his photo.' Well, no I didn't and at the time on the sofa I wasn't sure I was even leaving the house. But the message… I mean how could I not turn up?

So I got changed and went for the bus. It never came and so I had to wait for the next one which was over half an hour later. It was definitely not the best of days. In the end I was there about 9pm - and it was packed.

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I'd been playing some songs over the last week or so that I hadn't played before and had thought I may give them a go. When I went up to play I decided to give them both a go, but needed the reassurance of having the words in front go me. And so it was that I played one regular song and two new ones (if new means new to me playing live). And so my mini set list was:

'
Oh My Sweet Carolina' - Ryan Adams
'
110 in the Shade' - Chuck Prophet
'
Something You Ain't Got' - Cracker

I needed to play a regular song first to get into the swing of it. But I was very happy to have played some different stuff; albeit my usual favourite artists from albums recorded back in the day. It's always nice hearing some people saying they enjoy the words and to think that maybe I've introduced even a single person to the wonderful songwriting (and then when they hear the originals: the Guitar!) of Chuck Prophet (and Cracker). I've actually played three Chuck Prophet songs of the same album now; '
Somewhere Down the Road,' 'Heart Breaks Like the Dawn,' and now '110 in the Shade.' There's loads of Chuck's albums on Spotify, which I can thoroughly recommend, however this particular album, 'Balinese Dancer,' is not on Spotify. So if you wanna check out the tracks then maybe buy the album (I know, a bit old school) or just have a look/listen on YouTube.

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I was definitely glad I made the effort in the end.

But don't ask me about getting home (yes, it was that kind of day again).


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A Family Link to Donbas

Was looking at a little information I have on my great grandfather, Peter Rigby from Wigan, the father of my grandmother Kathleen. He was a mining engineer who went out and lived in Ukraine in the first and second decade of the 20th Century. My grandma mentioned living there a few times in her later years (she lived to 98) and reminisced about escaping there before the Russian Revolution. She always mentioned Odessa when she talked about it (and said she only remembered the words for snow and sled from her time there - there was no mention of 'Rosebud' though), so I always thought they'd lived there. But reading an article about Peter it was actually Donestk (then called Hughesoffka). Maybe they had trips over to Odessa or my gran remembered traveling through it. The city was an industrial one and had several mining operations where Peter worked, ironically for a Mr J.H. Walker. Of course many years later his granddaughter would marry a Walker (aka dad). I assume there were no links (J.H. Walker was from Wigan, whilst all our Walker relations are from western Scotland).

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The haulage engines used in the mines were supplied from Messrs Walker Brothers, Wigan.

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Peter was born in 1874 and died in 1952. He was in Ukraine for some eleven years working for the colliery company ‘New Russia Co.’ He’d have been approximately 32 when he moved there and 43 on his return. According to an article about it, he actually tried to go back to Ukraine after returning with the family to Lancashire. I thought at first that perhaps he liked working there. But then I noticed his wife (Alice Jane Rigby) died that year so maybe he was running away from that? There is no-one to ask. At some point I may have to do some more work on the family tree and maybe some answers will be obvious - or at least there my be some clues. In any case he only made it as far as Newcastle though as in view of what was going on the ship was ordered not to sail.

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There must have been a lot of British and other Europeans there before the Revolution. The town was split between a ‘workers’ and a ‘European’ area. And the town was called Hughesoffka after a Merthyr born engineer and entrepreneur
John Hughes who founded the city after setting out there with ‘100 workers and their families’ mostly from the Welsh valleys in eight boats in 1870. They built an iron works there and collieries under the New Russia Company Ltd. The European workers, including Hughes’ brothers who ran the ironworks, left the city when the plant fell under the control of the Bolsheviks in 1917. Maybe Peter, with his wife and children left with the Hughes’? The city was to become Stalino in 1924 and then Donetsk in 1961.

Marion and Kathleen

It is strange to think that my grandmother spent some of her childhood in the capital of Donbas - the scene of so much death and destruction for years before even the current war; She would have been about 14 when she left and her sister, Marion, even younger. Donbas has been split into areas controlled by Ukraine and Pro-Russian Separatists after civil war supported by Russia since 2014. Incidentally in a nod to the reason my great grandfather and his family were over there, just over 105 years ago, the regional name Donbas is a portmanteau word from the ‘Donets Coal Basin’.
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Still Strummin'

Played at the open mics in the Keystone and Angus over the last couple of weeks. Great to carry on with it. But I do wonder whether I should do fewer and in the intervening weeks practice more - and maybe write some songs too. We shall see. It'll be a hard drug to give up.

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Strumming' at the Keystone a couple of weeks ago.

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Good to see Barry playing for the first time and the return of Sam Lee too. A nice evening all round.


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Cold weather on Wednesday night meant a smaller group of players than usual Meant the players who did turn up did a lot more than the usual three or four songs.I ended up playing eight songs. Eek!

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One of my favourite pics of me playing - the Angus.

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Another fab open mic at the Keystone


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Almost A Gig~ish

As is almost set in stone I went once again to the Keystone open mic. Recently there have always been 12-14 people playing which is incredible really. And to fit everyone in we are each limited to three songs each. This week though we seemed to be a few people down though there were still plenty of regulars and a newbie couple to the Keystone who just happened on the place (Visions of Albion). I suspect the regular carnage that is Liverpool on Paddy's Day probably put a few people of visiting town on the Day of the Green Pavement Pizza.

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Visions of Albion

DaveSinnot
Mr Sinnott doing his bluesy thing

As we were a few down everyone had there usual three songs then those still there went up and played another two each. So I played five songs. Yes, FIVE. That's almost a gig worth.

The songs were:

  • Oh My Sweet Carolina (obviously)
  • Take Me Down To The Infirmary (Cracker)
  • Landlocked Blues (Bright Eyes)
  • Heart Breaks Like the Dawn (obviously)
  • Van Diemen's Land (hey, it was Paddy's Day)

MeAndWords
Words needed/not needed. No one told me to sort my hair out!

Guy1
Some Guy.

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I needed the lyrics in front of me to to Take Me Down and to Landlocked Blues. First time I've done that at the open mic. But they were new songs for me to play; so fair enough.

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Charley style photobombing.

Spent most the evening on the lovely session
Trappers Hat from Brimstage Brewery, then ended the evening with the epic Keystone IPA (just a schooner) from Chapter. So all in all a very good evening - and no pavement pizzas around this area of town. Huzzah!

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Great Live Music

Live music is great. I love it. And last week was fab for it. I ended up playing two open mics in one night on Thursday. I played in both the Head of Steam and the Keystone. Two of my favourite Liverpool pubs. It was good to do.

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Jack playing at the Head of Steam

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Playing at the Keystone

At the Jack's open mic at the Head of Steam I played four songs. I saw the to women that were sat next to me nodding away to my tunes which was nice. And they were periodically looking at their phones. When I spoke to them afterwards it turned out they were Polish and on their phones they were typing in the lyrics I was singing to find out whose songs I was singing. If I've introduced Chuck Prophet, Green on Red, and Ryan Adams to some more people my job on this world is done.

In the Keystone I played three of the same songs at
John Witherspoon's mic. There was no need for the people there to look up my songs as I play them there every week of course. It was great to be invited to John's full band gig at Jimmy's on the Saturday.

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John Witherspoon at Jimmys

It was a long day on Saturday as the Liverpool match at Brighton was at 12:30. It is far too early for any game. Watched it with a couple of mates at the Head of Steam - we won (0-2) and are still on the coattails of City. Then it was a question of filling my time with reading and what not before the evening gig. I made it in one piece and was very glad to have made it. John's band was great and he looked so in his element it was lovely to see. Definitely worth seeing him play if you get the chance. The support from the singer songwriter Thom Moorcroft was excellent too.

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John with his full band.

Live music is great innit?
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Testing, Testing

I got a letter from the NHS a couple of weeks ago inviting me to take part in a Covid study being undertaken by Imperial College London & IPSOS Mori. I said yes to it; the more knowledge the better for everyone I reckon. Took a while to do on Friday: mainly due to the time it took putting the flat pack box together as some of the tabs weren't stamped out. It was like a Krypton Factor test (showing my age). Got there in the end. Packed it off and sent it away on Friday from a Priority Mail Box by the Aigburth Tap - as I was there mixing business with pleasure. I had no idea until last week that some mail boxes are Priority and others are Unimportant.

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The result came through this morning (which is damn quick) and I am still officially negative. Huzzah! I don't know whether the test is any more official than the swab test you do at home but I guess it it feels like it. And there's a bit more data to be used by the powers that be. Job done.

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Keep dodging the bullets and Onwards and Upwards.
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Not So Different Four

Played at the Keystone open mic again last week. John Witherspoon couldn't make it and the hosting responsibility was past on to Ali Horn (who normally hosts the open mic at the Angus). Didn't do three different songs this week. This week everyone did four songs though (while the cat's away)… played 'Splendid Isolation', 'Oh My Sweet Carolina', 'Heart Breaks Like the Dawn', and 'You Couldn't Get Arrested'.

Ali1

John may have been away but all the usual guys turned to play. Think there were about twelve or so who played (four) some tunes to us. It was fab.

Ali3

The Chapter 'Taller Than A House' and Neptune 'Forecast - Ernest' were great too. Top night all around. Guaranteed as ever.

Ali2

Been playing a few songs at home that I haven't played at open mic before which I may give a try out next time. We'll see.
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