Tuesday 30 December 2014

Are YOU mentioned in our review of the year?

We’ve all known bands who we know have been going for about ten years but when you look in their biographies, it says “we met last Thursday in hilarious circumstances and have already put out our first single, EP, album and are planning a UK tour for next week”.

With that in mind, full disclosure. We first played in public together about two years ago now, doing some carols at an open mic with a cheap ukulele and an even cheaper (comparatively speaking) violin. However, in many ways, 2014 was our first year as something edging ever closer to a “proper band”. Actually, if we’re honest, it was in December of 2013 that we did our first proper full-length gig, so if you’re still counting, we think of Moss & Jones as having been going since then.

We started this year in the doldrums a bit. We were struggling to get gigs, and the places we’d played over Christmas weren’t really interested in booking us again so soon. Bands with more experience at this sort of thing told us that this was pretty usual; that the first part of a year was always pretty quiet, but it was still hard not to worry that we’d done something wrong. However, a few open mics (thanks, Liverpool’s the Brink and the Egg Café! Thanks, St. Helens’ Bar Java!) to keep our hand in and we didn’t feel quite so bad.


However, with spring came some amazing opportunities. The fantastic Bombed Out Church responded to our request to gig there (oh, we also asked if we could get married there, but more on that later) with not one but three gigs over the course of 2014! We also played a few local festivals (Rainhill, Victoria Park, Childwall Valley …) and got to be part of a wonderful Liverpool Acoustic event too at the View Two Gallery.

2014 was also the year where we first ventured into the studio together. A kind present from Ruth’s sister of half a day’s recording in a studio in Leigh led to this semi-live recording of our summery song, Shepherd’s Delight (It’s Not Time To Go To Bed). This led to our being played on the radio for the first time; Halton Community Radio and Radio Kaos Caribou. In fact, Laura who hosts the HCR show also played a beautiful set at one of our Bombed Out Church gigs with her band, Laura&Claire. Small world!

Probably our favourite gig of the summer, however, was opening for brilliant folk-indie-pop band The Beautiful Word, at Liverpool’s Sound Food and Drink. Ruth was more than a little star-struck as they are one of her favourite bands, and we were honoured to have been asked.

Of course, 2014 was also the year we got married (and played a set at our own wedding, naturellement) in the Bombed Out Church.


As we already have all our own furniture (admittedly, some of it broken and most of it second hand) we asked that instead of toasters and pudding bowls, if anyone wanted to buy us a present, they got us vouchers for local studio, Catalyst. We went in autumn for the first time and recorded a track for our EP (out next year) and an original Christmas carol, A Song for Mary. More on that later, too.

A friend of ours, himself a musician, suggested that on future recordings, we vary our arrangements a little more. We worked on that (in a live context too) and we feel it’s made a difference to our sound.

In autumn we also played another gig in Sound food and Drink, and were thrilled to be asked by Vikki at Friends of Victoria Park, St. Helens, to play not one but two sets at an event that they were holding. The second set would be as background music to a fire juggling act; that’s not something we would ever say “no” to!

In a lovely sequence of happy coincidences, Ruth was asked to compose and then perform a violin part for some music by St. Helens indie band The Loungs. The band hired a really rather beautiful violin for her, and it meant she was able to use that violin on some of our songs, too (including our carol).

With the approach of winter, we “dropped” our carol on Bandcamp. In terms of numbers of people listening, it’s done the best of all of our songs. And this little carol went quite some way! It was played on various radio stations - including BBC Radio Merseyside, as part of Dave Monks’ BBC Introducing show -  and podcasts, it made its way onto a wonderful Christmas compilation CD from Cherryade Records, it was included as part of an online carol service, had a write-up in the Liverpool Echo, and WON the Wirral carol competition! (Okay, yes, we live in St. Helens, but Marc’s from the Wirral, and most of Ruth’s Mum’s side of the family are that side of the water too, so it’s fine!)

Our second to last gig of the year was - certainly in terms of numbers - our very best so far. We played two sets (a folky set and a festive set) at the Domino Gallery in Liverpool and charged a small amount for tickets. We were very pleasantly surprised that so many people came that the venue owner, Felicity, had to get more chairs from the basement! The small space was packed and we played a wonderful gig to an appreciative audience.


Everyone said they felt festive after our Yuletide Yarns gig! Our last gig of the year was our first house gig on Christmas Eve. We received some money from the family which was very kind, so we gave a donation to Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity.

At the end of the year, we had some bad news about new EU VAT rules, and it looked for a while like we might have to take our music off Bandcamp, but just today we learned that Bandcamp will sort it all out for its users, so that’s great news on which to end the year!

What have we learned this year? 

We’ve learned that it’s fine to get off to a slow start. In 2015 we’re going to use the quiet time at the start of the year to write some new songs, learn our new instruments (a psaltery, and a baritone ukulele) and get back into the studio to record the final songs from our EP.

We’ve learned that it’s good to take advice, and to learn from other musicians. One of the most instructive moments for us this year was attending a Lightning Seeds gig in St. Helens. When Broudie’s guitar strap broke, the rest of the band carried on playing while it got sorted out. We put this idea to great effect at our Yuletide Yarns gig; while extra people arrived and the chairs were fetched from the basement we played a number of instrumental tunes that weren’t on our set list, just to fill the time while people chatted amongst themselves.

We’ve learned that although we can play in a number of contexts, we do seem to work best as an afternoon outfit with a family audience.

We’ve learned a lot about the English folk tradition and we’re realising that we’re probably best described as “folk-inspired”.

We’ve learned that it’s great to make friends with other musicians and listen to them play. Not just to support them in the hope they’ll support us, but to do it because we enjoy their music and we want to be part of an atmosphere where we do all support each other. We’ve also realised that open mics are great fun to play at but also just to attend without playing; in fact, there’s something wonderfully relaxing just about turning up to an open mic sometimes and watching everyone else! We’ve been so lucky to meet and listen to the music of some amazing musicians this year.

We have learned that it’s important to have everything practised to the max and arrangements written down in advance before stepping foot in the studio, in order to make the most of the time there.

What about 2015?

This next year, we plan to put our our first studio recorded EP/mini album. We plan not only to have it available to download on bandcamp, but also to have it on CD, and possibly on other digital platforms too.

We want to do more gigs with other bands and musicians.

We’d like to perform a bit further afield than Liverpool/Merseyside.

We’d like to do at least one “proper” (i.e. camping, longer than one day) festival in the summer.

We’d like to do a bit of busking.

We’re going to sign up for PRS in case we get more radio play. (We’d very much like to get more radio play!)

We’d like to get a few more reviews of our music.

We want to continue to perform most of our gigs in family-friendly venues at family-friendly times. This rather conveniently for us means we don’t have to think about childcare, but it’s also really important to us that the next generation gets a feel for live music. One of the best moments of the year for us came at the end, at our Yuletide Yarns gig. A couple had brought their just-over-a-year-old baby with them; we learned that this was baby’s first ever gig! To be a part of someone’s life in that way is probably the biggest honour of all. Long may that kind of thing continue.

Here’s wishing you all a wonderful 2015 and thank you all so much for your support, whether that’s downloading, sharing, retweeting, reviewing, playing on your radio station or podast, streaming, having us at your open mic, giving us a gig at your venue…  or however you’ve helped. It’s hugely appreciated! - Moss & Jones xx

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Christmas number one? Bah Humbug! by Ruth

There are various ways musicians can measure success. At the high sales end, it’s fairly easy to measure. Chart position, of course. Number one means most sales, and that’s certainly a well-known and long used measure of success. Christmas number one is still seen as a big deal, and there’s usually a competition, dominated in recent years by the winners and runners up of X Factor, possibly something a bit left field (though not Leftfield. Not yet, anyway), and almost certainly a charity single or two.

And many of us get involved in some way; we download the song we want to win, or at least, the one that has the best chance of beating the one we definitely don’t want to win. But when was the last time you listened to a song you downloaded as part of this race?

Personally, I’m actually a bit of a sucker for a decent Christmas song. I have all sorts of issues with the hype around Christmas and the expense, and the way it almost feels that if you aren’t going to have The Perfect Christmas Day (As Seen On The Adverts), why, there is something wrong with you. However, I do love carols (we wrote our own!) and songs with choirs and jingle bells and catchy choruses…

However, I like to buy music that I know I’m going to listen to, rather than helping someone’s quest to get their song to the “most sold” position in the most widely known sales list.

As such, I want to tell you about this song, called Bah Humbug, which has genuinely funny lyrics (making a good point but without being heavy handed), a catchy chorus… and lots of jingle bells. AND half the proceeds go to CALM, a charity that has its work cut out at this time of year, with its aim of supporting mental health in young men, who often find it hardest to ask for help or admit that something is wrong.

And you know what? It’s probably not a player in the race to be Christmas number one. Which in some ways makes me like it more. And you know what? Unlike some of the songs I’ve bought in the past to support them in that ultimately futile race… this’ll be on my playlist next year, too.

So have a listen to it, but remember, if it makes you laugh, or even raise a wry smile, you have to buy it too. Otherwise you’re like those people on Church Street in Liverpool who dance in front of the busking drummer on your way to Concert Square but don’t give him as much as a penny for his efforts…. and that really IS a bit Scrooge-like!

Ronnie Wood plays with One Direction (contains mild humour anddeliberate misconstruing of some facts)...

There was horror in some musical circles as a guitarist from a boy band performed on stage with an all-male chamber choir at a televised talent competition on Saturday night.

Guitarist Ronnie Wood is a member of boy band The Rolling Stones, which underwent several line-up changes in its early days but has had the same four members since 1993. Their first manger, Andrew Loog Oldham, carefully manufactured the boy band’s image, even changing their name (originally, the band were known as The Rollin’ Stones, but Oldham felt this would be less memorable for the record-buying public), demoting their then-keyboardist Ian Stewart to studio play only as he felt Stewart’s ‘look’ didn’t fit well with the band, and deliberately positioning them as a ‘bad boy’ alternative to the other well-known boy band of the time, The Beatles, who had a more clean cut and wholesome image. The Rolling Stones eventually managed to shake off the kind of controlling management often given to such boy bands, though not before their second manager, impresario Allen Klein, duped the group of young men into signing over the rights to most of their previous songs. The Rolling Stones still have a large following and older fans are still known for comparing themselves favourably to fans of The Beatles, despite the fact the rivalry between the two boy bands was largely manufactured.

One Direction are an all-male chamber choir with five members, specialising in vocal harmonies and part-singing. Group member Harry Styles decided on the group’s name, which fans often abbreviate to 1D. They write many of their own songs with contributions from other well-known, successful songwriters. Band members also include Louis Tomlinson, a successful performer in a variety of musicals before he joined the group, Niall Horan, who in addition to much previous choir experience is also a talented guitarist, Zayn Malik, who has also learned to dance since joining the group, and Liam Payne, also known for his remixing work.

1D’s genre-fusing performance with Wood managed to bring together two worlds often seen as poles apart; the manufactured boy band, and what twitter has hashtagged “#realmusic”.

[Some facts may have been deliberately misconstrued and definitely a bit twisted in order to make a lighthearted point about musical snobbery.]

Saturday 13 December 2014

Our Christmas carol appeared in the Liverpool Echo!

Our original Christmas carol, A Song for Mary, appeared in Friday’s Liverpool Echo as part of a feature by music writer Jade Wright on Christmas songs by Liverpool/Merseyside artists!

To say we are chuffed is an understatement! If you’d like to download our original carol, as featured in the Liverpool Echo and played on BBC Radio Merseyside, you can do so on bandcamp… and you don’t even have to pay (though you can if you like/can afford)!

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Gig alert: Yuletide Yarns

For those of you who are into Christmas carols and songs, this is a gig you won’t want to miss.

Set in the cosy surroundings of Liverpool’s longest running independent art gallery, the Domino, 11 Upper Newington (off Renshaw Street near Grand Central), Yuletide Yarns will consist of two sets; the first, Moss & Jones’ usual quirky, folk-inspired music, and the second, carols and Christmassy songs performed on a variety of instruments from bodhran to glockenspiel; from mandolin to accordion… and more.

They’ll also be performing their original carol, A Song for Mary, live at the event.

Between the pair, Ruth (Moss) and Marc (Jones) have over 10 years’ experience of performing carols, including in community orchestras and the Liverpool Philharmonic Choir! Christmas gigs last year saw people dancing around, glasses of mulled cider in hand, and clapping along, and the pair promise that this year’s gig will be even more fun!

Tickets are just £5 for adults and the event is free for under 16s. Ruth and Marc feel it is incredibly important to introduce the joy of live music to the next generation. As space is limited, if you are planning to attend, it would be helpful if you could email mossandjones[at]gmail[dot]com to reserve your spaces so the venue has an idea of numbers. Alternatively, tickets are available to buy in advance from the venue.

Festive refreshments will be available to purchase on the day.

There is a competition running on Facebook and twitter to win a pair of tickets, worth £5 each, to the event; the competition closes at 7pm on Wednesday 26th November.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Catalyst Studios, Saturday 25th October (by Ruth)

When Marc and I got married, quite a few of our friends bought or made us some amazing gifts. In amongst those gifts were some vouchers for a local recording studio, Catalyst Studios in St. Helens.

On the last Saturday in October we boarded a taxi with all our instruments and made our way down to the studio. I was slightly nervous; Marc and I had been in a studio together (not Catalyst) just once before and the sound engineer there had presumably been so cautious not to offend that he didn’t give us any idea how our song sounded, or offer any advice. Marc’s been in many bands and many studios before, but this was only my second time, and I was hoping that this time we’d be given just a little more direction (whilst not bossed around or told what to do and what not to do).

I need not have worried! Andrew, who runs things there, was marvellous (especially as he had to tread a fine line between explaining things very clearly to me whilst simultaneously not appearing patronising to Marc)! He was really helpful at giving us guidance on what sounded okay and what might need another attempt, but was also absolutely fine if we wanted to change something a little.

We took a break in the middle of the day for a picnic (I’d made butties and a cake).


My son joined us half way through the day after spending the morning with his dad. It’s fair to say he was a little bored but we’d brought along reading material, pens and pencils, paper, and even a DS which he played until his eyes got tired. He couldn’t understand why we kept going and singing very similar things over and over again so I had to explain the concept of harmonies! Still, he got to sit at the mixing desk.


We’d originally hoped to go in for a day and come out with a ludicrous number of songs. In the end, we came out with two with which we were really happy, with lots of harmonies and various parts. Compared to our last visit to a studio, where we came out with a song in a matter of two hours, but much as it’s lovely, it sounds more like a live take, we were very pleased with the results at the end of our session.

What would we do differently? Well, next time we go (and that’s a reminder to me… I need to sort this out!) we won’t sandwich it into a busy weekend of gigs. We did practise our parts of course, but they could have been even tighter. Also, I wrote harmonies for one of the songs literally the night before, and gave myself one or two notes that were too high for me to sing, due to me writing them at half eleven at night, knackered, and thinking “C#6? NO problem!” Of course, though I’m okay with A5 provided I’ve had a couple of cups of tea and it’s not first thing in the morning, and can even just about manage C6 at a push, with a clear wind in the right direction, that extra semitone? Nooo. Between that, and (me, not Marc, he’s blameless!) deciding to change a glockenspiel part at the last minute, I do think there was a bit of time that we wasted which with hindsight, could have been saved.

Andrew was also a great help with the violin part. I’m a very average violinist (grade 5; can’t get more average than that) but with a very good violin (hired from Mike Phoenix and kindly sorted out by boss band The Loungs with a little help from The Heart of Glass - long story, and more about that in later posts) and some studio magic, I think the string part actually sounds great!

One of the two songs we recorded was an original Christmas carol, and you can listen to it and download from Bandcamp. The other will be included as part of a future release.

We would absolutely recommend Catalyst Studios to any musicians who want a professional recording of their music. We’ll be going back there anyway!

Victoria Park, St. Helens, Sunday 26th October (Storytelling Festival)

What a wonderful gig - or more accurately, two gigs, or at least, two sets - this was!

Our first set in the afternoon saw us in the beautifully decorated Gate Lodge, playing a set of narrative folk songs with a little bit of a talk about the tales they told. It was a lovely set up with people wandering in and out of the area in which we were playing, and going in and out of another room to decorate glass lanterns for a later parade. Lots of children and young people were listening, which we thought was lovely.

Our second set (you can just make out Ruth’s son in this photo, dressed as Robin Hood, sat inside the bandstand where he told all  his mates he got the best view) was providing background music for the amazing Bring the Fire Project! They truly were amazing; they improvised several fire-juggling sequences as we played, finishing our set with our folky twist on 90s classic Ebeneezer Goode. One commenter said “I used to rave to this in my youth, but I preferred this version”, which we felt was a fab compliment!

Thanks to Vikki, Steve, Diane and everyone else for all the work that went into this amazing festival.

Moss & Jones at Sound Food and Drink, 24th October 2014

Our gigging continued last month with a set at the lovely Sound Food & Drink on Duke Street in Liverpool. We arrived early, had a pumpkin spice latte (get us; next thing you know we’ll be calling fairycakes “cupcakes”!) and got set up, with help from Jules, who showed us all the various dials and levers on the sound desk and what we needed to do.

We played for about half an hour, and included our new song, Ella Brown (coming soon to a soundcloud near you…) and although quite a few of the crowd had come for the book launch right after our set, we seemed to go down okay.

We finished off the evening with one of Sound’s amazing pizzas each. Goat cheese and pesto, mmmm!

Childwall Valley Music Festival

After we got married (we might have mentioned that) and went on our honeymoon (a weekend in Paris, where we stayed in a B&B with a piano and even had a little impromptu performance) we came back to Blighty and went straight back to gigging with a little set at Childwall Valley Community Theatre, as part of a festival organised by the lovely Andrew Hesford.

You may know Andrew as the chap who organises the last open mic night of the month at The Brink in Liverpool, and plays in band The Salty Seadogs. He put on this lovely event to raise funds for the community theatre and quite a few bands turned up to entertain people. We heard the gorgeous, soulful voice of Shirley Ellis with a band called the Kookie Ukies, and although we had to leave a little early due to a prior arrangement, had an enjoyable time.

The theatre is a lovely place; a really fab set up and even includes onsite recording facilities!

Sunday 26 October 2014

So we got married...

Hello friends! We haven’t updated this blog in a while because we have been so, so, SO busy!

On the 14th September 2014, we got married.

It was a magical day; we got married in Liverpool’s Bombed Out Church and the weather managed to stay clear! We also played the hymns and songs at our own wedding, and a set at the end (though the bulk of the music was provided by Maranella, who are amazing). We plan to record the original song we wrote for the wedding, too, as a lot of people seemed to enjoy it.

We received some wonderful wedding presents, from a DVD of eighties children’s cartoons to a hamper full of goodies which included a tin of fancy food for the cats; from a donation to the Bombed Out Church in our name, to a hand-painted TARDIS-themed wedding card… and many many more fantastic and thoughtful gifts for which we are incredibly grateful, and feel lucky to have such lovely friends. Included in our gifts were many vouchers for Catalyst Studios, a recording studio in our town of residence, St. Helens!

We spent the weekend after our wedding in Paris and had a lovely time in a B&B with a grand piano of which we made full use. That said, we missed the little one loads (he spent the weekend at his dad’s) and were glad to be reunited with him on our return. Here he is, dressed as Robin Hood at our folklore and mediaeval themed wedding:

And since then, we’ve been doing loads of stuff, musically speaking… more updates to come, so watch this space!

Friday 5 September 2014

Free music!


We used “”cutting edge technology”” to record a six-song set we performed earlier this year at Liverpool’s View Two Gallery for the wonderful Liverpool Acoustic. We’ve since had that recording professionally tidied up so it sounds much nicer (less hiss, for starters). As a result, we can now bring you this; a free download of that gig!

In order to get your free download, click “buy now” and put a big fat zero in the “name your price” box. You’ll get a link to your free download emailed to you pretty much immediately!


Monday 1 September 2014

In autumn, a young* woman's fancy lightly turns to thoughts oftrip-hop... and more - Ruth

Oh, spring and summer are such wonderful seasons for discovering new music. Watching the first leaves appear on the trees and wanting a soundtrack for all this new growth. Going to a festival, chancing to walk past a stage with a band playing who suddenly become my new favourite musicians EVER…

But in autumn, I want the familiar around me. Return to routine (kid back in school), return to old, warm cardigans, return to musical favourites. Autumn’s also - for me - a time for albums. A time to put the record player on and listen from start to finish whilst sewing on the school name labels, lost in a reverie of sound.

Some of my favourite autumn albums I’ve listened to pretty much every single autumn since my youth; one or two are slightly more recent finds, but in no particular order, here are my top five “albums to which I return every autumn”.

1. Tricky: Maxinquaye.

This is a gorgeous album; Martina Topley-Bird’s lush vocals combine with Tricky’s inventive sounds to create something really special, which to my mind at least hasn’t really dated, either. The piano at the end of Ponderosa (the track above) is one of my favourite things ever.

If you like this you might also like: Hello, by Poe.

2. The Mediaeval Baebes: Salva Nos

I remember when this album came out I thought, “where have you BEEN all my life?!” The Baebes are one of our influences, and we’ve even covered the song above (a more stripped down verson). This album is perfect for the later end of autumn, as it gets colder and frosty and starts to turn to winter.

If you like this you might also like: Madra, by Miranda Sex Garden (one of their early albums, full of madrigals).

3. Enya: The Celts

Yes, I know Enya isn’t “cool”. I don’t give a fig. I unashamedly adore this album. It’s imaginative, it’s faerytale-esque, and yes, it’s synthtastic. What’s not to love? This was one of the first CDs I ever bought, too (as prior to the early nineties I had everything on tape)! Also, the wonderful Uke of Carl has a ukulele tab for Enya’s Orinoco Flow, which I’ve certainly played at people quite a bit.

If you like this, you might also like: An Ancient Muse, by Loreena McKennitt (people often compare her to Enya, but I think she’s a LOT more folky).

4. Portishead: Portishead

I remember walking across the St. Kev’s field (as was - it’s now a housing estate) to get from my home to Kirkby station in order to get into Liverpool, with this playing on my walkman. (I’m really sorry, Portishead, but it wasn’t even a tape I’d bought; one of my bezzies had taped it for me. I have paid for your music since, though, so … forgive me?) Nothing quite so redolent of the end of summer as walking over an empty landscape with trees fast becoming bare, listening to this.

If you like this you might like: Beth Orton, Trailer Park (they’re actually not that similar stylistically, but there’s something about the magical bleakness of Trailer Park that I find very similar, atmospherically speaking, to Portishead. Also, for a brief while in my youth I confused Beth Ortion with Beth Gibbons, Portishead’s singer).

5. The Magic Theatre: London Town

A more recent addition to my autumnal mix this. This came out in 2010 but for some reason (WHY DID NONE OF YOU TELL ME SOONER?!) I only got around to buying it in the autumn of 2011. And then I played it endlessly. An album about a man from the sixties time travelling to the Victorian era and falling in love… what’s not to like? It holds a special place in my heart too, because during that autumn, I met Marc (the man who puts the “Jones” in “Moss & Jones”) and this music brings back memories of our first dates together. Though I hope our relationship doesn’t end with him going back to his own time zone.

If you like this you might also like: The Long Way Home, by The Magic Theatre.

They’re my top five return to autumn albums (although honourable mention must also go to the Moulettes’ self-titled album, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, The Streets’ Original Pirate Material and Mono’s Formica Blues). What are yours?

* I’m using “young” in a really loose sense. The other day I couldn’t remember if I was 37 or 38.

Sunday 31 August 2014

Our gig at the Bombed Out Church, with the fabulous Laura&Claire, by Ruth

Remember a couple of days ago when I was banging on about how amazing open mic nights are? Well, at a recent open mic, I saw two young women, both playing acoustic guitars in counterpoint with each other, and singing the most lush harmonies; the pair were called Laura&Claire and as soon as their first song was about half way through I turned to Marc and said, “if we’re gigging again at the Bombed Out Church any time we should TOTALLY ask these if they want to play too.”

Now, partly, this was because I really enjoyed their music and guessed quite a few of our friends might enjoy their music too. However, part of it, possibly selfishly, was because I wanted to hear them play again and what better way than to have them play at our gig?

Anyway, after a long journey into town on a packed 10a ‘bus with the child, we arrived at the Bombed Out Church and got set up thanks to Jake, the Bombie’s sound man. Laura and Claire arrived shortly after and once they were set up, it was time for them to start playing.


Everyone to whom I’d said, “you must see these two” agreed with me that they were excellent. It was also lovely to see that as they continued playing, the place got fuller. The sound from outside the building is really good in fact and on hearing Laura and Claire playing I imagine quite a few people must have been drawn in!

The pair played a wonderful set; one of the things that’s great about watching musicians play live is when they clearly have a lot of fun doing it; watching these two you can see such chemistry and camaraderie between them that when you learn they’ve been playing together since they were children you can believe it.

Then it was our turn; by this time quite a few of our friends and family had arrived - huge thanks to all of you, so wonderful you could make it! - so we were very excited and a bit nervous. We played a really folky set this time around, including, for the first time together, live, our mandolin/accordion/harmonies version of Reynardine. We also started the set with our “nineties-tastic family-friendly Moss & Jones wedding medley,” a portmanteau of four songs played on ukulele and glockenspiel, and with a sense of humour.


(Thanks to our friend Beth for the picture.)

After the gig, we actually went to the ‘bus station in Liverpool One (better chance of getting a seat at the back which means Marc, the child, and I, can sit together) but on the way there, we saw that the pianos were out! Well, we couldn’t resist; we busked three songs; Sally and Millbrook, with Marc on the piano and me singing and on glockenspiel, and of course, a little bit of Bach’s second English Suite in A Minor (me, for once, on piano). And… we earned a few bob! We’ll buy a cake with it for all three of us, as the little one, of course, had his own little play around on the piano.

Then it was back home… and here we are. We’re back in the Bombed Out Church in two weeks, but it’s a relatively private gig (as we’re getting married)! However, if you’d like to see us play again, we’re going to be doing a song or two at the open mic at Sound Food and Drink on Duke Street in Liverpool, tomorrow (Monday) night.

What have we learned from this gig?

Well, I’ve had a dodgy wrist for a few weeks now; I’m wearing a support until I can get to the doctor. It’s nothing serious, however, a wrist support, and the intricate plucking needed to play the instrumental version of Pastime With Good Company on the ukulele, do not together go, unfortunately. It was, as they say, a “brave performance”. However when my wrist is a bit better, we’ll be getting mediaeval - well, tudor - on your asses again.

Secondly, a few bob from a quick busk is lovely, and it has really raised our spirits for a busking “tour” we have planned for the new year. Want to know more? Watch this space!

Tuesday 26 August 2014

In defence of open mic nights, by Ruth

I’ve read a few blog posts recently knocking open mic nights, primarily from the usual “don’t play for free” standpoint that gets hashed and rehashed and then mashed and bathed in oil and fried and re-hashed again over on many music forums (including the wonderful Liverpool Bands).

Now, the “don’t play for free” thing is quite an old debate and tends to go like this: “I’ll get a plumber to come over and offer to pay THEM with ‘exposure’ shall I?” “Yes but a plumber has had to take exams and learn how to be a plumber.” “So have I, I did my grade 5 piano when I was 19.” And on, and on. I don’t want particularly to rehash that argument because it never ends. I will say, we’ve played the vast majority of our gigs for free, and we’ve also done a handful where we’ve been paid (though not huge amounts by any stretch).

I am also perfectly aware that it’s different for us, an acoustic duo who practise at home and don’t have massive overheads (although we really should get that piano tuned), than, say, a four or five piece band who have to pay out for rehearsal room hire and sound equipment and so on. But this is about open mic nights, and let’s face it, they’re aimed at small bands and solo acts.

Anyway, the anti- open mic stuff I’ve read seems to be based on the premise that this, too, is playing for free, and given that musicians should apparently Never Ever Do That, it’s also wrong to perform at an open mic.


That’s a picture of us, performing at an open mic, by the way, in case you were wondering on which side of this argument we fell.

I really do think that doing a slot at an open mic is different than doing a gig for free. I have some sympathy with the idea that bands shouldn’t do the latter (though, see earlier, we have) but … an open mic? Really?

Let’s take this in two parts.

Firstly, the idea which I’ve read a bit that landlords are putting on open mic nights to avoid paying to put on a band. Okay, let’s start with the thing about “landlords”. Most open mics I’ve been to have been in cafés or bars. I’ve been to literally one open mic in a proper old school “pub with a landlord” pub, and that was a weird little place in Deptford in 2001, back when I lived in London. Also it was a poetry open mic, which may - or may not - be different.

In fact, I ran an open mic a few years ago in a café in St. Helens. The owner of the café actually opened it up specifically on a Monday evening once a month just for the open mic. I approached him with the idea, not vice versa. He made no money off it on the night, at least at first, as everyone brought their own booze. The only people who came were performers and their friends; there was no passing trade because the café wouldn’t have been open then anyway. If it wasn’t for the open mic, the place would have been closed on a Monday night and it might even have saved him some money on heating and lecky bills. He was a big advocate for the arts, and in the long term, I think having the open night there made people kindly disposed towards the place and more likely to come back. Hardly a cynical landlord putting on an open mic because he was too tight to pay a band.

Also, let’s be brutally honest here. Lots of acts performing at open mics are amazing, but some are … on their way to amazing, and not quite there yet. That’s okay, of course, everyone starts somewhere, but the idea a pub landlord would believe that punters would be just as happy with an open mic as with a booked band is a tad silly, n’est ce pas?

I’ve also met quite a few people running open mics, but never once have I met one whose motives have been about “saving money on bands”. Mostly, they’ve wanted to give new talent a platform, hear new music and have a bit of a ‘jam’. Occasionally they’ve wanted to make a bit of a name for themselves as a compère. Once or twice it’s so they’ve a regular opportunity to perform their own songs/poems. But even the more cynical of those reasons is nothing compared to the suggestion that they want to save money for the venue.

Most of the time, running an open mic is an unpaid task, too. If anyone should get narky about not getting paid, it’s the compère/organiser and not the performers; they’re doing a hugely hard job behind the scenes and on the night and usually on a volunteer basis too, and usually they go largely unthanked (people seem to think the compère is part of the furniture. So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank from the bottom of my heart anyone who has ever ran an open mic event we’ve attended. You’re amazing, you really are). But no one seems to mention them in the anti-open mic stuff.


There we are at another open mic night, depriving booked performers of a decent crust. Oh, wait, there were some booked performers that night too, earning a decent crust.

Secondly, the idea that playing an open mic is the same as playing a normal gig, unpaid. It just isn’t! In order to get a gig, you have to - well, I’ll be honest, we haven’t completely figured it out yet. Be lucky, in the right place at the right time, know the right people and work hard. And be really cheeky too, but the right amount of cheeky. But what you CAN’T do, is just turn up and start playing.

Unlike an open mic night.

Time to be totally honest here. We’ve not always been that good. I know, I know, you’re shocked and horrified. But it’s true. When we started out in the winter of 2012 with nothing but a violin and a really cheap ukulele we played the rounds of open mics because we were literally okay. It took us over half a year of playing open mic nights before we could even dream of being good enough to play a full gig. We are SO grateful to those places that put them on and gave us the chance to practice in front of an audience, seeing what worked, and what didn’t, and who put up with our “let’s use a violin to open Hark the Herald, instead of a trumpet, that’ll totally work!”

Let’s face it, too; not all, but some open mic events have some quite sophisticated sound equipment and someone knowledgeable around to work it. If you really can’t shake the idea that you’re somehow being “done” because you’re playing for free, think of it as a barter. You’re getting to hire a PA and a sound engineer for fifteen minutes; they’re getting to hear your unique finger-plucking cover of Shakermaker.

And at those open mic events that are unamplified, which are basically busking without the hat? What does the performer get there? Well, we’ve made friends at these and got talking to other musicians who are at similar stages to us; we’ve shared tips and swapped contacts, and again… you’re getting to practice in front of an audience. Yes, you could do that with busking too (and we plan to) but people are less likely to sit and listen when it’s chucking it down and freezing cold. It’s also fantastic for young musicians (I mean really young, too; I’ve been at an open mic where a ten or eleven year old boy performed a violin solo that would have made Nigel Kennedy’s eyes open wide with amazement) who wouldn’t normally get that kind of platform outside of school assemblies. You’re getting a warm audience, in more than one sense of the word “warm”.


One thing I will say, however, is that the idea that venues and promoters, or even music executives, are scouring the open mics looking for new talent, has certainly not been our experience. I think we’ve got just two gigs from people seeing us at an open mic, and that’s in going on three years of doing them (as I said earlier, we have got our gigs through a mixture of other methods, but rarely this). I think if you’re going around open mics expecting to be noticed and given gigs, or signed, or whatever, you’re possibly approaching it with the wrong idea and it’s going to make you a bit miserable. If, however, you see open mics as a great place to practise playing in front of an audience, and also a wonderful opportunity to be the first of your friends to hear some amazing new music, and of course, to make friends, to have fun, and to do what you love, then you’re probably going to enjoy yourselves.

So, yes, we’ll continue to do open mic events in amongst our gigs. Because we love them. The whole “don’t play gigs for free” thing is another discussion for another time, and with that, I can genuinely see both sides of the debate. But I don’t think open mic events fit into the category of “playing a gig for free”.

And if you want to earn a living from music? Join a covers band and practise every day and do the ultra-competitive world of weddings and pubs. Become a music teacher (hey, all you need to do is increase that grade 5 piano to a grade 8, and then maybe get your ABRSM diploma in music teaching, and sort out your DBS form, and get a customer base and a reputation). Work hard and learn a craft as a sound engineer (because it’s true, no one does ask them to work for “exposure”).

Or become a rock star. I’m not sure how you do that though.

(Other ways of making money within the music industry do exist and all involve lots of hard work and tend not to be impeded by playing, or not, open mic nights.)

Sunday 3 August 2014

The Beautiful Word, Baby Brave, Lisa Marie Glover... and us... lastnight at Sound Food and Drink. By Ruth.

Want to know a boring fact about me? Of course you don’t! But you’ll get one anyway: alcohol is sometimes a migraine trigger for me, so I mostly avoid it all together. The negative side is that I feel a bit of a party pooper ordering a lemonade when a venue is kind enough to offer free booze to performers. The positives, however, include “being able to remember stuff”, and I’m especially glad I’ll be remembering last night’s gig because it was AMAZING.


I was on twitter on Saturday and learned that one of my favourite bands ever, The Beautiful Word, were doing a last-minute gig in Liverpool, at Sound Food and Drink on Duke Street (by the way, we bought some pizzas there and they were DELICIOUS). I was just in the process of shouting to Marc, “oh my god Marc, The Beautiful Word are doing a gig in town, we have to go!” as I received a tweet asking if we’d open the night with a set ourselves!

Needless to say, I said YES PLEASE!

In fact, the night opened with a lovely surprise in the form of Lisa Marie Glover, the compère for the evening and a talented singer/songwriter, who played a couple of her witty, melodic songs in between sets. Needless to say, we bought a CD. Perhaps you should too?

Then it was our turn. We played a mix of originals (including Millbrook, the one about the ice cream van in Kirkby, and Shepherd’s Delight, which you can download for just 50p if you like), traditional music (including our uke/glockenspiel instrumental of Henry VIII’s Pastime With Good Company, and our acappella arrangement of Let No Man Steal Your Thyme) and covers, including our folky cover of Ebeneezer Goode, which a lot of people seemed to like.

Next up came Baby Brave. This lot call themselves “noise pop” and they’re right; foot-tapping, singalonging in-your-face wonderfully raucous songs with ludicrously catchy hooks. Of course, we bought their EP (on tape as well! TAPE!) which you too can own as a digital download! I especially liked Alone in Tokyo, and Colours (how can I not love a song with a verse in French?) - I’d definitely go and see these again; hopefully they’ll be up in town again at some point soon as Wrexham’s not a million miles away. You should go and see them too. They’re ace!

Finally it was time for The Beautiful Word. Now, I’ll admit, I’m biased. The first time I saw these live, a couple of years ago now, I texted Marc, “I’ve just found my new favourite band”. I own their album Particles, and it is gorgeous, but there’s nothing quite like seeing a band live, and The Beautiful Word are no exception. They started out with an adorable song called Starfish which they said was new, but I had the weirdest feeling I’d heard it before; maybe it was just so catchy that it made me want to sing along immediately? In fact, they played a couple of new songs during the evening, all of which I thought were fantastic and look forward to hearing when they’re able to record again. They also played a couple of songs from Particles, including one of my favourites (heck, they’re all my favourites, but you know what I mean), Emily.

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what it is that makes The Beautiful Word such a perfect band. The harmonies of Emily and Megan that are so utterly note perfect that they blend into one voice with two channels? The instrumentation and arrangements which segue from indiepop into folk and back again via prog? That when you watch them live they perform with cheer and infectious enthusiasm? That they’ve pulled off the amazing conjuring trick of setting even occasionally bleak subject matter (e.g. Pop It) to a sweet, catchy tune… without detracting from the lyrics? Whatever it is, if you get a chance to see this band you MUST GO. You can also download their music too, and I’d recommend you do. Oh, and I now have a Particles t-shirt. :D

Time for our usual, and admittedly slightly self-indulgent section of WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED FROM THIS GIG?

  • Without going into too many embarrassing details, we need to be FASTIDIOUS about tuning. 

  • We need to sort out our merch. 

  • The ladies’ loo in Sound doesn’t have a sign on it … thus it’s easily mistaken for a unisex one. Oops, as Marc said on realising this!
Anyway, that’s all folks. Thank you to everyone who came, and to those who couldn’t come but helped get the message out. Our next full-length gig is at the Bombed Out Church in Liverpool on Sunday 31st August at 2pm, quid on the door (which goes to the church) and our special guests are the fabulous Laura&Claire.

Monday 28 July 2014

Gig alert! Bombed Out Church, with Laura&Claire...

We said we wouldn’t do any gigs in August, what with preparing for our September wedding. But Liverpool’s Bombed Out Church is pretty special.

We’ll be there on Sunday 31st August at 2pm playing our usual mixture of melodious originals (including that one about the Kirkby ice cream vans selling - whatever it was, Ruth never did find out - in winter), traditional folk (we might get a bit mediaeval on you actually. Or at least, Tudor) and imaginative covers (yes, that includes Ebeneezer Goode).

We’re also really excited about our special guests. Laura&Claire are the kind of duo we absolutely love. Two young women with beautiful voices playing guitars and singing the kind of vocal harmonies that simply sweep right through you. We heard them at an open mic at the Brink, Liverpool, and were absolutely blown away; we reckon you will be, too.

Entry is just £1 on the door and all money goes to the day-to-day maintenance of the Bombed Out Church. Now, we know we go on about this but it’s really important. If you’d like to help secure a long-term future for the Bombed Out Church, rather than see paradise paved and a Starbucks put up, they really do need your help. There have been a lot of rumours lately about how apparently someone is going to give them a tonne of money, which has made people believe they don’t need to donate after all. Unfortunately, this is little more than political posturing; the Bombed Out Church really does need your help. Please give what you can; even for just £2 you’ll get a big thank you, plus the knowledge you’re doing something amazing.

Families are very welcome; we love to play whilst watching the kids - including our own - run about. Please bring friends, nans, grans, granddads, mums, dads, sisters, brothers, cousins, avuncular relatives, bezzies, mates, a posse, people you met on the ‘bus… and anyone else you can think of. We’re looking forward to it!

Photographs from our Big Busk gig

St. Helens photographer Robbob took some pictures of us at the Big Busk in St. Helens’ Victoria Park two weekends ago; we’ve finally been able to contact him for permission to use them; he said yes! Hurray, because we love these pictures. In the first it looks like Ruth’s son is either terribly proud of his Mum and step-Dad, or is saying “lord, what fools these mortals be”.

Saturday 19 July 2014

And that's a wrap: Ruth writes about the Big Busk in St. Helens' Victoria Park

We’ve done lots of gigs in Liverpool in our time, in some gorgeous venues, but not much in the town in which we reside, St. Helens (for no reason except that they just haven’t come up in the same way). This summer we’ve managed to do two, in quick succession; the first in Rainhill and this, the second, and the last of our summer gigs (we’re taking August off gigging to organise our September wedding) even closer to home, in the newly refurbished bandstand in St. Helens’ Victoria Park.

We arrived just as the afternoon was starting. There were two stages; the other was more of a rock/indie orientated stage, and as the action on both stages took place simultaneously, we took the decision to stick around the bandstand for the more folky/acoustic side of things.

The lady compèring the bandstand’s events was called Diane and she introduced each act with a mix of humour, professionalism and good cheer.

We caught a little bit of dance troupe Paparazzi; my son’s more knowledgeable about that sort of thing than I and he seemed to enjoy it, but then we went off to the Lodge to drop off our instruments. When we got back a chap in an Iron Maiden T-shirt (I did ask him his name but to my shame I have forgotten, and he isn’t one of the people on the bill, so if anyone knows who he is please do let me know, as he was great and I’d like to hear more) was playing some folky, melodic stuff which we enjoyed. We also caught some of Cesar Bodey, who carried on like a trouper despite some technical issues (which sound man Steve did his best to remedy) and a sore arm!

Then we heard Shaun Brussels’ set. This young man is already practically a guitar virtuoso… and he’s just fourteen! If there’s any fairness in the music industry you’ll be hearing this young man’s name quite a bit in future.

Then it was us! This was the first gig this summer for which we’d decided to go piano-less. We do open mics sans piano, of course, as lugging around a keyboard on the ‘bus is a pretty hefty task if you’re only going to be playing two or three songs, but this was a full set. As such, we took the decision not to play our piano ballad Sally, to change Millbrook to ukulele and glockenspiel, and not to add in any of our “oldie” type piano covers.

We started with Bad Sitcom, then played our cover of 80s kids’ TV cartoon Mysterious Cities of Gold (and segued it into Gaudete). We followed with three folk songs in our own arrangements back to back; Scarborough Fair, The Stonecutter’s Boy and Let No Man Steal Your Thyme. After that, we played the first of two 90s dance songs in a folky style; Set You Free. There followed two originals; Millbrook and Shepherd’s Delight (It’s Not Time To Go To Bed).

Finally, for the first time live, we played the second folky-cover-of-a-90s-dance-tune of the day, our take on Ebeneezer Goode, on mandolin and ukulele with me singing the rap rubato, and Marc joining me on vocal harmonies for the chorus. We can honestly say without boasting that it seemed to go down an absolute treat. And then that was that, it was a wrap from us. Diane had some nice words for us about our forthcoming wedding and we left the stage.

It was interesting that about half way through our set, the crowd suddenly doubled in size. Much as I’d like to tell you it was all our fans coming to see us, it seemed what had happened was that over on the rock stage there was a big break while a band with a huge set up got ready, and so people drifted over towards the bandstand. However, the majority of them seemed to stay, so we must have been tuneful enough to keep at least part of a more rock-oriented crowd, which is quite pleasing.

After us was our friend Will Barnes who played a fantastic set. I’ve seen many of Will’s gigs over the past couple of years; Will’s always been a talented musician but more recently his intra-set banter has become an integral part of his set too. Also he opened one of his songs with the first lines of one of our songs, and another of his songs with a bit of REM. Basically, Will was great, and he’s always gigging around St. Helens and Liverpool, and you should make an effort to go and see him.

Then came Billy & John, acoustic folk duo, with a set consisting mainly of originals … and the second mandolin of the day! Fantastic stuff. Following them was Paul Atherton, who’d brought an exuberant crowd with him. Who knew Amy McDonald’s Mr Rock and Roll could still work in such an anthemic style?

The day wound down with a very syncronised dance troupe, Connect (my son, who likes that sort of thing, was mesmerised), and then a set from Diane’s partner (who’s name I’ve forgotten - sorry ) who included a cover of Leadbelly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night in his set. There was a little boy dancing on the bandstand throughout his set - I don’t think it was staged - pure spontaneity like that can’t be!

As we were packing up, performance poets The MadLads (formerly The Amigos) got up for an impromptu set which seemed to go down well with what was left of the crowd. They used to attend a poetry night I and a friend of mine put on in St. Helens a couple of years ago. I’d like to see them take a leaf out of the book of some other comedy poets now, and really perform their rhymes. Stuart Kenyon in particular has some wistful, intelligent verse and it’s great to see his delivery catching up with that.

All in all it was a fantastic day. Once again we got to meet up with some people who we’d only known previously on twitter, including Mike Ashworth and Lynn Gerrard. We also saw Andy Bowden, one time mayor of St. Helens, watching our set; later he said on twitter that it was (Ebeneezer) Good(e). A chap from the paper came to take our picture, so you never know, we could be in there this Thursday, although I imagine he took pretty much everyone’s picture so who knows.

Whatever happens though, it was a great gig; we loved all the music and performances going on at the bandstand. In some ways it’s a shame we couldn’t get to the other stage to have a listen but you can’t be in two places at once, and where we were had such a lot to offer.

Huge thanks to all the organisers, especially Vikki who had put a herculean amount of effort into ensuring this was such a fantastic event despite adverse weather (there was a storm the night before the Big Busk, and the morning saw heavy, pelting rain) and being poorly herself. I really hope she manages to get some rest now; there’s no one deserves it more right now!

Anyway, officially at any rate, that was our last gig of the summer; we hope you enjoyed it! We’ll probably do an open mic or two between now and September but aside from that we’re concentrating on organising our biggest gig ever; our wedding! Watch out for us in autumn though…

[Our “what have we learned from this gig?” feature will have a post all of its own! Keep an eye out on the blog…]

Saturday 12 July 2014

Liverpool Acoustic afternoon in the View Two Gallery, Saturday 12th July

We’ve just got back from a fantastic afternoon playing a set and listening to some talented musicians at Liverpool’s gorgeous View Two Gallery on Mathew Street.

Despite thinking we were going to arrive late (due to a prior commitment, and also due to the trains being off) we actually got there quite a bit earlier than planned, which was fab, as we got to have a little tinkle on the ivories (yes, View Two has a grand piano) while Graham and Stuart set up, and also have a look at some of the art work.

Then came the musicians; first up was Caitlin Gilligan in a fabulous hat with some fabulous finger plucked melodies, two originals and a cover of Bob Dylan’s Girl from the North Country. She was followed by the Southbound Attic Band whose beautifully sung tale of childhood sweethearts made Ruth cry (and she probably wasn’t the only one). Lucy Mayhew followed on with some delightful playing including a Fleetwood Mac cover (we’re always partial to a bit of Fleetwood Mac), then came Derek King with a couple of songs including an intelligent lyrical take on an argument.

Then it was our turn!

We started our set with our piano ballad celebrating female friendship, Sally, then our ukulele duet about marital discord and poorly written female comedy characters, Bad Sitcom, next came our song about what ice cream vans really sell in winter in Kirkby, Millbrook, which we followed with our a-cappella arrangement of folk classic Let No Man Steal Your Thyme, and then our current single, Shepherd’s Delight (It’s Not Time To Go To Bed). Finally, we had a bit of time left so we decided to perform a cover; our take on the theme from 1980s kids’ cartoon, Mysterious Cities of Gold (the eagle-eared amongst the audience will have noticed we finished the song by seguing into the opening bars of Gaudete. Come and see us at a Christmas gig and we’ll play you the whole thing).

We enjoyed playing our set, but it was a relief to sit back down too (and finally grab a coffee; we’d been on the water up until that point).

There then followed a set by Rob Jones and Rob White, who had a real Simon and Garfunkel vibe going on, with perhaps a touch of Half Man Half Biscuit about some of the lyrics. They were also kind enough to give us a CD which we’ll be putting on at some point tomorrow for a spot of Sunday listening.

Finally, sound man Stuart, also known as Three Minute Hero, played a short set including a song with a sad, lilting tune but a message of hope, The Tomorrow People.

We really enjoyed the entire afternoon. The standard was very high, and we felt honoured to be in such talented company. We’d love to go back again; the gallery is gorgeous, the sound is great and the staff are really friendly. Special thanks to Graham for organising and compering the event (and for inviting us), and to Stuart for helping create such fab sound.


Yesterday, when we wrote this, Ruth was in the early stages of a migraine and we were both knackered and so it was we forgot to do our usual spiel about What We Have Learned From This Gig.

We’ve chatted loads about this today and a few things have come out of our discussion. The standard at this event was really high and yet we didn’t feel as though we were out of our depth, which isn’t meant to sound arrogant, but rather as testament to how far we’ve come since we started out (as carollers, in December 2012). That said, we also talked about how we must not become complacent. The music scene in Merseyside at the moment is really buzzing and there is so much talent around that if we don’t keep ourselves fresh, practiced and focused, we’ll stagnate and get left behind.

We also talked - again - about covers. Yesterday we threw one cover into our set, as mentioned above. However, fun though Mysterious Cities of Gold is, it’s perhaps a bit obscure; in a larger crowd, you can guarantee there will be a group of people who will recognise even a cult cover, but if performing a cover at an intimate gig it might be wise to stick with something a bit more well-known. That said, it’s a gorgeous tune in its own right so… we’re still undecided.

Thursday 10 July 2014

Last night (Thursday 10th July) at the Brink open mic, by Ruth

I don’t half love the Brink. Partly this is because the Brink is a dry bar, and I drink about once in a blue moon, so it’s great to go somewhere where everyone else is as sober as me, but that’s far from being the main reason. The Brink really is one of the friendliest places in town. It’s really family-friendly too; whenever I take my son there he loves it. There’s always some interesting artwork up on the walls too, plus a great selection of books to read if you’re at a loose end after you’ve done the shopping. There is always something on that looks interesting (one day I’ll get to one of those Beatroot events they have on, although I confess I’d be going more for the music than the health food lecture) including a rave night (whoever came up with the idea of a rave where you can have a sit down and a nice cup of tea, then leave to go home at eleven, is a GENIUS. Over thirties and/or people with children have been crying out for this for ages). There’s the food, which is gorgeous (and the Sunday roast is in a league of its own). And of course there’s the weekly open mic.

There’s such a great vibe at these open mics that we chose to announce our engagement at the one back in March. Really welcoming, and very little in the way of ego, too; established musicians play alongside first timers; poets and rappers mingle and it all takes place on a really well-equipped stage with excellent sound.

Last night was particularly busy, as first up, there were a bunch of people from Crisis having come down en masse to perform a mix of poetry and music. Hard to pick a favourite, and they were all on in quick succession so I didn’t get chance to get everyone’s name but the chap who particularly stood out to me was a rapper who, just when everyone thought he’d finished his piece, got back up for a second with absolutely pelting word-perfect delivery. Brilliant! It was great to hear some of Lee de Pablo’s poetry too (his Mum taught me in my first senior school) and maybe next time he’ll read it himself? There was a woman who had written an absolutely amazing song, despite, as she said, not being a singer. Its blend of really dark humour (“you’re all gonna die”) and post-apocalyptic proclamations about the digital age were absolutely fantastic. It seems as though almost everyone from the group had to leave before the end, which is a shame as I would have liked to have chatted and found out a bit more about their various pieces; maybe they’ll come again?

It’s great when there’s a mix of poetry and music at events like these, and another poet who stood out was a fella who read two really moving pieces which flowed between poetry and rap; David Barnicle (the host) said he’d been trying to get him to read for ages and I’m glad he did; amazing stuff.

Musicians included David himself, who played three songs including one of my favourites Some People Are (which for some reasons seems to have disappeared off Soundcloud, but other songs are available). Gary Maginnis and the Like performed some songs with David on the Brink’s sparkly new drum kit, including the poignant Blood. Some of their songs had a kind of Americana vibe which worked well with Gary’s Irish lilt. I have a feeling I’ve seen Gary perform solo at an open mic event in the Walker Art Gallery actually, with more of a folky feel, but I could be completely wrong and misrepresenting the poor lad in which case I apologise!

Dave Miller delighted everyone with his … what to call them; accompanied soundscapes? I can’t find an example online so you’ll just have to make do with that description.

We played a handful of songs, including our single, Shepherd’s Delight (It’s Not Time To Go To Bed). David took a photograph which hopefully I’m okay to use here (if not, I’m sure he’ll let me know) of us playing Millbrookimage

Before I tell you about my highlight of the evening, I’d like to say I’m sorry to anyone I’ve missed out. Thing is, I didn’t come with the intention of writing about the gig (if I had, I would have brought a pencil and paper) but to listen, and with so many excellent performances, I was listening very much ‘in the moment’ rather than making mental notes. That’s the problem witn any open mic event of course; it goes so quickly with so many different performances that sometimes you forget names and then when you want to look someone up… you can’t! But it’s also its beauty of course; it’s like tapas, or a smorgasbord, each different taste experienced and gone before you can blink.

Anyway. Everyone was great, but the absolute highlight of an already-wonderful evening for me was hearing Laura and Claire, two young women who play guitars and harmonise together beautifully. Now, full disclosure, Laura runs the new music show on Halton Community Radio, which is how I knew of her; she’d played our single a couple of weeks back. But I promise this isn’t the reason I liked her duo; they really were amazing. They reminded me a little of another local duo, Just By Chance (who I also first saw at the Brink), with their close harmony vibe, and that similar feel that you get when you see two people perform together and you know they get on like a house on fire off stage too. Anyway, fantastic arrangements and really, really ‘listenable’, too. Okay, it’s not a word, but you know when you see a new-to-you band live and you think, “I would totally buy a CD and put it on while I was cooking and then probably burn the tea because of being caught up in the music “? Well, that. I’d like to see/hear this pair play again.

But that said, everyone was great (I’d like to think we were pretty good too) and it was a fabulous evening. But as you know now we never do a gig where we don’t learn something and in fact, I had something of an epiphany.

I constantly compare us - especially me, and my voice - to other musicians, and it usually brings me down. In fact, I’ve sat in gigs before and thought, “god, they’re so much better than us, so much better than me, who is going to want to listen to my voice after hearing them?” Last night I realised that not only is this a fast track route to misery, but I realised something else too. Our sound is all ours. There are lots of things we (me especially) are still learning but if we didn’t play live ever until we were absolute virtuosos on all our instruments, we’d never play at all. There is always room for improvement, and I practise every day, but together, as Moss & Jones, we have a unique sound which quite a few people seem to really like.

As for my voice… well, voices are such personal things aren’t they? And instead of spending my time wishing I sounded like Sandy Denny / Kate Bush / Jacqui McShee / Isobel Campbell, I am starting to accept and even like the fact I sound like me. The important thing is to keep practising (for example, taking breaths in the right places so I can really belt out those long, high notes when they come along, multi-tasking so I can sing perfectly in tune even when I’m concentrating on the glockenspiel, and learning the difference between challenging myself, and setting myself an impossible task).

So: a great open mic night at the Brink then. Our next gig is this Saturday at Liverpool’s View Two Gallery on Mathew Street, for Liverpool Acoustic, and after that, we’re performing at St. Helens’ Big Busk event in Victoria Park on City Road. Come along to one or both! They’re free to attend.

Wednesday 9 July 2014

ManorFest Party on the Farm, Sunday 6th July

Being on twitter is great, especially when you live in St. Helens. There’s a real sense of local community on twitter, especially with the #sthelens and #sthelenshour hashtags. Add one of those tags and the wonderful folk at @sthelenshour and @sthelensculture will retweet your event, organisation, shop or whatever it is, to thousands of local residents.

One of the biggest supporters of St. Helens, both the town and the hashtag, is a chap called Mike. He writes a blog about the town which is largely positive but not afraid to be critical when called for. And it’s thanks to him that we found out about a two day event to be held at Manor Farm (a gorgeous pub on the stoops side of Rainhill) in aid of Willowbrook Hospice. And it was Mike who retweeted that a lady called Helen was still looking for musicians, and suggested we might want to look into it.

Which, of course, we did.

The day arrived, well, the second day (as it was a two-day event, but due to prior commitments we couldn’t make the Saturday), and after realising there was no way we could get there on the 10a ‘bus with all our instruments, we called a taxi, plonked our gear in the boot, put the child in the back seat with his football, and were on our way.

It hadn’t quite hit home that we were actually opening the day’s events with our set until we got there, set the little one kicking his ball about in the field in front of the massive stage-on-a-truck, where he was soon joined by other children for an impromptu kickabout. But, there we were, all set up thanks to the fantastic sound team led by Bayley and Liam, and ready to go.

We played for 40 minutes, mainly originals with a few covers thrown in. It was great fun, and we gave what we certainly thought was a good performance.


We also had chance to speak to a few people we knew from twitter, but not “in real life”; DJ Dex Nelson, who played some fantastic music in between all the sets (proper vinyl too), Fruitbatwalton (we learned his real name but we don’t know if it’s common knowledge, anyway, you probably think of him as Ralph even though that’s the name of his dog) and Vikki and her other half, Steve. Vikki is organising the Big Busk in Victoria Park, St. Helens, at which we’ll be performing on Saturday 19th July.

Then, the child, having been running around with a football in the heat for about an hour, came down with what seemed like a mild form of heat exhaustion, so we had to get him inside and administer fluids, and so it was we missed some of the music, but obviously, the kid comes first. Thankfully though, after about half an hour he was okay again, although we had to tell him no more football for a bit, about which he wasn’t best pleased. Still, we all sat under a tree and listened to the musicians, eating burgers from the fab barbecue.

There had been a running order posted on Facebook, but as often happens, it seemed like a few positions had changed, and as it was we weren’t entirely sure what band/musician names were (though Polker Dice very cleverly brought along a banner to tape to the stage; great idea). We especially liked Bayley’s band, Three Piece Suit, for their fun covers of well-known songs (especially Another Brick in the Wall) and their on-stage camaraderie. It’s always great to watch a band who are clearly enjoying themselves. Evil Picolo was good (one of those musicians you see around the townie all the time but realise you’ve never actually heard play) and there were some great singers too; a young woman called Amber who had a belter of a voice and another girl whose name we didn’t catch (might have been called Eleanor?) but she was young, and sang some originals with her guitar with great verve and confidence.

The child got another chance to meet the excellent Reef’s Reptiles, a husband and wife team who bring their menagerie of unusual pets to events (and can be booked for parties). He especially loved the snake!


In the end, we had to leave a little earlier than we had planned, because the child was getting sleepy, but we thoroughly enjoyed the event.

We always say that you never do a gig where you don’t learn something or come away having to decided to change something. Well, this time it was our realisation that the sets of the other bands were very cover-heavy, and that it wouldn’t hurt us to have a few more covers in hand too for similar events. When an audience has come specifically to see you, playing lots of originals makes perfect sense. But when they’ve come to an event at which you just happen to be playing, it is probably polite to play the audience a few more songs they might know, whether that’s covers, or possibly some traditional folk songs. Obviously there’s a balance to strike; we want to be known for our own stuff, not just as “that duo that does the folky rave covers,” but at the same time, expecting a new audience to engage with your original material right from the off is perhaps a tad (unintentionally) arrogant?

(We’ve also learned that you shouldn’t let your child play football non-stop in the afternoon sun for the best part an hour without a cooling break.)

Anyway, thanks to all involved in the organisation and promotion of ManorFest Party on the Farm; we hope it raised lots of money for Willowbrook, and we’d love to come back if you do anything similar again!

For those who want to hear us live again, we will be playing two or three songs tonight (10th July) at the Brink’s open mic night in Liverpool; get there about sevenish. Next up, this Saturday (12th July) we are playing the View Two Gallery as part of the Liverpool Acoustic Afternoon; get there for one o’clock in the afternoon. Finally we’re playing the Big Busk in Victoria Park, City Road, St. Helens on Saturday 19th July. We’re playing at three but there’s an entire afternoon of music so why not take friends/family and make a day of it?

Beyond that… well, we have a wedding to organise (our own) so are trying not to book too many gigs in August, but you never know… so watch this space! X

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Ruth asks you to help save Liverpool's amazing Bombed Out Church

I was born in Liverpool, but I grew up a twenty minute train ride away in Kirkby. As such, the Bombed Out Church didn’t really figure on my radar as a child; trips into town were largely confined to the very centre of the city and my overriding childhood memories are of Blacklers’ basement, Lees buttery and the chandeliers in BHS.

As a teenager though, when I started going into town by myself or with mates, I was either hanging around in or outside the School Lane Quiggins, or wandering up and down Bold Street, and so it was that I first wondered what that weird locked up church with no roof was at the top of Bold Street. Fast forward a few years to university (I stayed at home and went to Liverpool uni. Yet I still got a grant. The olden days, ay?) and me and a couple of friends managed to sneak into the gardens, though we couldn’t get into the mysterious building itself.

A few years later, after a stint in London followed by a return to Merseyside, the church was still locked up and looked pretty inaccessible. The steps, on the other hand, were a fantastic landmark to meet friends in the days where still not all of us had mobile phones, and those of us who did were forever running out of credit.

In fact, I didn’t go into the church itself until my son was a new baby, seven years ago. I didn’t realise it at the time, but it had been transformed by Ambrose Reynolds and Urban Strawberry Lunch, in an incredibly hands-on (like, cleaning human faeces out of the pond, getting rid of rats, clearing away needles, that kind of hands-on) way.

The first actual gig I attended there was a CND gig, back in 2009. I’d not long left my then-husband and I wanted to get out more. I think Tony Kehoe (who runs the Egg Café open mic) might have done a set, but I’m not sure because I was so busy running about after my little one to stop him exploring in the pond that I can’t remember much else!

That was the first of many events I’d attend in this wonderful setting.

One of my favourite ever events there was going to see a really old black and white film of Carols from Kings, on the winter solstice of 2011, with my then-pretty-new boyfriend. We sat on bails of hay and watched the film with its candles, songs, and yawning choirboys, and were astounded at how warm it was for that time of year.

There is something of a festival vibe to any event in St. Luke’s, but beyond the fact of listening to music - or whatever it is you’re doing - in an outdoor setting. It’s about the way that you can connect with people there in a way that just a few meters away, outside, you can’t. Of course, we chat to strangers in ‘bus stops and in shops and exchange pleasantries about the weather, but in St. Luke’s it feels almost like you’ve been transported into another realm. There you are, watching a performance of some kind, or getting involved in an activity, inside what’s essentially a cross between a church and a park, and yet you’re at the top of one of Liverpool’s busiest shopping streets… and yet again, you wouldn’t know it. You could be anywhere; you could be in San Francisco, Paris, Amsterdam or faeryland … or nowhere, a place removed from the universe itself, where time seems to slow down and prejudices seem to melt away. It’s magical.

I realise this sounds like hyperbole. No such thing as magic, is there? Get this though; not long after my divorce had finally come through I said to my bezzie mate, “nah, I’ll never get married again. Unless I can do it in the Bombed Out Church,” as a kind of a joke. Well, remember the chap I mentioned a few paragraphs ago? This September, we’re marrying each other, in the Bombed Out Church.

That same boyfriend is also my musical partner. We gig around town and in St. Helens (where we live) as Moss & Jones, performing folky originals and imaginative, fun covers. We started out in 2012 as a pair of carollers, and took it from there. It had long been our dream to gig in the Bombed Out Church, and early this year we contacted them, tentatively, to ask if it would be possible. Imagine our delight when we got a yes! The gig was arranged for the end of May, but between arranging it and the gig happening, we, like everyone else, heard the bad news that St. Luke’s was - well, no one seemed entirely sure what was happening, except that various people wanted to take this amazing place and either turn it into an hotel, a food hub or pave it over and install a Starbucks.

None of these things seemed to allow the possibility of gigs, events, concerts, films, yoga/tai chi/meditation and so on continuing. None of these things seemed to take into account the fact St. Luke’s is also a war memorial, and a lasting monument to those in Liverpool who lived through, or died in, the Blitz.

In the end, our gig went ahead, and we even got asked back for a second. We were incredibly privileged to be able to perform in this amazing setting not just once, but twice.

We’re hoping we’ll get asked back again at some point; maybe we could come back in the winter and do a full carol concert?

At the moment, Ambrose and his coterie of wonderful helpers keep the church open regularly, relying solely on donations from the public since the council’s funding has been cut. Given that people can access the church for as little as just a pound (not that there’s anything wrong with this; it’s lovely it’s so accessible and that’s part of its charm. In fact, I understand that on occasion the fee has been waived for people who genuinely cannot afford it, with payment made instead in the form of odd jobs, such as watering the plants), you can “do the math” and see that this state of affairs isn’t sustainable.

This is why they’ve set up a crowdfunding project. If they raise the money it will go towards the many repairs needed to keep the church going, and also towards helping keep the church open in bad weather, drawing in more people. In fact, considering the sheer amount of work that needs to be done, it’s impressive that they’ll manage to bring it in for £18,000, the amount they’re hoping to raise.

When the Bombed Out Church was first under threat, there was a petition to save it; it got over 30,000 signatures. If everyone who signed the petition put in just a quid they’d have smashed their target. But signing something is a lot easier than putting your hand in your pocket, it seems, and with just a few weeks to go, the Bombie is still quite some way off its target. I’m not entirely sure why this would be, but maybe people don’t realise that if they don’t meet their target, crowdfunder will give everyone their money back. What does this mean for the Bombed Out Church? Well, no more gigs. No more immersive theatre. No more Qi Gong. No more Blitz Exhibitions. No more handfastings or quirky wedding celebration. No more 96 Footballs. No more stepping off the street and entering what feels like another world.

Just another building. If you don’t want this for the Bombed Out Church than go and donate right away! The lovely thing about Crowdfunder is that you actually get a gift if you donate anything £2 or over, from a shout out on their Facebook page to a guided tour, and more (we’ve bought a brick). It’s a fairly simple process; if you’ve ever bought anything from the internet you’ll be comfortable donating online; you can use your card (no additional charge) or paypal (a small additional charge, but it saves them from incurring the charge, so that’s good).

And if you really honestly truly do not have £2 to spare, and there have been times in my life when that’s been the case, then get the word out. Blog about this, tweet about it {copy and paste this link: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/bombed-out-church}, put it on Facebook, reblog this tumblr post, get yourself on WhatsApp and send the link to all your mates, post something on snapchat… over and over again until people get the message; this place is unique, and YOU can be one of the people that saves it. Imagine being that person?

Sunday 29 June 2014

Yesterday at the Bombed Out Church, and a plea.

Yesterday we had our second gig at Liverpool’s Bombed Out Church, also known as St. Luke’s. Our first had been wonderful, but the weather not so much. This time, we had glorious sunshine.

We also had a very special guest this time in the form of Tom George. Ruth worked out that she first met Tom when she was about half way through her first year of university, so, in 1997; 17 years ago. Talk about way back when! Back then his wry and poetic observations on life took him around various open mic events; he was a singer/songwriter even back then, too, and ran his own open mic event at the now long gone and much lamented Hub Café on Berry Street. Tom opened the event with a wonderful set including one of our personal favourites, Drifter.

Tom also introduced his friend George Roberts to us; an incredibly talented flautist, we spent a while trying to work out if his performance, in perfect harmony with Tom’s songs, was rehearsed, improvised, or a bit of both, before deciding it didn’t matter and just sitting back and enjoying it.

It was wonderful to listen to Tom on his own, and Tom & George, whilst sat on the grass amongst the sunflowers (part of the Flores de Mayo exhibition) with a group of friends. The music was laid back and chilled out, though like a swan’s grace is powered by its legs going ten to the dozen underwater, it’s obvious that Tom & George have put the hours in to become this good; they make it look a lot easier than it is!

Then it was our turn. We were lucky to have a sound man this time around; Jake, a new addition to the Bombed Out Church’s coterie of helpers, was wonderful, setting everything up and being on hand to make sure that everything went smoothly during the various instrument changes! We opened with our mash up of Sumer Is Icumen In and Miri It Is, and took it from there.

We included our single, Shepherd’s Delight (It’s Not Time To Go To Bed) and were touched to see that many of the audience, who’d bought or heard our single, were singing along! We also threw in a cover or two, including our a-cappella take on the Prodigy’s 1994 hit Poison, and folky version of the theme from 1980s kids’ cartoon, Mysterious Cities of Gold (but with a surprise ending. You’ll Never Believe What Happene… okay we’ll tell you. We played an instrumental version of Gaudete for about two bars).

What was especially lovely was seeing many of our friends come along to see us, but also that those who’d come to see Tom George had stuck around, and that people came into the Bombed Out Church after hearing the music from outside… and stayed. We sent a little helper (Ruth’s 7-year-old son, who we must say is amazing at our gigs; not only does he sit and watch, or read a book if he’s bored, but he’s even answered queries before now, and never makes a fuss about having to share our table on the train with more than half a dozen musical instruments) to give out badges to anyone who wanted one.

So, if you came, thanks for coming, and if you didn’t, but helped spread the word, thank you, too. But there will be other opportunities to hear us this summer!

But now, a plea. We’ll write more about this at some point in the future, too, but for now, we’ll just say this. If you want to make sure that you can continue to hear live music in the Bombed Out Church, please, please consider giving what you can to their crowdfunder. In fact, it’s a lot more than just live music on sunny afternoons, but don’t fear, there will be blog posts coming on exactly why the Bombed Out Church is so important.

For now, though, just ask yourself these two questions:

1. Do you want to support one of the most amazing live music venues in Liverpool?

2. Do you have just £2?

If the answer to both of these questions is yes, please give that £2 to the Bombed Out Church’s crowdfunding appeal. Of course, you can donate more than that if you like. You get various reward options depending on what you pledge. (We now ‘own’ a brick!)

Thank you!

Moss & Jones