Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Snow on the Hills, Liverpool, Ian Shaw and Sarah Jane Morris and more….

Snow on the hills…..I travelled by train last weekend from wintery Sheffield through the Pennines to Liverpool. It was a glorious journey. If you are a lover of bleak moors and snow covered hillsides where sheep shiver in a blisteringly cold wind then the north is for you. I grew up on the edge of the Pennines, and have never lost my sense of wonder at their quiet and Heathcliffian majesty. Here's a pic from the train… sheep, but trust me, there were many, huddled together for warmth…..

 Arriving in Liverpool I checked in to the glorious Hope Street hotel which is slick and modern and wonderful and the rooms are warm and comforting and the bathrooms glamorous and simple, simultaneously. Is it only me, but when I stay in a hotel - I get to do that a fair bit - I always look at the room and think - if I lived in this room, what would I do with it, or, if this were my flat, how would I accommodate everything in it. As most hotel rooms are the size of my entire floorspace this is an amusing pastime. I am all for amusing pastimes. I almost wrote pasties, there, as in, and I am all for amusing pasties, and as it happens, I am. On the motorway they sell all manner of pasties hitherto unimagined down a Cornish mine. For example, cheese and vegetable. Stilton and beef. And more. I am awaiting chorizo pasties. Its a matter of time.

So, I wondered down through the Liverpool Christmas town centre, with stalls and trees and lights and music, and thought how beautiful it is, this city. There's been a real explosion of architecture with all manner of new buildings beside the grandeur of the Victorian Merchant's richesse. Its a pleasure to walk down through the town to the waterside. Because there had been violent storms the estuary was much choppier than usual, and the fierceness of the dark winter sea was frightening. I thought of all those people sailing out of this harbour, thinking of their new lives in America, and not so very long ago - waving goodbye to the Liver Birds and wondering how they would feel if and when they might be lucky enough to see the Statue of Liberty.
We did our first show to a packed Rodewald Suite and George Seaton and his lovely staff with Ewen on the sound and lights gave us their all. We, in return, gave ours, and after a small red wine I slipped back and slept. Saturday morning was sunny and I headed back to the docks and marina to catch the most glorious Turner-esque sky to the west. Lunch in a fine Italian in the little lanes up by the burned out church and then another show. Another great audience, another small red wine and it was Sunday and time to head back to London on Virgin trains. I won't hear a word against Virgin trains. They're always good to me, and for the most part, on time.
Back home it was swiftly into gear for Ian Shaw's Christmas Cracker show at the Purcell Room with Sarah Jane Morris and myself guesting. There was much hilarity in the dressing room, as none of us seemed to have a clue what we were to do, though Ian issued instructions between gales of laughter. But we found that we harmonised without effort and the audience were up for everything, and the night passed too quickly and in a haze of joy. I walked home along the river to Pimlico in the growing fog, buildings slipping silently from view as I passed.

And next…..well, lets see….Mari and I this coming weekend at St James Theatre.

And more of that when we get there…..and then its New York City where the boys are pretty…….

and here's our most recent newsletter - sign up to Lena's mailout if you want to get these bimonthly magazines….

Monday, 18 November 2013

Gentle Men, Deep Roots Tall Trees Corby, Brigstocke and the New Town Pioneers

Roy Bailey, Robb Johnson and Barb at The Tabernacle in Notting Hill Gate launching Robb's  celebrated 5 star reviewed CD 'Gentle Men'

Barb on stage with mad hair in Corby, Deep Roots Tall Trees.
November started with a bang, two major projects went out into the world. The first was Robb Johnson's Gentle Men, the release of the CD we recorded in Ghent in spring, which feels like a million years ago already. So rehearsals were attended and plans were schemed and we found ourselves a couple of weeks ago on stage at the Tabernacle in Notting Hill, telling the story of the two World Wars through the prism of Robb's family history in his song cycle in which I sing all the women's parts. Jenny Carr was on piano, Roy Bailey sang the Grandfathers and more, and Robb sang wonderfully, as always. John Forrester was on double bass and also brought me some fine fine artisan bread he'd made himself, Linze his partner played clarinet, Arvin, Robb's son, played drums on a couple of tracks and the fab Jude Abbott played trumpet and more. The place was packed to the gills and there was a superb feeling of appreciation for Robb's work, which was wonderful. I've been singing Robb's songs since I made the Bare album in 1999. I'm a huge fan.

There was barely time to draw breath before I was off to Corby. Head of Snakes and I had written 9 new songs for the Deep Roots Tall Trees second year celebration with the Choir, on the theme of New Town Pioneers. I rehearsed with everyone at the Core, and stayed with my friend Ros in her lovely Water Tower home in among the trees where one morning I saw a kite rise up out of the bushes and soar into the sky, owls hooted during the night, and a rabbit sat on the lawn in the misty morning sunshine.

The Deep Roots Tall Trees choir with Barb and Head of Snakes at the concert in Corby at The Core. Here's the new website…….
Autumn leaves shroud the Water Tower at Brigstocke.
The tech day and night passed and we prepared and got our finery on and performed to a huge house of Corby friends and family, and everything went wonderfully, the songs will be up on sound cloud sometime soon and the website with last year's work is below.

So now its onto the album, finishing that, and the Christmas shows with Mari Wilson in London and on my own, in New York.

The news is that I'm starting my own record label, encouraged my Mari Wilson, and with a superb team of people helping me. Its called Kristalyn Records, at Mari's suggestion, my sisters were Kristina and Carolyn, so I think the label has two massive guardian angels, right there. And as always Ernest is looking over my shoulder to make sure I don;t do anything too feral, and my first release will be Hard Rain, my new album, produced by the talented and delightful Simon Wallace, on March 3rd. I'll be posting pre-booking potentials in early 2014. But for the now, enjoy the rest of autumn, and stay warm! From inside a very thick and woollen sweater, salut! Barb xxx

Monday, 28 October 2013

Scotland, Soho, ice cream and autumn

So here are Todd Gordon and Simon Wallace, beneath the sign to Nowhere, in Largs, where they have an ice cream parlour so splendid, so mouth wateringly wonderful, that you cannot bear to leave it, tub in hand, lips licking. Its Nardinis, of course - is their website. Gorgeous art deco frontage and full devil cream inside. It was our small Scottish jaunt which took in Le Monde.

 The Le Monde poster flew over George Street in Edinburgh for a couple of days. Queen of George Street. Great audience and we had rooms in the hotel. My suite - New York, was huge and modern, with lights you can't work and a TV the size of one of my London flat walls. The audience at Le Monde were wild, and Prof Ben Bowling, my brother in law, turned up at the end. I managed a trot around Arthur's seat and ate excellent Thai food down the side of the Meadows. A fine Edinburgh 24 hours, for sure.
Le Monde
Then we were off to Glasgow, and the City Halls. A lovely time in the huge ceilinged hall, lovely piano and terrific Glasgow audience. We stayed the night beside a bridge somewhere out towards the hills, and headed off to Largs. The ice cream I've written of, but the day was so sunny and clear we could see the Isle of Arran rising over the sea in the distance, and walked along the front for a half mile or so. The McKrays, Todd and Simon, felt that half mile was plenty, so we packed into Todd's superb touring auto and off we went to Beacon Arts Centre, in Greenock, which has to be in one of the best settings possible.
This is the view from the bar window!

Flew back the morning after Greenock and then prepared for the run at Soho Theatre. In Dean Street, Soho's where I did my first ever Dylan collection run in 2002, so it was a joy to return there as part of the London Festival of Cabaret. Some friends came down to the shows, we had couple of nice reviews, and the collection of love songs went down a total treat. I love singing for weeks here and there, doing a whole season. My ideal would be a 3 month run in a small theatre either in the West End (Soho take note) or Manhattan……hint hint. So all you backers out there, thats my gauntlet thrown right down.

The stage at Soho, with the red curtains - is so lush - love it.

And then the storm came - but not until I walked across Hyde Park the day after the Soho run finished. And in the sunshine the leaves looked so lovely. Autumn. I love it.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

A Walk in the Countryside.......

Apart from all the usual things, music, love, life and all, last weekend together with a bunch of fabulous people from Northampton Royal and Derngate Theatres and The Core Theatre, Corby, I took part in a 40 mile walk around Rutland. Till then, I didn't even know Rutland existed, I thought it was a song title or band name. But Rutland is a small, gloriously lovely English county with a huge lake and a very wealthy demographic. I know that now. I was roped in partly by the madness of the enterprise - "we'll walk 40 miles starting at midnight in the countryside, do you want to come?" Obviously I said, "yes". And I am really glad I did. Preparing for it meant digging out my walking trousers that keep you dry even walking on the Isle of Skye and cleaning my walking boots which went up Ben Nevis with me and buying blister proof socks. And they work.  "Marathon runners swear by them" the nice lady in the running shop told me and I stand by that - they kept me blister free when other people gave up. I bought nuts and seeds and plasters and foot braces of various sizes, borrowed a small rucksack from Jonathan, packed my big rucksack, and drove to Brigstock in Northamptonshire without any real idea of what was to come. 
Uppingham Village Reception - our two teams

We registered in Uppingham Village Sports Centre at 10.30 pm on a mid September friday night just as the weather changed from gorgeous summer to wet and colder autumn. There were 13 groups of 4 people - though one group had 5 - and their support drivers. More men than women. Quite alot of lycra and some very fit looking young men. We were introduced - somewhat alarmingly - to the Search and Rescue people who were significant particularly during the night part of the walk, and the St John's Ambulance people, likewise. The whole thing was clearly incredibly well organised, but....Search and Rescue? It should've been a clue. All us walkers dressed in their fluorescent jackets and attached their head torches and put on their boots and so on, took jolly photos of one another, prepared and then received a safety talk, "there's no 'I' in team", "remember to keep pace with each other" and "don't leave an injured person on their own in a field" (another clue) then we all went outside for the dramatic countdown from ten to one, and we were off. The Plod is what its called, and off we plodded. I had joked that it ought to be called The Jaunt, as that's jollier and makes you feel that the enterprise is, well, light and happy. Well, now I can tell you its called The Plod for the right reasons. The rain was driving as we headed down the lane to the open country, and the little swinging glowing markers and our maps led us across a ploughed field. The joy of walking across ploughed fields in the dark in the rain is quite hard to find, if not impossible, and my achilles was tortuously painful. Stiles may look pretty in photographs but they are a pain in the massive centrale when you have to slither over ten other peoples mud on the wooden slats and the poles wobble and you can't see and water's dropping off the edge of your hood. We were headed out over open Rutland country to the first checkpoint t where our support van and driver would be waiting to offer up whatever we might want and at every check point all members of the team had to check in with the Action for Medical Research rep, Lucy, and her  very warm and cheery people. That first checkpoint was 5 miles into the walk, and I can tell you with complete honesty that I didn't think I would make it even that far. The back of my foot was wrong and aching and I'd stupidly put a foot brace on which was making it much worse, and all I wanted to do was get the blasted thing off. We tramped through silent sleeping villages of extraordinary beauty, stone cottages and gardens, along bridleways and paths, across fields and beside quiet streams as my left calf pulsed with pain. Hills rose around us, trees dripped, we crossed more and more stiles and the occasional road. 

The Fluorescent Jackets and Lucinda
Night and Rain, a winning combo
Some teams flew along, others crept, We were medium. At the first checkpoint I managed to cram a ton of ibuprofen into my pocket and mouth, removed the ankle brace and thought I might maybe make it to the next checkpoint. That was a long 9 miles away and of course on reaching that we knew we would be over a third of our journey completed. I promised myself a sandwich at that checkpoint and we headed forth. That 9 miles was tough. It was dark and wet. Did I mention the wet? Somewhere in the middle of nowhere a cricket club lent us their toilets - which were up an unnecessarily steep hill and inside which moths fluttered and damp walls dripped and there was no loo roll. At one point near a huge illuminated bunker type thing beside the several mud filled ploughed fields we'd trekked across we  bumped into 2 other teams, torches bobbing, all of us unsure of the route and searching for the markers to link with our maps. But we found our way and made it to checkpoint 2 and our glorious support team's van which was strewn with fairy lights, and was a veritable tardis of food. The sandwiches were just the ticket and with two mouthfuls of coffee we were off again  towards the third checkpoint. This next one was just under 8 miles away and we'd be there in daylight and it also had the boon card of being the breakfast stop and bacon butties were maybe promised. But this stretch was testing because we got lost on a wrong turn in a sleeping village and added a mile to our painful legs and feet by misunderstanding our written instructions alongside the map and because it was starting to feel like a very long way indeed.  Dawn broke softly and silently as we walked, and my mind went wondering, too. To Hardy's heroines, walking across country in their long frocks and shoes, driven by lust and love, and Dickens, and all the people who walk all over the world because there's no other way of getting from here to there,  Rabbit Proof Fence and refugees.....there was something ancient and glorious in that Roman road of a bridleway we walked for over a mile, all of it uphill, and then a stretch around a massive quarry, like a scarred moonscape. I walked more slowly than the rest of my group at this point, knowing the only way I would make the distance would be by keeping a steady pace. It seemed to take an age but finally we arrived at Rutland Water, a glorious lake with a village on a peninsula in the middle, choppy grey water on which yachts bobbed and fisherman were fishing. And yes!  There were toilets with toilet roll and soap and the bacon butties were everything you wanted and there was ketchup and we stretched and congratulated ourselves on having walked 21 miles and therefore being over half way! It was around 8 in the morning.
Rutland Water 8.30 am

The next stretch - another 8 ish miles to checkpoint 4 began with a lovely path along Rutland Water's edge for quite some way, but now the team - my four - were beginning to show signs of strain. We all had moments between every checkpoint where one or other of us needed the support of the rest. Ros and I shared my earphones, I put my running disco dance music on and we made it through that wall. Then, having traversed a field of cows, we had a mile to go, and I hit another wall. it was the longest mile I ever walked in my life. I had promised myself that at checkpoint 4 I would swop my boots - which now felt like lead, loaded as they were with mud, for my lighter coastal path boots. There was also the promise of real coffee. As we rounded into the car park where the support teams had set up I jumped for joy. OK, I hobbled for joy. Ibuprofen works. Changing my boots was such a relief. I cannot tell you how wonderful the other boots felt. So light! I was like Nijinsky. I could dance in them. And when we saw that our support team had boiled water and made a cafetiere of real coffee well...we were blown away. Our support van had a little pot, frog with 'home' on its chest, a pile of chocolate, pasta and energy bars .Those tiny things, the boots change, the aroma and taste of real coffee, the banana I had as a treat, and the little pot frog with 'home' on its chest made it possible to start off again to checkpoint 5, another 8 miles away. It was 11 in the morning. We'd walked for 11 hours. 28 miles, We now knew we were absolutely bonkers.

Towards the finish line arm in arm
A group who were all from an office in Leicester walked alongside as we started this next stretch. There had already been some dropouts. One team had a man who's feet were so badly blistered he literally could no longer walk, even in dressings. "He was gutted" we were told, at having to give up. One entire team had packed it in completely. The team we hitched up with for a couple of hours had walked some of the route in sections as practice walks for The Plod so they were quite helpful on matters of route and we made rapid progress as the day brightened. We were now in hilly, rather beautiful, rolling countryside. Cottages with dovecots, designer hens and cockerels ran about, tiny wooden bridges over cute streams beside semi tended, chocolate box cover cottages. There's some lovely places there. Then another of our team had a pain meltdown, but we were saved by a tube of freeze stuff that takes all the heat out of wherever it needs to be taken out of (like my ankle and calf) and we made it to the last, 5th and final checkpoint. This one was only 4 miles from the finish, and it was around 2.30 in the afternoon. We were level-ish with three other teams, and all looked the worse for wear. But I had some of those fudge chunk things M and S make, saved for this very moment so after chomping those we had the force and as usual led by Lisa with the map and a forceful forward motion headed down the hill for the last stretch. This last testing section did everything - o'er hill and dale, up and down, more stiles, fields and forest. The last lap uphill on a very muddy, slippy track through a wood bit seemed the final challenge. We cleared the wood into a field, ahead of us a team with a man with two arthritic ankles - he was an inspiration. Its hard to moan about how tough it is when you're following a middle aged man with 2 arthritic ankles. We walked up the lane to the Uppingham Cricket Club finish red ribbon and each team was cheered by the Charity people and their friends and support teams and lord knows I don't know how we did it but my team marched arm in arm and then ran through the ribbon. There was champagne and food and boots were taken off and feet vibrated with happiness as they were aired, free again, in the sunshine. 

That evening David and our friend from Corby Community Arts, Kate, cooked my friend, team mate and co-conspirator Ros and I a superb meal, and what with that and the lovely wine I was in bed and slept through 12 hours solid. The next day I gave a voice and movement workshop and then drove to my mum's. I was a tiny bit stiff but nothing more. I learned a lot. I learned that we can do things we didn't think we could, I learned that willpower can indeed work wonders, that the human body is amazing, and that the mind can be silenced and pain can be overcome. I was dead proud of my team and together with all the other people walking we raised over 30,000 for Action for Medical Research for Children and some money for The Core Theatre too. Thank you everyone who helped us with contributions, support, love, rucksack lendings or whatever.. I loved walking with my team Chris, Ros and Lisa, and our support team were glorious angels of the highest order.

The walk was wonderful, tough and a test of endurance and will power but was above all inspiring, intense and sometimes simply beautiful. Like everyone else on the benches at the cricket club finish, I said "never again" but you know, they do one annually over the South Downs and one in the Trossachs..........

never again......but......

Monday, 2 September 2013

Crazy Coqs, Berberian Sound Studio and West Wittering....

This week we open at Crazy Coqs at Brasserie Zedel and I'm line learning because there's an hour of new material. Thrilling to be on the edge of the cliff hanging on with fingernails to new arrangements and words, and so many of them, challenging and terrific, and Simon and I are exhilarated at the prospect of these and the new album which we've begun work on.

But I'm good on it all because summer was superb. Sun, sand - quite alot of sand, which indeed gets everywhere and is very present in all kinds of surprising places. I have quite alot of West Wittering beach in my car. And the cottage down a track beyond a lane was glorious - Milky Way at night, sunsets to break your heart.....

After Connecticut I went swimming in the sea 3 times, and again in Devon, though to be fair the sea in Devon was so cold I did a submerge and then made a run back to the sand to try to regain feeling in my feet and other extremities.

Photo upload is failing miserably so the sunset, the cottage, Lyme Regis - where I received the second wasp sting of the summer (wasps are bastards), the family in holiday bliss mode.....are all things you will just have to imagine. Remember that I look like Gina Lollobrigida with a suntan, and you're halfway there.

At the moment I am half watching Doc Martin in a break from Berberian Sound Studio and line learning.

Guess which I like best?

Monday, 22 July 2013

New blog title. It was once a title of an album I made that Beate found a copy of in former Yugoslavia as it was then. Time has passed since. I use my title again.

Partly because for the life of me I cannot access the old Passport From Pimlico board. So perhaps its the way of the Gods telling me to get a new title and blog anew like a crazy thing. Amanda Palmer was just on Newsnight, and she's done a Ted talk, so she's cracking away there. I'm quite fond of her for the Daily Mail thing and for doing that performance art-y kind of thing that I admire. I have enough trouble just doing the singing and the writing and the getting to the shows without adding a bunch of extra dimensions. While I type Uri Geller is on talking about being recruited for Mossad. Thats another thing I haven't done. Been recruited by the secret services. So thats two things. Performance Art and secret services. I will come to more, give me time.

Matt Lynch's film of my version of Sweet Thames Flow Softly - the lovely Ewan MaColl song of the wonder of love and The Mighty river Thames, is finished. I wonder if I can embed it? Given the whole lack of secret service and performance art thing, don't hold your breath is my advice. I suspect both Amanda Palmer and Uri Geller could do that standing on their heads, probably while texting, playing an electronica instrument of their own design and levitating.

Here goes.

and as I put that up a massive crack of thunder blasted over Westminster.

We filmed it - the film that is - in winter and late spring with our friends Justyna and Andreas, and recorded it at Simon Wallace's with the might Neville Malcolm on bass and Frank Schaefer on cello. Simon produced and played piano.

I'm working now on the new album at Simon's with Simon, who's right on the page with me on it all. I have a track list and arrangements are coming thick and fast. They have to because its the O'Neill festival sooner than soon and Edinburgh and Lyme Regis. If anyone's wondering who in their right mind puts Lyme Regis into the diary for a gig the night after they're in Edinburgh, stick around.

Here are a few bits and bobs of summer loveliness - lunch with Maria and Abi in Kennington with sunshine and theatre talk, evening in north London with Christoph and Ros, Pimms and some new people, Bjarne and Simon's champagne festival in Clapham, a bat and some flowers. Don't say I don't know how to live.

And the rains have come......

so aha that is the bat lady on Saturday Live on BBC Radio 4/s tiny little bat with big ears in her palm. How cute is that? It liked me. You can tell cos its ears relaxed. I am happy to know I please bats. I may not be revealing my breasts in art performance but get a load of me and bats. Oh there was some lightning just them....

A glorious party at Simon and Bjarne's where I found my old mates Helen Lederer and Hattie Hayridge.
 Flowers. Summer. Can't get enough of either. I thank you. And this is the full moon rising over Notting Hill Gate after a superb Sugo evening with Ernest and Erika, pizza without cheese and prosecco, which makes the summer heart lighter.