Writin' Blues

Well the blues, give me your write hand.

Abyssinia – Album Review

Abyssinia, the latest album from Worcestershire musician, Gary Tolley, AKA Garrington T Jones, AKA Gazza Tee, is a collection of nine original songs, one cover and one with a guest singer, masterfully put together to present a compendium of blues, rock, country and new-wave tunes.
Taken individually, each song is good enough to stand on its own merits. Collectively, they sit together to form an album that defies any attempt to force it into a genre pigeon-hole. As you journey through the album it becomes apparent that many of the songs reflect and are inspired by Garrington T Jones’ ongoing love affair with Australia, her landscape, people and culture.

The Songs:

Road Cases – Inspired by a conversation with an extremely well-read roadie in a bar in Cairns, Australia, Road Cases gives us the thoughts of a rock and roll backstage hero travelling between shows, and opens with a suitably rock and roll count down to a foot-tapping drum beat and catchy guitar riff. Mr Jones tells this tale with a mellow, assured voice that reminds this reviewer of 70’s crooner, Mat Monro. This is a good thing.

I Once Had a Girl – The tempo continues with this retrospective love song, a sparky, upbeat tune in the manner of 80’s New Wave Aussie band ‘Men at Work’.
Indian Summer – Mr Jones’ cover of a popular song by 70’s English Art Rock band ‘Audience’. A fabulous rendition of “a fabulous song of hope for those seeking love in the later years of life.”

Chasing Feathers – This catchy instrumental, inspired by two kittens gambolling outside for the first time, has a feel of something you might find on an early Joe Walsh album.
Time – A beautiful, thoughtful song co-written with, and sung by Laura Smith. Time flows like a lazy river on a summer evening and makes you feel better for having listened to it. One of the high points of the album.

Blue Car Blues – Another album high point is Tone Tanner’s Hendrix-esque guitar intro to this barmy 12-bar blues about a Nissan Almera SUV. No attempt at a written description will ever do this song justice. You HAVE to hear it to appreciate it.

Drivin’ Home With The Blues – More Antipodean inspiration with this ode to “Drivin’ Home With The Blues‘ a weekly radio show from Cairns, Queensland, Australia hosted superbly by Irene R. Barrett. A foot-tapping gem that captures that early Friday Night Feeling.

Dust Pneumonia Blues – Anyone who covers a Woodie Guthrie song is alright by me. And Garrington’s version of Dust Pneumonia Blues is a rip-roaring, barnstormer of a tune.

Ain’t Workin’ No More – A lazy, wistful 12-bar blues about stepping out of the rat race and the joy of no longer having to work for “the man”.

Ride – The intro sound effect of a Harley Davidson at full chat sets the tone for this high-octane journey on two wheels along the Great Barrier Reef Drive. Marvellous.

Jacaranda Blue – The perfect final song for any album is one that leaves the listener feeling good, and inspires them to play the album again, and again. This is the perfect final song, and in my opinion the masterpiece of the album. Garrington T Jones’ voice soars over a subtle music arrangement that somehow finds its way into the soul of the listener (any listener with a soul, that is).

Abyssinia is a unique album, which grows in magnitude each time you listen to it

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Talking Backwoods – Album Review

Talking Backwoods by Scott Wainwright, is one of the most unique and original albums that I’ve heard for a long time. I first became aware of it via a recommendation by Andrew (Half Deaf Clatch) McLatchie – a friend and musician with a growing reputation for his own unique music creations.

With such an endorsement I felt I couldn’t go wrong, so I bought it. And I’m glad that I did!  The album is listed on iTunes as ‘blues’, and for the first minute or so, I thought I was in familiar territory as the first track ‘Remember the Zoo’ opened with an Old School, trance-inducing, foot-tappin’, ragtime finger picking tune that brought a smile to my face.

And then, at just after a minute, the synthesiser kicks in. Yep, that’s right. A synthesiser. Beginning with an ominous low-frequency throbbing in the background as a counterpoint to the fingerpicking melody, joined soon after by a playful higher frequency, whistling and whooping through the tune without a care in the world.

“This is different,” I thought.

Different is good.

Track two is Backwoods Progress Blues, and this begins with a sound effect that provides echoes of Pink Floyd (no pun intended), sounding very much like the intro to ‘Wish You Were Here’. The track comprises a dirty blues harp riff to a foot-stomping backbeat, and once again enhanced by the addition of electronica and further sound effects.

Track three, Refuge of Hope, is a mellow, so-chilled-it’s-frosty, introspective guitar-based composition that showcases the skill and virtuosity of Mr Wainwright.

Track four is Delta Surfin’, which opens with Early Floyd-esque effects dancing back and forth between speakers/headphones, followed by a prelude of flamenco guitar leading into a meaty resonator-sounding riff of slides and arpeggios to a backdrop of synthesisers and ending with a delicious one-fret slide.

Track five, Eleanor’s Dance, is a folky, fingerstyle guitar rag in the manner of Mississippi John Hurt, and, as with the previous tracks, enhanced by the addition of synthesisers which take the frivolity of the tune, albeit briefly, to a darker place. When the track ended, I replayed it because the final half-minute or so had made me re-evaluate the whole tune, and in fact the whole album (I write this after countless play-throughs, but more of that later.

Track six, Better Days, my favourite of the album, is a rollicking jam session of a tune, of the kind that occurs when a group of talented musicians get together and collectively get into “the zone”. Better Days made me smile from the outset and twist the volume button up to ‘11’. This happens each time I listen to it. Oh, and by the way, if you want to hear musical perfection, it occurs precisely at 1:42, just after the bass riff.

Track seven is another contemplative tune called Before the Battle, After the War, and as the name suggests it’s a tune of two halves. Lazy slide riffs alongside an acoustic rhythm guitar to the backdrop of birdsong lulls the listener into a false sense of serenity and then jolts them awake with a change of pace and instruments that ends abruptly before you realise what’s happened. In my opinion, an understated work of unsettling genius.

Eight is ‘Mellow Rag’, a track that in my mind is mash-up of the sound of the old Memphis Jug Bands of the 1920s, and the first Gomez album in 1998. Once again, very subtle.

‘Dolly Johnson’ is track nine, and this is a delightful little ditty that wouldn’t be out of place being performed on the front porch of a shack in the Appalachian Mountains, complete with clog dancer. Marvellous stuff.

Track ten is ‘The Distance Between Us’, a reflective Spanish Guitar-themed piece that drips with the angst and emotion that the title hints at. Heartbreaking.

Eleven is ‘Leo’s Greenhouse’, another foot-tapper similar in theme to ‘Remember the Zoo’ and full of synth, drum machine and hand-clapping goodness.

At the end is ‘At The End’, a playful tune that maintains the quality and virtuosity of the tracks preceding and ends the album on a high note.

Any instrumental piece that makes you stop and think about its very meaning is a very rare beast.  Scott Wainwright has created and entire album of such pieces and in doing so has taken the blues into new territory by adding electronica which gives a mellow trance vibe.

Trilby-bedecked blues purists will hate it. The sour-faced blues police, by that I mean those who sneer at anyone who didn’t meet Blind Lemon Pegleg in 1967, will also hate it. That’s a good thing because it will get people talking, and the more people that talk about the blues, the more the blues will be kept fresh.  Furthermore, I think if the likes of Blind Blake and Mississippi John Hurt were alive today, this is what they would be playing.

This marriage of blues and electronica, in a collection of instrumentals, is a bold move. But I think it’s paid off.  I think Talking Backwoods is a masterpiece, and exactly the direction that blues need to travel.

 

Going Back to The Hilly Country…

…won’t be worried no more.

Time for the annual blog update…

Blues purists (alright, anoraks) will no doubt recognise the title as a line from High Water Everywhere Pt 1, by Charley Patton. A song which provides a tenuous link to my efforts in 2016 to market my novel, Fat Man Blues , and to record the kindness of strangers (and friends old and new that I have encountered both at home and abroad).

I live near the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. It may not have quite the blues heritage of North Mississippi (the place Mr Patton sang about), but blues parallels exist nonetheless.

When Charley Patton sang of “High Water Everywhere”, he was referring directly to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Here in Worcestershire, we’re no strangers to High Water, ask anyone who lives anywhere near the rivers Severn or Teme.

Upton upon Severn, for example, is a small village a few miles from Malvern, which floods with depressing regularity.

Upton also hosts an annual Blues Festival, which has grown from a small event in a couple of pubs into a festival that swamps the town with many thousands of music fans, two main stages, an acoustic stage, and ten pub venues creating over 100 performances in three days.

Last year, I was there hawking my wares and meeting great bunch of people, including local musician and self-described ‘One man kick ass band’, Tone Tanner . Check him out!

img_5109Upton Blues Festival 2016 – the guy behind me is Tone Tanner

Ever since Fat Man Blues came out in paperback, my agent, Kizzy Thomson and I have been collaborating to tout it relentlessly, and we have been surprised to receive help from some unexpected quarters.

Jennifer Sinquefield, who lives just outside the Mississippi Delta, contacted me to tell me how much she enjoyed reading Fat Man Blues. This in itself was a kind gesture, but Jennifer took it several steps further by photographing her copy of the book at blues sites and blues icons across the Delta:

Out On Highway 61

Out On Highway 61

Blues Museum at Tunica, MS.

Blues Museum at Tunica, MS.

On Hallowed Ground

On Hallowed Ground. Holly Ridge, MS

For a blues nut like me, these pictures are amazing and I’m eternally grateful to Jennifer for taking the time to create them. They also belong to Jennifer, so please be nice and ask permission if you want to use them.

IMG_0752Not only that, the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi, now have Fat Man Blues adorning the bookshelves of their gift shop.

I’m extraordinarily proud of this. Visiting the blues museum has long been on my bucket list. Clarksdale is where the idea for Fat Man was “born” and it means a lot to me that my novel  can be found in the heart of the Mississippi Delta, alongside books written by such eminent blues historians as Alan Lomax, Ted Gioia and Peter Guralnick. Huge thanks to Richard Crisman for making this happen.

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Fat Man has arrived.

If that wasn’t enough, I was approached by a lady from Las Vegas called Rita King, who told me that she loved my book. These kind words in themselves were great to hear, but imagine my excitement when I realised that Rita is the daughter of blues legend B.B. King!

Rita King, daughter of a legend

Rita King, daughter of a legend

I’ve also experienced similar acts of kindness closer to home in my own “hilly country”.

Malvern has a rich seam of writing talent and literary history. Malvern Writers’ Circle (of which I am proud to be a member) has been in existence since 1948, boasts a wealth of authors far more talented than I, and was once visited by J.B. Priestley. Also, one Peter Mark Roget (he of the thesaurus) is buried, entombed, interred, inhumed, covered and hidden in West Malvern.

In a tiny side street, just off Abbey Road, is Hunky Dorey , a cool little shop selling all manner of clothing, arty gifts and eclectic treasures. To celebrate their first anniversary of trading they held an open evening, and owners Sue Street and Anne Tompkins very kindly invited me to bring along a few copies and hold a book signing event.

The calm before the...

The calm before the…

This was great fun, and I met some very friendly and interesting people. Among the first to walk in were three ex-pat Brits based in Tenerife, one of whom said he used to play in several blues bands and knew Rory Gallagher – he bought three signed copies, so I believed him.

Hunky Dorey are now selling copies of Fat Man Blues, as are the Malvern Book Cooperative, a thriving little book shop in St. Anns Road, who are especially keen to promote the work of local authors like me.

If you ever visit Malvern, please search out these fine establishments, you won’t be disappointed.

I would like to thank once again, everyone who has helped me so far in the project that is Fat Man Blues. To meet so many people at home and abroad with such generosity of spirit, gives me hope and restores my faith in human nature.

Mississippi and Malvern. 4000 miles apart, and yet closer than you think.

That’s all for now, but stay tuned because it doesn’t end here…

Ridin’ with the Fat Man

At long last, my debut novel has finally hit the streets (of Amazon) and is now available on a Kindle near you. A chance remark at the end of a beer-fuelled evening in Clarksdale in February 2012 has resulted in Fat Man Blues – the story of Hobo John, a white blues enthusiast from England, who meets the mysterious Fat Man in bar in present day Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Fat Man offers Hobo John the chance to travel the Mississippi delta at the time of the “real” blues of the 1930s – the time when Charley Patton, Robert Johnson et al were the One Direction of their time. For Hobo John, this is an offer he really can’t refuse and along the way he gets to listen to and play the music he loves in the land that he has always dreamed of visiting. However, he soon encounters to the harsh reality of life in the delta and the horrific consequences of the deal he has made.

Writing this has been a labour of love. Love for scratchy old blues music and the history of the blues singers who ultimately helped change the face of popular music, made a lot of (mostly white) people very rich but earned very little for their efforts, often living forgotten, impoverished lives and dying in squalor.

If you’re reading this and don’t know the first thing about Mississippi Delta Blues, then I recommend (nay, urge) you to research the music. Fat Man Blues contains references to a whole bunch of songs and artists, some of which are listed below.

Soundtrack

I’m a King Bee by Slim Harpo

This was playing in Red’s Lounge when Hobo John walks in and meets Fat Man for the first time. Anyone who listens to this and doesn’t move to it is probably dead.

Me and My Chauffeur Blues by The East River String Band

A classic by Memphis Minnie and played here by the excellent East River String Band from NYC.

Me and My Chauffeur Blues by Memphis Minnie

And this is the original…

Green River Blues by Charley Patton

Beautiful song by Mr Patton, who tells us he’s “going’ where the southern cross the dog”.

Bear Creek Hop trad – Performed by Steve James

This is a ragtime standard played by the guy who taught me to play slide guitar. I’m still light years from having his “chops” but it sounds great on my steel resonator.

Walking Blues by Robert Johnson

Originally recorded by Son House, there are a million different versions.

Canned Heat Blues by Tommy Johnson

Tommy Johnson was (in my opinion) a rather underrated singer, who lived in the shadow of his namesake but produced some rather splendid music. Canned Heat refers to Sterno, a fuel made from denatured and jellied alcohol and burned directly from its can. During prohibition, the alcohol would be squeezed through cloth and mixed with fruit juice or drunk neat.

Black Mattie by Robert Belfour

This tune is from the Mississippi Hill Country and has a different musical sound to traditional Delta blues. This is a tune I’ve been trying to master, and played right it has a hypnotic, almost trance-inducing sound.

My Black Mama Part 1 by Son House

My Black Mama Part 2 by Son House

Two songs that capture the “sound” of Son House. My Black Mama formed the basis of his later tune “Death Letter Blues” – played here by Son House in the 1960s.

Preachin’ Blues by Son House

“Gonna get me religion, gonna join the Baptist Church / If I was a Baptist preacher, I wouldn’t have to work…” – says it all, really.

Down The Dirt Road Blues by Charley Patton

“I’m going’ away, to a world unknown, you know I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long…” Listen carefully and you’ll hear Mr Patton slapping his guitar as he’s playing. I never get tired of hearing this.

Ridin’ with the Fat Man

Finally, a friend of mine, Mr Andy Peters has written and recorded a song in celebration of Fat Man Blues. Not only that, he’s also created this video. For once, I’m speechless. Thanks Andy.

Fat Man Blues is available on Amazon.co.uk and on Amazon.com

Please, tell your friends 🙂

Poetry – Day 4

Short and sweet today. A while ago I was challenged to write a filthy limerick containing a Latin phrase, this is what my brain produced (btw, Leominster is pronounced “Lemster”):

A callow young farmer from Leominster 
Paid a whore and attempted to enter
But on him was the joke
For the whore was a bloke
Who winked and said,

“Caveat Emptor”

Poetry – Day 3

Day 3 of NaPoWriMo and it’s back to the blues with these two poems: The first one (which I wrote today) is inspired by memories of Clarksdale and the monument to the legend of Robert Johnson making a deal at a crossroads. Whether you believe it or not, it’s a definitive blues story that I think is let down a little by what has been erected at the intersection of Highways 61 and 49.

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Only my opinion of course 🙂

Down at the Crossroads

(R. Wall)

I pilgrimmed to the Delta
To mark 50 summers passed
And wandered through the cotton land
Imagining the past

I searched for myth and folklore
Of pacts and midnight deals
I found the blues in Clarksdale
The truth, to me, revealed

I stopped on Highway 61
Where it crosses ’49
I saw the devil in the detail
As I stood beneath the sign

‘The CROSSROADS’
Screams the banner
Cartoon axes painted blue
Someone traded in their soul, it’s said
Looks like that might be true

Here’s one I made earlier:

In 2003, I began a poem that attracted the attention of a German blues singer, Werner Lindner, who turned it into a song and recorded a demo version:

I Never Knew

(R. Wall)

I never met a race horse
I didn’t want to back
I never had a job
Where I didn’t get the sack
I never played a card game
I knew I wouldn’t lose
I never knew a time
That I couldn’t play the blues

I’m living me a life
Where it seems I’m born to lose
Sometimes it feels
Just like I’m walking
In someone else’s shoes
It’s something deep inside me
I know I’ll never lose
I never knew a time
That I couldn’t play the blues

I never knew a time
Where I wouldn’t start a fight
I never found a bar
Where I wouldn’t drink all night
I never met a drink
That I knew I could refuse
I never knew a time
That I couldn’t play the blues

I never knew a time
That I didn’t have a worry
I never met a town
I didn’t leave in a hurry
I never found a wrong path
I knew I wouldn’t choose
I never knew a time
That I didn’t have the blues

Poetry – Day 2

Today’s poem was inspired by Andrew Peters, a fellow blues fan, occasional sparring partner on Twitter and general antidote to social media. Andy is the author of a series of novels featuring the “Blues Detective” – a Welsh private investigator living in Memphis – and other works including my personal favourite, “Joe Soap”.

Check out his work, you won’t be disappointed.

Opinion

“All poetry is shite!”
The Welshman yelled from exile
“It’s just random words,
in random places
On the page…”
Who am I to argue,
The assertion of a Sage?

I wrote this poem several years ago and if, while reading it, you experience a subterranean revolving sensation; that will be Edward Lear spinning in his grave…

The Owl & The Pussy Cat
(with apologies to Edward Lear)

The owl and the pussy cat went to sea

In a beautiful, pea-green boat

They sailed past Dover

And were swiftly pulled over

By HM Customs afloat

 

T’was a miserable caper

For they had no papers

To prove the land they were from

And with a brisk rubber stamp

They were sent to a camp

With others who seek asylum

 

The owl looked up to the stars above

And sang to a small guitar

“Oh customs man, oh customs official

What a stupid official you are, you are

What a stupid official you are.”

 

Official said to the owl,

“You ill-tempered fowl

You sewer-mouthed so and so

We had no way of knowing

Which way you were going

I’m just doing my job, you know

 

And oh how we laughed

at your pea-green craft

you must take us for mugs

a bird and a feline?

Adrift in a sea-lane?

We stopped you to search for drugs, for drugs

We stopped you to search for drugs

 

And then he took them away

For half a year and a day

To a place that they called Heathrow

He said “Oh prisoners of mine,

This is your quarantine,

For the next six months,

This is your home.

Now don’t cry like babies,

For we don’t want rabies,

In the land where the oak trees grow,

As pets with no owners,

On you is the onus,

I don’t make the rules, you know, you know,

I don’t make the rules you know.”

 

Protesting their crime

The two did their time

And the six months slowly crawled by

And on the last day at 3

They were finally set free

By a pig who lived in a sty

 

On the day of release-a,

They dined on a pizza,

And ice-cream that they ate with a spoon.

And then wing in paw,

Along the M4,

They danced by the light of the moon the, moon

They danced by the light of the moon.

Poetry

Oh God, not bloody poetry... sighed the nation.

Today is the start of National Poetry Writing Month, or, as we trendies who is down wiv de kidz like to say: NaPoWriMo.

It’s a little-known fact that I am, in fact, a professional poet with poems seen in print in such august publications as Woman’s Weekly (who paid me £10) to The Daily Mail (who didn’t). I have written several poems and also performed a few times at Ledbury Poetry Festival.

As impressive as these credentials are, poetry for me has always taken second place to writing ‘proper’ stories and so I’ve never really taken them seriously – which is probably a good thing.

My interest in verse ranges from the WW1 poets to WH Auden to Spike Milligan, all of whom have influenced me in one way or another. Influenced being a very loose term.

Anyway, I only heard about NaPoWriMo the other day and the challenge of writing 30 poems in 30 days intrigued me, so I thought I’d give it a go.

In addition to (hopefully) creating new verse I will also post previous poetic offerings that I have dredged up from memory – I hope you like them.

All the poems that appear on this site belong to me, so please play nicely.

So, without further ado, my very first NaPoWriMo offering is in the form of that ubiquitous fallback option for every Secondary School English Teacher – The Haiku

Poetry Challenge

NaPoWriMo

Thirty Poems, Thirty Days

Will I Make The Grade?

This is a monologue that I wrote in 2004. It began as an idea for an attempt to write nonsense verse, but soon developed a darker side:

Thomas Green the Submarine
By Richard Wall

A troubled lad named Thomas Green,
Claimed to be a submarine.
His father said, “Son, don’t be daft,
to be an underwater craft,
You must be steel, not flesh and blood.
Submerged, you’ll not do very good,
How long d’you think you’ll hold your breath?
The water’s cold, you’ll catch your death.
Come on Thomas, eat your tea,
Let’s speak no more of the undersea.”

Tom listened to his father scoff,
Refused to let it put him off.
He eyed his dad with naked scorn,
And then declared, “We dive at dawn!”
The cheeky lad was sent to bed,
and when he’d gone his father said,
“A submarine? The thought’s absurd.
That boy’s not right, you mark my words.”
His mother sighed, “Oh leave him be.
It’s just a phase, you wait and see.”

Next day they went to wake their son,
But found that Thomas Green had gone.
Police were called, the search commenced,
To find the lad their vowed intent.
They searched for days to no avail.
His tear-stained folks, distraught and pale,
pleaded for his safe return,
but mum and dad would later learn,
that while they cried on live TV,
Thomas Green had put to sea.

The first event to get them thinking,
Was hearing of the ferry sinking.
“Mystery Blast!” the newsreader said.
“We don’t know yet how many’s dead.
And this just in! I’ll hand you over,
To our man, who’s down in Dover.”
The news reporter, a handsome hunk,
Cried out, “Another ship’s been sunk!
The navy’s on their way with divers,
To see if they can find survivors.”

It didn’t stop there and on live TV,
Tom carried out a wolf pack spree.
Two more ships sank ‘neath the waves,
Creating two more watery graves.
As they stared at the telly screen,
Shell-shocked, Mr and Mrs Green,
Put together two and two,
And said, “Looks like we’re in the poo.
They’ll think our standards must be slipping,
If our son’s sinking merchant shipping.”

The Royal Navy arrived on scene,
And began the hunt for Thomas Green,
But Thomas, without fear or barrier,
Sank their brand new aircraft carrier.
The captain yelled, “All hands on deck!”
Mr Green yelled, “Flippin’ ‘eck!
This has gone beyond a joke,
They’ll not like that, those navy folk.”
And he was right, they weren’t impressed,
To lose a ship, their Sunday best.

The navy said, “Enough’s enough.”
The gloves came off, they acted tough.
A frigate with a huge depth charge
Arrived on scene and gave it large,
Stirring up a huge maelstrom,
In the search for U-Boat Tom.
The explosion made the water boil,
Then came the tell-tale slick of oil.
Then all was quiet on the briny scene.
Was this the end of Thomas Green?

A few months on, the fuss died down.
The Greens moved to another town,
Of their son they heard not a thing,
Until one day the doorbell ring.
A parcel in the letter flap,
A puzzled Mr Green unwrapped,
And there, inside a plastic bag,
A Jolly Roger pirate flag.
Somewhere at sea on a secret mission,
Submarine Tom is no longer missing.

See you tomorrow 🙂

It Was 13 Years Ago Today…

Tuesday September 11 2001 – I was a Warrant Officer in the Royal Navy serving at HM Naval Base Clyde at Faslane in Scotland. At the time I had less than 6 months left of my naval career and was looking forward to beginning the next phase of my life as a civilian. At 3:30pm I was sitting in the office reading through some nuclear safety documentation when a colleague walked in and said “Someone’s flown a plane into the Twin Towers in New York.” At first I thought he was talking about a light aircraft; then I saw the TV footage…

I can still recall the feelings of shock and disbelief at the carnage being played out on the screen and then the lumbering collapse of both buildings.

The world had changed.

That night I was on duty as manager of the jetties. An American Los Angeles Class nuclear submarine had arrived a few days earlier and was due to stay for another week. Unsurprisingly, orders chafed and it sailed later that night and as Duty Manager I was responsible for organising the jetty staff as we helped the submarine load the stores (and later on cruise missiles) that arrived by the truckload in preparation for her immediate sailing.

I remember the mood on the jetty was sombre but there was a definite sense of purpose as everyone pitched in. I spoke to an American submariner and I remember the look on his face when he told me that a couple of his shipmates came from New York and hadn’t been able to get in touch with anyone at home.

This was real. Events in New York City had reached across the Atlantic (as they would reach across the world) and affected all of us there that night in Faslane.

I wished him luck as he walked onboard, then the gangway was lifted, ropes were slipped and tugs eased the submarine away from the jetty and escorted her down the Gare Loch. As I watched her disappear into the darkness my thoughts were with the crewmen and I wondered where the submarine would go, what part she would play and most of all, what would happen next.

I knew for certain that nothing would be the same again; 

In the days following, a media maelstrom blew up as the footage was played and analysed and replayed and analysed and replayed again. That weekend I was flying home and as I arrived at Glasgow Airport I saw the first signs of how air travel was to change forever.

I left the Royal Navy the following May, found a job and began my transition back into civilian life. The time has flown by and I’m a different person now; working for myself and trying to make my way in the world.

In that time there has been a second Gulf War, a prolonged, intense and bloody campaign in Afghanistan and an increase in terrorism across the globe, including the bombings in the heart of London in 2007 – all of which, in some way are linked back to that night in September 2001.

Every year at this time I pause to reflect on my own tiny connection with history; and as I relive the thoughts and emotions that I felt standing there in the darkness on that rain-lashed jetty on the west coast of Scotland, I wonder what became of the people on that submarine.

Thirteen years ago today the world changed; and I remember it like it happened yesterday.

Fat Man by the sea

I’ve just returned from a week in the sunshine that has changed the way I think about certain things to do with life, the universe and everything and I’ve been asked to write a paragraph or two to explain myself.

My wife – a Yoga teacher and Thai Yoga Massage Therapist – booked us both on a Thai Yoga Massage retreat on the Greek island of Samos.

Not being a particularly spiritual person (and having experienced the wilder side of life that comes with 22 years service in the Royal Navy), I must confess that I did wonder whether or not I would “fit in” with a group of alternative therapists. For a start, I have long harboured a healthy scepticism towards those who espouse the notion that to heal the world all that is needed is a foot rub, a scented candle and a cup of Jasmine tea (which tastes foul – IMO). Such people do exist and the thought of being amongst them for a week made me wonder how long it might be before my BS alarm kicked off.

All that said, I went along with an open mind and we landed in Samos early one Thursday afternoon. After picking up our hire car we commenced a leisurely journey around the island towards the villas where the retreat was to be held.

After unpacking and settling in to our room we went down to dinner to meet the most eclectic and cosmopolitan group of people I have ever encountered. Wine flowed and we tucked in to some of the most delicious food I have ever tasted.

Any notions I may have had about being considered an outsider were dispelled immediately. Within minutes of meeting up with (for me) a bunch of complete strangers, I felt like I was at a reunion of lifelong friends. Conversation was easy and laughter was in great abundance.

This first night set the scene for the rest of the week and we came away with some new friends and some great memories.

During the Thai Yoga sessions, I found a quiet place in the shade and worked on my novel, Fat Man Blues, in the most productive bout of writing I have ever experienced. I have a playlist of Delta Blues music from the 1930s and interviews with old blues singers. I use this for my inspiration to get me ‘in the zone’ and also to try and keep the dialogue authentic. So it was that for 2x 3-hour sessions each day I immersed myself in the blues and as I wrote, scene after scene unfolded, appearing like a hologram just in front of my eyes. It was great.

All too soon the holiday ended and left me a changed man. You see, for the entire week the spirit among the group was one of complete acceptance and the feeling of positive energy that prevailed (and which I could actually feel) has made me question my previous thoughts towards the concept of spirituality.

This was condensed into a moment at the end of the final session. I wandered along to where it was taking place and was invited to join the group for a final chanting session as the sun went down. I didn’t chant myself (when I sing, deaf people refuse to lip-read) but closed my eyes and let the experience wash over me. The trance-like rhythms of the combined voices carried me along and I felt moved by an overwhelming feeling of goodness.

The chanting ended and we sat in silence, watching as the sun dipped inexorably below the horizon. I looked up to see one of the group – a successful and hard-nosed businessman in the real world – in tears at the emotion that the moment stirred up for him.

The week in Samos has challenged my perceptions and invigorated my writing – the stuff that I produced during this week is among the best I have ever written (IMO).

More importantly, meeting such wonderful people and making such great new friends is perhaps evidence enough that there is more to this alternative therapy / spiritual malarkey than meets the eye. I certainly intend to explore further and find out for myself.

Mind, I still think Jasmine tea tastes foul.

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