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TALES FROM THE TOUR BUS

By  Phil Graham

The Shamrocks... Irish and More...Much More!

INDEX

Part 01 Vol 1 FR/01

Part 02 2023 FR/02

Part 03 2023 FR/03

Part 04 2024 FR/04


TALES FROM THE TOUR BUS

Phil Graham  -  Vol 1 FR/01

Hello and welcome to Tales From The Tour Bus; a periodical insight into to life in music as seen from my own perspective.

First of all let me introduce myself and explain what these articles are all about. I began my musical career in 1967 at the blossoming age of fourteen. I had been on a family holiday in Chiavari in Northern Italy and was interested in two guitar playing waiters in our hotel whose job it was to entertain the guests after evening dinner. That was in the days prior to disco and karaoke.

The waiters tolerated my incessant questions about their guitars and even let me sit with one on my knee to strum the open strings while they sang one of their songs. I don’t suppose our fellow guests were impressed but I was smitten. Naturally, I knew nothing about the craft of playing at that time and guitar chord structures were completely unknown. I had a sense, however, that one day I would like to own and play a guitar of my own. And then my mother surprised me the following day when she returned from a shopping trip with an acoustic guitar… for me!  Although I had no idea how to play the damned thing I returned from holiday with a determination to get stuck in. So, self taught with the aid of the beginners ‘bible’, Bert Weedon’s Play In A Day and A Book Of 500 Chord Shapes, I made steady progress over the following weeks.

I had my first booking aged sixteen in a local working mens’ club near Bishop Auckland where I was told that I was sh*te and that it would be useful to play “…stuff we know, son.” To add to my discomfort I watched as a local woman of increasing years stepped on to the stage during my break and brought the house down with a rip roaring acapello version of Nobody’s Child. I concluded my act with yet more stuff only I had heard of and left sheepishly as soon as I had finished.

The following weekend was worse! A couple of miles from my debut performance I was on stage at Eldon Lane Club, itself sporting a  large concert room which my fledgling WEM ER 40 amplifier struggled to fill. It was during the interval that the dickie bow tie clad concert chairman came to me and asked, “Does’t tha really wanna gan back on?” Before I could reply he handed me a tenner and advised me to get to know about club entertainment before going back again.

Naturally crestfallen and, needless to say, embarrassed I quickly came to the realisation that my two failures were in fact a valuable lesson. Today, at age 70 and still performing, I acknowledge the value of my first two public encounters. I spent the next few months going to all manner of venues; pubs and clubs in the main and I began to pick on what worked and what didn’t. I observed other acts, duos, threesomes and groups (as they were then known) and took a great deal of notice how these people interacted with their audiences and what type of music was appreciated and, importantly, what was not. Imagine… without those initial failures I might have simply carried on without the valuable lesson I had been taught. And most probably not performing today.

So there’s a little insight into how it all started for me. As we move on I shall cover many aspects of performing and the wonderful and not so wonderful times it brings. I shall write about beginners, open mics, stage presence and technique, audience participation, the various bands I’ve been in, the people I have met along the way and the music I have played and have seen played from pop, rock n roll and, of course… folk!

Please send any questions you have as we travel on this online journey to phil@filmar.co.uk and, while I might not be able to respond to all of them I shall endeavour to do my best and publish some on here.   

TALES FROM THE TOUR BUS

Phil Graham  -  2023 FR/02    

Welcome to my second article for Folk Roundabout.

 

In the years following my disastrous debuts (see FR/01) my knowledge and craft improved somewhat and I had developed a close friendship with a schoolfriend called Robert Gittins. Nothing much happened beyond the two of us meeting up most Saturday mornings in Robert’s house to learn and play songs from the charts. Our main influences at the time were The Monkees, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Beatles. From such humble beginnings was born our first ever touring pop and rock band, Victoria, and later for myself  a range of other musical pursuits, some solo and some with other bands. I’ll touch upon what I called these ‘adventure’ years in future articles but for now I want to explain how I eventually entered the world of folk music…


In 1982 I had settled in to a loving relationship becoming a father in 1986. It was at this point that I made the decision to cease performing to focus on my new found parental responsibilities. I still played occasional gigs for friends and at family parties, so I didn’t give up altogether.


Enter Graeme Carroll in January 2004. I knew Graeme from Wear Valley District Council, he was a council officer when I was a councillor there between 1987 and 1991. Graeme was also one half of popular acoustic duo, Brother Crow, where he and his co-partner, Andrew Davison, could be seen at festivals and folk clubs throughout the area. They had a loyal following and had produced a couple of CD’s which were on general release. For anyone who has enjoyed or endured my revived live performances since January 2004, you have Graeme Carroll to thank… or blame.


“Why don’t you come along to Croxdale one night?” he asked.

“The folk club?” I replied derisorily. “I’m not a folk singer.”

“I know! You don’t need to be. We have all kinds of music and musicians. Come along and see for yourself.”


I’m pleased I did go along and see. The Folk Club met, as is does today, in The Daleside Inn in Croxdale, a former mining village north east of Spennymoor, and it was there that I met a most friendly bunch of people; mainly musicians, and some non-playing locals also who had come along to listen. Graeme introduced me to the likes of Chris Milner, Marie Little, Bert Draycott, The Old Aged Travellers, jiva and Fred Brierley to name a few. 


I was warmly welcomed and I watched and listened intently to the singers whilst waiting for my turn to play. Being a debut I elected not to play my own songs. Instead, if my memory prevails, I sang Jimmy MacCarthy’s Missing You in the style of Christy Moore a folk hero of mine and for my second song I chose the Irish/Australian ballad, The Wild Colonial Boy.


 And that’s how it all began again. With my sons now young teenagers I went along to The Daleside Inn most Tuesday fortnights from where I eventually branched out to play folk clubs and festivals across Durham, Teesside and Yorkshire.    


Coming from a pop and rock and roll background I felt it prudent to modify my delivery of songs and make them folk-accessible to my newfound venues and audiences. There were, and no doubt still are, a number of purists on the folk circuit; not quite woolly jumpers and fingers in ears but doggedly and sincerely engaged in “keeping alive the tradition” not just of music but poetry, stories and dance. I recall my first visit to The Woodman Inn near Bedale where, sharing the evening with established folk performers and, following a set of some six or seven songs which included Richard Thompson’s I Feel So Good and a version of Gambling Barroom Blues played in the style of Alex Harvey, I was only mildly applauded when event organiser, Paul Arrowsmith, declared, “And there we have Phil Graham reminding us of his rock and roll roots!” I’m not entirely sure if he was being complimentary. I suspect he wasn’t.


Which brings me to a note about the people I was now associating with and performing to. The vast majority are wonderful beings, knowledgeable about the music and oh so very welcoming. One or two, though, extended only polite courtesies, barely tolerating this upstart newcomer who had invaded their circle with his barely disguised rock and roll influences. Importantly, I learned who had influence over which acts would most likely be selected to perform at festivals and the like. Get along with these people, I was advised, and a level of exposure and accessibility could be virtually guaranteed.


One of the most respected regional folk luminaries of the time was Fred Brierley. Born in 1932, Fred was kind, welcoming and bright as a button and one who regaled audiences with his vast catalogue of traditional songs and expert whistle playing. He was also a member of trad folk outfit, The Ancient Mariners. Indeed, Fred was involved in most things on the folk music circuit and, living just a few doors away from The Daleside Inn, was a regular presence there. Graeme Carroll had advised me early on “not to upset” Fred. He wasn’t threatening me or being unfriendly. No, I was advised that Fred Brierley was so well liked, venerated even, that any sleight on his name or character would be felt by many musicians and loyal friends. I heeded Graeme’s advice and when the annual Croxdale Traditional Music Festival came around in 2006 I bunged Fred two hundred pounds by way of sponsorship. My fate as a friend of Fred’s was thus sealed and I was given a slot at the festival taking the Saturday afternoon stage after jiva, The Young Un’s and before Chris Milner.  Sadly, Fred died in August 2012 but his legacy and memory live on in northern folk circles.

 

Q: Who among you can recall your first visit to a folk club? How did you feel? Can you remember what songs you sang?

Let me know via email to phil@filmar.co.uk. Indeed, feel free to email any questions you may have. I can’t promise to respond to each and every one but I’ll publish what I can on this page.

TALES FROM THE TOUR BUS

Phil Graham  -  2023 FR/03    

Welcome to my third article for Folk Roundabout.

 

A very brief contribution this month I’m afraid. I’ll be back in the new year with more tales but in the meantime here’s wishing you, your families and friends all best wishes for Christmas and the coming new year…

TALES FROM THE TOUR BUS

Phil Graham  -  2024 FR/04

As January ends we can be forgiven for thinking back to Christmas and its associated festivities and realise how long ago it all now seems. Surely the longest and often gloomiest month of the year, January is not good for socialising and its inherent financial impact on the hospitality sector, particularly music venues. But we are here now, facing forward to spring and lighter nights. Welcome one and all to 2024.


How many of you honed and developed your craft and skill at Open Mic Nights or by joining in the various singarounds? 


I have to confess that I did not. Not in the beginning, anyway. When I got my first guitar in 1967, at just fourteen years old, a cheap steel string acoustic, I followed the majority of my peers and purchased Bert Weedon’s ‘Play In A Day’ along with the world famous chord bible ‘500 Chord Shapes’. With these two mighty publications I got together with others similarly minded and of pretty much the same age, at each others houses, usually on Saturday mornings when our mams were out of shopping. It was here that we taught each other all manner of stuff. Mainly records by The Monkees, The Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival et al in those days. Inevitably, some three years later many of my friends had given up, found girlfriends and started work. Myself and now sadly deceased, Robert Gittins (aka Bob Roberts), had formed a pop/rock band, Victoria, and were now out ‘on the road’ most weekends playing working mens clubs.


It wasn’t until I stopped performing when I became a father in 1986 that I was eventually encouraged to attend the Tuesday evening singarounds in Croxdale’s Daleside Inn.  From here I found out about a number of Open Mic sessions in my area and by going along, watching and listening to others, I began to play better, increase my repertoire, and generally become more proficient. Although it was some twenty years after purchasing that first guitar, the sessions proved to be invaluable experience which stands me in good stead today.


But how was it for you?  Did you attend Open Mic sessions? If you did, did you find them useful? Intimidating? Were you made welcome? Did the experience help you develop and become good enough to perform elsewhere? Do you still go to Open Mic sessions – either as a proven performer or do you only attend the sessions with no ambition or motivation to move on?  Do let me know.


All I can say is that the sessions brought new friends into my life as well as teaching me many songs, voices and playing styles.  It is why, although not easy for me to get out and about independently to Open Mic sessions, that I nevertheless wholeheartedly endorse them as a wonderful medium for improvement and confidence building. I’d love to know what you think? 


Drop me an email to phil@filmar.co.uk or text 07788 916166 with your views and any other questions or views, hints and advice on music and performing you may have. 

Feel free to email any questions or tales and experiences of your own. I can’t promise to respond to each and every one but I’ll publish what I can on this page.


*Phil Graham is currently the founder and singer with The Shamrocks, an award nominated Irish band with a loyal fanbase throughout the north east region and beyond.



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