Lancaster Songwriters Night at The Gregson

I haven’t previously reviewed Open Mic nights simply because they are an ad-hoc event, often very informal and an opportunity for experimenting, new songs etc.  Last night at the Gregson, however, saw one of the genuine musical highlights of the year.


The theme for the night, curated by Idiot Johnson, was Lancaster Songwriters, with each act rising to the challenge to cover another local artist.  It could have been an incestuous mess, but instead it proved a glorious celebration of Lancaster’s wide talent base.


Idiot Johnson himself set the ball rolling, and raised the bar, with a breathtaking piano rendition of Jess Thomas’ ‘Northern Rain’.  Part of the fun was watching the faces of the covered writers as their work was performed, which might account for the huge turnout, though it was far from being all musicians.


I just did a quick run down in my head of artists covered: almost 20 of them, which in itself says much for the ‘scene’ around Lancaster.  More significantly the source material ranged from Stuart Anthony’s folk to The Adventures Of Loki’s alt-punk via indie rock (How’s My Pop) and comedy material (Kriss Foster) including current faves such as Ponies and the gone but not forgotten The Wind Up Merchants.


Highlights are almost too many to mention, but The Low Countries’ superb harmonising gave Kriss Foster’s Morecambe a completely new sound, and went down a storm.  Wes Martin experimented with looped banjo and vocal effects on EFTM’s Onion whilst Niamh Starkey took The Adventures Of Loki’s stomping Feminine Side and gave it a ‘Lancashire Hotpots’ twist.  There was rock, as Moll Baxter gave a Rubber Soul feel to Niamh Starkey, folk (Stuart Anthony covering Dan Haywood with genuine love), and pop (Kriss, Tristan and Robin) in the mix.

People got together and produced new combinations, some unplanned but successful, such as newcomer Ewan Scarlett adding guitar support to Kish’s cover of Hazel by How’s My Pop? 


Most covered act of the night was Ponies (three times) but perhaps the surprise of the night was Paul Rhodes bringing his inimitable electric rock stylings to Stuart Anthony’s Good Tension and bringing out a genuine tension in his performance.  Stunning. 


In the end there were almost too many who wanted to participate in the fun, Joanne Levey, Gaz, Banjomania, and more that I apologise for not noting down.  Other covered artist included Goldmundo, The Wisemen, The Lovely Eggs, Ottersgear and Marc Nellis.  Finally though it was full circle, with Jess Thomas closing the night with a rousing rendition of  New Zealand Story’s I Was Feeling Alive (which may not be its proper title, sorry Dave) a perfect showstopper.


So, Lancaster Songwriters write some fine songs it seems, and its performers add their own twists, and the result: great entertainment, and who can ask for more.  Definitely one of the best nights of the year.


Reviewed by Kev McVeigh


Well folks, TLR passed two milestones in the past couple of days.  David Wright’s entertaining little polemic was the 100th post on the site, and Wes Martin made the 500th Comment a few minutes ago. 

When I started this I hoped for debate, feedback, stimulation and to stimulate.  At times I think that has worked very well, thank you.

And for the record:

207 Days

100 Posts (1 per 2.07 days)

500 Comments plus 300 rejected spam (1 per 10 hours) 

17446 views (which doesn’t include those by the editors.) (84 per day)

Most views per day to date 464

Least views per day 12 (day one 28 February)

Thanks for all the support.


The Thursday Girls

Mark Coyle’s Open Mic

The Stonewell Tavern Lancaster

Wednesday 30th September

Featuring: The Thursday Girls in their new musical extravaganza with Bill “Wild Thing” Wilding on the Baby Grand. and Token Male torn apart on stage!!!!!!!!

World premiere!!! Never before seen!!! Probably never again!!!

Admission free. Starts 8.30.

Thoughts About Lancaster

Thoughts About Lancaster – by David Wright

The night’s busting open, these two lanes will take us anywhere
We’ve got one last chance to make it real, to trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in the back, heaven’s waiting on down the tracks.

This short essay begins as it means to go on, with the premise that “Thunder Road” represents the very zenith of human musical achievement. Feel free to read on whether or not you’re fortunate enough to have come to terms with this stark, clear reality, or if you’re still trawling the musical backwaters in search of your own private dream records.

You can’t trawl a backwater, I guess, but when it comes to mixing fishing metaphors, I’m a shark with a brand new tackle box.

It’s barely possible to walk down Penny Street, enter the library/museum/Starbuck’s or log into facebook without it being asserted, re-asserted and subsequently confirmed by someone that Lancaster is a veritable sturgeon of raw talent, swollen to bursting point, stuffed to the gills (I’ll stop now) with incredible artists, songwriters, dancers and actors.

If I had a bowl of kedgeree for every time I’d heard…

There’s something magical about this place… It’s just unbelieveable how much great talent there is in this tiny town…

… well, I would essentially have too much kedgeree. It doesn’t keep, you know.

That’s the end of the fish references now, guys. Really. You get the idea, though, right? The town is just normal. It’s got a normal number of buildings with a normal number of people in them with a reasonable distribution of guitars, pianos, drumkits, violins, paint brushes and yoga mats. Actually, maybe more yoga mats than normal. Of those people, some do their art in a way that is pleasing/powerful/moving/credible and the overwhelming majority don’t.

Now, I’m not here to be a joyless trout about it. I love this place. I have the privilege and pleasure of regularly interacting with a good number of people who have powerfully enriched the flavour of the delicious anchovy dip that is my musical life.

This is not a romance, though. If we think Lancaster itself is what’s causing this, we’re basically abandoning mathematics. What’s causing it is that people like making music/drawing pictures/weaving baskets/dancing and they like doing it in the vicinity of other real people and forming clubs, societies, bands and support groups to make their hobby more likely to be fruitful. This happens everywhere.

Yet so often we gaze at the “Lancaster scene” like a shoal of teenagers who have fallen in love for the first time. Like a stickleback waiting to grow into a blue whale.

I know what you’re thinking…

“What’s the point, Wright, you curmudgeonly old twat?”

Well, Lancaster, I’m here to tell you my point, so draw up a chair.

The almighty fucking legend Bruce Sprinsteen sings so sweetly in his actually perfect anthem “Thunder Road”…

Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright.

I step out most evenings armed with a rock hard plectrum and a small notebook of chord/lyric reminders. More often than not they’ll get used in some open mic or afterpub wine drinking error.

I’m easy.

I just love the town. I love people singing. I love it when someone’s written (or just loves!) a song and wants you to hear it even if it is a bag of shit. Because a heartfelt song is someone being there.

I see so many different people, and all too often I’m aware that they have never met each other. It seems so sad to me. Such lovely people. Such a great hobby. Such a reason to have hope. Show a little faith. After all, there’s magic in the night, right, boss?

I have endlessly deliberated. How come the guys who bang out the solo (note perfect) from Hotel California every Tuesday at the Golden Lion don’t know the guys who sing their own songs at the Yorkie or the Storey? They’d get on so well. Especially in a community that so often bemoans limited audiences and insufficient networking opportunities.

Of course, we know the answer.

If we’re going to set up events that showcase the latest great talent, if we’re going to write critical reviews, if we’re going to set up little labels and function as each other’s PR companies with helpful photography sessions, friendly write ups, etc… in short become a likefor-like microcosm of the systems that we percieve as damaging when writ large… we draw a line.

A line that, sadly, I will see one side of on a Tuesday and the other on a Friday.

Such lovely people living so close to each other with so much in common separated merely by desired outcomes.

Open mics devoid of great songwriters because they’re at the Storey on Friday and on Diversity on Saturday afternoon so they don’t really want to do all of it anymore. Bands putting in conservative, solid performances because there’s a fair chance of them getting reviewed.

Of course, it’s many artists’ desire to move on at some point… to leave the amateur scene in favour of the professional environments, but what are we doing professionalising the proving grounds? People are being selected to play at showcase shows, reviewed on the internet, talked about on the radio before they’ve played in public twice and after getting a demo together one Sunday afternoon at a mate’s house.

There were no fewer than ten “album launches” this summer in Lancaster, mostly of this kind. They were generally put on and promoted in a professional manner, the papers were told, facebook was alive. The events were publically reviewed and the CDs pored over and analysed.

We are collectively holding this stuff up and saying “hey, guys, look at Lancaster, it’s amazing! Check out our raw awesome talent.”

It’s not amazing though, is it? It’s great that we’re doing it and helping each other. It’s great that we’re singing and dancing and drinking and networking and recording and taking pictures and playing at being great artists. But honestly, if we hold it all up saying “this is Lancaster, world, come and tap into our incredible depths of magnificent art” the world will look back and say “dudes, this is happening everywhere. You’re just people making records. Hold up your geniuses and we’ll pay attention.”

Of course, there have been some excellent artists in this town over time. If only there was a fish based metaphor I could use to describe the phenomenon of a big artist in a small town.

I wonder if they finally got to grips with the Boss’s most perfect gift…

We’ve got one last chance to make it real, to trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in the back, heaven’s waiting on down the tracks.


David Wright is a local songwriter and member of the group New Zealand Story.

Their album Show Your Workings is available for listening and download here:

It’s awesome and you should buy it if you like it, as that’s what keeps the band going.

Ottersgear CD – A Kind of Review

Ottersgear Cover

by Norman Hadley

Let there always be young men on this earth.

Let there be young women also, of vast and dazzling talent, but let us speak of them some other time.

Go quickly – gather the elders in the square, that we may finger our pocket-watches, stroke our beards of many hues and ask, in rasping whispers, can it be true? That, even now, more than forty harvests since Astral Weeks, there are still swains in gardens misty wet with rain, who gravely shoulder the privilege of youth, howling gratitude unto a heedless moon. Whose eyes, as yet unlined by the origami of time, will sing of what they’ve seen so far and never fear to waltz across the strings of an old guitar.

Let it also be ordained these men take maids to their embraces. Let these maids gaze adoringly upon their cloth-capped troubadours, that their menfolk may know the sweet burden of belief, of expectations their tousled heads will never stretch to encompass but grow wise in the falling short.

And always, always, let them sing to the fullest volume of their hearts, that the world may feel the smarting of the simple things, to step beneath a swollen sky at cusp of dusk, to navigate a torch-lit lane to greet the girl who makes a world complete, whose kiss will lift him far above the road of croaking toads.

Then may the elders say, with many a begrudging grumble, that youth is not always wasted on the young.

[Post review notes for fact fans : Van Morrison was 23 when Astral Weeks was recorded. Neil Young (geddit?) was 26 when Harvest (tangentially referred to in the review) was recorded]

Here are the two videos I took of Mikey’s solo set at Spotlight.

Here are some links to his myspace pages.

Spotlight September 2009

By guest reviewer and videotape splicer Norman Hadley.

So, Spotlight returns after its traditional summer break. This was the fourth time around at the Storey since Spotlight left that other place. The voyage was ably captained by John Freeman (also, incidentally, a sharp thumbnail sketcher) –

"Can yer tell who it is yit?"

"Can yer tell who it is yit?"

who also took some pictures, which are usually placed here

First up was open miker Alan Lowes, warming up the audience with a river of ribaldry about a male-nude calendar.

Alan Lowes

He then conjured a fine conceit called Lord of the Blings, with the underclass recast as a chavalcade of orcs and hobbitual offenders, This sounded like something Gary Hogg would write for Bernard Wrigley. Champion.

Next up Kevin Coughlan, unscripted.

Kevin Coughlan

He started with a fine piece, opaque and twisting, where jasmine could suddenly burst from an egg and the lightness of the image was immediately counterpointed with the heft of an anvil. Excellent.

Carla Scarano

Carla Scarano continues to impress as a performer working outwith her mother tongue. She gave us an extract from a travelogue, heading down to France and Italy on a family holiday.

When I first saw Michael Durrant do an open-mic in June, I was blown away by both the quality of his writing and his assured, unhurried delivery. Showing himself to be no one-hit wonder, he brought us four new poems, starting with the formality of a sonnet but showing dexterity with freer material as well.

What marks Michael out is his competence at making simple words work hard; thus a line like “her face….before my eyes, all before my eyes had time to adjust to her light”  is at once comfortable, serious and playful with the double-meaning of “before”. Catch Michael doing a longer set on the bill on December 18th.

Little Hero was keen to downplay his soubriquet from the off, declaring himself to be just Pete.

He was also keen to enlist our sympathy for a nasty cold, causing a few wheezes along the way during his first couple of songs.  With good interstitial banter and a twinkling eye he soon settled into the performance.

Gemma Arnold admitted to being crippled by nerves at the start of her on-the-bill début but did well.

A piece from her 16-year-old self showed the traditional apocalyptic preoccupations of that age but marshalled with discipline and promise.

There were dark tales of a mendacious friend and an excellent piece about unrequited love told from the recipient’s point of view. Sorry about the editing at the start of the second clip.

Julie Simmons performed three poems without any recourse to notes. The quote from Zelda Sayre set the scene; “I don’t want to live – I want to love first, and live incidentally.”

Julie ploughed on into brooding and unsettling territory, with desperately personal tales told with a breathy, pacing delivery.

I gather that Julie had planned to do more and lost her nerve. If so, it was not to the detriment – there was more than enough impact in this short set.

Mark Charlesworth continued the serious theme with a cynical piece on news values “A pretty adolescent makes a more attractive corpse” followed by an ambitious 5-minute poem called 11 self-portraits.

Lighter relief came when he invited the grinny tambourinist/guitarist/ bodhranist Mr Wyrd and floaty-skirted singer Róisín to join him on stage.

Mikey Kenny rounded off the night with a cracking set. Holy hell, that boy’s got a cracking set of tonsils. He doesn’t so much sing as erupt in a swoop of exultant, fluting yodels.  Flashes of Rufus Wainwright kept peeping through and I’ll wager his copy of Grace is pretty well-worn too.

The interplay with girlfriend Charley and tales of poverty and moonlight in Quernmore gave a genuinely affecting emotional engagement to the set. And the ability to take the piss out of himself, to whistle and wail like a Madagascan lemur on heat; was I too fanciful to hear a Freewheelin’ era Bob? Probably.

If it hadn’t been for running out of space on the video card, I’d have filmed his every song. I bought a copy of his Ottersgear CD but have not had time for a listen yet.

Another great night of variety, passion, humour and intensity. Next month’s Spotlight is October 16th. Be there or be insufficiently artistically stimulated.

Qsand/ Mona House Gallery artists request


Strange weird and mysterious
Futuristic, chaos, armageddon!!!
Bring me sunshine
Stop motion and animate
Memory, time, wonder

From February 2010 Mona House Gallery Morecambe will be running a series of exhibitions through out the calendar month. Therefore we wish to begin receiving written proposals for any of the above themes. Artist work can be in any medium, small or big space willing. We are charity based and not for profit gallery therefore we ask only for submission fee of £10 pounds if chosen of which all proceeds goes back into the running of the gallery. All proposals should be clearly label for which theme are you entering, along with 4 jpeg images of work or showing ideas of your work Deadline January 2010

Contact Name:
Joe Cowell

24 Westover Street morecambe Lancashire LA4 5LZ