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When the flower children grew old…

One of the pleasures of watching a CD go out into the world is seeing which songs, if any,  are noticed enough to strike a tiny, distant note in the prevailing noise of the world. Of the songs on Enough About Me, I was always fond of 'An English Love Song', which was also the co-producer Jon Loomes's favourite, and I thought that 'I Can't Call My Baby "Baby"' might appeal to people. I enjoyed writing 'Marriage Song #1'  but, apart from a nice note in the Sunday Times,  the reviews have often ignored or, more annoyingly, misunderstood it ('the resignation of a middle-aged cuckold,' sniffed one reviewer, firmly grasping the wrong end of the stick). Here's a video of the one song that seems to have caught on, earning requests for repeats, particularly on Rodney Collins' Offshore Music Radio where it was third in the most-requested lists behind  Frank Sinatra...

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Dogs: the enemies of creativity

Occasionally when I look at my dog Ruby, I remember a conversation I had in about 2005 with my friend, neighbour and fellow-author Roger Deakin. I told Roger that, after years of living with cats, I was thinking of getting a dog. My partner Angela's old cat Dodger had just died.  A new cat would cut a wide swathe through the local songbirds. And the bantams left a bit to be desired when it came to interaction with humans.  A dog would be interesting, fun  -  good exercise. It took a lot to shock Roger, but this did. 'A dog?' he said, with genuine disgust. Yes, a dog. Why not? Roger muttered something about environmental damage. I replied that, if I were a water vole living around his moat and was offered the choice of sharing the garden with a dog or a cat, I knew which I would choose. Sadly,...

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It’s official – there’s nothing particularly normal about me

To be any good, a song or story has to come from a personal place. It is, however well-disguised, a report from the tiny, little-known country of Me. That makes being reviewed an odd process. It's not just the work being assessed, it is you - your quaking little soul. Early in a career, this can be heady or distressing, depending on the verdict, but  soon enough any professional  who wants to survive will develop a thicker hide. If you can't take the knocks, you probably shouldn't be in the game. Over time, I've concluded that people either get what I write and sing, or they don't. If they like it, that's great; if they don't, there's nothing I can say, do or be which will change their opinion. As the Australian novelist David Malouf put it, 'You come to realize that you can't please everybody. If a book is...

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‘Twas in the merry month of May, I went to a folk club down m’way…’

When I first started writing songs, about ten years ago, I took them around to folk clubs. One, I discovered too late, took a hard-line, faintly Stalinist, approach to any music that did not belong to what is reverently described as 'the Tradition'. The song I sang was mildly rude and, apparently, not part of the tradition. Scarred by the experience, I wrote a song called Hearts of Oak which I have videoed for Songs from the van #8. Here are the lyrics, followed by the video: ‘Twas in the merry month of May I went to a folk club down me way I’d written a song,  it was slightly rude, I thought it couldn’t be misconstrued. With just a touch of the ambigued. Tarum-de-um-de-tiddley-ay, foldy-ay-de-ay   The club they met in a village hall The sign at the door said ‘Welcome all’ They asked me if I could sing...

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Philip Roth: ‘It was my good luck that happiness didn’t matter to me….’

When I'm feeling disheartened by the fiction I've been reading (it happens), I reach for something by Philip Roth. He never lets me down. It's not that his books are all masterpieces of the order of Sabbath's Theater or The Counterlife, but that, even when he misfired (Our Gang, the Nixon satire, or the disastrous all-dialogue Deception), he was still worth reading. Even in his flaws, he was open, generous and interesting. I Married a Communist was, in my opinion, derailed in the writing by the publication of his ex-wife Claire Bloom's memoir  - derailed by the author's personal rage. All the same, it contains a rumination by his character Leo on the difference between literature and politics which has always stayed with me: ‘Politics is the great generaliser, and literature the great particulizer, and not only are they in an inverse relationship to one another  -  they are in...

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Falling apart again, never wanted to…

It was when the Independent lost its best columnist Christina Patterson that I knew I no longer felt at home at the paper. By 'lost', I mean 'fired'. Christina had been there for ten years and at the time was writing two columns a week plus an interview or profile. For me, a freelance Independent columnist and reader, she came to exemplify what it was about the  paper that that made it different from its rivals. She was, and is,  an independent spirit - her own woman in every word she writes. While her personal voice and experience resonates through her pieces she avoids, unlike many other columnists, obstructing the view by plonking herself centre-stage. Another unusual thing: she is never politically predictable. Reading her Independent  articles, one had a sense of a person, a kindred spirit,  thinking aloud, rather than haranguing. And her prose is clear, funny, and heartfelt. God knows why...

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When Will Met Matthew

The question was where to play Will Self. He would be a dominant presence in central defence, of course, but what we needed was a goal-scorer. As player-manager, I saw him in the role of the traditional centre-forward  -  a big lad in the number 9 shirt who could wind up the opposition and knew where the goal was. If we could just persuade Selfy to play for us, Geography wouldn't know what hit them. The year was 1994. I was reaching the end of a six-month semester as Creative Writing Fellow at the University of East Anglia. One of my duties was to work with students on the famous MA course in creative writing, run by Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. When not in a seminar room discussing metafiction, interiority and the unreliable narrator, I would sometimes play football with the would-be novelists. There was a a rough-and-ready all-weather...

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Underhand, oversexed, foul-mouthed and crude

Like many placid, slightly dull people, I have often been secretly jealous of those whose dramatic car-crash lives is the subject of endless concern and interest among their friends. It has taken until now for me to come out of the dull closet and try to sound interesting with this new song - my Song from the Van #4. https://youtu.be/8Zw6_1ueosE

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Before gender confusion became really confusing, there was Boy2Girl

This is the happy day when a new UK edition of my book Boy2Girl is published by Andersen Press. It is probably the story that gave me most fun when I was writing it. It was written at a time of change in my life, 15 years ago. I was living in a small caravan while, in the next field, builders were converting an old goose hatchery into what, all being well, would be the house where my partner Angela and I would live. I was managing the project as well as earning a living as writer, and so my days had a definite routine. At eight, I would talk to Vic Beales, the brilliant builder whose team was working on the house. Then I would drive for ten minutes to the home of my friends the Buckleys where, in a small industrial unit next to their house, I wrote...

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Enter Pervy John – songs From the van #3

I wrote 'My Village' one autumn a few years back. It was, I think, provoked by the idea that the great city-dwelling majority of the population were given a distorted view of life in the country  - one that was half Midsomer Murders  and half Springwatch. I wanted to tell the truth. Of course, I did nothing of the kind. My song quickly went off the rails. It now hovers  - rather oddly, some might think  - between satire and sentimentality. I've recently discovered that it is part of a musical tradition. In 1951, the great Tom Lehrer  released 'My Home Town'. Then Paddy Roberts had a go ten years later with 'Our Little Village'.  Less, comically there was Paul Simon's 'My Little Town' in 1975. None of them, though, had a chicken shit smell in the air, a club for swingers and swappers run by Daphne and Jim, or Pervy John....

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