Wednesday 23 January 2008

My Open Message to Van Morrison !!!

In T.S. Eliot's poem 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock', the hapless Prufrock is described as having 'measured out my life with coffee spoons', which is, I believe, one of the saddest lines in poetry, reflecting an empty life, frittered away. Poor J. Alfred Prufrock had not, obviously, experienced the excitement of hearing really good music because to say 'I have measured out my life in music' is quite another thing altogether!

We all know that 'shit happens' in life and I've had more than my fair share, but when I look back at my life so far, it gives me great pleasure to remember the music that I have enjoyed/do enjoy. And in contemplating this recent blocking of 'unofficial'videos of your performances on the internet (when, as an author and journalist, I should be promoting my own career, not yours, which doesn't need promoting, as you know!), I have been absorbed by realizing just what an important role music has played in my life. And to give you a flavour of how I have responded to music over my life, not as a performer, but as a listener,I'm going to tell you my story.

To me, the 60's was a really great time to be a teenager. There were so many new possibilities open to us (although not so many for women as there are now), and despite the cold war and the nuclear weapons and the murders of Martin Luther King and J.F. Kennedy reminding us that 'shit happens',there was a real sense of freedom and hope, an age of innocence that, sadly, has now been lost for ever. And the music - well, that was phenomenal! And YOU were part of that. You were part of the performers and I was part of the audience and WE NEEDED EACH OTHER.

My parents bought me a record player for my thirteenth birthday and then proceeded to insist that my brother and I listen with them to their latest classical LPS, so I was introduced, at a relatively early age, to the greats of classical music. As you may well imagine, I wasn't too enthusiastic at the time but now I appreciate what a wonderful thing they did for us. (Like the compulsory all-day walks at the weekend with some of their pupils (they were both teachers)which I hated at the time (often wet and cold) but which have inspired me, now, to be an avid walker and I have walked from end-to-end of such beautiful cities as Vienna, Paris, Madrid and Florence.)

However, I loved pop music and often bought singles from my pocket-money and then weekend jobs. And I'm not too proud to admit that my very first single was Pearl Car and Teddy Johnson's 'Looking High High High, looking Low Low Low'! Then came 'The locomotive' and 'Oh Carol' and so on until the real explosion of something far more exciting: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals etc, etc. I used to listen to 'Radio Luxemburg'each evening after I'd done my homework and for at least 6 months before it became a best seller, I raved to my friends about this fantastic song 'A lighter Shade of Pale' by Procol Harem.

I also listened to the offshore pirate station Radio Caroline and, when the BBC recognized that pop music was here to stay and they created 'Top of the Pops', I watched that religiously every week. I remember Pans People dancing in a way that was revolutionary at the time and the compere,David Jacobs, asking Samantha to play the record while some hapless group had to mime and the wonky cameraman accidentally bumping into members of the audience as they danced.(Both my brother and my best friend, Janice, were part of the audience at different times, when it was originally recorded in an old warehouse in Manchester).Then the show became live and I remember falling in love with Ziggy Stardust (such beautiful clothes, beautiful voice, beautiful face) and witnessing The Beach Boys flop big-time because they couldn't re-produce their distinctive sound without all their recording set up.
And Alan Freeman's top 40 show on the radio on Sunday afternoon was a must.

And, of course, there were some songs that just took your breath away and one of them was GLORIA by THEM!

Believe it or not, I didn't realize that you were in the band until I heard you play GLORIA at Glastonbury Abbey last summer and my husband told me it was YOUR song. But more of that later.

AND I saw 'The Bonzo Dog Doo Da Band'(correct spelling?) play at a nightclub in Stockport and 'The Hollies' at Buxton Pavillion.

Then, when I was in the sixth form, after my dad had died and my brother was at Oxford University and my mum and I had moved to Sunderland, we often went to the Sunderland Empire Theatre with some of the pupils from her school, where she had taken the post of deputy-head (the largest comprehensive in the North-East - Hylton Red House Comprehensive School, which was a real eye-opener for me having previously been at a Grammar School) and we saw a new actor, Derek Jakobi, in a Shakespeare play and were amazed at his talent and we also saw the opera 'Madam Butterfly', which had me crying nearly all the way through because it was so movingly beautiful.

In the 70's, I was at Teacher Training College and Motown was all the rage: 'Heard it on the Grapevine' was one of my favourites. And I remember being on holiday in Dubrovnic one summer and being stung by a wasp just as a Cliff Richard song was playing on the juke-box (by the way, a cold stone pressed against a sting works wonders). I also saw, live, in York where I was training, both 'The Move' at the Guildhall and 'The Who' at York University, where I had the great honour of having my hand almost crushed by a hefty roadie who stood on it as he dashed across the stage (my hands were stupidly resting on the stage) and, yes, Pete Townsend smashed up his guitar at the end and I have to say I didn't particularly like that - it seemed such a waste to me.

Then, after I had graduated, I moved to Cyprus but listened avidly to the latest hits on The British Forces Broadcasting Service. I can remember being in a minor car crash whilst 'Ernie the Greatest Milkman in the World'(Bennie Hill)was playing on the radio, and giggling at the mis-spelling of Cilla Black's song 'Anyone who had a hat.'
And in 1974, I adored "Waterloo' (Abba) when it won the Eurovision Song Contest and my husband at that time had lots of Swedish tourists who visited his pub and they brought me lovely baby presents because I was pregnant (including coloured nappies which were quite something).And one of their little girls left her white clogs in the pub. But they were never able to retrieve them and they're probably still there today because in July of that year, the Turkish army invaded Cyprus and we all fled for our lives, my husband and I returning to England. And,unsurprisingly,as well as losing touch with all my friends and losing all my dogs and my material possessions, I also totally lost touch with music, concentrating on having a baby and listening mainly to news items on the TV and Radio 4.

The next few years are a bit of a blur and most definitely a 'shit happens' time. Amid all the turmoil of being a refugee, eventually returning to Cyprus to discover that the idyllic life there had well and truly gone, re-returning to England, divorcing and working as a supply teacher and bringing up a child as a single parent, I vaguely remember The Eagles, Jerry Rafferty and Kate Bush, a splattering of classical music, Paveroti and Elvis dying, far too young and far too unhappy ('You were always on my mind' is one of my favourites) but all the joy had gone out of my love for music.
And then I met my future husband, John, and he was such a fan of yours, having seen you play live several times and constantly playing your music, I was re-introduced to the pleasures of music and that music was YOURS - Van the Man. Mr Van Morrison.
I can remember clearly one holiday in the west of Scotland, which has, I believe,the most spectacular scenery in the whole world, and it was my turn to drive the car and we drove for miles down this narrow winding road parallel to Loch Portsonachan looking for somewhere to stay for the night and we had one of your tapes on and it was such a perfect combination of Celtic scenery and Celtic music. (I also, accidentally, kept the hand break on all the time so we had an accompanying smell as well.) And, yes, we found a wonderful hotel down that long road with big leather armchairs, an open log fire and spectacular views across the loch from the dining room.

And we went to one of your concerts in Newcastle although I have to say that the atmosphere was nothing like that of Glastonbury last summer. We also saw Santana in Bournemouth and I don't think my ears have ever quite recovered from that auditory onslaught, but it was certainly worth it.

But, as so often happens in life, just when you think you're back on track after 'shit happens' times, something totally different rears its ugly head and takes a massive swipe at you and for me it was an ME type illness that knocked me for six and incapacitated me for quite a number of years. I was so poorly and in such pain that I couldn't bear to listen to music at all, it was just too physically and emotionally challenging.

This is not meant to be a sob story - it's just part of my history - and suffice to say that with the help of my husband and daughter, a brilliant doctor and osteopath,the use of a TENS machine when necessary, my discovery of Inglewood and Forest Mere Health Farms, and a gradual build up of swimming and exercises which I maintain to this day, I literally clawed my way, shouting and screaming, back to life again. And it was when I was at my very lowest that I became a Christian: our Christian neighbours prayed for me (something I found very embarrassing at the time, not being a Christian then),and to my great surprise, I could see a small white candle flame flickering inside me, just for 30 seconds or so, and I had never experienced that before but I knew exactly what it was-my very first experience of Jesus Christ. And did I jump up, totally and miraculously healed? Sadly not! But it was the start of my recovery and my spiritual journey that has given my life a whole new meaning.
Come on, Maggie, what about the music? you might ask impatiently. Did you turn to Christian music, gospel singing etc. Well, no, actually. It's not really my thing although I do have a CD (Mission Bells) by a Christian group called Delirious who are fantastic. But I can see now so much more in the music that I had previously enjoyed, and, of course, so many of your lyrics are incredible because they speak to something deep inside me. I can feel the emotion you express and I understand it because I've been there and felt that too.

However, the real revival for me came about ten years ago when John introduced me to Morocco and Gnaoua and World Music. (I have written about this extensively on the daftnotstupid blog and if you're really interested in exciting music then take a peek at the daftnotstupid Youtube site or go to Since then, we have gone to the Gnaoua and World Music Festival in Essaouira (on the Moroccan Atlantic coast) every June (it's free, by the way, and last several days) and from vaguely liking such music to becoming an absolute convert, unable not to dance when I'm listen to the music live and prepared to sit half the night in the home of Maleem Mahmoud Guinea in Essaouira this past Xmas Night, listening to his private music session, then I feel that music and I are more than back on track again
Now, to the point of recording live music, which is the main point that I'm coming to (believe it or not), this has been a revelation to us and introduced us to a whole new world of the internet, linking us with people from all over the world whose shared interest is music - not making money from it, or ripping off artists or record companies - but sharing a passion that crosses every barrier you can think of reminding us that no matter what race or colour or culture or language or gender or age or religion, we, the people of this world, all share a common humanity and it is music more than anything else that reminds us that we are all God's children.

The first recording we made (and when I say 'we' I mean John!) was the closing song 'Africa' of the 2004 (?)festival sung by the absolutely astounding Youssou N'Dour from Senegal. John recorded about two minutes on his mobile phone so there was vision as well as sound. It was pretty good and still gives me goosebumps when I see/hear it. Then, last June, John was looking for some gadget or other on the net and came across a dinky little recorder - just sound. He bought some extras, including a microphone with a 'dead cat', and took it with him to the Festival. This wasn't an excessively expensive machine so we weren't expected the quality to be any more than basic, especially since he was recording some distance from the stage, and we also had great fun recording podcasts, discussing the music and life in general and mucking around like kids. So, when we got home, imagine our surprise when we discovered that the recordings were pretty damn good and still in a buzz after days of the most exquisite music, join posted quite a number of recordings on our daftnotstupid Youtube site. And to our amazement, we started getting hits and comments and requests to be 'friends' from people not just in Morocco (the Moroccans are rightly proud of their music) but also from all over the world. And we were listening to 'videos' on their sites of not just the artists that we had recorded but other artists, too, and so we were introduced to really good artists who we had never heard of before. Most of these artists don't have record companies or publicity so we were really pleased that we were doing our bit to introduce an appreciative audience to fresh/relatively undiscovered talent in the hope that if and when they did make CDs, then people could buy them, or at least go to their concerts, and so audiences would grow and enjoy the fantastic music they had no idea was being made, particularly the fusion of different musical genres.

Also, we have in Winchester, where we now live, an arts centre called 'The Tower" (in threat of closure!) and a World Music group called LOLOU were playing there so John went along with his little machine and asked if he could record them and they said 'great' and he did and sent them a CD he had made of their set and the manager phoned up and thanked him. So, so far, so good.

And then there was YOUR gig at Glastonbury Abbey last August. Now, Glastonbury is a very special place for us: we have been going there regularly for several years now, not because of the big festival (all those crowds, all that mud!) but because we discovered that John has a half-sister living there, with her three kids, and it is such a delight to visit them. We had already been to the Abbey Festival to hear Nigel Kennedy perform a few years ago (words cannot adequately describe his rendition of 'Danny Boy'), so when we heard that you were going to be playing on the Friday, we bought tickets for all of us to go ( there were 7 of us altogether so we're talking about hundreds of pounds here, so there was no attempt to swindle you or your record company) and we turned up on a glorious summer evening, along with hundreds of others, with our rugs and picnic baskets and bottles of wine, and settled down to enjoy the evening. Corrine Bailey Rae performed first and she was just lovely: note perfect, sweet, sweet voice, smiling all the time.

(Note to self to buy some of her CDs when I'm next in town.(Given to me by my daughter as a birthday present but they were BOUGHT.)

And then you and your band and backing singers came on and the whole place just exploded. If there had been a roof over us, then surely it would have lifted. You must have felt your audience's reaction to you: you filled the night sky and Glastonbury and beyond with such powerful, exciting music. And we,the audience, were dancing and clapping and singing along and we loved it and we loved you. And all of you on the stage, including you(!), looked as if you were enjoying it, too. How could you not!
The wine at our little camp had been flowing freely (when we weren't pressed up to the stage or dancing) and although John had brought his recording gear with him, he was reluctant to record you for obvious reasons but we all egged him on because we wanted to listen to this performance again, and so he eventually did so.

Back home, and we heard what he had recorded and it was GOOD, VERY GOOD. So, he popped a few onto his Youtube site and guess what - they were POPULAR, VERY POPULAR! And we thought it was great because we hoped that people who came onto the site would dip into the Gnaoua and World Music videos and discover this very different music and perhaps learn more about it.

And I was delighted to discover, later, that the curate at my church and his wife had also been in the audience that Friday to celebrate their wedding anniversary and there was my theory of 'it's a small world' and we all have 'a shared humanity' re-enforced.
BUT then,a few Fridays ago, all your 'unofficial' videos were blocked. At first, we thought it was just on our site but then we learnt that it was all of your videos on all of the sites and that the same thing had happened to Led Zeppelin recently and now the Arctic Monkeys and probably more and more as I write this blog, via a company called Web Sheriff.

Now, I know that technically and legally you and your company, Polydor, and all artists with a label have copyright rights and I guess that these few minutes of live recordings are unauthorized BUT it seems to me that a sledge hammer is being used to crack a walnut. I can understand you objecting if people try to make money out of such recordings but what about the rest of us who want to share our experiences of seeing you perform and to delight in the live presentation of your music, with all the background noises that make such recordings so individual, for those of us who already have ALL your records/tapes/CDs and will go out and by the new ones in March, who have already forked out loads of money over the years and have contributed to your success? And what about all the exchanges between fans that were previously possible? And what about those 'unofficial' sites that have you playing with some of the other greats of music that are unique and plot your development of your music and your talent that have not been made available by YOUR RECORD COMPANY !!!

Is there not a duty of care to preserve and allow such recordings to be made available as part of the history of music itself?

Here's a thought:- why don't you ask your record company to contact all those who have such recordings to negotiate some form of transfer of such recordings so that they can be made available to a wider audience. After all, these guys have, themselves, devoted time and money to promote your music.

OR how about allowing back onto the net, after the releases of your new CDs, genuine sites of these wonderful 'unofficial' videos, in the good old Biblical tradition of donating at least ten percent of what you make for free?

Please think about this if, by some miracle or other, you get to read this. You are, after all, your own man, aren't you?

By the way, John requested that you be a 'friend' months ago and you agreed so you are actually top of list of our friends (which includes the fantastic Band of Gnaoua, Ray Lema, Hoba Hoba Spirit and Lolou) and so it will remain because we are proud of your friendship. But we would also like to be able to re-post those videos that were blocked (which we won't do without your consent) so we can draw in people to this other, very unpublicized music, on our site.

To make money? NO! To share in this medium for bringing people together. Yes!

I rest my case.

Maggie x

P.S. I do not have copyright for the line of Eliot's poem so I do hope that Web Sheriff don't come down on me like a ton of bricks!

Tuesday 1 January 2008


Hi! I'm Maggie and I'll be writing here in all sections of this bog site so keep a look out!

I did intend to use this blog site as a showcase for my creative writing, using it more or less as a web-site, but it seems to have evolved, right from the word go, into something much wider.

So, my very first blog post has actually been all about music! It's an open letter to Van Morrison about his record company's recent use of a company called Web Sheriff to block all of his unofficial sites. Many of these sites contained both vintage and modern amateur 'videos' on Youtube of Van playing with his band or great legends of music like Bob Dylan and is a real loss, not only to Van Morrison fans but also to the history of music.

Obviously, Van Morrison was unmoved by my appeal but Web Sheriff did send me a lovely e-mail and I am unashamedly going to use a quote from it: '...we'd like to thank you for taking the time to write such an eloquent letter (to call it a post would be too demeaning) and, naturally, we fully respect your right to air your views...'
So, if anyone from from Web Sheriff reads this, I'd like to thank them for this favourable quote. As a relatively unknown author, I have to grab them from wherever I can.

I have also written posts about the Essaouira Gnawa and World Music Festival (with photographs), September in Italy (with photographs), The Wire, musicians such as Ky-mani Marley (with a direct link to his live performance of his father's famous song 'No woman, no cry'), Polly and Billet Deux (with photographs), Stornaway - all of whom I've seen live - plus lots, lots more. They can all be found in the posts section of this blog.

Another post that I've written, by the way, plus photographs, which is on the daftnotstupid site (run by my husband), is about a live music performance at the home of the Master Gnaoua Musician, Mahmoud Guinea, in Essaouira, Morocco, on Xmas Day 2008.

I adapted it into a newspaper travel article and sent it to the top seven broadsheets. Two wrote back saying 'thank you but no thank you', someone from The Times actually phoned me up to say thank you but no thank you, but four have still not replied so I'm hoping that this is a positive sign and am keeping my fingers crossed because it's far more interesting (I believe) than the kind of bland travel writing that focuses on the surface appearance of a place and nothing more. (Since writing this, we've had another Xmas so it looks like they were all binned.)

At present, I'm trying to find a literary agent because I've just completed my first fiction novel, Cyprus Blues, and naturally wish to have it published. I think it's a 'bloody good read' but, of course, I may be slightly biased. Today I sent the obligatory introductory letter, synopsis and 1st 3 chapters to three more agents. (I've stopped including a SAE for confirmation of receipt because either I forget to actually put stamps on (!) or agents don't use them. And I've also stop putting my work into nice, tidy plastic covers because most don't come back. Nor, I should add, do most of my paper clips.)

Just to help you navigate this blog site, because, natuarally, I'd like you to read it all (!), here is a brief description of each section:-
* biography
* commentary on novels I have recently read
* journalistic pieces I have written
* short stories I have had published
* present writing work
* six word memoirs - work in progress
* my great graffiti finds (usually from the walls of ladies' toilets) -work in progress
* pearls of wisdom - work in progress
* photographs - work in progress
* links
* blog posts.


Time to start the new novel - Winchester Blues.

I hope you enjoy the insights into the life/thinking of a journalist/author/eccentric 1960's dolly-bird and please feel free to leave comments.

P.S. Since writing this, I have given up my search for an agent and intend the publish CYPRUS BLUES as an e-book.



WOOPS - not many photos here! This is my dog, Archie, who has a very interesting background: he's a rescue dog who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown when we scooped him up, gave him a home and moulded him into becoming just as eccentric as we are. One day I might just write about it.

I've put photos in other sections of this site. They're a real pain to transfer onto a blog/web-site because it takes so long but photos can often tell a story more effectively than words and I say this as a writer. When you see a picture (or a bar chart etc) you can see at glance what's what. Hope I'm not making myself redundant!


Listen to Gnaoua, world, and other great music at DaftNotStupid


Stories and story-telling have always played an important part of my life. My parents always read a night-time story to my brother and I, and my father actually made up his own stories, too: The Adventures of Mr Motty about an engine-driver, Tommy, his assistant, a flying bed and a talking pig (long before flying beds and talking pigs became the vogue in children's stories.)

And the radio, also, was a medium for stories. I remember, as a small child, my brother and I sitting on inset stone seats either side of the electric fire, after lunch, listening to the 'Listen With Mother', which I guess was on The Home Service then. And afterwards, we'd have our afternoon nap. Stories, radio and afternoon naps have remained in my repertoire of enjoyable experiences to be indulged in as often as time allows.

How magical it was to be transported into another world where anything and everything can happen: the terror and excitement of Grimm's Fairy Tales: Enid Blyton's 'Famous Five' etc with the adventurous children, the dog and afternoon tea with mother's home baked scones and lashings and lashings of butter and jam! (once I could read for myself) and then, when I was studying English, the great literature of the world telling the most heart-wrenching stories. And more, far more. Stories, poems, plays: they all have the ability to enrich life, understand life, cope with life.

So, when I decided to train as a Primary School Teacher at St John's College, York, it was no surprise that I opted to take English as my main subject; a decision which I appreciate now, to have been a very wise one (although I'm sure I didn't realise it at the time.) The only writer I really couldn't stand in my studies was D.H.Lawrence: all that angst and introversion and class struggle. Help!

I've taught at infant, junior and secondary level (English and Drama) in both England and Cyprus, where I lived for 5 years, and with all the moving around from place to place, I've always been able to find a teaching job and private teaching, so it was a good career to have chosen.

But I wanted to write as well - have done since I was young. The first piece of writing I had published was in the school magazine when I was in the Writer's Club, as a pupil, at Marple Hall Grammar School. Ironically, it was a poem about the conflict between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the 60's. I had seen a item about the inter-communal fighting on the news and had been moved to write about it. Little did I know, then, that one day I would be part of that conflict and would become a refugee after the Turkish Invasion of that beautiful country in 1974.

Whilst I was living in Cyprus, I wrote my first children's novel: The Adventures of Matilda and Archibald, the dragon. I also drew pictures for it but, sadly, it got left behind, with all my other possessions, in 1974.

Anyone who knows anything about teaching will know that increasingly, over the years, the work load has expanded at an alarming rate, reaching the point where it is now ridiculous, so there was no time for personal writing, apart from those times when I was supply teaching, when I wrote my own version of The Adventures of Mr Motty , plus a few short stories.

I sent my Mr Motty novel to a few publishers, not knowing that a synopsis and covering letter were essential (so amateurish, I realise now) and the stories to Radio 4, blissfully unaware that it's easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than get an unsolicited story read on Radio 4.

I did, however, have a letter published in The Independent in response to a journalist's scathing remarks about the Duchess of York's toe-sucking scandal and a letter of mine was read out on "Any Answers' on Radio 4. The start of my journalistic career!

About 6 years ago, I decided to quit teaching and concentrate on writing. By this time, I had mainly been teaching English so had learnt a lot about the art of writing but I decide to supplement this with a correspondence course with The Writer's Bureau, which was very productive. What I did learn, more than anything, was that I didn't know much about writing at all! And improving my writing, searching for /developing the great writer in me has been an exciting journey. It's as though I have a second life now. It doesn't pay as much as teaching (so far!) but I love, love, love it!