A little music in a short film about Combe Haven Defenders

‘Standing Our Ground’ is a powerful new short film by filmmaker Marta Lefler, about the past year of the campaign against the insanity that is the Combe Haven Link Road.  It covers the extensive protests against the road, and situates them in the context of George Osborne’s national roadbuilding programme.

The film includes interviews with campaigners and shots of beautiful Combe Haven, as well as footage of actions including the tree occupations, building a road at Osborne’s country retreat, and the ‘Granny tree’.

There are a few sliver of my guitar at about 90 seconds in. I’m really proud to have been able to be of musical assistance to this brilliant and necessary campaign.

Singers immersing Shell in hot water at the Royal Festival Hall, 25.10.11…

Oil in the Water Banner

Towards the end of October 2013, one of the choirs I’m a part of – Shell Out Sounds – decided to up the ante a little from its previous visits to the South Bank during the intervals of Shell-sponsored classical concerts. This time, we bought tickets, went into the Royal Festival Hall, and sang our piece just as the Brazilian orchestra and conductor Marin Allsop were due to take the stage.

I’d had a hand in creating the harmonies for our piece, (‘Oil in the Water’, based on the old but still powerful spiritual ‘Wade in the Water’), so I was interested to hear how it would turn out aurally. In a way it seems we stumbled on a version that had an anxious angularity that suited the fact that we were a mostly white group of singers with little direct experience of gospel singing. It could be that after a few bumpy notes, the unexpected support from the audience allowed us to settle quickly into singing together and hearing eachother well enough to glue the sound together more effectively.

There’s more background in the report on the SOS site, (plus news of some great classical reviews here), suffice to say that our biggest problem after the event was mixing the sound in such a way as to make out sound as good as possible, while not losing the particular acoustic of the RFH, (hats off to Hamish and Danny on that score.)

My favourite moment is when the banner is dropped from the first row, and the audience bursts into a round of applause – a real warning there that there is widespread disgust at the activities of companies like Shell, as well as support for culture beyond oil. That applause (not to mention the clapping along!) makes it especially hard for the Southbank Centre or Shell to claim that opposing oil sponsorship is an extremist position. Harmonic disobedience is the way forward!

And check this too:


Playing for Peace News

Hedgemustard PN benefit Oct 2013 1

On Sunday October 13th I put together a one-night only band to play a benefit in aid of the venerable yet urgent and necessary newspaper Peace NewsIn the allotted 23 minutes (!), we managed to squeeze in 4 tunes, not least by me managing to keep the banter to a minimum.

First off was ‘Jesus the Courier’, an as-yet unreleased song of mine on which I was given some wonderful, gospelified assistance from Sarah, Marcia and Grace from Songlines Choir; (we started the song all singing ‘I know the Lord will make a way for me’ from the edge of the stage, with me then stepping gingerly to the piano to take up the story from there). All through the set I had Chris on bass (and violin) and Ben on percussion. There’s nothing quite like having the bedrock of solid rhythm sectional support – I must try it more often!

Second was another one of mine called ‘Reforestation of the Heart’, then a couple of covers – since the night was ‘a celebration of people power’, I thought a reimagined version of Patti Smith’s ‘People Have the Power‘ might do the trick. As a sort of poetic middle eight, I inserted a poem by Grace Nichols I first saw on the Underground this year, ‘Moment in a Peace March’:

A holy multitude pouring
through the gates of Hyde Park –
A great hunger repeated
in cities all over the world

And when one hejab-ed woman
stumbled in the midst
how quickly she was uplifted –
With no loaves and no fish

Only the steadying doves of our arms
against the spectre of another war.

I ended the setlet with a song I was reluctant to take on: ‘Shipbuilding’, by Elvis Costello, though made famous by Robert Wyatt. Wanting to be sure I could take it somewhere other than a tribute or a pastiche of either of their versions, I was reassured by Sarah, who also put together a terrific harmony vocal. That, and the rhythm section ensuring there weren’t too many sentimental slowdowns meant that it seemed to go well enough. I’m grateful to her and everyone who helped make the music, as well as to Jon for putting the night together, and making sure there was a goodly turnout.

The rest of the night was excellent, (@dogcatchicken, Tracey Curtis), the highpoint being Songlines providing lovely harmonies for Attila the Stockbroker‘s fantastically rude tribute to Prince Harry’s much sought-after member…

From Uncivilisation to Balcombe, making the link…

Quite a while back, I helped set up a gig for the choir I’m part of – Songlines – on the opening night of the 4th and last Uncivilisation Festival. The choir’s director, Sarah Jewell, really embraced the idea, having already set to music a terrific poem from the 3rd Dark Mountain anthology – Communique, by Dan Grace. Happily, loads of members of the choir took up the idea of a foray into the wilds of Uncivilisation with real enthusiasm.

Songlines at Unciv August 2013

(Photo by Marmaduke Dando)

The show, which opened up musical proceedings on the beautiful and acoustically perfect Woodland Stage, seemed to go down a storm. We were sporting the wildest reds (partly to stand out in the gloaming, and partly to chime in with the flamenco vibe of Communique), and sang songs that spanned the spiritually yearning, the ribald and secular, and the avowedly ecological and political. Continue reading

Where there’s muck, there’s brass


On June 14th I joined the Resistance Street Band for a quick blast at the steel and glass monoliths at Canary Wharf, as part of They Owe Us, an afternoon event timed to herald the G8 leaders (almost) to these shores. It was a first foray for me with a trombone, and it was surely scary to be the centre of attention, (there being just the four of us), but it was a start. It made me wonder what kind of extraordinary things might happen if we were 25 or more, with drums, voices and other folk with a desire to speak truth (and play music) to power…And then prevent power from causing destruction and injustice. And then plant a permaculture veg patch in power’s roof terrace. And then have a righteous party…

PS. The word ‘muck’ is a reference to the bad stuff that takes place in and around Canary Wharf, not the people who work there.


(Photo: Peter Marshall)

Landing on a name

Greetings and gratitudes,

This is the latest location for my musical, mystical, poetical, political outpourings. It will soon become all singing and dancing, inasmuch as a website can. In the meantime, (and on the day they dragged Margaret Thatcher through the streets hymning her mean-spirited praises, ‘meantime’ is about the right word for it, although spring and a few sproutings of resistance are also on the rise,) you can find some tunes here: https://soundcloud.com/hedgemustard