I'll be busking across England for the next year, in order to write an album and a book about being English.
This is a project I've wanted to do since the idea emerged, fully formed, during listening to Camel's 1974 prog classic 'Mirage', 18 months ago. Quite why the idea of busking my way round England to write a book and an album should have appeared then is anyone's guess, but I was struck with an immediate and incredibly clear sense that this was what I wanted to do. However, it's taken till now to get the diary down to a point where enough time was clear to give this idea the attention it deserves.
The sense of not knowing my own country was brought home to me by the referendum result. Virtually all my friends voted to remain, but England as a whole had other ideas. Clearly, the English are a much more complex and varied group than the people around me. I thought it would be good to get to know them better, to see if we even really exist in any singular identifiable manner.
Everywhere I've been around the world, I've taken my fiddle with me. This massively changes how you are perceived. You can be the English tourist, defined by your nationality, or the musician, defined by the instrument. My best and most personal experiences have always come off the back of the fiddle. Music is universal. The fiddle is the key to unlock other cultures.
I'd like to turn that trick inward and use it to meet my own country. I'm going to travel across the nine regions of England, busking in towns, villages, and cities. Not always in the obvious places, not always even for anyone other than myself. I want to see if there's a common thread of Englishness, if the term 'English' even has any universal meaning. I'll play each day I can, wherever seems right, getting to know people and places and staying for a few days at a time in each area. I'll aim to meet social groups and people, learn the history and hear the stories. The fiddle will be my key into places, as the musician is afforded a freedom that the journalist with the notepad doesn't always enjoy.
The great freedom of doing this for the story is that I'm not tied to the most lucrative busking pitches. I can play in and travel to the places that interest me most. The most exciting thing for me is not knowing what's going to happen when I start. I have no hypothesis or particular expectations. I aim to be as open minded as I can.
Hopefully the busking will pay my way, and it's a chance to practice and write material. I'll write travel pieces for each place I visit, which I'll post to this blog as they're done. I'm limiting myself to England, as I'm an English traditional musician, and the music I know is almost entirely drawn from England. I'm just as interested in the other parts of the UK, but don't think my music as relevant. I'd be an outsider, looking on, rather than an insider trying to make sense of it.
Ultimately, the music will form the basis of an album, and the travel pieces the basis of a book. I intend to bring them out at the same time, as two different lenses focussed on the same issue.
If you want to help me, you can. I'll need;
Places to stay all over England.
Suggestions of diverse and interesting people to meet.
Suggestions of places to play or visit.
Suggestions of things to do or events to attend. Anything that you think might help me understand England better.
People to read the blog and follow what I'm up to.
A coin in the case if you see me around!
Please do suggest and nudge me into things. Come and join me for the day if you fancy.
I'll update my progress on facebook, twitter, and in this blog
The nine regions of England are
Yorkshire and Humber.
I haven't entirely settled on an order, that will be determined by circumstance, but I will aim to spend at least a fortnight in each region. I'm going to start with the North East, simply because Berwick-Upon-Tweed felt like the right place to begin. Tomorrow morning, I'm going to get in my car and go there. I'll stay in touch as I go! Wish me well.