I’m going to be on the radio

Good evening Ipswich Town! (image source: fan pop.com)

Good evening Ipswich Town! (image source: fan pop.com)

I’m just breaking my self-imposed blogging embargo to let you know that I’ll be on the radio to talk about Second Chance this Thursday! How exciting is that? Frankly, I’m slightly terrified at the thought but it should be good fun. I’ve been allowed to choose a few songs that helped inspire my writing, so even if you get bored of my voice you should stay entertained – and it may give you a better insight on how my mind works, for better or worse.

The show is ‘Why the long face?’ with Neale and Shane on ICRFM (105.7FM if you live in Suffolk) or via http://www.icrfm.co.uk if you live elsewhere and is on this Thursday between 10pm and midnight GMT, which is an ideal time for my family in the USA. If, however, that’s a little past your bedtime, I’ll post a link to a recording of the show early next week.

The very nice Shane invited me on the show having read Second Chance. He also wrote a very nice review on the Afterword website including the following:

Set in the near-future (no, come back….) – you know the sort, where they have psychotropic drugs in nightclubs but you still need a good cup of coffee to get you going in the morning – a small cast of characters gradually becomes entwined when someone mysteriously goes missing, the detective assigned to the case is baffled and politicians seeking poll boosts become involved. So far, so Phillip K Dick, yes? Although Hearn wears his influences very clearly on his sleeve, he also has a conversational tone, keeps the rhythm of the writing brisk and has well-developed characters who are easy to become engaged with, whatever their moral stripe. Cleverly blurring the lines between whether this is ultimately a Utopian or a Dystopian society he’s also not afraid to plunge into a bit of casual Nihilism as the mood takes him.

How about that to raise your appetite? After such kind words, I’m hoping for a gentle ride on Thursday but you never know. It could be radio gold or it may be a train wreck, but what better reasons could you need to tune in.

As for my writing, I’m over halfway through the first draft of the followup to Second Chance and it appears to be going well. As always, the characters keep surprising me and there are a number of new characters that have appeared fully formed out of the ether. It has been great fun to write and I hope you enjoy how the story develops. Once the first draft is finished I’ll be back to regular blogging – unless of course I come down with a severe bout of procrastination. We’ll see…

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Positive discrimination for Suffolk

Southwold on a typical summer's day ©Dylan Hearn 2013

Southwold on a typical summer’s day ©Dylan Hearn 2013

According to the Guardian today, the comedian Dara O’Briain has “hit out” at a BBC ban on men-only panel shows. For those of you who are either a) not from the UK; or b) from the UK but have better things to do than worry about the make up of panel shows, a senior member of the BBC has put out an edict banning all men panel shows in an effort to rectify gender imbalance. The fact that such an imbalance exists should be no surprise to those of us who watch QI, Mock the Week and the like. The problem is, according to Dara O’Briain on Twitter, he has said no such thing. What he actually said was that it was wrong to make the edict public, because now talented performers who would have been chosen to be on the show through talent alone, will now be seen as the token woman. He has a point.

Sexiest ginger on the planet - Suffolk's Ed Sheeran (image source: banging-edsheeran.tumblr.com)

Sexiest ginger on the planet – Suffolk’s Ed Sheeran (image source: banging-edsheeran.tumblr.com)

This, though,  got me thinking. Because there is another, much more under-represented group that should be on TV: people from Suffolk. Now you may scoff but name me one person who originated from Suffolk that appears on a panel show. Stumped? Me too. In fact you will do well to name anyone from Suffolk on TV at all. This is a travesty. How could a county that produces talent the likes of Ed Sheeran and er… Bernie Ecclestone be subject to such discrimination? It’s not like the media have never heard of Suffolk, they own most of bloody Southwold after all.

And it’s not like other parts of East Anglia are under-represented. Norfolk, happy to look down on the people of suffolk due to our lack of city status, have their own regional television centre in Norwich, complete with it’s pro-Norwich City Football club version of Pravda – Look East. Norfolk is also the birthplace of Stephen Fry, the charming polymath; actor, comedian, and host of another allegedly mostly misogynistic all male panel show QI. Essex do even better. Because of it’s closeness to London, Essex often appears on television, usually in one of the summer holiday ‘let’s go to the seaside’ episodes of Eastenders where the whole cast end up in Clacton for the week. And of course, they have their very own TV series – The Only Way Is Essex, or TOWIE for those who struggle to remember a string of five words. Yet for Suffolk, other than the TV series Lovejoy – starring Ian ‘f*%$ing’ McShane of Deadwood fame – which finished 20 years ago, and Bill Treacher (Arthur Fowler) who left Eastenders 19 years ago, there is nothing.

Well I’ve had enough.

It’s about time us Suffolk-folk did something about it. To start with, I have a number of suggestions for TV shows based in our beautiful county that could showcase our creativity and talent. For example:

A stunning sea view - Sizewell B (image source: www.bbc.co.uk )

A stunning sea view – Sizewell B (image source: http://www.bbc.co.uk )

The Glowing: a paranormal mystery about strange glowing creatures set in Dunwich, just down from the Sizewell nuclear plant

Bury St Edmund: A gameshow where every week two teams fight it out for the opportunity to lay Noel Edmunds to rest – in Bury St Edmunds

The Pickwick Paperchase: A team of people run around Ipswich, who’s people and streets were the inspirations for Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, trying to find the person most like the round-faced and portly Samuel Pickwick

Lavenham - catnip for wattle & daub junkies (image source: www.britainexpress.com)

Lavenham – catnip for wattle & daub junkies (image source: http://www.britainexpress.com)

The American Tourist – Local people from Lavenham see who can tell the most outrageous tale as historical fact to American Tourists and be believed

You see, we have the talent, we have the ideas, we have the connections – usually blocking the bar at the Lord Nelson, Southwold; there is no reason that the people of Suffolk should carry on being discriminated in this way. If there is enough support, you can expect to see my petition on Change.org soon

Saturday 16th November: Raevennan Husbandes, Stephen Hodd, Daniel Storey – Live at the Cottage

Raevennan Husbandes (source: https://www.facebook.com/LiveAtTheCottage)

Raevennan Husbandes (source: https://www.facebook.com/LiveAtTheCottage)

It was the last Live at the Cottage gig of the year last Saturday and what a gig to finish with. We a started with Daniel Storey, a local boy channeling the spirit of 90’s britpop. While laddish guitar bands may have fallen out of favour in recent years, as somebody who came of age during that time, listening to Storey put a new spin on an old (I can’t believe I’m writing this) style brought memories of my youth flooding back.

Storey’s opener, “Unbreakable”, set the tone for his performance; a good solid riff and an ear for melody, wedded to an unmistakable Manchester sound. As he continued through his repertoire of “Under the Metal Sky”, “Let the Light fall” and “Roll on”, the theme continued, each song performed with a brittle intensity that kept you interested. Then, for his final number, “The North Sea”, Storey changed style, the strumming replaced by finger-picking, and while it wasn’t his strongest song of the night it was the most intriguing, as it showed that he isn’t happy to rest on his laurels and is looking to push into new areas.

One of the great things about coming to live gigs is that, if you are lucky, you get to see a moment where artistry, experience, talent and venue converge to produce an unforgettable experience. This is how I felt watching Stephen Hodd. I’ve never seen him perform before but it was clear from the opening bar of “North Star”- a song about the sea and life, of uncertainty – that we were watching somebody on top of his game.

Hodd plays in a very sparse, almost delicate style, enabling you to hear every creak from his guitar, every movement of his hand. While you can tell he writes from an irish folk tradition, to me Hodd’s style was most reminiscent of Bon Ivor, in that he is not afraid to use silence for dramatic effect and the pauses between the notes are almost as important as the notes themselves. This was never more apparent than with the songs “Unbelievable Ways” and “Soul Getter”, his use of soft dynamics making the songs particularly moving.

There is also a wonderful poetic flow to his lyrics, the opening lines to “Desolation Town” being particularly poignant. What’s more, you can listen to everything Hodd has ever recorded (or buy as you so wish) by going to Savage Acoustic Records. This will give you a taste of what you missed, but in my opinion you should go and see him live while he’s in this form. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Raevennan Husbandes has a wonderful stage presence. She exudes warmth in a way that can’t be faked. There was a playfulness to her set in contrast to the more serious, introspective nature of the preceding acts. She sang with a smile that shone through her music. She started alone, playing a beautiful cover of Paul Simon’s “Kathy’s Song” which she followed by one of her own (the name I sadly missed) and it was noticeable that her original song didn’t wilt in comparison with Paul Simon’s masterpiece.

Husbandes’ style is to play a simple picking rhythm topped with a floating vocal melody – like Norah Jones singing Nick Drake – and when joined by the excellent Simon Lewis on cello, produces a rich, mellow sound unique to her. A good example was ‘Box of Innocence”, where Husbandes’ understated vocal dexterity blends into the fabric of the song to form a whole, as opposed to many modern artists who use vocal gymnastics as a means of showing off, to the detriment of the song.

Songs like “House of wood“, written by (and recorded with) Guy Chambers on the album “Harbour of songs”, and “About Somebody” confirmed that Husbandes has talent to burn, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Having Husbandes play as the final headliner of the year was, I felt, appropriate. The quality of the acts playing each month has been outstanding and with Raevennan Husbandes’ set the guys from Wet Feet Records sent everybody way with warm and happy hearts. I can’t wait for February when it all starts again.

Saturday 7th September: Kevin Pearce, Cara Winter, Terence Blacker – Live at the Cottage

Kevin Pearce: Simply magical

Kevin Pearce: Simply magical (image source: last.fm)

There’s a bit of the rogue in Terence Blacker. You don’t open your set with a song promoting one night stands in a room packed with middle-aged villagers without looking to provoke, and judging by the nervous laughter around me, Blacker got his wish. The secret love child of Richard Digence and Victoria Wood, Blacker seems happiest when puncturing pomposity and self-delusion, his clear-eyed observations matched by a playful use of language that betrays his day job as an author, and columnist to a national newspaper.

The highlights of his set were “Sad old bastards with guitars”, a song that had me laughing out loud as I recognised many of the images portrayed, and “My Village”, a song betraying his affection for village life whilst still giving him the chance to tweak a nipple or two. All Blacker’s songs come with a veneer of gentle humour but don’t be fooled. There is real bite to his wit, and while his choice of targets  in “I’d rather be French” and the “Anti folk, folk song” were spot on, some of his quips dripped with disdain. For the most part, though, Blacker had the room in stitches and I would heartily recommend you see him play, provided of course that you aren’t a third generation village dwelling ex-pat rocker cum folk singer.

In complete contrast, Cara Winters writes songs of a much more personal and introverted nature. Her combination of rolling piano and delicately sweeping melodies places her very much in the school of singer songwriters that includes Kate Bush and Tori Amos, though without the melodrama of the latter. From the opening chords of “Butterfly” Winter created a sonic soundscape that was fragile but with a strong emotional pull.

Highlights from her set were “Rebecca”, influenced by the Daphne Du Maurier novel of the same name, and “Do you have a heart”, introduced as the mousey song. Winter has a very distinctive style and a wonderful voice that combine well on each song. If I was to have one criticism it would be that in their acoustic form her songs sounded very similar. Each on its own was excellent but as a set there was a lack of tonal or dynamic difference. Thinking back on the gig a couple of days later it is hard for me to separate one song from the other, yet her album provides a very different experience as she enhances each song  through clever arrangements. I would recommend seeing Winter with her full band, or even better full orchestration, which sets off her music beautifully.

The only previous time I had seen Kevin Pearce play was with Kal Lavelle in support of Bastille at the Apex, Bury St Edmunds. Playing solo, his subtle sound was lost in such a large auditorium but he had shown enough promise that I couldn’t wait to see him in a more intimate venue. He didn’t disappoint.

From the very outset, Pearce took us on a musical journey, his alternate guitar tunings giving “The Tale of Stardust” and “Tides” an otherworldly feel, as if Pearce had come down from space to spread tales of old Albion. He has been compared in the past to Cat Stevens and Nick Drake, which whilst understandable, does him an injustice. While he may plough the ancient past for inspiration, what Pearce delivers is very new.

Compositionally, Pearce enjoys playing with repetitive themes, using subtle variations in his playing to drive the songs forward whilst his soaring vocal lines act as counterpoint. This was nowhere more evident than with “Freezing” , where his lightness of touch drew you further and further into the song until, as he sang his final falsetto note, he brought you blinking back to reality. A virtuoso performance and a truly stand out moment.

Then, just as  you were becoming used to this mystic journey, Pearce reverted to standard tuning and a more familiar soundscape. Whether singing “We’ve been loving”, a song capturing that end of summer feeling, or the pared down “Winter Atmosphere Head”, Pearce slowly steered us back to the here and now. Eventually the journey had to end and with the wonderful song “The Wormhole”, we arrived home. The crowd gave Pearce a rousing round of applause and the called for encore was duly delivered, “Peaceful Skies” providing the perfect ending to a great night’s entertainment.

Storms over Suffolk

We had some amazing storms over Suffolk today. Well the storms themselves were pretty standard but I’ve never seen cloud formations like these before. Enjoy!

All photographs were taken on my iPhone and then enhanced using the Snapseed app to reflect what my eyes were seeing.

Storm clouds over Suffolk (©Dylan Hearn 2013)

Storm clouds over Suffolk (©Dylan Hearn 2013)

More storm clouds over Suffolk (©Dylan Hearn 2013)

More storm clouds over Suffolk (©Dylan Hearn 2013)

People who don’t say hello

Even I can be neighbourly, in the right circumstances

Even I can be neighbourly, in the right circumstances

I love where I live. It was a big change moving to a village from living in the centre of a major city. I was lucky, though and didn’t suffer the culture shock that many city dwellers do (What? You don’t have a persian deli? Where can I get some Tabrizi bread?) I had been raised in village and it felt like moving home. The one thing I had forgotten, though, was that nearly everybody you meet says hello. Now, I know there are villages where people don’t say hello, villages where two types of people live: locals and soon-to-move-out outsiders. Our village isn’t like that. Even on the damp freezing day of our first visit, strangers said hello to my wife and I as they walked by. We fell in love immediately.

Of course, the hello ritual has its pitfalls. For a start, you need to know the time. I don’t know how many times I’ve said “Good Morning” to somebody, only to curse myself as soon as the words are out of my mouth because it’s past noon. You can see it written all over their faces.” Good morning? Can’t he see the position of the sun?” The shame can be unbearable.

There is also the issue of not knowing a person’s name. I’m terrible with names. Another reason I fell in love with the village was that the first three people I got to know were called Steve. It was bliss. Then I met a Dave and a Lee and the whole thing fell apart. Don’t even get me started on Dan. There are people in the village with whom I’ve had long, frequent conversations and I still can’t remember their name. It’s nothing personal, the name just fails to sink in. Yet when I see them out and they say “Hello Dylan,” I squirm with embarrassment, groping around in my memory looking for any sort of prompt that could help me greet them by name in return.

But even in a village as friendly as ours, there are  people who don’t say hello. I tend to break them down into four main groups:

  • The preoccupied – by far the most common group. They are not snubbing you, they are concentrating on something else, like chasing after their child who happens to be skipping towards an onrushing combine harvester. Nine times out of ten the preoccupied will say hello, just not today.
  • The shy – always a good group to say hello to. It’s not often you can get a physical reaction from somebody by saying one word to them (swear words not included.)
  • People who don’t know you – this group really have no excuse. You may not have seen me before but that’s no excuse for not returning a hello. There are people in the village who have never said anything but hello to me, or I to them, in over two years, yet we feel as if we know each other. Shame on you.
  • Then there is my favourite group – The Antisocial. These are people who know about the hello social convention but choose not to play. Everybody knows them. If you live in my village I bet you know who I’m talking about. If you don’t, then you’re probably one of them. They are the type of person who sees you walking towards them, smile on face, mouth opening to speak, and their eyes slip to the side, or down; anywhere but where you are standing. It’s an effect  Harry Potter would be familiar with when he wore his invisibility cloak. Then, head bowed, the antisocial person rushes past, desperate to be away in case your show of neighbourliness brings them out in hives.

The thing is, most ‘helloers,’ as I like to call us, ignore the antisocial. They believe that if a person doesn’t want to say hello then that’s their prerogative. I’m a little different. I’m more of an evangelical helloer. I want to bring them to the light. Rather than ignore these people I try to convert them, deliberately targeting the antisocial until I get a greeting in return. I see it as my calling.

Now you have to be careful. Being an evangelical helloer can be quite risky. A balance needs to be made. Saying hello too loud and you come across as arrogant, even slightly deranged. Being too soft and you will end up ignored. It’s important to maintain eye contact and a smile at all times; it doesn’t feel neighbourly to have ‘hello’ bellowed in your face by an angry looking loon. You also need to choose your targets carefully. As a middle aged man, I wouldn’t recommend trying to get a hello out of teenage girls; the following police interviews can be uncomfortable.

Occasionally, though, something happens that makes the whole thing worthwhile. There was an old lady who I used to meet every morning on the school run. Now old ladies are the founders of the helloer movement; they are the helloer fundamentalists. Old ladies greet everybody they meet as if they were long lost family, with a beaming smile accentuated by their paper soft cheeks. However, this old lady was different. While most old ladies break out into a smile as easy as breathing, this old lady was of a type more likely to offer you a poisoned apple. Here was a worthy challenge. Every day I would pass this old lady and every day she would ignore my greeting.

Every day, five times a week, for over a year.

I was getting close to giving up until one day as I was returning from the school run with my two boys, I pushed our pushchair  through the biggest pile of dog shit you could imagine. As I stood there swearing about thoughtless dog owners, the old lady approached with a big smile lighting up her face. “Good afternoon dear,” she said, laughter in her voice. That day I was on the side of the antisocial.

Sat 8th June: The Floe, Al Lindsay, Lucy Sampson – Live at the Cottage, Debenham, UK

One of the best music venues in Suffolk

One of the best music venues in Suffolk

Walking through the door to the venue, my doubts intensified. This was Dove Cottage, a place imbued with the essence of parish council meetings and WI tea mornings; famous throughout the village for its dusty beams and faded chintz curtains. Why had anyone thought that this could be a music venue?

Rows of chairs filled both sides of the V-shaped room. A number of people had arrived early and there was a palpable sense of excitement. Many had brought cool bags, taking full advantage of the ability to bring your own to the gig. As the alcohol flowed, the scent of spiced savouries filled the room.

I sat with some friends and waited, hoping the gig would go OK. While we caught up, the remaining seats filled quickly until at last every one was taken. The fact that the gig was a sell out should have put me at ease, but my concern increased; this was a lot of people to disappoint.

Finally, the lights dimmed and Lucy Sampson walked to the mic. She played the intro of her opening song and as she started to sing, all my doubts evaporated. The dusty beams and chintz curtains provided perfect dampening, enabling David Booth to deliver a sound so intimate that it felt as if the artist was singing for you alone. The surroundings faded into the background so that only Lucy, her audience and her wonderful music remained.

Now, I have a confession to make. While Lucy sang, a little piece of my heart was hers. There was an honesty to her performance that can’t be faked, gently taking us by the hand and leading us through stories of heartbreak and loss. The highlight for me was her song “Trust,” which has been on constant rotation at home ever since. When the lights went up after Lucy’s far too brief set my friend turned to me. “Shit a brick,” he said, “I wasn’t expecting that. She was fantastic.” I couldn’t have agreed more.

A quick changeover was followed by a change in mood with the soulful funk tinged songs of Al Lindsay and Oliver Arditi, every song an intricate interplay between guitar and bass so skilful that if you closed your eyes you would have believed there were twice as many people on stage. Al has a singing voice many artists would die for, like Chris Rea’s but dipped in honey, and the audience was soon swallowed up inside their acoustic groove.

Expectations were at a high as The Floe took to the stage, yet from the opening chords of Sakura, the audience knew they were in for something special. Here were two people clearly in love with what they were doing, delivering perfectly crafted pop ballads in a style open enough to fill stadiums yet with an intimacy that suited the venue and audience perfectly. Never has melancholy been so uplifting. There were so many highlights from their set: Sakura, Don’t Look Down; Irreplaceable, and the giggle filled Pearshaped to name but a few. Between songs, Sarah was witty and entertaining, clearly enjoying herself as she toyed with the crowd. It is a testament to their talent that their cover of Skyfall was one of the weakest songs of the set. Eventually it had to happen, and during Sun, Moon and Stars I fell in love once more. The standing ovation they received at the end of the gig was fully deserved.

Then, sadly, it was over. The lights went on, the audience started to leave. Dove Cottage reverted to type. Yet, for a few hours, Dove Cottage had been a venue of real quality. I may have had my doubts but the people at Wet Feet Records didn’t. If future gigs are as accomplished as this one, Live at the Cottage has an assured future. I have never been so happy to be proven wrong.