Head In The Clouds – June 2020

When the campanulas come between you!

June 30th

This joyous photo took place in the evening, after a day of composing. I’ve been working on the chorus to the “Earthbound” song. I had hoped to have it ready by the end of June, but no…my head is still in the clouds!

Sunrise clouds at the beach

June 29th

Yes, I did go to the beach this morning, and thoroughly enjoyed myself as there was not a single other person anywhere to be seen. Neither did I drive past any other cars on the way there or back. The cloudy conditions probably accounted for that as much as anything else. Lots of progress on my now two flight songs, and I’ve instigated another recording project for The Bridge Singers for the nest week or so: Reynold The Fox, one of our all-time favourites.

June 28th

The progress of the first chocolatey rose of the year – top left to bottom right

The windy, rainy weather today has finally done for the chocolatey rose in the back yard, but there are two more buds so all’s well really. I’ve made further progress on my flying song, and hope to have it done by the end of June!

Silliness in the rain.

June 27th

There was thunder today and lots of rain. We went out for a stroll in the evening and it started to rain again. We waited under the trees on the other side of the river bank for it to pass. We watched the end of the football on the telly this evening. Man Utd beat Norwich in the FA Cup. Earlier, Cardiff won again, which is nice.

Chocolatey rose is turning paler, but new buds are a-coming!

June 26th

More song work. More observing the rose out of the window. Also I had a chat with Alison on the bridge and listened to some of Michael’s show on the radio. We watched “Carol” on All4 in the evening. It was a bit of a depressing scenario, but brilliant acting and a happy ending, which seems to be what we like at the moment!

Baby sparrow in the undergrowth.

June 25th

I finished the words to my song today, so have started on the music. In the afternoon I saw Anne out on the bridge, so I went out for a chat. She taught me a new word: kenspeckle. It means “standing out from the crowd” – i.e me in my red jumper. (I hasten to add – I was not wearing it in that scorching heat that sent the entire lower half of the country to Bournemouth Beach, and many of our young villagers into the gently flowing river here. Later still, I went out into the garden for a looksee once the heat had subsided. There were three baby sparrows sporting in the undergrowth. Later I listened to a bit of football on the radio and heard Chelsea beating Man City so that Liverpool won the league, which made me happy. Now all we need is for Cardiff to join them in the premier league next season and I’ll be happier still!

Sunrise at the beach.

June 24th

Lots achieved today. I went to the beach for sunrise for starters, which was very gorgeous indeed. Then I spent the rest of the day writing the lyrics to my new song and being generally positive. It is 100 days since the last choir rehearsal was cancelled. Since then I have written an email to the choir every day. I decided that on this 100th day I would write 100 positive things to them. I did it – finished at about midnight!

Snap dragons and lancewoods.

June 23rd

Another slow day. A few forays into the garden, but it’s really too hot for much! There are people everywhere too.

June 22nd

A slow day, a thinking sort of day. I have this new piece I want to compose. I’m just not there with the exact pathway to take. Tomorrow I shall be more methodical. I have to pretend that it’s for a workshop on Friday or something…to spur me into action!

Meanwhile out of the back window, the holiday let cottage next door has had the cleaners in and the back yard has been spruced up so maybe they’re expecting people to come back soon! Also out there, this beautiful chocolatey rose has emerged over the last five days. Smells good too. It changed direction during the rain the other day, but remains strong!

Sunrise bird.

June 21st

I was determined to go to the beach and hopefully see the sunrise on the longest day (or was that yesterday – it seems controversial this year for some reason, but in my mind 21st is always longest and there can’t be much difference really!), so I was up at 3, in the car by 3.40. I drove to Warkworth Beach for the sunrise at 4.25 – the first time I’ve done this since March. I was not optimistic what with it just starting to rain and continuing to do so through my drive to the seaside.

Pre-dawn in the wind and rain.

When I reached the beach I was confronted by a few things. One was a circular pile of detritus from an overnight solstice party perhaps. Another was a gloriously red strip of very thin cloud on the horizon which promised much for sunrise itself while the rest of the sky was dark, thick grey. And as I turned north to stroll in my usual direction, a crowd of boisterous people were heading my way. I turned south towards Amble and walked a little way along to take up my place for the sunrise. The crowd of people returned to what turned out to be their pile of detritus, gathered it all up and hied carparkwards. The sun had not even risen yet. Odd, I thought.

Bamburgh Castle in the background.

Meanwhile, it was windy and raining and me and my umbrella and the camera were struggling mightily with the conditions, but I’m not complaining because you know I’m good at making the best of things, and indeed I do like the rain. Well the sun did rise very orangely and very thinly before swathing itself on the grey clouds once more. I was happy. I posed with my umbrella to mark the occasion and then came home.

Silly walks on the fairway at Dunstanburgh.

Later, in the evening, we went out again – drove up to Budle Bay to watch the receding tide and the clouds sporting with the sun and rain. We came home along the scenic route stopping to pose in front of Bamburgh Castle, Dunstanburgh Castle with a passing snap of Warkworth as we drove. So cheery to be out and about for a bit.

June 20th

Yesterday rose. Today rose. The white climbing rose that I was pruning in March has come back fighting again. It sma=ells gorgeous, but each flower lasts two days: one day the middle is yellow; the next day the middle is black, then the petals fall off. There are lots of flowers so the whole display lasts a while, but it is ultimately a little frustrating!

I had a very lazy day today reading bits of Alastair Cook’s autobiography and listening to episodes of Archive on 4 and having naps. Did me good, I’m sure!

June 17th, 18th 19th

Three days of purely editing the Autumn Sea video, so not worth doing three separate entries here. The lyrics of the song are:

Salt mist howl facewards on the wind. 
Sea panther roar feetwards on rocks. 
Gulls screech cloudwards in the louring, growling sky, gliding, hanging. 

Roll, slate wrack-comber! 
Surge foam pool-gobbler! 

Howl on the wind. 
Roar on the rocks. 
Screech in the clouds. 
Growl on the sea. 

Sea pie parcel skywardly fly 
As the vasty deep gushes by.
The Bridge Singers performed this song last year in our Autumn tour concerts in Northumberland and Cumbria. This time we’ve recorded it as the fifth of our lockdown projects. Some of the choir recorded their parts individually at home, but now that some of the restrictions have been lifted, others of us met together on our usual choir night on Monday June 15th 2020 and recorded our parts in groups of five or six under our very own bridge in West Thirston, Northumberland. As a result of this, there is much rivery, and birdy background noise as well as two visiting dogs who barked briefly at the tenors while they were recording. We had intended interspersing the recording with the sounds of the ocean, but we feel that the river sounds are lovely and while they do not fit with the lyrics of the song, nor with the coastal pictures the choir were asked to send in to illustrate the video, they are an excellent reminder of the unique circumstances of this project!
Weeds really, but the insides of the pink foxgloves are very beautiful

June 16th

Today’s been rather like one of the old Tuesdays – lots of choiry things racing through my head preventing a proper sleep, so there were naps during the day and a general feeling of good cheer and well-being. I did start the task of sorting out all the pictures and recordings from last night and that people have sent to me, so will crack on properly in the morning.

The brown rose in the yard is readying itself.

Towards the end of the day, I did venture up the garden steps to see what’s new. We have a biggish patch of weed foxgloves which are attracting the bees so we may as well leave them until they’ve finished flowering. Also the rose down in the yard has buds on it!

Checking out the recording studio.

June 15th

This morning I went down into the river bed to see if the recent rains had caused the river to fill up more of its bed. It had, but not enough to encroach on what in the evening became The Bridge Singers’ recording studio. Groups of four or five came down under the new bridge to record their part in my song Autumn Sea and I’ll be editing it all together over the next few days. We chose under the bridge because it is still outdoors, but offers some resonance and lots of space to keep our distance. Each group had 15 minutes to get their bit sung and recorded – everyone had put in a lot of practice because they knew there’d be no time for working on anything.

One bubble of altos as seen from the old bridge.

What I had anticipated was that everyone would enjoy singing with at least a few of their colleagues again after all this individual recording, did indeed come to pass, but I hadn’t imagined that others who had done their recordings individually would come down to listen from the old bridge above and that others would hang about before and after to chat and take such delight again in each other’s company. Also, people came down to join in who had not been able to take part with the individual recordings due to technological issues. Photos were taken to use in the video and they provide good evidence that the social distancing was exemplary! The singing was good too and I shall be cracking on later with the rest of it!

Baby fern leaves!

June 14th

Lots of new leaves are unfurling on our tree ferns in the back yard. We watched the highlights of the 1991 Headingly test against the West Indies on BBCiPlayer today and a very silly episode of Midsomer Murders. Elsewhere, I made a blog for the new video! Also, my YouTube channel went past 54,000 views today. I do love these milestones!

Song Stories: Touch The History On The Breeze

The rain and wind has cause the fuscia to deposit its flowers on next door’s lean-to kitchen roof.

June 13th

I finished my video today. What an effort! It was the swirling-in letters that caused the problems – trying to get the timing right so that they’re there when the words are being sung. I could have dispensed with the swirling, but I wanted it to be like the history on the breeze! It’s an old song, well…2011. I wrote it for a trio of primary schools in the local area as part of some workshops I was doing with them. They came up with a lot of the words themselves and performed it all together in Alnwick Playhouse as part of a mini music festival with other schools in the area.

A song composed with some Year 3 and 4 children in Amble, Broomhill and Warkworth in Northumberland. The brief was to come up with an anthem or celebratory song about our three bits of Northumberland. We centred our ideas on the River Coquet flowing from the Cheviots to the North Sea and out to Coquet Island. The children also had workshops from a Northumbrian folk singer and an expert on Northumberland Tartan, and the chidren chose to include some of the new vocabulary they discovered in these workshops, specifically scutulata (checked garment), tackity boots (hobnailed boots worn, along with Northumbrian tartan, by local shepherds) and Tommynoddy, a Northumbrian word for a puffin.
Baby blue tit wants a feed!

June 12th

Today this baby blue tit appeared with its parents at our bird table. Later on there were the coal tits back too. Sometimes they’re all there together – quite a busy time for them all. I’ve been looking through some old photos today to find suitable ones for my new video. I didn’t think I had what I needed , but it turns out that I’ve taken lots of lovely photos during these last few years, so all’s well on that front! Should be finished tomorrow! I went out in the drizzle again this evening and recorded this bird singing. You can hear the rain and also the wind in the leafy trees. I hear this bird every evening, but I cannot see it.

bird wind drizzle

June 11th

More song. Still not finished but I can see the end. It’s an old song, but a new recording! The Hen Harrier people have been in touch this evening and they agree that a full recording should be available for people to help them learn it. I’ve added it to my new blog, which you can read here:

Song Stories. Skydancer: Ghost Of The Moors.

June 10th

Rainy flowers in the yard

More song, more rain. A quiet day. Nothing finished. Here’s part of an email I sent:

I was looking for songs about birds…songs that I’ve composed, that is. I came up with 14. One of them is Slow Down! Red Squirrels! Don’t be fooled by the title. Oh no! The chorus and verse 4 are indeed about red squirrels, but the other three verses are about pheasants, sparrows (spuggies) and owls (hoolets). I remember when we first moved up here and were visiting some of the many beautiful places there are to visit, I saw a Slow Down Red Squirrels sign just on the other side of the hump-backed bridge at Wallington and stored it in my mind for a song later. Then when I was doing some work in a primary school in Alnwick, they asked me if I had a song about the local wildlife. I didn’t, but this idea came back to me, so I set to writing one. At about that time I’d been hearing lots of tawny owls hooting around here and thought I could write a song about squirrels and owls.


At the time my next door neighbour Ted (now deceased, alas) used to sit out the back here with his cigarettes and always engaged me in conversation. He was born and bred in the village. At first I had very little idea what he was saying, but we adapted to each other fairly well and made each other laugh quite a lot. I remember one hilarious set of misunderstandings about “walk” and “work” – oh how we chortled. On another occasion, he told me that he used to head up and down the Narrow Bank to and from school in West Thirston and home in Felton every day, and the house he currently lived in used to be a carpenter’s workshop. The carpenter made coffins and Ted and his pals used to run as fast as they could past the workshop because the carpenter used to deliberately leave the coffins upright in the lane here, slightly open to frighten the children and stop them hanging about. It worked! Anyway, I asked him if there was a Northumbrian word for squirrels and he couldn’t think of one, but he called tawny owls hoolets. I asked him if he knew any other local bird names and he mentioned wood pigeons are cushats and house sparrows are spuggies. I wasn’t really interested in cushats. Poxy birds. But sparrows, I’m rather fond of. Thinking about the road signs and the fact that pheasants are so silly on the roads, I plumped for them for a fourth verse even though Ted did not know a local name for them either. When I finished the song, he was pleased that I’d used his nuggets of information.

Coal tit chick in the shed guttering.

I was thinking of the song the other day when I watched the Mum and Dad coal tits feeding their toddlers – they do hoy out most of the seeds until they find the sunflowers. Such fuss-pots. Anyway, we sang the song in Alnwick and the children liked it and the teachers liked my language and got their children to make up their own words to describe other creatures and their habits. When I was making the video for the song, Jamie and I drove back to Wallington to take pictures of the original inspirational road sign. It had gone! We knew of others of course and took pictures of them as you can see in the video, but that original one had vanished! I was a bit grumpy about that, because it doesn’t take much (Poor old Jamie, I hear you mutter), but it doesn’t take much to put me back in good spirits either, and after driving around hither and yon I came home with enough for the task in hand.

Road signs and cute animals.
The pink didn’t last long, mind you!

June 9th

A grey day with a pinkish start out amongst the poppies in the cornfield. I’ve been revisiting one of my old songs today – more of that tomorrow, perhaps. I also watched the Hitchcock film Suspicion with Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine. I like the glowing glass of milk going up the stairs. Good film.

All that’s left of the temporary bridge railings is a row of bolts in the historic concrete!

June 8th

So what I should have done yesterday is share the learning video I made for Skydancer: Ghost Of The Moors! I spent today making a single line score for the song in response to a request from a primary school teacher friend, and that’s now been added to the Hen Harrier Day website.

You get to hear my voice speaking for a change!
The inner circuit of the bridges from West Thirston

June 7th

The inner circuit of the bridges from Felton

The Hen Harrier Day page about my song went live today, so hopefully now people will be able to start learning it and will submit videos of themselves performing it in the run up to Hen Harrier Day in August. Here’s the link to the song page!

Earlier I went out to take pictures of the bridge without its temporary fencing! It’s looking very neat and tidy.

The final bits of railing being removed!

June 6th

Continuing with my choir arrangement, making guacamole, enjoying the rain, and observing very closely the removal of all the temporary barriers from the bridge outside our house!

June 5th

I started work on an arrangement of Queen’s Somebody To Love for choir today. I’m trying to go for more on an arrangement than a transcription as I don’t think the way Queen sing it suits the choir very well. It’s a hard decision because I love the way Queen sing it, and I still want to get that same exuberance and power but our choir cannot do that show-stopper style of singing.

Just before take-off!

In the afternoon it was raining and sunny in equal measure, so I wandered up to the top of the garden in search of rainbows. I had no success with that, but on my way down the steps I did hear an urgent chirruping and my friend the baby coal tit was in the guttering of the shed. Very cute and I was so close to him/her.

Daisies I’m enjoying them. I guess they’re becoming a weed, but I prefer them to all the other weeds.

June 4th

The Bridge Singers is embarking on a new recording project. Feedback has been favourable from the choir so off we go again. Now the rules allow us all to meet up in groups of up to 6 we will hopefully be able to scoop up some of those who have been unable or reluctant to record things on their own. The river is still low outside and the area under the new bridge is very resonant, so it should work well.

Baby coal tits from the kitchen window and some Autumn Sea from Lanercost priory last year.
The camera’s in the greenhouse!

June 3rd

This morning when I woke up, it was rather gloriously pouring with rain, so I went up to the greenhouse and revelled in it. There was the most gorgeously blue iris out there in the rain too!

Iris in the hanging basket
Cloudy lancewoods in the middle of the afternoon.

June 2nd

Starting to think about new projects – something for the choir to work on, a new song about flying, Queen arrangements. Not much progress was made – it takes a while to adjust from one project to another – my head’s currently full of hen harriers! I went up and had a good look round the garden. Lots of things are looking great, although the little damson flowers appear to have not evolved into fruits, which is a shame.

Foggy morning

June 1st

I finally did send off the revised Skydancer videos today and will share the links here when I’m given permission to do so. That’s all I’ve done today, except have a lovely chat with my Mum and brother.

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