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Tolling Bells, Feral Cats & Broken Strings!

These chapters end and leave us bereft. We tell ourselves and each other that it was a blessing, there was surely only suffering ahead, and perhaps we are right. It was a two funeral February – good funerals, if there is such a thing, suitably celebratory and drawing family and friends together to share both melancholy and inappropriate anecdotes. It’s these times when I almost envy those with some faith in an afterlife, pearly gates or reincarnating as a cat.

There’s a growing realisation with each passing that we are shifting in the tide and stepping in to new shoes – we have, somewhat unexpectedly, become the older generation.

At Albert's Place in Darnius


The world of community arts that I have inhabited for some 37 years has been eroded to such a point that there is now quite serious threat of extinction. The challenge to survive, with ethics and ethos intact weighs heavy, and appears at times an insurmountable climb. Having had the privilege of enabling thousands of folks to engage with the arts and witnessed the sometimes life changing positivity that has resulted, one can feel an almost unbearable responsibility to try and salvage a little corner of this world for future generations – a whisper, a hope – whilst staring down a seemingly impenetrable brick wall that has been built around us under the short sighted flags of austerity and commerce.

The chatter around centres on alien and unfamiliar territories – monetize, capitalise, embrace consumerism – time to view yourself as a saleable commodity! These concepts jar with ideas of accessibility, arts for all, ensuring that overlooked communities and individuals have an opportunity to participate in, and contribute to, the cultural narrative of our district, our world – or in other words the whole freakin’ point. Hey-Ho, we shall find a path – or create one!

I’m seeing a counsellor again for the first time in over twenty years – it’s good, it helps. It does feel a bit American – I have an appointment with my therapist – but I’m told it’s very much de rigueur amongst younger folks, and it’s something I weirdly look forward to. I was recently describing how I was feeling to my counsellor and explained that sometimes we can be standing on the same rug for ages, and then all of a sudden, we have a number of rugs pulled from beneath us in quick succession, which can leave us feeling a bit off balance. I was quite pleased with the analogy, and having a space to tell yourself that kind of stuff out loud is a big part of why these sessions can be so useful.

Cherish those little moments with kith and kin, embrace the day and know that you are not alone in your struggles. There’s a lot to be said for that worn-out old rug!

Oh, and be kind to that cat – it might just be your grandma!

Darnius Cat


March found me back in Catalunya playing a few shows with Rico – a sweet and cathartic little tour. I find a spiritual calm each time I stay in Darnius with Albert (our promoter friend in these parts). It’s a sleepy little village with it’s grand Concordia at the heart, abundant feral cats and chirpy characters aplenty. There were two funerals in the village during our stay – a mournful bell-toll alerting residents to these passings - some things are the same all over!

Our opening gig was at Taberna Libraria in Figueres. We played here last year too, a sweet community bookstore that hosts these monthly nights of music, wine and tapas. It’s a delightful set up that attracts an enthusiastic little crowd, and despite our lack of sleep the prior night (to catch an early flight), we muster the energy for an enthusiastic and well received performance – so enthusiastic that I manage to break four strings!

We had a couple of days to spare before our next gig in Perpignan, so decided to do a reconnaissance mission to Beziers to check out any potential cool venues for our next trip and stock up on guitar strings. I can report with some confidence that Beziers is sadly lacking in the live gig department, though it does have a great music shop and sweet flea market held on its central tree lined Rambla (is there a French word for Rambla – there must be?). Our stay was not all together unproductive though, as we managed a little recording session in our (somewhat quirky) hotel room, playing around with a few covers – all recorded in glorious lo-fi on my little Zoom mp3 recorder. We also found some funky little bars and checked out the beautiful Cathedral. Only downer really was to hear that the town had voted in a bit of a weird hard-right-wing mayor, who sounds like a bit of a nutter.

So on to Perpignan to play at the coolest venue in town, the wonderfully eccentric L’Anthropo. Our host for the night was Lionel (the Perpignan Connection) who introduced us to the L’Anthropo crew including the boss Sylvie who kept us well fuelled with cider, wine and a fine meal at the end of the evening. The sound guy was great, and we bashed out a cool set for the assembled crowd of mavericks and movers. We stayed over with Lionel (and partner Vanessa), wondering at his immense and impressive vinyl collection. In the morning, we had coffee on the balcony listening to The Remains – groovy! We were surprised to discover that Perpignan too had voted in a hard-right mayor – which seemed particularly at odds as everyone we had met there was on the distinctly chilled and slightly anarchic side – go figure!

The Perpignan show was our first French date since before both pandemic and Brexit, and it was nice to sneak back in and partake of some omelette and cider while hanging with the coolest of characters. I played my first proper gig in France some thirty-two years ago and have returned regularly ever since – always charmante!

Back with Albert in Darnius, we had a sweet night playing at the aforementioned Concordia followed by a night at La Fraternal in the picturesque wine-making village of Capmany which had a whole posse of kids attending along with their parents – lovely little evening in a lovely little venue.

The final gig of the tour was a terrace party in Terrassa (close to Barcelona) to celebrate the Birthday of hostess Marina. It was an amazing top floor apartment in the centre of town with cool panoramic views. The invited crowd were a blast and we ended up playing four sets throughout the hot and tipsy afternoon. Marina seemed to have great time, as did we, and this was a perfect hedonistic dose of craziness to complete the week.

Party Times on a Terrace in Terrassa

There’s something calming and levelling to this troubadour life, a serenity and simplicity that makes perfect sense. I always return home with a healthier perspective on the stuff and occasional nonsense that can mess with our heads.

Huge thanks to Albert, Lionel and all the crazy, wonderful folk we passed en route – Santé, Salut, Cheers y’all!

Grae J.




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