Q&A August 2013, Part I
9/7/2013 (updated 9/7/2013)

This is more of a request than a question. I can't seem to find much information about your mandolin. It always sounds fantastic and is always very tastefully played. There are a few bits on the web, and you have answered a few questions about it on the website, but what I really need are photos, or, even better (and I have already written to Santa) a short video of you giving it a little work out, if you could find the time. I unfortunately missed the Electric tour but the Celtic Connections show was superb and the BBC thing with Swarb was breathtaking. Thanks, Shaun Greenhalgh

When I physically reconnect with it, I'll put up some pictures. It's an old black Gibson A2 from the early 1920s. I bought it from Music Inn in New York back in 1971, when I was on an Iain Matthews tour, for the princely sum of $100. It's always recorded beautifully - I think the round-holes generally do.

You may remember myself and my wife bumping into you recently as you were coming out of the Lowry exhibition at Tate Britain. I have actually met you briefly a few times before at signings at Cropredy and Trowbridge when there is time to think of something sensible to say. But this time, caught unawares, I'm afraid I turned into an archetypal star struck adolescent - sorry! I feel bad that I didn't say a proper hello to Nancy, so apologies to her.

What I really wanted to say was thank you for the last 45 years of music and songs, part of my life ever since some similarly impoverished student friends clubbed together to buy me "What we did on our holidays" as a birthday present.

What did you think of the Lowry exhibition?  "Big Chimney" and "Salford Sunday" popped into my head on the way round. Thanks, Mick Lowrie

I loved the exhibition. Although it was pretty big, I was amazed at how many pictures I could think of that weren't there. I'm particularly fond of his landscapes, generally devoid of humans, and it's all about form and colour and emotion.


A philosophical question for you: is it possible to enjoy the music of people you don`t particularly like? I ask this because I find it difficult to listen to Wagner because of his vehemently anti-Semitic views. Also, I once went to a Fairport gig where Dave Pegg made the comment "I love Van Morrison`s music, but what a grumpy bastard!" Any comments? Philip Palmer

I was force-fed Wagner at an early age, so I tend to shy away from his music because all my early impressions were negative. I now appreciate his method and science, and I can enjoy the some of the overtures, and other bits and pieces, but find him overall a bit too Teutonic for my taste. This is all before we get to the racist question… as a general rule of thumb, I tend to avoid art if the Fuhrer liked it. Just seems a sensible stance, that usually won't disappoint. Mahler might be an exception. Adolf was very fond of Der Mahler, and used to hang out with his relatives. Did he realize he was Jewish, and turn a blind eye, or did he just not know?

I don't deal with Van on a daily basis, so have no direct experience of the man to colour my opinion, good or bad. I've seen him onstage be uninterested and bored (and boring), and also riveting and brilliant, and I try to base any opinion I have on these live performances. There are a few other performers whose personalities make me struggle to see their music in an unbiased light, but I'm trying, heaven knows, I'm trying.