Q&A October 2013, Part III
11/11/2013 (updated 11/11/2013)

Dear Richard,
Far be it from me to suggest to such a wise writer as you, but have you ever considered writing a song about Sir Walter Raleigh who was about the age that you are now when he so cruelly lost his head. The reason I ask is that he embarked on an expedition to find 'El Dorado' only to then return empty handed and i feel that he must have known that he might be returning to such a demise and it's that thought that's worth a song. What can be more touching than a man who took such risks and must have inspired his contemporaries and those of succeeding generations, a man of great knowledge and sea faring character, an explorer before David Livingstone, so far ahead of his time, maybe even our time, a man of action and a romantic enigma who surely must still touch the hearts of millions, me for one. When I think of your magic I think that an epic both lyrical and blinding musically is due to this planet. How brave he was to return, for with his great seamanship he could probably have gone anywhere he liked. Dick Moffat, St Albans

He was an amazing mixture of elements, including a wonderful poet:

Give me my scallop-shell of quiet
My staff of faith to walk upon
My scrip of joy, immortal diet,
My bottle of salvation
My gown of glory, hope's true gage;
And thus I'll take my pilgrimage

He would be a worthy subject of a song - hope I can get there first!

Interestingly, Bill Benenson and some others from my book group have discovered some very significant ruins in the Honduras, that may turn out to be El Dorado, or the White City: "The El Dorado Machine - A new scanner’s rain-forest discoveries" - Douglas Preston, The New Yorker.

It seems to me you don't use the capo as much on electric as you do on acoustic.  When playing electric in a band context, do you prefer to play in keys that don't require capoing?

Because I am being less 'orchestral' on electric, i.e. not having to create so complete an arrangement, because other instruments are there to do it, I have less reason to capo. Also, the light gauge strings on electric mean some judicious retuning when the capo is put on, so it can slow down the performance.

As of this writing Sebastian Vettel just won his fourth straight World Driver's Championship. Do you think dominance by one driver and team - the way Schumacher and Ferrari dominated F1 in years past - makes F1 boring?

Rivalries are always more exciting, but we must give Mr. Vettel his due, and perhaps start considering him as one of the all time greats.

As a solo performer, I find my biggest challenge - both when practicing and  performing - is achieving the right balance between guitar (in my case, a Lowden O-32c) and voice. The more aggressively I play, the louder I have to sing - until my guitar wins the battle and my voice gets tired. I try to get it right at home, and then things get complicated when I play out. Every room, PA and sound person is different. I am interested to hear your thoughts on how to find the right balance between vocal and guitar. (I'd love top see you explore this at F&R.)

Yes, we could tackle this at F&R. The simple answer is that you need to set the vocal level higher, and then learn to sing a short distance off the mic as your default position. As the music gets louder, you can then lean in closer. This is really basic mic technique, that everyone from the crooner era used to know. The rock and roll generation tends to stay right on top of the mic because of the competing volume of the instruments, but as a singer-songwriter, you should be moving in and out all the time, including moving off-mic to breathe.

I'm interested to hear about your most memorable theatre experience. Where was it? West End? New York? Stratford-on-Avon? LA?? Whose performances stood out?

Nicolas Hytner as Cleopatra at the Globe, London, around 2005
Donald Wolfitt in the Tempest, Old Vic, London 1965?
London Road, Musical, National Theatre, London, 2011
Olivier in Othello, Old Vic, London 1964

Who are your favorite British actor and actress? I would pick from those with film and stage experience. Thanks, Richard! Cheers, Doug

I'm split between Charles Laughton and Alec Guiness for their film work. Olivier was the greatest on stage, but I found some of his film roles a little hammy.

Brenda Blethyn, Wendy Hiller and Joan Greenwood.

I know that you're a big fan of the Who. Did the song Bargain influence you to write Dimming of the Day? Were you influenced by an older source that references the writer's search for God through a love song to a woman? Ever think of performing the two songs together? I know they clash dynamically, but that might be part of the fun--Paul Johnson, Brick NJ

I wasn't influenced by Bargain, but that's a good song. Probably more influenced by Arab poetry, like the epic love poem Layla and Majnun.