Q&A: Man's true relationship with the Cosmos
6/29/2004 (updated 6/29/2004)

It looks like you have a pretty grueling schedule of performances when Out on the road. The shows I've seen have you putting your all into it. Does it take a physical toll after awhile? Reed in Yuma

We have to keep reasonably fit - it's less strenuous than 90 minutes of Premier League football, but more so than working in a bank. Hotels have pools and fitness equipment, but we have a lot of travel time, sitting in aluminium tubes and steel cans, when it's a battle to avoid stiffness and cramp.

Dear Beekeeper,
Does Richard know what path Paul Ghosh took after his early Fairport involvement? Thanks, Neil

My old school chum Paul Ghosh usually turns up at concerts every year or two, but I haven't seen him for about five years. He has always been somewhat vague about the exact nature of his work - some kind of import/export, perhaps? If he reads this, could he mail in?

Dear Richard
Heard a rumour you are playing a concert in Abingdon this summer. Is this true and when is it?

Yes, the show in Abingdon is on July 26th.

Why the reclining chair on the cover of 1000 years of popular music? Duncan Batey, Bristol.

It seemed most accurately to represent Man's true relationship with the Cosmos - supine with mouth agape, perhaps in anticipation of the dentist's drill of eternal suffering.

Hello, Richard
Are there any songs in your repertoire which you can never envisage performing again - either because you don't like them much any more, or because you're now so far away from being the person you were when you wrote them? I remember Jimmy Webb once commenting about MacArthur Park, 'another person wrote that song'....does this feeling ever apply to you, too? Btw, what about a Jimmy Webb cover version (or several?)
Thanks for the music, Richard Ely

Well, at least half of my stuff I have no intention of performing, or remembering, again, for the same reasons as Jimmy Webb. He said another person wrote 'Macarthur Park' - I think it was me! Just send the cheques favourite JW song is 'Last Time I Saw P F Sloane'.

Dear Richard,
Did you design the stained glass windows of St Columba's (RC) in Upton-on-Chester, UK? This story has been alive in my husband's family (who live nearby) since he wrote an essay for a parish contest in 1973 and was told this. (He was 11.) It's rather vague after this passage of time, but it's become a point of contention here. I think an adult at the church was feeding him a story (what was one more lie, after all?). But he says that he has also, some time in the last few years, read this fact in a book somewhere. All I've ever read is the oft-repeated line about your brief apprenticeship to a stained-glass maker at seventeen. Lay this one to rest for us, please

The windows in St. Colomba's church were designed by Hans Unger, for whom I worked in my 'gap' year when I left school. As the apprentice and general dogsbody, I probably made about half the windows in there (or it certainly felt like it). Hans was a terrific designer, who made some memorable posters for London Transport, amongst other things. He took his own life in the late 70s. I believe his partner, Eberhard Schultz, went back to Germany.

I am curious about your tour bus, such as amenities,showers,TV's, etc. How many miles do you average between shows?

Our current bus is a 45 foot Van Hool, with 12 bunks, front and rear lounge, and toilet. We are 9 bodies. Bus has satellite TV, DVD, etc. but sadly no toaster. An average drive might be 250 miles...anything over 300, and we would tend to drive overnight after the show, anything up to 600 miles. We have a couple of 2 day drives on this tour of around 1000 miles. This is all chickenfeed to our wondrous driver, the very fine Mark Weaver.

Where can I find the sheet music to your song Persuasion? It will be the "first dance" song at our wedding and we would love the band to perform it live for us.
Thank you, Ewa

They may have it at Bug Music ( Otherwise, any wedding band worth its salt could learn the Tim Finn version in a flash....and congratulations!

Hi, Richard! I saw you play at Irving Plaza, great show! Was wondering: is that Fender Vibroverb amp you were using "vintage", or a newer model? Modded in any way?

Are you using a reissue Vibroverb from the 90's on stage, and what, if any, modifications have you had done to it? It sounds great. Thanks, Craig Petty

It's 'new' vintage - a reissue about 15 years old. Standard except for Mojo 10" speakers.

I'm a little frustrated by some of the riffs on "Beating the retreat." Tablature? Tips? I'm playing it with the E streing dropped down to D. Don Andrew

I play it in CGDGBE - capoed to fret 4, and played in B - lots of nice 'G' chord shapes rooted on the 5th string, and a good 'C' chord rooted on the 6th string. The 'D' chord is a normal D shape on the top 4 strings, and if you have no ethical objections, a mighty thumb across the bottom 2 strings at 2nd fret.

Why such an affinity for the Northumbrian Smallpipes in particular? I love them too. What do you think makes them so great? If you haven't heard it there's a stunning CD called NORTHUMBERLAND RANT put out by Smithsonian Folkways that is ALL Northumbrian pipingsongs. Awesome!
Any other recommended discs or musicians playing this kind of thing?
PS is the Crumhorn even better? Yours, Danny Meltzer

I was really attracted to the playing of Billy Pigg - such a soulful musician, who apparently truly got stuck into the instrument after he retired , and is therefore an inspiration to us old farts. I think it's the ability to stop the notes that makes it such a versatile beast. I don't know what is in print these days in terms of other players...and the Crumhorn is excellent for calling geese home from the mountain.