Joe Stead - The Ramblings of an old Codger. Volume Thirty One - April 2003.


When Megalomaniacs Collide. Volume 1.

Spring has come and the garden is blooming. Ring doves are nesting in the first conifer tree and magpies (God bless 'em) are nesting at the top of the second conifer tree well out of reach of any impending invader. The blackbirds who had originally nested in the ivy next to the garden gate have moved on, courtesy of the magpies who invaded their nest, to the ivy at the bottom of the bottom garden. They tell me they are happy to have been re-possessed as the second choice home is actually quite nice. We have tits galore feeding on the peanuts with nests closely adjacent and we have a pair of wrens in the laurel bush. Robins are in the mix somewhere too and of course the starlings are back in the roof space where they belong. It all seemed so tranquil until the magpies came along. You know they really are dreadful bullies, they must have their own way and they relish dominating other breeds. Of course the frogs are ok for now safely tucked away in the pond surrounded by spawn keeping their heads down, their retribution for living on the same planet as the nasty magpies will come later. As master of this garden I must look on and watch with horror as nature plays its course. I must not interfere although it's obvious that the magpies nesting within six feet of the ring doves is going to end in tears unless the ring doves put up a really stout defence. If both ring doves leave their nest unguarded those magpies will be in for the eggs or the young bird without even a second thought of the consequences. Do you know I once saw a magpie pecking out the eyes of a hedgehog. It was unpleasant stuff and I had to play god for real when I sent the hedgehog to a mercifully quick end decapitating it with a pair of shears. It's not easy being God I can tell you. I'm told on good assurance that it will all be over in a month, but you see this is what happens when megalomaniacs collide.

I had almost a very enjoyable March. My only sad moment being the cremation of my old pal Ray Burgess who died suddenly from a heart attack at the end of February. I was honoured to be asked to sing at the service which was held in Crewe on March 6th. I had a booking that evening in Darlington so I was regrettably unable to stay for the wake. Singing at funerals is a very rewarding experience when you know that you are helping a community cope with sadness but I find one song at a celebration of someone's life more mentally exhausting than walking out to an audience in the Albert Hall. So it was an uneasy drive to Darlington that afternoon. But with Kimber's Men we had an enjoyable evening at the General Ludd Folk Club in Huddersfield the night after, before I left for a tour of the south. A stinking cold meant that I had to cancel my appearance at Bough Beech but hot lemon and honey from a vacuum flask saw me through three really enjoyable evenings at the Focsle Folk Club in Southampton, The Clifton Arms in Reading and The Barge in Gillingham. It was a real joy for me to be back singing again in good folk clubs in the south of England, the audiences in Southampton and Reading joined in the choruses of songs without the slightest hesitation and I was made to feel most welcome everywhere. It was also especially nice to meet Bob Watson again when he came along to the booking in Reading. (In case you don't know Bob wrote both Shantyman and Mollymauk the former of which has been recorded countless times, even in Polish).

And now it's back to the reality that there is an oncoming full blown garden war in my back garden which actually started a couple of weeks ago when the magpies evicted the blackbirds and destroyed their eggs. But I fear it's going to get a lot more bloody soon so I must remember mercifully that it's only going to last for a couple of weeks! But just wait till the young frogs dare to show their heads from the water, the magpies are in for a real feast and that's still a couple of months away. It's exciting stuff they should show it on TV.

Talking of frogs I had an interesting piece submitted this month from Caryl P Weiss in America and I include it if only to prove that I don't object to putting forward views from people which are diversely opposite to my own.

But first the gig list and a review of 'See you when the sun goes down' that was printed recently in fRoots.

Apr 1st (Joe) The Napoleon, Boscastle, Camelford, Cornwall.
Apr 3rd (Joe) The Community Hall, Kingsand, Plymouth RNLI GIG. 'Valparaiso'
Apr 5th (Joe) The Heart of Oak Music Club, Braunton, Barnstaple, Devon.
Apr 7th (Joe) The ie Theatre, Axminster, Dorset. 'Valparaiso'
Apr 23rd (Joe) The Windsor Hotel, Pontyclun
Apr 25th (Joe) The Ratepayers Arms, Filton, Bristol
June 6th (Joe) Jersey Festival of the Sea
June 7th (KM)Jersey Festival of the Sea
June 8th (KM) Jersey Festival of the Sea
June 15th (KM) The Bulls Head, Oldham Rd,Failsworth, Manchester.
June 20th (KM) The Dog and Partridge, Bollington, Macclesfield, Cheshire
Sep 10th (Joe) The Cross Keys - Uppermill.
Oct 3rd (Joe) The Wellington, Seaford.
Oct 4th (Joe) Tenterden Folk Festival, Kent.
Oct 5th (Joe) Tenterden Folk Festival, Kent.
Oct 10th (Joe) The Grove, Holbeck, Leeds
Nov 27th (Joe) All Saints Church, Bishop Stortford, Hertfordshire.
Dec 1st (Joe) The Three Tuns, Staines, Middlesex
Dec 3rd (Joe) The Gordon Hotel, Rochester
Jan 30th (Joe) Kingswinford Folk Club
May 1st (KM) Sweeps Festival - Rochester. (Agreed awaiting confirmation)
May 2nd (KM) Sweeps Festival - Rochester. (Agreed awaiting confirmation)
May 14th (KM) The Grove, Holbeck, Leeds. (Agreed awaiting confirmation)

See You When The Sun Goes Down A Private Label APL. 8
Good old Joe Stead reinvents himself as Ship's Doctor, riding the crest of the wave of acclaim brought to his recent Valparaiso Round The Horn voyage. He's formed a premier-league four-strong shanty crew that also includes one of the finest bass voices on the scene (John Bromley), the remaining members being Neil Kimber and Roger Hepworth. It's a well-balanced complement of voices, which makes for a very big sound (even more so live of course, and some double-tracking on this recording compensates for the harsh light of the CD medium), and, importantly, one that's absolutely right for their chosen material. This comprises shanties and sea-songs, in that order of priority. The former prove most successful, and the crew's decision to use some harmonies in their singing of the shanties is explained in the notes, and (mostly) works well, certainly in terms of musical interest and listenability, even though it might occasionally offend some purists (not me, I hasten to add!). The songs (around a quarter of the total playing-time) mostly feature limited instrumental accompaniment involving guitar; they range from the traditional (Trim-Rigged Doxy, Lord Franklin) to the more contemporary (Gordon Lightfoot's Ode To Big Blue - though pity about the early fade - and a première recording for Neil and Roz Kimber's superb Robert Whitworth, which recounts the dramatic tale of that lifeboat's rescue of the Whitby brig The Visitor in 1881). Just two tracks give me cause for concern - the unfortunate inclusion of a barely-pub-folk-standard rendition of the Mingulay Boat Song, and a rather fast-paced version of Bob Watson's Mollymauk that completely misses the plaintive majesty and poetry of the lyric by treating it as a shanty (although I understand this reading has Bob's approval, so who'm I to argue?). But Kimber's Men get virtually everything else right; the integral rhythms of the shanties, as worksongs, are preserved and performed with an abundance of fire and energy without resorting to the unnecessary vocal gimmicks used by one or two other shanty crews. The dominant impression is of authenticity, and the icing on the cake is provided by Joe's commendably informative booklet notes to the individual selections. The seasoned maritime music specialist won't be disappointed, while the relative newcomer to this fascinating repertoire will surely be captivated. And a percentage of the profits from the CD goes to the RNLI. Contact
David Kidman

I only had letters and stories from abroad this month, mainly from America. So take a deep breath and step forward if you dare.

From Caryl P Weiss.
Once upon a time (allegedly) in a nice little forest, there lived an orphaned bunny and an orphaned snake. By a surprising coincidence, both were blind from birth.
One day, the bunny was hopping through the forest, and the snake was slithering through the forest, when the bunny tripped over the snake and fell down. This, of course, knocked the snake about quite a bit. "Oh, my," said the bunny, "I'm terribly sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. I've been blind since birth, so, I can't see where I'm going. In fact, since I'm also an orphan, I don't even know what I am."
"It's quite OK," replied the snake. "Actually, my story is much the same as yours. I, too, have been blind since birth, and also never knew my mother. Tell you what, maybe I could slither all over you, and work out what you are, so at least you'll have that going for you."
"Oh, that would be wonderful" replied the bunny.
So the snake slithered all over the bunny, and said, "Well, you're covered with soft fur; you have really long ears; your nose twitches; and you have a soft cottony tail. I'd say that you must be a bunny rabbit."
"Oh, thank you! Thank you," cried the bunny, in obvious excitement.
The bunny suggested to the snake, "Maybe I could feel you all over with my paw, and help you the same way that you've helped me."
So the bunny felt the snake all over, and remarked, "Well, you're smooth and slippery, and you have a forked tongue, no backbone and no balls. I'd say you must be French."

After last year's anthrax attacks, I got pretty paranoid. I was okay at first, but then they closed the local post office for 4 days... so, I tried steaming the mail. I went out and bought a little steam iron, and set up an ironing board in the basement with a couple of pine boards and some saw horses.
Then I read somewhere, I think it was the FBI web site, that this technique was baloney. Instead, they suggested a mixture of 1 part House Hold Bleach, 9 parts water, would kill almost anything after 60 minutes on things like desk tops and counters. So I went out and got a litre size mixing cup, some clothes pins, and an old Windex bottle.
Now each day I carefully pull the mail out of the box with my left hand. I carry it gently into the basement through the outside door. I carefully lay it down and begin picking up each envelope. One by one I spray with my potion, turning so as not to miss the spots under my finger tips. Then, I hang each one up to dry for 60 minutes before I open it.
This seems to work, and was especially efficient during the holidays with the extra flood of mail. Sometimes I bleach out a return address, but if they're truly my friends, they'll write again.
Everything was going along quite well with all this until this morning, when I accidentally brushed my clean hand against an untreated Acme circular... I was about to run upstairs to wash my hands and start over, but I thought, "Well, lets not get obsessive..."
Ted the Fiddler (Philadelphia) March 2003

Dear Joe:
Since our contact a couple of years ago I have been thinking about bringing you to Valparaiso, Chile to show your "Valparaiso round the Horn" musical lecture. Now, there is one window of opportunity because I am organising along with Valparaiso Foundation a Festival of Inmigrant Music of Valparaiso for next December 5 to 7 in the local municipal Theater. I have argued to show the shanty story in the festival and the organization has agreed. In your last newsletter you had your calendar busy until December 4... so we would like to know if you are willing to visit Valparaiso around those dates (December 6-7), so we could start to apply for a grant to cover the needed expenses for your possible visit. Here, there is a local Cap Hornier branch who organised last year a world meeting in Valparaiso. I think it was the last one. The last sea captains are dying out so this year the world Cap Hornier amical from St. Maló is closing down to an end in France. Anyway, here there is a navy school choir that has worked some shanties for the Cap Horniers in the past that could be worked again for December to support you as needed.
Once you wrote to me that you would like to visit Valparaiso some day.... here we have this window of opportunity... I hope you could do it.... and please, if there is anything we could do to help you to come to Valparaiso... please tell us so we could work to solve it as soon as possible.
Sincerely yours,
Luis Chirino-Gálvez (

Hi Joe,
First of all, good health and a continuing recovery to you, Joe. I enjoy your ramblings very much and, with each of the last three, I meant to email my sympathy and best wishes. Sorry to be so late
Thanks for all you are doing over there to thwart the Bush Man's war efforts. A number of us are writing and emailing back here, but it is as discouraging as it is maddening. Too often, Americans my/our age pretend the anti-war protests ended the Vietnam war. In fact, Nixon kept it right on going (his "secret plan" to "Vietnamize the Vietnamese), and even our soldiers' self-fucking-fragging didn't deter him.
It's my understanding that, whereas around half of America still supports Bush's rush to war, 90% of British folk have no use for the idea. I wonder what possesses Blair to continue to be Bush's lackey? I guess he keeps recalling M. Thatcher's popularity ratings when she was attacking those rocks off the coast of South America.
Please keep singing and writing. And congratulations on Valparaiso, your many new bookings and the works in progress. We can hardly wait to see what you can do with two knees.
Charlie Reilly (Philadelphia)
(This letter was received before the allied forces commenced aggressive action against Iraq).

Hello Joe,
Jaysus!! I hope you are hale and hearty and making a shilling. I'm battering along here like an old and overloaded ass, staggering across the bog, but keeping her goin', although its not getting any easier, but then as my father used to say, "There are fella's in the graveyard would love to have our troubles."
Life is still good. Please keep me posted Joe and all the best to you and yours.
Danny Doyle (Maryland).

Could you make your columns shorter? I have work to do. How about printing only every fifth word, or just nouns or exclamation points?
Oscar Brand. (New York)

Keep smiling and keep singing.

Joe Stead

I've just read a newspaper report that says there is more money being spent on breast implants and Viagra than there is on research into Alzheimer's disease.
The only conclusion I could arrive at from this piece of news is that by 2020 there should be a growing population of elderly people with perky breasts and huge erections who will have absolutely no recollection of what to do with them.
Scary, eh?
Jonesy (New Zealand)

Well at least somebody thinks the human race has a future!