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Tim Readman

an interview by Sue Kavanagh

Kavanagh: Dipsophobia: Fear of Drinking. You used to play in a very lively (downright rowdy I do believe) band called Fear of Drinking. Can you remember (hic) any especially good tales from those days? Disasters or triumphs – either will do!

Readman: My favourite story was the night we were playing in Calgary on a tiny stage and in the middle of a song I stepped back and tripped over an instrument case. I landed right on top of the support band’s highland bagpipes and delivered an impromptu pipes solo - played with my bum - much to the audience’s amusement. It’s the only time I’ve ever had a solo applauded!

Kavanagh: Tell us about the delights and/or frustrations of playing solo after having played in a band for a number of years.

Readman: I love not having to call musicians before I can decide whether to take a gig. I used to spend hours scheduling and sometimes babysitting band members to whom punctuality is a complete mystery. Now if I am available I take the gig right there and then.

Readman: It is only in the past few years I’ve become comfortable as a solo act. Touring the UK every fall for the past 4 years and working with the likes of Vin, Jez Lowe and Bob Fox has really helped me polish my craft.

Readman: Touring solo is a drag though. I have taken a break from it because it gets too lonely especially when you don’t know anyone in the town you are playing and you end up on your own in some pokey motel room with no access to the soccer channel!

Kavanagh: How did playing the guitar become part of your life?

Readman: My older brother’s band practiced in our house. My mam loved it. The neighbours would complain and she’d say “The trouble with you people is you don’t know how to enjoy yourselves”. I insisted on going with my 6 sisters on a Brownies outing to see The Shadows. Right away I knew that’s what I wanted to do. In the end I went to university straight from school, dropped out and played guitar all day for a year. Ruined my early academic career but did me the world of good otherwise.

Kavanagh: I read that you started composing your own tunes at 15. Considering some never get the nerve or the inspiration to do their own composing, what gave you the courage and the inclination to start writing at such an early age?

Readman: I was totally cocky as a kid - I had a book of limericks about road safety published when I was 8. It never occurred to me I couldn’t do it. I started going to the local folk club and needed some songs to sing so I started writing my own. "It's No Longer Relevant" from Into the Red was started when I was 15 - although I finished it years later.

Kavanagh: "You Change" is one of your reflective songs – speaking of life changes that you see in context only later. Do you think having the knowledge that this process occurs, equips us to better see during life-changes, or do we forever have to put up with that sense of looking back to understand or begin to understand?

Readman: I think we will always look back with the benefit of hindsight and realise things that we never saw at the time. I think it is important not to chastise oneself for past mistakes but just to accept change and try to learn and grow instead of getting guilty or stagnating.

Kavanagh: Your original penned “Oh Canada” is a very catchy and upbeat tune. I’d love to see it sung in place of our slightly stodgy anthem (don’t shoot folks) at many public events, though it may not be good for more solemn occasions. And it might also be great in the classroom. Have you any indication if it is being adopted and sung in public situations?

Readman: I was inspired by the Arrogant Worms’ “Canada’s Really Big”. I made up a long piece of patter about how I was rewriting the National Anthem, which went down well. Everyone expects it to be cynical but it is actually an affectionate tribute to my adopted country. My mam’s best friend lived in Alberta and used to send us a parcel every Xmas. We used to call it the Red Cross parcel ‘cos we had nowt and it was always full of treats we’d never be able to afford. Canada’s always been a magical place I am in awe of. That hasn’t changed.

Kavanagh: If they haven’t already, someone should book you to sing your “Oh Canada” at a hockey game or at Nat Bailey in the summer. Would you do it?

Readman: I’d do it in a heartbeat no problem. For Union wages of course! I also wish I could sing one of my Newcastle United football songs at St. James Park.

Kavanagh: You sometimes write music reviews for Penguin Eggs – a Canadian Folk magazine. I’m assuming that being a musician is quite helpful when it comes to writing music reviews – you have a certain deeper level of understanding and a useful vocabulary. Similarly, reviewing music must have the inevitable result of helping you to don the self-music critics’ hat with a little extra skill. Now, please challenge me on that or share some further insights as to how these to roles feed each other.

Readman: Being a musician means you understand a bit more about what is going on from a technical and production viewpoint. I’m also glad I spent years reading The New Musical Express in the days of great writers like David Quantick and Karl Dallas. I still steal from them all the time. It also helps in appreciating what the artist is trying to communicate - if anything. I like to say positive things but if I don’t like the record I have to be honest. I get lots of encouraging feedback from my musician friends. David Francey has been particularly supportive in his comments. Sometimes I could be a lot more vicious but I’m gradually learning to behave like a proper Canadian!

Kavanagh: I believe you currently play fairly often around town. Tell us about your activities and any new projects you are working on.

Readman: I love hosting the "Tim Readman and Musical Friends" series every Thursday at Montmartre Café; Montmartre won the Georgia Straight songwriter venue of the year for 2003. Occasionally, I fill in as radio DJ for The Edge On Folk when Steve Edge is away. I love doing this. In the song-writing department, I’ve written three songs with ace fiddler Shona Le Mottee for her upcoming debut CD. I play guitar on that and am producing it. I co-wrote fourteen songs for a Newcastle United Songs CD. The CD is currently selling well over there. And I’m writing songs with an exciting young singer-songwriter called Che Dorval. We’ll be recording soon. Over the next few months, I’ll be doing some opening spots for various friends like the Worms, Vin and Jez Lowe. Oh and I play guitar in Jennie Bice’s band Prydwen.

Readman: I play a lot of gigs all the time of all types – I’m a wandering minstrel, a raconteur-troubadour or whatever the Geordie equivalent of a griot is called.

Kavanagh: I read that you once attended a mediaeval banquet dressed in a Jester’s costume! I just have to ask, what was for dinner that night and did you sing for your supper?

Readman: That was so funny. My sister Penny - otherwise known as Penny Whistle - booked me a ticket and hired the costume. It was in a tiny village in The Eden Valley near Penrith in Cumbria. The locals who are pretty much all sheep farmers and farm workers were all in fancy dress - there were monks, wanton women, serfs, knights and all sorts. It was like being in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. We had a ‘mediaeval’ band blasting out well-known songs of the middle ages like "Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore" and "The Border Reivers". Thing was, I’d just flown in from Vancouver that day so I was totally jet lagged. It was completely surreal. We had roast pig and by the end of the night… well I was going to tell you a story about what happened to the pig’s head but I think its best to keep that out of print (if only to protect a few reputations in Kirkoswald village)! I’ve got great photos though.