News, and other observations
posted Sunday, October 4, 2020
The last song on LOST STARS is the title song, Lost stars. You can download it now.
So, here we are... the last one. I'll add some bonus tracks to Bandcamp over the next few weeks, probably carry on doing that for a while... but Lost Stars is finished.
I wrote this in the first few days of lockdown, back in March. I was re-reading a couple of favourite books and sat down with Carl Sagan one night. I got a couple of chapters into Demon-Haunted World and found myself contrasting his almost telepathic way of understanding and then explaining things against the politicians and medical people trying to do the same thing with COVID. I thought, we could really use this guy now. Was he our best communicator, ever? I think so. Sorely missed. In Demon-Haunted World he seems to almost predict the world we live in now. God knows what he would have made of social media, or the rubbish people seem willing to believe sometimes. Or believe in, even. I feel sure if he'd lived longer he'd have tried to do something about it, in his gentle, humanist way. Our loss.
My friends, thanks for sticking with me on this journey. I've never released music this way before, it feels like it's been much more of a conversation. People have written me from all over the place, New Zealand, Oz, both coasts of America, France, the UK and some islands in the middle of nowhere. I've had emails from some of the places in the songs, and lots from people who know them. People at home, in lockdown, in quarantine... or just living. Thanks again, keep writing and stay strong.
Till next time
posted Tuesday, September 29, 2020
In San Francisco, if you're prepared to walk a couple blocks east from where the tourists take their photos from the highest point of the cable car, you'll come to the end of Vallejo Street. You'll have to hunt for it, but there's a small plaque there in Russian and English, at the site of seven Russian graves discovered by 49ers. The plaque says they died in the 1840s, but no one really knows. It's round the corner from the OA house, if you have any idea what I'm talking about....
When I was a kid, I used to read whatever books I could get my hands on about the Northwest Passage and the north Pacific. Kamchatka, Bering, the sealers, all that stuff. Stayed with me; the house is still full of them. I'm fascinated by what these guys did. That some of them ended up on a hill in San Francisco is unreal.
I wrote a version of this song a few years ago, actually gigged it a couple of times when I had the pleasure of playing with Chris Penman up north; reworked it in lockdown. I wrote a new tune for it, and rewrote most of the lyrics as three letters home (to Voronezh, on the other side of Russia). I knew this song would be on Lost Stars; SF is one my favourite places in the world, who knows when I'll see it again. I've been looking forward to recording the song, it's always been one of my favourite things I've written, in all its various incarnations. I knew I wanted to do it last, every time I played it in the workup, I could hear what the guitar wanted to do. No use me sayin' different. So yeah, I saved for the end
.... which means we're done. Lost Stars is about finished. The last song is the... eponymous title song. It'll be along shortly, mixing it now. Still a few bonus tracks, they'll appear over the next few days. Stay tuned
posted Monday, September 21, 2020
Desert heart is about California City, a boom town laid out in the Antelope Valley inland from Los Angeles... basically, they laid out a city in the middle of the Mojave Desert and made it huge thinking thousands of people would want to move there. I drove out there once, a long time ago. Not sure how well I'm remembering it. I wrote this song in Portland ME at the end of last year, had the basic melody and about half the words, finished it in lockdown in April. I'm fascinated by the way the desert is majestic, inspiring, but we've... forgotten what we used to know about how to live there. Blew the dust off my Spanish for this one, hope you like it...
posted Monday, September 14, 2020
The newest song on LOST STARS is called After Louis. You can download it now. In 1878, Robert Louis Stevenson went into the Cévennes mountains in southern France, struggling through the mountains on foot and camping wild with only a donkey to carry his gear. RLS was sick most of his life, so it must have been very tough. He described the journey in Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes. A beautiful book - he's one of my favourite writers.
In 2018, I followed his route through the Cévennes by mountain bike, on a mixture of hiking trails and roads. It's a magical place, wild, sparsely populated, barren on the hills, lush in the gorges. Hot, thundery. Apart from the towns on the main roads (like Florac) the settlements are mostly tiny and very old; it must have looked very like it did when he was there. Given his health, some of the climbs I can't believe he made.
RLS's writing was so evocative, and absorbing, I wanted to try and at least hint at it in the song. I also used, at the end, a few lines from his own Requiem. He wrote this long before he died in Samoa, but it seems he knew the writing was on the wall. He was 44.
posted Wednesday, August 19, 2020
A long time ago, I read the story of Donald Crowhurst, an English inventor who entered the round the world yacht race in 1968 despite never having sailed before. The boat he built was years ahead of its time, but it started falling apart in the Atlantic and he knew that going on to the Southern Ocean would mean certain death. He ended up hiding in a river in South America, making repairs and radioing in false positions that made it look like he was going around the world while other sailors, who had actually sailed round the world, eventually limped home or were rescued. As they dropped out, the positions he radioed in meant he was in the lead and he knew he would be found out. He never came home. His boat was found adrift 9 months after setting off. He wasn't on board, but left enough writings behind to show what really happened. Enough of them have been published that you can see a man... breaking down, caught between madness, humiliation and death.
I really enjoyed putting this one down. It's based on some older ideas and a few false starts. Sometimes, in a musical squeeze, only a Les Paul will do.
posted Monday, July 6, 2020
On the one hand, this is a song about a dodgy patch of tarmac on the Trans-Canada Highway. Or maybe, it's the other side of the story I was trying to tell in Massachusetts... the patch of road in question is on Cape Breton Island, between Baddeck and St Ann's, a journey I have undertaken many times - at incredible speeds, at uncommon hours of the night - despite only having been to Cape Breton once. It's a beautiful place - almost comically so - and to get there from just about anywhere else on the Earth is a big mission. Like where I live, in the North Island of New Zealand. No matter how long the journey, it's sometimes a little physical thing - a rough bit of road, a steep grade, one sharp bend you always forget at night - that locate you, tell you you're home. Tell you some things haven't changed. I hope you like this song, this idea has been kicking around in my head for a while now
posted Monday, June 22, 2020
As promised, as well as the new songs, Lost Stars will have some curiosities and re-mastered old gems, a thank you to all you folks who decided to pay a few dollars for the album even though you didn't have to. The first of these is an alternate version of Painted Princess from The California Tapes.
Painted Princess is one of my favourite songs on Tapes. It's also one of the oldest; I wrote it in 2009 after visiting Painted Cave in Santa Barbara. The song became a part two to Jesusita. This version of it was almost finished when we put it aside a year ago and worked up a different take based around a tune I'd written on the Spanish (that's what you hear on the California Tapes at the end of the song). Most of this version was recorded in February 2019, with some guitar added during lockdown while I found out what all the buttons do on the Vox, and some bass added... yesterday.
This is a bonus track, so if you've already bought Lost Stars you should see it pop up when you go back to Bandcamp. Here's a link: bobmcneill.bandcamp.com
posted Tuesday, June 16, 2020
The newest song on LOST STARS is Carpinteria. I've been working on this song for a long time; had the basic tune and most of the words last year and it was going to go on The California Tapes, but it didn't have the same feel as the other songs. I've tried numerous times to get it to work on the Spanish; it started out much slower and sounded like the love theme from a low budget Western TV movie.
Carpinteria is on the California coast south of Santa Barbara, right under the Santa Ynez. The Spanish called it that because when they arrived the Chumash were building canoes. It's also the only place I've ever been that has naturally occurring asphalt. Very good for making boats not sink, apparently.
The geography of the song is a bit messed up because it's based on a real story somebody told me. Yep, they really did do that trip...
posted Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Down here in NZ we're out of lockdown. Be a long time before we're where we were. Even though I could, I'm not taking Lost Stars to a studio - gonna finish it the way I started. Got the wind behind me now. Or something... thanks to so many people for kind words. A couple of my mates have home studios, so there might yet be one or two guests. Expect new songs soon, it's got a life of its own now.
posted Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Since I seem to have started explaining what the songs re about - a dangerous path if ever there was one - then OK. Anna's dream; you ask. It's about the village of Sault in Vaucluse, which has a large and very moving memorial to the maquis. It's at 44°05'18.9"N 5°24'47.7"E, halfway up the insane hill road into this village, my favourite place in France. Anna's dream is a small, beautiful brocade shop on Avenue de la Résistance. Stories about how this area suffered in the war are everywhere. Every couple of years I go over on the bike and cycle around these mountains, and every so often run into a little moving tribute from the 40s. One of the upcoming songs on Lost Stars is about these places.
posted Tuesday, May 5, 2020
I can't remember who said this, but Massachusetts uses Cape Cod as a big hook to lure people in, then doesn't let them go. I can see that. There are people from all over the place, blending in with the no-nonsense, straight-talking people who grew up there. It rubs off. Probably more than anywhere I've visited, Massachusetts seems like a phenomenon of place and people. You can't separate the two. Not after they're mixed. A vivid, unforgettable place.
posted Wednesday, April 29, 2020
This song tries to capture what for me is the saddest journey in the world - leaving the south of France for the grey north. I've been to Provence many times, a magical place like nowhere else in the world. If you came from the north, passing through Lyon on the way home is really the end - it's the great crossroads in the centre of France. A wonderful place in its own right, but I usually see it from the bus in the middle of the night. For a couple of kilometres in the centre of town, the main road runs beside the promenade on the west bank of the Rhône. These are the last 2 kilometres of the Autoroute du Soleil; once you're off that and onto the A6 north... it's over
posted Monday, April 27, 2020
In November 2019, Gillian and I flew across the US to Portland, Oregon, picked up a rental and drove through the Cascades to the Oregon coast to play the Yachats Celtic Music Festival. It's a mesmerising part of America. Yachats is a gorgeous, traditional Oregon coastal town, very unspoilt, very friendly people; it's also a long day's drive from San Francisco, where I briefly - too briefly - lived a long time ago, but coastal Oregon is a different world from SF. I drove up the coast a few times, but had no memory of the place. I'll never forget it now
posted Saturday, April 25, 2020
Last year, amazing as it seems, I got two albums out of new music, one with Project Feijoa and one with Gillian. Haven't managed to gig either of them in NZ yet for obvious reasons, but in October and November last year Gillian and I went off to Celtic Colours in Nova Scotia and then down to New England to play. We put down about 20 shows and finished up on the Oregon coast. The west coast of America is a place I already knew and loved, and the northeast ... what a spot. Unbelievable scenery, lovely people, great food and coffee everywhere. People up there really love their music too.
All the way through the US, I was writing stuff, scribbling away wherever I had a minute. Which is quite often actually, a lot of touring is hurry up and wait. All this stuff went in the pot with a few older ideas I'd been carrying when I got back to NZ at the end of the year and after a few weeks at Gas Mark 5, the songs started to come out. It turned into Lost Stars, an album about places, the skies above them, the people below, and wondering when we'll see them again.
The songs are free - download away. One will pop up here every so often on the music page, and I'll put the words up on the lyrics page. There'll be 11 or 12 songs, at last count. Anyone wanting to pay a few dollars for the album is most welcome, you'll get the tracks as they come out, plus some bonus stuff, a few re-mixed tracks from the early days with new vocals. As the songs go up I'll post something about them here.
posted Friday, April 24, 2020
My fellow embubbled, we find ourselves in strange times. Hope you are all safe and well.
The situation is grim. All our gigs are cancelled. Craft beer
bars are closed. We must make our own coffee. I'm gagging for a
good Malaysian curry. To all those people who went through the supermarkets and cleaned out all the dairy
products and toilet paper, have you sorted out cause and effect yet?. The ponderous, mundane bollocks
that many of us have to endure during the day in our offices -
what the late, great, Iain Banks called the boring, stupid
nonsense of our modern world - so we can indulge our real passion
of music, has now invaded our houses, and we call it Working From
Home. We've seen, on YouTube, many of our erstwhile musical
heroes attempting to entertain us with at-home DIY concerts, many
of which have been surprisingly terrible. And considering what
they're probably worth, a lot of their front rooms are rubbish
None of this matters. We'll get through.
Too all those working to keep us safe, fed, and in some cases, alive; you're all heroes, no doubt about it. My hat's off to you
posted Thursday, January 23, 2020
Criú (well, most of us, anyway) will be at The Hop Garden
in Wellington this Saturday night as part of the Burns night show.
There's going to be Haggis unfortunately, and somebody with a thick
accent will doubtless be shouting at it first, but that's beside the
point. You can get the whole deal including Cullen Skink for $18 (you
pay them). 'Food' at 7pm, music from 8pm. Tickets from the venue
(www.thehopgarden.co.nz) or on the door.
Hope to see some of you there!
posted Wednesday, January 22, 2020
I'm delighted, I think, to announce that once again I'll be accompanying the indomitable, incomparable, inebriable, and often insufferable, Sandy Brechin at a few shows in the North Island, starting at Hamsterfest. More dates to be announced soon...it really is unaccountable how this man continues to get work over here. Don't worry, I'll look after the munter. He's only here for a couple weeks. Just go on holiday
posted Tuesday, November 12, 2019
A huge thanks to Stephen and all the team at Yachats Celtic Music Festival on the Oregon coast where Gillian and I spent the last few days. There were some great acts the festival and we really enjoyed hanging out and playing tunes with Beolach, Cassie and Maggie, Nuala, Eamon and the guys from Vishten. Great to see some other old friends turn up for a tune on the last night as well... thanks again to all. What a great way to finish up our US tour
posted Sunday, November 3, 2019
Thank you to Tom at the Burren in Boston MA, and Joyce for great sound last night. We had a good crew of Boston locals in for the show at this iconic venue, and sat in on a great little session afterwards in the front bar - thanks to Helena and the guys for making us feel welcome. Onward!
posted Saturday, November 2, 2019
We had a great show last night in Lebanon, hosted in fine style by Dan and Carla in their lovely place just outside Hanover, a very pretty town and the home of Dartmouth College. Thanks so much for all those who turned out to make it a packed house and a great night. Thanks for looking after us folks, until next time!
posted Monday, October 28, 2019
Many thanks to Pauleena and all at the Next Generation Theatre in Brewer ME for putting us on last night, and Eric for terrific sound. Hope you all made it home safe....
posted Saturday, October 26, 2019
OK, it's not really - they've just painted it brown. Made a great job of it though... so Gillian and I played in the Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath, ME last night. Wonderful venue and many thanks to William, Peter and all the volunteers for seeing to our every need and giving us great sound in the hall. Very pleased to see so many folks come out to hear us. We also survived the drive back down through the storm to Portland. xx
posted Thursday, October 24, 2019
Last night Gillian and I played at Port City Blue in the fantastic town of Portland ME. We were playing a show as part of the Irish night concert series, but I don't know how Irish we were... managed a few Irish tunes in the set though... Thanks to Tom for putting on the show and all the folks at Port for making us so welcome - and to all you guys who turned out, see you next time...
posted Monday, October 21, 2019
Huge thank yous to Lisa and all the guys at the Carleton in Halifax Nova Scotia last night and to all the folks who turned out to make it a great night. Great sound from John, and thanks to Mike Campbell for making the whole thing happen. Halifax is a great town, wish we had more time to hang and check it out. Tomorrow, New England...
posted Sunday, October 20, 2019
Huge thanks to Shauna, Dawn and all at Celtic Colours for having us over. We finished up yesterday with a second show with Mairi Campbell, Nic Gareiss, Adam Young and the most excellent Dardanelles. Tomorrow we head south for a show in Halifax, farewell to Cape Breton. Thanks to everyone who turned out to watch us!
posted Saturday, October 12, 2019
Tonight I had the rare pleasure of sharing the stage with some fine musicians; Cape Breton singers Buddy MacDonald, Cyril MacPhee and Darrell Keigan, and the prodigiously talented John Doyle. All these gentlemen are Celtic Colours stalwarts and they know how to make a guy feel welcome; likewise all the CC festival guys and the Drive team, and the volunteers who put on a fantastic supper. Cape Breton fairly put on some weather for us but this didn't stop us having a good night. Great food, great music and I got four new music mates out of it. What more can a fella ask? Thanks guys
posted Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Race for the Sun, the debut album by Wellington duo Gillian Boucher & Bob McNeill, will be released on CD and streaming on 16 October, 2019. That night we're playing at St. Mary of the Angels Community Hall, Glendale, Nova Scotia, with a whole bunch of other people, so perhaps they'll help us celebrate if/when the thing finally arrives....
posted Wednesday, September 4, 2019
Amazing as it may seem....
The California Tapes is available now on all major download & streaming platforms, including:
posted Friday, August 30, 2019
Last night I had the huge pleasure of playing with Criu at D4. Thanks to everyone for turning out and Cathy and the rest of the guys at D4 for having us.
posted Saturday, August 3, 2019
At the end of 2018 - during a lull in recording, while Emily was changing dresses, Rob was summoning the tardis and Bob was learning the next 8 bars of the solo - Project Feijoa put a small satellite into orbit around Neptune (it's in preparation for a trip we are thinking about). Today, we released The California Tapes to streaming. This is the most complicated thing we've done since.
The California Tapes will be released on 1 September 2019. It's on all streaming platforms. iTunes pre-release is 14 August. Hallelujah
posted Friday, August 2, 2019
A huge thanks to Yanick and all the staff at Baobab for putting on the inaugural Music in the Glen gig in Newtown last night. A great night had by all, etc. Also thanks to all the folks who turned out to watch. It's a thing: we'll be back on 29 November. If not before...
posted Thursday, July 18, 2019
Gillian and I have been working not very hard on our debut album for an awfully long time, and awfully hard for not a very long time. She tells me we're going to finish it, it's going to be great, and it's going to be called Race for the Sun. It's going to feature four songs, three which I've enscribed especially for the occasion, and one by a young, up-and-coming-songwriter from these parts, one Andrew London. It's called Emily Bay and it's a belter, folks. We're gonna try and not mess it up. You won't have heard of Andrew; he's new and has no profile around the Wellington area. Natty dresser, though.
We may or may not just get this puppy out in time for our tour of Nova Scotia and New England in October & November this year (we're also playing in Oregon). I've heard of Nova Scotia; it's bloody miles away, and Gillian tells me it's warm and extremely modern.
This is amazing. Not having had my name on a recording for nine years, shortly two of the buggers could be finished. Mixed blessing; all those recordings I've not had my name on have sold like hotcakes.
posted Wednesday, July 17, 2019
OK, so I suck at updates. But I'm still alive. And tonight, however incredible it seems, we finished the last of the masters for the new Project Feijoa album, The California Tapes. I wrote the first of the songs (Jesusita) in California on a Greyhound bus on 17 September 2009 (I keep meticulous notes), so if we take a month to get the thing onto streaming, it'll be exactly a ten year project. Of course, I haven't been fully committed to it for every day in between. Other things have at times seemed important; just not recently, when I began wondering where the years beginning 201.. had gone.
Oddly, as it became (quite recently) apparent that Tapes might actually be finishable, I've often found myself thinking back to the Scottish summer of 1995, when (- wait: I just used Scottish and summer in the same sentence; let me backtrack. Between about April and September 1995, I finished and wrote up a PhD, which is to say, I spent those months actually doing it, as opposed to climbing and playing music in the Scottish Highlands and occasionally getting absurdly drunk at pointless conferences in appalling concrete-and-brick eyesores in various parts of England, which is what I'd previously been led to believe a PhD at a Scottish University actually consisted of).
Yeah, anyway. Did I put all those brackets and full stops in the right places? My point... yes. I haven't worked as hard on anything since 1995, so I hope you like it. If you do, most of the credit is due to Emily and Rob; but buy it for God sakes, because the royalties are due to me.
posted Friday, July 12, 2019
I just heard something incredible. From the horse's mouth, as it were. Mark Knopfler is apparently giving up touring. Something to do with being old or something. Marky! Nooooooooo
Go watch any of the recent vids posted from the '19 tour and tell me this is a man who needs to hang it up. If you ask me, he's goin back SOUTH on some of those old songs.
Seriously, this is a man who's been showing us all what it's about for 40 years - the art of the picture-in-a-song and how to use the guitar when you're painting that picture. Ain't but maybe 5 other guys who've ever been able to do it.
Mark, stop this nonsense. You got it more than ever dude
posted Sunday, March 24, 2019
OK, so you might think that I was bound to think this show was great, being a huge fan of John Mayer. But no, actually, I was terrified it might not be great. He's one of my favourite songwriters and one of my favourite guitar players and I knew what I wanted out of this. He's also done stuff I don't love, he plays blues which I don't love, and at big concerts like this you just never know what you're gonna get. Even big, big talents can get drawn into the twaddle of modern R&B pop - that sort of warbly pastiche that's on top of everything - and John has skirted around the edge of it. Tastefully, that's the point; he knows just where to stop. Or so it seems from his records. But I'd never seen him live.
So what did we get? We got... the lost art of rock music. For two stunning sets. Terrific songs, great band (actually if anything too many cooks in the guitar department, you don't fly to Auckland to a John Mayer gig to hear somebody else play guitar), but more to the point, John Mayer in the front. He's the whole package, this guy. And rock music? Not dead, thank God. On the strength of this, he might be saving it all by himself.