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Good news!

Feast and Frivolity beckon as I embark upon a variety of Gigs and Entertainments this winter. Come choose what takes your fancy.
  • Music Hall shows that are silly, sublime and somewhat scintillating
  • Children's storytelling that is perky and passionate
  • Legendary storytelling for grown-ups
  • And solo folk club performance
Plus, read on for reports of other exploits:
  • The joy of performing Ordinary Giants with Robb Johnson
  • Summoning ghosts at the Guildhall with Human Cargo
  • A memory of The Transports
  • Geography and musculoskeletal matters
  • Some excellent reading
But first, a word about the coming parliamentary election.


Now, on with the shows.

(Full details of gigs also on my website)

Music Hall

I went to my doctor and said I needed something for persistent wind.
He gave me a kite.

That's how high we're setting the bar for these music hall entertainments - we being myself and concertina genius Michael Hebbert. There'll be singalong, monologues, 'jokes' and classic songs varying from the Maudlin to the Mischevious and the Marvellous. Both gigs are benefits for fine causes, so your suffering will ease theirs...

First, come join us in an amazing old bookshop opposite the British Museum...

Jarndyce Antiquarian Bookshop
Thursday 28 November, 7pm

46 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3PA
An early evening show (over by 9pm). Some wine included with ticket! For tickets (£15 minimum donation) please email or phone 020 7631 4220. In aid of, supporting women in Uganda struggling with poverty, HIV and domestic violence.

Then we take the laughs & groans to a wonderful museum in Hoxton, East London...

Friends of Geffrye Museum Benefit
Tuesday 3 December, 6.30pm

Geffrye Museum, Kingsland Road, London E2 8EA
Over by 8.30pm. Tickets £12 (Friends £10) Book here.

Small venues. Limited tickets. Book in advance.

Stories for kids

Gather up the bairns (age 6+) for some saturday storytelling.

Pianist Olga Jegunova and I have reworked the classic Peter and the Wolf. We partner it with our signature version of The Flaming Firebird and the Princess Vasilisa, a story which, it must be said, excites adults as much as children. So, if you're bringing along the family - or attending without kids - we aim to entertain you properly. Here's a video of our work and here's a glimpse of us in action at Kings Place.

First we take the show to a lovely children's festival in West London:

South Ken Kid's Festival, Institut Francais
Saturday 23 November, 4pm

17 Queensbury Place, London SW7 2DT
Tickets £7 Book here.

Next we're in Trafalgar Square:

St Martin-in-the Fields Mini Maestro concert
Saturday 30 November, 11am

St Martin-in-the-Fields,Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 4JJ
Tickets £6-18 Book here.

Legends for grown-ups

Her anger is sudden and it is immense. She traps the intruder in her cold, hard gaze. What of Actaeon? He stands transfixed. But his blankness only makes Diana's fury burn more fiercely.

Far from the frivolities, this new project uses old story, particularly Greek myth, to dive deep into the nature of relations between men and women.

Olga and I are retelling the myth of Diana and Actaeon - a harsh tale about the anger of a goddess. We're busy turning it into a half hour work of story and improvised classical music, based on themes of Ravel.

We're very excited about this new piece of adult storytelling, which we unveil, with other stories, at Kings Place London in January. We're honoured to be part of the opening weekend of their year-long Nature Unwrapped season. You can book tickets now. Our show is appropriately titled:

Step Carefully in the Forest
Sunday 12 January, 3pm

Kings Place, 90 York Way, London
Tickets £12.50 from here.

Solo in Walthamstow

Those nice people at Walthamstow FC have given me the chance to combine material from my various projects into one solo show. There'll be folk song and story, music hall songs and monologues - plus new material, and other stuff that seldom makes it to the stage. Do join me for this special evening.

Walthamstow Folk Club
Sunday 19 January 8pm

Rose & Crown, 53 Hoe Street, London E17
Folk club website

Ordinary Giants

It was such a joy to bring Robb Johnson's family song cycle Ordinary Giants to Chats Palace for two nights last month. With the same team of singers and musicians as our last gig - plus Louise Michelle Martin on tuba - the show remains a life-affirming tribute to family, ordinary folk and the great Welfare State. Soon we'll announce dates for Spring 2020. You can buy the album here.

Human Cargo at Lavenham

When I arrived at The Guildhall in Lavenham to give two concerts in September, the level-headed manager of this medieval National Trust property said, 'Let's use the kitchen downstairs as a green room. It may be best not to go upstairs this weekend.'

'Huh?' I replied.

'Well,' she said. 'It's a harvest moon. The nights are drawing in. The house can get, erm... busy.'

'You mean ghosts?'

'Yes;' she said. 'Not that I've seen any, but others have. One workman had a long chat with an old woman, who had no reason to be in the building. And when we're closed, neighbours sometimes see faces at the windows upstairs.'

How interesting, I thought. I knew that, as an eighteenth century prison, the Guildhall must have witnessed some bad things. My show Human Cargo seeks to give voice to people treated cruelly in the past - including a young girl chained and transported from that very building to New South Wales - so it was possible the show might attract some extra, non-paying audience...

I certainly tried. I sang hard to summon spirits.Several times I found excuses to head upstairs and wander about - but saw nothing. Any ghosts present must have watched the show in silence.

A memory of The Transports

Folklorist Doc Rowe got in touch to say he'd just edited the film he made of a 1987 production of The Transports at Portsmouth. Though it's not publicly available, he kindly shared a copy. It was a treat to see this production of Peter Bellamy's folksong cycle about 18th century prisoner transportation to Australia - arranged then by John Kirkpatrick and directed by Taffy Thomas.

That prompted another listen to our own recent production of The Transports, adapted by myself and Paul Sartin, and incidentally featuring John's son Benji Kirkpatrick.

Whenever I listen to the penultimate song The Green Fields of England, I remember the pleasure of singing it every night and watching the audience gasp when the 10-part harmony of the chorus kicks in. I'd only started my performing career a couple of years before, and now I was lucky enough to be part of English folk music at its best. I'll always be grateful to Michael Hughes and Paul Sartin for giving me that opportunity.

If you fancy the album for yourself, head here.

A word about geography

You may have noticed my winter gigs are all in London. And many/most of you readers are not.

Sadly I've had to restrict my movements, owing to what's delightfully called endstage osteo-arthritis of my right ankle. The cartilage has gone, so bone rubs on bone, which hurts, and science has not yet learnt to re-grow cartilage. My surgeon says I need a new ankle. Unfortunately the technology for new ankles is decades behind new hips and knees, so he suggests I wait a few years - and try to get by.

Mmm. Last winter I was down to walking only short distances. I could just about manage a gig on my feet, but it took a toll. Going on tour, with regular shows, soundchecks, loading and driving - that was out of reach.

Luckily I met an incredible physio who has helped me change the way my entire body moves, so putting less stress on the ankle (and, crucially, un-doing the damage of years trying to cope). I've swum in the sea on over 90 days this year. I've even started swimming in the unheated lido on Hampstead Heath. Last week it was 10 degrees - and it felt, well, rather nice.

As a result I'm more mobile - which is great - but not enough to start gigging much round the country. So, sorry for my absence from your environs, and sorry for the long explanation, but do bear with me. I'll be back.

Some excellent reading


First we meet Sanger’s father James as a teenage farmer from Wiltshire, visiting London to see pals. Crossing London Bridge, he is waylaid by a press gang, which bludgeons him into service on a government ship. He ends up aboard the flagship Victory during the Battle of Trafalgar, survives boarding an enemy ship, and watches Nelson fall. James returns home, maimed and poor, but is badly received by his family. So he sets out on the road, to live by means of a peep-show and patter. All this, and we’re barely four pages into the book. (From my introduction)

You can't beat a good story, and here's one as fine as you'll find. Since I published this new edition of Seventy Years a Showman, the wild autobiography of Victorian showman 'Lord' George Sanger, I've kept bumping into reminders and parallels of his picaresque life.

There's The Greatest Showman of course - a confected counterpoint to the savagery of Sanger's book. Then last week I attended a Magic Lantern show in a Victorian bookshop. (The Lanternist, of course, sported a frock coat and nattily-curated goatee.) Smart screens were instantly forgotten as we entered the low fi magic of simple visual trickery. If the story's strong, there's no need for CGI.

The previous week, some young cousins of mine held a circus-themed fancy dress birthday party. I'd forgotten how delicious such events can be, as people you've always known - family! - reveal mysterious new sides.

Anyway, this is all an encouragement for you to read Seventy Years a Showman which, incidentally makes a perfect Christmas gift...
That's it for now. I hope the winter treats you well. And if you can make it along to one of my gigs, it would be lovely to see you.

Best wishes, Matthew

PS Finally, here's a memory from two years ago this week when, for one performance only, at a shady event organised in East London by the KLF, the shanty group Badger Kull made their debut with Burn the Shard!

Ah. The joy we unleashed that night...

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