In the spring, I’ll be doing the usual preparation work before écovallée opens, and I have to finish the road to the car park some time before then. But I have plenty of other projects to be getting on with.

The first big project is a new idea: teaching people how to create or improve their own website, using WordPress. I’ll be running one-day introductory courses, and one-day content courses, in one of the region’s best restaurants – Les Petits Plats. (I’ll be re-doing their website, too.) I’ve written about the courses here and I’ll keep you up to date on this blog, from time to time.

Apart from that, I’ll be working hard on music. My objective is to get my solo piano set in my head, so I can throw my chord charts away. Then I’ll try and do the same with the band. Both sets added together run to about six hours, so it won’t be easy. As part of this process, I’m going to be recording a load of piano tutorials on my new YouTube channel. I couldn’t have learnt the 200-odd songs I’ve learnt in the last few years without YouTube. This is my attempt to put something back.

If you’re thinking that the blog is wandering off track, both of these activities still fall under the banner of self sufficiency. At the end of his book, John Seymour recommends using all your skills to bring in the money our world doesn’t let you live without. It’s not just about pushing wheelbarrows and wearing dirty clothes.

As an added bonus, during the winter months, I can do both of these inside.

Regular readers will know that, as well as being co-creator of the écovallée family yurt camp, an extreme gardener, parent, ethical copywriter, small(and-getting-smaller-all-the-time)holder and other things, I am the keyboard player in a wedding band called “SouthWest”.

In the last band practice, we shot some film, including interviews and bits of songs, which I’ve spent some time turning into this:

When you’ve got a spare 10 minutes, have a watch and let me know what you think. Some readers are industry professionals, and they might want to contact me privately to tell me exactly where my transitions could be smoother and my edits made tighter – all of which I will note and apply to the next video.

If you haven’t done this kind of thing, I highly recommend it. It’s given me a huge respect for people who work in TV. It’s hard but creative, and you could tweak the film forever, although at some point you’ve just got to stop and call it finished. A bit like coppicing – there’s always another tree you can cut. Just one more before lunch.

food processing

Life’s pretty good at the moment. Her Outdoors is processing the fruits (and vegetables) of her labours, stitching, writing stories, puppet making, and a whole lot more.

I’m mainly learning songs for my solo piano set list, adding some Yann Tiersen, Supertramp, Pink Floyd and whatever I feel like. (As soon as I start working on one song, I think of another one that I should have learnt years ago.) I’m also catching up on some reading and lying in a hammock. Not feeling too guilty about this, as I’ve worn out my strimmer (and a pair of work boots) which is in for nearly €300 in repairs.

Last week, the new website I wrote for the Quay Arts Centre went live. (Not all of the words are mine – and I hope you will be able to tell the difference.) I loved working on this project and welcome similar jobs now the winter’s coming. Over the next few months, I’ll be recording an album with the band, writing Part Two of my book (finally), co-writing a stage play with Her Outdoors, co-writing some songs in English, French and Spanish with a friend, completing the road through the woods, remaking the tractor shed for yurt storage, and focusing on our immediate living environment. (The lean-to needs remaking, a few tons of clay need relocating, wood needs chopping, and cetera.) All on budgets that are either tight or non-existent.

I’ll be writing the odd blog post now and again, too. (This was the now.)

One of the things I’ve been doing this year – partly for fun and partly for money – is playing in a band.

The band’s called SouthWest and we play store openings, bars, weddings, parties, corporate events – that kind of thing. I’ve made a website at and put together facebook, twitter, G+ and youtube pages (all in their early stages). But I haven’t really talked about the band yet, as we’ve been short of photos, video, recordings etc. And those things will only dribble in over the course of the year.

Yesterday, Glenn (the singer) told me he’d put some video footage from a recent wedding in my dropbox folder. So I dug it out and put this together on iMovie 10. It runs to nearly four minutes and, if you’re looking for a wedding band in the Dordogne in the next few months or years, or a band for a Christmas party, you should give it a watch. (It’s a compilation, so you won’t have time to be bored.)

From time to time, I’ll be talking about music on this blog, and am thinking about doing a series of keyboard tutorials over the winter to demonstrate the parts I play to these songs, for other people who need to learn them fast.

On four.

At this time of year, it’s always hard to find time to blog. Here a just some of the reasons why.

A couple of weeks ago, while putting the last leaner on the last post of the new deer-proof fence round the poly tunnel, I had a small accident with a hand saw. Discoveries following this include: When you have two children and a lifestyle like ours, A&E reception is a blissfully quiet place to sit – me and Her Outdoors got to catch up for a few hours without any distractions – in fact, we’re thinking of going back there for a holiday some time. Also, I found that my tetanus jab from 1997 is still OK – although we’re told to have shots every ten years, apparently I still have antibodies – which is good to know.

A few days ago, we said goodbye to Pepito, our retired working horse. He isn’t dead – he’s just living somewhere else. Long-time readers will know that Pepito was the first animal we bought, back in 2007. Originally, he was going to carry guest luggage from cars to yurts, and do some light farming work. But the fight to be open went on for so long, this never happened. It has been a struggle to feed him over the winters, and this year someone offered to look after him, spoil him with luxurious food supplements and surround him with other horses. Of course, he thinks he’s in heaven and we’ve decided to let him stay. This has freed up his field for the geese and chickens, which we will move as soon as we have a moment. As you can appreciate, this deserves a much longer post. But we’ll all have to make do with these few lines for the moment.

I ran for office on the mayor’s team and “we” “lost” in the second round of voting last Sunday. Going to weekly meetings was a very enlightening experience, and allowed me to propose some ideas – like having a communal veggie patch in the village to help prepare for life after fossil fuels. I’m looking forward to working with the new mayor and seeing what his team will bring to the village – including a communal veggie patch. (An idea that should, in my view, be mandated by all governments. The simple fact that this is not being mandated is proof enough for me that governments do not have the interests of the people at heart. Which might explain why many people have apparently lost faith in the current political system.)

The Daughter entered a talent show and got through to the final, performing a song she’d written herself. She didn’t win in her category in the end, but I think came a close second. I was seriously impressed with the solo vocalists, two of whom I would have signed on the spot if that was my job. (If that job even still exists.) The competition was held on consecutive Saturday afternoons in a 150-seat auditorium, and was surprisingly friendly and nurturing. I found it hard to picture similar opportunities being available in the UK and suspect it would have been far more competitive. But not in a good way.

You may remember I was in two bands a few weeks ago. During the course of one week, both bands split up. (Not guilty.) Unwilling to throw away all the work I’d done learning 50 new songs in a few weeks, not to mention creating a website and starting to get the social networking side of things up and running, I introduced the band-less singer from one band to the singer-less band from the other, and now we have a new band. Called “SouthWest”, and offering a dance-floor-filling selection of tracks from the 60s to today, the first gig’s on Saturday. I’ve still got quite a bit of work to do, especially on the backing vocals (haven’t used this much falsetto since the ’80s), so I’m going to have to wrap this up and get back to work.

Before I go, sticking with music, I made some business cards and this simple website for solo piano work. This summer, while guests of écovallée come to relax and enjoy their holidays, me and Her Outdoors will be working harder than ever. I’ll tell you more about that soon, in a post along the lines of: Life as an immigrant.

In this post last week, I said Rob Hopkins had invited me to write something for the Transition Network. After a few false starts, I put something together over the weekend and sent it off. This morning, Rob told me he liked it (huzzah) and, a short while ago, he published it on his blog here (double huzzah – we haven’t had one of those for a while).

That should be enough good news for one post. But it isn’t.

Yesterday, we had a very positive meeting with the mayor about the yurt camp and our future plans. In the evening, I went to a very constructive meeting with our lovely local Transition group (in a straw-bale house – what’s not love to about a building you can grow and put together yourself?), this morning I landed some gardening work for the spring and, a few minutes ago, I found myself back in a band (having been bandless for just over a week) and landed a couple of website jobs to do over the next howevermany days.

If you’d spoken to me on Wednesday, I could have painted a very bleak picture of life. I was feeling like we were putting a huge amount of effort into numerous projects and getting nothing positive in return. Right now, the sun is shining and the world is full of possibilities.

Which reminds me of a Bill Connolly quote about the Scottish climate: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”.

The weekend before last, I got an email from a local(ish) band. They said their rhythm guitarist was leaving and they’d been talking about having a keyboard player instead – classic rock covers from the 70s to today – mainly weddings – was I interested? I said to send me their set list with the keys of the songs and give me a week or two.

But the singer’s more of a “now” person. He sent me 36 tracks and asked if I could go to a rehearsal on the Wednesday.

I’ll be honest. Thirty-six tracks in a few days is quite a headful. So I got him to reduce it to 20-something to focus on. We had a band practice and decided it would work. Last night, we had another practice including most of those 36, with a dozen or more thrown in for good measure.

To try and make this news relevant to this blog, here’s a quick how-to on getting your head round a big set, quickly. (It’s only the second time I’ve done this in the last few months, so could be refined.)

o Make a youtube playlist of all the tracks, while copying and pasting the lyrics onto a word-processing document

o Print out the lyrics, pages numbered, with an index at the front

o In a folder of plastic sleeves, put the lyrics on the left, with a blank page on the right

o Find a website with all the chords for all the songs you need (I’m using ultimate guitar because you can transpose the key without paying a fee)

o Play through the tracks, checking the chords as you go and writing them onto the page facing the lyrics

o Refer to youtube “How to play [name of song]” if necessary

o Listen to the youtube playlist with a glass of wine (or few) and make notes on the lyrics about where to come in, marking solos, backing vocals etc

o Play along to the playlist if you have time – as often as possible – making a note of the best keyboard voice to use

o When you turn up to the band practice/audition, play something not on the set list as a warmup. I tend to improve for a bit and then play “Child in Time” because I can sing the first part of it – and everyone loves Deep Purple

Obviously, the band might be a bit nervous that they’re wasting their time having you along. Fortunately, technology has come up with easy ways for you let them know you can play a little. I spent six minutes playing live into Garageband, which I imported into iMovie, with an iMovie stock image wibbling away in the foreground. I was in a hurry – I had a lot to do (see above). Then uploaded it as a public video to youtube.

If you’re interested, you can see/hear it here.

I couldn’t have packed more into the last couple of weeks if I’d stuffed them in a suitcase and had three people sitting on it.

Among the highlights of an excellent Summer (apart from some of our best-ever guests, great weather, working for folding money to get us through the Winter, entertaining visiting friends and family, finishing the new outdoor kitchen, smallholding, planning, dining and wining) was playing music again on stage.

Here’s a shot from my band’s last gig, at a night market in a village called Audrix.

stax banner

My last proper gigs were back in the 1990s, when I played Brixton Academy a couple of times (although The Mean Fiddler was still a better venue). But I was young, self conscious and painfully aware of any mistakes I made. One advantage of being that much older is that I really don’t care any more. Rehearsing a lot makes a huge difference, as does having a set of good songs and some excellent musicians to play with. This Winter I’ll be working on solos (finally, I’ll have a reason to learn those epic Jon Lord riffs) and backing vocals. If you’re in the area next year, keep an eye on our facebook page for details of concerts.

I’ve got some blog posts to write when I get a moment, and I’ll be doing a video to mark our SIX YEARS in France. I’m also going to be recording some tracks with a friend and writing Part Two of my book about our experience of moving to France to set up écovallée, which is called: “Descent into Hell”. And there are some fairly big building projects to crack on with, wood to gather, maintenance to do. So, plenty of reasons to come back here are see what’s going on.

Ah. We’ll be opening the 2014 diary for écovallée bookings soon. But if you want to come before the end of October, I’m sure we can squeeze you in…