The road less travelled

Writing, travelling, musing, doodling, sometimes even painting.

The Magician 

Very happy to have been asked to contribute this essay to the Norwich University of the Arts 2023 Fine Art degree show catalogue.
It's a true story, and a sneaky peak into my book. This bit's about the strange serendipitous day I had in San Francisco which my good friend James "Hutch" Hutchinson was very much part of. Synchronicity and serendipity in full flow.

Retreat to Crete 

Kalimera from the mythical island of Crete - birthplace of Zeus and home to King Minos, Joni Mitchell, Odysseus and me, for a bit.
Nomadic life began for me yesterday after several days roughing it in an empty house and the rest under the mother hen wing of my big sis. She and her partner have the biggest hearts.
My plan had been to fly to Nashville on Tuesday and sit by the Cumberland River for a month to finish the book. After that I was off road tripping as I headed towards album release. Alas the gods had other ideas and blew me here instead - Plan B.
I'm at Aspros Potamos in Pefke Gorge where Zephyr, god of the west wind, currently lives and is blowing for Olympus today. It's a little rainy but makes the mountain herbs even more pungent. Hoping to bump into many immortals while I'm here and be in the US by August - four years on from embarking on my first Road Less Travelled roadtrip.
The odyssey continues.


Jerome Moross's 'Big Country' 

Being raised by a single mum, I never got to travel abroad as a kid. That all changed as soon as I had enough money to satisfy my wanderlust.

The first American road trip was back in 2014 with my partner at the time, visiting two of The Four Corners: Utah and Arizona.  It was just like the movies.

After the trip I wrote this for a travel blog.





“Walk trot gallop?” Lawrence, my Navajo cowboy guide asked me.

Sitting awkwardly, high up in the Western saddle with the desert grit whipping my pale English face, I felt a giddy kind of excitement. The sun had been up no more than an hour, and there was a chill damp breeze blowing through Monument Valley. Overhead, I could see little wisps of pinky cloud scraping the tops of the chiseled monoliths, reminding me of tombstones; it was both eerie and beautiful at the same time.

I hesitated then replied, “No. Just canter please.”

Ten days into our Canyonlands road trip and I was about to act out one of my childhood fantasies: a sunrise horseback ride through the desert, cue Western Themes. But canter? Did I really say that? This was John Wayne terrain – no half measures here, pilgrim – and I was feeling like a complete fraud. A wannabe cowgirl who’d only ever ridden riding school ponies in her summer holidays, and I’d never quite progressed to galloping.

Lawrence remained silent, but I swear I could hear The Duke rocking in his celestial golden saddle, laughing at me.

It’s not hard to feel the spirit of John Wayne when you’re staying at Goulding’s. His presence is everywhere. The lodge itself had started as a trading post back in the 1920s by Harry and Leone Goulding. Then, when the Great Depression hit in the 30s, a savvy Harry took a $60 trip to Hollywood and pitched Goulding’s and the nearby Navajo reservation as the backdrop for John Ford’s classic western, Stage Coach.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Sideburn, my new four–legged friend, snorted his disapproval at me and grabbed a mouthful of sagebrush. He munched slowly, giving off a vaguely roast chicken dinner waft while I waited for Lawrence to tack up his horse. Raybans on and stetson in place, he  swung a Levi’d leg over the high backed saddle and we finally headed out on the trail toward the towering buttes.

As my horse picked his way down a bank of loose shards, I gingerly eyed the ground beneath me. I’d been given riding gloves, but no hard hat, so my skull was starting to feel slightly naked. An apparition of a fat Humpty Dumpty with cracked dripping-egg-yolk sides skipped over the bank after Lawrence as we wobbled all the way to the bottom. Finally, the ground levelled off and we found ourselves in a vast carmine landscape of sandstone, tumbleweed and cacti. It was breathtaking.

Sideburn, now walking through waist-high crop of sagebrush, slowed his pace so he could yank up more of the sweet smelling treat.  Each time, his head would shoot down or swing violently to the side, and my arms would be wrenched out of their sockets, winding me against the pommel in the process. I’d grunt and Lawrence would turn in his saddle and gently chide me for my soft approach to horses.

After several more attempts at schooling, Lawrence stopped, turned his horse around to face me head on, and gave me a slightly over-theatrical ‘How To Whip Your Horse’ display. He cracked his reins from side to side in a perfect arc and his mount jumped to attention.

“You gotta be firm with them. Show’em who’s boss.”

I weakly imitated, tickling Sideburn’s muscly chestnut sides. Nothing. Head down. More munching.

Realising I was a lost cause, Lawrence pulled his horse around and rode on telling me stories about each of the gigantic sacred mesas we were passing beneath. He spoke of his ancient people, the Diné, who lived here on the reservation. Of the subtle changes in the seasons, the desert flowers in spring, the snow in winter, the places to find water. He told us about the government mining, the officials who came and went, the rocks they left behind – still full of uranium, still leaking. He seemed to have a stoical resignation to it all, and yet also a deep contentment that’s hard to put into words. The folk singers had got it wrong. This land wasn’t their land. This Land Was His Land.

By noon, we were at the Mittens and it was time to take the tourist selfies with the famous Utah hands waving behind us. Shots done, and feeling quite at home by now in the saddle – cradled in this epic landscape I’d only ever seen in the movies – we turned and headed back towards the corral.

An hour or so later and we’d arrived at the steep slope we’d slid down a few hours before. This part of the bank was sandy and peppered with cacti, and looking just as insurmountable.

Lawrence’s horse began the climb; tired hooves slipping, flanks quivering, then with one last push, his horse was up and over.

Sideburn, sensing imminent abandonment, began the climb quickly and clumsily. As he tried to skip up the bank, he lurched backwards and my life flashed forwards – to a vision of me underneath a 1200 pound horse. A foot went through the stirrup, my body swung to the side. I was heading straight for a cactus bush. Somehow, at the very last moment, I managed to grab the pommel and hung there like an idiot in aspic for a hot second. Sideburn, miraculously, stopped. We righted ourselves. We were good.

With both feet firmly back in the stirrups, and hands hugging the pommel, we began the ascent but slowly this time. Reaching the summit, I could see Lawrence slightly ahead of us now, breaking into a slow trot. Then, with no warning, they were gone, thundering back home in a cloud of red dust.

I braced myself, feeling the surge in Sideburn, his coiled muscles asking for release. I leaned in, gripped hard, flicked the reins and we were off. For the first time that day, horse and rider finally in sync together, galloping in one easy motion to the cascading strings of Jerome Moross’s Big Country.

Nashville & The South 

Some things seem fated. After a second dose of COVID over Christmas 2021, I decided to use my cancelled LA flight credit to escape England for a bit.

It was time to explore a place that had been on my wish list since reading Faulkner’s  ‘The Sound and the Fury’ as a teen. I would visit The American South. January 18th, 2022, I landed in Nashville with a plan to work on my book while immersing myself in the music and culture.

With Abby I visited the birthplace of Elvis in lovely Tupelo, with the hardware store his momma bought him his first guitar, Clarksdale and the infamous crossroads of Robert Johnson, Faulkner’s house in Oxford, Memphis, where I paid my respects to Martin Luther King and Jeff Buckley, Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame soaking up the songwriters  (several times) and hallowed spots at RCA Studio B Nashville and Sun Studios Memphis.  I got to stick my head over a Jack Daniels’ Distillery sour mash, was gifted a handmade guitar, made new friends, sang with old friends, and fell in love.

Then finally – just before leaving – I made a record: an album with all the songs written on the road back in 2019. I was introduced to Nashville producer Matt Roley who’d just finished building his studio and was looking for an artist to try it out.

And so, with the help of Josh Hunt (Alison Krauss), SistaStrings (Brandi Carlile, Allison Russell) and Alex McCollough, plus the support and belief of some incredible people, Roley and I made a record.

It was mixed by Jay William Henderson (Band of Annuals) and will be released in 2023.

Magic happens.

NC500 and John O’Groats 

And then COVID hit. How many times have we heard that?

March 2020, I was booked on a flight to LA to finish recording with Hutch when Trump closed down the airports.  Like all of us, I didn't go anywhere all year but recorded ‘Home is Your Shoulder’ at home and remotely with Hutch and Chris Pepper of Saltwood Studios. We released it later that year.

Next came the 2021 summer Kickstarter vinyl single  – a double A-side featuring  ‘Carmel’ from the LA session and ‘Mighty Big Sur’, a co-write with Hutch.  He'd written the music a few years before when he was touring with CSN and sent it to me to see if I had any ideas for lyrics. It was January 2021 and I was missing Big Sur big time.  One lunchtime I sat down and started writing - Mighty Big Sur is the result.

With lockdown easing,  I got together with my band The Tendrils and we had a summer launch on a beach in Norfolk.  A secret gig for our Kickstarter crowd – it was lovely - but by the end of the campaign I was burnt out. I hadn’t been on a road trip since 2019 and   was missing it. Where could I for some r & r ?  How far could I drive in the United Kingdom? It was either John O’Groats or Land's End.  I found out about the NC500, bought a one-person tent, read up on wild camping in Scotland and a few days after the beach gig was off to the highlands with my faithful dog Cass.

It was another road less travelled – from the first scary but beautiful night sleeping on a beach on the east coast, to the incredible west coast and the Middle Earth nooks we found.

One woman and her dog – a road trip I’ll never forget.


Road Less Travelled – US Road Trip Part 2 

On my first trip I was introduced to Abby Dees, an LA radio presenter on IMRU KPFK through a mutual friend of ours, Viv Thomas. Viv had thought it'd be a great idea if Abby interviewed me for her radio show when I got to LA.  Abby and I started messaging, she offered me her vintage Martin for the session, we bonded over the Beatles, and soon we were like long lost friends. Only we'd never met. When we finally did, outside the Chinese Theatre just before taking me to the Hollywood Bowl as welcome gift, it was like we were family.  As I was leaving LA she offered me a place to stay if I ever returned, so when Hutch suggested we should record some of the road songs,  it all kind of into place. 

I planned it for the week of both Abby and my birthday. We celebrated Abby’s watching Linda Ronstadt's ‘The Sound of My Voice’, then  spent the next two days in the studio with Hutch’s musical family: Tony Braunagel, Diego ‘El Twanguero’ Garcia and Johnny Lee Schell. It was possibly the best birthday I could have wished for.

The following day I turned 50. Abby, her wife and I hiked to the Hollywood sign in the morning, watched the sun set at the Griffith Observatory, drank apéritifs at Château Marmont and finished with dinner at Lemmy’s old hangout. It was pretty epic. 

The next day I hit the road for a second solo trip, this time driving 1300 miles in Abby’s Audi through deserts and up the scenic 395 to Independence. Driving into Yucca Valley that first day,  a song started to brew. By the end of my adventure, I had a completed song cycle – ten glorious road songs.

When I got home, I promised myself I’d pay all the kindness I'd received forward by making it into an album and book about the experience. A kind of ‘How to Fight Loneliness and Get Over a Broken Heart - With a Little Help From My Friends.' 

Road Less Travelled – US Road Trip Part 1 

Starting from the beginning, although not quite the beginning since that started a long time ago musically, my own Road Less Travelled began like this.

On August 8th, 2019, I went on an odyssey following in the footsteps of Jack Kerouac’s book ‘Big Sur’. My idea – to heal my broken heart by connecting with and befriending as many strangers as possible, taking the road less travelled and maybe writing a song or two on the way.

I travelled with a miniature guitar,  a suitcase on wheels and blind faith I’d be okay. I had friends in the UK and US who helped by hooking me up with places to crash and people to meet. My friend Hutch, bassist with Bonnie Raitt, even gave me the keys to his house when I got to LA. 

In 20 days, I travelled 2400 miles on the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco then drove 1700 miles around California solo. The first song appeared in Heathrow departure lounge and continued over the Atlantic all the way to Chicago.  After that, songs came in San Francisco, Carmel, Yosemite, Sequoia and Big Sur.   Each day – each new song – I shared on social media. I’d never felt so prolific, so naked, and so wide awake. 

On the road, I guess I had a spiritual awakening. Seemed like the more open hearted I became, the more kindness I'd receive from strangers, along with random serendipitous happenings and songs.  By  day 20, returning home to the UK,  I had 5 new and a plan to return to demo them 2 months later with Hutch.

You can see some of it in my mini film The Road Less Travelled film, a snapshot of the first few days travelling, and  the story behind the song  ‘Home Is Your Shoulder’. That song began on day 6, in Fort Mason Park after visiting Alcatraz in the morning, and was finished the next day at Fort Point. I released a lockdown version of it with Hutch in November 2020.