F**k Off Back To Eton – The David Cameron ‘busker’ affair

robin vs cameron

Oh golly gosh, I was up in Northumberland to see my Nana for a peaceful break after the ‘Three Acres And A Cow‘ spring tour, when a nasty big blue bus cut me up on my bike… and then I had a little unplanned chance to sing to David Cameron… Quite an unexpected bit of serendipity perhaps?

This interview is a good place to start if you want to know my thoughts – http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/david-camerons-ukulele-busker-i-thought-f-off-back-to-eton-was-a-bit-crass-but-it-came-from-the-heart-10177329.html

Due to popular demand I have begun a campaign to get ‘F**k off back to Eton’ to number 1 during the general election – subscribe here to be kept in the loop with updates – http://eepurl.com/bjZrGr

Here is a chord sheet, I’d love to hear your version – use the hashtag #fuckoffbacktoeton on twitter and I’ll find it – download the chord sheet and lyrics to ‘F**k Off Back To Eton

interview with ryan

Ryan is an old old friend and has been an amazing supporter of my work over the years through his involvement with The Forest Cafe in Edinburgh.

Luckily now I have an opportunity to return the favour and support him as he has just published his first book ‘Tomorrow, We Will Live Here’ which I want to plug here.

Here is an interview which I recently did with him so you can get a flavour of his mind before heading over to the books website below to dip your toe into his words and buy a copy!



[RG] When did the words start?

[RYW] Grey, I like that question, it is something I don’t think about often enough. The words started when I learned I had to shut my mouth. I was 7 or 8 and I realized people didn’t like me (friends say I learned sarcasm too early) – anyway, I was a little weird and easy to pick on and bully. Like most young people who this happens to, I got introverted, awkward, fat, and didn’t feel comfortable in the playground or playing baseball after school. So, I developed a very active internal life – a complicated life of confused emotions and inarticulate desire, sadness and anger.

Writing was a way for me to map this internal landscape, to make sense of myself and to figure out where I fit into the larger world. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. At the time, I just thought I was being a writer, telling stories. (Stories that were Stephen King rip-ofs and Super-Hero pastiches). But, really, I was finding a place to be myself and learning about myself while I was doing it. So from 8 – 16 I was wrote a lot of stories and comics. This ended when I wrote a story that climaxed with the teenage protagonist (who felt ‘like an invisible robot walking to class’) killing himself. This was cathartic for me to write, of course, but the teacher I showed it to got nervous and he passed it along to the school Guidance Councillor who called me in to have a very serious, very awkward and uncomfortable conversation about my home life which, I’m sure, was all very well intentioned. That put me off writing and showing writing to people for a while. Oh, and I was nearing the end of High School – I had a lead in the school musical, had some very good, very close friends and my first girlfriend and as real-life got enjoyable, the writing just got less important for a while. Then the girl broke up with me and that’s when the poetry started. But you didn’t ask about that.

But I will say this: as I’ve gotten older and made a career out of writing, as I have developed as a person and naturally become more comfortable with the mask I wear in the world, I occasionally miss my fatter, more awkward, dazzled, burning, and somewhat lonesome self. I guess that is what “I Was a Fat Boy” is about. That hunger which we have a lot of when we are young dissipates, doesn’t it?

And I should also say (because I don’t do this enough) my parents were amazing at both reading to me as a kid and encouraging my own stories. Like most parents they thought I was gifted and made me believe it for long enough that I kept playing at writing. I distinctly remember my Mom giving me a copy of Stephen King’s Cujo at an age when most parents would have disallowed it. There were boobs, and swearing and a very angry killer dog. It was awesome. That is the first book I remember loving. Suddenly reading seemed dangerous and exciting and that’s part of what made me want to be a writer.

[RG] I have been enjoying learning about iambic pentameter and other poetic forms recently… how much attention to you spend on form and meter? do you find structural frameworks helpful or limiting or does it depend on the day/place/time/location/mood etc?

[RYW] Man, you have no idea how much this question haunts me. I’ll address meter first – I have no sense of feet, stresses, rhythm. I’m told there is some rhythm in my work but, as you learned when you tried to teach me guitar, I have no natural ear for the music. When I try to count stresses, I just end up counting syllables.

In fact, a former tutor gutted me when he said, ‘I read a poem first for its music and then for the words.’ I was shocked. And terrified. Not because I disagreed but because I don’t write that way. I’d love to be able to write blank verse like Frost or make a poem sound like a choo-choo train or do something incredibly propelling like MacNeice’s ‘Bagpipe Music’ and I’m very jealous of the poets that are able to do it successfully.

Me, I’m trying to make a poem sound natural, as close to speech as I can. That’s what I’m paying attention to when I sit down and edit. And I’m conscious of pace – if I want something to go fast or slow, staccato or more stream-of-conscious. But, man, I am lousy at Iambic Pentameter or writing poems that have 12 beats in a line etc.

That said, form is something I have more and more respect for though I don’t necessarily use a lot of received forms and I rarely sit down and think – “I will write a triolet now”. I write the poem first in the time and place and afterwards, I let the poem suggest to me what shape it should take.

And this shaping the poem does help make the work stronger. There’s a half-sonnet and a half-pantoum in the collection (and there used to be another Pantoum and a Villanelle). I no longer agree with Ezra Pound’s convincing argument that form is an easy way to force a poem out. As I understand it, his feeling was that writing a poem in strict verse was just filling up a vase and one could do it without a lot to say, just add water. Just add words that fit. Certainly, there’s been a lot of bad poetry written this way (though I don’t think taking the shackles off and letting the beats and free-versers have their way has changed the fact that a lot of people – myself included – often write tepid and lame poems). I recall reading Pound’s criticism of that kind of lazy metrical writing and feeling that I agreed. He had to react against it, there was so much of it, and many poets would choose a word for the tinkle it made rather than the meaning so you can get rather over-blown, puffed up poetry if you’re not careful.

Anyway, Don Paterson has often commented that form helps sculpt a poem by chiselling away at the dull, gray stuff. I think he writes about this in the introduction to ‘101 Sonnets’. Allow me to use my own work as an example — “Losing Army” started out as a long free-verse piece which really wasn’t very good so, with nothing to lose, I tried it out as a sonnet and, to my surprise, it worked. (Or I felt it worked, you might disagree). It was kind of like taking a cookie cutter to some dough. Suddenly the poem had shape and force and I had to throw out all the dregs that didn’t fit into those 14 lines. This was a revelation – my raw material was improved by putting constrictions and limitations on it. Form, if you are working at it, can help crystallize a poem, can help you make the right decisions about what to include, about what is essential and can force you to say things in a way you wouldn’t normally.

As a songwriter, I guess a lot of those obstacles are built in. You’ve got a melody and a chorus you have to work around. For me, as someone who typically writes free-verse, I’ve had to learn to add those constraints to my work. I find it helps so, while I don’t often use standard forms I’m still a big fan of the idea that form is content. Often it manifests in the shape of the poem, the length of the lines / stanzas but sometimes I do use a recognized form. My feeling is, get the words out and then, when editing, get that cookie cutter and make some shapes. I find settling on, say a poem comprised of 3-line stanzas helps me edit the work better, and makes me more conscious of what I’m doing.

That said, I’ve been trying to write a series of sonnets from scratch about beds I’ve slept in. (It is proving difficult, it might take a while, I have a lot to learn.)

[RG] my muses have been coming from pretty random places recently and not all of them have been romantic interests for a change! …how many different muses have you had in your life and which have made the final cut in the book? who/what has been the most unusual muse recently?

[RVW] Hard question to answer honestly, but I’ll do my best. My oddest muses have been Bruce Springsteen, road kill and recently an arm-less man I saw boarding a plane at Heathrow. (am curious about yours now) Though they are more inspiration than muse, I suppose, since they only have yielded a poem or two each and I think a muse needs to provide a constant inspiration – that drowning feeling of I can’t stop writing about you baby, everything you say is magic, every little thing you do is magic.

So, romantically, I kind of want to say I’ve never had a proper muse, someone for whom poems just pour forth. But, I was lucky enough to have one muse. A lovely Dutch photographer whom I never even kissed. I think she got all my muse-ish work (which none of you reading this will ever see). That said, I do write lovey poems and I’m certainly inspired by romance and I do get smitten and try to make poetry out of it but it is never very prolonged and rarely is it any good. Readers might find a real lack of romantic poetry in this collection.

Frankly, I dearly want my Jean but I feel way to self-conscious for all that ‘seas gone dry’ stuff. I mean, have you seen the divorce rate? When I try to write like that it sounds like bullshit. Some poets can do it. Matthew Dickman, now that man can write a genuine, in the moment, love poem. That man can work a muse. Read his poem ‘Love’ or ‘Slow Dance’ – amazing! Me, I’m way too self-effacing, realistic and bitterly cynical for it and I just can’t allow good and beauty and love sit in a poem all by themselves with nothing bad happening underneath. I’m feel tragically incapable and when I try (and I do try, baby I do) it all comes out cliché and saccharine. That is, until I get dumped. And then, because the emotion is undercut with genuine badness I’m able to write a bit more. I won’t write about my house till my house burns down. And then a lover becomes a woeful muse and, to put a number on it, there have been 3 of these – loves that have left and, in leaving, lit the dynamite on the dam.

And here I need to thank and apologize to my writing group friends who have had to read a lot of tear-soaked, poor-me poetry over the past decade. I hope the next relationship I am in, I’ll be able to be a bit freer, a bit more Dickman and less dick and will be able to really genuinely write a love poem, in a moment of tenderness, baby I’m amazed by the way I love you, kind of style.

I worry my girlfriends are always a little disappointed that I don’t come home with a poem about how cathedral like their feet are, how I want to pray at the alter of their purple painted toe-nails. Instead I come up with stuff about men and women not being able to communicate properly, about relationships that are suffering through silence. My narrators are oddly unable to speak directly. I feel bad for them. I guess I feel that type of narrator is more authentic. Though, I’m starting to realize that it is authentic because I make it so and, in actual reality, I should be better at communicating love and warmth and the general bedazzlement I feel whenever someone I love is taking her bra off, putting on one of my old t-shirts and crawling into bed. I love that moment, I never write it. Richard Brautigan was great at that moment. You should read his poems. They are beautifully romantic. He was a genius of the muse. And Hayden Carruth always manages to surprise me with how articulate his compassion is. I read his poem “Dedication” in From Snow, From Rock, From Chaos and thought – I wish I could have written that.

Whenever I find myself being overly sarcastic or rude I joke that, “my parents never loved each other” which is hopefully untrue and probably a horrible thing to say considering they are still together. But I rarely saw them love each other in a way I could believe. So, the place I end up interested in – in terms of poetry – are the silent, awkward, uncommunicative places between people. In this book, you’ll find that in “Babel”, “The Apartment”, “Stain” and a lot of others, so I guess it was a something I was working through. Those narrators are in love, but – god help them – they don’t know how to express it and they are a little afraid. And that silent, poignant, gap doesn’t just exist between lovers – I find it between father and son, brother and sister, grandfather and grandchildren, friend to friend. Essentially, even though we are all talking all the time, I think we have a hard time saying and personally, I have a hard time conveying real emotion. The poems don’t resolve that, they just explore the silence. You won’t be surprised that Raymond Carver is a really important influence.

Anyway, I guess that answers that – Will you be my therapist?

[RG] How would you like me (or anyone body else for that matter) to react after reading your book?

[RYW] Good question. My first answer would be simply Please don’t hate me.

But also, I would be really happy if someone thought the book was good enough to buy for a friend. Maybe with a heartfelt inscription and the corner of a page ticked down. That’s what I’ve done with about a dozen copies of John Glenday’s ‘Grain’ and it would be brilliant if someone did it with one of mine. And if the book isn’t strong enough to do that with, well, I hope people will consider buying the next one. I promise to make it better.

Please think, ‘Promising. I’ll buy the next one.’ I promise to try to do better.

I wanted to give people that feeling. I still love reading a King novel for that reason and, anyway, I remember writing early stories that were total King rip-offs like ‘The Thing’ a kind of play on IT, and then my illustrator friend and I tried to make a comic about a mushroom and we were 14 maybe 15 and we’d not yet experimented with phsycadelics. I still that that mushroom comic may have been genius.

Eventually, I had a really bad break up with my high-school girlfriend and I realized I wasn’t very good at telling narrative stories – I couldn’t get everything in – so I started writing poems. Andthis goes back to the beginning because all of a sudden there was all this sadness and confusion and loneliness and noone really wants to talk about it so – you sit down, you open a vein, and you let it out. This was about 1996. Eventually I took a Creative Writing class with Michael Burkard and some amazingly talented young poets who I wish I knew more about like Jen Cross, Nic Darling, Chelsa Santoro and suddenly I was learning about how to control all this stuff on the page and meeting peers taking writing poetry seriously and learning that I might, actually, be able to write the stuff. That was 1998. And now it is now.

‘welcome to modifythevan’ compilation

welcome to modifythevan cover art by caitlin hinshelwood

Two of my songs, ‘These Days’ and ‘Shakes And Shudders’ are featured on the ‘welcome to modifythevan’ compilation just released by my label modifythevan. You can hear and download it from Jamendo – http://www.jamendo.com/en/album/39356.

With beautiful cover art by Caitlin Hinshelwood and featuring the music of  Blue Swerver, Madelaine Hart, Jonny Berliner and Richard Godwin, it is well worth a listen if you want to discover some great new artists.

interview with tart

Just before christmas I did an interview with Tarty Tart for her lovely blog.

The original can be found here (http://www.euphonioushabitus.net/) but I thought i might post the interview in its entirety as she asked some really good questions…

Tart: The most obvious question: have you got to meet your hero, Leonard Cohen!?

Robin: Nope, not yet – I must confess I left The Glastonbury Festival before he went on stage this summer, wanting to get home before the end of festival crush so I haven’t even got to see him play live…

This may be a good thing as my expectations tend to run a little on the high side – anything other than a profoundly life changing experience would have likely been a bit of a let down for me 🙂

I have read a fair number of interviews and books, as well as spending quality time with his music and poetry, so we are fairly well acquainted nowadays without having met.

Tart: Some of the songs, especially on your LP, Only The Missile, deal with lost love. Is heartache a kinder muse than happiness for you? And how so? “These Days” comes to mind for me on this theme, as does “Every Waking Hour,” of course but also “Shakes and Shudders.”

Robin: Heartache used to be my most steady muse but she has been a less frequent visitor of late and other muses have been dropping by in her place. It has been a great relief for me to have a wider pool of inspiration as I was getting a little tired of singing solely about unrequited and lost love.

I am happy to say that my next record looks likely to touch on life, politics, global warming, permaculture gardening, transience, Leonard Cohen, nostalgia and family amongst other themes.

Tart: I love your voice as it’s sounding lower on the EP, I Love Leonard Cohen, you seem to be taking it down to the lower register more than on the LP, is that intentional? For me, it’s the vocals that catch me, then I start to hear the words and after that the musical arrangement. Somehow the EP sounds more personal, more heartfelt and well… “you.” What do you think of my analysis? How do you prefer to sing? Do you write for your voice or for the guitar?

Robin: I am still taking my first few fledgling steps both in discovering my voice and also in learning how to sing my songs. This has been far and away the biggest learning curve and challenge in the last two years. I am slowly growing in confidence with my singing which is allowing me to capture performances that are more real – I think you are close to the mark in your analysis and I thank you for recognizing that.

I have not found a preferred way to sing yet and enjoy a varied approach to writing. There are many songs I am still working out how to perform and I joust with them regularly; indeed a couple of my best tunes have yet to yield and I don’t feel I will be ready to sing them for a good while yet. I like that they are watching me from the wings waiting for the right moment to take the stage.

Tart: Why release an EP so soon after the LP (was the EP a kind of “clearing of the air” as I suspect?) and just how many songs do you have up your sleeve, man!? 🙂

Robin: My song ‘I Love Leonard Cohen’ was far too impatient to wait for another album to come along so took it upon itself to gather up a few other songs and release an EP. I really had very little to do with it but was grateful for the excuse to have another launch party.

I am approaching forty songs that have got past the cutting room floor and my pen is still being kind enough to provide more candidates with reasonable regularity.

Tart: I’m so curious about your choice of releasing your music on a creative commons license. Tell me why you chose that avenue and how Jamendo is working out for you?

Robin: I was inspired by Ruth Theodore’s use of the creative commons license on her amazing debut album ‘Worm Food’ which I had the privilege to work on.

I feel it absurd to criminalize anyone who wants to share my music; creative commons has provided an inspiring legal framework for solidifying this intuition.

The creative commons website Jamendo has exposed a huge number of people to my music who otherwise wouldn’t have heard it and that can only be a good thing.


Mr. Grey, I can assure you, is full up of good things! Sometimes with a simple guitar backing, others with glorious harmonizing vocals and harmonica, his songs are pure folk and excellent storytelling. There’s a sense of humor, a sense of heartache, a sense of longing in them.

It’s great music to sit and listen to intently the first time and then to have on throughout the day from that point on. I hope you find his music as much of a comfort and a joy as I have. It’s the perfect antidote to those post-holiday blues, just snuggle up with your favorite blankie, or better yet, your favorite lover and have a good listen to these gorgeous tunes from quite a talented chap.

You can also donate a few extra dollars to him on Jamendo’s site in lieu of a purchase price for his album. Surely you have a little something left over, darlings xoxoxo

the londonist interview

The lovely Sally from the Londonist did a little feature and interview with me which made the front page on 3rd December – causing me to break the record for the most number of people visiting my site in a week. Happy days.

Have a read below and check out www.londonist.com.


Singer song-writers: a rare breed, and when they’re good, a real treasure. Well, we’ve found a new one for you.

Robin Grey has a lovely fresh approach to the folk genre (although he does seem to wear sandals). He cites Cohen and Dylan as influences, but we can hear a definite echo of the late great Harry Chapin, a growling of Tom Waits and a sweet sprinkle of Don Mclean in the mix. He has a honeyed yet clear voice and his lyrics are arresting. Piano and guitar are joined by unexpected riffs on the banjo, ukulele, and assorted percussive things – although his tunes are pleasingly strum-ti-tum, he keeps us guessing as to where he’s going with it. We like. A lot.

He works cheerily out of a blue-doored studio in Hackney and has just brought out his first album, Only the Missile. We caught up with him to get the lowdown:

When did the music start?
My Grandma will quite happily vouch for my enthusiastic nursery school rendition of ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ though I must confess the memory is a little more hazy for me. I guess music has been with me since way back when.

I only began performing my songs with any degree of gumption in the last year or two after spending a healthy amount of time at the back of the stage wielding a double bass with various bands and singer songwriters.

Do the words come first or the music?
Both, sometimes an old poem fits nicely over a riff and other times a new chord progression inspires a mood and words follow. Likewise some songs write themselves in ten minutes whilst some take a year or more to solidify.

What are you up to right now?
I have just finished recording an e.p. with the wonderful Madelaine Hart, to be released on my creative commons label ‘modifythevan’ next month and am about to start demoing tracks for my next album which will hopefully be recorded in a farm house in Tuscany over Easter and released soon after.

Where do you live in London and why?
I live in a lovely part of Hackney called Shacklewell, sandwiched between Stoke Newington and Dalston. I moved east from Kilburn as the rent was cheap and it was nowhere near a smelly tube line. I don’t think I would want to live anywhere else in London after living here for three years, the food, the people and the amount of green space all around make me very happy.

Is London a good place to be for folk musicians?
I think it is a great place for anyone creative – there is so much to be inspired by round every corner.

Working out how to pay the rent without using up all the energy I need for my music was hard at first but now that puzzle is solved I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Have you ever busked in London?
I used to busk my classical guitar exam pieces in the tunnel between Kings Cross Thameslink and the tube line when I was in sixth form – once I was over my nerves of busking playing in front of the examiners was far less of a problem.

What’s the best London venue for a folksy gig?
I love any venue where I can perform unamplified and that has cake. My favourite place by far is Iktoms at The Liberties Bar in Camden: I have played there twelve times in the last two years. They have lego to play with, penny sweets, colouring in pens and pencils and I am always blown away by at least one of the acts whenever I am there.

The Magpies Nest in Islington also put on amazing shows and the Betsey Trotwood is always a good place to be serenaded too.

Can you think of an unusual venue that should open itself up for gigs?
I would love do a show on the top of a double decker bus driving around central London, perhaps Londonist can help me make this happen!?!

I often play uke whilst on the 243 and have even managed to lead a sing-a-long or two on occasion.

Who else should we be listening to and why?
Ruth Theodore is an amazing talent who taught me a great deal, her album ‘Wormfood’ should be heard by everyone with ears.

I shared a stage with ‘This Is The Kit’ recently, who regularly come over from Paris, and I have nearly worn through the grooves of their brilliant album. I also love Fiona Bevan’s work and my good friend Hugh Coltman has just released his debut album which is ace.

Where can we see you playing next and when?
I am currently hibernating until spring – I have quite a few shows lined up for February and March, details of which are on my website.

What’s your London secret?
The carrot cake at Pogo Café in Hackney rocks my world.

Londonist is going to have strong words with Father Christmas: Robin Grey’s album better be in our stocking or else the mince pies are off.