Music, moods and emotions – Welshman in TN blog   Leave a comment

This week’s Grammy’s once again served to show the diversity of music and how it can reflect and change mood and emotion.

I don’t understand people who only listen to one genre of music. We should all be musical sponges, soaking up the vibe or the pain or the passion of a track, whatever kind of music it is – rock, pop, R & B, jazz, classical, blues, hip hop, country – and these are in no particular order.

I have always encouraged artists I’ve worked with to trace back the artists that they like to see who influenced them – surely every female singer should know who Billie Holiday is for example, as they should of course be aware of Sinatra. Trace music back to the delta, Robert Johnson, or the folk songs of Woody Guthrie; you can go back further – the commercial melodies of Sergei Rachmaninoff (my personal favorite) and before him Bach or Mozart; it is in the arrangements that also pull a song out of itself.

A great production can save a mediocre song; a bad production can kill a great song.

Nelson Riddle was talking about arranging songs for Sinatra and he said that he would build up to the part when Sinatra would start singing and “get the hell out of there!”

Whatever time of day it is, or whatever mood you are feeling, there is a song out there for you, I hope you find it.

Posted February 12, 2015 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

Acting, actors, methods – Welshman in TN blog   Leave a comment

Weekend Break
Me on stage for my play, Weekend Break, trying to remember my lines! Photo courtesy of The Stage

I’ve started to consider actresses for the lead female role in the new play/film for later this year and the difference in acting methods between UK and US actors interests me.

In the UK acting is, or certainly was, all about the stage. When I studied acting it was very much aimed at the stage – projection, etc. Here in the US it is primarily for television and film, the camera.

If you polled UK actors, I would suggest all have performed on stage; if you polled US actors, I would suggest that less than half have ever appeared professionally on a stage. In the past, a lot of US actors have gone to the UK to act on stage, taking minimum fees too, just to do it. Lindsey Lohan is doing it right now.

It’s very noticeable whether an actor has been trained for the stage or for the camera.

On stage of course you have to project, so that the audience can see you. Gielgud, Burton, Olivier were all stage actors and are of course some of the greatest actors of all time. When you started out as acting as I did as a kid, it was all about the stage really. Film was almost a dirty word. The one thing with stage acting was that you had to learn all your lines! I learnt this to my cost when we did my play as above, Weekend Break, at the Gilded Balloon at the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Even though I had written it I dropped several pages, totally forgetting them, ill prepared. A lesson I will never forget.

I would never work with a prompter though, an actor’s safety net, the person who sits in the wings ready just in case you do forget your lines. When I had the theatre I witnessed a local amateur dramatic company stage a play, complete with prompter. One elderly actor duly forgot his lines and waited for a prompt. Unfortunately the man, who was such a sweet soul, was also deaf and couldn’t hear the prompt so had to go off stage and read the script. The audience though could see him and started laughing; it was quite sad.

Props and sound effects can also be nightmares for stage actors. I’ve seen a stage wall, a ‘flat’, fall down; actors miss their cues and come in at the wrong time or on the wrong line, but it some ways, it’s part of it.

But when it goes right ………. there is a reason why acting on stage has been around for six centuries or more. If you have never been to see a play, I encourage you to do so – not an adaptation of a film musical, although they can be great, not a pantomime as in Britain, which is the only live theatre most people in the UK regrettably see, although they too are great fun; no, I mean a proper play. It doesn’t need to be Shakespeare, actually far from it, look for something new, a contemporary play, something at least from the last century at least – Williams, Osborne, Orton, Steinbeck, Naughton, Barstow, Sillitoe, go back further to Wilde and Coward – these are just my personal favorite writers.

Nowadays of course it’s all about television and film – the camera. One of the best actors in this genre is John Travolta who knows that the camera will pick up the slightest movement, expression, the raise of an eyebrow. Learning to work the camera is like learning to work an audience.

The difference has been highlighted for me this week in beginning to consider and find an actress for the new play later this year, trying to find an actress who is able to take on the demanding role, and on stage first. It will be out of a lot of actor’s comfort zone, which is nearly always a good thing and produces their best work. We will see, time will tell.

Posted February 6, 2015 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

Busy week, Wolf Moon – Welshman in TN blog   Leave a comment


It’s been a busy week.

I’ve been writing and have finished the second draft of the new book literally just now. So a proof read and one more read through and that’s done. I’m very pleased with the book so far, and think it’s the best thing I’ve written to date.

Now to concentrate on the music with all the new songs.

I’ve lost a couple of days. Yesterday we had to go to the doctors for our medicals. This is the first time I’ve been to a doctors in years and then it was only due to me slipping on a loose paving stone in London.

We had to have jabs for TB, flu and MMR. We’d had these as kids of course but it was easier just to get them done again rather than try to get confirmation from England.

The problem was is that I had needles, so having four in a day meant it was not a day I hope to repeat soon.

We’ve got the permission to build on the land finally too, so will be starting on that properly next week with the septic tank permit. We can’t wait to get on there. The building officer at the city hall here is so friendly and helpful.

I tell you, it’s all go!

Last night was a snow moon, or a wolf moon, but what made it special as you can see from the photograph, is that you could clearly make out Jupiter, right next to the moon.

Snow moon is apt as apparently despite being in the mid-50’s right now as I type, it is going to snow tonight!

Posted February 4, 2015 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

Rod McKuen – Welshman in TN blog   Leave a comment


I surprised myself yesterday at how upset I was when I heard the news of Rod McKuen’s passing, (I hate it when people talk about well known artists using the artist’s first name as if they know or knew them but have never met them or met them briefly when getting an autograph or something).

I never met him; I had a lovely email from him once about fifteen years ago but that was my sole contact with me, but, like many thousands of other people, I felt that I knew him, because his writing was so honest, personal and open.

I have a signed copy of his autobiography Finding My Father, which I’ve had for many years. I also have his books of course and records and CDs.

I got my love of old English sheepdogs from him.

I got my love of honest, open and raw poetry from him.

I got my love of spoken poetry backed by music from him.

Through his poetry and songs he taught me to be honest and open with my feelings and affections

He touched many people’s hearts and inspired so many people.

A sad day, you will be greatly missed, Mr McKuen.

Posted January 30, 2015 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

Country trails, music – Welshman in TN blog   Leave a comment

gas station

We love driving down the back roads of Tennessee (especially when gas is $1.65 a gallon!) and also going to the state parks in Tennessee and walking the country trails with Willow, our wolf dog.

She leads the way and always seems to know which direction to go in.

Today we went to Cedars of Lebanon state park, on highway 231, which is the highway our land is on but the state park is south of Lebanon, on the way to Lynchburg, home of Jack Daniels, and Alabama – we’re going to have to make that road trip one day, even though Lynchburg is actually dry, you can’t drink in the town.

The park had so many amenities and facilities, including cabins to rent, horses to ride, playgrounds, softball and a lot more.

It says a lot that on a cold but beautiful winter’s day, with snow from last night still on the ground there were people around, the toilets open, (with heating no less).

The walk took us an hour or so, two miles, through the woods. It was a bit damp but wonderful, recommend it to everyone.

On our way back we stopped at a convenience store where they hold the flea market we often go to on Sundays for fresh fruit. A lot of Mexicans run stores there and the fruit is fresh and cheaper than the grocery store. They also sell chickens, turkeys, goats.

Next to the convenience store was a used appliance and goods store which we’ve never seen before. It obviously used to be a cow shed, the smell lingering from its previous tenants but there were some bargains there.

I found a station on Sirius, Deep Tracks, which plays album tracks from the seventies – as we were leaving the park they played Bolan’s Life’s A Gas. Neil Young followed, Tony McPhee and the Groundhogs, the Pretty Things and more, it was like being back in the record store in Cardiff I used to work in after school and on Saturdays, Sound Advice.

Music is a great milestone marker in life’s soundtrack; a song can pinpoint where you were at a certain time, what you were going through, who you were with. The first time you heard it, or maybe it was playing at a pivotal time. It is such an important art, and an important part of life.

Posted January 24, 2015 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

Weather – Welshman in TN blog   Leave a comment

moonshine deck
The Moonshine Deck, outside the studio on a sunnier day

It’s been a crazy few days, weather wise.

It is said that Brits talk about the weather, that they are obsessed by it. Perhaps, but nothing compares to the Americans. The news programs here go to the weather every ten minutes in the morning, and it is often the opening segment in the news.

So they’ve had a great time these last few days as temperatures soared in the 60’s and yes, the legs came out, shoes on, legs not shaved yet though!!!

To be wearing shorts though in mid January says a lot, and for four days running. It will of course probably be snowing hard by the weekend, such is the weather now. I know snow is forecast in the UK and it surprises us how much the weather is reflected in Tennessee and the UK – a sunny day in Tennessee usually means sun in the UK, rain in the UK means rain here.

Is it global warming? Who knows, depends who you listen to it seems. Last year was the hottest on record apparently, it’s funny I don’t remember that many sunny days but it was warm, uncomfortably so.

I’m looking forward to sowing the seeds in March for our harvest – potatoes, onions, carrots, other veg and salad, also the chilis and peppers in the greenhouse. I’m also looking forward to it being warm enough to go into the studio to start recording. A long spring would be wonderful.

Posted January 20, 2015 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

Indian Food in the USA – Welshman in TN blog   Leave a comment


Last night we were supposed to go to a wonderful Italian restaurant in Nashville, Maggianos with our friend Nick but its so wonderful there was a forty-five minute wait so being hungry we decided to go on an adventure and look down West End Avenue for something else. It transpired that Bombay Palace was literally the next block down so we decided on that, Nick never having Indian before.

It was busy but we got a table, or booth, the one by the window. It was like being back in Cardiff, the Himalaya on Wellfield Road. In the screenplay of Jackson Woods I wrote in a scene set in the Himalaya, and in the window seat that looks out to Wellfielde Road.

The food was the closest I’ve had here in the States to what we have in the UK – I had a Lamb Madras, very close, Cathy had the Lamb Passandra which was quite different, more like a curry, and Nick had the chicken Tikka Masala, again quite close. The menu included a lot of extra dishes that we have in the UK, onion bhaji were different, no popadoms, papads instead, naan bread same.

Chinese is different here too – chow mien for example, and the curries. I guess they cater for local taste? Ingredients too must be a factor although nowadays I doubt there are many you can’t get anywhere.

I shop at an Indian grocery store on Nolansville, and can get most ingredients there – you can also get Bounty chocolate bars there too! The Indian or international store at the Farmer’s Market has ginger beer too, real ginger beer, but it’s a bit pricey and you have to watch the best by date.

If you haven’t tried Indian I encourage you to do so, there is such a variety of choice in dishes and something for everyone – mild, medium and hot curries, rice dishes, dry chicken (Tikka), dishes with spaces, (rogan josh I quite like, Tikka Masala, Jalfrezi) – they spell dishes slightly differently here too.

The Indian I first went to as a kid was the Raj Dooth on Mackintosh Place in Cardiff. My dad used to go there every week day for their lunch special. He and his business partner David were addicted, and when David went on holiday to Spain he made them make up a huge pot of tikka masala to take with him in the car! This was in the early seventies. I remember though their cook telling me that it is the region of India or Pakistan that determines the actual recipe of each dish, which explains why the same dish can be so different in individual restaurants.

I can though highly recommend the Bombay Palace on West End Avenue if you’re in Nashville. (it’s next door to a shop called The Cutest Little Shoppe!).

Posted January 17, 2015 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized