she has always walked and talked with Angels, will probably come as
no surprise and maybe not even her connections to the Ancient Ancestors.
However her extra terrestrial encounters may take a little more understanding.
Suzie will tell you that she is definitely not a 'Spiritual Medium'
in the usual sense of the term, she believes that the 'Spirits' of dead
people appear to her simply because she is 'open' to the possibility
and that everyone has this ability, it's just that conditioning has
made some people sceptical about all things paranormal. Likewise intuition
is something that our 'logical' brain often overrides. Suzie says: "If
you still your mind and listen to your inner voice, all you will hear
is Loving Truth."
I came to write "Our Josh"
Since early childhood I have had the ability to communicate with the
'Spirit World', possibly inherited from my Father's Romany family, or
rather 'Spirits' communicate with me. I am not clairvoyant in the usually
understood way, I do not 'summon up' the Spirits of dead people simply
to pass on messages to anxiously waiting loved ones. I have no actual
control over the Spirits I see or speak with, they seem to choose me!
My interest in canals and their history began whilst on holiday with
a large group of mad, fun loving, folk singers and musicians. There
were thirty or so of us in four narrowboats, hired from a popular canal
holiday company. The trip was organised by Tony O'Neil, a lovely man,
known affectionately as 'The Admiral' and we 'did' the Cheshire Ring,
a circuit of several canals in the Midlands area of England. Our holiday
culminated in a visit to the British Waterways Museum at Stoke Bruerne,
where they had a special exhibition of old sepia photographs. It was
here that I met, for the first time, faces of long dead 'boaties', their
boats and families, and so the love affair with these people and the
- First World War
For months afterwards I was literally 'haunted' by some of those faces,
and was initially inspired to write songs about some of them. Never
having written songs before, I was amazed at how five or six verses
would suddenly 'appear' in my head. Sometimes complete with a tune,
as though it was being handed to me, quite literally, on a plate and
I would struggle to get it all written down before the 'window' closed.
Although a seasoned folk singer, I have only a limited ability to read
and write music notation, therefore I had to sing or hum the tunes I
was 'given' into a tape recorder and play them to my dear friend and
singing partner, John Meleady, who then played them on his guitar. At
first they sounded so familiar, I was convinced they had to be traditional
tunes, but after searching many collections and performing the songs
to folk audiences up and down the country, I had to conclude that they
were indeed unique.
My love of the canals and their history continued on. I bought my first
narrowboat, Ladhra (a Celtic name pronounced Lara) and began my adventures
on the navigable waterways of England. Not satisfied with spending all
my weekends and holidays afloat, I dreamed of changing my whole lifestyle
and going to live permanently on a narrowboat. Then one day the opportunity
was again 'handed to me on a plate'. I was made redundant! Without a
single second thought I put my house up for sale and began searching
for the boat which would become my new home. I had, by this time, formed
a canal folk band - Keepers Lock - and we were singing our self penned
canal songs and telling stories at the many waterways festivals up and
down the country.
It was at one such festival, Canal Cavalcade in Little Venice on the
Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal in London, that I met with Dave
Wright, the owner of a pair of ex Fellows, Morton & Clayton narrowboats,
Lupin and Longton. As luck would have it he was looking for a suitable
enthusiast to buy the 'butty' Longton, an unpowered, originally horsedrawn,
narrowboat. He told me she was a 'Josher' built in Saltley in 1898.
I was immediately hooked and even after seeing her, moored up on the
North Oxford Canal, in a very dilapidated state, I was totally smitten.
She needed a lot of work to make her habitable, so I decided to live
on 'Ladhra' while the renovations were being carried out.
I soon realised just how special Longton was and that I was not the
only person living aboard her. Initially it was just the strong smell
of pipe tobacco pervading the back cabin, then tools and other items
which became lost, only to re-appear again in the back cabin. The feeling
of a 'presence' gradually gave way to the actual manifestation of a
man in his mid-thirties, dressed in a short jacket and flat cap, living
in the back cabin of my boat! We began to communicate, a sort of thought
transference. He told me his name was Jack, he'd been born on a narrowboat
and had lived and worked all his life on the canals. I often used to
see him tightening the ropes that fastened the cloths along the entire
length of Longton's hull, over our 'non-existent' cargo. Later came
three children, two girls and a boy. I never knew the name of the older
girl, but the boy was Thomas and his younger sister, a child of about
four years of age, with a mass of blond curls, was named Flossie. They
played hopscotch between the 'knees' of Longton's stripped out hull
and skipped along the keelson beneath flapping cloths. I saw this so
clearly on many occasions even though Longton had now been converted
to a 'live aboard' with every modern convenience!
It became a fairly normal occurrence for me to be awakened in the early
hours of the morning by various 'boaties' all anxious to tell me their
stories. Some I would see in total physicality and I was able to converse
and interact with them. Others were just swirls of energy, their voices
speaking into my head. Others gifted me with complete songs or stories
that I would hurriedly scribble into my now, ever present, bedside notebook.
As time went on, I began to see many more 'spirit people' and not always
when I was on my boat, although I believe that Longton was the catalyst
or portal for these visitations. Most of their stories seem to reflect
some kind of deep sadness or injustice, during their lives and I feel
that by performing the subsequent songs, I am somehow addressing these
issues on their behalf, and helping to heal the pain by making them
known publicly. Often when we perform these songs at a festival, people
from the audience will come up to us afterwards and tell us how the
stories had affected them emotionally, or how they identified with the
people in the song, or how they 'saw' old boaties standing beside us
on the stage. This is always very emotive, mostly because it confirms
the presence of certain long dead 'boaties' during our performance.
It was while I was compiling songs for a new Keepers Lock album - 'Memories'
which portrays the effects of War on the people of the day, living and
working on the canals, the material for which had come mostly from my
long dead 'boatie' friends - that I was first visited by 'Jessie'. She
gave me a 'vision' of two men dressed in typical First World War army
uniform, marching down a muddy towpath and knocking on the cabin side
of a boat moored there. I saw and heard the entire conversation, Jessie
standing in the well deck beside her Mother, the two soldiers demanding
to know where her brother Josh was, and later, Josh leading Hercules,
the horse, down the towpath from the Barge Inn, which was just visible
above the hedgerows. I hurried to write down every word, knowing that
I only had that one opportunity to capture the poignant scene. And when
Josh was eventually led away by the soldiers, I felt all of Jessie's
pain and frustration.
Two weeks later Jessie visited me again and left me with two verses
of a song about her brother, the tune of which evokes thoughts of the
old Music Halls. After the album was recorded and produced and we began
to perform its many songs and stories, I would feel a strong presence
of 'Jessie' beside me on stage, every time I told her story and sang
about her beloved brother Josh. Often she would just appear, where ever
I was, at home on Longton, in a supermarket, a pub, or even while walking
my beautiful Deerhound 'Rauney' on the towpath. She would smile and
say "I have more to tell you" and when I asked her to continue
she would say "Not just now" or "In a little while."
When difficult circumstances forced me to sell my beloved 'Longton'
and move away from the canals, I was heartbroken, fearing this would
terminate my connection with the 'boaties' forever. It was almost a
year I guess, before my mind again found that inner peace and stillness,
which I now know is necessary for me to be 'open' to a spirit's presence.
'Jessie' came to me one night in what seemed like a dream, she told
me she was ready to tell me the rest of her story. I got out of bed
and went straight to my computer and began typing frantically, in an
effort to keep up with her dialogue. After several hours I returned,
exhausted and very cold to my bed. Next morning I could not decide whether
I had actually spoken with 'Jessie' of whether it had just been a dream.
But my computer confirmed the truth of it, thirty or so pages of a story
I had never heard or had any recollection of. (Apart from the earlier
song and short story given to me previously)
'Our Josh' is not my story to tell, I am just fortunate enough to be
the vehicle by which 'Jessie' conveys it to the living world.