Alan Mearns

I first came across the name Mearns in my late twenties. Quite out of the blue, I received an email from one Pete Mearns that read simply, “Fancy a game of Dippy?”, and gave details of his Diplomacy fanzine. Puzzled, I scratched my head for a connection and, eventually, it dawned on me that I had applied to join the British Diplomacy Club a few months before. There had been no reply to that request, so I had assumed it had been sucked into a virtual black hole and soon forgot about it.

Did I want a game of Dippy in the Puppet Theatre News ‘zine? I wasn’t sure at first. Some background research, however, established that Pete Mearns was one of a number of fanzine publishers running games of postal Diplomacy. In those pre-Internet days, that board game was well suited to the postal format. The alternative was to get 7 players (plus a gamesmaster, if possible) to commit to a whole weekend of pushing plastic armies and fleets across a map of Europe as it was around the turn of the century.

If you gasped at the “whole weekend” estimate, I should explain that most of the time was spent furtively negotiating with the other players – making alliances and planning concerted attacks. Diplomacy, you see, is unique in that respect. To win the game, you have to have allies, but you must also judge the crucial time to stab them in the back. Yes, ratting on your friends is an integral part of the game!

Finding enough players for the face-to-face format was a problem most enthusiasts couldn’t solve, so a UK-wide postal form had grown up and become a popular hobby. Negotiating through snail mail letters, however, takes a lot longer. An average game of postal Diplomacy lasted about two years. On the plus side, though, if you were unfortunate enough to be knocked out early in the game you could always sign up for another one in your favourite zine, and it didn’t take too long before the waiting list would fill up and the next game could start. Or you could be playing several games at once – when one game finished, you could sign up for another and always have two or three on the go.

What’s all this got to do with music? Only that Mearns is a Scottish or Irish name – the Pete that ran Diplomacy games was Scottish, whereas Alan, who plays classical guitar, is from Ireland.

Alan Mearns was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He began his musical studies with the classical violin at age five, switching to the guitar at age ten. Moving to the United States in his late teens, he studied classical guitar performance with Douglas James at Appalachian State University (where he held the prestigious Fletcher Scholarship) and with Stanley Yates at Austin Peay State University.

Alan Mearns’ Bio on his website

If Alan was just a classical guitarist, he wouldn’t qualify for a piece in these pages, but he has an alter ego – a singer-songwriter going by the name of Yes the Raven. Under that moniker, he writes contemporary pop/folk songs, and I think they’re rather nice. Here’s his 2014 album, Love is Covered in Dust.

And, for those of you who appreciate solo guitar arrangements of works by J. S. Bach, here is Alan Mearns playing pieces originally written for the well-tempered clavier, violin, cello, lute or choral ensemble.

In case you were wondering whether I accepted Pete’s invitation, I did, indeed, play a few games, both in his zine and others. I even ran my own zine for a while. Diplomacy was a hobby of mine for a number of years. I don’t know if I learnt any important negotiating skills in the process, but I certainly enjoyed the games.

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