Friday, 11 October 2019

A One Way Ticket To Amy Rigby

A couple of months ago, with too much to do and too little time to do it in, Amy dumped a large box of cassettes into the middle of the studio floor and asked me to go through them with her to see if we could find maybe ten or so tunes that we could make into a giveaway CD to go with pre-orders of her memoir, Girl To City.

They were four track Portastudio demos, hundreds of them it seemed. One of her brothers had been in the merchant navy, and sometime in the early eighties he found himself on shore leave in Japan where he bought a Tascam Portastudio, the very latest model of this new-tangled device, and sent it to Amy and her brother Michael to help them along with their new group, Last Roundup. For a decade or so it shuttled back and forth between their two apartments in the East Village and eventually found a permanent home in Amy’s flat in Brooklyn’s decidedly un-hip Greenpoint. And during this time she made literally hundreds of demos of songs she’d written.

The original Tascam had long ceased to function so I blew the dust off a lumpy beige Tascam 424 that I’d come by and stashed away wondering why I really needed to hang on to it. I patched the four channels through to the studio computer and set to work, wondering what I might find.

The recordings may have been rough but the execution and the sound, the atmosphere, was magical. She’d perhaps record an acoustic guitar on one track, a vocal on another, and fill the remaining two tracks with a vocal harmony and an electric guitar. Or it might have been all electric guitars and sometimes a complicated vocal harmony arrangement recorded complete with echo which apparently came from a cheap and long-lost delay pedal.

Every song was a gem - even ones that were quite blatantly aimed at the middle-of-the-road Nashville country market. I was transported into Amy’s life from long before I met her: the everyday noises of her various apartments, her daughter Hazel playing in the background and occasionally coming to the fore:


‘Wait!’ [Curt interjection from Amy]

‘Do you want to here Holiday For Strings?’ 

A toy keyboard starts up and is immediately obliterated by the guitar intro of the next song.
When it rains you can hear it splattering in the courtyard at the back of the building through the open window. The window was evidently always open, and you can hear the shouts of neighbours and kids at play, distant traffic, car horns and police sirens. At one point a pause in the middle of a song is augmented by a loud power tool in the building next door. It sounds like a sheet of plywood being sawn in half.

Sometimes what was on the four tracks didn’t immediately make sense. Amy worked for a while at Sony and acquired a lot of tapes that had already been recorded on. Portastudios run at double speed so there might be sudden backward snatches of The Very Best Of Christopher Cross or some such nonsense, roaring in at high speed and an octave higher than it normally would be. And then a song, started, abandoned and superseded by another song which finds its way to fruition accompanied by gorgeous harmonies on another of the four tracks shared with high speed blasts of a rough mix from Diary Of A Mod Housewife.

I wanted to do as little as possible but I was very much aware that if these recordings were to be heard and appreciated they needed a certain amount of help in order to turn them into a fully listenable experience - raw is great - but unlistenable is pointless.

There were pops and bumps and rumblings - no one tells anyone how to avoid these things happening in the macho world of recording - so every time Amy sang a word beginning with P or B there would be a massive explosion into the vocal mic, and words with the letter S in the middle of them could be especially sibilant. I spent a long time at the computer taming these down. There was evidently a faulty microphone cable too - in fact I think there may have been two mic cables, one of which was good, and it was a gamble as to which one would get used, so there was often a loud buzz or hum on some of the tracks. I did what I could to reduce these things without compromising the integrity, atmosphere and intent of the original recordings.

The nineteen tracks on this album are just the tip of the iceberg, all we had time to put together with a looming deadline. There be another volume or two coming soon. In the meantime I think anyone who fancies themselves as a songwriter should listen to this collection - you might find it, as I did, a humbling experience.

Order a copy along with her new memoir Girl To City from her website:

And while you're there check her tour dates!

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Larry Wallis, May 1949 - September 2019, A Complex Man

As a young art student I was a fan of the Pink Fairies. I owned (and still own) a copy of their Kings Of Oblivion album. It was an important part of the soundtrack of my art college years. I listened to it a lot, and anytime I hear it now I’m instantly transported back to dark nights in coal fire heated rooms in the early seventies. The simultaneous glory and desolation in that record still rings in my head.

I moved to London with a girlfriend. We rented a big flat and it was grim. Spacious but grim. We had no money to decorate the place so we stuck everything we could find that was nice to look at on the walls, and then it was cheery and hippy and bohemian, and when we burned the furniture it was even warm in there for a while. 

The flat was on the ground floor and the toilet was the old outhouse outside the back door off the kitchen. It had been made into an inside toilet by means of having a glass conservatory built on which was just big enough to house the refrigerator, and this was just as well because there wasn’t room in the kitchen because the kitchen had been divided in two and the other half was now the bathroom - sliding door, pedestal wash basin, bath tub, ancient yellow gloss paint…

The old outhouse toilet was freezing, but quite jolly with all the stuff on the walls, and in pride of place was the three section insert from Kings Of Oblivion: Russell Hunter, green faced and ghoulish hooked up to a Gordon’s Gin intravenous drip; a stoned looking Duncan Sanderson reclining on an ornate bar top; and the star of the show, Larry Wallis, sprawled on a craps table - hair, aviator shades, leather jacket - a picture of decadence.

I got a deal with Stiff Records and recorded a tune I’d written called ‘Whole Wide World’. I met Ian Dury and he and his girlfriend, Denise Roudette, used to come round to my house to play the drums and bass respectively. We recorded another of my tunes, ‘Semaphore Signals’, and that became the B side to ‘Whole Wide World’, and that was a bit of a hit and suddenly we were going on a package tour.

I was sitting in the pub next to the Stiff Records office with Ian one evening talking about this tour we were supposed to be doing.

‘Don’t look now,’ Ian murmured, ‘but there’s that bloke from the poster on your toilet wall.’

A six foot brick shithouse in a Lewis leather jacket, mirrored shades framed by more frizzy black hair than I had ever seen coming out of a man’s head in my life. A larger than life-size living monument, the Furry Freak Brothers all rolled into one, and twice as scary.

‘Fuck! He’s coming over here’ I whispered.

A small and quite high voice emitted from the face somewhere in the hair:

‘Are you Eric? Hi man, I’m Larry Wallis.’

Within ten minutes I was in love. Larry had that effect on people.

The Pink Fairies had made a single for Stiff, 'Between The Lines', and now Larry had a solo record, 'I’m A Police Car', coming out to coincide with the package tour which he was going to be on as well.

I had never met anyone with such a voracious appetite for alcohol and drugs. Larry was a fellow Taurean and we soon became fast friends. He was complex. From a distance he exuded confidence, he had swagger and style. He took his jacket off, put the guitar on, then put the jacket back on over the guitar strap. He was funny and moody, gentle and affectionate with an occasional cruel streak. He lived in two separate South London residences: a three story flat on the Walworth Road which he shared with his girlfriend, and in part of an old church hall around the corner which he shared with his other girlfriend, and where his living room was the stage.

‘That’s right Eric - I actually live on a stage.’
After we'd survived the tour - the drugs, the drunkenness and the occasional outbreaks of violence - it was decided that I should make an album. I needed a producer and the obvious choice was Larry whose only instruction was to empty my head. So we went into a demo studio and recorded enough tunes to convince Stiff Records that it might fly, and to book us into Pathway Studio for an unspecified amount of time.

The sessions invariably started with lunch in the pub where our idea of a balanced meal was a large Bloody Mary and a packet of peanuts. We were fairly drunk most of the time but we still managed to work hard. Larry was very conscientious but I never once felt like he was telling me what to do, he just helped me to do it. I’d assumed that you needed to use a big amplifier to get a good guitar sound in the studio but I felt I got a better sound out of a small amp like a Fender Champ or a Princeton, so that’s what I used. Larry showed me how a five watt Pignose amp, a practice amp, could sound like a Marshall stack. Recording was all an illusion he told me. He explained the magic of David Bowie’s post Diamond Dogs recordings, the strange placings of things in the mix. 

I had an old Broadway guitar, a chunk of mahogany that could have been hewn from the fittings of an old Southern Region railway carriage. Larry said that it could only be improved by the addition of a rev counter. I actually ended up using my Rickenbacker 330, and the only addition to that was some sort of 3D plastic sticker of a diver that Larry had found somewhere.

We worked late into the night, until long after London’s public transport had shut down. Not that it really mattered because Larry only travelled by taxi and taught me to do the same, and to always get a receipt in case you could charge it to somebody else. It wasn’t cool to be seen on the tube. It also wasn’t practical because we were both quite famous and fairly instantly recognisable. Our appearance was a stumbling block - taxi drivers were apt to turn off their yellow For Hire signs when they saw us on a street corner.

‘There goes the final taxi,’ I said as another yellow light flickered out at three o’clock one morning.

‘Eric man!! That’s a song title!’

It was, and I eventually wrote it.

He was unexpected - he once told me his favourite piece of music was ‘Love Is Blue’. We stood round a microphone late one night in Pathway Studio, myself, Barry Payne and his older brother Davey. Larry towered over us, all hair and leather.

‘It needs to be more... more... Walt Disney! That’s it - Bambi - it should sound like Bambi...’ 

He threw back is head, closed his eyes and emitted gentle oohs and aahs. We followed his lead and created constellations on a black velvet sky.

We took time off from Pathway and my album to mix some tracks for the Stiffs Live Stiffs album over at the more salubrious Rak Studios owned by the pop producer Mickie Most, the force behind Rak Records which was home to Suzi Quatro, Hot Chocolate, Smokie, Racey, Herman’s Hermits, Mud... good clean wholesome commercial pop written by Chapman & Chinn. I couldn’t imagine what a couple of deadbeats like us were doing in a place like this.

My big favourite record at that time was Althea & Donna’s ‘Uptown Top Ranking’. Larry liked it too and that surprised me, him being the fearsome metal guitar slinging animal and all.

Someone had given us a red plastic bus with a battery powered electric motor. It whirred and trundled around in a circle, a small annoying bell tinging intermittently. We were obsessed with unlocking the rhythmic intracacies of this thing. It needed a big space to do a perfect circle, and a smooth hard surface. The marble entrance hall at Rak Studios was perfect and the acoustics made the bus sound good. It trundled around, clunking and tinging and Larry led us in syncopated finger clicking. We had quite a groove going when Mickie Most, the pop swengali himself, breezed through the door and almost trod on the bus. He didn’t say anything but his appalled and bemused expression caused much hilarity. This wasn’t the sort of thing that happened in the world of Rak Records. I still laugh about it.

Larry fell in love with a song I wrote for the album called ‘There Isn’t Anything Else’. Though he didn’t have to he just about begged me to let him put a guitar solo on it and worked up the idea during a day off. 

‘Oh man! Have I got a guitar solo for you!’

He certainly had. He plugged his red Strat into an overdrive pedal and directly into the desk. I didn’t know you could do this, I thought you had to use an amplifier with a microphone in front of it. I found out in years to come that plugging directly in was considered to be one of the mortal sins of recording, though that’s exactly what Prince did a few years later. Larry was ahead of the game. 

His solo, two guitars in harmony, sounded fabulous. Before I went out on tour he made me come over to his house so he could teach me how to play it. I never quite got the hang of it. Some years later he asked me to come to a rehearsal for a recording session he was doing with Pete Thomas on drums and Big George Webley on bass. I played the song with them and for them but as far as I know they never recorded it. I would love to have heard Larry singing ‘There Isn’t Anything Else’ on a record.

Larry may have exuded confidence but a chance remark or action could sour his mood or turn him into a cringing wimp. He flirted with flick knives and kept a python as a pet, and yet he had a phobia about anything that was pointed - he couldn’t walk past a set of railings with spikes, and once when someone who didn’t know used the expression it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick he almost fell to the floor and had a fit in the middle of a crowded pub

‘Don’t say that!’ he wailed.

He was prone to depression - a day could start out very jolly and suddenly turn dark. I can always hear an underlying sadness in the music he made, even in its fullest glory. A mutual friend told me that he once said of me: ‘Eric is fiercely intelligent, blindingly insightful, and his own worst enemy.’ I’ll take it, all of it, though I think he could as well have been describing himself.

He’s one of the most talented and surely the most underrated musician I’ve ever worked with. His guitar arrangements are practically symphonic. He had a unique sense of melody and his guitar playing was always full of unexpected twists and turns. He borrowed my guitar at a festival once to play with the Screaming Blue Messiahs. A solid batwing Epiphone with one single coil pickup. It was a very weedy guitar. He walked on, plugged it straight into a Fender Twin, turned everything on the channel up full and shredded through the set with taste, control, elegance and style. I still can’t understand how he got that sound out of that guitar.

I have a fond memory of him coming to see me play at the Marquee Club in London at a point where I’d done a lot of touring, curbed my worst excesses and got it together. We were halfway through the set and it was going well, I turned around and saw Larry watching us from behind the amplifiers, a huge grin on his face. So pleased, kind, generous and warm-hearted ... and that’s how I’ll always remember him.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019


Amy arrived on the stage, a vision of loveliness in the light of a sixty five candle birthday cake which had been placed on my piano. She was wheeling a pink and beige Honda C50 moped with a big pink bow tied around it. A rubberized gaberdine coat was folded across the seat with a large pair of gauntlets 

I stood there on the stage, drinking in the applause for a broken old man who once wanted to be a glam rocker, a tired old relic, struggling gamely on with scarcely the will to continue. 

Ian, my accompanist, helped Amy to fasten me into the rubberized gaberdine. They sat me on the moped and put the white, peaked helmet on my ancient and befuddled head.

‘Happy birthday Eric’ she whispered. ‘Now, don’t worry, I can finish the set for you.’

She kicked the moped into life, and gauntleted and goggled I headed off the stage down a ramp, through the crowd of well wishers all wishing me well - wishes for a long and happy retirement that I could hardly hear through cracked white leather neck guard, and above the noise of the 50cc motor. I put-putted out into the street and headed east towards the edge of town.

‘Okay Ian, do you know this one...?’

I was never seen again, and pretty soon I was entirely forgotten.

NPR just reviewed my latest album. It’s looking like I’m a long way from the retirement home which is just as well because I don’t have the luxury of any form of pension. Better get home and hit the gym - I’ve got some US shows coming up:

28 KINGSTON NY Rocket #9
29 NEW HAVEN CT Cafe Nine
30 BROOKLYN NY Union Pool

You can buy the new album here...

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Air B n B

I used to be a fan of Air B n B but I’m rapidly going off the whole idea. I wasn’t too keen to begin with - Amy got into it and my first experience was in Pasarobles, California. It was before we discovered the ‘entire place’ option so it was a room in a lady’s house. We were obliged to interact. I got into conversation with the lady about the how difficult it can be to do all the things you want to do in life, something like that.
‘The trouble is’ I found myself saying, ‘that there’s never enough time.’
‘I don’t find that’ she said, ‘you see, I have all eternity.’
In the morning Amy got up early and blundered out onto a sun terrace where she found our host in full on communication with Our Heavenly Father.
I have no problem with people holding beliefs, I just don’t necessarily want to become involved in them.
My second Air B n B experience was a caravan in the grounds of a house in North Hollywood. It was cheap and it was wacky, just our sort of thing. We’d been playing in San Diego and had to be in Los Angeles early the following day, so we arrived at this place at five in the morning. Birds were trilling the dawn chorus and there was nobody around, just us and the garbage truck. It took ages to find The Gate In The Long Fence, and when we did it was almost impossible to open the lockbox and then to unlock the gate. We stumbled down some steps through a rockery with our luggage and there was the caravan - originally cream and orange, but faded and covered in an accumulation of moss and whatever debris had fallen onto it from the trees that surrounded it.
Inside it smelled of gas and microwaved pies. I opened a window and a dilapidated fly screen fell out. We tried to put a brave face on it - it was half past five in the morning by this time and we were exhausted. I pointed out to Amy, by way of being positive, that you could open the bathroom door and flush the toilet without leaving the bed. We were considering toughing it out for the sake of a few hours sleep but we found leeches in the sink so we booked into the downtown Best Western and stayed there for three nights. It cost a fortune but it was like paradise after the caravan.
I have had some good Air B n B experiences. Last June Amy and I stayed in a two storey shack in Mendocino. It was very small - the ground floor contained a sofa, a coffee table and a sink unit. Upstairs was a bedroom with a bed in it and not much else. The whole place wobbled as you climbed the stairs. The bathroom was in its own separate shack next door, connected by a short, secluded path illuminated by fairy lights. To get to the place you had to walk past the remains of a lot of scrapped and rusting cars and into some woodland. It should have been a disaster but it was quite wonderful.
We stayed in a converted breeze block garage in the back garden of a house in Nashville and that’s where I figured something out: in the good old days, before the Air B n B craze, short term rentals were traditionally filled with collections of mismatched furniture and knick-knacks - unwanted gifts, flower vases, decorative plates, hideous table lamps and so on. The modern way is to take all this crap and donate it to the Goodwill, get a tax receipt and spend the equivalent money furnishing the place with brand new crap from TK or TJ Maxx and Target, and that’s why the places where they’ve made A REAL EFFORT are full of overstuffed chairs that look like rotund aunties and aren’t comfortable to sit in, and oblong blocks that say COFFEE on each face. And why they invariably have a large number of decorative cushions on the bed varying in size from large to quite small, one of which will be heart-shaped. There might be a sign that says: Two Lovers Built This Nest, and in the kitchen there may well be another sign that says: Instant Human - Just  Add Coffee.
I find the concept of two lovers converting the garage into a nest by lining it with plasterboard, installing a Pergo floor and filling it with tacky crap from Target, Pier 21, Bed Bath & Beyond ridiculous, cloying and quite unbelievable.
Some Air B n B hosts get it right. We stayed in two different places on the south coast of England that were just great, and I stayed alone in another that had a wonderful sea view but was filled with furniture and had walls covered in inconsequential pictures - framed photos of not very interesting exhibitions from 1998 and 2011, that sort of thing. There were something in the region of five chests of drawers, there were window treatments, a foldaway bed, a million kitchen utensils, cabinets of trinketry, books that no one wants to read, shelves of CDs: The Best Of R.E.M., The Very Best Of Chris de Burgh, Graceland, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon... I couldn’t hear myself think for the encroachment of someone else’s life. I had to gaze out at the sea across the promenade in order to hold on to my fragile sanity.
I endured one in West Hollywood, a tiny Spanish bungalow from the 1930s, that had almost nothing in it except a bed, a chair and a large wall-mounted TV. It had a beautiful all-original kitchenette but the charm was lost to an over-large, and very loud refrigerator, a Keurig coffee maker and a bulky black microwave that filled the fold-out kitchen table so there was really nowhere for me to sit and write my novel. I spent my time in there spreadeagled across the bed trying to summon the will to get up and turn off the light.
I stayed in a charming duplex in Echo Park, Los Angeles, except that once I’d been there for a few hours I realized it wasn’t at all charming, it was indefinably grubby, with a spongy bit in the middle of the vinyl wood-finish Pergo floor where the underfloor had been joined between the floor joists and had given way.
My stay coincided with an unseasonably cold spell and the only heating came from a dusty oil-filled radiator and a ceramic wall-mounted heater with a big crack across the middle of it. This place had a separate kitchen, a ghetto beyond the bedroom with a one wall painted with blackboard paint and covered with tributes from former guests, who I can only imagine must have been drunk for the duration of their stay to have scrawled such sentimental gibberish with the chalks provided:
We had an AWESOME time! …We Love You! …your place is an oasis of peacefulness and beauty in an otherwise grey worldwe’ll be back for more wine and walks and good food and hugs… I even saw a tribute from someone I knew.
Everything in the kitchen was covered in a thin film of grease, embedded with dust. I didn’t want to imagine how much bacon had been fried up in that place. There was a shelf stacked up with the stuff that people had bought over the years to cook esoteric dishes and live temporary existences involving the imbibing of herbal teas. There was paprika, basmati rice, salt, pepper, curry powder, sachets of saffron, stale coffee, sweet and sour sauce, soy sauce, demerara sugar, ketchup, tabasco, plastic bear honey, organic tea bags… and everything on the shelf was stuck to it and the whole installation was greasy and very unappetising, but with a thin veneer of generosity. The stove was old and clunky, and superficially clean, and you had to keep checking that the pilot light was still lit.
The good thing about that place was that it had a piano. I worked up two songs for my new album while I was there: The Half Of It in its entirety and California/Handyman which I’d started to write by a dilapidated swimming pool at a motel near San Diego. You can pre-order the album as a download on Bandcamp and get The Half Of It and two other tracks to be going on with right now. I hope you’re going to love it.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

The Carnival Is Over, Here Comes The Carnival

I’ve just spent a couple of weeks in England clearing out my mother’s house. A strange part of the process. I don’t want to say the grieving process because that word grieving always sounds to me as though there’s uncontrolled sobbing, and there isn’t, and there hasn’t been. And neither do I like the word loss - I suppose there is a loss - I lost my bus ticket the other day. I lost my mother seven months ago, but lost and mother make me sound like a ten year old in a shopping centre.

I feel like I’m dismantling her life, or more likely that her life was a play, and now it’s finished I’ve been charged with dismantling the scenery and putting away the props. 

There’s a framed photo of two men and two women from the nineteen thirties. They’re dressed up for a wedding. Everyone who comes by the house asks if they’re family. They’ve been around in our lives for so long that they almost could be, but I remember the day she found that photo, rummaging around in a junk shop in Peacehaven sometime in the late sixties. She liked the look of the people - she made up stories about them:

‘That was George, an old family friend. He was such a brick when Mabel’s first husband died. People thought they’d marry but they never did...’

I found an unassuming blue photo album in the bottom of a cupboard. It was crammed full of photos going all the way back to the beginning of the last century - dour maiden aunts and rakish young men, one of whom was my dad, looking lean and mean back before the steroids got to him. I’d never seen most of these photos before.

There were photos of my grandparents, and me and my sister standing by a corrugated builder’s shed on a plot of land where they were about to construct the bungalow in Peacehaven where we did most of our growing up and couldn’t wait to leave. We look confused and even slightly worried, standing there hand in hand waiting for the box Brownie shutter to click. It’s as though we knew how our lives were going to go. But maybe that’s conjecture and I’m as bad as my mother with her found family photo. 

Five years later there was a garden wall and a wooden gate. I used to swing on that gate in the sunlight, caressed by warm southern breezes, dreaming of being a pop star.

Been there, done that, bucket list etc... It was over in an instant and here I am all these years later, not exactly chasing a faded dream... but if I had a garden gate I’d be swinging on it and wondering how I’ve got away with this for so long.

I’ve got a new album coming out. I recorded it very quickly at the beginning of the year. People are always telling me that I should have a rest, take some time off. I think that’s fine if you have a normal job but I think being an artist is different - you are what you do. The nearest I come to having a rest is having a change - a change being as good as a rest. Creativity is great, it’s good for you.

An hour and a half on stage can be quite wonderful - it’s physically, mentally and emotionally taxing but it usually gives as much as it takes. Most of the work is in physically getting there but even that has its upside - it’s very relaxing to get up in the morning and not have to think out what needs doing. The day is pre-ordained - you just have to drive to wherever you’ve got to go and make sure you get enough to eat and drink on the way so you have a good time and don’t arrive in a bad mood. 

It only gets to being a bit of a drag after a few months of constant motion.

For me recording can be the greatest thing in the world. It’s hard work, but if you know how to concentrate, how to let it consume you, it can blot out all the pain and anxiety that the rest of the world brings along with it. It’s better than any narcotic.

It’s the rest of it that’s a drag...

Trying to remember the passwords for Tunecore, Bandcamp, Promo Jukebox, Soundcloud… my Apple ID, and whether I’m checking out as a registered user or just a guest… And my subscription is up, my domain name needs re-registering, and if I pay for two years I can save thirty nine dollars… The car rental process takes three quarters of an hour of going between sites, trying to find my AARP membership number (that’s the American Association Of Retired People - all it takes is a lack of shame and being over fifty five, and the discounts are pretty good), and the agony of finding the cheapest deal and not being sure, and then I commit, type in my credit card details and the site crashes or the bank stops my card due to suspicious activity because even though I tell them in advance that I’m going to a foreign country, when I get there I go and do something weird like try to rent a vehicle so that I can leave the airport. And I really need to buy some guitar strings, and if I change the strings on my acoustic guitar every three nights then how many sets of strings is that? And who does the cheapest deal? And the inconvenience of having to buy individual wound 020 guage strings for my electric guitar because everyone else uses a plain third and I just had to be different - I’ve been using wound third strings for about fifty years now so why hasn’t it been adopted as the industry standard? And Musician’s Friend has an app that doesn’t work very well but they sell individual strings in all your favorite guages in packs of three but the only available guage is 038, and that just doesn’t happen to be my favourite guage, and the women on the phone doesn’t really know what I’m talking about and I can tell it’s nearly time for her lunch break and I don’t want to give her a hard time because this isn’t really her problem, it’s just a job, and she’s probably only making minimum wage…

‘This is Wayne calling from Sweetwater - still making a lil’ music there Eric?’

‘Listen to me Wayne - don’t ever call this number again.’

And guess what? You have a Facebook post that is forming 29% better than your 39 other Facebook posts of 2019 and a payment of $30 will ensure that up to 10,000 people get to see this post: 

Hope everything’s going well out there in Columbus Ohio, I have a show in Glasgow, Scotland on May 25th, hope to see you there!!

But still I feel obliged to take action because there’s probably a hectoring email in my inbox right now from a promoter who needs me to update my website, create a Facbook event page, let all my followers know on Social Media - Instagram. Twitter, Etsy, Tumblr, Soundcloud, Songkick, Still Gigging… even My Space - Hey! I have a My Space (or a Me Spass as the French use to call it) so don’t forget to check it out!

I can create something, make records, or I can attend to all this rubbish. I’ve chosen to make a new record. It’s called Transience because I know how transitory all this other rubbish really is, and how little it really matters.

I’m on my way back to England again. I have to finish clearing my mother’s house because someone’s buying it. Then I’m going on tour. I’m a lucky man, I get to do what I like doing. If I worked for a living I’d be retiring next month. As it is I’ll be playing on my birthday - May 18th at Patterns in Brighton. I’m going to wear all my campaign medals. I hope they present me with a gold clock. My friend Ian Button is accompanying me on this tour, playing drums, guitar, bass and keyboard noise - very possibly all at once. It’s going to be cosmic and fucked-up. Of course I’m hoping people come to the shows and love it. I expect they will.....won’t they....?

Here are some tour dates:

Friday, 7 December 2018

One Suitcase, Two Guitar Cases And One Small Carry-On Item, synthesizers, luggage harvesting, the Carlton Vibe Hotel...

I was hoping to write about everything that happened in New Zealand and Australia as it happened but that hasn’t really been possible because the schedule has been intermittently grueling. Last Thursday I played in Brisbane. I got back to the hotel around two in the morning, spent an hour packing my personal effects into one suitcase, two guitar cases and one small carry on item. Then I had three and a half hours sleep - possibly only three hours because I lay on the bed vibrating for quite a long time. I find it difficult to sleep in hotel rooms - I have to divorce myself from my surroundings. Sometimes the only thing that gets me to bed is the consolation that once I switch the light off I won’t be able to see where I am.

I had to leave for the airport at ten to seven to catch a flight to Melbourne. There’s been a lot of flying on this tour, that’s how it’s done here. The flight took two and a half hours. I was asleep before the plane took off. It’s getting to where I sleep better on airline seats than I do in hotel beds.

I met my new tour manager and sound engineer, a young man called Guy, at the baggage claim. Guy is a twenty something years old of Anglo Irish and Samoan descent, I found out these things by degrees. He speaks with an almost posh English accent. I liked him immediately. Another new friend. By the the time we left the baggage claim with my suitcase, two guitars and one small, personal carry on item, we’d invented the term Luggage Harvesting for the crime of stealing bags off the carousel. I’m surprised it doesn’t happen on a regular basis at domestic terminals all over the world - you just stroll into arrivals, go to Oversized Baggage, lift up someone’s guitar and stroll out with it. If everything goes wrong I think I might become a luggage harvester myself. A good part-time occupation for my retirement...

Guy was standing in for Bonnie, but more about Bonnie later. He’d been instructed by Bonnie to take me for a good espresso and something to eat before checking me into the Vibe Hotel and then driving us to Castlemaine for a show that night.

There’s a whole lot before and after that last part but this thing is either going to go in the direction it happens to go in, or not go at all, so to hell with the chronology....

I’m on a plane flying home from Los Angeles. I was in an Air B n B in Echo Park - I stayed there for five nights. It was downhome. It was a dump really. It had a porch with a swing chair but mostly it was too cold to sit out there so I put both switches down on the oil-filled radiator and sat at the piano instead. That was the best thing about this place I was staying in - it had a piano - a Korg digital piano with a full sized keyboard. I was able to turn it down so I wouldn’t disturb the owners who lived in the other half of the house, and who hopefully wouldn’t then be laughing at my rudimentary piano playing.

In between Ubering my way all over Los Angeles I wrote one and a half songs. It may have been one and a quarter songs or maybe one and five eighths of a song but there’s definitely one whole song in there. I recorded a lame demo on my phone and sent it to Amy and she said it was a good one and where did the piano come from?

I took an Uber to West Hollywood and strolled around. I spent a fun couple of hours in the Guitar Center trying out the synthesizers. Some of them didn’t appear to be working, either that or they were beyond my capabilities. I particularly enjoyed the Moog Sub Phatty though I wish they’d thought of a better name for it - Sub Phatty is quite unfortunate. If someone wants to donate one to me I’ll happily rename it the Moog Glorious which is what I think it should be called.

Contrary to what I imagine a lot of people might think I like synthesizers. I always have, not the hideous eighties ones like the Yamaha DX7, though I’m sure that given time I could divorce the sound of that from its hideous personal nineteen eighties associations and allow it to worm its way into my affections. The Sub Phatty / Glorious produced epic, beast like sounds. I wished I could have recorded some of the stuff I came up with on that thing.

Guy The Sound Guy and stand in for Bonnie The Tour Manager told me about a resource in Melbourne - a synthesizer library. They’ve got one of just about every synthesizer ever manufactured. You can go there and book time with a synthesizer of your choice. They’ll deliver it to your cubicle and you can work with it using your own software and laptop. It’s one more reason to love Melbourne. If it wasn’t so monumentally far away, and if I was living a somewhat different life, I’d move there in a heartbeat.

I was staying at the Carlton Vibe Hotel. There are several Vibe Hotels dotted around Melbourne. This one was modern, meaning it must have been quite up to the minute in about 1959 or 1962. I could just imagine Lady Penelope pitching up there in her pink Cadillac piloted by her loyal and trusted chauffeur, Parker. I can imagine her checking in at the reception desk over to one side of the breezy and spacious concrete and glass reception hall with its hints of orange and lime green. The swarthy yet suave receptionist and Lady P herself, their jaws moving up and down as they speak whatever words need speaking with their plastic faces.

And Parker collecting the luggage: ‘Yus m’lady!’

I could have spent whole afternoons watching guests banging their heads on the modern architectural entrance feature that swooped from dangerously low to just above average head height and spoke of...well, Vibe.

I kept coming back to the Vibe. It was my first destination in Australia when I flew in from Auckland. The tour promoter, David Laing, met me and took me straight there. It was his second time at the airport that day, earlier he’d picked up PP Arnold.

That first time I had a room overlooking the pool. It looked for all the world as if I could run from my room, dive gracefully over the railing and into the glittering blue water below. Except that I would have landed in a prickly hedge, most likely impaling myself on some railings that you couldn’t see from the floor to ceiling wall of glass separating my room from the outside walkway.

My room had a king size bed - larger than a king size - Emperor Size if that’s a thing. There was also a single bed that looked quite pathetic beside this monumental sex and sleeping dais. The Emperor turned out to be two singles zipped together on two separate bases that would probably have drifted apart had the bed seen any action, leaving the participants uncomfortably close to the floor in the ensuing bed base ravine.

I’d already decided that I was going to take the single bed because, as I’ve said somewhere before in these ramblings, there’s nothing more lonely than sleeping alone on the edge of a king size bed. You’re not going to sleep in the middle of it of course, even if it’s not two singles zippered together, because that’s where most of the action will have taken place and you really don’t want think about that. Especially when you’re facing another night alone.

The single bed was next to the floor to ceiling windows. There were nets and a big blackout curtain that shut out the impending daylight, but during the night and into the morning I could hear the occasional person next to me, a foot or two away, on the walkway the other side of the plate glass. And to other side of me that useless expanse of nocturnal playground...

I needed coffee. Carlton is very hip but the Carlton Vibe isn’t really in Carlton - it’s opposite a park somewhere between Carlton and some other bit of Melbourne. I scoped out the coffee options and found one within walking distance, a mile or so away. I decided to take a short cut across the park. It was Sunday so I weaved a jagged trajectory between games of cricket. I was very pleased with this even though it was a bit dangerous and big men kept shouting at me - I’d only been there a day and here I was having a very Australian experience.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Three Days In New Zealand, a short interlude in a brothel, complaints about airlines and passengers...

I had three shows in New Zealand - Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland. I’d only ever been there once, in 1980 I played two shows in a club in Auckland. It was packed both nights and on one of the nights some girls tore the sleeve off my shirt as a souvenir. I’ve got a photo of it somewhere - it  made the front page of the Auckland newspaper.  At one of the shows a guy told me he knew one of the girls and she still had a square of my shirt sleeve. I told him to tell her I need it back.

I didn’t really mind, the sleeve was already torn. It was a shame though because it was a good shirt - I had a great collection of cowboy or western shirts that I would buy for next to nothing in thrift stores all over America. It’s almost impossible to find now, and if ever I do they usually don’t fit which is just as well because the prices are outlandish. It was great being a rock n roll star back then, getting the sleeves torn off my shirts by lovely girls and not caring because there were so many more shirts out there. So many shirts, so little time...

The show at the San Fran in Wellington was not a shirt tearing sort of affair. It’s a great venue, everyone was very kind and helpful, and I loved the sound in there. I got the impression that the audience were approaching the show with as much trepidation as I was. Would they be disappointed if I didn’t come on in a glistening polyester wig, clutching an out of tune Rickenbacker and bulging out of an approximation of the ridiculous suit I wore on the cover of my first album?

I got off to a shaky start with A Darker Shade Of Brown from the last album Amy and I made together, A Working Museum. It was touch over ambitious considering it was my first show in three weeks and the jet lag and all. I don’t why it’s called jet lag, a better term might be Traveller’s Confusion. I’ve been in roughly the same time zone for almost three weeks now and I’m still feeling discombobulated.

The problem with A Darker Shade Of Brown is mostly in the chord changes - it goes to an unexpected C minor and has a whole load of semitones or half step changes. The vocal melody goes from low to really high and that doesn’t help either, not right at the start of the set and at the start of a tour before I’m warmed up.

I got away with it I think. The reaction was good. I followed that with Same which has been my favorite set opener for a long time. I’ve just read a review from the show I did in Hardy’s Bay up the coast from Sydney - it said Same makes no sense whatsoever and it wasn’t until I got onto familiar ground with Reconnez Cherie (a song that really makes no sense) that the reviewer got glimpses of the artist everyone had apparently come to see. That review could stand alongside a letter to a British newspaper that said I subjected the audience at the Holt Festival to forty minutes of quite frankly baffling songs.   But never mind - the review was written by a hoary Aussie punk with a neck tattoo, the letter by Disgruntled of Norwich.

The following day we had to fly to Christchurch. Wellington is known as Windy Wellington and today the weather was especially windy - windy, cold and wet. We got to the airport to find the flight had been cancelled. We were transferred onto the next flight which may or may not be leaving sometime in the afternoon, depending on the weather. 

We went back to the city and dumped the luggage at the hotel. Unfortunately it was too late to retrieve our rooms so we went to get lunch and coffee in a place where the girl behind the counter was wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt. I asked if she’d heard Piper At The Gates Of Dawn in mono but I don’t think she had because she evidently didn’t know what I was talking about. So John Baker and I had the healthiest breakfast we could find (or it may have been lunch) and went across the road to Slow Boat Records. 

And then we took another shuttle bus back to the airport where John engaged random people in random conversations and I tried not to stand too close or fall asleep standing up. We took our seats on a wafty looking plane with propellers and took to the skies sideways, buffetted by the winds of Windy Wellington.

In Christchurch we took a shuttle bus full of people who talked as though they knew each other even though I don’t think they did. The bus took us on a tour of suburban neighbourhoods dropping friendly New Zealanders at their front doors. It’s good to be home...
The driver stopped and waited outside the brand new Ibis Hotel while John checked us in. Christchurch is very new owing to the earthquakes - I noticed that all the houses had new roofs, shiny red or green corrugated metal roofs. The Ibis hotel was quite austere, post-post-modern, post-apocalypse or post-earthquake at the very least. The CBD - Central Business District - or city centre as we might call it was completely destroyed by the earthquakes. The new architecture is cold and austere in sharp contrast to the people who seemed so warm and hospitable.

When we finally got to the venue the opening act, Fresh OJs, otherwise Ollie and Bill From Best Bets Auckland, were already soundchecking which was just as well because we were running very late. They finished up and then moved everything so that I could set up and have a soundcheck myself. They insisted that they could set themselves back up around me and I wouldn’t have to move anything. I thought that was very kind of them. I was more tired than I could imagine it was possible to be and still stay alive but I snapped into action, got set up and did the soundcheck with a minimum of fuss. I always try for a kind of professionalism but without being boring or pompous. Stay cheerful, try not to lose patience and keep in mind that whatever has gone on during the day isn’t these people’s fault. 
I enjoyed their set - I listened as I had my dinner in a curtained off room at the back. They did it as a two piece, rudimentary drum kit and electric guitar. They finished with a rocking version of Jonathan Richman’s Government Center which I thought was quite audacious.

I was a lot more on form for this show. I can’t remember everything I played - a mixture of old and new, a version of Hit ‘n’ Miss Judy in D modal tuning I think - the top and bottom strings tuned down to D - most of Construction Time & Demolition, Sysco Trucks and Transitory Thing From ‘amERICa’. I even did an encore which I think was The Final Taxi and Several Shades Of Green though I usually try not to do encores.

Afterwards I met Alec Bathgate from the Tall Dwarves and his wife, a lovely Yorkshire woman who told me she was transplanted from Glam Rock Britain to New Zealand at the age of fourteen and expected to wear a gym slip for school. Her and Alec have been together since they were fifteen. I haven’t seen Alec since 1993. I was walking down Zulpicher Strasse in Cologne and saw the Tall Dwarves were playing in a basement club. I went downstairs and they recognised me. In 1993 I felt quite marginalized so it was something of a thrill that a band from New Zealand would know who I was. They autographed a CD for me (which I still have) and I arranged to meet them at their hotel the following morning to give them some of my stuff. I went round but they’d gone out so I left a couple of albums with a note. Alec told me they didn’t think I’d come so they went to the launderette instead and were quite amazed and disappointed to have miss me when they came back. I remember not wanting to bother them and hoping it wasn’t an imposition to be foisting my stuff onto them.

We got back to the Ibis Hotel about four and a half hours before we had to get up to catch the delayed flight to Auckland. John showed me around the area where he lives, we even went to his place and I met his landlady, a magnificent hippieish woman of a certain age. She has a beautiful bungalow overlooking the bay. John lives in an outbuilding somewhere in the the grounds. He wouldn’t show me his place which is maybe just as well because like that the mystique at the epicentre of Planet Baker remains perfectly preserved. It may just have been nightmarishly untidy but I’d like to think there was more to it than that.

Taylor Swift was playing in Auckland that night, a huge outdoor event. The plane had been full of young women off for a weekend in the big city to see the show and cut loose for a night or two. We shared our three seat row with a young mother who’d left the kids in her husband’s care. She was very excited. I don’t know much about Taylor Swift except that she spoke out against Trump and the Republican Administration causing a spike in votes for democrats in Tennessee - and for that she gets my vote. Someone told me she gets transported from hotel to tour bus and tour bus to backstage in a large hardshell suitcase to avoid fans and that makes me think I get off very lightly just signing a few records and doing my impersonation of a human dummy while everyone gets their photo taken with me. I don’t mind the endless photographs but I’ve learned to not move a muscle for fear of appearing all over Facebook with a landslide of double chins or looking like a stroke victim.

When I got to my hotel there had evidently been a mix up - they’d given me Taylor Swift’s room by mistake. The bathroom was full of a jacuzzi with folding louvred shutters to one side that opened onto the bedroom. With the shutters opened it was possible to gaze across the jacuzzi to the toilet beyond. My suite also benefited from a fully fitted kitchen and a cupboard containing a washer dryer neither of which I had time to use, and a large balcony from which I was able to enjoy a view of some buildings. It was all very swish, very well appointed.
I opened the shutters,filled the jacuzzi with hot water and got in it. Only one of the speeds worked and some of the air holes were blocked. It was basically a big bath, about the size of a small double bed. The novelty soon wore off so I got out and sat on the balcony in a big white toweling robe wondering how Taylor Swift was doing. It was pretty chilly out there on the balcony because I was on the shady side of the hotel so I went back inside, got dressed and lay on the bed until the front desk called to tell me Rosemary was waiting to meet me in reception. I got quite excited about that for a couple of seconds but it turned out to be John Baker having a laugh. The hotel is apparently a famed hang out for prostitutes. 

We loaded me into John’s car and set off for the venue which was attached to the side of a large sports arena that was hosting a minor league basketball game. The Tuning Fork was, I imagine, originally intended as a sports bar where well developed men with permed mullets looking slightly uncomfortable in unaccustomed suits might attend receptions after sports award events. It had been refurbished as a venue with lots of plush red fabrics and red lighting. It was like a cross between an upmarket brothel and a psychedelic airport lounge. Not that I’ve ever been in a brothel.

That is I think I may have been once... It was in a small town in Belgium sometime in the early nineties. The promoter seemed excessively jolly when he directed us towards the hotel after the soundcheck. He gave us a couple of room keys and when we got there the place was a bungalow of some sort converted into barebones accommodation - hutch sized rooms off a central corridor. My room was very sparsely furnished, just a double bed with a chair at each side, sitting on a tiled floor. A corner of the room from the door to the chair at one side of the bed was curtained off, and behind the curtain was a toilet, a sink, and between the two, in the corner, a dip in the tiled floor with drain, and above that a mixer tap and shower attachment. You could draw the curtain fully back and view the facilities from the bed. And answer the door from a position on the toilet. The only light came from a utilitarian outside light with a blue bulb in it on the wall above the bed. I was touring with my friend Martin Stone. He had the exact same room next door except that his light had a red bulb. Different strokes for different folks I suppose. It made reading very difficult - we were both avid readers. We didn’t notice any goings on, and no one offered us any services, but when we got up in the morning the corridor was full of painted ladies in ball gowns.

I gave the Tuning Fork sound engineer the usual instructions - no compression, very little or no echo or reverb on the vocal. The soundcheck was quick and easy. We went off in search of dinner and my cousin Louis who we met outside a Thai buffet where my dinner went cold as I did a radio interview over the phone. I love my cousins - they always ask me about our grandparents because I’m the only one old enough to have known them well. They died within days of each other when I was fifteen and everyone else was a lot younger.
Back at the Tuning Fork the green room was very well appointed - it had a bar, a small stage and a private bathroom. There were framed set lists on the wall - one from a Neil Young & Crazy Horse show. I wish I’d taken a photo of it. I was escorted to the stage by the front of house manager. We went out of the front door of the sports arena, across a concourse in front of the venue with her holding an umbrella because it was raining, around the back of the venue to a door which lead directly onto the stage. She didn’t actually wish me God’s speed but she could have done because by this time I felt like I was in a budget action movie. She held the door, I climbed aloft and there I was in front of my applauding Auckland audience.

I enjoyed the three New Zealand shows - the audiences were easy to play for, they were open and receptive. I liked them a whole lot better than I like some of the people on the aeroplane I’m on while I’m writing this, particularly the big, young lunkhead in the seat in front. He’s a fidget, a large, ungainly and graceless fidget, constantly adjusting himself with violent movements of the seat. I’ve been waiting for him to recline which he just did. I made him unrecline, explained to him that even though the seat goes back a very long way it’s not the done thing to fully recline. I think he’s a little afraid of me at this point. He’d better behave or he’ll get the coffee treatment. So easily done what with the turbulence and all. And I take it black so it really scolds. I’ve done it once before to great effect. I’ve already had to endure the sight of him in his underwear as he changed from sweat pants to shiny sports shorts because he couldn’t stand the heat. Who ever feels hot in an aeroplane? These things are bloody freezing. 

Airlines should operate a dress code, or at least a strict No Shorts policy. And shoes please, not flip flops. I think that would be quite reasonable considering they won’t allow guitars as carry on and Qantas just charged me a hundred and seventy five dollars for checking a third bag. That’s a lot of money - they’re obviously running a classy operation so I expect a dress code and a degree of decorum. They should teach How To Behave On Airplanes in schools.

Back in Auckland the sound engineer was having difficulty with the instruction in my technical rider concerning reverb. I became increasingly a aware during the set of a a long thick reverb on my voice. Eventually I had to tell him: I’m not the Jesus and fucking Mary Chain! He took it very well but I don’t know where his head was at.

After the show we blundered off into the night taking the opener, Will Saunders, with us. We were going to go to a tribute night to the late and great Fred Cole of Dead Moon but somehow we were too late so I took them to see my jacuzzi hotel room instead. Will took photos which may or may not be compromising though we only tried out the jacuzzi with no water in it and with our clothes on - just a dry run. John Baker put the other white toweling robe on and looked like a budget hotel emperor lounging on the bed as we worked our way through the complimentary snacks. It was becoming apparent that this hotel was a very tacky hotel and I was glad Taylor Swift wasn’t staying here because I don’t think she would have been very happy. I was perfectly happy myself, it was a hell of an End Of New Zealand Leg Of The Antipodean party, worthy of an episode of Flight Of The Conchords.

I flew to Melbourne the next day.