Friday 19 February 2010

A Candy Coloured Clown They Call The Soundman

I've finally figured out why the terms competant sound engineer and French are generally a contradiction. This might seem harsh but having had the displeasure of playing in a few officially sanctioned French rock clubs I've met some of the most arrogant, pompous and basically inept technicians of any country I've ever played in. Indeed, the French themselves have an expression for these twerps, and the expression is tete a claque, literally a head for hitting. (Excuse the lack of accents - the blog thing was having trouble with them.)
These people have the status of intermittent de spectacle. An intermittent de spectacle is someone who works on a self-employed or intermittent basis in any branch of show business - musician, TV technician, sound engineer...
If you can weave your way through the complex maze of idiotic and mind-numbing bureaucracy that goes into achieving this hallowed status the state pays you a sum equivalent to sixty percent of your earnings for the the days when you're being er... intermittent.
What a fantastic fucking opportunity! Amy and I have been trying for it but we're lacking the fascistic mind set that might help us to wade through the apparently baffling steps. Other people who have managed this have been helping us along and who knows, we might actually get there with it. But last night, blundering through yet another crassly put together French website, I turned to Amy with tears in my eyes.
'This is going to put me in a cancer ward,' I said.
I don't mean to say that you have to be a fascist to sort it all out, I certainly don't think the people who have been guiding us through this are anything of the sort, but I can see how it might help. The French authorities obviously make it as difficult as they can because they've sort of boxed themselves into a corner that they can't get out of. They can't really pull the plug on paying old Johnny Hallyday sixty percent of the already grossly inflated income he makes for being crap singer and all round retard. Neither could they cut the income of everyone who works in the TV and radio because they'd have another revolution on their hands - and the opposition would be in control of the media.
France used to be a socialist country - socialist in the best sense. The vestiges manifest themselves in every part of daily life. The overwhelming bureaucracy came as a result of making a society for everyone - actors, poets, factory workers, cheese makers, musicians... No one was going to slip through the net. But the socialism is long gone, eaten away by the cancer of bureaucracy and corruption.
It's all a matter of job creation. There's this Societies or that Association - Asso for short which is so comfortably near to asshole as to make me wonder. They have cute names like Allo Jazz and Le Guso and they s'occupe or occupy themselves with the processing of the necessary documentation pursuant in the work of the intermittent de spectacle. Looking at these websites has me convinced, in an unfortunately fascistic moment, that the French should never have been allowed to have the internet, they should have stuck to growing vegetables. At least they were good at that. Now they import vegetables from countries with polytunnels and clutter up the interweb with their rubbish.
I don't need to have every tedious point illustrated by a coquettish little mime artist arseclown doing an I've got a good idea pose.
If you don't believe me here's a link:
They call it informatique - that's their word for all things to do with computers and the internet. Their mania for information gets in the way of giving out information. I'm drowning in a mire of useless information here.
And reading this I expect you are too.
It's like an architect designed house that's been added on to, piece meal by a crazed DIY enthusiast. It doesn't make any sense and it's close to uninhabitable. It should be condemned, it should be pulled down. It seems to me at the moment that a good half of this country has a job on the back of other people having jobs.

But back to those sound engineer intermittents - in future, when I meet one of those smug, swaggering, pony-tailed, fuckwits in their para-military apparel - combats tucked into twenty-one hole Doc Martens, bomber jacket, walkie talkie, maglite, access all areas pass on lanyard... I'll understand why he's like he is. He's no sound engineer, he just has a knack for dealing with bureaucracy.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Mardi Gras in Cleveland

Amy's daughter Hazel called us from New Orleans last night where Mardi Gras was in full swing. They don't have Mardi Gras here which is a shame because we could do with cheering up, but we remembered a Mardi Gras experience from four or five years ago in Cleveland, Ohio. I've lifted the whole thing out of some damp corner of my website. Hope you enjoy it.

Amy and I took a drive round downtown Cleveland the other night, looking for something to eat. A bit of a mistake at 11 o’clock at night because Cleveland just isn’t that sort of place. There wasn’t anything, or if there was it had already closed.
We drove round a corner and heard music coming from a large, glass-fronted bar. There was a band set up in the window - a boogie band - old school r‘n’b at its very worst. We were powerless to resist.
Once we got inside I knew exactly what had happened – we’d obviously been hit by a runaway truck as we came round the corner, and now we were dead. And as dead musicians this was where we had to go while the celestial authorities sorted out what to do with us.
It was the final day of Mardi Gras – Mardi Gras in Cleveland?? – so there was much drunkenness. Drinking had been going on all day, since 11 o’clock in the morning, and the staff were busy sluicing the floor in between the dancers. I had the impression that they were trying to wash away a lot of vomit.
People were festooned with cheap plastic Mardi Gras paraphernalia and due perhaps to a trick of the light, their faces had a subtle green tinge.
But that was no trick of the light – the green tinge was because they were dead, they were zombies. I looked at Amy and she was the same colour as I hoped I was but I knew this was probably about to change.
The band had been dead for longer than anybody else. That must have been how they got the job. They presented a terrifying spectacle. They were fronted by a woman in her fifties with wild blonde-from-a-bottle hair, a would-be Janis Joplin from the trailer park in a grubby black T-shirt and ill-fitting jeans. The guitar player was nondescript, grey with an unhealthy suntan, blanding out on a Fender Strat with custom pick-ups. The King of the Zombies was on bass - pastel green face and protruding chin, set off with a little white moustache.
And here I’ve noticed a phenomenon – the simplicity of the musical form offends the sensibilities of bass players in bands like this so they compensate by adding another string – it’s the truly dreadful cult of the five string bass. It’s just what The Blues needs, an extra low note here and there.
But the keyboard player was the star of the show - a blonde woman in her sixties, wearing a black stretch trouser suit. Tall and bony with extremely long legs, she perched on a bar stool, one leg launched into the air at an alarmingly acute angle, knee at chin height. The other leg stretched out in front and over to one side in a long, straight line. Her feet were encased in huge black platform trainers. She had a pronounced chin. A lantern jaw. They all had lantern jaws (except the singer – she didn’t really have a chin). They must have all been related. Or maybe it was just a side effect of being dead for a long time.

The first number bumped and ground to a finish and the singer burbled some semi-intelligible stuff into the hubbub – something about a busy schedule and checking out their website. Amy and I looked at each other open-mouthed –they’ve got a busy schedule and we’re hanging around trying to get our kicks in Cleveland.
Then they launched into a slow blues. The keyboard lady sang while the singer wailed on a thankfully almost inaudible harmonica. It was a masterpiece of the genre in that it seemed to encompass a snatch of every famous blues song ever written without actually have any form of its own. When everyone in the band except the drummer had taken a solo or two and we’d woken up this morning, walked all the way to Chicago and gambled our existence away in a whorehouse in New Orleans, the first lady of the keyboard brought the number to a halt by thrusting a bony fist into the air. The band stopped, she pulled her arm sharply downwards and the tune went into a swirling, gurgling finish. I was thrilled to bits – she’d flushed the song down an imaginary toilet.
They couldn’t possibly have topped that, or if they could we didn’t need to know about it, so we left.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Plank life

Amy's finished with the cold and passed it on to me. So I'm sitting in bed staring out of the window at the rapidly disappearing blue in an increasingly grey sky, trying to summon up the will to live, or at least to carry on existing.

I woke up this morning with the gradual realisation that I had leprosy in both feet. They were sticking out of the covers, not cold, though the room was freezing, but with no discernable feeling in them apart from a vague uncoveredness. It was as though they'd given up the ghost (whatever that means) ahead of the rest of me.

I became aware of a distant thumping and the sound of an idling diesel motor. The heating oil delivery! I jumped out of bed and clattered down the stairs, flinging on any garment I could find. I looked a bit strange when I opened the door on the early morning grey, joyfully illuminated by pale gold reflections of the delivery tanker's headlights on grubby snow. The driver didn't seem to notice my odd appearance. He shook my hand, a sure sign that I was fitting right in with the general early morning, rural French ambience.

I opened the barn and fled inside to the comparative warmth of the house. Comparative warmth is a laugh - I thought of opening the fridge to warm the place up.

I waited shivering inside the house while he trailed a hundred feet of metal hose through the barn and pumped five hundred litres of the cheapest fuel oil into our ancient two thousand litre tank. Then I gave him almost all the cash we earned for playing the other night and scurried back to bed, intent on dying in a warm house.

It's lunch time now and I'm still alive so I think I'll get up. I'm worried that Amy and I are like the man and woman in the Swiss chalet - she comes out in the sunshine but at the first sign of crappy weather she swings into the balsa wood recesses of the little house, and I come pivotting out on the other end of our shared plank to stand outside until the sun comes back.

The sunshine that replaced the grey, oil-delivery dawn is all gone now. If I get up Amy might have a relapse. I think I'll stay put.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Out There...

We played in this cave in a bar in a town called Le Dorat last night. The acoustics were a bit difficult but the owners were great, a Scottish couple with good sensibilities. Most of the audience were English and a lot of them were what you might call old, meaning about our own age. There was a woman psychologist turned copywriter who' d seen me in Portrush, Northern Ireland in 1978. There was a man from Lincolnshire who saw me at The Village Bowl in Bournemouth on the second Stiff tour - he told me how he got lost in the suburbs of Southampton on his way home and I was able to console him by pointing out that at least he wasn't in Lincolnshire.
I met the eighteen year old son of an avid fan who last saw me in 1979 at the Limit Club in Sheffield and a girl called Liberty wearing spiked cuffs and bondage trousers - she's been here for twelve years or so, a good deal more than half her young life. She told me that fluent French was a poor exchange for the tedium of being a teenager in the Limousin. Words to that effect anyway.
There isn't much to do here. French kids get little mopeds at fifteen so they they can ride to neighbouring villages and sit with other kids in different far-flung bus shelters for what Amy likes to call a change of pace.
It was a lovely evening - I almost completely forgot my dyed in the wool loathing of retired English ex-pats. Even when a septegenarian asked me during the intermission if we'd had a technical before we started. You need to turn down your instruments by a third and raise the level of the singing. I thanked him for his advice almost as diplomatically as I could and explained that our amplifiers weren't designed to turn down any further. It transpired that this man's claim to fame was shooting the cover of a Rolling Stones album - the one with the broken glass on the front cover... I'm none the wiser either. I pointed out that the Stones were never as good as The Who (because I always do) but he told me he was unable to offer any comment because he had no musical ear.
I met a woman who went to school in Seaford in Sussex where my daughter, Luci, lives and where I formed my first band at the age of fifteen or so. I heard tales and complaints about the weather conditions - I'll probably have to leave before you finish, it's like an ice rink out there... And I came through it all in a great mood.
I wish there was a bar like La Petie Fontaine in Le Dorat in our village.
This morning I went to the supermarket and put some posters up here and there for next weekend's concert at the Lawrence d'Arabie. Then I went to a bar in a neighbouring village. The street was empty except for a monstrously weather beaten man struggling with a satellite dish. A group of middle-aged people with a scattering of young children, probably grandchildren, sat round a table in the middle of the cafe. Apart from that there was no one.
The middle-aged people were English. It was obvious. One of them had a craggy, pioneering face - fifteen years ago, had I met him in England, he would have asked me how I find it out there. Now if I talked to him (which I didn't) I'm sure he would have told me how long ago he moved out here. You see the shift?
The English are obsessed with a place called out there. If there's anybody out there who... You here it all the time on the radio. I'm perversely thrilled every time I hear it, that and people who say quite frankly I've had it up to here. You can't see the neck level gesture on the radio so it doesn't make sense.
We've been out here for four years now...

For God's sake, we're not on fucking safari.
There's no going back - we're in deepest, darkest rural Fraarnce and don't I fucking know it.
...bald head, grey ring of hair culminating in a half-hearted grey pony tail. Approaches the bar - lar mim shows (la même chose) meaning the same again.
At least he made the effort but I hate how he makes me feel - smug about my superior ability to speak the language. He has no right to make me feel like that. I wished he'd just spoken in English. The barman would have understood perfectly, his wife's English.
Outside the street is still almost empty. The satellite dish mutant's been joined by a couple of others. They're discussing the weather. Not much to discuss really - it's grey, it's cold, it's probably going to snow again.
I head home intent on making the house saleable. I'm going to spend the afternoon stripping wallpaper. There's got to be more to life than this. When I get home the heating's broken down again, for the fifth time this winter. I light the woodburner and write this instead.

Friday 12 February 2010

It's been a long and hideous winter so far and I can't see it getting any better for a while. Not that I want to bring anyone down, including myself. Or not actually including myself, just myself because I can't imagine many other people reading this.
There's so much crap on the interweb these days - stuff used to go away, you got a bad review and you could console yourself with the yesterday's papers adage, and someone might say that they'll be eating fish and chips off that review. Or it would become one of a wad of six inch newspaper squares hanging on a hook in the outhouse...
There's a lot to look at on that there internet - the entire history of the world in minute detail. In our eco-aware society nothing is bio-degradeable anymore. I wish bands were, though it's a shooting myself in the foot sort of a wish. But it occurred to me that that's the problem with the music business. In any other business people retire, die off and get replaced, but in music no one ever goes away, not even when they're dead. In fact dying is often the smartest career option. Indifference turns to adulation. I can hardly wait!
I spent yesterday sorting through a roomful of old paperwork. I actually threw out some old tax returns and bank statements, and this made me feel like a real upstanding member of the community - I 've been filing tax returns for so long now that some of them are way past the statutory limit. What a waste of time all that was.
I seem to have kept every publishing and PRS statement I ever received. I don't know why, fear of throwing out something important I suppose. Sometimes I daydream about adding up all the payments, see if I've made a million yet. That might be depressing though - what if I have? I'd be wondering where it all went, torturing myself with thoughts of savings I could have made, costly financial mistakes I could have avoided. It's a fucking ridiculous idea.
I always wind up broke and I'm beginning to think I must like it. In the full flush of my early success I felt guilty, it was all too easy. So I went on the road in a seemingly endless downhill spiral until there wasn't a venue small or crappy enough to fit me. I paid my dues.
I always wondered about that dues paying business. What are they? Is there a window with an opening at the bottom to slide the money through? Do you get a receipt and if so are they tax deductable? I don't think I want any dues unless you can use them to heat the house. I'm avoiding going into the barn at the moment because the needle on the oil guage is way past the red line, heading towards empty again. It has to last until the first week of March and then it won't matter because we'll be on tour.
We could always burn my old paperwork to keep warm. I found all the press for my Bungalow Hi album. Reams of it - paragraph after paragraph of complaint about my bitterness, negativity, lack of singing ability - one reviewer even said that the album adds to the thought that people over a certain age should be banned from making music. He went on to add that there are of course certain notable exceptions, which was big of him. It's the stuff of fascism surely. I wonder who's going to decide on who's still allowed. And how's the reviewer (who didn't put his name on the piece) going to feel in thirty years time. It's all right to knock being old until you actually get there. I'm sure Pete Townshend has had a few uneasy moments with hope I die before I get old.
I'm going to be a grandfather in July. And there I was unable to imagine life after the age of thirty. Twenty years ago I thought about planting a tree in the garden where I lived but the idea of not seeing it grow to maturity bothered me so I didn't. I went passed that house last summer and the garden was so grown up that you couldn't see the house anymore. When I lived there you could see for miles across ploughed fields. Now my tree would fit right in - it'd look like it'd been there for years.
I just googled (since when did that become a verb?) the online magazine with the fascistic review and they don't exist anymore. So some things do go away. And underneath the sheaves of indifferent reviews I found a load of mail from fans who'd bought the album directly from me, telling me how much they were enjoying it.
I'm almost feeling strong enough to go and have a look at the oil guage.