Monday 6 September 2010

Swollen amplifiers, torrential rain, ethnic cleansing...

I had a disturbing dream last night: Amy and I were driving up to the coast to catch a ferry in some version of our ambulance. We were off to England for a tour. In the dream I had a nagging worry that we'd forgotten to put the equipment in the van and eventually, in a weird approximation of the suburbs of Paris under torrential rain we stopped and opened up the back of the van to have a look. No equipment, just a folding keyboard stand and the outer casing from a Vortexian four channel mixer.
Tired, late and desperate, someone had to go back to get the equipment. I think it was me though I could have been someone else by this time, everything was uncertain.
The journey home was fraught with shadowy, half-realised adventures, all taking place in the pissing wet, and when I got there we lived in a sort of caravan affair raised up on spindly metal stilts. A flimsy set of steps led up to the door but I didn't go up because in the dream there didn't seem to be any point. And anyway the equipment was all stacked up outside.
The amplifiers had suffered in the rain - the cabinets swollen up into a giant loaves of bread with the speakers protuding like hair lips. Guitars, amplifiers, it was all roughly there, just a question of shovelling it all into the van and getting it to London - dry and warm, everything in perfect working order.
I think I woke up about now but I can't be sure.
I'm feeling insecure. I'm haunted by images of families being marched away from their homes at gunpoint.
It's been coming up for a while. I've long thought that Hitler made a big mistake in not getting the French onside - as a nation they're much more sympathetic to his cause than the majority of Germans ever were, and under occupation a lot of them turned collaborator.
It's been creeping up slowly. In the late eighties and early nineties I lived in a village just outside Dreux, the first town to return a Front National candidate to the French parliament. That was Marie Stirbois. Things change, I learned from literature dropped through the door that Moroccan youths were causing trouble on the streets of Dreux. They hadn't been, it was all quite peaceful until it was said that they were. Then it was different. By Christmas there were armed soldiers, machine guns at the ready, posted around the carousel in the main street. I didn't see any children riding on it that year.
Last year, in a village near where we live, the children of a group of families living in yurts were excluded from the only school in the area - a couple of fields were sold enabling the village bounderies to be moved so as not to include the yurts. The yurt people were not extra-terrestials, dangerous savages from some unpronouncable, far-flung country, breeding feral children - actually they were English, quite civilised by any standards. Their only crime was living in tents.
Now, with the expulsion of the Roma, France is embarking on a programme of ethnic cleansing. I don't really want to stick around to see what happens next.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Eric & Amy at home (and on tour)

I hope we can do more of this sort of thing, filming that is - we're always playing but this is the first time we've recorded an acoustic rehearsal. We did it because we thought it might be better than the general crappy youtube stuff of us that other people put up.
We're setting off for Paris today and flying to the States tomorrow. Having got the hang of this homemade film equivalent of lo-fi we'll try to do some more if we get time in whatever bizarre locations we might find ourselves in.

Monday 17 May 2010

Fully-fledged, whatever that means

It's my birthday tomorrow, I'll be fifty-six. Normally I'd have a day off but I don't think there's time. Not because, as Ronnie Lane said "it's a short film" - I don't think the clock's running (though you never quite know), but we've got a lot to do what with releasing a new album and leaving for America a week from today.
Thirty years ago, on my twenty-sixth birthday, I called my mum from my room at the Tropicana Motel.
"Where are you" she asked.
"Hollywood" I replied
"Ooh! Are you making a film?"
I've yet to star in my first feature film though I'd settle for a characterful cameo in a biopic about one of my increasing number of dead friends.
I'm glad I've made it this far and I'm thinking that all this work I'm doing must surely qualify me at last as a real adult. It's a bit like picking up an honourary degree - fairly useless I'd imagine by the time you get it. I mean, what the fuck does Sir Paul need with a doctorate from Sussex University. I bet it looks good on his CV though.
All I've got to do before we head off for the airport is pre-record five radio shows, finish off a version of a Nolan Strong number for a compilation album, rehearse the stuff on the new album (having figured out how the fuck we're going to do it), pack a bag, change the lock on the front door and get the studio ready to record a Robert Rotifer album as soon as we get home at the beginning of July. Shouldn't be a problem - not for a fully-fledged adult like myself.
I wonder what fully-fledged means. I only used the term because everyone else does. I can't believe I've managed to get this old without knowing the meaning fully-fledged. It's already a cliche and I'm completely ignorant of its true import.
Not that I give a toss.

Do yourself (and us) a favour and order a signed copy of our new album now, before they're all snapped up.

Friday 2 April 2010

Badly lit in front of someone else's crappy painting for all eternity

Last week I spoke to a friend from where we live. 'Hurry back' he said, 'the weather's marvellous - it's like summer here.'
We hurried back as best we could, taking in a visit to my mother and enduring two nights on the infamous bedsettee, followed by a night in the van in a service area on an auto route in the middle of France where I started to feel a little strange.
In the morning we stopped off for coffee in a town called Argenton. The air was soft with spring sunshine. By the time we got home, just after midday, it was raining.
The house was cold. We turned up the thermostat and listened for the heating to kick in. Nothing happened. I went out to the barn, clambered over the devestation brought about by the explosion of last January or whenever it was, and pushed the manual start button on the boiler. It fired up and died away as I was leaving the barn. We were out of oil again. It's becoming a tradition with us - it's happened every time we've come home from a tour this winter.
I mentioned feeling a little strange. Now I felt more than a little strange, it was as though the will to live, or the ability to keep being alive was stealing away. The last useful thing I did before giving up was to order five hundred litres of heating oil at an inflated price.
At four o'clock on Tuesday morning I came to on the bathroom floor. The thought weaved across my mind, between dizziness, confusion and utter nausea, that given the choice I would have chosen a more dignified manner of clocking out.
Since then I've been feeling mildly better in that I haven't felt as though I was either about to die or that dying would be welcome relief. My friends are all telling me I need to have a rest - they're always saying that but for once I think they're right. For the past three days I've been alternating between lying on the sofa and going back to bed, unable to bring myself to do the slightest thing, but bored out of my mind.
I started planning my final tour. The diagnosis of something catastrophically fatal, me being dignified, undramatic and philosophical about it - I'd just like to do one final tour, play some good places with my good friends, say goodbye in style (though I see it not so much as goodbye, more adieu)... The triumphant tour with a highly successful new breakthrough album, the biggest of my career (though God knows how I thought I was going to record that in the state I was in). Then the inevitable announcement that I'd passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by family and friends, followed by all that turgid Facebook rockin' in heaven with an all-star band tonite shit.
I had it all mapped out, but then I thought of those dreadful Youtube clips of me and Amy playing in places with bad lighting, bad sound, crappy paintings all over the wall behind us, or worse, gardening implements. Why do audiences flock to these events armed with little movie cameras - is there some other agenda that I don't know about?
We should be really flattered that people want to take our photos and make little film clips of us, but we're beyond flattery - we're getting seriously pissed-off about it. We love playing for people in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, but most often the magic of the event doesn't translate through the medium of the mobile phone camera.
We'd like to ask respectfully that in future people keep their treasured memories of us to themselves, and not plaster them all over the internet.Otherwise their crappy photos and sub-standard film clips will be what the rest of the world will judge us by for the rest of time. And we don't think that's fair.
It would be different if someone came up with decent footage of us at Southpaw in Brooklyn or playing with Yo La Tengo in Dusseldorf, but they never do, perhaps because the audiences at those concert are there for the concert, not partly just to record the event. There's an inane egocentricity about recording all this stuff and putting it where everyone can see it. I wish people would learn to live in the moment and leave their fucking gadgets at home.
There - I've gone from maudlin to ranting, I think I'm starting to feel better!

Friday 26 March 2010

The Overnight Emerald Sensation

It wasn't all bad. I drove for two days after a monumentally depressing gig in Limoges. The driving was almost theraputic - there I was sitting staring out of the front window, holding onto the steering wheel and watching Limoges-distancing countryside flicker on by.
I sat on the Holyhead to Dublin ferry and wrote a piece entitled "The Gift Of Stupidity" which I haven't posted because I think now isn't the time to be quite so negative. It'll have to wait until after this piece which I'm sure you know will be gloriously uplifting.
But to get back to the negativity - why is the French music scene in the hands of the greedy, ignorant and, at best, deluded? I know that's a sweeping generalisation but I don't care because it's making me feel good to say it. Especially in the face of Les Matins Celadon where we played in Limoges on the Friday night before I set off for Ireland. Friday night? It was more like a glum Tuesday during a general strike in that place. Dumb people who think that music comes in slices - you don't have to listen to it - it'll get to you by osmosis, you know - like in the lift when a Brazilian version of Michelle My Belle comes oozing out of the ceiling. They stared at us, they talked amongst themselves and once they had enough de la musique, they left.
A couple of local punk scenesters popped along and lent their support by sitting at the back and talking with the promoter all through our second set. They just had to be there - well, I'm one of the original punks after all, or, at least, I was there, though a little disappointingly poppy and I never did get round to dying my hair jet black. Last time those silly fuckers came to see us they told a friend of ours that they preferred the faster songs.
What kind of stupid twit has a square stage built in the corner of the room and then tries to sell the place as a music venue? The floor of the stage was made of laminated "wood" flooring. It was new and already falling to bits, a small corner of a foreign bar that is temporarily Ikea.
If I was running a venue the stage wouldn't be an apologetic inconvenience in the corner, a place for moribund old gits with hands like sausages to trill away at meaningless jazz stylings while the punters chatter away and kid themselves that they're attending a cultural event. To start with there wouldn't be any jazz, or at least not the phony dross that passes for jazz where we live. The stage would stand proud across the centre of one wall and form the focal point of the place. I'd spend more on lighting than on the PA, for the simple reason that if it looks good people's eyes will be drawn to it. They'll look at it, and once they're looking at it there's a chance they might listen too. But if it looks as dowdy as the rest of the place they'll just look at their dowdy friends and talk. Or stay at home and enjoy their own personal dowdiness.
You might not think I'm being very positive but I think my negativity is quite constructive. I grew up on Dada and Nihilism you know. Sometimes it's best to tear things down and start again. But that just brings me back to those dim Limoges elderpunks - they think tearing tings down and starting again involves wearing twenty hole Doc Martens and a leather jacket, playing big guitar chords through cheap distortion pedals, inciting the faithful to riot (or at least go crazy and jostle one another) in shrill voices until it's time to go home. Very subversive.
But on the positive side there was a table of people who were really pleased to hear us play and stayed from beginning to end, plus our friend Emmanual and some of his enlightened friends. And the lady from our local library came - turns out she's a fan.
I don't want to play at Les Matins Celadon again.
There you are - a decision made! Something positive.

The Irish dates were an anti-climax after the press build up. In the weeks leading up to the tour we seemed to be forever giving in-depth phone interviews to adoring journalists from the Irish national press. I almost convinced myself that we were going to be an overnight emerald sensation.
I knew it was going to be the same old thing when we heard the promoter talking on the phone to a club owner in his car on the way to a radio station:
"I can't say now..."
"Er... the same as before..."
Ticket sales. I've been in this business too long.
I don't know what went wrong and the promoter doesn't want us to try and catalogue the possible faults. But I have to say that in Cork it would have helped if the club owner had put the heating on. I can imagine it wasn't the first time an audience had shivered through a show. It tends to put people off coming again.
Dublin has changed since I was last there, four years ago with The Damned. Friday night was bedlam, but this time the streets were full of empty cabs cruising for non-existant business. Nobody's got any money. I'm sure there never really was any money, just unendingly easy to get credit. We should have charged a fiver admission.
Belfast got on my nerves because my voice had walked out on me. My biggest fans, burly men with loud voices, barely tolerated Amy and kept up a constant mumbled commentary in thick Belfast accents all through my songs. During the songs Amy sang they merely organised the ordering of more drinks.
"...and another pint of Murphy's over here, and a pint of lager for Pat there and a packet of pork scratchings... hold on, he's back on..."
"Play The Foynal Taxi Eric!"
"Fockin' playre Veronica"
I could barely whisper the words to the songs and when I did play The Final Taxi they jabbered all through it until I pleaded with them in a barely audible whisper, with tears in my eyes, to shut up. A miniature man in a funny felt hat came up to the stage and mumbled to me that are Americans are full of something inaudible. I translated this to the rest of the audience as America is full of B&Bs. I half regretted not booting him in the face but you can't argue with ignorance and you can't always tell people what they don't want to know. Afterwards they all shook my hand and told me just how much it meant to them that I'd come to play in Belfast. "And yer missus ain't half bad too".
At one of the English shows some blokes started shouting for my old songs while Amy was introducing something. I told them off, explained that Amy is a genius and that they were to hear her if only they knew it. The applause from the rest of the audience must have convinced them because we didn't hear another squeak out of them. That was in Brighton, the hands down, all round best show of the tour. A real family show with my mum, my pregnant daughter and her boyfriend there, and as a special surprise my long lost cousin Dave the taxi driver and his wife Michelle. I didn't recognise them until the end of the show even though they were sitting right in front of me. Dave sent me a photo taken by Michelle of the two of us. You can tell we're cousins, the same mad look. It's nice to know I'm not alone.

Amy mentioned in her blog the ill-health and medication that went along with being in Ireland so I'm not going to talk about it, except to say that I cannot abide the term manflu. After a radio show in Belfast which I got through without either coughing, throwing up or fainting, and without complaining. Amy told the female presenter, who had introduced Amy, not as an artist in her own right, but as my wife, that I wasn't well. "Oh," she said, "he's just got a case of manflu." The inference being presumably that men aren't as strong as their poor, martyred woman, who aren't allowed to be as ill as men because they aren't equal and so have to constantly promote the notion that they aren't the weaker sex. If the presenter had been unwell and I'd suggested, with a dismissive shrug, that she was suffering from PMS, rolled my eyes to the ceiling and said "huh, woman," there would have been an outcry.

Monday 1 March 2010

Pole Emploi

In the continuing quest to become Intermittants de Spectacles the wife and I had to register ourselves as unemployed. We went to a new place they've set up for the purpose. It's called the Pole Emploi. It's housed in a new building, a building that's been open for about a year, and in that time I don't think anyone's ever opened a window. It smelled like a zoo in there and the heating was turned up too high.
Everything was colour coded and divided into areas - zone de rencontres, zone informatique... It looked a complete mess with it's notice boards framed in carefully co-ordinated lime green and bright red tin, scattered between islands of laminated wood flooring. Just the place to enjoy being unemployed - meeting up with other unemployed people, swapping contacts, tipping one another off about likely employement possibilities, some of the more intelligent of us - the computer literate - perhaps trying our hand at un peu d'informatique on the specially installed, mismatched collection of old desktop jobs in the zone informatique section of this hell hole Pole Emploi.
We queued up with our toes on a painted line bearing the legend zone de discretion, and listened to the receptionist, a middle-aged man who probably once held down a responsible position in a municipal library, instructing a youth on preparing a dossier.
That's always the first thing you have to do in France, preparez un dossier. Then you go and attend a Stage de Formation in some dump like Dijon or Metz. This puts you under the mistaken impression that you're an important person, and once you've learned to strut, preen, pontificate and feign incredulity at anything or anybody who isn't like or doesn't do like you, then you're ready to take up gainful employment.
You can work in the post office, take annual paid holidays, get up for work at five thirty a.m. every morning with the stolid forebearance of a big brown Limousin cow standing in the pissing rain in a field full of shit, and charge a different postage price every day for indentical packets and parcels that might well not ever reach their destinations.
The municipal librarian asked us if we wanted to photocopy our dossiers, invited us to avail ourselves of the facilities in the zone photocopieur, but we hadn't prepared our dossiers so we sat on chairs covered in stained purple hessien in the zone attente, and waited to be called for our interview.
I thought the interview went well. Amy said afterwards that five minutes into it she wanted to kill herself, but I really enjoyed myself, cataloguing the changes that I would make when I became manager of the Pole Emploi. I started off with a little trick designed to put the trainer/interview person and the trainee (couldn't tell which was which) at their dis-ease. I didn't let them kick off, I got in first:
'Doesn't anyone ever open the windows in here? It smells like a zoo.'
They seemed quite surprised, as if they hadn't notice the fetid stench, a heady mix of stagnant water, stale air, bodies and hot-air-borne disease.
'You should open all the doors and windows for five minutes every morning, this place is a health hazard,' I continued.
The woman part of the sketch, trainer or trainee, I know not which, said it would let all the heat out. I made a mental note to sack her and then we got down to the tedious business of enrolling as unemployed, or possibly in my case unemployable.
It was very boring. I didn't listen to most of what was said, concentrating instead on figuring out which of the plastic clad stud walls I'd dismantle first. I struggled with the dilemma of my stance on posters and paperwork sellotaped to glass panels - they're depressing to look at but they do shield the gaze from the infinitely more depressing sight of other members of the equippe here at the Pole Emploi.
The was a problem with the computer at one point and a technician arrived, a bespectacled youngster of thirty something in designer jeans and a smart shirt. He had the stance - the leaning over and pointing, weight evenly distributed twixt hand on desk and brogue on carpet tile - but he didn't know what he was doing. I put him on window opening duty.
Eventually they showed us a hidden corner of the Pole Emploi website, which we can access with our confidential pin numbers and secret codes. Here there are lists of vacancies for female saxophonists and men who can sing Spanish Eyes and My Kind Of Town Chicago Is... in exotic places like Lille and Besancon. They were planning to split us up and make Amy learn the saxophone.
We left depressed, but thankful for being back in God's or Nicolas Sarkozy's or whoever's fresh air.
Vive La France!
Now open the fucking window.

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.