Tuesday 20 November 2012

The Hurricane House Concert

We were in Memphis when the storm (sorry superstorm) hit. Or we might have been in Chicago. Or somewhere in between because we played in San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Memphis and Chicago on consecutive days and my memories are already beginning to blur.

I was a bit concerned. Catskill was directly in the projected path of Superstorm Sandy. (I've been calling it a hurricane but it's slowly coming to my attention that everyone else is calling it a superstorm so I'm attempting to join in here). I was worried that a tree might fall on the house. We've got a lot of trees. Occasionally I take a stroll around the back yard, count them up and catalogue them all, marvelling in a fearful sort of way at the fact that I own so many trees (if you can actually own a tree – it seems like an odd idea). And then I lose count or forget. I think there might be eight of them, fucking great big maples lined up along either side of the property line towering over the grass in between with branches touching one side to the other. In the summer, when they're in full leaf, the effect is faintly terrifying. Especially at night - it's like being in a vast organic cathedral. I've often been out there on my own at night, tending the barbeque with just a wall light between me and the murky towering blackness, cicadas kicking up a deafening racket and the distant wail of freight trains rumbling through the night from Buffalo to New Jersey...
Catskill's very own celebrity slum lord Frank Cuthbert started off the second set with Drunk On Love (Amy on 12 string, Eric on bass) and the beautifully insipid Pasa Robles Wine where we almost turned into The Archies...
We really should have employed the services of a tree surgeon but we couldn't afford it. So somewhere on the road between Memphis and Chicago I was trying to console myself with the idea that what we saved on not hiring a tree surgeon we could put towards the cost of repairing the house and paying the increased insurance premiums.
It was all going to be fine - I grew up on a high cliff top on the south coast of England, constantly buffeted and battered by violent south westerly gales. Roads were frequently rendered impassable by shingle thrown up from the beach. Waves would hit the ninety foot cliffs and water, shingle and seaweed would fly another twenty feet into the air. I used to go to school in this weather – on a double decker bus listing at a thirty degree angle as the wind smashed into the side of it. 

They showed us pictures of buses being tested for stability and sometimes the bus conductress used to laugh it off but I could tell she was just as scared as I was. Thankfully the bus never blew over. There weren't any trees – I think I was eight before I actually saw a tree in real life – they wouldn't grow where we lived. I read stories from some parallel universe where boys climbed trees and got lost in the forest, and I felt vaguely inadequate as though it was my fault that in Peacehaven and Telscombe Cliffs the only vegetation apart from grass was hardy privet, gorse and Spanish broom.
We listened to news reports of rising tides, warnings of imminent disaster and so on, and I texted a friend in Asbury Park, New Jersey asking if he was OK. He sent me a photo of his girlfriend's house. The storm hadn't happened yet, the tide was still rising and the ground floor of her house was almost completely under water.

The David Greenberger Formation, a 75% spectacle wearing celebrity superstorm supergroup perform "Snakes"
They said it was going to be worse than Irene. Personally  we were very lucky there. I became the proud owner of a dilapidated Cape Cod two days before Irene. We were in England getting ready to start a new life in America. It occurred to us that we really ought to get some house insurance so Amy called a few insurance companies. They told us to call back after the hurricane. We saw footage of water flowing over the top of a road bridge across the creek near our house in Catskill. We looked at a house there back in the summer during one of our many house hunting expeditions. It was creepy – Amy didn't like it because there was an old pair of crutches built into one of the walls of the rather slimy basement.

I almost quite liked the place in spite of the traffic noise from the bridge you could see if you looked upwards from the back yard - the bridge that later had water flowing over the top of it. That house must have been almost totally submerged. Fortunately for us there was a loud wail and suddenly I was in that parallel universe - the one where othe boys climbed trees and so on – 'I love that sound!' I exclaimed, and then we couldn't hear ourselves speak for the next ten minutes as five miles of freight train thundered across an adjacent trestle. So we did the sensible thing and bought a house on a hill an attractive distance away from the railway line.

We were very lucky. The town was devastated. The ice cream place by the creek where we dreamed of having a root beer float, all washed away. The t shirt printing shop – that had to be gutted and completely rebuilt (we got our new t shirts printed there before we went on tour). The restaurant down where Catskill Creek flows into the Hudson river was destroyed. And so it went on. And miraculously our house and surrounding neighbourhood came out of it unscathed.

We arrived at Newark Airport and drove through torrential rain to our new home in a national disaster area. The rain never stopped tipping out of the sky for four and a half days. We stayed in a friend's house with a tin roof. In the middle of the third night Amy asked me if it was the end of the world. I thought it probably was though I didn't like to say.

Catskill wasn't the worst affected – in the town Pratsville which is only thirty five miles away just about every building was badly damaged. We drove through there only the other week, over a year later – it was like a ghost town. Some people have given up, they're not coming back. There were a lot of shabby houses with new roofs. On Saturday night at our house concert someone told me how they bought a few groceries in the only remaining store in Pratsville and the owner was moved to tears of gratitude.

All this might sound depressing but I'm trying to talk about our house concert and why we did it.

We've been lucky twice – Sandy took a left turn before it got to us and ploughed off into Pennsylvania.

We were going to put on a house concert as part of our Kickstarter campaign to raise money to put out our latest album but we only sold one or two tickets so the idea put itself on hold. We weren't even sure if we could get away without either – someone always gets upset if you do anything noticeable. But if it's a charity fundraising event...

The house was a mess and we'd been away on tour for two months. In the second month we drove eight thousand miles coast to coast and north to south and back again. It was a little bit overwhelming but we did it and I'm glad we did. We're like Ike & Tina Turner doing Proud Mary – we never do things the easy way. In between touring and recording we're fixing up the house. We love this place and we're doing it with pride and on a low budget. We do a bit, we run out of money, we go on tour, come home, do a bit – a few repairs, a bit of paint, tiles, a shelf or two... We're very lucky.

The house concert was almost like a housewarming party, even though we didn't know a lot of people who came. We sort of did though – I recognised names from emails, mail order, facebook and so on. And there were some we knew from other shows we've done. It was fun – I wanted it to be a celebration as much as a fundraiser. We should appreciate what we've got. People lost their homes. We were lucky enough to have one to come home to.

Everyone bought something along with them. People helped out, laid out food, took turns overseeing the list of ticket holders, that sort of thing. The police chief who lives across the street was very nice about it all - he actually said well done and told us not to worry about the parking restrictions. David Greenberger helped me to paint even more signs which were meant to be helpful but probably ended up being charmingly confusing. I'd already painted some large ones - "3 hours of Love, Peace and Dischords" in honour of the Woodstock contingent (there's nothing going on in Woodstock so they all have to come to Catskill to get their kicks), a big Eric & Amy sign that we hung in a tree and illuminated with a torch. 

A selection of signs. We're thinking of starting a business.
Frank Cuthbert bought a load of folding chairs along from his art gallery in Catskill, Brik. His lovely girlfriend Danette somehow managed the catering and put me in mind of a Pan Am air stewardess. Next time we're going to get her a uniform and turn the place into a homemade aeroplane. Later on she commandeered the kitchen as her personal dancing space.

We raised $1300.16 and donated it to Occupy Sandy. I know they say they prefer 'in kind' donations and only take money as a last resort but there's no bartering system for gasoline and heating oil so I hope the money does some good.

And finally I should mention the vinyl - we have vinyl copies of our new album!!! We've got boxes of them hidden under beds, in cupboards, up chimney flues... We've got so many of them we're having to sleep standing up in a corner of the bathroom. Help us to regain our sanity - buy a copy here: http://www.amyrigby.com/amyshop.html

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Across The Great Divide


Excuse me you cunt, we've driven three thousand miles coast to coast across the USA, turned right at San Francisco and done a further two days hard driving to get here so would you mind shutting your fucking trap or leaving because we don't want to hear you trying to impress your dolly-bird date when we're trying to play for these people.

A fine opening to the show. Amy actually heard the guy say to the girl stop trying to sleep with me. Well, really. He looked quite offended after my reprimand but he left and everyone was pleased and we started up with Astrovan off our first album in two different tempos because I was a bit adrenalised by the diatribe.

I love Seattle. It's about as far from England as you can get without doing something daft like crossing the equator so it's a mystery to me why the musicians here are so compatible. Same wit, same jokes, same spirit. Grunge gave them something to kick against - the Seattle music scene is open to anything so our free-form-folk-rock-metal-pop-skiffle thing really works.

We wound up with another impromptu Seattle subsupergroup - Johnny Sangster on guitar, Jim Sangster on the bass, Mark Pickerel on tambourine (Is this what I'm reduced to Eric?), Amy on the organ and me on my first broken string of the tour doing Reconnez Cherie as an encore. We just had to do an encore after the soundman had engaged us in a post-set group hug. Never been hugged by a club's sound engineer before - threatened, but never hugged.

Johnny Sangster's solo opening set was a sensation as was Mark Pickerel - two great supports and then us  - a real value for money musical event. I wish Seattle was on the East Coast so we could play there more often though the excitement might be a bit too much for us. As it was we were glad to have the next day off.

Two weeks ago we were playing at a house concert on Rhode Island. We stopped off at our place on the way to Pittsburgh where we stopped off on the way to Indianapolis for an intimate Tuesday evening show in front of maybe as many as twenty people. And then we carried on to Springfield Missouri for a fabulous early bird special between the bingo and happy hour. Loads of people - no one comes to Springfield so we were a bit of a novelty. And it was a good show which I hardly want to mention because they've all been good shows.

I can't begin to explain how bizarre, back-breaking, mind-numbing and just plain exhilerating the next four days were. I haven't driven across America coast to coast since 1979. From Missouri onwards it was like being in a giant film set, watching John Wayne country onfold in all its vastness beyond our filthy windscreen.

We stayed in Wichita, in an instantly forgetable motel. We had dinner in an Italian chain restaurant. The waitress was a young woman from California who came to Whichita for college. She wanted to go back to California. She told us downtown Wichita was quite picturesque but we never found it. All we saw were shopping malls – Staples, JC Penney, Starbucks, Panera, Macy's, Sprint, AT&T, Radio Shack, Sports Authority, Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Claire's Accessories, Vitamin Shoppe, Gap, Arby's, Autozone, MacDonalds, Burger King, KFC... It seemed to go on forever and then it was back to Burl Ives and The Big Country and I'm singing Wichita Lineman in my head all the way to Denver. We could tell we were in Denver and not back in Wichita because the retail outlets were in a different order - Home Depot, Autozone, MacDonalds, JC Penney, Macy's, Gap, Target, Walmart, TJ Max... a thousand miles of shopping malls and back to the scenery. It was freezing too. And in Denver it started to snow.

Somewhere along the the highway in... it might have been Kansas, we saw signs for the world's largest prairie dog, a five-legged cow, a six-legged cow and a miniature donkey called Roscoe. The World's Smallest Zoo - we didn't actually get to see all these wonders because the place was closed, boarded up with a For Sale sign hanging off it. And the night was coming down and it was all faintly terrifying. Who needs a zoo in a place like that? Who ever came to see it? No one perhaps, and that's why it was boarded up.

Out here you could probably tell people anything and they'd believe it. A brilliant strategy – train 'em up in the ways of ignorance and they'll believe anything you tell them – there are little brown men coming to rape your unborn fetuses in the middle of the night, there's all manner of evil out there beyond the safe confines of Kansas, or Wyoming or Nevada. Pro-Lifers, the Assembly Of God. When You Die You Will Meet Your Creator – what ever are you going to say to him? Fine bloody job you've done there Jesus God old mate – loved the shopping malls. No evil there.

Pro-life – it seems to me that with that lot a human life gets the best protection as long as it stays in the womb. Get born and you're fucked. A sixteen year old girl from a trailer park with a deadbeat boyfriend, no prospects, no hope, but the baby must be protected. Until it gets born. Then it's just useless human trash, the product of a godless unmarried mother.

Strange, these people who hold human life in such value. Do they really give a flying fuck whether or not people live or die. They just need livestock for their people farm. A capitalist society needs a workforce, a healthy well-nourished, properly housed workforce would surely be more efficient but that's not how it works here. - here on the People Farm we're heading for a subtle form of slavery.

I hope you've all registered to vote. I hope everyone in America who reads this bothers to go and cast their vote. I haven't got a vote here, I'm a resident but not a citizen. I pay taxes - income tax, property tax, school tax, village tax... plus the tax on all the gas we've put in the car to cross America - but I don't have a vote. So I say please, please, Vote For Me. I don't mean Vote For Me, I mean VOTE FOR ME. Or do it for yourself and everyone else. But please do it!!

We met up with Roy Loney in San Francisco. I would have liked to have had him get up and do a couple of songs with us but I didn't want to put him on the spot and I was too shy to ask. Anyway the soundcheck was too short to sort anything out – the soundman was three quarters of an hour late and generally seemed to have a lazy attitude. You find that in some towns – it's as though it might seem uncool to make anything more than the minimum effort. He was nice enough though, and the sound was probably OK in the room, and when Amy's microphone fucked-up he at least came over and waggled the stage box connections until it was sort of working, so I don't want to slag him off. I don't think it's worth driving the entire width of America to play at the Hemlock Tavern. I hope we can find a better venue next time.

We had a house concert in Chico the night before. The hosts, Marcel and Mary, have a house surrounded by beautifully planted and landscaped gardens. We stayed in a room full of cowboy memorabilia and western trinkets. The morning after the concert I got up early – eight o'clock - which is early for me though Amy had probably already been up for two hours. Amy has a secret morning life which I know little about, she writes in a notebook, does sewing, stuff like that. And sometimes she even sneaks out for coffee. Or so I believe though I can't be certain of any of this because I'm usually punching out zeds.

But this particular morning I was up around eight and Mary gave me a guided tour of the grounds, pointing out exotic birds in the equally exotic Californian plant life. It was a great start to the day and one of the highlights of our west coast adventure.

And then we got the terribly sad news that Jim Wunderle was dying back in Springfield Missouri. Amy's known him since nineteen eighty something – Last Round-up recorded their album in Springfield - Lou Whitney produced it and Jim Wunderle was the engineer. I met Jim in 2008 in Kansas City. He came to see us play at a club called Knuckleheads, a place that looked almost exactly like the country 'n' western venue in The Blues Brothers (we have both types of music here - country and western...) The show went really well in spite of expectations and afterwards we hung out in front of the club which was festooned with neon signs and surrounded by railway lines. I've got a load of photos of Jim, his wife Terry, Amy and me silhouetted in front of the neon signs. I'd put one in here but they're at home and I'm not.

I was really pleased we were going to Springfield and seeing Jim again - I recognised him as a kindred spirit or whatever. Someone sent me a clip of him performing Whole Wide World with some of The Skeletons and I felt that there was something completely unique about him. I was glad to see him again, a bit nervous because he and Lou Whitney are like Amy's uncles and older brothers all rolled into one, and I wanted their approval for what we're doing together.

We had a great time - Jim was a delight and we railed against the world together - men with pony tails, young shop assistants who answer your thank you with no problem (that was one of Jim's particular peeves), five string basses (ungodly), the inadvisability of eating near the railway station...

He wasn't in a good way - his health had suffered and he'd age considerably since we last met but we would never have imagined that less the two weeks later he'd be dead. Amy's very sad about it as I'm sure you can imagine, and so am I. I made a friend and now he's gone. But at least I had the pleasure of knowing him for a short while. That makes me happy.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

The Screen Age

I spend half my waking hours muddling and befuddling my way around the internet. I think the internet is like new town grown old,  a Utopian dream gone wrong. When it started I was naive enough to think it was going to be this great instrument of world peace - we were finally going to communicate directly instead of through this or that third party and find out that we're all basically the same and so on...
Of course I was younger then, bright-eyed from not having spent ten years or more staring hopelessly at computer screens. Now everywhere you go people are staring at screens and myopically jabbing at them with stunted digits.  That's where we're at now - we've had the stone age, the iron age, the bronze age, the machine age, the space age, and here we are in The Screen Age.
I routinely sit and wait for crappy adverts to load up before I can check my emails - weightloss, middle-aged women in your area just dying to meet you, car parts, fishing tackle, viagra, holidays in Corfu, eczema cures that have doctors infuriated...  Occasionally I click the close ad option and a box pops up offering me advert-free browsing at a not immediately obvious price. So it's not about weightloss, dodgy dating, car parts, fishing tackle, viagra and all the rest of it - no, the purpose of the advertising is deliberate nuisance, a form of extortion - pay up and we'll stop tormenting you with all this crap.
I am determined that these people (whoever these people are) won't manipulate and control me and my life so I sit here steadfastly waiting to read my emails or see what's happening on Facebook while little annoying adverts for breast implants, grapefruit juice, garden furniture, incontinence cures and even Barack Obama load up in side panels. Twenty-first century civilisation. We've come a long way.

I'm sure Gary Horowitz won't mind me putting his wonderful photo of me and Amy being whisked away from the Take Me To The River Festival in Hastings-on-Hudson last Sunday. We had a great time though it's always a fearful business playing in the open air in cruel daylight to an all-ages crowd who are as intent on soaking up the sun as they are listening to music. Looking at all those people from the stage and seeing the kids running around and the tree tops against a brilliant blue sky I must admit I had one of those it's great to be alive moment. Don't tell anyone I said that - I've got a position to keep up.

I used to think I was an unhappy person and I'm sure a lot of other people did too. But I'm not - I may have been, but not anymore. Life is full of annoyance, day to day stuff like the crappy ads, and bigger annoyances like what happens when I get old / have a stroke and end up paralysed down one side / break a leg in a freak gardening accident and can't afford the medical bills... But I keep managing to push it all away and have a great time on an almost daily basis. I'm sure that's going to worry a few of the fans I have who think that you can only write songs when you're practically down and out. I've never subscribed to that idea, the starving artist in his lowly garret. People work better when they're warm, dry, well fed and healthy, and that includes artists. I wish the Republican party understood that - I can't believe the stupidity and cynicism of a ruling party who don't see the sense in looking after the workforce. We had enough of that in England under Margaret Thatcher. Here's a track from our new album:

07 1983 by southerndomestic

It's actually by Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby - Southern Domestic is the record label. But that's the internet for you.
And to finish, in another shameless attack of self-promotion, here come the tour dates. Come and see us play, stick around afterwards and say hello, buy an album and maybe even a t-shirt - help us pay this months health insurance which we have courtesy of Obamacare. We'll blunder through live versions of some of the tracks off our new album, A Working Museum, plus a few old favourites and you might even have a good time.
And don't forget to register to vote.

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby on tour….

13 ASBURY PARK NJ USA, The Saint buy tickets
14 PHILADELPHIA PA, The Tin Angel - EARLY SHOW - 7:30pm!! buy tickets

15 SOMMERVILLE MA USA, Johnny D’s buy tickets
18 WASHINGTON DC, The Black Cat buy tickets
19 RALEIGH NC, Berkeley Cafe http://www.berkeleycafe.net/events.php
20 COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA, Conundrum http://conundrum.us/concerts/index.html
23 RICHMOND VIRGINIA, Banditos - details to follow
29 PEACE DALE RI, Roots Hoot house concert – email rootshoot@cox.net

02 INDIANAPOLIS, Do317 Lounge 1043 Virginia Ave, Suite 215 buy tickets
09 SAN FRANCISCO CA, The Hemlock Tavern
11 SEATTLE WA, The Funhouse, with Mark Pickerel + Johnny Sangster http://www.thefunhouseseattle.com
13 PORTLAND OR, Mississippi Studios EARLY SHOW – 7pm!!! buy tickets
16 SAN DIEGO CA, The Soda Bar buy tickets
20 PASO ROBLES California,
www.vinesonthemarycrest.com  info@vinesonthemarycrest.com
21 LOS ANGLES CA - details to follow
25 DALLAS TEXAS, The Allgood Cafe
26 AUSTIN TEXAS - details to follow
28 MEMPHIS TN, (to be confirmed)
30 CHICAGO - details to follow

02 ROCHESTER NY, house concert
03 ITHACA NY, The Nines

Thursday 6 September 2012

A Working Fantasy

We have the CDs of the new album. The UPS man delivered them this morning just as we were starting one of our whacky rehearsals, trying to figure out how to play the new tracks live.
I had it all worked out – we were going to film the delivery man coming up the path – ‘No love, cut, cut CUT – could we just take that again and could you just try to look a little more like, you know, like a delivery man…’
It reminds me of the time my dad called to see what I was up to and I told him I’d formed a group called The Len Bright Combo and we were about to release an album called The Len Bright Combo Present The Len Bright Combo By The Len Bright Combo. There was a silence on the other end of the line and then my dad’s disapproving voice – ‘I sometimes think you live in a fantasy.’
I probably do just that for a good half of the time but we’ve managed to turn the fantasy of yet another album into a reality and I’m very happy about that.

And if you happen to be in New York City we'll see you tomorrow night (September 7th) at Bowery Electric. Here's a ticket link: http://www.ticketweb.com/t3/sale/SaleEventDetail?dispatch=loadSelectionData&eventId=4715595
Sorry about the hard sell.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Wordpress Is Crap

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Monday 30 July 2012

One Dover Soul

The Alan Clayson album is finally upon us! I seem to have been recording it for years and I actually finished it in France last spring, just before we moved to America. But it's still taken ages to actually make it into a living breathing and totally inert CD album thing.

We started recording at my house in Norfolk back in 2005. Alan was much enamoured with my Bungalow Hi album and hoped to make his version – as Alan might say (and probably did) my Satanic Majesties to your Sergeant Pepper's... An impossible undertaking, I assured him of that but I think we might just have achieved it.

In the absence of a recording budget, and because it was a labour of love, I chipped away at it in our studio in France between sessions for the first Eric & Amy album, between Rotifer sessions and Two-Way Family Favourites. I interpreted Clayson cassette demos and deciphered chord charts which he sent to me in triple-sealed anti-plagerism envelopes. I slowly constructed backing tracks.for the songs which he then came over and sang, once in an August heatwave and again during a freezing January when we almost willfully ran out of heating oil in honour of his visit.

I say interpret and decipher because a typical Clayson demo might start out as a cassette of him singing and playing his slightly out of tune upright piano, which he transfers to a second cassette player with him playing an orchestral keyboard line, possibly on the keyboard he found in a rubbish skip back in nineteen eighty something. The differing speeds of the cassette players put the end result into questionable key signatures. And there was always the matter of what I came to know as Clayson Time – a weird amalgam, somewhere between four/four or two/four with bars that stretch just ever so slightly and chords that change just before or just after a beat somewhere within the bar...

Alan is a unique individual. Fools might find him easy to laugh at – I've done gigs with him where audiences tittered nervously - I don't know why you're laughing, I haven't said anything funny. Yet... I've sat transfixed in my corner, the sole member of The Alan Clayson Orchestra, clutching my guitar as Alan further bamboozled an already puzzled audience with tales of insane record collectors – and I'm not just talking about obsession as in someone who might name their cats Jerry, Lee and Lewis... show-biz sleaze - you could hear the dandruff falling from her hair... an intergalactic extravaganza with audio visual aids made from Shredded Wheat Packets and readings from The Readers Digest Atlas Of The Universe – I don't know how Eric proposes to extricate himself from this psychedelic maelstrom but I'm going to achieve this by simply switching everything off at the main socket...

Very hard to translate to an album if it weren't for the fantastical world that his songs inhabit. People meet in buffet queues, they go to soirees, young men lurk outside village halls befriending rodent vermin in the half light. A DJ with a catch phrase (I bet that scared yer!) plays death discs until it's time to go home and mow the lawn, and who knows what mad things patrol the moors in a previous century – racing clouds at evetide down and Cressida clad in the season's gown...

Joe Meek and Screaming Lord Sutch, matching guitars, matching stage suits - stained but shiny - grease paint, Russ Conway and Brickwoods Pale Ale - a world of cardboard suitcases and squalid trysts in boarding houses in Margate and Weston Super Mare - a madman controlled by voices on a homebound commuter train – not a modern day train - this one's doubtless a swaying Southern Region job packed with bowler-hatted extras from Tony Hancocks The Rebel - the train is howling like a wounded beast... and he stumps off leaving God knows what devastation in his wake, and then we're by the seaside where pram-pushing housewives brave networks of queues and their brats sometimes scream and see visions, though they bawl and catcall under sepia skies far from the Old Dover Road.

I want everyone to hear this album, to own a copy. Not to make me and Alan rich - that's probably not going to happen though Alan has at times phoned me with the news that he thinks he might have a hit record on his hands. The last one was Ug The Caveman included on this album - just right for Ed Stewpot and Junior Choice.

Everyone should get a glimpse of the world from the Clayson perspective.

You can buy the album from my site: wrecklesseric.com/shop or from Alan's site where you'll find out all manner of interesting stuff about him... http://www.alanclayson.com/

Hope I don't appear to be pushy - I'm doing this for your own good!

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Lol Coxhill

I was sad to hear of the passing of Lol Coxhill. I first became aware of him back in 1969. I was fifteen and he was a member of Kevin Ayers & The Whole World. I heard Clarence In Wonderland on John Peel's Top Gear programme and I was transfixed. I've been a fan of both Kevin Ayers and Lol Coxhill ever since.

Later on Lol Coxhill teamed up with David Bedford as The Coxhill/Bedford Duo. They recorded a 45, Pretty Little Girl, for John Peel's Dandelion label. It was a jolly little ditty – possibly subversive for its apparent lack of any kind of subversion.

I was lucky enough to see them at the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol in either 1972 or 73. I was a student at the art college in Bristol at the time. The concert, billed as An Evening With Lol Coxhill & David Bedford, had a profound effect on me - haunting instrumentals silly songs, free improvisation and outright slapstick comedy. Lol Coxhill's impersonation of Frank Sinatra was extremely accurate and for that all the more bizarre visually.
He also impersonated Kevin Ayers – more wine David? Oh I appear to have spilt it.
He pirouetted in a grey boiler suit, they rubbed party balloons on the piano strings and burst them with evident relish. They were weird, freaky and baroque - disturbingly middle-aged to the eighteen year old me. Lol told us that he didn't know why he was always billed as a busker because he'd only ever done it once. He also mentioned that Pretty Little Girl had only sold nine copies. Apparently there was a warehouse full of them somewhere. I wish I'd been able able to find one.

The Arnolfini crowd was artsy and older. Rich bohemian chic. I don't know what they thought but I left the place irreparably altered. I was already into free jazz but I'd never witnessed such an irreverent presentation.

I don't see him play live again until some time in the nineties when he played in Brighton with The Melody Four. In 1978 he appeared on the second Damned album and that was a mystery to me – produced by Nick Mason of the Pinkfloyd - a guest appearance from Lol Coxhill – it was everything that The Damned were supposedly against at the time. I thought Lol was an inspired choice but Nick Mason was an idiocy – that was probably Dave Robinson's idea.

A friend of mine saw Lol Coxhill play in Rotterdam. He was evidently being treated disrespectfully by the organisers. He came on the stage, unpacked his soprano, announced to the audience that he was contracted to play for forty minutes, set an alarm clock and played until it went off.

I met him once - not in my capacity as a minor celeb – I was just a fan bothering him after the show. He seemed very kind.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

The Clio incident, more dog shit, glamorous hotels...

This is a slightly fragmented report from the UK tour though I suppose eight dates in England and a jaunt to Frankfurt isn't really much of a UK tour. You could argue that the inclusion of Frankfurt makes it a European tour but that sounds pretentious and that would never do. Before I get started (well, cut and paste actually) I should plug our Kickstarter project: Widget embedment is apparently against the rules so here's a link that'll take you to what's in the picture (if that's where you want to go)...
Brighton was good. I was a bit distracted by a mass onslaught of the Moore family. Will Moore does the booking at the Prince Albert. He used to run the Free Butt, Brighton's premier dogshit pub. The Moore family are very proud of Will's being in my piece about dogshit pubs. I didn't mention Will by name because it didn't seem fair to name and shame, and anyway I'm done with being indiscrete – it's got me in too much trouble in the past. But noiw it can be revealed – Will Moore booker at the Albert is the deep-frying ex-manager of the dreadful and magnificent dogshit pub standing four square in a puddle of mud and dereliction on the site of Tamplins Brewery in Brighton.
There were people from Newhaven, there were people from Kent and some who even travelled down from London, and it was quite full. We played well and laughed a lot and the man whose Clio I wrecked before the show didn't show up seeking retribution.
I couldn't help wrecking the Clio – he shouldn't have pulled up on the zebra crossing zig-zags as I was backing out on to the street. He shouldn't have jumped out of his car and run down the street clutching a phone to his face, but it's just as well he did because he wasn't in his car when I backed into it, smashing the wing mirror and stoving in the passenger door. When he came back and I tried to explain myself he was completely unaware of what I'd done.
I thought the best way was to front it out so I started in with 'due to you parking illegally on a zebra crossing as I was reversing into the road I appear to have smashed your door in.'
He didn't want to know.
'What are you saying?' he asked in an irritated voice and carried on speaking into his phone.
'As a result of you parking illegaly...'
'What do you want? Is it money?'
'No, I just wanted to point out that because you're parked illegally...'
'Parking?!!? Where do you want to park? What exactly do you want from me?'
'I don't want a fucking thing from you mate'
I scurried off to the van, drove off and parked up a few streets away. You just can't help some people. Luckily there was no damage to our hire van.
From the upstairs room at the Albert we could see him yacking on his phone, oblivious to the newly inverted contour of the shiny Clio door, the smashed wing mirror strewn all over the road. Eventually he drove off. Mirror – signal – manouvre...I imagine that at some point he noticed the lack of a wing mirror.

I should talk about the London show at Milfords but there really isn't much to say. If you were there you'll know it was a good one. If you weren't I don't know how to explain the miracle of a tired upstairs function room complete with tiled floor, redundant bar and wall lights turning itself into a great venue. Everything was against it and it's a credit to Martin Dowsing of The Hungry Dog Brand that he pulled it together, filled it with people and made it work. We had a great time, and for once I actually liked the opening act, Jack Hayter.

Bristol was fairly horrible – the venue smelled of vomit and disinfectant. A dogshit pub with punk highlights.

And Winchester was a surprise. It always rains in Winchester and we've learned not to expect too much – seventeen advance sales and who would want to come out on a wet Thursday night. But they did. The promoter was very pleased but they still left us to load out in the rain with no help.
'We've done very well, a lot more people than we thought. You've got twenty minutes to pack up and get out.'
Thanks very fucking much.

A night in a Travel Lodge pretending to sleep , my head balanced on a pillow filled with chunky foam off-cuts, and then the seven hour drive to Malton in North Yorkshire. That was a surprise – it was sold out in advance. And then a triumphant return to Hull.

We exchanged the horrible Enterprise Car Hire Doblo for a light blue Volkswagon Golf and somehow managed to get all the gear into it, and then I drove it through the night at a hundred miles an hour across Belgium and through Germany to Frankfurt. That sounds much too heroic – in truth we stopped of in the Belgian town of Hasselt and got a room in an Ibis hotel and in the morning it was full of adenoidal Belgian athletes wearing sandals with socks. We strolled around Hasselt and found a coffee place that did a great espresso. The we carried on to Frankfurt.
The Frankfurt hotel was too hot, the pillows were large but completely flat and the TV didn't work. For the first time in my life I found myself wanting to throw a TV out of a hotel window but I didn't. By five o'clock in the morning I wanted to throw myself out of the hotel window. The only thing stopping me was that I was hungry because we hadn't eaten very well the day before and I didn't want to miss breakfast. The early morning sun was streaming in through thin, cheap hotel curtains. 'At least it's a nice day,' she said. No it isn't' I replied, 'it'll never be a nice day again until we leave this disgusting hotel,' I have never felt so middle-aged.
Things improved and we spent another three nights there. We changed rooms and that seemed to help – I think something sinister must have happened in the first room, a murder or something.

We arrived at the festival site equipped with tubes of acrylic paint, cheap brushes and a lot of cardboard donated by my daughter Luci's mother. I think we were all enjoying the middle England notion that the Krauts might not have cardboard.
It put me in mind of the days when I first lived in France back in the eighties. I'd stand on the deck of the Newhaven / Dieppe ferry watching cars full of everything you need to survive in an unwelcoming holiday destination spewing forth from the bowels of the ship (I suppose I could just have said dis-embarking there but I wanted to be dramatic) – every last overloaded car had containers of salt and pepper on the parcel shelf. They had to put it on the parcel shelf because the back seat was always taken up with rolls of toilet paper. Well you never know do you...

I was worried that we'd signed up to destroy or mutilate a car but we set to with the acrylic paint and cardboard and pretty soon most of the metalic blueness was covered in signs advertising our services – Life Coaching (ten euros for ten minutes), Portraits While U Wait , Bespoke Cassettes... We had one taker for the life coaching – I told the guy to jack in his job and find something less stressful, something at Burger King or McDonalds, perhaps start having an affair. when I suggested that he should take his entire wardrobe to a charity shop and on the way home pop in H&M or the Gap and treat himself to a really nice outfit Amy looked as though she wanted to crawl into a hole and he told me it was the stupidest thing he'd ever heard. But he also said I was a genius – I'd made him feel great about his life as it actually was and if we'd been charging by results he would have paid a lot more than ten euros.

We didn't get any takers for the portraits which was just as well because we were very busy making signs and recording bespoke cassettes. I thought the signs were very clear but we still kept having to explain it. The cassette was free, you just had to choose a song from the list and you paid for that. We did a few commisions too – A Day In The Life was the highlight of the entire festival (even though it was only witnessed by an audience of about twelve people). We did Good Times by Eric Burden & The Animals for someone's dad and that went well but I dread to think what the recorded cassette sounded like.

I enjoyed the painting hugely. I've been wanting to get back to painting (I spent four years in art colleges) but I could never find an excuse. I've decided to keep at it and my current excuse is our Kickstarter project to raise money for our new album. Here's a link so you can have a look at what's on offer and see a preview video of the album:

And here's a painting of a Rotosound string packet.

You can see more on my fabtastic new website http://www.wrecklesseric.com/

Friday 8 June 2012

An Illusion Created By Tables And Chairs

       photo by Amber Dodds

It may just have been an illusion created by tables and chairs but last night's show at The Prince Albert in Brighton appeared to be full of people. We were definitely out of practice as we blundered through a set that seemed to be making up its own mind as it went along but no one noticed and I think we actually left the stage to rapturous applause. I can't actually be sure of that because I develop a weird skill during the eighties of blocking out end of the set applause in case it was jeers and catcalls, or simply non-existent.
Tonight we're playing in London. Before we set off for the gig we're going to write our Kickstarter proposal. We've already made a promotional film - it looks like a K-Tel advert (but more low budget). By the end of the weekend it could well be up and running - a curious idiom - up and running - why not plugged in with the switch in the "on" position and the red light glowing? I sometimes wonder who thinks up these expressions. But anyway... you could be watching our film, pledging support and all that sort of stuff by the end of the weekend. Or at the beginning of next week.
If our Flip Camera Windows Movie Maker film doesn't turn us into successful video directors overnight (and of course we fully expect it will), and if the Kickstarter thing works, we'll be releasing our third album together sometime in August. We're calling it A Working Museum.
Now I've got to pilot a hire van to London without wrecking any more badly parked Renault Clios. But more about that later.

Friday 1 June 2012

Hands Across The Ocean

I'm leaving America for the second time since I started living here last September. It's a bit of a shame because the weather's really good at the moment, hot, sunny and not unbearably humid. England might be having good weather but it's never as warm.

I'm worried that I might have gone native – I found myself completely unselfconsciously referring to trousers as pants the other day, something I never would have thought possible just a few months ago.. It's ridiculous, I was in a green grocers trying to buy tomatoes and almost stooped to some of these guys as a way round the absolutely terrifying termaydoe. Tomato... it's become a word I can hardly get my mouth around in any pronounciation.
You don't consider these details in the gung-ho moment (a moment that lasted about a year for us) of moving continents.

As I was saying - I'm slightly uneasy coming back to England in case I've mutated, into an American without noticing – speaking with a slight transatlantic twang, eating with just a fork and ignoring the knife, demanding service and air-conditioning, tipping everyone that moves, wearing a loud checked jacket which I'll refer to as a coat...
But take heart, I began this piece by talking about the weather – there's nothing more British than that. It's what we do best. Apart from negativity, cynicism and sarcasm. Americans don't talk about the weather the way we do, any more than American men signal fancying a girl by standing on one leg, flapping there arms and talking drivel in a panicky voice (a singularly British male trait).

We arrived at the airport three hours early because it was Memorial Day, the nearest thing in America to August Bank Holiday. The traffic on the New York State Thruway was approaching dreadful – on a par with a typical Sunday afternoon on the M1. For a while we were worried but we'd taken the precaution of leaving early and suddenly we were in New Jersey and New Jersey was deserted because all of New Jersey, apart from those unlucky enough to live in the city of Newark are, according to the car rental return guy, sitting on beaches between Asbury Park and Atlantic City until Tuesday afternoon.
Newark Liberty International Airport is in the middle of a makeover, or a facelift. Bits of the terminal appear to be boxed off with large sheets of white melamine plastered with notices that say Pardon Our Appearance While We Work To Give You A Better Flying Experience. They should have signs that say Pardon The Unbearable Stench Of Rotting Garbage. (Garbage??? I'm sorry but refuse, rubbish or ordure wouldn't make sense in the context. It's as well to be vigilant though.) The landfill stench that pervade parts of northern New Jersey seems to have permeated the hermetically sealed airport environment. It's the smell of chemical deoderisers hastilly applied to stale vomit. A strange smell for an airport.
We had thoughts of gatecrashing the first class lounge. I thought they might feel sorry for us or even be charmed by our shabby guitar cases and so on. I imagined claiming to be with Rod Stewart: Isn't he here yet?!!? That's so typically Rod. Mind if we come in and wait? Followed by unpleasantness and: ...when Rod gets here you'll be looking for a new job young lady. And an undignified exit.
But we didn't. We climbed a marble staircase and peered in at an imperious British Airways stewardess clutching a clipboard-load of elligible names. Our wouldn't have been on it and there was no sign of Rod so we went back down the stairs and bought some overpriced food at a coffee stand between Hudson Stationers and the duty-free perfume outlet which was doing nothing to mask the smell of landfill.

At least the plane was new. Though that was a mixed blessing. New means some designer who has never suffered the indignity of flying steerage class finds a way of ramming a few more rows of seats in. There was a great choice and films and so on but once the guy in front had reclined his seat as far as it would go the screen was so close I had to put on reading glasses to decipher the pixels. And when the dinner came – forget it – the height of the seat in relation to the table coupled with the in-the-face seat back made it almost impossible to eat without my head touching the touch-sensitive screen and changing the channels.
They say travelling broadens the mind but it doesn't - travelling turns people into monsters and socio-paths. People might seem jolly, friendly and likeable even, but give them seven hours stacked up diagonally on a crowded flight and they'll all but trample each other in their desperation to get off the thing. When I die I'd like to come back the person sitting in front of every inconsiderate seat recliner I've ever sat behind.

The Sheffield gig was a fine start to the tour. We were still jet-lagged so it came as no surprise to me to discover half an hour from Sheffield that I'd left my amplifier in a cupboard in Norfolk. The promoter borrowed an amp from the folk guitar player Martin Simpson. Just what a folk guitar player is doing with a Vox AC15 I don't know but it was very kind of him to lend it to me. Apparently he's really good – one of the organisers left me in no doubt of this. Now he really is a great player, with a tacit not like you in brackets. I found it slightly offensive. I'm a good guitar player too.

We're supposed to be launching a Kickstarter thing to raise money to put out our fabulous new album. To do this we have to edit a little introductory film so I suppose I should just post this dwindling jet-lagged ramble and get on with it.

Watch out for the Kickstarter thing.

Monday 14 May 2012

The Dogshit Pub, a rambling discourse

In my last post I alluded to that dreadful place where Harold Shipman came from. Now I feel I should explain. The dreadful place is a town called Hyde. We were booked to play there at a club in the upstairs room of a pub. I started writing this piece soon after the event but never got round to finishing or posting it.

We've done them all - played in clubs, pubs, concert halls, village halls, town halls, record shops, pool halls, sandwich bars, bowling alleys, cinemas, shopping centres, open fields, and even the occasional living room. I'm fine with all of them but I've realised there's category of venue that may well be dying out, one which I'd been aware of but never consciously defined. I now call these venues dogshit pubs.
I called the promoter on the morning of the show. He told me there was a doubt whether or not it would go ahead because the pub had been broken into during the night. Amy's face lit up when I told her - she quite liked the idea of a cancellation because we'd been announced on their website as A Punk Legend. We've pretty well decided to not even entertain the idea of playing in a place that announces punk legends. Another barometer is Eddie & The Hot Rods. We've got nothing against Eddie & The Hot Rods but experience has shown us time and time again that venues that book Eddie & The Hot Rods don't work for us.
And when Eddie & The Hot Rods is combined on a yellow poster with a photo from my first album and A Punk Legend with two exclamation marks it generally means the venue is going to be a dogshit pub.

We'd driven down from Glasgow in the rain. It was still raining when we arrived. Rain suited the place. Hyde has two claims to fame: Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley who killed children in the sixties, and Dr Harold Shipman who euthanised somewhere in the region of two hundred elderly female patients in Hyde in the nineteen eighties. A hairdresser friend, a Mancunian who lives in South West France, opened his first salon there. He cut Harold Shipman's wife's hair and indeed lost a couple of clients to the good/bad doctor. He tried to warn us, he told us - Hyde is a dump.
We didn't get to see much of Hyde so I can't really comment, but the pub was sour and the audience beery, mouthy and seriously depleted. When we arrived a seedy looking man in an anorak came out of a side entrance. He told us, grim-faced, that we'd have to load in through the beer garden.
Beer garden: a couple of those integrated wooden bench and picnic table outings scattered around on dusty astro turf. The astro turf had seen a few years wear, the green worn to gritty greyness and dotted with large piles of rain-soaked dog shit.
The serious crime squad were in occupation, dusting the interior for fingerprints while teams of feral men dragged smashed and broken fruit machines out on to a concrete expanse at the back of the pub.
Carefully avoiding the dog shit - which was difficult because I didn't want to look at it - we loaded the equipment in to the venue via a wet, narrow, metal fire escape into the inevitable upstairs Concert Room. The stage was covered in tatty off-cuts of astro turf. I saw the arse end of a doberman disappear through a door marked Private. Please I thought, please, the doberman isn't allowed on the stage... please!!
There might not be any dog shit on the stage in a dogshit pub, though I have unfortunately come across it in the past, but you can always sense it - it's been there and now it's gone, leaving behind microscopic traces of disease and disgust, lurking in the hairy depths of a mushy carpet or in this case, raggy astro turf.
I wanted to go home, but we were here now and the organisers were nicer than at other classic dog shit pubs, notably the Spider's Web in Grimsby where the support act got paid more than I did and the dressing room was the emergency exit to the car park.

It's hard to exactly define the dogshit pub - the jazz club in Louth, Lincolnshire where we played last November looked for all the world like it was going to be a dogshit pub, but in spite of a framed photo of the Queen on the wall at the back of the stage, and the stench of disinfectant, stale beer and fifty years of cigarette smoke and meat pie dinners it just didn't make it. The fact that it was across the road from Robert Wyatt's house might have helped, and the clientele was all wrong - an audience of Lincolnshire post-hippy hippies and people who've merely ended up in a remote corner of a remote county - they just weren't dogshit pub people. A dogshit pub needs an undertow, a subtle suggestion at the least of a potential for the kind of violence that leads to hospitalisation.
And it helps if the landlord lives on the premises - there's so much more scope for squalor. And the landlord should look like a sea monster, and underneath the barnacled exterior there should beat a heart of either solid gold or solid shit, no half measures. Short measure in the optics quite possibly, but no half measures.
If you're lucky enough to be shown upstairs in a dogshit pub - possibly because as a punk legend (though he's probably never actually heard of you) the landlord feels you deserve a private place to change into your stage garb - in the bathroom, on a shelf above a grubby sink you'll find a bottle of Listerine, a tube of Anusol and a large can of highly scented deodorant which the staff are encouraged to use on their persons to mask the smell of fried food. The floor around the toilet will be littered with old VAT returns and well-thumbed books of what I believe is known as toilet humour.
This is a sweeping generalisation and I'm sure it's causing deep offence to members of the licensed victuallers trade but I don't really care because, believe me, I've suffered for my art and all that tosh.

I have a treasured memory of a pub in Brighton in the mid-nineties. In some ways it was the ultimate dogshit pub (but for a total lack of Punk Legend, Eddie & The Hot Rods, undercurrents of violence, or a sea monster landlord). A tiny building, originally part of Tamplins Brewery - one bar with a legal capacity of forty people, a ladies lavatory, a room with a trough in it where men could piss on their work boots, and upstairs a one bedroomed flat with a view over an adjacent council estate. The brewery had been demolished and all that was left was this solitary pub where old men came to mutter into half pints of mild ale and council estate residents congregated on Saturday afternoons to smoke cigarettes, swill lager and yell at the racing on the ancient TV set held aloft on a bracketed plywood shelf.
A friend of mine ended up running the place for a red-faced Irish builder who was redeveloping the site. The pub had to ostensibly stay open so that it wouldn't lose its license, so my friend endured many a grim evening with the aforementioned mild ale mutterers, and beery Saturday afternoons with the racing crowd.
At this time I believe his life was truly squalid. He lived in the flat over the pub with a chain-smoking girlfriend who was quite plainly mad and not a little vicious. The lack of custom drove him to opening the place in the evening to any band that needed a place to rehearse, and eventually the pub was voted Small Venue Of The Year by the NME or the Melody Maker in nineteen ninety something - I forget exactly when.
My friend's other job - his day job - was manning a cafe for the builders. The cafe was a semi-derelict room, the old brewery wages office, furnished with a deep fat fryer and a large tea urn. He deep-fried everything, apart from the tea. If someone ordered fried bread or fried tomatoes he just dropped them whole into the oil and dealt with the consequences after he'd fished them out, oil-sodden but cooked to perfection. The same with fried eggs - he'd crack them on the side of the fryer and drop them straight into the boiling oil.
The place was very popular with mud encrusted builders taking a break from demolishing things and digging foundations for the thirty-something low rent houses that were going to be erected, or clustered around, a bijou dogshit pub on the site of the old brewery.
One Saturday night I found myself sitting on a dubious three-seater sofa in the upstairs living room of my friend's pub, my mother on one side of me, my daughter Luci on the other, while downstairs the bar filled up with an expectant audience of round about twice the legal limit, all come to see me play. (This was in the days before I moved back to Brighton and became one of the mundane fixtures and fittings.) We were surrounded by discarded takeaway packaging, the coffee table on front of us was cluttered with empty beer and cider bottles, punctuated at intervals by three large pub ashtrays, each one overflowing with an avalanche of ash and cigarette butts. Dating Game contestants silently mouthed on a large greasy-screened TV beyond the coffee table and a blue Pearl Export drum kit skulked in the corner on a litter of broken drum sticks. My mother looked around the room, an incredulous look on her face, and quietly asked no one in particular how can people live like this?

I don't know how, I just know they do. One night fifteen or so years later Amy's daughter Hazel took us to her boyfriend's apartment in Chicago . He shared it with several other hip young guys and whatever slacker didn't happen to have an apartment of their own that month. Four thousand miles away, the other side of an ocean, and there was the same coffee table, beer bottles with blackening half-smoked cigarettes slowly rotting in their rancid dregs, the overflowing ashtrays, the same dubious sofa.
A drunken fratboy friend dropped by. He addressed me as dude and managed to pour half a bottle of some disgustingly sticky alcopops beverage over me whilst attempting to engage me in a ritualistic rock 'n' roll handshake. I was cool about it - actually I quite enjoyed his embarrassment, his grovelling apologies. But I had to tell him that nobody, and I mean nobody, calls me dude. Hazel said, 'What can you expect - he had a neck tattoo.'

This thing seems to be taking an anthropological turn. Haven't had one of those since I played in Oldham back in 2005. I think I'll go with it:

Imagine how Thor Heyerdahl would have felt if all he'd found at the end of the Kon-Tiki Expedition, having crossed an ocean on a ramshackle raft, was a coffee table covered in beer bottles and cigarette ash. And a guy with a neck tattoo had spilled a drink over him. Not that I'm saying I'm disappointed, just pointing out that things don't change much. Civilisations move slowly, though I think ours accelerated into a nose dive in the early eighties.
The nineteen eighties: the heyday of dogshit pubs - the days of drunken driving and smoking indoors. People liked to improve things and to that end they would fit pine-effect melamine around varnished Victorian woodwork and make it look neat with a tube of Kitchen & Bathroom Silicone and their thumb. Public bars and saloon bars were knocked into one and filled with sub-tropical pot plants and sofas. Deludedly envisaged as places where people with jobs could come and relax after a day at the office.
The sofas suffered the stains and cigarette burns of clumsy and incontinent beer drinkers. The sub-tropical pot plants wilted and died, suffocated by secondary smoke. Big men indulged in fist fights in the beer garden. Freelance pea-treaders were employed to come in on Saturdays and painstakingly grind processed peas into the carpets. Everything had to be perfect for mal-guided pre-internet travellers who might stumble across and into the place under the mistaken impression that the Carvery Fayre was going to be home-cooked and nutritious, if not delicious.
Things went rapidly downhill - they always did. From Grand Opening to Disturbance At The Showboat Public House - it only took a couple of months. We weren't as good at sophistication as we thought we were. Soon shitting alsations patrolled the staircase and the front door was manned by burly men armed with walkie-talkies.
Karaoke Nite
Happy Hour
Giant Screen TV
All Major Sporting Events duly celebrated...
A slow, inevitable decline: meat raffles, quiz nights, drinks promotions, a half-hearted attempt at a tribute band venue - if you closed your eyes you would've sworn it was John and Paul sitting in the corner strumming through a few numbers on their acoustic guitars...
Plywood nailed over the doors and windows.
Weeds growing through the tarmac in the car park.
The End.

I really don't know where that leaves us but I hope I've amused rather than depressed.

Thursday 10 May 2012

Greetings From The Empire State

I've been wondering how to go about doing this sort of thing again. I've got so much and so little to say all at the same time, and I sometimes think I prefer reading Amy's blog than writing anything myself. It sort of lets me off the hook. But it nags at me - I still want to do it - even though I preferred the days before everyone had a blog, when there was something wonderfully ridiculous about a minor pop star writing about a trip to the supermarket or a dust up with a council official.

But I enjoyed the writing and I miss it so here's a snippet of my new (or perhaps not so new by now) life in wonderful upstate New York...

It's probably going to take another year or so to get this house sorted out but at least we're not living in a caravan. Which is just as well considering a mild winters day barely gets above freezing round here. Or that's what they say. We've been lucky, we've had the mildest winter anyone can remember. It still cost us an oil field's worth of fuel to heat the place - I think most of the heat went up through the uninsulated roof while the furnace kept the hot water tank at boiling point twenty four hours a day. Seriously - you could have made a British cup of tea with water from the hot tap.

But the winter was quite jolly - there were sunny days with deep blue skies - even when the temperature was somewhere terrifyingly below zero (at least for a soft English southerner like myself). The Catskill Mountains loomed over the shopping centre and threatened to get cover in snow, but they never really did..

One Sunday morning sometime back in October we walked out of the house to buy a newspaper and by the time we got back, about twenty minutes later, we'd seen a snake, a freight train and a mountain. And all before breakfast. We hear freight trains in the night - very romantic. We met a woman whose husband drives the train. He's called Doug. I didn't catch her name. She says he leaves home trying to look as though it's just a job and he'd rather be fishing, but there's a certain swagger that tells her he's thrilled to be driving the train. So when we hear the banshee wail of a distant train whistle in the middle of the night I think there goes Doug...

Of course it could as well be his mate Gary or Frank, which brings me to another point: the men round here are all called Gary, unless they're called Frank. Occasionally you come across a Jim and once a Chuck, but mostly it's Frank or Gary. I've yet to meet a Hank. In a bygone era I imagine this place was cluttered with Hanks but no more.
I feel as though I'm in a film half the time and the supermarket checkout ladies are all besotted because of my accent - they try to keep me talking. Buying paint in the Home Depot I felt like James Bond. The woman that mixes the custom colours nearly came adrift. If Amy hadn't been there I don't know what might have become of me. The woman actually told Amy something to that effect herself.
Other times they think I'm bonkers and scurry away dragging quizzical-eyed children. They think I'm putting it on, an ex-mental patient from Idaho trying out a new identity. Sometimes I turn into Terrence Stamp in The Limey, and that really confuses them.

The neighbours are very friendly thank God. Friendly but not overbearing - they keep a respectful distance. Soon after we moved in the lady over the back popped round with an apple cinnamon cake all wrapped in foil. She took a quick glance around - that is, I assume she did, because that's what I would have done in her place - and told us to put our feet up, have a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. There wasn't much for her to look at because the container hadn't arrived yet, and we couldn't invite her to stay because we only had two chairs.
A couple of days later we were strolling round the local supermarket - the Price Chopper on Price Chopper Plaza (only in America...) - we saw a display of apple cinnamon cakes that looked exactly like the one the neighbour gave us, except these ones were packed in transparent plastic containers. Of course we bought one, took it home and did a bit of comparing and contrasting. Quite possibly exactly the same.
But it's the thought that counts. I should mention the cake was delicious, and we were touched by such a kind gesture, and I'm sort of hoping it was a repackaged supermarket cake because it makes for a better story, me being English and cynical and so on.

Then we heard about Neighbour Dan... Neighbour Dan and Cake Neighbour live next door to each other. They don't get on. Our next door neighbour's son told us there was a boundary dispute, which I suppose accounts for the odd line the fence takes dividing the two properties. No one, it seemed, likes Neighbour Dan, but we resolved to keep an open mind and say hello one day when he's out and about and the other neighbours aren't. Even though the next door neighbour's son let it drop that Neighbour Dan had our patio bricks away just before we moved in. I was wondering why there was a square of mud in the middle of the back garden or yard as they call it over here. I thought it might be something to do with Druids or some sort of crop circle related phenomenon, but dismissed the idea - America's too young a country for that sort of malarkey.
Time crept along we never had met Neighbour Dan, we didn't even know his name, until one well-scrubbed November morning a dubious character crossed our front lawn and there was a knocking at the door... Denim shrt, white t-shirt, Walmart work jeans, a pair of Timberlands, cigarette shielded against the elements in a cupped palm, ever shifting eyes, a sparse black widows peak.
He'd come round to introduce himself.
To extend the hand of friendship.
To offer to lend me tools.
He'd come to explain himself...
It seems that the previous owners appointed Neighbour Dan caretaker of the property in their absence. From what we've picked up from the other neighbours, including the local chief of police who lives just over the road, the previous occupants loaded a van in the middle of the night and fucked off to South Carolina leaving a house full of junk (two dumpsters worth apparently) and a lot of outstanding bills, including the mortgage, which is why we were able to buy it from a bank at a knockdown price.
As payment for his services, mowing the lawn, shovelling snow, that sort of thing, the previous owners paid Neighbour Dan in patio bricks and an above-ground swimming pool which we were welcome to have back though it would break lil' Danny's heart - you should have seen him the day we brought it over, his lil' eyes were shining...
I declined the offer of the return of the swimming pool - it crossed my mind that the only reason he'd be giving it back would be because it had a hole in it. And I'm glad I did because the other day our nice next door neighbours told me day that when that pool was in our yard the water in it was green and swimming with frog spawn but it didn't stop the former occupants kids from jumping into it.
Of course they might have just been trying to get clean after spending too long in the house.
Anyway, I told him I was surprised to hear that the banks were employing caretakers to look after their foreclosures but he didn't react, just backed down the path a couple of respectful paces and took a puff on the ill-concealed cigarette. He blew out smoked, looked around, and said in a confidential tone, 'I don't know what the neighbours might have been telling you about me, but none of it's true.'
'Oh,' I said, 'they've had nothing but good to say about you.'
We haven't spoken since.

We've been recording. The first thing we did was install the studio. I built walls, real ones with double thicknesses of plasterboard - or sheet rock as they call it over here. could be a genre that:
'How would you describe your music?' (A stupid but popular question - you don't describe it, you play it and people listen)
'Well, it's what we call sheet rock...'
In the old French house Amy's work room was directly above the studio. She was almost vibrated off her chair on a daily basis by errant bass frequencies. If a band came to record she quite often had to leave the house and spend a day in the library. Actually that's not true - you couldn't spend a day in the library where we lived, just three hours in the morning and a couple more hours in the afternoon, depending on the day of the week, after a two hour lunch break in a cafe being ogled by dining farmers.
We haven't had any bands in yet but we have had Chris Butler playing drums on several tracks on our new album. Chris is a fierce drummer - I found myself wearing headphones more as ear protectors than for monitoring purposes. Chris had a band called The Waitresses who had a hit with I Know What Boys Like. He was on Stiff Records courtesy of the Akron compilation. He played the bass on one of my favourite Stiff Records - Yankee Wheels by Jayne Aire & The Belvederes. He's my hero! He's also the greatest drummer I've ever recorded.
(OK Chris, if you could make the cheque out to cash...)
The new Eric & Amy album is going to be eleven or so original tunes - I think we've cleverly circumnavigated the tricky third album syndrome by doing a covers album second. Usually by the third album all the good ideas are used up and there's been no time to conjour up some new ones. But we've had all the time in the world between fixing up houses, packing containers, applying for Green Cards, putting up ceilings, braving floods, hurricanes, gigs in places like Louth and that dreadful place where Harold Shipman came from... so we've written a concept album about sheet rock. It's called Sheet Rock...

Actually some of that's a lie.

I must be off now, I've got some bass frequencies to round up. It's good to be back.