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: or from Alan's site where you'll find out all manner of interesting stuff about him...

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