Tuesday 22 September 2015

Autumn Stoned

I’m coming round to the idea of Autumn. I was conditioned to not like it at an early age because Autumn meant back to school and I didn’t like school. New boys standing in a bemused and confused huddle, stared at by older boys who slouched against the railings deciding which one to beat up first. The smell of the brewery in the air which I thought was the smell of autumn leaves. Even now, thousand of miles away, when autumn turns the crowds of trees around here into something akin to a badly knitted fairisle sweater I think of the old Kemptown Brewery in Brighton.

Then autumn meant leaving home, going to art college, and that meant lots of sex and swinging times, and smoking marijuana with interesting people. Except that the reality involved a diet of tinned food and learning to use the laundrette, and being too shy with girls and drinking too much instead, and staggering home alone to a damp flat where the other inmates lay around on rotting couches, too stoned to apply Hartleys Strawberry Jam to another slice of Mother’s Pride white bread, and falling asleep fully clothed on a dodgy bed supported on paint cans from the time when we thought the disgusting hovel we lived in was going to be some sort of groovy seventies pad. 

The first months of college were a disappointment. The winter that followed was a living hell. When the spring came things got better. I put my trust in spring and summer.

I made my first record in autumn, waited for some sort of big bang, but nothing happened. I got through the winter on a succession of menial jobs - table clearing in a cafeteria, moving large items around in the basements of several department stores, clearing out the old Tannoy factory in West Norwood, cleaning toilets at Tarmac Roadstone in Greenwich (a low point) - subsisting with my girlfriend in the tiniest room of the huge Edwardian ground floor flat we managed to stumble across back at the end of the summer when we could hardly believe our luck. Now it was the only room we could afford to heat.

Spring came around and my track came out on a compilation album and everybody loved it and John Peel played it on his radio show. I left my job as a table clearer in the cafeteria at Swan & Edgars department store in Piccadily and became a freelance home hadyman with postcards in every shop window in Wandsworth - clipping hedges, mending garden gates, repainting woodwork… life was quietly idyllic.

I became friends with Ian Dury. His band Kilburn & The High Roads had come to an end and he was making demos, planning a solo career, wondering what was going to happend next. We formed a band to play my songs - Ian on a fire damaged Olympic drum kit, his girlfriend Denise Roudette on the bass. A True Romance rhythm section but only when they weren’t fighting. We played in the afternoons at my place and when we’d got good enough we recorded a B side for my track, the one everyone liked from the compilation LP. It came out as a forty five at the end of the summer and by the autumn it was a hit.

We went on tour and by Christmas we’d all fallen out with much fear and loathing. My burgeoning drink problem (which should have been noticeable to anyone who met me since the age of fifteen) was out of hand.

From then on autumn was all about new albums and touring - high hopes for a bright and glossy future. By winter I usually felt that I’d disappointed everyone, that I’d fallen short of the mark. Sometimes I just plain fucked it up and everyone, me included, felt let down. Bitterness and ill-feeling would follow and the winter was often fraught with misery.

In 1985 I stopped drinking and left the pressure of music industry record deals behind. I’d learned not to expect too much. Autumn was a time of rollneck sweaters, scarves, and interesting hat and jacket choices. We’d formed The Len Bright Combo. For once the winter wasn’t a disappointment.

I still preferred the spring, and summer was always best, especially in my period of being a bit of a slacker in France in the late eighties and early nineties. Winters were somewhat taxing due to a lack of heating, insulation or running hot water in my converted dancehall holiday shack, but I got by - installed a couple of woodburners, one I found in the street and another, a thirties one that would be worth a fortune now and which I bought for next to nothing at a scrapyard. I took up residence at the beginning of a hot summer in 1991. Never thought about heating or winter or any of that. I was happily scraping by in a bohemian paradise. 

The summer rolled by and the nights drew in and got chilly, I became aware of the aroma of wood smoke. Exciting fashion possibilities offered themselves, necessitated by the need to wear more clothes. One morning in mid-October I sat huddled in a woolly dressing gown (bought in a charity shop in Bakewell, Yorkshire) at a formica topped kitchen table liberated from a derelict French farmhouse and it crossed my mind that I really ought to address my situation. I went on tour in Germany instead and didn’t come home until the day before New Year’s Eve.

And so it goes on, autumn after autumn. Here in upstate New York the leaves are changing colour. It's quite the tourist destination - people come here from miles around to marvel at tree covered hillsides that look like chaotic, russet-toned fairisle sweaters. We're going to Walmart to buy a leaf blower. I’ve got a huge list of tour dates. By December I’ll be scraping ice off windshields, fighting off a cold, feeling vaguely tearful in some British motorway services…but for now I’m feeling quietly optimistic. I’m signed to a proper record label, Fire Records, and for the first time since the very early days of Stiff I actually like the people I’m dealing with. I’ve got a new album coming out on November 13th. I’m going to try not to fuck this up. I don’t think I will.

pre-order the new album "amERICa" from Fire Records

1 comment:

  1. Having Kickstarted your last one (or was it the one before?) it'd be churlish not to dip my toe in this one too. It's worth it just for the artwork alone. Hoping to see you at The Poppy and Pint.