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

Wednesday 2 September 2015

At The Dentist

‘Musician… says here you’re a musician. What style? Rock? Country? Open wide, wider… that’s it’
‘Music isn’t at all like it was back when we were young, not as good… some of these are very loose, a lot of motion. Yep, you’re going to lose most of these my friend.’
‘The Beatles - do you like The Beatles?’
‘Turn towards me…open…wide…wider, that’s it. My son doesn’t like The Beatles. He likes music that’s unlistenable. He's got tickets to see some guy yelling his head off at Madison Square Garden, no music, just this guy yelling his head off, and drums. Rap - you know what that is? Crap, that’s what that is. That’s not music. Oh yeah, these are completely shot, they’re all gonna have to come out.’
‘No guitars. There are some great guitar players in rock. Eric Clapton - he’s a great guitarist, no one like him. Unique.’
‘I love music...real music. My son, he tries to explain music to me but I don’t know. I don’t understand it, I can’t tell the difference between melody and rhythm, but I know what I like.’
‘The Police - I bet you like The Police! She doesn’t know who we’re talking about here, too young. ‘
‘Sure I know them, they sing a song I like.’
‘Which one?’
‘I can’t remember, but I know I like it. It’s one that The Police sing.’
‘Turn to face her…that’s right. Keep it open… wider…more suction. I went on a six hour road trip with my son and to pass the time we had a Diana Ross / Beyonce face off, listened to everything that Miss Ross has ever recorded. I think my son is finally beginning to understand why Beyonce isn’t fit to shine the shoes of Diana Ross.’
‘Hmm…that’s the best I can do for the moment. You can rinse and spit over there in the sink if you want.’

tour dates:

14 FLORENCE ALABAMA 116 East Mobile
16 BIRMINGHAM ALABAMA Southside Lounge
17 HUNTSVILLE ALABAMA Vertical Records
18 TENNESSEE private function
03 CALGARY, The Palomino Smokehouse TICKETS
17 JERSEY CITY Monty Hall / live WFMU broadcast TICKETS
06 NOTTINGHAM The Poppy & Pint TICKETS15 BERLIN Monarch
17 HAMBURG Hasenchaukel
19 HAARLEM Patronaat
21 FREIBURG The Swamp
28 BURY (Lancs) The Met TICKETS29 CHORLETON The Dulcimer
30 CAMBRIDGE The Junction www.junction.co.uk/wreckless-eric
01 COLCHESTER Arts Centre info/tickets
03 LONDON St John’s Church, Hackney TICKETS
04 SOUTHAMPTON Cafe Reflections cafereflections.co.uk
05 PENZANCE The Ritz Bingo Hall TICKETS
06 WORCESTER Marr’s Bar marrsbar.co.uk
10 GLASGOW CCA www.fallenangelsclub.com
11 EDINBURGH Citrus Club
17 LEICESTER The Musician

Wednesday 5 August 2015

Rolling into Clarksdale

I was standing outside CS’s in Jackson, Mississippi in what looked like a bad neighbourhood. The place was closed. Projects to one side and to the other a big old burned out house that might have been a bar, restaurant or hotel in some far distant and grander time.
An old black man shuffled down the street carrying a rusty ironing board and a bucket with belongings in it. The sun was merciless and we were the only people out in it so we said hello. He put down the bucket and the ironing board in the shade of a flowering Magnolia tree and asked me if I was headed for Galveston.
‘No’ I said, ‘I’m just trying to find out when this place opens.’
‘What is it? Is it a restaurant?’
‘Yes, I think it is. A restaurant of sorts.’
‘Now…you’re not from round here are yer?’
‘No I’m not - I’m from England’
‘Shut the fuck up! I bin to England. I was in the US Air Force.’
He shook my hand and didn’t release his grip for a very long time as he delivered a rambling and inconclusive travelogue which dwindled out and left me none the wiser.
Then a disposable lighter appeared, held in his mouth while he fumbled with a dubious tin that opened to reveal a collection of cigarette ends.
‘You going someplace? I really need a ride.’
‘I’m not really going anywhere, and anyway there isn’t any room in my car.’
‘That’s OK, I could sit on the trunk…’
I liked him but I could imagine him developing into quite a problem, and truthfully I wasn’t going anywhere, or at least at that point I didn’t know where I was going.
So I bid him good day and slunk off, returning by a circuitous route to the car which was parked on the other side of the building. I drove away as quietly as possible. I felt bad that I hadn’t given him some money, but I would have felt that I was patronising him if I didn’t hang around for the request which was bound to come - and anyway I’d just spent a fortune on car repairs and lost a gig in the process so I wasn't feeling flush.
Perhaps I should have got in there first, asked him for a donation.
I parked in a side street in the shade of another flowering Magnolia and consulted Hotwire for a hotel. It was a bad neighbourhood, not even transitional. It was scary but the doors were locked and the Buick, being dark blue, looks sinister enough that no one was going to bother me. Passers by gave me nervous glances. They might have thought I was a private investigator.

The day before I was hanging around in St Louis, waiting for the car to be repaired when I should have been in Huntsville, Alabama. These things come on so slowly, creep up in barely perceptible increments. There was a slight flapping sound, the odd creaking noise coming from somewhere in the vicinity of the front passenger side wheel. It came and went. It was probably just my imagination. It came back again and the car started to shake at sixty miles an hour. But it was nothing. Was it? Please…?
I made it to Pittsburgh through torrential rain, saw two brothers-in-law, a sister-in-law and a niece, and the next day I clattered on to Columbus, Ohio. There was definitely a noise but it faded at sixty five or seventy miles an hour and sometimes it went away all together.
It was probably just the road surface.
The venue was one of those arty places - post shabby chic if such a thing exists. If it had been in the United Kingdom it would probably have been affiliated to one of the major breweries. I don’t know how that works over here. The management got very excited about having me play - they googled me and found out that I’m hugely famous so they started following me on Instagram. They weren’t the promoters or anything, that was Ken Eppstein of Nix Comics, but it didn’t stop them from putting an advert in the local paper. Ken didn’t want me to see it but his wife showed it to me and we had a good laugh about it. They’d super-imposed a photo of me on their standard advert, an array of fancy cocktails and Hollywood searchlights: he’s travelled The Whole Wide World and now he’s here at Strongwater!
They were expecting in excess of at least a hundred people. The staff were busy moving the furniture out of the cavernous warehouse of a room where I was going to play. I made them put some of it back. The acoustics were taxing to put it kindly. Polished concrete floor, brick walls, high ceilings. A fabulous echo with no off switch.
Later on the people crowded round, formed a human mattress and it sounded pretty good. It was an event, a good start.

The creaking and flapping noise had slackened off in the morning - the car just needed a good rest. I searched for coffee and found a bike shop that was also a coffee place. Just like Moto back home in Hudson - they serve coffee, they sell bikes, and their espresso is the best. Now it seems they have a Mid-Western twin.
Except that when I got there they sold bicycles and they had no espresso machine. I had a French press made with great care. I would have preferred an espresso but it was OK.

The drive to St Louis was long and when I got there, to the Schafly Brewery where I was going to play, the front wheel noise was horribly apparent - I could no longer dismiss it as just one of those things. I had visions of violent and bloody death on the road to Huntsville. Something had to be done about it.
The Schafly Brewery is modern and purpose built, a brewery, bar and restaurant. Bands play there, anything from rockabilly to blues rock, the whole spectrum of bar band dross, doubtlessly littered with smug and forlorn singer songwriters who trot out James Taylor covers and slip in one or two of their own when they think no one’s listening. Which they aren’t. 
It was a tough gig but at least it was a gig. People came to hear me play, and after I’d fucked off the happy hour crowd with dischords, feedback, insults and dissonance it was a good show, even though I hadn’t yet quite hit my stride.
I stayed with our friend Rick Wood who puts on stellar house concerts. In the morning he helped me find a garage that had a reasonable reputation for honesty and efficiency and so on, and I had the car fixed for more than what I actually paid for the car in the first place. The entire steering system was shot. I knew it wasn’t great because even this time last year it was losing steering fluid.
By the time the car was fixed it was too late to get to Huntsville in time to play. I’d already called and explained the situation. I called again, told them I could be there by ten but they said it wasn’t going to work because I was supposed to play at eight and they had another show booked for later. So we cancelled and I set off for Jackson feeling thoroughly dejected. I really enjoyed playing in Huntsville last year - I was looking forward to it being a highlight of this trip. Hopefully we’ll be able to reschedule it for sometime soon.
I booked into a hotel on the outskirts of Memphis in the middle of the night, slept through the morning and arrived in Jackson way too early.

I checked into my hotel on the outskirts of town, sat on a chair and stared at the wall for a while, got up and drove back to the venue. By this time the promoter and the owner had both arrived. They moved some furniture out of the way and I got set up between a pinball machine and an antique giant screen TV. The whole inside of the place seemed to be covered with stickers, and disturbingly quite a few of them were Republican stickers from the last three US general elections. The owner was white, both the cook and the waitress who seemed to be running things were both black and in their sixties. I was told later that this place was where the Republican candidates hang out when they come down to campaign in Jackson.

People arrived and everybody wanted to talk to me. They wanted to show me round, take me to see the graves of obscure bluesmen - they photographed themselves standing next to me, asked me how Dave Edmunds was doing and did I ever see Elvis Costello? I expected the mayor to walk in any minute and present me with the keys to the city. 
The opening act played. He was tall and confident, not short and full of self-doubt like me. Competant too, maybe a little too pleased with himself. I was complimentary and I meant it. 
By the time I’d finished my set most of the gladhanders had left. I didn’t go down very well. they didn’t get it and I didn’t really pull it together. Maybe my new song White Bread pissed them off. I did a version of Broken Doll for a guy I know who was sitting in the front row. It’s his favourite song of mine. I never play that song but I played it for him and it came out well, it surprised me and on its own I think it was worth the price of admission.
The opening act had to stay because he supplied the PA. Afterwards he packed up and left as quickly as he could. I said goodbye. He couldn’t make eye contact. I found the whole experience quite depressing. It wasn’t the right venue and the audience were expecting something different to what they got. It happens.

To get to Baton Rouge I realised I’d be passing McComb, Mississippi, where the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane came down. I felt I had to stop there and somehow pay my respects. I love Ronnie Van Zandt’s voice and the story of that plane crash haunts me. I did some internet research and found the co-ordinates of where the crash actually was. I wrestled with the idea  - was it ghoulish? In the end I didn’t know why but I needed to go there.
It was scary - I drove off the highway and down a road through a holler - trailers that had somehow mutated into houses, still really just trailers with bits built on, damaged by hurricanes and never quite repaired but still inhabited. I turned off a road and then another road, I pretty well drove in a circle around the crash site which seemed to be deep in a forest of pine trees. I got out of the car and looked around but there was no way I was going into that forest. It was one of the creepiest places I’ve ever been. I listened to most of the first album there and felt sad but almost overcome by some kind of gloriousness.

I drove on to Baton Rouge and realised that in my haste to leave Jackson I’d forgotten to stop for breakfast - I’d had nothing to eat all day and now it was too late, there was no time - I had to get to Lagniappe Records and do the show.
I had a good feeling about this one from the outset and I wasn’t wrong.
Lagniappe Records is Tess and Patrick, and a strange bird that flies around the shop and sits on your shoulder when you’re not expecting it. They were a delight. Tess opened the show, Gibson SG and vocal, and then Toby Hartleroad from Columbus Mississippi. Toby normally plays with his brother Max on drums and their cousin Miles on bass and keyboards. Tonight he was solo - Roland Juno going through heaven knows what and an amplifier, the same with Bentley Rhythm Ace drum machine, and a vocal mic going through a delay pedal and heaven knows what too. It was loud, ungodly and magnificent. Imagine if Devo had been younger and cooler, with real attitude instead of just a pose, and had came from the deep south instead of the rust belt. And yes, they look like the Hanson brothers from Slapshot, even though they'd never heard of it!

The Hartleroad brothers
My set was slightly haphazard due to not having a chance to eat. I couldn’t eat beforehand because I didn’t want to miss the other acts. It was fine though, and I felt much more confident than at the last three shows. It was great to finally get in front of an audience who were all into it.
I had a day off the next day - I should have taken up an offer to play in New Orleans but I didn’t realise it was so close - only an hour or so down the road. Next time… 
Instead I spent a relaxing day off in Baton Rouge hanging out with Tess and Patrick who were having their last day off before moving themselves and the record shop to Lafayette. I think they’re probably open for business by now so if you’re in Lafayette….
They took me for a drive past Huey Piano Smith’s house. Apparently he’s a Jehovah’s Witness these days, a recluse who never leaves the house except presumably for weekly trips to the Kingdom Hall. Seems like a waste to me but then it’s his life.
We had a good time, hanging out in parking lots talking deep into the night. I hope I get to see them again soon. I’m a big fan of the southern United States, there are some very smart people down there, it’s not all like a lot of people (including me at one time) assume it might be.

The next day I set off for Dallas. They say Texas is it’s own country so I’ll perhaps tell you all about that another time and skip forward a week.

I couldn’t drive across Mississippi without stopping at the Clarksdale crossroads where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil - well, that is I could because I’m not much of a tourist on these trips, but Tess and Patrick told me about a guitar shop in Clarksdale that has every guitar you’d ever expect to find in the birthplace of the blues, and all at very reasonable prices.
A sweltering Tuesday afternoon in July wasn’t perhaps the best time to pitch up there. The shop wasn’t open. I climbed out of the car into the heat that wrapped itself around me like a moist and over affectionate animal and studied the door with it’s big CLOSED sign. 
A perspiring black man wearing a grubby airtex shirt and shorts that were either nylon satin finish or soaked in sweat scooted  up to me.
‘Weer you come fro’ man’ he asked
‘I’m from England’
‘Now, you might heard tell of me,’ and he gave me a bluesman sounding name of enough complication that I immediately forgot it. I admitted that I hadn’t heard tell of him but he was undeterred.
‘If you have got the tarm then I gotta song I gonna sing for you - have you ever heard a song called Amazing Grace?’
‘Yes’ I said, ‘It’s a Scottish folk song’
That threw him for a second but he rallied:
‘If you got the tarm to listen to ma song then I gonna sing it for you now’
‘Alright, go on then’
He threw back his head and sang with the maximum of soul, arthritic fingers clawing at nothing like a hanging man in his death throes. A little flat but fairly passable. Sweat poured from his face and neck. He finished on ‘…I once was blind bu-ut nowwww.’ A split second went by during which time we both realised he’d landed the thing a bit early and then he added I seeeeee to finish it off as best he could. 
He asked for a donation. I gave him some dollars. He thanked me insisting that he didn’t drink or take drugs and scooted off in search of his next victim.

I wandered up the street in the other direction and found a bar called The Stone Pony that served food. They obviously don’t get much custom in there on a Tuesday afternoon - I was the only customer and it seemed to me that the entire staff were taking turns to come out and take a look at me and ask if everything was all right. It wasn’t all right, it was fairly disgusting - some sort of pasta dish with a lot of cream - but I wasn’t going to tell them, they were all so earnest, and besides, I’m English, so I smiled and said it was lovely and rearranged it on the plate to make it look like I’d eaten some of it. In retrospect I think they were checking me out to see if I was some famous visiting father of the British Blues. Apparently those people come to Clarksdale all the time.

I swung back by the music shop but it was still closed so I got in the car and took a drive around. It was way too hot to walk anywhere. I drove into Yazoo Street, found myself on John Lee Hooker Lane, saw a cafe and parked next to it in the shade of a tree.
The cafe was painted in light, jolly colours - pistachio green, lemon yellow, cornflower blue… A middle-aged white guy wearing share cropper dungarees and a mauve angora beret was picking the blues on a sickly green Telecaster. He sat on a stool on a little raised plynth. A sign above his head said World’s Smallest Stage. He paused in his picking to welcome me in. I did a double take - ‘Are you English?’ I asked.
‘No mate, Australian.’
A middle-aged lady appeared and asked what I’d like. I ordered coffee and she asked for payment up front. The Australian carried on picking, accompanied now by a gangling black kid who clattered out a rhythm on anything and everything behind the counter with a pair of carpenter’s pencils.
Another pause: ‘What brings you to Clarksdale?’
I told him I was passing through and hoping to visit the music shop but that it was closed. I asked him if he was the owner of the cafe.
‘Yeah - I run this place but occasionally, about this time of day, I take a break and play some music - remind myself why I came to live here in the first place.’
The experience was beginning to feel somewhat secondhand, a sanitised, white version of the blues, competantly executed but lacking in any devil-may-care audacity. The Telecaster was new, and played through a Roland busker’s amplifier that you might buy at the Guitar Center. I thought about my green Microfrets guitar sitting there in the trunk of the car. I was almost tempted to bring it out and ask to join in, just to be able to say I’d sat in in the birthplace of the blues. but good sense and modesty prevailed. They would have freaked if they’d seen my battle-scarred guitar - it’s the real deal.
I asked where the famous Crossroads were, drove back down to John Lee Hooker Lane, parked the car, took a few photos, checked the music shop for signs of life (there weren’t any) and wound up outside the Ground Zero Blues Club.

A grubby looking white guy speed-waddled across the road towards me.
‘Hey man - you want me to take a photo of you in front of the club?’
It occured to me that he might just waddle off with my phone, and anyway I don’t need to be in a photo to know that I was there so I gently declined the offer.
We got talking and pretty soon I knew that his name was Steve and he played the harmonica and sang, and had a band called The Clarksdale Blues Revue who were playing at the Ground Zero juke joint tomorrow night if I was sticking around…
We talked about guitar players - Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley… about Duane Allman, his work at Muscle Shoals, particularly on Wilson Picket’s records
The Clarksdale Blues Revue were losing their guitar player, looking for a replacement - perhaps I might like to try out… I didn’t think so, I don’t imagine The Clarksdale Blues Revue would sound good with a Hound Dog Taylor knock off on the guitar. That is - they might, but they probably wouldn’t agree with me.
I’d love to, but I’m leaving town.
I stopped in a store that sold reissues of every blues record ever made plus the odd John Mayall album. I bought an album of Robert Johnson (everything he ever recorded on one CD) and Mississippi Fred McDowell’s album I Do Not Play No Rock ’n’ Roll (which I used to have until it was misappropriated in a 33s & 45s moment).
Avoiding the perspiring scooter, who had made another appearance, and a couple of other panhandlers who were emerging from the periphery, I got back in the car, turned the AC up full and drove off in the direction of the Crossroads where Highway 49 crosses Highway 61. I thought about selling my soul to the Devil but when I got there it was just a busy intersection - a roundabout with a couple of tacky blue electric guitar cut outs on a pole sticking out of a neatly trimmed box hedge, and a sign that said The Crossroads. The Devil was long gone, and in his place there was a Chicken Filet.
I took a few photos, declined an offer from two black men in a freezer truck to buy some steaks, and drove off for that night’s show at Proud Larry’s in Oxford.

Monday 29 June 2015

Bubblegum With Dementia

‘And why would someone know to book you to play in Toronto?’
‘Because I’m famous - I wrote the tune they use in the McDonalds commercial’
‘Really’ (flat voice)
‘What sort of music do you play?’
I could hardly say Rock Music, just me sitting there alone, posing as an old buffer in a Buick Le Sabre, so I said the first thing that came into my head:
‘It’s Bubblegum…with dementia’
She handed back the paperwork, and threw my Green Card at me as an afterthought
‘Enjoy your stay in Canada’

I wasn’t sure that I was going to. I’ve been pretty nervous about this show, the NXNE Festival in Toronto. everyone else on the bill seems so young, vibrant, fresh, up and coming, exciting and positively now. And then there’s me - feeling in comparison like a sixty one year old has been - yes, I’m sixty one, so I must be a has been, if I ever even was.

I haven’t played for a while, not one of my own solo shows, not since last December. I’ve been busy recording a new album, and recording Amy for her new album - separate albums, two careers, two income streams… It might possibly even work. Amy and I have played together for a long time now, I’m used to it, it’s comfortable, it’s easy, I love it, but it’s time to move along - we’ve both got things we need to do. Sometimes I almost feel that the next stage is just something we’ve both got to go through and then we can get back to playing together again.

So here I am in Toronto, still desperately trying to compile a set list. I forget about songs, lose faith in the ones that bubble into my consciousness - I make lists of every song I’ve ever written on every album I’ve ever made. The list bewilders me so I look for a distraction and try to convince myself that a set list will somehow magically occur.

It doesn’t.

In my room at the Hyatt Regency Hotel I’m experiencing a crisis of confidence. I put a post on Facebook: Slowly losing my mind in a hotel room in Toronto. People posted helpful suggestion - Toronto’s a cool town, go out and explore… No chance of that, not before the execution - the show that is. No rewards, just constant low-level anxiety and a feeling of anguish.

I often wish I could start again, come at playing music fresh, fully formed but without the baggage. As much as I try to re-invent there’s still the baggage, a sense of obligation, as in people come to see me because of things I’ve done, like Whole Wide World, or Reconnez Cherie, or Take The Cash. Like it or not you get known after a while for certain things. I really don’t mind playing Whole Wide World - fuck it - I love playing Whole Wide World some nights, it’s every boy’s dream after all - it’s a hit! If I get a bit jaded (and I can honestly say I don’t) the audience’s enthusiasm for the song lifts me up and turns it into a glorious moment. But how can I do that in the context of something new without doing something lumpy and embarrassing like singing it acapella or performing it in a drone style, or worse as a rap number? I don't think I'm going to do that.

I force myself to eat and that makes me feel a bit better about everything. Then I go to the venue. The organisers, the crew, they’re all kids. The stage manager is barely twenty. She’s never done it before. They seem really pleased that I’ve actually showed up. A crew of teenage boys help me load in my equipment - two guitars, one case with leads and pedals in it, Guild Superstar amplifier that none of them can lift alone. They take it all very seriously and put everything in a corner of the tiny, grimy backstage. They want to make sure it’s going to be safe. They discuss putting some kind of tape around it as a sort of cordon but I disuade them of that idea.

There’s no soundcheck so I have a quick discussion with the sound engineer. He’s a bit older than the others. He tells me not to expect too much of the monitors, I tell him I’ve already figured that out, I’ll be using an electric guitar, no acoustic, so all I need in the monitors is my vocal and electrified harmonica. I warn him that I’ll probably be playing quite loud and he says that’s fine, he likes volume coming off the stage. This surprises me, I’ve never heard that from a sound engineer before.

Then there’s time to kill. I stroll through a residential neighbourhood and meet up with a woman called Claire who’s taking photos of me for some sort of online magazine covering the festival. I can never understand why anyone would want to take a photo of me because in the end I just look like a bloke - here I am standing in front of a tree, propping up a lamp post, loitering outside a shop… She’s very nice, good company - we talk about the nature of creativity and she takes photo with a real camera, one with film in it.

Suddenly it’s time to play. I still haven’t written a set list so I go on with a notebook open at the page where I last desperately tried to concoct a set list and play a completely unrelated set of songs. The anxiety falls away, I’m here in the moment, playing a few tunes for these people who seem so happy to see me. Someone shouts for I Wish It Would Rain and I excuse myself from playing it. ‘I’m sorry’ I say, ‘I just don’t feel like playing that one tonight, here’s another one…’ 

I think the set went something like: Same, Joe Meek, Several Shades Of Green, Just For You, Paris In June, Local, Sysco Trucks, Whole Wide World. I know I ended with Whole Wide World - I didn’t mean to be tacky but it was a forty minute slot and it just fell out that way, and I wanted it to follow Sysco Trucks as a sort of nod to the Canadian McDonalds TV ad that features Whole Wide World. 

I have a laugh about Rush playing in Toronto on the same night. The hotel lobby was full of successful looking middle-aged men - lawyers and businessmen - looking just slightly not quite comfortable in their various eras of Rush t-shirts - all together they present a fairly awe inspiring Rush Through The Ages tableau. I talked to one of them in the elevator - he told me he’d seen Rush ninety two times. Tonight would be show number ninety three. He was excited.

I’d prefer to be Bubblegum With Dementia than Mullet Rock.

Wednesday 18 March 2015

In Search Of The Whoop Woo Moment

Making albums isn't for the faint hearted. I set myself a deadline to finish - the end of February - that old pop scene immediacy is a thing of the past. It takes months to get a record out now. Planning, a degree of hype, the orchestrated campaign...
I haven't met deadline of course, but I'm pleased to have one: without it things tend to drag on, perspectives change, the sound changes - you lose focus, confidence, cohesion. If I was a guitar, bass and drums three piece it might be easier. If I could write twelve songs, demo them, bundle them all together and assemble a team of players who would learn them before we got together in a great studio under the care of a more than competent recording engineer... things would be a whole lot easier. But it might be boring, and anyway, it's not what I do. I want the adventure to happen in the studio, for the process to be the thing. I don't want to conceptualise. The way some people make records the actual playing of the tunes might as well be a formality.
Not always, but it's not my approach - it's not where I'm at. I quite often start recording before I've even finished writing the song. I like to be out of my depth, to not know what I'm doing, to be adrift, insecure, puzzled and perplexed. Though like isn't really the word for it. Sometimes I hate it in the same way that a mountaineer might get to hate the north face of the Matterhorn, but it's how it is.
My friend Brian Dewan says I approach recording the same way that other people approach gardening - I get out there and see what has to be done. Brian is a keyboard genius and co-inventor with his cousin of the Dewanatron, a strange series of custom built instruments for creating electronic music. Brian is crazy enough to get along with it and the two of us have had some great studio adventures together.
I'm getting quite a collection of finished tracks together - ten at the last count and another two or three on the way. I also have a load of tracks that didn't work for one reason or another, songs, sketches, electronic meanderings, loops, jams... I keep going back to them trying to find some purpose in them, some way I can incorporate them or build on them. I've always been like that - I've thrown away more songs than other people could ever dream of writing.
There's a mountain of lost songs too, stuff that never got finished, cassette, mini-disc and tape demos, blatherings in notebooks, backs of envelopes and A4 paper, the jottings of an idiot. Going through all this stuff is disheartening but occasionally something comes out of it.
I've learned to try not to discount an idea too quickly - stick with it, work on it, change it... The best lesson in this for me is The Stones recording Sympathy For The Devil in the Jean Luc Goddard film, One Plus One. When they run the basic idea it really isn't very good and I find myself waiting for the disembodied voice in the talkback: drop it - what else you got?
But they stick with it and end in triumph with the whoop woo thing. I've been waiting for that whoop woo moment ever since I first started recording back in the mid seventies.