Friday 7 December 2018

One Suitcase, Two Guitar Cases And One Small Carry-On Item, synthesizers, luggage harvesting, the Carlton Vibe Hotel...

I was hoping to write about everything that happened in New Zealand and Australia as it happened but that hasn’t really been possible because the schedule has been intermittently grueling. Last Thursday I played in Brisbane. I got back to the hotel around two in the morning, spent an hour packing my personal effects into one suitcase, two guitar cases and one small carry on item. Then I had three and a half hours sleep - possibly only three hours because I lay on the bed vibrating for quite a long time. I find it difficult to sleep in hotel rooms - I have to divorce myself from my surroundings. Sometimes the only thing that gets me to bed is the consolation that once I switch the light off I won’t be able to see where I am.

I had to leave for the airport at ten to seven to catch a flight to Melbourne. There’s been a lot of flying on this tour, that’s how it’s done here. The flight took two and a half hours. I was asleep before the plane took off. It’s getting to where I sleep better on airline seats than I do in hotel beds.

I met my new tour manager and sound engineer, a young man called Guy, at the baggage claim. Guy is a twenty something years old of Anglo Irish and Samoan descent, I found out these things by degrees. He speaks with an almost posh English accent. I liked him immediately. Another new friend. By the the time we left the baggage claim with my suitcase, two guitars and one small, personal carry on item, we’d invented the term Luggage Harvesting for the crime of stealing bags off the carousel. I’m surprised it doesn’t happen on a regular basis at domestic terminals all over the world - you just stroll into arrivals, go to Oversized Baggage, lift up someone’s guitar and stroll out with it. If everything goes wrong I think I might become a luggage harvester myself. A good part-time occupation for my retirement...

Guy was standing in for Bonnie, but more about Bonnie later. He’d been instructed by Bonnie to take me for a good espresso and something to eat before checking me into the Vibe Hotel and then driving us to Castlemaine for a show that night.

There’s a whole lot before and after that last part but this thing is either going to go in the direction it happens to go in, or not go at all, so to hell with the chronology....

I’m on a plane flying home from Los Angeles. I was in an Air B n B in Echo Park - I stayed there for five nights. It was downhome. It was a dump really. It had a porch with a swing chair but mostly it was too cold to sit out there so I put both switches down on the oil-filled radiator and sat at the piano instead. That was the best thing about this place I was staying in - it had a piano - a Korg digital piano with a full sized keyboard. I was able to turn it down so I wouldn’t disturb the owners who lived in the other half of the house, and who hopefully wouldn’t then be laughing at my rudimentary piano playing.

In between Ubering my way all over Los Angeles I wrote one and a half songs. It may have been one and a quarter songs or maybe one and five eighths of a song but there’s definitely one whole song in there. I recorded a lame demo on my phone and sent it to Amy and she said it was a good one and where did the piano come from?

I took an Uber to West Hollywood and strolled around. I spent a fun couple of hours in the Guitar Center trying out the synthesizers. Some of them didn’t appear to be working, either that or they were beyond my capabilities. I particularly enjoyed the Moog Sub Phatty though I wish they’d thought of a better name for it - Sub Phatty is quite unfortunate. If someone wants to donate one to me I’ll happily rename it the Moog Glorious which is what I think it should be called.

Contrary to what I imagine a lot of people might think I like synthesizers. I always have, not the hideous eighties ones like the Yamaha DX7, though I’m sure that given time I could divorce the sound of that from its hideous personal nineteen eighties associations and allow it to worm its way into my affections. The Sub Phatty / Glorious produced epic, beast like sounds. I wished I could have recorded some of the stuff I came up with on that thing.

Guy The Sound Guy and stand in for Bonnie The Tour Manager told me about a resource in Melbourne - a synthesizer library. They’ve got one of just about every synthesizer ever manufactured. You can go there and book time with a synthesizer of your choice. They’ll deliver it to your cubicle and you can work with it using your own software and laptop. It’s one more reason to love Melbourne. If it wasn’t so monumentally far away, and if I was living a somewhat different life, I’d move there in a heartbeat.

I was staying at the Carlton Vibe Hotel. There are several Vibe Hotels dotted around Melbourne. This one was modern, meaning it must have been quite up to the minute in about 1959 or 1962. I could just imagine Lady Penelope pitching up there in her pink Cadillac piloted by her loyal and trusted chauffeur, Parker. I can imagine her checking in at the reception desk over to one side of the breezy and spacious concrete and glass reception hall with its hints of orange and lime green. The swarthy yet suave receptionist and Lady P herself, their jaws moving up and down as they speak whatever words need speaking with their plastic faces.

And Parker collecting the luggage: ‘Yus m’lady!’

I could have spent whole afternoons watching guests banging their heads on the modern architectural entrance feature that swooped from dangerously low to just above average head height and spoke of...well, Vibe.

I kept coming back to the Vibe. It was my first destination in Australia when I flew in from Auckland. The tour promoter, David Laing, met me and took me straight there. It was his second time at the airport that day, earlier he’d picked up PP Arnold.

That first time I had a room overlooking the pool. It looked for all the world as if I could run from my room, dive gracefully over the railing and into the glittering blue water below. Except that I would have landed in a prickly hedge, most likely impaling myself on some railings that you couldn’t see from the floor to ceiling wall of glass separating my room from the outside walkway.

My room had a king size bed - larger than a king size - Emperor Size if that’s a thing. There was also a single bed that looked quite pathetic beside this monumental sex and sleeping dais. The Emperor turned out to be two singles zipped together on two separate bases that would probably have drifted apart had the bed seen any action, leaving the participants uncomfortably close to the floor in the ensuing bed base ravine.

I’d already decided that I was going to take the single bed because, as I’ve said somewhere before in these ramblings, there’s nothing more lonely than sleeping alone on the edge of a king size bed. You’re not going to sleep in the middle of it of course, even if it’s not two singles zippered together, because that’s where most of the action will have taken place and you really don’t want think about that. Especially when you’re facing another night alone.

The single bed was next to the floor to ceiling windows. There were nets and a big blackout curtain that shut out the impending daylight, but during the night and into the morning I could hear the occasional person next to me, a foot or two away, on the walkway the other side of the plate glass. And to other side of me that useless expanse of nocturnal playground...

I needed coffee. Carlton is very hip but the Carlton Vibe isn’t really in Carlton - it’s opposite a park somewhere between Carlton and some other bit of Melbourne. I scoped out the coffee options and found one within walking distance, a mile or so away. I decided to take a short cut across the park. It was Sunday so I weaved a jagged trajectory between games of cricket. I was very pleased with this even though it was a bit dangerous and big men kept shouting at me - I’d only been there a day and here I was having a very Australian experience.

Monday 3 December 2018

Three Days In New Zealand, a short interlude in a brothel, complaints about airlines and passengers...

I had three shows in New Zealand - Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland. I’d only ever been there once - in 1980 I played two shows in a club in Auckland. It was packed both nights and on one of the nights some girls tore the sleeve off my shirt as a souvenir. I’ve got a photo of it somewhere - it  made the front page of the Auckland newspaper.  At one of the shows a guy told me he knew one of the girls and she still had a square of my shirt sleeve. I told him to tell her I need it back.

I didn’t really mind, the sleeve was already torn. It was a shame though because it was a good shirt - I had a great collection of cowboy or western shirts that I would buy for next to nothing in thrift stores all over America. It’s almost impossible to find now, and if ever I do they usually don’t fit which is just as well because the prices are outlandish. It was great being a rock n roll star back then, getting the sleeves torn off my shirts by lovely girls and not caring because there were so many more shirts out there. So many shirts, so little time...

The show at the San Fran in Wellington was not a shirt tearing sort of affair. It’s a great venue, everyone was very kind and helpful, and I loved the sound in there. I got the impression that the audience were approaching the show with as much trepidation as I was. Would they be disappointed if I didn’t come on in a glistening polyester wig, clutching an out of tune Rickenbacker and bulging out of an approximation of the ridiculous suit I wore on the cover of my first album?

I got off to a shaky start with A Darker Shade Of Brown from the last album Amy and I made together, A Working Museum. It was touch over ambitious considering it was my first show in three weeks and the jet lag and all. I don’t why it’s called jet lag, a better term might be Traveller’s Confusion. I’ve been in roughly the same time zone for almost three weeks now and I’m still feeling discombobulated.

The problem with A Darker Shade Of Brown is mostly in the chord changes - it goes to an unexpected C minor and has a whole load of semitones or half step changes. The vocal melody goes from low to really high and that doesn’t help either, not right at the start of the set and at the start of a tour before I’m warmed up.

I got away with it I think. The reaction was good. I followed that with Same which has been my favorite set opener for a long time. I’ve just read a review from the show I did in Hardy’s Bay up the coast from Sydney - it said Same makes no sense whatsoever and it wasn’t until I got onto familiar ground with Reconnez Cherie (a song that really makes no sense) that the reviewer got glimpses of the artist everyone had apparently come to see. That review could stand alongside a letter to a British newspaper that said I subjected the audience at the Holt Festival to forty minutes of quite frankly baffling songs.   But never mind - the review was written by a hoary Aussie punk with a neck tattoo, the letter by Disgruntled of Norwich.

The following day we had to fly to Christchurch. Wellington is known as Windy Wellington and today the weather was especially windy - windy, cold and wet. We got to the airport to find the flight had been cancelled. We were transferred onto the next flight which may or may not be leaving sometime in the afternoon, depending on the weather. 

We went back to the city and dumped the luggage at the hotel. Unfortunately it was too late to retrieve our rooms so we went to get lunch and coffee in a place where the girl behind the counter was wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt. I asked if she’d heard Piper At The Gates Of Dawn in mono but I don’t think she had because she evidently didn’t know what I was talking about. So John Baker and I had the healthiest breakfast we could find (or it may have been lunch) and went across the road to Slow Boat Records. 

And then we took another shuttle bus back to the airport where John engaged random people in random conversations and I tried not to stand too close or fall asleep standing up. We took our seats on a wafty looking plane with propellers and took to the skies sideways, buffetted by the winds of Windy Wellington.

In Christchurch we took a shuttle bus full of people who talked as though they knew each other even though I don’t think they did. The bus took us on a tour of suburban neighbourhoods dropping friendly New Zealanders at their front doors. It’s good to be home...
The driver stopped and waited outside the brand new Ibis Hotel while John checked us in. Christchurch is very new owing to the earthquakes - I noticed that all the houses had new roofs, shiny red or green corrugated metal roofs. The Ibis hotel was quite austere, post-post-modern, post-apocalypse or post-earthquake at the very least. The CBD - Central Business District - or city centre as we might call it was completely destroyed by the earthquakes. The new architecture is cold and austere in sharp contrast to the people who seemed so warm and hospitable.

When we finally got to the venue the opening act, Fresh OJs, otherwise Ollie and Bill From Best Bets Auckland, were already soundchecking which was just as well because we were running very late. They finished up and then moved everything so that I could set up and have a soundcheck myself. They insisted that they could set themselves back up around me and I wouldn’t have to move anything. I thought that was very kind of them. I was more tired than I could imagine it was possible to be and still stay alive but I snapped into action, got set up and did the soundcheck with a minimum of fuss. I always try for a kind of professionalism but without being boring or pompous. Stay cheerful, try not to lose patience and keep in mind that whatever has gone on during the day isn’t these people’s fault. 
I enjoyed their set - I listened as I had my dinner in a curtained off room at the back. They did it as a two piece, rudimentary drum kit and electric guitar. They finished with a rocking version of Jonathan Richman’s Government Center which I thought was quite audacious.

I was a lot more on form for this show. I can’t remember everything I played - a mixture of old and new, a version of Hit ‘n’ Miss Judy in D modal tuning I think - the top and bottom strings tuned down to D - most of Construction Time & Demolition, Sysco Trucks and Transitory Thing From ‘amERICa’. I even did an encore which I think was The Final Taxi and Several Shades Of Green though I usually try not to do encores.

Afterwards I met Alec Bathgate from the Tall Dwarves and his wife, a lovely Yorkshire woman who told me she was transplanted from Glam Rock Britain to New Zealand at the age of fourteen and expected to wear a gym slip for school. Her and Alec have been together since they were fifteen. I haven’t seen Alec since 1993. I was walking down Zulpicher Strasse in Cologne and saw the Tall Dwarves were playing in a basement club. I went downstairs and they recognised me. In 1993 I felt quite marginalized so it was something of a thrill that a band from New Zealand would know who I was. They autographed a CD for me (which I still have) and I arranged to meet them at their hotel the following morning to give them some of my stuff. I went round but they’d gone out so I left a couple of albums with a note. Alec told me they didn’t think I’d come so they went to the launderette instead and were quite amazed and disappointed to have miss me when they came back. I remember not wanting to bother them and hoping it wasn’t an imposition to be foisting my stuff onto them.

We got back to the Ibis Hotel about four and a half hours before we had to get up to catch the delayed flight to Auckland. John showed me around the area where he lives, we even went to his place and I met his landlady, a magnificent hippieish woman of a certain age. She has a beautiful bungalow overlooking the bay. John lives in an outbuilding somewhere in the the grounds. He wouldn’t show me his place which is maybe just as well because like that the mystique at the epicentre of Planet Baker remains perfectly preserved. It may just have been nightmarishly untidy but I’d like to think there was more to it than that.

Taylor Swift was playing in Auckland that night, a huge outdoor event. The plane had been full of young women off for a weekend in the big city to see the show and cut loose for a night or two. We shared our three seat row with a young mother who’d left the kids in her husband’s care. She was very excited. I don’t know much about Taylor Swift except that she spoke out against Trump and the Republican Administration causing a spike in votes for democrats in Tennessee - and for that she gets my vote. Someone told me she gets transported from hotel to tour bus and tour bus to backstage in a large hardshell suitcase to avoid fans and that makes me think I get off very lightly just signing a few records and doing my impersonation of a human dummy while everyone gets their photo taken with me. I don’t mind the endless photographs but I’ve learned to not move a muscle for fear of appearing all over Facebook with a landslide of double chins or looking like a stroke victim.

When I got to my hotel there had evidently been a mix up - they’d given me Taylor Swift’s room by mistake. The bathroom was full of a jacuzzi with folding louvred shutters to one side that opened onto the bedroom. With the shutters opened it was possible to gaze across the jacuzzi to the toilet beyond. My suite also benefited from a fully fitted kitchen and a cupboard containing a washer dryer neither of which I had time to use, and a large balcony from which I was able to enjoy a view of some buildings. It was all very swish, very well appointed.
I opened the shutters,filled the jacuzzi with hot water and got in it. Only one of the speeds worked and some of the air holes were blocked. It was basically a big bath, about the size of a small double bed. The novelty soon wore off so I got out and sat on the balcony in a big white toweling robe wondering how Taylor Swift was doing. It was pretty chilly out there on the balcony because I was on the shady side of the hotel so I went back inside, got dressed and lay on the bed until the front desk called to tell me Rosemary was waiting to meet me in reception. I got quite excited about that for a couple of seconds but it turned out to be John Baker having a laugh. The hotel is apparently a famed hang out for prostitutes. 

We loaded me into John’s car and set off for the venue which was attached to the side of a large sports arena that was hosting a minor league basketball game. The Tuning Fork was, I imagine, originally intended as a sports bar where well developed men with permed mullets looking slightly uncomfortable in unaccustomed suits might attend receptions after sports award events. It had been refurbished as a venue with lots of plush red fabrics and red lighting. It was like a cross between an upmarket brothel and a psychedelic airport lounge. Not that I’ve ever been in a brothel.

That is I think I may have been once... It was in a small town in Belgium sometime in the early nineties. The promoter seemed excessively jolly when he directed us towards the hotel after the soundcheck. He gave us a couple of room keys and when we got there the place was a bungalow of some sort converted into barebones accommodation - hutch sized rooms off a central corridor. My room was very sparsely furnished, just a double bed with a chair at each side, sitting on a tiled floor. A corner of the room from the door to the chair at one side of the bed was curtained off, and behind the curtain was a toilet, a sink, and between the two, in the corner, a dip in the tiled floor with drain, and above that a mixer tap and shower attachment. You could draw the curtain fully back and view the facilities from the bed. And answer the door from a position on the toilet. The only light came from a utilitarian outside light with a blue bulb in it on the wall above the bed. I was touring with my friend Martin Stone. He had the exact same room next door except that his light had a red bulb. Different strokes for different folks I suppose. It made reading very difficult - we were both avid readers. We didn’t notice any goings on, and no one offered us any services, but when we got up in the morning the corridor was full of painted ladies in ball gowns.

I gave the Tuning Fork sound engineer the usual instructions - no compression, very little or no echo or reverb on the vocal. The soundcheck was quick and easy. We went off in search of dinner and my cousin Louis who we met outside a Thai buffet where my dinner went cold as I did a radio interview over the phone. I love my cousins - they always ask me about our grandparents because I’m the only one old enough to have known them well. They died within days of each other when I was fifteen and everyone else was a lot younger.
Back at the Tuning Fork the green room was very well appointed - it had a bar, a small stage and a private bathroom. There were framed set lists on the wall - one from a Neil Young & Crazy Horse show. I wish I’d taken a photo of it. I was escorted to the stage by the front of house manager. We went out of the front door of the sports arena, across a concourse in front of the venue with her holding an umbrella because it was raining, around the back of the venue to a door which lead directly onto the stage. She didn’t actually wish me God’s speed but she could have done because by this time I felt like I was in a budget action movie. She held the door, I climbed aloft and there I was in front of my applauding Auckland audience.

I enjoyed the three New Zealand shows - the audiences were easy to play for, they were open and receptive. I liked them a whole lot better than I like some of the people on the aeroplane I’m on while I’m writing this, particularly the big, young lunkhead in the seat in front. He’s a fidget, a large, ungainly and graceless fidget, constantly adjusting himself with violent movements of the seat. I’ve been waiting for him to recline which he just did. I made him unrecline, explained to him that even though the seat goes back a very long way it’s not the done thing to fully recline. I think he’s a little afraid of me at this point. He’d better behave or he’ll get the coffee treatment. So easily done what with the turbulence and all. And I take it black so it really scolds. I’ve done it once before to great effect. I’ve already had to endure the sight of him in his underwear as he changed from sweat pants to shiny sports shorts because he couldn’t stand the heat. Who ever feels hot in an aeroplane? These things are bloody freezing. 

Airlines should operate a dress code, or at least a strict No Shorts policy. And shoes please, not flip flops. I think that would be quite reasonable considering they won’t allow guitars as carry on and Qantas just charged me a hundred and seventy five dollars for checking a third bag. That’s a lot of money - they’re obviously running a classy operation so I expect a dress code and a degree of decorum. They should teach How To Behave On Airplanes in schools.

Back in Auckland the sound engineer was having difficulty with the instruction in my technical rider concerning reverb. I became increasingly a aware during the set of a a long thick reverb on my voice. Eventually I had to tell him: I’m not the Jesus and fucking Mary Chain! He took it very well but I don’t know where his head was at.

After the show we blundered off into the night taking the opener, Will Saunders, with us. We were going to go to a tribute night to the late and great Fred Cole of Dead Moon but somehow we were too late so I took them to see my jacuzzi hotel room instead. Will took photos which may or may not be compromising though we only tried out the jacuzzi with no water in it and with our clothes on - just a dry run. John Baker put the other white toweling robe on and looked like a budget hotel emperor lounging on the bed as we worked our way through the complimentary snacks. It was becoming apparent that this hotel was a very tacky hotel and I was glad Taylor Swift wasn’t staying here because I don’t think she would have been very happy. I was perfectly happy myself, it was a hell of an End Of New Zealand Leg Of The Antipodean party, worthy of an episode of Flight Of The Conchords.

I flew to Melbourne the next day.