Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Danny Whitten's Legacy

A quick rehearsal last night in preparation for my forthcoming appearance at this year’s Helstock (see blogs passim) wherein I shall be performing as part of revolving-door be-lineupped family ensemble The Arctic Mulleys, having run out of bands of my own to reform over the past decades’ soirĂ©es and not having had time to form a new one since the appearance of the Theotrio at last year’s event, after which co-conspirator Mr Wendell stopped returning my calls. I will be performing on the acoustic guitar in support of The Birthday Girl in our customary opening slot – a bit like The Levellers do to herald the start of Beautiful Days, but indoors and with a sight fewer camper vans - after which I shall to retire gracefully to the buffet in order to investigate fully the results of the evening’s entry-by-possession-of-an-interesting-cheese-only admissions policy.
My original suggestion for my appearance was to revive and perform the three song demo which first brought me into the orbit of La Mulley’s main squeeze and paramour Lord Tilkey some years ago. This now ancient and revered artefact consisted of two original songs recorded to cassette tape along with a cover version of Danny Whitten’s “I Don’t Want to Talk About It” which we knocked out at the end of the session on the basis that he didn’t have a copy of the song, he wanted one, he didn’t know anybody he could tape it off, and I knew how to play it. It seemed a pretty sensible quid pro quo in return for securing his services behind the Tascam four track, on an overdubbed guitar solo, and then on some suitably Eighties synth* - this is exactly the sort of creative endeavour and home recording solution solving that Spotify has put a stop to, I should add.**

When it came to recording IDWTTAI James generously added a plaintive harmony on the chorus which very much enhanced the whole melancholia of the thing and topped the session off nicely. We were in a bit of a rush and so it wasn’t until later that we noticed that in my reverie I had sung (inaccurately as it turns out) “If you wait here just a little bit longer/If you will won’t you listen/to my heart?” and James, not unreasonably, had echoed in a perfect fifth “…if you wait, won’t you listen…” the cumulative effect of which was, when listening back to the beautifully blended vocals in the finished version that we appeared to be singing “If you widdle…”. We should have toured as Charles Hawtrey and Crazy Horse.
*Although to be fair this was in the eighties.

**shakes walking stick at the internet.


Monday, February 10, 2014

“You can't disown the dream you only borrowed.”


We’re getting the old gang back together one more time for a run (or at least a spirited amble) through the old hits, inspired in part by an evening spent playing Texas Hold ‘em for high stakes at my house (many a Picturehouse heir has rued the day they let their piggy bank out of sight on the occasion of a boys’ night in with the Maxim playing cards) to the soundtrack of a Spotify playlist of fifty or so of the songs I could remember us doing off the top of my head (of which, more later). By the time we’d got through the second hour of hits we were chatting about the good old days and how selective memory is really the only kind to indulge in.
Three of us got together the other evening and having actually remembered most of the chords without recourse to the internet (although playing YouTube videos from your phone via the big box of witchcraft in the corner and out through your stereo is a boon in terms of actual arrangements) we decided to go for it. Wendell sent me a picture to go with the Facebook announcement of our return which even in such short a time as has accumulated since we stopped doing this regularly tells a vivid story.

There’s me, still hale of hairline and able to crane over my demi-dextrous fret work with nary a care in the world regarding my soon-to-be encompassing male pattern baldness. Kilbey and Wendell haven’t yet graduated to the thick-rimmed hipster glasses they’re now rocking on a daily basis. There’s a set list discarded on the amplifier at the back, tinsel wraps the television which marks one edge of our territory, with the fruit machine delineating the other edge. Is it Christmas? Maybe – perhaps they just forgot to take the decorations down in the New Year. At least they remembered to turn it off for our appearance, which didn’t always happen. All that’s missing is an ashtray.


Monday, February 03, 2014

When You Were Young.

I  went to see del Amitri last week. They are a special band for me because their second album, Waking Hours (you probably know it as "the one with Nothing Ever Happens on it") was the background music to a very difficult period in my life (when you're kicking off your morning commute with Kiss This Thing Goodbye every single day there's probably something there underlying which has not been adequately addressed). When they played Hull's legendary Adelphi Club* to promote the album and then dropped into the record shop where I worked the next morning I insisted that they help themselves to a few of our albums in return for signing theirs. Guitarist Iain Harvie picked up a copy of Neil Young's Zuma and Justin Currie signed my copy (which I still have) "Anything for a freebie". Guitarist and future Fast Show writer Dave Cummings declined to add his signature on the not unreasonable grounds that "...I'm not on it". 

 Their next LP Change Everything... pretty much soundtracked my personal renaissance, so I retain a soft spot a mile wide for them and their works. I even bought their compilation 'The Collection', which has one of the worst covers ever committed to print and doesn't even have Kiss This Thing... on it. There's still an online review available which is headed "Del Amitri were great - but please don't buy this album..."  

 The concert was also an opportunity to catch up with one of my old English teachers - not the Welsh one with the novels who turned out to be right about Graham Greene - the other one whose first job it was to coach me through the tricky opening scene of The Sea King's Daughter for our school play ("Behold! The Sea King!" - I can still remember my big line even now). How I principally remember him is as a slight, beardy drama enthusiast, which is what he remains, albeit a now a retired ex-headmasterly one. He was the one who bought Ziggy Stardust into the lunch time record club and got us to deconstruct 10cc lyrics in class. He also provided exercise books for me to fill with poetry and doggerel which he helpfully critiqued on his own time. He posted an update on Facebook this week about our meeting.

 Tuesday was very special seeing Del Amitri back together after many years and playing as if it was only yesterday. An extra bonus was meeting up with Shane Kirk at the gig after over 35 years! He was 11 and in my first English class in 1976 – a first rate student who produced the most amazing writing which encouraged me to continue in the job. Those are the times that are never forgotten and make it a privilege to have been a teacher. Such a shame that today’s teachers do not have the opportunities to teach to the interests of their children rather than those of the lunatic, Gove.   

Thank you, Sir. That means a lot.

*Essentially a couple of terraced houses knocked together, so that attending a show had the air of nothing so much as an over-boisterous party in someone's living room while their parents were away.