Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"The stars are alive and nights like these were born to be..."

I was rather hoping for a nice review of All These Little Pieces in the local paper, and so when one duly turned up I was not only gratified but also quite touched that it started with congratulations upon the delivery of not only a finished manuscript but also of Archie - my new son, heir to the Kirk estate, and future King of the World. 

As I mention in the book itself, over time we in Songs from The Blue House developed what could comfortably be referred to as a (does that thing with the fingers in mid air) 'relationship' with local journalist, promoter and music producer Stephen Foster, engendered principally on our ability to string a sentence together without resorting to base Anglo Saxon epithets, to not bump into the furniture and to say 'please' and 'thank you' when we're offered coffee in the BBC Radio Suffolk green room, and it was good of him to step up to the plate, as it were. 

I ended up with a nice cover shot for the book and so with the two threads of this particular process wending their way together it would seem that the good people who put together The Grapevine - since 1991 Ipswich, Suffolk and East Anglia's best free music guide - considered that a combination of Foz's good word for us and the striking image of my Eric Clapton album cover pastiche was enough to throw us on to the cover of the January 2010 issue of the magazine. 

Now, I've been on the cover before - in fact if you go to The Grapevine's website you'll see a number of me, featured in the photo from the front of the December 2001 issue, where The Final Twist - the gig we promoted at The Manor Ballroom in Ippo to herald the last hurrah of our Beatles specialist band The Star Club - was quite rightly heralded as many folks' gig of the year (it was definitely mine, and there were certainly three other guys who to my knowledge I'm sure would go along with that). 

To find myself in the position of being back on there though, is exciting (and humbling) not least because the reason I'm pictured, in all my faux-Backless glory, is thanks to the publication of a happy collaboration with friends upon what is, essentially, a very long love letter to SftBH. I will be scooping up copies of The Grapevine (alas, now that it has downsized in format it shan't make for such a splendid framing opportunity as did its predecessor) and showing them to friends, sending them to family, and also tucking a single copy away in Archie's special bag o' papers, so he can dig it out in thirty years time, smooth out the dry, cracked and yellowing paper, and pore over the words that someone wrote about some words that someone once wrote. Holding the fading photograph up to the wan light of the window, he can trace the outline of the photograph on the cover. "So that's what he looked like..." he'll say "...before." 

Read all you like about on the electric interweb about why us people do these things - everyone's got a theory. Writers, performers, bedroom arrivistes with their Garageband mix tapes and their pro tools-heavy downloads. Self-publicists, self-publishists, pamphleteers, buccaneers, YouTubers, cover bands and tribute brands, lovers, thieves, fools and pretenders. Why? In the words of a song somebody once wrote; "I just want to be up here you see, with something of my own".

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Tale of Two Singers

Before we start, it is important to establish two facts. One is that Judy Dyble, the one-time lead singer out of Fairport Convention, and current solo artist in her own right, very kindly agreed to once appear onstage with Songs from The Blue House. At the time we featured our friend Steve 'Kilbey' Mears on vocals. The other is that Anthony Costa, one of the blokes out of the pop group Blue, is currently appearing in panto in Ippo. Now then, let's begin...

So. Kilbey's out on a works do, the sort of thing where you get introduced to people and have to find some common ground over the canapes and then rather uncomfortably skip out to the car park for a restorative Marlboro light as soon as possible, ruefully considering that if the company spent half as much on your annual bonus as they did on forcing you to go out with clients then everybody would be a lot happier in the long run. But then, as they say, that's the difference between a bonus and a penis. You can always find someone willing to spend time enjoying making the most of your bonus. Apparently, on this occasion Kilbs gets into conversation with a nice chap who, as it happens, likes music and bands and enjoys conversing with people who like music and bands. The inevitable question comes up - "So, what sort of stuff do you like?". The chap pauses, knowing that this is a hole he's had to dig himself out of many times before, and tentatively asks "I don't suppose you've heard of a guy called Richard Thompson...?". Kilbey, after many years in my company immediately spots an in. "Mate" he says "He wrote Meet On The Ledge, yeah? I love that song - one of my best friends (he's not talking about me) says it's his favourite song, and I think it's a beautiful song, and every time I hear it I'm close to tears through all the connections and stuff..." The chap is visibly impressed. "Oh, so you're familiar with Fairport Convention?" he asks. "Oh yeah..." replies Kilbey " fact I wrote a song that Judy Dyble sang with some friends of mine". "No, way!!!!" says the guy "I BLOODY LOVE JUDY DYBLE!!!" At this point, Kilbey remembers something else. "Oh yeah" he says "We did a gig with her once - so, y'know, I've duetted with Judy Dyble on stage!". "YOU'RE FUCKING KIDDING ME!?!?!?" replies his new friend and, calming into lower case, responds "That's awesome, mate, you're so lucky!" Kilbey confirms that he is, indeed, very lucky, does a whole back story around our friend Big Paul (who first introduced him to FC), what little he knows about Jude, reflects on the band, some of the people we have in common, swaps numbers, and promises to keep in touch. A group formed over forty years ago has provided, through chance and connection, a conduit for people to start a social relationship, converse, swap stories over common ground and rediscover their love for its music. Jude will infer that when Jimi Hendrix got up to jam with the band back in the day she was busy knitting. But she was busy knitting there.

In the mean time, after two (count 'em) performances of the pantomime at the Ipswich Regent, it is agreed that the lead actor should mime both (both!) of his songs as he can't really hold up the rest of his performance if he strains his throat trying to hold a tune in his featured spots. As a result and an aside, the talented young actress playing opposite him now also has to mime. The actor has a VIP area reserved at an Ipswich nightclub where he is gifted champagne as a consequence of his exalted status. The free champagne (I've talked to one of the staff) costs about 70p a bottle at trade prices and last week the club DJ put on 'Killing In The Name' and pointedly dedicated it to manufactured pop stars.

Here's a question. Whose CV would you rather have?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Made in the Eighties.

Bob Geldof commented that getting The Who to play Live Aid was like getting a man and his three exes back together. It wasn't quite so fractious when the four of us who made up the As Is (mk.III) line up reconvened after a gap of about nineteen years to play at one time Behemoth of the Bass Ross Geraghty's birthday party in darkest North London this weekend and anyway, there was only one of my exes there. Having rooted around in the attic for a set of matching drum sticks, drummer Malcolm, the rocking barrister from Followill, Followill, Followill and Followill (I believe he is formally attached to Molly's Chambers) was limbering up gently at a table in the corner when James and I arrived fresh from the same route that he used to take into London in the olden days of the Punk Wars, when horses and carts laden with turnips for market would also convey fun loving Adicts fans to dark, black-painted rooms, where they would drink snakebite and exchange copydex recipes. 

Rossco and the house band warmed up the PA with a brisk run through some pub rock standards (after the third I thought, "Well there go all the things I can play along on") garnering a series of huge rounds of applause in the process and then after a few ginger tweaks and tune ups we gathered together on stage and prepared to trundle through half a dozen songs we hadn't played in nearly two decades. To be honest, I don't think we'd actually all been in the same room with each other in that time. Bearing in mind that this was supposed to be a party and that there were only two other people in the room who had heard any of the songs we were about to play before, I don't think we were entirely sure how this was all going to come off. The band was so unfamiliar even to Ross's mates that one of them asked who our bass player was. There were four clicks on the sticks and then we were off, and to be honest, it wasn't so much that the years slipped away, it was more that it seemed that the years hadn't actually been there in the first place.

It was terribly nice that so many people came up and asked if that was all our own stuff and how long had we been rehearsing for it afterward, but the main pleasure was simply being back in harness with the coolest rhythm section in town (one of whom surely has a portrait in the attic which has take on the job of ageing on his behalf), whacking up the distortion and wailing the fuck out. On the way home we picked up a kebab, just like the old days (and I understand it may even have been from the same shop as back in the day), and once I got home I realised that the eighties scarf I'd dug out to wear especially had been lost in transit betwixt stage and hearth. If I were a more spiritual man I'd say that it was a fitting metaphor for closure. As it is, I probably just dropped it in the pub. Probably the sort of careless act I would have done back then, except I probably wouldn't have bothered remembering to reclaim my spare plectrum and we really would have gone through with nicking the mics. But what sort of example would that be to the kids?