Monday, August 05, 2019

"Back When I Was Someone..."

I  have pitiably few claims to actual fame, and those that I do entertain are closer in the actualit√© to pub quiz questions along the mildly obscure lines of ‘Name three Kinks drummers’ or ‘What links The Green, Green Grass of Home and In a Silent Way?’ One claim I do hang on to is that I believe I am the only person to have appeared on an episode of BBC Radio Suffolk’s Introducing and on Re-Introducing on the same evening. The former with the estimable Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogsmost recent digital release, and the latter being an archive performance from 1998, broadcast as part of Stephen Foster’s invaluable trove of live tracks, studio sessions and vintage interviews stored on a bewildering number of formats in a box room somewhere in 56 St. Matthew’s* Street. 

The show recently revisited the 2000 Ipswich Music Day, wherein I played as part of the Suffolk Songwriters showcase alongside such luminaries as Tony James Shevlin, whose reliable progress through the last three decades can be measured in the performance of his song Nobody,** which in this incarnation was a rather testy, Costello-esque rendition entirely apropriate for the times. It was during this year, you see, that barbs were exchanged within the letters column of the local evening paper regarding the value, self-worth and deleterious effects of the dreaded covers and tribute bands that were laying waste to a generational swathe of Suffolk music talent. I, and indeed Mr. Shevlin, were part of this scourge in no small part due to our continued insistence on playing in The Star Club – a Beatles specialist band which in no small way funded our ability to function as independent singer-songwriters outside of the (Star) club circuit. 

The only reason I remember this is because I made a dedication to one ‘Albert Herring’’ from the stage at the time - I’m guessing not the actual greengrocer’s assistant from the Britten opera, but a nom-du-plume/guerre intended to upset the apple cart under the aegis of which we were ruthlessly expoiting the limited music-going resource of the region, and this was when you actually had to write a letter down on paper, put it in an envelope and take it down the post box first before seeing if they’d print it later, not like all of this half-witted digital egregiousness you get below the line these days. Fittingly, the song I played was about starting your own band if you didn’t like the ones you were seeing (and later recorded by Songs from The Blue House). I also got my friend Matt up to do a proto rap on a track first recorded by my band gods kitchen (and which – rater cleverly I thought – references the Beatles track ‘I Feel Fine’) and dedicated my song Stretch Armstrong (about a band from Colchester who had unwittingly helped me through some dark times) to an old friend I’d first met when I was living in a kitchen and trying to make it in an Indie band. So, yeah, I guess I was a little put out at being told that the decline and fall of the Suffolk music empire was down to me and my mates playing some sixties hits. 

It was only upon listening back to the broadcast (it was the Alanis Morissette joke that gave it away) that I realised that this was the very same performance I had been gifted afterwards by sound visionary Dave Butcher of the BBC, and rather cheekily gaffa taped on to the end of my CD-du-jour ‘This Much Talent’ - similarly made up of homespun recordings and stories from the frontline of hearth and heartbreak that I was exploring around this time. The irony of all this being that almost my first appearance in the local paper’s music section about twenty years prior to all this had been a similarly primal howl about covers bands stifling the talent and invention that was surely waiting to break through. I still tut approvingly today when the never ending wheel of outrage spins, spins, spins on its axis of indignation.

As for the protagonists of Y2K’s music wars – well, that year’s headliners were Soul Kitchen, which tells you something about longevity in the club scene (they also closed the show in 2019), ten years later The Star Club (who also played later that day) were invited back*** and were hence unable to go and watch some kid called Ed Sheeran elsewhere in the park, who later had a stage named after him. So I guess we didn't manage to kill the scene off after all. And Harry, who I’d dedicated a song to earlier sought me out backstage. “Oh mate” he said “That was a really thoughtful thing to do. But I wasn’t in Stretch Armstrong...”

*Thrillingly, the signs in the underpass there put the apostrophe in three different places.

*He’s doing it a bit more Americanary, recently – although the last time I saw him do it was at Maverick, which may account for that.

**That’s where the photo at the top comes from.