Saturday, December 03, 2022

Back in the Garage.


I am to commence recording again next week - honestly, the absence of pressure one feels when embarking on an enterprise that absolutely no-one has any interest at all in hearing is extraordinarily liberating - and I though that now might be the right time to revisit an old, old song of mine which came on in the car the other day and of which I was reminded that the demo we did around - I’d guess - thirty years ago had a couple of distinctly bum chords in it that we never got around to correcting, replacing or redoing - pushed, as we were, for time at the, um, time (it was a Sunday morning if I recall correctly). We probably couldn’t be bothered to demagnetise the heads again or something, and we’d already used up precious minutes forwarding the tape and then turning it over and doing it again so that it was properly stretched prior to recording.

Turns out I didn’t write down the words I now needed in my big book of things I made up out of my own head and so have spent no little time on a Saturday afternoon sitting in the car scrolling through many, many bits and bytes on a memory stick looking for something called ‘Unknown Album’, tracking down the song I need which I’m sure was somewhere in the middle of it, and then play and pausing whilst typing, then cut and pasting the fragments of lyric I *could* remember onto an iPad. This never used to happen when you had a cassette you’d mailed to yourself and a biro to wind things on with. Honestly, it would have been quicker to write a new one.

Saturday, October 08, 2022

Libraries Gave Us Power…

There is a theory, admittedly discussed principally over three hour lunches and mostly with my good friend and occasional musical employer, award-winning songwriter Tony James Shevlin, that prophets rarely prosper in their own land. He posits the example of being denied access to the open mics, speakeasys and songwriters’ showcases of Chicago, until a well-placed expression of disappointment in this country’s finest Hugh Grant diction magically gains him entry. If Richard Curtis had been directing this would probably be the bit where Andie McDowell breathlessly intones “Is it still windy? I hadn’t noticed…”. The third wheel at one particular recent lunch attests to the power of the foreign accent* - “Meanwhile, I’m stuck out on the door like a dick”. Our colonial interlocutor is one Scott Stilwell, who much like a minor character in Love, Actually, Tony has met in a bar in America and who has followed him home.

I’m exaggerating for comic effect, of course - a trait, once again, I share with the esteemed writer/director of The Boat that Raped - however the very presence of Scott attests to the beguiling power of the non-indigenous performer. He is here to take part in a short tour of England**, at least in American terms, and on the penultimate night of the jaunt a healthy following has assembled to see the pair of them trade songs, stories, and occasionally accents in the convivial surroundings of a local library. The show is sold out and whilst I am impressed. I am also slightly jealous, as a recent planned expedition to a theatre in Colchester by my musical paramours had to be pulled as advance ticket sales meant that the audience would only just have outnumbered the band, and even for a seven-piece, that’s a sobering statistic.

Tony relates some well-worn and road hardened anecdotes while Scott, an owlish character in full moon glasses, a John Deere cap and double denim, is more of the moment - a fact I only glean because he uses something I said to him in The Green Room*** during one of his introductions. Although individual songwriters in their own right, these two have collaborated, and as they alternate between playing and listening raptly (as are the rest of us) there are subtle additions to the others’ performance, mostly in the form of keening harmonies which bring to mind the best work of (say) Boo Hewerdine working in tandem with Darden Smith. I can see how the most in demand product on the tour so far has been the album that they’re both on which, in an ironic twist, doesn’t exist. At an earlier show they have been upbraided for performing songs that haven’t been recorded, which seems harsh, even for Stowmarket.

Although struggling with a head cold, Scott gamely goes for the notes anyway and his suffering gives him an attractively husky tone which in the interval**** I mention brings to mind the best work of John Prine. In a further twist, he performs a song called Dear John Prine in the second set before giving way for one number to another of Tony’s songwriting collaborators and performers. Me. It’s terribly generous of Scott to make way - this is, after all the reason he’s here in the first place - and it’s very kind of Tony to invite me up. It’s also slightly nerve wracking as if this is the one song they don’t like, it’s going to be pretty obvious what the uncommon denominator is. Fortunately, we make it through to the end, harmonies intact, and pausing only to savour the generous applause I return to my seat.

The boys finish off the rest of the set, the lights go up, there is the sound of chairs being pushed away across the floor, creaking limbs being unfolded, the rain outside has abated, and the vapers are already in the car park. As we make our way toward the cloakroom, I feel a tap on my shoulder. 

“Nice song”.

*It’s exaggerated for effect. Tony’s actually from Burton-on-Trent, but you know what they say, just because you’re from Burton, that doesn’t make you a pint of Bass.

**It is revealed during the show that Scott once took a three hour drive from his home to see Tony play in Kansas City. On a slightly deflatory note, Scott confirms that he would also have driven that far for a barbecue.

***The dressing room - not the high end coffee shop down the road from where we had lunch. I’ve never seen so many electrical sockets in one room. Again, at the library, not the coffee shop.

****There’s a raffle, of course there’s a raffle.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

"... about four and a half minutes"

Another lovely Doghearsal last night – and they’re not all lovely by any means, but this one was – as we hone our set for a forthcoming theatre show in the heart of swinging downtown Colchester. I’d reverted to Takamine type and was feeling much more comfortable with the weight of guitar on my hip, Mr. Wendell had retrieved his capo from his wife’s handbag, Turny Winn had remembered to bring the right harmonica, and remembered not to sit on the banjo just in time. After each of the first four songs in the set Mr. Wendell reverently intoned “…and that should be the single”.

Upon my return to Kirk Towers I considered that in order to maintain our online presence*  in light of our forthcoming engagement  I should probably post something to try and whip up our small but enthusiastic fanbase and any of their friends with convenient disposable income into buying some tickets, and so I fired up “What’s a Rainbow” (or alternately “What’s the Moonlight For?”) from our ‘Back of the Big’ EP and posted it into the ether. 

Upon relistening I was struck by a couple of things – firstly, that’s a really good recording and, courtesy of Fiddly, beautifully mixed and mastered** and secondly, how clever the wordplay constructed by Mr. Winn is – something you don’t always get to appreciate when you’re trying to remember if it’s this verse the key change comes in or not. He rhymes ‘Jealous’, ‘Fellas’ and ‘Cinderellas’ in one verse and although ‘…told me’, ‘…rosy’, ‘…know me’ and …cosy’ is straying into Chris Difford-like artistic license, there are many lesser*** writers also ploughing the same furrow, and it’s a fine club to be in. Mind you, he (Tony) also wrote a song where (deliberately) none of the lines rhymed, so he’s either better at this than he’s have us believe, or has far too much time on his hands. Or both.

Last week there was a temporary reunion of Songs from The Blue House. One of our better-loved songs among the rural community was always ‘Breaking These Rocks’, a cautionary tale of burglar-killing amongst the farming community – imagine Peter Gabriel’s ‘Intruder’ only where he gets blasted with a twelve-bore half way through – which is loosely based upon true life events and which once again received a resounding roar of approval when aired in the rural heartlands of mid-Suffolk. It’s not – strictly speaking – a celebration of the event, but has been streamed to buggery in the area for the last week or so, so we’re not really ones to complain about our art being misrepresented. Folk make up their own rules about what a song’s about once it’s out there.

Also performing at Shed Fest were The Neighbourhood Dogs. We have a song called ‘Nelson’, which usually gets a lengthy introduction on stage regarding its exegesis, and indeed for those parties interested in pursuing the matter further, there are blogs passim regarding the whole writing and recording malarkey. Shortly after it being performed at the festival I was taken aside by a frankly taken aback member of the audience. Bearing in mind that La Mulley came up with the words based on a couple of shared ideas we’d discussed about a lighthouse keeper I was surprised to be asked the question. “Oh my god – you wrote that about Dad, didn’t you?” 

I quietly considered the verse, bridge and outro. 

“I have now”.                

*“We’re on all the usual platforms – Ceefax, MySpace, Friends Reunited…” 

** Don’t take my word for it.


Sunday, May 01, 2022

A Bullet From The Heart.

 I’ve been blessed by being able to play with some really, really good drummers and bass players. Two of the finest were Stephen Dean and Richard (Gibbon) Hammond, here channelling The Attractions, recorded in a caravan on a Fostex four track by the inestimable James Partridge and with my singing bolstered by Steve Constable, the David Crosby that my Neil Young always relied on to get me out of a harmonic hole. It’s Bandcamp fee-free Friday next week, so if you want to own this, maybe I can start saving up to re-do it.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

“Look at you jumping…”

 I am contacted by an old friend and musical confrere who is rooting through some old flyers and photographs and wonders if I remember playing on the same bill as him at a school concert in 1982? He lists the band members, as listed in the programme, and I confirm that not only do I remember the show, I remember what we started with, which was “Free and Easy” - a song from Uriah Heep’s non-charting 1977 album Innocent Victim, and a good indicator of the sort of person I was, given that I was shoehorning it into the set of our school band a mere five years later. We weren’t even all at the same school.

I reflect on my forty years on the fringes of the music business* later that week with the most recent iteration of my musical ambition in tangible** form where we are gathered to run through our entire repertoire in prospect of an increasingly rare public engagement and in the absence of Mr. Wendell, who is poorly. The first business of the evening is, naturally to check on how Turny’s vegetable patch is coming along, and much grave discussion is given to the plight of the allotment-holder without a handily accessible source of standpipe irrigation.*** Fiddly thinks he needs a pond - also so that he can develop a self-renewing methane gas facility to wean himself off the grid - someone mentions a bowser, Gibbon reflects that at certain times of day they actually pay you to use electricity and La Mulley steps in just as discussions look likely to turn heated, given the bent of the conversation toward gentlemen of a certain age being unable to retain water for any length of time, and encourages us toward the rehearsal room. Or ‘shed’.

A perfectly agreeable eight song forty minute opener is run through before we perform the remainder of our oeuvre - mainly through muscle memory although at one point Gib remarks on the similarity of the structure of one song to a number by one of our previous bands before I realise that I am, indeed, playing Songs from The Blue House’s ‘Bike’ by mistake. As Ed Sheeran has remarked, there are only twelve notes, chances are there are going to be some harmonic similarities cropping up somewhere along the line. I believe that John Fogerty was once sued by a particularly vengeful ex-publisher for plagiarising himself, so I’m in good company.

Sheeran crops up again later in the week, as I am enjoying a Friday pint with m’esteemed compadre, award-winning songwriter Tony James Shevlin. Essentially, I’m recounting most of the above, Shev mentions that at the exact moment that he and the bass player from Frisky were persuading the drummer not to walk around the outside of our hotel on the third floor ledge someone had the presence of mind to take a photograph, and we Waldorf and Statler across many topics including fetes, festivals and garden parties. He recounts the occasion when Ed Sheeran’s application to play Ipswich Music Day was rescued from the bin (his CD wouldn’t play) after one member of the panel insisted that this kid was going places and that he should really be given a spot, despite a functioning demo being strictly part of the selection process. I wonder if they would still have named a stage after him if he’d been canned? 

We reflect that so much of our collective musical heritage is down to chance encounters, the intervention of seasoned veterans of the scene and good, old-fashioned common sense. The sliding doors moments of rock. As we finish our drinks and prepare to depart, I remind him that we - The Neighbourhood Dogs - are playing a local pub in a couple of weeks and invite him along. “I’ll be there” he attests, showing me both a text message on his phone and his Musician’s Union diary. “Because we’ve been booked as well”. We write down the fee that both of us have been offered for the same gig on the same night, slide the folded paper across the table and look at the two different figures. I say “You take it”.

*At the Cropredy Festival one year a solo acoustic Midge Ure similarly recalled his four decades “…trying to entertain people”.

“Don’t you worry Midge” called a wag in the crowd in response “You’ll get it one of these days!”

**Or ‘fungible’ I guess?

***I know, I know. The footage is hardly going to prompt Sir Bob to organise Live Aid 2, but you can only play the hand you’re dealt.

Saturday, March 05, 2022

Sunday, February 20, 2022

The Magnificent Five in ‘Return to The Pickerel’

As has been posited in these very pages, if you do one gig a year, you’re - technically - still in a group. With this in mind, The Picturehouse Big Band decamp for one of our occasional soirees in the heart of swinging downtown Stowmarket, where the post-storm debris can be seen lying in gutters, fences are strewn across gardens and the A14 displays its own sorry harvest of boughs. They say in Barham there was up to a thousand pounds worth of improvements caused in a single night.*

The Singer and The Other Guitarist have both scratched an itch an have turned up with brand new guitars - Wendell with a new Fender Deluxe and Kilbey with a left-handed Squier Tele - The Bass Player is trialling a new monitoring system for his keyboards and my Secret Santa gift has finally arrived from the in-laws and as such I will be deploying the joy of compression to lift those vital guitar solos above the melee, with the unfortunate consequence that now, of course, people will actually be able to hear them.

We have a healthy crowd, and notwithstanding the post-soundcheck, pre-gig discourse in the toilets (“‘As gunna be a fucken racket tunight ent ut?”) are looking forward to trying out another new song which joins the one we added only last year in a whirlwind of new tune admissions. This one, by The Icicle Works, is a mere thirty five years young, and so a positive nod to the new young generation of Picturehouse fans coming through the ranks and filling the banquettes at the back. Paul McCartney’s “Your Mother Should Know” springs to mind.

There is no sign of our great enthusiasts from the last Halloween gig who, resplendent in leather bustiers, heavy eye make up and fishnets, insisted on being given drum lessons at the close of festivities, which did hold up the pack down slightly. Partially because we couldn’t move the gear, and partially because it was quite the spectacle in itself. The Drummer is a kind and patient man who will give a quick lesson in the basics to pretty much anyone, but by the time they’d been in the business end of the pub for four hours or so, some of their hand-eye coordination seemed to have gone out of the room. Perhaps that’s why one of them fell over a stationary pile of mic stands?

This evening’s high drama is limited to a large, sticky drink being kicked over a pile of leads (the landlady waved a towel at us in order to help, which initially made me wonder if she was surrendering) and a temporarily misplaced pair of glasses, which did mean that The Singer’s snake-hipped Jim Morrison moves were temporarily replaced by a sort of faux-Velma Dinkley routine which, niche as it is, doesn’t really have the same affect on a baying crowd who want to know when this riot we keep predicting is going to kick off. I guess it keeps them from alternately wondering whether they should take it easy, or whether to keep on movin’.

“A few hiccups, but everything mostly seemed to go well” I say, after having my pub band membership card restamped for another season. “Yes” replies someone. “But I wish Kilbey would stop pretending he’s left-handed.”

*Trad. Arr.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

You’ll have to excuse me…


Turns out that if you want to get a bloody legend to play on your recording, all you have to do is ask.