Saturday, June 17, 2023

What Four Words?

I did my first gig in 1980 - that’s the year before Dare, Moving Pictures, Tattoo You and East Side Story were released. Not that that’s got any real relevance here but I see a lot of biographies that start this way.

In between then and now, I’ve been the guitarist in a blues rock power trio, and a baggy-shirted visionary playing The Big Music; a foil in a heavy-big-pop four piece jagged soul band, an acoustic troubadour, an electric wanderer, a founder member of the East Angliacana movement, festival stage manager, three-time author, the quiet one in a Beatles specialist act, and someone who was once part of a group who convinced a theatre audience in our home town that we were a travelling family of Appalachian musicians named the Guitarres. Good times.

I was supposed to have sung my final hurrah in Y2K with the release of an album called ‘This Much Talent’ which bade farewell to both my so-called career and the CD format and yet, here we all are. 

This Much Talent - an all-encompassing body of artistes and auteurs - first made its appearance on a fundraising compilation in 1989, the purpose of which was to raise awareness on behalf of the Venue for Ipswich Campaign. Veterans of the VIC wars still talk fondly of the infamous Caribbean dressing room wrecking exploits of (probably) Noel Gallagher and in hushed tones of the Carter USM expedition with which certain members of the support band still, to this day, bore their partners rigid whenever ‘Sheriff Fatman’ crops up on re-runs of Top of the Pops. Well, one certain member does, anyway… 

I am overly pleased to reflect that some people who were on that compilation (and on This Much Talent Volume 1) are also on this EP - not least my de-facto co-producer and recording mastermind Ian Crow, who probably rarely has thoughts of re-recording the seminal oeuvre of his band at the time, Edible Vomit. Few who purchased the bargain £3.50 twenty-six track cassette look back from a distance with anything but fondness, I’m sure, on the haunting refrain of ‘Chunder Violently’.

However, back to the update. ‘Showtime’ is on that very compilation, albeit with a bum chord which I’ve finally  eliminated, and which dates from so much earlier in my writing expeditions that I distinctly remember being inspired by a Bob Dylan quote that someone had pinned up on the wall of our sixth form common room. This dates its writing to about forty years ago.

As is the way of these things, I should point out that forty years before that, people were coming up things like Al Martino’s ‘Here in My Heart’, but it remains to be seen how far we’ve come in the meantime. It has certainly been an education in revisiting the thoughts and prayers of a fledging songwriter with the benefit of four decades of cynicism and disappointment but without barely having to change a word - maybe a tense or two.

Here it has been elegantly redressed by Pete Pawsey and his Twenty Bars / Chemistry Set West pals before having a last minute one-take flute part added by Helen Mulley. James Partridge, who recorded the original Tascam four track Portastudio version, insisted on the inclusion of four words which had been excised from the re-imagining, for which I am hugely grateful. It was our “…the movement you need is on your shoulder” moment.  

For ‘Stop That for a Start’ I was able to welcome back to the fold Stephen Dean and Richard Hammond, whose combined rhythm section propelled gods kitchen (no capitals, no apostrophe) throughout the nineties and beyond, and who were able to burnish their original arrangement before Nick Zala remotely added pedal steel and then Steve Constable - also of gods kitchen, The World Service, The Company of Strangers, The Star Club, The Perfectly Good Guitars, The Canyons and Picturehouse (no, not that one) – was in one session able to vocalise as Crosby, Stills and Nash and was conveniently on hand to nod meaningfully in the background when Ian mentioned that he had an e-bow kicking around somewhere. Steve also made a long and sustained case for a couple of Neil Young power chords to be subtly re-inserted into the outro right up until the final mix. He won.  

‘The Merchant of Venus’ is a recent write and has been through a few iterations. At one point, deep into a second bottle of Pinot Noir one evening I considered that ideally it would have a flute solo by Geoffrey Kelly, whose band Spirit of the West had been a massive inspiration when I was on the same bill with them at a club in Peterborough on the tour which inspired ‘Home for a Rest’. Through the modern medium of the electric internet I was able to secure that very thing a mere week later. Many thanks to Hugh McMillan from the band for facilitating contact and to Geoffrey for his help and encouragement.

Helen also sang on this one and Ian added – of all things – an autoharp he had just picked up for a song. As it turned out, this song. 

Dirk ‘The Drummer’ Forsdyke did a sterling job on the tricky task of putting his part on after we’d done much of the tracking work – never an easy assignment at the best of times – and then Ian was finally reunited with VIC tape producer James Partridge, who added the Steve Wynn-inspired guitar part at the end, advised on some harmonies and reflected on how different his life might have been if he'd signed up for Otley College, just down the road ‘pon the lef’ hand side, all those years ago.

And so here we are. Thank you to everyone who helped, advised, opined, and all the great performers and writers whose work I’ve absorbed over the years either at a distance or in person, and whose influence has inevitably seeped into every pore of this project. If you can hear it, it’s probably in there, maybe even on purpose.