Saturday, 31 December 2011

Lovesong: Albums of the Year

I'd been grumbling about the year's lack of musical quality to anyone who'd listen (basically the butcher). Sure, there were albums that I'd eagerly anticipated but which left me kind of flat: Paul Simon, Joe Henry, Wilco, Iron and Wine, Martin Simpson and Brian Eno to name but a few.
That's me (right), miserably looking down my nose at them all...
Then a wonderful thing happened; my external hard drive crashed, trashing all of my downloaded back catalogue. Rather than just gormlessly 'ipoding' newly purchased CDs to await their reappearance on 'Le Shuffle' I was forced to sit down and actually listen to the CD itself; often its entirety. 
I found that a couple of those disappointments started to reveal there charms, particularly Elbow's 'Build a Rocket Boys' and Peter Gabriel's 'New Blood'. 
I started enjoying my Linn stereo system again, turning things up to 11 and enjoying sound as well as song. Instead of dissecting the arrangements and productions, I found myself sitting back and bathing in the sheer ambient joy of music. 
I think that this might have effected the choices I made; rather than chasing words, I went for albums that made me feel good, although not necessarily happy; there's some glorious melancholy here...

Kate Bush 
'50 Words for Snow'
I've never been smitten with Kate until now. Sure 'This Woman's Work' was gorgeous and I liked the sound of 'Hounds of Love' but I could never grasp what moved her and therefore had trouble relating to the warbling. Her concept here is so simple and so perfectly realised that you cannot help but to fall for it. Wintry tone poems are shaped by piano, double bass and Steve Gadd's subtle drumming to provide the perfect backdrop for the musing. Her son appears as a snowflake (I am light, I am sky) and Kate somehow makes this into a moving pean on the transience of life (or childhood) and the importance of care, (the world is so loud, keep falling, I'll find you). The most laudable element is the space; Kate takes her time, and the songs reveal themselves in their own sweet time, most of them clocking in at over 7 minutes. I'm not sure that this makes it 'radio friendly' but I love it all the more for that. Even a guest appearance by Elton John cannot break the spell as the icy beauty washes over you. Bonkers, bold and beautiful.

Lanterns on the Lake
'Gracious Tide, Take Me Home'
Speaking of 'icy beauty' I didn't think that I was going to warm to this when I first heard it; I initially felt that it wore its influences too boldly. However, once you stop looking at it in the eye and let it insinuate itself, the Mazzy Star/Cocteau Twins veneer is soon forgotten. Rather than covering up for the lack of something, the reverb actually adds to the woozy atmosphere and highlights the dry beauty of the strings when they come into focus. 
It's not really an album of songs; more the sound of a group of youngsters trying to make the most beautiful noises that they can, and (by heck) they nail it!

Civil Wars 
'Barton Hollow'
On first listening this reminded me of the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss album 'Raising Sand'. 
I think that the chemistry between the two protagonists here is more vivid, more sexually charged. 
Whilst they are not a 'couple', there's an undeniable frisson that crackles from the speakers, something reinforced when you witness their potent live performances. 
The songs are just beautiful, and their delivery, pitch perfect.

James Vincent McMorrow 
'Early in the Morning'
There's a whiff of Bon Iver in the breathy, multi tracked delivery, but this is a more accessable music; less intense, easier on the ear. This was my 'Car Stereo' album of the year.

Leisure Society 
'Into the Murky Water'
Nick Hemming and Christian Hardy have been around the bittersweet block a time or two. They have wounds but possess the wit and the musical chops to articulate the hurt. This album is a brilliant box of paints; the musical dexterity could have rendered it unfocussed; showy, impressive, but bloodless. 
This is remedied by the joyful melodic melancholy; sanguinely fuelled by a great big heart. 

And my album of the year is....

King Creosote & Jon Hopkins  'Diamond Mine'

In this collaboration, the fairly traditional songwriting of Kenny Anderson (the 'King') is tweeked by the ambient, Enoesque tamperings of Hopkins. 
Tender, gentle, sad, yet oddly compelling, there is a real, almost claustrophobic sense of place (a small Scottish fishing village in Fife apparently), not somewhere I'd particularly like to live, but am happy to revisit (it's a short piece) by hitting the 'Play' button time and again
It's the aural equivilant of that great big steaming mug of milky cocoa your Mum used to make you after you'd fallen off your Chopper and skinned your knees...

Friday, 30 December 2011

Lovesong: Tracks of the Year

OK folks, you might remember this from last year; you show me yours and...
Simply post me a CD of your favourite songs of 2011 and I'll reciprocate by return of post.
I've discovered quite a few new gems from your past generosity.
CDs to:
18 The Green
Wooburn Green
Bucks HP10 OEF
Please remember to include your postal address.
Here's what you'll be getting from me:
It's a mixture of old and new talent. I'm glad to say that there are more songs from these shores than usual; it's nice to hear a few regional accents poking through the sheen of Americana...
It took me a while to whittle things down to these choices.
I love them all; you might not be familiar with a couple that are freshly minted: Admiral Fallow (Scotland) and Lanterns on the Lake (Newcastle), but they hold heir own in lofty company.
I've included Gabriel's 'Mercy Street' because it's a new version and is just beautiful.
Things do get a bit sonorous towards the end but stick with it; lights off, single malt and you'll be fine....
 If I had to pick just one track it would be Kate Bush duetting with her 13 year old son (in the guise of a snowflake); it kind of sums Kate up; bonkers but beautiful and brilliant.
I should mention the one that didn't quite make it: 'I Should Not Dare' by David Sylvian which is lovely but, to quote my mate Dennis, "you can't put 20lbs of sh*t in a 10lb bag".

1. Bats in the Attic (King Creosote & Jon Hopkins)
2. Although We All Are Lost (The Leisure Society)
3. If I Had a Boat (James Vincent McMorrow)
4. Sophia (Laura Marling)
5. For a Nightingale (Fionn Regan)
6. C'est La Mort (The Civil Wars)
7. Helplessness Blues (Fleet Foxes)
8. Bittersweet Melodies (Feist)
9. El Camino (Amos Lee)
10. Calgari (Bon Iver)
11. Subbuteo (Admiral Fallow)
12. Starless (The Unthanks)
13. Keep on Trying (Lanterns on the Lake)
14. Lippy Kids (Elbow)
15 Mercy Street (Peter Gabriel)
16. Snowflake (Kate Bush)

Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Limbo Diaries. 7 (Yuri's Dream)

TJ: Another song written last week is ‘Yuri’s Dream’. I’d read an article about the first man in space, Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. He rose from humble beginnings to become the first man in space. An uncomfortable celebrity, he had trouble readjusting to the earthbound life. He’d only been weightless for a short while (the flight lasted 108 minutes) but returned a changed man. He hit the bottle. Just before he was about to make his second trip into space (8 years after the first),  he was killed in a routine training flight. I tried to place myself into his dreams, just before that fatal flight. What were his hopes on being heaven-bound again?
We start with a loop and a strum, then our usual three vocals and a ‘comp’. Marcus works in some odd ‘space noises’, and then plays along with a bottleneck and guitar. We develop a slide hook for the chorus, in looking for Ry Cooder we find his brother, Barry! Marcus then just “plays along” and we cut and paste the bits we like, most of it actually. Slide, like pedal steel, is great for loosening up an arrangement. The foundation of a recording is often rigid out of necessity, so it’s nice to blur the edges early.  Only when Marcus busks along on double bass do we realise that we’ve got a ‘Walk On the Wild Side’ kind of groove going. Thanks Lou, from one space cadet to another! We record two passes on the bass and decide that the first one is a ‘keeper’.

MC: After the acoustic was recorded (same as above) I just for some reason heard slide guitar. The guitar in question was my Dan Electro, it’s a copper sunburst, with the action raised up high so I use it just for slide. I saw Mike Henderson playing with Mark Knopfler years ago and he was playing the same guitar so I thought ‘I had to have one’. It was recorded through my PodXt pro on the Vox AC15 with quite a bit of compression and drive for that lovely singing tone.
The double Bass was recorded with a Rhode classic mk1 valve mic through a Joe Meek VC1 pro mic pre with a touch of compression on the way in. I some times use the UAD 1176 for a bit more compression after its recorded if need be with a touch of pultec eq.

TJ: More work on ‘Yuri’s Dream’. Marcus adds some percussion: two shakers and a tambourine, then some orchestral cymbals (strapped between his knees) that announce the choruses. He then routines a string part for the choruses and outro. I play some Duane Eddy style single bass notes on a detuned Telecaster. Marcus is desperate to play kazoo and penny whistle on this one, but keeps failing the audition.

MC: The track sounded great when we brought it up in the morning which is always a nice experience. After a long day of working on a track you can loose sight and sometimes on first listen the next day things that sounded good at the end of the day before aren’t right, not today. I’m going to keep practicing my Kazoo and whistle playing…..I’ll get there.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Mighbrow: Catcher Caught

This might be a timely post with the inevitable resolutions that we're all about to declare; shaking our fists at the past and, ever hopeful, beckoning in the new year. 
Positive emotions such as love, compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, trust and faith can make us vulnerable because they are not immediately pocketable and are future orientated. Fear and sadness have immediate pay offs; misery (or at least melancholy) can provide quilted comfort and insulation. Hope and joy are investments that might lead to disappointment, whilst we can surely wallow in heartache immediately … 
Ambition and hope are the invariable bed mates of disappointment and regret, a subject that has fueled my songs for an age. 
I'm not alone of course, many have wallowed in those murky depths before me, with more distinction and success. At least I'm still afloat; the trick is, firstly not to drown; to keep moving, and then, I guess, to recognise whether you are swimming or just treading water. 
Me? I specialise in doggy paddle, but find it best to be prepared...

Catcher caught

The weight of expectation
Is the load of the luckless
I invest in the silence before the bell
And wait
For a moment

There it was, did you see?

If you look away they will come
Slipping in unnoticed
From corners that have never been dusted
Knowing they won’t be missed
If you miss them

Try it

Look away

Just out of view
Just beyond the corner of your eye
You’ll sense their shapes shifting
And hear their whispered promises
Of vague possibility

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Hopeland (Notes from Corsica) 6. Fish to Fry

It was a beautiful day, not a cloud. We sat outside La Chariot in Algajola and ordered pizza with anchovies, served with a piquant olive oil and vinegar combination that wasn’t for the meek. We had stopped for a quick lunch and then it was to be a beach day; we had books to finish. Protected from the sun by silver birches that sheltered the restaurant’s garden, we shared a carafe of rose and waited for the earth to turn. We loved the odd duality of this calm, bustling haven; the patron Patrick was the double of Di’s brother Steve so, for her, it also had an illogical fraternal pull. Upon finishing our demi we began to wonder where our food was. The service here was usually great but, there was no service; everyone was crammed into the tiny bar watching television. I tried to catch an eye, but to no avail. Maybe it was a racing day; I knew that the old boys inside loved their horses, hacking and slapping their thighs as they wagered and lost centime after centime. I stumbled into the smoky darkness and peered at the throbbing silver glow. No horses, but what seemed like an American blockbuster; all sirens, explosions and an overactive NYPD.  The hushed reverence with which this action was viewed confused me. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” I asked the barman. “This” he announced, “is World War Three.” I lent towards the screen at the very moment that the second tower was hit. There was a collective throaty gasp as the shadow of a plane buried itself deep and indelibly into the consciousness of all who witnessed that devastating moment. The coverage was CNN but with an excitable French commentary that I couldn’t decipher. “An accident?” I asked the room. “Terrorists! New York is burning” a strangled voice replied. I held on to the bar, light headed with the gravity of the moment and caught myself, a stranger, in the long mirror above the bar. I wasn’t acting, this was momentous, America under attack on its own soil; things could never be the same again. I looked out of the bar into the absurd sunshine and beckoned Di in. Ahead of her waded a willowy man dressed in the traditional bleu de Chien, a faded blue cotton fishing jacket, and bright red rubber boots, with a simple fishing rod over his shoulder and the handle of a green plastic bucket in his hand. What hair remained was oiled and middle parted. Atop a prominent elegant nose he wore round tortoise shell spectacles, beneath, his luxuriant moustache was the stuff of legend. Oblivious to the unfolding drama he made his way lugubriously to the bar and ordered a glass of Pastis, which he held for an age beneath that long nose before downing it in one. Wiping his moustache with the back of a hand, he took off his glasses and scanned the room, his bleary eyes eventually resting on mine. He nodded down at his bucket with a shrug. “Up since dawn, for one fish. Merde!” I looked into the slopping container. A lonely mullet was doing laps, fishing for company, or a way out. Ordering another drink the man’s squinting gaze followed mine to the TV screen. The twin towers smoked and blazed. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?” he asked, indifferently, scratching his peeling pate. “This,” I replied “is World War Three. Terrorists!” He arched his eyebrows and scowled down at his catch. “Terrible, a disaster” I muttered. “Terrible yes, but not a disaster” he gently kicked his bucket, “for tonight there will be fish soup”.

Later, back in England I would see a TV documentary on 'The Falling Man', about the efforts to identify a poor soul captured on film that day, falling to his death from World Trade Centre. Since its publication the now iconic photograph, taken by Richard Drew, has been invested with many layers of meaning. Some thought that the image should be airbrushed from history, that to view it was voyeuristic. Others saw it as a symbol, a new flag for a now outward looking America. There seems to be a calm about the man's descent that defies the horrors surrounding him, he's caught in a brief moment of apparent grace. Of course, the images before and after that frame tell the true tale of this prelude to extinction; he hurtles at 130mph, limbs akimbo, towards certain death. I was struck by the idea of this being the man's last choice. He could accept the fate thrust upon him by the terrorists, or he could choose to control his own destiny, albeit a limited choice, but still an empowering moment; not suicide, but choosing his own time of departure. Is there not a dignity in that, and should we not recognise that dignity? To look away would seem to deny the fact that he made a choice, should we not honour him by bearing witness? I wrestled with the subject. There was something in the way that people reacted to the photo that intrigued me. Eventually it came to me; we all wanted to see his face, his expression, to know how he felt, to see ourselves in his place. There but for the grace of God indeed, he is ‘all of us’! I then heard an interview with a man who had spoken to his wife on a cell phone just before she jumped. He spoke calmly about her making the ultimate choice, and the comfort taken from knowing that she was thinking of him and their children as she leapt and, he was sure, that for her it was a kind of homecoming. She was able to breathe freely and for one last moment be under a beautiful blue sky. He said something like "to be out of the smoke and into fresh air, she must have felt like she was flying", an endorsement of the human spirit too profound to ignore. The idea that, as this horror unravelled, I was under the same blue sky, looking into a green bucket, sharing a Corsican fisherman’s disappointment, remains a constant reminder to me of the vagaries and vulnerabilities of any life, the transience and resilience of the human condition and the profundity of the mundane. As strangers bequeath their chosen Heaven or Hell upon us all, no man truly controls his own destiny. Whilst individually we all live where compromise leads us, collectively we must learn to control our politicians and to own our religions. We empower them to provide protection and comfort, not perpetuate the terrors that seem to feed them. At a distance the world might tear itself apart, but meanwhile on that peculiar island, there were other fish to fry.        

Monday, 26 December 2011

The Limbo Diaries. 6 (Sunburst Finish)

TJ: ‘Sunburst Finish’: Another waltz that I double track on the Taylor and sing and then harmonise on the chorus. Marcus adds piano then gets all ‘ELP’ on me with a moog! While we’re in 70’s mode, a mate of Marcus arrives to borrow the ‘glitterbandbass’ for his new gig. He once fronted ‘Kenny’ (yes, that ‘Kenny’), and has been offered the job as lead singer with ‘Sweet’ (yes, that ‘Sweet’) and we can tell from his lemon sucking expression, that he’s not too sure about it. The make up, hair and high notes? “I’ve told ‘em I’m not having any of that nonsense” What else is there?

MC: ‘Sunburst Finish’ is a title that has pleasant memories from my past. It was an album by Bebop Deluxe, and a great one at that. This song has nothing to do with that except the title but maybe I subliminally went back the 70’s.
Taylor recorded through Amek/neve mic pre with the ubiquitous AKG 451E.


Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas: Lovesong: Neil Hannon & Duke Special: 'No Cover Up' & 'Mastermind'

Merry Christmas folks.
I'm sorry that this isn't a seasonal posting and, sorry to be a magpie, but I've got to share this.
I was cruising David Ashley's excellent blog:
and came across the following.
It comes from an Irish TV special where Neil Hannon (from The Divine Comedy) and Duke Special slug it out, piano to piano, singing each other's songs.
And what songs!
And... the singing is just beautiful throughout.
This is part 2 out of 4 but you'll be able to source the others once you're YouTubeGlued.
I'm off to the attic to dig out my old tweeds and cravats.
I got there first you see...

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Worldmusic: Ronnie from Botswana

This caught the eye after Ben Howard's live dexterity (2 posts below).
And I thought that my 'ten thumbs' guitar playing technique was unorthodox...

Friday, 23 December 2011

Hopeland (Notes from Corsica) 5. Antoine and Janet

5. Antoine and Janet

"We cannot tell the precise moment when a friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindness there is at last one which makes the heart run over." James Boswell.

 A good friend of Pascal Paoli, writer and diarist James Boswell knew a thing or two about the isle. Nick-named ‘Mr. Corsica’ he composed his ‘Account of Corsica’ in 1768, on the islanders’ struggle for liberty against the republic of Genoa. He also clearly knew a thing or two about the value of friendship.

 I sat outside Bar Rex on Boulevard Wilson in Calvi, with the perfect breakfast: cappuccino stiffened with an extra shot of espresso, croissant, slightly burnt, served with cold butter and fig jam, and a fresh crisp Sunday Times, opened, of course, to the sports page. I was suddenly aware of the smell of fresh bread and Old Spice after-shave lotion.
“Ah, Topingdon Hopsters. Magnifique!” I turned towards the source of this heady odour, a diminutive man in his early sixties holding a dozen baguettes under each arm.
“I know Hopsters well, my wife is from Hopsters”, he explained nodding at the headline of my back page, ‘Spurs Win Big’.
“Her Papa was the patron of Topingdon.” It was the love child of Bilbo Baggins and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Ordering an espresso, he placed his loaves and feet under my table and, sitting down, introduced himself as Antoine Albertini, entrepreneur. In halting English he explained that he had married an English woman whose father was a founding father of Tottenham Hotspurs.
“Janet is now mother to my three children.” A skilled inquisitor, within five minutes he knew my life story and had invited Di and I to dinner that evening.
“Aperitifs at seven thirty. Now, excusez moi Johneee, I must complete my bread delivery” and with that, he was off.

The Albertinis’ house nestled amongst luxuriant foliage in the hills above Calvi. I rattled the heavy knocker twice and stood back. A shuffling of feet, that familiar ‘Eau de Antoine’ and the door creaked open.
“Ah, Johneee, welcome” I shook his hand and he kissed me. Twice.
“This is Di”, I offered. Antoine swaggered forwards
“Ah, my lurve, bella, bella, bella” he kissed both of her cheeks, several times. A silhouette loomed behind him and Antoine’s head ducked turtle like, into the collar of his shirt.
“And you would be?” purred the shadowy figure stepping out of the darkness. A cigarette in one hand and a cocktail glass in the other only added to a startling resemblance to Lauren Bacall. Antoine had forgotten to inform his beloved the she would be having dinner guests.
“Maybe I should introduce myself” she glowered as Antoine’s head withdrew further still “I am Janet, your host’s wife.”
She regally beckoned us into the dimly lit house and beyond, again into blinding sunlight, onto a garden terrace that revealed a magnificent view of the bay.
“Johneeee, a drink?’ asked Antoine with a bottle in hand.
“Why does he call you ‘Johnny’?” whispered Di.
“Because he cannot pronounce ‘Trevor’ or indeed most rudimentary English words”, answered Janet, “and ‘Johnny’, as in Haliday, the aging French rock star”, she added, eyeing my ripped Levis. Antoine hugged his bottle at a safe distance. “Please excuse my terrible English, but my teacher, she is no good.” His nervous gaze rested affectionately upon Janet who rolled her eyes and groaned. The ensuing supper was a boozy banquet of reheated morsels, presented in no apparent order and quite delicious. As he opened yet another bottle I caught sight of a tattoo on Antoine’s arm.
“That is the mark of my regiment, ‘Le Premier Parachutiste d’Infanterie de Marine.” No wonder it dominated his bicep.
“As a marine commando I fought in the Algerian war, killed many men and lost many friends. I myself was injured. See here.” Taking off a flimsy tennis shoe and Scooby doo sock he revealed a vivid purple scar across the top of his instep.
“Shrapnel, and here also”, he added, pointing to a crease in his forehead.
“Scars fade, the madness remains”, sighed Janet, “mind you, he never was normal.” She proceeded to relate the story of their meeting. Janet had first visited Calvi as a twenty-year-old tourist and fell for Antoine’s dashing good looks and playful twinkle. They courted and, smitten, she took him home to London to meet her father. The first indication of his maverick character came when Antoine, as with most Corsicans, an avid hunter, was invited to a hunt with Frank, one of Janet’s relations who also happened to be a policemen. The two agreed to separate then rendezvous to compare their ‘kills’. Two hours later, at an agreed spot, Frank proudly displayed a rabbit, a grouse and a brace of pheasant. Antoine himself paraded some small game but beckoned excitedly for Frank to follow him. There in a nearby clearing lay two white swans, dead as dodos. The proud hunter stood over his quarry confused at his comrade’s reaction. “Frank was spitting feathers” laughed Janet “killing the Queen’s swans is worth up to six months in jail. Lucky for Antoine that Frank had a spade in his van!”
“A waste of good meat” muttered Antoine as he left the room. Janet talked affectionately about the rest of her family; Vicki the local tennis coach, Juliette who had married Jose, a Venezuelan, their son Joseph who worked as an air steward for Air France “he looks just like his father did before he became…” the door opened, she paused, glancing over my shoulder “before he became… that.” I turned around and nearly hit the deck. From boots to balaclava Antoine was dressed in full combat gear. Over his shoulder was the biggest rifle I’d ever seen. He carried in his hands a delicate tarte tatin that he proceeded to slice with no mention of his outfit.
Crème Anglais Johneee?” inquired our deadpan host, sneaking me a wink.
“Ignore him,” growled Janet “but be warned, this is just the beginning.” It was indeed a beginning. There would be many such nights at the Albertinis’, most of them ending with Antoine and I in some form of fancy dress or dishevelment, serenading the moon, howling ‘Nostrovia’ and hurling spent shot glasses into an empty pool. Di always drove home.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Lovesong: Ben Howard: Old Pine Official/Keep Your Head Up

New kid on the block?
I know nothing other than... I like it.

He can cut it live also:

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Boat House Bound...

Di and I are off to Norfolk for a few days so will drop off the intermap for a while.
It's our 25th anniversary (first kiss, not wed) on Dec 20th and we'll be billeted in a 10x10 boat house for the duration.
I hope that we get on...
Meanwhile, we went to Northumberland last weekend for a magical weekend with our neighbours; snow on the beach, beer and... kippers.
Read all about it on Di's blog here.
I'll see you again next Thursday....

The Bliss of Solitude: Anne Sexton & Lovesong: Mercy Street by Peter Gabriel

When I first heard the new Peter Gabriel album 'New Blood' I couldn't warm to it; it didn't seem to improve on the originals so why bother? 
I should have known better really; it's a grower, there's a newfound intensity that focusses Gabriel's... intensity; he takes himself seriously and I love that about him. I particularly like his new version of 'Mercy Street', a song that was inspired by poet Anne Sexton. 
Sexton was troubled, lost, crippled by depression and tried to recognise and shape her history using poetry as therapy. She wrote essentially for herself and found an empathetic audience only after her suicide. 
Her search for relief took her in search of the house where she once lived with her father as a child, 45 Mercy Street. 
She walked the streets but couldn't find the address. 
Her search for identity and 'home' are elements picked up by Gabriel in his beautiful song.
I'm sure that you are familiar with the version off 'So' so I've included the new take from 'New Blood' here: MERCY STREET
It's emotional presence may be better felt after reading Sexton's poem:

45 Mercy Street

In my dream,
drilling into the marrow
of my entire bone,
my real dream,
I'm walking up and down Beacon Hill
searching for a street sign -
Not there.

I try the Back Bay.
Not there.
Not there.
And yet I know the number.
45 Mercy Street.
I know the stained-glass window
of the foyer,
the three flights of the house
with its parquet floors.
I know the furniture and
mother, grandmother, great-grandmother,
the servants.
I know the cupboard of Spode
the boat of ice, solid silver,
where the butter sits in neat squares
like strange giant's teeth
on the big mahogany table.
I know it well.
Not there.

Where did you go?
45 Mercy Street,
with great-grandmother
kneeling in her whale-bone corset
and praying gently but fiercely
to the wash basin,
at five A.M.
at noon
dozing in her wiggy rocker,
grandfather taking a nap in the pantry,
grandmother pushing the bell for the downstairs maid,
and Nana rocking Mother with an oversized flower
on her forehead to cover the curl
of when she was good and when she was...
And where she was begat
and in a generation
the third she will beget,
with the stranger's seed blooming
into the flower called Horrid.

I walk in a yellow dress
and a white pocketbook stuffed with cigarettes,
enough pills, my wallet, my keys,
and being twenty-eight, or is it forty-five?
I walk. I walk.
I hold matches at street signs
for it is dark,
as dark as the leathery dead
and I have lost my green Ford,
my house in the suburbs,
two little kids
sucked up like pollen by the bee in me
and a husband
who has wiped off his eyes
in order not to see my inside out
and I am walking and looking
and this is no dream
just my oily life
where the people are alibis
and the street is unfindable for an
entire lifetime.

Pull the shades down -
I don't care!
Bolt the door, mercy,
erase the number,
rip down the street sign,
what can it matter,
what can it matter to this cheapskate
who wants to own the past
that went out on a dead ship
and left me only with paper?

Not there.

I open my pocketbook,
as women do,
and fish swim back and forth
between the dollars and the lipstick.
I pick them out,
one by one
and throw them at the street signs,
and shoot my pocketbook
into the Charles River.
Next I pull the dream off
and slam into the cement wall
of the clumsy calendar
I live in,
my life,
and its hauled up

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Limbo Diaries. 5 (Step by Step)


TJ: Marcus has given me an arrangement to which I've added lyrics, a vocal line, and a middle 8. Working title is 'Step by Step'. 
We organise the sections, add the M8, and I sing it. We then decide to double track the chorus, and add some harmonies to the hook in the M8. Marcus then balances the vocals and starts playing with some echoes/effects on the vocals. I don't normally like effects on the voice (I'm a meat and potatoes boy myself) but I've got to admit they sound great. It reminds us both of 'Weatherwise' from 'Alaska', no bad thing. 
Home for the weekend.

MC: Vocal chain, as above (ain't broke, and all that). The track really started to come together and unusually we put on a lot of backing vocals, but they sound great. At the end of the day the track sounds fantastic and Trev and I rock out with the monitors on full blast, big smiles on our faces.

TJ: (FEB 2006 remember
Listening to:
Sweet Billy Pilgrim 'We just did what happened and nobody came' A beautiful mess of oddly affecting lullabies; Blue Nile catches the Divine Comedy wearing Elbow's boots!
Ben Folds 'Songs for Silverman' Great piano songs. Love it when he takes his tongue out of his cheek. His voice always reminds me of Randy Edelman. (should I remember that?)
Strays Don't Sleep. A joint venture between Neilson Hubbard (check out his lovely 'Why Men Fail') and Mathew Ryan (try 'Concussion' or his new one) which is country/ambient heartache.
Halloween Alaska. Sounds like the Blue Nile (again) fronted by Paddy MacAloon, not a bad combo. Love track 8.
Richard Hawley 'Coles Corner'. If this beauty doesn't get me and buy it.
Ryan Adams '29' A bit obvious...he's like that best friend you're sick of the sight of, but can't help loving.
Neil Diamond '12 Songs' So, he nicked the title from Randy Newman... Diamond was great before he got lost in Las Vegas; this is back to his roots, a Cash like re-invention. Some pretty good songs laid bare with a guitar and a voice in heartbreaking decline.
Rosanne Cash 'Black Cadillac'. A dignified farewell to her father.
'Brokeback Mountain' Beautiful, brave study of a tender relationship. This'll seperate the boys from the rednecks! Annie Proulx's short story is worth a read, from the collection 'Close Range'
'Crash' Smart, involving story cycle set in LA (reminded me a little of 'Short Cuts') which deals with its touchy issues head on. The glitzy cast are actually humdrum brilliant!
Paul Auster's 'Red Notebook' Smart notes on the writing process, and the wonders of serendipity.
Marilynne Robinson's 'Gilead' A long wait since 'Housekeeping', this reveals itself slowly, wise and (not too) worthy, it's worth the effort.

MC: Listening to:
Jazz trio album I'm mixing/producing/performing! with Mike Hugg from the Manfreds.
New tracks for Paul Young,nearly finished, a new direction for him.
Sweet Billy Pilgrim, Nine Horses, Richard Hawley, Wayne Shorter.
Reading: Bertrand Russell's 'History of Western Philosophy’. Micheal Moore's 'Stupid White Men'.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Mighbrow: Ocean Bound

I wrote this after watching a display of love and indifference (father and daughter respectively) on a Corsican beach. Di and I don't have children and are therefore ignorant of the parental pull. We are however proud and pitifully inadequate godparents to five quirky kids (Tats/Zach/Greg/Katie/Olivia) and have witnessed the inevitable acquiescence that all parents must endure for their offspring. There's a sanguine sadness mixed with the envy and admiration as you witness your once feckless mates disappear under the heavy coat of responsibility, only to reappear (all too occasionally) with the knackered but giddy grin that all young parents sport.
There always seems to be an undercurrent of anxiety; a recognition that if they look away
they might miss something and somehow lose grip of what is essential but unnamable.
A sadness too therefore in the recognition that time can't be stilled; 
that you can hold but never truly keep...

Ocean Bound

And the father holds the daughter on the beach
Knowing that he’ll never forget
And that she’ll never remember

She moves to the rocks
Just out of reach

He thinks of sunsets and of late November
Hearing the words
Ocean bound:
“I will be nice, I will be kind
I will hold other folk in mind”

Is her song for him?

She has already forgotten that he’s there

Monday, 12 December 2011

Hopeland (Notes from Corsica) 4. Max

I'm not encouraging irresponsible drinking but you might want
to keep an eye on the guy featured in these posts from Corsica.
It was a pretty boozy night as you'll eventually see from the
gradual decline in the quality of my posing and Di's photography.
It didn't end well...


Looking at Max’s puckered eyebrow I was reminded of Hemingway’s hunter, who chased 
endangered species and exotic beasts only to blast them into oblivion. Hunters’ always pray on 
the biggest and boldest, assuming that the one with the most scars must be ‘of substance’. 
Kill the beast and inherit its potent integrity. Not that I saw our new friend as hunter; 
his were the eyes of the hunted. Max was a coiled spring, fiercely chauvinistic, proud of 
his Corsican roots, desperate to retain independence from the interfering mainland and keen 
to propagate his intolerance:
“It is not ‘maquis’ it’s macchia.” he spat again. “ The name comes from the mucchiu
wild rockroses that grow here in abundance. The French bastards took our word to give 
credibility to their fighters shivering and quivering in the bush. Maquisards? Pah!”
Max was easy company until Paris was mentioned, the tricolour a red rag to his bullish beliefs. 
It was our second evening in Corsica and we sat, as his guests, in ‘L’Arbre Cotier’ overlooking 
the glorious scope of Calvi Bay, the slopes beyond awash with the colours of spring.
Pac. Easter is a fine time to walk the macchia; the winter rains are still feeding the hillsides 
making the valleys like a beautiful yellow blanket. You can smell the honey and myrtle. 
Tonight you will eat young lamb, agneu de lait, which feeds only on the macchia and is fire 
roasted with the branches of that myrtle. And later I will introduce you to myrte our 
famous liqueur. It removes all conscience, and” he added with a chuckle, “the grass stains 
that follow.” Our waiter approached us with a sanguine nod before placing a large platter 
of chacuterie on the table. Here were Prizuttu, Coppa and the lean Lonzu with that never to 
be forgotten smoky buttery flavour.
“Again, the benefit of free grazing.” Max spluttered through a mouthful of cold cuts.  
“Our pigs run wild in the forests and feast on acorns and chataigne. We call the chestnut trees 
u arburu a pane’, bread trees, as they are so basic to our diet. The story goes that in the 
sixteenth century the ruling Genoese were unable to cultivate our mountains so 
they decreed that all landowners plant four trees a year; a mulberry, a cherry, an olive and a 
chestnut. Soon la chataigne reigned supreme et voila, we were self-sufficient. The Father of 
our nation, Pasco Paoli said, “As long as we have chestnuts, we shall have bread.” 
Of course the French despised us for this ‘food of laziness’, they saw our easy income 
as immoral and forbade us to plant new trees. We ourselves started to ignore this bullion and yet 
it endures.” With that he put his hand to his ear and produced an unearthly warble. The room 
fell silent and all eyes turned to our table, a few older heads nodding in solemn deference. 
Max finished his song with an uninhibited, tremulous crescendo. No applause, just a reverent silence.
“That was ‘The Chestnut's Lament’. Max blinked away the mist. " I will translate:
“For generations I have fed you, given fodder for pigs, wood for furniture and fuel, but now 
you forget me, let the maquis strangle me.”  
On your wedding day you would be presented with a feast of twenty-two dishes, all made 
from the chestnut and its flour. Even Pietra, this beer we drink, is chestnut flavoured. 
It’s good, eh?” Max was now ahead of us and tucked into his main course, a ragu of wild boar, 
with almost indecent haste.
“I am late for a very important rendezvous. I wish that I could be more respectful to you and to 
this sanglier” he dipped his bread, “I will definitely need his strength, for tonight I shall be 
leading the Good Friday procession, a re-enactment of The Passion of Christ. I will be 
the penitent. I have sins to atone for”, he added darkly. “Tell no one as only the priest is 
meant to know my identity. It is a great honour and I have a great cross to bear.” 
He did indeed. The next time we saw him he was barefoot and hooded, dressed in red robes 
with that great cross on his broad shoulder, followed by others, the confrere, in white robes 
and hoods. As Max approached our station he relieved the sinister tension by releasing 
an almighty belch. “Pietra” he muttered as he passed.  There then followed a snail-like coiling 
and uncoiling of the file of brothers. Now the mood was lightened by a stray dog that 
comically padded in and out of the brothers’ legs against the tide, a Gay Gordon to their 
cheerless conga.
“That is the Granitula, an ideological reference to death and rebirth.” Max explained later. 
We had reconvened to Bar de Golf for a nightcap. A burly barman with dancing eyebrows 
and a luminous shirt served us tiny glasses of myrte.
“Speaking of rebirth, this is eau de vie, our water of life and this,” said Max with a flourish 
“this is Maurice, one of my oldest friends. He can swim under water for a quarter of a mile 
and eat a whole suckling pig in one sitting. He also has the finest collection of 
Hawaiian shirts on the island.”
“Do you like Disco?” asked Maurice.

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Limbo Diaries. 4 (Way Back When)


TJ: We start another new song 'Way Back When' with a pad and a loop, which takes it away from its singer/songwriter origins. The loop kicks it along nicely. I double track some acoustics (we've finally learnt to spell that word) on the choruses, and I pick a hooky riff in the chorus that Marcus hears as Led Zep, although it reminds me of the Gypsy Kings. We must co-ordinate our reference points!

MC: Another good productive day, I'll take Led Zep over the Gypsy Kings!

TJ: I have blackmail shots of Marcus dressed as a Gypsy King. 
I wouldn't publish one would I?