Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Hopeland (Notes from Corsica) 12. Chez Diane

Later that autumn we returned to Montemaggiore, to the house. Our house. It was a dim dull morning, a savage wind buffeted us as we struggled towards the top of the village, lugging heavy bags emblazoned with ‘Fragile’ stickers. We had emptied our English attic of the bric-a-brac that now seemed perfect for our French folly; mainly things left to me by my granny Molly Jones; lace table cloths, vases, tumblers, delicate wine glasses. A few locals, anonymous in hooded overcoats, eyed us from a distance. We made our way under that ancient archway, past the ‘1593’ graffiti that heralded our arrival A Cima. As we rounded the bend the house came into view and the wind died. We stood in the sudden silence, winded for a beat, hearts heavy with the gravity of the moment. Marie’s jasmine gave off an intoxicating smell. “Just love the house like we’ve done” she had said as we parted after the signing in Calanzana “and please, tend to the jasmine.”
A dog barked and the spell was broken.
We climbed the stairs to the front door. Out of her rucksack Di pulled a bronze sign that she’d had made up in London and stuck it squarely and surely on the door. The house was claimed, ‘Chez Diane’. She then took out a set of keys attached to a blue metal key ring fashioned in the shape of the island, a closed hand with its thumb up. She slid her key into her door and pushed. Thick voiced and shiny eyed she whispered, “This is the start of something. Welcome to Chez Diane” and made a game and ungainly attempt to carry me over the threshold. Inside there was darkness and the smell of damp. I reached for the light switch. Nothing.
“Both the electricity and water are turned on from the downstairs shower room below”, said Di squinting at notes that Don and Marie had left us. As I made my way back down to the street level Titin was tapping his way up the path towards his house next door. He smiled and greeted me with a heavy accent and a firm handshake, his salty French was peppered with Corsican phrases and I struggled to understand anything but his benevolence. Behind him was a diminutive lady laden with brown paper bags; Titin introduced her to me as Lucie, his wife. She peered up at me through thick glasses and quacked like a duck before proceeding to her front door.
I put a shiny new key into the shower room door, turned it and pulled. It wouldn’t budge. I tried again. Titin put down his walking stick and gently pushed me aside. He crouched and yanked, to no avail. A scratch of his head, a slight change of angle, an indecipherable curse, was he pushing or pulling? Eventually he sat defeated on the step and looked around for inspiration. ‘Robert’ he shouted up at an open window. A face appeared covered in shaving foam. Seconds later a shirtless Robert was wiping the foam from his chin and shaking my hand.
“I live opposite with Valarie my wife and our son Vincent Antoine.” As we spoke an overweight black Labrador came trundling up the pathway smiling; it seemed as if her tail was wagging her, so happy was she to see us. She licked our fingers in turn before rolling on her back to reveal a soft pink under belly.
“This is Diane”, said Robert “she loves to be stroked. Diane is the guard dog of Marie Lucie, Valerie’s mother, who lives next door to us. As you can see she is ferocious.” A young woman emerged from his house holding a child in her arms, around her feet a yapping Yorkshire terrier seemed hell-bent on destruction. My sandaled ankles were exposed. I didn’t mean it as a kick, it just came across that way. Eyebrows were raised and I apologized. I wasn’t creating a very good first impression.
‘Wendy, tais tois!” shouted Valarie, glowering at me as she dragged the furious mutt back into her house.
“What’s all the noise?” barked a voice from behind. I turned to see a handsome middle-aged woman approaching.
“Ah, Marie Lucie” said Robert, “meet our new English neighbour. We are trying to open the door that I varnished two weeks ago.” Robert explained that he had recently modernized the shower room for Don and Marie. “I think I made a mistake” he continued to heave at the door, “It was perfect in the summer when Don and I fitted it. Perhaps since then, with the rain, maybe it has swollen.”
By now quite a crowd had gathered and soon everyone had chanced a tug at the unbudging door.
“It’s a bit like King Arthur and the sword in the stone isn’t it?” I chuckled. Robert looked at me quizzically. There was a quacking behind me; Lucie approached. She sternly eyeballed us all before quizzing Titin noisily.
“They are both quite deaf” whispered Marie Lucie “it sounds like they are fighting but, no, theirs is a love story.”
Again I was brushed aside as Lucie hitched up her heavy skirt, crouching low, like a weightlifter. One sharp tug, one quiet ‘quack’ and the door gave, to loud applause.
“Voila” said Lucie smiling bashfully.
“Excalibur” I said pointing to the door.
 ‘Quoi?” said our new neighbours in unison.
“Arthur” I pointed at Lucie.
“Quoi?” quacked Lucie.
A babbling explanation of English folklore and history was wasted on a bemused audience who, I’m sure, thought this prattling Englishman a prat.
Titin sighed and looked at his shoes.
At that moment Di appeared at the top of our stairs.
“Ah, and this is my Di, another Diane, but not a dog, as you can see”, I gibbered pitifully to Robert who was petting Di’s namesake “although, she too likes her tummy tickled…”


There was work to be done on the house. I am my father’s son and don’t have a practical bone in my body. Luckily we know a man who does. Gregg Etches is one of our oldest friends. If I were ever stuck in a plane without a pilot or instruction manual, I would radio Gregg to get me down safely. He’s not a pilot, he’s just that kind of a bloke, and actually, he’s terrified of flying. We invited he and his girlfriend Suzie to visit that Christmas. Together we stripped crusty wallpaper and painted rusty radiators. Fuelled by Pastis and pasta, we worked the day and feasted long into the night, gradually, imperceptibly;  ‘Chez Diane’ became us.
On Christmas Eve we ate a ragout of sanglier, wild boar gifted to us by Alain the owner of Bar de Golfe, who we’d invited up to the house, with Patricia, his Irish wife and their three bemused children. Wearing party crowns and red plastic noses, we crowded around our tiny dinner table and peered at each other through the dim candlelight. Maurice was there too, and was dipping his bread into the last remaining juices of the stew, a compliment indeed. Without cue or introduction Gregg stood and danced with a chair, solemnly spinning it while we watched in delighted silence. Later we joined the villagers of Montemaggiore in the square where the wood fire would be burning deep into the New Year. There we ate chestnut polenta and ‘figatelle’, a regional blood sausage, which we washed down with rough local wine, a delicious red, served to us in plastic cups. We sat around the fire in a drunken daze, getting smoked like kippers, exhausted and elated, our new life full of possibility. Someone offered up a guitar with five strings and asked me to sing some of my songs. Reluctantly I cleared my throat and a respectful hush descended. As I started into my song Robert took out his lighter and held it in the air and one by one the folk of the village followed suit. I felt like Lynyrd Skynyrd. I finished my mournful song with appropriately knitted eyebrows and a dramatic flourish. Silence, polite applause and then, over on the dark side of the fire, someone coughed and asked, “Do you know any Simon and Garfunkel?”
The smell of that fire is still with me.
I cannot remember being happier.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Vulture: Trev's Rant: Boo Boys and Bile

The looks of hatred from the crowd (fathers and young sons) beggared belief; their limpid fury, petulant, pathetic yet sadly predictable.
Now, I love my football (particularly the FA Cup which dominated our screen this weekend) but I was sickened to watch managers (Dalgleish and Ferguson) and various lame commentators commending the Liverpool fans as a "credit to the club and to themselves" after a large number (a majority?) booed, harangued and insulted an 'injured' man (United's Patrice Evra) who had been proven to have been racially insulted by "one of their own"; Luis Suarez was recently found guilty and banned for eight matches by an independent panel.
After the weekend's tie between Liverpool v Man Utd, Liverpool's manager Dalglish saw "nothing untoward; the fans are entitled to support their team".
I know that the rush for the moral high ground can cripple the possibility for keen eyed, honest debate but; talk about 'mixed messages'.
Sickening; those baying fans demean their club and themselves with the witless chants and brainless 'banter'; and this was a chance for 'King Kenny' to distance himself from the vacuous venom, and yet he saw nothing "untoward". I adored Dalglish as a player; his sublime skills and spacial awareness (literally) set him apart, he had a singular vision; yet as a supposed 'elder statesman' he seems to have inherited that managerial myopia that often clouds the judgement of many 'successful' managers (see also 'Wenger' and 'Ferguson'). He's indifferent to the principles here; just doesn't seem to get it... maybe his refined life has rendered him boorishly loyal, insensitive; unaware of his responsibilities to the game and to the world (beyond the confines of his red kingdom) that watches on. Many might regard his narrow world view as dogmatic Glaswegian integrity but I'm fearful that maybe he's ignorant or just... gormless?
Evra's crime?
He was guilty of doing what is required of anyone who would call themselves 'civilized'; he reported an instance of racial abuse to the authorities.
Later, watching the Australian Open, we sat through 6 hours of amazingly high intensity tennis; two sportsmen at the top of their game. "This is a private encounter; man to man" said the smart commentator, "we're just privileged to be allowed to listen in". Agreed; their commitment to the endeavor was amazing; neither blinked until the inevitable wilting after six hours of intense competition.
Well done Nadal and Djokovic.
I love my football, but these two champions put our oft feckless footballers to shame; they honoured their sport but, more importantly, they honoured each other.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Limbo Diaries. 13. The Falling Man


TJ: I missed a recent TV documentary on 'The Falling Man', about the efforts to identify a man captured on film, falling to his death from World Trade Centre on 9/11/2001. Since its publication, the now iconic photo, taken by Richard Drew, has been invested with all sorts of meaning. Many think that the image should be airbrushed from history, that to view it was voyeuristic. Others see 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 that surround him, he's caught in a brief moment of apparent grace. Of course, the shots before and after that frame tell the true tale of this prelude to extinction; he hurtles at 130mph, limbs akimbo, to his certain demise. I googled 'The Falling Man' and came upon a piece written by Tom Junod that had appeared in Esquire magazine about the shot. I was struck by the idea of this being the falling man's last will. 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 your 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, I didn't want to jump on the wailing 9/11 bandwagon, but there was something in the way that people reacted to the photo that intrigued me. Eventually it came to me that we all wanted to see his face, his expression, to know how he felt, to wonder if we would have done the same. There but for the grace of God indeed...he is us! I then heard an interview with a man who had spoken with his wife on a cell phone just before she had jumped. He was talking about her making the ultimate choice, that he knew she was thinking of him and their children as she leapt and, how for her, it was a kind of homecoming. She was able to breathe fresh air 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". It seemed like an endorsement of the human spirit too profound to ignore, so I put pen to paper.
I didn't want the song to be too musical, too artful, it just didn't seem appropriate, so we agreed to keep it stripped to its original acoustic strum. Marcus then added a double bass and a wurlitzer that help shape the chords. We might add some dobro around the vocal, but that's it.

MC: It was strange when Trev came in with ‘The Falling Man’ as I’d recently been working with Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris. They’ve done a duets album and one of the songs on the album is called ‘If This is Goodbye’. Upon first listening thought it was just a goodbye love song but it was in fact about 9/11 and the last phone calls people made when they found themselves trapped after the impact of the plane. It was a very emotional song to play and was still fresh in my mind when we started ‘The Falling Man.’
The guitar and vocals were recorded as above and the double bass was recorded in the control room with rhode classic through the Joe Meek VC1Q with a touch of compression.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Hopeland (Notes from Corsica) 12. Termites

 “Termites? Termites? There’s no bloody termites in that house. If they find any termites in that bloody house I’ll eat my bloody foot.”
Don wasn’t happy.
“Don love, it’s all part of the process” soothed Marie “it’s simply like having a survey done in the UK. Here in Corsica they’re hot on termites and asbestos…”
“Asbestos?” spluttered Don.
We had made an offer to buy the house and, though it was accepted there were the obligatory legal hoops of fire to jump through.
Marie stroked Don’s forearm “As it’s Brit to Brit there are non of the usual local complications; there’s often a cross eyed cousin who opposes the sale of a family pile out of ignorance or spite. The only one who’s cross eyed here seems to be Don.”
‘Termites!” tutted Don, shaking his head.
We shared a local lawyer with the Adams family, a ‘Notaire’, to oversee the process, which seemed surprisingly straightforward. Once the checks had been made we arranged to meet the Notaire in nearby Calenzana with Jacques Levy, the father of a local friend, who would translate for us and act as benefactor. We’d met him only once but he was happy to help.
We arranged a rendezvous with Jacques and Don and Marie in Calenzana, from there we would go on to our meeting and hopefully the signing. We’d arrived in the Piazza Communa shortly before Don and Marie. There was grumbling as they approached.
“I told you there were no bloody termites in…”
“Don, you promised!” interrupted Marie.
We sat beneath burgeoning bourgenvilla in the luster of early morning, at a café overlooking the church of Saint Blaise, admiring its Baroque bell tower.
“They reckon there’s five hundred Germans buried beneath that tower”, said Don
“Austrians actually Don,” interrupted Marie “although it is referred to as the ‘Cimetiere des Allemands’. The story goes that the then Austrian king, Charles V1, sent troops to help his Genoese allies quell an uprising here in the 1730s, although some say they were not regular troops but mercenaries, which might account for their rough treatment.”
Don pushed his glasses atop his pate, eyebrows raised, obviously impressed by his eloquent wife’s local knowledge.
“And rough treatment’s what they got my dear” he chuckled, “German, Austrian whatever, these villagers had no weapons but still saw ‘em off. They set their own cattle on fire, blocked off the streets with the blazing beasts, then chucked boiling oil and beehives from the rooftops at the cornered krauts. When they were out of oil and bees they threw the bloody rooftops at them; literally ripped the tiles up and bombarded the bastards.”
Marie stared deep into her coffee cup “Shortly afterwards the Genoese withdrew from the area, retreating to Corte. Although it took another three hundred years, the locals still regard that day as a massive step towards their independence. Only about a hundred survived the massacre. The five hundred unlucky ones ended up here buried top to tail. There are many similar stories around the island” she continued wistfully “all that pride, blood and thunder resolving itself as nowt but food for the worms.”
‘And termites” added Don, deadpan.
 “Bonjour!” a smiling face was at Marie’s shoulder.
“Ah Jacques” I jumped to my feet “Don, Marie please meet Jacques Levy our very good friend who will act for us with the Notaire.
“Trev” whispered Di.
“Jacques is the father of Sandrine, the first friend we made on the island”
“Trev”. Di again.
 “Jacques, please meet Don and Marie Adams.”
“Enchanted”, said the still smiling face “but my name is not Jacques. I am Xavier your waiter. A coffee maybe?”
Di rolled her eyes, Marie eyed me with pity while Don roared himself cross eyed. All talk of termites was forgotten as Xavier plied us with tar black espressos. Within minutes the real Jacques Levy arrived and we strolled to our meeting, Don giggling at my reddening neck.

Friday, 27 January 2012

... and lashings of ginger beer

Marcus and Peter Beckmann are currently remastering 'Alaska' and 'Limbo' for their respective 10th & 5th year anniversary re-release as high quality downloads (more about that later).
Lashings of ginger beer?
It seems that they've been drinking too much coffee...

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Lovesong: Somebody That I Used to Know - Walk off the Earth (Gotye - Cover)

Thanks to Phil Hogarth for bringing this to my attention.
You may hear the song on the radio and think 'so-so' but then you see them performing it live (no, really, live) and it's gobsmacking...
It's had nearly 40 million 'You Tube' hits in 20 days... 
Apparently the live (yes, really, live) video took 26 takes and 14 hours of filming to nail a mistake-free performance.
I love the whispered "I think we got it" at the end... 
It's good to know that Eric Cantona (seemingly far right) has given up 
on his thespian ambitions and is back to his 'head smacking' best.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Limbo Diaries. 12. Forgotten Songs

TJ: A new song 'Forgotten Songs'. I play an acoustic guide then sing. We add a footy crowd type backing vocal section, with Marcus making his vocal debut for MM! We decide to ask Chris Bachelor to arrange and play a brass band type section for us.

MC: I recorded the acoustic with the usual AKG 451, Trev used the Taylor 514 he got for his birthday (lucky boy!) a guitar I was strangely familiar with. The vocal was recorded with the Rhode classic into the Amek/Neve pre. As we were stacking up the BV’s I thought I’d add to the mix, don’t know why I haven’t before but as Trev pointed out, it was in fact a first on a Miracle Mile album.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Mighbrow: The Cackle of Crows

My last few posts all seem to have had a funereal bent; sorry to be gloomy; I promise to lighten up.
'Hopeland' started with the funeral of a stranger and ended with one closer to home; completing that particular journey; one which took me from disinterested voyeur towards something more profoundly personal.
I'll never be indifferent to that final parade again...

The Cackle of Crows

They stand in black
Indifferent, disinterested, smoking
Oddly sated, like roadside crows
Stepping foot to foot
Their dancing brows parade
From one posie to the next

Flowers, why flowers?
Still sunshine
Still birdsong
The cackle of crows
And the lilies lean back
Towards the earth
That will shortly reclaim them

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Di's Photography

My lovely Di continues with her photographic endeavors.
A damaged dancer and reluctant model, she's found something (other than a Mediterranean island and me) to fall in love with. There's purpose to her passion, a new career, and she's coming on apace. Have a look at some of her recent work here; she'd love to get some feedback (even a critique) so why not drop her a line or leave a 'Comment'.
I can guarantee a (fairly exhaustive) response from her...

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Lovesong: Wells & Moffat: (If You) Keep Me in Your Heart & The Copper Top

As 'Everything's Getting Older' was on many folks' 'best of' lists for 2011 I invested in the album. I was aware of Aidan Moffat's work with Arab Strap and admired his poetry; he has a dark and dismissive eye; honest and keen, caustic and cutting; yet there are occasional glimpses of tenderness that strike you dumb. That brutal beauty is evident on this collaboration with fellow Scot, the multi-instrumentalist Bill Wells. I've seen Moffat described variously as 'venomous', 'the Scottish Lou Reed' and 'a right miserable bastard'. Sure, this is 'Marmite' territory and wont be for everyone; but if you can get past the bitter brogue there's a rough integrity to the work that stops you in your tracks, and there's not much music around that can do that to me these days...
Have a look a these two videos; the first '(If You) Keep Me in Your Heart' is probably the most accessible thing on the album; the second 'The Copper Top' will give you an idea of the mordent humour that abides the darkness.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Hopeland (Notes from Corsica) 11. Don and Marie (part two)

We arrived early the next morning to get a good view of the house’s exterior. What Don had described as ‘A Cima’ was in fact the highest point of the village, a huge outcrop of rock that was home to four privileged dwellings. With our backs to Calvi, the Adams’ house was to the lower left. On three levels, the ground floor remained a mystery, but we could make out the familiar stairway that led up to the front door and the main body of the house, which, in keeping with the character of the village, was grey, square and characterless. Brown shuttered windows mapped out the two upper levels beneath the flat roof terrace where we’d sat the previous evening. Attached and to the right, a small two story house which was itself connected to a taller building made from a type of stone walling known locally as ‘Pierre’. On the highest point of the outcrop was a handsome detached property, modern in design but again made from ‘Pierre’.
“That’s the Parisians’ place. Don’t see ‘em, don’t know ‘em” Don had snuck up on us. “I’ve just been to the local bakery for croissants. Always bloody burnt. Luckily we don’t need bread; Marie bakes it fresh every day. The other tall house belongs to Jean-Jacques, ‘King of the Castle’. Nice enough chap, he does our insurance for us, but never stops tinkering. We were once the tallest house here, a full 360-degree view from the top terrace. He asked me if we minded him building up ‘un petit peu’. Next thing I know we’re living next to a bloody lighthouse,” he jutted his jaw at the recently completed fourth floor.  “That little house between him and us belongs to Titin and Lucy. Titin’s a bit of a local celebrity, a sculpture he is, though he’s never sold ‘owt as far as I know. Says he does it for himself; art for arts sake if you like. He keeps his work where he makes it and where he can see it, right outside his front door. Come and have a look.”
We shuffled down from the rock to an open area that served as an outdoor gallery for Titin. There were grim faces everywhere, austere character studies with an almost religious simplicity that was oddly compelling and absolutely in tune with the environs. Some stood alone whilst others were carved into the rock itself. One study bore the title ‘Pasco Pauoli’; only Titin knew the identity of the others.
“The locals call these figures ‘menhirs’, they remind me of gargoyles”, muttered Don, looking over his shoulder.
It did feel like the ancients were leering us at; you could almost hear their voices whispering, “Bugger off and leave us alone.”
Entering the house Don turned on us.
“Now, I know what you’re thinking, home made bread and freshly ground coffee; we’re an Estate Agent’s dream. But this isn’t the ‘hard sell’, honest. This is just us, everyday.”
“You’re a lucky man Don,” I ventured.
“Every bloody day” he beamed, putting both thumbs in the air.
“Now then, let me show you around. This is the lounge with two rooms off. This, a bedroom,” he opened a door onto a small room, functionally decorated, “and here’s the bathroom”, pink again.
“And this is where we spend our mornings” he said throwing open French windows. We stepped onto a lower terrace that looked upon the mountains. I strolled to the edge of the terrace. Through the branches of a fig tree I could see a tiny chapel below. Directly to our right was another terrace.
“Neighbours. Never used,”
To our left jasmine grew over scrubland and a tiny old ruin that sat above an archway, the one that had kept the Vikings at bay.
“They say that one of Napoleon’s big knobs used to live there, a General I think,” said Don eyeing the meager pile. “Must’ve all been short arses. That jasmine is Marie’s pride and joy. She planted it when we moved in and tends to it like it was one of her grandchildren. That’s a whiff of heaven.”
Marie drifted out, all chiffon and cheese clothe, bearing a laden tray.
“Come on now, try the bread, Don bakes it fresh every day.”
Next to me Don shifted in obvious embarrassment.
“It’s the only thing he cooks, besides the fish he catches,” that lovely chuckle again.
“Alright, it’s a fair cop, I’m a baker of bread” confessed Don “it’s not bloody easy either. Corsican flour knackers my machine, don’t know why. We have to bring flour in from Lancashire when we drive over. Confuses the hell out of French customs. They’re convinced I’m smuggling some illicit powdered drug. They all get ‘Mothers Pride’ stuck up their know it all noses. Cocaine my arse!”
“Language Don” chided Marie, pouring coffee that looked as strong as her Gin and Tonics. “I’m sure it won’t surprise you that a lot of the flour here is made from chestnuts.”
We glanced up at a pair of squawking hawks that swooped playfully above us.
“Go on my son” shouted Don as one dive-bombed the other. 
“I love those birds. Could watch ‘em all day. Go on my son!”
“It’s a quiet life up here,” explained Marie.
After breakfast she gave us the grand tour.
“As Don’s already shown you this floor, I’ll take you up”
In single file we scaled those rickety steps again and walked into the dining room.
“We tend to spend our evenings up here. There’s always a nice breeze” she said opening more French windows that overlooked the lower terrace and that view, again. She pushed herself through swinging galley doors that led onto a tiny but well ordered kitchen.
“Corsicans spend more time eating than cooking, so kitchens tend to be bottom of the totem pole, space wise”
Back in the dining room a door led into another bedroom, the exact size of the one directly below.
“You’ve seen the top terrace already so why don’t I show you what’s on the ground level.”
We walked out of the front door and down to the street. Marie fumbled with her keys and opened a heavy padlocked door.
“This is cellar number one. We use it for storage; chairs, tables, all our beach stuff and, as you can see, we’ve got another fridge in here for wine and beer”
It was a vaulted ‘Cave’ about ten meters square with a tiny cobwebbed window that looked out onto the street. At the far end a tiny archway led into an even smaller room. “You could just about swing a cat in here” said Marie looking up. “I’ve never worked out what that is” she said pointing to a grisly looking object hanging like a limp dick from a hook on the low ceiling “but it’s been there for at least fourteen years. I refuse to touch it.”
 “It’s a bloody sausage!” Don had rejoined us. “Chacuterie. It’s what they put in Corsican ‘Caves’. That and wine.” He swiped out with a handy tennis racket causing the object to swing back and forth causing me to wonder whether they had jock straps in Napoleonic times. Maybe that was their undoing, their ‘Waterloo’. Where we had wellingtons and sandwiches, they didn’t have jockstraps. There must have been quite a bit of chaffing en route to Moscow.
“Are you all right lad?” Don was watching me watching the dangling gristle.
“Hypnotic, isn’t it?” I blushed.
“It’s a bloody sausage! Come on now, we’ve lost the girls”
Out onto the street again and down to another door that opened onto a shower room.
“I’ve just put this in myself. It’s where we wash the sand off from the beach; useful to have an extra toilet as well.”
Again, we exited onto the street and approached a glass door behind which the ladies rattled like a bag of bones.
“There’s not many can out talk Marie.” Don was impressed.
“We call this room ‘Cell Block H”. It’s a bit grim but sleeps two, comes in useful when the whole clan descends on us at once. It’s also where we send the naughty grandchildren. A bit like room 101, the threat’s enough.” Marie and Di appeared.
“Last and very definitely least, this is cellar number two,” said Marie who led us under an archway bordered by that jasmine. Its dirt floor made me think of it as a stable. There was no electricity.
“Watch your feet.” Don pointed down at scattered margarine tubs. “Rat poison!”
Marie gave him a withering look and continued, “I always thought that, if we did up cellar number one, this would become our storage room. As you can see, our neighbours have had the same idea.”
The cellar seemed to have become a dumping ground for all local bric-a-brac: unused tiles, a sewing machine, a tailor’s dummy, the tireless frame of a bike, a big red plastic fire engine, an old printer and a punch bag, enough to consume anyone on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Back up on the lower terrace Don wrestled with a bottle of rose.
“We’ve softened you up with coffee and cakes, now we’re going to get you legless again”.
Their plan was to sell up in Corsica and throw in with their children on a larger property “somewhere in the south-west of France, Perpignon way. It’s lovely down there.” enthused Marie.
“You get a lot of brick for your buck there” interrupted Don; “we want somewhere where we can spread outwards, not upwards. I must admit Marie’s got me sussed; the upping and downing around here is starting to do for me. Also by throwing our money at a place for our children we can avoid the government’s grabbing mits when we pop our clogs. There’s some good rivers to fish there as well. I love me fishing, want to get back to it, after all this ticker trouble” he tapped his chest. “I loved the early mornings on the river or out on the lake but found it harder and harder to get up and go. My GP had some tests done and the next thing I know I’m in for a bypass.”
“Here we go”, sighed Marie.
“I’m lying on my back with all these masked men and women looking down at me, doctors, nurses, an atheist telling me to count backwards.”
“Anesthetist” interrupted Marie.
“Anyway” he continued “there’s an anesthetist telling me to count backwards. I counted them instead. Eleven of the buggers. I said ‘if you lot get me through this, I’m catching you all a trout’. As you can see I survived and sure enough, when I was up to it... I went fishing.” He took a long sip of his wine.
“I stayed on the river until I’d caught eleven good ‘uns, one of ‘em a corker. I gutted them, froze them overnight, stuck ‘em in a black bin liner the next day and went round to the hospital. Marched into reception and asked to see the surgeon. They made me go round to the back door, but sure enough the doctor came. I shook his hand and thanked him for saving my life, told him I was a man of my word and shoved the bag at him. Should have seen his face; mask askew on his forehead, stethoscope around his neck, dressed up in green robes, his rubber gloves clutching my plastic bag,” he laughed, “I think he was grateful but he didn’t say much. I told that the big ‘un was for him, and to pass the rest on to his team, with thanks from Don Adams, then I turned on my heels and walked away. One of the best things I’ve ever done,” his voice cracked. Marie gently squeezed his knee.
“So” he coughed, “what do you think of our little house?”                                      

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Limbo Diaries. 11. Love Letters and Long Goodbyes/Joshua's Watch: BJ Cole

TJ: BJ Cole comes in today, fresh from working in Ireland with Davy Spillane. We throw five songs at him, and he copes manfully; a couple of ‘’play throughs’ to routine the arrangement and chord structure, then we go for two takes a song. This focuses everyone, and adds a tension to the playing that we like. BJ could come up with variations all day, gold dust in every take, but we like the ‘first thought, best thought’ approach with him. It’ll also make things easier to edit!
First up is ‘Sunburst Finish’. The track is pretty full as it is, but BJ finds some space to inhabit, and loosens the song up nicely.
‘Lucky Limbo’: We like the space on this, so BJ holds back until the M8 and the steel weeps beautifully when he finally enters. (sounds like an extract from ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’!)
‘Way Back When’ is a bit of a challenge, as the arrangement is not yet defined. BJ riffs around the vocal in the verses and lays a pad down in the choruses.
‘Yuri’s Dream’. We get BJ to play some high subliminal stuff on the outro. I think this one is going to be popular with dogs!

‘Joshua’s Watch’ Not a lot on this, just my guitar and voice, with some delicate strings and high glock. BJ plays a lovely simple part that adds to the melancholy.
BJ in action is a compelling sight, and puts me in mind of a puppet puppeteer; he’s pulling all the strings, but seems guided from above by a different hand. No religious conceit intended, just a clumsy effort to illustrate the physicality a player totally lost in his instrument, yet totally in tune with the song. Seemingly fuelled by some exotic petrol, he grunts, moans and sways, while glorious sheets of sound emanate from a distant vintage amp. I could watch him all day!
We crack open a bottle of champagne, not a common event, but Marcus has just completed on his new house, and, as the studio will move with him, this could be our last session here, so the indulgence is warranted. The mid-afternoon tipple does go straight to our heads. I make the mistake of asking BJ to do one last song “a simple part, no problems.” BJ winces at these words, he’s obviously heard them before. As we routine ‘Love Letters and Long Goodbyes’ I realise that I’ve left the most difficult song until last, then thrown the demon drink at it. BJ grapples with the format; it’s not an easy one. Though it is a conventional sounding tune, there are half bars and extra beats akimbo (not to mention what BJ calls ‘the Steely Dan chords’. Marcus calls them ‘Jazz’. I call them ‘wonky’) Although by now BJ is too jazzed to feel inspired, we get a couple of workable takes that I’m sure we can snip. At the end of the last take, on the sustain of the very last chord, BJ breaks a string, the sound of which will definitely make the record, if only to remind me to organise the sessions better next time! We then sober up with a cuppa, and a lively debate on the relevance (or not) of ‘Englishness’ in our multicultural society (discuss).

BJ Cole: It's a long way from NE London to Norbury, whichever route you take. On my way to Marcus Cliffe's studio it occurred to me that this was the fifth time Trevor has asked me to work on a Miracle Mile album. This makes the trip special, for in my 37 years as a session musician, no other artist has employed my Pedal Steel on five consecutive albums, and the last four of them at Marcus's home studio in Norbury. By now the chemistry between Trevor, Marcus and myself is cooking. I set up and listen to the tracks (four in this case) and then enhance the mood of each track. Trevor is a master songsmith, his lyrics are often profound and thoughtful and the musical structures are varied enough to encompass a wide variety of moods. After nailing the four tracks, Trevor pulls a fifth out of the bag, saying: "it's really simple, it won't take you any time at all". This is invariably the cue for the most complex and difficult song of the session, and so it was! After having a light-hearted discussion about this paradox, I packed away my Pedal Steel. As I was leaving, Marcus informed me that this was the last time we would be working at his little studio in Norbury, a slightly sad note on which to leave my friends. Here's to the next time, wherever it may be.

MC: After a less than auspicious start to our recording experience many moons ago (it was a hot stressful summers day, couldn’t get a sound that BJ liked etc) I now look forward to seeing BJ when he makes his annual pilgrimage to Norbury Brook studio. We set up his trusty old fender amp mic’d with an old Octavia small diaphragm mic that BJ always brings with him. I tried it through the amek but decided the Joe meek VCV1 sounded better. A bit of roomverb on the soundscape mixer for monitoring purposes and we were set.
As Trev said, everything went well until the infamous “extra last easy song”! The champagne was duly dispatched by Trev and I, and by the end of the day a warm glow of soft focus had descended on the twilight hours of Norbury Brook........TBC

TJ: This will be our last session for a while. Marcus is about the go on the road for a month. 
Songs in various stages of evolution are:

Yuri’s Dream
Sunburst Finish
All the way to London
Step by Step
Lucky Limbo
Way Back When 

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Hopeland (Notes from Corsica) 10. Don and Marie (part one)

Two days later, we headed inland towards Calanzana. After a quarter of a mile we looked for a signpost that Pat told us had been used for target practice by the local hunters, a common practice apparently. We found the peppered sign whose death rattle proclaimed ‘Monte Grosso 9’ and, turning left onto a rough tarmac road, we started our gradual ascent. Montemaggiore lay before us, draped over a modest summit but dwarfed by a massive mount that rose up behind the village like a pantomime villain. As we ascended the white lines in the centre of the road disappeared and the route steepened suddenly into a series of sharp hairpin bends that challenged our budget Renault’s first gear. The clutch burned as the village beckoned. Its most striking feature, the church, seemed to perch like a sleepy owl atop the haphazard dwellings, rugged blocks of grey and white. One last bend, the most challenging, and we entered the village pulling up directly outside the church. It was here that we had agreed to rendezvous with the vendors, Don and Marie Adams. Stepping out of the car the clouds parted to reveal a breathtaking view of Calvi and the bay, sun kissed and glorious. Our spirits lifted.
“Not bad eh?” came a voice from behind us, “a sight for sore eyes eh?” We turned towards a tall sinewy man in his late sixties, dressed in jeans and a ‘Tetley’s’ t-shirt.
“Now then, I’m Don, Don Adams. You must be Trevor and Di” he beamed, squeezing our hands a little too firmly. “Marie’s waiting for us in the house. She gets a bit knackered with all the upping and downing.”
He led us up past the church into a modest square.
“This is ‘La Place’” he continued in his broad Lancashire accent “the heart of ‘Monty’ where the village holds its celebrations, fetes, a fire a Christmas, the nerve centre if you like.” The nerve centre currently comprised of a nervous one eared tabby and a shitting dog arching its trembling back and offering an embarrassed stare that begged us to look away. I waited for some tumbleweed to roll through the mordent scene; that would have brightened things up a bit.
‘It’s like ‘Angela’s Ashes’’ whispered Di.
As we continued our climb the village revealed itself in a series of narrow streets and grim fronted houses with no apparent character or style; function was everything. Climbing ancient steps we approached an archway beyond which we glimpsed a sunlit view of the hills behind the village. I felt a little shudder on the back of my neck. Don paused as we walked under the archway, “This is the old entrance to what was the fort, what the locals call ‘A Cima’,” he pointed at a date etched into the brickwork: 1593. “There used to be a bloody big door here that they’d slam shut on all the Romans and Vikings and such when them came up to rape and pillage.” Don’s history was as bad as my golf. “All the villagers would leg it up here until the invaders got bored and buggered off.”
Rounding a corner we climbed some steep stone stairs to a wooden door that Don opened with a flourish and entered a small living room, pink predominated. We were ushered up a rickety wooden staircase, through a small dining room and up another set of wooden stairs.
“Watch your step but whatever you do don’t bloody count ‘em.” said Don. As we stepped out onto a roof terrace the hairs on my neck twitched again. Never before or since have I been so immediately smitten with a view. Over the rooftops we looked towards the now familiar scoop of the bay where the Citadel was perfectly framed against the luxuriant azure of the Lagurian Sea, currently calm as a duck pond. Above and beyond Calvi was the Gulf of Revellata with its lighthouse just visible. My eye worked its way back up the valley following the road that had brought us here and came to rest on the back of the church. Behind its owl like facade a circular red tiled roof rose to a windowed turret. Alongside, twittering swifts frantically circled an elegant bell tower. I turned my back to the now cobalt sea. Three small villages nestled into the hillside. To our right the mountain rose above us, miles away but seemingly close enough to touch. Dominant yet somehow protective, the pantomime villain was in fact a benevolent presence. Beyond were the silhouettes of other distant peaks. I looked back across the valley towards the three villages.
“They form the rest of our commune which is known as ‘Monte Grosso’, named after that mountain”, said Don following my gaze.
“The villages are Lunghignano, Cassano and the biggest there is Zilia. See that long green shed there, just below and to the right, that’s where all the local bottled water comes from. And if you don’t like the taste of the water, just beyond is the vineyard of Alzipratu.”
I could just make out the blue, uniform shadow of vines.
“Good drinking that is, especially the red. Speaking of which, how about a Gin and Tonic?”
Don shuffled back down the stairs whilst Di and I sat at a bench avoiding eye contact; breathing deeply.
“Pink’s nice”
“Needs decoration”
“You haven’t seen it all yet”
“OK, let’s go gently”
There was the clink of ice on glass and Don reappeared balancing a tray, a lemon under each armpit and a small ivory handled knife clenched, pirate like, between his teeth.
“It’s the Vikings, leg it!” I laughed. Di kicked me under the table. An elegant lady caressing a bottle of Gordon’s gin followed Don out onto the terrace.
“This is my better half, Marie”, said Don putting a heavy arm around her delicate shoulder. “Actually, as she’s half Lancs and half French I’m not sure which is indeed the better half.”
Marie was half his size. She disentangled herself to slice lemons and mix drinks.
“Welcome to our little house, ” she smiled. “Strong, weak or medium?”
We learnt that she and Don had owned the house for fourteen years and stayed every summer for three months during which time their extended family visited at will.
“We’ve had as many as twelve folk sleeping at any one time. We do love it here but the steep stairs are getting too much for us. Don’s nearly seventy and not as fit as he’d have you believe. He gets easily knackered with all the upping and downing.”
Don bristled “I could stay here forever me, it just seems like time for something else. As the wise man said ‘change is good, even if it is from bad to worse,”
Marie chuckled at her husband “Don won’t mind me telling you that he had major heart surgery last year. We need to slow down and simplify.”
“Slow down and simplify! Slow down and simplify!” bellowed Don “you’re a long time bloody dead I say. Slow down and simplify, phfuf!”
As the late afternoon drifted towards early evening, the gun metal sea became an impossible silver. A thin strip of grey suggested the horizon towards which the sun descended for what would surely be a memorable sunset. I found myself entranced by the less obvious view out back. The snow peaked Monte Grosso rose above us, miles away but seemingly close enough to touch. Flowing down from the icy cone of the summit were tiny slivers of light, rivers fed by the snow, which reminded me of one of those lace doilies that my Granny would drape over the sugar bowl, to ward off flies and sticky fingers.
The light was ever changing; liquid hills swelled, shuddered and shifted in texture and hue; bleached orange to bronze, burnt ochre to broccoli green. Rusty reds and woozy purples briefly predominated before somehow, magically, all was golden again. There was no palette could do justice to this delicate cacophony.
“Look how the floor of heaven is thick inlaid with patterns of bright gold.” I knew that my ‘O’ level Shakespeare would one day resonate but was unaware that I’d spoken out loud. Don gave me a sideways glance.
‘Ay lad, not too shabby,’
Shapes and shadows revealed themselves in fine detail and would just as suddenly melt back into the balmy canvas. There were sure signs of the years of pastoral endevour: lazy lines of terracing and stonewalling, the occasional suggestion of old foundations. High on the hill a cemetery beckoned. Beneath shimmering olive trees orange nets blanketed the ground, ready to receive a harvest that would be six months in the coming. A donkey brayed. I could hear the whistling of shepherds as they guided their herds along ancient routes that criss-crossed the hills, down past neglected bergeries, down towards pastures new. The smell was intoxicating; the peppery pungency of the maquis mixed with the earthy odour of the goats and sheep made for a heady combination. Nearby a neighbour was frying onions. I looked across at Di, glowing in the pale pink of a bourbon sky, and I knew. We hadn’t even seen the house properly yet.
We shared the sunset. As that molten orb kissed the horizon a divine half-light descended and the landscape fell into a deep, sonorous silence. We sat blissfully suspended until a dog’s bark broke the spell.
“Like a ref’s whistle,” chortled Don refreshing our glasses, “that dog’s as reliable as the sunset”.
We talked long into the night before agreeing that, as it was too dark, too late and we were too pickled to see straight, we should meet again for breakfast the next day ‘for a right proper viewing’.
As we wobbled down cobbled stones towards the church, tentative and tipsy in the inky black, Di was strangely silent.