Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Aarhus Festival

This coming Friday I'm playing with the World Music Orchestra at the opening gala of the Aarhus Arts Festival in Denmark. 
The orchestra is a collaboration of invited musicians from around the world.  
Three songwriters have been asked to add their voices to the evening: Lisa Hannigan (solo artist who once sang with Damien Rice) will sing the title track from her Joe Henry produced album 'Home', Danish duo Eva Dahlgren + Simon Strömstedt will sing 'This is Our Time' whilst I've been requested to sing 'Hopeland'.
The opening is in front of the Queen of Denmark and an audience of 1600... could be a tester; especially without Marcus there. 
Still; should be fun. I'll let you know how it all pans out; wish me well.
Marcus and I were also commissioned to write a song for the festival's theme: 'Big - Size Matters'. We submitted a song that forms part of 'In Cassidy's Care', 'Big Circus'. It's a domestic drama that witnesses the results of Cassidy's small dramas. Apparently a film maker will make a 'short' for the recording. It may well inevitably end up as a clip on YouTube....
I return on Saturday then run for the Corsican hills for a week so will be off the radar for the next two weeks. 

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Sunday Morning Blue: Bill Fay: Cosmic Concerto

A few years ago I was made aware of Bill Fay by Paul, who runs our local CD shop 'Blue and Black' in Calvi, Corsica. I'm always interested in Italian and French songwriters; they love their chanteurs... and Paul recommended Piers Faccini, who sounds Italian, lives in Paris and turns out to a Brit. I told Paul that I was amazed that there was an English songwriter that good that I'd never heard of. This was obviously accepted as a challenge and Paul then handed me a copy of Bill Fay's self-titled debut from 1970. One play and I was captured; especially when I discovered that my mate Mike Gibbs had done the string arrangements. I also bought the 1971 follow up 'Time of the Last Persecution', played it to death then... forgot about Bill. I recently read that, in his late sixties, Fay had been contacted by American producer Joshua Henry (a long time fan courtesy of his parents record collection) to make an album. Henry then approached guitarist Matt Deighton (Oasis, Paul Weller, Mother Earth) who assembled a cast of backup musicians to bring out the songs' full potential; Tim Weller (who's played drums for everyone from Will Young to Noel Gallagher and Goldfrapp), and keyboardist Mikey Rowe (High Flying Birds, Stevie Nicks, etc). In addition, Bill is reunited on several tracks with Ray Russell and drummer Alan Rushton, who played on 'Time Of The Last Persecution'.
'Life is People' is already wrestling with 'Mid Air' as my 'album of the year'. It's a lovely thing, unfettered by cynicism, there's a sense of a man who's come to terms with his lot; the serenity and compassion is addictive. His beautifully imperfect voice reminds me of Ian Hunter, Peter Gabriel and Dylan, but has its own unique resonance. 
Fay recently commented "you can't make a comeback album unless you arrive in the first place. I'm getting a little bit worried that I'm coming close to arriving". 
This could be the perfect 'comeback album'. In fact, with it's calming religious undertones and big, humble heart, 'Life is People' could be the perfect 'Sunday Morning Blue'
It's amazing what you can do with two chords; let 'Cosmic Concerto' 'stir your soul'.

Friday, 24 August 2012

In Cassidy's Care: 19: A Kind of an Ending

He entered the communal doorway and slid his key into the door of his flat. 
Before he had the chance to turn the key the door swung open on fractured hinges.
Turmoil; upended furniture, broken glass, scattered papers, an aroma of stale sweat, the rustle of material, a shadowy movement, a punch to the ribs. 
He didn’t feel much; a stinging pain as the knife entered his side, then just a dull ache that he knew to be deliverance. He dropped to his knees and gently lowered himself onto the carpet face down. 
His eyes watered and he blinked away the tears. From his supine position his vision was limited and darkening with every shortening breath. 
That run had taken it out of him. 
He needed to breathe deeply to control his gasping. He tried humming, that would calm his ventilation. He blinked again and focused on ‘The Cassidys’, he and his brothers standing with Harry after that final gig. The photograph lay skew on the floor with the glass and frame shattered. Next to the picture were broken pieces of terra cotta pot and damp earth. His cactus lay flaccid, like a fish out of water. Or a limp dick thought Cassidy. Was that irony or symbolism, metaphor or simile? That was one for Archie’s next breakfast question time.
He could hear movement but couldn’t raise his head.
What a weird and wonderful week, he thought.
“Say what? What’s that? Say something?”
Cassidy recognized the lisp.
“Want some more, bitch?”
Claude knelt beside him and rifled his pockets roughly.
Cassidy stared at a Rolex with a crocodile strap; Monty’s watch on Claude’s wrist. He fixed on the frozen second hand as it twitched and pulsed with every second, ineffectively pushing against an unseen resistance, and he found himself breathing in time with that retarded tick. He needed to do something but couldn’t think what that might be. He’d just lie there a little longer until he felt… less tired.
As his breath shortened Cassidy was overwhelmed by a tremendous sense of calm. And he was filled with love; he loved his parents, his brothers, Daniel and Archie, Monty, Christ, he even loved Claude. The whole wide world was in his arms and it was no burden because Cassidy cared. He started humming again, and only then did he recognize the tune.
He loved Joni Mitchell.
His fingertips caressed the carpet and he felt himself sink deeper.
“Amelia, it was just a false alarm”
The carpet rose to meet him.
“Amelia, it was just a false alarm”
The carpet absorbed him.
“Amelia, it was just a false alarm”
He stared in wonder as the detailed patterns merged into a glorious golden brown.
Cassidy closed his eyes and she turned towards him.
He saw sun splashed pigtails and the grain of her hair, all burnt copper and straw.
She simply said “Hello handsome” and that was that.


“What’s that son?”
Harry leant closer this time.
Cassidy could smell Old Spice and modeling glue. 
“Nothing Pops, just… thinking out loud.”
His mother’s voice sang out from within the beach house, “Suppers nearly ready you two. Up to the table in five minutes.”
Cassidy squinted and fixed on his cactus, searching for a word. 
Harry reached down and gently slid the turquoise pot out of their creeping shadow and into the softening light.
“Some things can’t be fixed Pete, some things are beyond repair, but it’s good that you care son; there can be a blessing to burden.” He rubbed his forehead and then rocked back into his chair, crossing his heavy hands against his chest as if nursing an injured bird.
Cassidy did the self same thing.
There was much that he needed to let go of, but not this.
He needed to hold this close, and wondered if he would.
The sun was sinking over the salt marshes and a bourbon sky gently backlit his father, ancient and immortal.
He looked into that steady eye, then down at his own shaking, outsized hands, and Cassidy realized, with some relief, that his fate was sealed.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Sunday Morning Blue: Waterloo Sunset: Ray Davis

The Olympic closing ceremony was brilliantly bonkers; our good mate Kim Gavin choreographed the whole thing.
My two favorite musical moments were from the old guard; Eric Idle and Ray Davis; it's easy to forget  what a potent song Waterloo Sunset is; Ray performed it with an élan that belied his years.
I once sat next to him and a scruffy woman in a Crouch End curry house. The woman turned out to be Chrissy Hynde; disappointed to relate that Ray is a Chicken Tikka Masala man; I expected more of him...
A suitably mundane interview (thankfully brief) to explain the mundanities that inform Ray's writing.
Then... what a song; a real love song to London.
I think that Jimmy Nail tried to achieve a similar gravitas for Newcastle with 'Big River'.
Not even close but... oddly affecting.
I really like the song; whenever I play it Di looks at me as if I'm Dave Lee Travis...
There is a video of Jimmy and Mark Knopfler made for MTV which put me right off my corn flakes, so I've found a clip with just the audio...

Saturday, 18 August 2012

In Cassidy's Care: 19: This Sunday (continued)

He returned the boys to Amelia bang on time. He even got a wave and a smile from the doorway seven steps up. From Bayswater he stepped with a spring, up through Hyde Park to Marble Arch and then along Oxford Street. At Oxford Circus he turned north up Regents Street and entered Regents Park at its southern end. Without thinking he broke into a steady jog. He passed the boating lake and the bandstand and at the northern edge he turned east on the outer circle until he reached the zoo. He then turned north towards the southern slopes of Primrose Hill, following the now familiar path to the brow of the hill. As he surged up the slope Cassidy was giddy with hope; for the first time in an age he felt that he was running towards something. An elderly man feeding fish and chips to a scruffy mongrel occupied the bench. As Cassidy approached he recognized the slippers on the man’s feet.
“Monty, what are you doing here? Fancy the chances…”
‘Ah Pete, how are you doing old boy. Not such a coincidence really; you’ve rattled on about this bench so many times that I thought I’d come and see what all the fuss was about. It’s quite a setting.” Monty nodded southward “What a city?
Cassidy stretched and eyed the view. “How’s the healing Monty?”
“Oh, fine, fine, though gently does it; weeping wounds… As you can see I’ve become more discerning about the company I keep.” He patted the dog. “My new best friend. I’ve decided to call him Claude.”
“To protect you from his namesake?”
“No, that particular son of a bitch is long gone. I decided that I needed some reliable company; I took at trip down to the dog’s home in Battersea. I never could resist a pathetic stray. Our eyes met and I think that we both recognized a kindred spirit. He’s a good egg. We’re well suited; we’ll stop each other from wandering."
“Speaking of which,” said Cassidy jogging on the spot “I’ve got to keep moving or I’ll seize up. See you back at the ranch Monty.”
“Indeed. Cheerio old boy.”
Cassidy patted Claude, helped himself to a chip from the greasy paper bag and then turned back down the slope, exiting the park at Elsworthy Terrace. Picking up the pace he crossed the Finchley Road at Swiss Cottage and was soon at the front door of his apartment block in West Hampstead. 

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

In Cassidy's Care: 18: This Sunday (continued)

He pursed his lips and the word came forth.
“Pops”, whispered Cassidy.
He gave a strangled, euphoric yelp and then he laughed out, long and loud, clapping his hands at the recognition.
‘Red Pops’. That was it, the name of his blue tailed kite.
Christ, the banality; his very own ‘Rosebud’ moment.
He loved Citizen Kaneand Orson Wells; what a man; all of that early promise; and, and jeez… Red Pops…
Both Daniel and Archie were looking up at him quizzically, and he in turn squinted up into the blue and breathed in deeply; he loved the parks of North London in early springtime.
Up there with the jousting kites, a confusion of gulls stalked the skies, noisily claiming territory. Cassidy craned his neck and watched as one bird caught another by the wing. After an initial fitful fluttering, their bodies stiffened and froze, perhaps out of fear, or perhaps in dazed deference to the gravity of the unfamiliar moment, a moment that lasted fully twenty seconds, as they looped and twirled in silent dance, a feathery boomerang skimming the sky, before better nature caused them to release and break their arcing descent. The two gulls, seemingly chastened, flew briefly in stunned formation before resuming their raucous rivalry.
Jeeezus, did you see that boys?”
“Mom says that you shouldn’t take the Lord’s name in vain.”
“She’s quite right Daniel. I am sorry, but… did you see that?
And she says that God loves me and Archie more than almost anyone” Cassidy let that one slide. His boys were due some special attention. In four days time they’d be in Massachusetts, scattering their Grandpa’s ashes into the bay. He wanted them to believe that there was purpose to that particular parade. He’d spoken to his mother the night before. She was rock solid.
“I’m staying put. Why wouldn’t I? The beach house is my home. Your dad always jokes about it being built on sand but… don’t fret about me Pickle.”
She hadn’t called him that in years.
“I’ve always taken care of myself while you boys were off doing your things. Besides tending to your dad’s shrubs there won’t be too much to adjust to. Still be talking to myself, there’ll just be more potatoes left over is all…”
Cassidy saw then what he’d known all along: he wanted to go home. Back to the cape, back to the beach house, back to what he was before he wanted to be something else. What prevented his return was that which he loved the most. His sons needed their mother and she was bound to London. And although Amelia might be beyond capers, clowns and Cassidy, she sure as hell needed his benefits: school fees were waived for all faculty kids. That would keep him here for the next ten years at least. He felt sick, dizzy with resentment; he’d be in his mid fifties before he would be free to return home to live, to abide. By that time Annie might have followed Harry and the beach house could have fallen into the sea…
Cassidy rubbed his brow and stumbled, there was a rushing cacophony, a crescendo as blood seemed to flood his brain, what seemed like the snapping of a twig and then just a staggering, bright silence. Cassidy worked his jaw, shook his head, tried to make his ears pop, but the silence remained. He looked to the sky again, beyond the squabbling birds, beyond the carnival of kites, out beyond the blue and, with a jolt, Cassidy saw. He saw that there was much to be held and nothing to be kept. He felt unburdened; an abrupt sense of liberation and release; suddenly everything seemed clear. Cassidy shook his head in wonder; this was his morning for epiphanies.
The noises of the park gradually returned to him and he tested the air.
The obsession’s in the chasing and not the apprehending”, he quietly sang.
Tom Waits.
He loved Tom Waits.
His eyes stung and his throat ached. Cassidy paused, a hand on each son’s shoulder. He softly squeezed, and then gently pushed the boys into the breeze, towards the football pitch. A group of kids were clapping and noisily cheering Johnny, their maverick coach, who balanced a ball on his head like a performing seal.
You should throw that man a fish.
The young brothers turned back towards their father, both gave a puzzled shrug, rolled their eyes and sighed in unison “a fish?”
Cassidy swallowed hard.
“See you guys in a couple of hours. Love you both”
And don’t take any shit from that Johnny, he thought.
“Dad”, howled Archie, “you did it again.”
Life, thought Cassidy, placing a cautionary hand over his mouth, is fucking killing me.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Sunday Morning Blue: Paul Buchanan: Mid Air

I keep reading that 'Mid Air' is a disappointment.
I disagree.
I now know it inside out.
A bit like Raymond Carver's stories; there's comfort in the revisiting; a fresh nuance suggests itself with every exposure; because everything is so raw and revealing you actually get to focus on what lies within.
Every listen endorses what a brave and emotional revelation the album is. Its emotional landscape isn't always easy to navigate but that is surely part of the engagement.
It's easy to regard this as late night fodder; taken with the obligatory glass of single malt.
It also works well on Sunday mornings with a contemplative cup of coffee....
I just found this performance of the title track from BBC 2's 'Review Show'.
TOTP2 it aint...

Saturday, 11 August 2012

In Cassidy's Care: 17: Last Christmas (continued)

“Complications?” Harry’s spidery eyebrows arched. “Stop trying to understand everything Pete. There are always more questions than answers. Crows and doves son, crows and doves. It’s how you react to the storm; that’s the stuff that shapes you. What you is is what you aint.”
What I is is what I aint?
“Absolutely. Our strengths are our weaknesses son”, he scratched at his head “and ah… vice versa. We’re all shaped by our mistakes and compromises. The trick is in knowing when to let go of things; no point watering dead flowers.”  Harry flinched, seemingly agitated, as if trying to make sense of a distant calling. He looked around at his chaotic collection of potted plants then back at Cassidy, his left eye drooped, rheumy and discoloured. “I’m going to tell you something now that might mark me out as a sappy pappy, something even Annie doesn’t know, but I’ll give it a go because I think you’re in need of some… affirmation.” He took a long swig of coffee.
“I was born in this house. You know that. Story goes that when I emerged all bloody and bawling the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ was bellowing out of the gramophone. He loved Handel did your Grandpa. That certainly marked the moment for old Bertie, for, secretly, he was a mawkish mule too. Just before he passed, he confessed that he’d whistle me home with that tune whenever I was out in heavy seas, probably even tried yodeling it knowing Bertie.” Harry picked up his old Corn Cob pipe and idly placed the bit between his teeth. He hadn’t smoked for over twenty years but the pipe was still a prominent feature. Only Archie dared call him ‘Popeye’. 
“Anyways, when Tom was born I too felt the need to mark the moment. There were no tunes blasting out, no ‘hallelujahs’ for Tommy. But I knew I wanted to honour his birth with something that would endure, but something personal: something private: something just for me. I sat here on the porch listening to your mom howling at the saints, using language would make a fisherman blush. I took my mind off the carnage by tending to my shrubs, it’s always been a grand passion of mine as you know.” He flourished a hand. “Your mother loves to fuss over her flowers but these plants are my charge. They don’t really need me mind, feisty little fellas, most can fend for themselves, don’t shout out “look at me and love me”, makes me admire them all the more. They just get on with the business of… survival. And there I got the idea. I’d always coveted a ‘Thanksgiving Cactus’. Real beauties; strong, handsome, independent, spiky little fuckers”, he ducked his head and glanced towards the open kitchen window “but not quite as thorny as they look. Virtues that any father would wish upon his sons.” Harry blinked hard, tilted his head “And there you all are.” He nodded towards three potted cacti that stood close to his chair. “Tom is the gnarly old bugger in the cracked green vase. In fact he is the only true claw cactus. He’s certainly seen better days but, as you can see, he still produces a beautiful scarlet flower every winter. I planted Dick skew if, hence his sorry twisted self” he pointed to five contorted tubas emerging from a terra cotta pot; the tallest central digit seemed to be flipping them the bird. “I only found out recently that Dick is an Echinopsis, otherwise known as a ‘Penis Cactus’ or ‘Woman’s Joy’. Kind of ironic eh, given your brother’s name and his tomcat habits. The cactus stood proud: plump, rigid, and undeniably phallic.
“And this one is you son.” Harry reached for a squat turquoise pot that hosted an orange flowering plant, and placed it in Cassidy’s lap.
“Yours is a ‘Christmas Cactus’, in its prime this very month. Experience taught me to tend to you the best, which often means just ignoring you. No fussing, I just knew how to position you better. You’ve thrived, here in your absence.”
As Cassidy sat cradling his wholesome effigy he noticed a small letter ‘P’ etched an inch above the base of the pot. Fashioned by Harry’s hand, forty-four years ago. Forty-four years and… one month. Without warning, Cassidy’s shoulders shuddered and he wept openly, effusively. Like a baby.
“Let it go son.” Harry looked away, rubbed his forehead hard and then slid a hand into his pocket, pulling out a perfectly ironed white handkerchief. 
“You’re wound too tight Peter. Too many knots. Too many complications.” He absently traced a blue embroidered ‘H’ with his thick, yellow thumbnail, waved the hanky towards his son, then thrust it back deep into his pocket.
Seems to me that your life is too damned… considered. Maybe you’ve had to be so protective of the boys that you’ve shut yourself off from hazard. You’ve become hobbled by habit Pete. Open some windows, let in some light; you never know, a little life might creep in around the edges.” He chewed down heavily on the charred stem of his pipe. “Ring the friends that you knew before Amelia. Talk to some strangers. Go get yourself laid”, he whispered, glancing towards the open kitchen window again. “If there’s one thing I do know it’s that we seldom help ourselves.” That tilt of the head. “It’s other people that rescue us son. The best of us is reserved for other people, and the best that we can hope for is to bathe in some of their… reflected light. You get what you give Pete.” He pulled the pipe from his mouth and raised the mug to his lips. “And here endeth the lesson. Cold comfort I know, cold as this damn coffee.”
He leant forward and gently squeezed Cassidy’s knee with that huge hand, then took the cactus from his son’s lap and placed it in the incandescent light between them.
Cassidy had recovered and wiped his face on his sleeve.
 “We’re all damaged Pete. That damage defines us. Our wounds might not be pretty to look at but they make us better men; give us integrity.”
Cassidy winced; how come his dad always made song lines and pale platitudes sound like immutable, well-worn wisdom?
Honour your life boy, get to living it, but remember that the joy is in the journey…”
Christ, he should have been a country singer.
“And that truth rings like a bell."
Indeed it does Pops, thought Cassidy, brushing fresh dirt and 20-year-old tobacco from his lap.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

In Cassidy's Care: 16: Last Christmas (continued)

Cassidy was going to be an explorer when he grew up. For his 10th birthday he’d been gifted a copy of Jack London’s ‘Call of the Wild’, inscribed with the words “Remember Pete, all journeys lead to home. With much admiration, from one ‘Sailor on Horseback’ to another. Love Grandpa Bertie”. Bertrand Cassidy’s escapades were family legend. Born in 1900 he’d been a boy whaler and later a Merchant Marine, before settling on the Nantucket Sound in the early 1920s to pursue his passion for deep sea fishing. Here he met and married Molly Stevens and developed ‘BC’s’, a boat charter company, soon one of the biggest in Barnstable County. He built his beloved ‘Beach House’ with the fruits of that labour. In his later years, and to the family’s astonishment, he had revealed a long hidden talent to become ‘Yarmouth Yodeler of the Year’, a title that he proudly retained for four years straight before ill-fitting dentures compromised his art. Old BC still made guest appearances, and it was in preparation for the competition of ’89 that he had driven himself into town for a shave and a trim. Although still sprightly, his eyesight was poor and he hadn’t noticed an unmarked worker’s trench outside of Bob’s Barbershop. The fall broke a leg that would never properly heal. He hobbled around the house with a cane until he just seemed to lose patience with that shuffling decline and, in his 90th year, Bertrand Cassidy quietly passed away, on his porch, in the very chair that Harry, his son now gently rocked. Cassidy could still picture Grandpa Bertie sitting there, in a faded bleu de chine fisherman’s jacket, tipping his bright blue cap to his wife and gently singing “Molly, my Molly, she’s the only older lady whooo I love.” 

Looking out past Chatham Lighthouse, beyond the elbow of the bay, Cassidy accepted that his journey had undeniably brought him home. But he was no ‘sailor on horseback’, no explorer. Cassidy cradled his coffee cup and chuckled at the thought of himself as an adventurer. Of all the people he knew he was probably the least prepared for uncharted territory. He only had to look at a city road map and he’d come out in a cold sweat. He was a home bird and the beach house, this mine of memories, offered safe harbour, shelter from those complications of London.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Lovesong: Paul Buchanan: Buy a Motor Car

Film maker Bernard Rudden has made this video for Paul Buchanan's forthcoming single.
I know the remix is dividing opinion; I like it.  
The video is like listening to PB through a lava lamp... the vagueness of the images makes the whole thing beautifully woozy. 

Thursday, 2 August 2012

In Cassidy's Care: 15: Last Christmas

He’d last seen Harry three months ago.
Amelia had claimed the boys for the holidays and Cassidy had gone home, alone, for Christmas on the Cape. He and his father sat on the back porch of the beach house, surrounded by potted plants, drinking tar black coffee out of their favourite chipped mugs. His gift to his parents had been a CD player and one CD, to replace the family’s antiquated gramophone. Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ provided a perfect soundtrack to the early evening.
Cassidy loved Beethoven.
“How’s life treating you son? Rolling with the punches?”
Cassidy thought of horseshoes, the kind that you’d put inside a big brown boxing glove. As a boy he’d found a canvas sack full of them in the boathouse and convinced himself that his father was a prizefighter. And then one morning, Harry had slung the sack over his shoulder and taken Cassidy and his two brothers to the beach at Sandy Neck to introduce them to the game of ‘Horseshoes’.
They pitched the heavy iron shoes at a stake in the sand, arguing over ringers and closest to’s.
"Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades”, sang Harry.
They played ‘First to 21’ over and over until their wrists ached, and then took to skimming stones, occasionally scoring sixers and seveners.
Only Harry could get into double figures.
“It’s good to be home Dad; things seem clearer from here, but… life’s complicated.”
Cassidy looked at his father’s weather beaten features. Nearly ninety and in pretty good shape, chipper even. As ever, that faded blue cap sat atop his peeling pate. There were fresh scabs on his forehead; he had always been a practical but clumsy man; too tall for his own body. He’d stopped shaving regularly and the stubble added to an air of rough integrity. Round wire glasses sat square on a bulbous blue veined nose that Cassidy knew he would inherit. Your nose and your eyes keep growing he thought, everything else shrinks. His father’s ears were now huge and hairy, like hirsute plastic comedy ears, although his lobes remained fleshy, perky pink and… chewable. Harry’s hands were huge also, the hands of a boxer, not a poet. I hope to hell I look that that when I’m 86, thought Cassidy.
A faint aroma of baking came from within the house. He pictured his mother peeling apples by the kitchen table, standing barefoot upon her ‘magic carpet’, a woolen Berber rug that Harry had bartered for and bought on their honeymoon in Morocco. It was her most cherished possession “and the only treasure I need”.  As a boy he’d lie on the luxuriant pile while Annie cooked and the gramophone crackled, Cassidy pressing his face into the soft wool, conjuring mountains and valleys out of the woven patterns, mapping out his future adventures.