Monday, 30 December 2013

What I Did on My Holidays/My Top 10 Albums of the Year

I've just got back from a Xmas break in North Wales. We went with neighbour's Des and Louise, to their family bolt hole, a cozy cottage with sea view in Rhiw, on the Llyn peninsular.
It was my first time in the area and surely not the last. It's like the Yorkshire Dales by the sea; spectacularly beautiful yet austere, no frills, built to last. We had plenty of sunshine but also found ourselves in 'The Storm of the Century' on Boxing Day when nearby Aberdaron (1 mile away) recorded gales of 110 mph. Thank God for the dulling effects of alcohol; we should have been crapping it. Anyway, we had a hoot despite our host and games master Des contracting tonsilitis on Xmas day. As you can see we still managed a fine time...
Endure my holiday photos to find my Top 10 albums of 2014 listed below...

Meanwhile; I've been compiling my tracks of the year CD.
If you want a copy the rules are simple:
Send me your Tracks of the Year CD to:
Trevor Jones
18 The Green
Wooburn Green
Include your address and I'll return my Tracks of the Year CD to you.
Here's a clue of what you might get; my Top 10 albums of the Year.
Excuse lack of verbiage but I've got washing and ironing to attend to...

Prefab Sprout: Crimson/Red
Fossil Collective: Tell Where I Lie
KT Tunstall: Invisible Empire
Bill Callahan: Dream River
Emiliana Torrini: Tookah
John Fullbright: From the Ground Up
Jason Isbell: Southeastern (Thanks Macwood)
Sam Baker: Say Grace
Josh Ritter: The Beast in it's Tracks
Michael Kiwanuka: Home Again
David Lang: Death Speaks

That's eleven I know but David Lang's gloriously grim album has just arrived and it's sublime.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Hopeland (Notes from Corsica): 23: Saudade

23: Saudade

Every day I sit down with my guitar.
I take the time to reflect.
Time and a guitar; a comfort blanket and a dream catcher.
Songs come easily, but is the first thought necessarily the best, or is that lazy thinking?
I'd like to think of myself as an original thinker, but have come to know that I'm not, something that each new song confirms.
So I cut my cloth accordingly and work within myself, attempting to illuminate the mundane stuff that colours my everyday life, and hopefully present it in such a way that it connects and resonates with others, perhaps as a 'penny drop' moment.
Sometimes we don't notice the obvious.

The artist’s hope of presenting a singular vision has distorted many a creative talent, affectation parading as individuality. Sometimes individuality can get compromised in order to acquiesce to some third party’s sense of genre; others can too easily define our lives for us.
I do what I do because I’m inspired to write and am able to do so in my own sweet time; it makes me happy that I can produce something from nothing and on my own terms. This ‘gladness’ is a bi product of my labour and a rare pleasure.
It makes me mindful.
Genuine delight seems an uncommon commodity these days. Somewhere along the line ‘happiness’ as a right rather than an unexpected serendipitous gift. It’s become an expectation, as materialistic a demand as soap or shoes. TV shows us life’s possibilities, easy credit offers untold opportunity, but there is no labour involved in the acquisition, no pride in achievement or respect for the achievement of others, no real aspiration and ambition, just envy and frustration. Somewhere along the line it seems that we have diminished the ‘delight’ of flighty folly and have forgotten the pleasures to be gained from passing things on, handing them down. Possessions were once cherished, and then bequeathed. These objects connected us to the past. They told stories. Their inheritance invested them with unspoken worth, a silent reminder of those who went before. The potency of these objects cannot be underestimated; solid markers in an ephemeral landscape, they mapped out our journey and reminded us where we had come from. We kept these treasures in a biscuit tin under our beds.
The pleasure of treasure…
Now, fashions come and go. Labels change. Things break, we don't fix them, we replace them; it’s no surprise then that we’ve forgotten how to value things.

As children, with uniforms and chants of prayer, we were educated to conform. Now as self-defined ‘free spirits’ we find that we have painted ourselves into a corner, isolated and yearning for a past where we once ‘belonged’. We look under our beds and find nothing but dust, so we compromise our past imperfections by conjuring substance from the shadows. And so the rosy glow of nostalgia colours and becomes us; our personalities are redefined. Without the currency of 'developed' character, true individuality is fabricated not fostered.
You can have too many options, too much choice. Choice begets change. Change begets loss, but change and development are vital for survival, moving forward. Maybe we lament the things that we miss because we did indeed miss them, or worse, we didn't notice them at all.
And so we become wistful about the past, and fearful of the future; we don't live in the moment, we wrestle with the possibilities of what's beyond the moment.

There is a Portuguese word 'saudade' which is defined as 'a terrible yearning for a past that never existed.' Nostalgia is really a yearning to reclaim lost lives or missed opportunity, hence our sentimental connection to the things that have shaped us; our parents, our childhood, lost friends, music, books, TV and films of a particular era.
There is nothing quite as sweet as the grey warbling of a bird near extinction. We push things towards extinction, and only when we're fearful of their loss, do we cherish them. Why do we need to make things rare, when we should celebrate the common place?
Meanwhile as we respond to ever increasing stimuli we don’t necessarily relate to it. We see the shape of things, but not the texture. We know everything, but is there a genuine understanding? With so much data in the file we seem to have difficulty apportioning genuine value to things.
We are in danger of becoming sensually deprived; we don't know nature, our own nature, ourselves. The common ‘buzz’ of the 24/7 communications age has rendered us over-stimulated, our touchstones have become mobile phones and laptops; we have to keep checking for messages to see if we are valued.
It’s a bit like looking in a mirror to see if we are still there.
We have become too distracted to be happy, when happiness depends on us being present, in and of the moment. I think that we need to simply disconnect and learn to be alone again, to reconnect with our imaginations, to re-engage with our sense of wonder.

Someone once wrote "Wear your life loosely, it fits better that way." The past is the authentic fabric from which we are made; we define ourselves by how we cut that cloth. The filtering of memories enables us to come to terms with what we have become, how we have tailored ourselves.
I feel an increasing sense of emotional isolation. I internalize and only really release through song. I sense that we’re all increasingly looking inwards, taking pride in ourselves but lacking any sense of ‘place’, essentially denying ourselves the benefits of community.
The currency that keeps us vital is life itself, and our vital perception not just of life as it happens, but of our processing of that experience. Our value is not just what we could be, but what we are, what we have become.
The further we grow away from our histories, the more obvious their influence becomes, and the more we idealise and cherish that influence.
Reviewed and rewritten, our past becomes us.
With this benefit of hindsight, how can we be disappointed?
Corsica had gifted me a perfect day in the sun, now I needed to live beyond that day without corrupting or resenting the memory of it.
I’m learning to rekindle hope.
These fleeting cherry blossom moments in Corsica have taught me to cherish the past, accept and recognise its vitality, but not to live there.
When it comes to ranting about the transient joys of all things bright and beautiful, Keats got there long before me, but I believe that William Blake nailed it best when he wrote:

He who binds himself to joy
Doth the Winged life destroy
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

To the Bone: The Mixes 2

Ok, ok... Marcus and Luce wish all of our readers a 'Merry Xmas'!
And me and Willow? Well, I'm a humbug who looked a bit of a bellhead in the hat and Willow? Well... she's a dog.

'Angelicana' is our most challenging mix thus far.
There are disparate elements flying around.
We had deliberately incorporated Americana (dobro/pedal steel) and Britsounds (mellotron/distorted piano/classic Hammond) and this starts to sit uncomfortably with Marcus who feels that we have lost the quirkiness, whilst I see that USA/UK dichotomy as vital to the track's meaning: our heroine's yearning for the 'dusty roads' of Elsewhere. We go eyebrow to eyebrow and I eventually get my own way. This one could come back to haunt me... The Scientist is usually right!
I offer elevensies and the olive branch is accepted, except we then cannot agree on English Breakfast, Earl Grey, or a cup of Java...
'Man Behind the Moon' is slight (the word 'vignette' is outlawed) but important to the flow of the album. "There's something in the water, there's something in the air, there's something in the way that you worry with your hair." 
It's a gentle diversion and (dare I say) an easy mix of voice, piano, guitar, double bass, with some mellotron 'voices' added to give add a bit of grain. My whistling tooth gives Marcus some grief but the de 's'er soon sorts the sibilance.
A light lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches makes my whistling tooth ache even more . Willow wolfs down the left overs and then demands a walk.
'The Fullness of Time' is a similar arrangement to 'Man Behind the Moon'; we'll need to separate these in the running order. 'We danced as Dusty Springfield sang...' finds that whistling tooth again but it's sssoon sssorted.
Marcus and I hit the kitchen for a beer while I wait for the friday evening traffic to evaporate.
Three more songs to mix and we'll be done.
I'll be back on Tuesday for a couple of days.
It'll all be over by Christmas...

Friday, 13 December 2013

To the Bone: The Mixes

Today is the third day of mixing 'To the Bone' and all is well.
Every mix is challenging but things are controllable for Marcus because we have worked in the old school way by commiting to arrangement and sounds in the recording stage. The first challenge was to edit Melvin's pedal steel parts. As ever his playing is impeccable and, with two or three passes for each song it's really hard to choose what to keep and what to forever dispatch to pedal steel heaven. Marcus is keen that we don't hit the 'pretty button' on this album, so phrase after phrase of gorgeousness is 'wiped for now'. I'd hate to be a wasp in The Scientist's jam jar; he's brutal! To vary the sound we also got Mel to play Dobro and Weissenbourn and Marcus takes them out of their usual reverb and renders them bone dry. We aim at two mixes a day but have already nailed (I think):
Pardon Me: First track done and probably first track on the album. A live take, just me singing to Marcus's prodding piano.
Cabin Fever: Based on Raymond Carver's unsuccessful attempt at using a friend's cabin as a writing retreat. 'Send a letter or a woman!' he wrote...
Fireworks: Currently my favourite; a winsome waltz bathed in the ambience of overhead mics.
Phil the Hat and TJ: A friendship imagined that was then bathed in nostalgia.
Some Kind of Surrender: 'We settle for silence once again.' We go Tex Mex in search of an alternative.
To the Bone: Insomnia and ennui: 'I woke in the night from a stranger's dream, I'd rather be remembered that way.'
Row: Probably the last track on the album. Kind of sad; kind of hopeful.
Luce came in last night to add some siren like backing vocals to 'Angelicana' so we'll be mixing that after breakfast.
To the shower...

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Springsteen and I

My Springsteen weekend continues apace.
1/4 of the Penderyn single malt left and a chilli bubbling away on the gas ring.
And I've just had this delivered (on a Sunday!) by Amazon.
I don't know whether to open it up and play it or wait for Di to return home tomorrow.
I haven't been so anxious about breaking a seal since my first packet of condoms!
Come on readers, you've got to help.
Break the seal or wait?
Break the seal or wait?

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Lovesong: Bruce Springsteen: New York City Serenade & Dream Baby Dream

I'm on my own this weekend; that invariably means cricket, curry, whisky and music.
Even though the early signs of the imminent 'High Hopes' aren't too inspiring, I've got a hankering for Springsteen... I like him languid not lumpy. A bit like Costello; I switch off when he starts shouting at me.
But no-one does a rasping whisper like Bruce... and the motherlode of whispering intensity is surely his sophomore release. It's been a while since I visited the glories of 'The Wild the Innocent and the East Street Shuffle' so I went looking for a live performance of one of its highlights and, boy, did I strike gold.
This version of 'New York City Serenade' was shot weeks ago in Rome and it's just beautiful. 
And I thought that the man's voice was shot... 
It's a stunning performance.
String sections can come over as detached, aloof; here they just seem really chuffed to be there.
Then I then found this video of a song (more of a sweet chant really), 'Dream Baby Dream' which is new to me. It's quite hypnotic and the visuals are a treat. 
I defy even the staunchest cynic not to be moved by a moment or two from these performances...
Music made for the right reasons: to connect.
That Bruce can do that in a huge stadium of 100,000 odd is testament to his abilities as a performer.
Whether you love or loathe him (there doesn't seem to be much middle ground), whether he's whispering or shouting you cannot deny the man's integrity.
Meanwhile, back to the cricket.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Nelson Mandela: The Man is Dead: His Legacy in His Own Words (2002)

Hopeland (Notes from Corsica): 22: The Heat of Horses

22: The Heat of Horses

He sat barefoot in the garden, bewildered by the industry of birds: a chuckling chorus of secret signals, a riot of flight.
Squinting through a silhouette of branches his eye drifted skyward to a pair of red kites circling the morning haze with idle intent.
Spectral clouds lay quiescent, punctured by vapour trails bound for wider worlds. He traced their progress with a trembling finger, conjuring potent meaning from that totemic sky, before the vertigo of longing brought him back down to earth.
Beyond the hedge, a shifting of shadows, a familiar feral scent.
He saw the steam rising from their backs long before their bodies came into view.
The horses never came to his beckoning but he always held their eye.
He loved the heat of horses.
As a boy he would hug their necks and steal their breath while they delicately nipped peppermints from his palm.
He’d carry their stink on his fingers all day.
At night he would dream of dappled flanks and sour green apples.
His story was now a potent past, truth distilled.
Its refined energy taunted these pallid dolorous days.
These days he only had one dream.
He was a boy, running, and his feet made the sound of hooves.
The guitar rested idly on his lap and he hugged its walnut body to his belly, his fingers finding familiar shapes on the ebony board.
The strings were old and dull.
He would boil them later in vinegar.
“You never write me letters”, she had said the night before.
Before the argument.
After the whiskey.
He tested the dew with his toe and reluctantly opened his note pad. Good thinking, bad spelling, too many words.
She’d asked for flowers and, he offered water.
Reaching for his coffee cup he drank the tepid dregs, taking pleasure from the bitterness.
‘Soon all of this will end and ne’er begin again’ he muttered testing the air.
Turning his back to the circling shadows he sat square, found a chord and started his song.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Lovesong: Aztec Camera: High Land, Hard Rain

Marcus is in the studio today whilst I'm at the coal face.
Not fair!
He has the marvelous Melvin Duffy in weaving his pedal steel magic on our latest recordings. I hate missing out on these days; it's great watching a steel guru in action. We have worked with two of the best in the past, Mel and BJ Cole; alchemists both, yet they each produce a totally different lode. I'm looking forward to hearing the results next week when we continue with the mixes.

Meanwhile, I've been looking back...

"If you write the truest thing you know as a teenager and you write it well, it’ll be no less true three decades later. When Roddy Frame played those old songs, I remembered again why they swept me away." Pete Paphides

'High Land, Hard Rain': Jesus; 30 years old this year!
I remember buying this on vinyl the week of release, spinning it over and over, seeing the band live, wanting to be Roddy.
I was too old of course, he was just 19; the boy wonder...
I won't bang on because two folk have already addressed this brilliantly:
Read journalist Pete Paphides over on his Hidden Tracks blog and Drew over on the blog Across the Kitchen Table.
Then go and order the album here on Amazon; yours is surely languishing next to my lost (5th?) copy.
If you buy the box linked set you get the first 5 albums for just over £10.
Avoid the Remaster btw; apparently it's a dogs dinner...
Di's away this weekend so I'll be getting out the fringed suede jacket and doing one in front of the bedroom mirror. Might even post it on YouTube; apparently I need to improve my 'Profile'...
Here's the excellent 'Walk Out to Winter' live in '83 for The Old Grey Whistle Test.
Amazing: the glasses that render Bono a twat look so cool on our boy.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Hopeland (Notes from Corsica) 21: So Far So Good

21: So Far So Good

These are hardly original ideas.
The grass is always greener.
The human condition is invariably in a state of disappointment.
Is ‘different’ better? When habit and convention demoralizes and casts us adrift, how do we reset our course?
The thought of real change is intimidating; it could save me, yet I fear it and remain content with cold compromise. Dissatisfied, I crave happiness and, when it fails to materialise, look elsewhere for a quick fix. As ‘consumers’, maybe we have become so used to instant gratification that we can only be disappointed.
I want to be ‘of substance’, yet deny the process that makes the fabric hardy: life. I focus on the horizon, rather than on the small dramas in front of me. I desire to be “anywhere but here” with the vague possibilities of that ‘other life’ making me resent my real life even more. Traditionally these ‘other lives’ were just vague unobtainable pipedreams, seen in fuzzy black and white. Now, digital clarity promises a focused and immediate reality in ‘High Definition’ that is demanded without investment or preparation. Thus, even if I do make the dream reality, I’m unable to appreciate or recognise the gravity of its arrival; I just use it and move on to something else.
Many of my songs focus on the tricks that we use, the games that we play and the skills we develop, to stop ourselves from becoming unglued. For me, silence stands as failure and threatens everything, so I fill it with music and search for the perfect song. I’m surely doomed to be disappointed, but the ambition keeps me moving forward.
I believe that we all rest where compromise leaves us, in a kind of limbo. Limbo? It's sorrow's way; like the unravelling of a lost kite, a gentle rise or fall towards oblivion. We’re all connected by our unravellings, we don’t always feel the tug, but as the line tightens, leaves a mark, then relaxes, we realise that things can never come to rest and learn to trust the rhythm of chance. I say, don't be afraid to forget. You will not. What is vital will remain. Regrets will become your palest thoughts, and one day, when your gaze has drifted, the sadness will buck and buckle and be gone. How do you live the perfect life? How do you write the perfect joke? Start with the punch line and work backwards. And the perfect joke? A man falling from a great height whispering “so far, so good.”


Rolling up his sleeves, he approached us with the fixed stare and intent of one about to join a pub fight. As he brushed past, kicking sand onto our towels, I noticed that his belt was already undone. A woman in a red coat, with the countenance of a long-suffering wife, followed closely behind. Fingering his flies the man stopped with purpose fifty feet beyond us and completed his dishevelment. Naked but for briefs and a St Christopher, he clawed at the sand and within minutes had created an elaborate maze of sunken tunnels and ditches which fast became irrigated by the sea. So intent on this toil was he that he disregarded a chuckling child, armed with water wings and a bright yellow bucket and spade, joining the game with relish, until he caught the man’s eye. The sad red lady had stationed herself at a dispassionate distance and sat smoking, in mute acceptance of her lot. Maybe she was a sister or even a care worker. Cursing unseen demons her charge shivered and threw his arms to the heavens, perhaps demanding divine guidance, then continued his ecstatic excavation, like an aguish archeologist digging into the past, tunneling himself back towards happier times. He was joined in his work again, this time by a young Alsatian that fuelled the feverish frenzy, the two working in unwitting unison until the pup backed up, covering the sandscape and its architect, who kicked out at the dog in a rabid rage before returning to his work. After a good hour of unbroken endevour the digger suddenly stopped, as if to the sound of a factory siren, his shift complete. Picking up his clothes in a rough bundle he set off at a pace, retracing his steps, again covering us with sand, his wild eyes indifferent to our sympathetic glances. We had however caught his companion’s attention. As she passed us she rolled her eyes and, in perfect broken English muttered, “Lost forever. And it was a fucking Rolex!”