Sunday, 7 February 2016

Happy Blue: We Are Connected By Sound

"Whether fumbled by a fool
Or fielded by an aching heart
Surely there’s one golden rule
To help the healing start"

Those lines never did find a song. Why write them? I try and make universal feelings intimate, but how do you catch someone’s eye when writing about ‘the dear ordinary’? Truth is in the fine lines as much as the broad strokes, but trying to put your finger on the fidelity of a feeling makes fools of us all. I’m drawn to vulnerability, probably because of the recognitions that lie therein. I never was taken by cocky command or flamboyant dexterity; give me a three fingered gypsy guitarist any day. I’m beckoned by an unsteady hand; informed by the uncertain mumblings of a trembling voice.
My Father died early this year. Terry’s last lucid words to me were ‘Hello Sunshine’. He hadn’t called me that since I was a boy. He then whispered ‘I’m terrified’ before retreating into the foggy sanctuary of sleep. His heart was strong, but his lungs were shot. Terry just ran out of air.

I sit here breathless in the early morning half-light, wearing my Dad’s shirt and listening to the voices of my youth. As I take the needle from the record my hands are shaking. I blame the coffee and reach for my guitar. Music is a calming balm. Oddly, for someone so reluctant to sing out loud, it’s the singing that keeps me honest and true. My Dad was a venerable but vulnerable man. There wasn’t much joy in his life, but he did love to sing and he loved sorrowful songs. He breathed them into me. And on the day that I was born he sang ‘Hallelujah’. We are connected by sound. The sound of a time, like the smell of a room, can haunt your memory and… I’m haunted by sound. I too like a sad song. Sad songs make me happy. Happy blue.

“Gorgeous, as ever. Trevor Jones finds the poetry in real life; gently beautiful and genuinely moving. You may cry.” The Sunday Times

"Arguably our most eloquently sophisticated songwriter." HiFi News

“Masterpieces of subtlety and observation clothed in sumptuous, lush melodies.” R2
“Jones is in a class of one. Near-perfect explorations of the human heart. The beauty on offer here is enough to make you weep. It did me.” Americana UK

“Achingly tender.” Folk Radio UK

“Intellectually as well as emotionally engaging.” MOJO

"Meticulously orchestrated, careful and complex, this is canny songwriting leavened by bona fide humanity." Q

“Moves you to tears and refreshes the soul. Scintillating.” Maverick

"Gentle enchantment. The loveliest melodies you've ever heard.” Uncut

Friday, 5 February 2016

Happy Blue: Released Today: February 5th 2016

The album is officially released today.
'Happy Blue' wouldn't be what it is without the help of many.
Marcus Cliffe produced, engineered, and played his socks off. He also humored and counseled me through the whole process. I couldn't have done any of this without him. Love that man...
Lucinda Drayton sang like an angel and happily wiped up my tea stains. Her gentle kindness was a much appreciated balm.
Melvin Duffy played Pedal Steel and Weissenborn with sublime, subtle clarity; he rings like a bell. He gives everything he plays on a luxuriant luster. His musicianship is as pure as his sweet benevolence: a lovely man.
BJ Cole also played Pedal Steel and left his indelible mark. His is a darker tone and style than Melvin's. It's impossible to undervalue this man's effect on one's music. Even when he sits back in the mix he adds an unmistakable depth. He swoops and buzzes. You never get what you expected with BJ: and it's always better than expected. He's very loud and I always want to turn him up, which says everything.
Enzo Zirilli played drums with subtly and élan. His jazz leanings added a lovely, learned looseness to the sound. A lovely, gentle man too.
Gustaf Ljunggren was the revelation of the album. I've know him a while having met him at the Aarhus Festival a few years back and have always admired his playing. We'd send mixes to Copenhagen and get them back the next day, adorned with his subtle brilliance. Gustaf has sublime, dextrous restraint and taste. Listening back to his offerings was like opening Xmas presents.
Peter Beckmann mastered the album and cut the vinyl. His musical instincts are unimpeachable, he also has the patience of angels.
Which leads me nicely on to Boo Hewerdine. An odd credit I know but Boo actually nearly produced the album. I'm glad that he didn't because it wouldn't be what it is. I do hope that we'll do something together in the future. Even though he's probably unaware of it he's a guiding light and a gentle mentor.
Boo also connected me with James Soars who promoted the album to press and radio, connecting me with some great new contacts.
And cheers to the journalists who have supported us throughout. I know that we've probably come to take some of you for granted in our expectations of your valuable column inches.
Di Holmes took the excellent photos which set the tone for Barry Cross's brilliant art work. You need to have the vinyl to get the full effect.

Thanks too to Del Sawyers at Proper for co-ordinating the release.
Special mention to Paul Woodgate, Tim Patrick, Meetwood Flac, Rob Hurley, Jerome Taheny, David Ashley and Phil Hogarth for their unfettered banner waving.
We have been lucky with airplay, meeting some lovely DJs notably Adam Wilson, Steve Morris and Alex Huskisson. Local radio is a hotbed of enthusiasts and not only have they supported my music but I've also been introduced to some wonderful new music whilst waiting for my 3 minutes to arrive.
Finally, thanks to all of the artists who have graced The Hat Club. Too many to mention here but I admire you all. Making a life from music is an uncertain endeavor; a commitment that could devour you. And yet you step out daily, valiant vagabonds leading with your chins, opening yourselves up to other folk's judgements. I admire your tenacity and talent; brave troubadours all. This has become a real pleasure for Di and I and we have loved meeting you and sharing a small moment of your journeys. Kudos!

Love to my immediate family, Betty, Katy, Gareth and Bex.
And of course a tip of the hat to Terry, my Dad.
Thanks again to all of you have supported Marcus and I throughout the travails. You know who you are.
Christ, can you imagine my Oscar acceptance speech?

I hope that you enjoy 'Happy Blue'.
It came from a dark place, I'm happy that it's finally seeing the light of day.
You can get the album directly from me here:
Otherwise you can get it through the usual channels.
Amazon reviews really help so... Help!
I'll leave you with a picture of me doing my best 'Bono on the Beach'.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Happy Blue: Released February 5

'Happy Blue' is released tomorrow.
The world will inevitably beat a path to my door to ask 'why?'
Why am I impelled to keep doing this thing?
It's a good question, particularly when the returns are becoming less and less rewarding. It does sometimes feel like bellowing into an empty cave. The echo is reassuring although it is but an echo.
I recognize in other writers and performers the need to put things in order; to join the dots and, in making those connections, help themselves to check and reset their compasses. But towards what? Perhaps towards some sense of 'home': home as a source of comfort, or simply as a place of sanctuary; a safe harbour to retreat to, somewhere to rest, reset and review past travels before venturing out again to share their stories with the world.

For me the best writers are story tellers. V. S. Pritchett wrote that short stories were ‘something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing’. Sometimes it’s good to write with intent. That way you’ll get what exactly what you wanted and expected. Sometimes it’s good to write just to see where the muse will lead you; to surprise yourself. The American writer Raymond Carver told that he once had a line in his head that he knew would make for a great story: “He was running the vacuum cleaner when the telephone rang.” He didn’t know where the story would lead but as soon as he
found time at his typewriter to write the line sure enough “other sentences promptly began to attach themselves… and I knew it was my story, the one I’d been wanting to write’.

I guess that like Carver I’m interested in the small dramas of everyday life. I have no answers, just observations and questions. And they aren’t always my observations or questions. I just need to keep my radar tuned. An idea might come from an overheard remark, a misheard lyric, a newspaper article or a domestic moment that unfolds in front of you. The trick is in recognizing what’s worthy of development and to distance yourself enough to be able to take in the scene; to be dispassionately engaged enough to tote and tell. My partner Di once came home from work with a story about a seemingly dysfunctional couple that she’d just seen on a train. They were both mumbling, anoraked and odd. She with a cleft lip, he with long lank hair and thick corrective glasses, hood up. They were fussing over their baby, which was wrapped in a blanket. Di was taken by their tenderness. As she got up to leave she passed the couple and looked down at the baby. It was a plastic doll… Some things you just couldn’t make up; there's a profundity in the mundane. Di related snippets of their muted conversation and I fashioned the tale into the title track of the ‘Alaska’ album.

For me it’s initially a bit like mindless trawling. I’m casting my creative net and seeing what’s out there/in there. The essence of an idea, the ghost of a song often seems to float in its own current just out of view. Instinct is key. You are aware of its presence, you just need to catch it and land it. You don’t always catch what you were expecting. If there is alchemy in the process I think that it’s in recognizing when is a good time to fish and knowing where to cast your net. Into troubled waters invariably… Oh, and also recognizing what you should throw back; sometimes the big ones taste of mud; it’s the tasty tiddlers that are worth keeping.
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 consequentially, the more we idealise and cherish that influence. Reviewed and rewritten, our past becomes us. 

In Corsica around the time of writing the 1st two solo albums ‘Hopeland’ and then ‘Keepers’, I felt an increasing sense of emotional isolation.  In London the common ‘buzz’ had rendered me over stimulated, my touchstones had become mobile phones and laptops; I had to keep checking for messages to see if I was valued. It was a bit like looking in a mirror to see if I was still there. I needed to unburden myself, to disconnect and learn to be alone again, to reconnect with my imagination, to re-engage with my sense of wonder. In our remote village house I internalized and only really released through song. ‘Hopeland’ was bathed in optimism’s glow after the retreat to a simple life had gifted a startling clarity of thought. I wanted to capture that feeling of release and that Corsican idyll in song.  My most intense creativity came from that little house in Montemaggiore. I found that the ideas came pouring out. I didn’t type; I wrote, scribbling feverishly in a little yellow notebook that became like a sponge for the outpourings. I had previously written about the journey, but offered no answers, just questions. With ‘Hopeland’ I had actually arrived somewhere; destination achieved. I unpacked. I was home. Those moments in Corsica taught me to cherish the past, accept and recognise its importance, its vitality, but not to live there.

That's it: if songwriting has taught me anything it’s how to decipher the past and live in the present. It was through writing that I learnt to temper turbulence. I’d love to think that my songs comforted or helped to realign other lost souls. I’m sure that some of this sounds twee but in simplifying my worldview there was an inevitable idealizing of life. Cliché and platitude abide in the same corridors as insight and truth, just as prejudice and wisdom are uneasy bedfellows. For me the challenge is to dance around those abstractions, see them for what there are and try to redress them with fresh credence and currency. The French poet Gérard de Nerval wrote "The first man who compared woman to a rose was a poet, the second, an imbecile." 

Although your words need clarity and fidelity there should also be a little room left for the listener to insinuate themselves into a song in order to make it their own. Not enforced mystery; that would be too artful, gimmicky and manipulative. Just a little wriggle room for a stranger’s wonderment. For me the trick is to take a small step to the left or right, take stock, take care and then pitch common feeling as original thought and hope that folk will recognize themselves in the offering and somehow find mercy there.
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. The way that we do that determines our ‘style’. As long as I’m faithful to that I know that, regardless of quality, my work at least has integrity.

So, why do I write? 
- To join the dots and make sense of the past.
- To protect myself from emotional inertia.
- To help myself ‘move on’.
- To connect with myself and to connect with others.

I don’t have kids, never will.
Where’s my legacy?
What do I leave behind?
Maybe, ultimately, from head to heart, from heart to hand, I write to make a sound.
From heart to hand, I write to make marks on a page, to give myself shape and form, that form declaring ‘I am here’, and like the cave painter, my hand is poised to leave a mark that says ‘I was here’.

And look at me.
Writing like the Master Magician who holds the secrets to every mystery.
I know nothing.
But I'm doing my best.
I keep reaching into the hat not knowing what I'll pull out.
Could be a rabbit or a rooster.
It's the unknowing that keeps me excitedly dipping my hand into the darkness.
Attempting to conjure something from nothing.
I love the idea that my best trick is still ahead of me.
And there's no fool like an old fool.

The American poet Galway Kinnell wrote:
‘Maybe the best we can do is do what we love as best we can.’
I’ll bottle that and call it home…


Bowie: Blackstar

Bowie's 'Blackstar' is finally here on vinyl.
Sumptuous packaging although the artwork, all matt black, was surely a funereal portent. 
It's all so morbidly mordant.
The shot of Bowie on the inside of the gatefold stops you in your tracks. 
There's a man who knows...
The vinyl itself is slightly warped which seems appropriate.As for the music?
Twitchy, challenging, witty, humble, humane, self referential and staring down mortality: not an easy listen then but... Christ... you can hear the sound of genius at work: an Artist making music, not for the love of it but... for the Art of it.
Deep, dark and dense, it's the sound of a man bound for a black hole.
I don't know if I like it but I know that I love it.
Does that make sense?
It's as serious as... Cancer.
God Forsaken
Guilt Laden
Myth Making
Piss Taking
No Faking
Fast Fading
Heart Breakingly... Bowie
Where the fuck did Monday go?