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Monday, December 31, 2001

This Could Be The Start Of Something Big

9.15 a.m.
Up early unable to sleep. This wasn't the product of some overwhelming desire to engage with the wider world but rather the end of the line for a night of troubled dreams, an aching back and an asthmatic ague. Getting up was indeed a blessing. Having made a pot of tea, I sat on the sofa in the yellow room at and looked out at the inky black, starless sky. It had just gone 6.30 a.m.

Over the course of the next hour, I watched the sky succumb to an encroachment of velvet blue. Thereafter the progress of icy blues was unstoppable. Having this kind of time to oneself is invaluable. The noise of one's everyday life has such volume to it, that you rarely can hear yourself think. This morning in the quiet, I sat and heard myself think.

The last day of the present year seems like a good time to take stock on what's been done, what it all has amounted to and where it might all be leading.

There isn't any definitive conclusion to such a session. Rather, it's really a means of trying to understand the significance of the patterns and signs which form the tangled thread of one's personal and professional life, the inconsistencies which need to be separated, sorted and reconciled. One can find meaning and connections in just about anything you chose - the trick is recognising when things chime inwardly, when they make "sense" or "feel" right.

I admire those who can undertake this practice on a daily basis but I don't have the discipline. So I try and do it whenever I can and certainly don't recommend leaving it to once a year even if it is such a momentous time such as the passing from one year to another.

One product of all this pondering is to feel an alarming mixture of nervous excitement about the year ahead. Every inch of me (that's a lot of inches all told) knows that 2002 will see me moving into (for me) very uncharted and consequently, uncertain waters. Professionally, 2001 has been about making huge changes, moving out of a managerial position and into an altogether more creative environment. I had initially fancied that 2002 would be perhaps a period of consolidation. This morning, I realise that this won't be the case and what I assumed to be a culmination of affairs, was in fact, only the beginning of a series of movements, whose potential outcome and direction I don't understand and cannot predict.

The nervousness I feel is to do with the financial uncertainties which will inevitably occur and the impact that this will have upon those nearest and dearest to me. The sense of excitement I experience is that associated with any gamble - you might have your wings well and truly clipped but on the other hand, there's a chance you just might fly !

Goodbye 2001 and hello 2002

Sunday, December 30, 2001

The Couple Who Weren't There

Yesterday Debbie and I went into Newcastle to buy some acrylic paints (yellows and gold) and to see The Man Who Wasn't There by the Cohen brothers. I couldn't say what the movie was about but I think I enjoyed it nevertheless. Shot in dreamy black and white, Billy Bob Thornton strolled across the screen smoking and endless chain of cigarettes, looking pensive and thoughtful.

A simple morality tale, not a whole lot happens in the movie. Yet we both somehow liked it. Movies by the Cohen brothers have a habit of slowly growing on me. I might not be too impressed at first sight but by the next time I see the thing, I'm hooked. you.

After that, we sat in the café in the cinema eating and reading. This is real quality time. Just being able to sit with each other is such a treat as it's so rare for us both to be without children.

We mooch off to get the bus to Gateshead and off to a party being thrown by a colleague of Debra's. It's a small house on the council estate but somehow they manage to pack in unfeasible amounts of people into the tiny kitchen. I get talking to a couple of likely lads in their late thirties, who are keen to instruct me in the way of the local black economy.

Our previous late night had caught up with us and so after a while, we made our excuses and departed for the hour or so back to Whitley Bay. Mindless TV and oblivion quickly follow.

Today it's been snowing and we decided to stay in all snug and cozy. We put together a chest of drawers which we'd picked up from IKEA and then begin the re-arrangement of furniture, books, plants and CD's. Numerous artistes on the 4AD label accompany our movements. These were some of the albums I borrowed from Chris Wilson. After a while I found them to be a little too torpid and winsome. We switch them for a programme of light pop including Crowded House, Paul Simon, The Clash, etc.

A current painting starts to come together conceptually. Without me picking up a brush, the way forward with this aberrant collection of orangy / yellow swirls, gradually falls into place. It'll wait until tomorrow because tonight Debbie and I are going to walk up to the local video store and get a movie out.

Moonlight on the snow - beautiful.

Friday, December 28, 2001

A Lucky Lad Indeed

A wild, wild night with gales force winds battering the house. Yard tables turned over, pots and plants scattered, tiles rattled and loose doors banging and crashing as though a deranged poltergeist was rushing through the house. This morning, the winds continue to howl although it is beautifully clear and sunny. Which means it's an excellent day for hanging out the washing.

Because today is my birthday, I was allowed to have breakfast in bed and received a long succession of gifts. I'm a lucky lad indeed. The mood in the house however was decidedly unsettled. Something to do with the blustering winds perhaps and also because the balance of the house is altered by Sam and Alys going to their father's in Birmingham and Tom and Joe being picked up by their mother who is spending some more time with them than would usually be the case.

The subtle balances and movements between us all is quite delicate and although the children are pleased to be seeing their respective fathers and mothers during the holiday period, I think they'd have been quite happy to stay put.

E-mails from several Crims about the KC book and a conversation yesterday with Ian Wallace who rang in from Nashville. Ian is working on some ideas for an autobiography. This will be welcome news to anyone who reads Ian's diary. When we were putting together the KC book many of Ian's excellent stories got the chop. Hopefully, his biography will be chockfull of such goodies.

Catching up on e-mails. Following on from my observation about the similarities between Gates Of Delirium and Babs Streisand, (thanks to folks on the guest book for confirming this), a few e-mails between Sean Hewitt and Chris Wilson and myself have been doing the Six Degrees riff. Six Degrees between Frank Zappa and Barbara Streisand proved no problem to Chris Wilson:

They both had a huge beak?
Oh ok... Zappa's band... Ade The Rhino King... Babs starred with Rhino Neal in 'What's Up Doc?'

And to think I'm going out with Chris Wilson for a beer tonight !!!!!

Thursday, December 27, 2001

Sign Of The Times

The morning spent at the table in the green room, helping to assemble yet more items of Lego and an abortive attempt at wiring up a crystal radio set. I was just groping at the outer edges of my envelope of understanding when the door went. Happily it was little Sam from next door who wanted to whisk Tom and Joe outside thus averting my humiliation at not being able to put together the radio set despite the legend on the side of the box which said "suitable for ages ten and over".

Also spent the morning chuckling over a package which arrived from Kimber. It was a set of photographs taken at the book launch and very good they were too. When I meet up with Chris Wilson tomorrow night, I'll ask Chris to do some scans and get them posted on the book website.

I noticed the following on the guest book from Tim Lucas.

In issue 923 of "Elephant Talk," Robert Bennett posted that his copy of the Sid Smith hardcover was signed by "Michael Giles, Peter Giles, John Wetton, David Cross, Tony Levin, Bill Bruford, Jamie Muir, and Ian Wallace, as well as the author."

Curiously, I ordered two copies of the hardcover, and while most of these illuminaries are represented on my bookplates, neither of my copies were signed by either Mr. Wetton or Mr. Cross. They do, however, bear the signature of founding member Ian MacDonald. (My #s, incidentally, are 92 and 196.)

I assumed the same signatures would appear on all the bookplates, but now it seems some people got nine signatures while others got eight or...?

What's the story here?

Any other variants I should be aware of? Do the book numbers have anything to do with who signed what?

Well Tim, David Cross and John Wetton were at the launch event (along with Peter Sinfield et al). So it seems likely that the book referred to on ET was passed for signing at the launch and then dispatched by Helter Skelter. This may have been especially requested by the purchaser or it may have been a pure fluke. In all the excitement of the night, I forgot to pass my copy to Sinfield, Wetton or Cross for signing. Bummer !

Debbie, Alys and my mother are off to do combat in the Christmas sales, Tom and Joe are out in the street with little Sam and I'm going to try and continue splurging with the painting next to the desk.

Listening to . . .
The Gates Of Delirium this morning by Yes. It's the first time I've ever heard this. The quiet ballad section near the end reminds me so strongly of a Barbara Striesand song . . .something about "in the corners of my mind" but I can't place it. Does any one else get this association ?

Wednesday, December 26, 2001

In A Christmassy Way

Boxing Day in Whitley Bay . . .

Sunny skies, white clouds scudding over our house and out to sea.

My mother arrived today with Tom and Joe. The boys had spent Christmas Day with their mother and had returned to indulge in a frenzy of opening presents. Gifts exchanged we set about the task of feeding the troops. It's often the way of these events, that we always do enough food to feed the five thousand. This year we did just enough - those who wanted seconds got it and everybody was well pleased.

Last night when Debbie was out visiting folks I took the opportunity to do some more painting with, ahem, mixed results. Helping me out was a brand spanking new edition of The Silent Way sessions by Miles Davis. Although a couple of the pieces had previously been released, I hadn't heard them and for me the whole three CD box-set was nothing short of a revelation. Hearing the pieces move slowly toward their final form was instructive and entertaining. I'm in heaven hearing all of this.

Today after the meal, the children have scuttled of to the various nooks and crannies of the house leaving us with the task of constructing lego models, doing jigsaws and watching television. The glass of wine we had at lunch time has caught up with me. I can't drink any alcohol during the day - even on holiday.

Tuesday, December 25, 2001

A Black Christmas

06.45 a.m.

It's a grey northern sky but tinged with a hint of blue promise out over the sea. Woke up with a blocked nose and generally feeling all flu-like. I often think that when you've been working very hard, stopping suddenly for the holiday period produces a kind of whiplash effect on the body. Thus I'm all bunged up and feeling grotty. Unable to sleep, I'm the only one up in the house. So I sit and read, do a little bit of writing and look out over the sea.

Watched a programme called I Love Christmas on television last night which featured the story about the writing of I Believe In Father Christmas by Greg Lake. The five minute clip featured a recent clip of the man himself (Greg not Father Christmas) talking about the writing of the song and the making of the video. I was sorry to see that Peter Sinfield wasn't featured but then again - he just wrote the words didn't he.

After that I did some more work on a painting which has been sitting in the yellow room for a couple of weeks. As I slapped on the black, a procession of art critics trouped into the room one after another and declared that I had spoilt it and how much they all preferred the original. Let me say that the original merely consisted of a series of random splashes onto white canvass, catching the run-off from another painting which had been generously sprayed with water to create rivulets of changing colours. Undaunted by these critical barbs of friendly fire, I'm sticking to the black and hope to apply some more today during the lull in the festive proceedings.

Last year Debbie and I were on our own entirely for Christmas day. A year later and Sam and Al are here but Tom and Joe are spending their Christmas day with their mother. They come back home tomorrow and my mother will be staying with us for the day. So, we'll have the pleasure two separate present openings.

Monday, December 24, 2001

Fave Raves Of The Year

The snow has gone and thankfully so has all the slush. No white Christams for us then. Grey blankets of clouds hang just above the chimney's and no discernible horizon out at sea. It feels quite oppressive and very warm.

Last night the entire gang went off to the cinema to see Lord Of The Rings. In what might be seen in future years as a terrible lapse in parental judgement, Joseph quaked, whimpered and moaned throughout the epic movie. Tom feigned boredom largely, I think, as a coping mechanism. After the movie they were full of praise for it and laughed heartily at the sword and gore-fest fighting which was a considerable feature of the flick.

I can see why some Tolkien-nuts will be outraged and disappointed by director Peter Jackson's interpretation of the everyday story of everyday Hobbits, elves, dwarfs and wizards down in Middle Earth. However, I just sat back and suspended my disbelief and thoroughly enjoyed the film as a piece of spectacular entertainment. Sometimes we can analyse things a bit too much and so I wasn't looking for any moral message or picking up the subtle differences between the book and the movie. I just thought it was splendid.

Back at home we opened a bottle of Advocaat, which in this house is a sign that Christmas has really begun. As usual, there was a rush of children eager to have their glasses filled with an ample dollop of the yellow nectar followed by a liberal topping up with lemonade and cherries. Personally I take mine neat and last night decided to opt for a large glass of Port. Debbie was out with chums and once I got the kids to bed, I worked on another large canvass. Painting and a drop of Port do go together in a most agreeable way I discovered.

Fave Raves Of The Year.

About this time of year I usually pause and acknowledge those albums which have given me pleasure or have opened my ears to (for me) new pastures of aural delight. So with out further ado. . .

Choices Under Pressure by Peter Blegvad
Without doubt this album has been the most requested and most popular album of the year, here at Victoria Avenue. Popular with all the kids as well as all the adults, you would often hear tunes from this album being played, hummed or even sang out loud with gusto were you to stop at our house.

The sparse and simple production on the material (a largely retrospective set spanning Blegvad's career) really allows the words and melodies to shine brightly. Some have criticised the album as being too bland in relation to Blegvad's other release. However, this is surely splitting hairs; what you have is an album of twelve finely crafted songs which manage to be witty, ironic and profound - sometimes all in a single verse. Produced by Jakko Jakszyk (who also played all over it as well as arranging the tracks), with guests John Greaves and Danny Thompson, if you buy one album in the new year - get this one.
Stand out tracks: Daughter, Meantime, Gold and God Detector

Inner Space / Tones For Joan's Bones by Chick Corea
In sessions recorded before his stint with Miles Davis, Corea commanded an ensemble of stunning virtuosity. On these two albums, Corea and his company provide a straight ahead, post-bop jazz. Here the talents of trumpeter Woody Shaw and saxophonist Joe Farrell are carried along on top of dizzying swirls of rhythm which seems to evolve and re-invent itself with every bar and beat. Steve Swallow and Joe Chambers have to be one of the most underrated bass players and drummer combinations of their generation.

Shining at the core of it all is the playing and writing of Corea. Whilst he has returned to his acoustic roots in recent years, these vintage recordings demonstrate the originality of his composition and lightness of touch. It's positively exhilarating to hear the quicksilver invention of his playing unadorned and unaffected by the technical bravado which would come to characterise much of his playing throughout the seventies and eighties.
Stand out tracks; Guijira, Tones For Joan's Bones, Inner Space.

No More Sad Refrains By Sandy Denny
Yet another "best of" compilation but somehow more satisfying than all the rest. Denny's voice and much of her material, is capable of reducing me to complete stillness, wherever I am or whatever else I'm doing. Consistently good writing and excellent performances mark Denny out as a talent of towering strength and intensity.

Initially gathering up the strands of the traditional folk revival in the early sixties, Denny went on to fashion these roots into a vocabulary that was charged with a robust passion and something wholly her own.

Of course the romanticism which often accompanies those who die young has attached itself to Denny, and one wonders if she were still alive today, would she have attracted the numbers of compilations and mountains of appreciative literary appraisals? I'd like to think so.

Sandy Denny's music has a timeless quality which is quite unlike any other artist operating in the field. If you've not heard her before and want to know what all the fuss is about then this double CD set is absolutely the place to start from.
Stand out tracks: Next Time Around, Fotheringay, Like An Old Fashioned Waltz.

Minstrel In The Gallery by Jethro Tull
I would never have predicted that I would be including a Jethro Tull in my list of fave raves and yet, thanks to the efforts of the Kimberman, this flute driven fokly/rock blending has been well and truly inculcated into the Smith psyche.

The smoky richness of Anderson's voice emanates a warming glow which makes even the most convoluted material agreeable. Sometimes the curlicues of the arrangements verge on being overdone and overblown. Yet there's a good wry humour at the heart of this album which steers it away from the twin foundations of prog-rockdom - Pretension and Arrogance.

In any event, Tull have cast off the dreaded "P" label in favour of a Celtic-influenced potpourri, which also owes a great debt to the writing of Roy Harper, though the pace and dramatic punctuation in Anderson's output is all his own.

Having spent much of the year investigating the Tull back catalogue, I could have picked Songs From The Wood Heavy Horses or A Passion Play as part of my fave raves of the year but I'll settle for this collection.
Stand out tracks; Baker Street Muse, Cold Wind In Valhalla, Minstrel In The Gallery

The Brondesbury Tapes by Giles, Giles & Fripp
The influence of Ian McDonald's entry into the story of King Crimson is absolutely crucial and evidence of this is to be found all over this archive release. Much of the material has a charming period naiveté about it (Make It Today), though the attempts at heaviness (Drop In) do sound a little forced or ill-fitting.

Yet the album is required listening for any Crimson fan. If you're looking to find out how the King came to be crowned, this release is a fascinating peep into the coronation chambers prior to the event. . .continues monarchist allegories ad nauseum.
Stand out tracks; Passages Of Time, Murder, Erudite Eyes.

Border Seasons by Matt Seattle
The sound of the yearning heart given voice by the bitter sweet tones of the border pipes. On this album, Seattle combines forces with a string quartet made up from members of Mr.McFall's Chamber, who provide the rhythmic and timbral framework of much of the album.

This leaves Seattle the piper free to soar in and around some of the silver-toned melodies you're likely to hear all year. The two big set pieces (A Little Water Music and Border Season) capture a musical landscape which is both rugged, sometimes bleak in outlook but always uplifting and occasionally beautiful.
Stand out tracks include; Port Joan Morrison, Leithen Water, Herons In Winter.

Saturday, December 22, 2001

Beards For Peace

Snow. And lots of it. Kids out in it. Very wet. Ah, can there be anything more seasonal than the smell of steaming trousers as they bake on the radiators after a marathon session in the street. After three or four hours out in it all this morning, Tom and Joe and now in the yellow room on recovery and reflection mode - Tom drawing and Joe writing a story which he assures me will be bigger than a dictionary. It's called "27 Cats" which just about covers the numerous moggies which can be found loitering with intent despite the thick covering of snow.

The weather is now truly beautiful - white fluffy clouds, flooding blue skies rushing down toward a grey but majestically swelling sea. Glorious sunshine.

Debbie is out in Newcastle undertaking some essential purchases. I'm running some searches on the internet in an attempt to track down a couple of elusive characters. Lots of e-mail. Chris Wilson delving further into the graphic history of KC, inspirational epithets from Pat Mastelotto, several offers of stateside accommodation should it be needed during the forthcoming American jaunt, several invitations to naturally enlarge my penis from spammers, change of address notifications, and much more besides.

I'm going to sit down later this afternoon and just work through the pile of replies which are required. If you're thinking "why hasn't that fat bastard answered my e-mail?", just hang on . . .I am getting to you. . .honest.

It's the annual "Beards For Peace" reunion tonight. Old mates from twenty or thirty years ago, getting together and comparing girths. Years ago, when we were all much thinner than we are now, we decided to all grow beards though quite why we did this, I can't quite recall now. Somehow this activity was dubbed "Beards For Peace" and the moniker stuck. As did the beards. I don't think any of us returned to being clean shaven ever again.

Listening To. . . From The Witchwood
Grave New World
Bursting At The Seams
Hero And Heroine
Ghosts
As you'll have gathered, I'm currently having a Strawbtastic holiday.

Friday, December 21, 2001

It Beggars Belief

Although I wasn't at work today I got up with Debbie at 6.30 a.m. and whizzed off into Newcastle with her. It was a treat spending the morning with her like this as we usually fly about cajoling kids and feeding sundry animals between 6.45 and 7.30 a.m. (the time of her daily departure.)

This morning I waved her off on her bus going over the Tyne toward Gateshead where she teaches. After she'd gone I walked back up from the train station through the fairly empty streets toward the centre of Newcastle in order to complete the Xmas gift hunt.

In common with many cities the world over, Newcastle has its fair share of homeless street vendors, beggars and persons who are so clearly disturbed, it seems incredible that they are out on the street without some kind of escort.

This year I've noticed a variation on the theme - very elderly men busking. Today I saw a withered old stick of a man, breathlessly playing "The Internationale" on a harmonica. He was poorly dressed and looked desperately cold. Even I was desperately cold and I was wearing three layers of coats (a suit jacket, white jerkin and thick black bulky jacket) ! The plaintive bleat of the tune, full of optimism despite the miserable context of its surroundings, was frankly heart-breaking.

Thursday, December 20, 2001

McDonald on McDonald & Giles

Spoke to Ian McDonald on the telling bone tonight. I'm going to be helping out with the sleeve notes for the forthcoming McDonald & Giles re-issue which will be out in the new year sometime. Fascinating talking to Ian about his perspective on this overlooked classic. The McDonald & Giles album is one which no true Crim fan can afford to be without. Sadly the only way you could be with it, is if you had a vast reservoir of independent wealth given that it has only been available on costly Japanese import.

SS & Ian McDonald at the KC book launch last month

Until now that is. Declan at Virgin is looking to present the album in the same resplendent manner of the recent gatefold KC re-masters. I've not heard the album since he and Mike Giles re-mastered it a couple of weeks ago but I'm told it's a big improvement on the sonic qualities of the original.

Also heard from Jakko Jakszyk earlier in the week. He's been keeping me up to speed with the rehearsals between Mike and Pete Giles, Ian McDonald and himself. The first batch of sessions took place in early December (the week after the KC book launch) and were very productive by all accounts.

The material being tackled by the group is focused on pre-and early Crim classics as well as some more contemporary pieces into the bargain. Further rehearsals have been scheduled for early in the new year and there's talk about some live dates in the not too distant future. Can't wait to hear the stuff. More details as they emerge.

Also heard from all-round polymath Peter Blegvad, who has recklessly agreed to discuss and explore the idea of him traipsing all the way up north to do a gig/exhibition of his paintings and other graphic works. Peter may be best known to music fans as one third of the excellent Slapp Happy. He's probably better known to hundreds and thousands of readers of UK newspaper Independent On Sunday, as the creator of the strip cartoon Leviathan.

As you can tell, I'm desperately trying to be cool about this and not ring him up and say (in an excited and nasal babble)
"eeeeePeeeterrrrrrrrrramabiiiiiiiiiiiiigfaaanofurrrrss"

Slightly belated congratulations to Martin and Kris who were out tonight celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary by spending it at the theatre.

Debbie is out tonight with her colleagues from school for their Christmas drink. It's miles away in Boldon and I'm not expecting her back in until well after midnight. She phoned earlier to find out the taxi arrangements I'd made on her behalf and declared herself bored and just wanting to be at home - so much to do so little time.

Of course were she at home I wouldn't be able to be wrapping her Christmas presents and the generally cheerful and uninhibited manner which I'm currently enjoying.

Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Charting Progress

A truly beautiful sky this morning. The kind of sky that makes you feel alive and connected. An infinite variety of blues, pinks, oranges and whites casually arranged with effortless grace. And the air outside is made crisp with a light breeze coming in off the sea.

Heard from Helter Skelter that the book is selling well. Hopefully we'll be going for a reprint in the summer and then I'll be able to address the errors and typos that crept in right at the end of the process. It looks like my flirtation with the charts is now in a terminal decline. Over the last few days Amazon UK had the KC book placed at 211 on their sales ranking. Now its three thousand and something. The fickle finger of fate is pointing - downwards !

The fickle finger fate is also pointing upwards for Gordon Haskell. I was in the Newcastle branch of HMV yesterday and saw shedloads of the single stacked up. While I was there I saw four people buying the Haskell disc as opposed to one person picking up the Robbie Williams / Nicole Kidman single. OK, so it's hardly scientific but I figure that Gordon is in with a chance for the Xmas No.1

Interesting to note that whoever gets the Xmas No.1 there'll be a Crimson connection of sorts: Robbie Williams is managed by David Enthoven.

Last night spent dealing with the increasing backlog of correspondence arising from the book. Patience is required.

A couple of quick things about the availability of the book in the USA. DGM will be carrying the book in the new year so that mail order customers will be able to buy it from DGM USA.

Tuesday, December 18, 2001

How Wonderful

A very long but interesting chat with Sean Hewitt last night. We chomped over various reactions to the book and pondered on some potential future plans.

Sean also told me that he had gone out and purchased Gordon Haskell's surprise hit single "How Wonderful You Are". Sean did this not necessarily because he's moved by this touching ballad but primarily as a strategic gambit to try and keep Robbie Williams off the much coveted Xmas No.1. Personally I think this is a great idea and I'll be following Sean's lead today when I'm in Newcastle later today.

An even better idea would be for Virgin to rush-release a double A side single featuring Cadence & Cascade on one side and Lady Of The Dancing Water on the other. A bona idea as somebody once said. Well, they say that success breeds success.

Debbie is very tired at the moment and is struggling through until Friday when the present term ends. Similarly, the children are feeling sluggish and there's precious little "learning" taking place at the moment. It's really just staying the course until the finishing line.

Monday, December 17, 2001

Adornement

Adornment ( detail - acyrilic, chalk, crayon)

Finished the first sweep of work on the big red painting last night at around midnight. Working in that light is really deceptive of course because you can't really see how the colour is shaping up. So wandering from the bedroom and into the yellow room on the morning after, is always a bit of a surprise. This morning as I surveyed the scene I'm happy to know that I'm happy to note that the work is proceeding in the right direction.

As I stand looking at the canvass, Debbie and our houseguest leave the house: she for work and Peter, off for his train to Birmingham. As far as I know we have no more guests staying with us over the Christmas period other than my mother who will be coming over for Boxing day.

Listening to the Strawbs at the moment big time. Funny how our attention moves around and then settles on a subject in a slightly fixated way. At least mine does. Actually if Dick Greener wasn't already nearly finished his biog on the Strawbs, I'd quite like to have had a go at tackling them as another book. The ups and downs of a bluegrass banjo lad who somehow ended up surfing in on the prog-rock boom and back out again is certainly fascinating.

Personally I don't think the Strawbs ever got to recorded THE classic album although a couple come close. For every "The Life Auction" there's always a "Lemon Pie". For every "The River" there's always a "Part Of The Union". It's always interested me how the band would go about sequencing their albums putting such clinkers next to such classics. Lack of judgement ? Desperation? Band politics? All of the above and a pushy record company who want you to have hit singles?

A couple of people have e-mailed to tell me that Smith is riding high on the UK Amazon sales ranking. Not me of course but Delia Smith – the wondercook and all round wonderwoman. She's number one and when I last looked I was number 265. Mmmm. Well at least that's that little mystery of how the Amazon ratings work cleared up

Sunday, December 16, 2001

Shopping Around For Inspiration

Saturday spent shopping for Christmas presents. Mostly successful but it will require a further sortie in Newcastle to track down those elusive items. I pick up some paint and get home as quick as I can. Tom and Joe are out with their mother, Sam is at his mates house, Alys is sleeping over at Rachel's place and Debbie is out doing the social rounds with a latest house guest, Peter. In short, I'm in the house all on my own.

At around three in the afternoon I start painting and don't stop till around one a.m. Sore arms but some very potent pieces emerging from the session. I was meant to go into Newcastle today but stayed home and continued where I left off last night.

Tonight, a little after 8.00 p.m. I'm left with six canvasses of differing sizes and all at varying stages of construction. A couple are finished. A couple of others occupy that nether state where they hover between being stuck or stillborn and finding a breath at the last moment. The Smallwood painting remains untouched from the last burst of painterly activity. I took a look at it yesterday and it refused to do anything for me. Maybe I just leave it and re-name one of the new batch as The Smallwood Painting.

More pondering on future projects and more consultations with the I Ching. When something feels "right" we recognise it instinctively and don't require the presence of a third party. The project under consideration is either right or not. Of course even if it's right that doesn't mean it's the right time to proceed. Generally I don't worry about that kind of thing - if it's the right project then the right time will sort itself out. Get the first part sorted and the rest will fall into place.

Useful conversations with Ian McDonald, Chris Wilson, Declan Colgan and Stephanie Ruben and Sean Body at Helter Skelter all play a part in helping to fashion an outline of how the early part of the year ahead might be shaping up.

Being a saddo anorak, one task which I'm currently girding my loins for is the compilation of my fave raves of 2001. These are the CD's that have set my ears alight - that doesn't mean they are newly recorded in 2001 you understand only that they've made me tap my toes in a big way.

!

Listening To. . .
The Colour Of Spring by Talk Talk
Inside Out by John Martyn
The Royal Scam by Steely Dan
Ghosts by The Strawbs

Friday, December 14, 2001

Building Things Up

The avalanche of e-mails continues to arrive. I have to say I've been shocked by how many people have responded to the book enough to get in touch and tell me what they think. If you've sent me something recently and not received a reply, it's not because I've gone all aloof or anything but rather that I'm struggling to get through the post and the kids and the stuff of life. Just when I think we've got them all then someone e-mails me with a couple more. The initial reaction is to feel foolish and shamed but this is all part of having something out there in the public domain and having it open to scrutiny. This is / will be character building !

Last night Debbie, Sam and I erected a new bookcase for the yellow room. Rather they did. I just stood about at the side saying things like "can I help at all?" The bookcase looks strange and alien (I'm thinking monkeys and monoliths here) but by tonight will be filled with the overspill from the alcove which contains my CD's.

A couple of days ago I mentioned that I could sense something in the air regarding work. Well I was right and today received a job offer that is both appealing and scary. I'm going to think on it over the week-end and let them know on Monday.

Thursday, December 13, 2001

Discussing People of the Female Persuasion

On Tuesday afternoon I headed off to the local BBC TV and Radio station to do an interview about the book. Julia Hankin, the presenter, was bright and courteous throughout the fifteen or so minutes we were on air and asked lots of questions about the fan base of the group and whether or not it Crimson was a "boy's thing." I told her I had to agree that in my limited experience of Crimson live, the vast bulk of attendees were blokes although when I was in the States with P4 there were definitely more people of the female persuasion.

At that point a listener from Belford (in Northumberland) e-mailed the programme to say that in addition to being a KC fan (possessing six albums), she was also a woman ! Then back at the office, a colleague who looks after the Art On The Riverside project mentioned that she had a 12" single by Robert Fripp called Four From Exposure. OK I know the picky ones out there will say "aha but that's not King Crimson" but for me, it's near enough to count. Sadly, my colleague then asked if it was worth anything because she wanted to get shot of it.

Yesterday I attended the launch of a major new award to encourage writing in the North. The award will enable three writers a year to give up the day job and concentrate on doing nothing but writing. Most awards tend to be post-product and after the fact. This award is significant not only because of the substantial sums of money involved but because it comes right at the start of the creative process. Northern Rock are to be applauded (which they were) for their vision and belief in nailing their colours to the mast in this way.

While I was at the launch event I chatted with the arts correspondent of the local paper. I'd sent him an e-mail about the book a couple of days ago so it was good to be able to follow it up in person. He said that he was interested in doing a piece on the book and would be getting in touch with the publishers for a review copy. Shameless self promotion I know but I figure that if I don't get the message out about the book then nobody else will.

After all the glad-handing was over I walked along the River Tyne to see Chris Wilson. The view looking up the river as the sun was going down was breathtaking. I stood spellbound as I my breath clouded and the light blues gave way to dull oranges and pinks.

I was spellbound for another reason once I got to Chez Wilson. He'd lined up the video of Gordon Haskell performing the song "How Wonderful You Are" which is currently taking the UK by storm. I'd rang Gordon earlier in the week and got the recorded voice that his call-minding service was full and not accepting any further messages. With this much profile on his hands, Gordon is going to be shocked at how many friends he suddenly has and how they had always been meaning to get in touch. Having been around the block more than once, I doubt that Gordon will be fooled by any of this.

Debbie and I were out shopping last night until very late and I'd only just got through the door when Ian McDonald rang. He's just finished the re-mastering of McDonald & Giles and declared himself pleased with the results. We chatted for a while about the book and notwithstanding a couple of factual mistakes and a shedload of typo's which are in the book he reckoned it wasn't to bad at all. The greatest compliment he paid to me was that my descriptions of some of the later Crimson albums made him want to hear them. Ian flies back to the states at the end of this week but hopefully we'll get an opportunity to meet up again sometime in the new year.

Just going back to typo's and errors – I've been keeping a list of them and several readers have e-mailed with clangers they've spotted. We'll be able to change these when it comes to a re-print.

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Nourishment

I don't really know how the I Ching works but I sat last night pondering on the results of an operation. "Nourishment" it said. "Food for thought" I said.

After half an hour of reading about the mountain, firm correctness and a whole load of arcane and highly symbolic verbiage, I could feel a vast electric current surge through me and in a flash I was spreading paint all over this particularly irkesome canvass.

An hour later it was done. Whereas earlier in the evening I felt constipated (in a creative way you understand) the I Ching had unblocked something in me. This felt very powerful and the energy kept me up until the wee small hours.

This morning I was a little bleary eyed but I went through to the yellow room to see what it all looked like. I was very surprised with the results. In the natural light of a slightly gloomy morning it looked totally different. Swirling clouds of yellow, blue, gold white all smudged together in a dense conglomeration. This wasn't what I had in mind when I started sniffing this particular painting out but I'm glad I got there.

Bright sunshine with a frost on the ground. The boys both sniffling and Tom seems to be coming down with a touch of asthma.

This afternoon I'm doing an interview on the local BBC radio about the book. Given all the publicity about Gordon Haskell, I'm going to tell them that the book is the Gordon Haskell story. I've re-titled it "Gordon Haskell: The Wilderness Years.

Monday, December 10, 2001

Gordon's Unexpected Postscript

Walking the boys to school this morning and the air is really fresh and nipping. To our right the sea and a dramatic fast moving fog lit up with the sun. Quite stunning.

E-mail from Kevin Eden, biographer of Wire to tell me about the latest developments with Gordon Haskell. Similarly Sean Hewitt sent an e-mail from a different source but with the same story.

Kevin writes:
This in from freebie Metro newspaper this morning:
TEN-MINUTE TRACK COULD TOP CHARTS

A unknown singer is in the running for the Christmas No.1 with a tune he wrote while shopping with his 82-year old mother. Gordon Haskell, 55, wrote the ballad How Wonderful You Are in Safeways near his sleepy his home in a sleepy Dorset village. He jotted don the lyrics in a pocket diary and recorded the song in just ten minutes using session musicians. The track, which describes his reunion with his long-lost daughter, won Radio 2's 'most requested record' accolade.

It is also leading to a £2.8 million album deal due to be signed today with east West Records, a Warner Brothers subsidiary. Haskell, whose career as an itinerant guitarist once included a jam session with Jimi Hendrix, now faces achart battle with Something Stupid by Showbiz superstars Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman.

Some time earlier in the year I was talking to Gordon on the phone and he was very upbeat about the new album which at that time had the working title of Alligator Man. Back then Gordon was confidently predicting that the album would go gold and he expected some great chart success with it. I probably discounted such predictions at the time as artist's braggadocio but Gordon had it down just right. I have to say I'm pleased for him and what an unexpected post-script to the section on Gordon in the book.

On the train today a couple of ideas fell into place for a potential collaboration with the Kimberman - Suicide Kings And Losers. Kimber came up with the title but it set off a slow fuse fizzing with resonance and associations. The real trick is capturing them as they move about.

Listening To. . .
Bursting At The Seams by The Strawbs
Harmonielehre by John Adams
Days Of Radiance by Laraaji

Sunday, December 09, 2001

Lost Diaries

A nice nip in the air to makes it feel like it might be getting a little Christmassy.

Tom and Joe, returned from their sleep-over, undertake homework and bedroom cleaning. We're planning some major changes in their room and intend to purchase some items of furniture during the Christmas holiday. In the meantime, we pick up, move things about, dispatch those things which have overstayed their welcome and/or been tested to destruction. After a couple of hours things look a bit tidier but my nose, throat and eyes are streaming and sore.

My mother joins us for Sunday lunch which Bill and Kath have provided. They then go out to Tynemouth market in search of sundry pooty items. In the meantime I try to locate my pre-1996 diaries without success. I started keeping them on a computer after 1996 but before then they were done in a series of little notebooks. Thought they were in a box all together but I think I might have moved them but where ? The hunt is on.

Received an offer to play some music with an old mate today. Have to say I'm tempted as its years since I've played anything and vaguely miss it all. The last time was in Ian Boddy's studio in Esh Winning a year or two ago. We managed to get a day together but the results were very disappointing. Ian and I weren't in the same space and whilst that can be interesting, all it did was highlight the creative distance between us.

Kimber and I have talked about collaborating on an exhibition and this really does get my taste buds going. I get flashes of how such a collaboration might work and I know just by the quickening of my pulse that this would be worth doing. "When ? How ? What ?" are just the right kind of questions to get things started though not necessarily in that order.

Listening To. . .
Largo by Bill Rieflin and Chris Connelly

Saturday, December 08, 2001

Being Out There

The kids are sleeping over at John and Jude's house next door and so I went out to the pub to meet up with an old mate of mine. We only ever talk about music and as we talked I understood that he wasn't really at the table but off somewhere else. I understood that he'd been drinking before meeting up in the pub and it was enough to just send him off-beam. His combination of pre-pub booze and a couple of large spliffs may seem like a great way of relaxing but I'm afraid that he was just too unfocussed and distracted by whatever it was that he was perceiving. Instead of feeling connected I felt locked out.

The result was a wholly unsettling experience. Someone who's judgement you would usually count on is out where the bus doesn't run. You might think that I'm being terribly moralistic about it all and in a way I am. Given the choice I would prefer my chum not to be tanked up and cooking on the happy baccy. So if I value his friendship I should accept him as he is I guess. Except "as he is" in the case means "not all there" which means "missing" which makes me "sad". People change and move on. Why should he stay the same ? Why shouldn't I just accept it ? Bottom line though, it was no fun.

Huge amounts of e-mail still coming in. Mostly to do with the book. I will get around to responding over the next few days. One from Robert who tells me that the book was presented post-gig in Montreal for signing. He doesn't mention whether he complied or not with the request to sign. Noticed more than a couple of infected Re Remails had come my way. Happily these were dispatched without being opened.

One e-mail was from Chris Wilson to tell me that he'd watched Gordon Haskell on Top Of The Pops 2 tonight. Way to Go Gordon ! I'll get to see it on Wednesday when I go calling over Wilson Towers.

Listening To. . .
Troubadour by JJ Cale
Birth Of A Giant by Bill Rieflin
Illuminations (original version) by Carlos Santana and Alice Coltrane

Friday, December 07, 2001

Mixed Emotions

Boy was it a rollercoaster of a day on Thursday. A series of options presented themselves and required a response or commitment. Advice from the Kimberman: Don't make a choice because you think you should. Step back from it all and let a little time pass by in order to reflect. He's right of course and yet that didn't stop the tidal wave of emotions which I seem to be bobbing up and down on at the moment. I seem to be alternating between feeling like its Christmas morning with all the presents and then being all flat and kicking my heels. There's a strong ebb and flow of emotions pulling this way and that at the moment.

Also last night I was in the local branch of Waterstones and saw the KC book sitting on the shelves. Strange feeling. Felt simultaneously proud and vaguely embarrassed which is a very English trait. It looked great and like a giggling school boy I ran outside the shop and phoned Chris Wilson to tell him about it.

Bill (Debbie's father) and Kath arrived last night and have settled in. They are staying for a couple of days in order to exchange Christmas gifts and catch up on the chat and gossip of the Raikes family and its extended population. I Talked to Lesley (my sister) last night and found that my mother had had a really good time in Milton Keynes. I rang my mother who of course, was out visiting friends. My mother was recently 74 and she has an infinitely superior social life to my own.

Listening To. . .
Henry Fool by Henry Fool (more later . . .)
Vingt Regards Sur L'Enfant-Jesus by Messiaen

Thursday, December 06, 2001

Thinking About Thinking

Just gone midnight here in Whitley Bay. . .

An e-mail from Tom Redmond arrived the other day. It's about setting a goal and working towards it. Power of positive thinking. Well, it's set me thinking.

Wednesday, December 05, 2001

Itching To Know The Future

It's been raining all day. Vast puddles the size of small lakes seep up from clogged drains making journey's on foot very precarious indeed. When I picked Tom and Joe up from school tonight we opted to get the bus. Walking home (it's only a few minutes) would have resulted in us being drenched from head to toe.

A day of telephone calls. Some good and some fair to middling. Here's some of the good ones. Stephanie Ruben rang to say how much she's enjoyed the book and the local BBC radio station called to arrange a live interview for next week. It's bound to be one of those "local boys makes good stories" rather than any kind music based interviews but at least it'll mean 21st Century Schizoid Man will get played on the afternoon chat magazine and it can't be every day that this happens.

Debbie talked to her mum tonight who although ill is at least at home. Getting up and cleaning her teeth and going back to bed leaves her completely exhausted and sleeping for the remainder of the day.

Without wanting to go all Robert-y on you. . .I have a sense of something available to me in terms of my day job. Quite what it is I'm not at all sure. Good or bad ? I've recently down-sized from a management position to that of a project officer. Less responsibility means I'm actually doing work in the arts rather than doing work about doing work in the arts.

So there's been a lot of change in the air of late. Perhaps it's also something to do with the completion of the book. A sense of something opening up. And no I'm not talking about a career change or anything like that. It's an altogether more curious feeling. . .maybe this is one for the I Ching?

Tuesday, December 04, 2001

Exciting Times

Supportive and complimentary e-mails continue to arrive from readers. There were so many messages of good luck prior to the launch and so many since the launch it's taking an age to respond to them all. So if you've sent me something and I've not responded please be patient as I'll get round to you in the next day or so.

One e-mail in came from noted Mojo contributor John Bungey.

If you're ever in a jazzish mood, have a listen to a version of Epitaph that has just appeared on an album by Greek sax player Dimitrios Vassikilis and various jazz luminaries (Daedelus Project on Candid). Highly unlikely but rather rather wonderful.

I've heard from a couple of Crims who've declared themselves reasonably pleased with what they've read so far. That's not to say there aren't mistakes and inaccuracies contained within. However the general view is that it's not too bad and we'll be able to correct things on any future reprints. Am I pleased? You bet!

On the night of the book launch Peter Sinfield gave me a little gift - a Fisher space pen (they write upside down and under water . . .handy eh ?). "There's only 25 of these" said Peter as he handed it over. Opening the stylish silver case I saw the tiny pen had been engraved with the legend "King Crimson 1969 - 1999". I was genuinely by Peter's gift and this morning I showed to Tom and Joe who both just about exploded as they grabbed at it.

"Wow" they both shouted eager to don their snorkels and get writing with it. In the end the three of us walked around the yellow room holding aloft a piece of paper standing underneath and each taking it in turn to sign our names and writing "This pen writes upside down."

David Bowie is booming hysterically throughout the house. Not Le Grande Dame in person you understand but one of his albums (Scary Monsters). In this house the playing of the strange eyed boy from Brixton can only mean one thing: cleaning! No sooner than World Leader Symes has vacated the guest bedroom it has been prepared for the next set of visitors. Debbie's dad Bill and his wife Kath arrive on Thursday to stay for the weekend.

Listening To. . .

Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane
Industry by Richard Thompson and Danny Thomson
Deja Vu by CSNY
Rubber Soul by The Beatles
Eastern Sounds by Yusef Lateef

Monday, December 03, 2001

Two Years On

Doesn't time fly. . .I started this diary two years ago today. It's been quite a journey from the first entry through to the launch of the book. Who'd have thought it ? Not me that's for sure.

It was wonderful meeting so many KC fans the other night. The room was filled with goodwill and a sense of some kinship and that has continued over into the in-tray over the last couple of days. So many people have taken the trouble to write and let me know what they think of the of the book so far. Yes there are some typo's and most of it I'd happily re-write today given the chance BUT I'm thrilled with the way its turned out. No feedback from the Crims who were there on Friday night and Helter Skelter will be mailing out copies to the other Crims who weren't at the signing.

I know that with a story as circuitous and multi-faceted as Crimson that it's impossible to cover all the angles and views on any given topic. So inevitably this account will piss some people in the band off no end. It'll be interesting to hear their responses.

Talked to my sister over the week-end who said she found the whole thing quite extraordinary. She and I travelled from Newcastle to Birmingham in 1974 to see Crim. This was the last time the two of us saw John Wetton and David Cross together. Twenty seven years later and there we were. It felt strange I have to say.

Stranger still for Debbie was the amount of people who came up to her and asked how her mum was. As I say there was so much goodwill doing the rounds that night.

Sunday, December 02, 2001

Still On The Rollercoaster Ride

The last couple of days have felt like a bit of a rollercoaster ride and I'm not sure I can properly articulate it. Rather it's a jumble of impressions and snippets of conversation which jostle and push for attention.

I think it'll be a couple of days before it all sinks in. More impressions and viewpoints will emerge from the signing and launch event as the days progress I'm sure.

Suffice to say that my worries about not many people turning up proved to be without foundation. Over 100 people patiently queued up to have their books and bits and pieces signed by Michael Giles, Peter Giles, Peter Sinfield, Ian McDonald, John Wetton and David Cross and myself.

I really can't thank the various ex-Crims enough for turning up and supporting the event and I can't thank Helter Skelter enough for doing such a great job on the book.

One scene: After eating at Bengal Berties, Kimber, Debbie and I legged it back to Hotel Akimbo. Debbie went off to bed and the Kimberman and I mused and pondered on it all. Then he went off to bed. I said to Kimber "I just want to have a moment to myself". I sat in his living room without any music playing. Just silence. It was sometime after two in the morning. My head was buzzing with it all. I sat. Then the timer on the living room light clicked out the lamp and I was plunged into darkness. My little moment to myself had just come to an end.

It's a somewhat cool Sunday morning and house guest David Symes and myself have just a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon and toast washed down with lashings of piping hot Earl Grey. Weather Report's album Sweetnighter makes the morning trip along, Debbie has phoned to say she's on her way back home from her stay-over at her mum's house in Wellingborough and all, it must be said, seems right with the world.

David and I got back from London last night and while he went out to trip the light fantastic with chanteuse Dillie Keane (appearing one night only at Newcastle's Theatre Royal) and I slobbed out in a largely empty house.

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