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Friday, October 29, 2004

Water Feature

After a night of torrential downpour as well as thunder and lightning (very, very, etc) the roof at the back of the house has given way, resulting in rainwater streaming rather fetchingly down the walls. Not quite the water feature we either wanted or anticipated.

Therefore, it was with a somewhat resigned air that I began the ring around of builders and roofers to affect the repairs. Fact of life; you can never get a roofer in bad weather.

Further editing comes in from John Tobler on the North Stars book and the treatment I referred to in yesterday’s entry now has a working title of Bright Lights, Big City. The strapline goes “it’s about life, it’s about music, it’s about us.”

Elsewhere, the Bill Fontana project gathers pace with another meeting of The Ideas Mine creative team later today. The work we’ve done so far on this speculative bid is outrageously ambitious.

The proposal we’re working up with Bill is suitably monumental – in keeping with many of Bill’s sound sculptures around the world – and, we believe, captures something of the spirit of artistic regeneration that the regions’ propaganda culture alludes to.

Listening to. . .
Tom and Joe as they thud, thwack and twang on my guitars.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Ideas Flowing

Funny how one thing leads to another. A chance meeting results in me being asked to look at an arts-based proposal with a view to evaluating its potential. There’s little that is salvageable in the piece but one jewel of an idea glitters and catches my eye. And then the ideas start flowing, way beyond the scope and ambition of the original submission; a creative eruption that has a life of its own.

Then, a day later you stand back and realise there’s a credible, coherent piece of work waiting to be pitched to the powers that be. It also bears little or no relation to the proposal that started the process running.

This wasn’t what I was looking for and not what I expected to be doing these last two days but it feels right and certainly makes extensive use of the knowledge I picked up by working on the North Stars publication. In fact, it feels as though the North Stars project was but limbering up for this new visitation.

Elsewhere, Joe has now got the geetar bug. Tom is teaching Joe to play a Linkin Park melody. After an hour both their fingers are sore but their confidence is astonishing.

A further example of this was seen last night. After we’d all eaten, Tom got my bass guitar, sat down on a stool and played the bass groove to Get Carter (currently his favourite riff). Tom, always keen to blend in with the wallpaper when it comes to social gatherings, has suddenly blossomed. I credit his taking up music with this transformation.

This doesn’t mean that he’ll go on to take it up as a pro or anything of the sort. Rather, the act of accomplishing something creative (however you want to define it) puts a spring in the step, makes us feel good about ourselves and opens more doors in both the external and internal worlds.

And in the email today, a post from the other side of the world that also demonstrates the above process albeit in a completely different forum. Good on yer, Cobber.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Joan Didion On Morality

An on-line encounter with the rank stench of hypocrisy and self-justification today chimes in with a section of current reading.

“When we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble.”

Joan Didion, Slouching towards Bethlehem (1968) ‘On Morality’

It’s a bright sunny morning with a hint of frostiness in the air that is just the right side of bracing. The house if full to the brim; the usual crew of Deb, Sam, Alys, Tom, Joe and Sid augmented with Dude, Bob, Carly and Antony. The houseguests’ agenda is to relax and take in the sea air.

Unless they hurry up, they might be getting more sea air than they’d like. The weather forecast predicts the country is soon to be lashed by 80 mile an hour gales.

Of course I realise that compared to the recent meteorological comings and goings in Florida say, this kind of weather front is akin to a walk in a park; around these parts though it’s the big banana. Right here, right now though the weather is simply gorgeous. The more we move into autumn the more I love it.

Tom’s cautious affair with the bass guitar continues. He’s infatuated with the groovesome Get Carter theme tune and this morning I showed him how to play the deeply wonderful It’s About That Time. He got it in one pass and then proceeded to grapple with timing and feel. Personally, I was impressed. I doubt I could have done that when I was his age.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Goodbye John Peel

The phone hasn’t stopped ringing today with people telling me about the death of broadcaster John Peel from a heart attack. I grew up listening to Peel and his show was always interesting, varied and often challenging. Good on yer, John. We’ll miss you.

Joe’s sleepover last night was abruptly terminated at about 1.30 a.m. when Joe rang up to say he didn’t feel well and wanted to come home. I was actually in bed and fast asleep but Sam’s nocturnal meandering through the house heard Joe leaving a message on the machine.

Half an hour later Joe was dropped off at the top of the street by a groggy parent of Joe’s sleepover mate. From what I could gather he’d been badly shaken by a nightmare, woke up in a strange place (it was his first time there) and panicked. I’ve told Joe that he can ring no matter what the time might be and last night that’s what he did.

We sat on the sofa in the yellow room; Joe feeling upset but relieved to be home. Eventually, he went to bed. It was 3.00 a.m. This morning the sun was shining, literally and metaphorically; the terrors of the night long-forgotten.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Learning Ellroy

I’ve been reading some early novels of James Ellroy; fascinating stuff indeed. I’m not a great genre fiction reader but I do love Ellroy’s work with its terse prose and heat-seeking dialogue. These early books lack the incisive juice that Ellroy has become famous for but they do reveal a lot about the process of writing. Even when bits of it clang and clunk, I feel like I’m learning a lot just by being in the general vicinity.

Debra is currently away visiting chums in Birmingham. This has meant the house has been rather still with people most stuck in their respective rooms. It makes me realise that Debra acts as a kind of social glue without whom we all come a bit unstuck. Happily, she’s back tomorrow and so are various bits of her family; Dude, Bob, Carly and her beau, Antony. They’ll be joined by Debbie’s mother at various points of the week.

It’s the school holidays; Joe is at a sleep over and Tom is bored. Consequently, he hangs around me, desperate to use the computer for MSNing his mates. When I were a lad we used …..need I go on?

Listening To. . .
The Very Best of Lindisfarne
The Very Best of The Police

Friday, October 22, 2004

Ten Things That Made Me Feel Good Tday…

(in no particular order)

A kiss from Debra

The promenade at the end of the street

The new DGM web site

Firing ideas off into the air with John Sargent

Listening to Theo Travis

Making a difference in a young person’s life


The pain killers

An understanding check-out clerk at the supermarket

A key idea for a publication clicked into place

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Lost And Found

The slang description for a bird watcher is “twitcher.” Comedian Bill Oddie (famous for shows such as I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again and 70s cult television series The Goodies) has in recent years reinvented himself as the nation’s favourite twitcher on television. Notwithstanding that such a title doesn’t have much in the way of competition, his slightly wheezy brand of jolly japery seems perfectly suited to the hushed, out-of-breath boffinry that seems to be the expected norm of the television wildlife presenter these days .

However Bill was looking twitchy for very different reasons on the first edition of Who Do You Think You Are. The concept is simple enough. Each week a different celebrity is bodily hurled into the knotted briar patch of their family tree and then embark on a voyage of discovery.

Bill was trying to find out who his mother was and why he knew so little about her. The resulting programme was compelling and often very moving as Bill parted the various branches of the family tree to find himself confronted with a sad tale of mental illness, intolerance and the sound of things being swept under the carpet.

The unhappy atmosphere in the Oddie household prompted the young Bill to spend long hours outdoors with his binoculars staring at his feathered friends up in the trees. Years later, his bouts of depression caused him to wonder about his mother and the complex reasons for her absence in his life. In Oddie’s case the past had definitely shaped his future in ways that he would never have believed but now seem only too obvious.

Last night’s programme followed the actress Amanda Redman (brilliant in her role as DeeDee, the wife of a retired East End villain in the movie, Sexy Beast) and hitherto unknown families were united; each of them holding bits of the jigsaw but in their years of isolation lacking the bigger picture. As Redman brought the pieces together, a tale of tragedy and rejection emerged through the grime of the years. Like Oddie, her actions had repercussions; a reunion of all the scattered parties and a sense of resolution. It may be real life but it’s also television.

In years gone by, genealogy was more often than not the pastime of a retired uncle with a bit of time on his hands; kind of like trainspotting but without the flask of stewed tea and anorak. However, the internet has done much to extend the reach and resources of people wishing to excavate their past and programmes such as Who Do You Think You Are will do an awful lot more to popularise the patient art of genealogy. Once the genie is out of the genealogy bottle it’s difficult to put it back in.

All of which prompted me to ponder my own family tree. My interest in researching our family past has been inhibited somewhat by my father’s behaviour when I was a kid. Sometimes not knowing the full story seems preferable to the grief and heartache. If, as Harold Wilson once observed, a week is a long time in politics, when it comes to politics of the family it’s a lifetime.

The family isn’t always the idealised, supportive, loving environment that we would all wish it to be. Often it’s a bearpit; a vicious arena filled with characters spoiling for a fight. Attitudes and prejudices are ingrained and compounded. Sister, brother, father, daughter, son, mother and even the grandparents and cousins thrown in for good measure, all vie for position, dominance or advantage. By the time you tip in a couple of in-laws and mix it up its little wonder that splits and factions occur.

The fault lines and fissures we all experience can mostly be papered over. We often don’t agree with a sibling’s point of view or the standpoint of our elders and betters. But hopefully there’s enough sense of kinship, loyalty or even love to pull us through it all and come out the other side of a disagreement so that we end up in one place.

Often though, family members drift apart. Sometimes, the reasons for such drift can seem trivial. They can seem arbitrary, slanted and footling when examined under the microscope of hindsight and objectivity. Sometimes, even after the scrutiny, they can be all too justified. A generous sense of attribution allows us to empathise with both parties who believe themselves to be slighted. However, there are crimes and positions within the family which are hard to forgive or identify with.

In recent years, the story of my own family has become more fragmentary and difficult. Relationships with my sister Lesley became strained about ten years ago and though we’ve both taken strides to make up lost ground, it can feel parlous and thin. Elsewhere, I have an older sister, Linda whom I’ve not exchanged a single word with since seeing her at my Grandmother’s funeral several years ago. My mother is in her late seventies and our relationship seems as strong and well-connected as it’s always been. However, as she gets older, I’m increasingly aware that she’s my only link to a far-off world of relatives and family members who otherwise exist only as names in a register somewhere.

As for my father, well long term readers of this diary will know that my relationship with my father was never good. He a large man and physically abusive to my mother over many years of their marriage – the very years when we young children. Too be fair to my father, his behaviour was learnt; his father before him was physically abusive to his mother and the children. He in his turn had learnt the cycle of violence from his own father.

Though the sting and heat of such events has cooled to some extent, it nevertheless feels too raw to start digging about in. Mine was a past blurred by eyes screwed tight-shut, trying to blank out the screams, the sounds of fist and flesh connecting, the blunt crunch of bone on wood or leather.

My father and I last spoke to each other during the mid-80s. He had entered hospital with a suspected stroke and after years of abuse, my mother changed the locks to the house and refused the outraged and disapproving demands of the assembled social workers that she take him back. The short version of all this is that he never set back in the house and my mother never had to take another beating. I had agreed to act as intermediary and visited my father a couple of times a week while he was recuperating in various hospital wards and convalescence homes.

Over the course of our time together he said he was sorry for his behaviour and past misdemeanours; he loved my mother and only wanted to be allowed to come back home. This wasn’t in my gift but even if it had been, I would have said (and did) that all things considered, he was better off starting out anew. Our discussions were often difficult, strained and emotional but were not ever marred by harsh words or any kind of aggression.

The long walk back to my flat was often a tear-blind trek as I attempted to reconcile his version of reality and truth against my own. In essence, our dialogue was two strangers talking about a mutual acquaintance and a story that we had both only half heard.

Arrangements were eventually put in place and my father was about to begin life as a single man, in his own flat and with the occasional visits from my older sister, Linda who lived in the Borders. I was now at the end of my commitment to see my father from recovery and into rehabilitation. There weren’t any tears when I left for the last time; we were both cried out. I think we shook hands and both accepted that we wouldn’t see each other again, and, and this is the point, we never did.

Over the years, snippets of information about my father would emanate from my niece, Janine. Every once in while we would hear how he was doing, that he had a good network of old and new mates, that he getting old and infirm, unwell, on the mend, etc. And then, as my mother’s regular contact with Janine diminished, the sporadic details of my father’s new life out in the big wide world fell silent.

Spool forward to Saturday night just gone. As we had David and Julie over for a bite to eat;I was showing them some pictures from a scrapbook I had kept. I only have one photograph of my father. It was taken just after the war. I wasn’t going to show them the old picture of a young man in his demob suit but on a whim, I passed it over.

Julie instantly recognised him as someone she had nursed when she was on training. She put the correct name to him (Albert Leo) recalled his army regiment (Grenadier Guards) and that he had a daughter up in the Borders who came to visit him. W

When Julie had last seen him (she was only at the home on placement) he had become very unwell and his prognosis was not good; her assessment was that he was now almost certainly dead. Julie recalled a nice man, polite, sociable and good-humoured; proof I suppose that with enough impetus we can all make significant changes in our lives and the way we live.

It was a shock for both of us; small world and all that. Our early conversation had been about the power of coincidence and synchronicity.

Not being a television programme means that there isn’t any neat resolution to this story. Confronting such episodes in one’s life can be character-building, bracing even. It brings you up short and makes you think about the fragility of the notional ties that bind us. For me, those ties slipped away a long time ago. And if Julie is right about my father passing on, then I’m glad he was able to meet someone as generous and as caring as Julie.

My father and I said our goodbyes a long time ago. For me, the real tragedy in this tale is we never really ever got to say hello.

Monday, October 18, 2004

My Weekend

shopping for food
researching how children acquire language
socialising with Dave and Julie and their kids
helping with homework
dealing with the unexpected
confronting the past
learning about the present
hearing Tom practice the bassline from Love Like A Man by Ten Years After
going for a short walk up the beach with the kids and World Leader searching for sea-burnished glass of differing hues
watching Quadrophenia
drinking a whole bottle of red wine over a four hour period
watching a couple of extracts from various OGWT and a collection of Alex Harvey appearances on dvd
researched the habitat and lifestyle of Penguins with Joseph
supervising wash cycles of school uniforms and the children who inhabit them
ironing and even managed to write 300 words that could, one day appear in print.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

The Virtues Of Pasta

More rain today in Whitley Bay; unrelenting layers of drizzle accentuated by various degrees of gusting wind. All of which made shopping this morning a bit of an endurance test. As a result Tom and I took sanctuary in the little branch library.

I picked up a few books on children and language (Alys is doing a school assignment on this topic) whilst Tom did things on a computer. An hour later we were out in the rain again and eventually made it home.

Tonight we have Dave and Julie and their kids coming over for something to eat. There house is currently without a kitchen (it’s being refurbished) so we thought it might be a neighbourly thing to have them over. We are cooking for a potential eleven people tonight which can only mean one thing; pasta.

Friday, October 15, 2004

A Gift From The Ether

The grey and cold weather that swaddles Whitley Bay this morning cannot dampen the spirit of excitement that is currently turning cartwheels here in the yellow room. Sound sculptor, Bill Fontana, rang last night to say he was interested in developing a proposal for a major installation in Newcastle.

This idea has been generated via a consultative process involving my chums Brian and John Sargent. Sometimes, ideas are the product of long hours of sweating and hard work. Sometimes ideas are gift from out of the ether. The point is to get into a position where you can do both. Which we’ve done.

Lots of excitement!

World Leader Symes arrived last night in something of a down pour that lasted throughout the evenings viewing of some Old Grey Whistle Test DVDs that he’d brought up with him.

A profile of World Leader...

Thursday, October 14, 2004

A Bumper Post

Through the door today…something of a bumper crop in the way of listening material; a total of 25 cds and 1 dvd. Blimey, that’s some hardcore blag or what. I should explain that 20 of those cd’s belong to an extensive collection called The Northumbrian Anthology , which as the title cunningly implies is anthology of Northumbrian music in all its glory. This came courtesy of John Sargent who called round this morning to discuss a not entirely unrelated project or two.

Also through the door to meet with John and I came our mutual friend and colleague, Brian. He’d brought with him the 25th anniversary re-master of The Clash’s London Calling; not just one cd but also a bonus album of extra material AND a documentary on a dvd about the making of the album.

As if this wasn’t enough, a package from Theo Travis containing his latest album Earth to Ether and a copy of his collaboration with bass ace Steve Lawson, for the love of open spaces.

Finally, after I’d lugged all this loot upstairs to the yellow room, the second post delivered a final cd from Jakko J himself. Yee, and indeed, haa!

Aha! A double album that just couldn’t be slimmed down…I’ll let me old mucker Hanspeter explain…

“a double album that absolutely and categorically could not be reduced to a single without serious loss of impact is Nick Cave's latest one, "Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus". Fantastic stuff. I also doubt that Amon Düül 2's "Yeti" would have worked on a single, or Can's "Tago Mago". The Incredible String Band's "U", on the other hand, would have - just - made a reasonably tolerable single LP. Alas, with most of the prog. rock doubles and triples mentioned in your discussion so far I'd be tempted to argue they shouldn't have been released at all, never mind in double or triple format!”

Prompted in part by this discussion I was listening to Electric Ladyland. So it seems has Thony C .

"whilst I agree in principle with everything that Rick writes, it would of course be blasphemy to prune any of the precious few minutes that Saint Jimi left us for our delectation, looked at rationally his statements can not be left unanswered.

All that he says about ELL are true for sides C and D and indeed these two sides are as good as any progressive (in the sense of looking, moving forward and not in the sense of Prog!) experimental rock album of the late 60s or early 70s, including ITCOTCK (sacrilege!!).

However sides A and B are at best a good pop album with some really bum tracks Little Miss Strange, for example, and only two above average. Voodoo Chile a good piece of blues rock, but definitely not the explosive masterpiece of Slight Return, and Burning of the Midnight Lamp one of Jimi's best pop singles. The whole of the first album could therefore be cut without substantive loss!!"

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Double Album Debate Goes On (and on. . .)

The Double Album Debate goes on...

The possibly pseudonymous (or posthumous!) Bill Hicks wades in with this…
I always thought the point about The Wall that is was, deliberately, the "sound of a spolit, middle-class brat too used to getting his own way and with too much time and money on his hands". Interestingly, it was put together fairly rapidly at a time when the Floyd needed some funds to settle a particularly onerous tax bill. Personally, I quite like it (although Animals is more fun and The Final Cut more miserable) and it did give rise to the finest letter I have ever seen in the music press, published the week after the album's release, which I dearly wish I had the wit to write - "All in all, I'm just another prick who bought the wall".

Whilst James Wills points out that what I’m reacting against in the Wall is a recognition of my own recent brush with the Black Dog of depression. Which might well be true. However, while I ponder that one, he goes on to make the following points…

Just because sometimes we’re too miserable to tell, it doesn’t mean the Wall is actually any good of course! I reckon “The Good Bits Out Of The Wall” would be a 35 minute single album of about-average quality. Still, I’d rather listen to the album than watch that bloody film again!

1) There are those that absolutely should have been “normal” single albums, like Joni Mitchell’s “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter”, “The Wall”, “ Topographic” (Even the title is too bloody long!), etc. (I’ve always felt that .Topographic could successfully be condensed into a side-long piece of “Close To The Edge” quality, though maybe not quite as good)

2) And then. There are those about which we could say “would it be better as a single album, or not?” This category includes: “Exile On Main Street”, “The Beatles”, “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” and even “The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld”.

We could probably come up with single album versions of the above, but the question I have is would they be _better_ than the originals? How about that? If you think “The Lamb” could be better as a single album – what’s the track listing going to be? Because if you leave “In The Cage”, or “Lilywhite Lilith” or “Riding The Scree” or “The Lamia” or “Anyway”, or “Fly On A Windshield”, or . . . a bunch of others it would be too boring to list, off, or even edit them – you lose! At least it seems so to me. I don’t think I could come up with a satisfying version of that album less than 50 minutes long, that didn’t leave me thinking “Shame I had to leave such-and-such off”

So – “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” is my nominee for “Double-album-that-couldn’t-be-a-single-album-as-good-as-the-double”. Of course, in matters of personal taste, we are all mistaken. (That’s my motto) Interesting to see if anyone thinks the Wall could be longer (they cut a track out to fit it on to 4 sides you know!)

Rupert “grumpy old git” Loydell fires off this missive…

I'd say all the Miles Davis double live LPs, Yes' Topographic Oceans, Genesis' Lamb Lies Down, Thn Lizzy's Live & dangerous, Lynyrd Skynyrd's live double, Allman bros Filmore East, most Anthony Braxton,Joni Mitchell's Live in the Aisles [?] and the Clash' Sandinisata all are perfect examples of multi-disc albums. Double albums rool!

the only one i ever remember moaning about was Joni Mitchells's double Don Juan's Reckless Daughter, which clocked in around 50 minutes over 2 discs - whilst Genesis' Foxtrot was longer on a single disc.

Why should any format be inherently wrong or useless? We all have on/off buttons, track choices [on vinyl or cd] etc.

bah. humbug.

Hmmm. I detect an anti-Don Juan building up a head of steam. Sandy Star pitches in with some potentially worrying news for us Wall-bashers.

I confess to being a bit of a fan - of The Wall, of Waters' thoroughly miserable solo albums, of Floyd as a whole - but that isn't to say you're wrong in your characterisation. And as you surmise, The Wall did indeed take a couple of years and an obsence amount of money to make.

As to whether he's 'feeling better these days', I'm afraid Waters is as reliably miserable as ever! You'll also be delighted to know that having already been adapted into a film directed by Alan Parker, The Wall is now going the way of Tommy, and being adapted into a stage spectacular
bankrolled by film studio Miramax.

Thony nominates Jimi Hendrix and Electric Ladyland and Rick writes to make an almost constitutional point …

One that comes to mind and should be excluded from "pruning" is Electric Ladyland by you know who…

As a double album, from this artist / guitarist, it clearly marked a major leap from past outings, in that, "songs" were not necessarily the focus. Here, the extended excursions, into what became known as (at that time) jazz-rock jams (blows in the UK), were more the order of the day. Experimenting more than "...The Experience".

Also, it marked a departure from the traditional make-up of this group, the trio of guitar / bass / drums ... This double album was not by a "group" as we knew them (again, at that time, the initial trio), but more a collection of musicians to create a mood, per se, on the various tracks.

For my money, pruning Electric Ladyland, would be like pruning the Magna Carta (or the like)... Not something history would / could tolerate.

May the debate continue …or not.

A useful e-conversation with John Sargent puts a spring in my step just as a demand from the tax man takes the wind out of my sails.

Listening to…Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Watching Vaughn Williams

On Saturday night Debbie, Sam and Alys went out to Newcastle to see Bubba Ho-tep. Tempted though I was by such indie hi-jinks, as Tom and Joe were visiting their mother, I had the whole house to myself.

I chose to take a break from revising (actually rewriting from top to bottom) Sting to watch a programme on BBC4 called Master Works. It featured a performance of Vaughan Williams’ Tallis Fantasia. Scored for double string orchestra it was played in the impressive surrounding of Gloucester cathedral and recreated Vaughan Williams’ original directions for the separation of the two string orchestras; crudely put this meant putting them at opposite ends of the nave with a string quartet in one of the aisles roughly midway.

After a little adjustment to the acoustics, Sir Andrew Davis took the players through the piece to great effect. I’ve been familiar with this beautiful music since I was a young boy but hearing this performance, even on our grotty television was like hearing it for the first time. Tears? You bet. And lots. Why Vaughan Williams does this to me is hard to say but something about this music connects me to it with a ferocity and intensity that sometimes leaves me feeling exhausted.

James Wills writes regarding double albums. Is there ever double album that couldn’t have been pruned down to make a much better single album? Contenders include Topographic Tales, Lamb Lies Down, Sting’s Nothing Like The Sun, The Beatles, etc. Studio albums only please.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Feeling Sheepish

It was Tom's first parent's evening at his new school last Thursday night. The teacher says Tom has settled in fine, making good contributions although tending to be a little introverted. As the lad in front of me said all this stuff, I couldn’t help but think he was describing myself at the same age. Tom has the same ability that I developed at school; camouflage. Keep your head down and do enough not to get noticed. Blend in with the scenery and get through it as quickly as you can.

At the other end of the scale, Debra came home last night. She told me about a session with one of the children in her class. The child was being asked to put her hands inside a closed box to feel the object inside. In this instance it was a chair. After an age of probing and squeezing, the young student had no idea what was contained in the box.

Miss Raikes: Well, Jemima, what do you think it is?

Jemima: I don’t know Miss.

Miss Raikes: Go on, take a wild guess.

The child furrows her brow, does some more intensive feeling at the mystery object inside, smiles broadly as the penny drops, shouting out

Jemima: Is it a sheep?

Friday, October 08, 2004

The Wall by Pink Floyd

However bad things are in your life, it could be worse. You could be Roger Waters. I’ve just been listening to The Wall by Pink Floyd. Whatever it cost to make (and here I’m just guessing it was a couple of years in the studio) surely Waters could have put the money to better use – counselling or a long retreat to a Trappist monastery perhaps?

This double album contains a suite of songs stretched out and padded up with extraneous filler, to form a drab cheerless experience, bloated, distended and in need of decisive pruning or more to the point, a vigorous and fast-acting evacuant.

The somnolent canter at which the Pink Floyd’s oeuvre is taken is tolerable only when the material over which it sedately rides has been decorated with a decent tune or two - Meddle, Dark Side, Wish You Were Here. Here, such considerations are put to one side as Waters flounders in a self-constructed cesspit of self-loathing, impotent wrath and whining resentment. Ultimately, it’s the sound of a spoilt, middle-class brat too used to getting his own way and with too much time and money on his hands.

Listening to this, it’s easy to understand the psychology that would cause Waters to famously gob into the face of a fan at a gig. The whole album strikes me as a vast, shuddering, cathartic throat-clearing; wracking up all the bile and self-pity, sending it flying in the face of critical opinion. I hope he’s feeling better these days.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Geek Lair By The Future Planes

Rupert “Silver Cape” Loydell has come up with a list of covers for our prog-rock band The Future Planes to perform.

Future Pilot [brian auger & julie tippets]
airport [the motors]
jet airliner [steve miller band]
flight [peter hammill]
I'm Mandy fly me [10cc]
No easy way down [carol king]
8 miles high [the byrds]
night bird flying [hendrix]
watcher of the kies [genesis]
a chair in the sky [joni mitchell]
i talk to the wind [kc]
jet [wings]
here come the warm jets [eno]
too much in the sky [annette peacock]
word on a wing [bowie]
trains and boats and planes [burt bacharach]
not to touch the earth [doors]

There’s a concept in there somewhere. The title of the album by the way is Geek Lair.

Having a virtual make-believe band is much easier than a real one. Rupert and I can have our “musical differences” at a distance without even breaking sweat. Any graphically-inclined, web savvy readers are welcome to send me their ideas (and hopefully completed designs) for album covers at the email addy at the top of the page.

My chum BT tells me that Rick Wakeman is in the newspapers. Rick nails his political colours to the mast declaring his support for the Conservative Party. You can take a look at the Pass Notes in The Grauniad

Lovely to hear from Stick player Remco Helbers. He chimes in on the diary entry about their being no real thing as a Mersey Sound, pointing out that Bristol could be a contender; Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky. Roni Size also as well as the whole drum n’ bass groove that was/is pulsing out of the city.

Elsewhere sax player Theo Travis (you will know him from his work with Gong, No Man, Porcupine Tree, etc., writes regarding his new album which contains a version of 21st Century Schizoid Man as well as contributions from Richard Sinclair.

Dick Heath writes informing me that Theo Travis had been quoted in October’s edition of Jazzwise magazine saying nice things about prog rock. Is he mad???

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Sting & Last Exit

Last Exit l-r John Hedley, Gerry Richardson, Sting
(photo by Rik Walton)

The Newcastle I grew up in was always full of bands on the make, bands looking to “make it.” Making it in this context was getting signed up to a major record label. The careful listener would often be able to overhear unguarded conversations about what band members would do once they’d signed on the dotted line. There were all the usual fantasies about drugs, drink, women and world travel (although not always in that order) as well as a couple of unexpected ones such “wanting to buy a photocopier.”

Most of these bands, without being too harsh were card-carrying no-hoper’s destined to never get within a whiff of a recording contract. Given the kind of contracts that were doing the rounds back then, this is undoubtedly the luckiest break they’ll have had, although I doubt any of them would have taken this view at the time. Generally, grand-parents, souls, limbs and any off-spring were considered legitimate items for trading if it helped to get that deal.

The (then) numerous venues in and around the city would often be heaving with bands’ fans waiting for news as to whether their fave band had been signed. Gossip, chatter, rivalry; as thick as fag smoke and the squelchy, beer-soaked carpet we all stood on. Sometimes there would be a jubilant air-punch when news broke that a despised rival band had failed. Usually, there was righteous indignation upon learning that some cloth-eared exec had turned down our favourite bands’ demo. We’d laugh and tell the story about the blokey who’d been dumb enough to turn down The Beatles.

There was a vicarious pleasure to hoping your particular chosen band would be the next one to break on through beyond Scotch Corner and past Watford or wherever. It was one thing to worship the biggies like Zep or Purple or Crimso, but nothing could beat the intimacy of your very own local heroes having a crack at the job. We all knew about the Animals and Roxy and the like and so knew it could be done. But they belonged to somebody else; the point here was to be right there at day one, in on the ground floor and all that. It was about ownership and dedication; of basking in the glow of one’s preternatural good taste; of being able to say “I knew them before they were famous.”

Of course, deep-down it was bluff or talking things up for the visiting journo’s or the odd record company scout that you’d bump into. Mostly, people knew their favy bands were bank-clerk bound but nobody ever wanted to admit it. To do so would have been equivalent to drowning a bag full of puppies; I mean, you just didn’t have the heart to do it.

In my experience there was only one band where the vibe was markedly different.

Watching Last Exit at the Gosforth Hotel or the foyer of the University Theatre you just knew it wasn’t a question of “if” but rather “when” they were going to get signed. There was that heady expectation when the band was in full flight; whether they were blasting through a cracking version of Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy, an irresistibly catchy original number (even the daft one called The Grand Hotel) or a samba-smooth take on Stevie Wonder’s Creepin’. There was a dead certainty that this time, the Gods would smile; this time musical skill would win out and the world would be converted to the cause.

And then when the packed house chin-wagged during the interval, what it boiled down to was the realisation that it was that it was just one member of the band who was going to fly high. It felt a bit disloyal to admit it; after all, Ronnie was a great drummer, Gerry was a demon when the Hammond got cranked up and John (or his replacement, Terry) did a top-notch job on the guitar. Yet it couldn’t be ducked, singer and bassist, Sting was the one who had what the tabloids would call “star quality.” Sting just had that “something else” about him. Of course, Last Exit went down to London, Sounds ran a two page feature on them (courtesy of Phil Sutcliffe), Dave Woods did a single down at Impulse studios in Wallsend (later to become the birthplace of NWOBHM) and everything was ready for the world conquering to take place.

Except that’s not quite what happened. Virgin passed but Sting got a publishing deal. The band had been running a marathon that they were certain to win and just as they were getting near the line it was as though somebody added hurdles to the last fifty yards. They’d peaked and very quickly split as Sting and his wife went down to London.

We weren’t too shocked really. Everyone knew it was just a question of time. What nobody had reckoned with was Sting riding in the punk wave. Making a brief reappearance at the UT (University Theatre) with a briefly re-formed Last Exit, there he was sporting a mop of dyed blonde hair – a flag of convenience if ever there was one. He was also wearing a one-piece flight-suit with – gasp – safety pins in it! He played all the old numbers and they sounded just like they should. Mingling with his old supporters, he was greeted with a slight degree of mistrust. It was as though people were waiting for him to sober up. We’d heard he was in a punk band called The Police. It was just too daft. Surely, he’d get back to playing the real stuff – back to the Chick Corea riffing and all that stuff. And then he was back on for the second half and then he was off.

One afternoon in the summer of ’78, I was lying in bed with a girlfriend. We had just been testing the woodwork to the point of destruction. She was skinning up, the radio was burbling in the background, I had the post-coital loss of voice; reduced to a low grunt. Anne Nightingale was playing I Cant Stand Losing You. I recognised the voice but couldn’t place it. And then I was spluttering – it was Sting. Blimey. Disappointed? You bet. It wasn’t meant to happen like that. It was meant to have been different. But, I still went out to Virgin records the next day and bought the seven inch on bright blue vinyl in the picture sleeve.

The track sank without a trace but it soon became clear that The Police might have some legs after all. When the album came out a couple of us glumly picked over the record, recognising the bits and pieces from the old Last Exit tunes that had been mercilessly been plundered and put to service of an enemy Idol. Truth Kills Everybody had been cruelly wrenched from its smoothy jazz enclave and thrust out, stripped back and all alone into a glaring guitar and ludicrously dumbed-down drumming. And so on.

Then somehow it became clear that The Police was a scam a way of getting to a point where he could dispense with the cod-reggae clump and get back on track with the jazz-rock vibe. Hello Dreams Of The Blue Turtle.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Cleaning Up

Well it’s all over bar the shouting and the cleaning up. My end of North Stars went off to the publisher this morning. There’s still some work to do on the index and discography – the actual job I was asked to do.
Writing twelve or thirteen chapters just kind of happened by accident – definitely an accident on my part. Mind you, honour thy mistake as a hidden intention and all that eh?

The frenetic pace of the last few days has meant standards have slipped somewhat. Tottering piles of reference magazines and books teeter precariously; mugs and plates accumulate; listening (both referential and palliative) sprouts up in numerous lumps, awaiting a long-promised return to their cases and appropriate resting places.

My back hurts but I feel like I’m back in business. A clean-out awaits not only because the impending World Leader Symes would never put up with the squalid mess in here but because it’s timely; outside autumn winds blow, leaves swoop and change is in the air!

Friday, October 01, 2004

The Cupboard: Still Bare!

Despite the lovely start, the weather today is flat and grey. I feel the same. Yesterday Chris T called over for a couple of hours. Usually when he leaves I’m cheered up but for some reason it was different and a sense of restless hangs about the place today. Last night I carried on working until my hands were sore and my eyes were stinging and all the useful words were all poured out of me.

Today I still feel as though the cupboard is still bare but know that the clock is ticking on this project and I must get my lardy butt into gear. At times like this I have nothing but admiration for professional journalists who have to bang out the copy no matter how “artistic” they’re feeling. I heard a story that after Dashiell Hammett finished The Thin Man he carried on writing for another twenty years but finished nothing else. Brrrr, scary stuff.

On the upside of things, World Leader Symes checked in on the blower last night as Debbie and I watched The Knowledge on BBC 4. Smiles all round. David intends to head up to Whitley Bay in the not too distant…and in the post today, those nice people at EMI have sent a package of archive aural goodies for my delectation. It’s back to the eighties for me right now!


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