Saturday, 16 May 2009

Deux Points, And The Cross Eyed Bear

Night 22. Saturday May 9th. The Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent.
The penultimate gig. We’re almost there.

I spend a lot of time here in Stoke so it’s beginning to feel a bit like a second home. 
Stoke is certainly not one of the prettiest places, but it does have character and quite an incredible history - not an insignificant chunk of which is soccer related.

It is on more than just a few occasions that I’ve driven in and out of this place, and likewise driven around it with a degree of regularity, but for a ‘one-name’ city that is in reality a collection of merged areas - the five principal towns being: Hanley, Burslem, Tunstall, Longton and Stoke, I am not one little bit nearer being able to tell you where one of these towns might start and another one ends. 

Most of my visits here have been because of the school work with Ashley, something I wrote about earlier back in post 3 (9th Feb. The Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford). And it won’t be too long before we’re back again, June to be exact; back to the hamlet of Endon, from where each morning we set out, making our way through the rush-hour traffic to one learning establishment or another. And temporarily at least, we pretend to be like all those around us, and play the part of two people with normal work schedules.

Speaking of ‘hamlets’, I should relay something that took place in one of the schools, something I thought was not just very amusing, but also a sign of someone that has a slightly different take on things. 
A lot of what we teach is based on the book Lark Rise To Candleford, and a passage in the book that Ashley gets one of the children reading out loud goes like this:

The hamlet stood on a gentle rise in the flat, wheat-growing north-east corner of Oxfordshire. We will call it Lark Rise because of the great number of skylarks which made the surrounding fields their springboard and nested on the bare earth between the rows of green corn.

Ashley usually follows this up by asking the children, “does anyone know what a ‘hamlet’ is?”. Of course, we get all kinds of answers, and I’ve lost count of how many times ‘a cigar’ had been suggested. But on this one occasion, a small boy raised his hand; Ashley looked over and said, “yes?”. The boy responded in all seriousness, “is it a small pig?”.

No more hotels for me now on this tour; After tonight’s concert Carol drove me the seventy miles or so back to Preston. Tomorrow it’s literally a half hour run up the M6 to Lancaster.

Night 23. Sunday May 10th. The Grand Theatre, Lancaster.

We’ve just come off stage after the first set. This is another one of those very compact, ornate kind of theatres - probably more used to theatrical productions than folk-rock bands. 
I did say compact didn’t I - Jackie has had to put the merchandise display out in front of the stage instead of in one of the usual places - the foyer or the bar; there’s just no room back there.
This is a good way to be finishing the tour, playing so close to home.

How has the last four weeks been? I’d say it’s been successful - with the usual, predictable roller-coaster feel that the job brings with it. I’m feeling tired, it’s a certain kind of tiredness though, it’s the kind I have to be on the road for a while to remind myself of what it was like last time. And, of course, there’s been the usual increase in body mass; the weight gain that yet again I’ll be trying to repair with trips to the gym, and a ‘get behind me Satan’ approach to processed carbohydrates over these next few months.

Weather permitting, I’m going to play some golf.

Before my tour-writing comes to a close, for now at least, I should write a little about Pete Zorn. It was quite extraordinary really, working with Pete again after all these years; for those who are unaware of it, as I’m sure most are, my first encounter with him was back in 1974. I was fifty percent of a duo called Nicol & Marsh; Pete Marsh was my Brother-in-law at that time (being married to my Sister, Gloria) and we were living on Shooters Hill road, Blackheath.
We occupied the basement of the house, while upstairs lived singer Sandie Shaw and fashion designer Jeff Banks. It was at this time Paul Phillips, an A&R man at CBS records came round to the house to take a listen to us, and it wasn’t all that long afterwards that we were offered our first recording deal.

Paul, it just so happened, also had a Brother-in-law, who went by the name of Pete Zorn; he’d not long been over from his native USA, and had married Shan - Paul’s Sister. 
Pete played a major role in the recording of our first album: Nicol and Marsh on the Epic label, and also on our 1976 Polydor album: Easy Street.

Easy Street became the name of the band formed around Pete Marsh and myself, and it featured a fourth member - drummer Richard Burgess.

In 1975, as Easy Street, we appeared together on the TV show New Faces, winning the show; this was despite only being awarded two points by Lonnie Donegan in the ‘Appearance’ category because of the jeans we were wearing; he said, and I quote, that we looked like ‘builders labourers apprentices’. This was somewhat ironic really; we’d spent a considerable amount of money on these jeans, having bought them in Bond Street, London.

I recall the theme music ‘You’re A Star’ playing as the four of us walked forward towards the audience, just as all the acts had been briefed to do in the event of winning; I recall the opening of champagne bottles; I recall looking up in the direction of my parents, and seeing my Mother in the audience with tears streaming down her face; I recall the celebratory and somewhat euphoric Chinese meal that followed; and finally, I recall walking back to the van, to find that all of our equipment had been stolen.

The theft aroused much interest, and resulted in us getting plenty of publicity in Birmingham where the show had been recorded, and much of the publicity involved attempts of both radio stations and newspapers to find out exactly who won the show - the program wasn’t to be shown until six weeks later.

Within a week of the theft an informer had contacted the police, and at a cost of £50 we had pretty much all of the gear back in our possession. I thought I’d never see my treasured 1960 Gibson J45 acoustic guitar again, as things turn out it’s presently hanging up on the wall of my studio.
So onto the winners show, and we figured that in response to Lonnie’s criticism we’d make a point by wearing top hats and tails, and if I’m being honest I felt pretty ridiculous dressed like that. And it was to no effect; Easy Street was beaten, beaten by none other than Roger De Courcey and Nookie Bear.

1976, and part way through the first of the three albums that Pete Marsh and I made for Polydor, Pete Zorn left the band. We missed him badly after he left; his ability to organise and arrange the vocal harmonies in particular, as well as his general musical input had constituted such a large part of the sound that made Easy Street identifiable, and I’m sure he was largely responsible for the success, albeit modest, that we achieved in the USA (the song I’ve Been Loving You crept into the 60s in the Billboard chart).

Easy Street did continue though, making a second Polydor album called Under The Glass - quite frankly an awful piece of work, written and recorded (at The Manor, Bucks) whilst the three of us - Pete M, Richard and I were struggling to find our individual and collective identities.

The label gave us one last chance after that, one ‘big’ last chance, and it was just the two of us again - Nicol & Marsh. 
It was now 1978, and the two of us were flown out to Los Angeles. We’d been asked who we wanted to have play on the album; I couldn’t quite believe it, I mean it was ‘whoever’ we wanted. 
When asked who I wanted to have play bass on two of my own songs ‘Back Out Of Love Again’ and ‘For What Seems Crazy Now’, I said, somewhat hopefully, somewhat in jest, ‘Leland Sklar’; I was a big fan of his bass playing on the James Taylor and Jackson Brown albums.

I could not believe it when producers Randy Bishop and Spencer Proffer said ‘OK, that’s no problem’. 
The same was the case with legends Bill Payne (keyboard), Victor Feldman (percussion) and Craig Doerge (piano). We’d even planned to get Lowell George in to play some slide - until I passed the test and played it myself.

The LP turned out to be a well crafted, well produced, and a very high quality product that was subsequently lost and
ignored completely amid a new, revolutionary wave of music sweeping across the land at that time. I'd say it wasn't so much a style of music - more of an approach, an attitude, and it wasn't taking any prisoners. We were now entering the Punk era.
Nicol & Marsh were consigned to the file called 'history'; we became a statistic, and just one of a great many 'soft-rock' casualties.

I do intend to re-release the album on CD soon; I’m certain there are some out there that will enjoy it. 
Not long after the record’s completion, it’s release in the UK, and a half hearted attempt to promote it, Peter Marsh and I went our separate ways. He stayed with Polydor - being the more obvious proposition for the record label with his strong singing voice, and his natural leaning towards the direction popular music was taking in the UK at that time. He later went on to work with Vangelis. He now lives in France, and recently we’ve been back in touch with each other.

After Easy Street, Richard Burgess took his own band ‘Landscape’ into the charts with Einstein A Go-Go and then Norman Bates. Amongst other notable projects he also produced Spandau Ballet’s first two albums. He now works as the Director of Marketing and Sales at Smithsonion Folkways in the USA.

Pete Zorn had enjoyed plenty of session work through the seventies, and this consequently led to lengthy stints with major artist such as Gerry Rafferty, Barbara Dickson, and Richard Thompson; the latter two whom he still works with. 

In 1979 I vanished to California - but that’s another story.

So you see, when I stand on stage, when I turn to the left, and when I see Pete Z once again playing bass guitar along side me, it’s as though I’m watching a thirty five year story passing before my eyes.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Stand By Your Amp

Monday 4th May. Day Off.
Caught the train from Newark to London, and then up to Oxford. John Dagnell picked me up at Oxford station, and we drove back to the office where I got a little piece of my life back - my car. From Oxford I drove up to Preston - having to make a few stops along the way due to overwhelming tiredness. I arrived home at 6:30 p.m. It was just great to be home after almost four weeks away.

Night 18. Tuesday 5th May. The Victoria Theatre, Halifax..
Called over at Steve's (Carter) house this morning, as arranged, to get this troublesome volume control sorted. He replaced it, and figuring it was such a straightforward job I didn't bother to test it.
Left Preston in my own car at 3:30 p.m. Arrived at the theatre at 5 p.m. On arrival I strung the guitar up, plugged it in, and . . . God! It was worse than before; how stupid not to test it. There was no way I could use it tonight.

Phoned Steve, and arranged to take it back the next morning. In the meantime I used my other guitar, the Giordano, for everything, so that meant I had to retune my guitar to DADGAD for Scullion King as I introduced the song. It all went quite smoothly I suppose. But with an electronic tuner at one's foot it can't really go that wrong - that is, unless your eyesight's a bit dodgy.

Amid all kinds of controversy, Manchester United tonight beat Arsenal to go through to the European Champions League final.

Night 19. Wednesday 6th May. The Floral Hall, Southport.
Less than fourteen miles from home, and just a half hour drive to the venue.
Steve, this morning, located the source of the guitar problem - a loose wire that should've been attached to the five-way switch. Tested the guitar this time.

Went to see Vicky, my manicurist, at 12:30 p.m. OK, how weird does that sound? But she is my manicurist - and I see her about every five weeks to get the nails of my first, second and third fingers of my right hand coated with acrylic. This is, of course, for the purpose of guitar playing - finger-picking to be more precise.
I've never played the Floral Hall before, but it holds some great memories for me. The most significant memory is from 1967 when I saw the then newly formed Fleetwood Mac perform there. The band consisted of Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green.

Cassette recorders had just become 'the thing'; I took one with me and placed it on the stage, recording every note the band played that night. There was no problem with doing this kind of thing in those days. I even went backstage after the show, and played the entire show back to the band. Peter Green was particularly attentive; he listened and scrutinised every single note. That evening was an inspiration for me; I still think that Peter Green was one of the all time greatest guitar players. For me, it was all about how he wasn't, like so many other blues players, a 'riff' merchant; his playing was inventive, melodic and inspired. And I know that it wasn't just down to my age at that time (16) - I know that, because I still have the tape.

Night 20. Thursday May 7th. The City Hall, Hull.
A grand and majestic building; another one of these municipal halls from the Victorian age. It's very easy to just walk in and out of these places without paying much attention, but every now and then when the mind is turned from all it's inner pre-occupations toward the places, the history, the people, and some of that which exists in the outside world, places like this can be striking to say the least. They began building the City Hall in 1900, and opened it in 1903; the more I looked at it's domes, balconies, stairs, arches and skylights, the more it looked as though absolutely no expense had been spared.

If you're interested in knowing more about it's history, here's a link: Hull City Hall.

And to top it all, they had the good sense to put a Cafe Nero just over the road.

Night 21. Friday May 8th. The Corn Exchange, Kings Lynn.
17:30 hours, and near disaster just before sound check. I was in the green room, and some one informed me that there was a problem with my amplifier. 'The amp was placed on it's stand, it fell backwards and a valve might be damaged', I was told. I knew exactly what had happened; the amplifier has an open back, leaving one or two parts - including the tubes / valves, quite exposed.

There is a horizontal bar approximately two feet long that the rear of the amp rests on; this area, basically a narrow board or strip at it's base is only about 6 - 8 inches high, and there is always the potential problem that the amplifier will lean back at too great an angle to a point where the bar slips over the top of this strip, which will, and in this case did, result in the amp's open back falling onto the support.

Here in today's little disaster scenario the first thing to hit the support was one of the two large tubes, and it was pushed out of it's socket at an angle twisting and bending it's pins in the process. Mercifully, the glass was completely unbroken.

So far it was me who carefully set the angles of the stand and placed the amp on it each night, always mindful of these laws of physics. Tonight someone else decided to do it; I won't mention who it was, and I won't mention what I wanted to do to him.
I walked onto the stage to find soundman Patch kneeling, valve in hand, over a face-down amplifier. The pins were completely bent, and the next thing was - could they be straightened out without any one of them snapping, could the tube be put back in place, and would it still work? I was fairly convinced the prognosis was worse than bleak, so I walked back to the green room, and left the paramedics and medical staff to it.

'Just as well I brought my Mesa Boogie with me in case of an emergency like this', I thought to myself. Then came the hopeful news - an operation had been performed, and the prospect of a full recovery looked good. Sure enough, I plugged in the guitar and . . . and, you know, it might've even sounded better than before!

First leg of the championship playoffs tonight: PNE v Sheffield United. I managed to catch a full five minutes of commentary between our first and second sets. Sounds as though Preston were pinned back for much of the game - the word 'pin' is definitely the word of the moment. Tonight's result was 1-1. The second leg is at Bramell Lane on Monday night, and for once I'll be able to watch a full match, albeit on television, but unhindered by work commitments.

I remember the Corn Exchange here in Kings Lynn very well from my first Steeleye tour in December 2002 (the Reunion Tour). I had just enrolled on a Contemporary Music degree course at UCLAN (University of Central Lancashire) when I was asked to play with the band. My course leader did everything possible to accommodate my touring schedule, and I managed to slot in a presentation after one of my days off. I recall as though it was yesterday a very nervy presentation followed by a hasty trip to the train station. That night I was onstage in Kings Lynn.

I Don't Like Sundays

Night 14. Thursday 30th April. The Winding Wheel, Chesterfield.

I was disappointed not to see Ashley (Hutchings) tonight. He lives just outside Chesterfield, and had contacted me about three days ago asking for a guest pass; yesterday he sent a text explaining that because of a personal matter he was going to be stuck in London for a few days.
I’ve always enjoyed playing here, but I do wish they had better dressing room facilities. All four of us (the band excluding Maddy) had but one very confined room to share, it was impossible really. I chose to utilise the green room where the food (the rider) was. Of course, people come in and out with regularity, so the trick was to get changed into and out of my stage clothes as quickly as possible. 

Took a rest this afternoon. It’s very unusual for me to sleep at this time of the day for anything longer than around twenty or thirty minutes; after closing my eyes at about 3 p.m. I re-surfaced thinking I had plenty of time to spare, but figured I might as well take a look at my watch anyway - it was 4:50; the sound check was at 5 p.m. I had to start moving at a speed that was completely contrary to that which my body was prepared for.
When I’d left the hotel, walked across the bridge over the dual carriageway, and reached the vicinity of the venue there was only one thing to do - find some coffee.
In Chesterfield there is a complete lack of the kind of coffee houses found in just about any other town in the UK, I don’t know why this is the case. So I figured my best bet was to head for Marks and Spencers - it did the job.     

Bass and guitar virtuoso Fred Baker turned up at the gig, a guest of Liam’s I think. They’ve worked together in Soft Machine. We ended up in the hotel bar later. My head was slightly heavy Friday morning.  

Night 15. Friday 1st May. Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury.
This is a seriously impressive theatre. I believe it was opened just this February 2009, and cost a grand total of forty million pounds to build. Everything about the place is incredible; the dressing rooms, the amount of space, the acoustics - on and off stage; even the rider that they provided was nothing less than excellent. 
Having said that, I wish I could say the same for my playing on the night; it was about as scratchy as the volume pot on my Strat.
I should qualify that; the guitar I play is the amalgamated result of taking a little bit of one guitar and attaching it to a bit of another one. I think of it as a Charvel, because that’s the way it started out, but now there’s only the birds-eye maple neck of the original instrument that remains. I bought the original Charvel back in the eighties when I lived in Los Angeles; I remember it cost me $225.      

Before the tour I made sure all my equipment was in order; I replaced batteries, bought new cables, and sprayed the various volume and tone controls with switch cleaner … clearly a big mistake. Now when I turn the volume control on the Charvel it’s quite noisy, and I’m hoping it isn’t going to get much worse.

After tonight’s show I decided I’d be better off going to my room and taking it easy. All was well until around 2 a.m. when I was woken by the person in the room above. First it was footsteps, and then the TV. The music from the television was loud enough to stop me from falling back to sleep. I was not happy.
I got out of my bed, picked up one of my slippers and flung it at the ceiling, certain either that I hadn’t thrown it strongly enough or that I should have used a heavier object. The sound, however, took an almost instant drop in volume. ‘Great’, I thought, I can now get some sleep.

The following morning I was telling Deborah (Pete’s partner) about this person above me, and she said, “that’s funny, at breakfast this morning Liam was saying that he heard an almighty ‘bang’ at 2 a.m. - It was so loud he didn’t know whether it was coming from the floor or the ceiling”.

I talked to Liam about this later, he said he almost had a heart attack.       

Night 16. Saturday 2nd May. Theatr Hafren, Newtown, Wales.
I’m very fond of this part of the world; we’re not all that far from Machynlleth, a town that Carol and I used to visit with regularity. We would stay in an old railway building (possibly once a signal box) which sat by the side of the river Dulas at Evans Bridge just four miles from Machynlleth. The house was made of the characteristic grey slate found in abundance in that region. The river, in fact, appeared not just to run along it’s side, but also partially underneath the house; consequently there was an ever present, perpetual, and somewhat hypnotic sound of rushing water. Much of the time, with one’s attention focused elsewhere, it became virtually subliminal; a background music of nature’s making. The building, set below the road, and sheltered by steep riverbank and trees, saw limited sunlight - mostly whatever came from directly above, and even then, the windows - quite small and situated only on it’s river side never allowed quite enough daylight to pass through so as to completely lift the darkness within. And yet, quite contrary to how one might suppose, this bleak and somewhat damp atmosphere was pleasant, comfortable, reassuring. I guess that’s why we kept going back.     

The Dulas is a tributary of the river Dovey, a renowned water for sea trout fishing; I had a few shots at it myself, without much luck though.
Fishing was the usual aim of our Welsh excursions, and when conditions were not conducive for sea trout (which, the majority of the time was the case) our fishing took place on Talyllyn Lake close by - a lake landscaped in the most beautiful surroundings. Here, although the lake is not ‘landlocked’ and has migratory fish passing through at certain times of the year, it is inhabited mainly by stocked brown trout. And although the fish are farmed, stocked fish, they are for the most, not that easily tempted by an artificial fly.    

It was a very vocal audience tonight in Newtown - probably the loudest yet on All Around My Hat. The theatre, or ‘theatr’ to be exact looked quite new. Maybe not quite as recent as last night’s though.
I desperately need to have this volume pot fixed. It’s beginning to cut out completely at times.      

Night 17. Sunday 3rd May, The Palace Theatre, Newark.
The fact that it’s not only a Sunday, but a Bank Holiday Sunday, made for a quiet, deserted  atmosphere out on the streets of Newark. That’s certainly the way I perceived it when Maddy and I travelled in by cab from the hotel; actually, I’d go even further in describing it as ‘dead’. Sundays such as these are both peaceful and disturbing. As a child, the seventh day of the week was possibly a bigger dread day than Monday was; everything I did on that day always took place amid the anticipation of what was about to follow the day after - school. So now, particularly when it’s sunny, I literally cannot look at a quiet setting, with shops closed and the streets half empty, and not recall a little of that sickening anxiety that always went with it.         

Earlier today I experienced a different kind of anxiety - one of the most excruciatingly difficult football matches to sit through; the outcome, though - fantastic.
Preston North End were playing Queens Park Rangers. PNE needed to win in order to sand any chance at all of making the playoffs for the Premiership. We also needed either Burnley or Cardiff City to lose. Burnley won. Cardiff lost 0-1. Preston won 2-1 with a goal-line clearance as the last kick of the match to prevent a QPR equaliser.
PNE ended the season with the same number of points, and the same goal difference as Cardiff but moved above them on the strength of having scored one more goal all season. It’s slightly uncanny that we beat Cardiff 6-0 just three weeks ago.

The playoffs begin on Friday 8th May when PNE play Sheffield United at Deepdale.     

Monday, 4 May 2009

A Matter Of Choice?

How far back has something got to be before you ‘hark’ to it? If it can be merely one day, then that’s what I’m doing now - harking back to that television program about the large people who ‘chose’ to take part in the circus we class as light entertainment. Actually, my intention here is not to be critical of the media mainstream, or indeed it’s willing consumers; my intention is to look at the concept of ‘choice’.

It’s not the first time I’ve pondered the subject, but what got me started yesterday as I watched the program was the idea of how it related to, in this case, the way we eat - what type of food; the quantity, the regularity, the time of day, the way we use it, and the way, quite possibly, it uses us.

My interest is on two levels; first, the kind of daily choices that are made by all of us, or indeed by everything. These are choices based on the coherence level of whoever or whatever is doing the choosing.

The second level is the question of freewill and destiny.

There really is never a moment when one isn’t making a choice. Many of these choices, you might add, are made by default; in some way an area where a decision can be taken with an element of ‘disconnection’ from the process.

Even the most obese regulate their eating habits to some extent. Whatever decision making process takes place, it will involve a whole host of considerations and factors - much of which is born of long established patterns and habitual behaviours.

Of course, the question of what pulls and pushes us in one direction or another, be it food related or not, applies to all of us, and we will find whatever justification is needed to suit our agenda. Much of our decision making is shaped not as we’d like to imagine - from rationale, but from what feels comfortable, convenient and familiar at the time.

On the basis of ‘familiarity’ it could be argued quite reasonably I suppose that the more one gravitates towards the familiar, the less ‘choice’ is a part of the decision making process, if any at all. But by that it would be assumed that at some point one’s awareness suddenly (or not so suddenly?) can cross a threshold that reveals a whole new set of considerations that fall outside of this familiarity box.

If there is no such definable line, then perhaps it’s more a case of anyone or anything - animal or plant - negotiating their way through life using whatever learning capacity and resultant data is available to him, her, or it.
I do, however, think there are markedly different levels of coherence, and I take this view as a result of one or two of my own experiences - experiences that possibly indicate we have more power than one imagines to chose the outcome of events in life.

On the last Steeleye Span Spring Tour (2008) I began a written work, I called it ‘Choosing Hope’; it starts out by explaining something about these above experiences.

Here are some of my thoughts in the first chapter: Waking Up To Your Choices:

At the age of fifteen I was travelling back from school, on the usual bus, and at the same time as I travelled most days. My school: Penwortham County Secondary, represented more of a prison camp to me; I had literally been counting down the days, the weeks and the months since September 2nd 1962 - my first day there - with an obsession on reaching the age of fifteen - this being the age at which one had the legal right to leave school in the UK at that time. To me, it felt very much as though there were two main realities in life; one was the repressive Victorian-like reality of my school that, as far as I could see, afforded no favourable recognition of the person I was; the other reality was the complete freedom that adulthood appeared to promise.
What occurred on that day, on the upper deck of that bus, stayed with me for the rest of my life. It wasn’t anything that had any great drama to it - like a disaster, accident or something of that nature, it was just a sudden change of consciousness. Life changed right before my eyes. I was there, looking out of this upper-deck window, viewing the people below, the men and women walking the street, then all of a sudden I realised something; I realised that I was there. Of course, I’d been there the moment before, and the moment before that, but at ‘that very specific moment’ I kind of woke up, and for the first time - I knew it.
It was as though everything that led up to that moment had been in some way ‘automatic’ or ‘mechanical’; as though I was, and all those I watched from the bus window were, just doing this and that, going here and there in this narrow stream of existence, operating pretty much totally by default; all of their, and my options being selected quite automatically.
This sudden moment of self-awareness, I believe now, was in some way a glimpse into a world of potential intention, where the realisation of ones existence, in turn, brings about not just the introduction to another level of consciousness, but also to a place of greater clarity, a heightened state in the process of decision making.
I’ve not had the same experience repeat itself very often between that time and the present, but the one thing I liken it to, and the example I use to illustrate this is the experience of waking up in a dream. I’ve heard people talk of lucid dreaming - something that some claim to be able to achieve on a regular basis.
Very occasionally when I’m sleeping I have this similar experience; I suddenly realise I’m dreaming, and that I’m as much there as I am here now typing these words. I can think to myself, ‘here I am, fully conscious - yet asleep, fully coherent in this dream’. The dream will have been going on for some time, but then all of a sudden I know it, I’m standing there, or walking somewhere; I look at my hands in detail; I feel my hands; I take a good look at the faces of others, and think ‘who are these people?’; I look at shop fronts, and say to myself, ‘I will remember these names’. And then the most profound point is in the moment when I recognise that I can make anything happen just by willing it - I am the creator and the director of my dream; I have been directing this dream all along, but now my decision making process has just taken a new turn, a quantum leap in fact - because I now fully know that I’m there.
Of course, the irony more often than not though is in how short lived this freedom can last; the more one tries to hang on to, or anticipates and fears losing this freedom, the more it is apt to slip from your grasp.

Friday, 1 May 2009

The Great Escape.

Tuesday 28th April. Day Off.
It took four hours to reach the hotel in Redditch. No one in the band seems to know the town, and the general expectation of the place is not all that positive - I'm not altogether sure why though. It could be of it's close proximity to Birmingham perhaps. The closest I've got to Redditch before is when, a good few years ago, I would play at a very large pub and popular music venue - The Breedon Bar in Kings Norton. I always recall the exit off the M42 leading me on to a road that went either north to King Norton, or south to Redditch. That was probably eighteen years ago, or more.

They staged a British songwriters weekend there, I remember; it was one of the first occasions I ran into the late Isaac Guillary. He was quite an inspiration to me at that time; very slick, great guitar technique, tremendous guitar sound, and considerable stage presence. He was, of course, like just about all of us, a mixture of things - some perhaps not quite so glowing - and once again like the rest of us, largely born of insecurities. My own uncertainties prevented me from appreciating much about Isaac's character, especially his generosity. I could say exactly the same about Al Stewart who I worked with back in the seventies and early eighties. Apart from his evident talent as a writer, I don't believe I ever afforded him the kind of credit he warranted for the ingenuous person he was.

I was so busy surviving back then, there were many things I failed to appreciate.

I had one of the best Indian food experiences tonight. If, like me, you're an Indian food lover, and are ever in the Redditch area, visit the Montville Indian Fusion restaurant; it's not only the food, but everything about the place, the attitude, the decor, etc.

David (road crew) was with Patch (other half of the road crew) and Jackie (tour manager) last night in Patch's room. David went into the toilet, and the locking mechanism on the door froze. Despite his best efforts he couldn't get out. Patch and Jackie tried pushing from the other side, to no avail; he was well and truly stuck. They got the hotel manager up; he couldn't open it either. Thirty minutes later and the manager went to phone the Fire Brigade; at this point Patch made one desperate final effort to free the hostage in the loo, by throwing himslf at the door. Success. The door split in two. And the lock? - It stayed firmly in place.
David is now a free man.

I've decided it's never a good idea to visit the toilet without a mobile phone and a tool kit.

Night 13. Wednesday 29th April. The Palace Theatre, Redditch.
Officially over the halfway mark with just eleven dates left. I'm sitting up in bed in a hotel that is not at all to my liking (you know, almost every time I type the word 'bed' I spell it 'bad'. Is this just an ever-repeating, coincidental, familiar mistake, or is there something going on that's, well . . . Freudian?).

On the television there's a program about fat people; it's a competition to see who can lose the most weight. These reality-style show is about
real people in real situations, and with real problems are as predictable as my bed . . . I mean bad spelling.

fat losers show is no exception. I imagine they lose most of the weight through the amount of crying that takes place.
These programs go like this: create a scenario where people are going to appear to struggle. Make sure you have the correct mixture of personality types so as to get a balance between quitters, achievers, dominants, submissives, etc. Get an ever-so assertive workout instructor. Punctuate the program mercilessly with brief close-ups of the various participants talking about how they feel, then crying. Group shots. Instructor shouts at them. More crying. Tantrums. Reflection. Achievement. Laughing. Instructor show his or her human side - they're human after all. Intersperse with a 'voice over' - a slightly patronising commentary to make sure you know exactly what's going on, and then mix in short bursts of the most banal incidental music.
And there you have it.

It's strange, they just showed one of the contestants throwing-up; you see, this is the effect these programs have on people - and not just the participants.

Took a leisurely stroll around the town centre. There seems not to be much of a town centre - apart from a good number of pubs, a church and a small bus station. And then you discover 'it' - the shopping mall - it's bloody enormous. Once 'it' was discovered I grabbed a copy of The Independent, sat down to the customary Cappuccino Medio, and then bought, amongst other things, some Portuguese sardines in olive oil at M&S.
Enjoyed the show tonight in what is probably the smallest venue on the tour. It strengthens my view that the shallower and higher the theatre, the warmer the audience.