Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Searching for a metaphor

This September will be the anniversary of the release in the UK of the EMI version of Entertainment!
Gill & I want to celebrate this and will play 4 concerts , Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leamington Spa And The Forum, London, in which we’ll play the whole of the album. We’ll also play other stuff, so we may play 2 sets. There’ll be a re-released special edition of the album with a bunch of stuff from that time that strangely has only recently emerged , including multi-camera shoots of us onstage in the UK & US when we were cute. I don’t recall any of this having been done, which doesn’t say much, I guess. Seeing this will be a surprise for me, too.
Today, Gill & I are in his studio re-recording “ Glass “ as a bonus track for this special edition. We’re doing this because when we made Entertainment! we weren’t that sure about putting the original on the album, as it was the last survivor of music we’d been writing before we found our own sound. It was a little too this and a little too that. A little too much genre. The irritating skippy snare, like a gerbil on amphetamines, the too literal bass, mooching around like an audition for the Stuka’s , the overly musical guitar - which Wilco would have not approved of- and my lazy lyrics which used way too many metaphors before I’d escaped their tyranny.
Once we’d recorded this, we felt we’d let ourselves down by not pushing the ideas and parked the song for a long while and hardly played it live until we looked at it again , stripped it down and reinvented it. Embraced repetition. Dumped the winge factor. It became, we felt, a fine song . I even grew to like the lyics, especially “ Light myself a cigarette, nicotine really goes to my head” . It did. The eroticism of smoking. I’m pleased we can re-do this, give a tune away in a form that has time to live. There’s a metaphor in there. I just wish I knew what it is.

I watch The Who

So, I’m in the Arsenal Emirates stadium for the Teenage Cancer Trust fundraising dinner. Matt Lucas, of Little Britain, is the compere. He’s very funny, and a proper Gooner. The entire Arsenal first team is seated on a table just over there, looking trim. I get to meet Cesc Fabregas and have my picture taken with him.
On the table next to ours I shoot the breeze with the wonderful Feargal Sharkey, who is singlehandedly taking on the Government about protecting musicians’ rights against evil file sharers who think that it’s OK to pay for Mars Bars but not music. He and Andy Gill played an acoustic version of Teenage Kicks to confused UK MP’s in Parliament last week. I hope this helped change a few minds, as incredibly, it’s illegal in the UK to stand up and play a song in a pub or club without written police permission given in advance! You have to submit your name, address & , sinisterly, ethnic origin, before you can so much as whisper “Desperadoes”. How will you know you’ll be that pissed in advance? The law’s designed to stop the wrong kind of people ( i.e musicians or anyone else) singing the wrong kind of songs ( i.e any ) in the wrong places ( i.e anywhere) . Stasi-land or what?
Over there is the great Arsene Wenger sitting next to Roger Daltrey, who’s very committed to the Charity. The invite says that The Who will perform a set. I think this is a joke of sorts but it’s not. Roger & Pete Townsend hit the stage & play some of the greatest music ever written. The set is acoustic with 3 fine muso’s in support, one on stand-up bass and the others on Spanish guitars. Roger’s voice is as magisterial as ever, and is better now than ever. There are few signature voices like this. Pete’s guitar work is brilliant, a privilege to be so close to. . His lyrics inspired me as a teenager , and I still know more or less every song on Tommy off by heart. As a lifelong fan I can’t resists taking pix and a little bit of video on my mobile. Once a fan, always a fan. Thanks, guys.
Later I get to meet Arsene. I have a photo to prove it. He is incredibly nice and says to me“ You know the Who? They are very big in France”. Sensational evening!

Monday, 18 May 2009

All Tomorrow's Parties, Minehead

The Butlins Holiday camp in Minehead reminds me of my childhood. We always had family holidays these places , hectares of family chalets or caravans clustered around an all-weather “entertainment” hub rammed with one-armed bandits where depressed mothers and fathers tried to keep their sugar-stoked children occupied as the chill rain poured interminably down. Looking for an alternative to this led to the invention of the Costa Brava and the fall of Franco .
Which means that ATP have found the perfect site for a May festival in England. Today, of course, it’s pissing down, but the punters have somewhere dry to sleep and party and mooch about in between shows. What’s unusual about ATP is that it’s a music festival for people who actually love music ; and the curators of this weekend’s shows , The Breeders, have done well. A lot of fun is being had, the Brechtian delights of the complex are surely not being overlooked, the lineup is interesting, the production is good, they’ve read our rider and there’s a bottle opener , too. Sensational!
Gill & me have an hour long interview for a Franco-GermanTV series on post-punk that will be broadcast next year. The interviewer asks surprisingly interesting questions . This is too much. I have nothing to moan about. Even our management is doing a good job. It's not right.

We’re on stage for an hour & the fine audience - aficionados , all - get right into the cracked drama of Army – in which I don't drop playing on the four - and to Andy’s improvised genius guitar on Anthrax & to What We All Want , which funks out magnificently , drums’n’bass locked together in a devilish embrace. the rhythm section do good. Damaged Goods is the final song; we don't have time for To Hell With Poverty. Another day. We are born across the grave, there is a brief flash of light, and then all is dark.

The Great Escape

The Old Market Place in Hove is a fine old theatre with flushing toilets and clean dressing rooms that have TVs, which means we can watch the Eurovision Song Contest with assorted friends and partners while we psych ourselves up for the show.
The dismal British entry , penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber, has lame aspirational lyrics that even R Kelly would gag on : “This is my time” over & over. Well, no, it’s not. This Euro trash contest demands alliteration & total absence of meaning, to deliver to a music hating EU demographic . “ La ,La, La” , the Spanish winner in 1968 created the unbreakable mould for this. Don’t mess with it. My favourite act, Ukraine , has a fit girl with not much on and some buff six-packed boys dressed as Spartan warriors; if, that is, Spartans wore only tiny loin cloths & shin guards with fluffy feathered helmets. Not sure if this is strictly historically accurate. Germany’s entry has fit Frauleins cavorting in micro lederhosen and Dita Von Teese in an improbable basque trying to make the hopeless singer look good. He doesn’t . But his silver trousers make a bold statement about Germany post reunification. We discuss getting strides like this too, for our show. My calves are too thick, I think.
Other than watching this nonsense, the evening’s a frustrating thrill . There’s a strict 11 pm curfew so we get 40 mins onstage, time to play only 8 tunes. It was wild, a great vibe with a fantastic & receptive young crowd, with 500 more outside trying to get in. A shame we had to get off. If we play Brighton again, we’ll play a long set.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Rehearsing at John Henry

Today Gang of Four is in John Henry's, an only slightly scuzzy rehearsal room complex in Brewery Road, North London, where more or less everybody has rehearsed some time or other. The walls have very bad “art” drawings of famous musicians like Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison - in which they somehow all look exactly the same as each other - and promo photo's of artistes who've worked here when they were thin and young . There is a pixie like Mick Jagger; and here are Robbie Williams and Boy George, who'd both now give away about 150lbs to their slimmer and cuter early versions; and here's a minx-like Lisa Stansfield, plastered in slap, just before she went all around the world to find her baby. When I heard her song the first time I thought it was an incredibly clever post-modern work that had brilliantly deconstructed shit Northern soul. And then realised she was dead serious. It actually was a shit northern soul song! Post-post-modern!

And, here -who would have thought they were still alive- a ( relatively, last decade ) recent picture of Canned Heat.They do look a little seedy , a bit like the late great Brian Connolly of Sweet, & surely must carry a mobile defibrillator on tour ( mental note: contact their supplier) . Canned Heat used to be ( I think) on Vertigo Records, which had a label with a cool B&W Bridget Riley inspired Op art Design put together to guarantee delight & nausea watching the 45 rotate after a fat jazz Woodbine. Intense!

Chris , our avuncular TM, would have made a first class priest. He acquired this confessional air having for years TM’d The Stranglers, a demanding bunch. Keen on Sudoko. We aren’t, that much: Chris’ priorities: 1) source ice tomorrow night to chill the white wine 2) that’s it. As usual, we’ve been emailed an itinerary which no-one will read. We will need a set list. Chris tells me that there won’t be a sound check, which is excellent as they are a waste of time. Years ago, boozing with Rockpile, Dave Edmunds told me that they had soundchecked once and that was enough. It never sounds so good again. Sound advice. First time tragedy, second time farce.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Routining the set

Today we're rehearsing in Andy's studio for our weekend shows at The Great Escape, Brighton on Saturday & All Tomorrow's Parties in Minehead on Sunday. We haven't played for quite a while as Gill & me have been writing new material for some time. It's great to see Mark and Thomas again. There's a very impressive and classic 72 input analogue mixing desk in here , a Neve 51 series ; which is about 3 metres long and slightly overspecified for a rehearsal monitor desk. We have a very talented engineer in the room , Struyaa, who's Croatian but has a perfect American accent, like everybody does in Europe now that British English dialects aren't popular in language schools. In some burger joint in bumfuck USA I was once asked where I was from, on account of my unusual accent. I said 'London, England' to which Cathy-Anne with the 3 server stars and backcombed hair said 'you speak English very well'. Thanks.

We have just played Damaged Goods . I , as usual, forgot the words that signal the stop where Gill first sings. It's comforting that nothing changes. The opening line was lifted from a lame ad slogan for Morrisons Supermarket in Leeds which we used to go to to admire the brilliantly lit products when we had hangovers. Somehow the vicious Tungsten light and packaged food made me feel a little better. We made our own entertainment in those days.