A lapidary log.....

Diary dates

Christmas 2006
Monday 16th October 2006
Summer 2006
Wednesday 12th July 2006
Thursday 22nd June 2006
Saturday 13th May 2006
Friday 21st April 2006
Tuesday 4th April 2006
Saturday 25th February 2006
Mid February 2006

DIARY 2006


Mid February 2006

Where did my happy new year go? Or rather, when does it begin, exactly? Since Xmas it's been coughs and colds and laryngitis and huge garage bills and cancelled rehearsals and pranged hire-vans and other disappointments I can't even go into --- catnip to petty miseries, that's me, I'm getting Where Have All The Good Times Gone? tattooed on my perineum. I did just spend a lovely couple of days in Wales with a friend I've known since primary school: coming back up the M4, close to Reading services, I was doing about 83mph in the outside lane when a car pulled out just yards in front of me without indicating. All I could do was brake --- hard! --- and the car went into a skid and we found ourselves at a halt, still in the fast lane but facing back the way we'd come. (Should I pause here for your round of applause?).

Karl's been looking for a new place to live and I've been viewing flats with him, often grotty little cells in insalubrious backwaters, reminiscent of the crappy places we had to hunker down in when we first came up to London (I keep getting these 'Nam flashbacks to the New Cross years!). Perfect for those long August evenings spent pondering Death's finality and the inescapable finiteness of the human spirit, but very bad for a soul's buoyancy, so he's still looking. (If there are any corporate heavy-dicks out there living alone in their big ole mansions with only their quarterly profit margins for company, how about donating Karl and his cats Yin-Yang a wing? Somewhere near Chelsea Harbour would be nice).

(And then, of course, there's the usual --- and permanent -- daily low-level radiation of jealousy and resentment you have to put up with from those acquaintances who hate the fact you're in a band and just wish you'd stop. I've got this special tosser-klaxon that goes off in my head as one skulks into view. I know all people in proper bands or bent on similar pursuits get shit like this and it doesn't really count as a misery because a) it's in fact a great compliment and b) it gives you a nice warm feeling in the groin (and the ego) to know it winds them up so much, but I'm in a real grouchy kind of mood tonight so make allowances …..).

Give me some help here: Scott Walker's 'Big Louise', there's a chord I can't pin down --- I could try finding the CD in the pile but I'm too lazy, so I'm working from Scott 3memory (for those unfamiliar with the song it's on 'Scott III' one of the very best records ever made by anybody ever. I discovered this record as a teenager and it floored me, it made me want to look like him, be him. Still does). Suppose I play it in E (which may not be the key on the record): "She stands (E) all alone, you can hear her hum softly from her (A) fire-escape in the (A flat-seventh) sky, She fills (feels?) the (E) bags 'neath her (Gmaj7)eyes with the (WHAT IS THIS CHORD?!!!) moonbeams, And she (Cmaj7) cries 'cos the (D) world passed her (E) by. Didn't (Gmaj7) time sound (A) sweet yester-(E) day, in a (A) world filled with (C) friends you lose your (E) way. What do I have to play under 'moonbeams'? If you have a convincing suggestion PLEASE e-mail it to me! (And while I'm at it, thank you again for the messages you send. Karl's taken to wearing Hank B. Marvin horn-rims after we got the one that said the guitar-solo to 'Jezebel' was the best ever played. Contrast and compare with the green-eyed ones I mentioned in paragraph 3).

Since I've quit grouching (kinda) and I'm doling out praise, let me mention in dispatches the wonderful Jim-White-chaperones-us-round-the Deep-South film I saw on TV recently. Wonderful. And featuring the ever-magnificent Johnny Dowd. (Get all his CDs. And all Jim White's, especially 'Wrong-Eyed Jesus'. And buy all the Handsome Family's CDs too). And pin a medal on the BBC's "Folk Britannia" series while we're at it. A lot of it was always a bit too gadzooks for me, but boy could they play guitar! My new hero's the guy smoking a pipe in the background in a grainy bit of b & w footage of the Hampstead Folk Club in the early 60s! The missing link between the Left Bank existentialists of the 50s and the Hoxton young lions of today …

Michel HouellebecqI've bought a few more books: "Hotel California" by Barney Hoskyns (Joni! CSN! The Eagles --- oh dear!),"1968" by Mark Kurlansky, "The Likes Of Us: A Biography Of The White Working Class" by Michael Collins, "An Infamous Past: E. M. Cioran and the Rise of Fascism in Romania" by Marta Petreu, "La Possibilité D'Une Île" by Michel Houellebecq, J. M. Coetzee's new novel, a biography of Edvard Munch and Edward Thomas's Collected Poems that I picked up second-hand for £2.50. I've been replaying Scott Walker's "Climate of Hunter", (lovely), and I'm getting Neil Diamond's "12 Songs" (that spotty guy from The Verve sounds just like him. Bet he wishes he could write songs like him, huh?) and Kris Kristofferson's new album next week. Should help keep me busy until the Happy New Year gets underway, right? And I'm off to see Sparks tomorrow.

In the meantime, we're playing Liverpool next week and I've still got fucking laryngitis!!!!!


Saturday 25th February 2006


Chris Stevens puts on a gig a month at the Pilgrim under the Hell’s Ditch and Americana UK banner (Peter Bruntnell’s up next): the event has its own dedicated audience and a lovely atmosphere. I missed Rattlebus but thought Sparkwood & 21 were great. Our set went down really well and I enjoyed it, but it felt like a first-night-of-a-tour gig from our side of the foldback, the set very respectably performed but maybe without that requisite fire-in-the-belly. “Gigolo Moon” seemed a highlight. Someone wondered if we were Christians, given the references to God that kept popping up but I don’t think a bit of biblical imagery makes one the Pope (and doesn’t everyone --- who’s anyone --- think about God --- or his absence --- every day? I’m sure they do.) Corrinne had taken a plane from Newquay to Manchester and then a train from there to Liverpool, just to co-sing “Fairytale”. If there was such a thing as wages she’d get a bonus….. Anyway, I love Liverpool and hope to go back before long. Thanks to Chris for inviting us.

On March 15th we’re recording our take on Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” for a compilation album to be released as part of a Stiff Records re-launch project.

It’s my birthday any minute: I forecast wailing and the gnashing of teeth. Back in the old days when I was young and quite beautiful I’d go round Porthcawl’s Hall of Mirrors and oh, how I’d guffaw to see myself squashed or stretched in distorting glass. Now I need such mirrors just to look OK (-ish) in. “When gods were young this wind was old,” said Edward Thomas (in the second-hand Collected I mentioned last time), and I think I know how that wind must’ve felt.

Speaking of poets, I came across something by Gerald Manley Hopkins where a child is berated for crying over leaves falling: “The heart will come to such sights colder by and by”. And I hate it that he’s right …


Tuesday 4th April 2006


A lovely gig and our best best performance since Liverpool last year. Highlights: Your New Best Friend, Jerusalem Road, Fairytale, Hat-Check Girl (a new arrangement utilising banjo and accordion) and Jezebel. Thomas Truax went on before us: at one point in his act he jumped from the balcony back down to the stage, nimbly avoiding Nick's 100-years-old- plus double-bass, laying in readiness. (So thanks to Thomas for both the music and the gymnastics). We slipped in a new one, "She Lets Me In By The Back Door" and I swear I was utterly unaware of any double meaning when I wrote it; the song absolutely does not share any subject matter with Willie Dixon's "Backdoor Man". When I say she lets him in by the back door that's all I mean, alright? Any smutty connotations are strictly in your own mind, buster, OK? (I'm stressing this because a reviewer writing about our gig in Liverpool in February said she felt like she needed a shower after an hour's exposure to a dirty old man like me (hey, check it out! I'm the Valleys' answer to Serge Gainsbourg!) singing lyrics like that, and although she's clearly no Greil Marcus --- plus I have to admit that I've always felt that if you don't 'get' Songdog you're basically pretty fucking stupid --- I'd still rather not be hung for a crime I didn't commit. So will I then change the title before we record the song? Bollocks will I! Think of my songs as fragments of one long single confession; I channel my whole inner life into these ditties, goddamit, so fuck you, ma'am! ..... Or let's just say that when the Bible tells us that David brought Saul the foreskins of a hundred dead Philistines I'm inclined to think "Ah, those were the days!" and leave it at that.......).

Interesting bit of trivia: my sister was one of the girls in the 'band' backing Robert Palmer in his "Addicted To Love" video.

Another bit of trivia: For years the music of Simon & Garfunkel was banned in Malawi .......!

I've been spending these recent lovely spring-like Saturday afternoons in dark cinemas watching what Bertholt Brecht denounced as 'laxatives of the soul' (ie commercial films) and I'd like to heartily recommend "The Proposition", "Capote", "Syriana", "Good Night And Good Luck" and "Munich".

Scott Walker's new LP out soon!!

See you at The Local?





Friday 21st April 2006


Nice gig, highlight was probably "Childhood Skies"; the show was promoted by Howard Monk, a man so splendid that if he asks to borrow all your credit-cards and PIN numbers for the weekend you should let him.

Shortly after the gig Dave headed for the Red Sea to do something in flippers.

I've been listening to Bruce Springsteen's wonderful new record --- and hey! guess what, readers?! --- he's been listening to mine too! ( He asked One Little Indian to Fedex him a copy of "The Time Of Summer Lightning" just a few weeks ago. I wonder if he likes it? If he does I wish he'd say so publicly, help us maybe get a bit of a spark going in the engines of reputation? We already knew he'd picked "Days Of Armageddon" as one of the songs to be played before he took the stage on his solo tour a while back). I'll be there to see him play the Apollo on May 8th. I'm hoping he invites me back for some tequila and celebrity hedonism.

Lately, Karl reckons, life's like being adrift on HMS Bummer. His mother Nance died suddenly a few days ago, only a year or so after Fred. Nance was a very cool person and didn't buy into much of the world's bullshit. It's the worst news that she's gone but it's good to think she died in her own haven with her cigarettes and crosswords close and not wired up to some machine in a hospital bed. If they have TV in the afterlife I know Nance will already be there railing at the squishy, sweaty, stupid sex scenes.

Talking of sex, I read a piece on the work of Robert Crumb (a hero of ours) in the New York Review of Books, the writer identifing lust and nostalgia as the twin engines of Crumb's art. Lust and nostalgia? I thought, That rings a bell! Sounds like a fair-ish description of the place my stuff comes from too! Maybe our slutty muses know each other, share sharps down the same stinky old crack-den. Anyway, here's to you Mister Crumb! Let one dirty old man salute another! (Funny how disgust always seems to shadow desire, wouldn't you agree?). Actually, speaking of my songs, it's a good thing the next batch (22 or so) are already written as I think I'm plodding through a bit of an arid spell. (Mental note to myself: quit the onanism. Mondrian said every drop of sperm is a masterpiece lost). courtesy of Robert Crumb

On a quick trip to Wales over Easter we drove up Manmoel mountain at dusk (it's the sound of the wind and what it's saying sometimes on that same mountain is what I'm after in the songs, that's the 'sound' I wish I could get) and in a field right by the road a ewe had just had a lamb, it must've been only minutes before, she was still licking it clean, the lamb still struggling to stand. It was beautiful and I just felt sick to think this animal was struggling into the world in this field on this evening just to end up in a fucking slaughterhouse, it was self-evidently plain wrong. That same day I'd read Chrissie Hynde say in Mojo " I think eating animals is the most disgusting, depraved, indefensible practice there is" and how if you figured abbatoirs were acceptable then your opinion couldn't be trusted on anything. I agree, it's obvious it's something we must urgently renounce, evolve beyond quickly. It was so quiet up there, there were grazing horses silhouetted against the last light of the day and it gave me genuine ballsache to have to go back down into the dunces' world.

Fuck, now I can't think of anything funny to end with!





Saturday 13th May 2006


Avant-garde art and hot middle-class totty ---- what's not to like about the ICA? (Me and this place go way back: when I won the Verity Bargate thing it was here that Eleanor Bron presented me with the award. We drank wine out on the balcony overlooking the Mall and I kept thinking: "Wow! She danced with Macca in 'Help'!"). So I dab on a bit of my lucky cologne ('1725' from Scent Systems) and we hawk a guitar,banjo and accordion down the Mall to the birthplace of British Pop Art. This monthly acoustic night is usually held in the main hall but was moved to the bar this evening, there being an immovable 'installation' (a phalanx of electric-fans) parked in the theatre space. The Evening Standard had described this do as 'the hipsters continuing their reappropriation of new folk' and you know how it is with hipsters, they can be so awfully chatty, so fucking gregarious, so much so they just yap right on through one's set. I know it was nothing personal, for they did it to all four of the acts appearing this evening, but the thing is, I'm the type of person that took even getting born pretty personally (if you know what I mean), so you can imagine how I felt at their callous disregard for my art (can't you?). But don't take this to mean I didn't enjoy myself and that it wasn't a good gig --- far from it, most of the audience were very much into us and I thank them sincerely for their warm applause and kind comments afterwards. The set consisted of "Blind Picasso", "One Day When God .....", "Fairytale", "Hitcher", "Haiku", "The Girl On The Escalator ..." and "Jinetera" (a world-première for this one live). Lenny's spot was easily the best of the DJ's sets, and I'm not saying that just because it's Lenny, I'm saying it because it was. (I'm told Joe Boyd is one of the DJs next time. I dig Joe Boyd, even though when he ran Hannibal he nixed a deal his head of A & R had offered the band I was in at the time. Looking back, I can see he was right!). Thank you to Nick Luscombe for inviting us to play.

Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band at Hammersmith Apollo were just phenomenal! I've never seen such a rapport with an audience, not even Paul McCartney or the Rolling Stones have it. He looked great, sang and played his heart out, I was profoundly impressed. One magazine referred to how Springsteen's gigs had become ritualized over the years, but this was my first time, and all I can say is that if it's true, then this gig displayed all the power to move and mesmerize that any truly great ritual does. When he yelled out "Road-crash!" at one point I'm told it was because the drummer or the horns fucked up but if so I didn't notice, even the fuck-ups sounded glorious to me. I wonder how he felt coming off after a gig like that? No way could you sleep! (But I wonder too how he'd feel if hipsters had chin-wagged all the way though his set?). He ended the gig with "When The Saints Go Marching In", the first song I ever learned on the guitar (G, C and D7).

I'd like to remember here Wayne Jury, someone I've known since our earliest schooldays together. He died in hospital on Tuesday. I'd always liked him: all his life he walked the roads with his dogs, one of the noblest pastimes a human being can indulge in. I last saw him (walking the roads with his dogs) on April 30th, he was wearing a deer-stalker hat and a navvy's yellow high-visibility vest. It just won't feel right knowing I'm not going to bump into him and his hounds round some corner up in the hills, miles away from home. I suppose Wayne's problems are over at last, but maybe his dogs' are just beginning? If he could hear me I'd tell him I'm sorry I never ever seemed to get round to joining him for that drink I kept promising we'd have.

We're still helping Karl to empty out his parents' house, it's a terrible task. Corrinne and Lenny are (after Morrissey at the Palladium) off to tour Wales in a camper-van. Starting Monday I'm doing my second stint of jury-service: if a hipster happens to find himself up before me he's toast ......





Thursday 22nd June 2006


Pod backstage at wirelessLovely toilets backstage, replete with framed reproductions of horses in oils and a choice of soaps and handcreams. A massage tent too (but who could feel chilled enough before a gig to submit to a massage!?) and a shop with a hairdresser on standby and dispensing bagfuls of free 'Bed Head' products (mine included something called 'Headbanger: A Way Out Wax for Rock Stars'.....!?). Robyn Hitchcock wore a lovely pair of lime-green trousers and sat in the sun chatting with Peter Buck, John Cale's strides were nowhere near as good as Robyn's (combats! Ugh!!!) but he undeniably has an air of authority about him (and KT Tunstall is spectacularly tiny). (I didn't see David Gray at all and had left the site by the time he went on, so couldn't possibly comment on his trousers. Like you care anyway, right?). Five minutes before we took up our positions on the acoustic bandstand the zip on my trousers broke! Fucking Armani too! Jesus, what I'd have given then for Cale's cheesy combats! Anyhow, luckily the audience were at some distance from the stage, sprawled in deckchairs, so I don't believe anyone noticed anything ..... I think the set went pretty well, and the sound was good considering the --- frankly ludicrous --- position of the sound-desk relative lenny nel cho & jo backstageto the stage (Jon had to judge the sound-mix via a monitor at his feet, with Cho running to and fro between outfront and the desk, telling Jon what needed boosting, what needed pulling back, etc.). Three songs from the end of our set John Cale struck up on the XFM stage, all his personal authority now symbolised in megawatts, a passable (no more) version of "Venus In Furs" stomping like a school-yard bully all over our "Hat-Check Girl". (So not only did he prove he had sturdier strides, he had a much bigger PA too, the bastard). But that's how festivals are, and really we had a wonderful day, I can't think of a better way of having spent it (unless it be headlining the main stage, obviously .....). NB Hyde Park being a royal one there were rules and regulations to be observed in approaching the loading gates, the daftest and most irritating of which involved having to submit to an escort, ie two Polish guys leading the way in a kind of hair-dryer (with a flashing light on top!) travelling at 5mph! That's right ---- 5mph! (Fuck man, I don't do anything at just 5mph! There were people on skates overtaking us!). But still, just let me just say again that we had a brilliant day, and thanks to Jon and Cho for all their efforts.

Let me recommend the best music book I've read since Ian MacDonald's "The People's Music" --- it's Joe Boyd's " White Bicycles: Making Music in the Sixties". Joe was there when His Bobness rocked Newport, he produced "Arnold Layne", ran the UFO Club, was the first guy to bring Joni to the UK, managed the Fairports and Nick Drake, etc. The book's published by Serpent's Tail. (Long ago in a faraway place my brother and I were given some pocket money, I spent mine on "Arnold Lane", he spent his on a soft porn magazine).



Wednesday 12th July 2006


Someone once said that what we do in life echoes in Eternity, so for that reason alone you really shouldn't chat during my set, should you? A) there's Eternity to think of. B) it greatly pisses me off. 

"I'm sorry about the talking," said Ed Harcourt as we came off stage. 

"It's OK, I've faced worse," I said, biting back the pain I always feel when folks prattle away while I'm up there strumming my protest songs, my heartfelt cris-de-coeur

"So have I," he replied. 

In fact, the chat was really only down to the performers that had taken the stage before us, them and their friends and supporters; happens the world over, nightly. The gig was part of the Spice festival, three unsigned acts, then us, then Ed Harcourt, then two more unsigned acts. Within the limited range of empathies left open to me, beautiful Hackney trendies still cut it, so I was happy and pleased to play to a whole sweaty (the temperature in that bar was Krakatoan) roomful of them, and even though it felt like hard work more than anything, I hereby thank the majority for listening and for their evident appreciation. (And this being Hackney, hey, look, there's Kelly Osbourne! And, er, that bloke who plays tablas for Ian Brown ....). 

My journey home was fucked up royally because they'd closed the Blackwall Tunnel (if there's one thing I can depend on it's bad luck). Exhaust-fumes and a sense of futility hung in the summer-night air, and the meaning of it all escaped me as completely as does the gods' purpose say, a chicken ....



Summer 2006

When I'm not dreaming of cruel mistresses or eventual election to the pantheon of god-like geniuses I like to roam the mountains of South Wales, among the most magical places on earth; I like to feed the wild horses or watch those guys that take off on canvas wings. This summer (once the heatwave had passed. I waited that out in darkened rooms) I spent quite a bit of time up there: we didn't get invited to play the Green Man festival (guess I'm not in with the In-Crowd. Maybe I should get out more, 'network'? Make friends with Devendra so I can be part of the 'quiet revolution' too? Who do I have to fuck? Who's the Robespierre of this thing?) but I was up on the Blorenge that weekend, 1,570 feet above the site. Every year, too, we climb Penyfan, the highest of the Brecon Beacons, and Pod brings back a stone from the summit, scrawls the year on it (we'll know we're old has-beens when we're not up to the climb anymore. I did it one year on a freshly-broken toe. [By the way, don't imagine we dress up in that kinky hiking-gear or nothing, I'd trot up in Prada loafers if I had any]). In recent years we'd got to know this little Tunisian guy --- a dead ringer for George Chakaris ---- who ran a cafe in Blaenavon, and whenever I found myself choking on misery and/or carbon-monoxide fumes in say Southwark Park Road or somewhere just as godforsaken I'd think of this guy flicking a damp rag over a window-table and gazing out at the tumbleweed rolling down Broad Street (romantic cocksucker that I am) and imagine him happy and so somehow feel a little better ('cos even if you're not happy you need to believe that someone somewhere is and I'd kind of elected this guy for the job) but when I called in back in August it transpired that he'd upped and fled to the South of France, didn't even tell his wife he was going, just hitched a lift to Cardiff and disappeared. Something died in me when I heard that, readers, I'd never dreamed that he'd been dreaming of fucking St Tropez as he looked out that window, longing for escape. I mean, I wish the guy well and everything, but Jesus .....! (Oh, the desperate deception we practise on the world every day of our lives!).

Later, I did an interview with a newspaper in Pontypool. Another day we took the train to Cardiff: the return journey back up the valley is always reminscent of the sequence in Jarmusch's "Dead Man" where William Blake takes the train west and it gets wilder and scarier the further the train penetrates the badlands. (It's OK for me to say that, I was born deep inside that bandit country: not that I set too much store by my proletarian origins, overrate it the way say Nicky Wire does his fucking politics degree!). And then the blissful rains came (like a trailer for blessed November) and the valleys are particularly beautiful in the rain, for them that have eyes to see it. My favourite seasons are coming up, I should be OK from here to next April. Maybe I'll even start writing songs again .....

For me, the best album released this summer has to be Bob Dylan's "Modern Times", the best film I saw was "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" and the best TV (best TV of all time, surely!) "Deadwood".

In a piece in Mojo on Arthur Lee (Arthur's music never meant a great deal to me, alas) Joey Burns of Calexico says that Jim Dickinson reckons recording is artists' way of communicating with life after they've gone, and that struck me as spot-on.

Yesterday I was out shopping for the first two "Deadwood" seasons on DVD, and on my way I perused a few of the trendier record emporia. My oh my! Contemporary fame does attach itself to all manner of depthless and ephemeral things, doesn't it!







Monday 16th October 2006


Songdog at the QEHThis was the inaugural event in a new series of concerts at the QEH and we were a late addition to the bill, opening for Joan as Police Woman and booked too late to benefit from much of the South Bank's publicity so I expected to play to maybe a handful of early arrivals, but by the time we took the stage the place was packed and buzzing. The audience did us proud and gave us a fantastic response and the gig felt like a real milestone for us, it really did seem like our kind of crowd. (It must be the poshest venue we've ever played, too. I did play some German opera-houses once but that was in a vaguely tacky 1980s kind of context whereas this was definitely an arty thing). We had the best fucking time up there --- the best fucking time! ---- so thank you to everyone involved. (Cho fed us Welsh cakes from a big tin: I'd like to extend my compliments to his mother for her exquisite bakestones. Will there be some at the next show?). If you're not familiar with Joan as Police Woman's music, I can testify that she's a classy act.

A couple of evenings later we caught the final night of Johnny Dowd and Jim White's Hellwood project, two American masters for the price of one. The more whisky Johnny downed as the set progressed the better he played guitar. Outstanding song of the night was one that Jim sang, called (I imagine) "Grown Tired Of The Fireworks Of Love" (?). Next up, the Dresden Dolls at the Roundhouse. A lot of the very best music that ever got made is to be found in the 'Specialist' bit of the record Jake Thackraystores, and that's where you'll find Jake Thackray's albums. They're all I've been listening to for weeks, he was a true, honest-to God genius. (When I'm done here I'll be playing him again). He'd be on TV a lot when I was a kid and it was always a good reason for staying in. There's a highly recommended "Live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall" album available, and I think that's why our QEH gig went so well, Jake's shade was watching over us. Don't be square, buy his records! Boy could he play guitar! And they really DON'T write lyrics like that anymore (hell, they don't even have the vocabulary)!

Notice how I'm dishing out nothing but praise this time round? No nay-saying? No invective? It's the new me, readers, accentuating the positive, allergic to the negative. I'll even refrain from dissing that pseudonymous scrivener that dished out a wholesale slagging to me and my band in a webzine last month, the cun ----- no, no, stop it! If I kicked an 80-a day smoking habit surely I can learn to overcome my penchant for negativity? Can't I? Quickly, think of someone/something to praise! Ah yes, Joe Wilkes's set at the Green Note in Camden a few weeks ago! Another great guitar-player. He has a record out called "Spotlight" and he's a Songdog MySpace friend, so go have a listen. (The Green Note's a nice place too, a vegetarian restaurant-cum-acoustic venue with a photograph of the great Ms Joni Mitchell on the wall).

Maybe I'm in such a good mood because it's autumn. I love autumn: isn't it just the sublimest season?





Christmas 2006

Corrinne did good at the Bush Hall the other week, duetting on "Fairytale of New York" at the Arctic Circle Xmas bash. Bumped into Derek Birkett of One Little Indian there, he's looking good, something to do with his raw vegan diet --- I'm tempted, I really am.

The newspapers and magazines are full of their round-ups of the year but I've got a cold and I'm in too bad a mood to bother you with mine: if you've got two ears and a functioning brain you'll already know that Tom Wait's "Orphans" has a pretty good claim on the title of best record, and there was "Modern Times" too, that was a good one: also, those Beatles remixes serve to remind how astounding the Fabs were too. And there's Joanna Newsom, obviously. Plus, honourable mentions for Cat Power and Jolie Holland: and let me put the name Joe Wilkes your way as a hot tip for 2007.

Did you see us in The Sun?!! Four-and-a-half out of five! Good, eh? All we need now is one in The Beano and I can die happy or go live in the woods, wear a penis gourd and dream.


We're demoing new songs at the end of January, we've got 23. Some titles: "Smoke-Rings and Shaving Cuts", "A Prayer To Old Idols", "Hex", "A Wretched Sinner's Song", "Barbarella", "She Lets Me In By The Back Door", "Loser Heaven", "Like Kim Novak", "Ruben's Tattoo", "Song For 5-String Guitar", "Owls", "Pilgrim Hill", "On Porthcawl Sands", "Drums Over The Churchyard", "Crown Of Thorns". Album number 4 will appear eventually.

I'm in the throes of a bad bout of aboulia, so in case I don't recover too soon, I'll leave you this to be getting on with, it's a questionnaire Americana UK asked me to complete. They provided the first few words of each paragraph, I was asked to fill in the rest:

Our latest record .... comprises 13 songs about lust, regret, nostalgia, protests at the erosions of passing time, loves lost, passions grown cold, etc. Some of the songs are very lo-o-o-o-o-o-ng too, you have to slow right down, synchronise your mental tempo to the mood and pace of the record. (Note to busy people really into Razorlight: on our next record all the songs will be shorter).

Writing songs .... is a compulsion for me, an attempt to impose some form or stability on all that emotional turbulence. Each song is part of one long, ongoing testament or confession.

Touring .... sure beats 'real life'. I'd tour forever if there were enough people wanting to see us (alas, there aren't. As yet). I fully understand Dylan's Never Ending Trek, and I'm envious. A tour drawing to a close feels the same way the end of the summer holidays did as a schoolkid.

Music .... is essential. When I was about 11 years old it changed the whole direction and meaning of my life, completely and for good. But now there's too much of it, or it's all too easily available, it risks becoming devalued. Lots of days I try not to hear or make any, just to try and keep it special.

The best .... gig we've done in a while was opening for Joan As Police Woman at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in October. The audience really listened. Nothing pisses me off more than a noisy audience. I realise it's nothing personal: I read that when Joni Mitchell opened for Dylan back in the 90s a lot of people talked throughout her set nightly. Joni Mitchell!!! Those bastards would probably have been twiddling away on their Gameboys through the Sermon on the Mount.

The worst .... thing to come out of punk was the notion that sheer energy and force of conviction will always carry you through, that you don't need to have anything going down musically. Gabba-gabba-bollocks, I'm afraid. I'm not advocating fretwank or jazz-level chops but some degree of skill makes all the difference. There's been a decline in the art of songwriting too, I think Jimmy Webb sounds off a lot about it. One of the reasons those Beatles songs were so great is that those guys grew up on showtunes and standards, they had a feel for chord-changes. I know people rightly get pissed off that they fixed the chart so that "I Don't Want To Talk About It" kept the Pistols off no. 1, but that Danny Whitten song is actually rather lovely, whereas the Pistols tune is just some hoary old riffing and gorblimey vocals, whatever its cultural impact may have been. "Marquee Moon" was the masterpiece of 1977 and it's no coincidence those people could play.

Mostly I listen to .... the gold-standard songwriters, Waits, Dylan, Cohen, Springsteen, Joni, etc. That's the only level worth going for: I mean, what would be the point in setting out to be Kasabian or something? (I'm talking in purely artistic terms, I don't mean for the fame or the pussy). I listen to a lot of the new singer/songwriters that get eulogised in the press and a lot of them are pretty good (Beck is very, very good) but it's often the lyrics that let it down for me, so I just turn off. What I was saying about blind energy in punk, applies to lyrics too, heartfelt often just isn't enough. But I love M. Ward and Joanna Newsom, they both say something.

Today .... I went to see Johnny Dowd and Jim White teamed up in a project they're calling Hellwood. Amazing. Great lyricists, both of them. The drunker Johnny got as the set progressed the better he played guitar. Jim White sang a beautiful song called something like "Grown Tired Of The Fireworks Of Love".

Home .... is the South Wales valleys, though I've lived in London a very long time. Hiraeth is a Welsh word meaning a very intense form of homesickness or an almost mystical connection with the homeland, and I've got a real bad dose of it. It pisses me off that Wales is associated with the likes of Tom Jones or the Stereophonics or the Manics --- barrel-chested bellowing, stodgy riffing and lyrics that don't scan. It's supposed to be the land of song for Chrissakes! The land of poets! Thank God for Shirley Bassey.

My brother .... and I are chalk-and-cheese. But we both love Roy Orbison.

I wish .... I could headline Carnegie Hall. And Bob Dylan would call asking for a plus-one on the guest-list.

When I was younger .... I played covers in workingmens' clubs. Walked the roads arguing about music. Got a rough ride from the rugby-and beer boyos. Got my heart broken. Came up to London dreaming of glory, played 'new wave' music in every dive in the metropolis. Always felt like an outlaw, always swore I wouldn't go straight. And I haven't. Never did let anything jerk the steering-wheel of my life, goddamit!

Bush is .... a varmint. A dangerous crackpot. And Blair's a despicable cunt.

My favourite .... time of day is dusk. Dusk in Paris and I swoon like a schoolgirl.

One thing I've learnt is .... er, I don't think I've learned anything really. The older I get the more bewildering the world becomes. People piss me off more and more. I love animals more, I'm for the real underdog, ie the one you'll always find under the underdog. But hey, I'm harmless! As E.M. Cioran said: Never run away from a misanthrope.

Did you know .... there's something called Littlewood's Law (named after a mathematician) that says that on average everyone can expect a wonder a month? This was at least definitely true of pop music between 1965 and 1968.

Is it just me .... or are we all just strangers afraid in a world we didn't make? (I stole that from a dead poet).

Inside .... life feels as unreal as it did back in the schoolyard.

The scariest thing .... the way the world grows shamelessly dumber. Dumbness is totally where it's at, dunces rool, dolts are cool. We could rename the globe Planet Retard and it wouldn't be a lie. Hence the new vogue for religion. What could be dumber than a pinhead evangelist or a shit-for-brains ayatollah?

Love is .... something that comes and goes? Like a train? Or is that I'm just in a very bad mood over how everything's getting dumber?

I believe .... was an old hit for Frankie Laine.

One day.... I'll headline Carnegie Hall. And Bob Dylan will call me asking for a plus-one on the guest-list.

Have yourselves a merry little Xmas.

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