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Lyndon's SONGDOG DIARY

A lapidary log.....

Diary dates

December 2010
September 2010
April - August 2010
April 2010
January 2010

Diary archive

DIARY 2010

December 2010

2010’s been an eventful year for us, there was the release of “A Life Eroding” -- another pile of good reviews and one more album out there to be discovered all in good time -- then there was the trip to Osaka, the Port Eliot beano, and a lot of really good gigs, particularly King’s Place. Since I last wrote ( I can’t bring myself to say ‘blogged’, I’d feel such a c**t) we’ve picked a tune or two at Hankdog’s weekly Easycome do in Nunhead, the excellent Lantern Society night at the Betsey Trotwood (we’re back there on 30th Jan. with the Magic Numbers), a Rough Trade RoTa show in Notting Hill (props to Rosie Sleightholme) and, last night, we did a turn On Top of Old Stokey with Ben Folke Thomas (Ben is genuinely good; there aren’t all that many of us). I’d intended doing a quick ‘acoustic album’ before Xmas, re-recording some of the back catalogue stuff , 15-tracks-in-a-day or something but time ran out and January’s already looking pretty full.Anyway, I’ve been working hard on a batch of new songs with a view to recording the next proper Songdog record in maybe March or so: here’s some titles --- Swansong, A Thousand Roads to Hell, St Lucy’s Day, Red Orchids, Last Orders at Harry’s, The Lies I Tell Valerie, Sex Death & Country Music, Bumpy Roads, Sunshine/Moonshine, About A Million Times. It’ll be rawer than the last one: “Let’s twinkle again, like we did on Haiku”, said Pod, and we will (for us in the band Haiku’s still our proudest moment). I’ll put a few of the tunes up on YouTube in due course, once I’ve bought one of those Zoom Q3HD things (it’ll be my Xmas present to myself and I’ll get it in Brighton next week when we go down to get Pod’s new mandolin). I also intend a bit of collaboration with Joe Wilkes and Jason McNiff; I’ve never written with anyone else before (the thing we did with Jason earlier this year was a Townes van Zandt song), it’s a bit daunting for all of us but we’ll give it a go.

Have you bought The Agony Abides yet? It’s an anthology of writings on the pain and misery of existence, a perfect antidote to the season of mindless good cheer. Bronwen Wrigley’s dedicated the book to me and included a lot of Songdog stuff in it, so there I am cheek-by-jowl with the likes of Beckett/Cioran/TS Eliot --- how can I not be flattered? Send it to all your friends and ‘loved ones’ as the perfect Xmas gift.

I can’t remember if I listed Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’s “Raising Sand” as the best album of last year, though it must’ve been; in fact it’s one of the best albums of the decade. (Can’t T Bone Burnett produce a record for Songdog?) but I’ll definitely mention Percy’s latest, “Band of Joy” as among this year’s contenders (can’t Buddy Miller produce a record for Songdog?). I loved his squawking with Led Zep as much as the next man, but I never realised he was --- you know…good! So, highly recommended, though the very best album of the year is still Mary Gauthier's 'The Foundling'.

I don’t want to be grouchy, it being almost Christmas and all, so just two brief items of complaint and we’ll move on:-

1) I know it’s a shameless, unblushing muckball of a world and all that (every game in the world is rigged, everyone’s on the make or the take), but still --- the Manics on Strictly!!!!???!! Fidel Castro one minute, Bruce Forsythe the next, that’s not eclecticism, it’s schizophrenia. Are we meant to take it as some kind of Situationist prank? New product to shift, yes, yes, but honestly! Richie must be revolving at some rate of knots. Did Mr. Wire manage a few rounds of golf with Brucie before the show? (And what’s the single like? Is it a cracker? --- only joking!). I know I shouldn’t care, but my home-town – Blackwood -- is best-known as the spawning-ground for these muppets! …

2) Is the Great Satan behind this farce re Julian Assange and the dodgy rape accusations, do you think? Assange is a plucky little devil and the scourge of scumbags the world over: if he ends up in one of Obama’s penitentiaries (or worse) it’ll be another victory for the Bad Guys (neo-cons, Big Oil, the military-financial-industrial complex, religious fundamentalists, the ‘security services’, politicians of every hue but especially champions of the unfettered market, etc.), the cancer of Late Capitalism will have metastasized and finally overwhelmed the world and I just couldn’t bear it.

Hang on, let me just turn my input down …There, I’m serene again now.

By the weekend we should hear if we’re off to India next February or not (we missed a chance to play some shows in New York in October by a whisker, godammit!): and today we received an invitation from Tokyo University to collaborate next spring on a video-cum-Augmented Reality project based round our music, it all sounds very cool.

Corrinne, our manager, seeks paid employment (in these recessionary times the income Songdog generates for her doesn’t even keep her in caviar): she’s deeply eccentric and --- be warned! -- won’t consider getting out of bed for less than £1.50 an hour, but if you know of someone that needs her do let us know (she did a boot-sale recently and her Dad’s old treasures and a pile of my 1970s Melody Makers did a roaring trade).

The student protests are a treat to behold; when all the footage finally comes out as a boxed set, I'm having it. And a mention in the Honours List due, surely, for those playful souls indulging in a spot of harmess horseplay with the heir to the throne in Argyll Street? Can't his Royal Highness take a joke? ;-).

I don’t suppose I’ll write again before Christmas but may good vibes envelop and pervade you (and just go easy on the mince pies).


*****************

September 2010

Our trip to Osaka was just awesome and I wish I was still out there, I really do. I'd been both looking forward to it and dreading it a little ---- which way would it go for me? Would I know Roland Barthes's rapture as described in "The Empire of Signs" or would I encounter a place so alien to everything I knew that I'd just be longing to get back West asap? But, hell, I loved it! All of it! Everything (OK, save for Duane trying to drag me onto the dancefloor at the KMC opening party, but even that had a happy unforeseen consequence when I slipped upstairs to avoid any further terpsichorean embarrassment …)!

I loved the city so much --- the clean streets, the jam sandwiches in un-nutritious white bread (and --- God-be-praised! --- smoking's still allowed in restaurants and bars!!), the parasols, the little dogs, but most of all the people, so beautiful and elegant and other-worldly! Shinsaibashi is a neon Valhalla (parts of Blade Runner were shot here) of teeming, exquisite young things, of gorgeous, stylish girls and beautiful androgynous boys, chavvy, frumpy old England's absolute Other.

But if the streets, gutters and subways gushed with adorable babes of both genders, then the very babe-most of the babe-most had to be Arianne Schreiber, and not Japanese at all, but over from Australia to showcase as iCon, a kind of Tinkerbell of the Celestial Spheres, a proper Lolita of Popular Songcraft, with a beautiful voice. Arianne sang "Fairytale" with us at both our shows, I taught her the song on the stairs of the club we were shortly to perform in, she did it magnificently and wrought a tsunami of hormonal turbulence in both band and audience (a few evenings later, she trampled my heart to a pulp on a Tenmabashi pavement, but I've already forgiven her, what other choice do I have?…). After the Shinsaibashi show we did it again the following morning in the cavernous atrium of the Osaka Museum of History --- but the important thing to understand is, I was happy for days and days (and if you knew me, you'd know how startling that is....) and I wanted to go on to Kyoto but there were reasons why I couldn't (there are always reasons why I can't, godammit!…). Since I've been back I'm desolate again, but more desperately so than usual, and I would really like to go back to play in Japan again someday……

To celebrate my return to doughty old Blighty I picked up some appalling throat cold, on the very eve of our Spitz-promoted show at Kings Place, a very posh Barbican-like arts venue beneath the Guardian/Observer building in York Way, N1. My ailing larynx notwithstanding, this gig was a fucking triumph, the very best in a long, long time. We did two 45-minute sets and even I was moved by Ruben's Tattoo…! Thank God it proved such a highlight, I couldn't have borne anything less so soon after Japan: manly hugs/chaste air-kisses to everyone who attended and helped make the evening so absolutely special. Special thanks too to Jane Glitre from The Spitz for inviting us and to Katie English for dressing the stage, sylvan paradise-style.

So what I have been doing/experiencing since? Most of it I'm not prepared to say, but I can divulge we've started re-arranging the material on A Life Eroding for our usual three-piece set-up; once it's been fully absorbed into our stage set I'll feel free to 'move on' and let the lads taste the bunch of new stuff I've got simmering on the stove. Then it'll be a question of making a new record…Where?…Who with?…We've done our Abbey Road, so it must be time for Let It Be, surely? --- I asked God for guidance and He replied "some kind of inspired cross between Haiku and A Wretched Sinner's Song" …

While I think of it, a film I'd like to recommend, Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me, based on a Jim Thompson story and starring the always-superb Casey Affleck (but the accents are so thick you'd best watch it with the English subtitles on).

I'd also like to say how proud I am of the Welsh weather for fucking up the Ryder Cup.

I'm trying to write a song about consolations while I await the next big adventure. I'm all churned up emotionally and there ain't no cure, so I'm drinking a big glass of Vin de Shite (no, I really am! Google it if you don't believe me! …).

I really wish I could've gone on to Kyoto…

**************************

April - August 2010

 

It’s been a busy five months --- the album came out at the end of April, we did a launch show at Peter Parker’s Rock n’Roll Club in Denmark Street. Before that we played Ten Feet Tall in Cardiff (nice venue but nigh-on nobody came!). Later on we did another gig at Le Pub in Newport and this was a good one, though when Corrinne went to collect our fee at the end of the show, the promoter, so drunk he was slurring his pauses, tried to hide behind a big Welsh flag draped across a wall, just stood there, stock-still, like a giant suit-of-armour covered in a dust-sheet …We did a few sessions for Resonance 104.4FM (for Ben Eshmade's Arctic Circle and Dexter Bentley’s Hello Goodbye shows - click links to listen again) and had a wonderful night at the Chattery in Swansea (the best live music venue in Wales!), then we did three gigs opening for Johnny Dowd --- Norwich, Leicester and London’s Borderline, all fantastic (you know me, always so close to ontological collapse, nothingness forever beckoning behind the veil of things, but this one afternoon, a strong wind herding the clouds west, as we drove through the Fens, a Harry Belafonte tune playing, I had one of those numinous moments ---fleeting but unforgettable. Ferdinand Bruckner wrote that the only choice we have is bourgeois existence or suicide, but I’d say playing in a travelling band is the option he overlooked). In a while we’ll be putting up on the website some more of the photographs Phoebe Sian Allen took of these shows …

About a week after the Dowd tour had finished we did the Borderline again, for Louis Eliot's Summer Pageant, but this time the earth failed to move, though Nick and Dave, gazing upon the lady morris dancers’ décolletage like Moses did the Promised Land, had a different kind of special moment all of their own… Sometime later we played the Windmill in Brixton, the day of the World Cup final: I enjoyed myself a lot but Greg, the promoter (a Welshman and a good egg), took the mic and delivered a pretty passionate ticking-off to the pub’s management for having turned on ‘the match’ on a screen at the far end of the room two songs before the end of our set. I hadn’t even been aware it’d happened, but I was there cheering Greg on ---- my soul was forged in the great countercultural battles of the Sixties, when the music belonged to the longhairs on Max Yasgur’s field while the football was for the guys in the ‘bombers riding shotgun in the sky’. For me, 1966 meant Revolver, Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde, not Bobby Moore (OK, OK, it was the year of Raquel Welch in that fur bikini in One Million Years BC too). Now of course, in this technotopia we flail about in like we would in a bucketful of shit, everything’s just fucking entertainment, right?…

 

Let’s talk about something else, something nice --- one sunny Friday evening I did fifty minutes in the black box at the Arctic Circle’s Folk in a Box event at Battersea Arts Centre and this was really something, I mean really something! There I was, perched on a stool in light dimmer than a late Beckett playlet, picking songs knee-to-knee with a succession of visitors ushered one-by-one into the darkness. I remember looking up from the fretboard somewhere during the third song and the girl sat opposite me was gazing back with such incredible intensity, and with eyes so deep and beautiful I could’ve swum in them .…The scariest thing I did all year was getting up to tell a story at David Hepworth’s True Stories Told Live event in Islington back in April -- I say story but it was more a seven-minute preamble to the song I was doing. I talked about a childhood friend and how we’d drifted apart when he’d joined the army at 16 (I feared we’d meet on the barricades somewhere, someday, me poking my daisy down the barrel of his rifle). He’d died last year and it’d apparently been a painful passing, so it seemed somehow important that I know what I’d been doing the night he’d gone; when I looked up the date in my diary I found it was the evening I’d started writing A Life Eroding (So Much Sorrow), so that’s the tune I played. I fucked up the intro --- nerves, sweaty hands --- and had to start it again (Mary Gauthier did the musical spot at the next event --- I’ll talk about her in a bit ...). I told the story and sang the song again at the Cardiff version of True Stories Told Live a month or so later, found it easier going the second time around ……

The last weekend in July saw us playing two sets at the Port Eliot festival in Cornwall and this was a pretty fucking amazing weekend --- it’s a music and literary do, a kind of Latitude-West (that’s Hugo Williams’s coinage) set in the grounds of a baronial manor-house (the oldest continuously-inhabited dwelling in England) occupied by the Earl of St Germans. Corrinne and Lenny camped onsite but we nabbed a place in a Travelodge ten minutes’ drive away. We’d drive in each morning, Lyle Lovett’s Natural Forces playing in the car, breakfast would be red wine and lemon-drizzle cake up in the Tea-Rooms. I remember a posse of 50s-style char-ladies pushing a wagon round the site dispensing tea and biscuits; I remember too, the one-minute disco (a van would pull up at a designated time and place on the site, the back-doors would be flung open, a disco track blaring from the speakers within. The crowd would frug ecstatically for exactly sixty seconds when the doors would slam shut and the van drive off). We all marvelled at Grayson Perry at the performers’ cocktail do looking resplendent in his Bo Peep dress and bonnet. Our shows went well (particularly the second one on the rainy Saturday evening, our stuff works better in the rain). Late on the Saturday night I stood down the front for Jakob Dylan, singing along while we waited to You Can’t Do That with a woman that knew the words as faultlessly as I did. What with Jakob being on a major label he had the budget for a hundred blokes onstage with flashlights, checking and re-checking and then re-checking everything all over again and these days I’m the most impatient dude in the world (the hour’s getting late, time is precious, don’t people realise we’re all gonna die in the end? There’s so much left to do and I don’t have that long left, for Chrissakes!) so I jumped ship twenty bars into the opening song, but it did sound promising, so I went and bought the album at the Rough Trade stall, played it through four times in a row on a car journey to Wales and think it’s a very good record, well done Jakob. The following day I watched Kathryn Williams’s set in the Heavenly tent --- someone called her a national treasure, and that’s exactly what she is (and she’s a One Little Indian stablemate). I asked her about the looper she was using to bank up her vocals, harmonize with herself, etc., so I bought one when I got back to London (though God knows when I’ll find the time to play with it, view the demo in cobblerspace – I meant online [!!] and so on. Fuck, I’m so busy I won’t find the time to die …). I caught the start of Paul Simon’s son’s set and he started with a cover of a Tom Verlaine song, so he scores extra points for that, but then I got distracted, drifted off into the dark, it was that kind of night, bumped into someone who’d told a story before me at True Stories Told Live, “Welcome to Notting Hill-on-sea” he said …..Thanks to Louis Eliot for inviting us - I really do hope we can go back next year…..Jack Douglas (American producer, he did John & Yoko’s Double Fantasy) contacted us, said some really nice things about the songs, and Robert Wyatt rang Jane at the Spitz (she’s promoting our show at King’s Place in late September) praising A Life Eroding, and we get a lot of nice messages from people all over the world telling us how much the music means to them; it helps enormously to hear it and more than offsets all the ressentiment (in all its various guises) you have to put up with (ask anyone who’s doing anything, they’ll tell you). So it’s been a very memorable year so far, and there’s still Japan to go (plus, the CMJ Festival in New York have registered an interest, asking us if we’d be available to go in mid-October; if that gets firmed up into an official invitation we’ll be there, believe me!).

I saw that new Christopher Nolan film Inception and I don’t know if it’s good or not (though I suspect it was bollocks), I came out shell-shocked, traumatised, so much CGI just overwhelms one’s cerebral cortex. I liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but that was Swedish, and I love almost anything Swedish --- it goes without saying that Wallander is just sublime (especially the Swedish one, though Ken Branagh’s good too), easily the best thing on TV since Deadwood. I didn’t really pay it the attention it deserved but I liked what I saw of the newest take on Sherlock Holmes: no-one will ever better Jeremy Brett, but the guy with the funny name made a very commendable stab at it. Another film I saw months ago but that still haunts me is The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly, directed by Julian Schnabel, it’s harrowing and poetic …Records-wise, there are the new ones by Jakob Dylan and Kathryn Williams but the best record of the year by a hundred miles (I’m not including us, what d’you take me for, a bighead?) is absolutely, definitely Mary Gauthier’s The Foundling. Man, is this a good record! It’s about her having been adopted and then one day locating her birth mother and making the call, it’s a subject I relate to and I so wish I could’ve written some of these songs, they’re just so beautiful and heartbreaking. All her albums have been brilliant but this one really is the best ever and reveals her to be as magnificent a songwriter as Lucinda Williams. I’m telling you, the track “March 11 1962” will just annihilate you …. I spent five days in Wales alone recently and I played this masterpiece over and over and over and over …Wouldn’t it be great if records like this got to number 1 and all the crap that actually does just faded away, didn’t even get made?

Randy Newman’s done it and so has Loudon Wainwright and now I think I’m tempted to do it too --- re-record say a dozen or fourteen of our best songs purely acoustically, ‘soundhole-and-the-knee’-style. I played “An Old Man’s Love” that way to a friend recently and he suggested it (a little gang of us headed for Llanhilleth Working Men’s Club, intending to book a slot at their open-mic night, do a few tunes in memory of Fred, but we’d been misinformed as to the date. Still, we spent a sunny hour on a bridge over the Ebbw, laughing/crying over so much of the stuff that’d come and gone, so much water under the bridge, as it were ….). So, it might really happen if I can fit it in, it’d only take a couple of days, wouldn’t it?
I’ve probably forgotten a whole bunch of stuff I wanted to say or need to tell you but I’ve been typing for hours, there’s red wine swilling round my very atoms, I’d best go. So bye for now and try not to get lost in the data-smog.

DO COME TO THE KING’S PLACE GIG: BOOK YOUR TICKET TODAY! I’LL BE SINGING TRUE STORIES OF MY ADVENTURES IN THE GREAT HUMAN DESERT, RELATED WITH ALL THE HURT AND PAIN OF DISENCHANTED INSIGHT!

Aw, fuck, I’m drunk! Look, just come, will you? ……..

April 2010

When I began this diary I meant to be dedicated, assiduous (but then the chance of failure stalks every human venture, especially mine) in its upkeep, and look at me! --- I haven't posted in months! …. Ah, but I've been busy …. We've been at Terminal rehearsing the songs from the upcoming album in readiness for our show at Peter Parker's Rock n 'Roll Club at 4 Denmark Street on April 22nd (it's a funky little oubliette beneath Regent Sound --- now a guitar shop but once the studio where the Stones recorded their first couple of LPs). We're on about 8:45pm and we'll do all the tunes on "A Life Eroding" (released April 26th but I think there'll be copies on sale at the gig), though not necessarily in the order they come on the record (I haven't decided yet). There'll be no room for a harp and a string-quartet up there (we'll go to those lengths later in the year) but Jerome who did the string-arrangements will adapt the parts for a keyboard for Gregor Riddell of the Solstice Quartet to play (I think we can squeeze in John Hoare and his trumpet). Hannah Peel's on before us and she's great, so turn up early. Bear in mind the fact that we don't remember whole days, we remember moments, and this will be a moment!

We did some very nice shows back earlier in the year, first for the splendid Spitz people at the King's Cross Social Club and then one with Jason McNiff at Milford's, in the Strand. Shortly afterwards, Jason invited us to collaborate with him on a version of Townes Van Zandt's "Mr Mudd & Mr Gold" (Jason sang Mr Gold and I voiced Mr Mudd ….). It's for a Townes tribute album that'll be released later in the year, with proceeds to go to charity. We had one rehearsal, recorded it at Guerillasound the next day and it came out rather well, so look out for it. ("Another game, Mister Gold? "Shuffle and deal, Mister Mudd!" ….).

I'm really no fan of telly but I admit I've been bowled over by BBC4's "Great American Songbook" series, with some wonderful films on Johnny Mercer (genius! GENIUS!!), Sinatra (GENIUS!), Nina Simone (oh-my-God! GENIUS!!), Ella Fitzgerald (GENIUS!) and Louis Armstrong ("No-one will ever touch Louis Armstrong" said a pundit; he wasn't lying. GENIUS!). Re Gershwin, Mercer and all the rest: what the hell happened to the art of songwriting after those guys? Well, for one, the power-chord was invented (hang your head in shame, Jim Marshall …). A critic on the New York Times apparently wrote that somewhere in the late 1960s rhythm triumphed over melody and it's a crying shame. I've served my time in the moshpit, ("figuratively speaking" he sniffed fastidiously ….), I've thrilled to the wattage so many times, but that's not really about music, that's something else …. The day the music died actually occurred a lot earlier than I used to think it had; now there are a million bands but not all that much music ….. (And "The buying and selling of music, what they've done to it, is a disaster on the scale of cutting down the rainforest": Robert Crumb). The funniest thing on TV lately (unintentionally so!) was the first part of BBC4's look at Goldsmiths's college: don't miss part two.

Charlie Gillett's death was so sad to hear about: I first came across him in his Record Mirror and Let It Rock days and by the time I came to London he was running Oval Records: he championed both the band I started out in and, later, Songdog (we did a session on his radio show back when "Haiku" came out). He seemed too nice a man to be part of the music business.

I've been ill for so much of this year, I've had a two-month cold, various infections, neuralgia, toothache, I bust my knee (I'm still limping slightly) and I was back in A & E last weekend with the kidney-stone-horror blues. Let's make a deal: you buy my new record in sufficient quantities and I'll retire to a private sanatorium in the Swiss Alps. There'll be a big cardboard cut-out of me in HMV's flagstore window while I'll be muffled up, medicated and walking the paths Nietzsche strolled as he dreamed up Zarathustra: come the gloaming I'll retire to my chalet and my leggy nurse and sob over my vast pile of royalty statements, sobbing at the waste even in a fortunate life, at the isolation even in a life rich in intimacy ……

Tomorrow night I'm doing a turn at David Hepworth's "True Stories Told Live" event in Islington. It'll have happened by the time you read this, but I'll tell you about it next time.

It's not nice, but I have to finish with this. It's from Jonathan Safran Foer's book "Eating Animals" (Penguin, £20), it's describing the treatment of cattle in an abattoir and it really needs no comment: "Sometimes the steel bolt only dazes the animal, which either remains conscious or wakes up as it is being 'processed'. 'Processing' continues with wrapping a chain round the animal's leg and hoisting it into the air. Then it is moved to a 'sticker', who cuts its throat. If the steel bolt hasn't done its work the animals are blinking and stretching their necks from side to side, looking around, really frantic. Then they move on to the 'head skinner' where the skin is peeled off the head of the animal. Some cattle, not the majority but a non-negligible minority, find themselves still conscious at this stage. Then onto the 'leggers', who cut off the lower portions of the animals' legs. At this point, as far as the ones that come back to life go, the cattle just go wild, kicking in every direction."

Till next time.



January 2010

Belated New Year greetings to you, my friends --- hey, wasn’t all that snow just so beautiful (even though I skidded on ice and crashed my car!)? I was snowed in in Wales all over Xmas, still made a Christmas Day trek to Cwrt-y-Bella churchyard --- some years that’s walk’s magical and this year’s was particularly so (the church shown in the photograph is long gone). True, Santa didn’t deliver the leggy Amazons I’d ordered but there was plenty of red wine and much cruciverbalism, there was also the brilliant “The Hurt Locker” on DVD and I made inroads into a new song. 2009 had ended rather nicely (but for the deaths of a few people I cared about), a few nice bits of business to attend to, a photo session in the Tristan Bates Theatre off Cambridge Circus, then four of us went pall-bearing on Camber Sands (all in the name of the next album-sleeve. A guy from the council turned up and asked if we had the necessary permissions to be there doing that, said there was a fee due whether it be us, Coldplay or even Robbie Williams ---- he had half a point there, I’d charge those guys for dicking about on my beach too --- and, furthermore, permission would be dependent upon our producing documentation to show we had a trillion dollars’ worth of insurance --- ah, don’t you just love a bureaucrat! … The upshot was we had to find another beach to tote our coffin round --- a Welsh one, three days later. We did a so-so show at the Windmill in Brixton, then a really good gig in Newport to see the year out (we‘d been invited to play by our MySpace friends The Flying Spider Revival) and we got asked back to the Windmill in early January, this time doing it as a four-piece, and played a lovely one).

 

There’s new Songdog album out on April 26th on One Little Indian, it’s called “A Life Eroding” and here’s a bit of a track-by-track commentary:

1. A Life Eroding (So Much Sorrow) This was the last song written for the record, the recording was well advanced when I added this one, written in the dying months of the first decade of the new millennium, a decade where nothing much had happened to be hopeful about. In recent years I seem to have spent quite a bit of time loading the detritus of peoples’ lives into bin-bags, - people that Time had used up and finished with -- and that’s where the “rooting round that drawer you kept your secrets in” verse came from. Nick (the producer) wouldn’t fund me a glass harmonica player but, accommodating cove that he is, the track ended up with him and Alison (the harpist) doing the honours on quality wine-glasses.

2. Obediah’s Waltz I’d been fiddling with the DNA of the Tom Jones/Alex Harvey hit, “Delilah”, I had it pinned down in my lab, recycling its old bits, re-routing the circuitry, reconfiguring the whats and wherefores in the Cubist manner. My song’s still about jealousy and murder but it’s the unfaithful lady’s lover that gets it, not the Jezebel herself.

3. Gene Autry’s Ghost This one’s really a paean to old vinyl, technology’s finest achievement: passing time can erode love and life itself may mock everything you stand for but old vinyl won’t ever let you down. The first person I ever saw strum a guitar was Gene Autry, in a film at Saturday-morning pictures at the Capitol on Hall Street, and watching him caressing/pawing his woman-shaped plank was just as thrilling as seeing him socking it to the guys in the black hats.

4. 3:30am (Small Talk) This was the first song I wrote for the album and it was only meant to get us started, get us used to the idea that we really were putting together a new record again, but it grew stronger as we worked on it --- and when I heard Jerome Green’s string-arrangement, that clinched it, I knew we definitely had to include the track. The guy in the song behaves like a prick, I suppose, but I was rooting for him anyway because his nemesis --- “the kind of guy to forgive himself all the shit he’ll ever do” --- is a type really going places in this newer, cleaner, braver, saner world we live in and I hate him for it: it’s a pity he has to prevail, but that’s how it would pan out in real life, these modern men at ease with themselves and at one with the way we live now are fucking invincible ….

5. 1979 This song looks back to our first years in London, up from the Welsh valleys, and Romantics all the way down to the medulla. Late ‘70s London was raging with the punk/New Wave fever, they were the very best of times (we came up in ’76) I felt like Wordsworth in revolutionary Paris! (Woah, the way those PA stacks used to start wobbling when the whole crowd would stomp along to “It’s So Good It’s Incest” or some other such ‘classic’ at the Two Brewers, the stage awash with beer and broken glass). “But when you wake up from a dream there’s no getting back there” --- it’s passing time again, eroding away all the best things, it’s the album’s theme.

6. Elaine This song pretty much came out of the band just jamming, a way we never usually work: a mash-up of Raymond Chandler and Morricone and christened with the name of the first girl I can remember fancying.

7. Shaman A song about an oracle that’s lost the gift of prophecy -- I was struggling with writer’s block for a while and the idea came out of that: he hopes love will restore his gift so he can “keep the gods of oil and silicon onside”.

8. I Got Drunk And I Wrote You A Poem I’d had this tune for a long time but had never found exactly the right arrangement for it, so we used a string-quartet and finally nailed it. We modelled the guitar sound on the kind of stuff they’d play before the film started in the cinema when we were kids, the type of thing you’d hear murmuring away from behind the curtain before the Elvis film or Audie Murphy or Ty Hardin or whoever came on --- at the Capitol in Hall Street again (long ago demolished, there’s a law court on the site now).

9. It’s Raining On The Old Cat’s Grave It’s this guy with his future caving in addressing an old flame who’s sleeping off another binge in her grotty bedsit. They’re both “growing old in a snake-pit” but if she wakes up before he leaves they’ll still laugh together till the sun comes up. When I visualize it I imagine it looking like a Pinter play in black-and-white on mid-Sixties’ TV. (Remember “The Wednesday Play”?). And, like a lot of my songs, if you tilt your head at a particular angle in a certain light you’ll see it has a ‘happy ending’.

10) An Old Man’s Love Along with the title track my favourite song on the album, there’s something about the way the chords hang together reminds me somehow of songs from the pre-rock n’ roll era. It’s another tune about falling in love with a call-girl, a perennial song-topic for me.

11) The Widow This was the most difficult one on the record to get right, it caused us a lot of headaches. A man has a one-night stand with a woman who’s in town to scatter her husband’s ashes on the lake: he wakes up, she’s gone and he wishes she wasn’t: too much disappointment will erode a life, just like time does, they work as a double act, the bastards. And still the big blue ball rolls on through space, going nowhere.

Place your advance orders now, pop-pickers! If you found “A Wretched Sinner’s Song” too long and ‘difficult’ (you did?!! What are you? An idiot?) why not give this latest effort a go instead, most attractively scrubbed-up in a pleasing new SingalongaSongdog-stylee ……!

So that was the ‘noughties’, huh? Started with the Dome and ended in Afghanistan, with 9/11, Iraq, plagues and tsunamis, Dubya & Blair, New Labour, celebrity culture, reality TV, the worldwide financial collapse, Simon Cowell and much, much more in between, a real global shit sandwich of a decade --- that squeaking you hear is the wobbly wheel on the handcart we’re all off to hell in. There’s surely a new Dark Age coming ……

Corrinne’s father, Remo, died last week. He was one of the most charming people I’d ever met, a gentle man and a fine singer (there’s a snippet of him singing “Martha” on our first album “The Way of the World”). He painted, collected antiques and was a life-long left-winger, and I salute him and greatly regret his passing, he was a genuine original. (I’ve just learned, too, that Gary Price has died: Gary -- he’s Simon Price the music journalist’s dad -- helped my band a great deal in his capacity as a producer for BBC Wales and was a lovely man: hats off to him).

We’re doing a show for Cool as Folk upstairs at the Ritzy picturehouse in Brixton, on January 27th --- put you down as a yes, shall I?

My friend Bronwen was telling me about a group of social theorists and anthropologists who’re trying to calculate the precise date at which Western civilisation will reach its nadir: I get panic attacks if I dwell on it, so I’m off to lie down, pray for more snow.


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