Next Saturday (5th May) I’ll find myself once more at the Gouveia Art Rock festival. I’ve previously performed there in many guises – solo, in duos (with Stuart Gordon and Gary Lucas) and, of course, with VdGG. This time will be something else: first I’ll be playing solo (only on piano this time) and then combining with the (mainly) Swedish band Isildurs Bane to perform the whole of the new album “In Amazonia” on which we’ve recently collaborated.
It was at Gouveia, many years ago, that I first became aware of IB. Thomas Olssen, the musicologist who regularly hosts a morning discussion session at the festival (in which I’ve been a participant a couple of times) is also deeply involved in the work of IB. He proposed that I consider taking part in one of their IB Expo weeks.
For those who don’t know, these are high-octane events in which IB invite musicians to join them for a week of rehearsals and collaborations, all leading up to a one-off performance. This is not recorded for posterity or for any commercial release, so there’s very much the sense of approach-to-a-goal, once and once only about the thing. Everyone involved is definitely put on their mettle and evidently there’s no safety net.
From the outset I liked the idea and the intention of this venture but was somewhat reluctant to commit to anything for my own part. The quality of musicians involved has traditionally been stellar and of incredible accomplishment both technically and in improvisational skill. That’s not quite where I see my own strengths, of course. So I suspected that I wasn’t quite going to be the man for the job.
Nonetheless, Thomas returned to his task of persuasion on at least a couple of other times when we met up at Gouveia and finally I decided to take the plunge for the 2017 event. My fellow guests for this were Tim Bowness and the koto player Karin Nakagawa. Her presence meant that we were able to perform the Ayuo Takahashi piece “Song for Fallen Blossoms”, along with other more usual (though in unusual configurations) songs. It didn’t come as a complete surprise to me that the whole show was exciting, challenging and invigorating in equal measure and I was very glad indeed to have taken part.
At some time in 2018 Thomas got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in continuing to collaborate, this time on a recording project. I’m actually quite open to the idea of doing outside work, especially if it’s some way away from my usual areas so – with, of course, the condition that nothing was an absolute given or certainty on either side until it was all done – I agreed to have a go. The files for the first song duly arrived and I began looking for that spots where I could fit in.
I think there were some original suggestions for the moments in time where singing could be imagined but there was nothing more than that in terms of direction. Well, obviously I managed to find some lines which worked for me and which I thought fitted in with the piece. With some trepidation I sent these off and waited for the reaction….
Happily this was extremely positive. What I’d done was, perhaps, somewhat unexpected and in turn led to some re-editing of the original score, to allow for the repetition of some vocal lines. And so we had the first piece.
Then a second one arrived, and so on until in the end our collaboration extended over five songs and an entire album (bar a final instrumental recapitulation of some themes at the end). Of course, it’s been an unusual writing process, working from the inside out and never quite sure what the ultimate destination was going to be. From my own point of view, in itself this produced a loose linkage, some narrative and musical connection between the pieces. Naturally, since the stuff isn’t structurally based on my own architecture, it’s also a long way from any (musical) norms of my own, so I think I’ve come up with something quite unusual.
Anyway, here it is and I think it’s very good stuff. Cinematic, wide-screen and afloat on a surging current. The instrumentation is broad palette: in addition to bass, gtr, kbds there are multitudes of percussion, trumpets, violin and a major role for Karin’s koto. Thus there’s a direct connection between this and our Expo week in 2017…and, indeed, a coherent line going all the way back to those conversations over breakfast with Thomas in Gouveia.
Doing it live will, of course, be , er, something of a challenge, but it’s one which I think everyone is up for and fully committed to…. Up, up and away!
The album itself will be out on May 10th and we’re now taking orders over at http://www.sofasound.com
I’ve just put up this post over at http://www.sofasound.com but suppose that it ought to appear here as well….
And now, ladies and gentlemen, news of the release of a project on which I’ve been working for most of the last few months.
As you’ll doubtless know, between November 2017 and May 2018 I undertook the most significant bout of solo touring in Europe for some time, taking in shows in Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, UK and Germany. With such a flood of performances I took the opportunity/accepted the personal challenge to widen the repertoire even more than has recently been the case (which was already considerable). In the end I played a hundred songs, more or less, in this run of shows, covering the whole spread of my career.
I’ve now gathered these together to form an eight CD Box Set, “Not yet, not now” and this will be released on March 29th. (I know, what better date could there be?)
Five of the CDs have a geographical focus, featuring songs taken from Berlin, Nurnberg/Dortmund (2 sets), Italy and UK. The final three CDs are a mix of songs from different countries. Each CD is about an hour long and is structured to mirror the rhythm and tempo of live performance. I’m not going to be falsely modest: some of these performances are outstanding. Not *definitive*, of course, as happily most of these songs continue to come at me afresh each time I encounter them on stage and so there’s no such thing as an absolutely correct or perfect version. Rather, I mean to say, that many of these takes on the songs have kinks and curves to them which surprise this singer himself.
I don’t intend to retire just yet – not yet, not now – but who knows how long I’ll be carrying on for. Indeed, there’s evidently a great deal of uncertainty surrrounding the possibility of touring Europe at all after the dread ioncoming Brexit. I’m pretty sure, though, that this will be the last time that I’ll assemble such a comprehensive package of live versions of the PH material, so it marks some kind of definitive full stop.
This limited edition release, which also includes a 24 page booklet, is now available for pre-order at sofasound.com.
I’ve now completed the UK leg of my current touring. Over the seven shows I played eight-two different songs. (I think so, anyway – I note down what I’ve played from my set-lists after the event and of course I might go astray in the listings from time to time….)
This isn’t some kind of competition with myself though. As I’ve said before, the songs remain alive only as long as I’m still touring and presenting them. The recorded versions will always be there of course but, butterfly-like, they’re pinned down and certain, not flexible and mutating as are live renditions. I’ve been expanding the list of songs which in principle it’s possible for me to play over the years and the list now stands at over a hundred so I’m interested in doing as many of those as I can.
The assembly of sets is not an exact science – well, it’s not scientific in any way in fact. (With the exception of the one for QEH which, as I’ve written, had a very specific time-stamped element to the choice of material.) I’ll be influenced, of course, by what I’ve played or haven’t played on previous nights but I’m also looking to strike a balance between old and new, aggressive and calm, up-tempo and down, reflective and anticipatory. The piano/gtr splits also have to be taken into account and within the guitar sets unusual tunings have to be taken into consideration as well. (Thankfully I’ve got significantly faster at going from one tuning to the next than used to be the case, but still it’s best not to have too many radical shifts one after another.)
Within all this there also has to be the consideration that most people in an audience are only going to see one show – so I’ve got a responsibility to have some like-for-like equivalence in quality, tone and balance one to the other.
And finally, of course, both out of interest, out of self-promotion and, indeed, in order to bed them in for future tours, it’s important to play some of the newest material rather than just The Hits (sic).
I don’t intend to make a habit of this but just this once I’ve decided to put up the list of what’s been played on this stretch of the tour. Songs in bold make their first appearance on the relevant night; in italics denotes a second showing and normal typeface a third. (There are only three of the latter, all songs from the new disc.) I hope the lists are correct but, well, you already know me for an unreliable narrator!
Only a few days now until the shows in Germany, where I’ll be playing two entirely different sets over the two nights in each city. I shan’t be consulting what I’ve played in the UK, so it’s unlikely that any sets will be repeats of these. And of course there are tunes which I haven’t yet played so I might sneak some of those in as well. In any event, I hope the concerts will be full of That Liveness, That Right Here and Now.
QEH, London, 20/4/18
Don’t Tell Me
Just Good Friends
Time to Burn
I will Find You
Your Tall Ship
That Wasn’t What I Said
Oran Mor, Glasgow, 24/4/18
Losing Faith in Words
After the Show
If I Could
Time for a Change
His Best Girl
Stoller Hall, Manchester, 25/4/18
Too Many of my Yesterdays
This Side of the Looking-Glass
The Habit of the Broken Heart
Primo on the Parapet
A Way Out
A Better Time
St. Luke’s Church, Brighton 1, 27/4/18
Easy to Slip Away
The Unconscious Life
The Comet, the Course, the Tail
The Second Hand
Something about Ysabel’s dance
In the End
House with no Door
St. Luke’s Church, Brighton 2, 28/4/18
Don’t Tell me
Just Good Friends
The Sphinx in the Face
Time to Burn
The Lantern, Bristol 29/4/18
Losing Faith in Words
The Habit of the Broken Heart
What’s it Worth?
(On Tuesdays she used to do) Yoga
Been Alone so Long
Primo on the parapet
Labour of Love
His Best Girl
The Junction, Cambridge, 30/4/18
Easy to Slip Away
Too Many of my Yesterdays
The Unconscious Life
The Comet, the Course, the Tail
Our Eyes Give It Shape
Once You Called Me
That Wasn’t What I said
A Way Out
A Better Time
It’s time for a few notes about the patch of touring on which I’m currently engaged – rapidly approaching a third of the way through it.
My passage through the Lowlands in March was not uneventful. By the time I reached Amsterdam a bout of Flu had already begun to take a grip on me. The show there was tough but the (well accustomed) medicine of Onstage pulled me through.
Alphen, the next day, was another matter entirely. I was by then really quite ill but…the show’s the show, the reason for my being in any given place on any given day. I have to say this was one of the hardest shows I’ve ever done. From the very first note I thought to myself “I’m not going to be able to get through this….”
Still, note by note, verse by verse, song by song I managed to pull my way through the set. I have absolutely no idea as to the quality – or lack thereof – of the performance.
I held myself together long enough to get home at least. Once here I went into full-on bedridden, delirium-raddled mode for a full twelve days. A salutary lesson: the spirit may be willing but the flesh is…not quite as youthful and resilient as of yore.
I was just about back to normal by the start of the week in which I was due to go to Sweden. And indeed – with judicious conservation of energy – I was completely up for the travel (always and now more than ever a wearing factor) and the concerts. The show, in other words, is now back on the road.
In less than a week I’ll be at the Queen Elizabeth Hall once more; I’m lucky enough to be one of the first artists to play there since its recent refurbishment. Of all the venues in the world QEH is the one at which I’ve presented shows in the most wide variety of line-ups. Obviously I’ve been there solo and in duos but there have also been full band shows (from chamber versions to full-on blasts, even including didgeridoo) and wild events such as my duo improv with Guy at the time of “Spur of the Moment”. I even made one of my rare forays as guitarist for hire there in one of David Thomas’s shows.
For this concert I’ve got the intention – for now at least – of playing a fully retrospective selection of songs. That’s to say, in my 50th year of being a performer, one song from every three years (or so, it’s an inexact science) of recordings. I *won’t* be doing them chronologically and perhaps it won’t even be that obvious that this is such a specific set compared with “normal” ones. But this makes a certain sense to me at least. Now I just have to come up with a coherent selection and running order!
One important point about the QEH: it’s a very early show – doors open at 19.00 and I’m meant to be on stage at 19.35. So get there in good time!
For the following shows it’ll be back to the normal, somewhat random, set selection. Usually the choices are made in the afternoon before soundcheck – to give me time to go over any particularly challenging pieces. I’m currently working from a list of over a hundred songs so inevitably there’s an element of unpredictability in what will be played on any given night. Usually, though, there’ll be a balanced mix of the ruminative and the aggressive, the ancient and the modern, the familiar and the challenging. Naturally, if I’m in the same place for two nights (Brighton, Nuremberg, Dortmund, Berlin) there’ll be no repeated pieces over the stay.
Here we are, then. I’m graced that I’m still able to present these songs. I’m in pretty good form, though I say so myself. If you’re at all interested in seeing how this aged trouper is doing on stage these days, get on down to one of the shows. Who knows when the next ones will be?
Of course, a list of upcoming dates is at http://www.sofasound.com/touring.htm
At long last the latest solo album is now finished and ready for release. It’s titled “From the Trees” and will be out – on Fie! as ever – on November 3rd.
I’ve played and sung all the parts on the disc, as so often of late. There are ten songs, all at the short end of things and probably as close to conventional song structure as I get. I have, of course, already played quite a few of these live.
I’ll write more about this closer to the release date but for now I can say that the CD is up for pre-order at sofasound.com here: http://bit.ly/2xf12Ot. It’ll also be out on vinyl and you can order from Burning Shed here: http://bit.ly/2w6RPrs.
Oh,(as I emerge once again, blinking, into the light) I’ll also be doing a few solo shows in October and November, in Japan and Italy (plus one in Sweden). Again, you can find details at Sofasound.
Yes, I’m still here, I’m still going…on!
As of today – at long last – the latest set of VdGG recordings, collectively titled “Do Not Disturb” is released. It’s been a long wait but, we believe, well worth it.
We’d begun discussing the project back in April 2015 and from the very earliest stages were aware that this would possibly be the last album we’d make. At this point I’ll stick in the heavy caveat that I am not, we are not, saying that this is definitively the last…it would be a bit ridiculous to make such a statement right now. However, it won’t have escaped your attention that we’re all of, ahem, somewhat advanced years now. Happily, we’re all still in reasonable condition mentally and physically and long may that continue. But we’re aware that time is marching on and, of course, that heading into making an album remains a pretty major undertaking for us.
It’s not something which had really been on our radar before – except, of course, for the fact that the original reunion in 2004 was spurred on by the demise of a few of our road crew, which we took as Time wagging its finger at us in a certain way. Anyway, for whatever reason, the consciousness was there from the off this time.
And of course the area on which this immediately impacted was the writing of the songs. As I began working on this – a protracted process this time – it seemed to me that as well as addressing where we now stand there was some necessity to trace the paths we’d taken in reaching this point. So, without being entirely autobiographical exercises, there are at least a couple of songs here which have some historical reference points. Naturally, there’s a degree of stylisation, even of reinvention and re-imagining going on – these are works of fiction, of course – but some of our common life experiences have definitely gone in here.
I won’t over-elaborate and I don’t mean to say that the entire album is meant to be taken as some valedictory exercise. It remains an album we needed to make precisely because we do currently feel that we’re in the now and with stuff to do in the now…rather than one where we’re (reluctantly or not) signing off.
The writing for the album took a number of months and a greater than normal level of mutual consultation. At an early stage I’d asked HB and Brain if there was anything they thought I ought be covering lyrically and a couple of ideas came through there. I also sent them regular CDs of work in progress; these weren’t exactly demo versions but they did show the basics of the proposed material.
Every time we’ve made a record (actually, any time we’ve undertaken any activity) in this current incarnation of the group we’ve tried to do something different. In this case we made the decision to fully rehearse the songs before doing any recording. It’s probably the first time we’ve ever done this. Obviously, back in the days of “Godbluff” in particular we were fully rehearsed before entering the studio but this had been with the intention and actuality of playing the songs in live ahead of time. (That’s not really an option any more since any new material would be sure to be out there on t’interweb approximately ten minutes after coming off stage….)
We worked at Stage 2 Studios in Bath, a far cry from luxury residential complexes but absolutely ideal for our purposes, heads down without distraction. We spent a full week working through the material and the fact that we weren’t diving straight into record mode meant that we were able to explore a couple of different approaches to various sections. Then we headed off in our different directions for a week of consideration and private practice; some of this stuff was quite complicated enough for us to need some quiet time alone with the riffs…. There were also quite a few email exchanges along the lines of “I *think* it’s meant to be like this”.
Then we returned for the sessions themselves. HB told us that he’d never come to recordings with quite so many written notes. So…we knew, in principle, what we were meant to be doing. The songs – or their component parts – stretched our capacities as a trio as never before. Some elements, deceptively simple, required fully empathetic playing; in other places fiendish non-repetitions and slippery time signatures kept us on our toes. As ever, we had a number of different instrumental combos to get through…some of them new even to a our long-standing trio.
Quickly, it seemed, we were done with stage one, the backing tracks.
A couple of months work awaited us. First the elements of the songs had to be stitched together in multitrack form. Most pieces consisted of wildly different parts and, rather in the fashion of “H to He” or “Pawn Hearts”, would only make sense when actually connected together. In the 70s this would have been after the mixing stage but now we could make masters that run all the way through. Thus overdubs could take place over junctions, making the structure appear, we hoped, seamless.
All of this was as planned but it still took a degree of knitting to make sure that everything worked and that all the correct takes were used (!). Once done, each of us had the comploete set of sessions in our respective studios and set about the overdubbing – or, in my case singing & dubbing – part of the work. It took a while, as I’ve said. Guy was particularly pleased that this time he was able to apply his own overdubs only once it had become clear exactly what HB and I were up to – a luxury/burden that hadn’t really been available to him on previous outings.
(I should say at this stage that a couple of bits were overdubbed onto pre-prepared pieces of music, rather than things we’d done in the studio in Bath. And, most significantly, HB came forward with a completely new piece, “Shikata Ga Nai”, at a comparatively late stage in proceedings. It’s perhaps significant that we all felt that both this and the (similarly un-band-like) “Go”, fitted perfectly well into the sound world we were creating.)
This time the mixing process was down to us. I did the bulk of the setting-up and the passes, informed/spoken sternly to at all stages by the others. Gradually we approached the finishing tape, mostly happy with most things; a final couple of days were spent all together in the same room making absolute and final adjustments. There, done.
It’ll be with you (if you’re so interested) imminently, so I won’t go into any further descriptions now. I will say, though, that I believe it’s the best work that we’ve done in the modern era of the group.
The years of the K Group are now, or will be soon, coming under the spotlight. The TV performance by the band in Hamburg for Rockpalast has (finally) been released on DVD and is already out there. Coming soon will be vinyl re-releases of the studio albums which date from the K Group era: “Enter k” and “Patience”. Other stuff will follow in 2017.
For those who don’t know, the K Group was – more or less – a beat group in which I played gtr and pno and sang. The other members were Brain on drums, Nic Mozart bass and John “Fury” Ellis on lead guitar. It’s good fun and, of course, has very serious moments as well.
Here come the ads:
Both “Do not Disturb” and the Rockpalast show are available from http://www.sofasound.com
They can also be had at http://www.burningshed.com. Burning Shed are also now taking advance orders for the vinyl re-issues; sofasound won’t be selling these.
A full year’s gone by since I was last on stage, at the Pit Inn in Tokyo on November 24th. The time’s flown by, to tell the truth.
Since then I’ve been keeping a low profile and, in fact, pursuing a policy of Not Saying Yes to any offers of live work. I’ve also, of course, fallen silent for the most part both on this journal and at the Sofasound site. I’ve written something about this before in previous posts and it’s still the case that entries here might well be sporadic in the future.
Since I left Manchester to start this wonderful adventure in music I’ve never gone an entire calendar year without doing a show of one kind or another. Now, at the very last gasp of the year, I’m at last managing to fit in one for 2015. This’ll be in Madrid, at the Teatro Lara, on Monday 14th December. I’ll be playing piano only for this concert – I reckon I’ve got enough piano tunes, ancient and modern, to have a proper balance and variety in the set. I must say that having committed to this I find myself looking forward to it enormously. I find travelling itself more and more arduous, to be honest, as I get older…but as ever travel with a goal is most worthwhile.
It may be the case that there’ll be more touring next year, but as yet there are no plans.
Astonishingly, it’s now a full ten years since VdGG has been a trio. Admittedly Guy, Hugh and I didn’t yet know that we had a future together back in December 2005 but we did know that if we did it wouldn’t be with Mr. Jackson. It’s a matter of some satisfaction that we’ve now managed a full decade together in this sometimes wonky & always challenging line-up.
Happily there’s more to come. We’re now well into the recording of the next studio effort, which is sounding very exciting indeed. It’ll be out in 2016 and of course I’ll write more about it in due course….
Goodbye for now. This has been a quiet and gradual return to public view.