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.
Again the months have drifted by without a contribution from me in the journal stakes.
For myself, I’ve been quite comfortable with this. I’ve spent a working lifetime disseminating information about what’s happening on the work, release, performance fronts; frankly, that’s been nothing at all (for public consumption at least) in the last few months. Nor, indeed, have there been any announcements due or needed for future events. So I’ve stayed silent.
I understand that some have been concerned about this silence but there’s really been no need. I’ve been bleating away in public for more years than one can shake a fist at and if, as and when I actually retire I’d like to think that this aspect of “the work” will be the first to disappear. So as, gradually, I begin to slow things down (and that’s inevitable and right at this age) I’m likely to be less and less visible in both conventional and social media. It remains my belief, of course, that whatever worth there is in what I do resides in the music rather than in my ramblings.
Having said that, I (still) don’t wish to paint myself into a corner as to what I will and won’t do in the future. Basically, expect to hear from me here (or, indeed, over at sofasound.com or on twitter) as and when you hear from me. And if there’s anything to report I shall do so, as ever, personally and directly, rather than by intimating things to others.
Belatedly, I’ll say something about Merlin Atmos, firstly about the title, which has bemused/confused some. The WWII Rolls-Royce Merlin engine powered the Spitfire (among other aircraft) and was a prominent tune in the air for those of us born in the UK immediately post-war. It’s the noise which HB simulates (*not* samples, it must be said) at the start and end of our version of flight. Atmos is the feeling out among the crowd. Back in the days when we were able to wander incognito among the audience prior to a show we used to go out and see what the atmos was like…. Hope that goes some way towards an explanation.
As to where the performances come from: two different approaches were at work. HB worked mainly on individual and specific shows, with a majority of tracks being taken from Milan. Since that was the last show we did under normal conditions – Pistoia, being a festival, was somewhat out of the ordinary and control – this seemed and proved appropriate. I no longer remember the exact shows he used though. As for my efforts on the Bonus Atmos disc it may be noted that my credit on the album is “assembled and balanced” rather than “mixed”. That’s to say that I didn’t go for an active mixing approach, instead making a flat – though hopefully correctly balanced – compilation of different performances edited together in multitrack form…so this disc comes from All Over the Place(s).
Finally, yes, I have been and continue to work away. I’m in writing mode, heading toward both the next solo disc and the next VdGG one. It’ll be awhile before either of these get properly under way, mind….
Well, I fell into silence on these pages for a couple of months, which may have seemed strange in view of the fact that I was active on stage and on the releases front. Truth to tell, I simply didn’t feel energized enough to make a contribution in this period; I felt I’d be trotting out that Promo stuff if I put hand to keyboard, which is not my intention (well, not my main intention) in writing here.
So the latest solo recording(s), “…all that might have been…” have been out there for a while now. I wanted to let them go out in their various forms without further direct explanation from me, though obviously there have been press releases and the like which gave some impression of what they were about. Eventually I may come back here to give further angles on the intentions behind, the making of, my own assessment of these musics. But now’s not the time.
Apart from organizing the release of “…all that…” I also managed a couple of long-haul live journeys last November. First I went to Mexico City with Gary Lucas, giving probably the best performance to date of the “Otherworld” material. At the end of the month I had another four-gig solo stint in Tokyo, two of which were performed on electric guitar – it’s a *very* long time since I’ve done a solo show like that. All enjoyable – but somewhat exhausting – stuff.
Incidentally, since it had been such a long time since the last release I’d forgotten what a time- and energy-consuming thing it is to put out physical product. Each time I come back to doing it it’s like learning to walk all over again. A lot of falling over involved.
No surprise, then, that I spent the most part of December in passive recovery mode. January’s been clear the desk time. That’s almost done, I’m almost ready to start up again into whatever’s next.
But, but, but….most importantly, today (Feb 2nd) is the release date of the latest VdGG effort, “Merlin Atmos”. These are live recordings taken from our European touring of 2013. The main event’s a single CD and there are also special edition releases: a (single) vinyl and a double CD.
At the core of all versions are our performances of the two long-form pieces, “Flight” and “Lighthouse-keepers”. We’d played the former on our last North American tour and, emboldened by the success of that effort, made the commitment to play “L-K” as well throughout the Euro tour. Naturally, we did so without, at that stage, having rehearsed a note of the piece….
In other words, we set ourselves a proper VdGG challenge. I suppose the fact that this stuff is now being released indicates that, in our eyes at least, we’ve met that challenge. It’s really exciting – and at times surprising – to listen to, even having been there on stage!
Have I veered into full-on Promo mode?
So, not such a hard task, firing up the journal again. Let’s hope I do more in the coming months. No promises, mind, for music-making may divert me….
I’ve been spending a lot of time in the back office over the past few weeks.
Every line of work has its front office and back office. The front’s the shiny, sparkly stuff, the reasons people are originally drawn to he job. The back’s the unseen paddling below the waterline which keeps the whole show on the road. Not, in other words, the glamorous end of things, nor even – except in its own specific terms – particularly exciting.
In a musical life, the front stuff would be, of course, performing, recording, writing. Perhaps doing the publicity and interview rounds fall in there as well, along with the social media dance. One doesn’t have to take particular enjoyment out of doing this stuff for it to be front office (it’s all work, after all); but anything which involves the manifestation of The Artist’s Wonderfulness is out there, out front.
In the back office the numbers get crunched and more and more numbers are involved in the business of music. Obviously there’s basic accounting, there’s budgeting, there’s that whole bizarre guesstimate world of projected figures for sales and audience attendance. Usually these days margins are fine. A tour can stand up or fall down entirely based upon one single gig coming through or being cancelled and naturally commitment to a tour has to be made long before every element is in place.
(I haven’t, of course, been buried in tour spreadsheets in this period but they’re an important part of Back Office world….)
When it comes to preparing for records to come out there’s a whole welter of numbers which have to be created, sourced, entered correctly in order for the whole thing to run at all, let alone smoothly. Every song has to have a unique numerical I.D. in itself and another one to signify which physical medium it’s present on. It has to have a similar I.D. in the purely digital world. Any slips here – or in the various barcodes which have to be attached – and the downward slope beckons.
Most of the work isn’t numerical but simply organisational. Check and recheck – especially necessary with this ageing brain…. And of course – this is the modern world – wait in, seemingly endlessly, for collections and deliveries.
I don’t mean to whinge about this. I’ve been doing it for years and if I hadn’t taken on the responsibility many years ago I simply wouldn’t have had a career at all. It’s also true to say that it’s doing the back office work which leaves me free in the creative, front office one. That wouldn’t be the case if I was beholden to others.
One strange thing though: from time to time one can mess up creatively (in comparative terms) and still, as a rule, come back unscathed. But it only takes one major error of judgement in the Back Office for the whole house to come down, potentially permanently.
In any event, most of my office work is now done. Expect me to be back stage centre in a matter of days, thumping the tub for the upcoming new recordings….