Sofa Sound  Newsletter

32/December 2007


Past Newsletters


The end of the year rushes up on us and 2008 promises to hold very much more of Not the Same. Now seems an apposite moment to give some account of the work of 2007. For me nearly all of this has been VdGG related and very exciting and energising it's been too. Self-evidently this is still a pretty extraordinary ongoing project.

The bulk of this newsletter is inevitably historical and retrospective...but the shape of the incoming year is already forming, both in terms of releases and of touring, so there's some news of that as well.

In the meantime and until later, as ever, thanks for listening.


On with the New

The Trio in 2007

At the time of the last newsletter in March we were just about to set off on our first stint of touring as a trio. We were confident enough in our own abilities and the rightness of the course on which we'd embarked but it'll be obvious that we were somewhat unsure of the reception which awaited us from the audiences. Breath was bated - as much on the public's part as our own.

Our final two days of rehearsal took place in London: just long enough to remember (-ish) the stuff which we'd worked out in February at Pyworthy. Also long enough to realise that we were definitely going to be loud and direct and that the wheels could very easily fall off the wagon in the unfolding of the arrangements. From the rehearsal room we were bundled directly onto the coach for the overnight drive to Nuremberg.

We awoke outside the Hirsch. For those innocent of the venue, this is a real Rock Club, right down to the dressing room occupying the interior of a truck container. At 7.30 am, naturally, it was deserted, so we began what became a familiar routine: arrive at gig (hopefully not too much the worse for wear), find taxi, find hotel, rest up briefly in day rooms. Then, swiftly back to the gig and Business.

Can I remember what (or how proficiently) we played on the first night? Of course not - and anyone who wishes to know can doubtless find out on the Web. More important was the manner in which we immediately set about things - with a measure of authority but also with freedom and, of course, the way in which we were received...with great warmth. It really did feel like beginning again and the Rock atmosphere was absolutely right for three (slightly shop-soiled) Noise Merchants.

I'm not about to go through the tour show by show. Each one was different, of course, and not one was "perfect". But as we grew in confidence we also took more risks and, I believe, carried the audiences along with us. There was emphatically more musical danger involved here than in the 2005 shows. When stripped down to a trio every error, every misalignment is immediately obvious. Equally, every jigsaw-piece of match and contrast is also more evident. In particular the energy zipping between HB's feet and Brain's drum patterns has never been exposed so clearly.

The material which we played had been decided from a long, long way back. When we first met up in Cornwall in the summer of 2006 our initial mission had been to see what (if any) of the previous repertoire we could make a decent fist of. We'd initially reckoned something like 50-60%, but were sure that in some pieces the absence of saxophone would be all too clearly evident for us to attempt them in anything other than a pastiche manner. At an early stage we'd taken the decision that both "Darkness" and "Killer" had now had their day. As for the rest, we had to see....

We quickly found ourselves rattling through the tunes at an incredible rate and had soon dealt with all the "probables" and most of the "possibles", all the while making something both Now and Then.

So we came to the "difficult" pieces - those most closely associated with horn parts. With a degree of ingenuity we found that we could come up with arrangements which nodded to the originals yet made no attempt to replicate them. Sometimes this meant that structurally important horn parts were simply passed over to HB or myself. ("Lemmings", for instance.) In other cases ("Man-Erg", say, or "Sleepwalkers") we made a feature of the very absence of sax. So, finally, we realised that we could play play *all* of the material which had been in the setlists of 2005.

Of course we also wanted to come up with new material and worked heavily on "All That Before" (then known as "Spex") before leaving Gaia last year.

Our final, "we're really doing this" rehearsals were in Pyworthy in February and by then we'd begun to think about what other stuff we might attempt. New material was coming in and we decided to do "Lifetime". We'd also been thinking of older songs to throw into the mix too: "Meurglys III" and "Gog" were undoubtedly the most daunting...and therefore got our vote.

As is now known, we ended up with an extremely broad range of material, much of it very difficult indeed. (Especially for yer guitarist!)

Evidently, as I've said, we weren't sure of how we would be received as a trio. We knew that in order to be true to, to give meaning back to, the VdGG spirit we had no option but to proceed along this course; but knew, also, that many would approach a sax-less band with some suspicion to say the least. As it turned out the support, enthusiasm and understanding of the audiences was outstanding and in turn this gave us the encouragement and opportunity to fully stretch ourselves.

As I wrote when we'd finished the first period of touring, this really feels like VdGG for the 21st Century, acknowledging the past but concentrating on the future; above all, going forward in common purpose.

A VdGG tour, of course, wouldn't be worthy of the name without certain bumps and hiccups. For example the inverter on the bus caught fire in Amsterdam; happily it remained driveable and got us back to London, where we woke on the Embankment on the morning of the Barbican show to find a posse of armed police surrounding us. Shades of Italy in the 70s....

Our last touring of 2007 was a little summer festival jaunt: from the Burg Herzberg Hippy event via a stop in a delightful square in Umbertide to the San Sebastian Jazz festival. Three highly contrasting experiences and a suitable close to the active year.

In the meantime during July we had headed off to the Gaia Centre in Cornwall once more in order to record the next album. I don't propose to recount much about this process now, as the actual release will be early in 2008 and I'll flesh out the details then. I have to say, though, that it was a highly exciting, rewarding and energising experience all round.

We've spent much of the remainder of 2007 in post-production work on the recordings: overdubbing, editing, fine-tuning, mixing. This has mostly been done at a distance, but we have also met up from time to time when real precision was needed. This, then, has been our year.

A general note about all this band stuff: although we are not pursuing this phase of VdGG as a full-on career, we *are* serious about it. Well aware that we're not going to make a fortune, we intend to carry on as long as the work leads us, as- and whenever the work needs us. We don't want to know when the last show will be and we want to remain excited about playing. Different people as we are, we have never been so unified of mind as at the present . Above all, we hope to continue treating the music, each other and the audience with honesty.


My only solo excursion of the year was to Japan in November. Perhaps as a direct result of all the group activity, both communal and electric, I decided that I would like to take a big swing in the opposite direction and play solo in jazz clubs on grand pianos. I was also keen to revisit some tunes which I hadn't played for a while. As soon as I began to work through these I realised that I had more than enough material to do a succession of piano-only sets. In the end over forty songs were played during four shows, some of them *extremely* frightening to attempt.

I was particularly taken by some of the songs from "And Close As This" while I remastered that album, many of which I'd played infrequently in the past. It was very interesting to come back to these, as to several other songs which have been missing from setlists for a while.

Anyway, I do my best to stay awake and avoid repetition, while satisfying both those who have seen me many times and those for whom a live PH performance is a new thing.


Quietly (or not!), I've been involved in a couple of recording collaborations in the past year and I hope that the results of these will surface early next year. Quite oddball stuff, surprise, surprise.

I must direct you to an interesting and scholarly piece of work by Ricardo Odriozola - an analysis of and exposition on "Pawn Hearts". It is available for purchase as a download at

A propos of downloads the Fie! catalogue is gradually getting out there and is available on a number of platforms and in a number of formats. A search of your usual sites will probably reveal what's available. Early in 2008 the bulk of the remaining titles will go up in cyberspace. In this, as in so much else, I've been somewhat tardy of late... but other things have been diverting me! As you will know, I trust, all of the Virgin catalogue, both PH and VdGG is now available in remastered form both for download and as CDs.

I do have to say that there have been some problems with the remastered "And Close As This". The stereo picture is wobbly to say the least. For some people this does not make a material difference to listening enjoyment (so, enjoy!); for others it is wildly disturbing. The Japanese version of the CD is, I believe, a corrected one and UK/European versions should also be righted in the very near future. (News updates should advise as and when....)

The problem was a historical/technological one. This album was mastered onto the old Sony F1 system and the decoding of this master when it was brought up from the Vaults was faulty. How much simpler it was in the days of wax cylinders! Ah well, we live and learn. Many apologies for the aural inadequacy which, incidentally, I missed in the remastering.

The future...

The next VdGG record is titled "Trisector" and will be released by Virgin/EMI at the tail end of March. Only the three of us are on it. It contains nine tracks; shock, horror, five of these come in at under five minutes long.

We will be doing some shows in March and April to coincide with the release of the disc, including a QEH, Moscow and the Gouveia festival in Portugal. Full news will follow, of course, in the touring section of the We also plan to play further afield than Europe but as yet nothing is finalised. Meanwhile, as a solo player I'll be doing the Nearfest festival in Bethlehem, PA, USA in June - if my work permit comes through!!

There's no further news at present of the Rockpalast 2005 DVD, but footage does exist of the trio and we are hopeful that we will be putting something out within the next few months. Further back from the archive, release is imminently expected of the "k group" Rockpalast performance in Hamburg Markthalle.

Happy New Year!

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