Finally, an official live album of solo shows: "Typical"
is a double CD compiled from performances in 1992, including
many of my "standard" songs.
I don't really think "singer-songwriter" is what I do, but
it's certainly true that the solo show has been the staple
of public performance for me back through all the years.
It's where I started (oh, the embarrassment!) in odd folk
clubs in the sixties - and, since I started, I mean to
finish. In the gap between VdGG Mk. I (the Keith Ellis
line-up...) and the "real" start of the band I even did a
solo residency at the Lyceum's all night shows. Since then,
of course, I've regularly upped acoustic guitar and keyboard
and set off for many a foreign stage.
The attraction of performing alone is not simply economic,
although this undoubtedly has a bearing on matters in
general and my continuing survival as a functioning being in
particular. More important is the sense of immediacy and
drama which is involved in the solo set. While it remains a
"performance" - and while the songs themselves are more or
less "known" - the fact that I have to give myself in 100%
concentration for the entire duration of a show means that I
am at my most focussed and least externally observational.
In other words, for the thing to work I have to become
completely immersed in each song I'm singing.
Additionally, as I've often pointed out, the absence of a
more structured musical accompaniment than my own (sometimes
ham-fisted) efforts means that reliance is placed almost
entirely on the voice...which therefore has an abundance of
free space in which to roam and to explore. The stripped
bare nature of things also means, of course, that the songs
themselves can be seen in their simplest form.
Paradoxically, of course, this means that their inner
complexities (and paradoxes) are more readily viewed than
when they are the templates for a more structured, ordered
and possibly more complex musical presentation, as in pH
quartet shows, for instance., or even duo ones such as on
the most recent tours with Stuart, where interaction and
musical colour is more the order of the day....
In sum, then, returning to the solo show is always something
of a touchstone for me and although in some ways this kind
of performance is the most arduous and draining it's one to
which I'm convinced I will keep returning as long as I'm
capable of getting out there on the boards.
I've often stated - in both word and deed - specifics of my
attitude to live playing in whatever form. I don't play live
in order to promote current "product" and I don't present
what could be called a regular show in the course of any
tour. (Of course, new songs will be introduced to the set
with each new release and older ones drop out....) To the
extent that live playing is promotional it's only in terms
of maintaining what passes for my profile of visibility. In
sum, for me a concert is always about this night, this hall,
this audience, these songs. Each show, then, is - or should
be, in my view - unique.
I continue to stand by this attitude, but it does present
certain problems when one considers any sort of recorded
documentation of live performance. For the most part I've
resolved this in the past, for myself at least, by a certain
"warts and all" approach, extending right down to the sonic
quality level. Thus "Vital", "...Daylight" and "The Union
Chapel" were all CDs which referred to one specific night,
outside the context of a tour. "Room Temperature" was a
rather different case and the one closest to the current
collection, having been recorded over the duration of the US
tour in 1990; "The Margin" was something of a similar
effort. None of the live recordings, of course, have been
doctored or sweetened by overdubbing in post-production - so
that all remain genuine records of the events in question.
Additionally, in all cases the recording process itself was
never allowed to take precedence over the performance
itself. It has always been a case of capturing the night
rather than playing for the benefit of the machines first
and the present audience second.
Each of these recordings has also served a specific purpose
in documenting a particular phase or style of live playing.
In no way do they cover all the bases - I've played with far
too many different line-ups to make that a feasible
proposition. Additionally, I simply do not record that many
of the shows, even with a view to (later) private
examination of what's gone down.
That said, it's become apparent to me of late that there has
been something of a gap in the official CD collection: no
kind of live solo work. There have, of course, always been
the bootlegs. I won't bore you once more with my attitude to
these beyond saying that the quality of performance,
recording and simple lack of care taken in the production of
these often leaves a great deal to be desired. I appreciate
the fact that these deficiencies are de rigeur - almost
desirable - in the genre, but they don't leave ME in a great
frame of mind.
Perhaps it was the appearance a little while ago of the
neo-bootleg of the Lanzarote show, "Tides" which eventually
focussed my mind on the matter. (I say neo-bootleg,
incidentally, because while it was - temporarily, at my
insistence - released on a bona fide label it had been
presented to the label by somebody who had come across the
tapes and thought that I would be delighted for it to be put
out without receiving any royalties myself.) In my own view
the performances on this artifact were convincing but the
recording itself seemed to come from Mars.
In any event, I was eventually led to examine exactly what
solo tapes of any quality remained in my possession. These
were initially completely uncatalogued.
It goes with all I said earlier, I suppose, that I have a
marked reluctance to listen to live tapes in the immediate
aftermath of a show. Usually I don't like to hear anything
in the course of the relevant tour, mainly because once one
show is done then however it's gone it's time to look
forward to the next one. The other way compromise and
possible regret lie. Then, once a tour is finished, it's
pretty unlikely that I'll occupy myself with revisiting past
stages in audio terms because usually I've got better and
newer things to do with my time.
In any event, when I came to go through the tapes I
discovered that the most significant collection was a set
from the European touring of 1992, just after the release of
"Fireships". Many tapes, many hours, many versions....
Readers, I was a diligent man in working through them and
evaluating each for sonic and performance potential.
Eventually I managed to sort out a fully representative body
of work and it's from this that the new release is compiled.
I believe that it's as representative as it's possible to
get of the nature of solo shows. Since, as I've said, each
of these is unique, that's not completely adjacent to The
Truth...but there is a certain "true to type" element about
affairs here which makes the "Typical" title only half a
There are no overdubs, just, in two cases, edits between
different versions. I can no longer locate where these edits
come nor, indeed, the reasons why I made them: lost in the
history of post-production. An element of applause remains
(as opposed to the stage sound only of "The Margin");
audience-less solo versions would light the floodlight of
intimacy a bit too much even for me.
I have cut out any of my chat or my thanks, thinking that
these would just be too boring on repeated hearings. (I have
to say, though, I did find some gems among the recordings; I
particularly liked a moment when I stopped playing of a
sudden and then - off-mike - could be heard insisting "get
OFF the stage, get OFF the stage now!" to some interloper.
Heigh-ho...I don't think it would have played at all well on
That's about it, except to say that I write a great deal
more in the liner notes about the nature of the performances
and, indeed, of performance. Some of you may well find that
these notes provide a useful insight into my ongoing state
of mind...although I do have to put in the qualification
that any observations by me on live performance are somewhat
unreliable - I am, after all, quite otherly engaged on
Finally, I should mention the songs, I suppose: "My Room",
"Curtains", "Just Good Friends", "Too many of my
yesterdays", "Vision", "Time to burn", "The Comet...", "I
will find you", "Ophelia", "Given Time", "Modern", "Time for
a change", "Patient", "Stranger Still", "Our Oyster",
"Shell", "A Way Out", "Traintime" and "The Future Now".
...and the cover (by Ridart, of course) is another
winner. Enough said?