Sofa Sound  Newsletter

22/May 2002


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I intend to carry on, I do not intend to stop: I mean to be drawn forward into whatever musical and lifetime adventures await me.

From time to time in this journey, though, there are moments when what has been done - and where it has led me - is more to the fore than the oncoming wave.

The present time is one of these, at least in public face.

If this newsletter is somewhat retrospective in tone, I'm sure you'll know that there are new things just around the corner.

The future is always made up of past presence, after all....

Until later, as ever...thanks for listening.


The Thin Man

Right. I'll start this issue of the newsletter by saying a thing or two about The Career, as opposed to The Work. The former is the thing I - or the public "I" at least - inhabit, the latter the thing that I do. I am not, have never been, much interested in notions of personal celebrity: my aim remains to do good work for its own sake. As long as I can do that I am relatively content with my Outsider status. It goes without saying, though, that unless the Career is publicly visible to a certain extent then the work itself will remain hidden.

An infernal circle is in operation, particularly in Britain. Invisibility means lack of media coverage of releases or shows; lack of coverage leads to a reluctance on the part of promoters to put on shows; lack of shows means lack of media coverage means invisibility. So I've found myself in the position where, over the last two decades, I've played more in Buenos Aires than in Birmingham, Siberia than Scotland, Tokyo than Tyneside. Yes, there's been a London show every so often; but only those initiated or in the know get to hear of it.

I still have the feeling that a wider (if never exactly mainstream) audience would find my stuff approachable if only they were exposed to it or even knew of its existence. In the next few months I intend to address this problem and one of the new Fie! releases is a specific move in that direction.

None of this implies that I intend to shift any of my goalposts in terms of the work I do. I'll continue ( I hope - as long as the muse is still with me...) to chase stuff, whatever it might be, that interests me, hopefully with a continuing level of intelligence and commitment. For all that I find the presentation of "public face" an amusement I remain a public artist rather than an oblivious holed-up-in-the-garret elitist. It's my responsibility to do the best I can to get the songs into more people's ears than currently hear it.

Naturally, I don't expect to race up any charts. You should know, of course, that in all of this I am well aware of my good fortune in doing work I love. Whatever happens with these efforts to broaden the audience I do not intend to compromise that work in any way.

So...a CD is now coming out which makes a direct attempt to address the "missing" audience. A compilation of songs taken from the whole Fie! catalogue, it's called "The Thin Man sings Ballads". Recipients of this newsletter will be well aware that I continue to put out work at a comparatively prodigious rate...and also that many people are put off investigating my music both by the nature of the weight of this release schedule and by the perceived cliche of my public personum...ex-VdGG, difficult, depressing and so on.

As you'll also know, each album release, different as it may be from its predecessors or successors, diverse as the individual songs on it may be, usually contains at least one piece which doesn't frighten the reluctant horses...which may as well be called a ballad. My thinking is that this collection may entice a number of people into the orbit of my stuff.

Most of the songs have been remastered - essential for aural continuity considering the differing vintages of recording. In quite a few cases I have applied some judicious editing, just to tighten things up and move them along more speedily. There are twelve songs included here and (finally, after a surprisingly difficult selection process) I suppose that the usual suspects have appeared. There is obviously some kind of family resemblance to "The Love Songs" compilation of some decades back.

Of course, I'm aware you're probably more interested in getting the Whole Picture rather than this somewhat restricted frame. You'll probably also be quite capable of making your own compilations if you're so inclined. This CD, in short, is not really aimed at you! I will say, though, that a sizeable amount of thought has gone into choosing, remastering, ordering this collection and my own feeling is that, while it is evidently not a new release, it has a measure of validity and interest in its own right. There's a restricted view from this seat, but you still get an idea of the general action. I should also point out, of course, that this a budget price release!

In any event this CD is really intended to reach the ears of people who might otherwise shy away madly from my musical world. What an act of blatant commerciality, huh?

Simultaneously with "The Thin Man", finally, comes the reissue of "The Margin", the K Group live recording from the early Eighties. Rights to this have now returned to me and it was originally scheduled for release last year before a whole welter of real world stuff kicked in to prevent it.

It was originally a double album on vinyl and the initial CD release was on one disc, with the omission of "The Second Hand". As far as this side of things go I have retained this set for the current release. Naturally, the whole thing has now been remastered and I believe it now sounds much more CD-friendly and - in particular - Loud!

Even with the enhanced sound, though, I did not feel entirely comfortable with simply reissuing this album in its original form. I decided to go ruffling through the various documented live performances from the K Group, much as had been done for the wilder live elements of VdGG's "The Box", in order to include a second CD, "+", in the set.

The original Margin, while telling a coherent story, was not exactly The Whole Truth. This period of live playing was the one time that I've been in a straight two guitars/bass/drums outfit. It follows that this was an at times pretty raucous and sweaty affair, particularly in the period when we were batting up and down the autobahns from club to club. It's this aspect of the group's life - perhaps its true essence - which I've tried to capture on the second CD.

"+" begins with an alternate version of "The Second Hand" taken from the original "Margin" tour. The entire songlist of the vinyl release is therefore replicated. Thereafter things go into full-on leather jacket mode with The Loud Stuff. It deserves to be out there and to my ears at least still sounds fresh and...different.

The sleevenotes are more fractured than analytical or narrative in form; but they do try to give something of the flavour of the life of the group. A bit of a wink, a measure of exhaustion, perhaps the odd shot of tequila or so...and "1,2,3,4...".

I recommend cranking the volume UP for this one!

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The Miscellany

Enough of the past; challenges remain. A recent one set and met took place in Tokyo, where Stuart and I played 3 shows in a 26-hour period in the TLG club. We decided to attempt three entirely different sets, with no repetition of songs at all. Hairy though it was at moments, we managed to play 48 different songs.

We're now going to attempt another version of this marathon in three shows in London on 14th (evening) and 15th (afternoon and evening) June at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. This time it'll be 50 songs over the three concerts, culled from the entire career. Should be scary, should be illuminating, should be, as always, fun. Naturally, part of the process will involve designing three sets of more or less equal balance, since most people will only see one show.

Other touring: by the time you receive this I will have done three shows in Spain (Leon, Madrid and Bilbao); on 29th June I'll be playing in Dresden as part of the Elbhangfest.

If some of the aforementioned infernal circle of invisibility is squared I sincerely hope that the way will be clear for shows elsewhere in Britain later in the year , when I also expect to be back in various mainland European countries; the US and Canada are also under consideration. Of course, the simple fact is that there's a lot of world out there and that I remain wary of burning myself out in terms of both live performance and life. So if I haven't showed up round your way lately, a measure of patience, please?

Meanwhile, an unaccustomed welter of publicity: you may have been amused to see the spread on VdGG in Mojo (May 2002). Our own reactions to it ranged from "a good laugh" to "a complete work of fiction". No-one knows the whole VdGG story, not even us. And in response to a number of, Virgin don't seem to have any intention of remastering past VdGG and PH stuff; and no, there aren't any plans for DVD releases.

And do I need to say that, in spite or because of the fact that we remain close friends, there remains no prospect of a Van der Graaf reunion?

A note about ordering: we are now able to deal with credit card (Mastercard or Visa only) orders sent by mail. You'll find appropriate boxes on the enclosed order form.

Finally, I've been recording The New Stuff. It's now almost done and will certainly be out before the end of the year. More news next time....

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