Sofa Sound  Newsletter

24/May 2003


Past Newsletters


I find myself somewhat in between times at present: recording is under way for the next project but this is still a long way short of completion.

This newsletter, then, is one which looks back to covering events of the past few months than forward to future ones. A mixed bag of stuff, some of which certainly deserves a bit of explanation.

Although Fie! have no brand new releases this time, there's also news about other stuff for sale.

Many thanks for your positive responses to "Clutch". The next one will be different again, he hinted.

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



Many thanks to all who attended the shows in Europe and the UK in January and February; a most enjoyable period of touring. Stuart was in top form and I had a lot of fun with grand pianos and the return of some strange guitar tunings, which I'd rediscovered in the course of writing the songs for "Clutch". Using these meant that some quite old songs got revisited as well. It was, of course, a delight and something of a relief that I was at last able to live up to my promise of playing in the UK outside London. I hope to do so again soon

Naturally the purpose of this touring was for Stuart and I to stretch out on songs old and new In the Present and in the well established duo format. If you follow anything on the internet, though, it will doubtless have come to your attention that the very last song at QEH involved a temporary and ad hoc Van der Graaf reunion with Hugh, David and Guy in addition to Stuart for a rendition of "Still Life" in a piano/violin/double horns/tambourine line-up.

For once this was a planned encore...but defiantly unannounced. As with the only other public reformation (The Union Chapel) fate pointed out that we would be churlish to avoid the moment...but it was hardly the subject of any long-term planning. Some time before the tour, in my guise as Record Company Supremo, I'd managed to get Hugh Banton an interview on Classic FM to support the release of his Goldberg Variations, of which more later. I had not immediately realised that the date was that of the QEH. Since he had to come down from Manchester to London for the recording of the interview, it seemed natural and synchronous to make him the offer of a Play with Stuart and I. After the show in Manchester I proposed this to him as casually as I could and suggested that we could do "Still Life". I think HB gulped a bit but we agreed to discuss it further once I'd got back to Bath (after the Worcester show) and he home from East Anglia, where he'd been working on one of his organs. I duly rang him in the evening; he'd just got in himself and was already knuckling down to rehearsing the song - which, of course, he'd never played on piano, as opposed to organ, before. HB was On Board, then.

As we wended our way to Milton Keynes it dawned on me that it would be a bit wierd for David to come to the show - as he was going to in any case - and not have at least the chance of a crack at the tune. I rang him from the dressing room at the Stables and the response to my "you could maybe play tenor?" was an instant "I'd rather play double horns!". So naturally there was another call to make, to Guy. Now, you can't exactly be surreptitious with a drum in the best of spirits we agreed that Guy would also contribute "if there was something constructive he could do."

Lots of laughs is the abiding memory. Hugh arrived in mid afternoon at the soundcheck, which was a bit of a slow one in terms of PA set-up. Lots of jokes and easy camaraderie. Mr. Jackson managed to smuggle in the sax cases (again, not the most unobtrusive of things) almost without being observed; and eventually we had three run-throughs of the tune.

We managed to sort out seats on the aisles for Hugh and David, so that they could get backstage without too much ado; agreed that David should only arrive onstage once the middle riffs were getting going...and suddenly showtime.

Naturally, Stuart and I did a "normal" show, without thinking about what was to come - and there was barely time to do so as we came off stage: straight back on and into it. Jaxon arrived on cue and then it was a delight for Brain to tambourine his way on; it was the first time I'd seen him in the evening!

So all in all a proper VdGG moment - with the invaluable added element of Mr. Gordon, who was wonderfully supportive and enthusiastic throughout - done in all the most correct of spirits. Do I really need to say that this is still several riffs short of presaging a full-on reunion? Much more fun to have the odd "who was that masked man?" moment such as this!

As mentioned in the last newsletter, I've also recently done a bit of work with Premiata Forneria Marconi. Initially my collaboration with them was to intended to be only as lyricist; they urgently needed English words for a new song. By synchronicity David Jackson had been doing workshops with the virtuoso bassist Corrado Canonici, who represents PFM in the UK, and so I was brought into the loop. After transfer of song files via MP3 the work ("Sea of Memory") was speedily completed.

Naturally I sent back a sung demo of how I thought the lyrics worked and in turn they asked me to actually sing the track for them for their upcoming CD. Since then I've also appeared with them live, once in Milan at their anniversary celebration and once in London. It would obviously have been a bit strange fro me to be wheeled on for just one song, so I was also given the responsibility of singing "Impressioni di Settembre", a song which every Italian of a certain age Italian.

I can get by speaking the language, but singing in a foreign tongue is always something of a challenge (which I've accepted in the past with French and German, of course). To do so live is...well, something else. Anyway, I'm happy to say that the audience helped me out in Milan by singing along throughout. Very enjoyable. For the London show we also did a version of "I will find you".

One more performance with PFM is coming up in July at the Cagli Festival.

I have to say that after so many years of playing as well as singing on stage it's been a great pleasure to be just Yer Singer in these shows as well as the one-song VdGG reunion. Naturally, though, my main focus remains on my own shows.

In the midst of a somewhat frenetic start to the year one of the most major of changes for me has been a move of the studio (Terra Incognita) away from Bath and further out into the countryside in Somerset.

I'd been in Walcot Street - the original location of Crescent Studios - for a good twelve years; in that time a great deal of water and Stuff swept along under the bridge. At the end of last year I had to decide whether to continue being the leaseholder for another period of five or more years. I came to the conclusion that I would rather be more flexible in terms of the future, especially since, as I wrote last time, I'm looking for more mobility and have shrunk the recording hardware down in both size and complexity accordingly. It had been a leap in the dark moving into Terra in the first place (as the name implies) and now it was time for another one.

Leaving was not an uncomplicated matter, as it turned out that repairs to the structure of the building would have to be paid for. Protracted negotiations eventually put me in a position where I agreed to move out a month early, at the end of February - and therefore had to find somewhere to move to in the week between finishing the European leg of touring and before starting the UK leg. I was very lucky indeed to find the new location, just outside Frome.

On the evidence so far this move out into deeper countryside is not exactly having a bucolic effect on the new stuff I'm coming up with. But the results of the new recording won't be out for some months to come yet. At present I have the feeling that I've fallen on my feet - so I'd better keep on running.

It may be of interest to note that for the last year in Bath I shared the space with Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp, who recorded their new release "Black Cherry" there.

End of chapter, end of era: onward.

Hugh Banton's version of J.S.Bach's "Goldberg Variations" has been out for some time now on Fie! and many of you will already have it, though this is the first time it's been on the printed order form. This piece is a pinnacle of baroque keyboard writing and Hugh was, of course, very bold to go for it. The recording was made using an organ of his own design which made the achievement all the more remarkable. I continue to find this a life-affirming piece of work and highly recommend it.

Rumours have abounded of late about the release of a DVD of Van der Graaf and I can confirm that this is now out on the Classic Rock label. It's the famous Belgian TV appearance on which we gave one of the few live performances of "A Plague of Lighthouse-Keepers". Also featuring "Theme One", the DVD is only thirty minutes long...but of course quality footage of the band just doesn't seem to be out there. It's also available as an audio CD, by the way.

In the next couple of weeks "Enter k" will be coming out in a repackaged form, courtesy of Ridout on the cover front and myself on remastering. The latter moves it somewhat closer to the power of the k group as evidenced on "The Margin +" without, I hope, any excessive overcooking. The original parts for this CD had been lost and this seemed an ideal moment to update it. Sadly, Virgin still seem disinclined to do similar work on earlier material.

More to come later in the year; I advise a check at for the latest?

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