Sofa Sound  Newsletter 9/November 1995

You Can't Get the Picture Yet


Past Newsletters

Current Newsletter

Greetings once again, apologies once again.
As is becoming an appallingly regular occurrence, this newsletter finds you later in the year than I had intended; Hope that you didn't think either that I'd disappeared completely or that you'd been forgotten!
I find myself still in the midst of my labours on the next recorded project and, although the end is in sight, I've been waiting to get this off until the wood can really be seen for the trees. It still can't be, but it's high time this was with you!
It will take no feat of the imagination to discern from the above that this letter does NOT announce an imminent release...but there are some hints as to what the new stuff consists of!
In the meantime, as always, thanks for listening!

What's new, what's next

There will be eight songs (at least) on the next album; but as I write there's still a degree of uncertainty about WHICH eight. As I wrote last time, quite a number of pieces are written or under way: decisions on their combination must hang on the results of final mixes, on which I'm currently engaged.

The musicians involved in the project are those of the pH Quartet: David, Stuart and Manny. They don't all play on everything! For myself, I've restricted my instruments for the most part to guitars (among which the acoustic plays much more of a role than it has done of late) and piano. Obviously various other keyboards make an appearance here and there. The sound of the thing...well, I'm not really in a position to tell you about that, for all that things are at an advanced stage. This part of the process is the most mysterious and fog-like: so much work has gone in over the last months that now it's a question of subtraction rather than addition. It will be and will sound as it does in two or three weeks time!

All I can say is that much of the knowledge gained in working with the somewhat unlikely combination of horns/flute, violin, kit and my own instruments has hopefully been properly applied. Not that I've been making an attempt at directly recreating the live sound of the pHQ - but many of the timbres of the unit are evidently present.

Incidentally, the technology, about which I ranted somewhat in the last newsletter, has worked out well, but the learning curve was a long one! It's a very different recording environment in which I now work. I hope that some of the physical space within which I find myself transfers into the laser pits!

I'll leave any intimations of the subject matter - nd indeed the style - of the songs until next time.

top of page

Since the last time....

Live performances this year have been sporadic and far-flung. The shows projected in the last newsletter all eventually happened, remarkable as it may seem!

Siberia and Russia were extraordinary experiences. For both economic and practical reasons we travelled as a small team (this being a pHQ tour) and it was definitely an Event for Touring Grown-ups. Even with the minimum of equipment that we took with us the logistics of moving through a Russian airport, for example, were of a mountaineering expedition standard.

In Siberia, particularly, we all felt a Long Way Away and it took a matter of weeks rather than days to gather what impressions remained from the trip into some kind of cohesive order...although in truth I'm still left with a jumble of images rather than a narrative whole: Stuart going through the entire history of his violin to a Customs official in order to be allowed to bring it into the country (or more importantly, in order to be able to take it out!); a nasty belt of voltage from the main vocal microphone at the second gig (possible curtains there, chaps!); the coldestr outdoor gig in my experience with all the instruments freezing up and whammying out of tune throughout; trains and planes and diesel-reeking coaches; silver birch woods and shanty truck-stops. Tiredness. Vodka. (These things are not necessarily unconnected!)

In some cases that we managed to play at all was a triumph of commitment and enthusiasm; but the audience responses and the sheer enthusiasm and kindness of the people we met certainly demanded that.

It was a Serious Tour; I hope to return. If that comes about, perhaps I'll be better prepared- it took me at least two or three weeks to fully recover.

Incidentally, much of the stuff was maybe footage will eventually make its way out!

A solo concert at the Festival of the Voice in Argenteuil was a comparatively normal venture - however the next day Ridout and I set off for Frankfurt to meet up with Manny, Hooly and David, for Part Two. Driving from there to Dresden for a one-off show was a mad venture. A day's travel for every half-hour on stage! It was, however, a crazily worthwhile last outing of the year for the pHQ.

In Helsinki I performed on the "Living Poets" night of the Helsinki Festival. In fact I was the only non-Finnish musical performer of the night. As you probably know, I call myself a Songwriter, not a Poet! Dressing-Room of the Year award, though - a portacabin shared with Joseph Brodsky and Seamus Heaney, Nobel Prize winners past and (at the time) future!

I found myself (I got myself) embroiled in another literary event not so long ago: the Crossing the Border festival in Den Haag, Holland. When I committed to this one I wasn't entirely clear about the nature of the turned out that the brief was "Out of the Ordinary". So I decided that I really ought to simply go out and read...paradoxically, singing and playing would not have been dangerous enough, would have been too much of a familiar world for me. I decided to read lyrics only; but even ten minutes before going on I still hadn't worked outwhich ones I was going to go for. In the event, forty minutes went by in a flash. I'll long remember the "version" of "Fogwalking" in particular. However, I don't intend to go out on the reading circuit yet awhile!

And finally to Bydgoscz in Poland for the last concert of the year: a wonderful Yamaha concert Grand piano, a great hall and another warm reception. Undoubtedly Hotel room of the year, too: I was lodged in the Rubinstein suite, which had a (white!) Steinway grand in pride of place. Unfortunately, it was out of tune....

So, many new places this year. I'm amazed that people in them have managed to follow my work over the years and, of course, delighted to be able to offer the "Living Proof", so to speak.

top of page

"Aerosol": No News is no news

You will remember, perhaps, that I made mention of "Aerosol Grey Machine" in the last newsletter, as being the only album of mine or VdGG's that remains unavailable...and of the possibilities of rectifying the situation. Yes, the master tapes were found. Yes, I have a DAT copy. Yes, it sounds remarkably fresh (if somewhat youthful!)

But no, it's not going to be released in the immediate future. We are deep in the land of the Corporate Record Company here. The simple fact of the matter is that they wanted so much money (up front, to boot!) to allow the thing to be licensed that it made no economic sense at all.

Naturally, I find this something of a shame; I don't regard "Aerosol" as a pinnacle of achievement but as a first effort it's a comparatively embarrassment-free zone. As I write it seems that the only likelihood of a release is if the company finally decide to put it out themselves. I may attempt to chivvy them towards this at some later stage!

It's all rather reminiscent of the times of making it: I was signed up to an appalling contract which Tony Stratton-Smith refused to allow the other members of the group (then Hugh, Guy and Keith Ellis) to sign. Mercury refused to release me or record the group without their signatures. Eventually we went into the First Break-up scenario in the wake of having our equipment stolen. At this point there was no reason for me (still signed, of course) not to record and so "Aerosol" was made, initially as a solo PH record. After this a compromise was agreed, whereby Mercury released me from the contract on the condition that they could release the album under the name VdGG - which it effectively was in any case. Nearly three decades later, we seem to find ourselves locked in the same old corporate bind. It's for reasons such as this that I'm more than happy to be helmsman and cabin boy of the good ship Fie!: at least I'll always manage to come to some reasonably sensible terms with the Label Management!

Just one further point: because of the way in which it was made, "Aerosol", while having the sound and personnel of the first VdGG, is NOT the album that the group would originally have made as a first effort. This would have been much harder, with the inclusion of, for instance, "White Hammer", which we were already playing in that first incarnation. One more final trivial aside: the single of "People You were going to"/"Firebrand" is emphatically NOT worth the £250 it's been reported to me as currently going for!

top of page

Strange Fruit: The Peel Sessions

There's only one new thing on the list this time: Strange Fruit are on the very verge of releasing the promised solo BBC sessions. Fourteen songs, from A to A. ("Afterwards" to "Auto"). Some of the early stuff is particularly manic and brutal - mistreatment of grand pianos a speciality of the era. As with "Maida Vale" the resultant CD is the closest thing to live renditions of the period (apart from bootlegs, of course!), and it's therefore probably most interesting for the early stuff, including "Faint-Heart" and "No More the Sub-mariner". There's also a solo version of "The Emperor in his War-room". Frankly, and for good or ill, that one's unlikely to reappear on future set-lists!

The pieces from"pH7" and "In a Foreign Town" are more instant recreations of the recorded versions than true live versions. The former, therefore, feature Backing Vox - there's even an acappella version of "Mediaevil". For the "In a Foreign Town" session, all enthused by the newness of sequencing, I took up my computer and a few modules and (re-)did instant versions of the four songs. So there are no backing tapes involved in any of these things! Just very speedy work....

Graham Smith is the only other musician on the recordings, on "Betrayed", "Afterwards" and "Autumn".

By the time you get this, the CD will be out, so you'll find details, as ever, on the order form.

top of page

The Miscellany

Unless something totally radical overtakes me I won't be doing any more shows in 1995...but 1996 will soon be upon us and I intend to do substantially more touring during the year. I hope that much of it will involve revisiting familiar places from which I've been absent in the course of this year!
At the moment, though, I have knowledge of only two potential shows, both of which are somewhat out of the ordinary. On 20th April, if all goes according to plan, I will be performing two songs with the Orchestre National de Lille at their 20th Anniversary concert. An interesting crack!
At some time in July or August I hope to be involved (since I've been invited) in the Sounds of the Dolomites Festival in Trentino, Italy. A strolling singer in the mountains! More of that later, if it comes about.
I hope to start organising more "normal" touring in the next few weeks - after the recording's done!
Overall (or do I say this every year?) 1996 will be immensely active in terms of work. In addition to tours there should be at least two recorded releases including the prospectively untitled present one. I'm glad to say I still look forward to it all.
That's it for now...expect the next newsletter early in the New Year (for once!)
Look after yourselves....

top of page