Sofa Sound  Newsletter 14/April 98

Late & Still Waiting....


Past Newsletters

Current Newsletter

First of all I must apologise for the late arrival of this newsletter and hope that you'd not become worried about me!
In the normal way of things the approach of spring means an onrush of PH activity. As you'll gather from the contents herein this holds true, but the action remains - for the moment - almost entirely within Terra Incognita.
The ongoing is onrushing. In the meantime, long overdue as I am, here is such news of past. present and future as I have for you...the form is particularly letter-like this time!
Until later, as always...thanks for listening

The Number 40 Bus

Exact numbering of albums has become more difficult over the years with the arrival of various "extra-curricular" compilations and live efforts...not to mention bootlegs, of course. By my reckoning, though, the one on which I'm currently engaged is number forty in the sequence of projects upon which I've specifically embarked. A significant number, perhaps, especially as I'm now running down the hours of my fiftieth year. I'm doing my best, though, not to become distracted by this congruence of numbers. As always, I'm simply trying to work with the material, subject matter and technology which is currently to hand, albeit with a bit more of an eye over my own shoulder than usual.

These are still - approximately a month into the recordings - very early days. I have loads of stuff, both musical and lyrical, approximately half of which could currently be said to have coalesced into "songs". A significant proportion, though, remains in something of an experimental miasma, which (I hope and trust) will itself eventually lead to me to conclusions and the finished article. If this sounds somewhat abstract then I should reiterate the fact that, even after all this time, all these songs, the actual process of making things remains mysterious. I attempt to keep it so: if everything was completely under control or planned down the last millimetre then I'm quite sure that my boredom threshold would have been exceeded many years ago. I'm still looking to find something new each time. All I can really say at this stage of the recordings is that I remain at least in part in unknown territory.

I expect to work quickly over the next couple of months and my fervent hope is that the thing will be released before I hit that fifty mark! No title as yet, of course; no indication of possible styles, nor of potential contributors. I realise that this all sounds a bit chaotic; that's exactly as it should be at this stage....

In the meantime - that is, since the last newsletter - I have, of course, managed to do a bit of live playing. The bulk of this was in a month-long jaunt through Europe as a duo with Stuart Gordon. The lack of instrumental "clutter" allowed both of us to go into previously uncharted water, I think, both sonically and musically. Stuart was quite outstanding during these shows, now fully in charge of the (unusually demanding, for a violinist) roles I ask him to play: everything from the free-bowing soloist to subterranean bass support. As always, a great pleasure to play with him and, indeed, to pass through Holland, Belgium (briefly), Germany, Austria and Italy on the way. As regards Germany, I realise that there was a significant lack of any shows in the mid and North of the country. The reasons for this were never made exactly clear to me but I hope to be able to rectify the situation at some time in the coming months. There is also talk of a return to Italy in the summer.For the moment, though, these remain ideas in principle rather than concrete plans. Anything is possible in the next months...

As I write I have just returned from another swift visit to Russia. A solo venture this time with shows in Moscow and St Petersburg. Fascinating and fairly fazing at the same time. It will take some while to assemble all the fragments of memory of place and event gathered in two not-so-short days, if they are ever to be assembled. Both these cities emphatically fall into the category "...another town".

It is, of course, a privilege to be invited to visit other places and effectively be a part of their cultural lives for an evening at least. Working - as opposed to visiting - other countries gives a wonderful opportunity to find out something of the life beneath the surface. Artistically a measure of responsibility has to be taken at the same time: if wildly different cultures can find something of (variable?) truth in what I do then it becomes more and more imperative for me to write/perform in the future in an appropriately pan-cultural way. That's to say that I'm continuing my efforts to present a universal rather than specific view.

I guess I'm trying to say that the process of touring is an essential one in terms of input to my entire music-making. You will, of course, have observed that I don't tour consistently either in frequency or in style/line-up and that "promoting the current product" is not something which plays a large part in my thinking. My motives in this are always to keep live performance as something interesting and vital; my belief has always been that if I become bored then I'll certainly be boring sooner or later. Obviously, I've done my stints of endless touring with VdGG; these tours were also often as "cocooned" as was feasible in the '70s. These days I'm generally travelling in an un-cocooned and, if anything, under-manned caravan; but I believe that this leaves all of us involved in a more receptive and adult state which can be properly directed into the making of the music, which is, after all, why we're there. Here ends a modest attempt to impart something of what it feels like to be, something of the intentions of a touring musician of a certain age....

Last month I made an (unlikely?) appearance with/for David Thomas at his "Disastrodome" event at the South Bank in London. This was quite wild. I met David some time ago at the Crossing the Border festival and his invitation to me to apply some deconstructed guitar and keyboards in the "house band" was a brave and inspiring one. He was going entirely on intuition. As for myself, I was delighted to take up the challenge. Not many opportunities come my way to be "simply" a musician. At least part of my feeling in taking the project on was that I would be receiving some kind of just desserts for all the stuff I've put "my" musicians through over the years: here's a gangplank and I invite you to walk on it. We had a bare two days of rehearsal in London immediately prior to the event and the notes with which I emerged from this process were sketchy in the extreme...fine by me. Anyway, the show was good (serious) fun and I certainly got a lot out of it. As I think I've said before, "working holidays" such as this serve a useful subsidiary function as well as being great to do in themselves: I always get to bring something back which informs and can be applied to the "normal" work. I'll particularly remember one piece of structural responsibility which was passed to me at some point during rehearsals: "We think you should just go ape here." Enough said, squire: gentle reader, I did!

Something which will doubtless already be out and about in the video copies trade and buy lists is a half-hour documentary which VPRO in Holland recorded immediately prior to the touring with Hooly. It was edited in a week and broadcast on the night of the first show. Quite an unusual piece: the performances were half-way between stage and studio, with none of the psyching-up which is the norm at concerts, but with each song performed straight-through for a maximum of two takes. The comments before and after the songs were also spontaneous! A number of odd memories are worth relating. My awareness of a train coming down the line behind my shoulder as I approached the first chorus of "Amnesiac" on Freshford Station (as seen in the final version) did not prepare me at all for the arrival of a second express travelling in the opposite direction out of nowhere as I hit the second chorus. No consultation of time-tables could have produced such a result! Stuart, bemused as he may have been by my instant decision to play "Stranger Still" on electric guitar (first run-through the screened performance) found himself in a truly nonplussed state as he sat in the background at the bar of the Bell while in the foreground I launched into "Happy Hour": a complete stranger sidled up to him and thrust a clear-plastic-topped egg-box full of cockroaches into his hand, saying "I'm off to a restaurant I don't like..." Just a bit David Lynch.

I have had another bit of whacky singing action this year: David Rhodes, ex- of Random Hold and current PG guitarist, is currently working on the soundtrack for an Italian feature animation film and got me in to do a bit of backing vocals...mainly as a rat! Life's rich pageant and all that. Incidentally, rat is my Chinese year animal....

"Alien Diary", the CD by the German 'Cellist Wolfram Huschke which I mentioned in the last newsletter as being due for imminent release is finally due to be out in the next month or so. Thus moves the world of the classical label! The Greek translations book is now not likely to be out until September (?); Makis, the translator, is still deep in the murk of the lyrics and trying to do a good job...not at all an easy task, I'm sure. "The Fall of the House of Usher" - currently deleted: Some Bizarre's licence period has come to an end. I don't think I'll go any more into that particular can of worms. This does not mean to say that the project's dead, though: it remains an unspoken intention that some kind of performance should ultimately emerge. Another possibility is that any future release should be a reworked version. Watch this space - even if it's currently blank.

David Jackson has had quite a lot of publicity regarding his disability Soundbeam work of late and there is talk of a Channel 4 documentary on his work at Meldreth School. He hasn't, though, yet disappeared from the horizon of my designs for his playing!

Manny has been doing quite a bit of work for a soon-to-be-released Julian Lennon record. Julian was, of course, first signed by Stratton Smith & Charisma!

Finally, for once there's nothing new for sale from Fie! or Sofa to accompany this newsletter (not that that diminishes the value of what's already there, of course!). You may note that T-shirts and Sweatshirts are now completely out of stock. The usual "now you see it, now you don't" situation will probably continue to obtain with Virgin/EMI, too! For those (few) of you who've had occasion to write and complain about non-delivery of orders I can only tell you that if a cheque gets banked then the stuff goes out...but at times postal services are not the most reliable things! One final word - maybe a Web site at some time in the next months? If so, it'll doubtless get quickly linked. Meanwhile, it's back to the fuzz guitar for me!

Until the next time...soon, I hope!

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