Sofa Sound  Newsletter 13/October 97

Intimacy & Intimation


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I know that in comparison to other artists I put a fair bit of stuff out each year; Fie!, indeed, has released sixteen CDs since 1991. Several of these, of course, have been live recordings or re-releases.
I've no wish to decry these - they emphatically have their part to play in the scheme of things - but since I remain engaged and committed to the future rather than the past it always gives me great pleasure to announce the release of Something New.
This is the case this time: after a mixture of long labour and inspirational hot flushes, the new CD is now out and the bulk of this newsletter talks around the subject.
Until later...thanks for listening.

Everyone You Hold

I began the sessions for what was to become "Everyone You Hold" late on last year, just before the alarums and excursions of the Union Chapel. When I went into the recordings I had the normal clutch of songs - that is to say, not quite enough for an album - and even more of an open mind than usual.

A couple of pieces had been around for some time: the given recording dates of April '95 - June '97 are, in fact, correct, although the work done in '95 was sketchy in the extreme. Initially, work on the project was divided more or less equally between "traditional" song arrangement and days spent in pure improvisation and sonic experiment. If I was clear about anything, it was that I was not making a "band" type CD, as in "X my heart".

I don't mean to give the impression that I was wallying around. Sometimes it's important to go at things laterally rather than head-on and I was concerned that I should allow the project to make its nature clear itself, rather than have an external form imposed, however long this might take.

In part, I suppose, this was because of the nature of the initial songs. They were - as were the majority of those which followed - "normal", in the sense of being more-or-less piano based, more-or-less of traditional verse/chorus structure. It would have been easy, if, perhaps, something of a cop-out, to treat them with conventional instrumentation and arrangement and I'm very glad I didn't do so. Glad, also, that I took several opportunities to get out of the studio and onto the boards; the perspective of live performance, distanced from the recording process, was most beneficial. None of the external diversions made the recordings any easier, exactly; if anything, I had to apply myself with all the more rigour...I suppose one could say that I had the luxury of treating myself to a bed of nails....

As always, the proof of the thing is in the hearing and there's no way that I can really give a proper description of the CD, but in the most general of terms I've ended up with apparently simple songs; the voice right in front of things, while as a backdrop are elements of strangeness, undercurrents of contradiction and washes of at times alien sound. The whole thing runs almost continuously for over fifty minutes and the songs themselves pop up like islands through waves of extended introductions and codas.

It is, I think, very much a solo CD. Perhaps it's closest resemblances are to "And Close as This" and "Fireships", although, as ever, it's not the same as either. Performances by others are comparatively minimal. Manny plays drums and percussion on four tracks and Stuart violin on two; one in orchestral mode (drifting in and out of accord with a rather more Eastern orchestra of E-bow guitars!) and one in his inimitable solo style. Hugh Banton contributes major structural organ on two songs. We certainly had a "well-met" playing reacquaintance at the Union Chapel and here he was undoubtedly the right person at the right time. David Lord's keyboards are on one piece. And my daughters Holly and Beatrice finally make it onto one of my CDs on one song's backing vocals; not that I envisage a Johnny Cash-style family entertainment troupe, nor that undue nepotism was involved...I simply needed voices that went stratospherically higher than I can! (And, incidentally, they're by now comparatively seasoned choral session singers, having appeared on several CDs by others and various TV soundtracks....)

The rest is me. Lots of Vox, usually with one central protagonist and many shifting layers behind Him.. Pianos, as I've said; murky keyboards; loads of guitar, this time all electric. Fuzzed, wah-ed, E-bowed, stretched backwards, forwards and sideways...but more of sensitivity than aggression.

You may notice Jaxon's absence in the above list; for better or worse, he was simply unavailable at the time I needed to put the icing on the cake which is often his role, so I was forced to do so myself with even more guitar parts - even some neo-solos!

The songs themselves are direct and intimate. They are of loss and compassion, tenderness, and self-appraisal...ultimately, of healing. Certainly no bed of roses, no bundle of laughs; where there are jokes, they are muted; nonetheless, for me at least, the overall tone is positive. It's in the tradition of looking hard at reality in order to deal with it rather than turning away.... In any case, I hope that they will speak for themselves much more eloquently than I can for them, of course.

That the CD has ended up being something of a cohesive whole is, as I intimated earlier, more to do with my following my instincts and letting shape emerge of itself than with any imposition of will. Leaving myself open to accident in the first place meant that I was repaid with many fortuitous happenstances. For instance, I discovered that some completely free E-bow playing had coincided on tape with the remnants of my original vocal parts on "Phosphorescence" (of which more below) and I was therefore impelled to construct my own version. At the very final stages of mixing the title track David Lord - to whom I had passed the song for potential arrangement work some years before - had some orchestral parts on tape which, when combined with the multitracking I'd done, produced the version now present on disc, which has elements of, but is not the same as, both "his" and "my" versions. There are more instances than I can recount of accident playing its part in these recordings and although the full time period they occupied lasted months there were many moments of split-second intensity.

There are even fortuitous elements about the cover: having already decided that this time photography would be apposite, Paul Ridout and I came upon Leo Vaca and his work while passing through Buenos Aires and managed to fit in the shoot with him there while en route back to London from Cordoba.

As I write this, with the CD before me, I realise that many lines have come together in its making, conscious and unconscious. I feel a real completeness about the work; for the songs, the playing, for all the above things, for the fact that (oh, heresy!) I completely changed my studio around in the middle of the project. So, in short and in all good grace, I commend "Everyone You Hold" to you wholeheartedly. I think you'll recognise the voice....

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Other Voices

Several vocal contributions of mine to others' work are, as it happens, now on release or the very verge of being so.

Ayuo Takahashi's CD "Songs from a Eurasian Journey" is out in Japan on Victor (VICG-60011). I sing on and wrote the lyrics for six of the the songs. This project of Ayuo's combines his own music with really early stuff, from as far back as the 7th Century. I'm particularly happy with the (closing) song "Air" which is itself a celebration of the enduring power of song - and of the humanity that binds us together - expressed over a Japanese melody from at least 1300 years ago. Other contributors to this disc include Dave Mattacks and Danny Thompson and it was mixed at Terra by David Lord. Maybe Victor will release it outside Japan....

"Alien Diary" is a CD by Wolfram Huschke, the German classical 'Cellist, produced by Hector Zazou and Jean-Michel Reusser, which BMG Classical are, I believe, about to put out, although I have no catalogue number details at present. I sing "Black Rose", a Gothic piece for which I wrote the English lyrics, solo, as well as a (non-real-time) duet.

Saro Cosentino's (self-titled, I believe) CD is due for release soon, most likely in January. His - more sparse - "Phosphorescence" (still with my singing) is on this as well as another co-composed song, "From Far Away". David Rhodes, Trey Gunn and John Giblin are among others on this CD which will be on Phonogram in Italy and Resurgence elsewhere, as far as I know and as things stand at present.

Finally, the Hammill tonsils are also bared on a forthcoming CD on Red Hot by the David Cross band. A whole clutch of people contributed to this, including Robert Fripp, John Whetton and, I believe, Pete Sinfield.

You'd find it difficult to find four more different CDs than these!

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The Miscellany

A couple of historical notes. "Aerosol" (I hope you got the postcard): the Fie! version is, of course, a proper representation of the whole of the "Aerosol" sessions; "Firebrand" and "People You were Going To", included on the Repertoire version, were done neither at the same time nor by the same personnel. Anyway, there it goes; the Repertoire CD is now deleted in any case, so I suppose it's back to bootleg world if you're chasing these particular - faintly embarrassing - bits of (pre-)history.
I've had a few complaints about the fact that the "VdGG reunion" element of the Union Chapel concert was not advertised in advance, to the effect that this was somehow "unfair on the fans". I feel I must publicly rebut this idea. It was precisely the fact that we were able to do it secretly which allowed us to do it at all...otherwise expectation, complication and Bizness would simply have been too great. Perhaps most importantly - attention would have been skewed away from the thrust of the rest of the evening, the very nature of which allowed us to regroup for "Lemmings". No regrets. By the by, to scotch the odd rumour, there is definitely no prospective VdGG tour either, although I dare say that we'll continue to work together from time to time....

Last words: it was great to play in Australia at last and to have such a heartfelt reception. The book of (90-odd) lyrics in a Greek edition and translation is indeed underway and should be out early next year. A full English version, as ever, remains on the agenda for some time in the future.... For the cyberspace people, it's likely that I'll be doing a live IRC encounter late in October/early November. You'll find info at http// if it's going to transpire. But will it really be me...? Soon Come: Judge Smith's massive "Curly's Airships" project is likely to be finished around January. For this (as some of you in the HTV region may have spotted some months ago) I sing a couple of songs in the role of Lord Thompson, the undoubted bastard of the piece (thanks, Judge!). John Ellis and Hugh Banton are supplying guitar and organ. Fuller news, I suppose, when it's done....
Finally, finally, I just don't know where I'm going to be playing next...there's a (slight?) possibility of Italy at the end of October. Plans are (somewhat limpingly) afoot for Elsewhere after that...I know no more than that at this stage!

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