we’ve all been there, right?
I’m thinking of starting my own regular music/performance event here in Brighton.
There’s a lot of smug, cosy, middle-of-the-road bullshit for grownup children – and very little that’s genuinely got any darkness or challenge to it. Something has to be done, and soon. Therefore, I propose:
Just for a change, and because everyone loves a pundit, I fancy writing about local bands encountered recently who didn’t make me want to puke.
Well, not so much “writing” like a reviewer, more listing them in no particular order, without spoon-feeding – so you can discover their brilliance for yourself. Also, lists are how we communicate nowadays:
Man Ray Sky – incredible layered guitar/electro soundscapes and vistas
Lutine – spooky anti-folk from the dark, dark ages (their debut gig in a church was stunning)
Thee Bald Knobbers – absolutely indescribable. This link is live footage. It’s terrifying.
Shonalika Tilak – a superb singer with some extremely dark, absorbing music
Stevie and the Nobodies – crunchy guitars, smart tunes, humour
Prissy Lips – utter fucking exotic trash glam
Plurals – drones and transcendence
Broken Ears – punchy, hard-edged acoustica (fairly new outfit, but already very strong)
& the marvellous Junkboy
An interesting mixture, and that’ll do for now – apologies to any I’ve missed out, although doubtless there’ll be more… There were three very good acts at my recent launch gig, for example – check them out too. In fact, check em all out.
Because the New Year finds me light-hearted and clearing out a ton of sentimental &/or forgotten crap, to dance laughing round a giant freedom pyre, I thought it’d be nice to share something with you. Going through the accumulated debris, I found this thing written years ago for a compilation album called The Return of Generation Toyracer (TOY004), featuring a track by my then-band Empty Vessels.
And what better way to celebrate the future than by wanking over the past?
The idea was to do a short piece for the inlay booklet, describing my best-loved record. So I made one up:
‘My favourite album is by 80’s combo Joie Extreme. The Sound of Whipped Dogs Miaowing has a literally unbearable atmosphere of foreboding and dread, with great hooks and singalong choruses. This voluptuous fog is testament to the genius of Des Essence and Vyv Feast. Whereas Essence was a protest singer distinctive for high-pitched shouting over primitive piano chords (ultra-rare early single “Dead Hill-Farmers Long Ago”), Feast wasn’t. So each song on their classic LP was recorded twice – once at half-speed, then with frequencies added that Feast claimed caused “spiritual violation”. Drummer Stifford was forced to hold his breath for each take; listen carefully and hear him sobbing on track three.
Recording took place in a haunted factory in front of a crowd of wax dummy children in Victorian clothes, and Feast deprived the band of sleep by flashing a blue light in their eyes (while showing, says bassist Miranda Poe, “a full stem”). The song “Eyeflaps Turgid” – possibly the only ever to feature an acoustic guitar filled with shit – reflects this. It was all downhill from there. The band scattered into obscurity to become music journalists, but their album lives on and I’ve got all the copies.’
…The work of a cocky, sleep-deprived and possibly quite drunk young man, but damn it was fun.
So… live session on Thursday (25th) went well – Under The Table on BHCR. Despite technical problems at the start of the show cutting into the timeslot (handled with aplomb by presenter Nigel Staley… truly, the man’s unflappable), it was a good programme and a buzz to perform on. The time issue meant I didn’t get to play a couple of pre-recorded tracks – from Glow in the Dark – but did manage to fit in:
Monkey – an old song recorded by my band Empty Vessels in 2006 (on the Parlour 9 Sessions album)
Phantom Party – from the Episodes EP
Undertow – from 1st album This Mucky Age
…Plus live versions of Wet Dream Disaster, Face of Stone & Larkin. I got these recorded, and will no doubt find a use for em soon. A freebie, perhaps. Did a spoken word piece and talked a load of shit about nudist beaches in Brighton, John Peel’s disembodied essence, that kind of thing, and selected tracks by Lou Reed (Waves of Fear) and The Fall (Ladybird) – neither of them get aired enough nowadays.
Yeah, tech issues aside it was pretty sweet to have almost a whole programme to play with. Other than that, I’ve been offered a local gig – details very soon – and am hatching schemes and plans enormousfold.
It’s been a while, but then this time of year’s rarely very dramatic.
Lately, the focus is on improvising, found sounds and field recordings – for instance, a spoken word piece I just did with a sound artist named Jamie Sturrock.
He’d produced a very eerie soundscape called water ghosts, based on noises obtained by dangling a mic into an underground cavern in Scotland. I wrote a response after sitting in the dark with it, then recorded this with him. The results, when finished, may be released at some point – but that’s out of my hands, and part of a larger ongoing project. More news on this if/when I have it.
Anyway, it’s very exciting so far; Jamie’s website (with water ghosts toward the bottom of the page) can be found here.
2012 was bipolar – but I’d do it all again
Well, that was a… colourful year. And who could ask for more? Rather that than the alternative, which is a dreary thought. Death!
So what happened? (I’m still asking myself that, so this summary is as much for my benefit as anything else.)
1) Released 2nd album. Got more, and better, reviews than #1 – which was kind of the idea.
2) Did a brief and eventful tour after release – pretty much broke even: another first. Played a fair few other gigs, mostly solo, some with…
3) A band, which orbited around the songs for roughly 8-9 months and then exploded. With hindsight, it was never going to last, but during that time we played…
4) Live on BBC Introducing: The South (and the single got a little air-time too). This was exciting.
…Besides these bare bullet-points, I’ve just kept on doing it, “it” being more songs. Met some potential collaborators in the last couple of months, had a few tantalising overtures; again, I’m not going into detail yet for fear of The Jinx; in this game, so many promising set-ups tend to evaporate without warning.
But it’s promising just the same. And it’s been a blast – on a gross venal level, the trickle of royalties makes filling in an income tax Self Assessment form such a thrill.
Joking aside, I’m still fuelling off the highs and regret none of the lows – hope you (whoever you are) likewise. Happy New Year.
Below is a piece I wrote some years ago for a fanzine (on actual paper, yet). Explanation follows.
I arrived at 221B Baker Street to find my friend Sherlock Holmes deep in consultation with a well-to-do lady of middle years, her pale worried features a sad contrast to the richness of her dress. ‘It’s my son Francis,’ she said in a voice cracked with weariness. ‘Ever since he joined this.. “rock band”, he’s been like a perfect stranger. He comes and goes at all hours, refuses his dinner, and seems to detest my husband and I – but worse yet…’
Here Holmes interrupted with a brusque gesture of his nervous fingers. ‘This band. What do they call themselves?’
‘I blush to tell you, Mr Holmes, but they are known as The Fucking Cocksuckers.’
‘Quite so. If you will permit me – ?’ Holmes stretched out a long arm and reached into the jumble of documents and periodicals on the mantelpiece. ‘Hmm. Yes, here we are – this week’s New Musical Express.. Watson, what a catalogue of horrors is here! The lubberly scum of London, the very dregs of the opium dens.. Where was it.. Ah! I quote: “spotted by yr excited reporter picking their noses in a darkened toilet with the Damp Socket Scuzz Collective (formerly We Luv Public School Records) – anti-music – anti-quotes – they wipe their arses on the smug corpse of the Old Previous Cunts – doing it for The Kids, man – tired rhetoric – I play guitar like I’m flogging my old PE teacher – drums like a scotch egg full of Iggy’s spunk…” Enough!’
‘But Mr Holmes, this is not the worst of it!’ the good lady interjected. ‘I listened to some of their.. music.. only this afternoon, and my own Francis was,’ she coughed with embarrassment, ‘..singing, after a fashion, about “snorting bones”. In somebody’s garden shed.’ Her face was ashen with horror. ‘Bones, Mr Holmes!’
Holmes looked grim indeed. ‘Mrs Glendinning, I shall be most glad to rescue your son from these villains. Watson, I would be grateful if you’d pass me the inhaler of benzedrine cough remedy.’
‘Why, have you a cold, Holmes?’
‘Just do it.’
Suitably refreshed, my friend bade the dowager Lady goodbye and stepped out to hail a cab. I found him prostrate with nervous exhaustion a few feet from the porch, his athletic frame splayed on the cobblestones. ‘Quickly Watson – the brandy,’ he croaked, gesturing feebly toward the inner pocket of his greatcoat, ‘and you’d better have some too if we’re to stand a chance of surviving the ghastly work that lies ahead of us. I trust you’ve brought your revolver.’
‘Holmes, you surely cannot anticipate any danger from these noisy children?’
My friend smiled thinly as I helped him to his feet. ‘No. But I might feel like shooting someone.’
We arrived in a swirling fog outside the lowest kind of tavern. The noises from within are beyond my power to describe – and over it all a nasal, tortured yelp as of a man crying out in mortal crisis.
We pushed inside through the heat and throng, eyes watering in the murk, minds assaulted by the din. My cheeks burn as I write it, but the music began to work within me in strange ways – my moral fibre was shaken – my resistance wavered.. I plugged my ears and pushed on, seeing the lithe form of my friend leap onto the stage!
What a scene I beheld: the preening figure that had once been Francis Strathbogie Glendinning, beloved heir of a respectable family, twitching and cursing in language that must not – must not – be repeated. Surrounding him were a group of haggard, perspiring louts, sneering in practised ennui as they mishandled their instruments; a glassy-eyed stare and a shrug was their only reaction to Holmes’ appearance. He grasped Francis’s skinny shoulder and pushed the repulsive figure aside, seizing the microphone – howls of protest rose from the crowd – with his other hand Holmes picked up a guitar and lifted it high above his head, then dashed it to the floor!
I felt a thrill of fear as he snarled, ‘Right you lightweight little shits.. I’ll show you something..’
TO BE CONTINUED
(Except it wasn’t, nor was it intended to be. It was a dig at the then-prevalent mid-00’s fashion for bands made up of crackheads and public-school wankers pretending to be ex-rent boys, weird as that seems now. Anyway, I rediscovered it by accident and thought it might be a laugh to stick it on here.)
notes from waaay underground, Sept 2012
It’s hardly an original observation, but we’re in an unprecedented place with music right now. And that’s leaving aside the hopelessly blurred question of illicit downloads (although the idea that music should be a free, inexhaustible and perpetually-available resource, like sunlight or oxygen, is utterly self-defeating). (Strawman argument, anyone? Sod it – like I said, blurred.)
What we’ve got is an ever-more-entrenched top tier – the trad music biz – with a chokehold on all outlets still, despite everything. Shrinking but sucking up all the gravy, digging in, skimming off as much short-term profit on karaoke and career-path indie as possible… and then there’s practically everyone else. Okay, there are exceptions when someone interesting somehow gets over the fence, but you know what I’m saying.
“Everyone else” being the huge semi-pro DIY mass, squashed in a corner, playing the long game. Doing it for the love of it, waiting for a break, gambling on longevity – or persistence – or bloody-mindedness – or vision, call it what you will. (If the sheer volume of ever-accumulating stuff out there on the internet hasn’t made a nonsense of ideas like “back catalogue” and “posterity”, for unknowns anyway.) This in itself isn’t a new thing; it’s the extent of the lower tier that’s new. There simply aren’t enough outlets that pay – either in terms of making a living, or the finer commodity of sustained visibility. Of course the situation could eventually stabilize, even improve; something unexpected might come along and change the game again. Until then, though…
They believe in what they’re doing, these hidden dreamers, so they roll the dice and carry on regardless.
As will I, despite the discouraging recent experience of having a backing band blow up on the launchpad. Discouraging, not fatal – with 20/20 hindsight it’s best in the long run, for reasons I needn’t go into here. Gave me ideas on how I’d like to continue, which is something; time now to get on with it.
Another year, another gamble: thankfully, the work is its own reward. Clearly lots of other people feel the same.
I haven’t fronted a band since Empty Vessels on 14th Dec 2006 at The Montague Arms (RIP): so what’s changed? Happily, very little.
Solo acoustic (or with perhaps one other musician, eg. keyboards) is a totally different animal – I’d forgotten how charged the atmosphere at a real gig can be. The New Cross Inn on Friday was vibey as ever; I, Ludicrous sounded good – well, their soundcheck did, we’d buggered off back to Brighton in the van by the time they went onstage – and the sheer power and physicality of the experience was… well, there aren’t any words, really. I just love feeling the drum-cracks and noise-shreds blast my spine, and aiming my voice right… through… the middle; worth every second, every minor discomfort and expediency.
It went over well, too; nice crowd. It’s good to be back. More to follow, soon.
oh, and many thanks to Andy Clarke, without whom…
sour grapes or the cold, sharp wine of truth? You decide. But it’ll cost ya… well, nothing actually
There’s a debate – which can only get more heated – about whether music should be free. About the dynamic created for makers and consumers of music by the Free Culture – or Freecult, as I prefer to call them because it sounds stoopider (of course, they’re too numerous to be an actual cult, and are in most cases motivated by the prevalent tech-enabled custom of lax, myopic greed rather than any coherent ideology). To clarify, these are the people who collect music like stamps – and never listen to 90% 0f it – rather than downloaders who then buy the product, or some of it anyway. Yes: Product.
Of course money should be involved in music. It’s been inextricably entwined with art since art existed; without patronage, no Iliad, no Odyssey, no Velvet Underground, no sustainable dance/electro music *ever* beyond the first amyl nitrate whiff of excitement, no X Factor (okay, baaad joke at the end there). True, the major labels are getting what they deserve. Unfortunately, the artists aren’t; while many I know or know of haven’t any problem in principle with giving stuff away – and this includes me – to “donate” the whole lot is, in essence, shutting out loads of artists who can’t afford to do that and sustain themselves or their work. As well as carrying a stigma of bargain-basement loserdom. This stuff tends to get downplayed in the current atmosphere of Future Boomer righteousness – or it did until recently. Strange that it’s taken so long to be examined at a grass-roots level: and what it took was a common enough, albeit unthinking, admission from a National Public Radio DJ (hardly the big bad Music Biz Man).
So yeah, £££. Obviously, it’s all in who the gelt comes from… corporate sponsorship, crowd-sourcing, arms deals… and who it goes to. On any lower echelon than superstar, it’s a vexed question (and I’m sick of labouring it, so will stop biting the hand that… sort-of… feeds now). Besides which, you can chop logic about the moral pros & cons all day, but personally? On a selfish level, I don’t really give a shit.
Perseverance for pennies: gotta be done, innit? Well, up to a point. Beyond that, it’s just slaughtering the golden goose.
If I could think of a viable strategy to get round this impasse, as hopefully someone will sooner or later, I’d be a fucking entrepreneur rather than a musician. Or possibly a writer for sites like Gizmodo.com who “refuted” David Lowery with a barrage of meaningless stats. But my point about sustainability – affordability – stands. In effect, it’s like a new form of something I’d hear horror stories about from the bad old days: Pay to Play. Who in their right mind wants that? (And uh, don’t quit the day job btw – assuming you’re lucky enough to have one.)
A Footnote: speaking of Pay to Play…
Putting together a tour without the cradle of logistic and booking support, I’ve noticed something interesting. I’m sure a lot of musicians in my kind of semi-legit position have run into something similar.
The era of literal Pay to Play (in London): a lot of venues demanded an upfront fee for the privilege of gigging to six uninterested alcoholics, the scarcely-more-animate sound engineer, and maybe two mates who were just there because they wanted into the keyboard player’s pants. A promoter with a great deal of sense and integrity (and taste, obviously, as an ally of mine) urged me on several occasions: Never, ever, ever, pay to play. It just encourages the practise, which must be stamped out. It’s clearly a self-defeating way to go, and I won’t insult your intelligence by hashing over why this individual was quite right. But a lot of venues – feeling the bite, so I fling no blame – are now getting into the habit of asking for a hire fee rather than actually promote a gig. Often, in context, this is fair enough; but the implications are uncomfortable.
This may seem rather off the point of the rant above. (God, I’m starting to moan as much as that St Saviour woman…) But it’s a symptom of the same fucked economic model. One alternative is free no-frills gigs, which in theory sounds nice but in practice means variable quality-control: there, see? Free stuff sucks. Can I buy some soil off you, please?
The BBC Introducing: South live session we played is up on their site for the next 5 days, here.
We’ll get a recording of our songs, which were spread out across the broadcast, so I’ll probably upload it here &/or to Soundcloud at some point… Till then, check out the programme. It includes an interview, which I think went okay – the top of my head was spinning off somewhere in the upper atmosphere at the time on sheer adrenaline. Managed not to swear or otherwise disgrace myself – somehow.
In all, sounded nice and crunchy; in fact we were ear-splittingly loud. No idea how the sound engineer made sense of this tidal sheet of fuzz, but what went on-air was magicked into something very tight and coherent, more so as we progressed. The fact we were lean, ready and up for it must’ve helped too.
Abiding memory? How swift and efficient the whole operation was – totally hassle-free, nice people to deal with – and, uh, playing with a big cardboard cut-out of Beloved National Treasure (and in my book, twat) David Jason as Del Boy, right in my eyeline. That and the chundering monotony of football, everywhere, inescapable.
No, seriously though: it was a pleasure. Had thought I was shackled to the acoustic guitar forevermore, minorly-doomed never again to wring whorls of feedback out of a hard-driven amp… Happily, I was wrong.
SOPA won’t wash – hur hur hur
By and large, as a musician I expect to get ripped off occasionally; it’s an age-old occupational hazard. This is why I’m not too bothered about torrent sites or other internet-based free music distributors beyond my control. While I might find the principle behind them bogus and annoying, it’s just about possible to accept in return for the (theoretical) publicity it can generate. And let’s face it, other options are limited.
Just before This Mucky Age was released, a ton of pirate downloads appeared on the net; one of the promo copies was ripped by a journalist and spread like a rash. The only objection I could think of was that it messed up search results for this site; otherwise it was vaguely flattering, in a creepy sort of way… but begs the question, Why?!? Somebody even went to the trouble of photographing the packaging. It’s a decent pic, too; so ironically enough, I’m going to steal it.
While checking this out, I found bands begging to be pirated (the arse-kissing clowns) – either from wanting the extra exposure that these sites supposedly offer, or perhaps to be seen as inside the great big wonderful inclusive internet tent, instead of having a surly wank out in the rain. And to an extent, there’s something in the righteous notions the… bootleggers? Musketeers? Cyber-scamps?… bandy about, of Opening Up Music’s Furthest Horizons Without Hindrance or Limit For Everybody, of sticking it to The Man, etc etc etc (when they bother to make excuses – usually making a bid for the moral high ground).
Still, it would’ve been nice to be asked. At one point there were 80-odd leaked versions out there; not many in the scheme of things, but enough to say Okay, now you’re just taking the piss. It can be remedied with a little effort, though: get a DMCA takedown notice issued, and the dark grapes of villainy wither on the vine. Eventually.
This is why the US House of Representatives’ proposed Stop Online Piracy Act & Protect Intellectual Property Act are disproportionate and inappropriate. The main argument against is that these pieces of legislation are so vague and potentially all-inclusive that they could hobble the internet in the name of copyright protection – a concept that, as the proposals stand, can be extended to mean censorship (by blocking) of pretty much anything. All this in the hands of a closed group of private interests. But so what?
…After all, it sometimes feels like the www could do with a good witch-hunt purge; times when it seems to consist almost entirely of 2nd-hand crud – endlessly-circulated photos of dogs in fancy dress, people who can’t spell screeding out massive reviews of long-forgotten 80’s horror films, regurg’d gossip and contention, whatever. Arguably it also devalues musical product – artistically, not just commercially – by reducing it to a bunch of files. Burn the internet!
Yeah (that’s quite enough devil’s advocacy thanks), then what? What’s left, other than scorched earth and Adele? A slippery slope indeed.
…and for my next trick…
Last night’s Interrobang gig was great – good atmosphere and venue, receptive audience, lots of interesting stuff going on. A welcome reminder why I do this in the first place, and confirmation of the gut feeling I’ve been getting lately about what kind of gigs work best for me, and everyone else in the room.
So – a good place to stop, chill out for a week or two, and think carefully about how best to carry on. There’s only so much one guy with an acoustic guitar can do, after all; it’s kind of limiting the options. Might be good to try putting a band together… (Although ironically, the new material written for album #2 suits solo acoustic much better, so who knows? The last thing I want is to end up with yet another by-the-numbers indie band.)
With all kinds of ambitious but as-yet unformed ideas*, I’m taking time off from live stuff for a couple of months to try out different approaches. Last night was good enough to make me regret the decision, which proves it’s the right one, if that makes sense.
*About presentation, not format – you won’t see me turning music into an app, for instance. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, full of fear and envy for a future I don’t understand, yet want to skull-fuck… But instead of being exciting and meaningfully interactive, that just smells of focus groups and Tory Big Society outsourcing mentality to me: You do it, we can’t be arsed.
Anyway, more and better, coming soon.
PS: I’ll still be posting stuff on here, videos etc, and play a few open mics to keep my hand in. The Windmill in Brighton last week was particularly good fun.
funny how things can take the most unexpected tangent
At one point, I had a feeling This Mucky Age was going to turn into some smirking 80’s rip-off. You know the kind of thing, no doubt; a winkingly crap pastiche artefact, a Weimar signifier, plastic ties and charity shop sunglasses in a Hoxton shebeen and snorting vegan whizz off a spunk-streaked 7″ of Hot Gossip’s (I Lost My Heart To A) Starship Trooper… which technically was late 70’s, but like the vast avid Toad of Depression, all bad things announce themselves by squatting on the horizon with a premonitory chill… Like that, then.
It was mainly that the guitar on one track made me think of 1980’s roller discos, Van Allen Belt-stripping hairspray and its uglifying effect on women’s features through the medium of ungainly, paralysed hair, and Fright Night. You’ll have to listen to the album if you want to figure out which one. Just something in the sound, just a suggestion, faint as icy winter memories in a distanced and dyspeptic summer. (I was tempted to do this in a William S Burroughs kinda style, but thought better of it; train whistles down a dusty St Louis avenue… twinge of nostalgia in the junk-sick morning as he probes for a vein… sepia photo nostalgia descends as he shoots smack into his balls. Nahh.)
So yeah, the 2nd album was all set to be quiet and introspective and statement-tastic and shit, the kind of thing that says, Remember Dylan? Leonard Cohen, even? No, of course you don’t, you attention-deficit chimps. (And actually, you’re not missing much.) Well I’m the new guy. Listen to my Serious Serenades in your Bedsit of Romantic Dejection, and weep!
…Thankfully, I got off that trip; think I might’ve had a mild head injury or something. Anyway, it was a quiet album; then I got this weird idea that one of the guitar riffs should sound like an angry, black-haired woman with imperiously flashing eyes, saying “make love to me, you fool,” in a driven whisper; and then it all went a bit retro. The riff in question won’t make the cut because it doesn’t quite work – from my unremittingly male viewpoint, it’s more like a quite plain girl who occasionally looks beautiful at odd moments, peevishly telling you your breath smells of meat and death – but I think it points the way. Already, one reflective folky number’s turned into a hellstorm of cloddish beats, camp electro noise and squealingly macho guitar. It’s Tim Curry’s worst amyl nitrate flashback nightmare.
This, by the way, is an entirely good thing. I love music, and its endless surprises.
…and all who sail in her
Thanks to everyone who sent in comments to the BBC Introducing programme this evening. Very much appreciated.
It can be heard on iPlayer for the next week, here:
…And Hands Up starts off the programme.
(In fact, I was disentangling myself from some internet admin guff and very nearly missed my own song. Was in that weird mix of frantic busy-ness and frustrated inertia that only technology can create – watching lots of little coloured bars creeping slooowly toward fulfilment, only to be thwarted by tiny circles and incomprehensible error messages… I shudder just thinking about it.)
Anyway, all’s well that ends well. The whole programme was great – if you didn’t get a chance to hear it on broadcast, give it a listen on iPlayer.
That screen test debacle in full
Ah well – best stick to music, eh. Thought things were going rather too smoothly and a humbling was due; got one in full measure. Can laff about it now, as they say; even at the time it was kind of funny, in a gruesome way. I mean, how likely is it that a complete novice can just walk in and bag the lead in a feature film…?
Anyway, as detailed below I breezed through the initial audition a while ago – largely because I was cocky and didn’t give much of a shit – and the feedback was good, very enthused. A problem occurred to me once the buzz wore off, in that I didn’t particularly care for the male lead on paper; he seemed a bit drab and creepy and it was hard to care whether he got the girl – who was free-spirited, kooky, impulsive, and also fucking irritating, truth be told. The script was almost too acute in its characterisations. (Personally I’d’ve banged their heads together; that film I’d pay to watch.) Kind of a stumbling block if you’ve never acted before and aren’t sure how to get past this pop-eyed scorn and make the guy come to life. This is where the actor’s craft, the actor’s training, the actor’s eerie capacity for self-hypnosis comes in. It’s certainly not something you can pick up in an afternoon on-site, as I discovered.
So I showed up despite this misgiving (or, okay… prejudice), was made welcome, and within five minutes was sitting under two burning pillars of light with an actress I’d never met before, trying to pretend I wanted to charm her pants off with my creepy… sorry, earnest smooth talk. Thing is, despite my snotty reservations about the characters, it’d all been a bit of a giggle before; now the sudden sharp knowledge that This Is It, It’s All Real, boosted anxiety right across the spectrum into catatonia. Within six minutes, I knew I’d blown it; within about eight, I’d sweated right through my clothes. Knowing this incredible flop sweat was being picked up on camera didn’t help me get into the moment, to put it mildly; it was about all I could do to speak my lines in the right places, in English, in a robot’s monotone.
I can truly – and happily – say I’ve never died on my arse quite so… graphically before. The shittiest gig I’ve ever done has nothing on it. It was an incredibly strange feeling: any small ideas about how to emote convincingly just sieved out of my brain like a bladderful of piss, to be replaced by… well, nothing. Utter vacancy. What really threw me, I think, was the awkwardness and weird, alien, artificial feel of the situation. (Well duh – of course it’s not real you chump, it’s meant to be a film. This is where the actor’s craft, the actor’s etc etc etc.) The other death-blow was a strong sense that whatever happened, almost none of it was under my control. Musicians, as a sweeping generalised rule, have a fair bit of say in how they present themselves and their music (oh boy, are you deluded… still). This, however, was like stepping into an uneasy dream where everyone’s smiling and smiling and speaking and you’re following suit, hoping they don’t notice you’re not one of them by some fatal slip, and still they’re smiling, and you’re sitting there wanking. Or in my case, in a pool of sweat.
Thing is, the director still seemed to want to give me a chance – he was a nice guy, generous and encouraging – so he gave me some more stuff to do, improv games, different scene with different actress, that kind of thing. This effectively prolonged and deepened the agony, but by then I was so numbed, so broken and starting to get a bit mardy – that I just didn’t care, couldn’t even summon the initiative to slink away. (The other guys up for the part were all professional actors, and while pleasant enough I felt they began to look at me a little askance; as in, who let this clown in? And how come he’s still here? Look, he’s clearly a complete amateur, he isn’t even dressed for the part – and now he’s just taking the piss. I may have imagined this, though.) Eventually I was dismissed – kindly and politely, I have to remark – and thought, WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED? But not in quite the same way as the first time.
But I remind myself, it was only ever extra gravy. And the actor’s mindset is fluid and strange and difficult to acquire… etc etc etc. The short films I’ve made in no way prepared me for it – how could they, I’m using my own words in my own time, on my own planet: speaking of which, more news on them soon.
And tomorrow, I’m going to be making a video for Hands Up – again, but a real one with proper crew and everything, which’ll involve running round Brighton with men in chem-hazard suits and gasmasks and shit. You don’t get that in a romcom.
spent yesterday recording songs and having a comedy horn blasted in my face. It just doesn’t get better than this.
Started on recording the 2nd album. Apart from the vocals being tentative – and therefore weak – it was a pretty productive session. Once I’ve got all the basic guitar tracks down I can re-record the singing, then start fleshing out the songs; meddle with them till they’re unrecognizable, even. They’re all very new, haven’t been aired live (hence the uncertainty), so I’m not tied to them emotionally; if it feels right, they could be stripped down again, completely re-structured, lose the guitar, find permutations of sound hitherto unimagined, ineffable aural perspectives never before glimpsed by humankind… Well, it’s a possibility.
I love that. And it was all harmless fun.
Good to be back in London – knowing I could leave – and good to catch up with friends, good to be doing music. Also, shot a few minutes of footage that might go into the video for Hands Up. Had to stand very still while someone let off a big, comedy horn (the irate honking kind with black squeeze bulb) right into my face without warning. Very hard not to shriek and jump two feet in the air like a simpering girl’s blouse each time, which of course was the point of the whole exercise.
So – a rich harvest indeed. The projected new album doesn’t even have a title, and there’s a lot of work still to do. The timing may seem a little odd, given that album #1 hasn’t yet been released; but it’s also satisfying to remind myself what all this is an aid of, namely music an’ shit. (Yeah… I’m not just stroking my own bloated veiny ego here, it’s about laying a pure and pristine offering on the altar of the muse… right?)
Anyway, sounding good so far.
Every week should be this way.
Talk about worlds colliding. Last Monday, gigged the legendary rock oubliette Hope & Anchor, N1. I’ve a lot of affection for that place – my old band played it loads of times, and I’ve had some great nights there. It’s an old-school stripped-down rock sweatbox in the best sense – the power of crowd and sound focus into a great white wall of energy, driving you effortlessly, till you feel Olympian and mellow like a 1920’s crooner – even while screaming your fucking head off. Entranced!
Deliberate headlined and I guested on a few songs with them; and as before, Chris added laptop noise during my set to The Black Membrane. This time it was phenomenal – the whole room immersed in surging fog, floes and crackles. I love this shit, I truly do.
Then during the week I met up with a director about a lead part in a film. It was just one of those random things that falls into your lap out of nowhere, and would be foolish (and ungrateful to Luck, Chance, whoever) not to investigate. It seemed to click, so a few days later I went for the audition.
Not something I’ve ever done before. Daunting and alien. A very heightened experience, an atmosphere superficially informal but charged with intent. There was a camera, lights, a row of people sat watching, and a script I had 5 minutes to look at. I will never, ever take the piss out of actors again.
Did the scene opposite a middle-aged guy reading a girl’s part, then had to ad-lib. On-camera. Know what? Once I’d adjusted, I slipped right into it and absolutely loved it. Obliquely similar to the kind of buzz you get doing a gig – total awareness, total control on an almost sub-atomic level. Anyway, suddenly it was over, “we’ll let you know”, and there I was out in the street wondering what just happened. Much as it sounds like an acceptance speech for the Also-Ran’s Wooden Spoon Award, I enjoyed it so much it’s kind of irrelevant if I even get the part. As unexpected tangents in life go, this was hard to beat.
Anyway, must’ve done okay, because they want me back to screen-test with potential female leads.
And lest we forget – a still from my video (see previous entry). I didn’t do anything like this at the audition, I should add.
“Damn, but I was made for these pontificating times.”
Okay, it’s far from a massive sell-out tour or anything of life-changing importance, but it’s significant to me.
Quite apart from the fact I’ve not played a proper show in a long while, the gig in Sheffield in 10 days’ time promises to be great; satisfying, worthwhile, the reason I got into all this in the first place (it’s easy to forget). Played an open mic at the Brunswick here in Brighton – or Hove, depending on whom you ask – and again, while pretty low-key, it was quite a buzz. I’d been so caught up in record release schlep, the music got a little neglected toward the end of last year – then everything ground to a halt with the enforced idleness of Xmas/New Yr… how I hate it… and it’s taken an age to shake off lassitude and personal shadows. Energy deficit after last year’s progress, or intimations of futility? After all, it’s only music.
I wonder sometimes about my motives. Take the other players at the open mic, for instance; are they doing it “just” for fun? Got something to say? For a pure expression of creative impulse, an articulation of the life urge itself? Delusions of imminent stardom? Because they’re attention-seeking twats?
Ah, who cares: all of the above probably, and no harm in any of it. The point is, things are finally looking up. And in ten days I get to resume playing live, in a decent venue on an interesting bill with a congenial audience. Hopefully. I get to ride and ride those pin-drop split seconds of awareness as the energy of thought-in-sound permeates the room.
O yes, I’ll have some of that.