The silence in the streets, the vast dome of spring blue above my head, the sun finally shining down on an Earth that seems to be so sparsely populated that it reminds me of the past. I remember in the sixties how the roads had fewer cars. I remember tan-coloured, string-backed driving gloves that had a press stud to close them and an oval designed cut out where you could see the back of your hand. No seatbelts, sturdy metal frames and large leather bench seats, doors that clunked in deep tones when you shut them. Chrome door handles and bumper bars, radiator grills and headlights with so much character they had faces, personalities. The Chevron on the Citroen and all the different bonnet ornaments. The Spirit Of Ecstasy on the Rolls Royce, the chrome plated leaping cat on a Jaguar. At some point they were banned as dangerous and then there were the morons that stole them, ripping them off the bonnets in the night. But the wonderful lines that cars had in those days…
One of my earliest memories was my Dad’s Ford Consul. Like me, my mum never drove (except once, but that’s another story). The car was cream coloured and it had an olive green roof but it disappears out of my memory when we made our first house move. My parents ran a pub called The Commercial in Compstall, it’s part of the borough of Stockport where I was born and I imagine that I lived there from birth till our next house close by outside Marple Bridge off the Glossop road. I have a terrible childhood memory of living there. As I remember the pub was next door to a graveyard and to this day I run past graveyards if I’m alone, all cocky and confident if I’m with someone else as if I’m fighting with my psyche trying to inhibit what I might imagine if I was left to myself. Scary stuff psychologically but not as scary as the nightmare I had as a very young child that I still remember. Wait for it, it’s terrible that a child went through this. All I remember is a moving severed hand on my bed. How awful is that for a kid of, I don’t know, about 4 years old? My only other memories are a vague recollection of a small girl whose name may have been Evelyn, a local playmate perhaps. Then there was my grandmother on my father’s side who I remember as being strict and somehow loveless (the opposite of my mother’s mother). I recall she was called Priscilla, she had what looked like dyed ginger hair and a stiff demeanour, I remember her perfume used to make me feel sick and I was uncomfortable in her presence. I remember that she always wore stockings and when she walked her thighs rubbed together so you could hear her coming.
My point with all this is that those days remind me of the stillness and silence of now. I even think the seagulls are quieter as if all that noise that they make was only because of the presence of humans, revving cars and the digital beeping of the doors on buses and their noisy engines as they pull away. Loud motorbikes and shouting children, skateboarders, buskers and the local silver band. As if to say ‘you make your noise and we make ours’. In my world it’s often quiet outside because I go to bed very late and get up very late. I miss the day and all the hoo-ha. I love the dead of night when I’m awake, alert, creative. I always think about starting something past midnight, a song, or writing. It seems that in recent times Olivia and I think about sleeping between 4-6AM and waking between midday and 2PM, eight hours, perfect, although Olivia needs a little more.
It’s been a strange day for music today, partly continuing with what Paul and I were talking about yesterday. I was at the Record And Tape Exchange in Notting Hill earlier this year and CDs have become so cheap there that I decided to buy a whole lot of things that I wouldn’t normally buy to see if there were any surprises. I mentioned Sunflower Bean the other day, I bought a couple of Squeeze CDs, Hendrix Live At Berkley and a whole lot more but one that I got was a Van Morrison album from 2016 called Keep Me Singing. I like to give records a chance and Paul and I were talking briefly about some of the older Van albums. This one though seemed very samey and middle of the road but then it sounded exactly like Van Morrison sounds. Maybe it’s just modern sounds versus older sounds with this kind of music. It’s as if he had recorded this same album in 1972 it would have been much better. Recording techniques, microphones, the sounds of older instruments, the attitude of engineers and producers and the musicians themselves, the whole digital world that we live in and what it has done to our souls or perhaps the block it has created in our souls. I need to go back and listen to a couple of older albums by him and see if I can pick why I like them more.
I was sad to find out that I have music by a musician who has died of the Corona virus, Manu Dibango. For some reason I only have the CD single here from the Wakafrica album (so I ordered it). It’s the Gabriel song Biko remixed with the second song, the title track. Afro Jazz, unique rhythms, he died in his adopted country of France at the age of 86. Originally from Cameroon he was essentially a sax player that played piano and vibraphone. I lived in London with a sax player from Cameroon called Yeb who I once saw play with the amazing Gil Scott-Heron at the Jazz cafe in Camden, but that’s another story. Dibango was famous for his song Soul Makossa from 1972. This led me to a collection from Nigerian Psychedelic, Soul, Rock, Funk koolistas, Blo. I have a compilation CD called Phases 1972-1982. It’s great at first but they stray into Disco territory later on and this reflects their lack of sales with their earlier and best music as they tried to gain some attention but the first few tracks are really worth the price of entry.
As Paul and I were talking about Pilot last night, I jumped a long way from Africa to Scotland and listened to the two Pilot albums that didn’t have the hits. By the last album, Two’s A Crowd, the band was only David Paton on bass and vocals and Ian Bairnson on guitar. After Pilot they both played on the first two Kate Bush albums, The Kick Inside and Lionheart and then joined The Alan Parsons Project (Two’s A Crowd was produced at Abbey Road by Parsons). When I listen to these old middle of the road seventies records I try to listen to them in the spirit of the era but in this case, you can hear the era being wiped out by Punk Rock on the passing of each easy mellow track. Despite their earlier hits and melodic sensibilities they didn’t have a chance – they looked wrong, too. It’s another example of everything Punk was out to destroy, they succeeded of course. But I always wondered why Punk wanted to destroy Progressive music, music that was also edgy, often experimental and annoying the parents – like Van Der Graaf Generator. I suppose it wasn’t simple and energetic enough, although when I saw Emerson, Lake & Palmer at the Liverpool Empire in the mid-seventies it was as aggressive as anything I’d ever seen with Keith Emerson thrusting a dagger into his Hammond Organ and rolling it around the stage like a lunatic removal man.
I had a preliminary sesh today with Tyler in Portland and have seshes with Stephen in Washington on Friday and Matt in Brooklyn on Saturday as well as six more seshes on Sunday. In between all this Dare and I are in the studio flitting between Noctorum writing sessions and Space Summit fixing and mixing. I’m looking forward to a day of putting records away, listening and filing, my idea of fun.
I hope that everyone out there is taking the opportunity to do the opposite of what the panicky vibe in the world is telling us to do. So, mellow out, listen to music, watch some amazing films, read, learn something, French, cooking, banjo, anything. You might not get another chance to be creative like this when time is stolen back from you. On another positive note think of the Earth’s relief as industry pauses and nature recovers. Dolphins in Venice and thousands of people and animals not being choked to death by pollution. The great dilemma, the workforce versus the Earth.
Okay I’m off to file and listen into the night, I’ll try and post the pictures of the records I listen to after Pilot, but hey let’s make it those first two amazing Kate Bush albums that Paton and Bairnson played on and beyond!
Today’s song is the recorded version of the appropriately titled Hopes And Fears from Noctorum’s second album Offer The Light. Olivia and I love playing this one live, we usually finish the set with it and it suits the 12 string acoustic and violin perfectly. Olivia’s final soaring solo every night always seems to leave a sense of satisfaction in the audience as it does in us.
HOPES AND FEARS
I stare out of my window at a grey Northern sky
On a Saturday
And the smoke in the distance that clings to the hills
From the factories
And people are gathering in droves in the street
‘Cause it’s market day
And I am in love with a girl who I met
Summer has gone
Lights are on
The nights have grown long
Then the town’s
As the rain hits the ground
Then the newspaper sellers are telling us all
What’s been happening
And women are hiding in shopkeeper’s doorways
And you and I meet in the café across from the hospital
And finding a cure for the lovelorn
Is proving impossible
Life tumbles on
Like this song
And the music plays on
And we kiss
Like a play
With our love on display
And the sirens still call
From the factory walls
As we pray to live in peace
With the future unknown
We slowly walk home
As our hopes and fears increase
With our fate in our hands
As we lay in the sand
Will our love and life survive
But I know this is bliss
You are all that I wish
With our hopes and fears alive
(Willson-Piper / Mason)
Noctorum – Offer The Light (2006)