Every day I drink copious cups of Celestial Seasonings Tension Tamer tea with a spoonful of honey. I know, Tension Tamer, bit of a silly name, but that blend of herbs and that sweet spoonful is the day’s repeating treat. Sundays are generally mega session days for me and the kettle is constantly boiling. I guess there’s a lot of boiling kettles at the moment with everyone at home and consequently I’ve been getting a lot of enquiries about the sessions as people now have more time. (The boxes of tea have been emptying fast.) It’s probably hard to imagine how it works unless you’ve done so if you want to try it out, remember the first preliminary chat is free as we discuss how I may be able to help. It doesn’t matter if you play guitar well or are a beginner and it’s not just about playing guitar, it’s also about writing songs, the creative process and as much as my experience covers. I don’t do theory, scales, Van Halen covers or stick to the hour. At some point you will be hearing the album we are making with the original sessioneer Jed from Minneapolis. The results will speak for themselves, I single Jed out because it is a musical project that started with a Skype call and will soon (world survival notwithstanding) become a record. I’m sure that other releases will follow and for those that are just trying to improve their guitar playing, it’s baby steps. You don’t need to be a hot guitarist to write great songs. There’s a lot to all this creative stuff but a virtuoso skill set is not necessary. You need what every single person has, your uniqueness and direction, that’s it.
Today I was in Sydney, NSW with Tony, Orlando, Florida with Brian, Minneapolis, Minnesota with the other Brian and Wappinger Falls, New York with Doug. I’m getting around and I’ve been thinking about the travel bug and being locked in all the time and how people must be suffering acute cabin fever, Netflix overload and guilty overstocked toilet paper anxiety. What must prison be like? Before all this went down, I was talking to a stranger at Simeon’s Citroen. I didn’t catch his name but he had never left England. He’s not the first person I have met who’s never left their own country. I simply can’t imagine it. (A friend in Australia has never seen snow fall.) When I was living and working in and around Liverpool, my biggest ambition was to travel outside England. I admit living up North with working parents it took me 19 years to do it, but I did see a lot of Wales as a kid.
My first trip outside England’s borders was with my friend Lesley to the grape picking region in Perpignan (a whole story in itself). I was fascinated by the feeling of being in another land, it was an absolute fantasy world. Words coming out of people’s mouths that I couldn’t understand, cars with steering wheels on the wrong side and driving on the wrong side of the road, different food, different clothes, different demeanour and in the South of France a different climate. I won’t be going into too much detail about all these years of travelling I was just thinking about where I got the desire. My theory is that I got it from my childhood stamp album. Decades ago I inherited my grandfather’s and my father’s family’s stamp collections and as a kid continued collecting. There were these companies that sent you little oblong books of stamps from all over the world, they were called ‘approvals’. You could pick the stamps you wanted out, send them a postal order for the ones you wanted to keep and return the ones you didn’t want. There were beautiful big colourful stamps from exotic places like Malawi and stamps that were different shapes, triangular or long. I remember China had some huge colourful red stamps depicting a happy life with Mao Tse Tung. But it wasn’t just the look of the stamps from different countries or the fun of collecting them. I inherited a stamp album (long since lost) that above every page stated the country, the capital city and the square miles (it might have also stated the population but I can’t quite remember that). My imagination would run wild thinking about all these fascinating cities in all these magical countries. What could be better than going there and meeting the inhabitants? All the excitement those stamps have caused in my life.
Music today took me to some great guitarists and singers. I didn’t really know where to start, but Florida Brian had mentioned Richard Thompson today during the sesh, so that’s who I went for. I picked out his last album, 13 Rivers from 2018. When we talk about unique, we just listen to Richard Thompson play the guitar. There’s no one like him and I love his approach, his tone and the chances he takes. He bends strings in patterns and shapes that are from another place. I’ve met him a couple of times or more and he’s always really nice. I played with him as support in San Francisco one night and he asked me for my autograph! Ha ha! I nearly fell off my 12 string, it was for his daughter Muna. He’s made so many great albums and his voice is unmistakable. I’ve seen him live many times and will always take the opportunity to see him live. Sometimes he has a band, sometimes he’s solo, but he’s always happening.
After that as there’s no traffic out there, I listened to John Barleycorn Must Die from 1970. At this point Traffic had become a three piece with Dave Mason gone and the band seemingly over. Steve Winwood joined short-lived supergroup Blind Faith. So the session was originally intended to be a Steve Winwood solo album but joined by Chris Wood on flute and sax and Jim Capaldi on drums and vocals with Winwood on lead vocals, keys, piano and guitars, it was decided to call it Traffic. It was their highest charting album till then and was probably the impetus to continue for four more years. I saw them once at Universal amphitheatre in LA when they released one more album, Far From Home, in 1994 (they had split in 1974). It was dedicated to Chris Wood, who had died in 1983 at the age of 39.
Next came For Earth Below (1975) by Robin Trower, his third album featuring ex Stone The Crow’s James Dewar on bass and vocal and ex Gypsy drummer Bill Lordan. I saw Trower live around this time at Liverpool Stadium, I remember it was sold out. I still buy his albums and his last one Coming Closer To The Day (2019) was great, especially sonically.
This led me to the second Gypsy album, In The Garden (1971), inspired by the appearance of ‘Sweet William’ Lordan as he is credited. After Gypsy and before Robin Trower, Lordan went on to play for a short time with Sly And The Family Stone and appears on Small Talk (1974) and on one track on High On You (1975). But who were Gypsy? Gypsy were from Minneapolis and made four albums and I only have this one, if anyone spots their other three out there, let me know. Sweet William gets an upbeat drum solo on the record, but they have an organ-heavy sound and a good singer, with songs that typify the era. Whatever happened to singer guitarists Enrico Rosenblum and James C. Johnson? Keyboard player James Owl Walsh had his own version of the band. Bass player Wille Weeks and percussionist Joe Lala became well-known session players, Weeks with David Bowie (on Young Americans but not on Fame or Across The Universe, that was Emir Ksasan), George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, and a million more. Lala played with Stephen Stills, Dan Fogelberg, Joe Walsh, Jackson Browne, Barbra Streisand on Guilty, Dionne Warwick on Heartbreaker, Rod Stewart, and more. He was also a voice actor, he died in 2014.
Records and stamps led me here and in celebration of the Chinese stamps I mentioned earlier, here’s Mao Tse Tung Kiss from Honey Mink Forever:
Mao Tse Tung Kiss
In the West they’ve got religion
Blood and fear, distorted vision
They can’t see whe’re all the same
And all extremes mean
Pain across the Peking sunset baby
A sight you don’t wanna miss
I didn’t see it in your eyes
A complete surprise
When you threw me your
Mao Tse Tung kiss
In the East there’s population
But they’re not waiting for salvation
Integration or one nation
Another situation for a corporation
It’s all a theory
You can’t carve it in stone
Punching in the dark
Scared to be alone
Scattered in the dust
Of the great unknown
Was it on the Great Wall of China baby
That you came up with this
I didn’t see it in your eyes
A complete surprise
When you hit me with your
Mao Tse Tung kiss
If it’s China or Carolina baby
Just remember this
You can’t convince
2000 years of sins
With one Mao Tse Tung kiss
(Willson-Piper / Mason)
Noctorum – Honey Mink Forever (2011)