I was talking on the phone to my friend Boydy today about music, life, possible UK dates for Olivia and I next year and of course the general malaise of lockdown. The malaise comes in waves but at least where we are we do actually have real waves. The subject of this very blog came up briefly and I was commenting that in the future with more experiences and different situations there will be more to say but ironically, less time to say it. When you think about the physical experience of travel and in my case playing shows in different cities, in different countries around the world and meeting all kinds of different people with different languages and their own fascinating cultures, there’ll be a lot to write about – observations, revelations, experiences. But as in George And Weedon Grossmith’s The Diary Of A Nobody, perhaps there is something to be said about the everyday. Those that have followed this blog will probably be fascinated to know the next installment of ‘The Broken Belt’ story and today’s successful finding of a temporary replacement in a charity store. Yay! It is so ugly and brown and looks ridiculous atop black shorts. Still it must be better than a maroon paisley dressing gown cord. The red sofa hasn’t had much of a starring role in text recently, but it is always there in the album pictures and is still considered the sexiest piece of furniture in Penzance.
Many writings come not from the experiences of the world, of travel, of unexpected encounters, but from the mind, from thoughts, from investigations inward, from knowledge gained from study, not everything has to be physically experienced first hand. To some the imagination might be a safer, more creative source for inspiration than the entire universe. The surreal scenario in Dare’s bathroom might appear more in these musings that flit between anecdotes and looking at the world outside from the inside of a building albeit a cool one that holds a recording studio and a music archive. In reality with the depth of the internet, all that information, I wouldn’t need the vinyl records I have to listen to and write about music. There’s just something really nice about it.
Last night we went to bed at 6AM and at 9AM I got up. We were expecting courier deliveries at the studio and if the main big door is closed they just put a slip through the door and take the parcel away again. So there I was, early, all the doors open, notes on the door, my telephone number, super tired, just waiting. I kept on going up the stairs to check and because Sod’s Law is a real thing, I got up there and the postman had not bothered to leave the parcel he was delivering and had put a slip through the letter box of the open door. I love the expression, “You can’t get the staff”. So I was faced with the dilemma of running to the parcel office to get the parcel that they didn’t leave whilst waiting for two couriers that hadn’t arrived yet. It was midday, they should have been here! But the post office closed at 12.30. Grrr! Why couldn’t he have delivered the parcel? So I took a chance to run (ha, run!) to the parcel office to get the undelivered parcel whilst hoping that the two couriers didn’t show up. I was desperate to pick up something after 3 hours of sleep and 3 hours of waiting.
I managed to get back in time with a deeper realization that I have something wrong with my hip. It’s cracking all the time, it hurts often. I’d been thinking it was a muscle issue, but the recurring grinding, cracking bone probably suggests otherwise. Not a problem, you know how men love going to the doctor. When I got back to the studio neither Hermes nor DHL had been. I opened the package I got from the post office, it was the vinyl reissue of Kevin Ayers, Eno, Cale and Nico, June 1st, 1974, I felt like I needed a pristine copy of that album and all these classic obscurities are made in such limited numbers.
I went back upstairs and there was the Hermes lady, it’s usually a moody bloke. Last time he told me he couldn’t wait two minutes for me to get upstairs from the studio, because they had a schedule and if they didn’t deliver all packages on time then they get penalized. Oh my God, the world’s gone mad. So in the process of delivering a great service they put the couriers under such pressure that the man that gets me the package is so stressed out that he’s getting angry with the customer for keeping him waiting for two minutes. Customer service designed by a soulless, cold, profit-making corporation. In today’s package was the reissue of House Of Love’s She Paints Words In Red from 2012. Why on earth they had to send it by courier and not by post I don’t know.
What I’m trying to do with the ordinariness of today is show the tension, the aspects, the philosophies, the commitments, the difficulties of such simple things. So one more package to go and the realization that lack of sleeping wasn’t helping with the patience. This remaining package was coming from Olivia’s Dad, who sent it normal post but because DHL is a German affiliate to the post office, even if he sends it from the post office in Germany, the post office sends it DHL which means it’s not post here, it’s courier. Eventually it arrived, but I waited four hours with three hours sleep. I watched some football as I was waiting, Leicester vs Watford. Pretty drab, but in the last five minutes two spectacular goals, which taught me something about waiting for the couriers.
I went for a walk around the half-open town, found a cheap vinyl album in a charity store from the South Sea islands called Savage, which I bought for the title more than anything else (£1), I also bought Elton John’s book “Me” for the archive library, hard back (£1), and the ugly brown belt (£2). Now with the belt, instead of before where the dressing gown cord looked obviously temporary, now it looks like I chose this ugly brown excuse for a belt. You can’t win. Still, I risked a trip through Morrab Gardens down to the recycling, the sea and the supermarket with Olivia. It was windy and cold, despite the weather forecast (Boydy’s wife Trish had told me that they’d been sitting in the garden in the sun north of London). The choppy waves and the wind blowing in our faces had us stand there on the prom for just a short while. Olivia stood behind me, using me as a shield, my thick brown belt emanating a low hum that scared the seagulls and directed the wind away from us. Over at the supermarket we shopped, got to the till, went to pay and I’d forgotten my card at the studio. It was going to be one of those days. I left Olivia behind in the supermarket with our basket of groceries and walked all the way to the studio and back again.
On the way back the weather was getting angry, we took a different way to the studio and walked through Penlee Park and took a picture by a fabulous tree. Obviously from the palm family, the trunk and the shape were magnificent and really there’s nothing better than a palm tree in a storm, there’s an incongruity. We had dinner, Star Trek was pretty stoopid again, but it’s not always about the story, it’s the set design, the colours, the clothes. When I watch it I think about the music that was coming out at the time. The Beatles, The Kinks, The Small Faces, The Who. What a time for the imagination. If we think change is going on now imagine the change that was going on then. As I type I am thinking about President Shrimp’s stoopid Tulsa rally, where he’ll provoke violence, lie about his achievements and lie about the number of people turning up whilst ignoring the rising pandemic numbers. One thing I realized today from the lies about his popularity, there are actually more sane people and he’s going to lose in November.
Music today had me intrigued about bands that became huge – but not yet. Supertramp made two albums before the release of their breakthrough album Crime Of The Century in 1974. The self-titled debut arrived in 1970. The band had been put together by keyboard player, singer-songwriter Rick Davies with the financial help of a Dutch millionaire. Multi-instrumentalist Roger Hodgson answered an ad in Melody Maker as did Richard Palmer-James who played guitar and wrote the words for the Hodgson/Davies compositions, and Keith Baker played drums (he also made one album with Bakerloo). Baker left before the first album, but eventually found himself in Uriah Heep. It was Robert Millar that played drums on this first album. These seedling albums before mega success are fascinating, because you can hear the sound of success in a record that wasn’t successful. There’s lots of falsetto vocals and meandering musical sections which I like and I guess other people don’t. As the band became less Progressive and more Pop-orientated they became less interesting. It might be hard for you to put ‘interesting’ and Supertramp in the same sentence, but once they were just that.
By the second album, Indelibly Stamped (1971) with its unlikely artwork, Palmer-James and Millar were gone, replaced by Kevin Currie on drums, Frank Farrell on bass and piano and Dave Winthrop on flute and sax. Later, Palmer-James wrote the lyrics on three King Crimson albums, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic (1973), Starless And Bible Black (1974), and Red (1974). A different lineup and a different songwriting arrangement with Hodgson and Davies writing their own words and composing songs separately saw a change in direction abandoning the Progressive melancholia of the first album. The songs are weaker, the guitar isn’t as good and neither are the words (Palmer-James was a better guitarist and a better lyricist than Davies and Hodgson at this time). That’s most likely why the band became so affiliated with keyboards, although Hodgson played guitar he wasn’t really a guitarist.
There’s a note in the album cover that suggests that the second track, Travelled, is more similar to the songs on the first album than any other track, but I can’t hear it. This album sounds like they are more on their way to ‘songs’ and less attention paid to the instrumental section arrangements. That’s just what I like about Crime Of The Century, how the songs are strong and the instrumental passages are also strong, integral, it’s what makes that album so good.
Indelibly Stamped sold worse than the first album, but in those glorious days lack of success didn’t mean you got dropped. Labels stuck with you and in the case of Supertramp the label’s faith was rewarded with a band that would go on to sell 60 million albums in their career.
In between the success of sixties Pop group Manfred Mann and seventies Progressive Rock group Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Manfred Mann went jazzy and made two albums under the moniker of Manfred Mann Chapter Three. Manfred Mann had previously been together having hits for 5 or 6 years, but times were changing and this more Progressive and experimental sound was fighting to get out. It’s hard to hear the past band in this record, but you can hear where they were going. It would take Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s hit Blinded By The Light before a connection appeared between Manfred Mann the Pop group and Manfred Mann the Progressive group. The hybrid was most certainly a memorable and successful formula as they topped the US charts with the Springsteen song reinterpreted and turned it into a timeless classic.
On the demise of Manfred Mann the Pop group there had allegedly been an attempt to form Manfred Mann Chapter Two with vocalist Mike d’Abo, but that hadn’t worked out. (d’Abo had replaced original singer Paul Jones.) The more experimental Chapter Three (1969) saw original drummer Mike Hugg become the lead singer and piano player. Mann played organ, Steve York was on bass, Craig Colling on drums and Bernie Living on sax and flute. They toured with a brass section, this version of the band with elements of Progressive and Free Jazz was a huge departure – and I really like it. There’s some other connection in there to Dr. John that Hugg is channelling in the vocals – odd.
The second album Volume Two (1970) with the creepy doll cover follows the same pattern. After listening to the first album and now the second, Mike Hugg’s vocals are really very weird. If the album was just the instrumentals then it wouldn’t be so odd, but the vocals take this record to another place completely. He’s not really a singer. It’s like somebody had to do it, but because of that, the record doesn’t have the sound of established artists executing their skills. It adds an element of chance in between the competence of the musicians and it’s much better that way. But there’s some great jazzy instrumental section. Good luck finding vinyl copies of these albums. I have a New Zealand and an Australian copy of Volume 2 and an American, Australian and English copy of Volume 1 (US has a different cover). It’s so cool collecting different versions of the same thing. There was another album recorded and not released and it seems that you can find some of these tracks on a compilation CD from a series called Radio Days Volume III. Please check this band out, nobody else will ever tell you to.
Song Of The Day is Trick from the Noctorum album The Afterlife released in 2019, because it’s a bit odd.
You are there for me
I am there for you
I sit down on a chair
I don’t know if I’ll
Ever dream again
All I know is I care
You stare straight at me
I stare back at you
Clench your fist ‘round my heart
I’ve a trick for you
It will delight you
Or will tear you apart
You might not think you can choose
In a world of pain
But you will find if you lose
You will win again
The sun will rise in the east
You know that it’s true
If you can just trick the beast
Let your love come through
I see diamonds and
I see crimes and I
Know a thief loves the dark
You run through the streets
And you’re chased by defeat
And she won’t catch you up
Can’t deceive or disrupt you
A calmness negates
All the tricks in the fear
And the trick in your mind
And the trick in your ear
To its lies
You won’t be tricking my soul
With your subterfuge
You’re just a big empty hole
There is no refuge
The sun will set in the west
You know that it’s true
If you can just trick the beast
Let your love come through
(Willson-Piper / Mason)
Noctorum – The Afterlife (2019)