I’d been sitting on the red couch all evening, I had four sessions, Tony in Sydney, Mike in New Orleans, Joanne in Portland and Doug in Wappingers Falls. I’d felt my keys drop out of my pocket during a rendition of High As A Kite for Doug as I was explaining the power of arrangement. But then I realised that Olivia had my keys and so when I said goodbye to Doug I checked below the cushions for the keys that I shouldn’t have. I distinctly felt a bunch of keys fall from my pocket as you often do when you sit on a sofa – it can be lower than you think, you can sink down, things fall out. When I was a kid I was always looking down the sofa usually for money (haha) and there was always something there: a coin or two, nail clippers, the remote control and a lot of crumbs and fluff. As I removed the cushion from the couch, I noticed a handle which I thought must be to pull open the sofabed but then I noticed it was more like a hatch.
Why hadn’t I noticed it before? I stood there for a second and noticed the small bunch of keys that were wedged between the remaining cushion and the sofa arm. I picked them up but I didn’t recognise them. How had they got into my trousers in the first place? One of the silver keys seemed to be glowing in my hand and I felt them getting hot, I dropped them as a reaction and they fell onto the hatch. They landed with the glowing key falling upright into a keyhole that immediately made the hatch open. It was as if it was on a spring because it flung itself open like a medieval catapult revealing a descending ladder. I peered inside and I was sure I could see a village. There were small cottages and what looked like a country lane heading out towards distant fields.
I walked out of the room and into the kitchen and pressed down the button on the SodaStream bottle 5 times like I was making a wish. As I drank the fizzy water went up my nose and I dried my mouth on the tea towel hanging in the kitchen. I was feeling clumsy. I wasn’t freaking out – yet, I was more curious. What was happening, was I imagining all this? Was I in an obscure dream, flying through the sky over Turkey crucified on a red kite? Would I be falling off a mountain in the sky, dancing with Twigs in a submarine, wearing a fake fox head in a pharmacy, talking to Baudelaire about his favourite breakfast? No, it wasn’t a dream, I returned to the room with the couch and gazed down into the hatch, the scene was the same except this time I thought I could hear a voice. I made a joke to myself, ‘The Village Voice’, and then abruptly my mood changed when walking towards the village down the country lane was a beetle dressed in a green corduroy suit with a guitar slung over its back. I couldn’t quite figure out how it was walking upright with all the legs but then I realised that the two back legs were vertically protruding out of the turned-up trouser bottoms and the other four legs were two sets of arms.
It was the only day of the week that I hadn’t had my pasty because the bakery I usually go to was closed on a Sunday. I was considering the idea that there was something in my routine that had changed and this was why the day was taking an odd turn. I then realised that there was one other different and unusual occurrence. The night before there had been what sounded like a beak tapping on the window. It only went on for five minutes but the following morning, I noticed that the bread had been pecked at and the top was off the honey jar. Had a bird got in in the night and even so what was the connection between this and the event continuing in the couch? It was then that I noticed that the room I was in was moving and I heard the flapping of wings. I noticed that outside the window the world was rushing by. It seemed like we were travelling at great speed and as I looked down at my clothes I noticed they were changing into fashion of different eras, from flat shoes and straight-legged jeans to platforms and flares and back through the 20th century, further and further back until the movement abruptly stopped – I was wearing rags. I looked down into the hatch and noticed a newspaper flying on a breeze. 1st November 1755, the day of the Lisbon earthquake that destroyed the city. By this time the beetle had reached the ladder and was climbing up through the hatch into the room with me. “I hear you do songwriting and guitar guidance sessions,” said the beetle. “Yes, I do,” I said. “Well, I’ve been working on a concept album around the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 and I’ve taken us to the aftermath. I wanted to get some authenticity into the project. I’m sorry about the hatch in the couch,” he said, “I’m hopeless with technology and as you were from Liverpool and were moving to Portugal I thought you would be perfect for the job”. It was then that he took out a cheque book, The Royal Bank Of Strawberry Fields, and with a pincer scrawled out an outrageous fee and said, “Stay creative”.
Music today had me craving Traffic and The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys (1971). The reason; well, it’s seen as seventies music but it’s also genreless for the era, it’s folky but not traditional, it’s soulful but not Soul, it’s Progressive but not complex, it’s catchy but not Pop, it’s excellently played but not virtuosos, it’s great songwriting but people don’t hum the tunes. It’s lyrically serious but not dour, it’s jazzy without the scales, it’s brilliant. That organ in the title track blows me away every time. Steve Winwood sings lead vocals on four of six tracks, he also plays the piano, organ and lead guitar. Jim Capaldi sings on the other two. Capaldi plays percussion on this album, the drummer is Jim Gordon. Chris Wood plays flute and sax, Ric Grech plays bass and violin and Reebop Kwaku Baah also plays percussion.
The tragedy of this album is that all but Steve Winwood have died tragically or in Jim Gordon’s case are in a psychiatric hospital jail where he has been since 1983, diagnosed with acute schizophrenia after the murder of his mother. Jim Capaldi died of stomach cancer aged 60, Reebop died of a cerebral haemorrhage aged 38, Chris Wood died of pneumonia aged 39 and Ric Grech died of kidney failure at age 43 after years of alcohol addiction. I’m sorry I had to tell you this. Also, note that Mike Kellie from Spooky Tooth and later The Only Ones plays on one track and yes he died too of an unspecified illness in 2017 at the age of 69.
On the previous album, John Barleycorn Must Die (1970), only Winwood, Wood and Capaldi were present. Original guitarist Dave Mason had left from the original lineup leaving Winwood to take over on guitar, to sing, play bass and play piano and organ. He and Capaldi wrote the songs. It’s another great Traffic album that needs attention! Traffic seem to fall through the cracks of styles but that’s the very thing that makes them essential. Highly recommended.