In the studio today with Ahad – from Istanbul to Penzance, the sweet roads that music carves out of the Earth, driving people all over the world, to play music, to go and see music, to experience music in so many different ways. The coming together of cultures that music instigates, the sharing of ideas and knowledge, the communication of truths and the pure unadulterated visceral pleasure of it. Each of us gets something else out of it and its effects are countless from soothing your soul to firing you up to fight. Can you imagine being the Piper that led the Scots into battle? Until 1996 the bagpipes were considered a weapon of war whereas the bugle or the drum were classed as instruments. It is said that 1000 Pipers were killed in World War I as they led the men ‘over the top’. The only reason the law was changed turning the bagpipes back into a musical instrument was because a man was incessantly playing them on Hampstead Heath and was taken to court over it as an old Victorian law had instruments banned on the Heath. He claimed that it wasn’t a musical instrument but a weapon of war citing the Battle Of Culloden of 1746 where captured Piper James Reid claimed innocence as all he did was play the bagpipes and never wielded a weapon. The authorities wouldn’t have it, they declared bagpipes a weapon of war and hanged him before having him drawn and quartered. The man on Hampstead Heath was correct in his claim but the court repealed the law and made the bagpipes an instrument again so as to stop him from disturbing the serenity of the Heath.
When I was making the Rhyme album in Stockholm in the eighties I spotted a busker on the street and asked him if he’d like to come and play on my album. He said he would and came to the studio (a damp cellar) and played on the song Forever. His name was Tusker The Busker. We put him in a hand-made vocal booth surrounded by carpets and with a little plastic window. As he played he winked at us, sweating profusely and somehow made the sound of the instrument (or weapon of war as it still was then) fit into the song. The problem with bagpipes is that they are in B flat, they don’t fit everywhere, or some people might say they don’t fit anywhere.
I introduced Ahad to his first-ever pasty today which he thoroughly enjoyed. I still remember the day I ate my first falafel. It was in Berlin in the seventies. Food experiences are few and far between for me – I’d never eaten avocado until I went to Australia. Where I grew up I ate tins of beans on toast and tins of spaghetti bolognese on toast and tins of beans with pork sausages on toast. I remember drinking sugar water. I remember luncheon meat sandwiches. I remember fish paste and I remember dairy lea cheese triangles. When I had a job at Spiller Foods in Birkenhead, I ate chips and beans at the factory canteen and occasionally had a slice of corned beef. I don’t remember much about food at home, I don’t think my Mum liked to cook, she worked. My Dad cooked and it was mostly stews. I remember sugar sandwiches on white bread, it’s a wonder I survived.
Olivia and I were made for each other when it comes to food, fussy, picky, happy. Never invite us for dinner unless you have us bring our own. When I used to go home to my parents’ house in Aberystwyth where they retired, in my Mum’s mind it was a nightmare as to what she would feed me. I’d call up in August and say I’ll be there in December and my Mum would say, “What am I going to give you to eat?”. It was always nut roast. Linda McCartney’s hadn’t really hit yet and that was all there was in her mind. Vegetarianism was just weird to them, 37 years later, here we are.
It’s still hard travelling around when you are vege, not as hard as it used to be, but stop at a German truck stop and see how you go. Or try Cracker Barrel in America, big fat menu, nothing vege. I remember once we stopped at a food mall outside Chicago and there was nothing of substance to eat in the whole place. The problem is that I don’t like tomato (neither does Olivia), I don’t like bell peppers or anything from the nightshade family, like aubergine for example. I don’t really like squash or green beans, I don’t eat fish or seafood. I don’t eat eggs. Sometimes you think you’ve hit gold at a US truck stop, ‘chunky vege soup’ but then you discover that the chunks are big pieces of beef. Olivia and I are happy with our diet, it’s quite annoying when somebody says, “You don’t like tomatoes because you’ve never had a good one”. I’m 62, I’d rather die than eat a tomato. I also hate melted cheese, I’ve never eaten a pizza. Olivia has never tasted wine or beer – we are made for each other.
Music today comes from the ECM catalogue and the original Return To Forever guitarist Bill Connors who played on the third album, Hymn Of The Seventh Galaxy (1973). He released the lovely Theme To A Gaurdian on the ECM label in 1975. As far as I understand, ‘Guardian’ is misspelt. His fourth album Of Mist And Melting came out in 1975. It included some heavy hitters, namely Jan Garbarek on sax, Gary Peacock on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Like the first album, it was produced by ECM guru Manfred Eicher in Oslo. The ECM catalogue is a treasure trove of beauty. Sometimes lonely music in a stark landscape manifested in the album cover art as well as the instrumentation and the themes. But the music is always dripping with atmosphere, enough to warm your bones by the fire whilst the snow falls outside in a Norwegian forest.