the 4 year hiatus in this on-going series is a result of the dilemma i had with dealing with the 2 songs written by andrew goodwin that were mentioned in my coathanger song. i had planned to try and create versions of them both. that is clues and belgrade ’88 which are referenced in the line
searching for clues
but when andrew tragically died in a fire back in september 2013 i lost the momentum. i wanted to carry on with the project but somehow i just couldn’t do it. i think the only way i could record those would be to do them sometime with mike mulholland and bernie martin we ought to do it maybe they’ve already done it without me i better ring mike sometime and see how he’s getting on.
meanwhile i’ve decided to leave out andrew’s songs and carry on with the next song in the trail which is referenced in the line
finding old gardens
old graveyards too
and this song is called culture and i wrote it i think in 1977. i just listened to the song on the whose last trickle album (track 11) and i think i prefer the new version which i’ve just done – the vocal doesn’t really sound too good on the 1978 recorded dry rib version. in mitigation as i’ve said before it was the first time i’d ever been in a recording studio. i’ll include the track too so you can see what i mean.
In 1974 probably in the 8 week term that is known as hilary I wrote a song which is the oldest song that I have on a cd. In fact I have it on 2 cds. And that is why this the 3rd series of repeated songs exists. The first version was recorded in 1980 probably possibly and as usual as it’s historically a precedent I’m highlighting it first. It’s out there in the world. I was happy that someone else (Chuck Warner) made that decision because to be perfectly frank I didn’t think it was good enough. As a song it’s fine it’s just the recording I’m talking about – not that there’s anything wrong with the musicians, just that if I thought it was going to be released to a wider audience I would have wanted to work and record it better. It wasn’t meant for general public release. But as I’ve said before it’s all there is so that’s in a way irrelevant.
The Mouse And The Bear (1980 version)
The 2nd version was recorded in December 2007. The people involved were Jeff Spencer, Paul Wigens, me, Immy & Mossy Price. The last 2 just had a cameo role and I’m glad to say that they’re both musicians now although that’s as a result of many more variant influences than me. More female musicians is pretty high up as a goal in my manifesto however.
the mouse and the bear (2007 version)
The 2 songwriters I associate with this song are of course Syd Barrett and Kevin Ayers who initially I copied. (Back in 1971). Most of my early songs were either based on one of the other of those 2. Luckily The Mouse And The Bear is not exactly quite like any song that either of those 2 wrote, I can certainly perceive the similarities. I have an even earlier song called The Story that I can play which is in the same vein. More Kevin Ayers-like in that it has jazz chords. The chord thing with Syd is moving mainly major chords up and down without worrying about basic rules of harmony but he never got round to any jazz chords all that much other than that Bb diminished in Here I Go. Maybe I’ll do a demo of The Story soon that would be nice. Really I ought to be working on the next stage of the coathanger trail but I’m stuck with that difficult requirement and so it’s possible I won’t be able to do that until the spring of 2014.
and now a granite mix that deals with my own work. this is my unveiling on this website of my new album which is called true v eye and will imminently be available on itunes and as a hard copy at my amazon store – see the buy stuff page for links. there are only 2 of the tracks from the new album featured on the mix along with a selection from other albums and some obscure places.
the music speaks for itself but it would be churlish not to write a bit about these tracks so here goes. desert ghost dance has nursery rhyme style dialogue and therefore acts as a pair with track 6. a famous german 20th century artist is referenced in the last verse. perplex is a pair with it too because it is also a dialogue of sorts. then there’s suspense which also hovers between heaven and earth, as do, for that matter the children of the sea. domes however merely fly beneath the starlit sky. i’ve already mentioned in my jar – a famous 20th century british writer is referenced in the 3rd verse.
my video for happy song is a shoddy affair but has a certain innocent sweetness in its demeanour which i hope makes up for that.
the track that i’ve called chasing the sun dates to a period when I was using a sampler to create the basics of my music. everything was a home recording and nothing was ever that well-finished but i’ve got a lot of interesting things that may never show the light of day. this one’s made it through though – for a while at least. It contains a sample from a track by sun ra called disco 2100. in the train was recorded in about 1982. at the recording session for the new album i re-recorded this track and my plan is to release both versions on some vinyl later this year. this is a re-mastered version of the 1982 track.
the words for v’nosnu are almost all from primo levi’s magnificent novel if not now when (english translation i’m afraid – an italian version would be good or maybe even a yiddish one). i’d just like to point out though that there is some art to it all the same – though mostly inspiration. in my book inspiration trumps artfulness. a cherry tree aka the cherry tree was somehow inspired and inter-connected with the music of the last track of the mix. I was still at school when I wrote the words which aren’t used in the music but which are
I planted a cherry tree
I watered it every day
in the summer I sat in its shade
one day a cherry appeared on my tree
one day a cherry appeared on my tree
it is for this that we live
it is for this that we live
which is a reference to a song I wrote in 1977 or 1978 which was called Northern Painting. I gave the song that title as a reference to the few months I spent living in Manchester in late 1976 early 1977 where my best friends were Rod and Sheila Henderson and Rod was a painter – a northern painter. Apart from the title the words have no direct reference to any of Rod’s paintings or to anything that might have happened to me in Manchester during that time and the only link that I can possibly think of was that I was emphasising the use of colour and imagery in the lyric content. It’s a random anarchic jumble which I’m not ashamed of but I did try to tighten that sort of thing up in future songs. In the 2nd verse there’s a line
knew and was forgotten
which I decided to repeat 4 times – not that I couldn’t have thought up something different but because I thought the repetition would be amusing. I might shorten the repetition to 3 times in this recording.
The song was part of the early set we worked on with Dry Rib and its earlier incarnations but I’m not sure if we ever performed it. I think it was dropped before our 1st gig. When I realised that this was a song mentioned in Coathanger and that to complete the Coathanger Trail properly I was going to have to deal with this I saw that this was a problem. I hadn’t played the song since the late 70s. I had forgotten the music and I was not sure whether I had a recording. I thought I had an old recording of a rehearsal from 1977 which might possibly contain a dire version of the song. I looked all over but couldn’t find the cassette. I still had the lyrics and the morning after giving up on finding the cassette I took out the words and was prepared to write some new chords to go with them. I had a rough memory of how the chords to the verse went and lo and behold it just came together and I think pretty much that I managed to remember the song as it originally was.
It would have sounded very different had Dry Rib continued with it back then and recorded a version, but in the same way I couldn’t record one of the old songs now and make it sound like it did some 35 years ago. Well in theory I could but I’ve talked about this before and really to attempt to do so would be very, very bad for my creative psyche so that makes it impossible. Over the next couple of weeks I will be putting some of the songs from my new album up on this website but I have also been in conversation recently with Mike Mulholland and he is playing a bit of bass guitar again and for my next album which I will hopefully work on later this year I intend to do more of a rock thing and Mike may be involved in it which would be interesting.
Here’s the home recording I did of Northern Painting. Which completes the 3rd phase of the Coathanger Trail.
I don’t really care whether people think what I do is good or not. I know what I’ve done and that’s good enough for me.
This is the 2nd coathanger trail post and it covers the words in northern lands which is the 2nd line of the song.
This is the demo version of Alaska recorded in 1978. It’s a bit rough having come off an old cassette tape copy. It’s never been released. But I think it’s worth a listen. I prefer the vocals on the later ep version which is here. I’m pretty sure that this demo was recorded with an amp, maybe even my own Orange combo, more likely a Fender amp that the studio had, but the later version I think was a direct inject affair which I agreed to at the time because I didn’t know any better.
Basically the guitar is a bit more real. Photo above is how I looked playing that guitar. Actually that one was stolen from my car and the one I have now is different but from 1979 so is still vintage usa luckily.
The way Mike and Andrew play is also very real. That was a good band though unfortunately bound to implode.
I’m happy with my current band though. On Friday night that will be myself, Tom Ranby on saxophone (probably alto); Laura Lambell vocals; Rosalinda Moreno-Parra vocals. Basically if we had done back in 1979 what we are doing now we would have been absolutely astronomic but sadly it doesn’t work that way.
Still there is a rich vein, a steady seam. I’ll put down my trumpet for now.
In a recent post I wrote and presented a couple of versions of a song called Coathanger and through that was born a new category which is called Coathanger Trail in which I work my way through the songs that are referenced in that song. And first off we have Beagles Wag. A song that I never expected to play again after it was largely dropped from the Dry Rib set probably in 1979, but which I did perform earlier in the summer by popular request. The song has taken on a new life of its own. At the moment I’m reading the last volume of Christopher Isherwood’s diaries and there’s a lot about their (Chris and Don that is) trying to write a Frankenstein screenplay. I will say no more.
Well up above there is an archive handwritten version of the lyrics. This cannot be the original write-out of the words as it is too neat and stylised but it was not done too long after – I would say that the 3rd digit of the year has to be a 7.
I noticed the other day that some nice person had put up a comment about a song of mine on Itunes which is called Coathanger. They say it would be a good song in an 80s Italian zombie film. I’ve just added a page to this blog with links to buying various songs of mine on Itunes including this one, which I’m linking to here. The song features myself on guitar and vocals, Paul Wigens on drums, Jeff Spencer on bass and I think the backing vocals are Jo Swan and Jeff.
Actually I prefer the demo version of the track which I recorded in October 2007 shortly after I’d written the song.
Here it is and below is what I wrote about it at the time.
But first – if you have any plans of making an Italian zombie film – please get in touch.
I was working on the music for a possible song a few days ago and when I’d finished it and played around it with it a few times I realised that somehow I had gone back 30 years or so to about 1978 and written a Dry Rib song of that vintage. So then I had the idea to connect the words for the song with Dry Rib and make it in effect a song dedicated to the band.
There are a lot of obscure references to old songs and sometimes their lyrics. It’s a bit of a cryptic puzzle. It’s called Coathanger and I will explain that because I don’t think anyone else will know what that is about. In the early days of the band there was a song we did of mine which was called Cancer. The music was quite reasonable and the lyrics owed a lot to Vintage Violence/Paris 1919-era John Cale. For example,
And I, my heart, was with those gallant crewmen
As was the heart of every mother’s son
Yea and daughter too, I swear it, in the town
But right at the end of the song there was a repeated refrain :
And you aren’t anything other than a coathanger
It was probably that bit that led to the song being dropped so I think it is absolutely fitting now that I should resurrect its essence as a chorus and title.
The music put me in mind of Syd especially the instrumental link section between the end of the chorus and the start of the next verse, so I also put in a tribute to him with the snippets of my voice from a very old cassette tape of a rehearsal.
That’s the end of the bit from 2007 but I’d just like to add that the tribute to Syd Barrett in the other version of the song is the guitar solo at the end.
During the year my old friend Andrew Goodwin has been creating a Dry Rib blog which has featured some of my songs along with much else. When Andrew and Mike Mulholland and I used to play together in said band something very powerful was created which sadly we never really managed to replicate in the recording studio although the 10 tracks that there are go some way to recording the phenomenon if I may call it that.
Anyway Andrew is a brilliant drummer and he writes pretty well too so I would recommend checking out his blog. He’s been loading some of the songs we recorded together plus others done by the later version of Dry Rib without me in it. I think he’s reached the limit of current material there but the last thing that he uploaded was a song called Quail Seed which is on the Clockwork Records’ Dry Season ep (also 1st track on the Messthetics cd Whose Last Trickle). Some of the following information has already appeared on a blog I wrote on the Dry Rib myspace page. (On the subject of myspace I was just talking about it with some other musicians earlier on this evening. Not sure quite how something that was useful was turned so quickly into something that was useless.) But there are a couple of new nuggets floating down the stream.
the original title when the song was first written was The Chilean Ambassador
I know I just put my song a clef at the end of the last post so this is a bit of repetition but I’ve also had a fern film hanging around waiting to be done and there is a line in the song which goes
fern fronds gently sway
and so I decided to use it as a soundtrack for the film. I have a few of these hastily thrown together moving still lifes which are best watched in full screen mode with the sound set to max preferably in a darkened room hanging like a bat from the ceiling.
On watching it I noticed towards the end a small fly trying to grab everyone’s attention and it made me think of another piece I did a few years ago where a bee steals the show so here’s that one as well. In this one the music is bespoke and uses a couple of samples from my song The Lost Keys which is on the Dry Rib cd Whose Last Trickle.
The recent death of Captain Beefheart gives me the chance to air some words I’ve put on the web before. Also I hope to write something in 2011 which will mention the great man again in my further forays into the world of Nonsense. Actually a lot of the first bit is about me, but I’ve kept it in because I think my comments about his music are worth reiterating and it hangs together as a whole thing better, if you see what I mean.
Now that Whose Last Trickle is out in the world people are beginning to write things about it, other than myself, and the spectre of the good Captain Beefheart looms large as something to pin a sign and say, basically, if you like… then you might like…
To me Beefheart is just part of the story, but definitely a strong part and I’d like to register that fact. Here’s a few recent statements.
I’m listening closely and can hear the roots of your current guitar style in germinal form here — a little jazzy, a little troutmaskreplica, a little Bernard Sumner maybe?
this was my response
Thanks for listening so closely, Hex. My guitar style was pretty much formed before I’d ever heard Joy Division, by about ’78, but Trout Mask Replica I think is a very important album, not just for me, but for everybody trying to do experimental rock in those days. In fact I would like to suggest that the cornerstone 3 albums for most of the experimental British bands of late 70s early 80s were Trout Mask Replica, White Light/White Heat and The Madcap Laughs.
Just to expand on that a bit I’d like to say that most rock/pop music was based on traditional western music systems based on 3 chords, so if you’re playing in G then you also use C and D. Or (following this example) you can use some other incidental chords that contain the notes of the scale of G such as A minor or B minor. Or you can bring in what I think of as the Russian school of pop song that used diminished or augmented chords to link different main chords together. Or you could change key completely for certain effects.
As far as I’m concerned in rock music Captain Beefheart was the most able and original musician to break all those rules and just play chords, irrespective of scales and musical traditions. In this he certainly was aware of both modern/free jazz adventures and also of what you might call contemporary classical music. But the great thing he did was to tie all that down to the basic rawness of the blues and at the same time do things with words that were pretty revolutionary too.
Finally this seems a good place to hang another blog I did a couple of years ago and for some complicated reason took down. It was part of a series I was writing about gigs I’d been to in the past, and certainly doesn’t cover all my experience of seeing Beefheart live – just the first one I went to. Here it is :-
When I was about 7 years old I first came across Mad magazine. There was something very disturbing about it. I was used to stories with goodies and baddies where the former would always eventually triumph. The comic strips in Mad took those very same goodies and recreated them as flawed, unpredictable characters.
Some 8 years later I had similar feelings when I first came across Captain Beefheart and his music. I didn’t get it and wasn’t even intrigued. (These days you can point your browser, find anything there is to know about a band or a musician, find their influences, look those up too and in most cases listen to some of it. As a teenager in the 60s you had to work hard for a bit of knowledge. I’m not convinced that we’re necessarily better off now. Only time will tell.)
Meanwhile in 1974 in Oxford I buy tickets to see Captain Beefheart at the New Theatre. I have a friend coming to stay for a couple of days and we particularly want to see the support band, Henry Cow. It was the only time I ever saw the latter but their attractive, quirky, cerebral music was a perfect opener for Beefheart. In truth the detail that most sticks in my mind is the standard lamps that they used on stage – that was a great idea.
This period in Captain Beefheart’s musical career is generally one that is preferred to be forgotten by many of his fans. I’d never seen him before so didn’t know what to expect. Presumably the largely partisan audience did know that the music had changed a bit, but they all seemed to love it anyway. Obviously at that point in his career he was trying to achieve more commercial success and the experimental elements were missing. But it was still great music. I think Blue Jeans & Moonbeams has some great music on it. I especially love the song, Observatory Crest – it’s just a great premise for a song – a really simple story of going to a concert then driving up to a high point and looking down on the lights of the city. Friends I spoke to later who had been long-term Beefheart fans really hated these changes and I suppose the fact that only a year or so later he had gone back to the older material suggests that the man himself had some misgivings.
I think he should have the last word on the subject himself, remembered off by heart (ashtray?) from an interview he did later – “Friends don’t mind just how you grow”.
Some final notes added today to this :-
Actually I now realise that the “Friends don’t mind…” quotation is a line from the song Electricity
I just noticed the other day that Hex has got a new band SS Boombox
Finally here’s a youtube clip of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band performing Electricity