Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Out of a Black Hole into Berlin

I'm loving Berlin so far. I've been here close to a week. I divide my time between just trying to get my bearings, working on music and business for the Monthly Journal album, picking up groceries, meeting friends (and friends of friends), and exploring the terrain. I'm on a strict budget and it's a good city for that.
A day ago I saw this astronaut sitting alone in Görlitzer park. It comforted me. I'm not the only one from somewhere-out-there lost in this alien landscape.

 I've had the Momas n' Pappas 'California Dreaming' haunting my head regularly since I've left England(!) I guess it's because all the leaves are brown.

 It was extremely cold the first few days and I caught a cold right away. But it's grown warmer in the last few days, and in general I'm feeling good.  One thing I've been reminded of again, is that you take your neurosis with you when you move, along with your more positive baggage: imagination and outlook, etc. I still wake up thinking I've got about a million things to take care of. But it's more like a thousand at the moment.
As it gets dark so early, and I tend to rise late,  I've taken to getting out and exploring first. Getting lost. Letting the little green GDR Ampelmännchen light my way.  Then usually my way back to the rented room in Neükolln (that I currently call home) to work. It's good to be piecing some vague sense of routine back into my days, even if part of that routine is getting lost.

What a crazed life I've had recently, leading up to this.  Like some kind of science fiction film I've felt like my spaceship was being sucked slowly but surely (through a kaleidoscopic 2001-style tunnel of Lava Lamp goo) towards the black hole of a future which involved my  departure from my beloved home in the UK, due to my work-visa limit being maxed. Like most of us these days, I live a complicated life. The best I could do as the craft rattled and shook more violently the closer we got to that deadline, was to do my best to batten down the hatches and make whatever ad-hoc repairs to try and keep the thing together.  "She's breaking up captain!" would ring in the back of my head at various points daily. Car repairs, tying up business loose-ends and preparing for the album release, the pledgemusic drive, packing and sorting out places to stay in this 'Mainland', and the Hornicator not lending a hand in any of it (!)
Recently I've been so apprehensive and even fearful a lot of the time.  The monthly song project and time spent with Catherine or my friends was helping, but it's been a challenge to keep sane in the face of such a major change as switching countries, temporary or not.

There had been no approval or disapproval of my final work extension application. There is always a wait with these things, but this was the longest I've ever had to wait to hear back. The UKBA was apparently holding my passport and there's a catch-22 because they have a strict "don't call us, we'll call you" policy, but it hadn't been delivered even when there were only days until my deadline to vacate the country was to hit.  I woke in the night, busy in the brain, often during this period and lack of proper sleep added to a kind of paranoia. As it had gotten so close it didn't really matter anymore whether the extension had been approved or not, so I called a sort of emergency line in which you can retrieve your passport in extreme circumstances but forfeit your application (along with the hefty fee).  As it turned out, my passport had been sitting in the local sorting office of the Royal Mail for the previous two weeks. No note or attempt to redeliver.  Days later, an hour before I was to board the ferry to Calais, a knock on the door announced the delivery my approved visa (just as it was about to expire). I laughed aloud.

I spent a few days staying with an old friend from the Denver music scene James Langan in Fieffes-Montrelet, a small village in northern France. Population: 300 (almost as small as Wowtown). It was beautiful and detached, but there's not even a restaurant or café in town. We visited nearby Amiens which hosts the largest still-standing gothic cathedral in the world, and where Jules Verne is buried. I dream of finding another ideal small town like Wowtown but don't know if I could really live in one permanently.

Winston (my car) is getting on in years and though I believe in him and we usually get along well, setting out with all my instruments and a lot of possessions for this long trip worried me. My worries were not unfounded. Outside Antwerp on the ring road, in the middle of standstill traffic, he overheated and blew his radiator cap right off.  A crawl to Dortmund, some help from a friend and a trip to a car hospital and we were back on the road.

So...we've made it through the black hole and out the other side is Berlin. It's cold and dark and I may not have my London laboratory or some of my fancier outboard recording gear. But I've got the essentials: the Hornicator,  Winston, my Casio PT-20, some liquid aminos.   You can buy Big Red gum here, and WFMU, possibly the best radio station ever,  streams live on the internet to help keep warm. I've seen some great things and I've met with some great people, some that I've known for a long time and some I've just met. I like that it doesn't feel tense here like most big cities do. Everyone seems to think Berlin will be good for me. They may be right.  I have to remind myself that I'm not really on Holiday. With the new album needing to be finished and packaged and promoted, I'd best stop talking about myself again and get to work.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Farewell UK Tour Update

The 'Farewell UK Tour' has been going well.  The last 'Full Moon Sunday' was a sell-out. Post War Glamour Girls were phenomenal. The drives have been long and exhausting but the weather's been good. Inverness was madness as it always is, well appreciated madness! Aberdeen and Glasgow were great, both rich with fantastic support acts, and just this side of being completely unhinged. I do feel blessed to have so many of you wonderful people coming out, telling me how much you enjoy the shows and supporting and encouraging me, keeping me from losing my mind. Of course there's a little bit of a sad undercurrent. My immediate future looms somewhat ominously because I'm not sure where I'll end up in the long run.  I'll head for Germany next and see how that unfolds. At the very least it will be an adventure and likely to be creatively stimulating.  I will get back here to the UK eventually but not sure how soon that will be and how long for,  and I'm sad to have to go.  I'm sorry that I'm not able to play more cities on this tour, I'd have liked to, but all the more incentive to get back again I reckon.

Right now I've got a night off and will spend the evening with some good friends a little distance outside of Glasgow. There's a fog and some low clouds over some beautiful hills.  I just went out for a walk and saw some sheep and bats flying about as the evening rolled in.  (Well, the bats were flying, not the sheep). My friend Steve was just telling me about how a sheep floated down the river past their house just recently during a flood. They got it out of the water and into a neighbour's garden significantly down river from where it had probably originated, then had to knock on the neighbor's door and explain that they had a lost sheep in their garden. Ah, country life! Touring is tiring and I'm exhausted. Must remember to replace the Backbeater batteries before tomorrow's show in Hull, as well as recharging my own batteries. 
HornicatorNavigator, (HornNav for short). Sorting out the route to Aberdeen Wednesday.

The October song is nearly ready for posting to pledgers on the Pledgemusic site, hope to have it up within the next few days.  It's called 'Everything's Gone Halloween' and it's spooky.
Speaking of spooky some more remixes for the Sonic Dreamer remix mini-LP have been filtering in. I've just listened to Sebastian Reynolds remix of 'The Cannibals Have Captured Our Nicole Kidman' and it's downright frightening, in the best possible way. I think it's going to be an amazing collection. The artists involved are really bringing out some twists and shining lights on subtleties that may have gotten lost in some of the original versions.

Here are the remaining dates on the tour:

15 Oct, Sat: Hull, Adelphi, 89 DeGrey St. HU5 2RU

16 Oct, Sun: Stockton, Waiting Room 9 Station Road, Eaglescliffe, Stockton on Tees, TS16 0BU

25 Oct, Tues: Leeds Oporto 'We Know Eno' night 31-33 Call Lane Leeds, West Yorkshire LS1 7BT

27 Oct, Thurs: Manchester Night & Day 26 Oldham Street Manchester M1 1JN http://www.nightnday.org

28 Oct, Fri: Liverpool, Pilgrim (still waiting for confirmation on this one, yikes!)

Hope to see you out there, or if not, at least in spirit!

Warm regards from Glasgow,

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Gold Stars and Walks on the Sun

August was an extremely busy month.  In the rush of setting up a Pledgemusic campaign for the 'Monthly Journal' album and playing the Edinburgh Fringe fest and a lot of other shows and so on, I only just realized that I had written a July blog entry (off line) which I completely neglected to post (!), so below it is.

The Monthly Journal album-in-progress has been an encouraging success on many levels so far. I've heard from many of you about how much you've liked the songs, thank you for that!  It's meant a lot to me in an especially challenging year. I've reached the conclusion of what would be the end of proverbial 'Side A'.  'Side B' starts with 'A Gold Star for Miss July'. Due to the necessities involved in survival as an artist I've also reached the point where I've realized I'm not going be able to get through to delivering the project as a proper full album without a little help.  So I've started a fan-funded campaign to facilitate the completion of this project and it's release as a full album in January.

 Once again I'm using the great Pledgemusic platform as I did with Sonic Dreamer, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Red Cross. It's not easy times for most of us so I've set up a varying range of things that you can pledge towards, including:

A subscription to download the remaining tracks as they are delivered
The COMPLETE ALBUM as hard-copy (CD) (pre-buy)
A 2012 CALENDAR featuring the cover art from all the singles.
A mini LP of amazing remixes from Sonic Dreamer

Check out the details at:

The free downloads are over, but here's a streaming version of July's song:

When I was a kid in 2nd grade elementary school, I learned about famous signatures and autographs and such. I was fascinated by expressions like "Give us your John Hancock".  I decided I was going to invent my own fancy signature, and began signing my essays and homework and such with an otherwise fairly modest autograph that ended in a decorative five pointed star.  Even apart from my lifelong fascination with the night sky, I've always found something inherently satisfying about drawing stars. There's something of a trick to doing up a nicely balanced one,  especially at that age.

Once in front of the class during a reading session when the teacher was sorting through the assignments on the basket on her desk and handing some over to her assistant, the assistant guffawed at one of the pages and the teacher whispered (out of earshot she assumed, but I could hear her) "Oh I know, he always puts that star on there isn't that hilarious." They both giggled a bit more, and I never added a star to my signature again. Painfully humbling.

Around that time I  had a friend named Steve McQueen. When I told my older sisters I was going to go hang out with Steve McQueen, they laughed and said "Really? Why, Steve McQueen has been in all kinds of action movies with car chases and such!" I was quite impressed.  For the longest while it didn't cross my young impressionable mind that my friend might not the same Steve McQueen.  I didn't even question that at six years old or so he was still ten years short of being legal to drive. But of course all kinds of illegal activities are displayed in films. I used to ask him to make sure and tell me if and when any of his movies were going to air on TV, as we drove our matchbox cars around the sandbox. He never replied, he just looked at me like I was off my rocker.

Another friend of mine used to talk about how his father worked on the Sun.  He wore a fire-proof suit made out of a shiny material not unlike aluminum foil, and oversaw operations to keep solar flares from getting too out of control and burning us up back here on Earth.  Sometimes his Dad was a little irritable after a long hot days work, but it must have been a great comfort to come back to Earth and eat some chilled jell-o salad and enjoy the cool evenings which his interventions had helped to preserve for all of us.

I mostly hated school.  I hated to be told what I had to do, what I had to think about, how I had to act, to dress, to feel.  Above all I resented the pressure to conform.  I still feel pretty much the same way, even though I've realized gradually (and in some cases regretfully late) that there is a wealth of material and experience outside my own arrogant world worth learning about.

This year, 2011, has been the second most challenging year of my life as an adult, so far. Number one still goes to 2006, when I got divorced, left New York and lived on the road for 3 months. But that one had a decidedly better second-half, so we'll see how it goes.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Lost On The Moon In June

This is a breakup song. I phoned it in from the moon. If you don't believe me, listen to the song. Born from a lightweight Casio PT-20 with its built in rhythm and automated backing chords, I turned into a big production with a multitude of things including timpani, strings, and the Hornicator.

 I've been riding an emotional roller coaster this month.  At some time or other most of us go through this process (maybe we have to in order to get through to the other side, wherever that may be). You do it when you find yourself alone and you're not used to it. God, what a challenging year so far! I'm not completely hopeless. But I am heartbroken.  Several weeks ago I broke up with my wonderful girlfriend of nearly five years.  I really didn't want it to happen, but our individual visions of the future aren't as synchronous as everything else we have in common.  While I thought we were growing gradually more inseparable, I guess she was gradually seeing it as inevitable that we would eventually go our separate ways. That's probably oversimplifying the whole thing, I really don't know and though you can rationalize anything I doubt if I'll ever understand it fully. But it feels horrible.

On the day this happened I got massively drunk (as you do) and wound up with the worst case of hiccups I've ever had.  They fired off every six seconds and lasted hours. I tried every trick in the book, drinking water upside down whilst holding my breath, etc.  Maybe it was some sort of emotional defense mechanism,  they just wouldn't let go. At about two in the morning I approached the Hammersmith bridge, stumbling, on my way home on foot, and in the distance I heard the sound of a screaming woman and thunderous footsteps out on one of the footpaths in the dark. I didn't see what was happening, probably she was running away whilst sounding the alarm, or maybe it was kids just fucking around.  In any case I chose to walk on the other side. Barely on to the bridge I was accosted by a mugger who swung around one of the pillars into my path. He asked for a cigarette.  I was smoking my last one.  He asked for a pound. I told him I wouldn't be walking across the bridge in the middle of the night if I'd had money for transport.  "Look around you" he said threateningly, "There's no one here but you and me." My adrenaline fired up and I cared about nothing at that point, my hand went into my pocket and there was some change and some keys. I thought of fisting the keys between my fingers and giving him a sharp right to the neck but some glimmer of reserve made me decide instead to throw what change I had at him and told him to get home safely.  I didn't hang around while he gathered the coins.  He didn't follow me.  The upside was that later I realized he'd scared the hiccups out of me.
You know that old saying 'in bad spirits'? Well, my understanding of that expression is that when you're in bad spirits, more bad spirits are attracted to you. Like mosquitoes to a hiker in a red leotard.

Anyway where was I? The song is an honest depiction of how I've been feeling.  You draw on your experiences, and the concept of this project is to reflect on what's happening each month. I've written a lot of songs in my life so far about lost love. Throughout the relationship I'd often thought that maybe I'd never have the need to write another one. But so it goes. A friend mentioned on facebook that we write our best material when we are either "very sad or very much in love".  I've been both lately, so you can be the judge as to whether that's true or not.  Part of me hopes not, because I'd like the second half of the monthly journal songs to get happier.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Free As Fireflies In May

May has started beautiful and bright, days warm and long. Following this year's challenging beginnings including my Father's death in March, threatening changes in immigration policy, lost friends and heavy strains on my closest relationships (things which have all contributed to songs I'm proud of but which have tended towards the somber) I decided it was due time for an uplifting, feel good song.

Perusing some journals and sketches I was reminded of an all-night beach party last year about this time. I started with some recordings of the sea I'd done in North Fork, Long Island (New York) and did my best to recapture that feeling of promise and an open future that results from a soothing sea under an open night's sky combined with fire, music, good friends, alcohol, fireflies, and so on.
I can't remember seeing any fireflies yet in the UK. I posted a note about this on the wall of my Facebook page and apparently they are rare (but not completely absent) here. There are lots of them this time of year in the US, and in Wowtown of course. They're like swirling little candle flames, usually darting around close to the ground where there's some moist growth. They're one of nature's finest wonders.

I had a second inspiration for a May song. This emerged during a conversation with my friend Curtis Eller. It could have been a title track to an imaginary Japanese science fiction movie in which the body of Osama Bin Laden comes back as a giant monster after being 'buried' in radioactive waters caused by Fukushima. But I already mentioned Fukushima in April's song, so the beach BBQ won out this time. I hope you like it.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

My Father's Death, March Winds and April Showers

Sometimes the words and atmosphere of a song come from places in you that you're not necessarily fully conscious of at the time of writing.  Later, associated with real events, they may take on new and/or fuller meanings.  'March Winds' was like that for me.  It's a simple song, certainly not groundbreaking lyrically, but the words felt right when I laid them out and why fight it if its working?

My Father passed away on the 28th of March at the age of 84.  Having done battle with numerous health problems for quite a few years, he surrendered finally to wait out that inevitable eventual call of whatever-waits-next, spending his last weeks laid up in a hospice. At his request, the members of our family kept a vigil for those few weeks, taking turns to make sure at least one of us was with him at all times. I volunteered for the late shift, starting about 3a.m. (as I'd just travelled over to the U.S. from Britain my body clock made that about 10 a.m. anyway, so it made sense). 

Dad's sleeping patterns were increasingly erratic. He slept a lot, sometimes disturbed by progressively intense states of delirium, or extended periods of not moving a muscle or taking a breath for so excruciatingly long that I'd become convinced he must have finally shuffled off the old mortal coil. But then he'd suddenly breathe again.  Or he'd surprise us when he'd come to, wake up fully and be quite coherent and aware. At these times we'd wax nostalgic about old times, or what he regarded as unfinished business, or deliver some advice ("Thomas you should get a hair cut") or talk about the Grand Scheme of Things: "You know that little house you grew up in, that's just a tiny thing in the Grand Scheme of Things."

One morning about 4 a.m. when he was awake I asked him if he'd like me to play him a few songs, and he said yes. So I broke out the guitar and did so.  Playing for one or two people has always been a challenging thing for me to do and I had to work myself up to it, it gives me more stage-fright than playing for two dozen or a hundred. Playing for your parents is the hardest, because there's a built in need and desire for their approval.

My Dad used to simply not get, and even objected to, what I was trying to do with music. But in recent years, especially after showing him my mechanical drum machines and such, he first hesitantly accepted and then gradually warmed up to it and finally, I think, really appreciated what I have managed to achieve with it.
Performing music is also often something of a balancing act between an emotional release and a coordinated control of fingers and vocal chords, all of which were more than a little wobbly in my current state. 

But I stepped up to the plate and played the best versions I could muster under the current conditions of a couple of songs he knew and liked ('King of the Road', 'In Dreams') and then I played him 'March Winds'.  As I sang the lyrics 'The clouds keep on rolling, the river keeps on flowing, can't say where they're going, but I'm going too..." it all felt weirdly pertinent, and by the time I reached "I feel so certain it's all gonna turn out alright in the end" I just fell apart, just lost it. Had to stop. "Sorry Dad" I said.
 "That's alright Son".
He added: "You wrote that? That's pretty good."

That was the last song I played for my father while he was alive.  I played it again at his funeral. Though I did not write it for or about him, it will now always have a relationship with him in my mind.  I thought initially that perhaps when I got on to writing April's song, it would be about my Father in some way. I even wrote a few lyrics, but realized that March Winds is that song, even though I didn't set out writing it for or about him.

In his final days he struggled through some terrifying visions and spiritual challenges before his mind and body finally broke down completely.  It was harrowing.
Back in England I almost dreaded getting in to writing April's song for fear that it would be doomed to being something awful born from the state of grief, jetlag and emotional weariness I was in. 

Instead, working on it was more like medicine. It's not necessarily a happy song, but from where I was at, to work on it lifted me. Lifted me to some middle ground.

 To look around from the vantage point of the dark places I'd been recently,  hanging around death's door with my Dad,  to arrive back in England and see the long warmer days and everything flowering and this Royal Wedding approaching, I just felt like "No, you can't just go straight from that challenging dark world into a pastel Hallmark card can you?  Please April, have a little sympathy and rain a little?"   Or something like that.  So on a certain level maybe April Showers portrays something of this transition between death/loss and embracing life while you still have the gift of it. It wasn't a difficult song to write.  Once I had the basic feel of it taking form, I just kept letting it grow, and then stopped when it was time to get on the promo wagon. 

Ironically it hasn't rained much at all so far in April here in London.  Maybe in a way I guess that makes the song more pertinent.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

February What Ya Doin To Me

Maybe one of the reasons I've dived into/obligated myself to the 12/12 project even though I knew it will be challenging is because it may prove to be one of the few things I can turn to for consistency, something that will be constant in what threatens to be a very challenging year. Something I can escape into as long as I can find some little nook to record/make some noise somewhere, wherever it may be.

I have to confess I came so close to NOT jumping into this this project. I didn't feel that confident about it, but championed enthusiastically by Jarvis Cocker, Amanda Palmer, Tom Robinson, Gideon Coe, and many others, 'January Egg Race Dream' quickly received more UK radio plays than any single I've ever released, much to my surprise and delight.

Perhaps February's installment will spoil all that, as it's completely different. February's been rough. It began with a burst of incessant glass-rattling wind storms, this had yet to let up as I finished recording. Emotional situations among myself and my friends seemed strangely synchronous to this, challenged by uncertainties, somewhat unhinged. The result is a bit of a rocker. Possibly a return to the juvenile insanity of some of my former band days when I was an anxiety-fraught teen. Or maybe I still am an anxiety-fraught teen. Once again, it's a free download for a limited time.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Groundhog Day In Wowtown


It was a distinctly overcast morning this Groundhog Day in Wowtown. As town mascot and talented Tuba playing groundhog Al Camus emerged sleepily from his hole he hardly even noticed that he cast no dreaded shadow that would have scared him right back down (which, as tradition would have it, would portend an extended winter in Wowtown). He was too distracted instead by the lively gathered throng of townsfolk and their celebratory roar.
It was quite a reception, and he made a grand entrance, putting on airs of nonchalance, stretching and yawning, and finally taking a few graceful bows. But unlike the enthusiastic gathered mob, he was secretly a little disappointed that spring would now officially start, as he'd been enjoying his lengthy and comfortable hibernation wrapped snugly in his soft electric blanket in the warm dark, dreaming endlessly about gorgeous groundhog girls.

Monday, 24 January 2011

January Egg Race Dream

Got back a bit later than I thought, but the interview with Bob Fischer at BBC tees on Friday went well enough. And in fact you can listen to it online for about a week (interview starts a little over half way through, just after Tiny Tim!)

But most importantly here's the track, hope you enjoy it:

Friday, 21 January 2011

New Year, New Project, New Blog


I've started a new project that I'm quite excited about, kind of a living, mutating album that will be composed and released at 12 intervals over 2011. I'm not certain exactly how the project will unfold, but tracks will be informed by any number of things: the vibe, feeling, texture, atmosphere of the changing seasons, the expanding and contracting lengths of days and nights, weather, news, dreams, personal or world events as they unfold. I expect (in my usual fashion) that successive tracks may be radically different. The goal is to write, record, and release each track within the span of each month.

This is a bit of a crazy goal as I already tend to bite off more than I can chew and tend to like to let songs develop and ferment over time, reworking and polishing them.  It's something I believe is healthy to let happen, since in this modern age we are constantly confronted by deadlines and seeming lack of time, and it's great to escape to a world where those constraints aren't imposed in which to create.  However, there's also something to be said for the way the time of year influences the atmosphere of a particular piece, and if I'm taking my sweet time finishing a song, say in January, that is evocative of January, but I don't finish and release it until July, well, it might not sit so well in July.

So I've self-imposed a time limit to work within the span of a month on each track, I like the immediacy of the concept. Maybe I wont be able to keep up, but I've dived off the board and finished January's installment a few days ago.   It'll be online this weekend and copies went out to a limited radio, and guess what: I'm now waiting for a phone call from Bob Fischer at BBC Tees. He loves the song and has invited me to go on his show for an interview, monthly, as each new track is finished, starting tonight!
I also received word just a while ago that Tom Robinson is going to preview the song on his BBC6 show tonight as well. Yay Tom!

There's the phone... back later.