Looking through the list of six favourite books I offered to the Daily Express recently, it occurs to me that those few represent about 100th of the actual number I’d need if dumped on a desert island. I use the internet, of course, but still reach for the reference books that crowd my study shelves when I want it absolutely right. That Wikipaedia, how poor is that! They get so much wrong (yes, there is irony in there...somewhere). How many times am I going to read that I was Christened Steven, with a V? The Wiki-people actually get that bit right, oddly enough. But where did it all start, the misspelling of a simple first name?
If you were one of those million with a ticket for the Michael Jackson marathon at the O2, I am now doubly, trebly sorry for you. His death was a shocking tragedy and, now I’m home after seeing the This Is It movie, I can tell you that you would have had the night of your life. The detail MJ attends to is astonishing. It is tough being leader of a band and crew and all others around you, on the team. At that level, MJ was sensational. See it if you can, and if you care at all about great Live music. The band – all from the top drawer, as you’d expect (check out the young white English girl guitarist, Greek surname, but maybe from London?), and no sign of a mime or click-track or tape to these experienced eyes.
Classic Rock Roll Of Honour, last night. What a shock. How did Dorothy keep her secret like that? Now I know she and the ChildLine Rocks and Classic Rock magazine people were conniving over this fantastic shock while I was in Germany.
We cover a lot of miles in this big country. Travelling is tiring. Get enough sleep at night, but still constantly weary. Come alive, as ever, once the light hits and the kick drum thumps time in my in-ear monitors.
Berlin. Always reassuring to see the Brandenburg Gate with open land each side. First saw it in the 70s, then again in ’89, the wall almost touching, west city, so little behind. Checkpoint Charlie, Cafe Adler (now part of the fine Einstein Coffee Shop chain), art nouveau par excellence. Rubbish tourist shops all around, but easy to ignore. I ignore very well when so minded. Trike ride, just like a proper tourist, rickshaw for a couple of exploratory hours. Einstein Under den Linden. Nowhere better for coffee and sustenance. It’s quite cold here. Colder than the UK. Really autumnal. Before tomorrow’s soundcheck and the real work begins, I plan to visit the Alte National Gallery. And the lyrics of new songs are in my pocket or my grasp at all and any time.
Zama, zama. Let’s go for it, in Zulu. Gone. Top right wisdom tooth, extracted. He froze the gum and pushed and tugged and wrenched for some time. Loosened this villain, rocked it and wobbled it and pulled and tugged again and again. I relax through pain and this sort of business. All muscles slump and I turn off my mind, until good thoughts emerge from the quiet darkness. I was taken dreamily through images and thoughts of a Southport hotel balcony where I was inspired at sunset and wrote two songs for the new album there and then, before, during and after dinner. And, more airily, I strolled on sandy beaches imagining painting my masterpiece. Now that is a dream. And the kids came by in this reverie, with jobs and a safe future. Now that really is a dream. Many thoughts passed by as he tugged and rocked and wrenched that wisdom tooth out of my head. Big, he said. Bizarre, too, he said. It’s got three roots instead of the usual one. Yes, it was infected recently and I ’ll be better off without it. Gone.
About that tooth. Check-up with dentist. The top-right wisdom is the problem. Lower two extracted many years ago, so the villain has grown a little longer than normal, much longer than had it been grinding down on another. Hence, it is loose and became infected last week with extraneous nonsense lodged in all the wrong places. Extraction today. And I have a horror of hypodermics. He swears I will hardly notice it being done. “A little pushing and pulling.....” Pain I can take. But needles. Needles I fear.
Slightly shattered. Ten tracks recorded, some sung, others waiting for lyrics. It’s like jet-lag. Coming down from the mad rushes of adrenalin that go with the producing/recording process. Been living-in at a residential recording studio. Odd to get up and share breakfast with the band. Odd, too, to share the dinner table each night, but they are all decent blokes and easy to get along with. I’m the one with the swimming head, tunes and words, production plans all juggled at the same time, so I’m the distant one over the boiled eggs and soldiers. Home for a few days, then to Germany, so the rush will re-start, and I’ll be all the better for it. Playing Live, that’s still number one for me. Berlin beckons and then on-the-road with the same decent blokes. Could be much worse, I know.
Read about Facebook unleashing freedom to steal identities, and how the Royal family had registered their names so no thieving cybersquatter could do so. Thought I’d best do same. Now I don’t have a clue what to do with it. I know I don’t want to twitter nonsense with near or complete strangers, so I imagine the site will lie there, dormant. Same with MySpace. The Imposter has been seen off , we’ve registered another and there it lies, dormant too. What do you do with Facebook? Has the word “friend” been somewhat devalued by tagging it to strangers who look you up?
Read somewhere, taking a late night pause from writing, trawling the web like a first-year student at a loose end, that someone (maybe in The Guardian?) was of the opinion that I was neither a cockney, nor a rebel. Occurred to me that Neil Young was neither crazy, nor a horse. Only wish I’d read the piece when it was printed.
Took a couple of weeks away from the study, but didn’t take a guitar. And I regretted it badly. Thought Mahon, main city of Menorca, would have a decent music shop or two, but the only one was closed for its own holidays.
Looking For Eric. Flawed genius. Flawed expression. Every Genius is flawed. And all genius is flawed. By its very nature, the wayward mind, the extraordinary imagination of the greatest artists, entrepreneurs, inventors and sportsmen, is flawed. It cannot be anything else: not ordinary; never stable, and impossibly exasperating. Read Eliot and take your time. Research the allegories and the allusions to obscure, arcane Greek literature and myth. Cantona, Zidane, Best and Maradonna. Michelangelo, Picasso, Stubbs and Turner; Darwin, Einstein, Gates and Hawking; Fosse, Prince, Rogers and Hart; Bernstein, Epstein, Faraday and Wilde; Lawrence, Shakespeare, Steinbeck and Hemingway. Think Hemingway’s rare gift for story-telling in the narrative. Think the shortest short story to grace literature’s annals: For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn. Charlie Scribner prize winner. Saw this quoted recently in a broadsheet. Misquoted, actually. After each pair of words, Hemingway carefully, meticulously, pedantically, placed a point. Not a comma, as in the paper’s poor quote. But a full stop. Each pair represents a third of the story. It had, according to Scribner’s rules, to have a beginning, a middle and an end. So points it was. Full stops. Hemingway was a Genius. But he blew his head off once he realised he’d never find the ultimate answer. Flawed, then. Not superman, merely a Genius. Such a gift must be a burden.
ChildLine Rocks rocked. Jon Lord is a friendly chap. A cool and unaffected sort of guy. He played a clever set with Steve Balsami singing to the Lord Hammond B3. They travel to European cities, just the two of them, and meet there with a full orchestra and rock band, comprised of local players, rehearse for a day and then play big cross-over concerts to 3,000 or so people. I thought it all sounded a little nerve-wracking, like arriving to find your backside has gone south for the winter, as the leader calls the first beats. Jon Lord is made of the sort of stuff that makes a man a man, for all tha’. No, he said, it’s exciting. And I understood: the adventure, the gamble, the risks all make it worthwhile. And it probably seldom, if ever, fails to score. Thunder played like the virtuosi of aol rock that they are. My new agent, Danny Bowes, has an amazing vocal range. I hope he proves to be as convincing and sensational an agent as he is singer. To Bury St Edmunds (not praise it.....), for Battle Of The Bands, held in the Abbey grounds. Gave up a place in a box at Epsom Downs for the Derby. Giving back, I guess it’s known as! Some school/college age fellows played (no females in any of the 5 bands) 15 minute sets, and all, ALL, thrashed it with electric guitars, riffing like the 60s their own dads can only barely remember. It shocked me. I wanted melody and harmony, and I got unison thrash. I expected and hoped for Coldplay, The Killers, Elbow. I got Uriah Heep and The Edgar Broughton Band in short trousers.
This website has been up for a few years now. Met with Webmaster Andy Fearon recently, and a complete (and I mean complete!) re-vamp has begun. Andy reckons the new site, all inter-action and bells and whistles, should be ready for unveiling later in the summer. I am something of a technophobe, but Andy made it all sound very swish, elaborate and more than a little exciting, even to me. To Spain, to visit the old dad. Found a cool restaurant with good, serious cuisine. Always thought nobody would move to Spain for the food. Best meals I’ve had when out with family there have been Indonesian or Bulgarian (maybe Croatian, certainly east Euro). Finally found the decent one - in the Costa Blanca town where they live, at least. Great night with my brother Nigel, who my sister calls my “little buddy”. Can’t see why really, he’s a big ole boy. But my buddy, nonetheless. Proud to say so. His partner, Derek, is one of the best companions, too. They like a bit of banter, exchanges of opinion, without taking the Nice umbrage, common among my family. I like debate, banter and even argument, but a lifetime travelling with musicians who take no prisoners makes it the only way to get by. Greta missed the trip (the boy and his fab partner came with us); she’d already got a week at Boot Camp in Norfolk in the diary. Tough week, that. Very tough. But she completed and we are proud of her. She’s a softie at heart, so maybe Boot Camp and its RSM style routines have made a bit of a man of her (just kidding, girls).
Sunshine in East Anglia at last. Been months since I last made a proper assault on the woods. Coppiced hazel and stacked logs in the woodshed, passing a calm, solitary few hours. The notes are there, in notebooks and on scraps of mini-disc. Tunes and couplets, simple rhymes and deeper thoughts all jumbled, randomly acquired and noted over the past few years. There is only one way I will collate it all into coherent songs, and that is by booking a recording studio.
Thinking of Culloden. But it was seven weeks ago we were there. We trudged around the battlefield, site of the last action fought on British soil. I think that’s right. Cold, windswept in January, of course. Great museum on the site, quite brilliantly presented. Then to Belfast: “an audience with.....” show, with songs thrown in. That’s what they asked for, at least. Barry and I actually played a 50 minute or so set after the interview. It was something new to me, different, and very worthwhile. Read a passage or two from The Impression collection. Bright, sensitive audience who made it easy for me. Next morning, a workshop. Never before, and I did regret agreeing to it all through the early part of the day. Then we went in. A basement room at the hotel where much of the Belfast/Nashville Songwriters Convention performances had been held. Thirty people or so. Up close. Like at home. I asked Barry what a workshop would entail, as I reckoned he might have been involved in a few. They’ll want to know how it’s all done, he said. So I sat and broke the ice. “So, what’s a workshop?” Silence. “What do you want to know?” And we were off. And, as usual, I was glad I’d said I would, and thrilled with the experience. Never before, different. Worthwhile. Special people, all the organising team, and the audiences. Welcoming and thoughtful. Bright and appreciative. Brought a smile as we were carried back to the airport that afternoon. Clint Eastwood will win the Oscar next year for Best Actor for Gran Torino. When the betting starts, I shall steam in, regardless of what comes later this year. It is charisma writ large and potent. Non-PC, which I like. He perfectly enacts the role of Mr Angry-But-Sensitive right-wing American, albeit of “Pollack” ancestry. And to Bury St Edmunds, tiny Georgian Theatre Royal for the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. They swing, these youngsters. But they aren’t quite the NYJO of ten years ago, last time I caught them. Only a few quid a ticket, and a big thrill to see young players like that.
If scenery, in itself can take your breath away, The Highlands of Scotland will leave you gasping. Britain really is astonishing in its diversity of natural beauty. From Cornwall, through Devon, the changes are striking. The Chilterns, the Mendips, the Peaks and the Pennines; reaching there via Shakespeare’s own country, then the Lake District, flashing its self-confidence at you, well-earned through its proud survival through ice age after ice age. And then The Highlands, defiant and magnificent, sturdy and muscular, the product of a settlement of nature five million years ago. We gasped at times, it was sometimes that spectacular. Off the road, down the un-adopted lanes to lochs we could only locate on the large-scale atlas with ultra-close inspection. And The Great Glen, from Inverness to Fort Augustus, all covered in a rented 4 x 4. See Dulsie Bridge on Youtube. Check it out. See the lads leaping 60’ into shallow water, last summer. We were there in January, of course, so we have shots of its water, high up the Findhorn, covered in ice and rushing fast and furious, taken from the bridge. Just another of many secrets we came upon, sneaking around the hideaways of The Highlands.
We're now at the end of the trek, lodged overnight in Las Vegas. This is only the second time I've had access to the internet to send this report. But we have trekked and struggled for five long days and most must be feeling tired. I am. And then tonight the adrenalin will recede and the fatigue will kick in and replace it. As I write, at 6:20pm (8 hours behind UK time), I feel that sleep is likely to be the choice after dinner. The tables, through which I'll be strolling as I head for my room, will attract my eye for sure. And I may play a hand or a fist of blackjack. But see a show? No chance. And the truth is that I don't like being in this city. Never have. It is full of fat suburbans with no sense of culture and it is too noisy, so incessantly noisy, for me. After the amazing solitude and peace we all felt through Death Valley, this is a culture shock, and that's the one and only time you'll see me use the word culture in the same sentence as the words Las and Vegas.