Sofa Sound  Newsletter 18/April 2000

Eyes up


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Finally the new record is finished and about to be released.
My usual somewhat sideways comments about it are contained herein.
As the briefest of introductions...songs, this time - and about time too!
Naturally the recordings for this CD finished some time ago. In normal circumstances I'd probably already be up and running with live shows but none are exactly imminent. On the other hand, I've got a lot of studio work which remains unfinished, so I've been busy tidying up and looking to the future.
Until later, as always...thanks for listening.

None of the Above the title of the new set of recordings, out on May 15th...though you can order it from Sofa Sound now

You may recall that at the time of recording "This" I was feeling a certain sense of synchronicity about the numbers surrounding the release and therefore set about making a sort of continuing statement of intent. This time there were no such pressures (if, indeed, they were such last time) and I was simply intent on making the best possible record I could, on its own terms and with its own subjects.

Mindful of the fact that I had set myself some sort of agenda with "This" I deliberately set about things at the early stages (now well over a year ago) with the broadest possible of intentions. Once the project was actually underway (there is an intangible moment when this occurs) I had a handful of completed songs, in the writing at least, and a whole raft of - sometimes conflicting - ideas and fragments. Rather than going full tilt into arranging and recording a select few of these towards final releasable form I continued to experiment in what may have appeared a haphazard fashion - improvising over improvisations, working on pure sonics and, indeed, continuing to write more conventional tunes.

The songs which now finally comprise the album emerged from several of these methods of working and if they have a unity then it is one which they themselves have imposed. They are a diverse bunch in style and content, although I have, perhaps, "rounded them up" to an extent by my final approach in terms of arrangements.

Few others are involved in the music. Manny Elias plays drums on one piece only, while Stuart Gordon appears on three. Two of these are string arrangements (rather than "wild" playing) of quite different character one from the other. I have once again used my daughters, Holly and Beatrice, on two songs, to go into those upper register realms of backing/choral vox which are beyond my range. Apart from these contributions all voices and instruments are my own.

Guitars play a large part in the equation. My interest in using the instrument (if one can call the wide range of sounds one can get from electric guitar(s) + amp + FX "an" instrument) in an orchestral fashion, which was evident on the re-recorded version of "Usher", has continued. E-bow, backwards and fuzz playing has proliferated here, for the most part in a colour-wash (rather than axe-hero) fashion. With the addition of keyboard pads and several pianos I would say (but who am I to say, as always so close to it at this stage?) that the sound world bears some resemblance to that of "Everyone You Hold". More on individual arrangements later, in the analysis of individual songs...

The lyrics are for the most part stories, third-person tales - even if, at times, I'm singing the external characters in first-person mode. I still can't tell you, of course, why a certain clutch of songs should come along together like this with if not exactly similar subject matter then certainly a broad similarity in areas of concern and styles of writing. In this instance I've ended up with a number of tales of people in earthy and/or earthly circumstances.

Eight songs are involved and no one is quite like another in style or content...though all, I suppose, give some evidence of my previously established styles. There is, though, a certain journey involved as one moves from one to the next.

"Touch & Go" opens the album and is perhaps the most conventional love/lost love song on it. It is, I suppose, bang in the centre of my piano-writing style and I have, in fact, had the tune for a considerable time without being able to find the key to a satisfactory set of lyrics. These now reside in the territory of inability to communicate and/or prevent what one can clearly see coming. There's some sense of the fleetingness of things here as well.

In "Naming the Rose" an arrangement for keyboards, four violas and a restrained choir moves at a stately pace through a narrative which deals with a bittersweet love story of devotion. It's not the most likely subject for a song but makes sense to me in both specific and universal senses.

"How Far I Fell" brings us to that familiar character, the old man who should have known better. That's not so out of the ordinary, but the musical setting is somewhat abnormal. The song is delivered in first person but in character. This chap is really talking to himself: he's prepared to admit his mistakes in private, while trying to retain something of a brave face to the world.

Guitars abound here and an interesting footnote is that they're nearly all Van der Graaf ones. The venerable Meurglys III happened to be chosen for the bulk of the electric parts. When I came to record the acoustic I had the feeling that I wanted a high-strung version. (This is a way of stringing guitar which gives a semi-12 string sound, while retaining openness and not clogging up the spectrum.) As it happens, the one acoustic which I've had set up in this way is the Yamaha which was my instrument with the band as far back as "The Least we can do...". So I used that. Not being sentimental, or anything, you understand!

There are some wild curves in this song in the middle sections where riffs and vocals come into swirling collision. Things come back to the voice - and the man - alone by the end.

"Somebody Bad Enough" has a chirpy outer face but is, frankly, a pretty creepy song. Again, I sing in character: this one's a stalker of some kind or another. Behind the sweet delivery and the tight harmonies there's more than a hint of menace.

"Tango for One" is not a true could it be in a solo dance? There are a couple of stylistic nods made in the direction of Buenos Aires, but this is fundamentally a fairly classic PH piano number, with very sensitive playing from Stuart giving colour to proceedings. It's a song addressed to someone (we all know them, don't we) for whom the world revolves exclusively around themselves. Before you ask (as Gail, my manager, did) I didn't have anyone absolutely specific in mind; certainly, though, a couple of different experiences and personalities started me off on the the way to this piece. This was a difficult song to get right in the recording and I had several different attempts before settling on this final version. I suspect it'll be invigorating to perform live....

"Like Veronica" is another song with an element of chill about it. This is the only song with full kit and the only one which remotely approximates to a band sound, albeit a fractured and virtual one in which guitars predominate. Again, a certain sweetness of delivery eventually leads into brutal circumstances. I think I ought to leave you to find out the whole story as it unfolds on disc....

"In a Bottle" is by turns languorous and highly aggressive (although not, as I've intimated, in a fully band-like sense). A hedonist finds himself staring in the mirror by guttering candlelight. Nothing goes unpaid for, nothing comes cheap and there are no simple remedies. A crowd of conflicting voices, memories, experiences gather round. Viewed as a search for the Holy Grail this particular life has ultimately been futile....

And finally, "Astart". You will have gathered, or you will discover, that most of these songs, earthly as they are, are on the dark side. This closing piece, if not exactly resounding with optimism, redresses the balance to a certain extent. As if to prove that lightning can still strike unexpectedly, this song came to me almost in its entirety one day in the course of my fifteen-minute drive from home into the studio.

This song doesn't hold out the possibility of changing one's past or even one's present; but it does propose that one should embrace both and go forward in expectation....

All songs were mixed as they were completed in tracking terms, rather than making the mixing process a final, separate one. (I last took this approach on "Out of Water".) This meant that I had a clear idea of where things were heading overall, especially in view of the diversity of potential material; and that work from initial sketches through to finished master was seamless. It also, meant, of necessity, that some things had to be remixed at a later stage in order to fit in with "subsequent" work, but this was no real problem in view of the hard disc/digital/computer controlled desk and mix environment in which the recordings were made.

The cover is, of course, by Paul Ridout and is a particularly fine piece of work. The cover itself is a photograph, while the booklet within is one of his most dense pieces of layering work yet.

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The Miscellany

No word as yet on when the next live shows will be; over-running on recording left it a bit late for bookings early in the year. Later, where- and whenever....

Judge Smith's "Curly's Airships" project on which I appear in a cameo role is now mixed and should be out in some form or another later in the year.

I make an appearance on another of Ayuo Takahashi's recordings, "Earth Guitar", due out at the end of May. I am a choir this time!

Apparently there's going to be a classical koto & shakuhachi version of "Dropping the Torch" on another Japanese CD soon, but I know not a lot about this at present.

Writing of mystery external appearances, it seems that I may have forgotten - some time ago - to mention a contribution I made to a Michel Polnareff ('60's French popster) tribute CD, on XIII bis records. I sang and recorded "Jour apres Jour". A slight effort, but good fun and certainly a challenge worth taking up to sing in French! Nick Cave & Pulp also feature on this release.

Finally, the Sofa Sound website is now fully operational at We are now able to take credit card orders online there. The site is still far from complete and I anticipate that it will be heavily updated in the next couple of months.

The "alternative" site, is still under consideration and construction, but we hope to get something there sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile we remain committed to the newsletters in paper form, although postcard announcements (to non-subscribers) are now likely to tail off somewhat. Over the next months it's possible that stuff like t-shirts may well appear on our lists again; these will initially be announced on the website, so it's recommended that you check in there every so often. (Tour news, obviously, will be there as well....)

Till the next time...with ever more music!