Sofa Sound  Newsletter

30/December 2006


Past Newsletters


I'm now back from a modestly sustained period of touring in the UK and Europe. An interesting mix...some shows with Stuart, some solo.

Now the end of the year is rushing up and more new stuff is on ther horizon.

My latest solo record has just been released. Titled "Singularity", it's available from Sofa Sound, discerning record stores (those that survive) and, indeed, various download shops on the Web, including iTunes.

Most of this newsletter is taken up with relating the background to its recording; it will be clear that I was a man on a mission....

In the meantime and until later, as ever, thanks for listening.


And Start Again....

...but not from scratch.

When I came to begin the recording of the latest solo album it was in full awareness of how much things had changed for me in the last couple of years. Significantly, of course, this was the first time that I was going into recording sessions since my heart attack in 2003. In so far as there's an ongoing thread running through all my work it's surely that I make an effort to document some of the passages of life through which most of us go as I experience and observe them. I could hardly fail, then, to address the extreme intimation of mortality that my cardiac episode brought me. I can't really recommend a skirt quite so close to the final curtain as this life episode in which to seek out experience, but if, as and when it comes it certainly sets one thinking...and in my case gave me considerable things to consider and write about.

Equally significantly I was going into this work on the back of the VdGG reunion. Of course this had been an immensely enjoyable and uplifting event in a musical sense throughout. As a human experience it was similarly elevating in its first period: the warmth and enthusiasm we felt on having the chance to re-enter this strange arena was genuinely delightful. By the end, though, much had gone sour on a human scale and for the last weeks of the year I felt drained in mind, body and spirit. Once January came, though, Guy, Hugh and I determined that there would be a continuing future for a trio VdGG and this was a great lift in spirits for all of us; in turn, therefore, it also became clear that whatever I was going to do in solo work had to steer well away from the band's territory - whatever that may turn out to be.

As if the VdGG reunion - and its fallout - was not enough to trigger thoughts of work in the past and the present I had also recently remastered the albums "Fireships" and "Enter k", to both of which there are significant back stories. As 2006 wound on I was also to take on the responsibility of remastering the whole of the Virgin solo catalogue - all of my earliest solo records. I hadn't listened to many of these recordings for years and of course doing so brought memories of the times flooding back as well as of the technical and stylistic paths I trod then and which have led me to where I am today were also laid bare before me.

In sum, then, I felt I could not simply stumble into the making of "another" PH solo record. (Not that I ever go into recording with that kind of attitude, to be honest!) Equally - especially considering the nature of these recent events - it was clear that I needed to continue working and reacting both instinctively and with a measure of cool consideration if what was to emerge were to be consistent with the ever-unstated Hammill Way. In short, to be, in my eyes at least, any good, of any interest; additionally, with some level of awareness of my own history and of the path I've taken - often unconsciously - in getting here.

From an early stage I was keen to make this an absolutely solo record. This idea was reinforced as I worked on the Charisma solo remasters; the spirit of many of the early recordings had often been one of solo labour, even if other musicians contributed parts at later stages. I should, though, say that I didn't start the remastering of the Virgin stuff until I was well advanced on the new recordings, so some of these ideas were evidently already in place by then. Perhaps I was already being drawn towards this approach from the outset. As is often the case, I began to find out what I was trying to do in the course of practically doing it.

I was also keen to find some new wrinkles in my musical landscape. Even after all these years and all these songs I still hope to find something unexpected rather than simply retread old paths. Naturally by now I have various stylistic traits which are both signature and pattern and to a certain extent the creation of newness depends upon combining these in different shapes rather than commencing from a tabula rasa. This time I wanted to go a little further towards the (familiarly?) strange, encouraged, perhaps, by the spirit of adventure (albeit one balanced by a huge lack of experience) which inhabited many of my early works. At the same time, I was keen to remain in touch with the fundamental and abiding principles of The Song, which, naturally, remains my central concern in all its beguiling complexity. I'm not saying that I was trying to do a "Chameleon", a "Future Now", an "In Camera" - those were then and I was that me, it's impossible (and, in fact, undesirable) to go back and unlearn all that's passed since. I did, though, want things to be a bit more rough and ready, in contrast to the bulk of my recent recordings in which, partly thanks to modern technology, there's been a tendency to buff and polish. I made a conscious decision *not* to overdo things, to take decisions and to stick with them.

So...the instrumental texture of the recordings is comparatively simple, though the styles of the nine pieces are wildly different one from the other; again, this mirrors the make-up of earlier rather than later albums. About half the songs are based round a core of acoustic guitar or piano..."traditional" songs, one might say. At various times in the course of the recording things veer towards musique concrete and, elsewhere, to the sound of something approaching a band. So it's not a solo singer-songwriter effort, exactly. There's a fair bit of electric guitar, some of it at the whacky end of the scale; it's here, particularly, that I've been leaning towards the instinctive element. Of course everyone knows that I'm some blistering runs shy of being an Axe God (!)...but in my own modest Rhythm Gtr way I do think I've something to say on those buzzy frets. As a first, there's even a spot of whistling on the record

Well, heigh ho, describing the music is like trying to explain the smell of cheese, really, isn't it? All I can say is that I think I've come up with some new musical stuff this time. Some moments of (apparent) calm and some bolts from the blue.... But as ever by now I know too much and too little about the content to be able to make absolutely objective comment.

As always, I'm somewhat reluctant to make the slightest move towards exposition or explanation of the lyrics at this stage. They'll go up on the site after a decent interval from release date, of course. In general, though, I suppose I can say that most of these songs are Cautionary Tales. Intimations of mortality are present in almost every line, as one might expect from the experiences of the past couple of years. Some of these are direct and personal representations, some observational; most of the pictures are drawn direct from life. I hope that all are infused with a positive spirit rather than one of denial and negativity. It's true that some of these songs are looking at the dark side of things; but not looking wouldn't make that side cease to exist. You'll find, too, a fair degree of admonition in places here and certainly some of this is addressed externally; but as usual much is meant for and directed back at myself. That's a duality that's been present in my stuff from years back, as I'm sure you'll be aware. Incidentally, some of the Vox techniques are, I think, quite innovative....

I should say something about the title and stuff associated with it. "Singularity" is a term which has sprouted odd meanings by the score over the last few years, some of them too modish for words. For me it has two principal meanings: in the personal, idiosyncratic, unusual; in the scientific, a Black Hole. A third definition is also of interest, the mathematical - but let's not (perhaps) go there as it's where all the rules break down. A couple of lyrics here refer, albeit fleetingly, to quantum theory and to black holes and in the end the title itself became a singular candidate.

For I was singular. I lay on my back, post-heart attack, conscious of the fact that I needed to i) stay awake when awake and ii) rest, absolutely, when not awake; figuratively aware of hovering just outside the final gravity of a Drop. I didn't drop, so I don't know if that's how it will feel in the end, if I'm granted (or cursed with) consciousness at the (my personal) finish. I certainly had the feeling that waiting for me in those moments when the chances of my life continuing depended on coins spinning in the air was some kind of black hole, some vortex which would not release me if I went too far into its grasp. I've tried to express some of those feelings here. This much, at least, is a report from the front line of experience.

Yes, it's a serious set of recordings. As always, I won't be able to get any decent sense of perspective on them for some time to come; however, I believe that I have put down a marker in terms of my work both for what is (I hope) going to come and to differentiate it from what has gone before. I believe this is strong and substantial stuff. For what it's worth - not that this is necessarily any kind of recommendation - I don't think anyone else is working in this territory. Which is also to say, I've no idea what kind of music this is, except that it's of a kind which makes sense to me....

VdGG 2007

Of course the other major news at present is the continuing and ongoing story of VdGG. As has been previously announced we will be continuing to do more stuff in 2007 as the trio of Banton, Evans, Hammill. Our first shows will be in April, including several dates in Germany and the UK and culminating in a London Barbican concert on 16th. We will certainly be playing new material as well as old and the prospects are most exciting, even if there's a degree of trepidation involved. Further shows and recording should follow later in the year.

The CD of the RFH reunion concert and the DVD of the Leverkusen show, marking the opening and closing of the last chapter in the VdGG story are *still*, I'm afraid, on the drawing board rather than in the shops. This is a source of great frustration. We still hope, though, that they'll be out early in 2007, particularly as we'd like to put what is past definitively to bed and behind us before we head into the future. More serious fun, yes, please! On, the unknown, the!


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