Sofa Sound  Newsletter

35/January 2010


Past Newsletters


My apologies for the fact that this newsletter, supposedly the second one of 2009, failed to meet the December 31st deadline. Even the dodderiness of age cannot be much of an excuse for this. I will, however, aim to get in the traditional two in due course during 2010. Unless, of course, plans change...or there's nothing of real newsworthiness to report. Somehow I doubt that the latter will be the case.

For the most part the content here focusses on events of the past twelve months - I've left the past decade alone, for the moment at least!

Touring is now once again almost upon me and I look forward to seeing some familiar places and, I hope, faces along the way.

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


Into a New Year

Well, the year and the decade have flown by and this time the final newsletter of last year just failed to make the December 31st finishing line. For this, my apologies. Finding myself already in 2010 as I do, though, it’s time for a measure of retrospection. The forward-looking stuff will have to wait for the next missive.
The last newsletter came out at a fascinating moment, just before the VdGG tour of North America. In fact, just before we’d managed to get our visas. That proved to be a slightly complicated process involving the whole team having to be at the Grosvenor Square US Embassy by 8.30 in the morning. Then some of us had to head out again almost immediately in order to get new photographs taken. We finally emerged in dribs and drabs and it wasn’t entirely clear that all of us, happily, had the necessary paperwork until well into the afternoon.
Just over a week later we found ourselves arriving in Bethlehem PA for the Nearfest festival. We owe a great deal to this organisation for sponsoring our visa application and therefore opening the door enough of a chink for us to go through with the full tour. Additionally, they’d arranged for us to have the use of a small theatre the day before the festival in order to rehearse. Traditionally we’ve gone in for a couple of intensive days in London before setting off on tour. This is a part of the process which is pretty arduous, to be honest, and not very exciting at all. In this instance, the ante was upped by virtue of the fact that the show was to take place the next day, to be followed almost immediately by the NY gig. We were also going to be playing the newer material from Trisector live for the first time in ages - we had only had private study in which to prepare for this since the shows earlier in the year and of course it's all hairy stuff. High stakes indeed, but therefore rather more energising than the normal, slower, routine.
And so into the tour, with a gradual, if high profile, introduction through the first two shows and then, picking up the overnight tour bus in NYC, straight into full-on we-are-a-touring-group mode, if a slightly long in the tooth one.
I don’t propose to do a blow by blow account of the shows. But I do have to say that this was one of the most successful and enjoyable tours I’ve ever undertaken. Not all the venues were grand, of course, but the playing, rock solid from the off, had many grand and interesting angles of exploration and innovation. It was great, as well, to have such a run of shows one after the other in which to get a rhythm going. In terms of general fun and social amity as far as our team was concerned it was also a fantastic tour. And, indeed, we took a great deal of satisfaction from finally playing in North America and took many good memories away.
The final run of shows in Canada were in festivals, of various different styles. Until now we’ve fought rather shy of these - from a technical point of it takes quite a set-up to be sure that HB’s organs are working properly and that’s always been a worry. We’ve also had a certain nervousness about playing for an audience which isn’t entirely “ours”. This was the time to bite the bullet. The Ottawa Blues festival was marked by a fantastic moment when we dropped in to the pianissimo section of the Sleepwalkers riff to find that, drifting across the field from the main stage, a Jeff Beck solo was incoming, perfectly in key.
Ending the tour in Quebec province - the only place we played more than a show or so on the continent back in ‘76 - felt like something of a homecoming. Very emotional indeed, both for the crowds and for us. Once again, happily, the music came up to the mark of the occasions.
After a couple of weeks off on our return (allowing for the equipment to be freighted back from Quebec) we ended our VdGG activity for the year - in public at least - with a trio of dates in Italia. Again, festivals: and we now feel quite comfortable, thanks, with going into those environments, changeable and unpredictable as they can be at times. Maybe, maybe, there’ll be more of that stuff next year! Incidentally, playing in the main square of Trieste was a fantastic way to sign off the playing year.
I can’t stress too highly what a fantastic and revitalising experience this trio version of VdGG has become. The recording and release of Trisector were great steps forward; this final bout of touring served both to seal and open up the new material and effectively revealed a group playing in an altogether new style. The old material, too, benefited from the figurative vitamin injection...though I have to say that now (as is the case with solo shows) I don’t really think about the age or provenenace of tunes as such when addressing the contents of a set-list.
All in all, playing in this group remains a privilege and a joy.

“Thin Air” had just been released at at the time the last newsletter was delivered. I was still uncertain of where it stood in relation to past work and, indeed, of what its value and vibrancy might be. I’ve appreciated many supportive comments which have come in about the recordings since then and, gradually, have been able to come to my own considered conclusions.
For my money, this is something of a high point in terms of recent solo recordings. That’s not to say that any set of songs is ever in competition with what’s gone before, what’s yet to come. As I’ve often stated, I go into each project only with the raw material that falls into my hands, only with such skills as are presently available to me, only and always with the wish to do as well as I can with what’s right in front of me. But, with the distance of a number of months between now and then, it does seem to me that “Thin Air” occupies a musical and lyrical territory which is quite far from any norm, yet which is absolute in its familiarity. And for what it’s worth that is, I suppose, what I aim for in this (I assume) last stretch of a working life in recorded music.
The disc didn’t receive that much public exposure, which is a matter of some regret but little surprise. There’s no fault or blame involved in this; I’m lucky to get as much coverage in mainstream (or even sub-stream) media as I do in view of limited review/interview slots and the ever-increasing numbers of acts trying to hit those slots. But I confess to a certain frustration that work which does, actually, seem to have a true modern relevance unconnected to i) Progtastic-ness or ii) Punk approval-ness or iii) aged white-hair-value gets, er, ignored because the pigeon-hole can’t quite be matched to it.... On the other hand, better to be ignored, I suppose, than applauded for dull retreads of known territory.
It’s out there. I think it’ll stand the test of time more than most. And, if so, that’ll partly be because the gestation period for the content was long. It’s self-evident that the pieces which relate to 9/11 took a long time to surface, to demand that they be written. (From time to time I do attempt sensationalism but it’s generally toward the literary rather than tabloid end of I wasn’t in a rush to get out the fragments which had hit my memory.) Even stranger in terms of time-is-rightness was the song “Your face on the street”.
I was less than forthcoming in my previous notes on the origin of this piece. It’s true that I used elements of invention in arriving at the final form, but the song (and a couple of the original couplets) sprang from, I’m afraid, very much the real world. Thirteen years ago a young girl called Melanie Hall disappeared without trace from Walcot Street in Bath. From the outset foul play was suspected; it was her case which originally fired this set of lyrics, which, in nascent form, have been with me ever since.
You may or may not know that Terra Incognita, while in Bath, was on Walcot Street in what had been Crescent Studios. Cadillac’s, the club where Melanie was last seen, is a couple of hundred yards down the road. I had a heart-pumping few minutes, the day after the news of the disappearance broke, pushing past the weed-clustered side of the building to check that there was nothing untoward there. So, if peripherally, I felt some direct connection to Melanie’s disappearance.
And finally, after years of gestation, I fact/fictionalised it into this song. When the record was released the mystery remained. In October it was confirmed that bones recently discovered by the side of a motorway thirty miles away were those of Melanie. The postscript to the song, sadly, was written. Had that discovery been made only a matter of months earlier then the song, for what it’s worth, would almost certainly have had to be rewritten into someting quite different...if it was to be written at all.
Anyway, all in all, I expect that “Thin Air” will eventually find its proper place in the pecking order of PH solo releases and the present bet would be comparatively high up the list....

And so here we are now in 2010....
In a matter of days I’ll be setting off for what counts as a considerable solo tour in Europe. Three weeks to show what I can do alone on a stage - provided Will and I can get to the shows in the face of what look like pretty extreme winter conditions! The solo show remains one end of the touchstone for live performance and it’s been some time since I’ve done any of them over here. Particularly since I’m currently more or less in training for it it really seemed incumbent on me to do a tour in the one-man-alone format once again.
The repertoire has expanded a bit, particularly as a result of doing piano-only shows and I think I’m working from an “available” song list of more than seventy tunes. I should say something about choice of songs here. My assumption is that the majority of those reading this will be “diehards”, more or less. And that the majority of those at any individual show will not fall into that category. So the question of what songs I play on any given night - granted that I change the setlist each time - becomes quite complicated.
Perhaps for those who read this or who contribute to the various forums available in that Land of Web there might exist a fantasy setlist of arcane tunes to be heard once and once only which might constitute an Ideal. I don’t hold with that premise, particularly since it would preclude the presence of the “favourites” (yeah, Hits, if only!). When - and it’s still the case that it’s only on the day, though now maybe a bit more than an hour before showtime - I write out the 15 or 16 songs for the night I’ve got to balance what’s exciting/challenging for me, what’s new/old for any given audience, what’s a decent emotional/musical trajectory, what I played yesterday, the day before and so on, what’s A Performance. And whatever it is will necessarily mean that other tunes are absent and of course that the final selection will be somewhat random.
I mean to say, I’ll do my best to be absolutely present wheh I get on stage. Some of that presence means that I have to find a place/space to be comfortable. But I also hope, of course,  to have an element of edge...there’ll be no point in doing it unless there’s still that. But of course I am now a 60+ chap and utterly reckless abandon would be a stupid waste of such knowledge and experience as I’ve achieved over the years. Discerning readers will have gathered over the course of recent newsletters that I count myself extraordinarily fortunate still to be in the position of getting onto a stage, be it with VdGG or solo. An underlying subtext of that good fortune is the certain knowledge that at some point I’m not going to be able carry on enjoying it, whether because the audience or my own strength has dwindled to unsustainable quantity. At some point or another, for many, many years, I’ve wondered to myself, mid-tour, on every tour, “just how long can I carry on?”
And yet I carry on; and precisely because each show may be the last I will continue to try to make each one elegaic, celebratory, unique; but above all true.
To other stuff: if this is the first time you’ve been at the site for a while you might have missed the release (by Voiceprint) of the (trio) VdGG Paradiso concert on DVD/CD and the re-release of my solo Passionskirche Berlin show in the same formats. I believe - though I know this has been trailed for some time now - that the k group Hamburg Markthalle performance will shortly follow, but this is dependant upon various copyright questions being resolved satisfactorily. Exactly what the hold-up is I don’t know....
Additionally, remastered versions of “Roaring Forties”, “This” and “X my Heart” have also come out in the last few months. Not massive changes here, but I did a bit of sprucing up at least for the modern world while I had the opportunity. They sound better, I think; they’re the current versions, in any case
And of course the latest Fie! release is Hugh Banton’s organ version of Holsts’s “The Planets Suite”, taken from the original piano duet score. We’re looking at VdGG recording activity. That means, necessarily, an amount of VdGG-style writing so that we’ve got stuff we can get our teeth into. It’s getting there, gradually, and so are we, though as I write we still don’t know where, when or how we’ll be going about things. Expect news of something or other in the very near future.
However, no guarantees, no promises. I’m sure you know by now that anything that’s finally presented will be wbole-hearted.
I/we can do no more than that.
So for now a happy new year to one and all.


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