Newsletter 9/November 1995
You Can't Get the Picture Yet
Greetings once again, apologies once again.
As is becoming an appallingly regular occurrence, this
newsletter finds you later in the year than I had intended;
Hope that you didn't think either that I'd disappeared
completely or that you'd been forgotten!
I find myself still in the midst of my labours on the next
recorded project and, although the end is in sight, I've
been waiting to get this off until the wood can really be
seen for the trees. It still can't be, but it's high time
this was with you!
It will take no feat of the imagination to discern from the
above that this letter does NOT announce an imminent
release...but there are some hints as to what the new stuff
In the meantime, as always, thanks for listening!
What's new, what's next
There will be eight songs (at least) on the next album;
but as I write there's still a degree of uncertainty about
WHICH eight. As I wrote last time, quite a number of pieces
are written or under way: decisions on their combination
must hang on the results of final mixes, on which I'm
The musicians involved in the project are those of the pH
Quartet: David, Stuart and Manny. They don't all play on
everything! For myself, I've restricted my instruments for
the most part to guitars (among which the acoustic plays
much more of a role than it has done of late) and piano.
Obviously various other keyboards make an appearance here
and there. The sound of the thing...well, I'm not really in
a position to tell you about that, for all that things are
at an advanced stage. This part of the process is the most
mysterious and fog-like: so much work has gone in over the
last months that now it's a question of subtraction rather
than addition. It will be and will sound as it does in two
or three weeks time!
All I can say is that much of the knowledge gained in
working with the somewhat unlikely combination of
horns/flute, violin, kit and my own instruments has
hopefully been properly applied. Not that I've been making
an attempt at directly recreating the live sound of the pHQ
- but many of the timbres of the unit are evidently
Incidentally, the technology, about which I ranted somewhat
in the last newsletter, has worked out well, but the
learning curve was a long one! It's a very different
recording environment in which I now work. I hope that some
of the physical space within which I find myself transfers
into the laser pits!
I'll leave any intimations of the subject matter - nd indeed
the style - of the songs until next time.
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Since the last time....
Live performances this year have been sporadic and
far-flung. The shows projected in the last newsletter all
eventually happened, remarkable as it may seem!
Siberia and Russia were extraordinary experiences. For both
economic and practical reasons we travelled as a small team
(this being a pHQ tour) and it was definitely an Event for
Touring Grown-ups. Even with the minimum of equipment that
we took with us the logistics of moving through a Russian
airport, for example, were of a mountaineering expedition
In Siberia, particularly, we all felt a Long Way Away and it
took a matter of weeks rather than days to gather what
impressions remained from the trip into some kind of
cohesive order...although in truth I'm still left with a
jumble of images rather than a narrative whole: Stuart going
through the entire history of his violin to a Customs
official in order to be allowed to bring it into the country
(or more importantly, in order to be able to take it out!);
a nasty belt of voltage from the main vocal microphone at
the second gig (possible curtains there, chaps!); the
coldestr outdoor gig in my experience with all the
instruments freezing up and whammying out of tune
throughout; trains and planes and diesel-reeking coaches;
silver birch woods and shanty truck-stops. Tiredness. Vodka.
(These things are not necessarily unconnected!)
In some cases that we managed to play at all was a triumph
of commitment and enthusiasm; but the audience responses and
the sheer enthusiasm and kindness of the people we met
certainly demanded that.
It was a Serious Tour; I hope to return. If that comes
about, perhaps I'll be better prepared- it took me at least
two or three weeks to fully recover.
Incidentally, much of the stuff was filmed...so maybe
footage will eventually make its way out!
A solo concert at the Festival of the Voice in Argenteuil
was a comparatively normal venture - however the next day
Ridout and I set off for Frankfurt to meet up with Manny,
Hooly and David, for Part Two. Driving from there to Dresden
for a one-off show was a mad venture. A day's travel for
every half-hour on stage! It was, however, a crazily
worthwhile last outing of the year for the pHQ.
In Helsinki I performed on the "Living Poets" night of the
Helsinki Festival. In fact I was the only non-Finnish
musical performer of the night. As you probably know, I call
myself a Songwriter, not a Poet! Dressing-Room of the Year
award, though - a portacabin shared with Joseph Brodsky and
Seamus Heaney, Nobel Prize winners past and (at the time)
I found myself (I got myself) embroiled in another literary
event not so long ago: the Crossing the Border festival in
Den Haag, Holland. When I committed to this one I wasn't
entirely clear about the nature of the event...it turned out
that the brief was "Out of the Ordinary". So I decided that
I really ought to simply go out and read...paradoxically,
singing and playing would not have been dangerous enough,
would have been too much of a familiar world for me. I
decided to read lyrics only; but even ten minutes before
going on I still hadn't worked outwhich ones I was going to
go for. In the event, forty minutes went by in a flash. I'll
long remember the "version" of "Fogwalking" in particular.
However, I don't intend to go out on the reading circuit yet
And finally to Bydgoscz in Poland for the last concert of
the year: a wonderful Yamaha concert Grand piano, a great
hall and another warm reception. Undoubtedly Hotel room of
the year, too: I was lodged in the Rubinstein suite, which
had a (white!) Steinway grand in pride of place.
Unfortunately, it was out of tune....
So, many new places this year. I'm amazed that people in
them have managed to follow my work over the years and, of
course, delighted to be able to offer the "Living Proof", so
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"Aerosol": No News is no news
You will remember, perhaps, that I made mention of
"Aerosol Grey Machine" in the last newsletter, as being the
only album of mine or VdGG's that remains unavailable...and
of the possibilities of rectifying the situation. Yes, the
master tapes were found. Yes, I have a DAT copy. Yes, it
sounds remarkably fresh (if somewhat youthful!)
But no, it's not going to be released in the immediate
future. We are deep in the land of the Corporate Record
Company here. The simple fact of the matter is that they
wanted so much money (up front, to boot!) to allow the thing
to be licensed that it made no economic sense at all.
Naturally, I find this something of a shame; I don't regard
"Aerosol" as a pinnacle of achievement but as a first effort
it's a comparatively embarrassment-free zone. As I write it
seems that the only likelihood of a release is if the
company finally decide to put it out themselves. I may
attempt to chivvy them towards this at some later stage!
It's all rather reminiscent of the times of making it: I was
signed up to an appalling contract which Tony Stratton-Smith
refused to allow the other members of the group (then Hugh,
Guy and Keith Ellis) to sign. Mercury refused to release me
or record the group without their signatures. Eventually we
went into the First Break-up scenario in the wake of having
our equipment stolen. At this point there was no reason for
me (still signed, of course) not to record and so "Aerosol"
was made, initially as a solo PH record. After this a
compromise was agreed, whereby Mercury released me from the
contract on the condition that they could release the album
under the name VdGG - which it effectively was in any case.
Nearly three decades later, we seem to find ourselves locked
in the same old corporate bind. It's for reasons such as
this that I'm more than happy to be helmsman and cabin boy
of the good ship Fie!: at least I'll always manage to come
to some reasonably sensible terms with the Label
Just one further point: because of the way in which it was
made, "Aerosol", while having the sound and personnel of the
first VdGG, is NOT the album that the group would originally
have made as a first effort. This would have been much
harder, with the inclusion of, for instance, "White Hammer",
which we were already playing in that first incarnation. One
more final trivial aside: the single of "People You were
going to"/"Firebrand" is emphatically NOT worth the
£250 it's been reported to me as currently going
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Strange Fruit: The Peel
There's only one new thing on the list this time: Strange
Fruit are on the very verge of releasing the promised solo
BBC sessions. Fourteen songs, from A to A. ("Afterwards" to
"Auto"). Some of the early stuff is particularly manic and
brutal - mistreatment of grand pianos a speciality of the
era. As with "Maida Vale" the resultant CD is the closest
thing to live renditions of the period (apart from
bootlegs, of course!), and it's therefore probably most
interesting for the early stuff, including "Faint-Heart" and
"No More the Sub-mariner". There's also a solo version of
"The Emperor in his War-room". Frankly, and for good or ill,
that one's unlikely to reappear on future set-lists!
The pieces from"pH7" and "In a Foreign Town" are more
instant recreations of the recorded versions than true live
versions. The former, therefore, feature Backing Vox -
there's even an acappella version of "Mediaevil". For the
"In a Foreign Town" session, all enthused by the newness of
sequencing, I took up my computer and a few modules and
(re-)did instant versions of the four songs. So there are no
backing tapes involved in any of these things! Just very
Graham Smith is the only other musician on the recordings,
on "Betrayed", "Afterwards" and "Autumn".
By the time you get this, the CD will be out, so you'll find
details, as ever, on the order form.
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Unless something totally radical overtakes me I won't be
doing any more shows in 1995...but 1996 will soon be upon us
and I intend to do substantially more touring during the
year. I hope that much of it will involve revisiting
familiar places from which I've been absent in the course
of this year!
At the moment, though, I have knowledge of only two
potential shows, both of which are somewhat out of the
ordinary. On 20th April, if all goes according to plan, I
will be performing two songs with the Orchestre National de
Lille at their 20th Anniversary concert. An interesting
At some time in July or August I hope to be involved (since
I've been invited) in the Sounds of the Dolomites Festival
in Trentino, Italy. A strolling singer in the mountains!
More of that later, if it comes about.
I hope to start organising more "normal" touring in the next
few weeks - after the recording's done!
Overall (or do I say this every year?) 1996 will be
immensely active in terms of work. In addition to tours
there should be at least two recorded releases including the
prospectively untitled present one. I'm glad to say I still
look forward to it all.
That's it for now...expect the next newsletter early in the
New Year (for once!)
Look after yourselves....
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