Sofa Sound  Newsletter

23/October 2002


Past Newsletters


After the alarums and excursions of "The Thin Man..." (and accompanying live song fest in Hammersmith) and "The Margin +" releases I feel something of a sense of a return to normality in being able to present a CD of new songs.

There's a rather specific style or theory attached to this collection (no, not a concept album!). Of course, I go into this within this newsletter.

There are a few other interesting snippets of news...but no sustained touring plan at the moment.

For that, as for much else, we have to look to 2003.

Until later, as ever...thanks for listening.


Shut up and...

I promise I'm not going to whinge any more. The last newsletter banged on at (modest?) length about some of the why and how of having a musical career in these strangely industrial times and some of you at least detected an element of, if not quite self-pity, then certainly of frustration bordering on infant rage.
Naturally I had no intention of coming across in anything like that light. Perhaps I was being over-defensive, since the release of "The Thin Man" might have been taken as something of an odd - perhaps even retrogressive - move had I not offered up some of the rationale behind it for consideration.

Enough of all that though. As we know now, the ballads have reached stratospheric levels in the charts and as a result I am unable to enter a supermarket without hordes of admirers clustering around my trolley, eager for me to sign copies of celebrity magazine. Just what I always wanted.

It remains the case, of course, that I still bless my good fortune (even if some of it is self-powered by sheer pig-headedness) in being able to continue doing work which both makes me a living and makes sense to me. In my time I've seen enough of the effects of success, with all of the constrictions it can impose, to know that I'm fortunate to be working at whatever level I occupy; I certainly would not trade the comparative freedom which I enjoy for the restrictions which inevitably accompany a greater fame.

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I began working on the new recordings in the summer of 2001. To be more precise, I began working on songs and seeing what material was already in existence, albeit part-formed or merely sketched out. At that stage of things it has never been clear to me exactly what sort of album I've been heading towards. As I've often said, the songs themselves lead me in a given direction and it's only when I'm some way into a project that I begin to get an inkling of where it's going and of its essential character. I have rarely initiated an album with a clear idea of what it should be....

In the case of the new set of recordings a theme or theory manifested itself at quite an early stage. Two or three acoustic guitar songs made themselves known in a manner which seemed to dictate that they should be treated in a comparatively simple manner - at least in the sence that they should not ben over-worked with overdubbing. Somewhere between conceit and concept, then, I decided that I would attempt to make a record on which I only played acoustic.

This was, of course, my first instrument, if you discount lame mouth-harp doodlings in my sad early attempts to write blues. All of my earliest songs were written and performed on acoustic alone. The thread of "the guitar song" has also spun down in my recorded output throughout the years, often as something of a moment of light relief (?) amidst moments of more serious sonic turmoil. Additionally, I've relied upon the instrument for years in all the variants of live performance. Hereto, though, I've never assembled a group of acoustic and acoustic only songs. The new CD, "Clutch" is such a collection.

A simple matter, you may think; inevitably, not so. For a start, I emphatically did not want to make anything approaching a "folk" album, even if that were within my capabilities. My intention from the outset was to collect a group of songs with as wide a range of styles as possible within the self- imposed instrumental restrictions. So simply picking up the guitar and finding a pleasing and regular chord sequence from which to construct a song was not necessarily always the way to go. (And has it really ever been?)

Modern recording, with the instant availability of powerful modern instruments, is often a matter of the immediate application of a desired sonic colour wash, from any one of a number of sources. You want a dark pad underneath the song? Take your pick from treated or untreated keyboards, guitars (electric) and so on. The ambience of pieces can be built up in a speedy, sketch-like fashion. Using only acoustic meant, perhaps, that I had to think a bit, search a bit deeper in arranging the architecture of each piece.

For the most part I've used what is by now my traditional approach to The Acoustic Song. Normally there are a minimum of two guitars, in double tracked form rather than duo...often several more than this. As you'll well know, I'm a functional rather than lead guitarist and have no pretensions to be anything more than a rhythm player, highly honourable spot though that is. The particular sound of doubled up guitars is one that has always appealed and made sense to me, so it was natural that this should be the fundamental aural building block. Other aspects of the recording which continued "standard practice" were the uses of strangely tuned, capo-ed and high-strung guitars. In other words I've used all that I know about acoustic in these efforts.

Most guitars were recorded both acoustically and using their d.i. outputs (since my main guitars are in fact electro-acoustic). Their sound therefore approximates most closely to what you'd hear at a live show.

Indeed, the entire venture has perhaps more relevance to live performance than most recent ones. For most of the last few years I've performed as a duo with the fantastic electric violin of Stuart Gordon; David Jackson has also evidently been a long-time live cohort of mine. In these songs it was to these two, alone or in consort, that the responsibility of providing alternative sonic landscapes fell. They have performed with customary intuitive brilliance. In one case Stuart also wrote a delightful string arrangement for the most delicate piece of all.

Otherwise, there are only voices, for the most part lead ones, though groups of backing vox also occasionally make their presence felt. Once again, in the main my intention has been to have one voice coming out of the centre of the speakers with authority.

And the songs? As is customary, I won't go into the lyrics in advance (nor, indeed, put them up on the website immediately) for fear of diminishing their original and appropriate impact in tandem with the music. There's a dark tenor running through most of these, though; perhaps darker than I'd imagined while working on the songs individually. Some real world stuff, some more to do with our real and imagined past and present selves. Just as it's not a folk album, nor is it a light collection of love songs.

One of my subsidiary aims in this project was to increase the available stock of guitar songs for live performance. On each successive album there are always one or two pieces which become live staples, but these have recently proved to be piano songs for the most part. Time and good fortune willing, I believe there are a number of pieces here which I'll be exploring on stage for a number of years to come.

On a technical level, the recordings were all made to hard disc using a Mac G4 laptop. It's been a delight to physically shrink the hardware required to record and it's now possible for me to put things down with a minimum of equipment and a maximum of mobility. Indeed, guitars on one of the pieces here were recorded on location in Suffolk. I intend to follow this course in the future, alone or with others, and believe that I'm likely to come up with a music of otherness in so doing. Fundamentally, though, however things are recorded, with whatever instrumentation, equipment or theories, everything comes down to the songs. "Clutch" has nine new ones for your consideration. I think this is good work.

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The Miscellany

Another - most unusual - release will be out on Fie! hot on the heels of "Clutch". Hugh Banton has finally made a recording for public consumption. Needless to say, he set himself something of a challenge; in my view the results are spectacular from a number of different points of view. As you may know, Hugh has spent the years since VdGG designing high-grade digital organs for churches. He has now allied this technical accomplishment to his outstanding musicality and recorded Bach's Goldberg Variations on an organ of his own design. This will not be out until December, so it's still a bit early to write more about it here, except to say that I thoroughly and whole-heartedly recommend it. Full information will go up on the website closer to the time of release.

In the last few weeks a somewhat unlikely combination of events has led me to write lyrics for a new song by PFM , the Italian band of a similar vintage to VdGG. In the end I've also sung it for them and it will be released on a new CD of theirs at the start of November. I'll also be performing the song live with them in Milan at the start of the month as part of their celebration of thirty years' playing together.

For now I'm still holding back from commencing the next recording project, whatever that may be (see above). And I am still waiting to see what touring the next few months holds out, though it seems likely that there won't be much until 2003. At that time - dare I reiterate this once again - I do sincerely hope to play in the UK outside London. And, indeed, in several other countries which I have missed over the last year or so. I, like you, can only wait to see what emerges over the next few weeks.

In general, of course, I advise a regular check at for news updates, particularly of live shows, which often come in at short notice.