"pH7" was, of course, the eighth solo album, not the seventh.
As a measure of acidity/alkalinity pH7 signifies perfect neutral
balance; but these recordings are neither neutral nor balanced. The
album is, therefore, both jokey and in disguise.
Stylistically the songs follow on from "The Future Now" in terms of
topics, arrangements and delivery. Now, of course, the band had finally
folded and I was effectively on the career path (?) which has continued
to this day.
By now we had moved to Wiltshire and Sofa Sound, as studio, had its
most stable environment to date. The system was still the 8-track and
I'd gradually started accumulating outboard, fx and instruments,
including a small drum kit.
I started recording with more finished or near-finished songs than I
had for "TFN", but there was still space for a lot of improvisational
discovery. As a result the album divides more or less evenly between
traditional and radical work.
"My favourite", the opener, is something of a lightweight song, having
as its centre the conceit of favourite as preference and as gamble.
Nothing wrong with a pop song, still, as far as I'm concerned! This is
probably the first time that I felt confident enough to instruct Graham
to play an exact part; in other words, the start of orchestration per
"Careering" features the Best Wah-wah pedal in the world. It's an
Electro-harmonix and is still going strong.
I used to drive past the turn-off for "Porton Down" whenever I went up
to London. Naturally, then, the subject sprang to mind. It doesn't give
me the slightest glimmer of satisfaction that now, late in 2001,
chemical and biological weapons are in everyone's minds. This stuff has
been staring us in the face for decades; I always believed it more of a
threat to humanity than the nuclear one and continue to do so. Jackson
& Smith had to overdub their parts simultaneously and in one take
for this. Another found/recovered piece of which I'm very fond. This,
incidentally, was the first piece of mine that John (Fury) Ellis ever
"Mirror Images" appeared on "Vital". I didn't feel that that version
did the song justice, quite, hence this revisitation. It's often been
played live and still somehow there *is* no definitive version.
"Handicap & Equality" is almost a folk song and its sentiments are
fairly clear. Sonically it's notable for my "cha-cha in the
living-room" organ...definitely not a Hammond!
"Not for Keith". I've noted elsewhere that I owe Keith Ellis a great
deal. He was the first real working musician I'd worked with and I must
have tried his patience. Nonetheless his generosity of spirit led him
to teach me a lot. He was definitely not made for middle age. He died
in mid-tour of Germany.
Oh, yeah, has the world of politics got more and more like that
depicted in "The Old School Tie" or what? Those b right young men...
"Time for a change" was an old song of Judge's. It seemed to fit in
naturally with the other stuff here. Again, I've often played it live.
As the recording was drawing to a close, with mixing impending, I still
hadn't found any lyrics at all for "Imperial Walls", still working
purely on the Sonix. On a visit to the Roman Baths in Bath I saw the
text inscribed on the wall; apparently it had been written about Bath
after it was abandoned by the Romans. I wrote it down on the spot, went
back to the studio and it slotted into place immediately. It was only
later that I remembered I had known it for many years, since my
youthful infatuation with things Anglo-Saxon (and, indeed, Icelandic).
"Mr. X" and "Faculty X" are a segue. Perhaps these were the first
tentative gestures towards writing what one might call "epics" a la
VdGG. Until this point, I'd been somewhat reluctant to do go anywhere
near this territory. "Mr X" remains contemporary, I feel; "Faculty X"
takes Colin Wilson's work as its basis. Loads of loops and stuff on
these, again sheer exuberant noise. The drumming's pretty strange, I
admit...but I wanted to find out about it! By this time I was pushing
the 8-track solo-recording method just about as far as it could go....
Not, all in all, the recordings that Charisma wanted out of me in order
to "further my career". In fact, this was to be my last album for them.
Thanks to grace, luck and a fair degree of pig-headedness, though, the
future path was now set. As a pair of recordings "pH7" and "The Future
Now" were both a liberation and a sure sign of what I ought to attempt
in the future.
And a cover note. The photographs were all taken late at night in NYC.
As we left Dan's place in search of a cab Graham and I ran into some
trouble from which, frankly, we were lucky to escape. On such strange
happenstance everything hangs.