I did the sixth Lifeboat Party show today at Radio Castle. It’s on every Monday, noon till one and I could tell before I got there that just about everything that could go wrong was going to er, go wrong. Different studio. Different mixing desk.
Couldn’t remember the wifi password. Lead was too short to plug the laptop in. The mix was different through the headphones to the level it was at in the other studio. I’m really sorry, ok? It got better as I improvised a way around it.
But it wasn’t what it should have been. Sorry.
I emailed my mother about the show. We don’t talk much. There’s a reason. But I thought I’d make the effort. I’vbe got this show, I said. Here’s the link, so you can listen to it. Within the week I got a reply.
“As you know, I don’t really like that sort of music.”
I am so glad I bothered. No, really I am.
Listen Again. Just do it. Please.
You can listen again to all the Lifeboat Party shows here.
Long long ago when the world was young and me, well, I was younger too a band called Steely Dan used to play a song called Pretzel Logic in the days when bands apart from The Archies had to usually write their own songs, then play them on instruments they had to learn and then sing them themselves. I know!!! How fake is that!?!?! It’ll never catch on.
Well it did, because there wasn’t any other way of doing it. People like Frank Sinatra never sang a darned thing they’d ever written because that’s not what they did and so far as I can guess, Elvis and Suzi Quatro didn’t either. Suzi Quattro. I mean, what? As someone who is a little over 21, each time I see this I can’t believe I saw this. It wasn’t just the obvious bra-less ness, (like OMG) or even the leather jumpsuit, or the huge hairy blokes she surrounded herself with (and apparently it was the drummer, I seem to remember, if I got that right). It wasn’t just the fact that back in ’73 this stuff went out on air live at 7:30 on a Thursday on Top of the Pops.
That’s right morality crusaders. Ever wondered why youth street crime went up? Back in the day you could leave your back door unlocked, if you’ll pardon the expression, because every malenky nadsat droog was safe at home trying to memorise every stitch in the seams in the lingering crotch shots the BBC thought appropriate before the watershed. And there were quite a few.
Were they strange times? I don’t know. Like any time, we all thought it was normal, even when we heard stuff like Sparks singing some of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard. It wasn’t just the bloke who played the keyboards and looked a bit like Hitler, or his androgynous brother (how weird was that, man? as we said back then). It was the whole, you know. Thing. We were fourteen or something. Why did we have to deal with stuff like this? I mean, it wasn’t 1918, except for the Souix.
But then, why did we buy it? Because we did. We all bought hugely into the whole sad song laments of Americans dragging thirty (how old? Nobody’s THAT old, man) not least because back before the whole interwebby thing and Wikipedia it wasn’t easy to find out that Ian Hunter was born in 1939.
I’m sorry, I still need to pause to let the horror of that statement go away a bit. “I got out my six string razor and hit the sky.” As we said back then, what does that even mean? Did we ever listen to the words when we heard bands like Eagles, singing coked-out dead-end laments like Desperado and Hotel California? How did that resonate with someone less than half their age, living 5,000 miles away on an estate in Trowbridge? Because it did.
Probably it meant just the same as it means now. The words change but the feeling doesn’t. Someone said to me yesterday, “you’re good with words when you speak. But when you write it down it’s shit. Sorry.” And sometimes, she’s right. I can’t catch that feeling, the way the music made us feel, the way it probably makes younger people feel now. Same things, different words. The same feeling, just a different way of saying it. I thought that as we sat on our bar stools as the music played. This hasn’t changed in three decades, for either of us.
For me, it was always Deacon Blues. Back before I had to do something about un-becoming the expanding man in the opening line (yes I did, yes you can, buy the programme…) Steely Dan’s song did it for me. It got in my head. It became my anthem. I don’t drink scotch whisky all night long. Not for years. I don’t drink drive. But I sometimes think the real thing I should do is learn to work the saxophone and play just what I feel. I’ve been called many names when I’ve lost, usually short ones but they still don’t call me Deacon Blue. There are days, more often nights, when I wish they did. Somewhere in that parallel universe, sometimes, just sometimes when the nights are getting longer and the apple wood smoke is heavy on the ground, when the winter starts to feel its way through your clothes, somewhere they still do.
And pretzel logic? Oh, you know how that works. Or maybe you don’t, if you’re lucky. It’s late and the words make perfect sense at the time and they curl back on themselves and make their own sense, in a big circle, like one of those who was that Dutch guy who did the drawings of lizards running upstairs in a circle. You want another? You drive here? You know how that thinking works and where it’s going, at least until you sober up.
So as The Archies used to say, pour a little sugar on it, baby. Just pour a little sugar on it. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Learning or experience, or both? Who knows? It has to be a combination I think, which sits at odds with things I used to believe, that learning meant sitting still and reading a book. I didn’t learn as much as I should have done that way, and my grades showed it. I got bored, I looked at of the window and wrote poems about trees and girls, all the stuff the lovable but messing-up kid does in films, a kind of budget Owen Wilson, a bit older.
I looked-up Owen Wilson on a movie database. He came out with the kind of thing I’d say:
There’s that great quote from Beckett, I think, ‘He had an abiding sense of melancholy that sustained him through brief periods of joy.’
Why? Because I know that feeling. I live that feeling. It’s not altogether a bad thing, but that’s the way it is. But I also recognise the academic slopiness betrayed by the ‘I think,’ the attitude that says look, I’ve read quite a lot of stuff and if I’m just generally quite charming and seem assured I can usually get away with saying things that maybe perhaps aren’t entirely accurate, because to be honest, charm beats rigour.
As it should and it’s fine unless you’re say, building a motorway bridge or doing neurosurgery, but it’s not the nicest thing to know about yourself. You see? You see what I mean?
But the learning experience, well, there have been several this week. For the first time in a long time I went out and interviewed someone on their territory.
The Monday Lifeboat Party show, my radio slot now has two interviews all lined up and sort-of ready to go. Almost. Except one I recorded onto CD and I can’t get it off onto my editing software because my CD drive is bust and I can’t unwrap the files from their email format and the other one is just about edited and now I can’t burn it to a CD because my CD blah…..
Technology. It’s not the studio’s fault. This is my own kit that’s broken. The learning was one of those usual learning things. I’d never edited sound before. I got about an hour and a half of material from the first interview, about forty minutes from the second one in Walberswick. That one I recorded on my iPhone. Depressingly, the sound quality was way better than on the expensive digital recorder I got just a couple of years ago, really good, easily as good as the studio recording.
But too much of it. I had to learn to cut bits out of the recording and join it back together again. It used to be done with magnetic tape, a guillotine and glue. You’ve seen it in the films.
Just kidding and anyway, it’s all done, like most other things (yes even that, or arranging it, anyway) these days on a laptop. It took me hours to get started. What I should have done is listened through with a piece of paper and a pen and marked-up where I wanted to cut.
The first ten times I cut anything I deleted the entire track and had to re-load it from the place Steve Jobs at Apple had thoughtfully put a spare, knowing I’d probably do something like that. Thanks for looking out for me, Steve. You don’t get that from Bill Gates, just 46 questions asking you if you really want to do that are you sure you want to do that are you really sure you want to do that and do you feel lucky, well do you punk? And we all know how that one ends.
But then it clicked, literally. I got it. I found how to cut. I found out how to cut just at the start of a word so there’s no silence and no dreaded Splicer’s Disease, where words get merged into each other so that people talking about a delightful cream-coloured jumper ruined when someone fell out of a punt changes utterly when you cut the wrong nine words and six letters. And as always, after I’d learned how to do it I couldn’t really imagine a time when I didn’t know how to do it. It’s so easy. Except until you learn it by doing it, it really isn’t. Which makes learning a much more complicated thing than I’d ever really thought about, but I’m thinking about learning a lot this week.
This morning a final listen through and see whether I can be bothered to cut the coughs and intakes of breath (no, just normal ones, it wasn’t that sort of recording). Then find a way to get it onto the mixing deck at the studio. I might go in on Sunday and see what I can do. A day you don’t learn anything is a day wasted, after all.
About a million years ago I fell in love with a song. I know, another one. But this one, this one was really special. It had something other songs just didn’t have. Rythym. Lyrics that touched my heart.
Should’ve listened when you never said you’d stay.
Hello loneliness I missed you not at all.
Hello just another girl I knew.
Hello memories and snapshots in the rain.
Reading all the writing on the wall.
(I’m reading all the writing on the wall.)
Is someone having a laugh or what?
This is something I wrote just recently for Frances Shelley who asked me if I’d like to do some lyrics. When I got up off the floor I realised it wasn’t a joke at all.
I drew on things that had happened to me; the midnight garden I stepped into once, a long, long time ago, the one that became the garden that Ben stepped into in Not Your Heart Away , as well as my own midnight garden I stepped into here. I thought about something that happened this past summer.
This is what came out. It might come out alright yet. The lyric might be ok with a bit of work too.
I read this a long time ago, in a desert far away. I was about Ben’s age in Not Your Heart Away. A girl sat on an abandoned tractor one night with the wind blowing her hair while I read the poem aloud from the book she carried. Those sentences tell you probably all you need to know about who we were, then. The feeling’s stayed with me ever since, inside me head. Not that one, the one that took us out to the abandoned tractor to talk, as people used to say (‘let’s go somewhere we can talk…’) but the book thing, the stage-prop, the lever, the excuse, the poem, that’s stayed with me.
Walking with blue
I’ve spent the day going through old notebooks, trying to write songs, remembering old dreams. And then I found this. It should not have become my song, the song of my life or if it had to not then, when I was nineteen. There might be a time for this in people’s lives, maybe particularly if they’re German. If you’ve lost a world war or two. If you’ve got one too many duelling scars from Heidelberg. If you’re a short dark painter who can’t paint very well and live in a bedsit with people like Christopher Isherwood flitting about. But not when you’re a teenage British kid into Magazine and Kate Bush, wearing black cords and red Kickers, just off to university. What was wrong with me? What, you know, was it?
I, like, didn’t know who I was. Well, big news. I still don’t. A bit more, a bit more than then perhaps. But as the other bladerunner said at the end of the film, the one who wasn’t Harrison Ford, the one who hadn’t fallen in love with a mechanical blow-up doll, the one who’d found out they were programmed to fall to bits in a couple of years because it was all too much for them, then again, who does?
I’ve never felt I had a home, more than for about an hour or two. People have tried to make me feel that, truly tried, but it didn’t stick. Or maybe I didn’t stick. It’s not a big noble born under a wandering star thing, just this no permanence is mine thing. I’d like it to be. I don’t think it’s going to happen now.
Years ago there was a film. Bob Hoskins, the Singing Detective, the uber-geezer in The Long Good Friday, the friendly bloke from the BT ads who told us it was good to talk fell into a cartoon as a 1940s gum-shoe, a private eye trying to find-out Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Prime suspect was Jessica Rabbit, a smouldering torch singer with a figure to die for and Bob thought Roger probably had. She was trouble. You could see that a mile away. A voice that would smoke tarmac when she said: “I’m not really bad. I’m just … drawn that way.” That was me.
Not Jessica Rabbit, you understand. I’ve never poured myself into a ball gown. Poured people out of them, but that’s a different thing altogether. (“That’s a different thing.” Thank-you.)
But that thing, the longing forever for the right to stay. I know that feeling. It has nothing to do with mortgages or arrears or where you live or passports or visas. People like us now, we do so many different things. You can call it a portfolio career if it helps. I’ve cooked crepes, shot things, explained things, found things, made things, written things and yes, I crave a form that binds, a certainty, a constancy. And at the same time I avoid it as if it was contagion incarnate, as if it burned my eyes.
I should never have found this poem. I should never have found this poem again. But it didn’t change my life. It just articulated some of it.
Well, that was the second Lifeboat Party show at www.radiocastle.com I did on Monday. The general consensus is still camp, but slicker.
You can listen to it again wherever you are in the world by just clicking here and judge for yourselves. I got my very most favourite fan laughing even though I didn’t get the thing in about the Suffolk Space Programme.
That aluminium silo on that farm outside Wickham Market? Oh come on!! You didn’t think that was farm stuff did you? It’s for an ICBM the Americans left when they abandoned Bentwaters airbase in 1992. We’ve used it to put farmers into space out here for the last 15 years, after we worked out how to turn the methane in battery chicken poo into rocket fuel. Townies. They don’t know nuffin…
Early September, the fruiting time, with plum juice and warmth and wasps in the air, when you know the summer is fading and the cold is coming. You can smell it in the air in the evening, in the morning now too. And think of times colder. Cold is different wherever you go. I remember the white cold of Norway that March I went there, rivers still hidden under feet of snow that lay on the ice., all the contours of the earth smooth and flowing. The other cold I found there too, when I went out without a hat and got caught in the rain, so cold it made me think I might die.
And the cold of the West Country, those mornings when I was young and we had no heat in the house until the fire was lit, apart from the choking paraffin heater at the bottom of the stairs that sent fumes into my room while I was asleep; a sort throat from November to March. Ice ferns on the windows inside, astonishing skies orange and yellow and pale blue with no clouds, as if all of Wiltshire was flying through space, so high above the earth in my council house bedroom, the concrete tiled rooftops, the sodium streetlights. My crystal radio with its wire loop of aerial strung around the front door porch. I haven’t felt that cold since then, since I left the place where I came from.
A different kind of cold out here in the East. A sadder one as the year spins into its last part, towards the long night. And one where now the summer is over the people have gone back to their real lives, leaving this pretend holiday place still bathing in the cooling waters of the retirees mantra: ‘it’s always been like this,’ as if a place was ever built where six out of ten houses are lived in only now and then.
I dreamed a mouse was trapped in the bin where I keep the chicken’s corn. In my dream I tip the bin slowly so the little mouse can escape. Yellow and orange mist as I leave the house this morning. Figs from the tree I planted half a decade ago this sweet Autumn. There are much worse times than these.
The picture at the top of this blog has attracted some comments over the months it’s been up. Where is it? Haunting. Beautiful.
It was taken near the harbour mouth at Southwold either late in 2012 or early, very early, this year, 2013, on an iPhone, looking north, towards the pier. It had been raining heavily and there’d been a storm so there was a shallow lagoon on the beach, the water in the photo. I haven’t been there many times since.
Someone was walking along to give the shot some depth and perspective. I don’t know who. I never shall.
Would it have been a better picture without anyone in it? I think the person locates it, gives it something that however beautiful and haunting that place is, would have been totally lacking without that one single, apparently insignificant person.
Because that’s the thing about insignificant people. They aren’t. Nobody is.
About a thousand years ago, or in the 1980s which sometimes feels like much the same thing, there was a superb show on the radio called A Prairie Home Companion. Way back when jihad was just something the Dukes of Hazzard used to say I travelled around the prairie, and that ain’t no lie. I got caught in a prairie lightning storm outside Colby, Kansas, sleeping in my old Chevrolet while I went to hunt Hunter Thompson, but that’s a whole other story. The whole point of the Prairie Home Companion is that nothing much happens on it, which is much the same as what happens on the prairie and if you think it’s easy to make that sound realistic on the radio, think again.
It was my first live radio show today. The Lifeboat Party went out on www.Radio Castle.com at noon. Come February it’s going on old fashioned radio as well as out as a web broadcast, so I can really put the F in FM.
So today I’d cycled out to the auctions at half past nine to see what was happening, see whether my friend with the live milk farm was there (she was), see if there were any bicycles I could buy and sell on eBay to Japan (there weren’t, but it did happen once) and to see if friends from the village really were going to buy some chickens at the livestock auction.
Tracks Of My Tears
Well, they meant to. It’s about comfort zones. What you’re used to. The bidding started on a cardboard box containing four Light Sussex chicks. Hardly anyone bid. They went for £2. No, all four for £2. The person I knew was going to bid on some hens. He’s got a sensible, responsible job where he needs to keep control of a lot of different things going off at the same time. And he froze, bidding on a chicken.
When I cycled on to Framlingham my show was about the same. The first ten minutes were fine. My guest came in and if I got the name of her company wrong it was sort-of ok. It was after that, when the mixing deck froze so I could only play CDs and I couldn’t remember which CD was in which rack and …..
Looking Counter Clockwise
Ok. Nobody in Suffolk would know the difference between the Gotan Project and Federico Aubelle at noon on a back-to-school Monday anyway. But I do. And I need to do it better next time. Rabbit in headlights. Moth to a flame. You know, I’d sell my soul for total control.