Biography (part 17)

July 1st to December 31st 2016

On the last day of June the Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra learnt that Boots had liked the version of the Rozalla song, ‘Everybody’s Free’, that we improvised during the filming of the advert at The Dublin Castle and were offering us a deal to record it properly. Of course they wanted the track ‘yesterday’ so we went straight into Perry Vale Studios on Friday 1st July and recorded the rhythm track and vocals. The horns were recorded on the Sunday night - a part I scribbled down on the way to the session on the train. I noticed that Alistair White, our trombonist, had turned up with bags and on asking him if he was dashing off somewhere he told me that his day had started at 3 a.m. in Vienna boarding a flight to London in order to play with Glen Frey of the Eagles in Hyde Park supporting Carole King (who he would liked to have seen) but then he got the call about the Boots session so “. . . here I am”. As Boots wanted it on their desk at 8 am on Monday morning we did a half hour mix and I headed off for the train home with Dave Robinson who treated me to a bag of chips and more chats about his extraordinary life which he concluded had been “Fun . . . for the most part”. A biography needs to be written.
The fourth anniversary of my liver transplant on the 12th July, found me in Paris recording ambient sounds to add to my EP ‘Paris Sketches’. On arriving I recorded the Gare du Nord trying hard not to look like a terrorist, then walked across town in the direction of the Left Bank and captured a children’s picnic in Les Jardins de Luxembourg. It was a beautiful morning and I met Steve and Isabelle for lunch at La Pallette on Rue de Seine, recording things that caught my ear on the way. We tried to avoid the burning issue of Brexit in our conversation but it was difficult. We are of the same mind - let’s leave it at that. There was a short rainstorm as we ate, then the sun - undaunted - re-appeared . After lunch I set off in the direction of Notre Dame to capture the bells and the motor boats on the river and ended up walking in a huge circle back to Gare du Nord by way of the Canal St Martin. I ended the walk at Chez Prune with a lemonade and watched the arrival of the early evening crowd. I had the occasional intrusive thought, having passed the Bataclan down the road, as to what I would do should a terrorist shoot the place up and concluded: ‘die probably . . . no point worrying; just live your life.’ I Got the 9.01 train back to London and was home in time to watch the repeat of that days events in The Tour de France. It is a fantastic thing: Eurostar.
On Tuesday 19th July Robbo rang: “We need a cover for the single of ‘Feel A Little Better’; apparently you’re the one to ask. I want sunny, water colour . . . colours bleeding into each other . . . loose . . . parasols . . . you know what I mean.” I told him I would try. “When do you need it?”; “Yesterday!” ; “Great!”. Well I tried. But my efforts weren’t quite what he had in mind. A good exercise though - you can see my efforts in this blog. feel a little better
Then it was a day with Mole writing horn and string lines for the ‘Danger Island’ album with recording deadlines fast approaching and, on Friday 22nd July, a gig for the Ska Orchestra at Hampton Pool. I got the North London Line to Richmond and - as I was waiting for a bus to Hampton - I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Lee Thompson who said, with what seemed like genuine puzzlement, “What are you doing here?”. I told him I was on my way to Hampton; he was in Costa Coffee with Darren and (surprise, surprise) was also on his way. I went on ahead to make sure everything was fine with the equipment etc. and took the opportunity to have a swim before the soundcheck. We were playing with The Selector and as I headed back to our changing tent Pauline Black shouted out “What sexy legs”. Really very gratifying - it’s just the rest of me that gives me cause for concern. During the sound check I spotted old friends, Robin and Susan Tapp, in the audience and went out to have a chat with them before the actual performance which was very good. However Lee, forgetting his age leapt off the stage and over the barrier (narrowly missing it) into the audience. This prompted a later email from Robbo entitled ‘Lee is a Nutter’ in which he said that we could all get a windfall if we insured him and ‘he bloody killed himself’. He was - ofcourse - joking! After the gig Susan and Robin gave me a lift in their taxi to Richmond and I was home by 11.00 pm.
On Monday 25th July I was booked by Pete Dean (of the Montoya Sound of which I was a member between 1987 and 1989 - the band on which Roddy Doyle based ‘The Commitments’) for a session ostensibly to add piano to a dance track for a short charity film about the environment. In two hours I added blues and acid house piano, John Barry strings, harpsichord, a choir, hammond organ, and trombones. What fun!
The following day found me at Brixton Hill Studios rehearsing with Rhoda Dakar for the first of our ‘Lo-Tek Four’ EP’s (Vol 1). We were introduced to Francis, AKA DJ Frenchie, Rhoda’a son, who will be contributing drums to a cover of Fred Neil’s ‘Dolphins’ which means a lot to Rhoda as it was a song she was working on when he was a baby; it was the first musical session he ever witnessed. And it sounded great! I told Rhoda that I understood that feeling entirely. My ‘Paris Sketches’ owe most of their feel to the fact that my daughter, Melody, had just left home for university when I wrote them; music, to be meaningful, has to be prompted by feeling - it isn’t merely an intellectual exercise.
So - on the 2nd August - I met with Rhoda and Fraser in Brixton for the drive down the A3 to Paul Weller’s Black Barn Studios. There were no sign-posts for reasons of privacy but Paul Tadman and Mark Clayden - bass and drums respectively - had got there before us and Tad directed us into what had once been farm buildings. This is a beautiful studio with all the usual memorabilia everywhere: gold and silver discs, NME covers featuring Paul Weller and a jukebox in the control room. The Yamaha Grand Piano’s touch was great - the kind of piano that enhances everything you do on it. Charles Rees, the House Engineer was enthusiastic, had great ears and was a joy to work with. With Lenny Bignell on guitar and Rhoda on guide vocals we decided to record all the backing tracks live adding vocals and horns (c/o Terry Edwards who was due to arrive at six o clock) later as overdubs. With six tracks to record we got straight to work. Everyone was on form. We have done enough live gigs now to become the kind of unit that listens and responds to one another. The final track, ‘Dolphins’ saw Fraser take over the drum stool and we had that in one (perhaps two) takes. I was very impressed with his drumming and asked, “How are you so laid back so young” as I believe that good rhythm lies in a total lack of tension. Without missing a beat he said, “Drugs”. Terry arrived and Rhoda had found a mock up magazine in the studio which bore the headline ‘What are Solos for?’ which she read ostentatiously in front of him each time he entered the studio to play. A band who laughs together plays together! Terry’s additional horn lines were the icing on a very soulful cake. Although - by the end of the session at around 10 o clock - we had not managed to get to the vocals we were all delighted with how it had gone and how good the recordings sounded.
We had a final rehearsal the following day before setting off on Eurostar for Belgium to play Reggae Geel which was an hour or so’s drive outside Brussels. Our Hotel was in a tiny one-street hamlet called Kasterlee. On this trip, which Lenny couldn’t do, guitar duties were again taken by Adam who very nearly missed the train. Poor Adam - he is one of these people who is unaccountably irritating. Very keen . . . but very irritating. Enough said. Terry and I shared a room at the Hotel and we snoozed half watching a young Tom Hanks film with Flemish sub-titles called ‘The Money Pit’ which confirmed to me how awful main stream Hollywood cinema of the 1980’s was. We took a walk down the one main road and met Tad and Mark for a drink in one of about ten drinking establishments in 400 metres mainly populated by elderly locals drinking outside in the sun. We were picked up at 7.00 to go to the Festival site where a Jamaican Food Kitchen served us fantastic Pumpkin and Vegetable soup followed by Rice ’n’ Peas, Jerk AND Fried Chicken. Rhoda wasn’t impressed: “Why do we always get this? It’s like being back in Brixton; might as well be.” I loved it of course (and told her so with great glee!) Trying to get to the stage the car got stuck in mud and our driver had to get a carpet to protect our shoes (we had no wellies) and - on seeing the stage I was very concerned that I couldn’t see a keyboard. On asking the Stage Manager he said “Oh - did you ask for one?”; “It was on our Tech. Spec., yes”, I replied. He said he could “probably find one”. Oh dear! He returned with - in effect - a toy: no weighted keys, very short keyboard and a synthetic piano sound. Mark’s drum pedal was loose and his microphone stand malfunctioned. Somehow we got through the gig with dignity and reputation intact . . . he audience and organisers seemed delighted; bit of a nightmare for us though. And Adam (of course) ignored what we had asked him to do in the rehearsal and complained that - for him it had been a ‘nightmare’ too, though I couldn’t quite work out why . . . a guitar is a guitar after all. A tractor towed us out of the mud back to our rendezvous with the van and it was straight back to the hotel. Despite the problems - mainly due to Rhoda’s unflappability - we still had the impression that we had had great fun.
The following morning I went out for an early morning walk and sketched a typical Flemish house over the road and after breakfast who should walk into the room but Mike Pelanconi, here to do a DJ set for the festival. Great to see him of course; he has been based in California since the closing of The Iron Works in Brighton earlier in the year. At midday we were taken back to Brussels and we all walked out to look for a place to have lunch. We found a brilliant cafe/bar nearby on Rue Stalingrad and sat there in the sunshine and laughed and talked, ate and drank. Part of the joy of gigging overseas is hours like this - talking about life in unfamiliar places; drinking it all in; good friends together; moments you look back on with genuine affection. Our train was at 4.55 and I was home by 7.00 pm.
First thing the following morning (Sunday 7th August) I caught the Brighton train to join Chrissy-Boy Foreman for his sixtieth birthday - the first Madness member to be eligible for a bus pass! Melissa, his wife, had vainly tried to keep it a secret but, due to gale force winds in Scotland, Madness were unable to get back so everyone had a fine time at the party apart from the actual birthday boy. Ironically I had bought him a memory-foam travel headrest which I left on the pile of presents in his hall awaiting his return when I had to leave. I rang him the following day to explain that my present was just the thing for nightmare journeys such as the one he had experienced the day before: “Well it’s a bit bloody late isn’t it” he said. Don’t you just love him!
On Wednesday the 17th August, as a break from work on the Mole scores, I went to see ‘Thunderbirds 65’, three new episodes of the classic 60’s ‘Super-Marionation’ series that have used the voices of the original cast by creating in film three recordings released as an LP in 1965. These were great but what was truly marvellous was the line of gentlemen (of a certain age) who were queuing in the foyer of the BFI to have their photos taken with Lady Penelope - all four foot of her. I never found her that sexy watching her in the adventures on television as a boy but there was definitely something about seeing her close up in the - er - flesh (as it were).
The Ska Orchestra played a huge free festival at Central Park, Newham in East London on the 18th August. What a set up: huge video screens, big stage, good sound, a generous rider and hot meals for the band. Out front, a funfair, food stalls and a huge crowd. However the response was - for our performance - subdued and we found it quite hard work to get the crowd going. Afterwards Slim (of ‘Slims Cyder Co.’ and winner of ‘Blockhead of the Year 1978’) pointed out that, as far as a lot of the audience were concerned we were playing ‘their Granddad’s music’. And - being a free festival - families were there not primarily for the music. Personally I just concentrated on the many smiling faces I could see in the audience and played as well as I possibly could.
With hardly time to breathe I was in Southgate Studios the following day conducting the strings for the Mole ‘Danger Island’ recording project. We had finished writing the parts by the skin of our teeth and now it was crunch time. This was one of those days that became a career landmark for me. On cello I had booked Jenny Adejayan who had brought with her Tanya Cracknall on violin and Abigail Dance on violin and viola. As they worked through the parts they asked, firstly, who was responsible for them. Mole indicated me and they asked if I was a string player. I told them I wasn’t and Abigail pointed out that they spend half their time re-writing bad arrangements by professionals; “Not that you’re not professional!” they laughed. Then , during my piano solo on ‘I’m Not Sorry’ Tanya looked at me and said “Loving the piano on this.”. As if my head wasn’t positively expanding already, by the end of the session they were calling me ‘George’ (Martin). It is such a thrill to hear such fantastic players play sounds that were previously only in my head. Mole - who has written these great songs - was ecstatic and hugely complimentary of my work. The whole day was very intense, exhausting and completely wonderful!
From such highs there often seem to be lows. I had an email from Lee asking that I send out requests for invoices to the band for the Newham gig. At a glance I could see that the sums were wrong. Lee - bless him - cannot seem to be consistent with what we have agreed regarding gigs. Without going into details I refused to request the invoices; my health cannot afford the stress of dealing with band queries and - ultimately - complaints. And it was only days before there were consequences.
The album launch for ‘Bite the Bullet’ was on Thursday 25th August and was a sell out. It proved to be one of the hottest days of the year and you could actually taste the pollution in the atmosphere of Tottenham Court Road. We had an augmented horn line up and we decided to do two sets. What a night! Every single member of the band was absolutely inspired! This was one of the best gigs I have ever been involved with and the audience were nothing short of incredible. Drenched in sweat when we left the stage I turned to Andy Neal and complemented him on a fantastic guitar solo in ‘Tunnel One’. He grinned broadly and said: “Yeah . . . not a bad way to tender my notice”. I asked him what he meant. He told me he was off to tell Lee that he was leaving the band. I reminded him that we had a confirmed gig in Finland and he said he would do that. My previous fears had been realised. I shared the van with Lee and several others back to Camden and all I could hear from Lee was his voice; virtually a whisper - clearly quite devastated - mumbling about Andy to himself. We all love Lee to bits but he is totally chaotic. Piss-up; brewery . . . fill in the blanks.Mole trip
I had little time to ponder as Rhoda Dakar had a gig in Harlow the following day. The gig was at The Square which I played with the Nutty Boys in - I think - 1991. I was so tired from recent activity that I fell asleep on a sofa after the sound check. Staff and Security here were very friendly and an excellent team. They seem to be staving off closure which I believe would be a disaster for Harlow. Looking around the place there seemed bugger all else to do there. We opted to take our meal down the road at The Hare where we were entertained by Lenny, our guitarist’s, stories about his wife’s Irish family: “They won’t accept the word ‘no’ to offers of more cake. They keep pressing until finally they say ‘well just take a piece for your hand’ so you end up holding this fucking cake that you don’t really want. It’s a famine mentality”. This is very true - I recall the vast amounts of food pressed on us every time we toured Ireland with the ‘Dead Dogs’ and ‘The Montoya Sound’. During the gig Rhoda received a call from her son Fraser and she held the phone up to the microphone and asked him what he wanted. (All the crowd shouted out ‘Hello Fraser!’). His voice sounded clearly across the club: “A Rum and Coke” which went down very well. Before he hung up he said “Mum. I have a confession to make”; “Yes?”; “I hate ska”. (cue huge roar from the crowd). All in all a very entertaining evening.
After a good nights sleep I went straight to Southgate Studios where I met up with Terry to add some horns to my arrangements for Mole. Terry was done in a couple of hours before Abigail arrived to add pizzicato violin to ‘Fireflies’ and a couple of other bits. We were all done by 7.00 - Mole assuring me that everyone who has heard my arrangements is completely ‘knocked out’. This job has been a complete revelation to me.
Another nights sleep and the relentless round of activity continued: Sunday August 28th and it was off to Stroud with Rhoda to play their ‘Music and Literature Festival’. I sketched Bill driving us there in the van and when we left the motorway we were confronted by the beautiful countryside of the Cotswolds - Laurie Lee country. Stroud is a beautiful place and the festive atmosphere there was infectious. Lots of stages throughout the small town, beautiful Victorian buildings and a very happy and relaxed atmosphere about the whole place. Our stage was in the Church yard. We were headlining and everything went really well until I played the completely wrong riff to one of our songs. The last few days I have been so busy that I momentarily had no idea what I was doing. As always Rhoda’s sense of humour and the way she engages with the audience made this mishap almost seem like part of the gig. Afterwards I was approached by an audience member who said “Let me tell you - that was brilliant; my knees have gone, my lungs are fucked - but I was skanking in my heart”. This sounds like a song title to me. Then the long drive back and as I lay down in bed, utterly exhausted I actually said out loud: “My God! Aren’t beds great”. Then I was gone.
Apart from a bit of teaching I had one more task before going on holiday. On Tuesday 30th August I nipped down to Iguana Studios in Brixton to watch and support Rhoda as she did her vocals for the ‘Lo-Tek 4’ EP. This is sounding good! Then - on Friday 2nd September - I set off for the Portsmouth ferry for a welcome holiday in St Malo - a place I first visited with my school in 1972 (my first trip abroad). A beautiful, contemplative holiday staying at the converted barn of Anne, a sculptor and all round wonderful host, as I explored the bays and headlands of the Breton coast.
Almost as soon as I got back to London it was back into action. On Wednesday 14th September Rhoda had asked Lenny (on guitar) and myself (on accordion) to play at a book launch at Rough Trade in Brick Lane - the book a history of Rock Against Racism and Red Wedge in the 1980’s which Rhoda was part of (and great memories for me of travelling from Norwich to see the Clash, X Ray Specs etc at Victoria Park in 1978 and the huge ROR march there from Trafalgar Square). Other guests included Attila the Stockbroker (who was brilliant) and a girl from the Au Pairs. We had had no time to rehearse but our short three song set included ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ which we had never played before and was - to put it mildly - a brave choice. It all seemed to go down well and Attila for one was raving about it afterwards and wants to book us next year at some festival or other he organises. Well . . . why not!
Two days later I had packed and booked a train to Folkestone where Rhoda was to open the Skabour Festival, but on the way to the station I had to go to BBC Broadcasting House to play a session with the Ska Orchestra for Robert Elms at midday. Playing this apart from myself were, Sumudu Jayatilaka (backing vocals), Seamus Beaghen (guitar!), Mark Bedford (Bass), and Lee Thompson (Sax and Vocals). We had a brief rehearsal of ‘Wicker Man’ in a side room before being ushered into the studio (Mark arrived with two minutes to spare having got stuck in traffic - phew!) So a brief interview with much hilarity: Robert on the prospect of us playing Jamaica - which for a short time was a possibility - said “Isn’t that a bit like taking coals to Newcastle?”. He played the single whilst we did a quick sound-check then we were on. Lee seemed to happily ignore (or forget) our arrangement and seemed to be rehearsing sax parts rather than playing them with any commitment but he hammed up the vocals enough to get away with it through sheer humour. Afterwards, over a coffee, Lee was clearly in a strange mood regarding the departure of Andy and more or less suggested sacking himself! We thought that a bit extreme.
After lunch I took Seamus to Silva’s - a great Italian cafe in High Holborn - and then dashed to London Bridge for the train I had booked to Folkestone. However - because of the heavy thunder storm last night (or something) there were no trains running from London Bridge and I was advised to go to Kings Cross; and when I got to Kings Cross they said I would have to go to Victoria . . . “It’s a joke right?”. No - apparently not. I refused to pay the extra for the fast link from Kings Cross and finally got it without extra charge. The public transport in London is currently a complete wind-up! Rhoda was in the same train so we shared a taxi to the hotel in which Skabour was happening. Terry couldn’t make this one - sax duties were filled by Magumi - and after sound-check our complimentary meal was fish and chips and chocolate cake - just the job. Stage time was 11 0 clock and I have to say that we are turning into an impressively tight unit. Afterwards I was approached by a couple from Morecambe who said that they knew James Mackie, my old friend from Lancaster; I asked them to give him my love.
The following morning, after breakfast with Tad and Lenny I went for a walk. One of the joys of playing anywhere is discovering a place you have never been to before. There was a mild drizzle as I walked past a dilapidated cafe towards the pier of the harbour, now no longer in use, and I stumbled into the railway station that used to take passengers to the ferries now overgrown and slowly decaying. What a remarkable and melancholy sight. Then I doubled back and climbed a steep lane cut into the cliff which was lined with bric-a brac, vintage shops and craft shops. A vintage record shop proudly displayed the Ska Orchestra’s latest, ‘Bite the Bullet’. in the window and I visited a book lined tea room. At the top of the lane was a gallery in where an ancient bright red piano took pride of place amongst the paintings of the owner. Considering its vintage, it was in extraordinarily good condition. I played it and the owner said it had been rescued from a dump after the First World War because it was German and “there was a lot of anti German feeling at the time as you can imagine”. I had no idea that piano’s also suffered prejudice. I walked along Remembrance Way, and, on a drizzly day like today, and seeing their memorials it was easy to imagine the young soldiers cheerfully marching down to the harbour and their awful fate in the fields of Flanders in 1914. I found a Victorian funicular railway, restored and run by local volunteers. For £1.50 I was taken to the top of the cliffs for the walk back to Folkestone station and the train back to London.
I attended two exhibitions in the following days. Firstly, on Tuesday 4th October, the Ardizzone exhibition at the Illustrators Gallery in Kings Cross with Masi, who I met years ago at the CtyLit and with whom I often go to art exhibitions. I love his pen and ink washes of pubs in the 1930’s and his children’s books; I pointed to the pit of my stomach and told Masi, “He just gets me there!”. There was a great short film of him at work cross hatching a street sketch. It was like watching a magician at work. The following morning, after swimming at the Oasis, I cycled to The Getty Gallery where there was an exhibition of photographs of Soho from the early 1900’s to the present. It underlined what we have lost to the developers in recent years; a place of real history and character of which I caught the tale end when I worked at Quartet Books in the 1980’s. I can still hear the raspy, menacing voice of Jeffrey Bernard as he turned to me and said “And who are you looking at you fucking cunt”. . . Oh the good old days at The Coach and Horses in Soho!
I also completed work on a small canvas of the ‘Rue De Seine’ and finalised the manuscript of my ‘Paris Sketches - seven pieces for piano solo’ which I will endeavour to get published next year.
I have been chosen as a candidate for a worldwide study to see whether certain liver transplantees can be weaned of immunosuppressants which would be fantastic. On the 10th October I had a biopsy to test whether I (and my liver) was healthy enough. It was but I was a little disappointed to be be randomly placed in the control group. So I continue with the drugs but hopefully, should the trial prove successful in four years I will benefit from the results.
On Saturday night, the 15th, it was Mary Sparrow and Kath McClinton’s sixtieth birthday celebration. These two wonderful people were central in ‘our group’ at the University of East Anglia in 1976 and 1977 all bonded around the music of The Clash and The Ramones. Jody Yebga, coming from Brighton, said she would pick me up but traffic was terrible and we could both see the humour in her finally finding me with just 50 yards to go to get to The Apple Tree in Clerkenwell where the party was being held. All ‘old codgers’ were there including Charlie Higson and Paul Whitehouse who have done rather well for themselves - but then so have we all really. So the night was hilarious; as I wrote in my diary ‘Mary and Kath looking great; Jody looking great; everyone saying I look great. So everything’s great!’ .
So to Saturday 5th November and I woke at 5 am with slight trepidation as this was the day of our Finnish jaunt - The Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra to play the ‘Tampere Jazz Happening’ about 100 miles north of Helsinki. I say ‘trepidation’ because I had been largely responsible for the organisation of this one: airline tickets and ensuring the band turned up at the right place at the right time, liaison with the organisers in Finland etc. I was the first to arrive at the forecourt of Heathrow Airport at 8.30 and was soon joined (much to my relief) by the rest of the band. Seamus - having flown so much with Iggy Pop - treated me to the ‘Lounge’ where drinks and eats are free and newspapers are laid on. Nice! Mez - our drummer - was flying to Helsinki from Zurich (where he had a gig the previous night) and we boarded at 10.00 a.m. In Helsinki we met our hosts, Mez had arrived half an hour earlier, and I was delighted: so far so good. We drove through the dark and a light fall of snow, sharing the coach with Sly and Robbie’s team who had also arrived in Helsinki that afternoon and were due to play on the main stage just before we were to close the festival at 1 o clock in the morning. At the hotel we left our bags in storage so that we could get straight to the venue for sound checking and a hot meal. I noticed the cold penetrating my trousers as we walked the short distance to the venue - this was definitely not far from the Arctic Circle. After sound checking we were shown upstairs to the band lounge where food was laid on all day every day for the performers. I had some delicious meat and potatoes and I had had three bowls of it before I found out that it was German Deer. Then it was back to the hotel to rest in our rooms where I dozed for a while, watched a little Finnish television (totally unmemorable) and had a shower. At midnight we reconvened back at the venue and watched the closing part of the Sly and Robbie set. The promoter, Juhamatti, told me that they were both unwell but that they were “tough guys”. They were playing with a local jazz guitarist and a computer ‘wizard’ in the Eno vein (weird noises etc.). The programme announced that ‘. . . stress simply vaporises’ when LTSO take the stage and we were introduced - Eurovision style - by a woman and a man who took a sentence each before we launched into ‘Western Standard Time’. The gig was great - though not without the occasional technical glitch - and was nearly two hours long. At around 2.50 a.m. I informed Lee (as he always forgets) that this was our last song and that he should thank the audience and say goodnight. He looked at me pointing at his mouth and saying, “I’ve Loft my Teef”. Of course this was his way of getting me to do it which I was happy to do. What is he like? Everyone in the dressing room was very happy. Robbo was so happy he accidentally smashed a wine glass. Juhamatti asked me if anyone would like some ‘local Finnish weed’ (which seemed an oxymoron to me) and Seamus and I said that would be great. I smoked some, gave the rest to Seamus and returned to the hotel across the square, which was eerily tranquil in the snow. In bed I felt the tread of a cat on my duvet picking its way carefully from the bottom of the bed to my head. I quickly sat up but there was nothing there. This happened a couple of times before I realised that the tread was in exact time with my heartbeat . . . so this ‘local Finnish weed’ was pretty good - if you like ghost cats.weedcat
I got up early the following morning in order to see a bit of Tampere before we had to return to Helsinki at 10.00 for the lunchtimes flight back. The streets were covered in a powdering of snow and - it being a Sunday - were desolate. I found a Russian looking church but most of the architecture was of the concrete variety. It was also extremely cold and I returned to the hotel through a deserted shopping centre for breakfast where much hilarity with Chalkie, Kev and Darren (Trumpet, guitar and backing vcl. respectively). At ten o clock 3 vans arrived to take the whole party back to Helsinki down a very quiet motorway with bleak views of grey and lavender pine forest, deserted looking farms and freezing lakes all set amongst forbidding looking escarpments - an unforgiving looking landscape. The flight back was great and I got the tube all the way back to Camden. What a weekend. And then nine hours sleep!
‘Art in a Corner’ came to fruition with a private view at the Cube Gallery near Baker Street on the 17th November. This was inspired by a conversation I had had with Paul Aspel about the only painting The Beatles ever did when they were trapped in a Japanese hotel room in 1966 - ‘Images of a Woman’. So Paul has managed to get a host of bands to do likewise in aid of charity - people like Elvis Costello, Brian Wilson, Level 42, Marillion and The Right Hand Lovers who I knew in Norwich in 1977 (featuring Paul Whitehouse, Charlie Higson, and Dave Cummings). I chatted with Charlie and Dave there and they asked how I was. I said “Well - you know - trying to make money out of music . . . which is hard; I think I’ve missed that generation . . . but I’m not complaining. . .”; “Yes you are!” they said in unison. So that’s me told!
So the following day, Friday 18th, I caught the 1.45 train to Minehead Butlins via Taunton for gigs - on Friday - with Rhoda Dakar, and - on Sunday - with the LTSO at The House of Fun Weekender hosted by Madness. We ran through a new song - ‘Back-Foot’ - with Rhoda during sound check then had dinner and Terry and I checked in to our chalet. I popped out to watch Madness’s Friday set which consisted of early B sides and album tracks from their first two albums and it was fascinating to see how quickly they developed as brilliant song writers. Then it was straight to the Red stage for the Rhoda Dakar set which was heaving as Madness had just finished - and a great set it was. Afterwards the dressing room was rocking with Gary, ‘Scurf’ from Koast Radio busy digging himself deeper into trouble with Rhoda (“What have I said?” he asked desperately retreating from a stern talking to by Rhoda. I had no idea but: “You’ve done it now” I said, helpfully stirring the pot for the sheer fun of it.) Debs (Thompson) her wig at a jaunty angle, and Lynn Milsom, both sloshing wine everywhere, were so affectionate I thought they might pass out at any minute. All in all marvellous scenes until about two in the morning before I retired to bed.
The following morning I called on Rhoda whose chalet I was taking for the rest of the weekend, dropped my bags there and got the 9 o clock bus to Taunton for the train to Bristol to see Melody. The road up to her place - Gloucester Road, was full of independent shops, vintage clothing, bric a brac stalls, greengrocers, bakeries, butchers, cafes and restaurants - Melody told me that there was a general outcry when Tesco’s tried to muscle in - GOOD! We had lunch in a Caribbean Restaurant - Jerk chicken washed down with spicy ginger beer. Then we went to her flat - so good to see my daughter in HER territory. I couldn’t help feeling proud (which will probably bore the reader of this to death - so . . .) I stayed drinking tea for an hour and then had to get back - I wanted to catch Madness’s Saturday night set and I didn’t know how long the Minehead bus was running. I got back to Butlin’s around 8 and caught the Madness set and was struck at how good the sound was - Ian Horne (their sound-man. Called ‘Dad’ by those in the know) is a genius. I could even hear Suggs’s claves. The rest of the evening I spent in my new chalet: a double room, single room, toilet, shower, living room and kitchen all to myself. I was woken in the night by what turned out to be a ‘Hurricane’. Screaming and laughter by well watered (in every way!) Mad-Heads at three in the morning - I turned over and went back to sleep.
First thing in the morning I got a code for the internet from Laurence, Madness’s road manager. I wanted to check that there had been no problems with trains from London for Sumudu, Kev and Seamus given the appalling weather conditions. There were other things to sort out too as Lee had broken his rib earlier in the week “dancing in my kitchen”. Its nice to know that he dances with his family in the kitchen but we had no idea earlier in the week whether he would be able to play at all. But here we are with the help of painkillers and other - er - anaesthetics (which Jim O Gara - Madness’s all round helper - has been taking off him at every opportunity: “You can’t drink bloody red wine on them you idiot” etc. etc.) After re-assuring myself that everyone was alright regarding the afternoon gig I spent a lovely morning with breakfast, tea and the radio. Around midday I went out for a walk down to the seafront. There were large pools of water across the promenade from the previous night’s storm. But the atmosphere was fresh and clean and several punters asked me what time we were on that afternoon. I was determined to make it to the harbour at the headland when I heard my name being called. It was Debs and Lynn in a cafe on the front and Debs beckoned me over to join them. I had had breakfast so chatted a while as they ate - Debs told me that Lee’s rib seemed to be bearing up which was good. Whatever else Lee is he is a tough old boot! I made it to the headland and sketched some thatched cottages there before returning to the Red Stage to prepare for the gig via the chalet for my bags in case we had to make a speedy getaway for the train later after the set.
It turned out that the ‘Gold Coach’ Lee had promised to get Mark, Seamus, Kev, and myself back to London was non existent. I had a return ticket from Lee but everyone else had bought a one way having been told by Lee about this lift. According to Robbo Lee “. . . believes in magic - because he has thought about something he thinks it has actually happened ”. The pain killers that Lee was taking, meanwhile had a very strange effect on him during the gig. He kept dashing off stage mid song to do something or ‘get a flag’ or something. We just had to fill in for him when he disappeared. It was a bit like playing with a hyperactive heptathlete who kept running off to practice a new discipline every five minutes. Bitty McClean joined us for a superb version of ‘Fu Manchu’ and the gig went down spectacularly well. As I left the stage Lee beckoned me in a ‘you’re in trouble’ kind of voice: “Louis - come ‘ere”. As I approached his voice grew less fearsome: “Come ‘ ere, you little. . . “ then he kissed me on the lips. Very nice apart from the bristles!
We were driven straight to Taunton for the train. However this was far from the end of our troubles. All the trains were billed as ‘running late’. It was after 8 o clock before we were finally told that there would be no trains at all from Cornwall due to ‘The Hurricane’. So two platforms worth of freezing passengers crowded onto a train to Bristol and then had to squeeze into the 9 o clock to London Paddington . . . a nightmare ending to an eventful ‘House of Fun’!
I was ready for our yearly Christmas break in Paris which, this year, Melody and I shared with one of my oldest and beloved friends, Jody and her daughter, Sita. Sita and Melody hadn’t seen each other for about ten years (what with one thing and another) but they seemed to carry on where they left off - the strongest memory I have of the trip is them lagging behind us chatting intensely and frequently howling with laughter - a wonderful three days!
On Friday 16th December I popped down to Schott’s Music Publishers in Great Marlborough Street, to see Tim Richards launch his new book, the ‘Blues, Boogie and Gospel Collection’. These are pieces written by Tim (in the main) that get increasingly difficult and I recommend them for a relative beginner with some reading experience. I then dashed straight down to John Eacott - my excellent trumpeter’s house - for his and his wife, Lena’s ,wonderful Christmas Glogg night - always packed to the gills with brilliant musicians improvising carols and whatever else springs to mind - and I played some of my new ‘Paris Sketches’.
We did our usual Christmas borough market and - after this hectic year - it was a bit of a luxury to just stay at home and enjoy a wonderful Christmas. As for New Year; I spent it on my own . . . after all a musicians life is so full of parties that to merely photograph the fireworks on the television (and later pretend you were there!) is a bit of a guilty pleasure.