Right Side Up
It took a long time to get over the several traumas as a result of the success of Streets of London.
On the one hand it was terrific to have had work so widely appreciated but I felt cheated in so much as it was such an early song that had “made it”. I felt that my work was progressing and that I was maturing as a writer and musician and here was this “youthful truthful” dragging me back ten years.
This caused a crisis of confidence which culminated in a sojourn in America and a reunion with Danny Lane the drummer from my band who had been sent home early after the pressure of restless audiences and frustration had nearly caused him a mental trauma.
We did some recording in L.A. With the legendary Red Rhodes but most of the time I tried very hard to make sense of what I was supposed to be doing with my life both personally and professionally.
The trouble was I was not in possession of the true facts and my naïve analysis of my situation has taken me years to come to terms with. This knowledge only comes with age and if you ask any band that has survived a number of years about intensity you will find, if they are honest, that the world barely exists outside of the band and that all the energy and consuming passion derived from making music, is the world. It affects every aspect of one’s life and it is only in retrospect that one can offer a wry smile at the life or death decisions that are made about chords reverbs and tambourines.
On my return to England I was a temporary DJ on radio Clyde in Glasgow and this provided some lightness as I tried to come to understand what my life might be like if, as I had threatened, I refrained from touring and left the music business.
I needed time to make a deep personal examination of what path I believed I was taking. The band experience had been nothing short of a disaster and the ambition to move in that direction was now on permanent hold as far as I could see.
Eventually I was persuaded by Bruce (my brother and manager) to accept one or two gigs.
As I remember they were down on the south coast and in spite of my insecurity and doubt, they were very well attended and I began to realise that I still enjoyed playing solo
Around this time a close friend was on the edge of a nervous breakdown and in the light of my recent experiences I began jotting down the symptoms of panic and exhaustion that I had recently experienced. This eventually formed the basis of
The song was recorded in one take as I recall and Pick Withers (later to join Dire Straits) and Rod Clements provided the rhythm support.
I played my Zemaitis twelve string on this track and was ready to do take two but everyone seemed to think this was as good as it needed to be so I was happy to leave it be.
I had been trying to write a song about the inability of some men to express affection and love for their partner, often leaving it too late to say. I have met many men who can say these things to others after their partner and inhibitions are gone courtesy of drink induced melancholy. My first draft of
was about this. But the more I thought about long term relationships where couples take for granted the almost telepathic understanding that familiarity brings,
I began to think about the silence in a house when the children are gone. Not just when they have gone to bed but that deeper silence when they have left home. Paradoxically silence can be eloquent.
Lately on stage when I perform this song I speak about the old blues players who seem to intrinsically understand the value of space and silence in music. The rhythmic gaps that help to build tension before they are resolved. The mature musician knows not to fill every space with unnecessary notes. The great artists can express their work with minimal lines and the mature couple can understand the unspoken word.
I often paid spontaneous visits to an elderly great Aunt Naomi and her jolly husband Bert. Driving home afterwards I would think about that silence and the fact that between people who had been together for such a long time, nothing needed to be said after guests or surprise visitors had left. That silence contained their life story, all I had to do was write it down. The song that emerged was not his or her story, but I knew it was someone’s.
One of the perks of having a top ten record was being able to buy my conservatory grand piano. The piano was stored at our office, as it was too big to get it through the front door of our terraced house.
was the first song I wrote on my new piano and eventually we moved to a house with a wider front door.
At Air Studios London, they had one of the most beautiful pianos in studio 2 that I have ever heard. It was a Bosendorfer and about the size of a fifties American sedan. At the bass end of the keyboard it had a little wooden flap that lifts up to reveal three extra lower notes than any other piano. The mic was set up for me to sing live vocal and I nervously started to play the song. I was getting used to the weight of the action and trying to control my emotional involvement with the piece but ham, (the engineer and co producer) kept stopping me and coming out to re arrange the piano mics. Although this was a bit off putting at least it gave me time to get used to the piano and the interruptions actually helped me grow in confidence with the song. However Pete was still not satisfied with the sound and in the end I asked him what was wrong. He explained that he was getting a random tapping sound on the vocal mic and came out of the control room to where I was playing and bent down toward the vocal mic. As soon as I commenced to play, all was revealed. It turned out that my nails were tapping gently on the keys and the vocal mic was picking up the sound.
(Billy Connolly calls them my tree climbing nails)
We tried taping my nails up with gaffer tape, but for me that was like playing with boxing gloves. In the end I compromised with a flat-fingered delivery but if you have a good sound system, and good ears you may still just about hear the lightest click from time to time.
A song that referred to the hope for a more steady existence from the close to “burn out” life I was leading. Minor celebrity status leads to a few excesses and here were lots of parties late nights and drinking and some craziness. I thought I would find it easier in the more laid-back life style of country life. However depending on your circle of friends it is just as crazy there too. This title was first recorded on the lost Shel Talmy album.
(Now found with a couple of tracks from it now on the Journey box set)
Then re recorded for the “Streets” album but taken off to accommodate the ‘hit’ Finally recorded again with the late, great Sammy Mitchell on slide guitar. I hope the nod to Ry Cooder can be heard on this song.
The bit about beans and potatoes is true though people now do lock up their windows and doors.
From Clare to Here
I have always had great affection for the Irish people. Their music, culture, humanity and humour has enhanced my life considerably. I grew up with Irish people in our neighbourhood and now have a deep love of the country which I have come to know.
In the seventies building boom, a phenomenon known as “the lump” took place which basically allowed the exploitation of non unionised labour and once again a lot of young men found themselves a long way from home in unreliable work security. I read somewhere of four beds being occupied on a shift basis. Four lads who were working night shift climbed into the beds recently vacated by the four lads who were on day work. The beds never got chance to air. I also drew on my own short time experiences on building sites, as documented in my autobiography Summer Lightning.
I hope the song is more than just about homesickness or as the welsh say “Hiraeth”.
It tries to look at the ghetto mentality of immigrant workers as well as broken promises, the fear of failure and the cultural identity that reminds you that you are a long way from home physically and metaphorically.
I have always enjoyed Tom Waits marvelous tunes, exaggerated portrayals of seedy characters nightlife and beat poet rhythms. (I actually think he is a better poet than many of those who have obviously influenced him.)
A few years after this recording, I was sitting in the bar of the Troubadour in Los Angeles. In bowled Tom Waits in full stage gear and challenged me to a game of ‘Craps’. I was astonished and bemused. Firstly he had to teach me the rules and then, the gentleman that he was/is, only took about ten dollars off me. He could have had more easily. I had been to see him perform at the club recently and he was superb. I wanted to tell him about my recording, but I let it go without saying anything. He is quite one of the most romantic writers of our generation. Don’t be fooled by the gravel in the voice. There’s a soft heart under laying the sticky threadbare motel carpet.
“San Diego Serenade”
is a beautiful song of remorse and regret.
I had learned it on my new piano but elected to transpose it for guitar. I recorded it on the J 200 styled one that Keith Johns had made for me and my mate Danny Thompson played double bass. Danny suggested the great and unpredictable John Stevens to play drums. John’s preferred music was that slightly tortured free form jazz. (More fun to play than to listen to) His band then was known as “Open Circle”, I had trepidations but I needn’t have worried. The recording was done in two takes though not without incident as Pete Swettenham (the producer) had his helpful comments construed as criticism by John, when he helpfully suggested that Pete play the !!**!!***! drums if he didn’t like the way he was playing them (or words to that effect)
That said, John and Danny were a great combination and they’d both most recently been part of a hair raising John Martyn tour which included some playing by Paul Kossoff.
I have always admired John’s work and he came into the studio and added a little “electric weather” via his “Echoplex” guitar to
“River rising Moon High”.
I closed the album with John’s beautiful good night wish to a true friend
“May You Never”
John says he wrote it for our old friend Andy Matheus. Andy used to run the most famous acoustic club in Soho. It was called Les Cousins.
I knew Andy well and once persuaded him to leave his beloved Soho to visit the countryside of Croydon! He must have phoned half a dozen times as he made his various connections toward the “rural” East Croydon Station. We took him to look at trees in the woods near us and he stalked through the grass thoroughly bemused by everything. In his long black Crombie overcoat and black curly hair nursing a big bottle of R. Whites lemonade in case of emergencies.
I hardly saw Andy after that but I remember him and his dear mum and dad so well. They ran the Dionysus restaurant upstairs to the “Cousins” as it was always called. So much music came out of that tiny cellar in Greek St. I was lucky enough to play there on dozens of occasions and I still meet people who remember seeing me there back in the late sixties. I know some of them just used the place as a cheap stop over in the west end because the all nighters finished at 7am and you could not find a cheaper under cover shelter in London than the five shilling admission.
“Chairman and the little Man”
Was written after seeing some documentary on TV.
All those millions of people pedaling to the factories on their bicycles.
All the tea in China.
Rice still the staple diet.
Busy smiling faces.
The illusion of equality as the boss wore the same clothes as the peasant, although his were made to measure.
I was actually moved by the apparent innocence and contentment of the workers in China and the affection for Chairman Mao.
I tried to write about the naivety of gratitude expressed in trying to convey thanks through the sharing of a cup of tea with the boss. I suppose it is really about the gap between worker and employer. King and subject, President and citizen. Some will always be more equal than others.
Weather the Storm
Was written on the new piano and my brother persuaded me to write some words to the tune. The chorus just came to me immediately and all I then had to do was to set about the verses. A close friend had just come through a painful separation fuelled by drugs, drink and self-destructive anger and I based the song on his experiences. His own battle was much harder than that portrayed in the song, but my desire to share experiences with the listener meant tempering the actual events and this song is still one of my most requested. I am happy that people can relate it to their own weathering of storms. Pete Swettenham sings the very high harmony on the backing vocals (he was once in the John Lennon named band, Grapefruit and they were very influenced by the Beachboys). I did the remaining harmonies. I like doing my own B.V.s but somehow I am not sure about the integrity of singing along with my own songs. Pete S. suggested three fantastic singers under the leadership of Tony Rivers of the “Castaways” fame.
Tony had worked for years with Cliff Richard and I think he still does John Perry and Ken Gold were the other two and the work those boys put into their singing arrangements was fantastic. Ken even had his own record in the charts at this time but all three were unstinting in their efforts on my songs. I saw Tony recently and was able to send him the new CD version of the album as he says it is one of his favourite recordings. B.V.s take the most time when laying down tracks but I think their time taken was worth it. I think the backing vocals on this album make it different to all my other records.
Gleaned from overheard snatches of conversations in bars around the San Fernando Valley
is possibly my favourite but
“Slow Burning Companion”
would be right up there too.
Tequila was my drink to oblivion in my sojourn in L.A after the Streets hiatus. I loved the ritual with the salt and lime.
Sailors had limes to keep them free from scurvy. Drunken optimism, and blurred horizons.
Mexican jewellery in turquoise and silver.
Escape from the Californian craziness to Tijuana and the endless Sunset Boulevard southwest to the Mexican border.
It was great just listening to the boys’ harmonies on headphones and they added a fun quota to the intensity of the recording sessions.
The harmonies on
Slow Burning Companion”
are quite majestic. Some people say they prefer the simpler presentation of my songs with just the guitar. It’s just that when I record I like to open the melodies up to see what else is in there. By employing talented musicians they too contribute and it is a constant source of wonder to me, the multi layers of music harmony rhythm and the skill of those who make it happen.
In my mind this particular ‘midnight station’ is to be found in Rugby. I spent many hours there smoking little hand rolled fuses of time waiting for that last train back to London. These were during my folk club days but that place and those shadows are with me still.
On the CD version of this album I added my version of
“Song for Ireland.”
Phil and June Colclough wrote this song. It is very famous in Ireland and like
“From Clare To Here”
many people do not know that the composers of both songs were English. It is a great honour to have had a song absorbed into the culture of another country and I know Phil is as proud as I am of this. Jerry Donahue once again contributes the wistful lead guitar on this track. This album joined me up to the place I was at before the mixed blessing of my “hit” interruption. I steadily almost unconsciously moved away from anything to do with the pop music world. Although I had never really left it, I resumed my interest in good guitar playing and the writers of good words and lyrics with renewed passion.
Thankfully the audience returned and I got on with my life, family and music. My record company, Warner Reprise, were to keep faith with me for one more album before allowing me to leave the label. I still nurtured the vague dream of having a band one day and my next album reflected that in the songs that arrived over the next couple of years.
For now I was happy to get back on the road and get on with my work although there were tensions created by some who still nurtured the hope of greater commercial success for me, on a bigger scale that I knew I did not want, or would be able to manage.