Down With Dressing Down

Noisy helicopters overhead. G20 summit in town. Apparently Mr Obama has one for him, plus several heli-decoys.

Like London’s banks, the Night Shift bosses have asked everyone to dress down unless they’re meeting a client.The fear is anarchists will actually attack anyone purely found to be wearing a suit – and thus looking like a banker – during the various protests.

The email was really meant for daytime staff, but even so. Dress down? Me? Never!

There will always be those spoiling for a fight, whether protesters or police or media. We should find a distant planet for all three, shove them there, and let them get on with it. Boring headlines, but tough. Here’s to defying cliches. Preferably in a suit.


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Postgate Pilgrims

The old problem. So easy for me to get addicted to a routine of doing nothing. And then there’s the addiction of writing once I DO start it. I write too much. Or say things I shouldn’t. Or spiral off on some meaningless, trivial tangent.

Monday – Wednesday of last week: Visiting Canterbury, then Sandwich.

Having ticked off places like Tokyo and NYC and Tangier, I suddenly realised there’s plenty of places in the UK I’ve never seen, and want to see. Typical growing older concern – that panicky sense of ’1001 Places To See Before You Die’. Or travelling to ‘find yourself’. Though ‘finding oneself’ is nearly always associated with pilgrimages up Tibetan mountains, or backpacking it to Machu Picchu. Picchu’s so macho. Canterbury’s a bit easier. And still a pilgrim’s place.

Though in my case, I was mainly making the pilgrimage to see the Bagpuss Shrine in Canterbury Museum. And there they all are: the original Postgate and Firmin models and toys, arranged permanently in a display to match the TV programme’s shop window. The museum itself was nearly empty: something of a contrast to the Cathedral round the corner, where endless busloads of schoolchildren from all over the world file in with their slightly odd combination of casual sport clothes and not quite trendy band t-shirts (Nirvana, The Cure), the kinds that reveal their Frenchness or Germanness before you get so much as a ‘Zut alors’ in earshot. Perennial pilgrims, albeit curriculum-enforced ones.  And god – there’s just so many school parties in town, too. The main street in Canterbury seems 80% clipboard.

I stay overnight in the Canterbury Gate Hotel, which despite the often misleading naming of hotels is right next to the magnificent Gate itself. The Gate is even prettier and more awe-inspiring than the Cathedral proper. But then, I always was fond of gateways and borders over the places beyond. Tangier rather than Morocco. And fond of people who are gateways, too.

What am I doing right now? Oh – that dreaded question. Once the domain of visiting Royals opening municipal buildings, patiently micro-chatting with each staff member in line (‘And what do YOU do?’), we now get this question at Facebook and Twitter. HRH Facebook, Princess of Twitter. ‘And what are YOU doing?’

Well, aside from the night shift media-reading job ever other week, I’m working on a screenplay with two very clever people. I’m also DJ-ing at the London Transport Museum on Friday evening. They still haven’t spelt my name right at the Museum website.

Though the Guardian manages it.
And I still need to write about The End Of Fosca. But better this than another day with no diary entry.


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Keep Calm and Write About Something Else

I had started to write about The Last Fosca Gig and the rest of the Swedish trip, but it was one of those pieces that Could Not Be Stopped. So I’ll come back to that when I’ve whipped it into a less rambling shape. In the meantime, here’s something brilliant by other people.

There’s at least two articles in the papers this week about the success of that 1940s  ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ poster, intended for use in the event of a Nazi occupation of Britain.

I’ve had one for a while, after I saw it in a photo of the writer Sarah Waters’s home, then found it on sale in the V&A shop. I realise it’s rather ubiquitous now, but that doesn’t make the design any less lovely to look at. It’s still infinitely preferable to any more recent new-agey self-help equivalent: the genuine period style imbuing a useful sentiment with a wry stiff-upper-lip balance. I also think of Douglas Adams’s ‘Don’t Panic’ ‘written in large, friendly letters’ on the cover of that book within that book of his. The ‘Keep Calm’ font is more matronly than friendly, though; a kind of design equivalent of castor oil.

The success is particularly great for Stuart and Mary Manley, the couple who in 2000 discovered a rare instance of the original 40s poster in their second-hand bookshop at Alwick Station, Northumberland, and decided to print up a facsimile. Mary Manley writes about the full story of the poster on her own blog here, and explains why, no, she isn’t rich, actually. She also tried to track down the identity of the artist:

‘In my mind’s eye, I see him (and I think very probably, back then, it was a ‘he’), labouring away, paid tuppence, probably getting to and from work on his bike (remember: this was ’30s England) or else, if he lived in London, on the tube that would, itself, become soon enough a bomb shelter. Well, whoever it was, we’d so much like to know his name and give due credit.’

And I’d love to know what he’d make of his unused design’s belated, anachronistic success.

Here’s a recent article in the Guardian tying in the design’s popularity with the current recessionary mood. Ms Manley adds her own take on this:

‘What I most love… is how that little crown’s message – so simple, so clean, so without spin – has turned out to have meaning not just for a single people in time of trouble but for all of us wherever we live, whatever our troubles.’

There’s also been the inevitable arch parodies (‘PANIC AND RUN AWAY’), plus sightings in things like Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinay Gentlemen: Black Dossier.

But what I really want to pass on today is this wonderful, constructive and inspiring take by Matt Jones, which is currently doing the Internet rounds (click image for link):

Isn’t that wonderful? Particularly the spanners in the crown. 


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A Windowless Peace

Friday night.

Prior to showtime evening I am interviewed at the hotel by a young man from a web magazine. He says he met his girlfriend at a Fosca gig, and asks for an autograph. I suppose I’m flattered to be considered a kind of very minor cult figure, though as ever I wonder if I’ll ever be able to turn this so-called ability into something approximating a modest day job.

Passionate fans yes, but never quite in serious number. I’m told the last album has still to break even (though it’s close). Though weirdly, they’ve completely sold out of Fosca t-shirts. I wonder if it’s because you can’t download and copy t-shirts like you can music.

It’s odd to think of Fosca as a t-shirt band, given the lead singer prefers shirts and ties. But clearly t-shirts are still a perennial indication of affection for a band (or a sci-fi TV series). They’re a kind of declared vote, a register of passions, a joining of a club, or even a ‘Would Like To Meet’ advert.

Stage time in Stockholm. Backstage, I pick up the guitar that’s been kindly lent to me, strum it tentatively, and promptly break the top string.

Thankfully a replacement (for the replacement) is found at once, courtesy of the band Days, and Fosca go on to play a well-received if slightly sad-feeling set.

Days, the guitar and amp-lending band on after us, turn out to be a group of extremely lovely and frankly jaw-droppingly beautiful young Swedish men, with a soulful line in jangly Echo & The Bunnymen / Chills style songs. I stick around to watch their set, then walk back with the others across the snow-lined streets to the hotel.

The huge and trendy Scandic hotel is teeming with people and noise when we get in. Some kind of Eurovision ‘Song For Europe’ event, apparently, complete with red carpet on the pavement outside. Maybe not the selection contest itself, but certainly a tie-in party. Both Charley and Rachel ask the hotel to switch their rooms, so great is the interruption to their sleep.

But I’m fine. My room is two floors underground at the opposite side of the building. I sleep perfectly. For someone who suffers from being easily distracted, windowless rooms are perfect. If I need daylight, I just go upstairs and loaf in the artily-decored lobby area.

The morning afterwards, the lobby is rapt to groups of tell-tale burly men in  padded North Face jackets, with laminated Eurovision crew passes dangling from their necks.

Off to Norrkoping today. The very last Fosca gig.


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Backstage diary

Am typing this backstage at Debaser Slussen, Stockholm. Fosca are due to go on at 10.30pm. We are three: Rachel S, Charley S and self.

Arrived at Heathrow thinking something was missing. Racked my brains…

Passport? Check. Plectrums? Got that. Wallet, cash card, guitar pedals, pedal connector leads, guitar leads, laptop, laptop audio lead, laptop power lead, mobile phone, mobile phone power charger, European plug adaptor, toiletries, make up, shirts, ties,  clothes brush, underwear, socks, contact lenses, lyric sheets, notebooks, pens, reading matter…

Ah. Guitar. Oops.

So I now have to borrow a Swedish guitar for the gigs, turn it upside down, and be careful not to knock the volume knob while strumming – the lot of a guitarist who learned to play left-handed but with the strings reversed. Still, if I’d learned to play a normal left-handed model the right way up, emergency instrument borrowing would be so much harder.

It’s a third rather obvious sign that my subconscious is trying to tell me something, what with my missing one rehearsal altogether, then arriving over an hour late for a second (having overslept in the afternoon – woken by Rachel calling from the rehearsal studio). I definitely am not meant to be doing Fosca any more. Just as well it’s our last gigs.

Email today:

From: venice italy
Message: Dear Dickon, as a fan of fosca may i ask you if a day you and your group will come to italy?

Ah well. Sorry. Perhaps in a different incarnation.

Another email posits one possible reason why Fosca have a following in Sweden:

From: Gothenburg/Stockholm
Message: Dear Mr. Edwards,
Why Sweden? you ask.
I know.
We are always sad, we are always a bit confused, we always long for something more beautiful, more real, and we always want to dance. And you seem know the soundtrack of that feeling.
See you tonight.

Stockholm is snow-covered, but thawing. God bless the staff of Debaser Slussen: food and drink for soundcheck, then a proper dinner. And they even found Charley headache tablets. Bar has cocktails named after Pixies songs.

Charley Stone, on stage clothes: I think tonight I’ll be Nick Rhodes, but with breasts.

Me: An upgrade!

Ah, time to go onstage.



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Sweden Bound Again

Getting ready for Fosca’s final dates in Sweden. Here’s the details again:

Friday: Stockholm. Svenska Musikklubben festival at Debaser Slussen.
Fosca on at 10.30pm. Playing for 30-40 minutes. Followed by Days.

Saturday: Norrköping. Klubb Republik. Playing for the best part of an hour, assuming my voice holds out.

We’re not playing an afternoon cafe or instore gig after all. Sorry. But Is It Art did their best to organise one, but it just wasn’t feasible in the end. My profuse apologies to those under the nightclub licensing age (20 in Sweden). We tried.

My last quarter’s PRS statement was nearly entirely from Swedish radio play. I’ve never understood why Sweden. But I’m grateful. And although I don’t want to make any more recordings or play concerts as Fosca, it seems only decent to take this incarnation to Sweden one more time, and say thank you.  That’s why we’re doing it.

It’s my tenth trip to Sweden in as many years. I feel a list coming on.

1) December 1999: As guitarist with Spearmint. One-off gig in Stockholm.
2) Winter 2000: Spearmint again. Scandinavian tour.
3) Summer 2001: Fosca play the open-air Benno festival. Me, Rachel, Sheila, Alex. Still my favourite gig to date.
4) Autumn 2002: Fosca’s first Swedish tour, promoting the second album. Kate D replacing Alex in line-up.
5) Summer 2005: Gothenberg and Malmo, as a trio. Me, Rachel, Kate. Rachel’s favourite ever gigs.
6) Summer 2007: Saffle festival. The trio plus Tom. Recorded for a live album.
7) Autumn 2007: Me solo in Stockholm. I do a spot of DJ-ing, sing guest vocals at a gig with Friday Bridge and take part in a few interviews.
8) Autumn 2007: Back a month later. Solo again. This time with a guitar as the only UK performer at the Stockholm International Poetry Festival. State reception at the palace, with the Stockholm mayor…
9) Spring 2008: Swedish tour to promote the third album. Me, Rachel and Charley.
10) Spring 2009: Stockholm and Norrkoping. Last shows as Fosca.
11) I intend to go back. I have to. But first I must make something new.

Flight leaves Heathrow for Arlanda tomorrow morning. Back Sunday evening.


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80s By Default

Last Sunday – to David B and Anna S’s flat in Archway to be filmed. It’s for another video for his band, the New Royal Family. Well, one of his bands. Much fun had. I am asked to ‘dress 1980s’. So I just get dressed.

The props for the video include some specially mocked-up covers of 80s pop and style magazines, with David and the other band members pasted in the place of Adam Ant and his ilk. Charley S points out one of the fake headlines is particularly spot-on: ‘INSIDE: STING – ALL ABOUT ME.’

Also knocking around are genuine publications from the era. I leaf through a copy of Smash Hits where Neil Tennant reviews a Grandmaster Flash single. He confidently predicts that rap music won’t last. It’s 1983.

Songwords for the issue – those glossily-presented singalong lyric sheets of that week’s hits – include Modern Romance’s ‘Best Years Of Our Lives’. Charley and I can sing it instantly, but it must baffle the younger participants at the video shoot (Alex S, Anna S, Miriam, Seaneen, Mel). It’s one of those hit songs that’s neither ‘cult’ nor ‘classic pop’ nor even ‘guilty pleasures’ style kitsch. Just a slightly ho-hum ditty that does its job at the time.

It must have some abiding worth in the well-crafted catchiness stakes, though, if I can instantly recall its entire verse and chorus melody 25 years later. And I definitely haven’t heard it since 1983. I find it worrying that I can remember every note of this song, yet I can barely remember what I did, say, the Tuesday before last. It’s Proust in a puffball skirt. And I guarantee you won’t read THAT phrase anywhere else today. No extra charge.

Another lyric is Wham’s ‘Young Guns Go For It’, with its unlikely refrain of ‘Death by matrimony!’ I believe Mr George Michael has indeed stood by that particularly credo, though possibly not in the way the song suggests. Or does it…? There’s also an interview with Wham! inside. Seems strange to read about a 19-year-old George M being introduced to the world.

I’m delighted the issue additionally contains the lyrics to Orange Juice’s ‘I Can’t Help Myself’. It’s their follow up to ‘Rip It Up’, and really should have been a hit. But no – that was it for Edwyn C and the Top 20 until ‘A Girl Like You’ ten years later. Excellent use of the word ‘trite’ in a jaunty pop tune:

‘Nothing worth finding
Is easily found
Try as we might
That was supposed to sound
Very profound
It probably sounds trite
Just like the Four Tops
I can’t help myself…’

Ah, and good old YouTube has the band playing the song live on The Old Grey Whistle Test. How can anyone watch this and NOT want to play guitar like Edwyn does here is beyond me. That scratchy chacka-chacka style, trying to sound like Chic and Talking Heads at once, but accidentally inventing cute indie pop:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-Uj8fmCUsY

Really, it’s so tempting to turn this diary into a study of 80s issues of Smash Hits for the rest of my life. But one must get on with the Now. Whatever that may be.

But how Now is Now? Biggest thing out there today – the movie of ‘Watchmen’. A film based on a 80s comic, and set in the 80s. Best years of our lives, at least for this weekend. Though I don’t think Modern Romance are on the soundtrack.


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Selective Diligence

More abiding Bruges memories include the rather nice ‘blond’ beer, and I don’t usually care for the stuff. Local brand has a jester on the label.

Also: the weak Pound to Euro rate making everything conspicuously more expensive. Wasn’t too long ago when 1 Euro was about 70p. Today, you just change the Euro sign to a Pound sign, and that’s close enough.

Plus: Smoking in the bars. Children in the bars. And no McDonalds or Starbucks to be seen anywhere, unless they’re tucked away under the medieval prettiness of it all. Makes me think of a cynical Marxist friend, who when travelling abroad takes bets on how quickly you can last before seeing one of those two logos of US world dominance. He’d have trouble in Bruges. Instead, every other shop seems to be a chocolate shop. Maybe some of those are ubiquitous Belgian branches, but even foreign franchises seem exotic.

Bruges does have a branch of C&A, but I’m not sure if this counts in the global homogeneity stakes as C&A closed their UK branches years ago, while the firm is Dutch in the first place. I suppose the pejorative phrase ‘Man At C&A’, used in the 90s to indicate a blokishly bland taste in clothes, might now have an air of continental glamour. ‘Ooh -  get him in his C&A clothes! Isn’t he the Eurostar playboy…’

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Last night: drinks at Browns in St Martin’s Lane for the artist Stephen Harwood’s birthday. Chat to him and his partner about Tangier. They’ve stayed at the Minzah there and loved the place. Also note that one of his presents is Huysman’s Parisian Sketches, published by Dedalus.  Some shared Decadent connections there, then.

One friend of his is a musician who’s played the Boogaloo. Another knows someone who’s seen me DJ at Latitude: I suppose I must be a visibly memorable DJ. But otherwise it’s a gathering where I only really know one person there, and so I have to answer that dreaded question ‘what do you do?’ a few times. This time I actually have a job, except it’s not really what I think I ‘do’.

The trouble is, on night shift weeks like this I find it hard to summon the energy to do very much but recover from the night’s work before, or prepare for the night’s work to come. But this is surely a self-deceiving lie. If my sleeping hours are 8am-3pm (in theory), and work is 9.30pm-7.30am (adding travel there and back), that still leaves six hours a day to get things done, and write. No excuse, really. And of course, when I was jobless before I wasn’t doing much then, either. A yawning, sleepy slug of a man whatever I do. And yet I do get things done when I absolutely have to – or am trying to get out of doing something else.

Get in to work, where Rhoda says Charley has been trying to find me. It’s only at that point I look for my mobile phone and turn the thing on. Turns out I’ve missed my own Fosca rehearsal. Even though it was me who actually booked the (v. expensive) rehearsal and emailed the others about the details. Somehow I managed to copy the wrong day into my pocket diary, the thing which actually runs my life. Meant Tuesday, wrote down Thursday.

(And I wonder about the subconscious meaning of this oversight. Since starting the new job in October I’ve not once been late, or told that I’ve made some terrible error. If I’m perfectly capable of diligence and discipline for one thing, why I can’t I apply it to everything? Including this diary? No excuse, again.)

So the upshot is Rachel and Charley sitting in a rehearsal room in Old Street all evening wondering what’s happened to me, while I’m merrily sipping 1 coconut daiquiri followed by 3 cranberry juices at Browns, entirely oblivious. It’s fair to say I owe them.

They say they went through a few songs without me, but it’s just as well we have one more rehearsal booked. The last ever.


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