The Last Six Months

Saturday 8th November 2014. I’m putting my college deadlines into my diary when something occurs to me. Exactly six months from today, I will finish my degree. The 8th May 2015 is my last deadline. There’s no exams or timed tests this year, thanks to my careful selection of options. Instead (let’s see…) I have to research and write one 8,000 word thesis (due in April), four 2,500 word essays (two due January, two in May), a 1,500 word essay that doesn’t count towards my degree grade but which I have to do anyway (due in a few days), and a 1,000 word piece that does count towards the grade, though only a little (due in a couple of weeks).

Between now and then I also have to read about 20 further set texts for the regular class modules (ranging from slim poetry collections to fat novels). Plus there are all the books I have to consult for the thesis, the amount of which is up to me.

I wander round the British Library concourse, seeing all the hundreds of laptopped-up hordes – some of whom seem happy to sit all day on the floor if it means access to a power socket. What are they all doing? Studying? Programming? Writing content for websites? ‘You won’t believe what this dressed-up puppy did next!’

I pass them in my breaks from essays, their fingers flying. I see all the reams of words generated every day, even just Facebook posts, and I seethe with envy. I feel so slow in comparison.

I’m managing to do other things, though. This week the artist Becky Boston asks me to write a piece to go with a new artwork of hers. I get it done within three days of her asking. It’s the third or fourth commission I’ve done for her now. I’m grateful to be asked.

* * *

Tuesday 11th November 2014. To Maison Bertaux for tea with Ella Hitchcock. Good to see her again. She’s busy with her studies. I tell her I’m the same with mine. Lots of work, little money.

Then To the ICA for The Possibilities Are Endless, a film about Edwyn Collins’s life, since his devastating stroke in 2005. Like the Nick Cave film the other week, this is another example of how to do a music documentary without repeating the usual clichés. No musicians interviewed in front of – I can barely write it without feeling ill – a recording studio mixing desk. In fact The Possibilities Are Endless has more in common with Under The Skin, with its opening sounds of Edwyn’s voice struggling to form words, and its impressionistic shots of the beach by the village of Helmsdale, north east Scotland, where the Collins family has a cottage. The title is one of the few phrases Mr Collins managed to say during the initial stages of his recovery – and which he kept repeating. ‘Grace Maxwell’, the name of his wife, was another phrase. She helped him cope at every painstaking stage, and is seen acting as his literal right-hand woman, given he’s lost half of his body’s movement. She strums his guitar with one of her hands while he forms chords with his hand. In another scene she cuts his fingernails.

Ms M wrote an excellent memoir a few years ago, Falling and Laughing – The Restoration of Edwyn Collins. It covers a lot of the same ground, though ends at the point where Mr C started writing songs again. Her book ends with some simple yet powerful advice to any family affected by strokes: ‘make up your own story’.

And so this is the spirit of the film. There’s some semi-fictional sequences of a teenage boy who has a strong resemblance to Collins, flirting with a girl in a chip shop. I first took this to be an illustration of Edwyn and Grace’s youthful affection for each other. But the boy then turns out to be William Collins, their son. He steps out of the staged romcom scenes into the more conventional rehearsal room footage, and helps his father make music. The fact Mr C has written and recorded three albums since his stroke (including the film soundtrack) should be inspiration enough, not least because the new songs are as good as those he made before the stroke. One new soul-pop song, ‘Two Steps Back’ is instantly catchy, and stays with me long after the film ends. But The Possibilities Are Endless is about a lot more than music: it’s a portrait of a couple in love, coping with illness in a dignified, funny, idiosyncratic and determined way. The last line is Edwyn’s, and it sums up the film’s sense of freshness and hope: ‘let’s see what happens next’.

* * *

The Quaker café on Euston Road sells chocolate brownies from the ‘Bad Boys Bakery’. A sticker explains: ‘Made in HM Prison Brixton’.

* * *

Class today: Hemingway’s In Our Time. We are required to rewrite other works into a Hemingway style: Henry James, Scott Fitzgerald, Stein. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to do this for the English degree before. Something about Hemingway really invites parody; possibly his machismo.

* * *

Masculinity and comedy is being discussed a lot this week, with reference to Dapper Laughs, a tiresome laddish comedian. As in parodying of Hemingway, the problem seems to be one of targets: punching up or punching down. To mock Hemingway as we do (affectionately) in class is punching up – he sees himself as an alpha male. To mock women, as Dapper Laughs does in an everyman, laddish way (as opposed to a Russell Brand, dandy-Casanova way), is punching down. So this week petitions have been signed, comment pieces have circulated, protests have been made. He has now lost his ITV series, and has appeared on Newsnight to explain how he won’t be doing the ‘character’ of Dapper Laughs any more. The problem was, he wasn’t enough of a character. His form of barbaric, white-van-man style cruelty was all too real.

* * *

Wednesday 12th November 2014. Lecture in Mary Ward House on Philip Larkin’s Less Deceived. Lecturer: Roger Luckhurst. One wonders what Larkin would make of the UK today, given his more reactionary views. Would he have voted UKIP, or would he have seen them as too politically correct? One young student, Ralph, is particularly energised by the lecture, telling me how Larkin really captures the regional England sense of being left out of things, compared to London and Manchester and so on. But there’s always a ‘well, but’ moment when reading Larkin. Such as: ‘They f— you up, your Mum and Dad? Well, but… what about when they don’t?’ And yet his turn of phrase still dazzles, and so he lives on, politics or no.  Without the poetry, there’d be no biographies anyway.

* * *

Thursday 13th November 2014. Sad news: the Buffalo Bar in Highbury is to close. Their final night is on New Year’s Eve. Fosca played there. I’ve DJ-d there, danced there, met new friends there, fallen over drunk there. Here’s a photo of me at the BB singing with Fosca, during a Club Bohemia night. From oh, 1897 or whenever (mid 2000s really):

bohemia

* * *

The nature presenter Chris Packham appeals to Ant and Dec, hosts of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. In an open letter, he asks them to drop the rounds involving live animals, equating them to a form of bloodsport. Mr P’s language to Ant and Dec is particularly striking: he says the treatment of animals is ‘a shame that I imagine neither of you will want to take to your graves’.

On Twitter, I retweet a link to this news story. Then I get into a slight spot of trouble when some people think I’m linking to it in order to condemn Mr Packham. In fact, although I support his cause, I don’t entirely support his use of terms like ‘shame’. The problem is, Twitter is too limited for combining a full response to a story within the same tweet as the link. There’s no room for the spectrum of nuance between the binary polarities of ‘spot on!’ and ‘FFS!’ (‘for f***’s sake’). All is binary on Twitter. You can’t be a bit of both.

I get a rather good comment from Robin Ince on the matter:

‘If you’re not in at least two minds about something, you’re just not putting the effort in’.


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The Wrong Kind Of Strange

A quick alert. This Saturday 20th I shall be Guest DJ at the club night How Does It Feel To Be Loved, which plays C86-type 80s indiepop (and compatible current bands like Cats On Fire and The Drums) alongside 1960s soul and girl group pop. Mr Watson who runs the club has asked me back there once a year or so for the last seven years, and I always enjoy myself thoroughly. Expect songs by McCarthy, Felt, early Prefab Sprout, The Pastels, and whatever takes my fancy at that moment.

Club Night: How Does It Feel To Be Loved?
When: Saturday March 20th, 9pm-3am. I’m DJ-ing at 10.30pm, finishing midnight.
Venue: Basement bar, The Phoenix, 37 Cavendish Square, London W1G 0PP. Behind John Lewis in Oxford Street. A short walk from Oxford Circus tube station.
Price: £4 members, £6 non members. Membership is free from www.howdoesitfeel.co.uk

***

The NME has just published a list of 20 cult musical heroes, including Dan Treacy, Richard Hell, Alex Chilton (who’s just died, sadly) and Billy Childish. Their blog asks for readers’ own choices, and among the comments someone – presumably a foreign fan – says this:

…one who might deserve attention in NME, Mojo…et al is Dickon Edwards of Fosca! Its about time NME makes a huge special about Fosca, not even Pitchfork has found out what really could be a hype with enough deep to survive the attention.

By ‘enough deep’, I’m guessing they mean lyrical depth. Very kind of them, anyway.

Realistically – not an adverb that trots convincingly from my lips – I doubt very much that the UK music press will ever write about Fosca between now and the heat-death of the universe. I think Fosca are – were – just too wrong-sounding for many. If it wasn’t the lyrics, it was my wrong voice, or the wrong musical format, or the wrong production. But then, all I hoped for was to record those songs and release them into the wild. And I did that.

Seems hypocritical to write about being arch and strange and expect large amounts of perfectly well-adjusted people to connect with that. There’s a reason why Ronald Firbank is constantly out-of-print while Saki isn’t: uncompromising archness needs to be at just the right level of uncompromising. Saki’s characters were effete and haughty and dandyish, but he wasn’t at all like that in person: he ended up in command of troops in WW1. Firbank, meanwhile, was so arch he could barely stand up. It’s okay to be weird, as long as you’re capable and functional and productive with it. That’s the part I often struggle with.

That said, I have my more useful moments. I’m the dandy handyman, as Mr Ant never sang. The other day I unblocked the communal shower’s nozzles from a build-up of limescale, saving my landlady from calling in a plumber.

I used a long, jewelled cravat pin.


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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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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…’

***

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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Fosca In Sweden: Update

Here’s the latest on the Fosca Swedish dates. Note change to the Stockholm venue.

Friday March 13th, evening: Stockholm – Svenska Musikklubben.

Sat March 14th, noon ish: Stockholm Рinstore or caf̩ gig at lunchtime to please those under the nightclub age limit. This is yet to be booked, so if anyone knows of a suitable Stockholm shop or cafe, do contact But Is It Art Records at info@butisitart.org

Sat March 14th, evening: Norrköping: Klubb Republik.


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Instant Zeal

Bookings…

Tomorrow night I’ll be DJ-ing at Beautiful & Damned, at the Boogaloo in Highgate.  Also on the bill are Martin White and Vicky Butterfly: pretty top-notch, proper talented fare.

Friday March 13th. Fosca play Stockholm. Debaser Slussen. More dates in that part of the world might pop up either side of the 13th. Last Fosca gigs ever ever ever. Honest. Really! It’ll be the Travel Fosca line-up of myself, Rachel and Charley. Pleased to be able to properly say goodbye to the Swedish Fosca fans. 85% of my last PRS cheque was from Swedish radio play.

May 16th – DJing at a private party with Ms Red.

June 20th – DJ-ing at How Does It Feel To Be Loved.

That’s pretty much the entire commitments list to date. Well, there’s the small matter of The Night Shift Job, which ties up every late night of mine for every other week, but I can get time off if necessary. Thing is, like most employers they only give out a limited amount of Holiday Cards to play – 14 a year. Given I get every other seven days off anyway, that’s pretty reasonable of them. But it does help me sort the ‘wouldn’t mind, oh all right’ events  from those I actually really want to do.

You’d have thought I was hardly Mr Full Diary from the above. Yet I’ve just been offered a DJ gig at the ICA, which I’ve love to do, only to realise it clashes with the Stockholm gig, so I can’t. Heigh ho.

Here’s a clip of Travel Fosca playing Stockholm last year. I’m told it’s only been uploaded recently:

http://is.gd/gJ3m

(I just love the ‘is.gd’ URL Shortener – even shorter than Tiny URL)

***

Barack Obama’s inauguration dominates today’s papers to such an extent that other news doesn’t stand a chance. I feared that today would be perfect for sly government PRs who are keen on ‘burying bad news’, as that Whitehall spin-doctor lady coined it so notoriously on Sept 11th.

The bad news back then was to do with councillors’ expenses. This time, one story that looked like slipping through the net was a similar attempt by MPs to exempt themselves from disclosing their fiscal outgoings. In today’s news (somewhere under all the Obama stuff), they’ve had to back down. This time round people aren’t so easy to hoodwink, and the Internet helps to spread the word and get people on board. A campaign by MySociety on Facebook ralled 6,000 supporters against the expenses plot. And now they’ve won. It’s so cheering. The dominance of the Net these days makes Getting Away With Things so much harder. The same zeal to uncover plot points in Battlestar Galactica can be channelled into monitoring those who write the story of the real world.

My workload at the Coalface of News last night was a fraction of its usual volume. Partly because most of the Obama coverage isn’t UK related, but also because there was little else in the press. The newspapers today choose to devote their already thinning pages (the recession’s fault) on saying exactly the same thing again and again: Obama’s Inauguration: a Historic Moment. Turn the page: interviews with people in the street. ‘ Do you think it’s a historic moment?’ ‘Yes.’ Repeat. Turn to umpteen columnists. ‘Why Today Is A Historic Moment, and Why I Was Right About Obama Before You Were.’

Can we news-miners take it easy and leave on time with everything finished? Yes, We Can.

Thanks, Mr O. All the best with the new job. Try not to kill anyone.


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Goodbyes of the 13th

Further to the last entry, I suppose it’s something of an achievement to be singled out for having funny hair in Camden Town. That perennially youthful hub of North London where the current fashion is for young men to wear their hair in a kind of spilt paint-pot effect. It’s as if their hair has not so much been styled as thrown onto their heads from a great height.

I do like the trend for young men wearing scarves at all times, though. Often indoors. A couple of days ago I saw a fashionable looking boy on the Archway Road with his Ugg-ed up girlfriend. Not just a tangle of scarves and skinny jeans, but sunglasses on his head too. In mid December.

It’s never a bad thing for young men to have to feminize themselves to fit in. Though I’m obviously biased. Make-up is often a leap too far, though. One feels sorry for the ‘brickies in drag’ of the 70s glam rock era, or the 60s hippies who really wanted to be lads, or those backing musicians in 80s New Romantics bands who were not at one with their eyeshadow. Scarves are more do-able.

The fashion also favours the boyish side of androgyny (and again, I’m biased). A scarf hides an Adam’s Apple, or corrects Nature’s omission of one.

***

Where was I? (All over the place, today, Mr E. Still, carry on.)

Yes, the last Fosca gig at Islington. It was fine, no one died (Oh do stop that!). Maybe not as many people as one might hope. Alex S says the heavy rain of the 13th definitely made some people stay at home. He quotes Frank Skinner:

‘You can spend your life trying to be popular, but at the end of the day, the size of the crowd at your funeral will be largely dictated by the weather.’

It’s so true. And it was a funeral, after all. Some kind comments afterwards: great sound, great performance, shame we’re splitting up. That it would be even more of a shame if I never took to the stage again. Well, we’ll see.

Matt Haynes says our one-off line-up and going out with a one-off vinyl single in 2008 reminded him of the equally perverse last Field Mice gig in 1991 or so. There, the band aired brand new songs which hadn’t been released then and never were released afterwards (and remain unreleased even now, I think…). Here’s to perversity.

I’m just glad we managed one last London gig at all. That’ll do, Fosca, that’ll do.

I stand around afterwards with a box of the new single and last album, in case anyone wants to buy them. And as it happens, they do. To my absolute surprise I attract a small queue. I sell all the copies I’ve brought. Including, by accident, my own copies. Oops. And I sign some, too. I’m getting good at signing things in noisy places (or if I’m feeling a bit deaf), asking people to quickly write their name on a bit of scrap paper nearby, then confidently spelling their name correctly on their book or record.

Boy H had to go back to the US (and snow) the same evening. Pretty much for good. What with him and Fosca I had to deal with two big goodbyes in one night. I plumped for my usual tactic. I got a bit drunk.

So: single again. Alone, but not lonely. All kinds of invites from friends who are also spending the festive break in London – dinner there, drinks here, a concert of carols if I fancy it. Too lucky to grumble.


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The Incredibly Quiet Lives Of Others

I was going to write about the Fosca gig in Berlin. Really, I was. I kept sitting down to write, listing everything that I did on the trip, looking over notes. But then I found I couldn’t gear myself up to properly compose the thing.

And I think I now know why. An awful amount of travel writing bores me rigid. It’s the prose equivalent of holiday snaps. Big deal, you went abroad. Interesting for you, less so for your readers. How did the gig in Berlin go? It was fine. No one died.

No, I feel like a brattish child sulking at having to write ‘What I Did On My Holidays’ on the first day back at school. ‘We went abroad and it was good’. Find your angle, dear child, find your angle!

Trouble is, when you play a gig or act in a show, you often only tend to recall the flaws, the mistakes, and what went wrong. ‘Ah, yes, that was the gig where my guitar’s B string snapped on the fourth song. I was playing it, then it snapped. So I had to put a new one on. I’ve got a ton of stories like that: stick around!’

***

But of course, now I’ve started writing this at about 2pm on December 21st, with the sun of the Shortest Day already fading at the window, and interesting details are coming to me, and they remind me of further details, and so on.

That’s always been my trouble with writing. Being able to start. And then being able to stop, because writing calls down writing. I’ll have to split the results of this session into easily digestible morsels, or risk getting emails again. ‘You don’t write often enough! And when you do, you write too much!’

***

So: the venue was a clean, cosy and brightly-lit bar in the former East Berlin. It seemed to have once been a tiny theatre – pre-War, I’d say. But the stage was built for vocal lectures rather than amplified bands: no DI boxes, meaning the keyboards and laptop and mikes had to be plugged straight into the mixer directly to our side.

Apparently the neighbours had threatened to call the police if we got too loud, so our guitar amps had to be turned down to the absolute minimum. During the gig, Charley told me she could hear my electric guitar’s unamplified sound – the scratchy, tinny sound of the plectrum against the strings – far louder than the amp it was plugged into. That’s pretty quiet.

Despite this, the venue owner got on stage halfway through our set and asked us to be even quieter, or the police definitely WOULD be called. I decided against making on-mike jokes involving the word ‘Stasi’. Or indeed referencing ‘The Lives Of Others’ – the recent movie about unkind people in East Berlin listening in on their neighbours. But it did mean I went into a whispered rendition of the Fosca song immediately after this warning, complete with ‘Shh!’ noises and a finger to my lips, to the amusement of the audience.

***

Other Berlin memories:

– One of Charley’s Berlin friends apparently saying I looked too good to not be on a stage – and that I should play James Bond.

– Suddenly seeing a huge poster of my face as I open the door to the venue toilets (an advert for the gig, using the cover of the single).

– The man on reception at the hotel literally throwing sweets at us as we check out, in a jokingly grumpy way. ‘Here you go! Have your flipping souvenirs of Berlin, now get lost!’ They were little packets of Gummi bears. Which always makes me think of Hedwig And The Angry Inch.

– Seeing traditional German Christmas markets everywhere I look, reminding me how they’re getting more popular in British cities these days, along with ice rinks. The Lufthansa meal on the flight back includes a chocolate Santa.

– The kiosks on Berlin tube station platforms selling novels which seem second hand, alongside softcore porn mags, which I’m hoping are not second hand.

– As ever, the difference in pedestrian crossings. The red and green flashing man in Berlin traffic lights is slightly rotund and wears a hat. Apparently he’s an actual character with a backstory. Presumably involving a lot of standing about, then walking, then standing about again.


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