Dear FishHeads, Freaks, fans and the Company,
Close of play Friday and the end of a week on the ghost train. Wednesday I flew down to London City airport. Up at 6am and on the London light railway towards Bank at 10.30. It's my favourite London airport and with the rail link I can be in Oxford Circus for a couple of quid in around 30 minutes. Far easier and more relaxed than coming into Heathrow zoo where the Scottish contingent in the band have now refused to fly to as a link to another country. The City airport is by far the coolest!
First meeting was in Great Portland Street with someone I wanted to discuss TV and radio representation with as I start to kick off the "13th Star" promotion. The meeting went well and we are now looking at possibilities available. With the UK tour coming quickly and my lack of unavailability after that section it may be a relationship we put on hold till next year when hopefully a book release will provide more opportunities. Either way I am covered as my second meeting was with my new press and radio promotions agent who also deals with TV.
Alan Robinson at Indiscreet PR will be working "Communion", "13th Star" and the tour in the coming months and assembling my interview schedules as well as plugging the new material at radio and TV. We had a lot of very positive and exciting ideas and he is confident he can give me the profile and coverage I need in the coming months.
We bopped ideas around as we sat outside the Marquis of Granby in the dappled sunshine. It was great to be talking about the album and what was happening rather than what has happened. I was excited again. We parted at around 3pm and with an 8 o'clock flight I had so much time to kill I needed a deep freezer or a serious shopping habit!
I played an old game with myself that I sometimes play on days off on tour. I just walk and take random turnings in different directions, wandering aimlessly before trying to retrace my steps or reach a destination. I always win - eventually! :-D
I ended up in Tottenham Court Road and headed south. London, I have found, like many others, to be a city where in the middle of a crowd you can feel chillingly lonely. Everyone seemed to be talking on mobile phones to someone else as they walked in endless herds, only acknowledging people in their path as obstacles in another dimension. Passing the Astoria I got a shiver as memories of a gig last January and a public statement of renewed togetherness formed in my mind. The ghosts brushed past me.
I called into EMI Publishing to catch a quick word with the guys helping me with the new publishing deal and some historical accounting problems with a Dutch record company which have been going on for nearly two years. All moving forward and again there was an excitement about the new album. Word is getting around. By chance the vice chairman of EMI was passing and joined in the conversation about what I was doing. He was genuinely interested in what my plans were and the new direction. I left the building buzzed up! ;-)
I dropped in on Tony Wilson and Malcolm Dome at Total Rock just off "tin pan alley", aka Denmark Street. A wee bit of chin wag and bringing up to date and again a pledge of support. Tony and I go way back to the Tommy Vance show where he was producer and Malcolm and I go back to early "Kerrang" days. After climbing the 6 flights of stairs to the studios in the intense London heat I was reminded that there was something I had to cut out my life in the very near future.
I still had most of the afternoon in my hands and headed back into Soho past the pub we slid into after the Astoria show. Memories rallied -
'stolen smiles across a crowded mews, desperate eye contact, lingering looks, polite interrogations from whisky breathed, drooly bearded, stoat eyed acolytes with beer bellies stretching black t-shirts as they wait on the bus and the trek back north with the troops pillaging their last orders for the knock out blow to take them painlessly home'
- as I crossed Greek Street and towards Wardour Street -
'"Grouchos", blag on the door and cocktails as we hid from the rain'
- to a Sushi bar and a table for one. The place was empty but my mind was crowded. Three or so plates of sashimi, some dim sum and I had to move away from the gathering ghosts. I threaded my way across Soho to Regent Street and began weaving towards Oxford Circus and the Central Line options through meandering masses, sometimes annoyingly 4 abreast on the pavement or halting in mobile conversation creating swirls and eddies of multi-coloured humanity. And then a familiar face pops up and my brain engages recognition systems. Hugh Stanley Clark, the A and R man who signed me with Marillion to EMI Records back in '82. I hadn't seen him for years and the surprise that flashed between us sparked smiles and we stood on our island in Regent Street and caught the breeze. It turned out Hugh had come back into the music business after years in various non-related projects. We moved to a Starbucks where he was meeting his ex wife, Jenny, also a good friend and someone I hadn't seen for a long time. As if that wasn't enough, Hugh was also meeting Jeff Chegwin, one of the best radio and TV pluggers in London. Again someone from my past and who I'd lost contact with. The last time we had met I think was in the early 90's with his sister, DJ Janice Long at the BBC. It was a true Fellini curve and as I talked about the "13th Star" they all showed great enthusiasm and wanted to hear the album asap. It felt a pivotal moment, one of those chance meetings that change the direction of your life. With "Arc of the Curve" standing out as a single for radio the day of meetings seemed to be opening a lot of doors. We chatted a while catching up on our lives until I had to get to the tube to wind my way back to London City airport in the East End -
'Oxford Street, it was raining hard and taxis were a rarity. The bus stops refugee camps and we had a long way to go. We'd picked up a rickshaw agreeing to pay what he wanted just to piss off the illegal cab drivers trying to rip us off. A Columbian student with a huge smile and endless stamina he pushed his way up the road towards our hotel which was ironically The Columbia, a principal venue in my life. We huddled under blankets in a rain battered plastic cocoon, talking to the driver and sneaking long kisses on a journey that ended too soon'
- I hadn't been on the tube in rush hour for a long time and at 5.30 I was entering peak volume. I was living the lyric to "Circle Line". Tunnels spewing humanity out onto dangerously crowded platforms and, while a piper plays somewhere in the distance, the roaring aluminium worm flares into the station. The explosion of doors opening and the mad rush to claw your way onto a carriage and grab a hand hold in the roof space, the angry hissing as the doors sealed and the lurching around trying to catch your balance as the train pulls away into the tunnel again. The mouldy breeze through an open window was just enough to maintain sanity. At every station there was a sense of desperation as doors juddered open and people tried to get off and on simultaneously. The tension was incredible. No one talking, everyone hiding in their own shells, reading papers, wrapped in iPods; I was in the lyric to "Zoe 25".
A well spoken woman squeezes into the carriage and grabs onto the overhead hand rail just as the train moves off. Her hand touches the hand of a sullen black guy who's been reading the same page of the sports section for the last three stations. He barks at her and starts to take her apart for touching his hand. Everyone in the carriage completely ignored the confrontation and counted their stops. Mine was next.
As I trundled along on the light railway carriage meandering past Canary Wharf and the O2 dome where Prince was about to launch his residency I once again got caught up in a memory cluster.
I diverted my mind into a story I'd heard that day about an old friend who had disappeared off my radar for the last two years. A colourful character to say the least I'd given up on him after numerous non-returned calls and messages. The last time I'd heard, he was still trying to get into the movie business as a writer and producer but had a side project in developing an Irish Elvis who was singing my friend's songs as part of the repertoire. It turned out he'd blown about 800k of someone else's money on an album in Nashville and had to leave town after throwing record executives from office windows when they questioned the product! You can take the man out of Glasgow....!
Last heard of working his old game of selling other people's cars and disappearing, he ran out of places to hide and now he's allegedly awaiting trial. I can't but smile and wait on the call in a couple of years with the full story. :-D
Breezed through City airport and up to Edinburgh for 9.30. Picked up the car and home to a bottle of wine and a single glass. I played the album again. Tara was out so I turned up the volume.
Thursday was a late rise. My friend Henk called in on the way to the airport. Over coffee we exchanged "war stories", trying to break up memory clusters. I had to record the very last vocals that afternoon with Calum in North Berwick. We both thought there was a missing piece in "Circle Line" and when I had been performing it live at the festivals I'd found myself naturally adlibbing some repeat lines. We decided to add them in the end section and so here I was again back in the album. I listened to the up to date mixes of some of the other tracks and had to agree with Calum that these most recent mixes were at least 20% better than the ones we had played at the party. I left after an hour and glided home across the Garleton hills. Joan Armatrading "Love and Affection" on the radio -
'Side tracked on the way to the studio near Hull, the long hard road back from Birmingham, short summer dresses and hot conversations, the dash up the farm road, going home'
- Back for five. Wayne, Shelley and the kids were on their way back to Liverpool from a trip to the Highlands and had curved round to say goodbye.
The DVD of the "Making of 13th Star" had arrived and I had to check it out. We all sat and watched the months unfold as the cameras resurrected my journey to this point. As the characters flitted in and out of shot I was painfully aware of one person missing. The interviews skirted the real story. But I knew what was going on behind the scenes in every take. The May interview was toughest to watch as even though I sat and talked the talk on film I remembered that less than 24 hours earlier half a world had walked out the door. I remembered trying to keep myself focused. I was the "Clockwork Orange".
The Hughes tribe waved farewells. My mate Kenny was supposed to have joined us for the meal but had chosen "pub food" instead. Taz was out. I embraced a familiar environment. I took the album to the greenhouse. A tough day and the memories gathered in my sleep.
Friday was going to be hard, I knew that before I opened my eyes. I was playing "footsie" with myself in bed and had that inner smile that only lasts until the reality shakes you awake.
The day drifted. The mundane of Tescos and the rush of seeing the new artwork come through. Writing album credits and toiling over dedications. Discussing edits on the DVD and setting up more interviews. Always keeping the memories from clustering. Keeping busy. Emptying the dishwasher -
'the cutlery I bought from the cafe shop near Ambleside on our first visit to the cottage, a walk beside a swollen river and the waterfall, the first time I said the words'
- trying to find something to eat from the freezer -
'leek and potato soup 23/4/07'
- and then Andreas's e mail came through, "Midnight in the greenhouse" (http://blog.myspace.com/andreasdahl). I was floored. An unexpected left hook. He caught me by surprise with a beautiful observation that I had been trying to ignore since Saturday. The word smith taken apart by words. The memory cluster hit critical mass as the sadness molecules rushed to attach themselves -
'a deserted car park down the hill from the cottage, the first time we had seen each other for over three months, you looked truly wonderful, the first time I saw you with dark hair, we gazed and didn't kiss, the water flowed under the bridge as we drank wine outside the café'
- I was pulled to the screen and inadvertently threw up folders of photos -
'on the road to Blakeys, sunglasses and snowdrifts, the garden and the pea obelisks, cheeky smiles and promises, Egyptian shishas and tales from the riverbank'
- a myriad of images, the ghost-like parallel sewn together with my reality. Andreas' vision.
I ended up in my sanctuary, the greenhouse, at 5am. I couldn't sleep. I played the album. It was the only thing keeping me in touch with the reality of it all, blowing apart the memory clusters that threatened to overthrow instinct and unbalance reason. I desperately wanted to write, to communicate, to explain and come to terms with it all.
It has been like coming off a long tour. The wall dissolves and you are left with yourself after months of being surrounded by soul searing events and experiences and cotton wool. The routine disintegrates and the emptiness and sense of something missing is immense. I had thought that the 4th would have closed a door. It was only a day in the rest of my life.
Saturday was like waking up after a thunderstorm. The air was clean and my soul lighter. Today was a green day.
Easter Road, the second half. Two nil down to Gretna and Benji just hit a penalty kick straight at the keeper -
'Egyptian scarf, four magpies on the road to Hampden, the bus on the way back from Glasgow with the cup'
- I still felt good. And then Zemmama came on. The tactics changed and at five I was walking on air. Four-two. The game was most definitely not over.
I danced out of the ground and into the supporters club for a pint. I had met up with fellow Hibee John Leslie and we swapped stories about the Genesis gig at Twickenham before I bundled into the taxi for a rare night out in Edinburgh. I caught my first show in the festival down at the "Black Tent" at Ocean Terminal. "Fuerzabruta" - brute force. It was an installation in a big circus tent. Difficult to explain but all I can say is that it was magical. A single runner on a "rolling road" that was manoeuvred through the standing crowd. Huge walls of paper-filled cardboard bricks were sent crashing into the runner who jumped and exploded through to the other side as strobes caught the endless fall of paper. A wall of foil was pulled out to cover the entire sides of the tent and dancers on flying harnesses chased each other back and forward as the rave music rolled on. The roof space was filled with an immense plastic sheet containing hundreds of gallons of swirling water and lowered down to the crowd as performers flipped, rolled and threw themselves in the floating ocean over our heads. It was all pretty spectacular! I wish I had footage from the show to play on the projection screens at my gigs! There were definitely some strong parallels in the overall themes. My head was spinning with ideas and white wine.
I got home around 2am.
Sunday. Calum delivers the second mixes of the album. He was right. They are a huge improvement on the first batch that were played at the launch party. More powerful and dynamic I sat enthralled for over an hour and went back to that place again. The album is brilliant if I say so myself but is a constant reminder of a period that contained the most emotional turmoil I can remember. I don't think anyone who was involved in my life at that time could listen to it and not be deeply affected by the material.
Mark sends me the finished artwork designs. I am blown away. It is the best work he has ever done on one of my sleeve designs and matches perfectly the overall mood and feel of the album. Versions are already on the web site and we will have the album mock up on the site this week. This is a very special project.
Monday. Covering footage for the DVD to go with the album. The closing interview and overviews of where I've been and how we got to here.
The footage will be going to production this week as is the album which will be finished tomorrow and mastered on Wednesday.
One more listen and then down to Calum's for the last tweaking of the mixes this afternoon.
It's almost over but my journey is just beginning.
One final note - An old friend of mine bought me a gift last week. I am now the proud "owner" of "Thirteenth Star" which is located in the heavens at RA 37.97666581 and declination -34.83366495. I was sent the certificate this weekend and it is listed in the Universal start catalogue, registration number SAO 306183. It was dedicated on the 4th August.
'They were sparkling through the skylight. I remembered Egyptian nights gliding up the Nile, endless tombs with ceilings full of painted stars and walls carved with pledges of love. As we gazed into our heaven in the attic room I wondered if I could see the 13th star. Tomorrow we would walk by the waterfall. I would have the words on the tip of my tongue. You knew it.'
Lots of love