Email 31st March 2009

Fish 2009 - Much Ado About Nothing

Dear FishHeads, Freaks, fans and the Company,

It's been a strange month right enough!

Most of my time has been spent in the garden and tearing down the paperwork mountain in the office.
Elspeth's lair has been redecorated and "Spartanised" as we cleared out all the junk which had been lying in nooks and crannies since the dark days of Kim Waring.
The streamlining is leading to a great easing of paper trails and ended some mysteries while making the entire day to day operations far smoother. After nearly 4 years on the road with only short breaks to deal with business issues the last 3 months have meant that I can get to grips with a lot of niggling historical problems that have kept on biting me in the ass every now and again.

Clarifying office procedures and tidying files means I can stop looking backwards and clear the decks for more creative activities in the next month.

The BT claim is still ongoing and at present silent as lawyers await responses and corporate mechanisms whirr through their corporate reactions to a situation they have already accepted the blame for but evade and dodge the actual pay out of damages due, hiding behind paper drifts and inflexible computer programmes that are incapable of a logic outside the minds of their creators who set them up with the view to harass, frustrate and protect the corporate dollar.

More and more on interaction with major businesses I encounter this top heavy bureaucracy far too reliant on computers and expensive programmes that were brought in to replace departments of people who used to know how things worked in the real world and were capable of imaginative leaps of judgement while dealing with problems. Now the systems seem to freeze far too frequently and a problem outside the box ends up spinning in cyber space or being shuffled around far too few departments none of whom communicate with each other as the digital operators urge us to press buttons for far too few options followed by the hash key in order to reach the mailbox of someone who may or may not get back to you dependant on whether they were made redundant in the last week.

It took me 7 months to get a payment through from Canadian promoters for the Quebec and Montreal shows thanks to the Royal Bank of Scotland. The cheques were handed in to the local bank and then disappeared as we chased for payment and those long periods of silence followed by a flurry of emails and occasional phone calls going over the same information, all going nowhere. No one seemed to want to take responsibility and I was bounced round chasing these cheques that no one knew where they were.
I eventually contacted the Canadians and had them arrange a wire transfer and still the RBS managed to miss the ball. I won't bore you with details but eventually the money hit my account and a couple of days later I received the original cheques in the post.
There was a bit of yang to all this as the exchange rates had dramatically changed since last June and I ended up on the winning side.
I did however send an email to my manager at the RBS asking why there was an 80 US dollar charge for an electronic transfer to which he replied asking if I had received the money yet! I responded by offering an opinion that the entire screw up over these payments and the total lack of communication between the departments in question was perhaps an indication of how the RBS got into so many problems in recent months.
There was no reply.

With the ex-head of the bank, who in the last few weeks has been taking flack for his major pension and bonus payments on retiring at 50, it's hard to feel sympathy as he and other high ranking members of the RBS have to take on extra security after stones were thrown through the windows of his house in Edinburgh and the Merc in his drive got trashed.
Their decisions brought down a major Scottish financial institution, rendered hundreds unemployed and tore down the savings of so many innocent people while they set themselves up for a lap of luxury.
Scotland has lost its two great banks, RBS and HBOS, financial monuments and national icons through the negligent use of funds and appalling decisions inspired only by greed and ego. It would seem highly unlikely now that this small country I live in could ever entertain the idea of independence when its two great banking institutions are now hamstrung and owned by the British government.

But it's not just the banks and other financial institutions that seem to find it acceptable to award failures.
The CEO of Warner Music Group US walked away with a 3 million dollar bonus after the company lost 56 million and stock dropped 25%.
The music business is in a righteous mess and news that Guy Hands resigned from EMI after walking in with big ideas to an old regime means that we are staring at one of the great British music institutions possibly going to the wall as the company shrinks and jettisons staff with increasing regularity in an attempt to keep it afloat. And the programmers run out their new models and the imagination of the individuals who still stand under the flag are stifled by the constraints of accountants and a market place in Atlantis.
The pirates are in charge of the ship it seems and no one knows how to retake control.
Incomes on all levels dwindle and everyone is chasing their tails or playing catch up with a runaway train.

And the artists, the lowest member of the musical chain? They get the peanuts from digital downloads on the barrel organ and get mugged on the road by venues and corporate entities adding percentages to tickets and taking percentages from merchandise.
A friend sent me this article recently which really stuck in the craw. I'll let you read and rage.

News from the front is bad. I am glad I am not in that circle anymore. The old model I joined in the '80s is redundant and rotten and no one working in it seems to have the perspective or the ability to bring on the changes to resuscitate the industry. Maybe it shouldn't be.

Meanwhile the CEOs plunder the holds and others grab what they can while they can. Others like me watch from the distance from our flotilla of small independent labels and hope we don't get swallowed when it does all eventually go down like some behemoth of an ancient liner that'll leave nothing but the detritus of memorabilia and the prospect of interviews with survivors to tell us where it all went wrong and why no one saw it coming and did something about it.

I'm dancing around themes here but they are all interlinked in the great scheme of things in a way I can't quite fathom but sense in that soulful way that you gaze at the stars and understand somehow.
I won't look back on its eventual guaranteed demise with regret. Nostalgia, yes, but I am welcoming the changes.

Two books I can recommend from different angles on this waxing of thoughts are "Last Shop Standing - Whatever happened to Record Stores?" by Graham Jones, which I have just started to read in the last week and am engrossed. It's released on Proper Music Distribution and you can find out more here.

The other is a book I found really inspiring and quantify it as a "must read". "The Party's Over" by Richard Heinberg
It's a very scary and fascinating piece of writing and I admit to getting quite depressed by it before recognising what is within is essential reading.
It really made me sit up and think about where we are as a world just now and considering it was written in 2005 it appears eerily prophetic.

Don't get me wrong I'm not on some major downer or in need of anti-depressants but, like most of you out there, I'm living through a very new experience and coming to terms with a world undergoing massive changes.

I've been propelled into a different line of thought on what I am doing in my life and on talking to quite a few friends I've been prompted to take the gardening side of my life a lot more seriously.
The 41 fruit trees went into the ground last weekend and the Company Orchard is setting down roots and showing some buds.
I had dillied and dallied over how much to expand the raised beds and eventually bought in six 3m x 1m x 0.3m units which will be filled with topsoil this week and planted up this month coming. There's another 9m x 1m bed and two 2m x 1m beds to be ordered this week.
It gives us an amazing growing space especially for brassicas and with hoops and netting it will be easy to keep the cabbage butterfly at bay and I won't be careering round the garden with the badminton racquet like some institutionalised window licker on speed swatting the air around me.
We already got a cloche together and have salads on the way, even in Scotland in a windy wet March.
Saying that, during the three days it took to plant the fruit trees I actually managed to get some sunburn on my shoulders on one afternoon.

KT's been a wonder in the greenhouse which is bursting with seedlings crammed in trays all waiting for me to get my proverbial together to build the new cold frame.
We've got all sorts of peppers and chillies as well as a range of tomatoes and the usual suspects.
The first early potatoes (Pentland Javelin) and second earlies (Wilja) are in the "BB" bed (Big Bastard named after the digging required! :-D) and all the existing beds have been filled with compost and manures and planted up with all sorts of vegetables including 4 types of onions, 7 types of garlic, 3 types of carrots, beetroot, broad beans and other legumes and an entire Tesco's line of salad crops.
It'll be a lot more than we need but we have already had offers from people to buy the surplus including the Tyneside Tavern who want fruit and veg for their restaurant.

I dug up the Jerusalem artichokes a few weeks ago as they had been left to grow for a couple of years. They grow really tall, over 2m and are stunning plants architecturally speaking but unlike the Globe artichoke which grows equally as tall and majestic but has edible leaves the Jerusalem has tubers underground. There were hundreds of them! We cooked them as you would roast potatoes, as they are seen as a potato substitute in some places, and then KT made soup from them. They have an interesting texture akin to a soft banana and are a bit bland without spices. The roasted ones were really crispy but it was as a soup that they delivered their punch.
In Carol Klein's great book "Grow Your Own Veg" (highly recommended for those of you thinking of going down the same garden path) it opens the section on Jerusalem artichokes with "the one vegetable that always raises chuckles from those in the know"!
As a suggestion for a fun evening I'd go for Jerusalem Artichoke soup followed by a bean and Brussel sprout pie and some rhubarb crumble before a game of Twister. Breaks the ice and wind at parties! :-D

My stomach was like a drum and the "digestive aid" recommendation in homeopathic journals was spot on. KT suggested we drop them from the kitchen garden menu but I'm just looking forward to surprising some future dinner guests. :-D

Last weekend was a mish-mash of events. A Friday evening in the revitalized Tyneside Tavern that started off as a two pint visit and ended up with us leaving the car and bending into the night, receiving text messages from new owner Neil who was over in Amsterdam for the footy. He had offered me a ticket for the game but the late call meant the logistics of travel and board were out the question.
The pub sweepstake on this week's Grand National race reminded me I had a hundred quid on call on my on-line account at Ladbrokes.
I had set up an account for last year's race and had deposited funds to put on a bet on the day. By the time the money had cleared and I nominated my horse the race had started and I was seconds too late. As is my luck the horse won.
I'd forgotten about the Ladbroke account until now.
I wasn't looking forward to the game against Holland. Scotland were plagued by injuries and facing an expensive and classy Dutch side on home turf it looked like our World Cup dreams were over once again.
I came back from the pub and put the entire bundle on a Dutch win. I figured that if we lost at least I'd have another 30 quid to play with on the National and if we won I'd gladly pay the 100.
My Mum and Dad came up to watch the game and the usual events unfolded. Two bad defensive mistakes, a penalty, a disallowed goal just as we could possibly entertain the far-flung dream of a draw and it was over. We were toothless, outclassed and lucky the Orange didn't have it's dander up as if they had we could have been hit for another six like last time.
My only consolation was I was 30 quid better off and it did soothe the pain a little. I was glad I wasn't there.
My Company Holland buddies rolled in the texts. As a Hibby I get used to it and switched off the mobile.

My Dad is as used to it if not more so than me. A rolling of the eyes and a few epithets. He'd just been told he had come into some money as well.
Her Majesty's government had just told him by mail that as he was now coming up to 80 years old he would be getting a raise in his pension.
The gargantuan sum of 25 pence a week. He was none too impressed.
If he was still smoking that would be a cigarette a week or one tenth of a pint. It wouldn't buy him half a bar of chocolate.
At Tesco's last week I bought 4 soft watery tasteless organic tomatoes that had originated in Israel. They worked out at 38 pence each.
It puts his pension in a sad perspective.
Its people like my parents that I feel most sorry for as their savings dwindle and the interests rates crumble to nothing.
Those people who invested in shares in allegedly reliable institutions like the RBS who are now cursing and staring at a bleak future while CEOs walk away with disgusting amounts in pensions and bonuses after destroying other people's securities through their own greed.
Someone somewhere out there will do more than throw stones in the near future. The anger is so palpable.

Sunday morning we received a visit from my Welsh Rastafarian sound engineer Sean. He is working with a band from Mali, Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba. Sean is the only crew member and is driving them on their UK tour in his sparkling white splitter van, equipment in the back and aircraft seats and DVD screens in the front half. It was great to see him again and he was in good form.
It was like the old days of the Funny Farm studios as musicians lazed about the garden in the sun, drinking coffee, playing instruments and shooting the breeze. Bassekou is the main man in the band and his wife the singer. The band's native tongue was French so conversation was simple in the main although a few of them had a pretty good grasp of English. My mate Phil came over and he was pretty fluent in French having lived in Marseille for a few years. It was a great crack as they showed us their instruments and plucked through a few riffs on the Koras. They were impressed with the garden and more so with the studio. Bassekou and the guys loved the acoustics and were asking about recording here and working together. It was the first time for a while that I started thinking about the next album and the cogs began to turn.
Although played on traditional instruments their last album "Segu Blue" which was album of the year in the 2008 World Music awards, has some great blues feel on it and the band are all into rock music, particularly Hendrix (You can find the album here)
We swapped albums and hugged farewells. Sean led them back to the bus together with a large bag of DVDs they borrowed for the bus journey.
It was great to see Sean again. A great bear of a guy with the widest smile I know. He will be on the mixing desk at Leamington for the convention.
The van disappeared in a dust cloud on the road to Cambridge and we basked in the sun with another memory.

The Convention moves slowly along just now as I wait on responses from queries. I'd hoped to get "Panic Room" for the Sunday night to go together with the Reasoning but it appears Anne Marie is busy that weekend. I still have other options to look at and should know in a couple of weeks.
Will Smith will definitely be attending and will be the host of our Fishy take on "Never Mind the Buzzcocks" ;-)

Calum Malcolm is mixing the sound recordings from Nearfest in May and the DVD will be ready for the convention.
It all sounds pretty good even with just a rough mix of the material and is coming in at over 2 hours of material just from the US show.
I still have other footage to examine and sift through for possible bonus material.
As the Company Scotland membership is swelling as people register for the convention I plan to provide either discount on the price of the "13th Star" live DVD or supply a bonus disc for Company members only as part of the package.

It's quite strange listening to the rough mixes as it brings back a lot of mixed feelings about the tour and in particular what was going on in my head at the time.
I have to admit that after all has been and done I don't look back on the project with much affection as it may have been a fine album and provided some memorable shows but the shadows behind the scenes were dark and cold and there are some decisions I now regret in the long term.
I will be approaching the next album with those experiences in mind and won't be repeating those mistakes.
The monkeys are always on the typewriters and every now and again flashes of inspiration penetrate this domesticity.
I've learned in the past not to jump on them too soon and the Paul McCartney view of "a great idea never goes away and if you don't remember it, it wasn't that great in the first place" always springs to mind.
The album does have a working title which I think is indicative of the content. It's inspired by a quote from Robert Louis Stevenson.
"A Feast of Consequences" will take on a lot of inspiration from the voyages on the last tour, late night conversations and the images I brought back from Vietnam.
I'd like to try and link the album and the novel together somehow as the relationship between the themes is strong.
Musically I plan a far more diverse range of instrumentation than on "13th Star" and my meeting on Sunday with Bassekou Kouyate was perhaps more Fellini orientated than a passing coincidence.
It's a long way off till the meniscus on the bucket of inspiration breaks and I have the patience this year to wait it out and deal with it in a far more organised and disciplined manner than in 2007 when events clouded some judgements and my time was hijacked in a storm of emotional fallout.
I know for certain it won't be a "heartbreak" album and I know it will be an "angry" album to some degree.
As far as co writers go I already have some ideas and a lot of options which could prove really interesting but that will all come together when it's meant to. ;-)

Meanwhile I have other things dominating my mind.

I have to write the foreword for Mark Wilkinson's new book "Shadowplay", write up the sleeve notes for the forthcoming CD releases of "Live at Loreley" and "Recital of the Script" for Nigel and Hugh at EMI records, sort out the collapsed neck of the septic tank and get the "Clearwater" unit back up and running, order more raised beds from the nice people at Link-a-bord and another ton of topsoil, sort out the newly erected beds and get them filled up and planted, water the orchard, sort out the air vents in the greenhouse, worm the cats, listen to the Nearfest recordings, contact the Americans re the footage editing, clear out the garage, build a cold frame, sharpen the chainsaw and sort out the kindling and the platform for the water butt, get out on the bikes with KT some time this afternoon and post this to FishHeads!
It's definitely not quiet :-D

And I thought this might have been a short post :-D

Lots of love
Onkel Fish xxxx

"Everyone sooner or later sits down to a banquet of consequences." - Robert Louis Stevenson
 

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