I can't honestly remember the first pop song I heard. The first one I bought was "Lola" by the Kinks and that more than any other song propelled me into appreciating lyrics and entertaining the notion of myself as a writer. I have never been able to play a note of music, and still remember the extreme disappointment of being taken by my Dad to a music shop in Edinburgh at 7 years old and finding out that when you strummed a guitar like the Beatles did the songs didn't "happen"!! That Christmas I got a bright orange plastic guitar with the "Beatles autographs" etched on the soundbox. It lasted a fortnight.
Piano lessons ended after one visit and a final attempt at accordion fell flatter than my voice at the time. That changed with Miss Marshall at Kings Park Primary school, Dalkeith. Endless choruses of "Santa Lucia" and "Ye Banks And Braes" finally drove me out soon after my debut performance at Donaldson's School For The Deaf in Edinburgh. I was actually fired for not attending rehearsals a problem I still have nowadays!! I listened avidly to Ed "Stewpot" Stewart on Saturday mornings in bed with my "Victor" and "Eagle" comics getting bored with "Puff The Magic Dragon" and getting more into The Who, The Moody Blues and Beatles numbers he sometimes played. Time rolled by and I started buying albums of "Chart Hits" which were actually covers of current singles made by session musos and released on the "Music For Pleasure" label on a series called "Top Of The Pops". The covers always depicted scantily-clad females, and I've often wondered whether I bought the albums because of the contents or because of the soft-porn imagery on the sleeves!! The first "real" album I bought was T-Rex's "Electric Warrior" because I thought Marc Bolan was cool and a guy from Edinburgh had allegedly designed the sleeve!
Jeepster was the first chart single I bought in a record shop and I have strong memories of dancing round my bedroom with a distant American relative who was visiting us from the States with his family. Jeepster was put on continuous play on the Record Deck at full volume as we cavorted like dervishes while emptying bottles of ginger ale over each other!! Go figure! He went on to become a church minister! My tastes were changing and I was listening on Saturday Afternoons to Alan Freeman's shows on Radio One. I was also at High School and albums were the main topic of conversation. I heard the second Genesis album "Trespass" around the same time as I discovered Emerson Lake and Palmer.
My music collection evolved into a "Progressive" library and Alan was there on the airwaves feeding me new bands every Saturday. My local station, Radio Forth also had the show Edinburgh Rock (which is still running today) on a Friday night and suddenly my weekends were booked! As all my mates got into cars and girls I was up in my attic hideaway dissecting Yes and Floyd lyrics, grooving to Wishbone Ash, Barclay James Harvest or the Faces, banging away to the Who or Deep Purple and generally losing touch with the opposite sex!! It was the Progressive bands that held sway and I delighted in arguments in the school common room over who was fastest Emerson or Wakeman, Howe or Clapton? I still loved the songs. Elton John, Paul McCartney and Rod Stewart's solo material all got to me. This was where my eclectic taste grew and the diversity of styles in my present music took shape. It was to this era I'd return in 1992 when I found myself totally disillusioned with the Music Business that I'd grown to love and been involved with for the last 11 years. The disappointing impact of Internal Exile had triggered warning signs both here in Scotland and at Polydor, who had me for another album. I wasn't ready to finish start writing the follow up and my confidence was at an all time low after a disastrous tour so soon after the EMI litigation and all that ensued from that expensive fracas. Mentally and creatively I wasn't prepared, and I let the Record Company know.
The details I've covered on the Suits sleeve notes but in the Early Summer of 1992 I didn't trust myself and didn't trust the Record Label who were continually going through changes in the hierarchy, all of whom saw the situation differently. The accountants, meanwhile, were looking at an artist who they'd paid a lot of money to in advances, recording costs (at his own studio at top rate) and legal costs as well as a buy-out from EMI to get the contract in the first place, and were adding up the figures that in the end said "this doesn't make sense". I was very aware of the atmosphere and I was scared that if I delivered a new studio album the label would pull back on the promotion budgets, collect what returns they could muster from the fanbase, and leave me stranded with no deal and another album to write to secure another deal with another label. To say I was a bit paranoid would be an understatement, but the truth was that a major chess move was required. I needed the time to write the album my career required to save the Polydor deal, but at the same time I needed Polydor to show me that they could deliver their side of the bargain. I proposed bringing a Cover version album into the schedule as my next release. A project idea that had been kicking around since 1988, when I proposed an album to Marillion called "Gheisterfahrer" (ghost driver) about a suicide in a car with the covers being the tracks the main character is hearing on the radio, all being relevant to his life. The project was rejected at the time and shelved. In 1992 I decided the time was right. Polydor thought it was wrong. And they didn't hesitate in telling me so. The relationship was tense, and despite visits from my A&R representative at the company who was very understanding to my situation and agreed with the idea of a covers album ("not now though!!") a head-to-head was bound to happen. In short, I didn't trust Polydor and the prospect of being jettisoned without an album in my back pocket overruled their protest. At a meeting with the Head of A&R, the Managing Director and the Vice President (both of whom were old acquaintances from my days at EMI) my manager and I put forward our financial requirements to see me through the year and the delivery of two recorded albums, one the cover, the other "Suits". It was rejected. Polydor wanted one album and it had to be the new studio project. They would provide no further advances and suggested I sell the Studio (which would mean selling my house as they're one and the same), get rid of the band (the live work was all that was keeping me from going down and providing me with the resources to write the new material) and that my manager John Cavanagh, who had been with me since the Marillion split, should get a job and deal with me on a part time basis. I found all this unacceptable and the risk too great to take with a company who didn't seem too concerned with my future. The meeting got ugly and when I walked out of the door I knew my days were numbered. The cover album was the only safe move I had left.
My contract gave me full artistic control over material, producer and the choice of studio. I put together a budget which I considered reasonable, dropping the studio rates and making tight deals with the producer and musicians, keeping in the back of my mind that I had to keep a unit together, not only to record but gig as well as prepare for the Suits album which could still be on Polydor Records if the covers album came home and the accountants exercised the option to keep me on for another album. The move was made and the shutters came down. Contact with Polydor became almost non-existent after the meeting apart from a few half-hearted attempts to convince me that the covers were a bad career move. I had no choice. We rehearsed live, embarking on a series of dates - mostly over-long weekends into areas I hadn't played since 1982. Around 40 shows mainly in clubs and pubs, "picking up the pennies from the road..", selling t-shirts provided by a manufacturer who arrived every two weeks out of his head on speed and chemical fumes as he was avoiding an ex-wife who's lawyer was after divorce settlement money due and had forced his production plant into the crypt of a Glasgow church in order that he could continue operating his business. He spent weeks churning out t-shirts on his hand-presses so that we could keep the bandwagon rolling. We travelled around in a cluster of unlikely vehicles, my new Volkswagen Caravelle Minibus with "F1 SHS" number plates, a converted (just!) horsebox which took all our equipment and the very occasional lighting truck! We drove home after every show possible to save on costs and some of those drives were strange indeed. One night coming home from a sweat box in Carlisle I awoke from my hazy slumber to be told by "Gonzo" our van driver that he'd just passed "Either a girl or a guy in a rubber dress". The inquisitive nature of the band combined with the harrowing thought of a girl walking on her own at 4am across the lonely Border roads led us back to the creature who did in fact turn out to be a guy in a rubber dress. We slowed down and stopped, winding the window down slightly and the guy right up. He was begging for a lift but we wanted the whole story before we let him in with us. It turned out he was on his stag night and his mates had dumped him in the moors wearing nothing but the dress and Wellington boots full of baked beans. We took pity on him and drove him home but not until one of our number had woken up with the freak next to him and wanted him chucked out immediately after winding him up mercilessly with the "Jim Morrison" vibe of "if we killed him no one would know!!!"We let him go in Edinburgh and were invited to the wedding. We couldn't make it we had another gig. If we'd been free we'd have offered to play the reception!! During my litigation with EMI when a High Court Injunction stopped me releasing recordings I sang on a couple of tracks as the "character" Crixus on Jeff Wayne's follow up to his 70's epic War of the Worlds. The session was run by producer/engineer James Cassidy, an Irish guy with whom I struck up an immediate rapport. I was supposed to go to Jeff's studio for a couple of days. I was there for nearly two weeks and as the session went on James and I found ourselves consoling each other down the local curry house over a few too many lagers. I had never overdubbed so many harmonies in my life on a track so short. The sessions drove me insane and the album after being launched with a huge fanfare and media attention disappeared with barely a trace in the charts. I'd hopes that Spartacus would have hit big and given me a major profile lift. I did get my picture taken with Anthony Hopkins at the launch party which probably cost more than my entire solo album recording costs put together. It was quite a thrill though being served champagne by Roman Legionnaires while slave girls danced around our tables!! I discussed my upcoming situation with James at the time and when it came down to making the recording proposals work he was foremost in my thoughts. He'd just finished Jeff's Spartacus album and he was fragged and in desperate need of something new to clean his ears out of a project that had been 4 years in the making. He took up the offer and the helm on both the Mirror and Suits projects, co-writing on the latter. Mirror would also give me a chance to experiment with new sounds and approaches before the recording of the new studio album. James moved to Scotland and took up the post of resident producer. The touring intensified during the Summer and I decided a change in management was necessary as John Cavanagh was finding the going tough as the income and therefore his commission was greatly reduced. There were no advances left and it was as tough for John as it was for me to cope with the constant lack of cash. We were getting nowhere together and the tension created was threatening to destroy our friendship. We parted company under a dark cloud and I only felt better when it was announced he'd found a job with Polygram. He was back in the mainline industry where he was always meant to be. I meanwhile decided I needed a more "ruthless"manager and one with "weight"! I went for Brian Lane, ex manager of Yes and friend of my accountant. It didn't work. At the beginning all was fine and the relationship was healthy but in less than 9 months true colours were shown and it was obvious he had lost interest. There was no point in getting heavy with the company over the deal or the album as the writing was already on the wall. Brian tried to get things working but gave up and was happy taking his commission on anything he could. One of the few things that did come out of the relationship was the suggestion that I should work with Steve Howe, Yes guitarist and long-time hero of mine. Brian suggested a new recording of Time and a Word, an old Yes song which was written before Steve joined the band and one of his personal favourites. He arrived by train at Waverley Station, Edinburgh with enough guitars to overdub the entire Yes catalogue. They just fitted in the van. On arrival at the Funny Farm (as it was known then) he proceeded to give me one of the proudest and most memorable moments of my life. If someone had pointed out at my first live show, Yes at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 21st April 1975, that one day I'd be singing Time and a Word with the guitarist in my own studio as a track for my third solo album and that he'd be warming up with licks from Tales from Topographic Oceans I would have given generous odds. This was what Songs From The Mirror provided, a rediscovery of why I got into the music business in the first place. I was falling in love again. I touched the magic for the first time in years. I decided to lay down some ground rules for choosing the tracks as there were so many options. First of all they had to be British, secondly they had to be from the 70's and thirdly they had to have relevance to my youth! Some were easy such as the Genesis track, "I Know What I Like". With all the comparisons that had been made throughout the years if I'd avoided a Genesis track it would have seemed cowardly!!! Some of their album tracks were up for discussion but in the end I settled for their biggest Gabriel-era single. I can remember back in the early 70's when our family went on Autumn vacation to Crieff Hydro, a hotel (which was alcohol free!!) in Perthshire where I met up with fellow deviants and spent most of my time listening to records in the old billiard room, smoking Gold Leaf cigarettes and drinking Vodka Martinis. The only stereo was in my Dad's Volvo estate and as I had an 8-track at home the place for chilling out was in the back of the car listening to my collection. Selling England By the Pound was my all time favourite album at the time and I can still hear the "clunk" as the 8-track moved through it's 4 programmes on endless repeat cycles, normally right in the middle of your favourite song! "Questions", the Moody Blues track, I first heard on a Top of the Pops album and although I was never a great fan of the band the song I considered brilliant and fitted straight into my Prog ideals! The lyric is beautiful and - like Fearless - very relevant to the state of mind at the time. "Fearless" was on one of the first Floyd albums I ever heard. Someone loaned me a tape of Meddle and it accompanied me on my long treks into the Perthshire countryside when on one of those Crieff holidays. Listening to Echoes while sitting on the banks of the River Turret and wandering through pine woods with Fearless blaring out of my Phillips cassette recorder prompted the decision to use one of those songs rather than anything of the older albums or the better known ones. The theme seemed poignant! "Boston Tea Party" by the Sensational Alex Harvey Band was a must although Faithhealer was in the running, having opened my first solo concerts with that particular number. I'd seen the SAHB's at Parkhead Football Stadium - in June 76 supporting the Who - and been blown away. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I smoked my first joint there (and proceeded to sleep through the last set that Lowell George would play in the UK with Little Feat!!). "Tea Party" screamed out to be covered and at the time I was approached by the SAHB drummer Ted McKenna (who also worked on Exile) to help front the proposed reformation of the band along with Dan McCafferty from Nazareth - amongst others - as they tried to find a replacement for Alex, who had tragically died in 1982 and left behind a legacy that was nigh impossible to simulate or forward. The band, named The Party Boys, folded - unable to secure a serious deal or find a singer to fill the centre stage for the intended New Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Another reason perhaps that the Party Boys stopped gigging was that it was a dangerous group of people to hang around. Gigs descended into all-night drinking sessions and my wife refused to pick me up in Fife anymore in the early hours of the morning. I played about 6 gigs with them and ended up re-recording the track with the original band members in 1995 for a "best of" album called "Yin" (the other album in a 2 CD release was "Yang"). Another high akin to the Steve Howe incident. I wanted to go for "Lola" as my Kinks choice, but as with some others that were up for the album such as "Burlesque" by Family, "Lady Eleanor" by Lindisfarne and "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" by Elton John, I felt I couldn't do it justice or get anywhere near the same standard as the original performances. I didn't want "Mirror" to turn into one of those dreadful Top of the Pops albums (artwork excluded!!). I went for "Apeman" and the approach was radically different, employing grooves and more rhythmic approaches which would lay the direction for most of the "Suits" tracks that I would start recording the following year. The "jungle" sounds on the track were recorded in Kenya while on holiday. "Jeepster" had to go on but the finished version wasn't that great compared to the other tracks on the album and all in all I was disappointed. I chose to leave the track off this remaster for this reason.
One of the all time great stomping, air guitar songs at Dalkeith High School Discos was Argent's "Hold Your Head Up"! Again a 'relative to the moment' song!! I was to be incredibly disappointed that this song didn't do better in the singles charts. It became my lowest ever chart entry. The promotion campaign was based around a parody of the Sex Pistols album title and a dig at the quality of songs in the charts. This was a great rock song, no frills and "No Bullshit". Unfortunately the great British public ignored it and the sticky labels with a no-entry sign and the motif of "You are now entering a Bullshit Free Zone" were more popular than the single!!
I remember getting the phone call mid-week of release and after achieving near-zero airplay the chart position was abysmal. "It's dead!!" and so was my Polydor deal. There was no way that the label would take a chance on another expensive single campaign and the prospects for the album due to be released in a few months were negligible to say the least. Polydor Holland and Germany tempted radio with an edited version of the Bowie cover "5 Years" but the reaction didn't warrant a bona fide release. This track was the only "cheat" as although I was aware and into Bowie I only knew the singles not the albums. I discovered the "real" Bowie years later in Aylesbury after I joined Marillion and this track was allegedly about an experience in the town's Market Square which would also influence our own song "Market Square Heroes", Marillion's first single in 1982. My favourite track on "Mirror" was "Solo". I'd heard it first of all on a long drive North to Fochabers in Morayshire to begin my new job as forestry worker at Speymouth Forest. I'd never lived away from home before and I'd just fallen in love with a girl called Lesley who would push me eventually more than any other apart from Frank Usher into becoming a singer. I found it ironic that just as I fall in love for the first time I had to leave her to live elsewhere. The long and frequent drives home were only manageable with a perpetual soundtrack raging from the car's Low Fi stereo system. The original drive North, however, had the ominous coincidence that it was Alan Freeman's last show on Radio One, and he was playing all his favourite sessions - one of which was Sandy Denny's. If I was to choose my all time favourite song then this would probably be it. It's the lyric I would have loved to have written myself, and when we approached the song I was nervous because for a male voice to deal with a performance written for a female voice is extremely difficult. This is one of the performances in the studio I'm most proud of. The end result had me literally in tears during the playback, and I still perform the song live occasionally, sometimes with the same results. It was thought of for inclusion on the "Vigil" album and had to wait until 92 till it was realised. The "Seeker" by the Who was the most awkward to get a performance out of. We tried all sorts of approaches, morning sessions in the studio, afternoons, late, late nights, drunk, sober, stoned, straight and I could never get the feel right. Eventually I dropped some LSD that an old friend had given me months before and for some reason I'd kept. It was the first tab in years (and the last!!). I went into the studio and nailed it after two takes! The end results of the song were great I however was not! Considering what the song was about it seemed a perfect combination. The track was supposed to be for a b-side of the second single from the album, and ended up on a compilation album of young Scottish artists we put out on the Fishy Records Label (a forerunner of Dick Bros, the label I formed in 1993). The second single never happened and after the album came out and was slated by most critics the game was effectively over. All I had to do then was go out on the European tour - which ironically was the best attended and the best received of all my solo outings since "Vigil.." - and wait on official confirmation that I was dropped from the label. It finally arrived at Utrecht, where I'd sold out the Vredenburg hall (this was the show that would be recorded and released as "Sushi" the first album on the Dick Bros label). There was no phone call. No message. The date for the option pick-up passed with no celebrations or tears. There was a future to face up to and get on with. I was sad that the Polydor deal didn't work out. There were a lot of reasons and in the end we both knew that we'd given it a shot and it hadn't worked out. I made a lot of friends on the label, but at the same time I upset quite a few people with my perceived bloody-mindedness. "Songs from the Mirror" was never a contractual obligation album as some people made out. I stand by my decision to go ahead with the project and I firmly believe that if the attitude toward the project had been more positive the end result would have been different. This wasn't the 80's, this was the 90's and the bean-counters had taken over the castle. Short term profits decided what stayed and what was thrown out. I didn't cover the costs so I was dispensable. The move to Polydor had been a shock to the system, leaving the company was traumatic. "Songs from the Mirror" wasn't maybe the album the fans and media had expected and it definitely wasn't the "artistic statement" many wanted. As far as I was concerned, it was a move necessitated by both financial and - more importantly - creative concerns. I couldn't have written and recorded an album of new material in 92 that would have satisfied either myself or the fans. Songs from the Mirror was a "lost" album which - like most of my releases since Internal Exile - have been important and, in the main, unheard steps in a recovery and artistic growing process that has continued throughout my career. The album title came from a memory of performing to myself in front of a wardrobe mirror in the upstairs of the family home in Glebe Street, Dalkeith. I used to turn on my ITT stereo record player full blast and pose in front of the mirror, the pole used to drag down the ladders to the attic in hand. I used to imagine what it would be like being a singer in a rock band, on stage in front of thousands of people, belting out these songs that touched, moved and lifted me into another dimension. I found out years later what it was like for real. I was never disappointed. And it's still magical! Mark Wilkinson had illustrated all my album sleeve up until "Songs From The Mirror", but I felt that as the content was out of vogue with what I normally am associated with, that the imagery on the sleeve should also be different. I'd purchased a charcoal drawing from Keith McIntyre in 1987 called "The Guddler". Guddling is a Scottish word describing the acquiring of fish from a burn (stream) by using your hands to impersonate the calming quality of reeds on the fishes body as it runs close to the bank. Also known as "tickling", the effect relaxes the creature and at the right moment you pull your hand out the water and hopefully scoop the fish as well. The drawing was the basis for a major oil painting which hangs in the main art gallery in Aberdeen.
Keith told me the drawing signified the wonder and magic of discovering something for the first time and the illumination that comes with it. Apt, I thought. At one time "The Guddler" was the working title of the album but it was decided that it was too Scottish and wouldn't be understood by "foreigners"!!! Keith is a major Scottish artist with many collections and works on display all over the world. He also happened to be John Cavanagh's brother-in-law!!!
Songs from The Mirror sleeve notes