Monday, October 10, 2005

What a long strange trip (the road never ends...)

How appropriate to revisit my recent European sojourns on Columbus Day! (okay, faux Columbus Day...Columbus Day "observed").

As I wrote in the program notes to a tribute concert to saxophonist/composer Steve Lacy I played at Lincoln Center here on Thursday last, "In Steve Lacy's music we find a total meltdown of European, Asian and African influences (a true American)."
(All roads lead to Coca-Cola, as Don Van Vliet was fond of saying...)

so back to the front of the middle of my last tour:

the day after playing Pascal Plantinga's hardcore electronica show on VPRO radio I hopped a fast train to Paris ( the Thalys) to play a solo acoustic show at the Sunset club in Les Halles. My gig was a pick in "Liberation" that day and I had the good fortune of being joined for the first set by longtime Gods and Monsters bassist Ernie Brooks, who was in town for a gig with Rhys Chatham. So the audience at the first set that night were treated to an unannounced convocation of Gods and Monsters unplugged minus one (o where are you now Billy boy, Billy boy?)...Paris was wonderful as always, brilliant summer sunshine held sway throughout my 2 day stay...and I had a lovely reunion with Elli Medeiros who was hard at work in the studio on a new album with French superstar Etienne Daho producing. Elli is a national treasure in France since the days when she fronted seminal Gallic punk rockers the Stinky Toys and was featured on the cover of the NME; she had a huge hit with the anthem "Toi Mon Toit", and she is an old old friend, we've collaborated on several songs together (check out the sultry "Dulce" from "Improve the Shining Hour") including a song on my forthcoming new Gods and Monsters album. Elli looked quite radiant, as always, time seems to stand still for Elli, and I am really glad to see her back in music after some time spent in the film business (and on the arm of Brian De Palma).

Paris always puts a song in my heart... I spent my first night there working to the wee hours of the morning in the home studio of Israeli/Parisien singer Yael Naim, a wonderful vocalist and songwriter who is finishing up a new album. Yael was a principal in the musical "Les Dix Commandments" which ran for ages in Paris and she released a terrific album for French Sony a few years back, "In a Man's Womb" (great title, non?)--her new one is shaping up to be quite extraordinary, and I played my heart out for her on my National steel. She cooked me an excellent dinner as well, which helped the silvery notes pour forth:-)

Paris is also an extraordinary magnet for chance meetings, and I had some quite unexpected reunions in Paris, literally being recognized on the street sipping my cafe au lait one morning by Christophe Piot, a music publisher friend I hadn't seen in ages (and one of the good guys), and also later that evening, literally on the same street (the infamous rue St. Denis) I ran into beautiful Julia Dorner, the epitome of haute French cool, a music journalist and translator of folks like Nik Cohen and Nick Tosches, and a singer in her own right (we did a song live onstage together a few years ago with the French band Tanger whom I was co-producing for Mercury)--I was outside on the street after my Sunset gig chatting to friends and fans and Julia came dashing by with her motorcyle helmet under her arm, we locked eyes, and...

the next day I flew to London where I was picked up by Mark Cosgrove from the Bristol Watershed Media Centre, he drove me directly up to Bristol after we stopped by the Swiss Cottage Hotel to pick up my electronics and '66 Strat which I had jettisoned there for a couple weeks, I really didn't need them for my acoustic gigs on the continent. I spent 2 delightful days up in Bristol with Mark and Bristol Silents director Chris Daniels, the first night we checked out a haunted house out in the country, an old hunting lodge festooned with macabre trappings, kitted up with spooky lights and fog machines and lots of trippy boys and girls larking about on a magical mystery tour that was part of the kickoff opening ceremonies for the silent film festival I was there to play. They were screening Val Lewton's "I Walked with a Zombie" with a live improvised soundtrack out in the garden, way way cool...

the next day I met and had a nice chat with Adrian Utley, one of the brilliant lights behind one of my favorite UK bands Portishead, and Adrian came round to my Golem performance that night, which was TOTALLY SOLD-OUT! Yeahhhh!!

Also in attendance was Gerard Langley from The Blue Aeroplanes, another musician friend I hadn't seen in ages...both Adrian and Gerard have new albums coming out soon, watch for them...and thanks again to Mark and Steve for making my time in Bristol (where the kids are sharp as a pistol) so memorable and for organizing such a successful concert.

The following day I was driven by Chris up to Lancashire to perform The Golem in an old theater in Lancaster, in front of another packed house, and I had a wonderful but brief look round the old stone city, before hightailing it back to the hotel to catch the last half hour of the first night of the Bob Dylan doc screening on the Beeb from under the canopy of a 4 poster bed...beautiful. Then a day off in London, where I hooked up with singer/songwriter Greg Byler who laid a copy of his new album on me which had an outstanding mix by producer Harold Burgon of "Sophrenic Days", the track I worked on with Greg and Jack McKeever in NYC last spring. I also managed to watch the complete second half of the Dylan doc undisturbed, and was happy to see John Cohen from the New Lost City Ramblers being interviewed in it (I cut some songs with his daughter Sonya Cohen some years ago, on "Bad Boys of the Arctic"), and also to see my man ace Dylanologist Mitch Blank get a nice credit at the end (as "hypnotist collector"! )

Next night, thanks to a hot tip from Chris Daniel's eighty-something year old Dad, I went with my guy Gaz Cobain and his girlfriend Dian Harris to Royal Albert Hall to see RAY DAVIES perform new and old songs, so appropriate because if you read back these last couple tour blogs you will note the music of the Kinks wafting in and out of my entries; and Ray was excellent indeed, the place was nearly sold-out with very little advertising for the gig, and he played such an amazing set including a suite from "Village Green Preservation Society" and some of my favorite songs I dont think I'd ever heard him play before ("Two Sisters", "I'm Not Like Everybody Else", "Where Have All the Good Times Gone"...). Utterly wonderful. (Although if truth be told I didnt actually love his band...needed keyboards for starters...and the absence of Dave Davies was definitely felt). But his new songs from an EP called "The Tourist" sounded good, first new Ray songs in...a decade? A long long time, in any case. The crowd was roaring and on their feet by the end, and I only wish my buddy and fellow Kinks fancier Francis McCarthy, with whom I made a pilgramage to RAH last spring to see the Cream reunion there, could have been present to see Ray redux. What a cool night it was, Gaz's new album "Alice in Ultra-land" (with guitar contributions from yours truly) had literally just come out that day under the aegis of 'Future Sound of London presents the Amorphous Androgynous' on EMI/Harvest, and what a nice way to celebrate...also bumped, into the writer Eddi Fiegel in the bar at Albert Hall, her new biography of Mama Cass Elliot has just come out worldwide, I first met Eddi a couple years ago at Brian Wilson's "Smile" at Royal Festival Hall and it was really good to see her again in the flesh as we've been email buddies for a while now...

Then it was a quick flight up to the shimmering granite city Aberdeen Scotland early the next morning where my friend Hen Beverly, booker of The Tunnels, had organized a tour of ancient standing stone sites, ley lines, and the spooky old Castle Fraser (looking much like Hill House from my favorite horror film of all time bar none, the original "The Haunting"--shame about Robert Wise's passing by the way, most obits I read didn't even mention this 1962 classic). Hen knew of my interest in such phenomena and actually he'd been an advisor and contributing photographer to Julian Cope's epic 2 volume tome about magickal olde Englande so he had prepared an amazing trip round the exquisite Scottish countryside via mini-Cooper and we spent a grand afternoon under the majestic blue windswept Scottish skies which alternated furious rain squalls with vivid otherworldly cloud formations, it was such a splendid treat dodging rain drops and whizzing about primeval stone circles (the Magic Band had paid our respects to Stone Henge on the last tour, and my Irish tour manager Larry Roddy had also taken me round several standing stone sites a couple years ago during an acoustic tour of the Emerald Isle), really neat climbing the twisted battlements of Castle Fraser and inspecting the mouldering library (and artifical leg on display) of one of its ancient denizens...and then, fully satiated, Hen casually let drop over tea and chocolate cake in the castle tea-room that my guys Alabama 3 were performing in Aberdeen that night, and did I fancy sitting in with them? A quick call to the Lemon Tree club where they were due to perform before a sold-out house and there I was a few hours later sitting in with the lads onstage doing my steel guitar thing on "Have You Seen Bruce Richards", a choice cut about The Great Train Robbery from their new album "Outlaw" which I had recorded in the studio with them a couple years ago, a song about Bruce Reynolds, the mastermind of that famous heist (Bruce Reynolds' son actually plays harp in the group). We had a nice reunion before the gig and I joined them for a killer Chinese meal down the road from the club, I really hope Rob and Jake and the guys continue to shine on and light the lights as they are a great band and deserve to be much better known (by some weird stroke of bad luck neither the group nor their song "Woke Up this Morning", the longtime theme to The Sopranos, is credited to the band at the end of that show, which is a damn shame, as their song is so closely identified with The Sopranos and really makes that show...check out my unplugged version with Alabama 3 at the top of my website).

The next night it was my turn to play solo steel guitar at the Tunnels, and I had twice the audience there as 6 months ago there, and received 4 encores, the crowd was mad for more--after which I begged off (my Dad told me "always leave them wanting more"), and so to, I love Aberdeen! Scottish people are so warm and friendly...big hug to Hen for organizing such a good knee's up!

I flew back to London early the next day and was invited by my Russian friends at the last minute to a wild party held on 5 adjacent house boats on the Thames at tony Cheyne Walk off the King's Road near Keef and Clapton's abodes..and I was invited to play solo electric guitar after the designated band had I spent my last night on this tour of tours playing loud bluesy electric slide solos at 2am from the forecastle of one boat to a bunch of tipsy 24-hour party people who were rocking and reeling to my groove in the adjacent boat, including my pals Yuliana and Alec and the legendary Stevo from SomeBizarre...and they were twisting the night away so hard their boat looked in danger of capsizing....

and it felt so good...




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