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Sunday, 24 April 2011

Barbara Hepworth...and more new ideas...

Today I made Prune and Armangnac tarts, recorded some more ideas for Album No. 3 at Toy Elephant with Pascal and finished off knitting a scarf for a friends birthday.
I like making things and always have done.
I like the feeling of achievement on completion of a task (though, grant you, giving the toilet bowl a once over can certainly take the sheen off things for me - all 'tasks' are not alike).
I wondered why this was...?


My favourite place in England is the Barbara Hepworth museum in St. Ives, a haven of calm and creativity hidden behind an unassuming brick wall, where I once remember reading a quote from her where she explained that, even when her children were very small and she could no longer spend hours on end creating her beautiful sculptures, she tried to include a little bit of 'poetry' in her life every day.
Some people enjoy the on-going process of bringing something to fruition, the journey is the thing for them and it matters not how long the journey takes.
The journey is indeed an integral part of any process (particularly where music is concerned) but, aside from the excitement of the initial seed planting, the satisfaction for me comes at the point of standing back, hands on hips, totally spent and content with what I see or hear before me.
I know prunes aren't everyone's idea of poetry, but still...

Beautiful While It Lasted (Acoustic) 240411 by Willis

Saturday, 23 April 2011

My Sister's Son...

Out walking by the river with my sister's 11 year-old yesterday...

"You know that net you wear over your face in your videos?"
"My hats? Yes...?"
"Why do you do that?"
"Well," I say, "I guess because I like dressing up. It's fun for me..."
"But why do you look sad? Why are your songs sad...?"
I make no reply.
"You're a very fun person but your songs are always sad."



Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Toy Elephant, Throats and Progress...

To Pascal's Toy Elephant studio last night to begin work on new material.


There have been many triumphs and disasters in this room - we have both learnt along the way how to use the space to its best advantage - the coat rack has been a vocal booth many times, rugs have been thrown over every exposed surface to aid soundproofing, we once ran a mic lead in to the bathroom to test the ambience but it would appear that even Hackney's finest Armitage Shanks facilities could not rise to the occasion...

I have recorded here at most times of the day or night - once rehersing a live set til the downstairs neighbour could take it no more, texting threats and hammering on the ceiling and once at the crack of dawn, the early start being the only way my voice could get in a low enough register to complete the BV's in 'Candyman'.

I have had much trouble with my voice over the years - a continually dry, rasping, irritated and inflamed throat, particularly during busy periods of vocal activity, had me terrified at one point I had nodules on the vocal chords. I was hurried to a Harley Street type who, although beautifully attentive, had no idea what the cause of the trouble was but wrote me a £40 prescription anyway. I even thought it was a side effect of my asthma medication so the helpful choice was then narrowed to a) the possible end to throat problems or b) a probable future whereby I climb flights of stairs with all the agility of an elderly gentleman...

And so it went on.

Until, by accident, I read an article on a vocalist who had been to see a throat specialist in the US - he informed her that red wine (tick), dairy products (hmm, sort of tick) and consuming mint (triple tick!) all irritate the blood vessels in the throat. No more peppermint tea during rehersals, no more red wine after gigs, no more wheels of Gouda on stage, no more compulsive clearing of throat 20 million times a day....

Bingo.

Willis - 'Here Is Where Loves Lives (Acoustic) 120411 by Willis

Coming along nicely...

Monday, 11 April 2011

Some days...

Some days there is nothing.

But on those days there is still this...



  Several years ago I was travelling on a bus between Bolivia and Peru with two American girls who managed to persuade the driver to play their iPods instead of his own questionable selection. My own personal CD player was repeatedly coming a cropper over the rugged terrain and insisted on jumping continuously with every spin of the (4) wheel (drive). Clearly I hadn't planned ahead with my technological selection - when we were recording 'Come Get Some' I had looked at my engineer Demus' new fangled iPod and decided it would never catch on...
Anyway, feeling sorry for myself, and probably licking my wounds after being cast adrift from my grim major label musical experience, I was contemplating throwing myself under any of those wheels (particularly faced with the prospect of any more of the driver's German hip hop) when the most beautiful sound came over the speakers and flooded me with an renewed enthusiasm for music that I hadn't felt in quite some time.
People like to take the rise out of Americans and marvel at their supposed 'fakery' - we've all done it and I'm not about to put myself above the congregation. But, I confess, those two women taught a English sarcastic pessimist how to see the glass half full again in the South American arse-end of nowhere just by playing me Belle and Sebastian and teaching me how to say 'stoked'...

Alison Sara Robin and Loree Tamanaha - this is for you. Works every time...

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Jim White...and 16 Horsepower...

Having sufficiently recovered from the trauma of the last post, I reminded myself how much I love the documentary/musical film/drama (does it matter?) 'Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus'.
A beautiful piece of film-making and music in harmony if ever there was one, led by the inimitable Jim White, part troubadour, part matinee idol.
Mr. White is one of the most charismatic and entertaining live performers I've seen, mixing many tales of his winding, colourful life alongside his simple, hypnotic songs - I once went to see him and some fool kept shouting for him to stop 'talking' and just 'play'. Rather missing the point I thought...


Anyway, someone once said that my music sounded a bit like 16 Horsepower, also featured in 'SFTW-EJ', and, once I found out who they were referring too, I nearly wet myself with excitement at the comparison...

Catfish...

Wowzer.
I have just watched the documentary film 'Catfish' which centres around our universal fascination/obsession with Social Networking. It's very, very good if very, very troubling...

It could be up there with other favourites - 'Man On Wire', 'Grey Gardens', 'Searching For The Wrong-Eye Jesus' (is that a documentary or a film...?), any of the Frederick Wiseman films my  lecturer (the late, great Peter Sykes) forced us to watch at 18, absorbing them in silence with our mouths open and never completely forgetting (apparently you can now buy Wiseman's back catalogue at the BFI shop and on his website - 'Hospital' is my personal favourite, with 10 or so minutes of continuous projectile vomiting...)
http://www.zipporah.com/
Anyway, bit of a tangent, but if I'm catching flies during one of these films then I know it's the one for me.
Without wanting to give anything away, by the end of 'Catfish' I was, however, rather squirming at how the story was unfolding - with both protagonists and film makers choosing to live each morsel of their existence via Facebook/Cinema the whole situation soon teeters on the farcical.
To witness how Social Networking sites can be manipulated is unsettling enough but to see people in 2011 still believing no-one will be interested in them mentally, emotionally and/or physically unless they purposefully construct another, more altogether 'attractive', reality is very upsetting.
It's getting worse, this Land of the Fake - false name, date of birth, hair, teeth, tan, nails, pretty much any body part you can lay your hands on (never mind that said 'part' might come clean off in said 'hand'). 

Hmmpffh, this on-line/media mularkey is so counter-productive I'm going to heed my own warning and stop typ....