Monday, October 01, 2007

Black Coffee in Stansted, The Chris Difford Retreat Diaries, Part One

1st September, 2007.

It is currently 11:45 on the evening of my 31st birthday and I am sitting in one of Stansted Airport's finest concentration camps/smoking areas. It is approximately seven and one half hours until my flight to Italy departs and to say I am bored would be an understatement along the lines of describing Pompeii as "dusty".

It has already been an extremely long day. (24 hours! Ridiculous. Who's in charge here?) I have spent the most recent anniversary of birth embroiled in that most fiendish of musical torture devices - the "mixing" session.

For the laymen and women - any chance I get - amongst you, what this entails is 10-12 hours locked in a room listening to small snippets of one's own music played ad infinitum until a mysterious figure known as a "producer" stops cursing under his breath and thinking up aliases and declares the song in question acceptable for human consumption.

As having the entire band in the studio for this ordeal would, at best, result in seventeen alternative mixes of each song and, at worst, a headline in the next day's Sun which would necessitate at least one usage of the word, "grisly", it usually falls to one or two of us to represent the whole.

This situation presents its own set of difficulties, largely consisting of clenched buttocks as varying amounts of reverb are added or subtracted from instruments played by someone who is not, currently, in the room. Any proposed changes to arrangement precipitate a round of phone calls, each opening with the words, "Do you mind if we..." as, on the other end of the phone, further cheeks are introduced to one another lest the sentence conclude, "make your drums sound more like a kazoo?"

These things tend to work out in the end, but they make me nervous, and I am acutely aware that I have a tendency to communicate my anxiety, telepathically, to everyone within a 250-mile radius of myself.

The only analogy that springs to mind is that we are like four Orthodox Jews sharing the custody of a small child, each of us convinced that should we turn our backs for a moment, anyone of the others might accidentally bring it up as a Nazi.

I am nervous now for a host of other reasons, primarily the fact that in 12 hours' time I will be landing in Italy for a writing week, overseen by no more august a personage than Chris Difford.

There will be severe penalties at this point for anyone who askes, "THE Chris Difford?" No, A Chris Difford. Chris Difford, the renowned fish monger from Barrow-Upon-Soar.

Meeting one's inspirations is a tricky business at the best of times. Spending a week in foreign country with one, with the added pressure of having to demonstrate HOW you write songs, when you're not actually sure if you do, is something else again.

My process, such as it is, to to toss a selection of high-scoring Scrabble words and possibly imaginary guitar chords into a bag with an angry cat and then beg the others - the musicians in the band - to strangle the cat and retrieve the tattered remains.

It's not so cool for cats after all. (Ed. Note. We're very, very sorry about that.)

Then, using large amounts of sticky-back plastic, something which, hopefully, more closely resembles a composition than, say, a haddock, is constructed.

So, anxious covers the situation EXACTLY as well as the Byrds cover Bob Dylan. Unless, of course, you dislike jangly folk-pop, in which case, the opposite applies.

Okay, so as travelogues go this is proving to be somewhat unconventional, but until I've travelled further than Leicester to London, there's very little in the way of stunning incident and local colour I can impart.

Airports, as you undoubtedly know, were designed by Satan himself, and are likely the reason he fell out with his Dad in the first place and was cast to the Earth to wreak STD's and reality television on us poor unsuspecting humans below.

Everyone around me is, to one extent or another, angry about something. Lost luggage, fractious children, the fact that their wife has suddenly run off with a security guard on the back of a very poor pick-up line about his 100ml of acceptable liquid.

I'm not angry. I'm just waiting on a plane, and an opportunity. I am also out of English money, which is tragic, as I could do with a drink.

But I have just noticed a stain on my notebook, which has made me laugh enormously.

More tomorrow.

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