Monday, October 01, 2007

Can of Worms, The Chris Difford Retreat Diaries, Part Nine

September 5th, 2007

The days are beginning to blend into one another, in a glorious way. Much as I miss the people in my life back home, I was beginning - in the run up to my trip - to become a despicably grumpy and stressed out human being. Most mornings, I was waking up with the desire to punch someone - anyone - from a very long list, very hard in the throat.

I'm sure my children are, at this moment, relishing the opportunity to charge through their mother's house without encountering their wild-eyed Canadian father ranting on the landing, mobile phone pressed against his head at an unacceptable level of G-Force.

"Cuntingarsingbastard," they are not supposed to hear me say, "Fuckityfuckfuckfuck. Goddamn bastard record labels/managers/booking agents, etc, etc."

Obviously, I am also forced to interrupt my conversation to impart pearls of paternal wisdom which, one day, they will pass to their own children:


Making an album to the level we're attempting, on the kind of budget which probably wouldn't pay the sandwich guy for some sessions, all the while setting up meetings with those mythical "money" men and, and this is very important, without the release of live performance, is not a recipe for harmonious relations with one's fellow men and women.

So, yes, Italy is not just an opportunity to advance myself as a writer and a human being, it is also a much needed break from being a complete bastard.

And I am finding that I am, slowly, returning to a person I thought I had buried in a shallow grave in the backyard. This has its benefits and its downsides. I used to be a very shy, heart-on-sleeve young man, but I know that, over the years, I have built up walls in varying shades of jade. It's all textbook stuff.

Despite my almost constant state of priapism, I feel rather innocent today.

So when I sit down to write with Emma-Bob and Helen today, the subject we choose for our poptastic debut as a trio is: crushes.

I am afflicted by crushes. Always have been. Occasionally, they've blossomed into love or, at very least, a few sweaty, goose-pimpled and even, from time to time, memorable hours.

For me it's always the person least expected, or the person who least expects it. And every time I revert to being six years old.

There is a picture of me somewhere, even younger than that, four or five, in which I am standing at the fence which separated my back garden in Estevan, Saskatchewan from that of the neighbours. I am holding hands with the actual girl next door through the Tom Sawyer white slates, and looking perfectly melancholy. I'm not sure I ever knew her name. I certainly don't now.

As Woody Allen once wrote, "I had no latency period."

So, today I'm digging deep into the well of my soul to pen the following lines:

I saved a space for you at lunch

I offered you my sandwich and half of my Nestle Crunch

I tell a joke and hold my breath

The thought of you not laughing now is scaring me to death

A thrill runs down my spine, each time you speak my name

It's not the right one, what the hell, it's all the same

Two things strike me on writing them out again. I don't think I've ever read a truer description of myself - ironic, as it was written by three people - and for some reason we had a good half-hour discussion about whether it should be "half OF my Nestle Crunch" or "half my Nestle Crunch". I was very protective of the "OF" for some reason. I like the way it scans, so sue me.

Again with the chunky rhythm guitar.

Both Emma-Serendipity-Wallace and Helen are dab hands at the old piano, so, of course, we write a song based purely around me playing a guitar part that runs completely at counter-purposes to what I'm singing. Nice. Still, some lovely harmony work, building to a great climax in the bridge.

I'm finding something odd about my voice. I'd already being working on beating some of my bad habits - shouting not singing, the result of too many bad PA's in bad venues - in the studio recently. After a rogue comment about "our Kenton” being “a bit of a belter", however, I seem to have adopted a low Nick Cave-esque octave this week, which, as yet, I haven't quite learned to control properly.

It was very good experience, however, pouring out some things about myself to two relative strangers and asking them to put their names and talents to me spouting it in front of a whole bunch of other relative strangers.

Maybe it's my insecurity at not being anywhere near as good a guitarist as some of my peers here. No pretty little arpeggios for me, darling, I've just put one out. Whatever the reason, I keep wading into the big, bright pop song at every opportunity. What the hell, I love it. I wish I could play them properly on such short notice, but there you go.

On the performance side, there are a couple of technical glitches, from which we are mostly saved by the fact that we need to do a re-take for the recording, due to me "being louder than everybody else" and needing completely different levels.

Tonight was also the night I first heard "And Then Malcolm Came Along" by Riley Briggs and Dorie Jackson. Don't get me wrong, there have been some excellent songs all round this week, and my eyes have flashed green on many occasions, but for some reason this one hits me squarely where I live.

The story of a woman's various boyfriends before finally encountering her true love... It's funny as fuck, catchy, and driven by a complex and thoughtful lyric, with added fish jokes. I decide, early on, to force both of them to write with me in the near future, at gunpoint if necessary. I hope they record it. I'll buy it. Twice.

I would give my left nut to have written one syllable of it. Sometimes songs take you that way.

But I'll get to other people's songs at a later date. Everyone deserves mention, so mention they will have.

In between the writing and the performance, I once more entrenched myself into Chris' Mini and was driven to the Internet Cafe, with Emma-Sebastian and Amber this time. It was an altogether more relaxed experience, and I realised that my addiction was easing.

Then Chris took us for ice cream. (Apparently, I am still six for most of the day.)

At an outside table, eating our various shades of dairy goodness, we mull over various subjects - house concerts, touring, the price of wheat in Bulgaria.

I finally get a chance to scope out for Chris my dissatisfaction with previous ist tours, or more succinctly ist booking agents, for placing us in venues unsuitable to what we are trying to achieve. Really, I say, what we need is support work at the moment, with audiences that might be open-minded to the smart, lyrically-driven pop music we're making at the moment.

Now, one of the major disadvantages of meeting one's heroes, one's dream supports, and finding that you like them immensely as people, is that you are no longer placed to ask for things, lest you taint the friendship.

When I email, Miles Hunt, and he asks how my kids are, I can not then turn around and say, "They would be better if you gave us the support on the next Wonderstuff tour."

I find myself in a similar and altogether more heartbreaking position when Chris Difford turns and says to me, ice-cream clasped in one hand, the sun shining on his all-too-familiar visage and says:

"What kind of tour are you looking for?"

At this point in the conversation, my head nearly fell off of my body from sheer frustration.

In my head, obviously, I was saying: "Now that you mention it, Mr. Difford, sir, the ideal band for us to support, now that you are briefly back on the road, is Squeeze. You know, one of the primary inspirations for me doing what I do in the first place."

Of course, the Squeeze support is likely all sewn up, is undoubtedly a decision which must pass through many hands, and it just isn't something you can ask for... it's something you have to earn, and be ASKED to do.

Still, I could have died at the question. ist at the Hammersmith Apollo with Squeeze sounds very nice to me. Ideal, even.

God, I hope they do another tour.

Also, this experience is not about networking - not in that cold, what-can-I-get-out-of-it? kind of way - it's about growing, sharing, bitching about one another behind the bike sheds.

I let it go, and just hope that I've planted enough of a seed in his head, that should ANYONE interesting need a mad Canadian and his merry chums to support them, we're good to go. I also disabused him of the notion that ist is necessarily a 20-piece with full orchestra and choir, lest the sheer weight of our numbers at time frighten any potential bookers off.

Anywhere from four to ten, depending on your stage and how many sandwiches you bought in, just so you know.

I think I might be having fun. I certainly know that I feel more myself than I have for years, take that sentence any way you fancy, and I can feel the slight prickings of something akin to - could it be? - contentment rattling around in my chest.

Tomorrow is a day off to see the town and then reassemble for a dinner out, so I retire at a sensible hour, three or four o'clock or whenever it was that the vodka ran out, and fall into a reverie of erotic dreams. Ah, it passes the time.

Also, Riley broke my headphones

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