Monday, October 01, 2007

Cool for (Tiny) Cats - The Chris Difford Retreat Diaries, Part Eight

September 4th, 2007

It is approximately 4:15 in the afternoon, Italian time, and I am waiting for Chris Difford to drive me to town in his rented Mini. It says a lot about the influence of popular culture that I am sorely tempted to check the boot of his car for stolen art.

As is usually the case with me, when waiting for anything, my mind is wandering like a medieval minstrel. There are two topics foremost on my mind: the fact that I am cadging a lift with a man to whose music I have had sex and the presence in my life over the last few days of a vampire toad.

The Vampire Toad has become my nemesis since the night I arrived. As with most half-decent nemeses, it began with an entirely innocent mistake. At some point, for some reason, I returned to mine and Rich's apartment to fetch something: likely my iPod for the purposes of showing off. It was dark, as night has a tendency to be in these strange foreign countries, and as I opened the door, I was momentarily distracted by the expanse of stars, twinkling above me, like God's own powdered rhino horn.

In the confusion of silence, blackness and melancholy ardour, I stepped into the front room and stepped, with my full weight, on a toad.

I didn't mean to do it, officer, it was an accident. There was a suitably revolting sound effect, a hissed "What the fuck was that?" escaped from my lips and a single star, in absence of recently birthed Messiahs, decided to cast a pale shaft of light on to what was, quite obviously, a very recently deceased toad.

For a moment I was torn between guilt and disgust, emotions I know better than many of my friends. I fetched some manner of toad-flinging apparatus and hurled the depressed green body into the night.

The next night, I stepped on the toad again. Now I am no toad expert, and ordinarily, I wouldn't know one from another, but there was a glint in the creature's eye that sealed it for me. It was the same toad, risen from the dead, and out to exact its revenge.

It's been there ever since, lurking in the shadows. (Obviously being a vampire toad, direct sunlight is a no-no.) And this morning I woke up with two mysterious bites on my torso, so I'm just waiting for the transformation now.

The other things on my mind, of course, was that I have been cast into professional circumstances with Mr. Difford, and there was a time when "Argybargy" by Squeeze, was high on my bedroom album list. Should Chris ever stumble upon these diaries, I am deeply sorry for the nausea you are likely to experience on hearing such a thing, but I don't think you or your bandmates are entirely without blame.

The album was DESIGNED for carnal experiences. It starts with "Pulling Mussels" and ends with "There At The Top".

"I Think I'm Go-Go" is perfectly placed for the main action to begin, although I was slightly offended at the early placement of "Here Comes That Feeling"... what do you take me for? "Wrong Side of The Moon" is a handy subliminal tip towards the end there, however, and for that I thank you.

If it's a one night stand I do recommend the reissue, with its afterglow commentary in "Funny How It Goes" and, finally, "Go".

See what I mean. They've only got themselves to blame.

Eventually, Chris emerges from his room and myself, Emma-Aloysius, and Helen are whisked, dans mini, into the Italian mountains.

The sun has crept from the clouds, and we are looking over the Italian countryside, with its ruined castles and rolling hills. Chris is telling a story about Aimee Mann, another of my key artists, and I do have to pinch myself slightly.

On arrival in the town, we head to a small internet cafe, where Chris and Emma-Carl take advantage of the WiFi service, whilst Helen and I queue for an available computer.

I will gloss over my internet experience, as it was deeply boring, and only proved to reinforce my addiction, particularly after desperately trying to convince myself that I was not going to miss anything important, I manage to intercept, just in time, a message about a label meeting for our producer, Mr. Burnett.

I had planned to learn a little Italian before I came out, as I hate feeling like a tourist, communicating at a low-IQ level through a series of random Italian words, shouted English words, and gestures that would seem overwrought in a drunken game of charades.

I didn't, so I keep myself to myself in the hopes that I will be taken for a mime, and perhaps given money.

Towards the end of my email extravanganze, I am approached by a man - who in the international language of holding out one's hand - is clearly asking for money himself. I am somewhat distracted, attempting to type, listen, translate and respond simultaneously, and he becomes frustrated quickly.

Eventually, when it is clear to him that I am, undoubtedly, both ignorant and mentally deficient, he resorts to props, and digs deep into his pockets. When he withdraws his hand, he is clutching a fistful of one euro coins. There must be about 50 or 60 of them. Now, I don't have 50 or 60 euros left to my name and I am tempted to thrust my own hand into my Mary Poppins pocket and show him my lint.

As it is, I gently urge him to fuck right off, which he does, cursing my name in what, I admit, is an extremely poetic way.

Our trip was punctuated by one or two other oddities, such as a Mini full of songwriters driving extremely slowly and leaning out of the windows, trying to read the date on a Van Der Graaf Generator poster. (Saxophonist and flautist David Jackson of Van Der Graaf being the father of one Ms. Dorie Jackson, and undoubtedly responsible for the repeated impression of "flute face" to which we have all been repeatedly treated by Dorie and Geoff, to the falling over laughing of all.)

On the way back, Emma-Francine and I beset Chris with questions about all and sundry. This soon descends into an entertaining discussion on the behaviour of exes, particularly at gigs, and in the presence of current partners. It is perhaps, unsuprising, that we all have far too many stories to share on the subject.

We return to our songwriting partners, and "Scorpion Girl" is given a few more giggling run-throughs. I'm feeling much more positive about a song where I can strum freely and earn, as I do, the moniker of "loudest guitar player".

Dinner is the usual plateloads of excellent food, and then once again, we retire to the studio to perform.

William introduces the song in Italian, which is something he has clearly been working on in my absence. Happily, the song goes down a treat, with laughter in exactly the right places. I am alway astounded and gratified by an audience that can a) hear the lyrics and b) is bothering to listen.

I realise I have said little about the other songs being written and performed by my compatriots, and this is only partly because of heaving jealousy. I am planning to do a breakdown later, once I've had a chance to absorb everyone else's work with the benefit of hindsight and without my nerves getting in the way. There is some stunning work being done - some funny, some serious, some just plain knock-out beautiful. It is an honour and a privilege to be a part of it.

Once again, we sit up until the early hours - Dorie and I have, between us, invested in a couple of bottles of vodka which garnered a look from Chris, as if to say, "I have hereby identified the raging alcoholics amongst us." We mix this with cans of lemon soda, which Ms. Jackson appears to have bought by the truckload.

Songwriting games are played, with a song being passed along, word by word to each member of the group. There is a brief period after being handed the word "natural", where I refuse to sing anything but the word "yoghurt", which lasts until Dorie hires Geoff to sit next to me with a blunt object and whack me should the first syllable so much as creep towards my lips.

Rachel Dawick, blaming it later on the tipple, has until this point, been next to me, following my "yoghurt" or other nonsense, with "What?" in her New Zealand trill, before bursting into laughter and leaving the table.

Once we have exhausted the permutations of this, our attention is once again drawn to Tiny Cat, begat by Pirate Cat, who is weaving between the bottles, glasses and cans in exploratory mode.

A song begins to form, one of those stone cold classics that will forever grace the record players, iPods, 8-Tracks, and CD Changers of a generation.

"Tiny Cat on the Table" is, if I may say so, one of the finest pieces of work in which any of us have ever been involved. This haunting song, about the travails and experiences of a small feline in a world that just doesn't understand, will go down in history. We think David Bowie should cover it.

I include the complete lyrics here:

Tiny Cat (On The Table)

When I was just a young man, I was told a fable

By my Uncle Arthur and my Auntie Mabel

I thought it wasn't true, till I saw a documentary on cable

Debunking all the myths, about tiny cats on tables


And there's a tiny cat on the table

A tiny cat on the table

They say you won't be able

To put a tiny cat on the table

They say it's therapeutic, for the mad and the disabled

To test their motor functions

Putting tiny cats on tables

So I had a conversation, about it with Clark Gable

He said, before you mount your kitten,

You must always read the label


Tiny cat, tiny cat, tiny cat, tiny cat, tiny cat, tiny cat, tiny tiny tiny cat


Tiny Cat, where have you been?

What kind of trouble are in you in?

Have you gone outside to play?

No. You're in the ashtray.


And there's a tiny cat in the ashtray

A tiny cat in the ashtray

Tiny cat in the ashtray

A tiny cat in the ashtray

- SOLO, Obviously -


Tiny cat, tiny cat, tiny cat, tiny cat, tiny cat, tiny cat, tiny tiny tiny cat


I think you can all see that none of us need ever work again.

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home