Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Hourglass - The Chris Difford Retreat Diaries, Part Fourteen

September 8th, 2007

I can't believe it's the final day. I'm not sure what to do with myself today, knowing that tomorrow I'll be on a plane home. I miss my friends, my family and my band, but the turmoil and toil of establishing myself in the music industry whilst still paying the gas bill can frankly get to fuck.

That is, however, life. But not until Monday.

I have been appalled with myself on many occasions in my life. The chasm between the person I want to be and the things that I do is often so vast, that I am unable to bridge it without recourse to a lumberyard and a team of trained mountaineers.

I think this has a lot to do with how much I identify with Chris Difford's lyrics. He and Mr. Tilbrook always pulled the neat trick of marrying singable tunes to often heartbreaking words, something I always hanker after in a song. I wouldn't pretend that we are now best friends forever, or anything even close, cause I know that I've taken more from our time together than he has. He gives off a sense of having not always done what he thinks he ought to have done or wished he had done, and a sense of having evolved over time. He also seems like a very caring man, although not without a wicked side.

He is, in an ex-girlfriend's phrase, "3-D", that is to say, he is a mess of complications and contradictions and therefore comes across as very real. My hero worship has deepened into respect, admiration and fondness. I still want to support either of his bands, with every fibre of my being, but I shan't regret this week even I never do.

Which brings me back to being appalled with myself. I admit I packed both songwriter Kenton and hungry young artist Kenton when I came out here, equally eager to advance my skills as my career. To my eternal benefit, it hasn't been that kind of week, and for that I am eternally grateful. I've been able to be a songwriter again, without worrying about impressing anyone (outside my normal pride and ego) unduly.

Shortly before I left, I read an article about Chris taking Ron Sexsmith (another favourite of mine) to Paul McCartney's (goes without saying) house for breakfast.

I did think to myself, "Well, if that's the Chris Difford Young Canadian Songwriter Package, I'll have a bit of that." And, Chris, if you're out there... Brunch with Elvis Costello would be fine as well. Supper with Tilbrook. A snack with any of the fine musicians you've had the good fortune and talent to work with. I ain't turning anything down... (Wait, I think that was my ex's phrase as well).

But all that stuff has been washed away by the revelation (I know, long time coming) that I love what I do, and, when I'm paying attention, I'm pretty bloody good at it. And, do you know what? I'm not in competition with other people that do it. We're all in it together.

I wouldn't say it's felt like a family, cause my original family were useless and my new and adopted families are beautiful, but we do function in our own odd little way. I feel as though I've added a few people to my extended family, but more than that, I feel like I'm in the game.

There's been moments where I've both thought, "I wish you could all meet the rest of the band" and moments where I've wanted to hug my new friends to myself, all for ME!

I've been in ist for six years, and I love it. We function like either a well-oiled machine, or some well-machined oil, depending on the day of the week. Without them, the music I make would be poorer indeed. It certainly wouldn't be the same songs, and it likely wouldn't be in time.

But I was on the verge of forgetting my name, let alone my identity as an individual. Like any long-term relationship, sometimes you need to have an affair to appreciate it.

No, wait, that can't be right.

I am Kenton Johnathon Hall and I have work to do.


Today, I am writing with Manchester singer-songwriter Darren Poyzer. He and John Bentley wrote one of the finest singalongs of the week in a track called "Jammin' Off Your Face".

There is a sense of slight exhaustion setting in amongst the writers. I don't know if we're all just written out, or whether it's the pre-tiredness of tomorrow's travel and the knowledge that every drop of alcohol that passes our lips is only going to make the early rise even harder.

It's hard to relax.

Darren begins playing a slow, reflective number called "Play Me Some Blues" that speaks volumes about our respective experiences on the week. Figuring that now is as good a time as any for summation, we divide the verses between us and both sing of how the week has affected us.

I've been on the vodka, I've been on the gin

I've counted angels atop heads of pins

But I need you to play me some blues

Three lines to say much of what it's currently taken me about 25,000 words to express. And this is why I write songs as well as ramble on the page.

It's probably the quickest I've ever written anything. But the kicker is, the song is driven around a guitar figure that Darren plays beautifully, which means that in order for me not to sit there pulling Joe Cocker poses, I am going to have to play lead guitar.

Oh, dear suffering Christ.

I do NOT play lead guitar. Many musicians of my acquaintance would phrase this as "Kenton CAN NOT play lead guitar" and they'd be pretty close to the truth. It's just not a skill I've ever hankered after, which is good, cause I'm fucking rubbish at it. I'm a rhythm player. Even that description is likely to send the rest of my band into paroxysms.of laughter.

But play lead I do. Complete with solo. Which I practice and practice and practice, determined that I am, for one brief moment, going to join the guitarist fraternity and prove that I am not just a fucked-up Canadian with a thesaurus down his trousers.


On the night I play it perfectly, except for one note that howls out its half-tone displacement like a coyote being slaughtered with a teaspoon. On the recording it leaps out at the listener like a rabbit on crack, and makes me feel glad that I at least have a talent for self-deprecation. Also, makes me even more appreciative of the two fine guitarists who have been in ist over the years, and what they have had to put up with from me.

Riley and Rich throw a last comedy number into the pot, with "Can I Get A Refund?", a song I will revisit for you shortly, alongside the many other gems, from everyone of the week.

One more night. One more night of this, and then it's back to England.

We're taping all of these tracks, and I wonder what will become of them all. Will I hear a volley of familiar songs being released across the world over the next couple of years? Will I be on any of them? How will we celebrate when Tiny Cat (On The Table) finally reaches no. 1 in Belgium?

Speaking of Tiny Cat, we've all grown so close to the song over the week that we decide that it is absolutely essential to commit a version to tape - well, computer, but tape is much more romantic. The phrasing of it, in fact, has become a template for every other thing we say.

"There's a tiny nun in the painting"

"There's a wild boar in the shrubbery"

"There's no alcohol in Peroni"

and so on..

The problem is this. We have sung the song, most of the way through, several times. We have added and subtracted bits, and Dorie has even written all the lyrics down in a book.

We have not, however, done anything along the lines of rehearsing or arranging the damned thing.

Nonetheless, we decide to close the night by performing it. About eight of us. Me on the battered brick of an acoustic guitar that's been with me through a broken marriage, about 7,000 gigs and a volley of personal idiocies, Riley on the now infamous "Benton" keyboard, and everyone else on choir and vocal duties.

It's storming. Right up until the point when we realise that not a one of us knows when the bridge comes in. The sound of heads turning towards one another is actually audible on the recording.

I still think the song is fucking brilliant, but there is an element of "You Had to Be There" about it, which is made more apparent when we realise that most of the people who would find the song irrestibly hilarious are in the band.

Chris Difford is sitting on the stairs leading up to the studio, watching as I thrash out Em, G, Am and C and sing Geoff Martyn's immortal line, "Before you mount your kitten, you must always read the label."

I wonder if this will be his lingering memory of me.

Take it to the bridge, throw it overboard...

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