Tuesday, October 09, 2007

A Round And A Bout - The Chris Difford Retreat Diaries, Part Seventeen (The Epilogue)

So, my friends, we've finally reached the end of this accidental novella.

For now.

I was going to write a song-by-song breakdown of the week, and I still may, but I'm feeling in a "dancing about architecture" mood at the moment, and I think I'd prefer to let the music speak for itself. I am hoping that some of these songs will see the light of day on various albums by various combinations of the artists involved over the next year or two, and I almost don't want to spoil the surprise. Who knows? When, in two or three days' time I can't think of anything else to write about... What's a little hypocrisy between friends?

However, if you scroll to the bottom of this entry, I have provided links to all of the musicians who took part in the week, along with the names of all of the commercially available albums that I know about. I'm sure there' s more, and I hope you find a trip around our various musical universes enlightening. There was some serious talent in evidence, and only one demented Canadian letting the side down.

September 11th, 2007

I've been home approximately 36 hours and I am in a foul mood. I'm not sure why this is, but I know many musicians who suffer from serious post-tour depression and I am no exception. I was absolutely overjoyed to be reunited with my family - two five year olds jumping excitedly on your head puts a lot of things in perspective - but I still feel as though, to a certain extent, I have been ripped from my ideal working environment and plonked straight back down into ordinary life.

So much to do, so little money.

I placate myself slightly by continuing to eat pasta for every meal until I stumble on a late-night showing of Raging Bull and decide that I am not yet famous enough for my weight problems to be interesting, and quicky shift back to the coffee and nicotine diet.

My trip back had been rather uneventful, if extremely long, and was mostly spent exhausted in a variety of trains, with the iPod on shuffle and railway sandwiches rampaging through my lower intestines.

And it's not over yet. For now, two days following my return, I have one last journey to make:

I'm Brighton bound.

Mr. Difford had kindly extended an invitation to anyone who wanted to come down and sing a couple of songs at a showcase he was putting on, in his current stomping grounds, for four of the writers who had attended April's writing week: Melvin Duffy (already a friend and a guest on our new album), Vivien Scotson (his partner in work, rest and play), the agonisingly talented Chris Simmons and our own Danielle Gasparro, who had attended both.

Now, frankly, after a week-long, exhausting and emotional trip to Italy, a sensible person would have said, "A very kind offer, Mr. Difford, sir, but really I should probably rest, regroup and figure out where and why the hell I am." I am, I hope you've noticed, not a sensible person and I booked a train to Brighton for Tuesday afternoon without a second thought. Or really, enough money for a hotel. I just grabbed a guitar and leapt, like a particularly musical lemming. (Yes, I know, I know... it's a myth about lemmings, the people at Disney faked it for a documentary... but I'm not going to let the truth get in the way of a good simile. "The Truth", as someone once said, "is not my middle name." )

I have a slight moment on the tube between London stations, where the train stops dead and the lights go out. It is only at that moment that, I, in my self-absorbed way, realise that today is, in fact, September 11th. I'll admit to a moment's pause, until the lights flicker back and we continue on our way.

Sometimes the world is a collision of the big and the small, and I have a private moment mourning the further loss of innocence we've suffered in the last decade.

Even the layperson amongst you must be thinking at this point that "come and sing if you want" does not amount to a gig booking, per se, and I admit to a little trepidation on my eventual arrival in Brighton that perhaps I might be treading on various shoe-ends.

The Joogleberry Playhouse in Brighton is an excellent little venue, which, to my surprise, I find easily. I have a method of navigation that I've used from the age of 16, of looking briefly at a map and then just walking in the direction that "feels" right. I don't always get where I meant to go, but I've been to some interesting places.

I slip under the velvet rope that leads to the downstairs venue, and slip into soundcheck. Now, as I have no idea what the plan for the evening is, I feel a little conspicuous. Melvin is on-stage, with his Weissenbourne, and Vivien with her guitar, so I decide to sit quietly and not try to make too much of a fuss for the moment. The sound is amazing, and I'm getting that tingle I get whenever I'm near a stage. I must be ON IT. NOW!

This is why I hate going to other people's gigs. Much as I adore music, if I'm not playing, I find it a struggle. Not because the music bores me, although I'm not saying that's never happened, but because I become so deeply upset at the idea that I am a audience member and not a performer that I can't concentrate. I'm sure, as I get older, I'll crave the former more than the latter, but for now, give me the damn spotlight, turn up my guitar and shut your face.

Soundchecks gradually wind to a close, and I already know I'm going to have to pull my weight to keep up with the other performers. Everyone is polished and emotional. It's going to be hard work.

Good. Never met a musical challenge I didn't like. I am, however, performing solo - in front of a paying crowd - for the first time in a good long while. I am used to having a band. There's something about between four to ten men, each playing their part, that excites me. Right, that sentence could have come out better. Ah well, I'm open-minded.

I say my hellos to Melvin, Vivien and Danielle. I'm dying to hear Melvin play one of our songs again, and so I ask him if he minds joining in during my set. Being Melvin, a big warm heart wrapped in a pedal steel player, he says yes. Unfortunately I also notice that he has been asked to play by just about everyone, which on top of his own set and the fact that Chris Difford is due to close the show... but I'm too wrapped up to notice this yet.

I head upstairs to for a beverage and yet another outdoor cigarette.

In the loneliness of the tobacco devotee, I am well-placed for a mini-reunion as first, Dorie and Emma-Harry arrive - Dorie to sing with Mr. Difford and Emma-Kendall, like me, come to ply her wares.

Then Chris arrives. His daughter Grace and son Riley are also in attendance. Grace is, I'm sure I mentioned earlier, a photographer of some talent and also very good at blowing up sheds. Riley, I believe, is himself a musician. He is later very kind to me in his comments about one of my songs, which I repay by picking up his drink instead of my own in the clumsiness act of thank you ever committed to memory. I am very sorry, sir.

Meeting the younger Diffords is almost odder than meeting their father, as I have seen their names in a dozen thank you lists over the years. Chris himself is, somehow, simultaneously every age between 18 and actual in my head, depending on what I'm listening to at the time, and I find the evidence of his real, ordinary life both pleasing and disconcerting in a way I can't quite explain.

Chris clears up the confusion of the running order and asks me if I will open the show with a couple of numbers. Of course, I am more than happy to, and before long we are all seated downstairs - at an artist's table in the corner, waiting for the show to begin.

I had hoped to alleviate some of my dribbly awe in the course of writing these diaries, but for a lyricist of any stripe, being introduced on stage by Chris Difford is still an honour that makes me squeal happily on the inside. Having been used to performing as "ist", I almost don't respond to my own given name being called, but I get up nonetheless for my short set.

We've all, with a gentle word from Chris, let poor Melvin off the hook to concentrate on just the two sets - his own and Chris's - and we all feel a little guilty for trying to stretch his good nature so far. Melvin is a lovely man. Can't say no.

I like speaking to audiences, which, obviously, in a band setting I am encouraged to keep short and punchy. The first song, chosen earlier in the day, is ironically, partially a response to all the madness in the world, that response being primarily, "If you're going to die, you might as well live." I decide, quickly, that dwelling on that aspect, on this of all days, might be more than a trifle insensitive, and instead I keep it general and give the song a country overhaul befitting my solo abilities.

It was left, later, to Danielle, a New York native, to sum up the audience's feelings today much more eloquently than I could. There's a time for ironic commentary and there's a time for soothing words.

The second song is another from the new record called "This Must Be The Desert" and is another my explorations of the fragile male psyche... this time a man refusing to bemoan the loss of a love. It's an anti-love song. It's about the gap between the statements "She's the best thing that ever happened to me" and "I don't know what I saw in her, anyway."

For some reason, it just clicks tonight, and it's nothing to do with the solo performance. Quite the contrary, it's because I can hear the band behind me in my head. When you've heard the whole band, with Melvin, perform this track, you'll understand why my solo excursions will never replace ist as a unit. I can barely wait for you all to hear it. Soon as we get a deal inked... until then, it goes in and out of meetings. Meh.

I get a thumbs-up from Dorie, and sit back down next to to Chris. He leans over and the following exchange takes place:

Chris (whispered): I love that second song. Excellent lyrics.

Kenton: I'm sorry, I appear to have to cum on your shirt.

Well, not exactly, but I'll admit to melting a little on the inside. Sometimes a boy just needs a little validation. Riley D. too offers his compliments, followed by my profuse thanks and thievery of his drink. Again, I'm really sorry. I was a bit taken back by all this pro-Kenton vibe.

I stop drinking about half-way through the evening, partly because my train back is at 3:50 a.m. and I really don't want to travel drunk, and partly because when I'm around Mr. D, I feel odd about drinking too much, him having been sober - and to his benefit - for so many years. Seeing someone enjoy themselves without alcohol is, and I can't believe I can't think of a different phrase - a sobering experience.

I don't drink a lot anymore, but I do drink when I'm nervous, and when I feel I need to loosen up... which isn't necessarily a good thing. Hmmm. Food for thought.

Eventually, the night - and the first stage of this new journey - ends, following tremendous sets from Ms. Gasparro (singing much louder than I got used to Italy, and with storming set), Mr. Simmons (who never appears to leave the stage, and with good reason, he's brilliant), Melvin and Vivien (Lost in You makes me cry everytime) and Mr. Difford himself complete with, once again, me singing along in the front row.

(You tell me how you're supposed to resist singing the Paul Young/Elvis Costello "Out with a friend" bits from Black Coffee in Bed when they come up... It's impossible. I'm just saying.)

I've opened for Chris Difford. He still hasn't fallen on my neck and offered me the Squeeze support, but we have made plans for some future work together on the other side of the musical coin, about which I will stay schtum for the moment, for fear of jinxage. Trust me, it's killing me, but then it's early days and I don't want to say anything I have to take back.

Anyway, I've decided, Squeeze aren't allowed to stop performing again UNTIL we've supported them, so it's fine. I can wait.

Once again with the goodbyes and the swapping of contact details. Also, a entirely flummoxing number of people being extremely kind about my performance. I'll admit that this is one of my favourite things in the world, cause, at the end of the day, I'm a big whore. Plus it makes up for the crushing silence on the nights you know you screwed up badly.

Got to get out of the studio and back on the road. I miss live performance so much.

My night from this point on is rather odd. I have four hours to kill before my train - which turns out to be a bus - and two and a half until the train station re-opens.

I eat a bag of horrible chips from nearby chip emporium, until it too closes and I am left wandering Brighton, to the amusement of the railway station guard, who approaches me at one point and says, "Been waiting a while, haven't you?" Ah, a comic. Thank you so much.

Melvin, again with the bless him, was horrified that I was even considering such a thing and kept trying to cross my palm with silver. But I needed one more night alone, to take this all in, get myself back on track and prepare for the future.

It's late, I'm exhausted, but I know what I have to do now.

This. Much, much more of this.


And that's it. That's the story of the next stage of my musical evolution concluded. I'm thrilled that so many people seem to have enjoyed it, and I hope you keep coming back. Just let me know what you want to hear about next and I'm there. Thanks to all the Squeeze fans and reviewers (in particular Helen at Glennreviews and the marvellous folks at Squeezereader who have, off their own backs, posted links to this diary. I hope you stick around. Thanks to my band, John, Flash and Brett for getting me this far, and putting up with me waffling about other musicians in such an adulterous way for the last few weeks. Thanks to Jay for moving us forward. Thanks to Chris and Sue G. for getting me and then us started. Thanks to all the long-time ist fans, and all the new people who've just stumbled upon us. Thanks to all who were on the week: Dorie, William, Riley, Geoff, Danielle, Emma-Jane, Rich, Darren, John B, Helen, Amber and Rachel. Also, Sean, Phil, Alessio and Valeria at Daltonico and Monestevole.

Thanks to Chris Difford for everything. And thanks to Chris AND Glenn for being amongst the elite that made music this important to me in the first place. And, following that, to: John Bentley, Jools, Paul C, Harry, Gilson, Don (Jon), Chris H, Keith W, Kevin W, Matt I, Andy M, Pete T, Chris B, Nick H, Ash S, Hilaire P for taking part in giving the world Squeeze. Ta very much.

Please check out as many of the following as you can find time in your little hearts. Most albums listed available physically and digitally wherever good records are sold, and so on…I apologise if I've missed anyone's recorded works out, I'm still making my way through the list myself.

ist (my own outfit, without whom I wouldn't have had any of these opportunities.)

Albums Available:
Freudian Corduroy
King Martha
I am Jesus (And You’re Not) - EP
Toothpick Bridge (coming soon)

Aberfeldy (Riley Briggs)

Albums Available:
Young Forever
Do Whatever Turns You On

Chris Difford

You ought to know Squeeze by now… but I’d recommend starting with East Side Story, Argy Bargy, Frank, Cool for Cats, Some Fantastic Place or Play.

Solo albums:
I Didn’t Get Where I Am
South East Side Story
Another Day Above Ground (coming soon)

Dorie Jackson
Aquarian Nation

Dorie has been a guest on a number of fine albums, some of which already appear in this list, but I am particularly recommending her solo debut.

Albums available:
The Courting Ground

William Topley

Albums available:
All in the Downs
Sea Fever
Feasting With Panthers
Spanish Wells
Mixed Blessing
Best of The Blessing
Locusts and Wild Honey (The Blessing)
Prince of the Deep Water (The Blessing)

John Bentley
Solo Albums:
The Man Who Never Was

Danielle Gasparro

Geoff Martyn

Darren Poyzer

Amber Rubarth

Music Available:
Unfinished Art EP

Emma-Jane Thommen

Rich Brown

Rachel Dawick

Albums Available:

Helen Astrid

Daltonico Studios

And from the Brighton Show:

Melvin Duffy and Vivien Scotson

Chris Simmons

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