Archive for June, 2006

O2 Wireless: over and out

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

The O2 Wireless Festival went pretty well. I think it was bound to be a step down to be playing to a partially unknown/disinterested daylight crowd, after the fabulous Scala gig where I felt like the hardcore fans were out in force. But the festival was well organised and the crew and facilities were very impressive, and my family had a fun day out. Lily/Harper came onstage with me again for ‘Europa’. It felt good to be playing through a massive sound system. Unfortunately I ran out of time–in the middle of ‘Hyperactive’ I glanced over at Levi (my tour manager for these shows) and he gave me the five minutes sign. That meant I had to ditch ‘Science’, and had zero chance of playing ‘Hot Sauce’ or ‘Airhead.’ I came offstage, down the ramp top the backstage area which was pretty much deserted because everybody was in a big tent watching the England/Ecuador game. So I joined them! If I may say so, they would have been better entertained watching my set instead of England’s dreadful footie performance. (We limped in to the next round 1-0.)

Kathleen, Talia and Graham headed home, but Lily stuck around and she and I watched Goldfrapp and Depeche Mode from the top of a VIP double decker bus. We had a great time. Goldfrapp sounded very cool, definite strains of T Rex, though they didn’t play my favourite, ‘Black Cherry.’ I enjoyed D Mode slightly less than when we saw them towards the start of this tour in San Jose, mainly because this time they were focusing on songs from the new album, and played less of the classics. But as ever, the highlights for me were ‘Behind The Wheel’ and ‘Enjoy The Silence’ which I adore.

So now the tour is over and I’m officially on holiday! Not sure how often I’ll be updating this blog over the next few weeks, but I’ll check in if anything major changes in my life!

Here’s a final pic from the UK, by Gary Lornie. There are plenty more posted on the Forum from Dominik Fusina among others.

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Scala: brilliant!

Saturday, June 24th, 2006

I had a GREAT time at the Scala. It was my first UK concert since August of 1992. The place was sold out, ~800 bodies packed into a small black multi-tiered space. From the stage I had an Imax view of my English fans. And people had flown in from Finland, France, and Italy. Along with lots of my London friends, my old manager Andy and his then assistant Nancy were there; my first girlfriend Lesley; the guy that gave me my first break as a professional musician, Bruce Woolley; Dominik Fusina, who designed the tour t-shirts and ‘meet and greet’ invitations; Bochum Welt and his wife from Milan; a niece and two nephews; and of course Kathleen and the kids, who were not allowed in the main room so they watched from behind the speaker stack. After ‘Windpower’ I asked the kids to come on, and they had each donned a spare pair of my specs or goggles! Lily (who calls herself by her middle name Harper) was wearing my tweed three piece suit, and stuck around to play synth on ‘Europa’ to perfection.

It’s the most comfortable I think I’ve ever felt playing a gig in England. In the old days it always seemed the music business here was all about getting on Top of the Pops and Radio 1. It was that, or obscurity. Because I was marginally successful at it, there was always a portion of the audience that had seen me on TOTP and wanted to hear the singles. There seemed to be a conflict expectations between them, and the hardcore fans that wanted to hear ‘Therapy/growth’ and ‘Urban Tribal.’ But now the trivial fans have dropped away, leaving just the hardcore. And the hardcore were very warm and supportive, genuinely thankful that I’m playing live again, and willing to hear my updated arrangements.

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The O2 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park is tomorrow, and will be a totally different gig. It should be interesting–at 4.30 in the afternoon there’s usually an attention deficit, even at the best of times, but on this occasion I’m timed to clash with the England v. Ecuador game at World Cup 2006. It’s getting to crunch time for England and this stage of the tournament is instant knockout to the losing side. So many football-mads Brits will stay home until 6pm and just come down to the Park to see Goldfrapp and Depeche Mode; others will come early and watch the game on a giant screen at the rear of the park. I’m sure from the stage I’ll see plenty of people with portable radios and TVs, and reading texts on their mobiles. There will be loud cheers and cries of ‘ROOOOO-ney!’ and ‘Oh Beckham you wanker….’ I’ll just have to get in the spirit of things and try to stay focused. But regardless of how it turns out, last night at the Scala was truly a memorable experience, and one I’ll treasure. It’s so good to be home!

EEEEEB!… and a new Caption Contest

Tuesday, June 20th, 2006

(Stands for Exotic Erotic Electrostimulating but Erratic and Entertainingly-challenged Ball)

Well, we had a fun time in New York. The Ball was a semi-success overall, considering it was the first time it’s been attempted in NYC. I had a few complaints about the production, which didn’t do much to help artists and crew put on a good show. I arrived at the assigned time and was shown to a ‘changing area’ which was a small curtained off space with a trestle table but no water, drinks or food. Each time I came back to it there was a new set of scantily clad trapeze artists, contortionists or S+M performers crowded into my space. Sound check was delayed nearly 3 hours, and when I finally got my sound going the doors were opened to the public with no warning.

The venue was one huge warehouse, and the live music acts had to compete with a disco at one end and live burlesque/fashion shows at the other. And the PA and sound crew provided were better suited to a conference event in a hotel ballroom. That said, the small audience that stayed in front of the stage for my set (as opposed to going off hunting porn star autographs in the nether reaches of the warehouse) were friendly and supportive. I had to remind myself it’s a lot harder to thrill a non-partisan crowd than a house full of Dolby fans, but it’s important to expand my audience.

In the circumstances I handled my part pretty well, but MAJOR kudos goes to Darin and Johnny, who had to pull out all the stops and run the audio and visuals themselves given the poor service they got from the venue. Great to get moral support from splendidly-attired Forum regulars Holly and Jim, Spikey (Jen), StevieD and others. Holly has posted some pics in the Forum, including the one below of me with George Clinton–and I have a funny story to tell about this shot that musos and geeks will get a big kick out of.

I had prepared ‘Hot Sauce’ to add to my set for the occasion, because it needed an extra party number and because I knew George Clinton would be there and might wander up and sing with me. It’s a brand new arrangement and sequence, meaning a number of unpredictable thigns might happen the first time I play it at a gig. But I knew it would be a fun way to end the show, plus I’d been told that budding porn starlet Violet Blue had prepared a special strip routine involving hot candle wax; so I would do an instrumental jam while she did her thing. we’d never rehearsed this though.

I saw George Clinton only seconds before I went onstage, and mentioned I would be playing ‘Hot Sauce’ last, in case he felt like joining me.

Now, I’ve mentioned before in my blog that I use ‘in-ear’ monitors. These are injection-molded earphones that fit deep in the ear canal and effectively block 90% of exterior noise, so that the performer can hear his own music mix regardless off how the onstage monitor system sounds. These are great but the drawback is, I can’t hear the audience response. So to offset this I have Darin set up a Shure SM58 mic on a stand next to my keyboard rig, and I mix a little of it in with my cue mix so I can ‘feel’ the audience.

So about 20 seconds into ‘Hot Sauce’–the first time I’ve ever played it live in this arrangement–I hear something VERY strange. At first I thought the vocal effects I’d set up–that tune my voice down an octave–had gone badly wrong. Then I turn around and get the shock of my life…. George Clinton has wandered onstage, picked up my Shure SM58 ambient mic, and is singing into it! Meaning that the audience can’t hear him at all, but I can hear him VERY LOUD.

(!)

I think this calls for a new caption contest, don’t you? Post your caption in the Comments field, and in the meantime I’ll think up a prize :)

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Off to NYC

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

I’m about to get on a plane to New York for the Exotic Erotic Ball on Saturday. A few quick updates before I leave:

-The EEB set will be 45 minutes only, at 12.30am on June 18th. It’ll be quite a dancey set, with special appearances by pole dancers, S+M acts etc (Lord help me!) I may also guest with George Clinton, or vice versa.

-Holly Golightly has designed a delightful t-shirt especially for the EEB! It should also please the more petite fans, who were somewhat underserved by the previous t-shirt options. We’ll debut it here in a few days, and there should be some available in the Store.

-The London meet’n'greet *is* happening after the Scala gig on June 23rd. Forum members can download and print a ticket, which can be exchanged for a pass to the Glass Bar for 9.30 right after the show (showtime is 8 sharp.) The box office opens at 10am, but only the first 50 individuals with printed tickets will receive a pass! We have 45 mins until they kick us out of the Glass Bar which equates to less than a minute each, sorry it’ll be short and sweet. Get your stuff ready for signing. For more information, see the dedicated thread in the Forum (visible to registered members only.)

-At Wireless on June 25th in Hyde Park I am playing 4-30pm to 5.10pm.

-Johny Dekam is coming to NYC and London, so we hope to have full vodeo projection. At Wireless we’ll be subject to the Channel 4 TV crew, and of course it’s in daylight, so who knows how it will turn out.

-In London I’ll be discussing a DVD release with EMI covering my entire catalog, videos, and even some footage from the Sole Inhabitant Tour. It would come out later in 2006.

-I am also planning to release a full concert DVD of the Spring tour. This will likely be sold on my web site, CD Baby etc.

-Some dates have been added in October and November. Keep tuned in via the Forum. These WILL include the Boston area, and another show in NYC!

-I hope to tour the US again in November and December, if I can get some new songs recorded by then.

That’s all the news that’s fit to print!

UK merchandise/meet+greet

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006

Bad news: we’re not allowed to ship boxes of t-shirts and posters to the UK without getting into a whole Customs and Excise mess. This is an oversight on my part really: we filled out a carnet listing each piece of equipment, but those are for temporary export whereas merchandise is for sale. I’d assumed we could just include the ‘merch’ in with the rest of the equipment.

As a consequence we won’t be able to have a merch table at the Scala and Hyde Park shows. Which in turn means our ‘meet’n'greet’ system won’t work either (wherein random people that buy an item get a ‘purple ticket’ to a meet’n'greet after the show.) At least the Sole Inhabitant Tour t-shirts and posters are for sale at the online store on this web site.

I’ll try to work out how to do the meet’n'greet. It’s not really an option for me just to stick around the Scala and sign stuff, as they’ll be kicking us all out at 9.30pm for the disco that happens later. And at Hyde Park there are probably stringent security rules. So one possibility is that we find somewhere close to the Scala for around 10pm that’s willing to let us use a back room. This would be for registered Forum members only, and I’ll say hello and sign whatever records/memorabilia you bring along. I can’t easily organise this from here in the USA, so it would take an enterprising UK based person to organise it. I’m open to suggestions! Give us your comments here.

I’ll also ask Lunesse to post this on the Forum.

From Brussels With Love

Friday, June 9th, 2006

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Possibly the rarest of any of my releases is this one. It was a (cassette-only) compilation released in 1981 by a Belgian label called Crepuscule. It included a demo version of ‘Airwaves’, recorded in my back room in London well before I got a record deal. I was approached recently by a company that wants to re-release it on CD and is trying to clear all the rights. I own the masters (unusual!) so I plan to say yes. The line-up on the album is terrific:

John Foxx

Duritti Column

Harold Budd

Richard Jobson

Gavin Bryars

A Certain Ratio

Martin Hamnett

Michael Nyman

An Interview with Brian Eno, etc

I have one copy of the cassette, resplendent in its soft plastic cover. But I don’t own a cassette player so I haven’t heard this recording of ‘Airwaves’ in years. It’s probably quite amateurish, as I used a little Boss Dr Rhythm box for the drums: but I bet it captures the essence of the song. I admit I cringe a bit when I listen to the version on The Golden Age Of Wireless, which hasn’t aged well: the production is far too ‘AOR’, with its chorused piano, glittering guitar chords and big drums. It was much better when I played it live. I regret not having had time to do a new arrangement of ‘Airwaves’ on this last tour. Maybe in the Fall?

Set list circa 1988

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

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David Owens, the excellent drummer in my Lost Toy People band and on ‘Aliens Ate My Buick’, sent me this set list from 1988.

Seems curious now to think that we played these with no sequence, no click track. Dave would dial the correct BPM into a little digital metronome he had, and watch the flash of the red LED. Then he would count off the start of each song with the traditional 4 clicks of his sticks.

George Clinton

Monday, June 5th, 2006

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I’m excited to be playing a gig in NYC on June 17th on the same bill as George Clinton. It’s been a while since I saw George. We first met on the set of Saturday Night Live in 1985 and he invited me to jam with Parliament/Funkadelic (someone recently posted a hilarious video clip from that performance here.) We instantly hit it off, and Geroge asked me to visit him in Miami where he was making an album ‘Some Of My Best Jokes Are Friends’, to which I contributed a couple of co-productions and a very white-boy rap. He is a wonderful man to work with–you just want to play for him, finetuning the groove until it drops into ‘the pocket’ so that big grin spreads across his face and his ass starts wiggling.

While we were in Miami he and his wife took me fishing. A fishing trip with George works like this: (1) Charter a large high-tech fishing vessel (2) Grab a massive boom box, some cassettes of last night’s rough mixes, and a big bag of weed (3) Trail about 22 fishing lines behind the boat on electric winches (4) Set the radar fishfinder (5) Spliff up, chill out, fall asleep with a fat groove on auto-repeat (6) Tell the skipper to wake you up when there’s a fish on (7) Spring into life, hit the buttons on all the lines and reel in a 20-lb tuna (8) Throw it in the ice chest and repeat. We were fifteen miles out but still within sight of Miami’s skyscrapers. The skipper just CB radio’d his friends on the other boats and if anyone found a school they all congregated in that location, trawling their electric lines. It all seemed a bit unfair on the fish.

George told me a story about the time he and Bootsy Collins were fishing in the Bermuda Triangle and they thought they were being abducted by aliens. This is deadly serious. They were skirting round a big storm and suddenly there was a bright gap in the clouds. Then big blobs of mercury started falling from the sky and exploding on the deck of the boat. Blinding lights were dancing around the boat’s antennae. They must have thought the Mothership was finally coming for them. You can just imagine Bootsy yelling out “I’m here my brothas! Take me!”

Now, at the the time I felt this encounter was probably of a pharmaceutical, rather than an extraterrestrial nature. However since then I’ve become quite an avid sailor myself and I’ve seen things that make me think George’s story has some validity. Phosporescence in tropical waters is often other-worldly. Tiny luminescent plancton looks a lot like mercury with a light green tinge. In a squall the tops of waves are whipped up into a foam that sometimes blows on deck. On top of that, St Elmo’s Fire is an electrical phenomenon that causes bright lights to spark in the rigging. Some or all of these factors may have contributed to their experience. Through unnaturally dilated pupils, it must have been quite a show.

We’ll be playing at the Exotic Erotic Ball in New York on June 17th. As it stands we’re playing separate sets, but if I’m able to get in touch with George maybe we can jam together a little. There’s a few options: apart from the songs I did with George, he sang on my song “May The Cube Be With You” and we kind of co-wrote “Hot Sauce” from my 3rd album (it was an outtake from ‘Jokes’ that I added some lyrics to.)
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Big Love is over!

Sunday, June 4th, 2006

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… for the season. No idea why I like this show so much, but I do. It’s a soap opera about a plural marriage in Salt Lake City. My kids love it, and I discovered on my tour that video magician Johnny Dekam and his girlfriend are addicts too. We would seek out hotels that had HBO so we could watch it. Tonight’s season finale was just fantastic.

Years ago my wife Kathleen starred in a big budget, full length iMax movie made by the Mormon church, telling the Story of Mormon. She is not religious, it was just another paid gig. If you go to the Visitors Center in Salt Lake, it screens three times a day, and there she is, floor to ceiling. Since then, wherever we go, someone looks aghast at her, as if she was the actual mother of Joseph Smith. A couple of times evengelists have even rung our doorbell in California, and when she opens the front door, their jaws hit the floor!

80's Stripped

Saturday, June 3rd, 2006

My trip to LA happily coincided with a launch party for the ‘unplugged’ 80′s compilation for which I recorded a stripped down version of ‘Science.’ I mentioned in my blog a few weeks ago (April 20th) how this came about as a last minute recording before I went on tour.

The party took place at the seedy Viper Room on Sunset Strip. Several of the artists on the CD got up and performed live acoustic versions of their hits: Naked Eyes’ Pete Burn, The Go Go’s Jane Wiedlin, The Motels, Tommy Tutone, and Men At Work’s Colin Hay. The label asked me to play too, but it was too soon after my tour for me to get together a guitarist and a simple keyboard setup and fly them down to LA. So instead I offered to emcee the evening. This is something I’ve done once or twice before, and though I’m not a natural standup comedian, I can usually find something interesting to say. There was a ton of press and photogs there, as the CD is getting a lot of attention–even Howard Stern is playing it.

You have to be careful with these 80′s flashback things. It’s easy to get pigeonholed as a nostalgia act, unless there’s something current going on that has relevance today and for the future. People make up their own minds in a heartbeat which camp you’re in. And I have a theory: unfortunately, looks have a lot to do with it. If you put a lot into your pinup image back then, you’ve got a lot to live up to now. Duran Duran and Depeche Mode? They still look pretty darn great, and the press view their music as still relevant after all these years. Flock Of Seagulls and ABC?…. hmm, not quite so sure. It’s hard to imagine those guys coming up with something new that will balance out the nostalgia thing.

Then there are those who were always above pigeonhling. Kraftwerk were a bunch of staid-looking middle aged Germans when they started out! So who cares how they’ve aged. What matters is that their music is and always was fantastic, and it transcends decades and trends.

Another example is Colin Hay. At the Viper Room I got to sit in the front row and listen to him sing, which wasn’t practical at the 3 gigs I played with him earlier this Spring. He’s a wonderful, hilarious storyteller with a great stage presence. And my God, the man sounds fantastic. ‘Overkill’ wasn’t as big a hit for him as ‘Land Down Under’, but what a gorgeous song that is. His voice and guitar playing are pure gold.

BTW here’s a good one for the ‘misheard lyrics’ file: I always thought the chorus to that song was ‘Goes to beer and fade away.’ I even sang those words when he asked the audience to join in the chorus. I was little disappointed just now when I looked up the lyrics and found it’s actually ‘Ghosts appear and fade away.’

There’s a Yahoo review of the party here; you can buy the CD here.