This week’s column is late due to a complete and utter lack of inspiration.
On Sunday evening, for the first time in weeks, I went into my studio, switched on the mixer and a couple of keyboards and just played for a while. My technique was a bit rusty for the first few minutes, especially my left hand, but then muscle memory took over and I began to feel better.
Following that, I walked into the living room, picked up one of the guitars that have been staring at me every day since I don’t remember when, tuned it and began to re-scrape painful grooves back into my softened fingertips.
As I was completing my most recent album in 2018, (called The Recovery Position, so it obviously hasn’t worked) I felt it could be the last one. The three years it had taken to write and record had been filled with crippling loss (the death of my wife, both parents, even the dog) and after 60 years of music being the one thing that truly defined me – my safe place – I was done, with songwriting and quite possibly all of it.
When I was a toddler, I could tell the difference between my parents’ 78rpm records before I could walk or read. They would spread them out on the carpet and say, “which one is Hound Dog, which one is Be Bop a Lula, etc and I was right every time.
I could get a tune out of my cousin’s guitar by laying it flat on the floor and playing it horizontally and any visit to my dad’s parents in Bristol would see me in the front room picking melodies out on the piano.
I was five years old when I saw my first gig – Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps – and 10 when I saw my second (Jimi Hendrix).
January 19, 1963 was a Eureka moment when I saw The Beatles performing Please Please Me on Thank Your Lucky Stars.
Over the next 10 years, before joining my first band, I soaked up everything from British bands to the soul coming out of Detroit, and more importantly, Memphis, the melodic genius of Brian Wilson and the development of rock and prog, which sent me searching backwards to the changing time signatures of Brubeck, Miles, Coltrane, Jimmy Smith, classical pianists such as the Vadimirs Askenazy and Horowitz then the architects of modern song, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, the Gershwins, before landing on fusion and Frank Zappa via Tower of Power, Little Feat and Steely Dan.
When it comes to music I retained a lot of knowledge (I’m a mine of useless information) because it flowed though me like my bloodstream.
In the past three years I’ve written just one song. I didn’t really want to, it was just an exercise to tell myself I still could. During lockdown I didn’t play, had no urge to write and even stopped listening to music for pleasure, preferring talk radio or podcasts while driving and silence while working.
I thought the feeling would wear off eventually but it hasn’t.
Music still plays in my head constantly as if it’s trying to fight its way out, which I suppose could explain my chronic insomnia, but I just don’t have the desire to let it develop into something.
Apart from seeing King Crimson two summers ago at the Royal Albert Hall, nothing inspires, impresses or moves me anymore, certainly not like the first time I heard Blue Rondo a la Turk, A Love Supreme, any Beatles song, God Only Knows, Led Zeppelin, The Dark Side Of The Moon, Joni’s In France They Kiss On Main Street, Joni’s Hejira, Jeff Buckley’s Grace, Lucky by Radiohead or Elbow’s Dear Friends.
I used to fear what lies beyond in case this life was the only chance I had to be a muso.
I think I might be finding out a bit earlier than expected.
And I can’t say I care that much, which scares me more than anything.
Last piece of Olympic commentary gold from Tokyo:
“He just has to wait and see what Wang has in his locker.”
Stupid TV quiz answer of the week:
Q: Who presented Joe Biden with the Presidential Medal of Honour in 2017?
A: Err… George Washington?