Seeing Double

When I was an engineer at DJM Studios back in the early eighties, it was quite a common occurrance for people who came into the studio to say that I looked familiar and that they were sure we’d worked together before. Everyone experiences this at some time, but it started to happen at a rate much higher than you would expect in the normal course of things.

At first, we would attempt to find a common point of reference: “Have you worked with so and so?” “Did you ever come to Abbey Road?” After a while, I began to think there must be a doppelganger somewhere on the London studio scene – maybe another engineer, or a session musician. My response then became what must have appeared more curt, even rude. “You may think we’ve met before, but I can assure you we haven’t.” At its peak, this was happening on almost a daily basis and on one occasion a stranger walked the full length of a tube carriage to say that they’d been looking at me and were sure we’d met before. People familiar with the etiquette of the London Underground will know that any form of interaction among passengers is extremely rare.

After leaving DJM the “recognition” stopped happening, largely because working from home meant less regular contact with new people. There was one moment when I met Clare Torry, the singer whose brilliant improvised vocals on Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig in the Sky remains one of my favourite pieces of music. I’ve never worked with Clare, but it turned out she had met my younger brother John when she did advertising sessions at Air Edel. John’s first job, also back in the early eighties, was as a runner for the jingles company. So Clare not only identified a family resemblence more than a quarter of a century on, but also remembered a lowly runner from way back when. Impressive on both counts.

Recently, the ‘Doppelganger Effect’ has been happening again. In the space of a couple of weeks, the bride at a wedding where we were the band was sure we’d met before, similarly a fantastic Bulgarian singer-songwriter called Ilona (check her out), so too the drummer in Frank Reid’s ceilidh band, and Brian Gregg, the original bass player in Johnny Kidd and the Pirates.

Last Wednesday, a clue to this mystery may have come from a checkout girl at my local Sainsburys. As she was scanning my mundane basket of muesli, milk and marmalade, she looked up and said, “Are you on the telly?” Aha, maybe that’s it. Who is this person and could I have a new career as a looky-likey?

Posted: 15:15, 30 September 2012

 

 

Helen and Douglas House

Did a gig last night at Syon Park in west London. It was a 30th birthday party/fundraising event for the children’s hospice charity Helen and Douglas House. They do the most extraordinary work in the most difficult circumstances. You can only marvel at the commitment and passion of the people involved.

Michael Gambon, Ralph Fiennes and Tom Hollander were among the guests, while the auction was skilfully conducted by Thomas Plant. A star expert of TV shows such as Bargain Hunt, Thomas extracted every last pound out the room with the utmost charm, each one going towards the £5million a year running costs of Helen and Douglas House.

Posted: 17:05, 22 September 2012

Wooly

Sad to hear the news that Brian Woolnough has died after a long battle with cancer. Brian was a hugely respected and totally readable sports journalist who valued his relationships with players and managers as much as he enjoyed them. It’s an aspect of the profession/dark art lost to today’s reporters, who are shielded from their subjects by powerful clubs, agents and even minders. I heard a clip of Brian talking on the radio this morning, in which he spoke about the time Ipswich manager Bobby Robson invited him back to his house and set up a mock football pitch on the floor with cushions for goals and a ball of wool as the ball.

The house I grew up in backed on to the Claygate recreation ground, the home of Claygate Cricket Club. Brian was an imperious opening batsman, with a style resembling Kevin Pietersen. A tall, powerful man, Brian wielded his bat like a weapon and whenever he could, dealt in boundaries. My older brother Clive played with him for Claygate CC, as did my oldest friend and nifty left arm spin bowler Simon Jackson.

I later occupied Brian’s seat at the Esher News, the newest recruit in a long line of sports reporters. My decision to leave the paper was one of those sliding doors moments. I loved the job and Brian, who had moved on to have great success at the Sun, showed what was achievable for a cub reporter on a local Surrey newspaper. I chose not to pursue a career in journalism, following a musical path instead. I often wonder what would have happened if I’d made a different decision back in 1982.

Posted: 12:44, 18 September 2012

 

A Night of Fusion

I went to see Ray Russell, Mo Foster and Gary Husband at the Pizza Express in Dean Street last night. I’ve been working with Mo on two TV documentary ideas based on his fabulous book British Rock Guitar, but it was the first time I’ve seen him play live.

The gig was the first outing for material for Ray’s new album, which if you had to categorise it, would fall under the banner Jazz/Rock Fusion. The musicianship was staggering. Difficult stuff, as Mo said, but great to see players at the top of their game at such close quarters. It took me back to the late seventies when I got into the music of Lee Ritenour, Larry Carlton and Pat Metheney. As a teenage guitarist growing up around London, I should have been in a punk band. The Jam were just down the road in Woking and I saw Hersham’s Sham 69 create havoc at a local college gig. However, as Siouxsie Sioux said in the recent Punk Britannia series on BBC4, only about 300 people got punk at the time.

I was in a local prog band in 1977, playing 15 minute rock epics with obscure titles and esoteric lyrics. As a big fan of bands like Genesis, Yes, Camel and Focus, fusion was a logical next step. I preferred the melodic Carlton and Ritenour to the freer jazz wing, although I did see Weather Report in New Orleans in 1980. I was on a gap year/year off Greyhound trip across America and had some time to kill before catching a 2a.m. bus to Brunswick, Georgia. It still impresses my muso friends that I saw Jaco, Zawinul and Shorter in the home of jazz – especially as I just walked in off the street as an alternative to sitting for several hours in a bus station.

Posted: 11:49, 7 September 2012

 

Always Something There to Remind Me

I was sad to learn of the death of Hal David on September 1. He was one of the all-time great lyricists, whose songs with Burt Bacharach formed a bridge between writers from the rock and roll era and giants from an earlier generation such as Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. Bacharach’s free linear approach to melody was matched by David’s concise and apparently effortless words. He rhymed “wake up” with “make-up” (I Say a Little Prayer), while the internal rhymes in Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head are a joy.

In 1999 he was the first recipient of the Special International Award at the Ivors. Up to that point only British or Irish writers were eligible, unless non-Brits were involved in a co-write. The Special International Award has since allowed BASCA to honour Stevie Wonder, Lieber and Stoller, Brian Wilson, Holland Dozier Holland, Smokey Robinson and Lou Reed among others, including this year’s recipient, Jimmy Webb.

1999 was also a big year for Robbie Williams and Guy Chambers. Angels won Most Performed Work, while Robbie and Guy were named Songwriters of the Year. I can’t remember his exact words, but accepting his Ivor for Songwriter of the Year, Robbie said something like “I came here thinking I was Jack the Lad, but it’s just a great honour to be on the same stage as Hal David.”

The Ivors are great for reflecting the continuity of songwriting. However hot you are that year (and Robbie was on fire in 1999), you are just part of an ongoing tradition. Everyone has heroes and the Ivors have, by luck or design, allowed writers from all parts of that tradition to share their achievements in the same room at the same time.

As well as the Robbie Williams/Hal David moment, other favourite memories include The Clash receiving an award from Pete Townshend,  Ben Drew (Plan B) being presented with Songwriter of the Year by Elton John, and Tim Rice accepting the Academy Fellowship from Tommy Steele. The Tommy Steele Story was the first album Tim bought and it played a major part in him shunning a career in law for one in music. He walked to the stage clutching his copy of the LP and 54 years on, the multi-millionaire lyricist Knight reverted to being a fan and asked Tommy if he would sign it. “To Tim ….”

Posted: 10:35, 5 September 2012