Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
Love and Carnage (Part 2)
There comes a point. during an omelette on a plate's flight, that the omelette parts company with the plate and they both go in different directions. The omelette, being lighter than the plate, rapidly loses trajectory and begins to fragment. Some of the component pieces will generally hit a wall, while others, depending on the filling in the omelette and the moisture contained therein, will fragment further, dropping onto the floor or sticking to other surfaces, such as clothing. The plate, on the other hand, will continue gaining momentum --especially if the person at whom it has been hurled, takes evasive action to avoid injury. If this happens, the plate, if it is of a heavy white china type, will hit a door lintel, shattering on impact as the shards and chips go all over floor nearest to the collision point..
She had only been back for about twenty minutes. "You've lost weight. Let me cook you an omelette." she suggested. I stood there in our kitchen, in a happy pre-Christmas haze of cheap port, home-made beer and smoke.She had come back, though. That was the main thing, "Oh, I forgot to mention," I began, as brightly as I could." Peppercorn and the German visitors will be back pretty soon, to pick up the German girl."
"German girl?" she asked. " Yeah," I said. I explained that they were all doing a bit of pre-Christmas shopping. That they'd left some stuff here. That the young German girl was drunk, as she had been upon arrival here... So they'd asked if they could leave her here. Of course, I said, yeah. So I'd just been sitting around listening to music, cleaning up, putting the odd Christmas decoration up and waiting for them to come back while... "A drunk German girl? Here?" she said." I didn't see her in the living room."
"Well no, you didn't let me explain that bit, I thought it was better, since I was hoovering up and stuff, to put her in the bedroom.." I smiled. "You've put a drunk,German girl in our bedroom??" "Well...darling" I said. "It's not like you've been here for weeks and weeks and there's nothing going on. I mean, I only put her in there to sleep. Until they pick her up. Which should be any minute now."
"Where exactly did you put her?" She asked me. "In the bed of course." I replied.. As if I'd considered maybe the wardrobe or the garden shed but then, flipped a coin and opted for the bed. She looked at me, all the time, carefully moving the omelette out of the pan and onto the plate.What could possibly go wrong?
Thus, round about 4.30 on the afternoon of December 23rd 1978, began the inaugural and indeed, only flight of the omelette. The plate skimmed my ribcage before hitting the door lintel and breaking up. Some of the omelette hit me in the chest. Two minutes later, after a number of swearwords, I was watching her walking past the kitchen window and down the street in the winter darkness. In her hands were the two bags which she'd set down upon her arrival, in the living room and hadn't even bothered to unzip. I was busy picking up pieces of broken plate shards, and wiping omelette of the wall -- and myself -- with a wet dishcloth.. The two cats were helping with the stuff on the floor. Three minutes after that, Peppercorn and the Germans arrived, woke the German girl up, and gave her some tea. The whole incident had happened in their absence. The girl hadn't even woken up during the row. A while after that, they all went back to Ipswich, leaving me, the cats and my memories. I poured myself another port, lit a roll-up, put David Bowie's Low on the record player and said to myself. " Merry Christmas, Martin."
Here, for interested readers are the salient points learned from this incident.
1) Never assume, even if your girlfriend left you almost two months earlier, that she won't suddenly decide to come back, without any kind of clue or announcement.
2) Never deposit a drunk German girl in your bed. Not even if it's a favour to friends who have promised to pick her up within a couple of hours.
3) Never think that just because, you have done a good deed, and that you are absolutely innocent of any kind of impropriety, that a woman won't think the worst of you.
4) Never assume that a woman you are in a relationship with, will necessarily have a passing acquaintanceship with any notion of fairness or reason, or that she will even hear let alone understand any of the things you are saying, while you attempt to provide your own defence in a court of her devising, where she is judge, jury and cross-examining attorney for the prosecution.
5) Never try and second guess a flying omelette
Merry Christmas. And may all your Christmases be white ( or sometimes, yellow, with a few bits of chopped mushroom, garnished with parsley)
Love and Carnage part 1
Autumn going into winter of 1979 was a lovely autumn but a bit of a ghastly time for me. After getting back from the gig-finding mission to Germany, I see from my diary of the time, that two gigs were cancelled because, I was ill. I must have been ill to have cancelled gigs. The rock tradition round my way is that you have to be practically dead, not to do a gig. I also note that as soon as I was off my sick pallet, on Sunday we played Southend, on Monday we played Thames Poly and then onTuesday, at Hitchin. We had a day off and then went on to play the Swan in Hammersmith, a gig in Ipswich and another in Upminster. Six gigs in seven days.We were fairly battle-hardened. I remember that the Swan was always extremely hot and had quite a high stage, with a big mirror behind it. Here I would leap up and down, run back and forth and generally end up wringing wet with sweat, while I raged between numbers, berating rock critics, agents and anyone else in the trade that I could think of. Then we'd help the roadies load the 3-ton boxwagon, get in the other vehicle and head back to East Anglia. I recall that I was always glad, once we got past Gants Hill and into Essex proper.
This dues-paying business, though; as a young band, you live on the legend that if you just keep doing loads of gigs, as we did, you'll eventually build a following that will propel you to glory. The truth of the matter, however, is that you could probably do gigs 365 nights a year in all the pubs, clubs and little halls that you wish. But if nobody's handling your p.r, timing your record releases, getting you airplay, or putting you in the gossip columns, you'll only be there to make up the numbers. At best you'll be a band with a good live reputation-- and a familiar name in the gig guides. You'll be stuck on Level 2. And eventually, you'll get older and sometimes, iller. In your hometown, you'll only have a half-life. Marriage and kids will be more or less out of the question and if you have a girlfriend, unless you have room in the van and she's mad enough to come out to gigs with you, it can be hard to hold onto her. She won't know that you're not picking someone out of the audience every night. Even if you're being a good boy, which in this case I was, she won't necessarily believe you. Oh and besides, if you're the local rock singer, there are certain blokes in town, especially other musicians, who like nothing better than comforting another singer's woman while he's away.
It can be pretty horrible, sitting in the back of a tour bus in the dark, going to some far off gig, when you've just had a bust up with a girlfriend. But you're still someone's Friday night out, so you'd better look cheerful. Then you wait around for the gear to be set up. You wait to go on. You do the gig. You wait for the punters to clear out. You wait for the van to be loaded. You wait to get home. Then you get home. Then you feed the cat, make a bit of toast, pour a beer, smoke a joint and go and lie down in a double bed all by yourself. Of course, no one makes you do it. You can always quit, can't you? But then on Friday and Saturday nights, you'll just be some punter down the pub talking about what you used to do and how you could have been a contender. And you'll still only be twenty four years old. And the band will find another singer and you'll be sick as a dog about it. So .......you get back on with it, essentially.
I mean there was a period, after a couple of months of being by myself, that this idea occurred to me. It went,"Hey, hang on a minute. I'm the now-unattached lead singer in a rock band. There are women down there..." You know, I'm a country boy really and these sorts of notions do take a little while to percolate. So I went through a few gigs of taking someone home every night. It was the first time I'd ever done anything like that. The van would drop us off at my house, we'd have a drink etc etc and indeed, ya de da, then, next morning I'd give them breakfast and I'd rarely see them again. They all seemed to know what they were doing anyway. I think in nearly all cases (about half a dozen) they were less fussed about it than I was. Ultimately though, as winter set in, it became a pretty melancholy and empty sort of experience, so I gave up on it and took to coming back home by myself again. And do you know what? I felt tons better about everything. I was cleaning up the kitchen one Saturday morning and I heard Forever Autumn by Justin Hayward. I don't know why, but that became the soundtrack of the time. I never even owned the record. Later on, someone gave me an old rickety piano and I started teaching myself how to play that.That passed some time. And the gigs rolled down to Christmas. Stevenage. Ipswich, Bishops Stortford, Norwich, Cambridge and round and round...
Until, suddenly, we were in the dark of the year. I was sitting at home one weekend drinking cheap port when she came back...
And so I woke up in the early hours and after revisiting so intensely, a far off part of my musical past ( see earlier pages) I tried to do some kind of an audit of what I've learned far. With the release of the English Electric album-- however minor it may seem in the global scheme of things -- is a return to roots. A return to my roots. On the first count, because I have filled the album with three minute, verse-chorus songs, replete with jangly guitars and vocal harmonies. The songs have their ancestry in pretty much everything which I liked or admired as a kid listening to the radio in mid-'60s England. It's also a return to roots because of the pop-music-as-cottage-industry ideal, which Lol Elliott and I devised, thirty years ago. It was an idea that you could record your music at home in a shed, manufacture small quantities yourself and distribute and sell it yourself, however best you could. This would be a straight contract between musician and listener -- a notion with a purity second only to busking.:"We play, you hear, if you like, you buy.If you like but you have no money, we give it to you." This was tantamount to an acceptance that, we'd never be wealthy, we'd never be famous and that under all the conventional rules and definitions of showbiz and business, we'd never be successful.
Cottage industry was exactly what it was like in those early days of the Cleaners from Venus. You could actually come round to my door and buy a cassette. Our only media was the fanzines, run by similarly-minded people who made their own little mags, typed them out themselves, photostated and stapled them and then sold them at gigs or posted them. Long after punk had fled London, replaced by cocktail-sipping New Romantics and fashionable young things, here we were in the boondocks, still flying some tattered old anarchist flag. But there was an audience and it kept on growing slowly, long after I'd mothballed the Cleaners. Other people took up the baton which I'd dropped and ran with it. And then came the internet... Naturally, as with everything else in my life, I was slow to catch on.
Now this concept of 'roots' is most interesting. In the area of England in which I live, both in my own small town and in the larger town nearby, are many fine musicians of my own generation and of the sub-generation just below me. All through the winter and spring, in my own local pub, in fact came a succession of Friday night bands. The standard of playing was average to good, to exemplary, on certain occasions. Common fare was 1970s rock covers, blues and other roots forms.
Such players, are nearly all in their forties and fifties. Between them, they can play nearly anything. What most of them can't or won't do, is walk out on that shakey plank and play their own songs. Why not? I often wonder. But it can't be just because they fear that the Friday night public won't accept them. I also can't believe that none of them can write songs.
I do not dislike the Blues, soul, old money R&B, Celtic, or Reggae. In fact, I'm rather fond of them all. But they are not my roots. They may have been the roots of some of my old pop heroes. My roots, though, were in the yearning, jangling guitars which twinkled like stars in the northern sky. My roots were in the rainy streets and terraced houses of the monochrome 1960s England in which I grew up. I did not grow up on 42nd Street or Broadway. No old fellows in dungarees sat on porches picking lap-steels on any street where I lived. No swamp-beats or saxes leaked from cellars on humid summer nights, anywhere near where I went to school. I apologise...no...hold that: I make no apologies. I grew up in rainyday wistful England, among decaying leaves and nostalgia for that which hadn't even passed yet. I heard the songs from building site radios, whistling milkmen and boutiques which I wasn't even old enough to go into at the time. My roots, such as they were, are to be heard in the pop singles peppering the UK charts, roughly between 1964 and 1968. My roots are to be heard in John Barry, Edwin Astley and Ron Grainer compositions and numerous other long-defunct TV theme tunes or advertising jingles.
I do not play the blues, not because I can't do a passable imitation of white blues, but because for me, it is the musical equivalent of putting on a tweed suit and brown brogues, merely by virtue of the fact that I have passed the age of fifty. I do not want integrity, rootsiness and authenticity. I am not funky.. I have not been oppressed. So far as I know, no-one in my working class English family ever picked cotton or went to a segregated school. I cannot write about what I don't know about. I have to stick to what I know. Who, after all, would berate B.B King for sounding 'a bit samey' or always harping on about his own roots? Does anyone ever have a go at Planxty or the Dubliners for being too Irish? . I'm an old English bloke and I only know what I know. Lennon one said that "the blues was a chair and that The Beatles music was a kind of local Liverpool version of that chair.'" Mine isn't even a chair. It's a plank somewhere in the woods nailed between two tree stumps. But it's my plank. Is that okay, then?
So....English Electric, the new Cleaners from Venus album: We can sell all our downloads from here, thanks to Paul, Steve and the modern internet. We can even go to a small run of CDs in the next few weeks for those who don't like downloads. If we're very lucky, perhaps a few like-minded micro-labels such as Burger in America and one or two others worldwide, might licence small quantities for their own areas-- maybe, in Burger's case, vinyl and cassette formats. Who knows? We might pick up a little airplay from indie radio stations and mentions in a few specialist mags, or online mags. What we won't be doing is going on MySpace, Facebook, making a stupid video, or doing anything likely to catapult us into big-time Babylon. Not that there's much danger of that happening. I don't want our sales to be registered. I do not recognise The Charts. English Electric is a straight contract between listener and songsmith. Not selling out? No one has ever asked me to. And yet, I do know that whenever the business comes in the front door, the fun slips quietly out of the back door. And here, for the time being, we have it.