Ant Savage

Ant Savage – The Ruby Sun EP

I’m a big fan of unusual voices.

All my favourites have them.

I think I may have found another in Ant Savage.

I read in The Guardian that he is a self-taught guitar player, which appeals to me, because it often makes the playing unique – and this is the case with Ant Savage.

His playing is sparse, mostly, but rich and melodic and his guitar sounds great. I hear a lot of recordings where the acoustic guitar sounds awful, but this is lovely.

It was recorded in his front room in Bedford, then mastered by Ru Cook at Lost Boys Studio.

epcover2

The Songs.

Ruby Sun starts with a strum and I thought I was in for just another bloke with misery and a handful of folk chords.

Wrong.

The song is a masterclass in the effectiveness of simple arrangements. There is a female voice (Hannah Birch) weaving in the background, piano rolls, cello and his breathy, broken voice sailing through it.

It’s quite brilliant and the atmosphere he builds is amazing, given the simplicity of the instruments.

Lessons Of Theft starts like an Eno ‘ambient’ album, with double bass (played by Marek Orzel), piano spikes and filigrees and guitar hammer-ons. His voice comes in, part Morrissey, part Nick Drake, woeful and playful, and it’s just…great.

I keep playing it.

I have no idea what the words are about and I don’t care. I just like the sound of it all.

You know the feeling when you’ve been away for a long time and are on the final part of the journey home, the excitement rising, senses on red-alert because you’re nearly there?

That’s how Home makes me feel.

The Starlings is gorgeous. Like the slow swell of the sea, his voice lifts and falls and carries you away. Sorrow has never sounded so sweet.

I hear a musical bloodline to The Cocteau Twins, Mazzy Star, Nick Drake and This Mortal Coil. He would be at home on 4AD.

Ant-savage-2

This is so much more than a guy with a guitar.

There is intelligence, wit and idiosyncrasy.

And that odd, tidal vocal style, ancient and fresh.

As a debut, this is perfect. It has more than enough to keep you listening but hints strongly at the possible wonders to come.

Keep an eye on this guy.

~~~~~~~~~~

The Ruby Sun EP is released on April 14th.

 

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Neil Young – Helpless

I first heard Neil Young in 1978.

Myself and my best friend, Simon, sneaked out of his bedroom window, late one night,  to attend our first ‘proper’ party.

We were 15 and innocent as strawberries.

There was beer, dope, girls and loud, loud music. It was awe-inspiring.

Simon and I got separated. He went in search of dope and I stayed near the beer, alone on the stairs, watching events like a hawk.

Teenage dream girls danced in bikinis and actually spoke to me. It was momentous.

These were the cool, beautiful Demi-gods of the brutal school hierarchy. They were the chosen ones and I was among them. At least hovering around them, anyway.

The music they were playing was great, too, for a hot summer night on the West Coast of Australia.

The Eagles, Seals & Crofts, Rickie Lee Jones, Fleetwood Mac, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Jefferson Airplane, JJ Cale and The Byrds. There was some disco, too, that I wasn’t familiar with but, after an hour of watching a room full of semi- undressed Bardots dance to it, I was a solid, aching fan.

I also heard someone else. Someone I didn’t know. He sounded a little bit like my hero, Bob Dylan, but more…guitary.

I moved into a dark room to be close to the stereo speakers. It was great! The songs sounded so real. It was as though these people were in the room. The singer’s voice was odd, which I liked. It had a country warmth but sorrowful and bluesy, too.

Before my brain could engage a casual tone or a social filter, I turned to the human form beside me on the old couch and blurted, “who is this? This is amazing! This is the best band I’ve ever heard!”

As my eyes adjusted to the smokey dark, I realised the form I had addressed was female. And pretty. And older.

Rather than dismiss or ignore me, she smiled and my heart floated away.

She leaned in close and said “it’s Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Good, isn’t it?”

The Man

The Man

Her warm breath on my neck rendered me catatonic for several seconds, but I managed to nod.

And, like a dream, we sat and shouted into each other’s hair for hours. About music and poets. Angela told me all about Neil Young.

She played an LP called ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ and said it was her favourite. It was his second album and had three of his best songs – “Cinnamon Girl,” “Down by the River,” and “Cowgirl in the Sand”. She said that those songs were written when Young had a fever.

The songs were long, loose-limbed and sounded so, so good. Angela knelt beside the stereo and flicked through the row of LPs, picked one out and put it on the turntable. It was an album by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young called ‘Deja Vu’.

She told me who played on it, asking if I knew who Jerry Garcia was, or The Grateful Dead? I shook my head and she explained them. As the third song faded, she took my hand in hers and whispered, “Listen to this!”

Vocal symmetry

Vocal symmetry

That strange violin-like intro and loping, loose and lilting drum beat with acoustic strums, piano rolls and descending bass slope – it was majestic, intensified by this lovely girl who was squeezing my fingers and smiling, her eyes shooting yellow sparks into me.

The song made me feel like I was watching the singer as he looked at an old photograph. His perfect, peaceful memories were pouring out through his sorrow-edged voice. I could see his face reflected onto the photograph –  a home or a remembered face. I was young, but I knew that one day I would look back and the view would be both lovely and sad. Like the song.

“It’s…amazing!”

“I know! It’s so good.”

The voices on the chorus were earthy and celestial at the same time. I made her play it three times, until someone shouted at us to change it. I wanted it to go on for so much longer.

Angela hadn’t let go of my hand.

I was in paradise.

Not only had I discovered Neil Young, but I had found that my shyness and inhibitions dissolved in this stuff called alcohol.

I soared above myself, immortal. I was brave and deeply attractive. I had consumed liquid angels and they were showing me how amazing life could be. I was connected to the world by a harmonious golden thread. An invisible ribbon of love tied me to all humanity.

After two beers.

Later on, Angela took me upstairs and, well, she introduced me to more than music. In the blue moonlight, many mysteries unravelled as I experienced the female form. My naive passion was treated with exquisite tenderness and I  finally realised what all the fuss was about.

Thank you Mr Young

Thank you Mr Young

As more beers went in, though, I began to feel very odd. I walked down the stairs like a man going up a hill. I couldn’t tell the difference between anything. I leant against shadows and was followed by walls. I banged into people that weren’t there. For the first time, I was hopelessly drunk.

I woke up in the front garden, alone, with no shoes and a blanket over me. It was still dark but thinner, nearing dawn.

The house was quiet. Those left were asleep.

Angela was gone.

I found a phone and called my Dad, asking if he’d pick me up.

Whoops.

He didn’t know I was at a party.

Shit.

I was meant to be at Simon’s, revising for something.

Fuck.

My old man went nuts. Absolutely mental. I was grounded for life. I would never be trusted again. I was never going to another party.

I said little, nodding when appropriate, apologising in the silences between the fury and generally looking meek and sorrowful.

When we got home I was sent to my room and told not to come out.

I lay on my bed and smiled at the best night of my life.

Thank you, Neil Young.

At 15, in Fremantle, Western Australia in 1978.

At 15, in Fremantle, Western Australia in 1978.

2 responses to “Neil Young – Helpless

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  2. Saw Neil for the first time in Louisville, KY in 1983–it was a bizarre experience. This was the “Trans” tour and I don’t think that anyone was prepared for this show. Neil was late, the crowd grew restless, and they didn’t like the music once Neil started performing. About 30 minutes into the show, someone threw a beer bottle which smashed into the giant TV monitor/prop. Neil left the stage, the house lights came up, the concert was over, and a riot almost ensued. I frankly didn’t care all that much for “Trans,” but didn’t think it was THAT bad!…Have seen Neil a couple of times since–my favorite was in ’85 when he played with the International Harvesters and toured with the RE-AC-TOR album. A criminally underrated album and band…

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BOB DYLAN & ‘WATER PEARL’

“Mama, tow my boat out to the sea, pull it down from shore to shore. Two brown eyes look at me, I feel i’m knockin’ on heaven’s door…”

– Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – June 1981

Oh the fishes will laugh As they swim out of the path And the seagulls they’ll be smiling

Oh the fishes will laugh
As they swim out of the path
And the seagulls they’ll be smiling

“I started it in St. Vincent when I woke up from a strange dream in the hot sun….I was thinking about living with somebody for all the wrong reasons”

- Bob Dylan – Notes for ‘Carribean Wind’, Biograph, Cameron Crowe, 1985

Me and another guy have a boat down there. “Jokerman,” kinda came to me in the islands. It’s very mystical. The shapes there, and shadows, seem to be so ancient. The song was sorta inspired by these spirits they call jumbis.”
- Bob Dylan

'Water Pearl' by Sam McDowell.

‘Water Pearl’ by Sam McDowell.

Bob Dylan christened his sailboat Water Pearl. She was a traditional Bequia boat, having been built on the beach of the small island in the northern Grenadines in the late ’70s or so.

- Latitude 38, Letters, January 2007

Chris Bowman.

Chris Bowman.

“In the late 70’s, Californian Chris Bowman and I were co-contractors for a 68-ft. traditional wooden schooner, built for Bob Dylan near the present Dive Bequia, just off The Belmont Walkway.

We hired some of the best shipwrights in Bequia—Albert Crosby, Lincoln Ollivierre, Lanceford Hazell, Herbert Ollivierre, Gilbert Hazell.

She was handmade with pride. Her ribs were Bequia white cedar curved to the right shape by the N.E. Trades. Her planking was Guyanese hardwood. Her bulwarks were dark as ebony and finished with gleaming brass fittings. It took three years to build her.

We launched her on December 9, 1980, with an all day celebration.”

- Nolly Simmons, 30th November 2012

Water Pearl.

Water Pearl.

Bankie Banx, Reggae artist, has lived on the small island of Anguilla most of his life.

In the early 1980s, Bob Dylan sailed into Anguilla on his 70-foot schooner:

“The Water Pearl was made in (the tiny island of) Bequia. He had a Caribbean crew. He sailed to Anguilla. He picked up my cassette with some conch shells at a gift shop. He sent his captain, Christopher Bowman,  to look me up. I guess they played the tape on the boat.

Bowman asked me to come aboard and bring a few guitars. I went aboard and met Dylan. We started playing and he was very much interested in ‘Prince of Darkness.’ He wanted me to write out the lyrics and chord progression.

We went for a swim, we went snorkeling, had lunch. In the evening I invited him to my home studio. I had a Tascam (recorder) n my basement. I was always ready to go. He stepped in and started to play my organ.

He said, ‘Bankie, I like the sound of ‘Prince of Darkness’, can you record that?’

I said, ‘Bob, I’ve already done that.’

Then he asked for a reggae bass line. Then a reggae rhythm guitar. Then he wanted some girls to sing backup vocals. I went and got two girls. He never put his voice on the tape. He just played keyboards and gave us the harmonies.”

- Interview by David Hoekstra on May 12, 2007

Dylan paid the women for the impromptu session and loaned Banx his boat and crew for six weeks.

Bankie Banx

Bankie Banx

“I overheard the talk at the next table. Water Pearl was in the harbor, and everyone was talking about whether or not the owner was on board. [Dylan] heard I was in town as well and asked if I wanted to come out and see the boat and have lunch.

We didn’t talk music. We talked boats over lunch. He gave me a tour of Water Pearl, and I can still smell that unique combination of pitch, canvas, and wood that is the essence of a traditional sailing rig”.

- Jimmy Buffet

Jimmy+Buffett+-+Riddles+In+The+Sand+-+Sealed+-+LP+RECORD-422924

“I started sailing the Caribbean in ’76 with the first Utopia, a Morgan Out-Island 36. So I have put in my time down there. This brings me to Bob Dylan’s traditional Bequia schooner Water Pearl. I first met her captain in the late ’70s, right after she was built, I believe as a mail boat and/or light freighter.

In ’84, I was a co-captain of the Antigua-based Ocean 60 Ocean Mistral. We’d anchored next to Water Pearl at Deshaies, Guadeloupe. We had a tough time getting our CQR to hold, but finally felt we were in for the night.

We all went to bed except for one young lady who wasn’t tired. She stayed up, often looking over at Water Pearl. Around 2 a.m. I sensed there was a strange boat motion. I got up, looked out, and sure enough, Water Pearl was right next to us. But something was strange, as I looked around and noticed that I couldn’t see any land! I realized that both our boats had dragged out to sea.

When I asked the young lady why she didn’t call me, she said, “Water Pearl was always in the same place, so I never noticed that we were going anywhere.”

John Tindle

Utopia, Jeanneau 45, Hermosa Beach

On the deck of 'Water Pearl'?

On the deck of ‘Water Pearl’?

“For 40 years, Lawson Sergeant and his brother Tim have run a model boat-building shop on Bequia. There are now three others, catering for all the yachties looking for souvenirs to take home, or even of their own boats, because they will do a model of your yacht to order.

Lawson has done one for Bob Dylan of his yacht Water Pearl, which has now sunk – the boat, not the model.”

- Hunter Davies, The Mail On Sunday

27 November 2006

Sergeant Brothers working.

Sergeant Brothers working.

SINKING LIKE A SHIP

“My sixty-three foot sailboat had hit a reef in Panama…In the ten years I had her my family and I had sailed the entire Caribbean and spent time on every island from Martinique to Barbados.”

- Bob Dylan, ‘Chronicles’

Oslo, 1991. Not 'Water Pearl'.

Oslo, 1991. Not ‘Water Pearl’.

Chris Bowman was on his way to the Pacific for a long cruise “financed by Bob Dylan” when disaster struck – near the Panama Canal, at about 4a.m.

Instead of heaving to and waiting for dawn, he tried to enter the harbour, missed the entrance and piled up on the beach.

It seems that he could not organize a salvage tug in time and the Water Pearl slowly broke up over six days.

- May 2011 issue of “Classic Boat”.

Oslo, 1991.

Oslo, 1991.

“Only the crew of Water Pearl knows what really happened, but those of us around the boathouse figured that Water Pearl had old charts, which caused them to confuse the light on Toro Point with the white light on the east point of the entrance through the breakwater.

That also assumes that Water Pearl’s radar either wasn’t on or wasn’t working. There were strong northerly winds the night Water Pearl was lost, so once the crew realized the situation they were in, it was too late to save the boat. Once again, this explanation is not from the crew, but rather speculation by some of us on shore.

Attempts were made to pull Water Pearl off the reef, but the tugs couldn’t get very close to her because of the reef. In addition, the tow lines kept getting snagged on the coral.

After the wreck was abandoned, she was stripped of almost everything. A local even cut a hole in the hull and salvaged the engine — piece by piece! He transported the pieces in a rowboat. I ended up with the anchor windlass and the grating from the shower. I made the latter into an end table”.

- Letter from Bob Gray, LATITUDE MAGAZINE, JANUARY 2011

I was sailing on The Mayflower...

I was riding on The Mayflower…

“When [Water Pearl] went down, the whole of Bequia wept.”

- Nolly Simmons, 30th November 2012

When the ship comes in.

“…and you are on dry land”

One response to “BOB DYLAN & ‘WATER PEARL’

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Bettye LaVette

The gorgeous Ms LaVette

The gorgeous Ms LaVette

I have heard hundreds of Dylan covers over the years, and have liked very few.

 

I’ve certainly never preferred one to a Dylan original.

 

Until I heard Bettye LaVette sing ‘Most Of The Time’ on ‘Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International‘.

Just listen to 'Most of the Time'

Just listen to ‘Most of the Time’

For vague vocal context, imagine Mavis Staples, Millie Jackson and Billie Holliday being spirited into one gorgeous woman.

 

Well, that beautiful lady would sound like Bettye LaVette.

 

She has beauty. She has soul. She has the larynx of love, life and liquor. And she has been singing since the early 1960s.

 

So, how come I am 50 years old and have never heard her?

It’s some kind of crime.

 

Okay, I’m a pale-skinned Englishman, but it’s not like I haven’t been interested in music.

 

I have spent my whole life either playing, writing or listening to it.

 

Music is my Religion, and finding this new voice is like finding a new Dead Sea Scroll or an eleventh Commandment. It’s fantastic.

bl7a

‘Most Of The Time’

“At my age I’m not trying to make any kind of impression on anyone”

 

The way she finds the blood and bruises in this song is transfixing. I can imagine Dylan nodding when he heard it, knowing that this lady nailed it.

 

Anger, regret, sorrow and wit. They bleed through it.

The musicians are superb, too, creating a dark and reverbed chamber for this soul baring to take place. It is bar-room perfect.

 

The altered line, “I don’t even notice that the mother******’s gone…most of the time” makes me smile every time. It’s the way she delivers it.

 

If there’s an iPod in Heaven, and I make it up that far, then I know I’ll be hearing Ms LaVette on every angel’s playlist.

BL1

‘Before the Money Came (Battle Of Bettye LaVette)’

“I know everybody in Detroit over 50. No matter how rich or poor they may be, I’ve seen ‘em drunk or broke or nekkid; sometimes all three.”

 

This self-composed track is startling and inspiring because it is so honest.

 

It is a beacon of hope for every artist’s bleakest canyon of self-doubt and despair.

It is life-affirming.

 

I won’t spoil the fun of listening to the story, but I would estimate that there are currently a million performers who will nod with recognition when they hear it.

 

I hope she writes some more songs herself because she clearly has a talent for it.

bettye_lavette_tivoli_20121217_foto_joke_schot_010

Talking Old Soldiers’

“I’m far more selective about what songs I’ll sing. If I can’t re-sculpt them and, in many instances actually reinvent them to be part of my story, I can’t make them come to life.”

 

Let me say upfront that I’m not a fan of Elton John’s work. I like a few of the old hits but that’s because they remind me of certain fondly-remembered times. I have never taken to his quasi-american vocal style and that kind of ‘showmanship’. I do respect the guy though – I respect anyone who can survive in the music industry and compose hit after hit after hit. I just don’t like his stuff much.

 

The reason I mention Elton John is because I just Googled the song title and was surprised to see that he and Bernie Taupin wrote it.

 

The reason I Googled it, is because it is the title of Bettye LaVette’s best vocal performance – that I have heard.

 

She lives the song. She has sat at the bar. She knows the names on the headstones.

 

It’s not a cover, it’s an invasion.

 

It resonates with me, too, because people I love are starting to die, and it can be a hard world as a result.

 

This is the most haunting and moving song about getting older that I have ever heard. If you thought Johnny Cash singing ‘Hurt’ was moving – check this baby out.

 

It’s something else.

Bettye LaVette - Souvenirs-front

Thankfully, there are plenty of Bettye LaVatte songs and albums to explore, from Souvenirs (Original previously unreleased Atco LP from 1973, finally released by Art & Soul in 2000), through I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise (Anti- 2005), The Scene of the Crime (Anti- 2007) up to Thankful N’ Thoughtful (ANTI- 2012).

 

Music is one of the rare occasions when finding a woman with a lot of baggage is a good thing.

bl7b

I have just purchased three of her LPs, because if her music sounds this good as compressed-to-hell mp3 files, then I can’t wait to hear it on vinyl.

 

My life is a brighter place thanks to discoveries like this and Bettye LaVette is a keeper.

 

I’m glad the money’s coming in and I hope she keeps recording and performing for many years yet.

 

Bettye LaVatte is beautiful.

bllp

Health Warning:

Whatever you do, do not listen to ‘Talking Old Soldiers’ on the tube. Unless you want your tears to be witnessed and ignored by a hundred blank-faced strangers.

 

Bettye_Lavette_4x6_web

One response to “Bettye LaVette

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Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert – Auto-cue reflections in the eyes of the dull.

Yawn-Fest.
Yawn-Fest.

This event took place at Madison Square Garden on October 16th, 1992.

I watched it on TV at the time. I remember being excited because Dylan wasn’t on TV much in the 90s. I also remember being bitterly disappointed by the whole thing, especially Dylan’s performance.

The remastered sound and digitally enhanced visuals do nothing to change that original feeling.

It’s nice, in a bittersweet way, to see June and Johnny Cash; Richie Havens is dignified and tender, Neil Young is always a treat, Lou Reed makes a decent effort but, truly, I find it a dreary and uncomfortable watch.

A million faces at my feet and all I see are dark eyes.

No wonder Dylan sat on his bus outside the venue, watching it on a TV until it was his turn to go on.

The organisers were not certain he would join in or drive off.

He should have driven off.

The only thing I found interesting from the new release was Sinead O’Connor singing I Believe In You, at rehearsal, which is beautiful.

She was booed and heckled on the night and didn’t perform it.

Insipid and ploddy gropes at some of Dylan’s songs by the ploddy and insipid Clapton, Petty, McGuinn and…

…oh, it’s just a blandfest.

A huge 4/4 dead beat graveyard.

A kiss-ass bullshit excuse for the dull to wear suits…

I suppose it will sell because half the line-up are dead.

Bob looks delighted to be there.

 

Dylan seems to be in physical pain and his voice is awful.

He looks like he’d rather be a million miles away, playing a real gig.

It’s a bit like his appearance on MTV’s ‘Unplugged’, where his discomfort is tangible amid the sycophantic worship from Sony executives, applauding his mere presence, like Gucci automatons.

IMG_8570

I’ve seen Dylan in concert many times now.

He has always been truly, extraordinarily great and absolutely NOTHING like he is on this dvd/blu-ray/cd/mp3 set.

Save your hard-earned.

Bob Dylan has released some radically brilliant and unique music – buy some of that instead.

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How Tom Waits saved my life.

‘Writing songs is like capturing birds without killing them.’ – Tom Waits.

Self Portrait...Photograph by Tom Waits.

Self Portrait…Photograph by Tom Waits.

My daughter was 5 when she first heard Tom Waits. I played Come On Up To The House while she was in the bath. I hung a speaker on the bathroom wall and would play her random songs while she sloshed about in the water.

Halfway through the song, I heard her calling, “Dad?”

“Yes?”

Is that The Grinch singing?

“No, it’s a guy called Tom.”

Oh. Can we go to his house?”

“Well, we could ask him but he doesn’t know us. Why do you want to go?”

It sounds nice there.”

Mule Variations by Tom Waits

Mule Variations by Tom Waits

In my estimation, Tom Waits is up there with Dylan, Cohen and Joni Mitchell on the writer’s podium. In the song-writing Olympics – he gets gold. His songs, his stories, are cinematic in scope, with the zoom of acute detail, populated with flawed and beautiful characters.

I didn’t take to his stuff immediately, though. Like anchovies, Tom Waits’ voice took me a while to appreciate.

When I first heard him, at 18 or 19, I was a rampant and narrow-minded Dylan obsessive and pretty dismissive of anything else. Fortunately, my mate, James, persevered and played me Swordfishtrombones, Small Change, Foreign Affairs, the hilarious Nighthawks At The Diner and Blue Valentine.

It was the latter that finally broke my resistance. It was so brilliantly written.

Thirty five years later, Blue Valentineis in my top ten all-time classic list. It is a stunning collection of songs – a drunken homage to Romeo & Juliet – and the title track has one of my favourite guitar solos. A lesson in economy.

The classic Blue Valentine album.

The classic Blue Valentine album.

I grew up with a strong Irish side and find old Irish folk songs as natural and comforting as nursery rhymes – and I hear them in Tom Waits’ music.  They have great melodies and a very human sentimentality that is deeply appealing to me. Waits’ characters are portrayed and parodied with absolute precision and empathy. He appears to understand the people he sings about.

He may even be some of them.

I have never met Tom Waits, but if I did, I would shake his hand and thank him. I think one of his songs saved my life.

Get behind the mule.

Get behind the mule.

I was having a hard time of life, and I listened to his album, Mule Variations, a lot. I particularly liked ‘What’s He Building In There?’ and ‘House Where Nobody Lives’ but I always skipped Come On Up To The House. I simply couldn’t bear it.

The song is an absolute diamond classic, but at the time, my addiction to alcohol and opiates was at its deepest and darkest and it physically hurt me to hear it. It was like opening the drapes on a vampire. The light would make me flinch, cover my ears and run off to hide in the darkness.

In the summer of 2003, I had lost another job, my first wife had (wisely and bravely) left me and I was being evicted from my house because I spent all the money I earned on booze and drugs.

I also had a great deal of bitterness because I hadn’t ‘made it’ as a musician. I hadn’t become the superstar I thought I deserved to be and it was everyone else’s fault.

On the morning of August 9th 2003, I was drunk by 8.30, which, sadly, was nothing new. I spent the afternoon punching all the framed photographs of my wife and me. My hands were cut from the glass and bleeding profusely. I used my blood to write obscenities about my wife on most of the walls and was passed out by early evening.

When I awoke, I bought more alcohol, locked the doors, closed the blinds and lay on the floor, forcing the drink down, smoking and retching. After two beers, I felt able to stand up and phoned my wife, demanding she come back, incredulous that she could leave me, but she said she “couldn’t take it anymore” and hung up.

I had no idea what she meant. I knew I drank a bit too much but, hell, I knew people who were much worse. I hadn’t beat her up and I was nice to her mother. I assumed she left me for someone with more money.

Enraged, I hurled all her treasured pot plants against the wall, screaming abuse as each one smashed and covered the white couch in soil, stones and broken pottery.

Apparently, I called my wife 57 times and left 8 threatening and abusive messages, though I have no recollection of this.

I woke up in the early hours of the morning to the horrific realisation that I only had one can of beer to get me through the night. And all the shops were closed. I took 4 codeine based painkillers and searched the house for anything that might have alcohol content. All I found was a bottle of cough medicine which I poured into the beer. I drank the mixture as fast as I could, crying and bewildered. I didn’t understand why I was in this situation.

I vomited and fell down, shivering and sweating under a blanket, terrified.

I put my headphones on and pressed play on the CD player. It was Tom Waits singing ‘Come On Up To The House‘.

Photo by Anton Corbijn. .

Photo by Anton Corbijn.
.

For the first time, I listened to the words.

Well the moon is broken

And the sky is cracked

Come on up to the house

The only things that you can see

Is all that you lack

Come on up to the house

All your cryin don’t do no good

Come on up to the house

Come down off the cross

We can use the wood

Come on up to the house

(Chorus)

Come on up to the house

Come on up to the house

The world is not my home

I’m just a passin thru

Come on up to the house

There’s no light in the tunnel

No irons in the fire

Come on up to the house

And your singin lead soprano

In a junkman’s choir

You gotta come on up to the house

Does life seem nasty, brutish and short

Come on up to the house

The seas are stormy

And you can’t find no port

Come on up to the house

By the time Charlie Musselwhite came in with the best harp solo I had ever heard, I felt broken, sober and hopeful. I can’t say exactly what happened, but I think I had a moment of clarity, a vision perhaps, and knew everything was going to be okay. This song that I had refused to listen to, suddenly acted as a beacon of hope:

There’s nothin in the world

That you can do

You gotta come on up to the house

And you been whipped by the forces

That are inside you

Come on up to the house

Well you’re high on top

Of your mountain of woe

Come on up to the house

Well you know you should surrender

But you can’t let go

You gotta come on up to the house

Instinctively, it made sense to me, even though I had no conscious idea what he was on about. Alcohol had, 25 years before, been my God, my best friend and now it was killing me. The song gave me courage.

I lay awake all night and listened to it many times. I hung onto it like a drowning man to a lifeboat.

In the morning, compelled by blind desperation, I called Alcoholics Anonymous. That night, I went to a meeting, sober.

I have not had a drink since that day, almost 11 years ago.

Tom Waits with umbrella. From Mule Variations LP cover.

Tom Waits with umbrella. From Mule Variations LP cover.

I have subsequently read about Tom Waits’ own trouble with alcohol and his sobriety:

Oh, you know, it was tough. I went to AA. I’m in the programme. I’m clean and sober. But, it was a struggle.’

I often wonder if he wrote the song sober, with ‘drunks’ in mind. It doesn’t matter – it had an effect on me, and I am very glad he wrote it and that I heard it when I did.

I don’t listen to it very often. Not because I am afraid of it, but because it is quite a special song for me and I find it very moving.

Now, I really have no idea about God. I have a vague but strong sense of a power much greater than me. When I manage to tap into that power, I think it is God, but that’s as much as I can fathom. Fortunately, I have learned that I don’t need to know, I just need to believe.

I have driven myself crazy, looking for some knowable, definite version of God – in churches, Bibles, ideologies – but have never found it there.

When I play or hear music, though, I quite often feel I am in the presence of something more than the sounds. That doesn’t mean that I think musicians are gods – far from it – but I am certain that God is in music.

It’s hardly a new idea, I know, but it was a vital discovery for me.

In Medieval times, for example, students started in higher education by learning  grammar, logic and rhetoric.  They proceeded then to  mathematics, geometry, astronomy, and music.  

Music theory itself was considered a Christian study, appealing to other Christian truths as analogies or premises, and in turn was considered one of only seven foundational studies prerequisite to doctoral training in theology, medicine, philosophy, or law.

I can’t read a note of music, but I can play, compose and consider myself minorly musical, and I listen to it every single day.

I perceive no difference between Bach, Bonnie Prince Billy and Blind Willie McTell. To me, God is working through the lot of them.

One listen to Red House by Hendrix or Albert King’s I Believe To My Soul from Blues At Midnight…and I know something more than music is occurring.

Watch Bob Dylan performing What Can I Do For You? from 1980 at Massey Hall, or listen to Andres Segovia or Stevie Ray Vaughan. I have seen Spanish woodcutters raging the shit out of ancient flamenco or Lee Tyler Post create blessed magic in a hot New Jersey night…I could go on for hours.

I think that sometimes a divine spirit is harnessed through the human soul and body and flows through music. It is sacred. I don’t mean a stifled, restricted, denominational or religious sacred – I mean a joyous, sexy and soul-uplifting kind of sacred.

I believe music saved my life.

Seems like a steady guy.

Seems like a steady guy.

Tom Waits singing Come On Up To The House is on my 8 year old daughter’s favourite playlist, between One Direction and Miley Cyrus. She loves it.

I pray every day to my vague idea of a musical God and I pray with gratitude. For my life, my sobriety and music.

And for my little girl, who has never had to see me drunk.

3 responses to “How Tom Waits saved my life.

  1. Once again…several times while reading this ……I have out loud said….”AWW…..ohhhhhhhhhhh”….. …….Thank for sharing your soul Prince. …My Gawd is in the smile of my children and the laughter that follows…………Tom Waits has always been one of those TOP singer/musicians for ME too………..Now I have to dig out a few of his old albums and sit back and be melancholy and cry a little. I’m a big girl now…I can do that……………. :>}

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LEMON GARDEN

Lemon Garden.

Lemon Garden.

There are few things I enjoy more than listening to melancholy.

Especially if it is delivered with cool detachment.

Which is why Citalopram (Part 2) is my favourite song right now.

It’s by a young British band called Lemon Garden.

They are based in Birmingham but are lining up a series of dates in London, and you will be hearing their name in the music press very shortly.

What do they sound like?

I guess I would reference the song Heart & Soul by Joy Division (from Closer, 1980) and Radiohead. Also, I keep hearing Eno, early Roxy Music and The Smiths, too.

I guess it would broadly be labelled as British Indie, but, like all great music, it is so much more than a label.

It’s brilliant – full of tension, understated energy and a couple of the songs are deceptively catchy. Take Far Away for example – it’s got more hooks than a slaughterhouse.

It’s a corker.

I hear early ‘grunge’ in places but they definitely sound British. And right now. Lemon Garden could not be from any other country or any other time.

There are layered guitars, bathed in golden reverb and odd, glittering synth sparks that sparkle over the rock solid bass and drums. Liquid silver.

Singer Ollie Simms has a wonderfully quirky, weary English remoteness to his voice that is cooler than a morgue. He is the perfect frontman for such sweet misery.

It’s not all gloom, though. There’s a dry, wry humour, too. New Wave has some great lines, like “Let me clean your dirty mind…because you look lonely from behind” that make me grin.

They have played a handful of local, low-key gigs and recorded only a few songs but I can’t wait to buy the debut album.

Remember that name, Lemon Garden, and be glad you found them before they got big. Give them a listen and let the garden grow.

http://lemongarden.amazingtunes.com/

Copyright © 2014 William Henry Prince.

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Leaving Richmond – Human Minds, Robot Hearts EP

I once saw a film called The Draughtsman’s Contract. I couldn’t tell you what it was about but it was visually stunning. The dialogue and costumes were very formal and straight-laced, but there was a violent and seething passion beneath the mathematical surface, behind the geometric topiary and in the strictly repetitive score by Michael Nyman.

Human Minds, Robot Hearts has a similar effect on me. It is beautiful. And the strict beats and rhythms of programmed machines are the structures inside which passion stirs and lifts.

Human Minds, Robot Hearts EP

Human Minds, Robot Hearts EP

I have looked forward to this EP for a while. I am a fan of Leaving Richmond and love to listen to them while travelling, particularly through cities. I find the music exciting and extremely uplifting and positive. It intensifies the simple, rhythmic joy of being alive.

I stood on the roof of a skyscraper right in the middle of New York, looking down at the teeming streets of Times Square as it grew dark and marvelled at the streams of coloured cars, lights, and the weaving rhythm of people. It all moved in a symmetry and there was necessary co-operation involved, to make it all move forward. I remember feeling a huge wave of affection for my species, and a rush of excitement that I would be down amongst them very soon.

This EP makes me feel like that.

A robot from the 3rd Century BC.

A robot from the 3rd Century BC.

I honestly don’t know what kind of music it is, and it really doesn’t matter. It has no singer, which is why it feels so wide and panoramic – because my ears aren’t drawn to one point. I’m not listening to a voice or lyrics. I am hearing just the rise and flow of the instruments, the propulsion, the journey.

There are shades of Low-era Bowie, some creaking Massive Attack, a little early Portishead and a touch of Cocteau Twins but…well, hopeful and positive without being twee.

If ‘instrumental rock’ isn’t your cup of tea, then buy this EP because it’s so much more than a label suggests. It is easily accessible, joyous and will make you want to travel.

It’s for sale on iTunes, so give it a go.

You won’t be sorry.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/human-minds-robot-hearts/id772234268

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BOB DYLAN AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL, 2013

Happiness is but a state of mind. Anytime you want, you can cross the state line….

The stage was set, the lights went out...

The stage was set, the lights went out…

I have seen Bob Dylan ‘in concert’ quite a few times and he has always impressed me. Certain gigs stand out in my memory – as a kid in 1981, when he was my new hero; in 2000, in Cardiff, where he was swept along by the warmth of that small crowd, dancing, smiling, rocking and rolling and also his fantastic, hilarious, MC routine at the Hop Farm gig in 2012.

I never thought that I would see him, at 72, play the Royal Albert Hall, but life is like that. You just never know.

While travelling, I listened to Tempest again, as I knew he was playing a lot of material from that collection and I hadn’t heard it in a while. I like most of the songs and adore the actual sound of it. It sounds warm and noisy, like it was recorded on to tape, rather than onto a hard drive.

I had never been to the Royal Albert Hall before, so, after having a quick look at his ‘Mood Swings’ work at the Halcyon Gallery in Mayfair, I took the tube to South Kensington and arrived early, getting a drink and a bite to eat, then had a nose around.

The early view from my box.

The early view from my box.

I had a seat in one of the Loggia Boxes, with an alright but distant view. It was the furthest I have ever been from the stage but the ticket was a surprise birthday present, so I was extremely grateful just to be there.

The ‘hall’ was gorgeous and filled with history, and it soon started to fill with people, too.

The guy next to me was a giant, drunk Slovakian who told me: “I want see him now because he die soon, yes?”


He thought that was hilarious.

He drank an entire bottle of Vodka in the time we were there, and talked to his two sons throughout the entire gig, which seemed like a waste to me, but each to his own. 

At half past seven, the band walked on to a dimly lit stage to hearty applause and got into the positions they would remain in for the evening.

Stu Kimball strummed an acoustic guitar and then, from the shadows, emerged a head of grey curls, no hat, sharp suit and an ambling gait in pointy boots. The Royal Albert Hall erupted in raucous applause. 

There he was. The man himself.

IMG_3733

Things Have Changed is a good choppy opener and it gave me a chance to get used to the new sound via a well-known number.

Immediately, it was apparent that he was into it and standing cocky, in front of a centre-stage microphone, hand on hip, is a great way to start a gig.

He looked great – slim, sprightly and fully committed. Still funny, too. His legs make me laugh out loud. No-one moves like him – part cowboy, part Chaplin and part marionette but…cool.

He’s not embarrassing like Mick Jagger, breathlessly jerking around a stage like your Grandad dancing to hip-hop.

He has dignity and grace and carries himself the way the old blues guys do.

On his second record, he was quoted as saying:

I don’t carry myself yet the way that Big Joe Williams, Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Lightnin’ Hopkins have carried themselves. I hope to be able to someday, but they’re older people.”

Well, he does now. He’s earned his position and knows it.

I watched the sound guys tweaking the faders and by the second half of the song, they’d got the sound spot-on, given that his voice is an engineer’s worst nightmare. Deep rumbling lows, harsh spiky highs. It was hard to decipher the words sometimes, but, well, that’s nothing new.

bob-dylan-bob-dylan-performing-at-royal_3973255

She Belongs To Me has a great new arrangement, allowing him to play with the timing and phrasing of the familiar lyrics. He even elongated the vowel howls – like the infamous 1966 ‘Royal Albert Hall’ version (although actually from the Manchester Free Trade Hall, of course). 

He’s really got to grips with the character of his tired voice, and uses it to his advantage. The intricacies and nuances are kaleidoscopic. It’s a thing of cracked beauty and wonder. And as expressive as any soul diva.

His harmonica tonight was played straight into his vocal mic, not through a bullet, and sounded clear and stark. It was a treat to hear that lonesome, defiant edge un-effected.

He has a penchant at the moment for playing jazzy, off-beat piano riffs and I love it. I haven’t heard anything quite like it before. Occasionally he played a few bum notes and once or twice it seemed to clash with Charlie Sexton’s guitar runs, or Donnie Heron’s pedal steel, but it’s live music and that kind of stuff is fine with me.

I don’t go to a Dylan concert to hear slick.

On What Good Am I? he played a really interesting repeated lead riff that I thought worked well, then changed to chords  for the chorus. His voice sounded particularly great on this one, half-whispering then tenderly caressing particular words, his piano stabs punctuating lines. It reminded me of the way Blind Willie McTell played guitar, replicating a vocal melody with single notes after he’d rasped out the words. It was brilliant, I thought. Very delicate and unusual.

It was a real birthday treat for me, as I’d never heard him play that song live.

IMG_3721

Duquesne Whistle was a blast. He sang with confidence and obviously enjoyed it and the same was true of Pay In Blood, where, vocally at least, it sounded more vitriolic and searing than the album version.

Tangled Up In Blue was received particularly well, and is a great song, no matter how he does it. I couldn’t make out all the new words, but enjoyed it immensely, regardless. That was immediately followed by an even better Love Sick, with Dylan pounding those keys for all he was worth and singing it very, very well, especially as he raised the vocal register towards the end.

It may sound daft, but I liked that Dylan introduced the interval himself. I don’t know why.

The break gave me a chance to stretch my legs and munch a few hospitality sandwiches while wondering what further treats would follow from the stage.

As it turned out, there were plenty. On Simple Twist Of Fate, he played the piano beautifully, letting Charlie Sexton weave some nice sparkles around his almost conversational and surprisingly tender vocals.

And then, after the excellent, flat-out riffing of Early Roman Kings came the beautifully mournful Forgetful Heart.

Donnie’s dark, drone-like violin and Stu Kimball’s guitar were entrancing. Dylan’s broken voice and sobbing harp just about had me in tears.

It was ‘The Dylan Moment’, where, unannounced, something other-worldly happens that causes my senses to forget everything and feel like I’m standing in the light of something awesome and utterly lovely, divine even.

Like the alignment of the planets, but through music.

It’s not even a song I particularly like, and though the chords are fairly standard and emotionally manipulative in terms of Western patterns (F, Dm, and Am I think), something else happened and I was transported to a better place for a few beautiful moments – some kind of melancholic heaven.

The audience responded with standing applause and, again, the obvious love for the guy and his music was crystal clear.

bob-dylan-bob-dylan-performing-at-royal_3973254

Soon After Midnight is a lightweight favourite from ‘Tempest’. I find myself singing it a lot. I love the wry grin in the lyrics, the sheer audacity and wit. Bob Dylan has written hundreds of Class A songs, and is known to have penned a clever rhyme or two, so I love to hear him playing around with lines as simple as:

Charlotte’s a harlot

Dresses in scarlet

Mary dresses in green

It’s soon after midnight

And I’ve got a date with the fairy queen

Especially when preceded by lines like:

My heart is cheerful

It’s never fearful

I’ve been down on the killing floors

I’m in no great hurry

I’m not afraid of your fury

I’ve faced stronger walls than yours

Tonight’s version had the band create a subdued, stately sound, with Dylan clipping the vocal lines short while tickling one note melodies out of his baby grand.  I loved it.

My one criticism of tonight would be this: why have a great, great player like Charlie Sexton in your band and hardly let him off the leash?

His rhythm work is excellent and he adds frills and sparks to the restrained, grown-up sound, but, Bob, let him loose to cause a little mayhem! I think it would add contrast, another dimension, an extra excitement and colour. I feel that way about the whole Tempest album really.

Towards the end of the show, something else struck me – there was no nostalgia. At all. No reminiscing or rose-tinting. Most of the songs tonight were relatively current, which is pretty gutsy given that his catalogue stretches back 50 years.

(For the anoraks like me, there were 7 from Tempest, 2 from Blood On The Tracks, 2 from Together Through Life, 2 from Love & Theft, 1 from Time Out Of Mind, 1 each from John Wesley Harding, Freewheelin’, Bringing It All Back Home, Modern Times, Oh Mercy! and the country waltz, Waiting For You, was written for the soundtrack of Callie Khouri’s 2002 movie, ‘Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood’).

I saw Bowie a few years back and his show was strictly ‘hits’. There wasn’t much personality or risk involved, it was simply a very professional, crowd-pleasing, backward-looking exchange for your money.

There’s nothing wrong with playing accurate renditions of your hits, I guess, but Dylan seems unwilling to do that and, like it or not, it makes for a lively and challenging experience. 

Personally, I love that he keeps his songs alive and kicking. Even tonight’s first encore, 1968′s All Along The Watchtower, sounded fresh and still ominous and, for once, Charlie Sexton got to bend a few strings and turn it up a little. Dylan’s voice and delivery enhanced the apocalyptic vibe, making it…yes, scary. I enjoyed the breakdown at the end and the interplay between the piano and guitar, too.

Photo by Andrea Orlandi. Copyright © Andrea Orlandi, 2013. All rights reserved. This photo has captured such a classic Dylan pose and facial expression. A great shot.

Photo is Copyright © Andrea Orlandi, 2013. All rights reserved. Used by kind permission.
This photo has captured such a classic Dylan pose and facial expression. A great shot.

I have to confess that I haven’t liked Blowin’ In The Wind since I was a fifteen year-old kid and heard the version on Freewheelin’.  I skip over it on gig recordings or albums but, again, the arrangement tonight was so good, and his performance so interesting, that I really enjoyed it.

I think there is room in the world for a touch of innocence, especially as a final encore from a 72 year-old Bob Dylan.

They played it as a slow gospel march and Dylan’s harp was ace. I’m a sucker for those few repeated, building notes he plays over the changing chords.

And then he stood with his band and soaked up the applause, turning and acknowledging the people who were sat behind the stage, and that was it. He was gone.

RAH

I left and enjoyed the cool night, walking with the chattering crowd through the street lights.

Some of the arrangements tonight were as different from the officially released versions as those on Budokan or Hard Rain.

He may be getting on, but he isn’t getting old and I really respect him for that. 

I saw two people walk out tonight and heard a couple of grumbles (amid mostly very high praise) on the way to the tube station. I slowed my pace to be nosy and eavesdrop and I understood their complaints about his voice and arrangements, but silently disagreed with it.

If you like a bunch of Dylan’s old songs and want to hear them again for a sweet meander down memory lane, then it must have been a shock, a disappointment even, but he ain’t gonna stand with a Gibson acoustic and sing the early hits. That would be artistic death and, really, I’m not sure why anyone would expect Bob Dylan to do that anyway. It’s not like they haven’t been warned!

They say sing while you slave/I get bored.” 

He not busy being born is a busy dying.”

With Bob Dylan, I think you either love him or you don’t. There ain’t nooooo neutral ground.

I love it all the way and tonight reminded me why.

IMG_3714

The band:

Bob Dylan – vocals, piano, harp

Stu Kimball – guitar

Donnie Herron – steel guitar, mandolin, banjo, violin

Charlie Sexton – guitar

George Receli – drums

Tony Garnier – bass

My Birthday Gift.

My Birthday Gift.

The set:

Things Have Changed

She Belongs To Me

Beyond Here Lies Nothin’

What Good Am I?

Duquesne Whistle

Waiting For You  

Pay In Blood

Tangled Up In Blue

Love Sick

(Interval)

High Water (For Charley Patton)

Simple Twist Of Fate

Early Roman Kings

Forgetful Heart

Spirit On The Water

Scarlet Town

Soon After Midnight

Long And Wasted Years

All Along The Watchtower

Blowin’ In The Wind

I went to see the gypsy.

I went to see the gypsy.

THANKS TO:

Andrea Orlandi for permission to use his photo; my Dad for the ticket; my brother for the hotel and Dag Braathen for being Dag Braathen.

BD13rahFr

19 responses to “BOB DYLAN AT THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL, 2013

  1. Wonderful description , Dylan likers just don’t have forgetful hearts.
    This Autumn tour of 2013 will be rememered for a long time.
    I just can’t understand your feelings about Blowin’ in the wind.
    I mean, it’s a hymn, it was his hit, one could write a book about it
    and how the lyrics were born. What really is a joy that Dylan fans are
    people who have a feeling. It’s very nice to read this comments.

  2. I also received tickets for this concert for my Birthday I attended with my Son in Law, we were standing in the Gallery, we both thoroughly enjoyed the evening and I agree with everything that WHP states in his excellent review.
    Ray Steinberg

  3. You didn’t comment specifically on the show-stopper: Long And Wasted Years. That (along with Pay In Blood) are nothing short of relevatory and simply brilliant.

  4. Lovely. I wish I’d been there to have a Dylan moment. I found that comment very interesting, do other performers create such moments? I doubt it, but I’m a committed fan, hard to hold on to an objective point of view. I think he asks a lot from his audience, they then reap the rewards of their own attention.

    • I love your comments. I agree that he makes us work but the rewards are so good. As for the moments, I’ve had them with a few other artists but Dylan occupies a special place in my musical heart, so the moments are particularly memorable and moving.

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LEONARD COHEN AT THE O2, LONDON

“I’m not yet ready to hang my hat but I sure can see the peg.”

Leonard Cohen, 15th September, 2013.

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen

At 15, I was innocent in almost every aspect of male-female relationships, except rejection, in which I had gained a wealth of experience.

Around this time, I was given a ragged book of poems by Leonard Cohen, and, bored one day, I opened it randomly, to find these perfect lines:

“I heard of a man

who says words so beautifully

that if he only speaks their name

women give themselves to him.

If I am dumb beside your body

while silence blossoms like tumors on our lips.

it is because I hear a man climb the stairs and clear his throat outside the door.”

My love of Leonard Cohen started at the end of those lines, in 1978, before I had heard any of his records. I knew the feelings he described and loved the way he wrote them.

The ragged book of poems.

The ragged book of poems.

The first Cohen record I heard was his 1967 debut The Songs Of Leonard Cohen.

I chose it over several others because I liked the picture of a flame-whipped Saint Bernadette of Lourdes gazing towards heaven.

Like many other people, I was initially entranced by Suzanne, with its slow beat romance, hypnotic vocal delivery, genre-defying musical landscape and memorable imagery:

.

Now Suzanne takes your hand

And she leads you to the river

She is wearing rags and feathers

From Salvation Army counters

And the sun pours down like honey

On our lady of the harbour

And she shows you where to look

Among the garbage and the flowers

There are heroes in the seaweed

There are children in the morning

They are leaning out for love

And they will lean that way forever

While Suzanne holds the mirror.

(from Suzanne, 1967)

Some of the pictures on that LP were startling – men with golden arms dispatching cards, highways that were curling like smoke above his shoulder, Sisters Of Mercy with dew on their hems – the whole record was just gorgeously written and it sounded, to me, in 1978, as though it was hundreds of years old.

The Stranger Song, in particular, had a very strong effect on me. I didn’t understand it entirely, but I recognized a certain dislocation, a sense of emotional slavery, of chasing an ideal at the detriment of what is before me.

Both Of Us Cannot Be Wrong made me laugh out loud and I still think it is one of the most brutally humourous comments on male jealousy, desire and ridiculousness ever written. I have been the drunken, anguished plea at the end of that record, many, many times.

I also enjoyed the Religious undertones. I had been brought up by a rabid Atheist and a secretly devout Catholic, so had a very odd relationship with the Divine – and I liked the references in his songs, as they seemed mysteriously linked to sex, which was very appealing.

It was intoxicating stuff.

The rear cover of 'The Songs Of Leonard Cohen' from 1967.

The rear cover of ‘The Songs Of Leonard Cohen’ from 1967.

The whole LP shepherded me into a little pen called ‘Fan’. I have lived there ever since.

I remember watching a VHS tape, sometime in the mid-1980s, that my friend James had compiled – just clips of Leonard Cohen over the years – and being utterly enthralled by this strange old man, so witty and graceful, weeping when disgruntled fans wanted their money back after a disrupted concert or singing drunkenly among friends on his Greek island getaway. He seemed like the kind of human being I longed to be.

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On the 15th September 2013, I took my seat in London’s o2 arena with a very nervous stomach and plenty of tissues. I was asked by a friend to meet up, but I simply couldn’t do it. I was absolutely mute.

To me, Leonard Cohen is a holy man, a high priest, a cardinal in my cathedral of music and I would crawl through a hundred sewers to light his cigarette.

When I read that he had been ripped off and was almost broke, I actually re-bought his records to help generate an income. That is how much I like the guy.

That said, there are albums I don’t listen to much – Dear Heather and The Future leave me cold, despite repeated attempts to stoke a fire within, and even the superb I’m Your Man and Various Positions don’t sound good to me now – but I treasure them all the same.

In fact, the last Cohen album I liked the sound of (apart from the brilliant Old Ideas), was 1979’s Recent Songs.

By William Henry Prince.

By William Henry Prince.

 

Vocally and lyrically, though, he has never failed to impress, amuse and inspire me. My world has been greatly enriched by Leonard Cohen’s presence, and I have been deeply affected by his witty, respectful, romantic and masculine attitude towards women in his writing.

His portrayal of men and women’s romantic entanglements have been a source of great admiration, laughter and comfort throughout my life and I am extremely grateful for that.

I have never had a relationship with a woman who did not like Leonard Cohen and most have admitted that they would love to be ‘won’ by the kind of ‘courting’ he describes in his songs.

Cardinal Cohen at the o2.

Cardinal Cohen at the o2.

So, when he walked onto the stage, I was unable to think, speak or move. I just stared.

Slowly, I surfaced from my catatonic state and began to hear the music his brilliant band were making and listened to his delivery of old and new songs.

He was as graceful, charming and witty as I had always imagined he might be and I was impressed at how much he seemed to love his songs, relishing some of the lines as if hearing them anew. He also made the ageing process seem appealing – which is a miracle in itself.

It was a beautiful evening and I will treasure it for the rest of my days.

Hallelujah is, for me, the most beautiful song ever written (and John Cale does a magical version). It is merely great on Various Positions, but to see and hear him perform it on stage that night was simply transcendental.

Did I weep? Yes. Did I care? No.

I wept for all that I have lost, for all I have found and for all the hope I see in my 8 year-old daughter’s eyes. I also wept because I was so happy to be hearing this great man singing his songs.

I left feeling uplifted, amused, exhausted and entertained.

Leonard Cohen, in my Tower Of Song, is up there already, at the top, smoking and coughing with Hank.

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