I have found this plastic bag...

I have found this bag of audio cassette tapes containing recordings and stuff made twenty years ago or so, I am going through them and remembering...

You can start from the beginning if it makes it easier to read.

Pre-ano Magic

05 Mar 2013
Brecknock Road Studios

Glen and Dom bought a Tascam 4-track when they moved into Brecknock road, Kentish Town. Their first floor flat was strewn with weird musical instruments, clothes, tapes and more tapes and manequins.

I wasn't a regular visitor, I'd got a job working in the comedy industry, and it was great, but taking up all my time, working long office hours and then going out to see stand up in the evenings.

They recorded hours and hours of material, and experimented with sounds. This was the beginnings of the project that would become Piano Magic, Glen had always liked the idea of a revolving-door setup (like This Mortal Coil) where people would come round, bring biscuits, contribute to a track, then disappear, there was no pressure of 'being in a band' all the focus was on the creativity.

I was invited around to contribute (bourbon biscuits if I remember correctly) and listened to stuff and then copied seven or eight tracks they had worked out onto a cassette tape and was sent off to pick two or three and write some lyrics.

The above track is the one of the ones I chose, I didn't do a great job with the lyrics, but it was the one out of the three that Glen let me have a go at recording. The music is great, reminds me a lot of early Piano Magic, with the ticking and the bleeps. I remember thinking I shouldn't be singing over this at all.

I'm not sure what Glen felt about the recording, but he asked me to go away and write something new, lyrics and music, and then he would work with that, or maybe he wanted more bourbons.

A few weeks later I came back I'd written a song loosely based on 'Butterflies' the Ian Mcewan short story from First Love, Last Rites, and Glen liked the chords, and the chorus particulary, but it had the line 'on the Promise of Butterflies' and I couldn't turn my head to the side at the right moment to stop the P sound of promise pharting into the Microphone, so in the end Glen said it was fine, and although I'd bought around a double packet of custard creams, I wasn't invited back to record at Brecknock road again...

London, a man could lose himself in London

01 Feb 2013
Cover of pamphlet: Grey Flowers

I eventually ended up in Greenwich, (via Eltham, losing a Panda in the aftermath), and through loot, a flat, that was both above and below an antique shop, although this later became a flower shop, then a hairdressers, sharing with two scientist guys called Keith and Al.

I was still on the dole, and managed to get myself on a touch typing course in Greenwich, I figured a proper job would require typing and this is probably the single most best skill I have ever learnt, I urge anyone to learn to touch type.

I was covering the rent with savings and 'matrix' housing benefit payments, and had just got a 'placement' through the course to work in telesales at an accounting staff recruitment consultancy, I sort of led my newly acquired flatmates to believe I had a proper job in the city.

I was the wrong side of the Thames from all my Nottingham friends that had already moved down, and consequently spent a lot of time in my room, being lonely and wondering whether this whole move to London thing was such a good idea afterall.

This state of affairs led me to writing poetry again, even though I had kind of given up, and also playing guitar, and writing songs. The telesales job gave me access to a photocopier!! - and out of the ashes of these circumstances I put together the pamphlet 'Grey Flowers'. This song 'Fruitless' is one of the poems that appeared in it, it isn't as good as my earlier work (always the way with your favourite artists) but it is infused with being in London for the first time, and commuting and working in an office, and so I quite like it because it reminds me how I felt at the time.

The placement led to a job in the accounting staff agency and had another creative outcome, because it meant that I could lie and act as a referee for Glen and Dom so they too could move down to London, assuring their prospective landlord that they 'worked through the agency', as 'data entry clerks' and would definitely be able to afford and pay the rent, (although of course they couldn't and would be on the dole and drawing housing benefit!) Now I'm not claming credit for all their subsequent creative output, but it's clear that some is obviously attributable to me and this small lie on their behalf, if they hadn't moved to London together at that time, armed with my pseudo-data entry jobs, then would there have even been a Piano Magic ?

The girl from Northern Exposure

06 Jan 2013
Maggie O'Connell, from Northern Exposure

I think this is my favourite song from all of those I've played on in these recordings, Glen wrote it, and Caroline provided the line 'Her brow is ploughed' and I improvised the bass line. It's really just right, quirky, and to my ears at the time certainly of record quality, well at least flexi-disc.

The girl from Northern Exposure being 'Maggie O'Connell' of course, and this was another of our 'unlikely American heroines' tribute songs. I was really convinced if we could just find a drummer and do some gigs, Manchester / Nottingham or wherever this could perhaps lead on to something else.

Girl from northern exposure lyrics

The only trouble was it also made me realise my shortfalls, I could never write anything as natural and simple as this that would sound great, all my ability was mathematical, I could learn chords and sequences and write poems and lyrics but there was always something missing, something fake, missing that je ne sais quoi, (I don't mean I should have been writing things in French), whereas Glen's guitar chords on this are not even 'proper chords' and seem largely selected for their nearness to each other on two strings, but sound magical and so does the solo at the end that ebbs, fades and comes back.

Glen did write to say he had a gig in Nottingham, but that he was going to do it with another band he was playing with at the time called 'Mitten' (that all made a bit more sense then)

So I sort of gave up a bit on writing songs and being creative and moved to London to try and get a proper job.

The drummer boy

12 Dec 2012
 Receiving a tape from Glen (I have an interview in London hence A-Z)

We needed a drummer then.

'Octoberine Will' had now moved down to London along with 'illinois John', and were taking photographs of/and interviewing indie pop stars for fanzines and later the NME.

So this is when things got a bit weird as Glen said he was fed up with being in a Nottingham band, and he wanted us to be mainly based in Manchester. He thought of Clarkesville Park as being kind of 'my band' that he just played guitar in. This wasn't great for me because I was on the verge of moving to Nottingham but anyway I put up lots of those wanted posters, with the tear off strips of phone numbers all over the usual spots in Manchester, and it was the basement of Powercuts Records that hooked us a potential drummer.

Before rehearsing with us he wanted to meet us, so I met him one night; does it give too much away at this stage about how well this turns out if I say I can't remember his name ?; anyway I met him at Subway bar near Manchester Oxford Road, and he seemed a bit full of himself, but as my only criteria, was would he turn up or not, this meeting was followed up with a rehearsal at Red House rehearsal rooms, on the Rochdale Road. (New Fads also rehearsed there)

Glen came up on the train, but only for the day; we met outside Red House, but couldn't get in because it had been broken into the night before; we had to wait inside until the police came and much to their dismay I'd picked up a fire extinguisher that was wedged in the door that was used as part of the break in, thus destroying any finger print evidence.

The drummer had a Peperami and offered a bite to Glen, a strict vegetarian, which led to Glen whispering 'no this isn't the guy, he can't be in the band' but we rehearsed anyway because we were there.

The rehearsal didn't go well, the amp I had stored at Red House had been blown up by someone who'd borrowed it (I'm not suggesting it was the New Fads). The drummer hadn't heard of any of the bands on the list on the poster, which I suppose I could have perhaps discovered at the Subway bar. Glen didn't want to play any of the songs he sang on so we just ended up playing this track over and over until the drummer boy said the bass and guitar parts were too similar but he could see potential in us, at which point I think we both told him to fuck off (in our heads that is, we of course parted amicably and then never phoned him again)

The TV turns itself on

12 Nov 2012
Winnie Cooper, TV Icon - The Wonder Years

So we needed to write some songs, and this kind of happened disparately via the postal service[1], and when I'd visit Nottingham we'd put them together; and often there was a bit which that was obviously mine and a bit that was obviously Glen and I'm not sure that always worked. It would have been better if it was all Glens!

We liked the slow - fast - slow - fast of Sonic Youth indebted indie tunes and we also developed this theme of writing songs about unlikely American heroines.

This one is about Winnie Cooper from off of The Wonder Years which felt like it was the only programme on Channel 4 on Sundays when we were growing up; and seemed to capture those awkward first crush feelings in agonising detail.

I think Glen wanted me to sing this, but I thought it was a bit creepy; I may have relented in the end, but this recording anyway features Glen's voice. Also if you google for images of Winnie Cooper, as I've just done, you can see ermm, that she is now all growed up.

Not 'The Postal Service' - a side project of Deaf Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello, that released a really great album called 'Give Up' in 2003. The band's name was chosen due to the way in which the songs were produced. Tamborello wrote and performed instrumental tracks and then sent the DATs to Gibbard, who edited the song as he saw fit (adding his vocals along the way), sending them back to Tamborello via the United States Postal Service.

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