Inspired by Acoustic Guitar magazine I doodled my guitar yesterday, outside in the garden decorated with a few leaves.
I had a favourite tree to play on as a young boy. In fact I had more than one. They became great friends – faithful and places of refuge . My first packet of cigarettes (5 Park Drive!) was concealed under a bush there in a hole dug out with the precise purpose of being my “fag den”. I couldn’t help wondering why it took so long to light the blasted things, not appreciating that they were damp and sodden of course. I explored these tress like foreign lands – mapping my course round and up them as I ventured forth. Their contours were tactile and living proof of growth and experience. Jumping off the thickest branches onto the heads of imaginary passing badmen in true Robin Hood or Lone Ranger style. Always there, rooted solid and dependable. In later days I loved songs about trees – Mike Heron from the Incredible String Band’s own “The Tree” and Michael Chapman’s elegaic “Among the Trees”. And now – how beautiful they are on their lonely fellside outposts or cosy moorings in household gardens. Just to appreciate them is enough. There is a tree in Setmurphy woods just outside Cockermouth that I call my meditation tree. It has a special vibe – and its where I can go for spiritual nourishment. In many ways they are easy to draw or paint, because they don’t move too quickly, but actually capturing the spirit of tree through art isn’t easy, possibly because they are so aesthetic and solidly real in themselve standing like nature’s own sculptures. Who needs a picture of a tree – when you can go and see the tree itself. Anyway this year there’s an opportunity for me to try and draw/paint more. As Mike Heron says “Oh lord – how happy I am!”
sketch by keith fitton
It was like a dream, illuminated by the purple lights of The Tower, pointing into the cold November air, like a shameless phallus reaching toward the heavens. For this is a shameless town. The Golden Mile for the golden smile. The backstreet strip joints, massage parlours, show bars, kiss-me-quick hats, pink candy floss acting as an elaborate stage for sensory bombardment and tacky over-indulgence. Come and ride me she says with a wink in her eye and an open crotch whilst she tells your fortune, pockets your cash and then asks for more. She’s insatiable. Her loyalty is to the smile.
Yet there is a sad beauty that lies beneath her decaying Victorian facade. A two fingers up to the virtual world of faked indifference. She deals in real flesh. The stories of humanity in all its sordid yet vulnerable revealed nature. The release of cotton mill workers frustration into the endless beach, riding the trams to a better future, a mirage of a better life waymarked by exotic lights, animals, sights, smells, tastes and hopes.
It was here I came as a young boy on an odd day trip from my home in the Rossendale valley, the heartland of the Lancashire cotton weaving industry. I was warned of the “catchpenny” stalls and the gypsy fortune tellers that would pinch your soul if you looked into their eyes. Nevertheless, with fringed cowboy hat, I was romanced by the old whore so that fifty years later I’m entranced by the idea of hero Bob Dylan choosing to play three nights at the Winter Gardens on his current UK tour. Now this is a big deal for Blackpool. After struggling to get a ticket with my usual source on vacation when the tour is announced I manage to secure an official ticket at cost price and it proves to be a good ‘un, giving fine views in the intimate wonderful old theatre of his Bobness and band lit in sepia light, playing out of the shadows to an audience made up of a mix of hardened Bobheads and first timers. Amongst the latter there was a little after show disappointment because they expected him to sound like he did in the sixties (they haven’t been paying attention in class then!) As for me, I was transported by the music in a way that hasn’t happened at previous gigs. I found myself lifted by the circling power of the notes as they rose through the hall. Like the swirl of a Wurlitzer the sound reverberated through the body and upwards. Dylan himself was on fine singing form, moving from harmonica and keyboard with well practised ease. Many of the songs were from the latest album “Tempest” with songs of regret, leaving, foretelling, longing, redemption confirming we were in the presence of a prophet, not just an artist. My state of mind may have been partly attributable to the pints of Spitfire consumed in The Galleon listening to the very excellent Simply Dylan at a pre-gig gathering. But I like to think it was also the ethereal power of the music.
So, another Dylan gig, another in the county of my birth, in the town of my unravished youth. As I wandered back to my B&B I was sure I caught the glance of a young boy I recognised, walking with wonder in his eyes, clutching a stick of rock thinking what life might be like in fifty years time. And as I passed, I’m sure he winked at me.
Most of the time we live our lives in a bubble of self, thinking about what we want to do and how we would like to spend our time, days and money. Just occasionally something happens to remind you that we are all in this little adventure together, chugging our way through an increasingly fragile existence, down an increasingly narrow channel. And we all could sometimes do with a helping hand. Wind the clock back to the autumn of 1974 when I was living back in Haslingden, Lancashire when I had just lost my mum at a tragically early age. I was feeling lonely and pretty broken-up. At that time I was mating out with a group of friends from Ramsbottom, just down the road. These friends included Alan Fletcher, Bryan Johnson (now sadly gone), Brian French and his girl Angela and Pete Whiteside. Out of the blue they called me to say they wanted to treat me. Now at the time I was on the dole, spending time doing the housework and cooking for my dad. In other words – I was broke. What they did was to buy me a ticket for the what-was-to-become historic first rock concert at Wembley stadium featuring The Band, Joni Mitchell and Crosby Stills Nash and Young. Not only that, they bought me the return train ticket so I could go down with them. It was a never to be forgotten act of kindness that I’ll always treasure. Winding back to 2013, there are reports that CSNY are preparing to release a live album of that concert in August. See here. If you can’t wait, then here is the entire set from this supercharged set of space cowboys. A flawed, yet glorious happening.
Sketch by Keith Fitton
So David Bowie is back at number one. His first album for a decade, “The Next Day” has galloped to the top of the charts, and the musical innovator and fashion icon is once again hot property. It takes me back to a cold February night in 1969 and the historic (now sold to a private developer and made into a hotel!) Free Trade Hall in Manchester. Together with a few of my pals from the Rossendale valley we were really there to see Tyrannasourus Rex, whom had just released “Prophets Seers and Sages…. .. the Angels of the Ages”, their second LP. At that time they were an acoustic duo feted by John Peel, with Marc Bolan on guitar and Steve Peregrine Took on bongos. Peel was present at the concert, there to spin records and host the show. The opening act we had never heard of. Introduced by Peel, he entered the stage accompanied by the loudest music I have ever heard at any gig, bar none. It was a wall of deafening white noise. Dressed in a tutu suit, David Bowie then delivered a stunning mime performance. Whilst he uttered not a word, his theatricality was undeniable. An unforgettable first impression. Then the records; the classic “Hunky Dory” filled with mythical storytelling, fantastic musicianship, sensitivity and craft, it was a record to listen to in a darkened room, or in the back room of a pub, drinking beer and playing darts with your mates. And on and on through the Berlin trilogy, the concept albums, the dance music inspired pieces, the art-nouveau creations and so on to “The Next Day”. Here we have a graceful artist, actor, musician, actor who sails above the ordinary, beyond cliche, or trend. He is a one-off, quintessential English gem. A true national treasure. Let’s dance.
Here is my latest short soundscape, composed for the Soundshoots project. This time the theme was “Revenge”.