I said that did I? Well I meant it and I still think that. I don’t know how it’s all happened really. People just kept asking me to do it. I kept getting requests from various promoters and people all over the place. I got one in from Dubai and I thought, well a) I quite fancy going to Dubai, that might be a laugh, and b) it’s far enough away that nobody’s going to be there to notice, it’s just low-key and I can try it out and see how it is… as it happened it was full of people from Hertford! So I gave it a go and I did a couple of gigs over there and I just thought, you know what I can do this, I can actually sit on the stool and people seem to be entertained. How bizarre!
Then I forgot all about it and the next request I got was for this country – it was a guy that had been bugging me for years to do it – and he must have caught me at a good moment because I went, do you know what? Yeah I’ll do it. So that was one, and then there were two and then there were three and I did a few of them last year. It was never something I felt confident enough to do to be honest, I couldn’t imagine people wanting to pay money just to see me sitting on a stool strumming a guitar, singing a few songs and talking nonsense for an hour and a half…
Well, a) there’s no such thing as a perfect gig, and that’s one of the reasons why I didn’t just record a gig, and b) there’s no such thing as a perfect album! But at least this way you get several goes at the same thing. We did try and record a couple of gigs and the problem was just the sound really, just keeping the audience quiet because they always seem to want a good sing-along you know? It seemed a bit uncharitable to not let them and tell them to shut up, so I decided to try to do it in the studio, which I thought was going to be easy but which wasn’t because in the studio everything is so exposed and every little fret-buzz and every dodgy vocal note is all there, larger than life, so it took me quite a long time… a few months to do what ostensibly should be an hour and a half’s work!
Well it did, it took about three months. It was absolutely nuts. I mean it wasn’t absolutely full-on, I wasn’t locked in the studio for twenty-four hours a day until I finished it; I kept dipping in and out of it. Also I’d think I’d got one done and then I’d do another one, then I’d listen to the first one again and I’d think that I really hadn’t got that one at all, and I’d have to do it again. So I did keep revisiting some of them and redoing them…
Well it depends on the song, some of them I must have had fourteen or fifteen goes at…
It is quite tortuous, because there’s no-one there you know? I engineered it myself so there’s no-one in the studio with me and it’s like some sort of weird Chinese water torture just trying to get it right. As I said, it was a lot harder than I thought it was but it’s done now so I can’t change it!
Absolutely yeah, at some point you’ve just got to say that’s it!
No, of course not. No, they don’t, and that’s one of the things about making any album; the love and attention you put into making it. I mean there are a few people out there on the planet who have surprised me on occasion, I’ll get an email saying ‘I love that high-hat part in the third bar of the song, it’s just brilliant’ and I’ll be really pleased, thanks very much! But no, you just can’t expect people to get exactly the same out of something as you’ve put into it.
Yeah, I am. Happy enough anyway. I mean that is what I sound like on a good night with an acoustic guitar, so I think that I’m doing myself justice.
Basically they are the bulk of what a gig is anyway; the songs I choose to do in a gig. The songs I choose for an acoustic gig are the ones that it’s physically possible with just an acoustic guitar, the ones that work in that context. There were a couple I tried that worked live but didn’t work recorded for some reason. They work live because of the audience participation, or because there’s something else going on in the live context, so there were a couple that I had a go at and decided that it just wasn’t going to happen. Basically the ones I ended up with are the ones that did happen!
Well I didn’t have a choice with them really; I had to make them work!
Well that’s a really good case in point, that track, because I thought there would be no way I could do that one acoustically, and I had a go. I tried using a loop pedal to get a groove going, to try and get the whole ‘Dancing Girls’ vibe going, but I just couldn’t do it and I basically gave up on it. Then I did some gigs last year and I started again, just trying to sing the song and asking myself what I could do with just an acoustic guitar, and I thought it would be different if I tried it as a waltz (laughs)…
Yeah, it did turn out well; I’m pretty pleased with that one.
There’s a couple. Some of them were originally written on an acoustic guitar and so they already sounded like that… like the songs called ‘Fiction’ and ‘Have A Nice Life’, because that’s kind of how they were supposed to sound anyway so I’m pleased with those ones. I’m pleased with ‘Dancing Girls’ as I said, and I’m pleased with one of the new songs on there which is called ‘This Broken Man’, which is a lovely song and which I actually co-wrote with two other guys, and which was done on a keyboard so I was quite pleased with the way that one transposed itself on guitar.
Yeah, there’s that one and there’s another song called ‘Lost In You’ that I wrote with Chesney (Hawkes) ages and ages ago.
No, neither of them was written for this. ‘This Broken Man’ was written on a songwriting retreat in Iceland with a lyricist from New York and a keyboard player from Norway… so it’s not a very green song; it’s got quite a large carbon footprint! But that was written about two years ago I suppose. ‘Lost In You’ was written way back in the nineties as part of one of me and Chesney’s – quite frequent – writing and wine-drinking sessions!
No, not necessarily!
Not really, as I said earlier I recorded a couple that didn’t work but all the ones that worked are there on the album.
Yeah it does, totally. I mean it started doing that when I started doing acoustic gigs… it became more about the voice, and actually singing them and thinking about what you’re singing if you see what I mean? When you stand on a stage with a band, with all the smoke and mirrors, it’s a much more visceral kind of experience, much more about the gig and being there. But when you’re sitting on a stool, just you and your voice and a guitar, then you do make friends with those songs again in a very real way.
I get nervous about performing full-stop. The thing that’s most terrifying about this is that on one had it’s all very close, and on the other there’s nowhere to hide, absolutely nowhere, so if you’re going to screw up then people are going to notice. So yeah, I do get especially nervous about the acoustic ones.
Not so much because they’re there and then they’re gone, and – touch wood – I haven’t really had a bad acoustic one. I mean the good thing about acoustic shows is that, technically speaking, there’s much less to go wrong! No, I’m not too critical because I know I can do it, and I know that if for some reason I cocked up a certain thing then I can just say what the hell and try to get it right tomorrow.
Well, I don’t think we’re really going to extend this little run… I’ve got a few gigs in Italy and Ireland, and there’s talk of shows in Denmark and Norway in the Spring to Summer time, but that’s it for the time being. In the summer there will, hopefully, be festivals with the band and then I really need to lock myself in the studio to get another album out…
Well I’m absolutely useless at multi-tasking, even though a gig – especially an acoustic gig – is just jumping in a car, driving down the M1, doing the gig, and coming home again, it kind of takes up a big space in my psyche. At the point when I’m gigging then that’s all I’ll be doing, I can’t write or do anything else. It just doesn’t seem to work like that for some reason. I’ll have to really concentrate and tell myself that I’m in the right space to start writing and recording the new album.
I’ve started. I have started two or three tracks and there’s one on the way and I’ve got ideas for other tracks so it’s coming… although I did tell people I’d started it a year ago!
Well… no. Hopefully this time next year… probably!
Not really, I mean that’s always going to be the answer isn’t it? You can ask me that on my death bed and I’ll still say the same thing… it’s never enough. I think you always want to achieve more.
Well that’s the Holy Grail really. I would love to get into that and I have been doing bits and pieces of media work for a friend’s company called Audio Network who do stuff for television and things. I have been doing some bits and pieces for that, and that’s quite interesting. But the film thing is a real closed shop, I think that all the producers and directors have their pet composers and also, when there’s a lot of money involved, they don’t want to take any risks with someone new so it’s a really difficult thing to get into, but it would be a great thing to do.
That’s a really good question… it’s not an easy thing to measure is it? In some respects I’ve got it now, I’m making records when I want to make them, I’m playing gigs and people are coming to them and I don’t know what more I want really. I certainly don’t want the kind of success I had back in the eighties. I’m not prepared to pay the price for that, not for my private life and not to have to do what you have to do to maintain that kind of public profile. So I’ve kind of already got it. Lucky me!
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