I've often said that I like Summer to be Summer. That is: balmy, sunny days with Pimms on ice and sunsets of contentment by the river - and Winter to be Winter - blizzards, biting winds and wooly mufflers on crisp cold nights. I've probably said this in either Spring or Autumn in a grey drizzle that was neither one thing nor the other. As I write this - my resume of 2009 - wrapped up over the computer, my breath visible in the kitchen, I am not so sure (O.K., I exaggerate slightly) . However 2009 was a year of not entirely expected developments. And anything can happen in the next twelve months. So here we go.
In February The Stan Elliot Quintet commenced recording an album of Jazz originals and Standards live and unvarnished on quality, antique analogue equipment in an excellent little studio in Bow. Self funded (from gigs and pockets) the results have pleased us all. All that remains is to master, design and manufacture a quantity; then see if we can subvert the recession, ignore the trying times of the world, and launch it onto an unsuspecting public. The Stan Elliot goal - apart from delivering quality performances - is to re-introduce the fun and spontaneity of classic songs recorded with warmth, so bypassing the, intellectual, cold, naval gazing seriousness that has bedeviled much of British Jazz for the last twenty years. Swing with a Rock & Roll Heart! Or is it Rock & Roll with a Swing Heart?
... In April I was summoned by Charlie Higson and Paul Whitehouse to participate in the filming of a new BBC comedy entitled 'Bellamy's People'. The pilot show that we did last year was evidently funny enough to entice the BBC to commit some serious funding into commissioning a series. Almost entirely improvised - as was Radio 4's 'Down the Line' (from which this has been developed) - this was new territory for everyone involved. Particularly me. To suddenly become an improvising, character comedian was a big leap. We have ended up with sixteen shows! (apparently there was an unbelievable amount of funny stuff there). Well: the first series is transmitting on BBC2 starting in January 2010. My contributions will appear in the second series to be transmitted later in the year. It is all going to be very interesting!
The Blur reunion gig at Hyde Park was one of the media events of the year. Graham Coxon rang me and asked if I would like a 'VIP Guesty'. Yes thank you, Graham. I ended up watching with sundry other 'family and friends' from the mixing desk enclosure in the middle of the crowd. Blur were very, very good. Memorable moment? During 'Coffee and TV' - a particular favourite of mine - I said to Graham's Mum that I was virtually in tears: "I just love this song" I said. She said that she had been 'virtually in tears' right the way through the concert. During a particularly noisy solo by his son, Graham's Dad grinned at me and said "Do you think he's loud enough?" Great day! Meanwhile Graham's album The Spinning Top which we recorded last year, was released to excellent - and occasionally baffled - reviews. Yes - it's largely acoustic you dunderheads!!
A trip to Edinburgh in July was a joy. The band, Buckleys Chance, were booked to play a festival in the Highlands which was unfortunately cancelled for health and safety reasons. At the last minute we fixed up an alternative: The Masons Hall in Leith. The only worry was getting the word out to attract an audience but the Edinburgh networking apparatus seemed to work a treat and we made a healthy profit. It is always a fantastic experience playing with this lot. We've played so many gigs together in various guises in the last twenty years that it is virtually a question of genetics. And Edinburgh was bathed in a quite abnormal amount of sunshine which was a real bonus.
My great friends from Cuba - Sierra Maestra - did a one-off gig in Tufnell Park in August.
Great to see them all again and wonderful memories of Havana. They plan to tour further in the UK in 2010 and are not to be missed. Extraordinary music.
Was treated to further VIP treatment by Madness when they played Lower Regent Street in September. Their dressing room for much of the day seemed to be a pub in Soho with disastrous amounts of free alcohol. They played brilliantly - particularly the tracks from their recent excellent album 'The Liberty of Norton Folgate'. Just those of us treated to their hospitality let the side down a bit with raucous, unbridled 'high spirits'.
In October I made my now traditional trip to Paris to celebrate the end of the Words & Music course for which I got a Distinction. Paris was gorgeous and very Autumnal and I enjoyed making a pilgrimage to Montparnasse cemetery to view the graves of Jean Seberg and - particularly - Serge Gainsbourgh whose grave was covered with flowers, metro tickets, messages of adoration and inept, framed sketches of him. They know how to celebrate death in Paris.
The highlight of the year occurred in November. The Graham Coxon Power Acoustic Ensemble was born. After joyous rehearsals at John Henrys we did two warm up gigs in Manchester (Royal Northern College of Music) and Edinburgh (The Queen's Hall). Our tour bus was like nothing I'd ever seen before. Downstairs, a kitchen, toilet, lounge and master bedroom; upstairs, a front observation lounge, sixteen bunks and an entertainment suite with huge screens and fitted sofa's where members of the band spent much of the time in hysterics and/or watching Old Grey Whistle Test vintage performances on DVD over fine (and not so fine) wines. As the coach sped north over the Scottish border we were entirely unaware that we were travelling at all. This kind of 'bonding' was reflected on stage in the performances, which were uniformly fantastic. The final gig was a sell out show at the Barbican which was a real thrill. (special guests included Robyn Hitchcock, Martin Carthy, Natasha Hunt and Max Eastley) The backstage area was fitted with a pod-like lift which whizzed the smokers amongst us up four floors to a wet and windy roof garden where we could smoke to our hearts content. Before we went on I was enthusing to Graham about the Grand piano I was to play:
"My God. It's so good that it virtually plays itself. I keep playing extra parts." Graham gave me one of his looks and said "Be careful!' ... And The Guardian gave the gig a four star review.
So hello 2010. How are you? And how are you going to be?...