Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jess Roden | In A Circle

Give or take a month or so, it’s taken nearly two years to get from there to where we are now. And, within that journey, suitcase life became very much part and parcel of the whole.

So, at this particular point in the burgeoning process of pulling the Project-X rabbit out of the hat and while being of budget-conscious frame of mind, I’ve checked into modest accommodation not too far from the studio.

Indeed, it’s no more than a couple of miles away from where the singer of songs and I munched happily away on a pile of popadums while concocting what we reckoned might be… a… bit of… a… plan.

Besides, I figured a quiet night would give me a few hours to get my head around some more of the music that we’ve been digitising before trotting westward chez JR for post-lunch discussions; we’re slowly arriving at the point where we’ll be shortlisting those that have made the grade and confining those not worthy back to the cupboard.

However, I’d only been inside the Hotel Splendide long enough to unpack, uncork a glass of the well-chilled and spread my spreadsheets (detailing all the work we’d been doing in the studio) over the bed before another visit to reception was rendered necessary. Or, rather, what passed for it – this splendid hostelry being on the unassuming side of wallet-threatening in terms of a home from home for the night.

Uber-drat… my carefully planned evening of reviewing work thus far was not running to plan… at all.

It took a while to attract the manager of this emporium’s attention – his gaze being fixed to the PlayStation machine that’d been hooked up to an oversized tv-screen on the other side of what served as his office.

He was playing carton golf.

Eventually, a little louder-than-discreet cough was enough to put him off his stroke whereby his ball landed ever so satisfyingly in a digital bunker. Hello, I grin (reckoning that his position in the pixelated sand looked frightfully tricky), My room is flooding.

He stared at me with a mix of disbelief and annoyance criss-crossing his face, his jaw opening and closing soundlessly much like an out of fresh-water-Salmon would.

Nevertheless, digital Phil Mickelson put his machine on pause and, blowing air like a beached whale, grudgingly trudged after me – all the way back to my room. There we halted as I struggled through various jacket pockets, searching for the key while the audible drip, drip, drip of water splashing happily away could be clearly heard behind the door.

There was enough water pouring through the extractor fan, right above the lavatory, to render needless any thought of pulling the chain should I require the use of said appliance – it’d be like peeing in a heavy rain storm. Ahh yes… the beached whale exhaled loudly… that would be the people in Number 5 taking a shower. Would you like another room?

We trudged back up stairs, down a few steps and up some more before suitcase, self, spreadsheets and the well-chilled were finally installed overlooking the rumbling thunder of mid-summer traffic below. With no air-conditioning and the nonadjustable heater set to maximum, the only thing for it was to open as many windows as possible. The thunderous rumble immediately turned to a Niagara-roar – time to take spreadsheets, headphones and self off to get something to eat .

But, not before perusing the book of words pinned to the back of the door – from which I gleaned that da-management weren’t much bothered if anything was stolen from one’s room. Paragraph eight stated that they’d not be liable for anything nicked that was valued at over fifty notes and nor were they insured for the contents of cars or horses.

I look about me and, before shutting the door firmly and trousering the key, confirm a Shetland Pony wasn't hiding in the shower cubicle.

A police car wailed in the background as I crossed the road that was nearly obliterated from view by a passing cloud of high-grade ganja; safely over to the sunny side of the street, it took but moments to size up the local culinary delights. It was a choice of one from one.

Settled beneath an abstract Himalayan scene that had somehow been stenciled onto cheap hardboard, it took mere seconds before two grinning waiters brandishing identical menus quickstepped across the shagpile that only a visually impaired person would have chosen.

There was a gay couple to my far left, both busy with their mobile ‘phones – perhaps searching out alternate dates since it quickly transpired (via the one with the restaurant-carrying voice and fringe of over-floppy hair) that he wasn’t planning on going home with his companion.

The later-than-me influx of customers included an all-girl group who brandished their ‘phones with aplomb taking picture upon picture of each other studying the menu. With fingers and thumbs set to dexterous, multiple Facebook profiles were being updated long before their starters arrived.

To my right another couple settled in – and, it was immediately clear from their touchy-feely, stroke me / stroking you / sit on the same side of the bench that they would place the Greek island of Lesbos fairly high on their summer holiday shopping list.

Given that they were on the next again table and I’m dining alone while being studious with my spreadsheets, it’s wasn’t hard to overhear their conversation. Within three minutes they’re discussing particularly intimate and very recent… errrr… occurrences… that… occurred… in a shower… Ah yes… they’ll be the occupants of Number 5.

The next afternoon, JR and I are seated at a table at the top end of the garden; there is a bit of a breeze getting up that’s rustling the tops of the Silver Birch trees that line the far end of the greensward.

As much as we’re starting to narrow the choices down now there has also been a mutually agreed consensus, a rationale behind that making of choices in place from day one. The tune, the song, the performance – whichever it may be – has to stand up in its own right all these years later.

In effect, that means making choices on the basis of fast-forwarding ourselves further into the future and being able to collectively look back and say; Y’know what… that’s actually not bad at all.

And, right now, we’re back in amongst those tapes that emanated from those sessions at The Fallout Shelter, the studio deep down in the basement at the back of Island’s London HQ in St Peters Square.

I have to say, that I don’t remember – until I heard them recently – that we’d actually finished many of these tunes. I thought they were still awaiting final vocal or finished mixes…

Attention is diverted for a moment. Perched on the fence is a pair of Squirrels intently studying the bird-feeder that’s suspended from the about-to-be-shorn Cherry Tree. They’re trying to figure out a way of bypassing the latest Roden-anti-squirrel device that has been deployed in the ongoing battle to defeat the enemy’s attempts at extricating food that’s not been left out for them. Bloody rascals… Y’know, they’re a lot more intelligent than you’d give ‘em credit for. This latest gadget we have looks like it could be the one tho’; its kept them out for a good couple of weeks but, you never know, they’ll probably figure it out. Another coffee before we get back in to it?

Two more cups of the well-frothed are placed on the table and we return to the subject of some of the songs that I’ve unearthed that would – had it not been scrapped – have constituted the first JRB album. The breeze has notched up a bit, rattling the sunshade against the table centre… or is my leg involuntarily twitching; much more of JR’s super-strength coffee and I’ll start to astral-project.

The Steve Smith album wasn’t finished – there was probably more material to add to it, but I think there was probably a sort of… a kind of impatience starting to develop in that I wasn’t having hits… and the band had been in the studio for a couple of months and there was a feeling of… ‘this ain’t gonna get him a hit either…’ which was, probably, a fair judgment on a musical level.

The entrance to that particular studio was to the side of the canteen – oft-presided over by Lucky Gordon, one time pimp to one of the Profumo Affair’s central characters, Christine Keeler – and where many of Island’s acts of the time recorded including Bob Marley, Aswad (who were almost fixtures there), Eddie & The Hot Rods, Steel Pulse, U2 (recorded a number of B sides with Steve Lilywhite who began his career there), Rico, King Sunny Adé, The Snivelin’ Shits, Rebop Kwaku Baah, as well as non-Island acts such as The Smiths (Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now was recorded with the then in-house engineer Stephen Street), Shriekback and countless dozens more.

Yes… that’s Steve (Winwood) on In A Circle. I’ve known him for years and… he must’ve been hanging about or whatever and y’know, we just wanted a keyboard player and, in some ways, it would have been very nervous for the band approaching him, I’m sure because he was a very busy guy – but, anyway, we’d got to a stage where we had a whole bunch of material but there was something lacking… so we asked Steve to come down… and he said, yeah.

He was just magnificent. There was a couple of passes and, basically, that was it… he just knows what to do, especially when it comes to Hammond.

Some days later we’re sitting at his dining room table – its boys night in and the hour is late; the remnants of our meal has been cleared away to the kitchen, two glasses of the well-chilled are before us as are two computers. Their respective cables stretch across the bare wood before trailing along the floor boards while various lists adorn random scraps of paper, post-it notes struggle to adhere to screen-edges and, in my open notebook track-listings are starting to take shape. Song titles have either been scratched through or have a tick beside them; other lists are emerging – the whole is slowly starting to take shape… So, which version of In A Circle do we go with?

JR looks back to the bigger of the two machines and scrolls down a bit and presses play. As the song moves from the extended chorus to where the Sax and Hammond start to interweave, he says, Has to be the one with Steve… don’t you think? For me, there’s something really special here.

Absolutely… Don't think anyone's heard it before either 'cos I'm pretty sure that it wasn't part of the cassette that Webbo had up on his site for a bit… I’d say, it’s a better version too… I pause. I mean… just listen to that, it’s just… floating… So, that’s a tick to that one…?

Yep… He agrees, That, Holmes, is a definite tick… So… moving on… what do we reckon for track four then..?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Gimme’ Some Truth

According to the BBC’s web site (from a story – – posted on Monday, March 14th ), Cory Doctorow is not just an author. He’s also a blogger and a journalist… and… stand by your beds, Matron’s on her way… he’s an activist too.

And, according to Auntie’s on-line presence, he’s passionately opposed to DRM (Digital Rights Management). Indeed it appears he’s pretty opinionated on the subject too since, in among many other quotes on that website within the self-same article, Mr and Mrs Doctorow’s son states: "The one thing that everyone should have uppermost in your mind when you're designing your business is that computers are never going to get worse at copying things."

Wow… Cory, that really is revelatory stuff… and not just because of your grammar.

Now then, that’ll be… Command (or Control) C for copy… and Control (or Command) V for paste… and, its been that way since… ohhhh… how long now..? Well, the Mac was introduced to the world on January 24th, 1984 and PC’s also use that same shortcut structure…… Ohhhh no… wait a sec, that’s not what he’s on about… oh heavens… nooooooo…

Goodness gracious, Mr and Mrs Doctorow’s grammatically challenged offspring is banging on about something much more important…

What’s that then? Well…. He – Cory D (lest we forget) – believes ‘digital content should be shared freely and that copyright laws should be liberalised to reflect this.’

Blimey… who is this radical thinker who’s discovered the road-map to Utopia?

Well, according to the BBC, he’s a Canadian who lives in London, he writes best selling science fiction novels and co-edits a blog called Boing Boing… He also (apparently) contributes to the Guardian (online) and was, in 2007, named as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. Crikey…

But wait… there is more… He is also a former director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and (golly, how does he find the time) a co-founder of the UK Open Rights Group as well as being a leading proponent of Creative Commons. Errrm… yes… and that is..?

In short, with a Creative Commons license, you keep your copyright but allow people to copy and distribute your ‘work’ provided they give you… a proper credit for so-doing.

So… what kind of ‘work’ falls into this category? Well, according to a Google search with that very phrase in the title, Creative Commons licenses can be applied to all works that would normally fall under copyright, including: books, plays, movies, music, articles, photographs, blogs, and websites.

I see… so… one get to keep one’s copyright… however… it’s also cool (maaaan) for others to copy the work that you have copyrighted (as your own) freely. How splendid, how very forward thinking: that’s a bit like allowing free run with the photocopier in the nearest Public Library.

I think those who read this little Voltaire out on its windswept knoll can safely assume that our newest Canadian pal, Mr Doctorow gets paid (ie, earns money with which he pays his bills) to write for the Guardian (online)… to co-edit Boing Boing… or… write his sci-fi novels… or sit on the Creative Commons committee.

If not, then he either has very understanding backers or is someone of independent means who doesn’t need to work for a living.

Either which way, the viewpoints he’s presented and as outlined within this BBC article are about as lop-sided as the Titanic was about ninety minutes after striking the ‘berg.

The fact of the matter is… IF creatives do not earn (and copyright is rendered worthless – as described above) then those ‘things’ that we all enjoy (music / books / films etc) are gradually (no… make that rapidly) going to dry up.

This Utopian idea as purported by Mr Doctorow of… oh, everything should be, like, free maaaan… is as misguidedly imbecilic.

Any internet economy based on that model or ethic will collapse like a pack of cards disturbed by the breeze when the door is opened.

Consider – if you will – how newspapers are facing meltdown right now… For why? Well… you don’t need to buy one… do you? They’ve been giving away all their 'content' for nothing on the wibbly wobbly web for aeons… and all of ‘em (save Murdoch behind his pay-wall) are wondering why they’re hemorrhaging money.

Duh… it's simple… you cannot give away your ‘goods’ for free and expect to break even let alone make a profit with which to invest in the future. Or, pay the bills. Or eat.

If MC Doctorow wants to give all his work away for nothing… fine, that’s his choice.

But, it is entirely wrong to purport the theory that it is the right way forward. It is absolutely not because that juvenile attitude is simply promoting the rape of creativity.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Jess Roden | Song 3

The room to the back of the anonymous back-street building in which I’ve been placed is, at best, serviceable; it is approximately fifteen feet square with walls painted a uniform, hint of a tint (but now-fading), Magnolia. Truth to tell, the colour scheme is actually more off-white with no tinted hint at all.

There is just the one, metal-framed window. It is set annoyingly high on the far wall – presumably so as to preclude any view other than that of the gun-metal grey, rain-bearing clouds, scudding past on this dreary, mid-February, afternoon.

Beneath the window is an oversized, malt-brown melamine-topped desk – more junior accountant than office manager. The right-hand border is scored with blackened cigarette burns that spread along its edge like so many decaying woodlice; I’ve seen fag-end burns like this many times before – most often on old B3 Hammond Organs played by the likes of Steve Winwood.

On the desk and in a mug that’s known better days, there’s a half-drunk cup of coffee. It has been poured from a machine down-along the frayed-brown-carpeted hallway. Even behind the now-closed door, the percolator gives off its own signature odour of stale dregs at twenty paces.

The entire place reeks of early-Seventies, Habitat-inspired, office functionality.

My Moleskin notebook lays bare and untroubled (yet) by note-taking on the desk; my coat is hanging on a hanger that, itself, is suspended from the single hook on the back of the plywood door. My brown-leather briefcase is huddled against one of the desk-legs; much like a cat, hungry for its master’s affection.

Spread across the stone-carpeted floor are plastic crates – some are green, others are Air Force grey while a few began life as shout-out-loud iridescent orange.

Some are stacked, one upon another while others have been spaced apart in random order; all are heavily pock-marked – as if suffering from crate-acne – and scratched from being thrown into and around the back of Transit vans; their heavy contents man-handled with ease by burly men with muscles to match.

Functional boxes which, in their own simple way, are simply that – since there is no other requirement… strong but serviceable; sturdy and utilitarian.

And each of these containers that are approximately three foot long by eighteen inches by another eighteen or so in depth hold innumerable smaller boxes.

Most of these are twelve-inches square; some are over two inches deep, some are slimmer volumes. All are stacked vertically and… sprinkled amongst them are a handful of smaller boxes – a mere seven inches square and slender in width too.

All of them have been labeled at some long-past time or other; the labels themselves have been stuck on the actual box fronts – some have been scrawled on, some have a good deal of writing that’s been crossed out and replaced by other, almost-as-old, scribbles; some have a doodles and drawings while some of the labels have been neatly typed out.

Like ancient hieroglyphics high on a wall on the inside of a Pharaoh’s tomb, they offer their own clues… hints that these boxes contain the treasure which, Indiana Jones-like I’ve been hoping to find for many months.

Fast backwards: a restaurant from the Indian sub-continent on the main drag that connect Chiswick to Hammersmith; Popadum frenzy, Chapatti heaven and Korma bliss. Two Kingfisher beers have been part-supped yet we’re not quite ready for the next infill; the singer and writer of songs and I sit opposite one another.

“Sometimes,” he muses, “I do wonder what still exists… Me and my bands, y’know… over the years… we recorded a lot; over at Basing Street and just down the road at the back of St Peters Square… And… now that I come to think about it, I do wonder what… might have survived.”

“There was a lot that never got released… but… I suppose all that stuff probably got wiped… or, maybe recorded over… or, perhaps those tapes just got chucked out. I dunno… but… yes, absolutely, if you wanted to do your Sherlock Holmes thing and… see what really is there… then… yeah, I’d be up for that…”

He sits quietly for a moment or two; a sliver of Naan bread held lightly in his fingers, hovering just above his side-plate. “Y’know… there was some really good stuff that we did… so yes… it’d be interesting to see what they have… but, honestly, I don’t suppose there’s very much. Another beer..?”

Fast forwards a few months… the singer and writer of songs wanders back into his sitting room with two large glasses, each having been re-charged from the bottle of well-chilled in the fridge; a couple of reserves are laying in wait in the garage that's attached to the house... just in case.

A real-fire hisses and pops in the grate… the gentle scent of top-notch Welsh lamb being oven-roasted in the kitchen across the hall mixes with the wood-smoke to permeate the air. A cat trails in after him and struts past the small, elderly dog curled up on the hearth.

The singer of songs settles into the depths of the sofa as I sit on the floor, just in front of the drawn curtains in the bay window. There’s a MacBook attached to the stereo-system; speakers placed either side of the fireplace.

A portrait of him, his young son and his wife taken at the time of the photosession for his first solo-album hangs, ever so slightly off kilter, above and to the side of the left-hand speaker. Books of eclectic persuasion stand to attention like so many soldiers line abreast on their parade-ground shelves. The lights are low with music in the air.

“Y’know… I’m amazed at what you’ve found…already… and you say there’s lots more?” His trademark eyes are lined by no regrets as he leafs through the box-front scans from today’s work-in-progress for project-X.

“This… y’know what it is..? It’s pretty much the whole album I did with Rabbit who nowadays plays keyboards with The Who… the one that CB (Chris Blackwell – owner / founder of Island) kinda rejected… I mean, we kept one track… but… really, it’s quite incredible that you’ve found this.”

“I mean, some of it is a bit… y’know… but… this one still stands up, don’t you think..? I have to be perfectly honest, though… I can’t really remember writing this let alone recording it… Let’s have a bit of a memory-jog.”
He presses play on the MacBook and the unedited song is counted in by an unknown voice and then sparks into life.

Three minutes or so later, the tune gradually fades into the distance… the singer and writer assumes a far-away stare. Abruptly he says, “Heaven's, what kind of compression did we use on that piano..! That’s Mike Kellie from Spooky Tooth on drums… Pat Donaldson who played with The Fairports as well as lots of others is playing bass… that’s Rabbit on keyboards… and me strumming away on an acoustic guitar…”

“Why is it listed like that on the box? Well… I never came up with a title for the song. I think… maybe… I was planning to call it Hallelujah or something like that… but… ‘cos it was the third song on the tape and had no proper title, the engineer or the tape-op would have written it up as that.”

“I think we can stick this on the list as a definite for inclusion… don’t you..?”

Ladies and gentlemen… this… really is… the very first Hidden Master we found… Song 3… by Jess Roden.

(nb, this is an edited clip – there being very real reasons why the full track isn’t being posted… a) this song has yet to be re-mastered (this is a lo-res MP3 audio) and b) to make it less attractive to the pirates - copyright must be respected. In time, however, this track – as well as the original non-vocal demo – will be part of the Hidden Masters : The Jess Roden Anthology set that is in preparation currently).