It’s 7pm on a balmy spring evening, and I’m wandering up Orsman Road in Hoxton, towards The Stag’s Head. I have no idea why I expect to find a tranquil beer garden on a Friday night in London’s East End, but my awakening is far from rude. As I enter the pub I’m immediately greeted by Tommy Hale, who’s standing just inside the doorway nursing a large wooden spoon bearing the number five.
The singer, songwriter and sometime guitarist from Dallas, Texas, is in the UK for an eight-date tour, which has already taken him and his band from Exmouth to Hastings, via Swindon, Bristol and Guildford. I saw the latter show three nights ago, and this evening I’m looking forward to questioning Tommy about some of its finer details – hopefully, for the benefit of the tape, in a nice quiet spot.
But first, there’s that wooden spoon to take care of.
“Please be aware no food, drink or chewing gum is allowed in the venue. Thank you.”
The printed sign, one of a handful dotted around the entrance and foyer area of the Troxy, is trying its polite best to look after the venue’s interests, but it doesn’t seem to have caught the attention of tonight’s performer, John Carpenter, who’s happily chewing away.
It’s hard not to think of Roddy Piper in They Live: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.” Carpenter’s supply seems plentiful, but asses – or rather arses, as we’re in London – still get a good shoeing.
The filmmaker/composer is in the capital to finish up his nine-date tour of the UK and Ireland, and I’m feeling a bit emotional. With my legs planted firmly on a prime piece of real estate – ie, down the front by the barrier, about 15 feet away from the man himself – I’m trying to soak up every last drop of what’s happening on stage. It’s my third and final show of the tour. Once this is over, that’s it – certainly for a while, but maybe forever.
Here’s one for fans of ’70s and ’80s Italian exploitation films. From left to right we have composer Fabio Frizzi, some interloping no-mark and actress Catriona MacColl.
Last night Fabio and his six-piece band played a wonderful gig at Union Chapel in Islington, performing suites of music from throughout Fabio’s career as a composer for film and television.
It was his third London show since 2013, and he’d reworked his set since his last visit to the UK two years ago, though of course all of his ‘hits’ from Lucio Fulci’s gothic horrors – the likes of Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Beyond and City Of The Living Dead (or The Gates Of Hell, as it was titled in the US) – were present and correct.
It’s been a busy couple of years for Last Great Dreamers. From a nostalgic comeback in 2014 – a reunion after nearly two decades of retirement – they steadily rebuilt their empire with singles, videos, tours and festival appearances, before announcing that they were recording an album, to be funded via their fans through PledgeMusic: a confident move, which appears to have paid off.
The finished record is called Transmissions From Oblivion. It’s a title that put in an early bid and fought long and hard to win its crown. But listening to the album, I’m struck by a fitting alternative, and that’s simply Last Great Dreamers.
If any of the band’s three long-players deserve an eponymous billing, it’s this one. At times, I’ve wondered whether there’s a case to be made for it being a concept album of sorts – about growing up, music, the business and the connection between these things. Not all the tracks fit, but there’s a strong sense that this is quite a personal record for its songwriters – a cleansing, in some ways.
There’s an unwritten rule in the music industry that goes something like this: whatever the date on which you’re planning to put out your new record, add at least three months – and then, when you’ve finally got that date, add an extra week. The wheels of design, manufacture and publicity can move slower than anticipated, and it’s impossible to cheat the system by anticipating delays from the outset – a problem I like to call the Release Date Paradox – so don’t try to be smart.
And so it is that 10 months after its final recording session, and two seasons after its planned spring release, Tommy Hale’s third solo album, Magnificent Bastard, has made parole. I first heard it in an unmastered, tentatively sequenced form last November, when I did an interview with Tommy in the Wiltshire studio where it was recorded. But the finished LP – the complete Bastard, you might say – is at last upon us, and listeners can finally get to decide whether it lives up to the claim of its title.
“Rest the toe by not walking or standing for too long, and not putting weight on the toe. You can begin normal activity once the swelling has gone down.”
That was the advice I got from the NHS website after I whacked my little toe on the corner of my built-in wardrobe on Friday afternoon. Over the years, I’d stubbed the same toe many times before, often in the same manner, and I’d never suffered any ill effects beyond an initial yelp and a brief sick feeling. But this time was different. This time, the appendage still hurt to walk on hours later, and when I removed my sock I saw that the toe was badly bruised and had swelled up. Was it broken? Possibly, reckoned the NHS guide to toe injuries. Either way, it looked like it had been stamped on by a giant gorilla and I should definitely rest up, at least until the swelling went down.
Unfortunately, this was not an option, as the following morning I had somewhere I wanted – nay, needed – to be. John Scott, composer of film scores, was attending the Camden Film Fair, and I wasn’t about to let the occasion pass just because I’d been playing football with the wall. So I carefully donned a pair of green Converse and hobbled my way to NW1, clutching two copies of the King Kong Lives soundtrack: an original vinyl issue from 1987 and the CD reissue on the Intrada label from 2012. If John would sign these precious artefacts for me, well, it’d be worth crippling myself.
They can be dangerous places, recording studios. Cables to trip over; microphones poised to knock your teeth out; a mountain of electrical equipment waiting to catch fire – some of it heavy too, so watch your back when lifting. If you have a wannabe Phil Spector producing, you might even find yourself dodging bullets as you reach for that high harmony.
Thankfully, today at Foel Studio, Tony Harris isn’t packing heat – it’s Sunday and he doesn’t carry at weekends – but that still leaves the possibility of injury by misadventure. When a crash is heard from somewhere in the building, Tony shouts: “Anybody hurt?”
“This next song,” says Pete Gow, “is probably the only reason we were invited to play Country to Country.”
It’s 11.45am on Sunday 13 March, and I’m in Greenwich, at the O2 – or the Millennium Dome, as I hope history will remember it – for a brief look in on what’s being billed as ‘Europe’s largest country music festival’.
The three-day bash has gathered together some of the genre’s current big names – the headliners are Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood and Eric Church – but there’s far more to the event than just an arena show, as dotted around the O2’s concourse are numerous smaller stages. Some of these stages are out in the wild, just around the corner from pizza parlours, bars and coffee houses. Others are tucked up toastily inside the dome’s satellite venues such as the Brooklyn Bowl. And it’s here, in this beautifully lit bar-cum-bowling-alley that Pete Gow, Case Hardin’s frontman and founding member, is pondering his band’s country credentials.
“It seems I let time slip away…” – Magnificent Bastard by Tommy Hale
Time is many things – some prosaic, some poetic. To the young it’s a comfort; to the grieving it’s a healer; to the toiling it’s a currency; to the creative it’s a storyteller. Albert Einstein once said that the separation between past, present and future is an illusion, which has got to be worth a shot the next time your mortgage payment is late.
The one universal, scientifically agreed truth about time, though, is that if you’re awaiting a new record from a favoured musician, it’s a massive pain in the arse.
It’s been eight years since Tommy Hale’s last album, Stolen Conversations, Three Chords And The Truth – and, given the opportunity to grill him about its now-imminent follow-up, I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I didn’t ask him why.
You know that a frontman is giving it his all when, after the first song, he confesses to accidentally swallowing his chewing gum. The song is titled Hidden Treasure, and it occurs to me – because I’m a childish sort – that in a day or two that’s exactly what he’ll find on a bathroom break.
And if you groaned at that, be thankful he wasn’t singing Stick Around.
Shockingly, it was nearly 15 years ago, in December 2000, that I first saw Jonny Kaplan perform. I was at the Borderline to see Caitlin Cary, who was then fresh out of Whiskeytown. Jonny was supporting – mainly in an acoustic capacity, though towards the end of his set he borrowed Caitlin’s band and started to rock out – and I was impressed enough to look him up when I got home and order his debut album, California Heart. I reviewed that record for my old webzine, describing the 12-track collection as “a face full of sunshine” and labelling Jonny a purveyor of Cosmic American Music – the term coined by the late, great Gram Parsons to describe his own soulful blend of country and rock ‘n’ roll.