Category: Arts Culture

Liner Notes

Liner Notes

I have a new album out which goes under the snappy title of ‘Cat in the Spirit House’. The picture below will give you a rough clue as where the name came from.

Full disclosure: These are not actually new songs but are taken from the two albums I released in the 1990s. ‘Don’t stare at the celebrities’ came out to wide- spread acclaim (hang on that should read apathy) in 1995 and ‘Shopping in bed’ followed two years later. These ten cuts represent the best songs those two albums had to offer.

In the nineties I moved to journalism and worked largely with ABC News covering the first Gulf War, the Concorde crash and the Bosnian conflict among hundreds of other stories. News features quite heavily in the lyrics if you know where to look. I was still in touch with an amazing group of musicians from by recording studio days. All these years later their playing still sounds extraordinary. Thanks to one and all.

Credit for this new album should go to my old comrade in arms Simon Webb who came up with the idea and who also suggested getting Ian Tompson to re-master the chosen tracks. Ian did a wonderful job pulling off the cobwebs using all the dastardly wizardry at his disposal.

Click here to listen to the album

Love to all

Jim

Spring 2021


Credits

Voice/guitar: Jim Preen

Guitar: Les Davidson, Tim Stone

Bass: John Gordon, Jeremy Meek, Phil Manley, Richard Lee, Simon Edwards

Drums: Richard Marcangelo, Steve Dixon

Percussion: Phil Overhead

Keys: Mick Parker, Damon Butcher, Tim Bradshaw

Vibes: Roger Beaujolais

Harmonica: Mark Feltham

Tenor sax: Ray Carless, Nick Penteloe

Backing vocals: Helen Hardy, Sonia Jones, Zoe Nicholas, Susie Webb

The Kick Horns: Roddy Lorimer (tpt), Simon Clarke (bari), Tim Sanders (tenor)

Brass arranged by Simon Clarke


Songs remastered by Ian Tompson

Photograph: Judith Hurst

Design: Rob Anderson

Framed written by Leiber & Stoller

Mr Siegal written by Tom Waits

JP responsible for the rest of the malarkey


Click here to listen to the album

The year of living dismally

The year of living dismally

We’ve never lived a year like it. Just over twelve months ago the Prime Minister told us to go home and that’s pretty much what we did albeit with a slight hiatus over the summer. We’ve mostly been home, cooped up and closeted.

Life has been directly informed by whether you like your home and the people in it. We were told we were ‘all in it together’, but that ‘it’ varied wildly from those with a large house and garden surrounded by a loving family to those closeted in abusive relationships or living alone twenty stories up in a tiny apartment with no access to a garden. It’s been a series of very different journeys which have determined how tolerable or otherwise our lockdown has been.

Pernicious disease

Then of course you may have caught Covid, a most pernicious and almost incomprehensible illness. Some caught it, displayed no symptoms and are still unaware they ever had it. More than a hundred and twenty thousand got sick and never recovered. For others still hanging on after being ill for weeks or months it continues to be a long brutal battle.

And what about babies and very young children, usually the most vulnerable to disease? It seems to have had little or no impact on their young lives. How can that be? Slightly older kids may not have been physically affected by the disease, but many have been hurt badly by the psychological fall out.

Our house

Days seem to pursue a relentless course of not very much. In this house we all work or are trying to navigate ‘A’ levels. We moan when the broadband is as bad as dial-up and our super important call disintegrates into digital dust.

In the evening we watch Netflix or a BBC iPlayer boxed set. We’re currently on the wonderful French farce ‘Call my agent!’ and then settle down for the 10 o’clock BBC News, unless the news is too dreadful to watch. I’m now fully acquainted with all Sophie Raworth’s broadcast outfits and frankly Soph it’s time to go online and select a couple of new ‘fits as I gather, they are now called. (Thanks to daughter for that). I really need to get out more, but then again so do you.

If you’re a keen reader of A little London Life, you’ll know that over the summer we moved to Essex for three months while our kitchen was given a complete makeover. Builders seemed to have worked right through the pandemic.

And there in the Essex house that we rented from friends was a small upright piano. I was determined to do something during lockdown that would mark some kind of growth and started hammering out gibberish on the piano. Well, that hasn’t stopped as a lovely friend from my days at ABC News gave me a digital upright which now gets beaten into submission on a nightly basis. I’m still an astonishingly bad player but having played guitar for almost 50 years I do understand music’s basic wiring. I know what’s going on under the hood, which I’m now struggling to translate on to the keyboard. It’s a battle but I’m in it for the long haul. Sorry neighbours.

Suddenly, nothing happened

So how has it been for you? Still struggling to coming to terms with it all? Doing OK? Coming up for air?

It’s odd to try to recall what happened when almost nothing happened.  The major events that typically bookmark our personal orbit round the sun were in short supply from March of last year. No holidays, no going out, no meeting with friends, no journeys, no business meetings. Social interaction reduced to a Zoom call. Work seems like a series of tasks rather than a collaborative experience.

What do I miss most? Is it gigs, theatre, art galleries, cinema, having pleasant things in my diary to look forward to? Yes, all of that but not really that either. What I really miss is just being in the presence of my fellow humans. Hugging, kissing hanging out, drinking, chatting. Life with a forward trajectory built into it. How do we know we’ve achieved anything if we keep busy but are often busy doing nothing?

Vaccination action station

It’s certainly not over yet, but the various vaccines are a beacon of hope. I remember talking with someone at the start of it all saying I thought the chance of getting a vaccine quickly was slight at best and there was a good chance there would be no vaccine at all. Science has come to our rescue, we have vaccines, there is a way out. Let’s have no mealy-mouthed anxiety. Roll up your sleeve.

As the little bumper on the BBC says: The future isn’t cancelled. See you on the other side.

Can we put the civil back in civil society?

Can we put the civil back in civil society?

‘Why do we scream at each other? This is what it sounds like, when doves cry’. Prince

The culture wars, from Brexit to Trump and beyond, have driven deep wedges between different sections of society. We now communicate on cultural and political issues with the caps lock PERMANENTLY ON. This is most obviously played out in the snake pit of social media, but it can also result in a cab driver screaming at a bicyclist (me). We seem to operate on a very short fuse or in many cases on no fuse at all. We blow up in each other’s faces.

Whether social media has caused this or whether it just provides the perfect forum for abuse is tough to say.

I remember when we first came back to London having lived in Asia for eight years, being struck by the latent anger that everyone seemed to carry about with them. Asia is quite different, and people don’t tend to lose their shit in a microsecond. If you start screaming at people out East then their reaction is generally no reaction and if you are screaming at them to get something done, then good luck, because you’ll get nothing. Unfortunately, the anger I noticed in London on my return is still there, but now I just take it for granted.

Perhaps social media has jacked us all up to screaming pitch, but I wonder if there is any way we can disagree with a little more courtesy.

If you go back to my second Little London Life blog titled ‘Hey Londoners: Be better’, I was talking about something similar.

It’s embarrassing to admit that there are many people in my part of London who I meet and interact with on a regular basis, but about whom I know absolutely nothing. I may well see them more often than I see my friends, but I don’t even know their names. It works like this.

 Perhaps you’ve found a café that sells a decent flat-white close to your office, you generally get served by the same bloke who becomes ‘your barista guy’. You are starting to behave like an aloof millionaire not wanting to interact with the servants – despite only having £10 in your bank account to last you to pay day. You are morphing into that person you hate, the one who is unpleasant to waiters.

I ended the piece by saying: Be better, be courteous.

Recently, I was listening to Politics on the couch, a podcast by Rafael Behr and he came up with an interesting analogy. Global warming has heated the seas and when the water becomes too warm, corals will expel the algae living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. It’s called coral bleaching and the coral will likely die. Our public discourse, and yes, I am thinking of President Trump, is now so heated that it’s bleaching out our ability to have civil conversation.

I may profoundly disagree with your politics and you with mine, but we have to find a way to have a conversation without screaming at each other. When you scream nobody is listening and the culture war wedge is driven that little bit deeper into our already divided society.

It may seem incredibly old fashioned but courtesy and civility lie at the heart of a decent society. Why do we scream at each other? Let’s talk instead.

‘Holy Joe’ a charity song for the homeless

‘Holy Joe’ a charity song for the homeless

A bunch of musicians, not sure if that’s the right collective noun, who are also mates of mine have released a song called ‘Holy Joe’ to raise money for the homeless.

I wrote the lyrics and I’m hoping with a little arm twisting on my part you might be persuaded to open your purses and wallets and direct a bit of your hard earned in Joe’s direction. If you’d like to cut to the chase, skip the rest of the story, and hear the song just click here. That’s fine with me.

Just before coronavirus hit, I’d started writing songs with an old chum of mine. His name is Simon Webb. He’s conducted the Cats orchestra, was the musical director for The Who’s Tommy when it appeared in the West End, and scored and played the music for Sir Nicholas Hytner’s celebrated Royal National Theatre production of Henry V. On occasions he can be found playing keyboards in deafening rock bands.

For reasons best known to himself he said he fancied writing some songs with me. I sent him some lyrics which by my own admission were mostly terrible, but Holy Joe had something about it. It’s a simple song about a homeless man I’d seen drifting around the streets near where I live in London.

Here’s a snippet:

My name is Joe, Little Joe Monroe

No one asks, no one says hello

I’m just another drifter, just another drifter in the snow.

Simon wrote some beautiful music that perfectly complements the words and there we were with a lovely song, unsure what the hell to do with it.

It was staring us in the face for weeks, before we finally realised it would make a perfect Christmas song and a fine way to raise money for the Joes and Janes of this world who are destitute.

Time and talent

Because of the pandemic, musicians, actors, bar staff, waiters and in fact everybody involved in the night-time economy have had a dreadful year. Many are suffering right now, but only in extreme cases does their suffering match the suffering of those who live on the street.

Simon started putting together a pretty sophisticated demo of the song and sent it to the musicians he regularly uses for his projects. Despite some of them having a tough year, they all agreed to give their time and talent for free.

Lockdown meant they couldn’t all get together in a room to record the song, so they recorded their individual parts at home and sent their musical brilliance to Simon who wove the whole thing together like a wonderful musical tapestry.

It sounds like making the record that way is incredibly easy, but trust me it’s not. I got Simon to explain how it all works but he started talking about musical stems, digital audio workstations, deverb, gating and logic and frankly I got a little lost.

Donate and share

To finish, if you like the song please donate what you can and share the link with your friends on social media. Every penny will go to a homeless charity. Early in the new year we will divvy up and let everyone know where the money has been placed.

Please make a donation here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/holyjoe

You can also listen on Spotify.

Want to know more about the band?

 The Spiderhawks

Robert Hart is the singer. He is currently fronting Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and has toured with Bad Company and The Jones Gang, the group run by Faces tub thumper Kenney Jones.

Guitar player Jay Stapley’s credits include Roger Waters, Mike Oldfield, Scott Walker and Shakin’ Stevens, but I like him best because he played guitar on perhaps the finest British film: Withnail and I.

Drummer John Trotter sent his drum part all the way from Australia where he now lives. John has worked with Robbie Williams, Hot Chocolate, Cliff Richard, The Corrs, Georgie Fame, Ruby Turner, The Three Degrees, Boney M and The Platters.

Sax player Al Stewart has worked with Tom Robinson, Cliff Richard, George Michael and Bert Weedon (Google that name kids).

Pete Jagger played the harmonica. He’s a singer and guitar player who tours extensively playing his own brand of folk, blues and ragtime.

Steve Stapley and Lynda Hayes provided the backing vocals. Lynda has sung with Barry Manilow, Nik Kershaw, George Michael, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Meatloaf and many others. Steve is a gifted singer songwriter. He sang in the rock choir on Evita for the film and soundtrack album and has worked with Sir Tim Rice.

John Gordon played bass, is one of the funniest people on the planet, and has worked with Alan Price and Wanda Jackson among many others.

Please make a donation here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/holyjoe