Tuesday, September 24, 2002


This week finds us perambulating across the Southern states, heading for a potential confrontation with tropical storm/soon-to-be-Hurricane Isadore, still in the Gulf at time of writing but due to land onshore tomorrow night or early next morning. Well, our bus is filthy from two days & nights of desert dust, Boeing-sized bugs and the odd fuel spill, so perhaps we’ll be all shiny and new by the time it’s had its whirly way with us and there’ll be no need to pay for a truckwash if the expected rainfall from Izzy meets its due potential.

Right now I’m attempting to control a bouncing keyboard as we pass through Oklahoma on a road that bears more resemblance to an army proving ground than a US highway, and I can only assume that the state has a) had its funding withdrawn, b) the promised “road works” we see signs for didn’t show up on the right year (they simply put up the barrels & cones to slow us all down), or c) the American Dental Association has entered a pact with the Governor to assure a constant quota of loose fillings and perpetuate their subsequent ministrations………….
“smile for the camera? - piss off, I’ve just crossed Oklahoma!

All rattling aside, I have to report a fine first week of our fall tour, featuring new singer and multi-instrumentalist Klyde Jones, whom many of you will recall from the Soul Tattoo album, and, in particular, his fine lead vocals with me on “Every Beat Of My Heart”. Klyde has filled Eliot’s vacant spot onstage in AWB as the talented Mr. Lewis has taken some time off from roadlife to find a bit of home life and creature comforts that maybe one or two of us lucky bastards take for granted, having cemented some of those things before we became famous/busy/permanently-absentee-from-realitees. We all wish him well, and I’m sure that he will benefit from some time to step back from the rigors of touring life and refocus his keen musical sights; when’s the album coming out, El? (and where should I send all this vodka that’s now piling up night after night?)

While I mention potential confrontations with weather phenomena I guess I should state my reservations against confrontations with middle-eastern firebrands at a time when our economies are going through some of the biggest turmoil in decades, and when we collectively have failed to satisfactorily finish the job set out in the last campaign (unless someone’s found his ass today while I’m bouncing through OK., or we rebuilt Kabul late last night with the aid of Donald Trump’s spare worksquad). Personally, I remember the last Gulf war too clearly; it began on the first night of our tour, and we played the next two or three weeks to tiny handfuls of diehard punters who were the exception to the masses huddled wide-eyed and glued to CNN as Stormin’ Norman and his swashbuckling band blazed their way into the patriotic psyche - and left us audience-free and broke as the cost of fuelling our bus went through the roof, and ticket sales through the floor. If that sounds entirely selfish just think of the ramifications of another more protracted and politically more complicated engagement with, again, no remote guarantee of getting the bastard, and if we do, of being able to replace him with anyone less vicious or murderous in the long run. And we cuddle up tighter to the Saudi princes in the process, while blithely ignoring that it was fifteen of their insurgents who perpetrated Sept.11 and consigned that date to Hell forever in the American and British memory. Oy McVey!

So back to the music (coffee break’s over) and a refresher for Onnie and myself especially, who have seen Klyde go back to the original vocals and versions of some of the AWB material for his template, and in doing so we are revisiting some of the ‘lost chords’ of the soaring seventies.. and his soulful voice has been causing noticeable squealing & squirming among many of the female number in the audience this past week, so I have to believe that he has stirred some of these memories in them too. Whatever the cause of this frisson of excitement in the ladies’ gallery, I can assure you it’s entirely spontaneous and unabashed and certainly nothing to do with our roadies releasing white mice among them at strategic musical moments. Once we get this leg of the tour under our belts, we intend to review some of the other gems in the old repertoire that have lain undisturbed collecting fairy dust for years, to see what might please you for a change, and further explore some of our new brother’s silk degrees (and maybe also my gritticisms, too). Then it’s on to new stuff, entirely.

All I can say in winding up is that I’m as happy as a clam in soft Caribbean sand, and please Messrs. Bush and Blair let not some misguided machismo and military madness spoil my fun right now when there is too much of beauty and soulful serenity around to be worried about warmongering, and the spoils and troils of buried oils on foreign soils, and nations coming to the boil – we all will lose in the short run, and multitudess will lose their all in the long run.
Me, I’ve got to run – I’ve a hurricane to catch.


Sunday, July 14, 2002

Reality, Fantasy And Frivolity

I’m continuously being told by politicians, pundits, TV presenters, financial advisers, and sundry commentators that we all have to face up to today’s reality. That usually means I’m going to get some more bad news of the kind that will encompass a collusion of CEOs, mega-accountants or brokers who have just made off with the life savings of another few thousand (or million) wretches whose fault is nothing more than to have trusted the hitherto-respected captains of industry and commerce, and the rock upon which this modern reality is founded.

I hear from no less a figure than the head honcho at the Wall Street Journal that, well, there’s no real crime here…..this is just capitalism at work, and this is how the system shakes itself down, and we have to not get all
worked up, and face reality. The President and VeePee are all up to their chins in the same quadruple dealing
and have been for years, and the day last week when C.in C.himself stood up at the New York stock exchange and began waffling inanities about some toothless endeavour to form a “swat team” for corporate wrongdoing, while behind him the graph at the foot of America’s bed began to plummet and continued to do so all through his speech was as much reality as anyone should be asked to stomach.

Talking of reality, it is becoming scary just how much ‘reality’ television we are bombarded with. This, as you must know is nothing to do with reality at all; what is happening is that production companies in Hollywood are finding ever-cheaper ways to make programs devoid of script writers, directors, and all the other artistic personnel that go along with bona fide film and television making. Instead we are supposed to gawp at marginally psychotic specimens who are (in the guise of ‘real’ people) in turn instructed to act or overact in the most base, crass and venal of ways toward each other to satisfy the cravings, at prime time, of the moronic hordes who glue themselves to daytime television and the putrid lather of soap operas and/or MTV’s soft-porniglot. Isn’t it ironic that the only mention I have heard this president make toward his televisual preferences is that he likes “The Osbournes,” thus, in essence, showing his endorsement of – you got it – reality TV. Mind you, I shudder to think what passes for artistic taste in that philistine persona; I have a vision of JR Ewing without the script, and a gnawing suspicion that I am perilously close to being dead-on with my estimate of that cultural reality.

And so to fantasy, a much-preferred state of mind where one can at least control the scenario, the enactment, and the outcome of future situations, where we are enticed to higher artistic and cultural expectations, where education budgets are not routinely slashed to provide tax breaks/refunds etc. for the corporately fattened,
where we begin to wipe out hunger and disease and reduce international third-world debt, where the front row of
the audience resembles Claudia Schiffer, Halle Berry, Jennifer Connolly etc. on a nightly basis, and where I can still play ninety minutes of soccer, without ending up a geriatric vomiting heap after ten minutes of being humiliated by someone half my age who has the ball attached to his foot as if by string. There are other more common fantasies I’m sure we all share, some admirable and some a bit more, shall we say...dubious? But the lottery is not for me, nor the pursuit of power and untold wealth for its own sake nor living to be a hundred and ten.

The best come from the dream state, I’m sure you’ll agree, that wonderful hybrid of reality and fantasy where surreal versions of our friends or enemies do the most ridiculous things in the most improbable groups but still with a grain of likelihood and probability. The bottle-rocket you set off a lifetime ago that went through your Granny’s window as she was washing her face at the sink, and which becomes a train coming out the other side of the house, but won’t stop for you on the platform as you are wearing that dreadful shirt that embarrassed your friends at last week’s party – those same friends who have turned into a team of plumbers knocking at your door to fix the stereo you dropped while moving recently to the new house with all these corridors and odd-shaped rooms, each of which has some strange ritual going on as you open the doors one-at-a-time trying to locate the cause of the trouble – trouble you
can’t identify, but which is so disturbing it causes you to attempt vainly to cry out in your sleep. All your wife or partner hears is “AamBphhtakhssssshh,Na” And the next thing you know there’s a dig in the ribs,
light coming in through the curtains, your arm’s numb from lying on it, you’re awake, and you’re back to reality!

If all of the above seems to trivialize the subject matter for your particular taste, then please allow me a moment or two of frivolity. This column has never been more than somewhat of a stream of unconsciousness as far as I’m concerned, and something that is done on a whim and a prayer as and when the mood takes me. I doubt it even reflects much of the opinions of my fellow band-members, but then they can write their own observations should the mood take them. I must say, talking of ‘mood’ that the mood round here is very nice these days. Our
big night at the New Orleans Essence Festival last weekend was just that – BIG, and really very gratifying with the reception we got from one of the largest urban congregations one could amass in this country. All the
players were there, from Isley Brothers on the ‘mature’ tip, to Alicia Keys on the new end, and everyone in between over the course of three solid-gold soul nights. Add the comedians, such as Steve Harvey & Cedric The
Entertainer, and a terrific MC team of the Tom Joyner Morning Crew, and it was sheer gluttony. Nice to have been part of it again, and an honour to represent ‘white folks’ with readily appreciated sincerity. In fact, one girl from B.E.T. at the press conference afterwards asked how it felt to be “honorary Black folks” I leave you to deduce the obvious from this, and let’s just say if you’d told me in Scotland 28 years ago that this could ever happen I’d have suggested it was sheer fantasy, but for this more-than-averagely lucky bastard, it has become ..well, reality.


Thursday, June 20, 2002

World Cup And Other Musings From The Well

As I write this, the USA is hours away from its first visit to the quarter finals of the World Cup of 2002.
Now, it may not prevail against a German team who have won the whole cheese several times before, and who are
massively experienced at this level compared to the somewhat fairy-tale US squad who owe more to grit and
unpredictability than in depth of talent, but their achievement is no less historic and heroic for that. I fervently hope that you in the States are taking note and tuning in at whatever time of day or night you must to follow their exploits and cheer them on from the homeland.

It was therefore all the more galling the other night to hear from Onnie that NBC nightly news were dismissing them and their progress as a flash-in-the-pan, soon to be forgotten episode, and that soccer in general was no worthy sport for the American male, and was lacking in aggression and – yes – VIOLENCE (that most laudable and
demonstrable virtue to instill in our youth should they have trouble choosing a sporting activity). Then they
trotted out the slur to all that it was probably all right as a woman’s game...now just whom is that a worse slap to – the US women who have won TWO world cups already and who are young legends and role models in their own right, or the millions of young males who are dying to play team soccer at school, college, and maybe professional level. Honestly, the irresponsibility of these cretins in television beggars belief. I would sack them on the spot.

Well, summer seems to have arrived with a vengeance and the American highway is melting under our wheels as we embark on our annual pilgrimage to see how many road and air miles we can cover in the June/July period. We will
scale the Rockies to perform at the Winterpark Jazz Festival – it’s so high up sax players and singers need
iron lungs to perform, and you can flick a guitar pick a hundred yards in the thin atmosphere – and we will cool
our heels at sea level with gigs in Annapolis, DC, Long Island and the like, with welcome ocean breezes to soothe
our fevered brows. In between, the great plains will see us trundling in – and out – of such venues as Kansas City, Cadott Wisconsin, Chicago and other stops through the prairie companionship. All we can do is hope for decent weather on our outdoor shows, and half-decent air conditioning for our indoor performances. I’ve learned that the most important piece of road equipment during the US summer is a small but powerful fan to keep the sweat from blinding me while singing.

All the more pronounced when one has just come from a British and European tour, most of which was conducted
in full–length warm clothing as it was barely showing signs of spring there during our travels. We kept threat-
ening to break out the shorts, but I think a couple of us managed it only once, and that for a dare! The gigs were
great though, and we got a chance to perform at one of the many Jubilee (locally termed ‘The Jubbly’) festivals – Plymouth – that were held throughout England on June 3. I’m glad we got to do that...not because I’m a royalist or could give a hoot about the queen or her whole masquerade, but to be an alien in England with bugger-all to do on a bank holiday – especially THAT one-would be akin to watching the party going on around you from within a sealed glass soundproof tank. Instead, we had a beautiful afternoon on the clifftops above the English Channel, along with old pals The BLOCKHEADS (of Ian Dury fame) and a wonderful dinner laid on for all of us at the opulent Victorian “Grand (yes, really) Hotel”. I felt as if Oscar Wilde were about to walk in and deliver some ascerbic witticism, or at least we’d have a hushed silence for a crackly wireless broadcast from Winston Churchill extolling British patriotic fervour. As it was, we had far too much good wine, got rollickingly legless, and behaved like a bunch of, well, like a bunch of musicians.

As many of you are no doubt aware, our DVD, “Tonight” is on the shelves of most reputable record retailers and top
class bookshops like Borders etc, and documents a performance from the House Of Blues summer before last. I
have heard nothing but good stuff from people who have seen it, and I’ll have to take their word for it, as since the actual surround-sound sessions I have yet to see (or HEAR) it in its entirety. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to lock myself in a proper preview theatre at the end of the tour and quietly ‘wallow’ in it without anyone else to pass comment or require their presence be recognised. I recall being sat in the ‘hot’ seat by the engineers at time of construction, and being awed by the experience of total immersion in the sound and thinking to myself that this is what it must be like to be at one of our concerts..I could hear people behind me, the band right up front, and I got that skin-crawl I used to get as a kid when I heard a killer record. I kid you not!

As for other endeavours, no, the CD is not done yet as we can’t get off the road long enough to put in any worthwhile studio hours and get nearer to fruition. We are, however, previewing tunes from it on this tour so if you get off your arses and come along to the nearest AWB show this summer, you’ll get at least a taste of what we’re up to, and where we’re up to in it. My best guess is that it’ll be done at the end of the touring year and ready for consumption at the start of ’03; we could have certainly brought out some half-assed placebo for you this term, but neither you lot nor us would feel much better for that in the long-run, and ultimately it has to be something AWB can be proud of before it sees the light of day. Meanwhile, we’re setting our alarms for the next World Cup game and I hope some of you are as well. Besides, whether the team wins or loses, it means at least I won’t miss breakfast.