Saturday, June 17, 2006

Farewell Arif

We sadly say goodbye to Arif Mardin who passed away on Sunday. It would be fair to say that none of what we have today could have happened without him. Like so many of his protégées, almost all of whom became his musical family, he gave us the knowledge and the poise which turned our raw talents into something magical, and set us on the road to explorations and achievements we might only have dreamed of. We all remained close to Arif and his family – he and Latife were like an aunt & uncle to us - and their children, Nazan, Joe and Julie have grown up to be our friends. I can only imagine their sense of loss, and our hearts are with them in the void that he has left.

Luckily, Steve, Onnie and myself had the great fortune to be able to contribute to his last recording session just a week ago in New York, and the album he was finishing will be safe in the hands of his son, producer Joe Mardin, to lovingly add the finishing brush strokes to his life’s work – a luminary career which helped launch and establish everything from The Young Rascals in the late 60s, to Norah Jones in this new Century, and with accolades, triumphs and associations along the way which include Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, Bette Midler, Chaka Khan, Bee Gees and ourselves to name but a smattering of those he has gifted with his inimitable touch.

Unfortunately we won’t see his like again; his manifesto was always that of the artist and his priority was devoting himself to showing each of us the right voices and grace notes to add to the expression of our ideas - and turn them into records that would not only stand the tests of time, fashion and changing cultures, but would become icons for generations of music lovers. His opinion was still currency and his word was bond. He never wavered in his belief that music, while the queen of our souls, was still an unfinished & imperfect lover and that there was much yet to be discovered, molded and experimented with. We will try to carry that torch on as our legacy from a consummate master, a beautiful soul, and a great friend to us all.

We love you, Arif. Thank you and farewell.


Saturday, June 10, 2006

“IT AIN’T HALF HOT, MUM” and other notes from the front.

Well, it all started in Dubai really, where the temperature three weeks ago was around 34 C (that’s about 94 F) in the shade and there we were dressed for the cool of the New England – and Olde England – springtime when we set off for the pleasure dome of The Gulf (Dubai), and a couple of concerts there just to soften us up for what we’re now experiencing in Kansas this weekend. Trouble is, there was a two-week tour of decidedly nippy Great Britain in between, so there has been an extraordinary amount of costume change, odd emergency clothes - purchases and subsequent luggage atrocities all round.

Nonetheless, here we are not too much the worse for wear after our exertions abroad, and more new music fans in Britain who finally know who we are and what it is that we do (I think they thought Average white Band was a spurious European radio frequency or something, over there) but some magic word-of-mouth bush telegraph brought them to our UK shows by the dozen, and they didn’t half spice up the audience from their front and centre positions…apart from the one geezer at The Jazz Café in London who stood in front of Klyde, rolled ciggies continuously (a chain-roller) and proceeded to blow smoke up in his face all evening, as he gulped for air to continue singing. Some people!

All in all, however, it has been a wonderful adventure and a load of laughs with our indomitable Scottish crew of Jim, Shona and Stodge who keep us diverted, distracted and doubled-up most of the time while we plough on through the highways, byways and Motorways of the Old Country, and of course every night is a chance to meet up with old pals after the show and catch up on another year or two of ‘shite’ between us and pick up where we left off. While all the news can’t be good all the time as we all know, we were saddened to hear of the passing of old friend and onetime agent, Ian Copeland, whose brother Miles was our manager near the beginning, and who did his level best to decapitate me and Bruce Findlay in a dune-buggy escapade at his Long Island shore home many moons ago. It would have been a good headline – AWB singer, Simple Minds’ manager and Police’s booking agent Go Off Cliff…..Hundreds homeless!
Anyway, all three of us used up another of our respective nine lives that day and it lies in the large chest of now - cherished anecdotes in hindsight, and we all offer our condolences to Miles, Stewart, and the extended Family Copeland for their (and the music biz’s) loss. Rock on, Ian!!

It’s funny how being in the United Kingdom seems to level things out; in some ways, it is the most sane and sensible place on the planet, never too hot and never too cold - and that is reflected in the evenness of the people, who just take anything and everything in their stride and get on with it all with the minimum of fuss, and any unfavourable circumstance is immediately turned into a comedic situation. Yet on the other hand it seems as if parts of the British experience have yet to enter the 21st Century, especially with regard to the lot of the professional traveler. Just try to get an internet connection in your hotel room without mortgaging your home, or get a train that runs anywhere close to the published time (English Southern Region’s timetable has been moved to the ‘Fiction’ section in the British Library), or zip, out-of-breath, into the Italian restaurant round the corner for lunch at 2.24pm…..”I sorry, seer, ze lunch he eez over, see…we open at faaaiiiiiive okay?” – “but, I have to go to work and I just want a Bolognese and I’ll be out of here in SIX minutes and, and, and, and… when actually you just want to say, “YOUR FOOTBALL TEAM ARE ALL CHEATS AND LA LIGA IS CORRUPT AND YOUR GOVERNMENT IS ROTTEN TO THE CORE AND…” and, you trail off, “I’m effing starving and will now proceed to fall on a shard of broken chianti bottle in your doorway and louse up the rest of your giorno, so help me Infante Jeeezus!

At this juncture, I should point out that I don’t really intend to single out the Italian contingent for my invective; it’s the British who have imposed this conditioning on their otherwise natural Mediterranean laissez faire, and have concocted to keep to the mandates and mannerisms of ‘Wartime’ Britain, when opening (and closing) times of everything adhered to strict codes of social mores and only the Upper Classes could write their own louche calendar of events. We lower ranks in Her Majesty’s Workforce would never have turned a lathe, finished a stainless-steel knife, built a destroyer, boiled a candy or dug up a lump of coal if it weren’t for the narrowest possible avenues of recreation & delight to make sure we had our noses to the grindstone and our shoulders to the bathroom door – the locks don’t work there, either – and so we regained our balance after 1945, and kept it through Hell & high water until Margaret Thatcher came along and blew the whole thing out of the water with her middle finger raised in salute to all those that had laid their coats over her puddles and would henceforth have to sit shivering in doorways, jobless and homeless. Ah, the Baroness Bastard.

In spite of all this, however, the spirit is still absolutely amazing, and in most places there is a sense of GoForit-ness that reminds me of the 1960s in its sheer bravado and bolshiness. The youth are in power, and the power is 240-volts AC, and it is positively zinging with inventiveness in the arts, in fashion….and now in believe it or not, cooking. I have had some of the best meals ever on the road in the UK in the last couple of years, and it seems restaurant/galleries (gourmuseums? – I dunno how you’d describe them) are sprouting up all over the country, and ‘restaurant critic’ is probably now a degree course at the London School Of Economics for all I know. Honestly, it’s that good. Perhaps I should forget landscapes and start painting food instead.

Well now, that brings me back to Earth with a dull thud…and Kansas, which was where I started this memorandum, I think. Landscape wouldn’t be their strong point, I shouldn’t think, as it’s rather like a gigantic greenish tarpaulin that someone threw loosely over the earth’s surface and it’s flat but lumpy, if you know what I mean – at least compared to my Land, anyway. There are some trees and LOTS of cattle and, really oddly, signs by the roadside that say “BEEF– IT’S WHAT’S for DINNER” – and the cattle are just standing there looking at these signs as if waiting for Gary Larsen to come out of retirement. Quite surreal overall, but the people are extremely nice and it must be easy for cycling.

Still . . .It ain’t half HOT, Mum . . . phew, get my ice cap out quickly!