South on Velvet clouds
This song started with Luke’s acoustic riff, and took a while to take shape.
When we found the chords to the chorus we knew we were on to something, and then another few weeks delivered the lyrics. How many night flights back to London from the Caribbean or the States have I shivered through? However I think this one goes back to a flight from LA to Jamaica many years ago. Lovebird class on Air Jamaica was a wondrous thing, the flight left LAX at midnight, and I was seated next to a model who was on her way to Jamaica for a fashion shoot. Poor thing!
As John Self says in ‘Money’
‘I un-corked a fistful of miniatures and told her about my philosophy’
I arrived at my villa to find a note pinned to the fridge. ’Extend Mr Topley every courtesy’ Fair enough!
One of the most awe inspiring and exciting things in the world is when the great, green flanked island appears out of the clouds. The scents of coconut and ganga and aviation diesel, and the blinding light and searing heat, pervade the aircraft as soon as the doors are opened. It is equally magical at night, as the mother of pearl lights of Montego Bay are reflected in the motionless Caribbean Sea.
The shortest 747 flight in the world used to be Mo’ Bay to Kingston, which took all of 10 minutes, but required all the usual safety instructions and procedures of any other take-off. Strange huts and paraffin lights and streams of charcoal smoke could be seen from the mountains below. Then it was a brief de-plane in to the waiting room which is so well described in the novel ‘The man with the golden gun’, a quick bun and cheese and a few export Guinness’ and back on board for the Atlantic crossing.
Bouncing around in seat 55e as we overflew the 900 miles between Nassau, and Hamilton Bermuda, could be quite a challenge, and it was here that I learned to love spoken word radio. The old BA planes used to have a great comedy station. That, and the un-accustomed taste of real Bordeaux wines usually did the trick. Nine bottles of that stuff and you’re anybody’s!
‘Drink called love’ is a bit of a radio hit in Jamaica these days. I have friends there who told me it was getting play and then I started to get royalties from Jamaican radio. I am so proud of this, but I do think it comes from Luke Lewis leaving boxes of Black River at our hotel in Negril. Pirate marketing for sure!
Only So Much You Can Do
This was started for Water Taxi, but only came in to it’s own when we played it with the electric band. I used to criticize people on Diffords song writing weeks if they stretched a metaphor too far to keep a song on track, but actually I enjoyed the restrictions of the circus lyrics.
I suppose the circus was always the forerunner of the rock n roll tour, and so you can use almost every aspect of the nouns for double meaning, and the fly by night, close to bankruptcy element is particularly apt for our project. ‘living in greasepaint on sawdust and peanuts’ I remember being in a mini cab with Jimmy Miller when the driver turned to us in genuine concern and said ‘you’ve got to feed the inner man Jimmy’. It was on one of these journeys that Brown Sugar came on the radio and we pulled over, all got out and danced together on the pavement, to what he said was his proudest achievement.
I would have thought Jumpin’ Jack Flash was really the kiddie, but then I’m a sixties born Londoner, and not an R’n’B auteur from Hells Kitchen. Who cares, the main thing is that without Jimmy, we would never have carried in with our music after the disappointments of the first album. He came rollicking in to our lives, knocking the pictures off the walls in my cottage in Kew, and re-affirmed our love of Rock n Roll. He died in Denver( a city we had never been to at that stage) the same year as Delta Rain topped the playlist charts at KBCO and our weird career rose, phoenix like, from the self indulgent noodling’s of our depression.
He phoned me once in Nashville, where I was staying with Luke Lewis to arrange a label charm offensive we were undertaking in LA, he spoke briefly to Luke, and a few months later I was signing a deal with Mercury, and really hitting the road for the first time. Thank you Jimmy! There could have been no better mentor for this band.
An obvious nod to Street Fighting Man, but it was only recently, as I was reading Nick Kent’s autobiography, that I realised he uses the phrase often to describe the various frustrations involved in trying to rock out in London. I am prepared to criticize the city myself but leap like a tigress scorned, at any outsider who besmirches the escutcheon of my great, grey, greasy, place de naissance. By any reckoning the metropolis fares badly in comparison to the great US cities when it comes to a rock n roll lifestyle but it has produced some of the greatest rockers of all time. I have long been a great admirer of both the beer London Pride and the song by Noel Coward after which it is named. Look up Cowards’ lyrics and see if you make it through without a tear forming in your baby blues. ‘Every Blitz your resistance stiffening, from the Ritz to the Anchor and Crown’ or ‘Grey lady stubbornly implanted, taken so for granted, for a thousand years’. I write these from memory but there a so many great lines you have to look it up yourselves.
It reminds me of another quotation ‘Nothing is as likely to put one off an Englishman, than as to have him as a tourist in one’s own home town’. Snappy eh, but I should imagine it is very true!
Almost the entire story of the touring musician on the United States is in that one sentence.
A light practically weightless song, but one that I enjoy. I was thinking of ‘Massachusetts when it’s late at night’ and the endless cajolery, lobbying, and blackmail that marks out being a teenage boy.
I recall the first night I spent in America as a young man and looking out over the lights of LA from Griffith Park (I’m feeling nothing bright as the lights down there) and thinking it’s real, it’s all there. I had previously only known the city from various episodes of Charlie’s Angels. Now young people can watch Larry David and get a perhaps clearer picture.
To paraphrase ‘Design for Living’
‘Would you call my song thin?’
‘From now on I shall write very fat songs, full of very fat people’
How ‘Bout You?
The Essequibo River is in Guyana. There are islands in it bigger than Barbados. As I have alluded to before, Luke and I went there for a few days in 1993. If I ever need to conjure up wilderness, limitless potential, chaos, fear and beauty, all I have to do is think myself back to Georgetown.
If I ever need to know what the Somme smelled like, I have only to recall the Rum distillery on the road from the airfield. Strange houses on stilts, elevated concrete graves, bush rats the size of foxes, and hairy green spiders as big as my hands
Great people, of every level, a boozy night of music at the Palm Court tavern and a special invitation to ladies night at The Library, a corrugated iron night club, open to the jungle air. Literally ‘Partying pork knocker style’
Luke went out for a cigarette one morning and was asked for a light by a man with peacock feathers in his hat and a sword through his belt. He was not a local tribesman coming in for the kill, but the British military attaché to the Caribbean. He befriended us and took us out on a fantastic tour of the interior. It remains one of the most memorable days of my peripatetic travelling life.
‘I’ve been burned by bathing in the moonlight of sedition, well that’s one less lesson left to learn’
The Man Who Lost America
This was the nickname given by M.P.s to the Prime minister of Great Britain at the time of American independence. I have always maintained I could have broken the US by touring easily, if human life was five hundred years long. It was bloody good fun trying anyway. Most UK groups who are successful enough to be asked to go on the road in America, are already too rich to really need to trawl around the middle of the country learning their trade. We were not! I can safely say we knew nothing about playing live until we undertook the Mercury year’s bus marathon. 250 or so shows later we were beginning to get it right!
If there was a moment when I knew the game was up it was round the neon light pool of K***y G*****s house in the Florida Keys. Two drunken DJ’s from Key West broke a glass by the poolside and I went ballistic. Pure Victor Meldrew. I threw the DJ’s(who I liked) out, and held the towels for a long line of bathing beauties who emerged sullenly from the ooze like bizarre diagrams of evolution.
A real wild man would not have cared, but I hate broken glass with a passion.
Why were they at my place anyway? I remember, because the man in charge of assigning rooms for the resort, (which had golf carts) took me to one side and said ours was the only music on the label he could bear, and had consequently given me the best accommodations they had. The keen noses of the radio folks didn’t take long to find me, and another Bacchanalian debauch was soon underway. Good fun though! I remember Luke putting on Sly and the Family Stone Greatest hits and the whole house moving, for the entire album.
This is back to Jimmy Miller and his days with Traffic. We were lucky enough to meet Steve Winwood several times and to play with him, which was amazing. This song is an attempt to evoke those heady ‘getting it together in the country’ vibes, which pervade ‘Dear Mr Fantasy’.
Small world! Luke Lewis introduced me to Chris Blackwell once in Jamaica, at the 007 beach club and once in Nassau. He is the man who first brought Miller to the UK and eventually the producer’s chairs at Olympic studios in Barnes. From there it was a short hop to the cowbell, and the intro to ‘Honky Tonk Women’ and somewhere a few miles away in Chelsea another white boy turned his sunburned ears to the transistor radio and fell in love with British Rock ‘n’ Roll.