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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Hatful of Rain and The Hobbit himself, Martin Freeman

Jamie Freeman had just finished his set supporting Hatful of Rain at the Green Note, and there was quite a lot I wanted to ask really: what with him and his wife, Stevie, running the Union Music Store on Lewes, which is a shop - the kind that people travel to visit - and a record label. Hatful of Rain's record label, in fact.

Then I noticed with a rather uncool start, that there was an extremely famous actor standing at the bar, deep in conversation and wearing a tweedy jacket.

This is always a tricky moment for me. Like some kind of partly reformed junky, I used to work on several newspaper diary columns and am therefore potentially completely shameless about pestering people I've only seen on TV in pursuit of a funny anecdote. It's a habit I'm trying to wean myself off, the better to reintegrate myself back into civilised society. So I coped with the increased heart rate by thinking something along the lines of "Sherlock Holmes, The Office, national treasure, The Hobbit... Oh fuckety fuck. What's his name...?"

"That's my brother, Martin," said Jamie, helpfully.

Sorry for staring. That must be weird. Does he have hairy feet like a Hobbit? (Perhaps I was gabbling slightly.) Being his brother, I suppose you'd probably know...

He replied that veiny feet ran in the family. "Like a map of south London."

Anyway, that was sufficiently bizarre to satisfy my Pavlovian craving for celebrity, especially as I was assured that Martin Freeman wasn't a folky. "More of a soul boy really." Also he was having a night off from being famous.


Hatful of Rain were marvellous. I had an inkling they might be after I tried to go and see them last Thursday at the Halfmoon in Putney but was unable to hear them properly over a shouty crowd that was there - unaccountably - mainly to see someone else. I'll save that story for another time...

Lyrically they're very strong, as you might expect from a band that chose such an arresting name. Seeing them mentioned on Facebook, a friend suggested that it could be a tribute to Del Amitri, which didn't sound very likely to me, but did have the unintended effect of eliciting the truth from Philip the bass player: it's from a Tom Waits song, which is obviously much cooler.

Chloe, the singer and lyricist, has an iconoclastic turn of mind, as well as a day job as a midwife. The latter led to a great story about one of the other band members phoning during working hours only to be told: "I'm sorry, I can't talk now. I'm practising mending perineal tears on a fake vagina." There was nothing about this gig that wasn't memorable.

When I say iconoclastic, I'm thinking of the bold taste in frocks...

(Thanks to Alex Pape for forwarding this picture, which is far better than anything I could wrangle out of my camera phone.)

... also the knack of turning a great phrase. A good way to make a bad man worse jumped out and stayed out.

And then there are the songs that sound as if they're just waiting to be covered.

But they also have a knack of picking excellent covers themselves. So we had Willin' by Little Feat, Gillian Welch's Caleb and White Freightliner by Townes Van Zandt.

All in all I can't recommend this lot highly enough. They're extremely classy and have excellent back-up in the form of Union Music Store. It was Jamie and Stevie Freeman who made the video for Way up on the Hill (top) that caught Bob Harris's eye. And I had a really interesting conversation with Stevie afterwards about how people are better at listening to things when they're also watching something, that led me to wonder again about the role that graphic design plays in the music industry these days. It's Jamie's background and it also came up in relation to Keston Cobblers Club the other day.

By the way, Amanda Abbington, who stars in the video for the lovely Exit Song (directly above), is a professional actress and Martin Freeman's girlfriend.

And inevitably, as I headed off towards Camden Tube station a bus sailed past wearing a big advert for The Hobbit that took the form of Martin Freeman's face. And, yes, it was heading for south London.

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Sunday, 21 April 2013

Ben, Josienne, The Young'Uns and Navigator Records

Two bits of news.

Firstly, I understand that the frankly marvellous Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker - for whom the expression "I don't usually like this kind of music but..." could have been coined - have been taken on by Navigator records for the purposes of their new and third album, to be released in July and called Fire and Fortune.

Navigator will be doing marketing, manufacture and distribution. I asked Ben how that came about?

"We met someone from Proper who was interested in distributing the new album. The two ways Proper would distribute it were if we were to self release, or get it released through Navigator... So we gave the CD with an introduction to Navigator, heard they weren't interested, then a couple of days later they called back and asked to meet up..."

What changed their minds then?

"They hadn't listened to it, then they listened to it..."

Yup, that would do it... There's an album launch in July at The Forge in Camden. Get them while they're hot etc.

And the second piece of news is that The Young'Uns, who I saw at Kings Place the other Friday and who made me laugh particularly hard after a long, long week, tell me that they are about to go professional. What does that mean, I asked David Eagle?

"We're all kind of giving up our jobs. Mike is signing up as a supply teacher, Sean will do his story telling and work in schools on a freelance basis, and I'll be doing freelance work too." David does radio work.

As luck would have it, The Young'Uns are also signed to Navigator, so did they have any advice for Josienne and Ben?

"Signing to Navigator is great for profile but you have to sell quite a few albums to make it work for you financially. They should make sure they read the contract and understand what the deal is. But that's great news for them."

What are the practical advantages of being signed to Navigator?

"Exposure, publicity, radio play, media coverage, prestige, complementary groupies..."

But the terms are not especially favourable for the band?

"It depends what you want. If you're as committed and as active as Lucy Ward then I'm sure it worked out brilliantly. But we were part time. It was still a great thing for us though."

It sounds to me as if what The Young'Uns learnt was that they needed to go professional in order to make the most of their Navigator deal.

What's next?

* The Young Uns are on tour at the moment. Check out their website for dates. You can also tweet them here and if you do, it's important to only talk to David, as Mike will then get an annoying ping on his phone every time you send a message but will be unable to do anything about it...

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Destroyers lose their front man

I was very sad to hear, on Genevieve Tudor's Sunday night BBC radio show, that The Destroyers have parted company with their charismatic front man, Paul Murphy. Here he is, interviewed at last year's Cambridge folk festival (while the Olympics opening ceremony was going on on TV - and presumably somewhere else in reality - in the background).

Although the band had previously existed as an instrumental group without him, The Destroyers and Paul Murphy were together six years and the combination was mesmerically entertaining, for anyone who missed it. There was something about a bloke with a microphone who sounds like a pirate, wearing a fez - among other extraordinary headgear - and telling stories with his whole body through the medium of song. That Paul was at least a generation older than most of the band gave a sense of breadth and liberation rarely encountered. He made them unique.


Here is what Paul said on his website. "I want to let you know, if you haven’t received our recent statement to The Destroyers’ mailing list, that I have parted company with the band. This has not been an easy decision, then separation seldom is.  Needless to say its been  a wonderful journey over the past six years and a privilege that we received  such great energy, appreciation and support.

"I’d like to say a personal thank you to audience members everywhere who helped fund our work, by coming to gigs, buying merch, Tshirts and badges, spreading the word and pledging towards our Hole in The Universe album; to the promoters who hosted us, to the reviewers, the radio and TV presenters, and especially for me,  those who sang along with such passion. As songwriter that was a wonderful accolade.

"I wish my talented partners well and [would be] happy to see them keep the name alive."

The Destroyers issued a similar statement on March 1 on their Facebook page, which I missed because Facebook seems to be becoming increasingly idiosyncratic.

Since neither side of the split gave a hint about what went wrong, a source close to the band said by way of further explanation: "Basically I think the working relationship between Paul and the others was pretty strained for a while and ended up breaking down bit by bit over a long period and they've reached the point where they don't want to continue like that.

"It's a massive shame of course, as they produced some brilliant work together, but as with all bands the amount of hours put in never add up to the financial return and if it gets to the point where it becomes hard work between personalities then something has to change if anything is going to continue. It's the end of an era for that collaboration but personally I hope that after a period of working separately all the problems will heal themselves and we might see a return to it... but I wouldn't expect anything in the near future."

Like my source there, I hope they work out their differences because Louis Robinson, The Destroyers' tall fiddle player, said that the band isn't looking for another front man - they'll be spreading out Paul's previous duties between existing band members - and they were a winning combo, a rare and exhilarating beauty.

The fact that all concerned are behaving with such consideration towards each other gives me hope that they'll sort it out.

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

Monday, 1 April 2013

Bob Dylan in Crouch End

I heard a great story the other day about Bob Dylan in London's glittering Crouch End, which I'm aware now - as the result of a friend from Crouch End groaning and saying "Not that old chestnut again" - has been doing the rounds.

The tale, as told to me by a genuine pillar of the local community, runs thus. About 20 years ago Bob Dylan was mates with Dave Stewart of Eurythmics, who owned and ran a recording studio in Crouch End called The Crypt. It has since been sold to David Gray, who in his rather dull way has been trying to have it converted into flats.

Be that as it may, Dylan apparently tried to get to the studio from an airport once by taxi. But instead of being taken to 145 Crouch Hill, which is the location of this rather wonderful building containing the studio,

he was dropped off at 145 Crouch End Hill,

which makes a fork in the road with Crouch Hill about 50 yards away. Dylan - I was told by my pillar-ish friend - rang on the door, which was answered by the lady of the house, whereupon he asked whether Dave was in. As it happened, the lady's husband was called Dave but had popped out to the shops, so she invited Dylan in and gave him a cup of tea. When her husband returned she greeted him at the door with the words "Bob Dylan's here to see you."

Boom boom tish!

It's just about teetering on the edge of plausiblity, isn't it? Isn't it?

Someone friendly sounding called Anthony Lerner answered the telephone when I rang the Crypt. "Aha!" he said, when I mentioned Dylan. "I think I know what story this is going to be."

He was right. "I heard it from the man who was Dave Stewart's chief sound engineer at that time," he said, promisingly.

There was nothing for it, I reasoned, but to go down there and knock on the door of 145 Crouch End Hill to ask the people who lived there whether it was true. Surely, even if the original occupants had moved, they would have mentioned it to the present owners while they were trying to sell them the place? That would nail it. After all, the story has many of the qualities of an urban myth while also being possibly the only one I've ever heard with the potential to be properly checked out. None of your crocodiles-in-the-sewers type will-o-the-wisps here.

Also, frankly, I thought it would be fun.

So on a chilly afternoon about a week ago I found myself trudging up and down Crouch End Hill, which is in an area where they sell things like this,

presumably because the locals like to buy them (don't get that kind of tat in Bethnal Green). Imagine my disappointment - and cold extremities - then, when I discovered that while Crouch End Hill has two schools, a church and several shops, there are very few residential properties and definitely not a number 145.

This made me sad.

So sad that I had to retreat sadly to Banners restaurant nearby, of which I had heard good things, for a beer. It has this mural on the outside.

If you look closely you can see that the little figure in the window is a representation of Bob Dylan and there is a bubble coming out of his mouth containing the words "Don't you know who I am?" (Now say that out loud in a Bob Dylan voice: "Don't you knoooow who I aaaaam?")

"Oh yes," said one of several waitresses within. "That's because back in 1993 Bob Dylan was here one evening and he wanted booze. But we're only allowed to serve alcohol with food, because of our licence. He didn't want any food, though, and he said 'Don't you know who I am?'"

Which is always worth a go, I guess, even if you're not Bob Dylan.

"He was sitting at this table," she explained, leading me toward the back of the restaurant, which was about half full of customers chatting to each other, to show me this.

Which is a plaque on the wall that is slightly easier to read in this.

Although for the avoidance of doubt the inscription reads "Bob Dylan sat at this table, August 1993". This was, I was informed, during the same visit when the incident with the taxi and the wrong Dave took place.

While I was having my beer there was a gentle discussion for my benefit between two other waitresses who were on their breaks, about the nature of urban myths in the area. "For instance," I was told, "we're always overhearing people saying things about this place that just aren't right... The other day I heard someone say that it was owned by Nik Kershaw, when they were just confused because the owner - Juliette Banner - used to go out with Andy Kershaw."

Which is worth knowing, I suppose.

Anyway. I can recommend their Nordic beer which is strong and served extremely cold. But not so much their quesadilla, which was much more like a big old pancake than I was expecting.

I also set to thinking how weird it must be to be Bob Dylan. I mean, I have difficulty sometimes with the idea that I did some of the things I did 20 years ago. Imagine what it must be like having people making stuff up, mythologising the things you did - or didn't do - simply because they enjoy the idea of you - as if life weren't confusing enough already.

And because I believe in doing this stuff in a certain way, I also put in a call to Dylan's publicist, a man called Tom Cording at Sony music, though for all the response I got, Cording himself could be a mythological figure.

However, I haven't given up hope and am thinking that if I send him a link to this blog he - or someone else - may be moved to forward it to Bob Dylan to see if he has any idea how this story got started?

Stranger things have happened.

* If you enjoyed this blogpost you may also enjoy this interview with Margo Timmins of The Cowboy Junkies.

* If you'd like to receive posts from this blog directly into your Facebook newsfeed, you could *like* its Facebook page and then use the drop-down menu to indicate that it's one of your "interests". This will enhance the possibility that you'll get them. You could also follow me on Twitter @emma1hartley

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