Category Archives: Song

January 2011: Unjazz piano recitals – a call for venues/hosts

November sees my final bunch of Love Is Not Rescue gigs with the ‘Words Fail Me’ tour. (If you’re a promoter up for doing a gig on that tour, please contact asap)

Then this coming winter ‘between records’ I’ll (finally) release the improvised piano album Unjazz which I’ve worked on for the past year. It’s done and will be compiled/mastered in the next few weeks. So in January 2011 I want to book a run of small & unusual ‘recital’ shows to perform improvised piano live.

Are you interested in putting on one of these gigs? I’m looking for peoples’ homes, small arts or community centres, unusual spaces, village halls, church halls, galleries, whatever.

The dates are: Tues 18 Jan –  Mon 7 Feb.

The rules are:

1. I just need a real, good, in-tune piano.
2. I want the tour to be as freeconomy as possible: especially if you can feed me / put me up, the fee will be ‘much lower’ than normal. If you have a lovely idea for a recital but you’re concerned about cost, please get in touch anyway – I primarily want to have some fun playing in a different way.
3. Gigs without PAs / unamplified pianos are totally fine, preferable even.
4. I don’t expect a big audience! This will be an hour’s improvised recital, then max 3-4 actual T-T songs at the end to say ‘thanks for listening’. Also, I can’t imagine Unjazz getting big reviews or many Radio 1/XFM plays! There will be a nice poster though, with your gig included, that I can send you some copies of.
5. Either private parties or public gigs are fine.

So that’s the score. Got a possible recital for me? email:

Thanks a lot. x


The cuckoo lyric: how I messed up the words on ‘Nintendo’ and only realised this week.

Damnit. The lyric was always: “Your words come quiet, single file. / On one long roll of paper (in) Kerouac style.” That’s what it was meant to be, what I originally wrote and what was taped on the demo version.

But somehow in the album recording sessions, on this particular vocal take I randomly sang: “On one long roll of paper and Kerouac smiles,” and then somehow in my brain, that slipped into place like a big-arsed cuckoo and became what the lyric was. When we mixed, that was clearly the best vocal take and I pushed aside a nagging feeling something was odd about the words. Already by then I’d got too close – forgotten meanings and lost perspective – and I didn’t think about it again, even once I started singing the song live. I was singing the replacement lyric instead of the original one.

I only realised my mistake last week, during one of the final few shows of my UK tour, when something clicked back into place and I found myself acutely aware that all this time I’d been clinging to the wrong words. It was a particular shock because, for me anyway, they were drastically weaker words.

It’s a subtle difference and almost certainly you don’t give a fuck either way, especially since the sentence doesn’t remotely affect the underlying premise of the song. But for me the previous version was much, much better. “Kerouac smiles” conjures the dead poet looking down, in some way approving of the work – which is patently ridiculous and nothing like I’d want to say. It’s a bogus phrase too, slushy and romantic, at a point in the song where I’m trying to keep descriptively cool. “In Kerouac style” is simpler, sticks to the point and focuses on that image of a long roll of paper, which is what I wanted to get across.

So how did I get it wrong, and for so long? I have no fucking idea. What do I do about it now? Nothing – it’s too late. Sometimes, writing songs, that’s just how it goes. I’ll sing the correct version of ‘Nintendo’ from now on and, like a typo gone to press, hopefully nobody will notice.

Jim Bob session

Just got out of the Earth Terminal studio with Jim, although it was a shorter session than previous ones – we didn’t mix or even finish vocals, just slammed down multi-layered backing tracks for seven songs and they sound amazingly lush.

I can’t really tell you anything about the theme, style or anything, because it’s not my story to tell – but it’s the third Jim Bob album I’ve been involved in and definitely the best yet. It’s light-of-touch because Jim wrote these tunes fast, while concentrating on something else (writing the script for his story, which has been optioned by a Hollywood production company). It’s also black-as-treacle… but that’s a judgement on unfinished stuff.

Johny came along for the ride and brought crazy instruments with him. We jammed out chunks live, rehearsing the evening before each day, which is a departure for Jim’s stuff. Also, although we’ve been gigging together for almost a year, I haven’t been in a studio environment with Johny before and it was great, he’s got a similar constant musicality to Tim Victor which I should’ve noticed before but didn’t.

Another highlight of being in the studio with Jim is Mr Spoons’ high class catering. Johny is a pro chef but that didn’t cramp Spoons’ wong – he did seriously gorgeous mushroom wellington, squash soup and a blinding veggie curry. But more importantly, he made sticky toffee pudding with dates that was psychedelically intense. Because I’m “cutting down” (whatever the fuck that means), I ate one portion slowly – but when you eat slower, less is more.

The trip kicked my own demos up the bum and I’m rattling along at a decent pace now, will have enough tunes to hand in a disc to management before we head off on tour. I’ve also worked out what this year’s Christmas (free homemade) EP is going to be: A.A. Milne. 

A big personal prop to Sarge and Jane because Sarge is taking 3 weeks off to go campaign for Obama in Nevada and (I assume) he’s only able to do it because Jane is keeping everything else going. And when I say ‘campaign’ I really mean it – he’s working his arse off knocking on doors, canvassing and fighting the good fight in a vital swing state. The US elections seem enormous, showy and impersonal. But really, the importance of swing states means it often comes down to a few thousand votes in certain areas. The work Sarge does in Vegas and surrounding towns will make a real difference.

autumn clean… like spring clean but in autumn

Home started returning to normal yesterday, after damp-proofing and re-decorating madness – that turned downstairs into a dusty bombsite for three weeks – was done with. I was able to clean all the living room furniture and move it back where it should be and had an amateurish go at really scrubbing the kitchen. Best of all, I took the books and shelving units and piles of other stuff out of the bedroom, which suddenly feels enormous.

There’s a lot still to do, especially rewiring our audio set-up but on the whole it’s lush. Which scarily means it really is time to clear out the attic – and perhaps learn about eBay for piles of old crap unwanted book’n’music gems.

We’re rehearsing tonight for This Ain’t No Picnic tomorrow. I think KCLSU is my favourite London venue – the room rocks without being divey, the sound kicks it out, facilities are decent and you can look out over the Thames while you soundcheck. Plus we’re sandwiched like a minced beef pattie between two stridently enscarpmented live bands, Bearsuit and Future Of The Left. Might be worth using our AAAs to go back Sunday as well, because the whole bill rocks.

some pain, some jim and some scam

Jim sent demos. He’s been writing scripts yet still knocks out the finest new songs I’ve heard this year, in a couple of wet afternoons. So dark though. Jim made me think of Death, maybe it was his fault.

Either you buy shares or you don’t. People who do gamble for profit, that’s the point. But now, with gamblers losing money, the US government will nationalise that loss with tax dollars. Everyone who didn’t buy shares in the first place still funds the bail out of those who did. Simple and sick: a swindle of epic proportions. The American government has made me think of Death for years.


I put my money in a bank account
I put my money in a bank account
I put my money in a bank account
But the bank fell down and the money’s never coming back out

I save my money for when I get old
I save my money for when I get old
I save my money for when I get old
But the boss stole the money and I was never told
And I can’t pay the bills and it’s getting cold

Ghosts in the machine
Numbers on a screen
Lying by omission
about cash you’ve never seen, you’ll never see

Put your money underneath your bed
Put your money underneath your bed
If everybody put their money underneath their beds
That’s that: revolution and no bloodshed

Ghosts in the machine
Numbers on a screen
Lying by omission
about cash you’ve never seen, you’ll never see

the fetishisation of words, in all their glory

We’ve got damp-proofers in tomorrow, to replace our out-of-date coursing along the front of the house. This means clearing all our shite out of the living room, which turns out to be mostly books. I hate books, especially thousands of them, when you have to carry them up to the attic and they’re dusty and you sneeze on the stairs and the 40 books you’ve got piled up in your arms go flying everywhere. Little fucktards, books.

On the way to Moseley Folk Festival, I helped Ben (drummer) move house from Brighton to West London and, while loading up the car, discovered he’s published a book of poems. It’s excellent and extremely complex stuff, that I’m having to work hard to get my head around. I’m trying to persuade him to sell it on the merch stall in October – how cool, the drummer’s poetry book!? Best of all, it’s a small book and doesn’t weigh much when carried between rooms.

An amusing thing happened to my Morning Star column this week, where they’ve slightly edited one of my favourite sentences.

What I wrote:
Face it: cocaine is everywhere. It’s at the BBC, in Parliament, the police force is full of it, it’s in all the media companies, most bog standard offices and I’d be massively surprised if there’s not a fair wodge floating around the Morning Star HQ right now.   

What they’ve published: 
Face it, cocaine is everywhere. It’s at the BBC, the police force is full of it, it’s in all the media companies and most bog-standard offices and I’d be massively surprised if there’s not a fair wodge floating around in Parliament right now.

lol – understandable really!

I’m going to have to write a big bad Billy Bragg blog (say that fast 5 times) – or possibly Morning Star piece – in the next couple of weeks and find a way of confronting an old issue face on: although it’s almost three years since 9 Red Songs came out, this week I got yet another pair of nasty emails from rabid Bragg fans, still harking on about (and still totally misunderstanding) the line about him in my song ‘Preaching To The Converted‘. And literally on the same day last week, a Myspace friend sent me a Youtube link to the Imagined Village roots supergroup’s updated version of ‘Hard Times Of Old England‘, where the lyrics seem so close that they could well have been directly inspired by ‘Huntsman‘. Anyway, this sort of stuff (the aggressive emails I mean) does my head in and needs a new considered response, so I’ll have a think and get something down. 

At Moseley Folk, I clocked Martin Carthy, nosing through vinyl on his own at a record stall – so he must’ve been on site for my performance of ‘Huntsman’ only 20 minutes before. I wish I’d had the guts to go up and say hello, partly to shake his hand and say how staggeringly wonderful Signs Of Life is but also partly to ask whether ‘Huntsman’ came up when they were developing ‘Old England’. I bottled it, sadly, because I was hanging with friends, drinking coffee and eating a messy falafel. But it would be fascinating to know if they acknowledge or are even aware of the song.