Monday, 2 February 2015

A MUSICAL PILGRIMAGE TO YESTERYEAR


Well, I'm in a state of shock, truly.

     Cleaning my basement yesterday, I found several cases of photographs which contained duplicates of portfolios which had been submitted  (and sometimes sold to) the National Film Board in the 70's.  Now, there are a couple of those images I wouldn't mind seeing again but, for the most part, I was planning to chuck the whole lot. I got way too much stuff, which is why I was cleaning in the first place. I put the lot of 'em in the  fast growing "toss out" pile.

      Later, around midnight, I succumbed to my curiosity. I carefully lifted the lid of one of the old cases, avoiding the mould, mildew and general unpleasantness of the exterior. The first thing I saw was a clear plastic envelope containing colour photos. I was shocked! I knew what they were although I hadn't seem them in decades. My trip to England in 1973!

     I'm very thrilled to have found these long lost personal treasures and have decided to share because of their relevance to music. Pics from my first gig, no less!
     Most are of me with my musician friend, Alvin.  We were in a duo briefly during my six months in England. 
     Last year we touched base for the first time since 1973, via text.  One of the things Alvin asked me at that time was if I had any photos of the two of us.  He was disappointed that I learn that although I remembered having the photos, I had no idea as to their current whereabouts.  To me they were lost. We both remembered a really cool pic of him in a chair......
     Here's what I found :


arriving on stage for my first concert ever!
Liverpool, England
gettin' it going
cool dude...
even with that Martin D-28,  I'm still lookin' about 12 yrs old!

really can't believe I went for the ivories first time out

off to London--guess you know where
we tried THE shot but the cars weren't stopping!

singing away.....
and apparently getting attention...
nice wheels...
oops...almost forgot

     It's hard to believe that I only used 1 roll of film over a six month period--but it's true : half of it shot one day in Liverpool and the other half in London, again one day.
     And guess what, for my last month of this trip, I hitchhiked through Belgium, France then down to Spain. I loved it there, instantly.
A sign, it seems, of things to come....








Monday, 17 February 2014

EL NORTE IN SONG  PART #3 - 
HELLO, SPANISH LOVE

Meeting and bonding with other pilgrims is one of the most wonderful experiences of any camino. Unfortunately, bonds get quickly severed as caminos end. It hurts...

This thought no doubt weighted heavily in my heart when I sat down to write this song. It was written for a specific person, one I had promised to meet in three days after we had went our separate ways. It was the only instance on El Norte that I had arranged to meet someone later.

She left after we made the promise, and I wandered into town to buy coffee. When I returned to the rather idyllic Tapia de Casariego albergue, I took out pen and paper, drank 3 cups and the song was done. It just poured out like I had it all figured out beforehand when,truthfully, I had no idea what I was going to write when I sat down. The music, despite 12 different chords, came just as easily.

Three days later, we met in Gontan, as planned. I sang the song for her on a bench in front of the municipal albergue:

You were sleeping in the rain
in Santillana Del Mar
You pierced my world of darkness
Like a diamond, like a star
    Hello, Spanish Love
    Let's raise a glass and celebrate the day
    Even though we know tomorrow
    Spanish Love slips away

Spanish Love steps softly
Sometimes it comes too late
Spanish Love is like magic
It’s nothing you could create
    Hello, Spanish Love
    Let's raise a glass and celebrate the day
    Even though we know tomorrow
    Spanish Love slips away

When we’re apart
Don’t let the dark change you
Keep smiling

    Hola, fugaz amor
    Brindemos por este dia
    No importa el ma├▒ana
    Fugaz amor no volveras

You were sleeping in the rain
in Santillana Del Mar
You pierced my world of darkness
Like a diamond, like a star
    Hello, Spanish Love
    Let's raise a glass and celebrate the day
    Even though we know tomorrow
    Spanish Love slips away

I felt somewhat awkward presenting a love song but she didn't seem to mind. It was nice to see her smile and laugh at a couple of lines that she knew could only refer to her.

She and I had many wonderful  times together, my favourite being a midnight 3k walk, all downhill, into a scenic ocean front fishing village which looked more like an abandoned Hollywod set than a place where real people worked and lived. It was eerie, romantic, completely surreal and utterly breathtaking.

It was one of those nights I would relive in a heartbeat and, given the choice, I would relive it with her.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

EL NORTE IN SONG #2 -
BIG MAX, INDY AND THE PREACHER FROM WYOMING

I wrote this a few months after returning from El Norte. It was inspired by events in Larrabetzu, just outside of Bilbao, where three of us, Max, Aubrey (aka "Indy") and myself had stopped for a few beverages. Following Max, a local Spaniard, we patronized three bars, happily drinking San Miguels and vino tinto in the warm, late afternoon sun. Venturing inside at stop #2, I met a man who told me he was from Wyoming and further, that he was a preacher. Right--don't think so. Hearing the news, Aubrey, an American, soon rushed in to meet her fellow countryman. She, too, returned unconvinced.
Not sure what his game was really but, besides drinking, perhaps this fellow just spent much of his time watching American or, more likely, spaghetti westerns, somehow adopting the persona of a 19th century man of faith in the process.....and perhaps that is why the cinema goes like this:


The preacher from Wyoming was drop dead drunk and lonely
No friends, just his bible and booze
Clingin' to the bar, craving Indy's heart,
her red lips and patent leather shoes
With nothing much to lose, the preacher made his move
he dripped, drooled and staggered cross the room
While Indy twirled her hair by the blood stained broken stairs
her six gun tight against her womb

When Indy's trigger clicked, Big Max he acted quick
contentious confusion swept the bar
The preacher kept a comin', the singer kept a strummin'
Indy bit down hard on her cigar
Old Henry killed the lights-too late to stop the fight
someone threw a lantern through the door
and before the smoke had cleared, the preacher disappeared
with Big Max down and dying on the floor

When the morning came the sheriff tried to blame
Indy, but he couldn't prove a thing
"This gun was never fired !", screamed her lover, the retired
and married Justice of the Peace
then Peg the toothless teacher claimed she saw the preacher
sneaking down the alley ditching clues
With Indy by his side, pumped up with self pride
just strutting in her bloody leather shoes

When Max was blessed an buried, the ritual turned scary
Old Henry had a massive heart attack
and the Justice of the Peace he came on to his niece
in the filthy cemetery shack
The townsfolk lynched the preacher while Peg the toothless teacher
wiped the singer's tears from his guitar
And no one could see Indy, but when it wasn't windy
I swear I smelled the smoke from her cigar

Tho' Indy's in Alaska, before she split Peg asked her
to swear that she never did the crime
'cause the Justice of the Peace he, didn't get off easy
and now he's in the bighouse servin' time
On any dark and clear night, go outside and you might
see the ghost of Max drift by Deadman's Point
if you'd rather do some drinkin', the singer's still there singin'
the same old songs--same old stinking joint


Now, for the record, other than the names, the representation of the protagonists is entirely imagined and bears no intended relation to any living persons.

Still, I have no doubt that the real Max is a fine gentleman and would earnestly defend a damsel in distress.
And, he is alive and well : in fact, we reunited in Bilbao when I visited Carmen (EL NORTE IN SONG #1 - CARMEN BY THE SEA) at the end of El Norte.

And "Indy", truly bears no resemblance to Aubrey, the latter being a fun loving ,gentle, kind, and  very compassionate woman, and moreover, not a big fan of personal firearms.

It was a pleasure to spend a few short, but memorable days with these two wonderful pilgrims. I am more than pleased that our friendship remains ongoing....in fact, that's the best part.

Monday, 3 February 2014

STORM IN MUXIA

Planning on recording this personal favourite whenever mother nature stops cancelling every session I book--actually, I suppose it's delightfully ironic in a way..


I’m frightened by the storm in Muxia
I feel you in the wind but I can’t see ya
Is that you over there in your Alvaiazere chair
or is it just a rocking stone on the shoreline?

Dark churning skies bring panic, pain and cold
My hands and feet are frozen to the bone
I call out loud and clear, but there’s no one left to hear
for the pilgrims are returning to the Camino

Behold a women singing in the tempest!
In her hand she holds the magic comb of gold
She wears a crown and jewelled dress, and yes, I know the rest
She’s not a princess or a lover, she’s just a killer

Her flaming hair is burning up the dark night
Her narcotic diamond voice leaves me breathless
I offer wine and bread, she takes my heart instead
That’s just the price for her beauty and her treasure

But I can not choose to turn down this seduction
or the miracle of honesty in her shelter
So I’ll spend my very last breath, with her on the Coast of Death
Go ahead - judge me one more time, if you remember

I’m frightened by the storm in Muxia
I feel you in the wind but I can’t see ya
Is that you over there in your Alvaiazere chair
Or is it just a rocking stone on the shoreline?

UPDATE-- Song  recorded Feb.16, 2014.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

EL NORTE IN SONG #1 - CARMEN BY THE SEA

This is the first of 3 songs written in full  on El Norte. Songs which were 
inspired by El Norte but, written after my return home, to follow.

I met Carmen in Castro Urdiales. After an hour or so talking in a cafe, we
went for a late night walk along the beach then headed back to the Albergue.
Two days later we walked from Guemes to Santander and then she headed
back home to Bilbao, her short holiday (Semana Santa) being over. She
asked if I would like to spend a few days with her after I finished El Norte.
When asked where she lived , she said: "By the sea." In the next three weeks 
I decided not only to accept her offer but also to write a song for her. Well, 
once I realized that I knew nothing of her except her name and where she 
lived, I had my song title. Here's the song:


CARMEN BY THE SEA

Come gather round people and a story I will tell
About a girl I remember and used to love so well
A black haired beauty, a darling Spanish queen
Her cheeks were like roses and eyes were emerald green
She was perfect as an angel, gentle like a dove
But no one  knew what she was thinking of
And every man in town they shared each other’s dream
To be living free with Carmen by the sea

One day a stranger came to town and as far as we could see
He had only come around to win Carmen by the sea
With a bouquet of flowers and a ring of solid gold,
Jewels and fragrances, the finest I’ve been told
It might have been those gifts or maybe just his charm
Maybe just the way he held her in his arms
But he broke the hearts of many men, not just two or three
He was living free with Carmen by the sea

Days turned into months and months turned into years
Loving turned to longing - happiness to tears
No one had seen Carmen or the man that she had wed
Until one day the news came down - the stranger was dead
Shattered on the rocks on the shores of the raging sea
The fall had killed him instantly--everyone agreed
But no one understood just how it came to be
No one except for Carmen by the sea

Carmen soon came into town and words cannot express
The power of her beauty and her bloody happiness
The men still gathered around entranced by every step
They didn't seem to care about the fate the stranger met
She was perfect as an angel, gentle like a dove
But no one knew what she was thinking of
And every man in town they shared each other’s dream
To be living free with Carmen by the sea


The strangest thing happened when I did visit. Long story short,
I ended up going for a afternoon hike with Carmen's mom (I can still see Carmen
giggling about the whole idea ). After a long climb in the hot sun, we reached
the top of a very high cliff, a very, very high cliff!
"Look, you can see Castro Urdiales across the water" she said.
She was right,of course, but I was just looking down at "the rocks on the
shores of the raging sea" and they looked just as deadly I had imagined in
my song. An instant of sheer terror struck me.. had I predicted my own
death? I was right on the edge so I quickly wheeled about and with great
relief found "mom" smiling and not advancing towards me with arms
outstretched.
I shouldn't have been surprised. She was a wonderful woman who had
graciously welcomed me into her life and home.

And so too was Carmen, perhaps even more so. She did so many little things
for me that I can not begin to list them, usually thoughtfully, calmly and without
fanfare. I didn't realize that when I wrote "She was perfect as an angel, gentle
like a dove", that it was the absolute truth. Indeed, she was my camino angel.
It would be nice see her one more time and tell her.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

LOST LOVE

Just pulled out my camino guitar, first time since El Norte in the spring.  As I stuck my nose in the sound hole I was assaulted by a riot of perfumes...vino, tortilla..ocean..sweat... sun...each trace gloriously accented by the sweet fragrances of a lovely lady....all of which leaves me only to wonder : is she, or is she not, forever lost?



Sunday, 12 January 2014

CONCUSSION BLUES

    Dec 31st, 2013,  the morning of new year's eve, about 10:30 am, I slipped on a small, unseen patch of ice and fell head first on the ground. Whooosh... pain,dizziness, nausea. Two hospitals, one CTscan and 10 long hours later I was pronounced concussed but ok, then released. Thanks to Supergirl and Plastic Man for finding my car and driving it home, then coming back to the hospital and doing the same for yours truly.
     This didn't radically change my new year's plans as I was just planning to stay home by myself anyway--the only difference was I now felt god awful. Think I hit the sack around 11ish but frankly, I don't remember too much.
     Though I hadn't touched a drop, I awoke early with a blistering headache. I also awoke with a song idea and damnit I dont know why, I just did. Now, when I get these ideas, my frequent modus operandi is to think  "hey, that's not a bad idea..think I'll try that,  umm...but maybe later". Most of the time "later" never comes and, if it does, I usually have lost the "moment" and reject everything I attempt to associate with it. Yes, I know there are ways to avoid that trap and I might try them but, ummm...maybe later.
      In this case though, I just sat down and started writing, 3-4 hours maybe. I ended up with something I thought was pretty good but I did recognize it wasn't quite done. I called it "Southbound Train" but only because I felt compelled to do so because of the lyrics--I really didn't want to call it that. And like I said, it needed  a key tweak or two but my head was starting to hurt so bad that I had to stagger to another room and lie down. It had  been about 14 hours since the CTscan. The song could wait.
      Yesterday, about ten days later, I recorded "Fall So Far" for my next album. The recording went well in every aspect, and the performance, together with a few additions, will likely be the one that is released. When we were done, I offered up "Southbound Train" to my producer extraordinaire JK Gulley, explaining of course, that it wasn't quite complete. Now, there is no chance JK will ever say something is any good if it isn't (a wonderful attribute), so I was quite happy that he embraced it wholeheartedly while acknowledging that it wasn't quite "there" yet.
        Well, I just did the rewrite..added one new lyric line with a few different chords and modified the preceding 4  lyric lines accordingly, then trashed the entire ending which, thankfully, no longer worked. And damn, in my opinion, ..it's "there"! As an added bonus, I can now most assuredly rename the song : "To Love Again" . And that is so sweetly appropriate, 'cause if there's one thing I need to  do in my godforsaken, love-starved life, it's just that--to love again. See, all this stuff is just autobiography y'know, sometimes it just takes a while for me to recognize it. Anyway, pumped I am-- feel like dancing. That, unfortunately, is doubly problematical - firstly, because I can't dance and secondly my head is now throbbing to the nth degree again.
Peace, love
Steeltown
    PS.If you have read this, you have agreed not to tell my mother. Cheers.