Friday, 11 January 2013

Claude Nobs

Claude Nobs has died, aged 76, after a skiing accident. There's info about Claude online, his achievements, his contribution to the music world etc... but all you really need to know is that he started the Montreux Jazz Festival, and he knew how to throw a truly memorable party.

I played the festival twice - back in the day - once with my band, and once just me and the cellist known as Oli Kraus. Those heady days of major labels, when it seemed as though anything was possible: reaching a big audience, playing the big festivals, hanging with the stars. So it was that the day before the opening night of the Montreux Festival 2005, Claude Nobs invited me, Oli, my tour manager - the infamous Quinner - and the best front of house sound guy in the world, Johnny Laing, to a party at his chalet, at the top of a mountain over looking the lake.

Now I know I'm a seriously great person to invite to a party. I'll be funny, charming, not fully drunk until the last guest is leaving, I will never play guitar unless begged, and I'm often there to help with the washing up next day, if needed - but even me, in all my awesomeness, assumed this would be a big shindig that only politics told me it would be good to attend. I was still ambitious in those days and I knew how to network. Sure I'd be one among hundreds, but what the heck, free drink is free drink.

So I went. Getting out of the limo at Claude's place I was instantly aware that there was only one other car - and getting out of that was The Corr family. Not a big party then, just me and The Corrs, and two others... oh yes, that's Shania Twain over there, with her then husband - Mutt Lange.

So just us then. An informal do. And I'd put on my best jacket. Only jacket.

What followed is one of my most bizarre memories of those days - and sadly for you, I'm not going to reveal many details of the night, partly because some things are just for me, but mainly because The Corrs have really good lawyers. Suffice to say that Claude Nobs brought together, in one room, a group of people whose paths probably would never have crossed (except perhaps the worst episode of Later ever). During a night of amazing hospitality, I sat opposite at dinner, then played pool and fell in love with Andrea Corr (it's not optional, she's funny, smart, and not perhaps what her music would lead you to surmise)... argued, hugged and became best pals with the man who produced AC/DC's Back In Black, Mutt Lange, and almost talked Shania Twain into covering one of my songs. Almost. And let's not forget they co-wrote "still the one"... and if you don't think that's a great pop song, don't even try and get on my raft when the big wave hits. Mutt even said he'd come and see me play the next night, which is something everyone says, and never does. But I was flattered anyway.

It's rare that you ever see big stars relaxed, when you see them from back stage at festivals or tv shows, or after show parties, they are always "on". Aware of the camera, the audience, the critic. But that night, we were hammered. Maybe it was the mountain air. Or maybe the cocktails before dinner - but make no mistake, it was a case of quiet sound checks for all the next day. Alright, mine don't really get loud, especially when it's just me and Oli K. But you take my point.

The Corrs jammed in the music room downstairs, Johnny Laing played the world's greatest theremin solo, then we all sat and watched unseen footage of Nina Simone from the festival years before. We sat in awed silence watching what only people who had been at that show had seen, a woman possessed, playing great song after great song, the darkness (and heroin) oozing out of her. I can't have been the only one who left that home cinema changed for life.

The night ran on, the next day's festival show was great, I was presented with flowers by Claude - always nice, and Mutt Lange was as good as his word, he sat there from the first note to the last, and said nice things afterwards.

SO farewell, Claude, I can't say I knew you well, but you were a fine host, you always threw great parties, the rooms we stayed in overlooking the lake are logged in my rock'n'roll memory bank for when I'm staying in a Travel Lodge off the M40, and need a better view to call up from my past. But more than that, you started one of the greatest festivals in the world, where you would be guaranteed to see great acts, big and small, but none of them would be the safe, obvious choices that make the modern festival circuit look like the same old boring Radio One playlist. And to die, at 76, after a skiing accident - well, that's pretty rock'n'roll. Here's to you.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

From The Lowlands Album And Solo Tour 2012

Official Video For Nothing On The Dry Land by Shane o'Doherty




As I prepare to send my new record into the ether, zeroes and ones on a digital breeze, I thought I'd write a few words about it, and why part two of The Alphabet of Hurricanes brings to an end a style of writing to which I don't think I'll be returning in a long time, if ever.

Alphabet of Hurricanes was, in my head at least, a double album. But record companies don't like double albums for lots of reasons, so the idea was to break the release into two parts. But as is becoming usual for me, I parted company with the label, and the idea of the record got shelved, along with the recordings I'd already made.

I was busy making plans, then a bit of life got in the way and changed my world... and after 23 years of living in London and other bustling cities, I packed up and moved to the west country. Don't ask me why, I've no idea how I ended up here, I just got in the car and drove until it felt right. It felt right in the lowlands of Somerset.

One of my new neighbours helped me convert an old boiler shed in my garden into a little music room ( I have about as much sense of DIY as I do of rhythm) and I went to work. After the 2010 tour with the band, I wanted to get straight back to work on a record that I could take on the road with them again, a record with songs written specifically with those players in mind, with a different approach musically and lyrically to anything I'd done before. That record, made in Wales earlier this year, will hopefully be out next year. Best to say hopefully with anything I do these days. But still the idea of Alphabet pt 2 wouldn't go away.

I kept returning to that melancholy set of songs. The subject matter had been gnawing at me for a while, some of the memories I thought might be better swept under the carpet kept resurfacing, and when songs keep calling it's polite to at least pick up the phone. Consider this fair warning then, that "From The Lowlands", is as the title suggests, not the happiest of records. I know, I know... I don't make happy records. I'm not sure whether I'm supposed to apologise, but my way of celebrating life is to acknowledge it's brevity and fragility, preferably in A minor.

These songs are resolutely more intimate, darker, and more delicate than anything I've done. It's over 25 years since I wrote my first proper (and properly bad) song, people often call it singer-songwriter music. I'm not sure I know what that means, but I write them, and sing them, so I can't fault the logic.

A relatively late addition to this album is my version of Sloop John B, which I recorded for Mojo Magazine earlier this year. It seemed to fit the overall mood of the album, with its maritime flavour and sad, salty refrain (at least the way I did it, obviously) so I've included it here. There's a full track listing below.

Songwriting is a strange obsession for me. I return to forms and subject matter time and again, desperately trying to get them right before I can move on, trying to get them to do what I imagine they're capable of when I first write them. I want to simplify or reduce some songs to their most basic essence, so that they become a pure, direct form of communication. As an occasional whiskey (and whisky) drinker, that attraction to the distillation process is probably only to be expected. So this, then, is my single barrel, own label, aged for 42 years, McRae Special Reserve. Please enjoy responsibly.

Hopefully you've already seen the teaser trailer for the new record - it's some footage I shot of a buzzard near my house. I've been living here for 2 years now, but I'm still fascinated by these big birds of prey. They were endangered once, now they're so numerous, certain groups want them culled. As a male singer-songwriter, I can empathise. I also love that the collective noun for buzzards is "wake". For a record like "From The Lowlands", that feels appropriate.




From The Lowlands is available to order here: www.tommcrae.com

Lately's All I Know
Nothing On The Dry Land
Sloop John B
Belly Of A Whale
Fuck You, Prometheus
From The Lowlands
Ship Of Blue And Green
All That's Gone
The Alphabet of Hurricanes




The solo tour starts in October, full dates and ticket links are here:

See you then.... Tom



Sunday, 13 March 2011

Tom At Tut's






Maybe you were there.

If you were, you will know that these two gigs (November 25 & 26th 2004) were very special for me, and marked the start of my traditional two nights at King Tut's, in Glasgow, which if it's appropriate or possible, we always try and work into a tour schedule. Every band needs their Stone Pony.

There's something special about that venue. A back room in a pub basically, but the sort of venue where bands cut their performing teeth before going on to bigger, more celebrated venues. Well, some of the bands go on to bigger things.

I think I opened at Tut's for a band called It's Jo and Danny, sometime in 2000. Being an opening act is always interesting. You have a limited time to make an impact, to a room half-full of people who are all waiting for the main act to come on.

But at that first show, on what was my first real tour, some sort of connection was made. Not only was I starting to establish what I wanted to convey as a performer, but I was beginning to realise that I wanted more from the usual band/audience relationship.

I wanted what I'd experienced at the favourite shows I'd been to over the years. I wanted to feel, and to let others feel, that we are all part of something, some unique experience, available for only that night, in that venue.

You'll have to excuse the outbreak of luvviedom... I still think (even at my age) that live music, live entertainment of all varieties, produces the most vivid experiences.

King Tut's was also the home of then house engineer, Johnny Laing, who has been my stalwart front of house guy for over a decade. The venue itself is run brilliantly, by dedicated people, who make the experience of playing there as memorable as the audience usually does.

Venues like that need supporting. With a crumbling industry and with all of us recession-hit, I worry about the survival of these smaller venues. But I digress.

For years, since the technology became affordable - I've recorded as many live shows as possible - with the invaluable assistance of Johnny and later Olli Cunningham.

I do this for several reasons. We always listen back to recordings from shows on the bus, there's always something to improve, adapt or cull. Mainly these recordings are for my own archives. When your main job is to provide an ephemeral night's entertainment, it's nice to have a personal memento to listen back to. It also helps on the first day of rehearsals before a new tour, when we struggle to remember what the hell it is we're doing.

Sometimes, not often, but occasionally a recording works really well. If the computer doesn't crash, the sound desk doesn't crackle, the house P.A isn't terrible or the hard drive freeze, you can luck out and capture a recording that not only serves as a great reference, but also captures what it was like to actually be at the show. It also helps to have a genius like Johnny Laing driving the desk.

I've never been a huge fan of live albums. Too often they're just lesser recordings of the original album versions. But when they're good, they can be better, or a valuable insight into the continued life and evolution of songs. For me, when I want to listen to one of my heroes, Bruce Springsteen, often as not I'll listen to the live double album from the seventies.

Something about the sound of the crowd (ever so slightly bigger than my usual audience), the way Bruce introduces the songs or the performance of the songs themselves captures something completely fresh and different to his studio albums.

I used to scour the bootleg sections in record stores - remember them? - especially in Dublin - looking for recordings, band versions, solo versions, anything by my heroes that I could learn from or be inspired by.

So for me, when I listen through to my live recordings from over the years, I cross my fingers that the performance is technically usable. I don't mean the playing or singing - a gig's not a gig if my voice doesn't crack or I forget the words. I do it with the hope that maybe one day I'll find a good enough recording to represent a whole show. Or in this case, the best performances from across two nights at the same venue.

Finding these King Tut's recordings, therefore, was a genuine thrill. And something of a nostalgia trip, but there's nothing wrong with that from time-to-time.

Mixing them was a pretty demanding task, then deciding what to leave off! In the end I used most things, leaving off songs where the versions were similar enough to the live trio album from 2007. The heckles and chants and swearing, some of it from the audience, some of it from me, I left on. They were all part of the show, part of the atmosphere. I apologise if any of you are offended.

Actually I left it on because I always wanted to release an album with a "parental advisory" sticker on. Walmart was never going to stock it anyway!

But like I say... maybe you were there. If you were, thank you for playing your part. I came very close to calling it (and I refer to it in my house) as "Gi'us A Happy Song!"

And if you weren't there - this is the next best thing.

I hope you like it.

Tom

FULL TRACK LISTING:

You Only Disappear
Karaoke Soul
back at tut's
How The West Was Won
if you need a moment
End of the World News (Doe Me Up)
that was pretty good
Hummingbird Song
Sao Paulo Rain
Border Song
A&B Song
Human Remains
Silent Boulevard
Bloodless
My Vampire Heart
Boy with the Bubblegun
run to the hills
Language of Fools

The italicised tracks are some inbetween banter and heckling - as usual - but I've given these their own track numbers so you can skip them, or not put them on your ipod if you find them annoying. Personally, I think they're all part of the experience! Especially on headphones.

The picture of the album cover at the top should be okay for you to drag into itunes or to use on your MP3 player for artwork. If not email me at info@tommcrae.com - we'll see if we can help. The image was kindly provided by Alex Boyd, an immensely talented photographer (with great taste in music) more of his work can be found here: http://alexboyd.co.uk/

He's won awards and stuff!!! Thanks Alex.

So pour yourself a wee dram, sit back and imagine you're there.