Tuesday, 24 November 2009

HELP!



So - having signed to ace label, Cooking Vinyl... it's time to play the self-promotion game and honour their commitment to me... and my own commitment to my music. And yes, even at 40 I'm still ambitious - although frankly once you've been on Buzzcocks what's left?

And yet, and yet...I'm uncomfortable. The British music press has the attention span of a mayfly whose ritalin has just run out, and as it can't or won't write about someone for their music alone - I find myself struggling for suggestions as to how to fool journalists into actually giving me some press coverage.

How this normally works - and look away now if you're sensitive - is that you buy advertising space in a magazine or newspaper. The amount of ad space you buy corresponds to how much editorial they print (or if your song goes on the covermount cd). That's how the world works, you bribe people. But we can't afford that.

Ever wondered why album of the month is always the one with the biggest ad campaign? Ever wondered why film magazines tend to give even appalling films decent reviews? Turn the page and see whose advertising pays the wages of everyone in the building.

So for those of you who thought Kennedy was killed by a lone assassin or that the Pope is God's appointed representative on earth, sorry to disappoint you. For the rest of you, sorry for teaching you all to suck eggs. It's the way the world is, best not to complain but to get down in the trenches and try and come up with something, if it's all a stupid game, why not have fun playing it?

So, what I need - and I'm serious (even though your replies don't have to be)are suggestions for what I should put in my press release. The world's greatest living poet (Simon Armitage - not up for debate) has kindly agreed to write my potted biography, but in the absence of a drug habit (or fake one, see picture below) or dead super model in my closet - I can't think of an angle.

(one of these guys may have had a coke habit, but it sure ain't the guy in the middle)

I'm sorry Keane fans. Really. Sorry.

Apologies if I sound a trifle jaded, but this tired old dance of trying to get some press attention makes me irritable. I know just making music isn't enough, I know Leona Lewis is far, far prettier, I know Jedward are funny, I know music is slipping in its cultural significance now it's free - but surely, surely, there must be something to write about someone like me?

So, help me out - this is what I have so far.

40-yr-old singer-songwriter releases fifth album, quite good live, just passed driving test.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Jail Guitar Doors


Occasionally among the countless gigs, long journeys, delayed flights and repetitive days of bitter disappointment and frustration, there are exceptional moments which shine like gold in the river mud. Days which take you out of yourself, remind you of your good fortune and help you to treasure the things that are so often taken for granted. There isn't going to be the usual bathos or failed witticism at this point, just a rare instance of sincerity.

A few weeks ago I was invited to play a few songs for some inmates at a Young Offenders Institute in Wetherby, Yorkshire (alright, insert your captive audience gags here if you must but let's move on swiftly) as part of the Jail Guitar Doors scheme, by which prisoners and young offenders are given access to guitars, as a means of self-expression, self-respect and rehabilitation. You can read up on the scheme by clicking the link, it was set up by one of my heroes, Billy Bragg, to honour the memory of one of his, Joe Strummer.

When you're asked to do something like that, it doesn't take a second to say yes and how soon? Music means more than the X Factor and its evil twins (I mean similar shows, not the current Frankenstein's monster that is Jedward), and it has a much more vibrant place in life than the clogged I-pod or bored Guitar Hero would currently suggest.

Music is at it's most visceral and raw when it's played by people solely for their own amusement, as they come to grips with learning an instrument, or jamming alongside other people for the first time. So seeing these teenagers play their own songs, after they'd politely sat through mine and even performed their own version of How The West Was Won, (complete with additional middle 8 rap) - is easily one of the most extraordinary experiences in my life to date. It's not a good look, by the way, for a 40 yr old to be choking back the tears listening to his own song performed by a bunch of teenagers in the recreation area of a Yorkshire prison, so that's something else I've learned.

I played a few songs, we talked about songwriting, they played some recordings they'd made, questions were asked from both sides, and I was given a tour of the prison by my amazing hosts. More of them later. And for any Daily Mail readers who may have strayed here, it is a prison. The cells are small, the doors are locked and there are bars on the window. It's not a holiday camp funded by the tax payer. It exists for a reason, but Wetherby also wants to give these kids (for kids they are) a chance at something more. Music may not be the most practical of careers these days, but anything that makes you more self-aware and self-confident informs every other aspect of your life, as well as having the more immediate rewards of having made something from nothing, carved sound from silence.

Whatever it has become for me over the years, this was reaffirmation of what music is in it's most basic form. It's the perfect way to express the inexpressible. And if you think that sounds like the worst solecism, you have clearly never sung at the top of your voice or tried to wring a tune out of an instrument by sheer force of will.

I can only tell you what I got from the experience, I'm not about to speak on behalf of the inmates. I hope they got something from it. They're inside for many reasons, none of them my business, and whatever solace can be gained from playing guitar, or perspective achieved from writing a song, I hope it's theirs for the taking. But they gave me something, and they re-ignited something inside me, a pure passion just for playing, just for hearing the notes, just for feeling the strings under your fingers - no other outcome attached, no expectation, and no reward other than sound.

Thanks then to Stephen Bielby and the staff who took great care of me, and whose dedication has meant that music classes are now an every day part of life at the prison. It's people like this that you rarely read about in the press, we only get the horror stories, not the news of good people, doing good things every day to improve the lives of others. And giving young offenders a chance at something more than a life of crime may not be the most glamorous profession, but that day, with those lads felt like the most rock and roll thing I've ever done.


P.S And those of you who came to the show in Sheffield the other day, your ticket money contributed to buying 6 more guitars for the scheme. So thank you.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Ask Tom # 5049

Get rid of the beard..you looked horrible at Living Room and the wedding pictures while you can have such a beautiful face with great hair.. Fine if you're happy with it but don't blame the world if your new album doesn't do anything, it isn't only about the songs/voice you know..

Amelie

Thank you for comments, Amelie - It's always nice to return home after a couple of gigs to read a review or two. Have you ever seen the Gary Larson cartoon I reproduce here illegally (what the hell, we're all freetards now)? It reveals an insight into the ego of the artist as well as the mind of a dog - two not dissimilar concepts.




All my eyes saw when I read your commment, therefore, was "I have such a beautiful face with great hair". Thank you. It means a lot. To a man of my age.

P.S. I did actually read a bit further, and I also thank you for the advice concerning the future marketing of my music - however, I have long-since stopped blaming the world for many things, let alone the failure of my music to reach a huge audience. One day, Amelie, one day... it is only a matter of time.

I have come to quite like the world, actually, the bits of it I choose to look at anyway. Which includes you, Amelie. You came to my shows, and took the trouble to write me a note and search out pictures of me at a wedding on the internet (the pictures were on the internet - not the wedding, that would be plain weird)... and your note also kindly included grooming tips. This shows you care deeply, for which I really am grateful, and possibly - somewhat surprisingly - I really do like you a lot. Whoever you are.

I shall endeavour in many ways to never let you down, Amelie...especially in my music and my live performance.... although I may just keep the facial hair to annoy you a wee bit longer. Not paying too much attention to others is a prerequisite of survival in my job, and possibly yours too. As the Zen Master said to the novice - "it is always sensible to ignore advice, even this."

Yours

Tom

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Ask Tom # 5031

Straight to the point - (and we don't want to seem shallow and superficial), but what the heck is happening with the barnet? Got it cut yet?

shazzadean



Good grief, you make 5 albums, struggle to take your music to the masses, live the dedicated life of the true artist, and all they want to know about is your hair. This is but one of the many hair related questions submitted over the years.

But the question has been asked, and rather than shirk the challenge of an in depth answer, I have instead decided to take you on a journey through the styles - if such they can be called - that I have sported through the years.

#1 Not many options available to me at this point, although what I lacked in tonsorial flare I easily made up for with a frankly awesome choice of shorts. Notice if you will the slightly sour face, the sucking on a lemon expression, due mainly to the fact I'm sucking on a lemon. Either that or there has been a catastrophic failure of early '70s nappy technology.



#2 Skipping forward a few years, I am clearly already working on the slightly longer look for the more outré gentleman, although still struggling with the exact angle at which to cut the fringe for maximum dork factor. I can only imagine my mother was wielding the scissors. See how I was working the cherubic look, set off magnificently by my maroon blouse. Quite the heartbreaker.



#3 A minor lapse in sartorial judgement led to a period of self-disgust, as evinced by the McRae tartan tie and red tank top. There was only one way to truly carry off this look, and that was by grabbing the nearest bowl and trimming round it. With that hair and those teeth, no one even remembers the clothes.



#4 The teenage years can be awkward for anyone, but I have made a bold statement with spiky blond hair contrasting splendidly with my black digital watch. The languid posture clearly showing a maturing confidence, combined with an almost fatal inability to stand up in those jeans.



#5 Notice in this next picture of one of my earlier bands, how I am already beginning to commit to the idea of "hair as vital comedy tool". I like to think I was breaking new ground in this area, although if this photo is anything to go by, one or two of the others may have been ahead of me. The all-white look was also years ahead of its time, as was the use of cane furniture as a serious prop. Today's bands could learn a thing or two from this picture. Mainly what not to do at any cost.

Yes, isn't the guy top left rather good looking. Of course, that's why he had to go. There will be more of him on my upcoming autoblography, a section on the new, lovingly homemade site we are close to getting on line.




#6 It was nothing short of a tragedy then, having invested much time and effort into researching the most ridiculous hair cuts over the years, when my first label began to insist on new strategies for the barnet. They wanted it longer, shorter, blonder, darker... like all record labels they didn't know what they wanted, they just knew it wasn't what they had. So in typical rebellious fashion, I hacked it all off and this was the result. Like Samson before me, losing my hair meant losing my strength, and all the effort of looking cool has clearly exhausted me and I have fallen asleep. Either that or someone has made me listen to Lily Allen and completely sapped my will to live.





#7 And now, back to the present day, as the hair turns a majestic shade of grey, if only in the sparse beard, and we see the return of the slightly confused, indeterminate hair length, that hints at my dogged resistance to fashion, and my preference for the timeless look of the devil-may-care, too lazy to go to the hairdresser, older gent still carving out a career in the youth obsessed world of music. It is, I'm sure you agree, a look that I have at least made my own. Although apparently, as always, I am starting to subtly influence the next generation. Poor fools.

video

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Five's Alive


Finally, it is done. Album #5 is officially finished. Making a record is a bit like baking a cake (no, it isn't in any way remotely like baking a cake, unless your cake cost you thousands of pounds to make, isn't appreciated by anyone - even close relatives - and is eventually given away slightly stale at jumble sales) but bear with me, I've started this analogy so I'm going to finish it.

Once you have spent time gathering the ingredients; a pound of finely sifted experience; a few drops of bitter disappointment; the zest of renewed self-belief; and some sultanas... the album baking process unfolds slowly over time, changing slightly with each added ingredient, until finally, with your album starting to resemble the finished product, it is sent for the final mastering process.

At any stage something could go wrong, you could balls up the recording, the mixing, the track order (who apart from me actually listens to albums in order these days?) and finally the mastering. Assuming that you've actually started with half decent songs in the first place.

It is a stressful time. Will the cake rise? Are the ingredients better than the whole, will it come back from the bakery with "happy birthday, Tim" written in pink icing? Will the analogy you've embarked upon ever make sense?

But after many months (years when you include the writing period) your album/cake is finally finished, you can sit and stare at it while it cools on the shelf, hoping that maybe this is the cake the public have been waiting for. The one that will change the course of history, the one that will have cookery writers and celebrity chefs knocking down your door for an interview, or at least enable you to take the cake on the road, slicing it up night after night for the delectation of cake lovers everywhere.

It is also a time when your sanity is stretched thin, and those close to you worry that you are beginning to confuse making records with baking cakes. Apparently it can happen.

Fortunately for me then, that there is no time to dwell on this, as album part 2 requires attention, and the songs that were left off part one find a home on the sequel, and the process begins all over again. It's already been a good summer (bearing in mind I hate summer and all that goes with it, give me a good winter any time), I have a tour to look forward to, the occasional fishing trip, and some gigs to see.

It is vital at this point to start listening to music again, without it being a technical exercise. To enjoy the cake as it were, without tasting the baking powder and suet. ( I don't really make cakes, but those sound plausible ingredients). So if anyone has any recommendations new or old, I would appreciate it. I watched Glastonbury and thought it was the best line up ever. Of course, I would like to have played, I have fond memories of my time on the other stage, back in 1948, shortly after the war, when times were hard but we were happy. Much like today. Except for the happy bit.

So, I hope you're having a good summer, at some point I'll start divulging things about the new record (and let's face it, 45 seconds after we've sent it to the first journalist it'll be online somewhere) and then we can once more debate the quality of the cake, how it compares to other cakes I've made, and does the world really need any more of my cakes. That sort of thing.

My current musical recommendations are: Kevin Devine, Brother's Blood. Not just 'cos he's a mate but it's really great songwriting. And anything by Leadbelly, especially Laura. My favourite track of the last year.

I'm reading lots of political memoirs, readying myself for the inevitable Tory victory that will send me deeper into middle-aged depression, and I particularly recommend Chris Mullin "A View From The Foothills".

I'm still continually watching the "West Wing" on loop, as nothing has ever bettered this show - despite what journalists tell us. Yes "The Wire" is good, but you know, not that good.

Oh, and I'm working on a song that may require your help at the shows. I'll keep you posted. Right, I'm off to watch Federer dispatch Roddick in 3 sets. Tennis is almost like sport. Enjoy your Sunday.

P.S Speaking of Wimbledon, I've just remembered that my actual 5th birthday cake was in the shape of Great Uncle Bulgaria from the Wombles. Daddy had just come back from the Crimea and what with the South Sea Bubble bursting, we had to make do with...... ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Brian Wright


As I sit in the west wing of McRae Towers, the gentle lilt of birdsong disturbed only by the occasional gunfire of a paedophile-chasing mob, and the ear-splitting squeals of a pitbull tearing the face off a toddler, I’m driven to wonder how we let the poverty gap get so wide under a supposedly Labour government, and how it is I’m supposed to make it to the off-licence for my breakfast binge drinking session without being mugged by a knife-wielding eight-year-old. Girl.

But then I put down the newspaper and realise that as we age, the gap that widens with even greater speed than the poverty gap, is the perception gap between the world we live in and the world the media tell us we live in.

As a trainee journalist (a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away) I remember snidely laughing (I majored in it) at a BBC newsreader who had dared to suggest that there should be more positive stories in the news, maybe about cats and that sort of thing. Well, now I see his point.

In a world apparently gone to shit, with all evidence of justice about as rare as reasoned argument from a Christian, it’s time we had some good news. In a world without hope it is truly the visionary who stands up and says “Enough is Enough”. For goodness sake people, I’ve had songs on Holby City and Hollyoaks all in the same week. Do you not now see that literally anything…ANYTHING is possible?

It is in that gospel spirit of good news (is that tautology?) that I would like to take this opportunity to formally announce that the support for this tour will be provided by the amazing Brian Wright. After much negotiation, a substantial transfer fee rising into the low one figures, I have finally found my Mr Wright.

Thank you to all of you who offered your services - and keep on asking because in this day and age we all have to shout a bit to be heard – but for now the slot is filled.

Many of you will remember Brian from the Hotel Café shows, or know him in his own right as a song-writer extraordinaire, or perhaps just as the guy with the beard. Whether you know him or are yet to get acquainted, be assured his presence on the tour will make this extra special.

He has also graciously agreed to play in my band, which will be the biggest band I have toured with to date. It is going to be a great tour.

Tickets are selling fast for the London Scala show by the way, so to avoid disappointment and subsequent unseemly rioting (just look what happened in Iran when they found out I’d come second in the finale of Tehran’s Got Talent) be sure to get yours soon.

Find out more about Brian Wright here:
http://www.myspace.com/thewacotragedies

The fishing season starts at midnight on Monday. I’m just saying. You know, if you cared. Those of you looking for style tips, my clothing range and perfume is coming soon.
Let the current crop of singer-songwriters worry about being cool and rock and roll. I can’t stand up without grunting these days.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!

Ahem.

Hello.

Anybody there?

I went away for a while.

But now I'm back.

Like the eponymous hero of Superman 2 I traded my powers to be able to love like a human, and for a while I forgot about the affairs of the world and crime fighting.... and stuff. Although I kept wearing my pants on the outside... (that's underpants for you Americans).

But I see that without me the world has taken a turn to negative town, with democracy itself in peril. Honestly, you take your eyes off the baby for a second and it's got the cat by the tail and it's dangling it out the broken window over a flaming tar pit crawling with rabid crocodile and flying pirhanas - or other toddler/democracy/hydrophobic/winged fish/ reptile-related metaphors you may have of your own that make more sense.

I apologise. I'm tired. I've been writing and recording this album for three years, it is intended as an album in two parts. A volume One and a Volume Two. Not a double album you understand. That's something altogether different. And expensive.

It has taken quite a while to finish part one. I wanted to take some time away from the road to concentrate on writing and recording - to prove some things to myself, and to prove that I could sit still for more than a week.

But I am bored of sitting still. It will soon be time to go back to the Fortress of Solitude and get some advice from a fat, dead, Marlon Brando (there's an 0845 number for those of you who can't make the trip) and to once more take to the skies in my dashing cape. And pants.

I seriously have no idea what I'm saying now. But you get the gist.

Album. Part one. Finished. Release date to be confirmed, but I'm expecting September, just before the tour, so you have a long hot summer to enjoy yourselves before I drag you kicking and screaming into my tempestuous universe.

We'll be getting the website into shape soon, along with all the other preparations for the release of the record - if I say it out loud enough times it must surely come to pass.

The musical landscape has altered dramatically over the last few years, but change is good. It must be embraced, wined and dined and danced with gently to flickering candle light, for longing for the old days and the old ways is the path of the dead man. Although to be fair we did dress better in earlier times. Skinny jeans? People, people.... what are we thinking?

In short, who the hell knows how any of this goes any more?

These are dark, dangerous, times, with doubtless many more storms ahead. But we will face them together, although I may be slightly behind you and to one side... I'm at an age where the wind fair whips through me.

Not that sort of wind.

Finally then, let us resort to art - the one true religion - for our philosophical, moral and spiritual guidance when all else fails. You may even like to take a moment and go outside and shout the following at the night sky, or traffic wardens. If you listen carefully you might just hear others doing the same, raising our voices in united defiance.


"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o' the world!"

Yep, do that and more.

There's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes... but I've got a big umbrella and I'm more than happy to share.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

No Opinion Fridays


It begins how it always begins, and it always ends the same way. In tears. Either mine or the people around me.

How it begins is this: I read the news, or leave the house (rarely), or switch on the television or radio, or even sometimes just flick out my tongue snake-like… and the complex taste of imminent disaster is at once revealed to me, like the odour of a two day old corpse.

What this taste forewarns, is that slowly, surely, and tragically ineluctably, AN OPINION is forming in my brain.

Like a shadow creeping across the face of the sun, it is the harbinger of doom. Or at least a heated argument at breakfast.

Seemingly impotent in the face of the all-consuming OPINION, I feel compelled to share it with anyone who will listen (or lacks the motor skills to leave the vicinity).

For instance this morning, upon hearing the pronouncement by the Grand Wizard of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, that God would not intervene to save the planet from global warming, I felt an OPINION forcing it’s way towards my mouth.

However, now that I’m 40 and affecting an air of wisdom - conferred merely by age rather than actual experience – I confronted this OPINION and by a force of will so extreme that it made my eye sockets fill with blood, I stopped this OPINION dead in its tracks.


Having achieved this minor victory, I have decided to employ this tactic more often. Not every day, maybe just one day a month. Like dress casual days, or Hawaiian shirt Fridays (don’t ask, it was a long tour), I am about to embark upon an experiment.

On the last Friday of the month, I will express no OPINION on anything whatsoever. This may make me appear ill-informed, or apathetic, but it should go someway to restoring my self-image as a calm, rational human, rather than the vitriol-spouting demagogue I suspect I am deep down.

I urge you to try it. When you read something about the government consulting you over the advertising of condoms but not bothering to ask whether we should go to war or not, or torture people or not, or shore up the banking system or not… instead of rising to the bait, rise instead to the challenge.

Say nothing. Think nothing. Turn the page quickly, turn off the radio, switch to the weather channel. Express not the merest hint of outrage.

Do you think the world really needs another OPINION? No, the world now has a surfeit of opinions, roughly to the tune of 7 billion. Like my vote, my opinion doesn’t matter.

Give it a go. It will if nothing else make you seem enigmatic for about an hour. As if you have more important things going on than worrying about a celebrity wedding, or… I don’t know… a war or famine or something.

I for one feel much better about NOT having actually expressed the opinion that Rowan Williams is clearly a buffoon. I can let slip a self-satisfied sigh that I DIDN'T say that on past evidence the number of God’s interventions to save anything on this fucking planet look pretty fucking thin on the ground.

I’m proud that I DIDN'T shout at the top of my voice from the campus bell tower (high powered rifle by my side) that if God didn’t intervene to stop wars, famines, natural disasters, school buses crashing, or good people dying - whilst simultaneously ensuring that bad people suffer - at any other fucking time in fucking history, then he as sure as hell isn’t going to fucking start now, you fucking fuckwit of a sky fairy-believing retard.

Hold the front fucking page, "God to do nothing in face of catastrophe". Moron.

No, I’m glad I didn’t say that. It would make me seem unhinged.

Good luck with your own “No Opinion Friday” or whichever day you choose.

Be warned, however, that on the morning of the following day, you will find yourself deluged by OPINIONS of all sorts, that are desperate to be heard.

Thank Tim Berners-Lee then, that we have the internet. The forum for all unhinged people like us through which to share our lighter, happier sides.

I really, really need to get out more. Or less. One of the two.



Next week: Tom goes to a kitten sanctuary (and takes a course in anger management).

The week after that: he discusses how to write complete sentences (without the use of brackets).

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Life Begins...


So, life begins today allegedly. We used to have a running joke in my band that I was different ages in different countries, depending on which press release the journalist was reading, or which record company was trying to persuade the world I was younger than my birth certificate stated.

Age was never an issue for me, and if I'm supposed to feel something momentous then I don't - I'm just happy as always to be here. When I say happy, I mean happy to be alive. What you take for granted when you're twenty you cling to at twice that age.

I've always subscribed to the view that energy and creativity are ageless, you just have to swim against the tides of fashion as you age, but that's familiar water to me. I'm pisces after all, I may not always be in the swim, but I'm always swimming, often with all my strength.

The last ten years have been an adventure, but so were the ten years before that and the two decades before them. Stick around long, enough good things happen. Bad too I guess, and I am luckier than many. I have seen things I never dreamed, and travelled the world, with the best of people, doing the thing I love more than anything. It has been a privilege, and one that I acknowledge every day, whilst working as hard as I can. And fishing sometimes, obviously.

Some songs are better than others, some albums hit the target, others fly wide, some gigs... well, you know what, all the gigs are great. At least from my point of view. I get to face the wrong way in a crowd and have my voice heard above all the others. Not a week goes by when I don't dream I'm on stage, just to be able to sing at the top of my lungs. When I take time away from the road a little bit of me loses it's shine. But it always comes back when I need it.

Forty is traditionally the age of contemplation, of assessing where we are. Mid life. Crisis and all. But my crises occur on a weekly basis, so whatever this life has got to offer in the next ten years, I hope to be here to at least witness it.

I wrote a verse to a song called "I ain't scared of lightning" a few years ago, which I sometimes sing live, it goes "I ain't scared of lightning, I'm just looking for the thrill, so come on God, give me your best shot, I swear that I'll stand still". Well, I lied. I won't stand still, I am way to restless for that.

So, no calming down - let's face it I was never going to make the Rock and Roll hall of fame - but also no surrender. I'm hard at work on what I think is the best record yet. I'm duty bound to say that, but surely that's the point. Our best day is today and our best work is whatever's next.

Thank you to all of you who sent birthday wishes, we have come a long way, but we're only just getting started. There are many adventures still to come. Perhaps life does begin today after all.

P.S This is me in the studio last week with some new band members, and taking the shot is Olli Cunningham. He'd like me to point that out. And you recognise the guy on the far left. Here's to you, my brothers in arms.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

None of the above


I seem to have been absent for a while, busy spring cleaning, white-washing the old mole hole (that sounds so wrong) and preparing for the possibility of committing new music to tape - and this has left little time for important things like writing this blog, or typing emails of outrage to The Guardian, my MP, Thames Water, British Gas, or anyone else who will ignore me.

Just this morning though, the usual combination of lack of sleep and too much coffee ( I wonder if they're connected) led me to send the following missive to the lovely Jenni Russell who has received several of my letters over the years. I feel it's important to retain a dialogue with the outside world, especially when one never leaves the house except to buy the paper and see which cars got burnt out this week on my street.

Now that I'm nearly 40 I think it's allowable to use the word 'one' rather than 'I' when referring to myself, my status - whilst not totally regal - is at least approaching that of elder statesman. When I say elder statesman, I mean something like Mugabe.

I'll be back with something close to regular blogging as the music schedule allows, but what with that, irate letter writing, obscure phonograph building and figuring out how to keep snails off my clematis (again, that sounds so wrong) there is precious little time left in the day before my afternoon nap.

Until I have something insightful to say I shall leave you with the aforementioned letter... maybe if we all burnt our ballots there'd be revolution - or at least something to toast marshmallows with.

You can read Jenni's piece here http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/mar/03/conservatives-david-cameron-politics

Dear Jenni, another interesting piece today, but I wonder if in your heart of hearts even someone as seemingly hopeful as yourself doesn't secretly despair that once again the merry-go-round of democracy will result in the same pathetic choice between the puppet on the left or the puppet on the right.

I agree it is inevitable the Conservatives will win, but it could equally be any party offering what amount to identikit campaign policies, which immediately mutate from aspirational gold to pragmatic lead once power is achieved.

The argument that this form of democracy is the 'least worst' of all systems, with its right to vote for which our grandparents fought and died, is looking tired and downright dangerous in a world that needs big ideas, implemented quickly before we destroy the planet, our economies and each other. Our current form of democracy amounts to a tinkering with window dressing, as the next administration will doubtless prove, with a public purse so empty that any big ideas may be beyond our ability to fund them.

So rather than conferring a spurious legitimacy on any of the candidates by marking my ballot, I shall instead be burning it, as there is currently no move to recognise the spoiling of ballots as part of the electoral process. You may call me the naive one, knowing as we all do that decisions are made by those who show up, but I've been turning up all my adult life. To elections, to rallies, to meetings, and not once has my voice - or the voices of millions of others - been listened to. I voted in New Labour only to be taken into an illegal war, to have my civil liberties eroded, and to be made an accomplice to torture, by a party whose idea of social justice is to line the pockets of millionaire bankers.

While our generation looks back with gratitude to our forebears knowing the battles they fought figuratively and literally for our freedom to vote, I wonder how today or tomorrow's generation will regard us. At a time when the planet is dying, when capitalism has failed to bring equality, when we have lost the ability to feed ourselves, and the desire to feed others, will they be proud and grateful that we stood in line outside a primary school to cast our ballot for Cameron or Clegg, or any other stuffed shirt - or would they rather we genuinely took a stand and said "none of the above"?

As I watch my ballot burn I will at least know that I wasn't fooled again.

Yours

Tom McRae




P.S I have no idea what clematis is, or how to keep snails off it. I just listen to Radio 4 too much. I maybe old, but I'm not that old.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Ask Tom #4012

Have you ever felt like nothing makes any sense to you, least of all yourself, that social interaction is just babbling incomprehensibly through plate glass, that everything seems to be an illusion? How do you function?


Hmmm, now you mention it, yes. Although I prefer to think of my babbling as coming through stained glass, and therefore much prettier.

Everything is an illusion, except buses and trams, which are very real and can sneak up on you if you're not careful, so my advice is always look both ways.

How do I function? I wake up and plan my day... I divide it into 24 handy segments of roughly 60 minutes, of which I will only be awake for about 9. Then I further divide those twenty-four 60 minute segments into 4 bite-sized chunks of 15. In those 4 chunks of 15 minutes, I try to make sure at least one chunk features something enjoyable, like a cup of tea or a picture of a kitten. If enough tiny chunks of the day are used in this way, I believe it's possible to function and to actually lead a fulfilled life with moments of pleasure and profound joy.

If I actually look further ahead than that, I see a black chasm of despair so vast, bleak and depressing that I can't even dress myself.

Now, where's my cup of tea?

Monday, 9 February 2009

Holy Bus Batman




I read this comment piece in The weekend Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/feb/06/religion-another-thought-for-the-day and felt compelled to write Dr Fraser a letter.

For no other reason than to show I'm not an angry atheist or out to ban religion, I reproduce it here. Although I did just call the Christian Party and ask for the Proof Department, and spoke for half an hour to a very sweet woman who did her level best to not be freaked out. Bless her. Not literally.

Dear Dr Fraser, I read with amusement your comment piece in The Guardian and then followed the predictable tirade on the website, as others perhaps unaware that you were playing a mischievous little joke, found themselves outraged by both sides of the argument.

You must have chuckled a little to yourself as atheists everywhere lined up to berate you, thus proving your point. Job well done.

A little word of caution, however, that by continually citing Richard Dawkins as an exemplar of atheism you risk making the same mistake as anti-religious types who conflate violent fundamentalism, with tolerant, largely harmless religious practices the world over. But I suspect you like to rattle the hornets' nest from time-to-time.

I am no more a disciple of Dawkins than I am of more recognised religions, if I wish to hear the sigh of the eternal I can go to gallery, read a novel, or walk in nature - I feel no need to invoke a god figure to make sense of anything around me. And there are many like me, quietly going about our godless lives, slightly amused at the passions that this sort of argument provokes.

Long may thought for the day continue, it is mild, very British and largely harmless (insert your own Church of England gag here). I hope one day sensible, non-religious observers may be allowed to join in the programme, but if not I won't howl in protest. There seems to be precious little sensible debate that takes place in the media these days, between any opposing views, let alone passionately held religious beliefs. Maybe we all need to do some evolving, or perhaps ask the intelligent designer for an upgrade. I look forward to humanity 2.0.

All the best,

Tom McRae


BTW - I'm not bored, or not writing and recording, I am alot. And very pleased I am with it too. It's just talking about the music makes me feel a bit weird. That and I don't sleep well. Emailing vicars can pass the time.

Monday, 2 February 2009

How I Spent My Snow Day


From this....I made this... it's the future of portable music. No, really. When the snow (and ice cap) melts, I'll be coming to a cave near you, providing you're above the tide line.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Porn Bot Addendum - Please Welcome on Stage?

Addendum: Just found this on Ask Tom:

The day was overhungof the fog roselike forlorn lovers to the anbaric cables hot black guys sex naked


A quick google reveals it to be from Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass. Well not the last bit...I'm guessing that's not in the original. If I could persuade them to use my lyrics, I might shift a few more albums to the one handed typists out there.

A's gota cocainebody B'sgot a benylin brain bulk buy Viagra cheap
...worth a try

P.S I mean one-handed typists as a euphemism, I'm not being manualist. I have nothing against people with one hand. My early gigs seem to have been full of them.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Spam Porn Poetry


My Ask Tom section has become a target for porn spambots. This is resulting in some beautiful and enigmatic virtual haikus. It's become a highlight of my day. Some of them are affecting, some ridiculous - but all are without fail better than ColdPlay lyrics. I may use some of them. Unless Chris gets there first.

whispered, and the angelbird with red wings.monkey."Then look cartoon sex sites for adults"


The words tumbled outexpect answers. She turned heavy gold and the smoothwheels they knew viagra order cheap


he said, stubbornly "Because what wouldwake? She'd runfree mature outdoor sex photos uk

explain it to her and listened she'd believe me?me. She hates me,She despises me


There's probably a reason for this... some way to get round spam filters or something - but I think they're lovely. The ghost in the machine is a poet. And sex obsessed. Or is that tautology?

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Cynicism 101 - Even Easier Than Hope for Beginners


Okay, well I suppose it’s time to confess why I haven’t written about Obama’s inauguration, despite a self-confessed obsession with politics and current affairs.

It’s simply that I feel no one really needs a naysayer at this point, especially as we have Fox News still spreading fear and hate in a way that only they (and many ultra religious types) can.

Am I happy he got elected? You bet. It was exhilarating to be in New York when it happened. A night for hope, naturally. Was I thrilled to watch the inauguration on tv? Of course, even if I knew that the musicians were miming – I have some experience of live cello sounds and that microphone was waaaaaay too far away.

Do I think anything will change? Well, let’s break this answer down. Yes and no. The window dressing in one of humanity’s biggest department stores will look much more appealing for the next 8 years, hopefully. Closing Gitmo is already a fine example of doing the right thing, sending the right message. I applaud it.

Will anything of substance change? Nope. And here’s why. We’ve ceded control of all the mechanisms by which we change society to other powers, namely that of the market and private industry. The same market forces that have failed so dramatically over the last few months.

Will Obama nationalise a bank, or the car industry or transport? Nope. No more than Gordon Brown will. Will he (we) bail them out, continually? Yep. I’d like to pose a question at this point: can anyone name a private finance initiative in the UK that was actually completed successfully with private money? There must be some? One? Here’s an article I read a while ago: http://www.accaglobal.com/publicinterest/activities/research/reports/accountability/rr-084. … if you don’t have time to read it, here’s the conclusion:

"PFI is an expensive way of financing and delivering public services that may, where public expenditure is constrained, lead to cuts in public services and/or tax rises. In contrast, we suggest that the chief beneficiaries are the providers of finance and some, but not necessarily all of the private sector service providers rather than the public sector."

It happened with Wembley, it happened with the Channel Tunnel, hospitals, the road and rail network, and boy-oh-fucking boy is it going to happen with the disastrous money pit that will be our risible attempt at staging the Olympics.

Put simply, there’s nothing any government can do without private investment, because the war for the middle ground of politics is fought in the everyman’s land of low taxes and small government. No one will raise taxes for the masses or take on the expensive responsibility of actually running anything.

And now is when massive things need changing. Obama couldn’t achieve it in 80 years, let alone 8. Do we need those dramatic changes, yes. Will we vote for them? No. Do we want alternative energy initiatives? Absolutely. Will we have used every last drop of oil before we actually vote for it? Absolutely. Especially now there’s a recession and we’re all watching the pennies. Organic free range chicken anyone?

The recent global financial crisis (which, by the way, they call a “crisis” in America, but in quaint-old–tabloid-moron Britain we insist on calling the “Credit Crunch”…. like it’s a character in a Mr Men book) is firm proof if any were needed, that no one is actually in charge of anything.

This Blair/Brown government made the Bank of England independent, established the Financial Services Authority (a body which makes Myra Hindley look like a good baby sitter), and has quite blithely taken credit for the boom years without knowing what the fuck was going on. The same is true of Bush. They encouraged the system that has failed so drastically. We all know all this. I know I sound like a stuck record (for younger readers, a record was a thing that music came on and meant something to own) but these things have been bugging me amidst the euphoria of the last week.

Will Obama effect a radical re-ordering world affairs? Nope. Because he cannot implement the changes necessary, because there is no functioning alternative to free (and by free I mean wildly out of control) market economics. The steady growth all governments long for is an unsustainable myth (especially when our trade laws don’t allow third world countries to develop into viable competitors - but we still insist on ironically referring to them as “developing nations”). The best any future government can do is to manage a planet in decline. Like a chief executive officer winding up the affairs of a bankrupt company, these are the last days of the world as we knew it. Even now a non-existent god is cashing in his last shares, collecting his bonus for fucking things up spectacularly, and heading towards his next position as consultant for the parallel universe just over the event horizon.

When South Korea – among others - is buying up tracts of land in other countries (Madagascar and Tanzania, as well as parts of South America) with which to feed its own population, you get an idea of how much trouble the world is in. But that doesn’t make the front pages, naturally.

You want to scare yourself? Forget global warming and the countless wars raging round the world… go read about Peak Oil. That’s the thing that will define all government policy for the next 20 years. Think Gazprom only has an issue with Ukraine not paying? Wait a while, we’ve run out of North Sea gas, it’s all coming from the Middle East and Russia. Both fantastic suppliers to be quite literally bent over a barrel by.

Will it be nice to have an intelligent, literate, erudite man in the White House? It’ll be lovely. Will it make me feel better about the state of international affairs, as the world descends into fuel and water wars? Nope. Not one bit. Iran has its own agenda, Israel could give a fuck about world opinion, the UN is the lamest of all lame ducks. More people were listening to my goldfish than to Ban Ki-moon over Gaza. And I don’t even have a goldfish, that’s how fucking impotent the UN is.


This is why I haven’t written about Obama. I will be following his first hundred days with enthusiasm, wishing the best for him and for us. I hope he proves me wrong. I suspect Gordon Brown will be long gone before Obama’s potential second term, probably ousted by moronic voters who think a) that they can play a part in democracy and b) that anything changes when the figureheads of government are shuffled like so many old playing cards, the faces worn thin and indistinguishable. This wouldn’t be me if I didn’t work in playing cards somewhere, right?

I hope I’m wrong. If god existed I would pray to him/her to be so very wrong that when Obama leads us all to the promised land, I will offer myself to be cooked and eaten in a ceremonial meal of contrition, as a sign to all future party-poopers. McRae-fish and rocket sandwiches?

The Italian philosopher, thinker and political theorist Antonio Gramsci (whisper it, a Marxist) called for “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”, and that is for years how I have chosen to live. It’s how I live now. But alas I was christened Jeremy, a derivation from Jeremiah, the Old Testament prophet of doom. I guess you can change your name but not your nature.

And that, in a word, a long, dull, tediously predictable Tompinion… is how I feel not so much about Obama, but the world problems he has inherited, and how much I suspect will actually change. And all this on a weekend when Man Utd beat Tottenham. Imagine how I’d have been if we’d lost.

But it’s Sunday. I hate Sundays. Maybe I’ll feel better tomorrow. Everyone feels better on Mondays, right?

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

no#1 In an Infinite Series of Admissions of Failure of Manhood (not that manhood)


This Week: Cars.

I know some are red, some are other colours. I know a cello has to go in the front seat, and that all cab drivers like to talk, even when you're wearing headphones.

I know young men like fast cars, and that some people find Jeremy Clarkson amusing. I only find his ridiculous first name funny.

I know that when the Grand Prix is on I have no idea what is going on, or why anyone cares. It's about as much of a sport as ice dance.

I know I would like to pass my test and own a car so I can go fishing more often. I would not have a red one. Nor would I invite Jeremy Clarkson.

I feel not knowing anything about cars does not make me less of a man. Just a less mobile man.

I like travelling by bus. Ones with beds and kitchens and lounges in. Where no one snores.

I can but dream.

Next week: DIY, and how many singer-songwriters does it take to change a lightbulb?

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Experiments in Time Travel #1


Today I turned on my radio, then my digital radio, then my laptop, and had them all playing Radio 4 in different rooms - at fractionally different speeds - while I ran between them.

Running up and down I contrived to arrive in each room a split second before the same sentence was repeated by the corresponding device... like flying to and fro across the international dateline. In my house.

I then tried running with the digital radio REALLY fast towards the laptop, whilst listening to the analogue radio REALLY loud. At one point the stars blurred, I passed through into a parallel universe, and suddenly I was King, and Katy Perry was my Queen. We ruled with generosity and humility and were worshipped by all.

After an hour of this I felt sick and sat down.

I miss being on tour.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Ask Tom #9



Dear Tom, Why are your two Takamines named Derek and Clive (on your setlists)?


Well, I knew one day this would come up. It was a stupid way to mark the difference in guitars for my guitar technician ("roadie" we would have called them in the 70s). Derek was a standard Dreadnought shape, and thus began with a D. Clive was a cutaway shape, and so began with a C. Derek and Clive are alter egos of Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore. Simple.

Now, in my head this all makes sense - so when I shouted at my tech: "Clive's got too sweaty, I need you to put a smooth and dry Derek into my hands NOW"... it was a simple request for a guitar change.

Got it?

P.S This is a picture of me with my Guild, which is a Jumbo Guitar, and begins with a J. Naturally, we call this guitar, THE GUILD.

Monday, 5 January 2009

Religious Intolerance


New Year’s resolutions made 3. New Year’s resolutions broken 3. So we’re back to square one and the year is not even a week old.

I don’t know how many of you vowed to stop throwing toast at Jehovah’s Witnesses this year, maybe it was just me, but I broke that resolution within minutes of making it.

So to the poor gentleman who stood bemused on my Brooklyn stoop staring at the burnt bread that had just bounced off his chest – I apologise. But it was early, I wasn’t feeling well, the toast was ruined and the coffee boiled dry. And it was your fault I had to answer the door and not concentrate on the job in hand. But however deluded you may be, you didn’t deserve a dough-based breakfast snack thrown at you. I’m sorry, I’ll do better next year. Apparently religious intolerance can cause wars. Apparently.

If anyone wants the copy of Watchtower I later found on the steps – it’s available. I keep it next to the Book of Mormon I stole from a hotel in Utah, the Gideon’s bible I have from Korea, and the Dead Sea Scrolls I have in tupperware in my fridge.

And so the year begins. Chaos in the Middle East, Russia threatening gas supplies to Europe, the economy showing no signs of revival and no one seemingly in charge of anything. Honestly, you go away on tour, then have a couple of months off in New York and all hell breaks loose. It’s about time I came back and sorted this lot out.