by Paul Hamilton ( http://www.bisonics.net )
Trevor Horn makes for a diffident, somewhat baffled front man. Looking like Ronnie Corbett with an ice cream on his head, he engages with the audience like a slightly mad old uncle who’s walked into a children’s party, imparting some good-humoured banter on his way to his garden shed where he tinkers with Heath Robinson-like contraptions. For all his studio perfectionism, it’s he who makes the occasional boob on his 5-string bass (mouthing ‘Bollocks!’ after hitting a bum note) and this is a wonderful experience: He is not perfect, he’s just an ordinary bloke – albeit making extraordinary music. Horn also is carefree and willing to clown around. He isn’t ‘above’ trying to rap, a task he acquits self-mockingly, and his love and passion for pop music is exposed when they play Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, that essential link between the Broadway daredevilry of Anthony Newley and the rock operatics of The Who and the audio explorers that followed. Appropriate, too, that ‘Space Oddity’ builds its dramatic tension on the basis of existential solitude in the new technological age.
The filmic jump-cut from NASA’s panicking radio operator (“Can you hear me, Major Tom? Can you hear me, Major Tom? Can you -?”) to the blissed, listless astronaut (” – here am I floating in a tin can”) surpasses Kubrick’s bone-machine edit in ’2001: A Space Odyssey’ in its emotional power. A shame that the song wasn’t performed as a duet between Trevor and Lol.
Creme keeps mainly to providing rhythm guitar – the long, loping, loopy-looking Lipson tending to lurk at the back, reeling out lyrical lead lines – and semi-comic banter (mainly on the theme of their decrepitude). He sings two 1973-vintage 10cc hits, ‘Rubber Bullets’ and ‘The Dean & I’, but the cartoon soprano of yore has long gone. The trio of singers – Kirsten, Katie & Holly – handle the nigh-castrato sections originally tackled by Creme and Godley, leaving Lol to perform in his ‘mature’ voice first heard on Kate Bush’s ‘Aerial’ album where he’s found cooing ‘He loves, he loves, he does love his numbers’. What is undiminished is the absolute strangeness of ‘The Dean & I’, a construct that breaks or ignores almost every rule in the songwriters’ rule book. A Top 10 hit with no chorus? (Let’s not even begin to unravel the travels in time undertaken in the lyric…)
Leaning on the crash barrier at the lip of the stage, I thought there was a malfunctioning air-conditioning unit nearby, as every few seconds a fist of air would punch into the faces of me and the rest of the front row. It turned out it was the after-blast from Ash Soan’s bass drum. A drummer of dexterity, stamina and invention – ah, he makes you sick!
The questions as to the future of popular music, its relevance as an artform or business venture, what is left to sing about, whether the mode is exhausted or we’re teetering on the brink of a whole new adventure, were neither asked or answered here. Quite rightly so! This is not the time for hopeless vacillations by the privileged strokers of the pointy-beards. The name of the game is re-creation, the re-making of the old as something new for the recreation of an audience. Producers must re-produce to survive. On tonight’s evidence, they’ll make good.
…Wouldn’t it be great if, wherever he goes, people yell obscure G & C songs at him? “Oi, Rhino Rhino!” – “Look, it’s Mr Burial Scene!” – “R
re, ‘Idden ‘Eartbeat!” – “Who’s that coming out of the bookies? It’s Joey’s Camel and ‘e’s Silent Running!”…”Oi, Mugshots! You still pitying inanimate objects, are ya?”…”‘Oo’s zat in the middle of the road? Oi, Cat’s Eyes! Yew ‘avin’ a random brainwave or summink?”…
…Yes, the Q & A was with the whole band, an hour before the gig. This run of appearances has been at music colleges so the conversation was very much centred on the mechanics of getting music heard, distributed, the pros and cons of the internet. Lol was saying the the positive aspect of the new technology is that you can record an immediate response to something and get it posted instantly (rather than wait for the record company to determine an optimum opportunity for release), and the downside is – as we know – there’s no money to be had because people no longer are prepared to pay for music. Trevor Horn bemoaned the fact that Video Killed The Radio Star is one of China’s most popular ‘Western’ songs but has never seen a bean in royalties. Steve Lipson was also disparaging about iTunes (‘You never get a sales invoice from them’) and Spotify (‘Some songs I’ve produced have received 4 or 5 million plays but no-one gets a penny. If this happened on the old radio stations I’d be as rich as Phil Collins’)….
…Re: the role of producing. A common complaint was that nowadays an artist will have separate producers for individual tracks rather than one producer for an entire project. Trevor H said he was pissed off with one particular artist he had been producing because this artist wanted a friend to produce one song (just for the status aspect) when TH had already produced the song: ‘So, what do I do? It’s not a case of saying here’s a reel of 24 tracks. It’s a file of 180 multitracks, each one already been treated with FX and so on. It’d take a day to sort it all out. Who’s going to pay me for that?’…
…Lipson was good on bands overseeing production: ‘They basically want their bits to be louder than everyone else’s, so eventually you just end up with everyone as loud as possible. It’s basically where we began but much louder. It’s not mixing at all.’
Horn: ‘Musicians’ egos are very fragile. Often it’s the guy with the most ideas who is actually the most inept player. I was caught out once: The band had completed a take and I sent them off to the pub to unwind. While they were gone, I started overdubbing the bass part because he couldn’t keep in time. I was half way through the take when they reappeared in the doorway, and there I was, red-handed, bass on lap.’
Lipson: ‘Also, if a guitarist is a poor player technically and you want to help him out, you actually have to play worse than him when demonstrating your suggestion, just so he doesn’t get upset.’…