August 24, 2017
After the Tonix split up at the end of 1981 I moved to Northampton. By chance, there were a couple of bands in Northampton who were working with Dave, so I got to know him better. (Although he was based in London, he would often come up to Northampton for a gig or a weekend visit.) When I started making little tapes of my own at home, I sent him some songs. By the middle of 1982 we were talking about recording an album.
Leamington is only an hour’s drive from Northampton, where David and I lived, so it was convenient in that way. During the working week we stayed in Leamington in rooms above a lovely little restaurant run by two charming chaps called Eric and Julian. On our first night in Leamington, after the recording session, we went steaming into the first bar that we found. It turned out to be entirely and exclusively populated by Sikhs. We drank there every night. When we made Scandal in Bohemia, it was the middle of the summer. If we weren’t recording, we would be playing football in the studio car park. It really was rather idyllic.
By contrast, we made Sex and Travel in the depths of winter, with snow on the ground. The studio became a warm little retreat, the atmosphere very intimate. John Rivers at Woodbine has a really strong work ethic and knows how to keep a session running easily and well.
Now, the Bankruptcy department at the Royal Courts of Justice was infamous in those days. Quite rightly (considering that people turn up there trying to make somebody bankrupt!), they were unbelievably fastidious about how the Petitions were made out. One typing error, one small mistake and they would simply refuse to issue the Petition, sending the unfortunate legal clerks like me back to their angry employers with the job not done.
There is no doubt in my mind that all the staff in the Bankruptcy office had developed a real culture of being as awkward and uncooperative as possible. Many of them seemed to take an active pleasure in sending disappointed legal clerks away, their Petitions rejected. At one point, the staff posted a list on the wall of the office: “Top Ten Excuses offered by Legal Clerks”, openly mocking their...uh...customers with lines like “But I’ve come all the way from Newcastle...” and so on.
Everybody dreaded the place. Because I knew the place and the difficult blighters who worked there, I made a real point of getting my Petitions right and generally I got a result, but I didn’t enjoy the experience any more than anybody else.
One gorgeous spring day, just before Easter 1983, I visited the Bankruptcy office with a Petition. I wasn’t sure that it was going to work. I found myself dealing with a beautiful young woman, who, although I had never seen her there before, had already completely absorbed the culture of the place: languid, unimpressed, taking her own good time about things. It really suited her. I watched, entranced, as she issued the Petition for me. Job done, I stepped gaily out into the lunchtime sunshine. I was far too young and socially inept to ever dare try to speak to her. Good Heavens, she was from the Bankruptcy office, for goodness’ sakes, some kind of Superior Being to the likes of me. No, I just went out into the sunshine with the treasured memory of her glorious indifference.
Suddenly clouds filled the sky and a stiff wind blew up. In my head I thought: “The weather’s grim but Spring is on its way.”
I phoned my pal Rolo to see what he was doing over the Easter holiday weekend. He said he would be busy doing some recording for this band he was building. “Hey, King, I hope you have a good weekend. I hope you get things done the way that you intend.” The whole Saturday thing relates to Rolo as well and some adventures that we had had with acid, a bit of a private joke. So the middle verses are a little tribute to him for teaching me so much about music. Sometimes, when I hear the song, it sounds to me as though I am trying to sing like him a little bit, but that was not done deliberately.
As the song goes on, you can hear the weather clearing up. The last verse “Hey, girl...” is, of course, the vision in the Bankruptcy office. And, you see, I didn’t forget her.
Back in Northampton, that whole Easter weekend went on to be very strange and very productive. Just off the top of my head I can remember writing Big Saturday, Just Like Betty Page and I Need Meat that weekend, and there were others too, which escape me now. Easter 1983: it was brilliant.
I spent much of Easter 1984 trying to rescue my cat from an enormous tree in the local park. But I didn’t write a song about that.
As I said, he has a strong work ethic and firm limits to the working day, so nobody gets bored or over-tired. He can move a session along very well, so that everything is generally brought in on time and on budget. Sex and Travel was recorded and mixed in seven days.
I had a hell of a time writing sleeve notes for the re-issue of Bath of Bacon. How to explain a record like that one? It feels remote now, though bits of it retain a certain charm. In fact, some of those songs have turned out to have extraordinary staying-power (La Mer is an obvious example) but I don’t listen to the record much at all. I really couldn’t sing in those days. I think perhaps I thought that somehow it wouldn’t matter. I don’t know. I have fond memories of making the record and some of the songs have been very good to me, but do I love the actual album? Not with all that tuneless bellowing all over it, not really.
I’d be a fool not to love A Scandal in Bohemia. That record changed my life. Most of it still holds up well enough. The fact that we weren’t trying to sound fashionable means that it hasn’t dated too badly. Max’s guitar parts here and there are magnificent. I still can’t sing, but it’s not quite as awful as Bath, anyway. At least I’ve got people who can sing around me this time...
Sex and Travel is my favourite of the Glass albums. I really do love that one. It feels complete and it feels like us, if you see what I mean. Both the singing and the song-writing seem to have taken a big step in the right direction, too.
There are things that I don’t like about Distressed Gentlefolk, though when I listen to it I am usually pleasantly surprised. I think that it could have used a couple more decent songs, to be honest, and a bit less digital reverb. Then again, that squeaky plastic crocodile at the end of Domestic Animal still blows my mind and breaks my heart, all at the same time.