Dear Friends

DF 12 - Banjo players inter alia (December 99)

December 1999

Dear Friends,

Well, it's been a time for doing other things. Like walking around in circles, wondering where to begin on the list of projects I started yonks ago. The festive season is here and I'm getting into the spirit of it.

The year dot is approaching fast. The moment is upon us. I mean the millennium of course. Does this mean we are racing to a conclusion? I'm not so sure.

What do I know? not much. Have I lived a lifetime? not yet, but I'm getting there. What do I know? Well, I know plenty, but what I know is a great jumble of force-feeding, moving perspective, violence, love, spirit and imagination. Plenty of other things too, and when you think about the squillion things that have shaped us into what we are, you begin to realise that the forming of a single thought, even in the youngest child, is a calculation of unimaginable magnitude; and yet we take it as given. What then of opinion? And what of proof?

Such a great thing it is. Another thousand years in the Gregorian calendar. This was introduced by Pope Gregory X111 (thirteenth) in 1582, by way of an improvement to the existing (Julian) calendar, which had 365¼ days, and was therefore 11 min. 10 seconds longer than the solar year. Now, we have just 365 days, and simply add one extra on to the end of February every four years. If that's not a reason to celebrate then my name isn't Garth Rockett.

More than half the pubs in England will be closed. This has been caused by a spiral of greed, started by the breweries, which leaves no equity in the equation A over B equals X over Y: when A = how much of a good time does punter want, B = how much can punter afford, X = how much profit does the company want, Y = how much can punter afford. Whilst it may appear that B should =Y, it is now apparent that they start at different ends of the same exponential curve and therefore Y is off the planet before B gets in the first pint. Whilst you might expect A and X to have similar difficulties there is a governing convention called 'market force' which keeps the top-line within workable parameters.

The fly in the ointment is what I refer to as the 'eclipse syndrome'. This is when massive events are expected to create massive returns: well they probably would if prices remained the same. Enough! I hear you cry, and quite right too, on with the hunt.

Foxhunting is an emotive issue in this country. It's a dichotomy. On the one hand you have the antis, who argue that it is barbaric and has no place in a civilised society. The pros will tell you that fox are vermin and need to be controlled.

The pros' argument is more complex than the antis'. They also say that the hunt is part of centuries of tradition in the countryside; in fact, it is. We have a thriving Point-to-Point and National Hunt season of horseracing. Thrilling spectacles of challenge, endurance and bravery for horse and rider (and spectator on a wintry day at Cheltenham in March) supported by millions, from the purists to the gamblers.

There is also a perceived class conflict here; i.e. 'The Aristos hunt and the Commoners don't'; and the red jackets are like a rag to the bull. This is a misconception, as many ordinary (as they see it) folks ride out.

Recently the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) captured a less than adept undercover journalist and used a red-hot branding iron to blaze their acronym across his back. Whichever way you look at it, this must be described as out of order; it is certainly non-democratic.

Both sides have had enough time to make their case now, and I think everyone in England understands the arguments. The pros have a good case in all but one aspect, and that falls, quite simply, into the category fox.

As a result of that, and a general antipathy towards the galloping classes in the urban mind-set (sic), the antis have whipped up a good deal of support amongst the modish middle, and straightened the backs of those who stand genuinely for or against. The weakness here is the ALF and their followers, who have a suspect programme, which is perceived to endorse violence.

So, I propose the following. This is my solution. First we lobby for a bill to ban foxhunting once and for all, immediately. If culling absolutely has to be done, then there are far more humane methods available.

Once the fox is removed from the debate, good humour can help to reconcile the differences of the opponents. Then maybe a replacement quarry can be offered up. There will be no need for even a hiccup in the sporting diary. The moment the 'Foxhunting Bill' is enacted we can all thrill to the glorious sight of the hunt in full cry, following the hounds, engaged in the totally legal and thoroughly worthwhile pursuit of 'Alfhunting'

Tally Ho, tara, tara, tara.

Of course we'd run out of Alf's fairly quickly, so other pests would have to be lined up; burglars, rascals from the castle, moronicas under, and musos over, the age of twenty, would seem to be the beginnings of a healthy short-list. It's not the kill, it's the thrill of the chase.

Talking about horses, I notice that we still measure the grunt of engines in 'horsepower', and earthbound light in 'candlepower'. At night, Mr. Macadam's metal roads are lit by our own reflection with 'cat's eyes', and progress over water is measured in 'knots' and recorded in a 'log' book. Just as it was centuries ago when the log (literally) was heaved over the stern of the ship, and the regularly spaced knots, in the rope to which it was attached, were counted until the 'nipper', after the proscribed elapse of time, would call "eight and a half knots, Sir". This would be chalked up on the log board and entered into an equation of enormous mathematical complexity, involving ingredients such as tide, wind, a chart and the latest reading of the heavens. Sooner or later (normally later) the navigator would confidently announce where they had been a couple of days earlier. The resulting loss of life was reduced by the introduction of John Harrison's sea-going clock, which enabled hapless tars to figure the longitude, and therefore know about the up and down way of things, as well as the side to side stuff. Now, of course, with a seventy-five quid GPS unit, even I could find my way around; or maybe that's going too far. Where was I? Ah yes, knots. Interesting? I thought not.

I had some friends round my house a while ago. We were listening to music and I put on 'Toolbox' which no-one had heard. One of the guys was a banjo player (honest) who plays in a duo called 'The Elderly Brothers' (honest). I said "This is called A Dancing Nylon Shirt". Keith is very nice fellow from San Francisco and had therefore never experienced the early days of advertising on English TV, which was the inspiration for the song. He had a few brandies under his belt and was sitting (unconvincingly) on the floor.

'A hat shaped head

A shoe shaped foot

A kennel shaped dog

A dancing nylon shirt

A man shaped woman

B alloon shaped air

G lass shaped beer

A dancing nylon shirt

A comfort shaped creature

A n office shaped accountant

A car shaped driver

A dancing nylon shirt

C ow shaped milk

A pencil shaped word

A denim shaped designer

A dancing nylon shirt

A tartan shaped approach

A dancing nylon shirt

I've got to make up my mind

A power shaped nap

A car shaped fanny

A god shaped preacher

A dancing nylon shirt

A n honest politician

A rock shaped band

A bell shaped tent

A dancing nylon shirt

A mouth shaped head

A well shaped cat

A dong shaped bell

A dancing nylon shirt

A sharp edged card

A bottle shaped message

A tongue shaped kiss

A dancing nylon shirt

A girl shaped dress

A dancing nylon shirt'

Keith looked around, focused his eyes for a moment and said, 'that's a song about a shirt? I don't get it' Then he fell over whilst lying down, and you don't see that very often. I suppose everyone will have hizzer own highlights, but this, for me, was one of the great moments of the millennium.

There's always one. It's just as we get to the quiet bit. A tender moment, when the strands unweave, to spin alone in different, but still related, patterns. A release from the controlled ferocity,…. a breath. A melody, hauntingly elusive; the band and the audience together as one. Floating downstream after a barrel-drop over the falls. Cascades approaching, but the water is calm for now. Near silence, empathy and peace and……..then…….In a Zen-like moment, the mood is shattered by an intoxicated bovine sociopath (IBS), bawling his (always his) insufficiency to the world. Mooaarrgh, werrhhgayeah, woahisnitaaawwaaaa…………….

This, followed by a shrieking whistle, a vaguely on-beat clap and a chant of no language, which diminishes at the same rate as his discovery that he is not at a football match, a heavy metal event, or, (in my dreams) as Ted pulls out his tongue with a pair of pliers. There's always one.

Paul Mann, (the Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra at our concert In London, and who shall remain nameless for the purpose of this story) is quite a fellow. We didn't meet the orchestra until the Friday, having started work on the Monday. You've never seen such a rehearsal. 'He' was there from the very beginning until the very end. 'He' was the orchestra. Miming the sections, reading the score and sharing the learning. Helping with the technical parts. Vibing the musicians. Understanding the 'Kick Horns' and the 'BVs'. 'He' did a hilarious impression, on the piano, of the RPO strings from the '69 performance; they were awful and everyone knows it. My mother was at the Hollywood Bowl performance and reckons the L.A. Orchestra was even worse. I know that's hard to believe, but I think she's right.

Not long after the show we mixed the sound at Peter Gabriel's 'Real World' studio in Wiltshire, and I must say it's a beautiful place. There is a moment, I think it's at the start of the second movement, when the IBS made his presence heard. It was very difficult to eliminate it from the mix (actually the engineer did manage it after all, well almost). Needless to say, the only thing a bawling drunk can do properly is ruin a sensitive moment. I consider myself lucky to be witness to special moments like this, not the racket from the retard, but the articulation of great talent, in a moment of sheer frustration. I refer of course to our anonymous friend. Mr. Lord shook his head sadly at the interruption. Rugged Ferocious glared silently at the speakers. I lit a cigarette. The engineer stopped the tape. 'He' said, 'Arsehole' very quietly, and with dignity, as becomes a great man. This was another great millennium moment.

I had a drink for Ireland last night with some friends of both persuasions. There are many who doubt the integrity of the new peace, and long held feelings are still running high; but they are talking under one roof, and preparing to take up the reins of self-government. Whilst it is not such a singular event as the fall of the Berlin Wall (because of it's protracted nature and longer, much longer history) it is equally significant and produces the same glow. The tears of joy will have to wait a while yet, until a sense of permanence arrives. It would be helpful if the media was to avoid the usual inflammatory editorials over the next few months, and maybe, with encouragement, not scorn, the Irish can at last live lives of humour and hope. Gerry Adams made a statesmanlike speech on the opening day at Stormont Castle and Martin McGuinness was appointed Minister for Education. I know this is not a time to carp but one thing worries me about this fellow Mr. McGuinness: It is said that he holds strong views against the display of, what in Monty Python they used to call 'the naughty bits'. Apparently, whilst in jail, he used to berate his fellow prisoners for their ill-disciplined ways, and would tear down off the wall any poster in the category 'titillating'. Now, I have to ask myself, is this the kind of person that should be in a position of great responsibility?
But seriously, it's looking good.

I go to Orlando in early January and we start writing for the next DP album. It's going to be fun. Where are we headed? I'm not too sure and that's part of the fun. I remember the wise words from my ski-instructor and old friend, (Christophe Roth-Frei), as he guided me through the pathetic attempts I was making to stay upright on the slopes of Zermatt, in the penumbra of the Matterhorn. He wanted to know what I was looking at. 'My feet' I replied rather too loudly (and then 'twat', sotto voce). 'Try looking up at the beautiful scenery, and your feet won't seem so important.' He was right of course, and I spent the rest of the trip on my arse looking up at the beautiful scenery.

I'm not sure if the analogy is relevant, but it makes me think of life itself, and particularly DP and where we are in the scheme of things. Since Steve joined, these last five years have been a journey of re-discovery and now, I think, we are ready to move on again. Hopefully we will get an outside producer; this with the greatest respect to Rog, who always works masterfully from within. However, it is probably a good time to acquire some objectivity. Walking up the hill of life, it's necessary to stop from time to time, and reflect. Whilst enjoying the view, it is noticeable that you can see a bit further than you could at the last pause for breath. This was a nascent thought, fertilising the minds of Rog and myself, in our early days of song writing. We were in awe of the Lennon / McCartney songs. Ah yes, we mused; 'they' are up there, and 'we' are down here. It was an inspiration, not a deterrent. I could go on a bit about that; another time perhaps.

So, thank you all for your enduring support. See you all again in the year dot.

Season's greetings, have a good one,
May all your dreams come true.
Talk soon, much love and peace, ig

Ian Gillan
Copyright © Ian Gillan 1999

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