Thursday, 21 September 2017

Q & A with Pete Astor

It seems hard to believe 30 years have passed since Pete Astor and his band The Weather Prophets released their classic L.P "Mayflower." (Above photo of Pete by Sussanne Ballhausen)
Lately I've enjoyed rediscovering The Weather Prophets and recommend "Mayflower" plus the Temperance Hotel compilation and the live album "87". I like Pete's songs in which he questions why the rain always falls on him and his desire to sing like Frankie Lymon. I also like the fact he can record covers of songs by Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen that are slightly better than the originals. Since 1990 Astor has released a plethora of solo albums such as "Submarine" and "Spilt Milk" that music critics have raved about. He is now signed to Tapete Records. Here is a recent e-mail interview... (the photo below was taken by Pat Graham).
Harry Pye: Do you listen a lot to the radio and read most music magazines to find out about new bands? What was the last great thing (by a contemporary act) that you heard and thought was brilliant? Pete Astor: "I listen to 6Music lots, also NTS. There are so many good things, it’s hard to know where to begin. Music always keeps surprising me in how it manages to get under my skin. Some current and absolute favourites: M. Ward, Cat Power, Baxter Dury, Wilco, Hamilton Leithauser, Devendra Banhart."
I recently got a bit addicted to a song you wrote many years ago called Almost Prayed. I was wondering do you personally rate that particular song, is it a song you still include on your set list when you play live? "Yes, I’m proud of that song. It still makes sense. And so, I still play it when I do shows."
You wrote a book about Richard Hell's debut album Blank Generation - which other classic albums do you hold in high regard? "Always changing, but this afternoon, the essentials are… Bob Dylan – Love and Theft, Michael Nesmith – And the Hits Just Keep On Coming,M. Ward – The Transfiguration of Vincent, The Velvet Underground – VU, The Grateful Dead – Cornell 5/8/77 (Live), Cat Power - Sun,Beck – Sea Change, Townes Van Zandt – For the Sake of the Song, Jerry Lee Lewis – Live at the Star Club, Iggy and the Stooges – Raw Power."
You were signed to Creation records for some time. Were the Creation years the happiest days of your life? Which other labels have you enjoyed being signed to? Who are the good guys in the music business? "I definitely don’t ever think of the past via any kind of historical filter – it was what it was – as ever, there were always good days and bad days, worse times and better times. My experiences with record companies has been actually always been pretty much good. Whether by luck of judgement, the main labels I’ve worked with have been decent and good people, lovers of music first and foremost. So, that started with Creation, continued with Matador and Heavenly and more recently with Fortuna Pop. I’ve now signed with Tapete – home of Robert Forster, The Cleintele, Lloyd Cole and many interesting others. And they have exactly the same feel and passion as the others I’ve worked with: the music comes first."
Have you ever had any regrets about sharing as much as you do in your lyrics? What percentage of the songs you've released do you wish you could change or delete? "I grew up inspired by people like Iggy, where the central part of what he did was giving all emotionally. It soon became clear that I was not going to be able to perform or write like that, the idea of opening up in songs remained as being key. If I’m going to make something worthwhile, useful and valuable, then I have to access real feeling to make the songs. This doesn’t mean everything is biographically true, but it does me that it’s true to experience."
Do you have any ideas where your ideas come from? Do some of your songs feel like gifts that came from another place? "I think what I do comes from an immersion in a particular musical culture and a whole load of work. Both these things happen without too much conscious effort – the immersion has always been there; the work on songs, and playing and singing is something that is a basic and fundamental pleasure and need, along with breathing and eating and sleeping."
The artist Paul Klee said that he thought genius was childhood regained - do you think your best work involves you becoming childlike in some way? "Maybe. But I think the best work (including Paul Klee’s) comes from the adult mind, perhaps accessing some of the openness that you have as a child, but it’s the adult understanding that makes the genius work happen."
Are you the kind of song writer who is always writing something? What's the longest you've gone without writing a song? "Writing songs is just something that is always in my head. Moving words, tunes and ideas around in my brain is something I’ve done ever since I was a teenager. However, you can choose to make a song out of it, or let it coalesce over time. So, it’s not really a clear border between writing a song or not writing a song. Having said that, in the last few years it works out at around 40-50 finished songs of which I chose a small percentage of the best to put out and play." (Photo below by Sussanne Ballhausen)
Do you have a favourite comedian or comedy film? Do you have any favourite jokes? "Tony Hancock would be the comedian; the Out of Towners would be the film. Buddha had a brilliant joke once, although I’m not sure it’s that funny: ‘The mistake we make is we think we have time.’
What are you working on at the moment? And what will be your next release? "I’ve got a new single, Water Tower, out on Tapete in November, with James Hoare (Ultimate Painting, Proper Ornaments and Veronica Falls) who made Spilt Milk with me, on guitar. And I’ve got the The Wave Pictures’ rhythm section of Franic Rozycki and Jonny Helm on the bass and drums. Here’s a preview link: https://soundcloud.com/tapete-records/sets/pete-astor-water-tower-preview I’m also finishing a new album with the same line-up. It’s called One for the Ghost, and will be out on Tapete in the new year."
Which singers, musicians, songwriters or producers would you most like to work with? "I’ m afraid I’m going to say the people I’ve been recording with – it’s hard to imagine a band that works and feels better. Working with James, Franic and Jonny I can get the songs together really quickly and capture those early magic moments. And I’m doing it at Soup Studios with Simon Trought and Giles Barrett who I’ve done lots of recording with and are a pleasure to record with. The studio also doesn’t have the traditional hospital/ sound lab feel which is great for working in and getting the right feel." There's a line from "Up The Hill Down The Slope" that inspired a book title and recent song by Saint Etienne. Can you remember coming up with the line about being hungry for the prize / did you nick it of someone else? "It came from going to the fair in Alexandra Park and conflating the hunger for everything – especially attention - that you have at 23, with the fairground games. Not that I ever won the massive teddy bear or anything else."
The Weather Prophets got on the cover of NME, championed by Janice Long and featured on Whistle Test etc., but what aspect of being in the band gave you the most satisfaction? What felt like success? "It was great just doing it, making music, being creative, hanging out. And, although it was hard to see that at the time, we made strong connections with people because of the music we made. And, we can now see many of those connections still holding strong." For more info visit: http://peteastor.com/

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Down to Margate to see Howard Dyke

(With a little help from KCC Artist Investment Fund)The splendid Bon Volks studio in Margate were in the position of being able to offer free studio space, free accommodation and the chance to exhibit to half a dozen great artists. Last week I was delighted to catch up with the wonderful Howard Dyke and see his latest work. For more info visit: www.bonvolks.com
Above: Howard's back
Above: Detail number one
Above: Detail number two
Above: A side to Howard we don't normally see
Above: Detail number three
Above: Another close-up
Above: Me in a good mood. Find out more about Howard's work by visiting here: http://howarddyke.com/

Friday, 1 September 2017

Barney Bubbles exhibition in Lambeth Walk

Last night I went to the opening of "OPTICS & SEMANTICS" at Rob Tufnell's gallery, 139 Lambeth Walk, S.E.11. The exhibition, curated by Paul Gorman, is a retrospective of furniture, posters, records, videos, badges and ephemera designed or directed by Barney Bubbles (1942-1983). Many of his greatest hits such as the 28 different versions of Ian Dury's Do It Yourself album and the video for Ghost Town by The Specials were included in the show as well as a few things I'd never seen before such as the formica and lacquer ‘AC/DC Desk’ which is based upon a British Standard three-pin plug and socket. The exhibition is open 12 – 6pm, Thursday – Saturday and it's well worth a look.For further information contact mail@robtufnell.com
Above: Me wearing my Blockhead badge with pride. In the display box is a fold-out version of Elvis Costello's Armed Forces.
Above:Liz and Loretta with some Do It Yourself sleeves.
Above: Mikey recreates one of Humphrey Ocean's poses.
Above: Rob Tufnell "Four eyes one vision"
Above: Rita pulls the plug
Above: Reasons to be cheerful
Above: If you're interested in the exciting new collaboration between Fred Perry and Barney Bubbles go to Fred Perry shop in Henrietta Street in London’s Covent Garden and/or visit Paul Gorman's site: http://www.paulgormanis.com