It’s been awhile. I was on a train travelling up to play a show with Francis Dunnery in Cumbria a few weeks ago. It’s a journey. He recorded my first solo album in a time when I thought I didn’t have it in me, and since then I have discovered there is more, always more. […]
It’s been awhile. I was on a train travelling up to play a show with Francis Dunnery in Cumbria a few weeks ago. It’s a journey. He recorded my first solo album in a time when I thought I didn’t have it in me, and since then I have discovered there is more, always more. I stood in my studio in Peasmarsh in 2001 while he convinced me that there was life outside of the world I had grown up in, the one I was prepared to leave behind. In time the quilt of life has been patched back together and the band played on, on and on across the many years. Francis gave me the courage to change the things I could and be the person I have ultimately become. Fragile, ambitious and stupid with a hint of lavender.
In London the day before my journey I was honoured with a Golden Badge Award, BASCA hold the event once a year. At the Savoy Hotel Mrs D and myself joined the room and sat at our table, with manager Eddie and my brother Lew. Also on the table Mark Nevin who presented me with the said award with such a beautiful speech, words that came from a very special place, I was so moved by what he said and the honour truly did become itself. I took to the stage and managed to engage the tables in front of me with some of my stage tales. It worked I think and I felt blessed. Louise and I went for a curry in our favourite place, and then I stayed in town to get this train up to this place, to this story. What I do does not need to be shouted about or announced, it just is, and I’m proud of the work I do to give back what has been given to me. I never studied to be a songwriter, I became one and with that I feel I should always give back some of what I have learnt from being given something for free. Another proud day, a badge, a badge along with my swimming badges I got when I was 10 years old.
Since the last blog on this here website lots, as usual, has happened. I have played some great shows and enjoyed the love in the room, I have moved house and found home, people say that it must be stressful but its not. Moving is constant. Home is a place where most of my things sit around me and hold me in a creative space, both Louise and I have managed to tuck our lives under one small roof with three teenagers on the go. So far we have found room for each other and so far it feels like success, and I believe that will remain that way. I lack my own office a creative space, but that will come I hope, I’m saving up and taking on more and more work just to stand still, carving out time costs money. I am proud of what Lou has done, she convinced me I guess to own a house, when for the last 30 years I have been renting, she likes to have roots and investment, something I have always struggled with, so perhaps this home will bring the reward of home, roots and a mortgage to keep in tack, and just a short walk to the Church. Roots and commitment for the future which seems ever so fragile as a get older and further along the dash board.
I have more solo shows coming up this side of Santa with Boo and more again next year as I work on a new script, called Up The Junction. I never thought it would be this hard to write a new show from scratch but it is, a challenge, at least I have from now until next May to work it out in my head. My show now consists of stories I have been refining over the last year, some I’m sure most people have now heard, but like a friend said, songs you can sing time and time again, but jokes and stories not as much. The punch line dissolves like sugar in a cup of hot water, a song floats about like the crumbs of a biscuit after a dunking. I love playing my shows with and without Boo, its become something of a comfy bed for me, a place where I can own my own place in the history of a life well remembered, mostly. Perhaps not factually but openly and with I hope a small pouch of humour. More about this tour in another blog yet to be punched from my fingers.
Wherever I look these days I see people on mobile phones tapping away, in the other years did we just stare into space and think, did we float in and out of each moment with adventure. Did we talk more? At the station on my trip to Cumbria, Euston, most people interacted with the phone in a way they may never do with the person next to them. I heard a man try to engage someone on a seat, asking them where they are travelling to. The very engagement sounded old fashion, the other person replied gently and nervously, she was going to Leicester. In her hand a piece of glass which reflected her face, her phone told her what time the train was, yet there was as massive screen above our heads. He kept her engaged in his quizzical conversation, which seemed harmless. After awhile she got involved in the chat, its nice to hear two strangers talking about travel, the weather and trains on time. The rest of the station was surrounded by themselves. Screens and children, old men in walking gear, young men with folded up bikes, woman with large red cases on wheels, girls with flashing shoes. A man sat next to me with ear phones in his ears, the new ones Apple have brought out. He was large and took up a fair amount of space next to me, no luggage, just ear phones. The train was announced and hundreds of people surge for the gate, some even barge past to get the best seats, it’s a colourful flight of human life.
Out in the countryside sheep and cows go about their day, canal boats looked tired, caravans parked side by side in a field, the M1, the orange and blue sky of October, trees still holding on to their leaves, but it won’t be long. Houses all full of Saturday behaviour, they seem quite in passing, this is where everyone lives. Trains in sidings, sitting like discarded toys, painted by the hands of youth, spray cans by the track, but inside this train, a sandwich arrived with coffee which seemed to take my teeth by surprise. The sandwich took my tummy and turned it into a tumble dryer. It expands and in doing so does not make me feel fed, but tortured. England passes by like a poem, words and images collide, it’s a beautiful day, its worth looking for.Some people come up to me and say, are you still going? I saw you in 1979, and so on, some people say when are you next on tour? Some people say. I wont know the answer to that until later, but I think this time next year I could be in Newcastle walking on to a stage with five other people and disappearing into song. Who knows, lots of eyes to cross and T’s to dot before then. In the olden days, people talked more, before the baggage arrived on the platform, before the train pulled out. This time next year nothing much will change, it will be more of this and less of that, and the delight of train journeys will only get better and better. On the platform as we passed through Wigan that day a woman with four young girls sits on her phone while they danced like nutters around their luggage, it looked dangerous, mum looks tired, I would be. They will still be dancing this time next year and she will be just as engaged in her kids as she is now, they may have their own phones by then and then perhaps things will look and feel calmer. Pictures of food, pictures of trains, videos of cats, it’s all part of how individual we have all become by becoming the same. The conversation of thumbs. Some people say, didn’t you used to be.
The show with Francis was in his key of Dunnery, it’s a beautiful melody of friendship and song. He manages to make my songs float on a cloud of ambient chords, his band follow his every command and his audience hang on every syllable. Its a lovely evening even though I’m exhausted by the journey and the pace, constantly running through the set, making sure they sound close to perfect. They do. Steve from Marillion joins me for a tender version of Up The Junction, a unique moment when prog meets the complexity of a great pop song. Back stage we discuss what it’s like being in a band with the longevity factor, we agree that going away to record and rehearse is the way forward, the focus returns when a band is in the room and not on the way to pick up kids, or race to another session. After a fabulous show my driver Gavin takes me back to the hotel in Carlisle in his pick up truck, sleep and a Premier Inn breakfast. Suddenly it’s Sunday. On the station, before being back on the train, I sit and share a few moments with a lovely young family who recognise me as being Chris Difford, they are off to London for a four day break. How lovely, they seem close and looking forward to the Lion King and Madame Tussauds. The teenagers look non plussed by mother asking for a selfie, its early in the day but it feels like part of that journey. When are you next on tour they ask. I am. The journey continues. The taxi driver in Carlisle pointed out a chap called Dave who picks up litter, he gets up early and spends all day on the street, he has OCD and is slightly off the radar, a local celebrity. His hi vis jacket makes him look like he works for the council but he is a loaner, a young man with only this in his life, it’s a sad sight, yet he looks very engaged and happy. There is little work up in Cumbria, and where we played is supposed to be the fattest place in the UK with more take aways than anywhere else, and more barbers, car washes and men in hi vis jackets than anywhere else. Online shopping is a life savour, there are no shops to speak of, unless you drive two hours over to Newcastle. It’s a fact of life and in some ways the shuffle into not very much feels safe. Amazing people live up here, and it makes me loathe London, it’s such a busy place full of faces without invite. Country life can be tough and when the Crab Festival is a yearly highlight you can understand why, a festival of pipe smoking, apple throwing, and gurning. Now that’s a face with an invitation.
As the train pulled in and then out, I felt the twist of Autumn in the air, its cold and a Fred Perry seems out of context, for me at least. It’s time to switch back to my winter shirts, the whites are in the drawer waiting for the call. My Freds have lasted well, it’s been a long hot few months. As the train slides through Cumbria and the Lakes i can almost touch the clouds above my head, the fields cut like cake within the stone walls that have been there for all time. Cows and sheep remain in contact with the ground, the grass, food of the Gods. London a few hours away and here on the train the lottery of company. A baby cries, a woman talks constantly, a child tries to engage his father, and just across the field I spot the services on the M6. Calm in the soft drizzle of the day, Tebay, and more food of the Gods. In the car there would be at least 6 hours left of this journey but on the train less, but not by much. I could write for days on a train, its the sub concise it comes alive when in forward motion, perhaps thats the answer to my next album. Twice a week I could get on a train and go as far as I can then back again to see what I come up with. It is a lottery though, babies crying people on phones nattering nonsense. Billy Bunter and Kate Moss arrived on the train at Penrith, he sat down and dissolved into himself, she spent the next hour texting and typing with her thumbs, and then she shops for jeans on her screen. She is quick, the Alvin Lee of texting, pages fly by and words and emojis zip on and off her screen. The magazine comes out and the day unfolds into sunlight as the train curves and glides further down country. She is looking for herself in the pictures of the magazine while he is belly up by the window. Sunday feels just about right to me as I look out to see houses all cosy, roasts on plates and puddings bubbling. At least thats how I dreamt it to be. It had been a great few days, a balance of all things, its a balance that we all need, clear air. A treat from time to time goes a long way.
With my golden badge on my desk and my boots made of leather I resolved October with November and more of the tour the future and my empty page, all to come. Stay tuned and I will see you down the shops, although I wont be bringing my wallet this time. Home is where the heart is they say, the soul is floating out there on the M6, the M1 and down the A23. All of my focus is on the bacon, bringing it home and sleeping like a dog in-between each venue. When I was 17 I had no idea this would be my life, my parents become my age, and now I’m that age, and I’m working as hard as they did to steer the sheep into the paddock to keep the past, a small flame, alight on the candle of this life. ‘Reserved’, my next album is being delivered, all I need now is to rest and create, to be with that person that writes songs for a living, or indeed he used to. What a great journey, train, car plane and sleep, its all part of the great move, from one box to another, from one bed to another. In front of me only time, behind me only the things that made me who I am today. Without the space and the oxygen to write there is little to look forward to, as my life has been defined by my words so far, or lack of them, and the currency of future rest balances on the very scales that weigh up the stages of each week, the wonderful and the dull the creative and the curt. Happy as Larry, typically careful and honestly sprung. One day at a time, thats all we have and thats all about I can handle right now. More an Owl than a Lark, more a Robin than a Dove, more a chapter than a verse. Stop. God bless.