On The Road Not Taken Blog



By pauldodgson, Apr 6 2016 04:37PM

It is a sunny Saturday afternoon. I strap on my guitar in the open air on Bristol’s harbourside. My daughter and her partner fire up their cameras. I start singing along to a song of mine that’s coming out of a little Bluetooth speaker. We are making a music video.

It is very silly to sing along to a track you have already recorded and to be doing it in various public spaces. More especially when you are properly grown up.

The first time I was in a music video was back in 1983. I had just gone away to King Alfred’s College (now grandly called the University of Winchester) and had been asked to play a synth bassline on a cover of the Velvet Underground song Femme Fatale. The concept of the music video was gathering momentum as the MTV channel had begun broadcasting in the United States. Our college theatre technician wanted to try making one so manufactured a student band for the purpose. We recorded the song first, then on a wintery Sunday morning I put on my best charity shop suit and we all moved about the city swaying along to the track as it trickled almost inaudibly from a cassette machine. We were slightly embarrassed, particularly as those were the days when the sight of a TV camera made the traffic stop (unlike today when it is unusual not find a TV crew filming a piece for The One Show or some such when you pop out for a pint of milk). The technician went on to become an on-stage cameraman for Bruce Springsteen so I like to think I helped The Boss in a small way.

Then in 1985 I wrote my dissertation and called it, ‘The Music Video: Art or Crude Advertising?’ To summarise my findings, I discovered the door to the cheese shop was wide open and no-one seemed to realise when they strayed across the threshold. It was basically all bollocks, as was my dissertation. There was one notable exception, the filmmaker Julian Temple, who transformed three minute clips into art-house movies. I went to interview him at his office in Soho when halfway though the phone rang. His assistant popped her head around the door and said, ‘Can you take that, it’s Mick Jagger.’ I sat in breathless rapture for 20 minutes listening to the miniature voice of Mick in the handset speaker as they discussed life, the universe and a shoot in South America while I looked out of the window onto the rich parade of Wardour Street. It felt like a glimpse into the secret temple of rock’n’roll.

My daughter Poppy grew up used to having some sort of a video camera lying around nearby. If someone points a camera in my direction I automatically switch into I’m on the telly mode, entirely unnatural and a little bit strange. Poppy just carries on talking. That’s how she ended up getting thousands of subscribers to her Youtube channel when she was a teenager. She also seemed to know instinctively how to make moving pictures look good together. So in 2012, when she was 15, I asked her to make a video of a song I had concocted a decade earlier with new a fangled computer programme. The shoot (if you can call it that with a little flat camera the size of an iPod) involved me running though the streets of Wells, doing a little jig on a bandstand and miming the spoken words in front of a shipping container.

Just as random words seem perfectly natural when embedded as lyrics in the landscape of music, so errant human behaviour seems perfectly harmonious when contained by a music video.

Between the beginning and end of a music video is the opportunity to marry the perfect take from a recording studio with virtuoso visuals, which is an eye catching way to get more people to listen to the music. And that is why I am playing along to the song over and over again in all the grungy spaces we can find around the harbour. We spot an alley near the marina where there is some fine graffiti and I stand beneath it and start to play. Poppy and Yasmin move about in an elegant ballet, filming me from all angles. It just happens we are right next to Harbourside Studios, where I have recorded and rehearsed in the past, and half way through the first take one of the owners comes out to get in his car. We haven’t said we will be there, we haven’t asked permission, we have just turned up and started to do it. He doesn’t bat an eyelid, just gives me a little wave and drives off. Being on location with a film crew really is the new normal.

The video is for the song Brislington Diamonds and is currently 'in the edit' (meaning it is on a laptop). Once completed it will appear on the video page.

By pauldodgson, Apr 1 2016 10:29AM

The gig when I start to enjoy myself.

As I write out a set list and eat a fortifying bowl of lentil soup and pasta, I realise I am not anxious. Well I am a bit but not much. This comes as a great relief. In fact I am actually enjoying the thought of the gig tonight. I am opening the bill at The Thunderbolt, a Victorian pub and music venue out on the Bath Road in Bristol. The headline act is my friend Kid Carpet.

If you have never heard of Kid Carpet then put the words Jesus is a Hedgehog into your search engine and don’t be surprised if you are singing it out loud on the bus tomorrow.

And if you like that and want more then look for Doing a Poo In A Forest. It’s a classic.

Kid Carpet (real name Ed Patrick) is a lo-fi genius who writes intensely catchy tunes made with Casio sounds, children’s toys and wonderfully offbeat ideas. After plugging away on the gigging circuit for years he discovered his alter ego was the perfect narrator of anarchic children’s theatre so now he does both, but tonight he is topping the bill for his (not quite) grown up audience.

The Thunderbolt has a stage in an L shaped room with the bar at the back. There are already people there drinking as I soundcheck. I plug into a powerful PA that makes a big sound when I hit the strings and remember being a teenager with my guitar plugged into an amplifier in the bedroom, mum standing at the bottom of the stairs shouting ‘It’s too loud!’ Nobody stops me tonight. In fact Dave the landlord and Gary the DJ give me a thumbs up from half way back.

It is hard to know what to do between soundcheck and showtime, so I am grateful to a couple of friends who have made the trip out to see me. I wander between them and the little dressing room, trying to look purposeful as I cross the stage but really having nowhere to go.

I am given a fantastic bigged-up introduction by Gary the DJ and launch into my first song. I try something different tonight and start with The Kingdom, a quiet number. It goes well and there are enough people listening to make the applause sound appreciative. Ten minutes in I play Wild Nights, a song I recorded 20 years ago and am playing live for the first time. As soon as I begin I know something odd is happening. It is like the frets are in the wrong place in the opening riff. Then I start to sing and it feels absurdly low. I am half way though before I realise I forgot to put the capo on and am singing in the wrong key. No one seems to notice so I carry on.

Half an hour goes by very quickly and when I finish I am feeling a little bit rock’n’roll as I bow low and wave to the crowd. I feel considerably less rock’n’roll half an hour later when the next act comes on. T-Toe is a man who sings/raps/plays the trombone and drinks multiple pints on stage. One number consists of him bending over, pointing at his bum and screaming ‘fuck my anus’ over a backing track. People love it.

Then Kid Carpet comes on and the whole place goes crazy.

The next morning I am up and out early to role play various criminals and witnesses for a barrister training programme at the University of The West of England. As I cycle though the cold morning air there is a tune in my head and four words on my lips. Jesus is a Hedgehog.

By pauldodgson, Mar 18 2016 03:17PM

The nerves kick in again during the days leading up to to the second show.

I am trying to do some writing in the reference library in central Bristol, but I feel as though I have been sentenced to death and the execution is in the morning. I can’t concentrate on anything at all. It is the day before Glastonbury Calling, where I will play a half hour set to kick off a daylong festival. Why am I putting myself though this? My romantic dream road didn’t include morbid thoughts.

I don’t get to sleep until 1 then wake up again at 5. So I run through all the lyrics in my head at speed waiting for the dawn. I remember everything, which is a relief as last night I forgot the words to two songs.

I go for a run shortly after 7, pushing myself further than usual on this cold, cloudy morning and as I move the anxiety melts away until it is a small and manageable thing tucked away in the back of my mind. My partner, Sarah, arrives to drive me to the gig. She has a croissant in the kitchen while I write a set list and it feels good to know enough songs to have to choose which ones to play.

Then we leave Bristol and the sun comes out when we are on top of the Mendip hills. Now, it feels like a big adventure, this going off to play songs in another town.

The Rifleman’s Arms is on the outskirts of Glastonbury and one of four venues hosting gigs at today’s festival. I carry my guitars into a modest pub back room as the sound equipment is set up around me. I am relaxed as I sing a few songs for the soundcheck with half the audience watching from the sides and back of the room.

Then I am introduced, I launch into my first number and suddenly it feels formal and serious, even though it’s the same bunch of people who were watching the soundcheck moments before. I start with a fast song, and amplified by the PA it sounds larger than life and I see a few people twitching along to the rhythm. Then there is uplift in the chorus and a few heads start to nod as well. At the end of the song there are a couple of whoops mixed in with the applause.

There is a point two thirds of the way through when I start to enjoy myself. Then the PA breaks down. While the soundman scrambles around on the floor I step forward and carry on without amplification. The audience seem to enjoy this and the atmosphere goes up a notch. Then, with the PA fixed I play the last song and it is over.

I feel euphoria in the hours that follow that is more than relief. I have gone to another town and played a set of my own songs to strangers. The performance nerves were managable. I have waited a long time for this. The sleep that night is deeper than any for a week.

By pauldodgson, Feb 26 2016 06:06PM

I have a ten minute slot on #bristolopenstage which is part of The Bristol Old Vic’s 250th birthday celebrations. It is the first time I have sung on stage since 1982. I am scared.

I wake in the dark. It is 6.30 am. I am nervous but it is in the background for now. I keep running though the set in my mind and trying to visualise a successful performance as sit up in bed sipping Yorkshire Tea and watching the rain. I imagine myself looking up to the ornate balconies in the theatre and seeing people applauding. In this positive-thinking version of the coming afternoon there are very few people in the audience but they are all enjoying themselves. I monitor my anxiety closely, waiting for the moment where everything seems to fall away and I lose control. It doesn’t happen.

I have been preparing for this moment for a long time, since I decided I was going to do what I was too scared to do when I was 20 years old and go out on the road with a guitar and a headful of songs. First I needed to learn some songs, because the sad truth was I only knew one all the way though. Now I have 20 of them them locked up in my head. Old folk songs, new folk songs, songs from these islands, songs from America, and songs of mine I began but never finished. But what has yet to be tested is that it feels like to sing these songs to a theatre full of strangers. Today I am remembering why I was scared all those years ago.

I walk out of the rain into the Old Vic dead on 2pm. The foyer is packed and people are already queuing for the auditorium right back to the entrance. So it is not going to be empty then. I check in and am taken to the upper bar that is the artists waiting area, but is completely empty until an improvised story teller arrives and we exchange a nervous hello. I hear the murmuring of the arriving audience downstairs. I have been given a my own artist liason person called Jo who is efficient and soothing all at once. She takes my guitar backstage and I am left in the artists waiting area with just my coat and sweaty palms.

I am able to watch the start of the show from the upper circle. The massed ranks of The Gurt Lush Choir are first. I try to count them but get lost after 50. As soon as they start to sing it is a layered, beautiful sound that fills the whole theatre. It seems surreal that I will soon be alone on that vast stage. Then Jo appears and leads me though a warren of corridors. The space in the wings in huge and peopled by figures dressed in black wearing headsets. I pace around, breathing deeply and try to focus. There is an act on stage performing a live radio play. They finish and the sound of applause is thunderous. As they come off, the stage manager beckons me forward. Jo tells me to smash it as I pass her. The lights are so bright I can’t see anything beyond the front row and in the front row is a man I have never spoken to but have seen around Bristol for years. I want to keep looking at him. As I start to play the guitar I have an almost out of body experience as I observe myself and think I am not very good. Then I start to sing. It is a song by Emmylou Harris called Boulder to Birmingham, a song I wish I had written. And it is singing that comes out of my mouth. That is why I am doing this. And when I am halfway though the song I know I can make it to the end.

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