Breaching Police Diver's Notebook regulations, I'm going to write about my job. I've recently returned to playing solo shows, for financial, health and creative reasons. For the last five years touring has been planned according to the nebulous industry standard notion: loads of live shows = best method of album promotion. This logic leads to the idea of playing as many shows in a row as humanly possible for as long as possible in as many places as possible. As a result, any coherent memories of great performances in great company were ultimately beaten senseless by inhumanly long journeys in cramped vans, dragging my larynx around
Seasoned fans finally at ease with Gravenhurst manifesting itself as a band, arrive once more, to a guitar, and one man.
I debuted my new solo set to fifty people in
I finished with Black Holes In The Sand, and a descent into a squealing wall of sound, highly pleasurable for me and of tolerable duration for the uninitiated –yes, I pretty much always finish like this, it’s just something I have to do. "You looked like you were really enjoying it" said Michelle, my masterly manager, without whom I would have lost my way years ago. She was right. I was. I have to focus hard to not forget lyrics; eyes closed from the distractions of things written on t-shirts, and occasionally wading through synaesthesia from simple partial seizures that churn sound into spores of colour, the kind of thing people spend good money on drugs for, but that day at Latitude, for a rare moment there I did indeed hit The Zone. The Zone is a different place for different people. For me it is the full realization that being alone on a stage with my songs is the only thing I will ever have complete control of.
It’s not only rare, it’s a fleeting thing too, and it has no qualms about turning on you. I stumbled out of the dark marquee into lunchtime on a hot sunny day. A clanging emotional dissonance, like listening to Radio 3 in an abattoir. I slept it off for three hours in the back of the car.
That really is why I keep my eyes closed, it’s not an act.
“Is Gravenhurst a band or is it just you?” This question crops up regularly. My answers may have sounded unsatisfying, pretentious or plain drivel, but by breaking the journalistic chain of Chinese Whispers and telling you myself, perhaps it will settle the matter.
I am not Gravenhurst, and never have been. Gravenhurst is the name I give to the music that I compose, perform and record. I aim to create, musically and lyrically, something more powerful than the sum of its parts, and ultimately, something more powerful than myself and thereby achieve a kind of transcendence. But it makes addressing an audience bloody confusing. After several years of quiet study I found the solution. Whether solo or performing as a band, I now wait until after the first song to say “Good evening. You are listening to Gravenhurst”. Intentionally exploiting a declarative sentence of extensional ambiguity! Sweet.
(I clearly care about this more than anyone else does.)
But equally, Guy Bartell is not Bronnt Industries Kapital, the musical outfit of which he is the principle composer, and myself a long-time collaborator. And, if you will allow me further metaphysical postulation, (you’ve come this far) neither Gravenhurst nor Bronnt Industries Kapital will cease to exist when we are gone. For our purposes at least, they are ideas, evolving webs of ideas, sometimes frustratingly static, sometimes moving in a way seemingly beyond our control. The ideas spawn music. Music is an irreducibly mysterious, non-corporeal entity. Music cannot die. Nobody I know would care to disagree with this idea, but then everyone I know is either a music lover or a musician.
Not convinced? Pour a drink and sit down. Right, basically, when bands form they choose a name. This vital ritual can be performed without much self-awareness, but the name has to be good, everyone knows that. Everyone present has at least some kind of understanding that choosing a good name and saying it with confidence is to tell the world that you are more than the sum of your members; you are a band; like a gang; a force to be reckoned with. Fortified with a unique typeface, and consolidated with the sigilistic, binding power of a cool logo, the right band name will practically carve itself onto toilet doors in the venues all over the British Isles from which it will never escape, and within a short time be covered by another name, pissed on, painted over. It's like it never happened.
A band must aim to be more than the sum of its influences, not its members. Some great bands only have one songwriter. Sometimes bands only have one member. When Bruce Wayne says he's not Batman, he is lying. When I say I'm not Gravenhurst, I’m telling the truth.
I’ve recently discovered some other musicians covering my songs. There is no greater praise than this. It is a touching experience, and all the more poignant in that they aren’t established or famous, but just sticking a Gravenhurst cover in amongst their own songs, playing small pub gigs or at home with their mates. It reaffirms my aim of achieving artistic Gestalt. I have written songs and they have taken on a life of their own. They are out of my hands now, and may become more powerful, in any chosen sense, than me. Late 1999, I had just written the ‘The Diver’ and showcased it tentatively in front of a few friends round someone’s house. Around the same time, at The Louisiana,
If a famous person covered a song of mine, it might be thrilling but it would not be touching. Judgement is notably absent in the circle above, it has no seat, no relevance. A famous cover version could bring me money and attention, and where there is money and attention there is judgement. What if I didn’t like it? What if I had to lie and say I did? Did they even mean it? Was it suggested to them by a dunder-headed major label marketing slag? Take the melody and make it more.. Street Soul? Did Mark Ronson really think Morrissey & Marr would like his emetic, crashingly ill-judged cover of “Stop Me..”? Did he even care?
A kid jamming out one of my songs in his bedroom and uploading it to You Tube- only one thing matters: he really means it.