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Creative Fashions

An extract from ‘The Moon and Sixpence’ by W Somerset Maugham

Somerset Maugham by Carl Van Vechten

“Sometimes a man survives a considerable time from an era in which he had his place into one which is strange to him, and then the curious are offered one of the most singular spectacles in the human comedy. Who now, for example, thinks of George Crabbe? He was a famous poet in his day, and the world recognised his genius with a unanimity which the greater complexity of modern life has rendered infrequent. He had learnt his craft at the school of Alexander Pope, and he wrote moral stories in rhymed couplets. Then came the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, and the poets sang new songs. Mr Crabbe continued to write moral stories in rhymed couplets. I think he must have read the verse of these young men who were making so great a stir in the world, and I fancy he found it poor stuff. Of course, much of it was. But the odes of Keats and of Wordsworth, and a poem or two by Coleridge, a few more by Shelley, discovered vast realms of the spirit that none had explored before. Mr Crabbe was as dead as mutton, but Mr Crabbe continued to write moral stories in rhymed couplets. I have read desultorily the writings of the younger generation. It may be that among them a more fervid Keats, a more ethereal Shelley, has already published numbers the world will willingly remember. I cannot tell. I admire their polish – their youth is already so accomplished that it seems absurd to speak of promise – I marvel at the felicity of their style; but with all their copiousness (their vocabulary suggests that they fingered Roget’s Thesaurus in their cradles) they say nothing to me: to my mind they know too much and feel too obviously: I cannot stomach the heartiness with which they slap me on the back or the emotion with which they hurl themselves on my bosom; their passion seems to me a little anaemic and their dreams a trifle dull. I do not like them. I am on the shelf. I will continue to write moral stories in rhymned couplets. But I should be thrice a fool if I did it for aught but my entertainment.”

The Way Things Change

My early recollection of listening to recorded music was on an old wooden wind-up gramophone.

That was towards the end of the 40s. We had 78rpm shellac records like ‘’You Can’t Black Out The Moon’ (WW2), The William Tell Overture, ‘Gillie Potter Visits Southend’ (a humorous monologue), and Joe Daniels’ Jazz Band. We also had The Christmas Story: the Nativity narrated, along with a book of pictures in which you turned over the page when a bell rang. When I was older I bought ‘Bad Penny Blues’ by Humphrey Lyttleton and his band, ‘Last Train To San Fernando’ by Johny Duncan and his Bluegrass Boys, all 78rpm. These records were treasured and played a lot.

Then in my mid teens my father bought a little electric record player which would play 45 rpm singles. After that it was a Fidelity Argyll tape recorder, a cheap version of the posher Grundig tape recorders my friends had. I used to tape ‘Pick Of The Pops’.

Then into the music business, starting off recording on mono tape machines, then stereo, 4-track, 8-track, 16-track and upwards. And the mystery of Dolby noise reduction. Then hearing the first Digital multi-track in the UK, which Gerry Bron had bought for The Round House Studio: no tape hiss, so you jumped when the sound started.

Then buying one of the first Sony Walkmen abroad, bringing it home and being stared at on trains, because no one had seen one in the UK.

And valued vinyl albums being treasured for the care taken in their production, both in the recordings and the sleeve designs.

Then messing about with a Revox G36 stereo tape recorder.

Then the arrival of CD where things began to shrink, including the sleeve notes, and the music business realised they could sell everything twice.

Then getting onto the hi-fi nirvana trail, seeking the impossibly expensive system, until I realised that that way neurosis lay.

Then time out, doing other things, until coming back into the business in a quiet way, teaching myself how to record on computer, using both real and midi instruments, all the while watching what had once been valued – recorded music – become stolen, and free, and therefore undervalued.

And the democratisation of making records: every one could be a singer-songwriter and make records in their bedroom, with no gatekeeping by publishers and record companies, so more and more ‘stuff’ is churned out, with little jewels hidden inside a morass of mediocrity, and now most people don’t know any better, and the MP3, played on ear buds, becomes the new gold standard.

Peter Shaffer’s play, ‘Amadeus’, should be required reading in schools.

Why I gave up playing gigs.

T Hazzard Sterts Nov 15

18 months ago I decided to focus on playing live while I still could. I found trying to get gigs myself was difficult, in that I naively assumed that people were polite enough to answer emails. I then discovered that venues were inundated with requests. Much later I discovered why: because of the dichotomy in the music business between big stars with record and publishing deals, song pluggers, PR people, managers and agents, etc, and the small fry without those bulwarks, it was hard for the small fry to sell CDs, etc. The only outlet was live gigs, with the result that venues were hugely over-subscribed. I heard earlier this year that there were over 20,000 acoustic artistes in the UK looking for gigs.

So I decided to find an agent, which in itself was hard because they were inevitably over-subscribed. I then found one in Exeter who took me on. She only got me one gig, and I had to push for it. Very few turned up. Those who did, loved it. Then she decided to quit because of ill-health. I managed to get about five more gigs last year, most of which were poorly attended, despite local newpaper articles, FB and Twitter.

Then I managed to get another agent whom I knew as a friend. She has been excellent using FB and Twitter, got me radio interviews, etc. But, apart from The Green Note gig in London, all had poor attendances. In Bristol, despite an hour-long interview on BBC Radio Bristol, etc, there were only nine in the audience. I’d flown the album producer over from San Sebastian and paid for hotels, etc. Then recently my agent announced that she was calling it a day (she has been over-working), having got me three gigs this month. One, in Exeter was cancelled: insufficient ticket sales. One booked for Sat 23rd at The John Peel Centre has been cancelled because of NO ticket sales. Brighton looks ok and I’ll have a guaranteed fee.

So I have to face the fact that, while individuals here and there might like what I do, the vast majority couldn’t give a toss. In addition, I look on Twitter each day and it seems full of musicians vying for attention, pleading with us to crowd-fund their album, come to their gigs, etc. The majority are young and eager. I’m old and often tired! I also know from experience that you can rehearse till the cows come home but nothing hones a performance in front of an audience like regular performances in front of an audience, otherwise, you’re simply not match-fit. And there we have the catch 22.

I love playing to audiences, and we’ve had some great evenings together, but I think the time has come to continue to write, and possibly record (but I’m not sure to what purpose), sit in the conservatory, read all the books I keep meaning to, and drink vodka cocktails.

PS. Re Brighton gig: drove for five and a half hours on the hottest day of the year; less than nine in the audience; paid less than what had been agreed; drove five and a half hours back in similar sweltering heat (windows open; fan full blast). Barking mad.

Tony Hazzard  July 2016

Old Wave – The Lost Roundhouse Tapes

In 1983 I was given the chance to record an album. It was going to be called ‘Old Wave’ after one of the tracks, but also as a tongue-in-cheek counter to New Wave music.  Artist Owen Bell had painted a picture for the sleeve using the Hokusai wave with the earth rising behind it instead of the moon: it was very striking. Sessions took place at The Roundhouse Studios owned by Bronze Records at Chalk Farm.

From what I can remember, ten tracks were recorded but some weren’t quite finished when the funding came to a halt: the album was abandoned, and life moved on.

Fast forward thirty years and I came across a 15ips, 1/4 inch, stereo copy master tape (which I didn’t know I had) of most of the Roundhouse tracks. Someone heard about it and there was talk of releasing it but, once again, it didn’t happen. In the meantime the multi-track master had disappeared, as had the 15ips 1/4 inch stereo master (both probably thrown away), along with Owen’s sleeve painting. All that was left was my tape.

I was aware that magnetic recording tape can deteriorate over time and that the tracks might be beyond saving. Nevertheless I took the tape to John Dent at Loud Mastering who had experience of cleaning old tapes. One problem was the white leader tape between the tracks, which had resulted in damage at the beginning of some tracks, but on playback it sounded as though some might be saveable. John then converted the tracks into studio quality AIFF music files, but I still wasn’t sure what to do with them.

Then, at the beginning of this year (2016), I decided to do something about this lost album. Some tracks hadn’t really worked out in the studio and one song was totally irrelevant, in that the subject and lyric were out of date, but I thought some tracks were worth preserving, if only for the musicianship.

I decided to have five tracks mastered for an EP. Then, some time later, I decided to add another track because, for the musicianship alone, it didn’t deserve to be forgotten.

I recorded three of the songs many years later.

I couldn’t remember recording ‘The Venturer’ in ‘83 so it became the opening track on ‘Songs From The Lynher’. I wanted to include it here mainly because of the musicianship.

I did remember recording ‘Take It While The Moment Lasts’ and ‘Old Wave’ in ‘83 but assumed the tracks would never be released, given the loss of the original tapes.

I thought ‘Take It While The Moment Lasts’ had a third verse which I couldn’t remember, so I  wrote a new one for Songs From The Lynher. I later discovered there hadn’t been one!

I’d been playing Old Wave live with just an acoustic guitar so I thought I’d re-record it acoustically for ‘The Hallicombe Sessions’.

I then discovered that there had been two different mixes of one of the tracks, ‘Walking Round Corners’, and I only had one version. Roger Moss, a long-standing friend of mine who had played guitar on the sessions, had taken away a cassette copy of all the tracks, one of which was the other mix.

I’d remembered that Marc Fox, percussionist with Haircut One Hundred, had played timbales on Walking Round Corners, but I didn’t have that version. However, it was on the cassette that Roger had. Accordingly, he sent me, from his home in France, a WAV file of his version. It seemed to me that the timbales were an essential part of the track, primarily as an intro to the choruses.

Using Logic, I managed to add those chorus intros onto my stereo track, but to be safe, when it came to mastering, I took along various versions in case my editing didn’t quite cut the mustard. Thankfully Simon Heyworth and Andy Miles at Super Audio Mastering managed to add the timbale chorus intros seamlessy into the main track.

There is also a harmonica on one of the tracks and I was convinced that Marc Fox had played it. When I contacted him he had no recollection of the session, so I phoned Jerry Boys, engineer and producer. He couldn’t remember either. However, I’ve credited Marc with the harmonica playing, in the absence of any other suspect.

The sessions featured the three Daves: Greenslade, Mattacks, and Quinn, all great musicians. Dave G had played with my band in the early seventies for a short time but is largely known for his work with Colosseum and his own band, Greenslade, and as a fine composer of TV Music. He put a lot into these sessions and pushed me in directions I might not have ventured, vis-a-vis the use of synths and a non-acoustic guitar approach.

Dave M is best known as a founding member of Fairport Convention but has played with many fine musicians, both live and on record.

Dave Q played bass with The Mechanics, a Cornish trio featuring ‘Big’ Al Hodge and Alan Eden. Al was a phenomenal guitarist and singer who sadly died prematurely.

I managed to contact Dave Quinn this year, after thirty years. He said how much he’d enjoyed playing on the sessions with Dave M. and you can hear why: they gel so well together.

Roger Moss played guitar with Randy Van Warmer, me, Medicine Bow, and currently plays in a duo ‘The Two’ with Thomas Ottogalli in France.

Ginny (Murray-)David, along with her brother Gavin, sang with me in a trio in the late seventies. She has a stunning voice which, sadly, you only hear briefly on these tracks.

Jerry Boys has won four Grammys for his sound engineering.

Owen Bell, the painter of the original cover, is an old friend who was living near me in Cornwall at the time of the Round House sessions. He is best known for creating all the art work for the TV series, Thomas The Tank Engine, and for creating a series of stamps for the WWF and the Australian Post. Although he lived in Cornwall for many years, he was born in Australia where he now lives. I contacted him re the original sleeve art in the hope that he might still have it. When we both realised it had gone for ever he offered to paint another one digitally, so that’s what you see on my website and my Bandcamp site.

So here, after thirty-three years, I present to you a little bit of musical history: the final distillation of those lost  Roundhouse tapes…..

Available for download only from https://tonyhazzard1.bandcamp.com/ and iTunes and Amazon, etc.

Tony Hazzard    November 2016

Hello world!

I started this blog in August last year (2012) and ever since then I’ve opened it up occasionally, stared at it, and then closed it, without writing a word. Recently I saw people had viewed it and I felt a little bit guilty: they’d bothered to find their way to my blog, only to find the cupboard was bare. I thought ‘something must be done’, so today I just started writing without knowing what I was going to write. That’s still the case. I can tell you I’m at home in Cornwall, that after the last few days of sunshine it’s now blowing a hoolie outside and raining, and that I was forced to light the woodburner as a consequence.

I can also tell you that I saw yet another singer/songwriter on breakfast tv this morning. They always seem to be young, female, attractive, with whispy voices, a record deal and a video to promote.

I get tired of singer/songwriters. There are far too many of them. They seem to be breeding like flies, encouraged by songwriting courses and college courses that are springing up everywhere. I confess that I have taken part in such courses but probably won’t anymore. Most likely because I won’t get invited, having turned up at the last one with a chiller box containing the ingredients for making my vodka cocktail* and for drinking said contents, but also because I’ve stopped believing in their validity. It’s true that many people seem to get a lot out of them, and that they provide a buzz by creating a high energy creative pot from which ideas pour forth and are nurtured, but I’ve also seen another side. Students come mainly from three groups: those who don’t have much of a clue but are willing to have a go, those who are reasonably competent but are unlikely to shake the world, and those who are extremely talented and blow me away with their abilities. The first group will most likely have a good time. The second group may do as well, and it may sharpen their writing, while the third group shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

The second group are the most worrying. Spurred on by encouragement, they can be prone to inflation and may end up believing they’re better than they are. One such example, having been on a course, started offering their own songwriting lessons. That troubled me.

I’m alway mindful of the story of Dylan Thomas, short of money, mostly drunk, yet still fighting against the dying of the light. On a lecture tour of America, to boost his income, on one occasion he staggered (drunk) onto the stage and said: “How many of you here want to be writers?” They all raised their hands. “Well why aren’t you at home writing?!” says he, and staggers off.  The harsh reality is that people either have talent or they don’t, and silk purses, etc, etc. When it comes to politics I lean very much to the left but when it comes to creativity I’m afraid I tend to throw democracy out of the window. Once upon a time there were no songwriting courses, or degrees in music production, and yet great songs somehow got written and great records got made, just by people with talent and ability doing what they did best. It’s something worth pondering.

*This is my Vodka Cocktail. It might have already been invented and have a name, but the idea came to me like a song, and then I worked on it. One large glass. Several large ice cubes. Several large glugs of 40% abv Russian Vodka. Several large glugs of Campari. Topped up with fresh orange juice (oh alright: supermarket 100% orange juice, ‘with bits’).