Charcoal – waiting for holy moments

This, the closing track on illumineon, was written in London in the middle of a treacherous year, while I struggled to make my ‘difficult’ third album, embark on a new musical direction and teach English and Drama full time in London’s South West (and later South East) to stay afloat. If I recall correctly, I was standing at the exit gates on Tottenham Court Road.

Replete with quivering ghost voices courtesy of some strange Ibanez delay unit and sliding industrial background guitars, I’ve always been happy with the way it nails the nonchalance of waiting for someone at a big city station while holding the warmth and humble certainty of spotting them for the first moment in the crowd.

It’s easy to be busy looking for something else, searching the world for hope,  love, kindness, warmth. For me, Charcoal whispers back – twelve years later – ‘Look at what you have! Be surprised by what you see every day… hold these things, the embers are easily blown out.’ Grand gestures fade as quickly as small moments, but there are more small moments, so grab what you can.

Someone is shouting
Electric, mega phonetic
Subway train insistent

I’m playing trumpet, stupidly the only instrument I took to London, and I was obsessed with it at the time. In the mornings I was often the only one in the train carriage at the end of the journey, so I would practice in the train, as it rolled passed perplexed and bemused cows in the Surrey Countyside.

And I’ve got pocket hands,
Staring like a local

Last week when I posted this lyric, my friend Steve Walsh reminded me of this image – what we carry, what we hide, what we do to keep ourselves warm. When I went back to London last November, in the cold, it was a line that kept running through my head. But I’m not sure, these days, that I feel much like a local wherever I find myself. Still. I try to look the part.

As usual, I’m enthralled by Didi Mudigdo’s gorgeous touch on my old spinet piano. I remember saying to him ‘make it like Bill Evans’, which was a little redundant because he always managed to sound like Bill Evans, albeit with his own fantastic vibe and nuance that came from his innate pop sensibility. He always has played with an epic sense of openness and space.

Also featured is drummer Philip Swan, who’s oblique angles and gracious playing filled the gap of the departing Reza – the track was built around improvised and sampled musical sections recorded at my house in Annandale shortly before we left for London. Later we would cut and loop different sections since multiple takes were at the same tempo.

Then her eyes
Among the dead wood
Charcoal lit
And I am warm again

I’d gone to London at the bequest of a beautiful girl I was living with at the time. It was a tumultuous year, but I was still very much in love and intent on working out how our relationship could settle and turn those devouring flames into sustaining embers. Turns out we couldn’t keep fuelling that particular fire, but it’s nice to hear this track and have a small piece of the genuine comfort and surprise I felt in seeing her again after a day at work.


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