Some years ago, don’t ask me how many, I was standing on the edge of the Great Wall of China with my dear friend Pat Butcher. If you’ve never been to the Great Wall, do it. It’s indescribable. The expanse cannot be conceived without experiencing it. As I was contemplating that fact, it occurred to me that this was a long way from Seven Kings, in every sense of that concept. I mentioned that to Pat, who almost fell over the edge with laughing before conceding that it was true. In the years since, when similar circumstances arise, one or other of us will utter those words and fall about laughing. Nobody else thinks it’s funny
I realize that some explanation is warranted. Google Seven Kings. It’s where I was born. It’s in Essex, England. (For those of you who are addicted to TOWIE, yes - that Essex). These days, it has been swallowed up by the urban sprawl of East London. But that’s where I was born and raised. Strictly speaking, Seven Kings is part of Ilford, which is in the borough of Redbridge, which is - or was - in the county of Essex. Who the heck knows where it is now?; they keep re-zoning. Inevitably, you’ve never heard of any of those places; but, the Small Faces were from around there. (Itchy-Koo Park was, supposedly, written about Valentine’s Park, just round the corner from my sister’s house, where I run every time I go home). And David Essex is from around there, too. Marks Gate, I believe. (Where do you think the Essex came from? His real name is Cook. He used to work in Plessey’s with my father). And Billy Bragg is from Barking, just down the road. The Tremeloes, too, I think. Anyway, some interesting music from the vicinity.
Not that Seven Kings equates to Nashville or Memphis or Motown; far from it. A night on the town in 7K could as readily end in the hospital or the nick as in a venue. Even so, it was home to me for a long time and, in many ways, still is. (That and Kilmacoe; but, that’s a story for the next album). All of which is to explain the title of my new album, “A Long Way From Seven Kings.” Literally, figuratively, geographically, metaphorically and whatever else you can think of, from there to here is a long way.
And yet it’s not. I have been living in New York City for 30-odd years now, but I have never lost my connection to my home. Some people ask why a lot of my songs are about leaving or going somewhere else. Maybe the call of home is the reason. Some of the songs on this album, and the previous one, “That Smile,” have definitely got that theme. But there are other ones that seem totally disconnected. One in particular on this new album - We’re All Better Looking Once The Lights Go Down - is a straight ahead rocker. But, in reality, it’s a story about me and my mates going to the Ilford Palais (google that place; it’s famous; bulldozed long ago, inevitably) or to the Room at the Top or to TOTS in Southend. From here to there is a long way; and it’s not. You decide. I just hope you like the songs.
Sometimes you hear stories of bands recording albums and saying that it was oh so hard and such a challenge and so fraught with anxiety. Those guys are doing it way wrong. Making this album week by week over the last year was an absolute joy - fun every step of the way. Whatever about the songs, every week I got to hang out for several hours in a studio with Angie LeMar and Tony Calabro. That, on its own, was an enormous amount of fun. My gratitude to both of them will never be repaid. Our weekly sessions would go like this: I would show up with a couple of tall cans of Heineken for me and Tony; we would sit and discuss the problems of the world until Angie arrived with her own fizzy, coloured alcoholic concoction; no idea what that was. Then we would chat some more and generally unwind until we were ready to attack the songs of the day. That was when the lightning would strike. To be in a room with that amount of talent is both inspiring and intimidating. Tony has the remarkable ability of being able to figure out almost instantaneously what a song needs and then improvise it right there on the spot, be it drums, keyboards, bass, guitar, mandolin, harmonica, anything at all. Angie, just as remarkably, can figure out five-part harmony right there in her head and then go ahead and sing it all - flawlessly. She never thinks it is, but trust me. You’ve got to see these two in action to believe it.
As for me, I wrote those songs and I’m just delighted that they came to life. I really like them; I hope whoever listens to them will, too. Maybe, one of these days, we’ll play them in Seven Kings. It’s really not that far.