Monday, 18 September 2006

Shitterday night

Let me tell you about my day yesterday.

It starts off okay. Shower. Coffee. An impromptu cleaning of the fridge. Some washing. Sorting out finances. I'm doing stuff, boring stuff, but it feels good to get it done.

I text my friend Jen, to see if she wants to come with me to see the Scissor Sisters tonight in Trafalgar Square. I'd asked her the day before but she'd told me she'd promised to go to a party tonight with her new boyfriend to meet his friends, in exchange for him coming to a party next weekend to meet her friends. But she'd said she'd think about it. She'd thought about it and decided to go to the party. Fair enough, I think.

I text my friend Sarah. Her Dad died recently and I think it might go some way to cheering her up. But she is still in Brighton looking after her Mum. Fair enough, I think.

I ask my housemate Steven. He's made dinner arrangements with his new boyfriend. I'm starting to get a bit annoyed. I wonder whether I'm happy that I'm single and can do what I want when I want, or whether I'm jealous I don't have one particular person to do things with. I decide that, right now, with two Scissor Sisters tickets, it's a little of the latter, but usually more of the former.

Steven suggests our old housemate Ildiko. She's going travelling and saving money so she won't be up to anything. I call her. She's well up for it. Nice one. We arrange to meet later.

I put some stuff on eBay. I go to get measured up for my usher's suit for my friends Emma and Justin's wedding at a Moss Bros shop in Victoria. The man needs to know which branch Justin placed the order in. I call him. It's Richmond. I go back in. The man phones Richmond. They have no record of a booking for a Hodges wedding. I call Justin. He apologises and says he'll call them. I go home.

I make dinner. Pasta and meat sauce and vegetables. It's okay. I forgot to drain the meat juice off so it's a little greasy. I shower again. It's been a hot day. People keep calling me when I'm in the shower. Justin. My Mum. My sister. Ildiko texts me to say she's running a bit late and can we meet half an hour later. I reply and say yes, but we have to be in there by eight o'clock as they're apparently not letting anyone in after that. I decide to call the others on the way to the Tube. I need to get out asap so I can pick up the tickets from my friend Andy. He's just been made redundant from his job as a radio producer, a scapegoat for someone higher up. He's nabbed a load of these tickets from work and has promised me a pair. I'm happy as I wasn't able to get any through work myself. Anyway.

My housemate Paul arrives home from his holiday in Newquay. He's proud that he has more of a tan than I got in Kenya. I'm also quite impressed, inwardly cursing that I'm not one of these people who tans easily. I leave the house and walk towards the station.

I phone my sister. We have a quick chat. I hang up. I call my Mum. Something touches my ear. My phone seems to evaporate from my hand. I squeal, Oh my God. I see a man on a mountain bike speed past me. All I see is that he's wearing a grey hoodie with the hood up as he disappears into the people walking up the street. My cheeks flush red with embarrasment at my reaction. Part of my brain is impressed with the speed with which the guy snatched my phone. No part of my brain is scared or worried. I'm more concerned with my girlish reaction. I pull myself together, realising what a pain in the arse this is going to be. Luckily it's a work phone, not my own, so getting a replacement will be easy. I head back to the house to get my own old mobile which I hardly ever use. Thank Christ I kept it. I curse myself for being stupid enough to walk down Stockwell Road talking on my phone.

I run in and shout to Paul what's happened. He's on his phone in the kitchen, quickly tells whoever he's speaking to he's got to go. He offers me his phone to call Orange. He also offers to make me a cup of tea. I decline. "Was he black?" Paul asks. It's more of a rhetorical question on Paul's part, but I tell him I don't know, I didn't see his face. I call Orange. I need a crime reference number. I call the police. I'm embarrassed and frustrated that I can give very little description of the thief. The lady asks me if I've been hurt. For some reason I'm shocked that I could have been, it never even crossed my mind. She tells me there's officers in the area who have been alerted and will have a look for the guy on the bike. I think to myself, they'd be bloody lucky to find him with that description. Paul makes me a cup of tea.

The police come to the house. They're in plain clothes. They look like criminals themselves, maybe bouncers at a push - shaved heads, barrell chests. Part of my brain notes that they're both very sexy. I laugh inwardly at my libido's resilience. Another part of my brain wonders if I should ask for ID. But one has a wire going from his ear down his back. And, I don't know, they just exude the fact that they're policemen. They invite me to get in the car and have a drive around to see if we can spot the guy on the bike. Part of my brain notes how exciting I will find this in hindsight. At the moment it's annoying and stressful because I need to go and get the tickets and meet Ildiko by eight. We drive around.

One of the policemen asks me the same questions the lady on the phone asked me. Again I'm frustrated I can't give them more detail about the guy. I get the feeling they're going through the motions with this one because of the lack of description. Fair enough, I think. While in one of the estates, we see a guy with a grey hoodie on a bike. The driver backs up but we lose him.

The other one asks me details about myself. I tell him I'm a journalist. I inwardly cringe. I wonder if they're thinking, not very observant for a journalist. He asks more details about the phone. Again I cringe. Robbie Williams wallpaper on the screen. Shiny, colourful sticker on the side (put there by my housemate Jess, I want to add, but don't). There's no judgement in his voice. I'm impressed.

We drive past a group of black kids on the estate. They stare over at the car with a mixture of curiosity and defiance. I can't stare back. We pass them again, this time a lad with a grey hoodie on a bike rides up to them. He has a bag slung around his body. The driver asks me if I remember seeing a strap on the thief's back. I don't. Again I inwardly curse myself. We go back to my house.

They tell me they will be patrolling the area stopping and searching people, that's what they do. And that they might be lucky enough to catch someone with my phone. But they might not, it's 50/50. I give them the phone's IMEI number. Luckily I wrote it down. If they find someone with the phone they'd be able to nick him because that would confirm it's mine. I thank them and go back inside. Paul has drunk the cup of tea.

I call Orange. They say they'll send me a new phone in three working days. I call Andy. He says he'll meet me in town with the tickets. He tells me not to beat myself up for using my phone, that's what they're for, and not to stress, I will still get to the gig in time. I call my sister, my Mum demands to speak to me after hearing my sister's half of the conversation. I reassure her I'm okay. Again I note that it didn't cross my mind I might have been hurt. I leave the house, pulling out my phone to text Ildiko. I realise I might be about to make the same mistake twice and go back to my house to text her.

I walk down the street. I'm pissed off that this road I use every day has suddenly become unsafe. This is my home. Andy's right, why the fuck should I not use my phone where I want? I refuse to become paranoid. I refuse to look at every black person as if they might try and steal something from me. But it's hard. A group of lads on bikes ride past me on the road. One has a grey hoodie. It's the one who had the bag slung over his body from earlier. They seem to slow down as they pass me. One pulls out a phone and looks at it, puts it back in his pocket. Part me wonders if it's mine. Another part says stop being paranoid. The grey hoodie guy speeds off down the road and comes back up doing a wheelie. Part of me wonders if he's discreetly proclaiming his victory in getting my phone. Another part says stop being paranoid. I get on the Tube.

I call Ildiko when I get off, leave her a voicemail explaing why I'm a little late. Even here in the centre of London I'm wary of using my phone. But as I look around I see many people talking into their phones. I remind myself that this is what mobile phones are for. I meet Andy, kiss him on the cheek, tell him he's too good to me and run off to meet Ildiko. I check in the bar, she's not there. I wait outside. And wait. I try calling her. I get voicemail again. I wait some more. It's now eight o'clock. I call Steven and leave him a message asking him to send me Ildiko's number. Maybe I've got the wrong one. He texts it to me. It's the same. I try again. I wait a bit more. I start to think that I'm not destined to go to this gig. I text Steven, tell him to try calling Ildiko as I'm worried about her. I call Andy to see if he's still in the pub. He's in a restaurant. I tell him to call me when's finished. I need a drink.

Steven replies. He says he's sent Ildiko my number and that she said she'll call me. I'm very confused. I go and buy a beer from an off-license, sit in Leicester Square. I text Andy to ask if he's going straight back home after the restaurant. He lives in the same direction as my friend's 30th birthday party which I was due to go to after the gig. I figure I can get on the Tube with him. I finish the beer. Andy texts. He's already at home. I text back - I thought he was in a restaurant. I tell him I've been sat here waiting for him to finish. He says he didn't hear me properly on the phone and apologises. I give up.

I realise I can't face the party, where I only know the birthday girl and her boyfriend, in the mood I'm in. I text and apologise. At home Paul has a friend over, Trevor. Trevor seems wasted. Paul tells me he's going to put Kasabian on very loudly, and do I mind? Sounds good to me. I tell him Ildiko's gone AWOL and I didn't bother with the gig. Trevor realises I still have the tickets and demands Paul to go with him. It's half nine. The gig finishes at 10. Paul asks me if I want some money for the tickets. I laugh and say no, noting inwardly how sweet he's been this evening. After a bit of a row about how to get there they head off to catch the end of the gig. I have no idea if they make it.

I eat chocolate. I watch Friends. I feel better.

I've had better Saturday nights.

Sunday, 3 September 2006

total:spec - James Morrison

With a Top 5 single, No 1 album and rave reviews under his belt, and an autumn ahead of him playing sold out gigs, James Morrison should be on top of the world right now. The young singer-songwriter, still only 22, would be forgiven for letting his success go to his head a bit. What man of his age wouldn’t feel the dog’s bollocks if they were in his position? But amazingly James Morrison Catchpole, to give him his full name, isn’t the cocksure troubadour you might expect.

Handsome and successful he may be, but even though he’s been fending off female fan attention (and male according to one tabloid story) wherever he goes, he remains loyal to his long-term girlfriend, healthcare assistant Gill. As for the new-found financial rewards, Morrison has only allowed himself one luxury - a brand new guitar.

“I’ve never got carried away [ever since I got the record deal],” he says.  “I’ve always thought, at the end of the day this is an opportunity that comes along once in a lifetime. It might go like that [clicks fingers] so I think to myself, just enjoy it and don’t get carried away.

“I’ve seen so many bands on telly on stuff who think they’re fucking rock stars just because they’ve got one album out. It’s like, no, you’ve got one album out, man. You look at artists who have had 10 albums who are still going strong, that’s what you want to be.

“If you’re going to act like a twat, or a rock star, that’s when you can do it. At least wait until you’ve sold some records and established yourself. I don’t like people who are big-headed so I always try and stay clear of all that sort of bollocks. I’m just a normal guy who’s done all right, you know. That’s how I see it.”

I’ll show you that quote in five years time. “Do it, man, do it. And if I am a twat, then I’ll be like, actually, fair enough.”

Sat in a record company office having had a quick fag break to collect his thoughts - “Being interviewed is weird, I get asked all the same questions and I never want to come out with the same answer.” - he looks like any other  lad his age; if we’re honest, he wouldn’t look out of place propping up the bar of an SU somewhere. The difference between Morrison and students across the country, however, is he probably has a lot less ego than most of them. Oh, and there’s also the matter of his songwriting talent and that compelling, gravelly, enormously soulful voice of his.

You’ll have heard it on Top 5 hit and radio playlist regular You Give Me Something, a summery and upbeat acoustic tune that has been impossible to avoid the past few months. Such was its popularity it sent his album, the ironically titled Undiscovered, straight to No 1 where it stayed for two weeks. Undiscovered has now gone platinum and refuses to move from the upper reaches of the Top 10.

“It’s all happened really fucking quick,” says Morrison. “I haven’t got used to it yet, I’m still catching up with myself. Every week, by the time you get to the end of the week, you already know what you’re doing at the end of the next week. By the time you get to that it’s like you’re just stepping over yourself all the time. Before you know it a year’s gone by and you’re like, fuck, where did that go?

“Maybe if I’d had a good life and it was all sorted before, and then I’d got a deal, I wouldn’t be so spun out by it. But before my life was so different. I never had fuck all in my life before I had the deal. We never had any money when I was growing up - I had one guitar to myself to play, that my uncle gave me. So for me to be in this position where I’ve got so many choices now...” he tails off, shaking his head.

It’s this difficult upbringing that forms the crux of the stories Morrison sings on Undiscovered. Fans of the cheery ...Something single might have had a shock on listening to the rest of the album, for the songs mostly touch on the darker parts of his past. Both One Last Chance and the title track talk about friends of Morrison’s whose lives have been taken over by drugs; Wonderful World says the world is anything but; then there’s This Boy, a song that, Morrison explains, is about how he understands now why his mum wasn’t happy most of the time when he was growing up.

“It was only as I got older I’d think, that was a bit weird,” he says. “I got quite angry about it, then I realised that wasn’t going to solve anything. So I wrote this song to tell her how I feel - you messed me up but I’m not going to hold that against you. I’m still here for you.”

Earlier, when Morrison was talking about being interviewed, I’d asked him if he’d had any media training - the training given to some pop stars by their record companies to guide them through the rocky road of interacting with the press. He said no, except his PR had told him not to say too much about his family and that if he didn’t want to talk about anything, he didn’t have to.

But Morrison finds it impossible not to talk about his family, and his difficult childhood, as they’re such a huge part of his story, and have had such a huge influence on what he writes about.

“It is hard when you have to explain a song to someone after you’ve written it,” he says. “That’s hard for me because then you have to open it all up. But if I just listen to This Boy, which is about me growing up and how I felt towards my mother and that, it was a good song, a positive song. I’ve been a through a rough time, but it’s all good now.

“But when you have to explain it, how far do you go to explain what actually happened? You want to let people know what you’ve been through to give people an idea of who you are, and what sort of artist you are, but at the same time you don’t want to give it all away because that’s your private life.

“I’m having to get used to trying to explain it in a way that’s still got a bit of integrity to it, without giving myself completely away. You have to keep a little bit for yourself or you’ll have nothing left.”

Morrison was born in Rugby, the middle child of three. His father, Paul Catchpole, left when James was still young, leaving his mother, Suzy, to bring up the kids on her own. She didn’t cope well and, beset by both debts and depression, moved her brood around a lot, rarely settling anywhere for long.

“My Dad was always around,” says Morrison. “I kind of didn’t really want to say that he used to drink, but, you know, he did. That was the main reason why he wasn’t around. My Mum was always like, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t go and see him this week’, because he was on the piss or whatever.

“But he’s a great guy, a lovely bloke and I get on with my Dad really well. I’ve been honest with him and said, ‘Yeah you did fuck up, big time, both of you did’. They’re from that generation where you get with someone and you have kids and you have to stay together, but when it came to it they just separated.

“I think they would have separated anyway to be honest, but I saw my Dad regularly, every couple of weeks. It’s a good relationship because it’s honest. I always told him how I felt, I never bottled it up and pretended he was the best Dad in the world. He knew he wasn’t. I haven’t got any hang-ups there.”

When Morrison was nine his mother took him and his siblings to Nottingham. By this point Morrison and his siblings were as much adults as they were children. While their mother went to work, they would get themselves to school, iron their own clothes, cook their own dinner. “I’m very close to my brother and sister,” says Morrison. “We kept each other going.”

At 13 Morrison’s uncle showed him a blues riff on a guitar. Morrison was immediately enraptured. Just a matter of days later he had three tunes down pat. With little social life to speak of Morrison had finally found a release, and, inspired by the singers his mother loved - Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison - he also began to sing.

“I never really noticed I had a good voice as such,” he says, ever modest. “I just used to enjoy doing it and it felt natural to me. I just learned to play a couple of chords and sang along, that was it. I used to do it to kind of escape, for myself. I always wanted to just go into my own little world.”

Another move came at 15, when the family moved down to Porth in Cornwall. It was here Morrison started busking. It taught him a lot, he says, such as how to get over the nerves of performing in front of so many people. He would draw big crowds, and it was here he also realised there was money to be made out of music.

At home he would listen to the likes of Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, trying to learn how they used their voices so expressively. That said, he’s distinctly uncomfortable with the comparisons to such artists he’s drawn since he came to public attention.

“When people start saying, ‘You’re amazing, you’re the best British soul singer’, and all this bollocks, I’m just like, whatever. Don’t give me loads of stuff to live up to. I’m just a singer, man, just a singer-songwriter.

“People say I’m like Al Green, but bollocks am I like Al Green. I didn’t want to make a full-on soul record, because I’m a white guy, man. If I made a soul record I’d look like a twat, like, ‘Yeah I’m a soul singer, I want to be black’.

“It was never about that for me, it was more about, because I’m a white guy and I try and sing with passion, that’s where the soul is, not because I’m trying to sing like a black guy.”

Morrison fared badly at school and after playing in a local band for a while, he was forced to get work in a hotel. He’d got together with Gill, who lodged with his family for a while, and moved with her back to her hometown of Derby. He got a job van-washing, which he hated, but kept his head down and got on with it.

When he turned up 10 minutes late to East Midlands Vehicle Hire one day, however, he got fired. But Morrison saw it as an opportunity, and, much to Gill’s chagrin, decided to give the music another go. From here on in things started to happen quickly. 

Despite a lack of venues to play - karaoke is a bigger draw than live music, apparently - a musician Morrison had met at an open-mic night offered to help him record some demos. Ex-A&R man Spencer Wells, who had worked in the past with Beverley Knight and David Gray, heard it and got in touch.

“I was doing a bit of carpet fitting, signing on, and going to London every week to write,” says Morrison. “That was a real busy time, and a bit weird. I was going from big record company meetings with people asking me if I wanted this or that all the time, which I’m not used to anyway, then I’d go back to carpet fitting and go in someone’s house where they don’t even offer you a cup of tea,” he laughs. “It was one extreme to the other, from that life to this life.”

It was around this time Morrison wrote album track The Pieces Don’t Fit Anymore. It’s about how, once the singer had got a deal with Polydor, it caused a huge shift of balance within his relationship with Gill. The healthcare worker, who at 28 is six years older than Morrison, had before then been paying the rent and basically providing the main support for the couple. Morrison’s advance gave him the financial advantage and, along with the amount of time he was spending in London, it caused tension. Morrison thought about ending the relationship at this point.

“It was how I was feeling at the time,” explains Morrison. “I really did feel like, fuck, maybe we should leave it. I didn’t know what was going to happen and I didn’t want to hurt her. It was a difficult time, we’d just moved to London and she didn’t have any friends. We were arguing a lot and it was like, let’s just leave it before it gets any worse.

“But that’s cheating. I think you have to go through it and finish it, and see it to the end. Otherwise you’re cheating yourself out of feeling that way if that’s how you’re meant to feel. So I just thought, fuck it. It’s still good, we’re still good friends and we still get on and it’s still great.

“But I knew it was going to be tough. I said to her before the record came out that we might split up, she’s totally aware of that. She’s scared by it, but so am I. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But she’s totally cool, she’s handling it really well. She’s not really got a choice.

“I know if I was in her position I’d feel really weird. If I had a girlfriend who was going on stage and all that bollocks, I’d be like, ‘Hey, what about me?’. I’ve seen it with Corinne Bailey Rae [who Morrison supported on tour] and her husband. I saw him spinning out because his missus was getting all the attention. It’s got to be a lot to deal with.”

Gill’s not the only one finding Morrison’s increasing success difficult to handle.

“It’s been quite full on for my family as well,” he adds. “They haven’t really known how to deal with it properly. I don’t think they believe it properly yet.”

And Morrison himself?

“I’m still feeling like it’s all so much to take in. But, yeah, it’s good.”