The dream was never clear as to
whether it was you or I, or both of us
riding the horse through the woods
to the silent house. But I know it was you
who spurred us over barbed wire,
even though I felt the butterflies,
knowing we were certain to fall.
But still how I cried over the horse
dying in the sudden street when its eye
went from the stars to me.
Dreams are like that. Then we were
riding the number 9, upstairs, talking.
I’ve been away, you said,
but you’ll see more of me now.
I can still be in the band.
I told you we had a new drummer.
You said, I’ll play another instrument.
We caught on memories, each one a wrecked canoe
painted with forest-darkened light from a world
gone to the shadows where they were silted.
Wandering in the time between lectures at university I remember finding a tiny room with a small upright piano inside. The room had a polished wooden floor and a window that looked out onto a courtyard, I think. I can’t remember the view but I do remember the sunlight picking up the dust motes hovering above the keys. I started playing around on it, trying to write melodies for Distant Signal songs, playing the first few bars of Moonlight Sonata, half of which I’d transcribed from a classical guitar tab on our piano at home (I can’t read music). I was fascinated with the piece ever since friends and I had heard it in that scene in Resident Evil where playing it opens a secret, hidden door.
The piano at home was meant to be donated to the local Cricket Club from a house in Fairfield Road but they didn’t have space for it. As my next door neighbour and I were in a band my dad offered to keep it in our front room until it was needed. Some of the melodies for Distant Signal songs we played live were written on that piano.
A few of the very early Uffmoor Woods Music Club tracks came out of experimenting on the ivory. One of them, ‘Hello, Eavesdropper’ I remember writing and recording in one day, with an SM-70 mic hanging in the opened lid connected to an digital 8 track. I basically put together some licks and practised them over and over to try to get the various sections to run together fluidly. I then felt tired and had a bit of a kip for an hour. When I woke up, I could play the whole piece although the timing seems uneven now! I put a flanger on the vocal and it was done, as far as lo-fi is ever done.
Eventually, we didn’t have room for the piano either. Nobody wanted it so my dad smashed it to bits with an axe. I was disappointed, but that didn’t stop me taking photos of its broken workings.
I play the piano as a guitarist, which is to say not at all to some people’s way of thinking. I recently had the chance to write another piano track for the new record, Everything I Will Remember When We’re Gone. Inspired by Bill Evans’ transcendental ‘Peace Piece’ (which I first heard underneath Miles Davies and John Coltrane on ‘Flamenco Sketches’), I recorded ‘Deep Assignments’ in two first takes. This surprised me and discouraged any urge to tamper with it apart from dampening the last note, which had seemed too strident.
The house I did most of my growing up in sits next to a lane that runs past The Trampland, which just was our name for a scraggy patch of unused grass behind my garden. Beyond The Trampland there is a solitary grey house. Morbid creatures that we were, we convinced each other that dead bodies were hidden there or, at the very least, that the house was haunted.
Two teams would sneak toward the grey house: one through its long front garden which was hidden behind a dilapidated gate a few doors down. This team would pause to hide behind the flowerbeds (graves) while checking no one was looking from the dark windows. The second team would creep up the tarmac drive beside my house while co-ordinating the mission via walkie talkies, the screech and squawk of which constantly gave our position away.
The old man who lived in the grey house was in his eighties but would still be seen in the local gym and trotting the streets in running gear. He seemed very ancient to us, especially when he would lean his bike against the wall outside our house and dribble from what must have been exhaustion.
When he died they found paintings all over the grey house, not bodies. His father had been an artist who’d found some success. Over the years, the son had learnt to paint in his father’s style exactly. It was nearly impossible to tell the son’s work from the father’s. I wrote a sonnet about it in 2007.
The Painter’s Son
The rush hour traffic slows beneath the house
belonging to the painter’s son. He passed
this evening, found immaculately dressed
among his father’s better works. No spouse
was there to close his eyes, nor had there been,
but he was spry, pressed fifty on the bench.
At night he’d wait for cars to clear the roads
then totter up the hill, up through the fields
to watch the sun collapse under the dusk.
In later years he’d learnt to reproduce
his father’s style, the old man, who’d been famous
for sunsets. Soon, their work could not be told apart.
Now red explodes above the painter’s house.
His son perfects another subtle art.
I think I’ll start meditating consistently again. Sometimes I’ve noticed that meditation gives me a feeling like that of being on holiday. (I suspect that the operative word there is ‘being’). It’s only three days into a week off work that I feel relaxed enough to understand my life as a whole, rather than a series of milestones. I think I often mistake this feeling and attribute it to fine dining, alcohol, good weather… or a view of the sea: an unanswerable expanse which makes us feel calm or reflective or alive depending on its own mood.
I’ve also noticed, when meditating, that a memory will often appear out of nowhere. I’m not sure whether this is the busy mind attempting to reassert control, or a kind of reward: the still waters of the mind allowing a peaceful image to surface instead of their usual boisterous demands. This morning the memory was of my seventeen year old self playing computer games in my bedroom with my brother at Christmas. Final Fantasy VII for me, Quake II for him. That’s all. I might record some of these memories here.