The Contrast had just played an excellent set in support of Mott the Hoople and I found David Reid and the rest of the band slightly drunk and elated in one of the bars of Manchester’s O2 Arena. I had this poem that I didn’t think worked very well but might fare better with music, so I took a deep breath and asked David if he would do me the favour of adding a melody to it. David is a generous man and said he would, but that I’d need to remind him when he sobered up and came down from the post-gig high. In fact, a few days later he contacted me and asked what had happened to the lyric. After a few more days he had produced the song, Not Remotely in Love.
We’d listened to his recording of the song, and I was feeling more than pleased, when David took the reckless step of asking, ‘Have you got anything else?’ I took a deep breath and said, ‘Er, yes, lots actually.’ Within a few weeks there were nine more recorded songs, including Songs and Beer, which can be heard on our first album, Lovely As Suspicion.
This was one of the best songs in the selection but we both knew that, whilst we saw it as simply an honest love song, some people might be uncomfortable about its reference to anal sex. In fact, quite a few people who heard it were totally scandalised and later told us that we simply couldn’t put a song like that on an album. They seemed particularly horrified that what they considered an inappropriate lyric had been set to such a lovely tune.
Actually, thinking about the song since we produced it, I realise it hinges on the dynamic tension between what might be thought of as the sacred and the profane. The first verse combines the spiritual ‘alpha and omega’ with the mundane ‘xbox and sega’, and later ‘I love her heart, I love her soul’ comes along with ‘I love to fuck her tight arsehole.’ There is no attempt here to be shocking or controversial, simply a desire to say something about being utterly in love with someone you want to dissolve into, emotionally, psychologically and physically. I think the essence of deep, romantic love involves an attempt to overcome separateness to the point of extinguishing the individual Self through merging with another person. As the lyric says, ‘I may be trite, I may be course, I may not have a poet’s force,’ but the song is truly about being inspired ‘to love as I have never loved.’
The album does have other lyrics that might be considered ‘hard to swallow’, because they deal with unpleasant things like deliberate self-harm, child abuse and death, but again there’s no attempt to be unpleasant or controversial. We are only making honest observations. In fact, I think the message of the album is positive and optimistic. As Joseph Campbell wrote, ‘Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy. (1)’
Since staring our collaboration, David and I have built up a stock of about seventy recorded songs and spoken word pieces. We’re currently working on the second album, which will be me performing some of my poems to a guitar backing from David. It’s already sounding really good.
I still think I’ve got the easy part of the relationship, with me being just a scribbler – a bit like Dr Johnson describing himself, a compiler of dictionaries, as ‘a poor drudge’ – while David does the sophisticated stuff. It’s as if I draw the black and white lines for a colouring book and then David brings everything to life by colouring it in. He is always kind enough to say that he’s driven by the lyric, and that’s where the music comes from, but however you look at it the creative process is very, very exciting.
In terms of the REIDGRAVES project, I think we’ve already moved on quite a bit. We’ve been getting a lot of airplay from stations like TBFM and RaidersFM, based in London, but also from HeemskerkFM, in Holland, and from the inestimable Lord Litter – a real hero of the alternative music scene since the 1980s – through stations in the USA, Germany and elsewhere. We’ve had lots of help with making these connections from Tim Jones, at Stone Premonitions, I first met Tim in the late 1970s, when I was entranced by his band, Neon, and I’ve followed his music ever since. It’s a mark of the man that, having not even spoken to Tim since about 1979, he immediately threw his support behind the album and has been unbelievably encouraging, including giving us access to the contacts he’s built up over more than thirty years. I cannot express how grateful we are for his generosity, or how much I admire Tim and his music.
The DJ’s playing tracks from the album have been enthusiastic, and Overend Watts (a lovely man and founder member of Mott the Hoople) described the album as ‘a stunning piece of work.’ You can hardly hope for better than that.
Then there’s Marc A Price, who provided startlingly creative photography for both the album and my poetry book, Hot strawberries. We also had the good fortune to have great musicians, like Richard Mackman, Thorin Dixon and Kat Moore, providing their talents. And there was Neil Saunders giving us some fine backing vocals, and the wonderfully talented Aimee Reid making one track, Arithmetic, entirely her own.
I think we should really be thinking in terms of The ReidGraves Collective, because we have the direct and indirect involvement of so many talented, generous people.
(1) The Hero’s Journey (On Living in the World) by Joseph Campbell