You thought that it would never happen but…

June 20th, 2012

Yep, it’s a serious Layers blog. Anyone who had five and a half years in the sweepstake - that eighty seven pence is yours.

It’s really a response to a response to a response to an article. This isn’t looking much like a serious blog, is it? I’ll hurry to the point. A few musicians have been writing about this article by Emily White in which she confesses to music piracy, not caring about liner notes and bestiality.  Or not. Read it for yourself and get the facts, don’t make up your mind on the basis of someone else’s reading of the article. What are you, the Daily Mail?

David Lowery, on the Trichordist, a community blog supporting artist’s rights on an ‘ethical Internet’ (I think that’s one where the dolphins have signed consent forms) composed this thoughtful reply, which was reposted by the talented and lovely Dan Beames and then referenced by the talented and even lovelier Brigid Kaelin.

Both Dan and Brigid make their living in the music business. Both are fantastically talented musicians, performers and song writers, so give their opinions on this issue the consideration that they deserve. I don’t disagree; I have observations and questions: grist for the mill, I hope.

On one hand, we (The Layers) could be held up as an argument that artists can support themselves by other means. I don’t like that, even though that argument - that the arts are the fruits of civilisation and should be shared equally is valid: if every member of that civilisation gets an equal crack at being fed, clothed and housed. We don’t, though. Actually, we live in a dog-eat-dog capitalist dystopia and the only way for artists like Brigid and Dan to eat is to try to take some token fiscal advantage of their talents, just as say, a banker profits from a good head for figures and a total disregard for the wellbeing of his fellow man or the English upper classes profit from a talent for having ancestors that killed people, sold slaves and oppressed the poor.

I’m not saying that anyone should make as much money as, say, Bono, just from being in U2. I am saying, though, that a good musician should have the same chance to make a living from talent, hard work and practice as, say, a good plumber.

Let’s be fair. There are plenty of would-be rock stars that beggar that argument by not practising, putting on crappy gigs and thinking that it’s all about wearing shades indoors, taking drugs and sleeping with impressionable models. Pete Doherty, take a bow. Sorry, take a blow. To the cranium. I’m not suggesting that everyone that tries should make a living from it. I know a lot of wonderfully talented musicians, though, that put their hearts and souls into making wonderful music. They should at least get the chance to spend a few years perfecting their craft and to give it a go.

You see, Emily White, in the article, describes herself as a ‘music lover’. But is she?

To me, love nurtures and supports. If you love someone, you want them to grow, to become stronger, better, happier. If you analogise music with a person, I don’t think that Emily really loves music; I think that she thinks he’s cool but she’s taking advantage of him without really thinking about whether he’s going to be OK in the long run. She’s fine when he gives her stuff but she’s not really interested in doing anything to support him. She’s just bleeding him dry and assuming he’ll be OK. When music complains, she just bitches about how he could be better for her, not really thinking about the reciprocal side of that arrangement.

If you like an artist, you should be willing to pay the going rate for their music. You should show a bit of interest in turning up to a gig.

Here at Layers HQ, we took the decision to make music our hobby, not our living. You want the record? All we ask is that you consider making a donation as to what you think it’s worth. As Brigid points out, people are willing to pay for an app that makes their iPhone make fart noises but bitch about paying 9p for an MP3. So consumers have to decide what music is worth to them. More or less than a lightsaber for your smartphone? (sigh). It’s not just the cash. I’d like to think that the music that we write is worth more to a listener than a voicemail  recorded by Chris Moyles. Unless someone’s started doing snuff versions…

The industry, though, has a part to play, too. Because for years they’ve pimped out innocent boys to girls like Emily. All of those boys (remember, easily offended people, that this is still an analogy - boys are music, OK?) are carefully selected for cosmetic appeal, to be unchallenging, easily palatable and then flooded on to the market so that there’s no exposure and little chance for the unconventional, thoughtful boys to get a look in. And those ‘different’ boys that do get through are picked up and promoted until they’re exhausted. And when Emily’s had a couple of dates with a boy and the time comes for her to pay for dinner or introduce him to her friends… why bother? There’ll be an equally pretty boy along in a minute.

Emily: if you love music, you ought to be willing to do something for it. You can listen to a few tracks - flirting is free - but if you date, you should at least be willing to go Dutch.

Brigid, Dan and every other musician out there - perhaps we just love too much. Perhaps we do need to experiment with new ways to make a living from our passion. As long as we don’t feel that our rights are being violated and we can find partners who will go the distance.

I’m going to stop, because it’s getting smutty. Here’s the dirty little secret, though. Music is communication. There’s a real relationship between artist and listener and if either side of that relationship loses respect for the other and starts to take advantage, then we’re heading for a bitter end. Don’t let it happen. Let’s share a little love.

Layers out.

Her Majesty would be proud…

June 9th, 2012

Regular readers of the Layers blog may have noticed the sounds of street parties drifting through the bars on the window recently, although the staff probably keep bunting away from you - cheery and patriotic aren’t prized qualities in escape ropes and garottes. In case you’ve been wondering what the sounds of celebration and the union jack sketched into your gruel were all about, last weekend was the diamond jubilee of Elizabeth von Windsor - not the one from the ‘Carry On’ films. The other one.

Sarky comments aside, we’re neither royalist nor republican, really but the chance for a gig is the chance for a gig, so when The Abstracts’ Mark Harris invited us to join the line up for Cirencester’s Jubilee celebrations we were swift to mumble non-committally, scuttle home, check Google diaries and set off a flurry of confusing e-mails. Eventually it emerged that three-quarters of us were devoid of more pressing appointments while Paul was busy performing a ‘Mission Impossible’ style assignment, cracking into the top-secret headquarters of an evil corporation bent on world domination. The downside was that we’d be unable to rock out fully. On the plus side, not only were we handed an excuse to dust off the ‘unplugged’ set but, thanks to Paul, we’re now also in possession of Col. Sanders secret recipe of eleven herbs and spices. Would it be giving too much away to reveal that ten of them are salt? No? Well, the other is MSG. Imagine our surprise.

It wouldn’t really be an outdoor Layers gig without the threat of the sort of rain that normally comes with an eccentric Jew rounding up pairs of animals and the preceding few days promised to deliver. As it happened though, the Monday of the gig was grey, cool but mercifully dry. It wasn’t the sort of weather to send hordes reaching for the picnic blankets and out to the park so we were pleasantly surprised to get to the Abbey Grounds and see a crowd that was probably reaching into four figures milling around the various attractions.

Hats off to Mark and his team; the stage was up and well-equipped and the sound was cracking. As the first few bands went on, the weather gradually brightened and as three-quarters of The Layers got ready to take the stage, the Sun finally broke through and there was a real hint of summer festival in the air. It can be difficult to relax into a twenty minute set but we were fortunate to be following some great acts and the atmosphere was laid-back and positive. Without feeling nervous, we were able to give a decent account of “Is that Wrong?”, a blast from the past; three from the forthcoming album, “Bratislava”, “Magic Lantern Show” and “My Father” before we were joined on stage by John and Kev for perennial favourite, “Surf Trip”. It’s always a lovely way to close a set and always special to have some of our regular guests singing with us.

It was all over far too quickly but music went on throughout the evening, the crowd gradually swelling until The Abstracts produced a fitting finale and socks were most definitely rocked off.

It’s not all been kow-towing to the over privileged classes, though. The extra day’s bank holiday and the return of our bass player from special ops gave us the chance to stage a bonus-length rehearsal and really get our teeth into some new material. The happy news for fans desperately awaiting the slipping of a new Layers CD beneath their cell door is that two new songs have gone from being inklings to, if not perfectly fried calamari, at least a mass of writhing tentacles (I’m really going to have to have words with our tortuous metaphor contractor…). This means that we’re almost up to an album’s worth of songs. One or two more to coax from deranged idea to reanimated flesh lurching towards the nearest village and we’ll be ready to throw ourselves into another session in the studios.

In other exciting news, there’s a new addition to the family - yes, Caleb’s just texted us all to say that he’s the proud recipient of a healthy, 45lb amplifier and cab. We’re mentioning this partly in celebration and partly as a warning that this is probably a good time to put sticky-back plastic across the window panes, start jamming cotton wool into the kids’ ears and sedate your pets. It’s going to be loud on a scale where decibels give up, go home and call in the Richter Scale.

Thanks to everyone that turned out to show their support at The Jubilee and to the organisers for a great day’s entertainment. Come and see The Layers play a longer, louder (probably much louder) set at the Tetbury Fiesta on the 8th July and then at Westonbirt in August.

Layers out.

Four-moist in our field…

May 13th, 2012

It seems likely that Bono and his ilk (it’s actually a moose head that he bought in a charity auction. Blame the Irish accent) have someone to ask them, “Hey, Bono, y’lazy arse. Have you written anything on the blog lately?” and Bono gets his butler to tell his agent to get his assistant to write something for the blog.

Here at Layers HQ we have no such staffing luxuries; our tiny, overburdened staff consisting of just a few chefs on twenty-four hour rotation in case Caleb should need a sandwich, a driver, in case sandwich supplies run low and a beautiful masseuse, who spends most of her time popping out to get Caleb a sandwich, have no time to get involved with the blog and so it’s left entirely up to Neil’s memory and conscience. Sadly, the former has been somewhat eroded by repeated concussions and a recent discount on Jameson’s Whiskey and the latter is suspected to have never existed by several eminent psychologists and the child from whom he just stole a lolly.

However, it seems appropriate during this brief period of lucidity to let followers, fans and some other Layers-related group who can be conveniently labelled with an f-word that all is well with the band and that they haven’t been carted off to the Moon-Osbourne memorial home for deluded old rockers just yet.

A lingering degree of post-traumatic stress disorder might have been in order following last month’s gig: a marquee-based birthday party in rural Gloucestershire whilst Britain was languishing under drought conditions? Naturally, it was like a bog-snorkelling competition with loud music. Managing to get in and erect a PA went relatively smoothly and the exercise helped to keep the band warm as the mercury descended gently to ‘bracing’, then down to ‘nippy’, ‘life-threatening’ and finally settled on ‘August bank holiday in Prestatyn’. With stiff little fingers (not the band) and the drummer sat in a refreshing breeze, it looked like it was going to be hard work for a little while but a warm crowd and some skilled knob twiddling from our semi-resident engineer Cam got some heads nodding and toes tapping and we were able to relax sufficiently to enjoy ourselves and rock out a little with the chance to concentrate on the noisier part of the set. In the end, we were smiling and almost able to feel the handshakes as backs were patted and kind words issued. We were privileged to be supporting Duke, who put on a great show and then it was time to venture out into the dark and the rain and a field that had seen a little traffic and a little more water since our initial forays. Still, equipped with the world’s least capacious 4×4 and a burning desire to spend twenty minutes pushing an Audi through a bog we were able to get unloaded and on the road in a matter of hours.

Jesting aside – Dan’s birthday party was a lovely gig for us; more good times and laughter and just enough mud to remind us of adventures at Green Man.

Our next adventure with outdoor gigging comes in August at Westonbirt Arboretum’s Treefest, an enchanting mix of music and craft as well as the customary dendriform diversions. Attendance is mandatory, so brush the festival detritus out of your gigging tent and get your butt down there.

In other news, we’re starting to tentatively plan recording a new album later this year and we may well be seeking video extras amongst our more pulchritudinous devotees. Feel free to send in audition pictures but please keep them decent. We don’t want the staff here at Layers HQ distracted. They’re behind on the sandwiches as it is…

Layers out.

Deja vu all over again…

March 14th, 2012

Buried beneath myriad strata, warmed by the living fires that swirl inside the Earth’s core, two floors below Microsoft customer service and one above the realm of the Morlocks, a brown-coated minion scurried, clipboard in hand, along rows of dread machinery as it whirred and clicked incomprehensibly. Here, in a vast subterranean complex sunk at the centre of a triangle of ley lines and just off the Northampton bypass, lies the machinery that regulates the universe, washes and conditions the fabric of time and space and drives the cogs of fate itself. The minion paused, distracted for a second by a flashing light. He paused to read the dial beneath it, reset a counter to zero and wrote on his clipboard: “Layers drummer. Drama levels risen above threshold.”

Somewhere in the darkness, a valve closed with an ominous click…

At least that’s how we imagined things were panning out when we clapped eyes on Rupert setting up his drums with a skin pallor that suggested he’d not had time to get out of makeup after auditioning as an extra in ‘The Walking Dead.’

Earlier that very week a carrier pigeon had been faxed to Layers HQ bearing a coded microdot reminding us to occasionally check our e-mail. Fortuitously, a message had just arrived with the opportunity to fill in for a band that had pulled out at the last minute granting us the chance to play our first gig in Sweden. This was quite exciting until we realised that it said Swindon. Undeterred, we packed our trunks (we were on our way to the swimming pool) and made plans to wow the crowd of The Rolleston with our unique blend of rock and fluffed chords.

Unfortunately, Roo’s copy of “Middle Class Revolutionary’s Quarterly” had contained a scratch n’ catch guide to the most noxious pathogens of 2012 and his energy levels were on a par with a dazed sloth that had spent three weeks on the Karen Carpenter diet plan.

Fortunately, here at Layers HQ, we’re no strangers to a little bit of percussionist-based drama - in fact, this barely tipped the scales. So, ably supported by Ells Ponting and Shadowlight, we did our best to rock the world of a small but appreciative crowd.

There have been less error-strewn performances in the history of music, admittedly, but Roo rose to the occasion and gradually heads started to nod and some mobile phone footage was taken and a crowd was wowed. We finished with a couple of semi-acoustic numbers, including a version of Surf Trip that allowed Roo to lurch out from behind his newly-racked kit and cough along in harmony.

Many of the qualified epidemiologists in the audience that evening (you just never know with Swindon, do you?) were exchanging comments to the effect that it was unlikely that setting up, gigging and breaking down would do much for Rupert’s health. As it turned out, when Roo called on Friday to tell us that he wasn’t feeling that chipper using the ‘séance’ setting on his mobile, it looked like a grim prognosis for him and for Saturday’s much anticipated gig at the Vaults.

Not for one second did we doubt the awesome powers of our drummer. Well, we did, actually, but none of the other drummers that we knew were available so we got the wife to slip some Bob Martens in his soup and soon his little tail was wagging again.

To be serious for a second: massive props to Roo for powering through when he was feeling like death. Not only was he drumming for us but he was playing for the opposition too. No, no, not like that. I mean he was playing for Wilf, the awesome support act. He’s just a bit camp occasionally, honest.

Was it a brave performance considering his state of health? Hell no. It was much, much more. If this was drummer related drama it was epic not tragedy. Victory snatched from the slavering jaws of defeat.

Saturday night was one of those nights that we’ll be able to look back on in years to come and smile. With support and banter from a wonderful crowd, with fantastic guest appearances from Rob and Sarah on keyboards, Trevor and Kevin on backing vocals (not to mention most of the crowd), we had a cracking time. Several times during the gig I could hear the audience singing along so lustily that I could make them out over a backline that left my ears ringing on Sunday. There’s something about hearing virtual strangers singing lyrics that you’ve written that’s almost indescribably special.

Thanks once again must go to our favourite local venue, The Vaults. Even if we become globally famous (hmmm, ‘when’ we become…?) we’ll keep coming back, we promise. To Trev, who did a brilliant job of the sound despite being quite heavily monstered by the end. To Sarah, Rob, Kev and Trev (again) for joining the list of musicians who’ve been in the band for a little bit. If we all ever get together on stage, it’s going to look like the Mormon Tabernacle choir…

Thanks to the audience for cheerful and voiciferous support. You were as much a part of the gig as were we. And thanks, as ever, to Roo, Caleb and Paul. Just magnificent, chaps. A job well done.

On the twelfth day of…

December 6th, 2011

…Christmas/the zombie apocalypse (delete as appropriate) The Layers brought to me:

Well, very little, if we’re honest. Although if you’ve been good, we’ll avoid the mandatory double-tap in the event that you’ve chosen option B. Ho ho ho.

It’s possible that the many Layers fans out there have been calling out: “What have my favourite band been up to? Where are the new songs, gig announcements, the witty banter to which I’ve become accustomed on the website?” Although if you’ve heard that it’s far more likely to be the voices in your head and we’d recommend that you read the labels on your medication more carefully or at least make a mental note to drink gin from smaller receptacles. It’s equally possible that, given the interval since one of us slipped our restraints and made it to a computer to blog, you’ve simply forgotten that we exist. We can take it; indeed, in moments of existential doubt we often forget ourselves.

So what have we been up to since our last update? Well you may ask. It’s been a tough couple (ahem) of months for us in terms of workload, family life and finding ways to slip court-mandated ankle bracelets. We have, however, been working our way with slow determination through some new songs and the light at the end of the creative tunnel that is the oncoming train of recording a second album - hopefully before but possibly heralding the end of the world some time in 2012.

We were also thrilled and delighted to hear from none other than Jennifer Sutton, she of ‘Heart in a Jar’ fame. To our great relief and excitement, Jennifer reported that she approves of the song - we’re delighted not to be getting dragged through the courts again after the misunderstanding over how Neil came to be caught in Scarlett Johanssen’s wardrobe - and we’re hoping to be able to perform it to her in person soon. Jennifer, that it, not Ms Johanssen and if her lawyers are reading this we’re maintaining at least a 1km distance and have barely dipped as much as a hand into Swarfega since.

Hopefully you’ll have noticed that the website has been subjected to a lick of paint, a scraping of barnacles and a quick squirt of whatever it is that they use to clean morgues and adult movie theatres. Yes, it may be a little late in the year for spring cleaning but as our New Year’s Resolution is likely to be ‘Gig more’ it’s in preparation for a fresh onslaught on the sleazy music venues of England and, all gong well, beyond. So if you own, manage or just know of a suitable venue, drop us a line and we’ll have our best shot at lowering surrounding property prices.

More from us soon (well, sooner, hopefully…). In the mean time, stay off drugs. Unless you’re on anti psychotics or need them for your blood pressure or something. In which case, keep taking the pills. Or injections. In fact, do what the hell you like. Try to avoid getting your head stuck in railings.

Layers out.

It’s a long, strange road.

April 23rd, 2011

If that starts the deja vu alarms a-clanging, it’s because it’s a phrase that’s slipped into a blog before. It’s a reference to a song that’s been a long time coming.

Yes, gentle reader, prepare yourself for a jolt that might even shake you from whatever medication they have Layers fans on in the Keith Richards wing of the home for distressed musos: we’re aiming to début ‘Bratislava’ at our upcoming engagement on 10th June. We were planning to give it an airing at the royal wedding next weekend but MI5 got wind of our plans and drafted a sternly-worded warning. Then sent heavily armed men to our houses and stapled said warning to our foreheads. Curse you, Twitterati.

Those of you who are unfamiliar with our past adventures (or who’ve successfully managed to blank memories of anything Layers-related through expensive counselling and painful electroshock therapy) may not know how the song came about. Ignorance can indeed be bliss but into every life a little rain must fall so here for fans, stalkers, insomniacs and the staff of GCHQ combing every byte of the Internet for security threats*, here for your amusement… well, at least a moments’ diversion from work/suicide plans/tiring Internet onanism** is the skinny on Bratislava.

Back in the Halcyon days of 2008 when the economy was still teetering on the edge like the bus in ‘The Italian Job’, diesel was less expensive than black-market human blood and Japan had a flourishing nuclear industry, The Layers set out to tour Europe in an RV that was slightly too long to fit into Lichtenstein in one go. Following a heavy lifting incident in Vienna (helping a nice elderly gentleman with some building supplies for a basement conversion) Roo hurt his back. This may be putting a gloss on it - this was no middle-aged tweak; bits of prolapsed vertebral disc were visible from space and we were left with no choice but to get Roo back to the loving arms of the NHS before some Tory dickhead dismantled it and sold it to Tesco. A trawl of the Internet revealed that the only real choice of flight required a trip to Bratislava at some speed and so, with all the grace and restraint of a blind demolition derby driver on a three day PCP bender, we headed off to Slovakia. Roo’s pain, physical and emotional, was all too palpable and the drive back to Vienna that evening was a more sober affair and in that reflective quiet, the germ of a song was born.

We were incredibly lucky on that trip to be surrounded by such amazing people. Not just the other guys in the band but the other musicians and CouchSurfers that we met - three years on and I’m still in touch with people that I met in that time and I count some of them as good friends.

That’s what Bratislava is about; bonds of friendship that reach across the world; being able to laugh with friends in dark times; trust and love and brotherhood. As a song it’s taken us a long time to do justice to and I think that the version that we play in June will be the third or fourth version and several iterations into that. Version 3.12 or something. We think that we have got it right, though and we hope that it’s worth the wait because it’s dedicated to some very special people - to Rupert for his courage, to Caleb and Paul for making hard times easy to bear, to Duke for getting us out of a jam and to all of the amazing people that we were privileged to play with and to in Europe. So here’s what we’ll be singing:

It’s a long, strange road filled with signs that I don’t recognise.
We bear such a heavy load hiding pain beneath a mask of smiles.
The road slides away below as the satellite counts off the miles -
it’s almost time to say goodbye

But what we’ve made will not break easily,
what we can’t say out loud is in our hearts.
What we’ve made is glimpsed in between
the spaces in the laughter.

Making room, there’s always space for one more at our table -
someone to keep time; to bear this heavy load of laughter shared.
You’re not alone at home: we’re reaching out across the miles to you -
it’s almost time to say hello again
hello again

Because what we’ve made…

So there you have it. If you get along to the gig, we hope that you’ll take that opportunity to raise a glass with us to all of the people that have made for some really memorable moments for The Layers.

Layers out.

*…which reminds me: factions alpha and gamma - the operation begins at midnight on Thursday, explosives and disguises in the third locker from the end, targets in code B in the small ads of ‘Bondage Knitwear Monthly’. Arise my people, death to the infidel etc…

**All three, if you work in IT.

Magic Lantern Show

April 2nd, 2011

With apologies to friends who’ve read this - I thought it worth mentioning on the band blog as we’ve been working on this as a band and, all being well, we’ll be giving it a Layers début at a gig soon.

If you’re famous, fascinating or just fucking charismatic, you may be able to get away with telling the story of how you came to write the song. Once or twice. Most of the time your listening public would just as soon listen to the songs and if they want to know your life story they’ll buy your autobiography.

So I offer this in writing now so that if you give a damn, you can read it and I can spare you a minute’s rambling at a forthcoming gig.

In the sepia-tinted, stove-pipe-millinered days of my youth I had a friend whose girlfriend had fallen asleep at the wheel of a car and tragically crashed and died. He’d wandered by as I was presenting a radio show, seen me through the window and popped in. This wasn’t unusual as it was the habit of ‘Ranting’ Joe and mine to pick up a bottle of bourbon en route the studio and use it to render the coffee from next door’s cafe drinkable enough to keep us awake through our graveyard shift. Friends who knew this would often drop in to share a coffee and an off-colour story.

On this particular evening, as I was flying solo and a little busier with the sliders, there was a lull in conversation where my visitor picked up the sleeve to the record I was playing and started reading the lyrics which were, as luck would have it, about losing someone dear.

I thought that this might trigger some sort of collapse but instead, in a calm and mildly amused voice, he started telling me how he’d been in town that day and impulse-bought a tee shirt that he thought she’d love, only realising when he got it home and laid it on the bed to fold and wrap that he was never going to get to give it to her. Then he drained his coffee (about 30% by vol), gave me a sad smile, got up and went.

There’s funny on-air stories and there’s that. If only someone had been listening it might have made great radio. Those particular radio waves are now 21 light years or so out into space.

An experience like that (plus a litre of coffee tending in increasingly large ratios to Canadian Club) will keep you awake at night and in the small hours of the morning that followed I had one of those cathartic lyric-writing moments that were sometimes the only thing, in those days, that would finally summon Morpheus.

The song’s called ‘Magic Lantern Show’ and we’ve been reworking it with The Layers. It became something that I found myself returning to, in the years that followed, when someone died; my Tralfamadorian ’so it goes’. I wrote this post on my own blog originally because it just occurred to me that it was almost exactly eighteen years since a dear friend of mine had passed and I found myself playing and singing in the living room - this song just rushed back to me.

So I won’t bore you with the intro if you come to hear the song played but for all of my lost friends and because of when this thought hit me, especially for Jez: here are the lyrics to Magic Lantern Show:

Forgotten dreams… lost poetry,
pinwheel through the corner of my mind
as I sit, adrift in contemplation.
Unspoken words to lost love:
A magic lantern show
in desolation

Raging at blind Fortune
for snatching future seconds
but lost and impotent without you here.
Unstoppable, unmerciful -
time’s river thunders on.
Awake, to drown in loneliness and fear.

Not the purest of their priests
not the wisest of their teachers
could ever hope to bring you back to me
but not the darkest thief of night time
could steal the love we shared
could steal away our past from memory.

2011 and all that

January 26th, 2011

Greetings, gentle fans, followers and insomnia-crazed, compulsive web-surfeers. May your troubled souls find rest amongst the placid, directionless burbling of another Layers blog entry.

It may seem as if things have been a little quiet in the yawning corridors of Layers HQ. We’d hate you to think that leather chairs are going unswivelled, cats unstroked and evil schemes unhatched, so here’s a little update, a teaspoon of sauces yet to fully simmer, a swift, clumsy grope of the shape of things to come.

The winter months have been a difficult time for us all: snow, an assortment of viruses, the need to maintain our secret identities by occasionally making some positive contribution to our various employers’’ endeavours have all taken their toll upon our creative output. However, new songs have been taking shape and, just as the bulbs beneath the soil are conserving their energies for an all-out assault on spring, we too are ready for action.

We’re heading back to the studio first of all, to record ‘Wasted’, one of our favourites of the new songs. If we make it in time that will be offered up to the gang at Geek Pop – looking to be bigger and better than ever this year and well worth keeping in touch with.

Then there are some new songs and new-ish songs to be worked into a new live set and so we’re planning to get back on the gigging treadmill and get those rock and roll buns back into steely shape.

In the meantime, Rupert’s been busily teaching himself video editing – it’s moved on a little since his last experience; for one thing you don’t need to keep turning a handle to watch the films once your farthing’s in the machine. But we have high hopes that some sort of audio-visual shenanigans will be yours to enjoy at some point during the year.

Speaking of the year, this will be five years of The Layers in September. An event worthy of celebration, we feel. Keep your eyes on the site for news on that front but in the meantime, any suggestions that don’t seem likely to get us arrested are welcome.

Layers out.

Wasted (redux)

November 23rd, 2010

Waste has been on my mind a little today. I had to do a lot of driving and so I’ve been having pontification about the Irish bail out thrown at me via the radio. Perhaps it’s my lack of expertise in international finance but I don’t see how lending more money to people who are so far in debt that they can’t pay off the interest is a help. Apparently , we need to restore confidence in the banking system . I’m pretty confident that they can’t possibly get much more greedy and incompetent so if it’s ok, I’ll just keep whatever proportion of my taxation that would be used to help fund that bailout, thanks Dave.

Into the mix has waded footballer, philosopher and part-time kung-fu ponderer Eric Cantona with a suggestion to the good people of his natural and temporarily adopted homelands that we rebel by withdrawing our savings, precipitating a banking crisis. I don’t know if Eric has been checking his statistics – a little research reveals:

“Average household debt in the UK is ~ £8,562 (excluding mortgages). This figure increases to £17,838 if the average is based on the number of households who actually have some form of unsecured loan.” (Nov 2010, Credit Action)

So if we consider savings as negative debt then everyone taking everything that they have from the banks would appear to make them better off. Hmm…

Against this bleak spectre was some wazzock from John Lewis explaining that consumer confidence is still high and that the public (yes, the people with the ever increasing debt) are intending to spend more than ever this Christmas. Well whoopee.

So I know that, presented with a bag of humbug in the weeks leading up to Christmas I’m likely to identify it with a ‘bah’-based prefix but let’s be reasonable here. How much of the stuff that turns up in your Christmas swag bag is needed? It’s not the one-off expenditure that is the problem here, it’s the idea that happiness can be bought. Particularly that it can be ordered on line.

Please, by all means, do some Christmas shopping. If you know that Jeff will really, really like that book, that Christina will wear that scarf every day, that little Polenta really will stick out the saxophone lessons then go for it. A well-intentioned gift, given in love is a wonderful thing. If, on the other hand, you’re trailing round the shops thinking ‘what the hell can I get for Auntie Phyllis?” then don’t. Give her a voucher that tells her you’ll come round and valet her car or clean out her guttering (no, that’s not a euphemism. For heaven’s sake, what’s wrong with you?) or cook her Sunday lunch or take her to Dignitas (delete as appropriate*)

Don’t buy a whimsical piece of kitsch tat that will gather dust on a shelf for months before finding its way to a car boot sale and bring no more pleasure than the unanaesthetised removal of a nasal polyp. Because believe me, the people spending money on twinkling seasonal adverts with snow and smiling children and dogs in faux fleece reindeer antlers aren’t trying to coax you to the shops for the cardio workout and the joy on your families’ faces. They’re doing it to bolster a system for making a few rich men richer by taking a little money from a lot of people who have little enough as it is. You want to get your kids something for Christmas that will stay with them? Start a college fund. If your kids turn out to be thick as shit they can always spend it on six months’ car insurance and a tank of petrol when they’re seventeen. I imagine that the cost will be roughly the same by about 2020.

And the same argument is being used to bail out another set of bankers. What would happen if we wrote off all of that debt? Well, who has invested in debt? People with enough money to buy financial bonds in large numbers. Debt is a commodity to be bought and sold. Essentially, it’s an immaterial crop of pure evil grown in the dark hearts of bankers. A sort of death cap toadstool of the soul. If we wrote it off the rich would get poorer and the poor… well, they’d have their £17,838 debts written off, presumably.

Approaching the point with all the foresight and alacrity of a summer-torpid wasp failing to escape from a partly open window, the reason that I write this is that we’re thinking about getting a recording and perhaps even a video together for ‘Wasted’, one of our favourite songs of late and it’s never been as pointed or topical as it is now.

There’s so much in the world that needs to change. That change can only be brought about by people. People can only start to change things if they can change themselves and that can start by not forcing yourself further into penury by buying pointless seasonal tat because the man in the magic glowing box in the corner of the living room tell you to.

Christmas can be fab. But you can’t buy it. You can make it. Cook, share, sing, play… love.

33 shopping days until Christmas. Find something better to do with them.

Neil out.

*That’s their motto.

There’ll be fireworks…

November 3rd, 2010

Another day, another dollar. Serves me right for getting a part time job in a sweatshop, I suppose…

There are days, of course, when we all feel like that. For The Layers, the evidence would be that the last few weeks have been a bit of a slog: you can see the weight of responsibility (Caleb, Paul and Roo) and relentlessly  burning one’s candle at both ends (Neil) taking its toll on the band members. Energy levels are dangerously low and there may well be a small, unconvincingly Scottish gentleman running around somewhere in Rupert’s innards worrying aloud about the state of the dilithium crystals.

They say that every cloud has a silver lining - possibly as a result of serious industrial pollution. In this particular case the reflective precipitate in question has been a relatively fecund period in terms of our song writing. It raises the question about hardship and art. Personally, I’ve often found it difficult to write happy songs - as Fish once remarked, you’ve got better things to be doing than writing songs when you’re happy. Maybe so. There always used to be a cathartic element to the song writing process for me. I’ve heard the theory ventured recently that the same is true of society, that we are more artistically motivated in times of hardship. Perhaps we need a little suffering to wake us up, make us think. Maybe we’re not using our full capacity until we’re threatened somehow.

If that’s the case, then maybe this new ‘age of austerity*’ will trigger an artistic revival. Good grief, perhaps people will even start to remember how to make their own fun? I hope so. I’d like to think that a bit of blitz spirit will be the upshot of some potentially bleak times and that we’ll deal with the bad days by having some great nights: gathered together in one house to save a bit of fuel, singing, laughing, sharing food and songs and good times.

Which reminds me, The Layers are available for acoustic house gigs…

Of course, hard times only last so long. Eventually, discontent leads to revolution. Remember, remember the 5th of November. It’s an expression - there’ll be fireworks -  for a reason.

*The value of austerity may vary depending on social class and prior Bullingdon club membership. If you fail to notice a drop in your standard of living, please consult a member of the underprivileged classes who will be happy to help you out with a richly deserved kicking.