Zoot Suit – Tracklist and notes

It is impossible to talk about the individual tracks on ‘ZOOT SUIT’ without some information about the arranger and producer of the record. David Minnick was guitarist and songwriter with ‘Gangster Fun’, a band at the forefront of the American Ska scene of the late ‘80’s, before moving on to a dizzying variety of experimental and alternative projects, including doing arrangements for Iggy Pop. I first contacted David in 2008 as a fan of his extraordinary music, in particular the Sursiks CD, ‘I Didn’t Know I Was Singing’. www.thehousecorestore.com

He was kind enough to advise me on the composition of some of the ‘Speech-Music’ sections of ‘Orfeas’, and later, he took over the arrangement and production of a further six short tracks on the album. I was so impressed with his unique skills and vision that I became convinced that I should work with him again on a complete project, if at all possible. Fortunately, he agreed, and ‘ZOOT SUIT’ is the result. David’s arrangements and production have a distinct and personal sound; it is a little bit Latin, a little bit Hard Rock, a little bit Jamaican, a little bit Lounge, a little bit Two-Tone, a little bit ‘60’s, and a whole lot completely AMAZING! Check him out at www.indabamusic.com/people/davidminnick and soundcloud.com/david-minnick

01   WEIRD BEARD   2’39”
This is a song about Beatniks, dating from quite a long time ago, but never recorded until now. I wrote it originally with my friend Lene Lovich in mind, so I was delighted that, after all those years, she agreed to do the song with me as a duet. Lene has been singing professionally since the mid ‘70s (before achieving international stardom in 1978 with ‘Lucky Number’) but her voice still sounds seventeen, and cute.

02   I’M THROUGH   3’32”
This is a very recent song, written while the album was being recorded. It’s supposed to be a tribute to my girlfriend Fiona (aka Fifi Chamoix) although, as she pointed out, “a lot of it seems to be about you!” It certainly expresses my current state of mind: I seem to have gone from project to project, back-to-back without a break, since around 2004. However, I intend to pause now, take stock, and decide how best to use the time I have left (lots and lots of it, I hope!) The lyrics quote from a famous poem by Australian poet Adam Lindsay Gordon (one of my father’s favourites). David’s production for this reggae-flavoured song sounds uncannily as if it was recorded in Kingston, Jamaica.

Another relatively recent song, about immigration, which has had one or two outings in live performance, but now gets its first recording. More great brass arrangements from David.

04   F∗CK ME SHOES   3’54”
Another very recent song, written for my Fake-Daughter, Lucy (don’t ask, it’s complicated) who had been experiencing troubles of a romantic nature. Wonderful string arrangements, and great backing vocals from Mr M in person.

05   CANNONBALL   3’42”
I can remember writing the riff and melody of this ska number in Kings Lynn around 1991, but the words only came twenty years later. It was great to be able to turn the song over to a ska expert, and I love the sound of the comptometer adding machines that he worked into the intro.

06   ZOOT SUIT   2’51”
The title song of the album is a strange little number. I have no idea how old this song is; it is one of those things I have been singing to myself for ages without ever thinking I could record it properly, and yet now here it is, with the drape shape and reet pleats, and a great tenor solo from Johnny Evans. Vout-oroony!

07   BEEN ALONE SO LONG   4’47”
This is the only song on the album that has ever been previously released on record. An early demo of mine surfaced on the, now deleted, 1991 CD ‘Democrazy’, and there is a live version on my 2005 DVD ‘Live In Italy’. Peter Hammill covered the song on his influential 1975 album ‘Nadir’s Big Chance’, and subsequently it has made regular appearances in his live solo concerts. However, despite this gratifying attention, I have always wanted to make a proper studio recording of the song myself. I’m very happy with the result, including David’s clever 78rpm gramophone introduction, and the chance for me to expand the whistling solo which concluded the original demo.

08   DARLING IT’S UP TO YOU   3’00”
Another very old number which I can remember demo’ing on my four-track tape recorder sometime in the ‘70’s, with the help of bass player Ian Fordham and a monophonic synth, but I have no recollection of writing it. At the time, I think I must have been emulating early Stax and Motown records, but here, the song gets a ska-flavoured make-over, with groovy Hammond and guitar solos from Maestro Minnick.

09   STAMPING GROUND   2’52”
This song dates from the same period as the previous one. ‘Modern pop music would benefit from the inclusion of more tap-dancing. Discuss’.

10 & 11   EXTRACT FROM ‘THE BOOK OF HOURS’   6’49”
‘The Book of Hours’ was my first attempt at a full-scale narrative piece. At the time, I described it as a chamber opera, though it was, in effect, a proto-Songstory. Scored for string quartet, bass-guitar, drums and a vocalist, it was produced on stage at London’s Young Vic theatre in 1977, playing from 27th June to 28th July as a matinee show, and directed (trivia buffs) by Mel Smith, shortly before he found fame in the comedy show ‘Not The Nine O’Clock News’. Budgetary constraints meant that they could not afford a proper drummer, so, for the last time, I played drums on stage. Not long afterwards, myself and arranger Michael Brand attempted to record an album of the piece, with a rather better string quartet, Ian Fordham on bass, backing vocals from Mel Smith and the female trio ‘Soulyard’, and (second trivia alert) Clem Cattini, the legendary drummer who has played on forty-four No. 1 hit singles. We were desperately short of studio time, and despite our best efforts, the recording did not achieve the quality we wanted, and it has never been released. I still like sections of the piece, although its theme; a day in the life of an unsuccessful songwriter, now seems rather mawkish to me. Accordingly, I suggested to David Minnick that this segment might be re-worked to make an interesting track for ‘ZOOT SUIT’, and he has built on some of Michael Brand’s original string arrangements to create a much bigger, hard-hitting rock production. The first half (Track 10) features the voice of Dorie Jackson, the lovely and talented daughter of my old friend David Jackson.

This song was originally written for Lene Lovich, though never taken up by her, and it still has that post-punk, New Wave pulse about it. The title is taken from the book by Arthur Koestler criticising Cartesian dualism and proposing the counter-concept of holarchy…Yes, but I’ve got saxophones on mine!

13   ROVER 90   3’57”
The bluesy harmonic structure and the off-kilter brass riff clearly show an old-school R&B inspiration, but once again, this song has been in my head for so long that I have no recollection of writing the thing. The complete central section, however, is brand new. For such a funny little song, the lyrics cover quite a lot of ground; it is an attempt at a specifically British, as opposed to an American, ‘car song’ –  a celebration of classic post-war family saloons (my father drove a Jowett Javelin and then a Rover 90, and, for one period, was assigned a government Humber Super Snipe, with female chauffeuse) – and a contemplation of the implacable hegemony of the Japanese car industry. (Pat Moss, name-checked in the lyrics, was the younger sister of Sir Stirling Moss, and one of the most successful female auto rally drivers of all time.)

This song is the nearest I have ever got to a personal testimony. I wrote it to perform at my 60th birthday party, and it has surfaced at a few live performances since then. It is in the form of a Revue Song, a rather old-fashioned, and very British, type of composition. Revue songs are light-hearted, wry and entertaining, invariably accompanied by piano, and the supreme masters of the style were probably Noel Coward and Flanders & Swann. Because these songs are part of a specifically British theatrical tradition, I decided I needed a accompanist who really understood the genre. I contacted Robert Pettigrew, an experienced Musical Director who I had last worked with in 1977 on the musical ‘The Kibbo Kift’ at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. We had stayed in touch over the years, but it was quite an experience to travel back to Scotland and work once more with my old friend, who had written a pitch-perfect piano arrangement of my song. Back in Michigan, USA, David and his wonderful musicians added a delicate frosting of strings, woodwind and percussion.