Norman Blake & David Scott: Hammond Song

Film by Jim Burns.

In Autumn 2007 Norman Blake and I were invited to play a bunch of shows through Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg by our friends at Tapete, Hamburg as part of a tour called Sit Down And Sing. We started off at Schwerin, not far from Hamburg, on the 16th October. That show might best be described as ‘undercooked’. By the time we got back to Hamburg for the show at Knust on 3.11.07 there was light, shade, colour and monochrome in the show and happiness in the audience. One tour project was Hammond Song which I knew and loved by The Roches and by Terry Hall’s great Colour Field and which I had brought along as a vague idea for an encore and which had floored Norman within two and a half minutes of its four minute duration. He knew the song of course but it’s one of those ones – if you haven’t heard it for a while, look out. Every day on the bus Norman would say ‘I think it’s time to hear the song’, I would pass over the iPod with The Roches album and we would kind of grin in disbelief that such a thing could exist in the world, marveling at the invention, the technical achievement, but most of all the emotional truth and mystery of Hammond Song. Then backstage we would start to carve out little bits of it, trying to cover the main points of that amazing arrangement with just our two voices and acoustic guitars. It took days and days just to get it to the point where we could risk putting it into the show. As the tour progressed and the show itself got better and better, Hammond Song started to become the top of the mountain and it became part of the narrative and the journey, the point in the show where we could say okay this isn’t about us up here on stage or our songs or our histories, it’s about all of us in the room and this one amazing song. When our friends from The Paul Dimmer Band started joining us onstage for the encore the song started to just float off the planet. The performance at Knust on the 3rd November was really special; when the audience demanded a second encore we had nothing left to play so Norman and I waltzed across the stage for a few seconds; a sweet memory. Anyway, to get to the point, Norman said a funny thing backstage towards the end of the tour. He said, Davie, next time we’re at a party together in Glasgow (this seldom happens) we’ll play Hammond Song and it’ll knock people out. We did get a chance to play the song again but it wasn’t at a party. The performance here is from the show Norman and I played at Tigerfest, Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline. May 2008, at the invitation of Evan Henderson. We’re joined onstage by Stevie Jones and Dave McGowan and by The Pearlfishers string section aka The Tallpop Sinfonia. The lovely film was made by Jim Burns with the sound captured on his great room mics. Nothing comes close to the feeling of being on stage in the middle of that sound, playing such a great song, but hopefully this is fun to watch.

Here’s a nice piece by Roger Cox of The Scotsman that appeared the week before the Carnegie Hall show:

10th May 2008: David Scott & Norman Blake – Scotsman Article

One of the highlights of this year’s Tigerfest music festival is a gig next week featuring two of the most influential men in Scottish pop: David Scott of the Pearlfishers and Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub.

The pair have appeared together on collaborative projects in the past, but it was when they toured Europe together last autumn, playing each other’s songs, that the current partnership was forged.

The rapport between them is uncanny and attempts to find cracks in the perfect facade of their relationship prove futile: theirs really does seem to be a musical match made in heaven. Here, in their own words, Scott and Blake explain how it all came to work out so well.

David on Norman: “Everybody always says that Norman is the nicest guy in pop, and I guess that was probably my first impression of him. We first met through Duglas Stewart of BMX Bandits. Norman came and played in a series of concerts that Duglas and I did a few years ago, one featuring the music of Serge Gainsbourg and another featuring the music of Ennio Morricone. I’d been a fan of his records with Teenage Fanclub anyway, but there’s something about hearing an amazing singer in person that just knocks your socks off – it’s the kind of thing you never quite forget. After that, I’d always thought that if there was ever an excuse to work with Norman Blake I would take it without thinking twice.

My favourite Norman songs are ones like Planets and The Concept. I love all the Fanclub songs, but Norman’s are probably most in my world – they are the ones I most aspire to as a songwriter myself. There’s a simplicity about them but there’s a sophistication as well, an effortless sophistication. That’s the kind of thing that drives you mad as a songwriter, trying to achieve that.

It’s been a real marriage of sensibility and I think that makes for a richness in what we do. There are lots of bits I really love in the show, but I think my favourite is right at the end. Last year we were closing with an encore of Hammond Song by the Roches and that became the unofficial hymn of the tour. It’s beautiful song, so make sure you stay to the end.

Norman on David: The first thing that struck me about David is that he’s a very, very talented musician. Most people think of him as a piano player, but his first instrument is actually the guitar, and he’s a fabulous guitarist. He’s recorded a lot of stuff for Geographic, Stephen Pastel’s label, including some Japanese bands who are pretty out there. People tend to associate David with the pop thing the Pearlfishers do, but he’s very open-minded in terms of music.

Our paths have crossed several times, but I remember there was one thing I recorded with him a few years ago – the Caroline Now! record that had people covering Beach Boys songs. We were singing together and I remember thinking, “this is a nice blend, we could do something with this.” I think he and I have very similar influences – Bacharach, Morricone and Paul McCartney. We’re both McCartney fans. Poor Paul gets a bad press from the cognoscenti, but that’s definitely a point where our tastes in music meet.

We’ll have some string players with us at the Carnegie Hall, so I’m looking forward to doing the songs in their stripped-down form with strings. Dave McGowan from Teenage Fanclub will be playing some pedal steel, and also upright bass. Then Stevie Jones, who plays with Malcolm Middleton, plays upright bass as well, so you never know – we might have a song with two upright basses on it. Whatever happens, we’re going to try and throw some curveballs.

ROGER COX (The Scotsman

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