Greetings from my West of Ireland solitude…..I found a photo a while ago, and it made me smile and yes, there is a story…
So, the people in this photo are David Byrne, Vin Scelsa, Lou Reed, Roseanne Cash, and me.
It is from February 19th, 1993.
This story begins in a Flanders field, in July 1992.
Well, two Flanders fields actually.
Two places in Belgium called Torhout and Werchter.
For many years, these towns have hosted a unique festival idea. Gather a lineup of bands; bring them to Belgium. Perhaps Werchter on Saturday and Torhout the next day. The exact same lineup both days.
In 1992, the lineup for Torhout – Werchter was as follows:
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Urban Dance Squad
So for two days in July 1992 I was on this bill with these amazing people.
I didn’t know some of the bands, but some of them I did. It was during a brief time in my life, when promoters of festivals were taking a chance, and giving the Irish fella a chance to bring the songs to these big audiences. And to tell you the truth, I loved it.
It was during the Acoustic Motorbike period, so I’d often cycle onstage.
Urban Dance Squad were great, and VERY loud. Trying to tune the instruments while they were onstage was simply impossible. Scary, but great.
I didn’t meet Lou Reed that weekend, but I did meet his then-wife Sylvia. She was side of stage at my performance. I met Lou at another festival in Holland called Crossing Borders, a wonderful festival also. But Torhout-Werchter was the biggest gig of my life; 70,000 people per day…
(Actually, the recent online Facebook gig I did in The Aloe Tree health food shop here at home has become the biggest. No audience but 200,000 views! Thanks!)
Anyway, meeting Lou was really special.
I was in New York when he released his incredible NEW YORK record, and that record had a big effect on me.
After these festivals there was a little communication and we met once or twice in New York.
We weren’t friends in any serious way, but during a brief period he was very kind and supportive with me, and I really liked him.
In September 1992, life changed very dramatically. My mother Nancy died. The whole family was devastated. She was the rock at the heart of the family; it’s beating heart.
There was a tour to be done in the US almost immediately. I did it, but remember little of it.
And the moment that tour ended, I just crashed. Didn’t want to sing, write songs. None of it.
All understandable. Except, one of my mother’s many qualities was a great disregard for self-pity, dwelling too long on one’s troubles. I, on the other hand was pretty good at it……
So, January 1993, I was moping in the flat on Raglan Road in Dublin I shared with Rachael.
Really sad, quite lost. And feeling no drive or direction.
Late one night, the phone rang. I answered it. It was around midnight. ‘May I speak with Luka Bloom please’? ‘This is he’, I said. ‘Hey Luka, this is Alan Pepper from the Bottom Line in New York’.
(The Bottom Line was an iconic club on West 4th Street in Greenwich Village. Everybody loved it and I had played there a good few times by then).
‘Hi Alan, how are you and what’s the story?’
‘Well Luka, any plans to visit New York soon?’
‘No Alan. Not going anywhere. My mother died recently and I am not inclined to do anything or go anywhere….’
‘Sorry to hear that Luka, and sorry about your mother’.
‘Alan, why do you ask?’
‘Well Luka’, he said, ‘next month we honour 20 years of The Bottom Line and I got this idea to celebrate it in a unique way. As you know, Lou Reed lives in The Village. We have asked him to lead and sing at a special Singers in the Round evening. And he can choose the other three singers.
It will be hosted by the great broadcaster and music lover Vin Scelsa of WFUV radio.
Lou agreed to do it.
And the singers he asked for were David Byrne, Roseanne Cash, and Luka Bloom’.
It is hard to remember exactly the effect this last statement had on me. I was just existing with my daily misery, with no motivation. Suddenly, in the dead of night, this man from New York phones me and offers me this mind-blowing opportunity, to eh, dip my toes back in the pool of song, by sitting on stage with some of the great singers and songwriters of our time.
And it came from Lou.
I think I asked Alan to repeat his last statement, naming the other singers again.
I waited about five seconds, and said ‘Thank you Alan. I’ll be there’.
I believe this phone call was a message from my mother, urging me to get on with living life, and do what I do. Sing the songs.
So I called Paul Ashe-Browne the next day. Paul is a great live sound engineer, and a great guy.
I was working with different engineers at the time in different countries, but wanted to bring Paul for this gig in The Bottom Line.
The evening consisted of two shows: 7-9pm.
Empty the room, fill the room, and then 10pm-midnight.
It was an intense day.
When I get nervous, I just talk and talk and talk.
Must have drove them crazy.
David seemed a bit shy; Roseanne was just lovely and Lou was Lou.
We sat onstage together.
Me being the new kid on the block sang first each time.
Vin Scelsa introduced me to the crowd, most of whom had no idea who I was.
Then onto David, Roseanne, Lou and back to me…..
These three people are legends, and rightly so. In different ways they have moved so many people with their commitment to their songs, and their love of this art.
I knew I was the baby in the room, and was thrilled to be there, and learn.
We each did three songs of our own, and then finished with a cover of someone else’s song.
My version of LL. Cool J’s ‘I need love’ was quite a hit with the crowd, in fairness.
Lou did a Bob Dylan song.
I forget what David did, sorry.
However, Roseanne stole the show for me.
She wanted to sing a song and dedicate it to the homeless in New York.
She chose ‘Wouldn’t it be lovely’ (All I want is a room somewhere……) from My Fair Lady.
Roseanne took the song out of the Musical genre, stripped it bare, and delivered a heart-breaking version of the song.
It completely floored me.
I had to hold back the tears, because it was one of my mother’s favourite songs, and I grew up hearing her sing it. Thanks to Roseanne, my mother was present again with me, on this stage in New York, with these gorgeous and gifted people.
Thank you Lou, Roseanne, David and Vince for allowing me share that evening with you.
Thank you Alan Pepper and The Bottom Line for hosting the great night it was.
Thank you New York, for everything.
Thank you life.
Be safe and be well everyone.
See you soon I hope, on this road of song.