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>> newsletter #1, November 2001 <<

 

Prague,
November/December 2001


Well, it's been quite a hectic month. On October 25th JUNKIE LOVE was finally released in English, and the publisher (Twisted Spoon Press of Prague) threw a book launch party at Club Fraktal in the Letna area of Prague. About a hundred people showed up, and I read passages from the book (including the bit where "Dodgy Dave" gets the bag of heroin stuck up his arse, and the S&M scene with the French girl!) and played some songs that were related to characters and scenes in the book. Pavel Cingl of Southern Cross helped out on violin, and the response was very positive indeed. Afterwards, everybody proceeded to get hellishly drunk, except for yours truly who had to drive home and take care of the equipment! Junkie Love was first published in Czech translation in 1997 and has gone through a couple of print runs here, but it gave me a lot of satisfaction to finally have it published in my native language. So thanks to Howard Sidenberg and Twisted Spoon Press for taking a chance and releasing it...

I've just finished writing the first part of the follow up book, which has the provisional title of STRIPPED - this will eventually be a trilogy (if I don't kick off before finishing it!), and actually documents the period directly before Junkie Love, when I was living in New York. The Czech translator has it now, and it should be published in Czech towards the middle of 2002. Hopefully, an English version will follow in the not-too-distant future...

Staying with literary matters, I took part in an "International Poetry Day" at the Globe Bookshop in Prague on November 16th. This was organised by the great ex-pat Australian poet Louis Armand, and featured writers from America, Canada, Czech Republic, England, Australia and Slovakia. It was the type of event that could probably only happen in Prague, New York or San Francisco - places that are large enough to be cosmopolitan and interesting, but which still have some kind of cultural centre with a mixture of people who basically know each other and are supportive of each others' work. I read from a book called MAGDALENA, a kind of erotic/poetic novel that I've been writing for the last year or so with the Czech poet/artist Katerina Pinosova. Katerina is an incredibly gifted artist and writer, and is a member of the Czech-Slovak Surrealist Group (this group includes the Czech animator/film director Jan Svankmayer amongst its members). We actually started writing this book as an experiment in automatic writing - we'd go to Prague pubs, get blind drunk on good Czech beer, and take it in turns to write whatever came into our heads! The novel has developed out of this chaos and is now in the process of attaining some kind of thematic content. Like I say it's pretty raunchy, but we want to capture that special Prague feeling as well - you know, the kind of atmosphere that is in the workof early twentieth century Czech-German-Jewish writers such as Hermann Ungar, Paul Lepin, Gustav Meyrink and of course Franz Kafka. Katerina and I took it in turns to read, and we received quite a startled reaction from the audience! If you want to find out more about the International Poetry Project, check out the homepage at:
www.geocities.com/louis_armand/den_poezie.html

So, what about music? To me, writing and music are very much bound up together, and the books and songs relate to each other in the sense that they are often different takes on the same situations and characters. My favourite musicians tend to be writers too - Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Michael Gira, Patti Smith - and I like the interchange between these different forms of expression.

So I usually get obsessed with book-writing for a couple of months then I go back into the music and spend a month writing only songs. That way everything stays fresh and you don't get jaded...

At the beginning of November, Southern Cross did a mini tour of Moravia and Slovakia, with concerts in Brno, Batislava, Prostejov and Ostrava, during the course of which large amounts of alcohol were consumed and many new friends were made. I have to admit I'm always a bit nervous about playing in Slovakia ever since a two week tour there with Fatal Shore in 1997 when our car broke down before the first gig and we had to travel mostly by train (with thirteen pieces of musical equipment, all of which had to be carried in relay each time we changed trains!). That tour ended with Bruno Adams (frontman of Fatal Shore) getting beaten up by skinheads in Brno and having to spend three days in hospital with concussion! Thankfully, there were no such occurences with Southern Cross this time and the tour went very smoothly. It probably helps that my band are all Czech and they know the scene here very well - the promoters, the venues, the language, the towns - as opposed to the Fatal Shore who know nothing! Imagine two crazy Australians and an Englishman taking off into the Wild East in a beat up 1979 Ford Taunus with hardly a word of Czech or Slovakian between them and no tour manager to talk them out of difficult situations... I could write a book on the 1997 Fatal Shore tour alone!

So, like I say, this mini tour with Southern Cross was very easy by comparison, and the only destruction happened when Jarda Kvasnicka, our drummer, accidently broke a glass door while carrying equipment into the club in Prostejov then destroyed a bannister when he almost fell down the stairs - normal behaviour for a drummer, really. (Have you ever seen the film This Is Spinal Tap? A great satire on heavy metal bands, in which the drummer explodes after each concert and the band have to look for a new one. Quite a good idea, I think... Sorry Jarda!).

The final concert in Ostrava was great - a really nice club, packed with people, lots of beer and afterwards a blitz on the local club and pub scene. When I first played in Ostrava, about six years ago, it was a totally run down industrial town that reminded me very much of certain parts of northern England - you know, lots of old abandodned factories, coal mines, steel works and not much else. The place is like a graveyard for old smokestack industries, and has the reputation here of being the type of place you most definitely wouldn't want to live in - no employment, pollution, bad housing, social problems etc. During the last couple of years, though, there has been a lot of reconstruction in Ostrava and what was once a depressing, run down kind of place has transformed itself into something totally different. One welcome addition to the local scene has been the opening of a street dedicated to the noble art of getting drunk and having as much fun as possible.

The street is called Stodolni and boasts 33 clubs and pubs along its half kilometer length (the street even has its own e-mail address). The whole street stays open all through the night at weekends, so it's possible to go from one club to another until the morning - which is exactly what Southern Cross proceeded to do after our concert. Needless to say, our hangovers on the way back to Prague the next day were horrendous!

Right now, we're taking a break from concerts to begin work on the next CD. We'll lay the backing tracks down from 3rd to 9th of December, before playing concerts in Chrudim on the 14th, and in Ansbach, Germany, on the 15th. Then on the 18th I go to Berlin for three concerts with Fatal Shore and a couple of book readings from Junkie Love. Hopefully, we'll be able to finish the Southern Cross CD in January or February 2002, for a release date in March or April. The CD is provisionally entitled Wasted Life (ha ha) and will contain ten new songs:

Magdalena
Twisted
Wasted Life
The Streets Tonight
Waiting For You
Closer
Love And Destruction
Don't Look Down
Heaven Or Hell
The Spirit And The Flesh

These new songs are quite different to the songs on our last CD (Dead Flowers For Alice - ZYX Music in Germany; Indies Records in Czech Republic; Hitch-Hyke in Greece) in that they are quite fast and "up". Still with a melancholic feel (some people would say "depressive"!), but a little more hard-edged and even danceable!! We want to experiment in the studio with loops and samples on some songs, while still keeping a rock edge to the sound, so it's quite exciting to have this in front of us and to be thinking about arrangements, instrumentation etc.

Oh, and expect the new Fatal Shore CD sometime in the new year as well. The enigmatic and extremely rich American producer Daniel May, who flew us to Cincinatti last year to record the second Fatal Shore CD (FREEFALL), finally showed up in Berlin two weeks ago with the finished master disk, and I have to say it sounds great! The story of the making of this CD would fill another book with tales of drunkeness, weirdness and insanity, and for awhile I was beginning to think that the CD and the trip to Cincinatti were a figment of my imagination, or some Virtual Reality game. Well, Dan has finally come through and we're really happy with the result. The track listing is:

Freefall
100 Degrees In The Shade
Don't Know Why
Mindless
Sunshine
The Fields Of Summer
Devil's Gate
Sunshine
Closing Time

A pre-master version of this CD is in circulation, but the final mixed and mastered version is much much better...

So that's all for now. I'll check in again at the end of January and let you know the latest developments on the musical and writing fronts.
Hope you all have a great Christmas and New Year,

Best wishes,

Phil Shoenfelt.

 

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newsletter #1 November 2001

 


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