From The Desk Of Pete Astor: “You Better Dream” (Meetings)

Pete Astor has been a staple of the British indie scene since the early ’80s, fronting a diverse number of outfits including the Loft, the Weather Prophets, the Wisdom Of Harry and Ellis Island Sound. He launched a solo career in 1990, as well, and is also a senior lecturer in music at the University of Westminster. Astor’s latest release is One For The Ghost (Tapete). He’ll be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week, writing about the origins of these songs and how they relate to the LP’s theme of past and future, complete with illustrations he created with Susanne Ballhausen.

Astor: I’m thinking we all know that feeling when we’re stuck in a work room with someone who won’t stop talking—often a very male trait: talk as loud and long as possible, therefore dominating the room, whether or not that man has anything worthwhile to say. My friend Steve, who is American, once used the phrase “blow hard” to describe someone. I didn’t know what he was talking about, so he explained it to me. Now, whenever I’m really stuck in a work meeting with one of the characters described above, the fact that Steve has supplied me with a name for it is always a source of comfort.

Some of that two-chord magic:

From The Desk Of Pete Astor: “Tango Uniform” (And The Phonetic Alphabet)

Pete Astor has been a staple of the British indie scene since the early ’80s, fronting a diverse number of outfits including the Loft, the Weather Prophets, the Wisdom Of Harry and Ellis Island Sound. He launched a solo career in 1990, as well, and is also a senior lecturer in music at the University of Westminster. Astor’s latest release is One For The Ghost (Tapete). He’ll be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week, writing about the origins of these songs and how they relate to the LP’s theme of past and future, complete with illustrations he created with Susanne Ballhausen.

Astor: I’d been playing a show on a Saturday night and was getting the last train back to London. This involved a walk directly through the town centre. It was quite something; Joel Goodman’s iconic photograph tells it perfectly.

Walking through it all was strangely calming; we felt like ghosts, invisible. As we got to the station and were about to go through the barrier, we passed a couple of revellers who’s strayed away from the central Hieronymus Bosch scenes and were swaying around the station, looking for the right train. Two good-humoured policemen showed them the way as the two men tried to argue; as the two of them bounced through the barriers, I heard one of the policemen say, “Thank you gentlemen, time to Foxtrot Oskar.” Initially it didn’t make any sense, but after a while I realised they were using the phonetic alphabet. It was time for them to fuck off.

So when I came a came across someone referring to things having gone “Tango Uniform,” I looked it up. It was a phrase initially from the military: “tits up” (dead), all gone wrong; like the Vietnam-inspired SNAFU (Situation Normal All Fucked Up). So, it had to be the song where the final curtain’s about to come down.

Some amazing songwriting influences:

From The Desk Of Pete Astor: “Only Child” (Mini Psych)

Pete Astor has been a staple of the British indie scene since the early ’80s, fronting a diverse number of outfits including the Loft, the Weather Prophets, the Wisdom Of Harry and Ellis Island Sound. He launched a solo career in 1990, as well, and is also a senior lecturer in music at the University of Westminster. Astor’s latest release is One For The Ghost (Tapete). He’ll be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week, writing about the origins of these songs and how they relate to the LP’s theme of past and future, complete with illustrations he created with Susanne Ballhausen.

“Lost at sea, acting like you have a plan/Pretending you can see the land/If only was true/Only child/It’s all gone quiet”

Astor: Donald Crowhurst was an around-the-world sailor who ended up faking the whole thing; there was a brilliant book about him that my friend Mathew Sawyer lent me. In the end, Crowhurst became completely delusional and resorted to mystical writing to make sense of how wrong it had all gone.

Mini Psych
I love what Jonny, James, and Franic do with the end bit—a kind of mini psych freak out. My favourite San Francisco album has to be Moby Grape’s debut; it’s got 13 songs on it, and it’s half an hour long. Plus on the first issue of the album, Don Stevenson gave the photographer the finger because he was getting bored with the photo session. But no one from the record company noticed and the album was withdrawn, and a new cover, with the offending finger airbrushed out, was released. Now, of course, it’s the airbrushed one which is rare!

Moby Grape boiled down their live stretch outs to make pop. Another favourite in that world is the original of the Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star”—2:44 long and originally released as a single.

Some well-groomed psych freakouts:

From The Desk Of Pete Astor: “Magician And Assistant” (That Sway)

Pete Astor has been a staple of the British indie scene since the early ’80s, fronting a diverse number of outfits including the Loft, the Weather Prophets, the Wisdom Of Harry and Ellis Island Sound. He launched a solo career in 1990, as well, and is also a senior lecturer in music at the University of Westminster. Astor’s latest release is One For The Ghost (Tapete). He’ll be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week, writing about the origins of these songs and how they relate to the LP’s theme of past and future, complete with illustrations he created with Susanne Ballhausen.

At some point in the recording of the album, I realised that the groove of the song had settled into a similar the place that I loved in the Grateful Dead—on Bertha from the early ’70s or something off American Beauty.

And, again, it’s that U.K. take on country music—melodically a bit different from Hank Williams, more like the Beatles—that groove, but a long way from the fields and the farm.

Some Grateful Dead-style grooves:

From The Desk Of Pete Astor: Interlude 2 (What’s True)

Pete Astor has been a staple of the British indie scene since the early ’80s, fronting a diverse number of outfits including the Loft, the Weather Prophets, the Wisdom Of Harry and Ellis Island Sound. He launched a solo career in 1990, as well, and is also a senior lecturer in music at the University of Westminster. Astor’s latest release is One For The Ghost (Tapete). He’ll be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week, writing about the origins of these songs and how they relate to the LP’s theme of past and future, complete with illustrations he created with Susanne Ballhausen.

Astor: My favourite words are those that give up meanings with more listens but which also function in an abstract way—you might relate to the chorus, most of the best choruses are bumper stickers. But if a song snares you, then the verses and all the rest start to snare and seduce you over time and repeated listens, while you understand what the songwriter is saying but make your own meanings at the same time.

On One For The Ghost, after written-out versions of the lyrics, it says, “All resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental”; that, of course, protects the innocent and the guilty, and makes me feel less uncomfortable about telling the truth. Because I know, in the end: “Songs tell truths, but not the truth.”

More songs not telling the truth:

From The Desk Of Pete Astor: Interlude 1 (Blood On The Cornflakes)

Pete Astor has been a staple of the British indie scene since the early ’80s, fronting a diverse number of outfits including the Loft, the Weather Prophets, the Wisdom Of Harry and Ellis Island Sound. He launched a solo career in 1990, as well, and is also a senior lecturer in music at the University of Westminster. Astor’s latest release is One For The Ghost (Tapete). He’ll be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week, writing about the origins of these songs and how they relate to the LP’s theme of past and future, complete with illustrations he created with Susanne Ballhausen.

Astor: California, 1974, breakfast time. The well-known wife has got the kids ready, taken them to school and has returned to the state-of-the-art kitchen for a mid-morning coffee. Late rising, the famous husband comes down, but not alone. With an assortment of scarves, long, tumbling black curls, accompanied by a vague silence, the husband’s latest companion stares out at the Pacific through the floor-to-ceiling window. Once again, perhaps under some misplaced idea of freedom and openness, the husband has brought one of his lovers to the family home. And now they are having breakfast. Later that day, the wife will go to see a local lawyer and file for divorce.

What’s true? And, more specifically, what’s true in a song? Songs inhabit us: They soundtrack, define, explain, bemoan, critique and articulate our lives. We use songs with scant regard to biographical truths they might be telling. As audiences, we try to understand songs but, at the same time, project our own meanings on to them. So the truth of any song or album of songs inevitably gets a bumpy ride. And each album of songs performs an uncomfortable, indulgent and sometime embarrassing dance with that thing: the truth. And, as a songwriter and listener myself, I play the same games along with it.

Blood On the Tracks is quite an album—I’m not the first person to say that. After accidents, marriage and family life, Dylan returned full time to the world of music with the release of Planet Waves and his 1974 tour of the USA. This is when Dylan’s marriage started to unravel, with serial infidelities, as well as with him apparently bringing a series of lovers down to breakfast in the family home. These various biographical nuggets of “truth” have become part of the listening experience for Dylan aficionados, giving a patina of authenticity to the songs. In an interview with Mary Travers (Peter, Paul And Mary), Dylan said, “A lot of people tell me they enjoyed that album. It’s hard for me to relate to people enjoying that kind of pain.” Dylan had also recently completed an art course with Norman Raeben that he said changed the way he saw the world; he said Raeben was “more powerful than any magician. I went home after that and my wife never did understand me ever since that day. She never knew what I was talking about. And I couldn’t possibly explain it.” On the album, “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” is said to document an affair with CBS executive Ellen Bernstein. If these songs feel real, well, it’s because they are! Or so we can believe, having been supplied with a range of biographical “truths.”

However, by the time Dylan came to write his memoir, Chronicles, seemingly referring to the album, he writes, with the kind of spectacular implausibility that only Dylan can muster: “I would even record an entire album based on Chekhov short stories. Critics thought it was autobiographical—that was fine.” It seemed as if, now so many background details about the album were in the public domain, he was keen to return the meanings of the songs on Blood On The Tracks to something more fluid. And in doing this, it seems he was seeking to allow the songs more potency for the ways that we use songs as ciphers for what we are going through. As well as listening to songs, we listen through songs, we inhabit them: In the most straightforward sense, we sing along or sing them in our heads. So, on the one hand, we listen to, enjoy and appreciate songs and the work of the performers and writers and listen in to what they do; on the other, we use what they do for our own purposes. We make the truths in our own heads and lives.

From The Desk Of Pete Astor: “Injury Time” (“They Think It’s All Over!”)

Pete Astor has been a staple of the British indie scene since the early ’80s, fronting a diverse number of outfits including the Loft, the Weather Prophets, the Wisdom Of Harry and Ellis Island Sound. He launched a solo career in 1990, as well, and is also a senior lecturer in music at the University of Westminster. Astor’s latest release is One For The Ghost (Tapete). He’ll be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week, writing about the origins of these songs and how they relate to the LP’s theme of past and future, complete with illustrations he created with Susanne Ballhausen.

Astor: I complied a record of my first solo albums a while ago and titled it Injury Time. I remember thinking, “That should be a song.” And I kept at it, and I got there in the end. I’m not sure that the phrase even exists outside of the U.K. In football, it’s the time added on for stoppages and injury. It’s also entirely at the discretion of the referee, so there is always a few extra minutes where everything can change.

Here’s the 1966 World Cup final with Geoff Hurst’s final goal in injury time:

As the commentator famously says when the goal goes in, “They think it’s all over—it is now.” This has become a phrase that everybody in the U.K. that likes football knows. I thought I’d have a bit of that, too.

More “Injury Time”:

From The Desk Of Pete Astor: “Golden Boy” (Rockabilly Rhythms)

Pete Astor has been a staple of the British indie scene since the early ’80s, fronting a diverse number of outfits including the Loft, the Weather Prophets, the Wisdom Of Harry and Ellis Island Sound. He launched a solo career in 1990, as well, and is also a senior lecturer in music at the University of Westminster. Astor’s latest release is One For The Ghost (Tapete). He’ll be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week, writing about the origins of these songs and how they relate to the LP’s theme of past and future, complete with illustrations he created with Susanne Ballhausen.

Astor: As a teen fan of Slade and T.Rex, I didn’t know about old music, source music. But one Saturday afternoon the radio was broadcasting The London Rock And Roll Show. Though the drifting signal, I heard Little Richard singing “Lucille.” I’d never heard anything like it in my life. It was the line that went back from my glam-rock heroes; I still loved Slade, but this was something very potent.

This musical epiphany informed that bit of me that has always adored the perfect dumb simplicity of original rock ‘n’ roll, and, even dumber, rockabilly. Wall-to-wall generic rockabilly is sometimes all that will do for a day’s listening. So, when the Fall got a rocking drummer (pictured between Riley and Smith) in around 1979, it was the perfect fit for me.

Making One For The Ghost, I also had the Wave Pictures rhythm section, so I could finally make a song that would have the propulsion it needed. I also think the potency of the groove lifted James Hoare on the guitar to great places—exactly the places he would sometimes reach when we stretched out playing live. I feel very happy that we managed to capture that.

Post-punk “Golden Boy” rockabilly madness:

From The Desk Of Pete Astor: “One For The Ghost” (Famous Last Words)

Pete Astor has been a staple of the British indie scene since the early ’80s, fronting a diverse number of outfits including the Loft, the Weather Prophets, the Wisdom Of Harry and Ellis Island Sound. He launched a solo career in 1990, as well, and is also a senior lecturer in music at the University of Westminster. Astor’s latest release is One For The Ghost (Tapete). He’ll be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week, writing about the origins of these songs and how they relate to the LP’s theme of past and future, complete with illustrations he created with Susanne Ballhausen.

Astor: It’s always hard to resist those remainder bookstores—it’s the search. I’m sure it’s related to some kind of primitive hunter/gatherer thing. Maybe. And, of course, you generally find nothing, but it did find this and unlocked a song …

From The Desk Of Pete Astor: “Water Tower” (And Punk-Rock Guilt)

Pete Astor has been a staple of the British indie scene since the early ’80s, fronting a diverse number of outfits including the Loft, the Weather Prophets, the Wisdom Of Harry and Ellis Island Sound. He launched a solo career in 1990, as well, and is also a senior lecturer in music at the University of Westminster. Astor’s latest release is One For The Ghost (Tapete). He’ll be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week, writing about the origins of these songs and how they relate to the LP’s theme of past and future, complete with illustrations he created with Susanne Ballhausen.

Astor: Punk, when it happened in the U.K. in 1976, had a year zero effect on us music fans. Suddenly, everything had to be on one side or the other. What this meant is that everyone would re-align their pre-year-zero tastes to fit better with what punk was meant to mean. So, as a massive Stooges fan, I was in the clear, but my love for the Grateful Dead had to be quietly put on hold.

I didn’t have a eureka moment seeing the Sex Pistols on cold Wednesday night at the Manor in Ipswich. I didn’t go. I almost went, but without my pal who went with me a few weeks previously to see the Pink Fairies, to hitch 20 miles to on a wet Wednesday at 16 was too much. The moment when I truly discovered the beauty of primal rock ‘n’ roll was on a summer’s evening a year or so earlier: when the Frankie Miller Band cancelled their show at Essex University and up-and-coming pub rockers the Count Bishops stepped in. And so it was that me and my friends Paul and Russell and Dave were the only four people up and dancing in front of the stage, while the rest of the seated and static crowd sat and stared.

This rather English take on rocking rhythm and blues (say hello to the 101ers and a host of pub-rock others) was what went deep into my musical psyche. I no longer even bothered to pretend I liked or cared about Tales From Topographic Oceans. A new world had opened up.

And so, I come back round with something like “Water Tower.” I still feel like the punk police will arrest me if they hear me playing the (very, very vaguely) Chuck Berry-like riff. But now that year-zero stuff is gone—yes, the world is better. In this way, anyway!

“Water Tower” pub-rock DNA: