This blog was originally scheduled for the 15th just as news of the recent terror attacks reached me. When I first visited Paris as a fresh faced and naive 21 year old art student in 1992 it shocked me when we were herded out of the Pompidou Centre due to a bomb threat. Surely this couldn’t happen here I thought – this was the west. One of my tutors soon paid short shrift to that notion. ‘It does!’ She said and she was right. That day proved to be nothing more than a hoax, sadly recent events were anything but. This year I have been reflecting on events from my past; book releases, artwork and travel and it seems fitting to end with this one. Never did I imagine I would ever be a teacher let alone one in China. When I tell my students about France and that liberty is very much part of her doctrine, her fabric, her being it seems incomprehensible how some barely older than they are could get into a state where they think annihilating innocent people living their lives; dining or attending a show is a just cause not just in Paris and the west but anywhere. We have a long way to go in understanding it isn’t just Paris that weeps when events of this magnitude occur but also Lebanon, Palestine and other nations whose pain seems to go unnoticed by the world at large as if they aren’t as important falling outside of what is deemed the mythical safety net of ‘the west.’ They are. However for now, my thoughts are with a magical city I have been fortunate to visit several times. All great cities suffer the occasional fracture. Paris will dust herself down, regain her elegance and walk on, for those who lost – their scars may never heal highlighting the madness and pointless actions of a few. This blog is now imbued with a very different feel than intended and is respectfully dedicated to those lost, those left behind, those who love and those who live in the city bearing its name. Long may she continue to shine.
‘It could’ve been winter, it could’ve been spring and I would’ve died for you but that was a different man.’
Liking artists, musicians musicians’ who only sell in countries other than your own can be a painful experience. Firstly, there was the constant conundrum that one couldn’t understand what it was that prevented them being successful so you preach to family, to friends and anyone else just how great so and so is in the hope it tips the balance and they become ‘known.’
The downside to that is – on breaking or making it big – they become public property they are not your secret crush anymore, everyone knows about them. This happened with INXS in late eighties Britain but fortunately or not.. it never did for Cock Robin and Peter Kingsbery.
And so the secret society continued. On my way back from Paris in January 1992 I chanced upon both Cock Robin’s second album ‘After Here, Through Midland’ and by complete surprise the debut of its male half Peter Kingsbery ‘A Different Man’ in a hypermarket in Calais. I hadn’t the money to buy either.
How could he have come up with a solo record so quickly? And where would I possibly find it at home? It took over a year to locate in of all places, Cardiff HMV which possessed 2 copies. At almost £14 it was the most expensive CD I had purchased at the time and looked very dapper on French label Barclay.
The disc itself wasn’t too special just silver with a square black logo on it and plain text. What I didn’t realise was there were two versions: one with 10 tracks and another with twelve (I found this out on subsequent visits to London). Some had the back cover inlay of a colour photo and red type, some shocking pink with black type, while mine had the more common grey with cream or naples yellow type.
The front cover – as the title suggested – showed Kingsbery looking very much a different man, in a suit and hat shot in black and white with the titles in red. Always loved red type on b&w imagery. This was I think typeset in Palatino but don’t quote me on it. The hat has since met its demise in what Peter calls too many rainstorms.
On returning home I slammed the disc into my player and was amazed at its content, it was every bit as good as the previous and until 2006 final Cock Robin album. He was on a roll!
Fast forward several hundred plays and a few years and.. nothing. And that was to me disconcerting. How would I know if there was a follow up? There was nothing in the stores, nothing in the press and the internet was in its infancy. He was if anything more an invisible man than a different one.
There was only one thing left to do. Return to Paris to search for the elusive second album, that is if one existed at all. I booked a cheap coach from my hometown in south Wales, it was another nocturnal adventure that would see me slip across the English channel into France; I think it was November 1995 and the autumn night was alive with a floodlit flurry of snow.
Once installed in the Hotel Ibis way out on the ‘Peripherie‘ I began my quest. If all else failed it would provide another brief look at a city that had in the intervening years cast its spell on me. I tried to find the magnificent Virgin Megastore on the Champs Elysees which I’d missed out on my previous visit. It still eluded me. I ended up on Boulevard de Magenta. Across the road was a small street travelling at an angle to the main boulevard. There was a small store with a pokey door which I had to sashay through to enter.
In clumsy French I enquired about the possibility of a new Peter Kingsbery CD. “Why yes, there is a new album this year” said the shop hand and most likely its owner in English, handing me the disc. I was ecstatic!! My trip had proved worthwhile. I wasn’t interested in seeing the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre or the Arc de Triumph, all I wanted was to get home and play my new found trophy.
Later on that hazy afternoon, I stumbled across the Virgin store, an elegant building with marble staircase half way up the grand boulevard. It seemed insane to think this was a CD store and not a plush five star hotel (which by now it may well be) and although there were other things I would have liked, I had pretty much what I came for in my bag.
On the coach back I surveyed the credits; who played on it, where it was recorded, the lyrics, the studios and anything else that gave a clue to who this enigma was and is. I found it was recorded in many studios mainly in Europe but some in LA. It had photography by the man himself.
On the front cover he was a blurred face. In its inlay a quirky but cool character bent down in figure hugging black jeans with a hand gesture off the top of his hatless head as if to say ‘I’m a-ok’ and the album Once in a Million would prove to be just that – ok; not as good as its predecessor or the recordings that would follow in 1997 and 2002.
He is not the drifter that jumped from the train, he is no longer a stranger. Nowadays I speak to Peter K directly – when he wants to that is. Like the late George Whitman of Shakespeare and Co books who I would encounter on my next visit to Paris, he remains a mystery – musically a part of me.
Both the Virgin store and the one which I bought the CD in have since vanished in the global downturn for CDs. The CD I bought was sold with the rest of my collection in Auckland, NZ in 2011 prior to my departure for Turkey to teach English. Sadly, I couldn’t afford to ship my belongings. I hope it found a good home, a fine stereo system and a fortunate set of ears!
Meanwhile, I’m eagerly awaiting the next chapter, ironically entitled ‘Chinese Driver.’