Perth’s unassuming guitar virtuoso, Errol H. Tout, has returned with a new release entitled Luminous, an album in three parts and many more layers within.
Tout’s last release, 2013’s The Post Tumour Humour Album, was conceived and recorded in the midst of - and about – his 2012 diagnosis with cancer and the ongoing battle. As such, the thinking process as to the orientation and focus of what was to become a new album turned out to be an interesting one indeed.
“Well the illness continues,” he begins, “although the treatments are getting great results. My oncologist tells me I should have been dead years ago. I am a believer in the healing power of music and - as the fellow was heard to say to people on each floor as he jumped off a five-storey building - ‘so far so good’. I take my medication; I do lots of exercise, eat well, and play lots of guitar. I cannot justify my progress with music as the healing agent. I struggle with the words, but all I can say is when I play my particles line up and the world feels right. I do the work.
“After I did The Post Tumour Humour Album in 2015, my wife and I went on our second honeymoon to New York and I attended another Guitar Craft course run by Robert Fripp (guitar/composer, member of King Crimson and a frequent collaborator with Dave Bowie), this time in Hope, New Jersey (Tout previously attended Fripp’s League Of Crafty Guitarists school in Los Angeles in the ‘80s). I went there looking to extend my musical vocabulary and polish up on some ‘bad habits’. On the day of my birthday I performed Slice Me Up Baby for the course participants with two red-hot boys from Ecuador. Robert gave it ‘riff of the week’ describing the riff as ‘ace’. He made a point of telling everyone about the PTH album as a way of turning a seeming disadvantage into an advantage. I also sold lots of albums to people there!”
As it turns out Tout had acquired a few more bad habits than he thought. Since then he has taken lessons with Tony Geballe, a senior instructor from Guitar Craft. It says a lot of his dedication to craft that he continues to seek counsel on the instrument, even at his distinguished playing level.
“I have been playing for too long with unnecessary amounts of force in my playing,” Tour explains. “This can really hold you back big-time. Tony has been attempting to rid me of that malaise. I have been on a journey toward lightness and grace, and I have been getting good results, even surprising myself with what can happen when you ‘do the work’. This has become a mantra of mine. I have also been working my way through the Guitar Craft repertoire as a means of extending my musical vocabulary.
“So, the new album contains music of a wider vocabulary and it is played with more elegance and lightness. It also avoids sounding like a tosser.”
Predominantly known over the decades as a solo artist, Luminous is a more collaborative release for Tout. His primary co-conspirators on this are Mike Gorman (electric, acoustic six and 12-string guitars, guitar synth) and Eliot McCann on the Chapman Stick, an instrument with 10 or 12 strings that are individually tuned. The Chapman Stick ‘has been used on music recordings to play bass lines, melody lines, chords, or textures. Designed as a fully polyphonic chordal instrument, it can also cover several of these musical parts simultaneously’ – (Steve Adelson: ‘Emmet Chapman And The Stick’ from Guitarplayer.com, December, 2009).
“Mike Gorman has been involved in more Guitar Craft courses than I have,” Tout says. “When he arrived from America he came across a video on YouTube that John Barrett made of me performing with Jon Tarry at The Artifactory.
“The image on the front cover of the album comes from Jon’s generosity. When Mike saw I was a ‘Crafty’ he contacted me through my webpage, came by for a cup of tea and we’ve been working together ever since. The Guitar Craft background puts us on the same page in that we share a number of experiences and views and attitudes about music. Even then we are pretty good at surprising each other.
“I was thinking of buying a Chapman Stick and Facebook brought me into contact with Eliot who plays one… very well. I had bought a new piece of gear, a Fractal, and Eliot was keen to try his Chapman Stick through it. I asked him if he’d like to try it on one of my pieces. He was so switched on he recorded three pieces of music in my modest - but tidy - studio in one afternoon. He is an amazing player and a really nice guy. He also likes the coffee I serve. He is also the only person in the group that seems to be able to consistently count to ‘4’.
“I introduced Mike to Eliot and they seem to get on very well. It is easy as they are both very nice blokes. I should note that for the launch on Saturday at the Gate One Theatre we are honoured to have the Godlike Ric Eastman (former Zydecats drummer, now WAAPA lecturer) playing drums. We are not worthy.”
Tout’s 18 year-old son, Sam, also appears on the album. That must surely warm the cockles of a Dad’s heart…
“Yes, my son Sam plays synths and piano on a piece called Go Boy Go,” Tout explains. “I don’t know if he knew he was going to be on the album, we were just having fun in my modest - but tidy - studio. He’s always ‘had the goods’ but he will only come to music on his own terms. I’ve always encouraged him at music but never forced him. And yes, it does warm the cockles of a Dad’s heart. Big time.”
Tout refers to Luminous as a ‘three-sided album’. It goes some way to characterise the potential listening experience, given the instrumentality on offer and the diversity of sounds and designs within.
“It’s a very large album,” Tout says, “even after we culled the music down from 52 pieces to 18. We thought it may be too much to get through in one listen. Mike suggested it was really three albums in one. We had an Acoustic album, we had an Atmospheric album and a Luminous album. Luminous music, by the way, glows from within. So you can listen to the separate parts if you can’t manage an hour-and-a-quarter in one go.”
In interviewing Tout at the time of the release of the Post Tumour Humour Album in 2013 he recounted how there were parts of the LP that he didn’t remember recording due to the fatigue caused from anaesthetics. It was a different recording experience this time around.
“The fatigue from chemotherapy and immunotherapy is still significant but all the exercise has made me stronger, so I can stay awake a bit longer,” he explains.
“This album took me way outside my comfort zone. I was forced to do things I would never have dreamed of in a thousand years. In terms of process, there were solo pieces on the album and I had also recorded a number of group pieces before Mike and Eliot appeared. The momentum was already there, and it gave us pieces to work on and develop rather than start from scratch.
“I have never really enjoyed working on my own. I can do it, but I’d rather not. What’s missing is an audience. It’s much more fun when you have fabulous people making great contributions. This was a terrific experience to let them add things that I would have never thought left to my own devices. They also added many useful comments as we mixed the album. All egos were left at the door and the fun never stopped in my modest - but tidy - studio.
“I can throw anything at them and they come back with more than I could have ever hoped for. I like to be part of a team, and have enjoyed working with others in the past, but this is really great. One comment I seemed to be making a lot while we worked in my modest - but tidy - studio was ‘Well, I’ve never done that before so just give me a minute…’. Another comment we often made was, ‘We’re SUPPOSED to be good at this - do it again’.”
Tout was Head of the Department of Architecture & Interior Architecture at Curtin University of Technology until 2008, then was more latterly a Senior Lecturer and Chair of the Science and Technology Stream. For a decade or so from the mid-80s on he was better known as an acclaimed and accomplished solo guitarist, creating mesmeric soundscapes across numerous album releases and taking those creations into evocative live performances. He played often and regularly on diverse bills to a very different music scene and audience.
“I never really knew how I got away with it to be honest,” he says, modestly. “It was a different time. There were not as many diversions then as young people have now. You went and saw a band or maybe watched a video from the video shop. The point is that there was not much else for young, musically inclined people to do.
“I arrived on the live scene in 1985 at the point of post-punk when it was okay to actually play a guitar with some sort of ability. The Ramones and their like had smashed away the pompous and shallow music that they saw that rock had become replacing it with the energy of punk. So a little old ‘post-punk guitarist’ somehow found a way in the scene. Sadly, I’d have to say luck had a bit to do with it – being in the right place at the right time. But I would also have to say that I found the audiences most welcoming and accepting. I also ‘did the work’ and delivered a fairly strong performance every time I took to the stage, without being too much of a tosser.
“I certainly played to - and still do - very diverse audiences. Amongst the best audiences I ever played to in that period was large bunch of bikies. I can’t remember where or how the hell I came to be there in front of such a seemingly terrifying audience, but I thought, ‘Do what you do well and you’ll be accepted, maybe even liked’. They were fantastic.
“My trick – well, my manager’s trick - was to put me on the bill with bands that would pull large audiences and distract their audience for a short while with something they would have not seen before.”
That was the past however, we are in the present and Tout has the future to consider. Like Luminous in its three modes, they all are indelibly part of the other, and have all been, and will be about, doing the work.
In Tout’s modest – but tidy – studio.
“Total world domination would be nice, he says of the future, “but being able to bang out a few tunes doesn’t mean the world owes you a living. This group are really top players and we’ll be doing more live playing and albums. One has to pick and choose performances, and we’ll probably make our own ‘happy space’ - that is, set up our own shows like we have for the album launch. We have got a lot of support from RTRFM and the local press, which is more than really helpful.
“We have started writing for the next album already, and we’ll be playing our first piece we have written together for it called Rain. God, it was easy to do with this team!”
Luminous is launched at Gate One Theatre, Claremont Showgrounds, on Saturday, August 12, with help from Simone & Girlfunkle and Erasers. Tickets via www.showtickets.com.au/2017/08/12/luminous-album-launch/