Members of Morphine
It hasn’t been easy, I must confess.
Going back to the very same place on the very same day exactly ten years after, was a touching experience.
First impression. That place today looks smaller, so that I could realize how close I was to Mark Sandman in 1999.
It’s a basketball field, with a couple of concrete terraces where I sat ten years ago, waiting to know more. Could still see myself there.
I arrive early. It’s raining. Someone at the bar tells me it is the first time in twenty years of “Nel Nome del Rock” festival that rains. It is not just a shower, it is an Italian summer thunderstorm lasting a couple of hours and threatening the entire show.
I feel impatient, standing under a tent, looking at the sky and talking to some American guys who I have already met in London. They are shooting a documentary about Mark‘s life.
The band is somewhere in town, nowhere close. Dana Colley and family, Jerome Deupree (the first Morphine drummer) and Jeremy Lyons whom, in few hours, is going to have the role of the musician replacing Mark Sandman. He will be playing Mark’s songs in Mark’s band, on the stage where Mark died. I reckon you need a total dedication to music and very strong nerves.
Bill Conway the second Morphine drummer couldn’t come. He was the one drumming that night in Palestrina in 1999. Dana Colley tonight is the only who was on stage ten years ago.
I finally manage to introduce myself to him while eating a very Italian pasta in the backstage. He, as always, is in a positive mood. I have never been a fan(atic) but greeting Dana and realizing he knows who I am is fulfilling.
Rain stops, Members of Morphine with Jeremy Lyons are definitely going to walk the stage.
Morphine new recorded music stopped with The Night, Morphine CDs didn’t.
The following years saw some interesting releases.
Bootleg Detroit, is a live album. Basically an official bootleg registered on tape by a fan at a gig in Detroit.
It sounds as lo-fi as possible, but it preserves the intimacy of one of their live shows.
I wouldn’t suggest it to get in touch with the band but would definitely if you love this demo-tape approach to music.
What is a key collection for anyone wanting to get to know Morphine without wanting to buy 5 albums, is their Best of. It comes with a couple of unpublished tracks but truly contains the very best of the band. An album that was always on my CD pouch when travelling with my portable CD player in the pre-iPod era.
Important suggestion, get the European edition which is complete and includes tracks from any of their five albums.
The American version, instead, called Best of 1992-1995, stops at Yes.
This is because of a Label conflict. in USA Dreamwork issued their last two albums, while on EU they are all distributed by Rykodisc.
To complete Morphine discography there is an album B-Sides and Otherwise released in 1997. The kind of product aimed to fans wanting everything. It contains every other thing the band has been recording which is not on the albums.
There have been rumours of a Morphine box for a long time, I guess the Dreamwork-Rykodisc dispute as well as the recent Rykodisc merge into something else has slowed down the release.
Having my press pass is my bit of pride of the night. Ten years and I am finally beyond the barrier.
When Members of Morphine come on stage it is very emotional. All the memories came back to surface, as it was yesterday.
The same plastic sunflowers decorate the stage as in the past.
Dana Colley stands on the left, on what was Mark‘s spot. Jeremy Lyons stands on the right and Jerome Deupree has his drum kit behind a big hand painted sunflower. It is titled The Morphine Family and contains a lot of writings from the band’s friends. It goes without saying the deepest is:
“Sono triste di lasciare Palestrina ma il mio cuore rimarrà sempre con voi”
Da Mark e Sabine
which translate something as:
“I am sad to leave Palestrina, but my heart will always be with you”
From Mark and Sabine (which was Mark’s girlfriend).
The shock following Mark‘s death didn’t stop the other guys being involved with music.
For about a year they toured the music of Morphine with a big band called, Orchestra Morphine. Among the musicians there was a girl, Laurie Sargent.
Orchestra Morphine project naturally merged into Twinemen.
Dana Colley and Bill Conway brought Laurie Sargent into this band.
Coincidentally I was in Boston in summer 2002. Browsing record shops in search of Morphine rarities, I stumbled upon the Twinemen self titled first album, just issued.
It has a Mark Sandman drawing on the cover.
The music, mixes reminiscence of Morphine jazz-ish songs with some more atmospheric lounge sound. It’s different and, I must admit, not as good.
This didn’t prevent me, now a UK resident, to buy a ticket for their gig at the Camden Underworld in London few years ago.
Once there all I found was a sign on the door saying “Tonight’s concert has been cancelled”. I will discover not enough tickets were sold.
Twinemen released another couple of albums on Hi-N-Dry. The record label founded by Mark Sandman, today managed by the three Twinemen themselves.
The concert opens with Have a Lucky Day, which I couldn’t take only as a good wish. I knew I should expect something like this, but it is not easy, is it?
Claire follows and I have to stop taking pictures to listen. I realize how much I love and I miss this music.
Scratch, Sheila… the magic music of Morphine is permeating Palestrina’s humid air, again.
The atmosphere is relaxed, there is no three songs rule for photographers and I stay there to finish my films with no rush. I choose my favourite angles with the eyes, while the ears are pleased by Dana baritone’s sax.
Jeremy Lyons plays a 2 string slide bass, it is not Mark‘s bass but manages to get a sound which is quite close. The voice is not, obviously, but when he uses that retro mic Mark used gives goosebumps.
In the middle of the show, just after Thursday (or was it before?), Dana makes a speech to the crowd.
First in English, then in Italian.
He thanks the people of Palestrina for being friend and always being close to them.
He says how happy it was to come back here with his family.
He thanks Mark Sandman and states that place is almost sacred to them.
It’s touching, Dana is almost moved to tears, with bright eyes he takes back is big sax and plays out loud. The big trees vibrate, silent witnesses.
At this point Hi-N-Dry seems to be the key activity to Dana and Bill, but they never stopped playing music. Last year, surfing the ever revealing waves of internet, I discovered another project.
A.K.A.C.O.D., clearly not the best name you want to call a band, (it stands for “As Known As Colley, Ortiz and Dersch”) is Dana Colley playing with Monique Ortiz on bass and Larry Dersch on drums.
Another Morphine-like line-up. Ortiz occasionally plays slide bass and when it happens music gets as close as it has ever been to Morphine since 1999.
The Happiness album is good. A low-rock feel a dark atmosphere someway reminescent of Nick Cave but the desire to sound like Morphine reveals its impossibility without Mark Sandman songwriting.
In the middle of the gig there is a break with few songs that the three wrote recently. Jeremy Lyons moves to guitar. It’s not Morphine for a while, nostalgia leaves space to something different which pleases the part of the audience unaware of the bands legacy and leave the fans in wait of more hits. We are all here for a celebration.
All Wrong, Buena, Honey White arrive towards the end, and retain the magic. Dana doesn’t play neither other saxes nor two saxes at the same time but his groove is still there, as catchy as always.
Jerome has a different drumming than Bill Conway. He seems more comfortable with the songs he recorded on the first 2 albums than with Bill material. I guess very few people would even notice the difference.
So what has happened during these 10 years on Mark Sandman name?
Quite a few things.
He got a square to his name in Boston.
His apartment became the Hi-N-Dry recording studio and, I have been told in a comment, his bass is proudly hanging on one of the walls.
A Memorial Fund has been created after his death. Mark Sandman Music Education Fund is a no-profit organization that aims to help children in the Boston area to learn how to play music.
If you have money to give or want to get involved, monitor the Hi-N-Dry website and join their newsletter.
Music wise, Hi-n-Dry has released a beautiful package. 2CDs and 1DVD of Mark Sandman related projects. It’s called Sandbox. There is not Morphine music in it (usual copyrights stuff, I guess) but this wonderful box, must not be read as a fans-only item.
It shows how good Mark Sandman was as songwriter with Threat Her Right and some solo things. There are terrific tunes in there, tunes for which much bigger artists would sell the soul to the devil to write.
The Palestrina encore is with the unmissable Cure for Pain. French Fries With Pepper has the addition of a trio of women on back vocals.
Concerts ends in a party mood. Dana Colley is touched by people response, his entire family is here. He calls his children on stage more then once, it looks he needs them to give him strength.
It is a celebration of Music, no space left for sadness.
I am very happy to have flown back here from UK. Now my memories will not be linked only to a dramatic moment but to a great show that existed because of it.
There is always a way out of darkness, Morphine music is one, and Members of Morphine lesson is another.
I don’t know if I ever listen to Morphine music live again, but driving back home I couldn’t avoid to play that Best of Morphine CD. It’s on my i-Pod now.
I didn’t want to put a photo tip on this 2-parts special issue on Morphine, but after what happened I feel I have to.
As I wrote previously, a big poster with my picture of Mark was to be on stage. You haven’t seen it, because It was not. A sad but well precedented concert photographer’s situation.
Few months ago I sent to the organizers my photos of Morphine last gig, they loved them so much that they started to use their favourite to paint a big panel (did they?) and proposed me to do an exhibition at the festival.
When I was told, at the condition the use was related only to the promotion of the festival which is a no-profit charity institution, I agreed to give the rights for free in change of just credits.
I didn’t want to exploit neither the low budget I know they have nor, most important, Mark Sandman’s night.
They got so happy with the result to came back to me saying they were going to print T-Shirts and limited edition posters with the drawing derived from my image. I was very happy too, of course.
But at that point, being the merchandise sold for a profit, I asked for a percentage.
Being the one who supplied the image for the artwork I think it is fair enough to be acknowledged.
I got no answer. I insisted and received a reply which was at the same time arrogant, defensive and devaluating.
They wrote that being the image a drawing inspired from my picture, it wasn’t my image anymore and I shouldn’t have any right on it.
I said I wasn’t sure that it was such a case and asked to see the artwork to verify.
It is here below, next to my original photo.
Crystal clear isn’t it? This is not an artwork inspired by whatever. This is my image transformed in B&W with a 30 seconds photoshop intervention and a writing added to the bottom. I stood for my request, I got no answer since.
Once in Palestrina, I understand neither posters nor T-shirts have been printed with my picture.
Most interesting there was not even the big poster decorating the backstage.
The only pictures of Morphine last gig, that everyone wanted there because “Mark would have loved them” simply haven’t been used.
The organizer didn’t even manage to approach me, “it’s very busy”. When I insisted to meet him he went like “Oh hello, you are Valerio” and walked away.
The official reason I was given, by someone else who I asked, is that they didn’t have time to print the material. Which is not very believable.
This is what we, as music photographers, pass through regularly.
Either we give pictures for free or we don’t have pictures used or published.
I will always stand against it, not because I want to make money out of live music photography, which is an illusion, but to protect the dignity of photographers that instead of people working for the sake of music are seen as some sort of virtual sources of images, with no rights.
Unfortunately for one that resists there are 10 out there to give away photographs.
In this unique occasion, being the only one having pictures of Morphine last gig, there was no one else so no Morphine related merchandise at the Morphine celebration gig.
The fans couldn’t get their Mark Sandman T-Shirt, the organizers didn’t make easy money selling them and I haven’t got a big poster on the backstage. It is an all-lose situation. Silly isn’t it?