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 It comes with a couple of unpublished tracks but truly contains the very best of the band.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.

<<< PART1

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Photo Tip

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?

~ by Valerio on July 14, 2009.

26 Responses to “Members of Morphine”

  1. Great article Valerio! It must have been very emotional.

  2. Thanks Jean-Luc,
    it was but it is also quite refreshing having another memory of that place. Ciao!

  3. This 2-parts issue is so touching, even if in 1999 I didn’t know Morphine and Mark Sandman. Thank you for your words, for your pics, and also for the photo tip, as usual. Miriam

  4. How very annoying (and, on this occasion sad) that you had that bother with the organisers – you did the right thing to stand your ground. I would have loved to have seen this show especially after reading this piece. Do you know anything more about the documentary on Mark?

  5. Hi Chris,
    I know (and you know) how it works. In Italy it is just worse.
    The documentary is still being shot with more footage to collect before going into mixing and post-production. is the place to monitor to stay informed.
    I know there is also another film about Morphine being shot.

    Thanks Miriam!

  6. Hello Valerio, I don’t know if we met or not that night but I do agree it was an emotional night but with overall positive radience. I had the fortune of seeing the members of Morphine do their ‘warm up’ gigs in Boston in June and I have to say, the first time I heard Claire, I was transported back to a place and time that I never thought I would be able to visit. By the 4th gig, I was able to just enjoy the GREAT SONGS and realize that the world needed to hear the GREAT songs. Jeremy had a big task at hand to try and replicate that bass sound and even more so, the vocals. I think he did a tremendous job and the fact that you have two members that actually played on the original recordings, takes it out of the realm of ‘cover band’, at least in my eyes. I was around from the very beginning and was able to see all ‘versions’ of the band and I think that the music is sooo good and the songs sooo wonderful, they need to be enjoyed and revisitied. I know I am totally biased on this but Jerome is the funkiest and most musical of any drummer I know and his ‘feel’ is one of the reasons that Morphine has the sound that it does. Saddest Song was (and is ) one of my favorite drum tracks that they recorded (yes, that’s Jerome) . I can say this about the festival organizers, they are hard working people and most of them are volunteers. I know it can be very frustrating but please know that we appreciate your words and pictures.

    • Thanks a lot Lisa I appreciate it. I can imagine what you proved! I love jerome drumming, I actually love anything related to Morphine. You may have guessed it.
      And yes, I’m sort of volunteer too flew there following my passion, not money. Hope to meet you soon, ciao Vale

  7. Hi Valerio —

    Thanks for the great write up. I was disappointed to see there were none of your photos displayed at the show, and no T-shirts. I don’t blame you for asking for your cut. Unfortunately I don’t doubt that disorganization and time constraints might have gotten in the way of getting it all done. Things were pretty last-minute for us with our arrangements as well.

    It was a great honor to be asked to perform at this show. When I moved to Boston in 2005 I was not familiar with Morphine’s music (though familiar w their reputation and Mark’s dramatic death). I was a Katrina refugee from New Orleans, feeling very LOW when I met and made friends with Dana. He and Jerome have helped me through some very hard times. I consider them two of my closest friends and I love playing music with them, be it my blues or Mark’s. I have come to love Mark’s music and it is a joy to play it with these two gents.

  8. Thanks so much, Jeremy.
    For the compliments, the understanding and most of all the great night you played in Palestrina.
    Hope to listen to you again soon, maybe in London?

    all the best

  9. Hey if you have any contacts in London, pass them on. I’m there!

  10. If I had known this was going to happen, i would have mortgaged my house to be there.

    Beautiful, Thank You.

  11. Here are a couple of things concerning Mark. There will be a memorial concert in Cambridge Ma. on Sept 27 2009, featuring Orchestra Morphine, Elastic Wasteband (the band that recently played in Palestrina) and Treat Her Right and other guests. More info here
    Please pass this info along and hope to see you there! Lisa D.

  12. A beautifully written and very emotive piece, Valero. And the shots are simply superb…

    Thank you, sincerely…

    RIP Mark


  13. Great and lovely read, thank you. Going to see them tmrw night in Detroit. his music does hit that special string in the heart.

  14. Lovely. Thank you.

  15. thanks for sharing this!

  16. Ciao Valerio I’m Flavio From NNDR, honestly I should say that your article shows how little your gifted of good sense, and, beside that, I really don’t think what you wrote it is the truth regarding the facts.

    First of all, if you think it has been stupid not to sell T-shirts with Mark or paying you for the pictures you took that night, you should have first discussed this matter with the band and the festival organizers, since you know both, instead of publishing pictures , that for what they shows have a deeper meaning then your business, and writing offenses right after the festival to the people that invited you, and had you as a guest.

    We considered our selves lucky that we found in the Morphine family, people with a weltanshauung similar to the one we can have, that means being able to place feelings and people before the money and the rest.

    Just to get the right of a proper answer:

    Regarding the T-shirts we had that idea at the beginning, but then we discussed it with the Morphine crew and we decided not to sell them out, and it was defenetly not the matter of the percentage you asked us that prevent us form producing them. The thing it is easily provable infact since we did the drawing (of course out of your pictures inspiration, but it is our artwork, not your…) and I selected the lyrics to be written, we could have done it without your permission, exactly as you wrote this article and published those pictures without even asking to Morphine.

    The poster was there exactly where I told you: behind the stage. it was there this year also, and it will be as far as we’ll keep on organizing it. It was not the back of the stage but it was behind the stage, facing the road as I told you. Regarding the size of a big poster… Maybe your Ideas are just swallowed by the great expensive showbusiness World, something we always wanted to be distinguished from… You ask why and how it is possible??? Just because we do it for the love of the music and the people!!!! It’s a simple matter but it seems a bit too difficoult to you to be understood.

    Anyway just to let you know, I’m writing you this only now, because when you published them, I did not want to run into an argument with you, but unfortunately Bill saw this page few days ago and he did not really like to see the pictures published and since Jerome wrote me to tell me that I could not prevent myself from telling you what I’m saying.

    I think you should talk to them, tell them that you’ve been blind not thinking about the consequences of publishing them. Do you really think you’re the only one who has pictures of that night???? There were more than 5.000 people that night!!! Did you ever asked yourself why there are no other on the web??? To your information there are private movies and other materials that have been filmed, but during those years we kept on asking to the people not to use them, in respect of the will of Bill and Dana, thing that probably you didn’t even think about or if you did, you deliberately decided to overcome it, in both of the cases your behavior, I think, cannot be described as Noble or sensible, Right????

    We are proud of being what we are a small group of people sharing interests, fun, love for the music, the people and the world around us.
    Of the choices we took in 21 years of festival organizing now I can defenetly tell that the best one was the one we made eleven years ago:
    taking as much pain we could out of Billy and Dana hearts, and put it on our shoulders, refusing to use what it happened to increase our popularity, building up legends and consequecials advertising and marketing campaigns.

    On the contrary I found your deprecable.

  17. Dear Flavio,

    I find hilarious that you have decided to reply one of my many e-mails 15 months after I wrote to you, but thanks for your time and thanks for doing this in public so I can reply.

    Let’s go in order.
    You, not me, asked to see my pictures of Morphine latest gig. You told me they were great and asked to use them for an exhibition and for a big poster to hang on the backstage for the duration of 2009 tribute festival. I agreed promptly to give it to the festival. For free, because I never wanted and never made a single cent out of those shots and I always wanted the best for Mark Sandman. I only asked to have credits on that. You were pleased.

    You then came back to me saying you wanted to print T-Shirts to sell at the event with my picture. I agreed as well, but told you that, in the moment you were using my picture to sell merchandise, it would have been fair to discuss that with me about money. You replied sending me the T-shirt sample saying it was a modification of my picture so it wasn’t my picture anymore.
    Want to read your e-mails? I can post all of them here.
    The picture is above, anyone can judge, I know very well how copyright law works.
    I asked, you disappeared never answering to several messages until this comment. 15 months later. Typical Italian.

    In the meanwhile I arrived at Palestrina. The exhibition obvioulsy did not happen (I would have provided prints and frames, asked you for an answer, never replied). When I arrived at the festival, I was disappointed to see that there was not even the big poster, I did work on the photo and sent the high res file for that.
    It was not there not where you are saying. So true that when I asked, you told me you didn’t made the poster. If it existed, wherever hanged, when asked you should have told me but you didn’t. I spent time in the park, in the backstage with the band, filming with the crew everywhere and there was no poster. period.
    If you printed it this year, I am happy, and you had my picture for free to use, as I promised. I would love to see a photograph of it, my curiosity.

    There were no t-shirts either, but your quick explanation at the festival before walking off me quickly was that you had not enough time. Fair enough.Nevermind.
    You didn’t tell me it was a band decision. Never the band which I have always been in touch nicely have said something. Why did you tell me it was a matter of time and only over a year later you tell me it was a band decision? You only know.
    You should have told, I would have understood. Simple.

    About the band, no one of the band ever came to me to complain about my article. They only came to me to thank me for what I did, for the touching words and keeping Morphine memory alive. I have been in touch with Morphine since 1999, they have seen (and only them) the shots in 1999 few days after the drama. I printed and sent original copies to them. Got Dana reply saying “Que Belo Valerio… see you in Italy next time”. I could have exploit those shots in 1999 don’t you think? I did not.
    Lisa Dupree wrote few comments above your, Jerome is in touch through facebook, jeremy lyons has been in touch so many times he asked (and got for free) my pics of Members of Morphin to publicize the badn in the states and I also pointed him to tour managers and PR in London to deal with to bring the band over UK. Read above comments.

    This without counting Jeff and the Gatling crew that interviewed me in London and Palestrina and are using my pictures for the Cure For Pain documentary about Mark Sandman that has just been presented in LA last friday. For free, of course, with much pleasure and full credits. They are nice, clean, people.

    About the other footage of that 1999 night, I am very happy it exists. I hope it will be released at a certain point. To me and to the many Morphine fans.
    You or whoever the owner is can do that without involving money, as I always did.

    There are two movies being screened, a book being written, all by people who is not only in touch with the band but even relatives of Mark and they were eager to see any material from the Palestrina night and now, only now, you tell me, not them, it is plenty of material? Why didn’t you gave it to them? you were with the guys there.
    All that jeff had for his documentary was a single shot of Mark sound checking. I actually told him that was the soundcheck, not the gig.
    And why you offered to exhibit my photos at the festival as a tribute if there is plenty of more photos? Italian misteries.

    In the end, my truth to which I can sleep serene is that I have never thought about earning a single euro from those pictures and never will. I have always been open with anyone asking starting from the band. I have given them to anyone intending tribute Mark Sandman with a honest approach, including you and your NNDR festival.
    I don’t give the shots to people wanting to earn out of them, don’t have to explain why, do I?.
    I travelled spent time and money for Morphine since before 1999 because I love them and everything linked to them.

    I know music photography world well, I know what can I do, I have shot hundreds of bands I am in touch with hundreds of people, label, PR, tour manager. I know my rights, their rights and copyrights. I am involved full time in UK, with music. It is a serious thing here even when dealt by no profit organizations and passionate guys.
    I know Italy too, I am italian. I know its manipulative ways, it’s attitude to exploit others in a selfish way then accuse. And I keep far from it.
    I came just once down there, at my expenses, to tribute Morphine, because Jeff asked, and you agreed.


  18. Oh My God. I can’t believe what they have done: Valerio, you have the right to move legally against them, I guess you know that already.

    I read both your comments and find very pathetic Flavio’s (15 months late) response. So very Italian.

  19. Ha, ha, ha!
    You “friend”, Valerio, is a true communist, in the Italian sense of the term: what is mine, is mine. What belongs to other gets shared.
    It’s so freaking hilarious he doesn’t even deserve my anger.

  20. Can I re-edit that?

  21. Funny how everything in Italy every matter is either “communist” or “fascist”; such a dichotomic way of thinking in everything, very narrow minded (at least in this case). I am a photographer, Valerio is a collegue who I respect greatly, other than a “friend”. And I tell you in all honesty, if somebody took a photo of mine and done that sort of graphic around it and told me that is not mine anymore, I would have gone straight to the lawyer without even replying to them. They are lucky to deal with Valerio who is always a gentleman. Lucky they did not have to deal with me or with the majority of professional photographers.

  22. I guess my sarcasm got lost somewhere between my brain and my keyboard…
    Anyway, I totally agree with you, apart from one thing: anyone arrogant enough to try to steal somebody else’s work, to profit from it and then having the sheer guts to complain and insult when he is, as it should rightly be, named and shamed, just doesn’t deserve that any emotions is wasted on him.
    Hate and anger are very precious feelings, and should be reserved for people worthy of them.
    Said that, should he get his arse kicked?
    Oh yes, he does.
    But with a smile on the face.
    (ah, the “communist” bit is proverbial…)

  23. Gotcha! Personally, I hardly feel hate or anger for anybody. But some unfair things really make me mad…!

  24. Hi Chiarina, (and Luca)
    thanks… I know my rights, of course, but considering the T-shirts haven’t been printed in the end (to my knowledge) I prefer ignoring a sad story to avoid it being even more miserable.

    It is surreal to read they have loads of footage of the 1999 night but the only image they wanted to use and asked is mine, isn’t it?
    Either my shots are so outstanding or something has been lost in translation.
    Liveon35mm readers are very clever, they can draw conclusions themselves and I can concentrate on something else.

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