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Errol Tout

Errol-Tout

Errol Tout launches his new release, The Post Tumour Humour Album, this Saturday, December 14, at the Astor Lounge with support from Cowboy X. Proceeds from both albums sales and the launch go to West Australian Urologic Research Organisation (WAURO) and the Pancreatic, Liver, Biliary and Foregut Cancer Awareness Research and Education (PANCARE) Foundation.  

‘Get busy living or get busy dying’. 

So said Tim Robbins, as Andy Dufresne, the innocent prisoner existing through a life sentence in the 1994 film, The Shawshank Redemption. For acclaimed Perth musician, Dr Errol Tout, these words became something of a template to live by upon being diagnosed with cancer in July, 2012. The following 12 months brought with it a lot of hope, pain, disappointment and more hope as he battled through his illness with the help of medical staff at St John Of God Hospital Murdoch.

The ongoing struggle and the doctors and nurses who inspired Tout along the way led him to writing and recording The Post Tumour Humour Album.

Dr Errol H. Tout was Head of the Department of Architecture & Interior Architecture at Curtin University of Technology until 2008. He is these days a Senior Lecturer and is the 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.

It’s beyond wonderful to see him getting back to the stage and releasing new music.

By BOB GORDON

 

2013 has been an extremely challenging year for you. How does it feel to end it with the release of Post Tumour Humour?

Actually it’s totally fabulous because I’m alive. The cancer has been removed and it’s Gone Daddy Gone! There was short period where I was not sure that would be the case.

It actually started in 2012 when I was informed, the week after our mum died, that I had blood clots in my lungs at the same time as a whopping two-kilogram tumour on my kidney. I got rid of that – well, I didn’t, a fabbo surgeon and his team did – and then later found more cancer in my liver. After a period of no alcohol and then chemotherapy for three months, I was informed that there was nothing that could be done. I said ‘bugger that’ and got a second opinion, which took us to Melbourne to a surgeon that said he might be able to help.

He did – in a fairly spectacular manner! He had me on the surgery table for 10-and-a-half hours. He said there was a pretty good chance I wouldn’t get off the table. I didn’t like the other option much, so it was a no brainer, really.

I have to have check-ups every three months but I am a cancer survivor now! I have been through a period that was full of fear, discomfort and more MRIs that any person should have to endure. To see an end to that… is brilliant.

 

Given the album was written/recorded through various stages in your illness and recovery, does it feel surreal hearing it now?

It has been interesting getting the pieces to performance standard and trying to remember where my head was and what the hell I actually played. To be honest – and this is embarrassing – I don’t remember recording some of the pieces. Anaesthetic takes a long time to recover from, and it is common to feel really fatigued. The best I could do was to work for an hour and then stop to rest. The work did not have the continuity that you might expect from making an album. The process was quite fractured. So now I am asking myself – ‘how the hell did I do that?’

Is it strange or unusual to listen to it? Well my whole world had been pretty weird for the last two years, so I guess listening to it is no weirder than making it was. I do feel that making the music has placed the experiences into a position where I can now view them from a wider perspective of time. That, in and of itself, is part of a healing process.

 

That said, what’s it like performing it?

Well I haven’t yet, but so far it has been quite challenging. I have pieces on the album where I play up to eight parts simultaneously. To perform it, I have remixed the album taking some parts off to leave me space to play the other parts live, with the recorded material as back up. In some instances I will play an interweaving part to work with what was recorded. I am concerned that this may look pretty boring, a performer playing along with back-ups, so I’ve made a slide show that will play while I am performing it. It’s a multi-media performance. Gee – I am doing a ‘happening’ of a ‘concept’ album. That’s a bit of a worry in the 21st century isn’t it?

I have a number of the people that played on the album performing live with me. I feel every honoured that Graham Greene will be playing his killer guitar, Cowboy X will be playing harp and the ever smooth John Bannister will be playing some very cool trumpet. How good is that?

We will be performing a lot of the music live at the Astor Lounge. Ask me again after we have done the launch.

 

When did the idea for the album start to take shape? 

One of the challenges in life is to turn a seeming disadvantage into an advantage.

Well the first thing I said when I went into the operating theatre was, ‘slice me up baby – let’s get this bastard out!’. The surgeon later told me that he went to a lot of trouble to make a special thing called a ‘rooftop cut’, so that he didn’t have to take any of my ribs off and so I could still play a guitar. I had a guitar back on within a fortnight. I thought, ‘well, he’s gone to all this trouble, let’s make it worthwhile. Let’s look at a piece of music that might capture the feeling of clever people doing something really useful’. The riff appeared almost immediately and then I let the piece of music take me where it felt like taking me. If you let it, music can gently take your hand to very interesting places. From there an idea begins to present itself, which you can ignore or do what it suggests.

Then I thought why not make a ‘concept album’ of the adventures? Maybe others that have been there may feel a bit better about their adventures. Why not make the proceeds go to cancer research? The West Australian Urological Research Organization (WAURO) and PANCARE Foundation had been good to a lot of people in lots of ways. Let’s do something for them.

 

How important has humour been in overcoming all of this?

It is incredibly powerful, as is the healing power of music. It helps you put things into perspective and this lightens a load. How humour and music actually work to make you feel better remains a mystery to me. While I was having chemotherapy, and not able to go to work, I enrolled and completed an online Guitar Craft course. This is part of the organisation that ran the courses I once attended run by Robert Fripp. They were all behind me as well, and were part of my healing. The music helped me keep energised, as much as it could. If you can keep energised you can keep positive.

 

With the illness as a backdrop, in what ways was this different to writing for previous albums?

Some people call this ‘programme music’ in that each piece of music tells a story, or describes a scene or a moment. I have been doing that for ages. When you have something you really want to say with a piece of music, you end up with some pretty powerful ideas, which go on to generate some pretty powerful music. I don’t think the music would be at all like this if it was just another guitar album. I sent a copy of the album to a Professor of Philosophy and he described the material as being a bit ‘pointy’. I was kind of over making more guitar albums and was keen to do something different, with some more content. This album had a specific set of experiences to convey, which I wanted to do in a positive manner.

 

The different collaborators on the album really add to the emotional depths and heights – what were your directions to them?

The contributions from the other musicians are wonderful. Their ‘instructions’ varied depending on the pieces. A lot of the musical parts represent characters in a little scene.

In a piece called ICU Nurses Are Lovely. ICU Isn’t I was trying to describe being in the Intensive Care Unit at St John Of God in Murdoch. It starts with trolleys going past and machines going ‘boing’. Graham Greene (Ice Tiger, Resonance Project) brought two of Perry Ormsby’s killer guitars to my studio where I asked him to be the voice of a tough old nurse saying, ‘there, there, there – it’s all okay, I’m here to look after you’. Graham didn’t even need to hear the backing, just read the chord chart but just recorded it once and it was… perfect.

Jamie Oehlers and his saxophone were asked to be cancer growing in your body. Being slow dark and evil. He did it so well it was scary. On one section he didn’t even want to hear what was already recorded. ‘I’ll just be sick and nasty shall I?’ He then did the best John Coltrane stuff you’ll ever hear… which JC would have totally dug.

Fiona McAndrew blessed us with her amazing voice. After Jamie played cancer growing in your body, Fiona had to be the voice of the body healing itself. I had heard her singing at a recital where she sang in French and Italian, which I found totally amazing. So I found some Victor Hugo French love poems. She then sang some of them over the music. She is basically singing, ‘where there is love there is hope’. She would have preferred it if I had given her a score with lyrics and tune, but she came through like a legend! We last worked together 25 years ago. Maybe we won’t leave it so long between drinks in future. At her suggestion, we were going to be performing Song To The Siren at the Red Parrot Reunion but she got called away to do some work for opera Australia. Bugger!

George Kailis (Cinema Prague) on guitar, John Bannister (Charisma Brothers) on trumpet, and Cowboy X on harp, played all the way through over what had already been recorded. I then edited the bits out that didn’t work so well, and kept the bits that did work really well. This is a pretty common technique in electronic music, but you’ve gotta have the right people.

Mark McAndrew listened to stuff I had done and said, ‘no that’s wrong. It should be like this’. With guys like Mark it’s best to let them loose and keep out of their way.

How lucky am I to be able to work with such wonderful people?

 

How has what you’ve been through changed your feelings towards creativity… and life?

Let’s deal with them one at a time. In terms of creativity, this has been a great project because the subject matter, dealing with cancer, is a ‘plateful’. The project has strengthened my feeling towards creativity in that being creative with music, for me, has great powers of healing and keeping me going, energised, focussed and interested in being alive. After major surgery like I had, you are so tired and sore and bored I can see how it could easily get you down. Being creative never gave me time to be long in the face.

My feelings toward life have not drastically changed. This cancer is not the first life threatening illness I have had to deal with. In my younger years I was a nursing assistant with disabled children. You learn a lot about life in a gig like that.

I have had amazing support from my partner and my family and employer. I reckon it’s harder for them than it is for me because they care but feel helpless. I have always been pretty efficient in doing things with my life, but I’d like not to waste a second of what I have left.

 

So, 2014. How’s it look and are you looking forward to it?

I’m alive, thanks to a whole lot of brilliant people. Am I looking forward to what they have given me? Yeah baby!

That’s kinda the idea of the album. I am trying to say thank you to everyone. I’d really love it if it made someone that is sick feel a bit better.

Errol Tout plays the Astor Lounge this Saturday, December 14, with support from Cowboy X.

Get your tickets here.

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