… who played cello on my new record ‘Everything In The World Is Fighting Everything In The Sky‘. You can hear her work all over ‘Fingernails’ (she also played on several tracks on my first EP Let’s Build An Airport) and we’ve even played live together a few times.
Here’s a short essay I wrote for my new EP (released Nov 1st 2016)
On 22 December 1808 Ludwig Van Beethoven premiered several new works at a concert in the Theater an der Wien in Vienna. It was something of a disaster, the pick-up orchestra was so chronically under-rehearsed they had to restart one piece and the whole thing ran massively over time but some pieces were hailed as classics. One, Symphony no. 6 (the ‘Pastoral’ Symphony), had a programmatic nature, the 4th and 5th movements depicting a thunderstorm followed by a “Shepherd’s song of happy and thankful feelings after the storm”.
Sometime around 1918 the young Woody Guthrie experienced the terror of being caught in the path a cyclone with his family in Oklahoma. Writing in 1943 he described the scene
Bales of hay splitting apart blew through the sky like popcorn sacks. The rain burned hot. Everything in the world was fighting against everything in the sky. This was the hard straight pushing that levels the towns before it and lays the path low for the twisting, sucking, whirling tail of the cyclone to rip to shreds
In 1951 Italian artist Leone Tommasi began a series of sculptures inspired by Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. They were shipped to Argentina but remained in storage till 1962. at some point they were badly damaged and it wasn’t until 1975 that the statue representing the 5th movement, a male and female nude in an attitude of thanksgiving to God, were placed in the Buenos Aires Botanical Garden in the Palermo neighbourhood of Buenos Aires in Argentina where they remain to this day.
In 1983 I reconciled myself to the fact that I was never going to be as good a drummer as my friend Mark Nelson so I poured all my efforts into the Tatra Classic nylon string guitar (£29:95!) my mother bought me. A year later I formed a band with Mark and began writing an ambitious 3 part rock opera about nuclear war. Appropriately, given the theme, very little survived, but we did perform the instrumental 2nd movement ‘The Storm’ a few times live.
In 1997 George Lucas reedited Star Wars IV: A New Hope to make it look like Greedo shot first. Five years later Steven Spielberg followed suit, doctoring E.T. The Extra-Terrestial by replacing the agent’s guns with walkie-talkies.
In 2011 Ariel Hache visited the Buenos Aires Botanical Garden and photographed Tommasi’s 5th Movement statue.
In 2012 I wrote Fingernails and played it at The First Tuesday Songwriter’s Group. The same year Aimee Mann released her song Little Tornado. I misheard “Oh no, no we don’t, no we don’t know” as “Oh no, Noah don’t, Noah don’t know”.
The following year the misheard line found it’s way into Everything In The World Is Fighting Everything In The Sky. I tried to build the song on a beguiling 3/4 – 3/4 – 2/4 time signature I heard in Russian Hill by Jellyfish but when I performed it at the First Tuesday group I was too ill to put the effort into making it work properly and the song drifted into whatever time signatures felt natural and stayed that way.
In Oct 2013 Mark Nelson heard my demo of Everything and offered to remix it (i.e. mix it properly). Which I wilfully misunderstood as an offer to mix an EP. And play drums.
On Dec 3rd of that year I was teaching in a primary school. I had already written a song for the First Tuesday meeting that evening, but had a line going through my head and an idea of singing it over diminished chords. I wrote Me And The Devil in the school office during my lunch break. When I took it to the group that night they were very positive but Chris Hull said I should write a bridge. Which was obviously a ridiculous idea.
In Jan 2014 I wrote a bridge.
Later that year I start recording in earnest. Rachel McClean recorded cello in my front room, Lisa de’ Ville and Simon Broomhead sang at the studio and Joe Strange brought his Chromatic Harmonica. Liz Frencham sent bass tracks from Australia then sent more bass with some vocal tracks too. Mark set up half a kit, made notes on a flip chart and trusted me to run the board. Thanks to google translate and half the Argentinian population of Facebook I contacted Ariel Hache who gave me permission to use his photo and Simon J. Curd added the graphics.
Along the way there were the usual problems – computers crashed, guitars broke, breakdancing classes interrupted. Houses were moved, babies were born, traffic collided and countries were toured.
But no storms.
I usually try to take a book with me wherever I go but one night in 2013 I went to see Mountain Schmountain at the Malt Cross I was book-less and bored waiting for the gig to start*. Being a fully hipster approved watering hole they had a few boardgames and paperbacks lying around so swerving Clancy, Grisham and Dan Brown, I picked up The Independent Book Of Medical Emergencies by Dr. Stuart Fischer. I’d been experimenting with minimalist music using ‘found’ texts (apeing Philip Glass) and on p.99-100 I ‘found’ the following ‘Advice Regarding The Treatment Of Bullet Wounds’
Don’t try to remove a bullet
A lodged bullet may be preventing blood loss
Removal could expose a severed artery or vein leading to circulatory collapse
Don’t scrub the area
Or use soaps
Of any kind
Don’t allow the patient to stand
Don’t elevate a bleeding arm or leg
Because an artery may be injured
And circulation of blood to the limb could be impaired
Don’t make any assumptions about the extent of the patients injury
Because a bullet’s path is unpredictable
Get the patient immediate treatment
Obviously the poetic stanzas were my own doing and I set it to an ever evolving melody over a three chord progression. It was terrible. Too terrible to share publicly. Oh alright then.
And that was it. Experiment over, on to the next thing. But a few weeks later I had a light bulb moment – why not fold all this real life medical info into a narrative, with the ‘reveal’ that the singer is addressing the lover who shot him. I even recycled the chords I’d used before. The bVI7 IV I (Ab7 – F – C in the key C) became Eb7 – C7 – G in the new chorus.
Because I’d already written the song once, the new blues version became Advice Regarding The Treatment Of Bullet Wounds NUMBER 2, making a wonderfully pretentious title even more pretentious.
The only subsequent change I made was originally the song in A and sung down LOW like Johnny Cash. That’s the way I did it at First Tuesday Songwriter’s Group but it sounded better up an octave in G.
As well as a solo song I’ve also done it as a duet with First Tuesday regular and my cello playing wingman Rachel McClean.
Rachel McClean, Matt Wood and Dan Wright (The Most Ugly Child) all did sets and Phil Grafton brought along fellow Sea Monster Eyes guitarist Geoff Carlin for a hilarious bout of crazy tunes and self-heckling.
We. Had. A. Blast. The event runs every week at is highly recommended.
I’m having second thoughts about the running order and as I keep switching between referring to songs by their running order and recording order why don’t I spill the beans on the track listing?
1) Everything In The World Is Fighting Everything In The Sky
3) Me And The Devil
A lot has happened since the last update. EitW has had an initial mix, M&tD is being mixed. Only Fingernails remains a working progress.
Liz Frencham sent me some wonderful bass tracks, Rachel McClean has tracked all the cello, and I’ve done all the lead vox and just need to do a few more BV’s (both mine and guides for the two singers) and maybe a few bars of lead guitar where the energy drops. I’m trying to book some studio time before christmas to track drums but it might have to wait till new year.
So the EP is moving forward, despite things like the battery slowly dying on my mac, then the power supply breaking and snapping the volume control off my guitar by dropping a mug on it.
Among my small circle of friends, recording is also being delayed by touring, moving house, having a baby and of course Christmas!
I’ve written a couple of new songs since starting the EP, one of which I shared at the monthly songwriting group I host. With the pressure of work and recording I was wondering if hosting a group is still a wise use of my time. But I realised that all three songs on the EP were premiered at the First Tuesday Songwriting Group. Two of them would never have been written if not for the pressure of having to come up with something to share and Fingernails would probably have sat in my ‘song starts’ folder for the next 20 years. So the group stays!
The First Tuesday Songwriting Group boasts 4 FAWM winners this year and 3 of them got together tonight to share a bunch of their songs. Matt Wood, Rachel McClean, Martin Quibell and I all wrote 14 or more songs in Feb.
Amazing Australian Jazz bassist/vocalist Liz Frencham was kind enough to feature me on her ‘Writers I Love’ page alongside Leo Babauta, Merlin Mann and Seth Godin – heady company! Check out Liz’s brilliant FAWM song Lazy Train – while stocks last!
Discovering k.s. Rhoads (through Noisetrade) was one of the musical highlights of 2013 for me. Such a mature and complex writer and outstanding lyricist. This track is from his debut album Dead Language.
Let’s Build An Airport was written during FAWM 2011. In keeping with the rough and ready vibe of that songwriting challenge I wrote it from scratch and demoed in a single night.
The original inspiration was simply a list of bizarre children’s books that I’d seen in a school library on a break from teaching. I had intended to do a surreal list song, but I never got beyond the first title “Let’s Build an Airport” by Kath Mellentin and Gillian Clements.
I just spilled out my frustration over a descending chromatic chord progression that has been done many times before (e.g. ‘If’ by Bread and Stairway To Heaven). But switching off my inner critic seemed to be a good thing and I’m really proud of some of the phrases and imagery – ‘As deep as the clouds’, ‘rootless and artless and freer than birds’ and catching ‘that burning ball in the fist of one hand’.
Though the song is using a commercial airport as a metaphor, in my mind’s eye I see Lancaster bombers taking off when I hear the song, so I was thrilled to get some sound library recordings of a real life WW2 bomber crew and in my mind Rachel McClean’s cello is almost the musical representation of a Lancaster bomber – heavy, yet elegant and quintessentially English.
Here’s a video of one of the first ever public performances at the London ‘FOP’ (FAWM Over Party) in 2011.
Had a great time playing as a duo with Rachel McClean and sharing the bill with Shelter Point, Daudi Matsiko and others.
I was a bit apprehensive being an ‘Electrickle’ artist but the odd keyboard and sampler appeared so I didn’t end up being the ‘pork pie at the bar mitzvah’. And I had the best banoffee pie I’ve ever tasted!
Set list was
2) [Everything Is] Broken/Brittle Bones (Frazer Lowrie cover)
3) Sweet Baby Hand Grenade
4) Count Me Out
5) Advice Regarding The Treatment Of Bullet Wounds no.2 – no demo yet but check out the video here
6) Let’s Build An Airport
The Lazy Pineapple were on hand to take some lovely photos
A cheeky warm up for my appearance at Acoustickle. First gig with Rachel McClean on cello, vocals and acoustic guitar, and world premier of Bullet no.2. Shelter Point and Josh Wheatley were also on the bill.
Photos/video by the legendary Roo Inns