A track-by-track exposé of our naughtinesses and cheatings
Fanfare to the Uncommon Worm. (Dowdeswell-Allaway, Bedini)
In the days when the three members of the band lived in the same county, and could actually gig, Dave had a Roland electronic drum kit. One evening, winding down from a rehearsal, he switched it to a setting that was somewhere between the late 70s Syndrum and a Caribbean steel drum. He then produced a mellifluous rolling rhythm which, though atonal, somehow best suited the key of A major. I joined in on the Korg 01, weaving a riff into the pattern, and this short instrumental was born. Moreover, I was able to work the opening riff of ‘What Was (And What Will Come)’ into it, so that it could neatly segue into that song. Sadly, the Roland kit has moved on: great for gigging (you can turn it up) and for rehearsing (you can turn it down), but lousy for recording, unless your happy with the dictates of the engineers who made it. In this version, Dave used his acoustic drums, which, combined with Maddalena’s flute and Jason’s trumpet, give a more genuine fanfare-ish sound.
What Was (and What Will Come) (Bedini)
I was going through a bad patch (between wives) and decided I’d cheer myself up, instead of churning out yet another self-pitying dirge. To this end, I wrote about a dirty old man (me) trying to pick up a nice young girl (figment of my fevered imagination), and using the fact that it was New Year’s Eve as an excuse. But there’s more to this song than just that. The guitar motif I wrote it round suggested the kind of thing George Harrison was doing back in 1966. That semitonal shift in the vocal line at the end of each verse is my little tribute to the great man. Then again, the concept of a time of year when we traditionally look back at the past while trying to assess the future had a marked effect on the arrangement. The backing is a deliberate melange of old-fashioned sounds (slightly twangy Fender Jaguar guitar, synthetic – I’m afraid – ‘Hammond’ and ‘Mellotron’) juxtaposed to more modern sounds from the Micro-Korg, Roland BK, and Korg 01. The idea was to create the impression of past and future mixing and colliding. Probably didn’t work…. You decide.
Canterbury Kate (Dowdeswell-Allaway)
(Dave, I’ll let you write about this one.)
New England (Bedini)
The only song on the album to have been cherry-picked from the distant past, ‘New England’ was written in 1982, during my one-and-only trip the US of A. My grandmother, herself a New Englander, wanted to visit the house where she was born, one last time. I was fortunate indeed to go along to help carry the luggage. In those days, most of what we in Europe saw and heard of America were films and TV programmes set in coastal California and New York City. Dalton, Mass., was a far cry from either of these. There’s that brilliant line in the Eagles’ song, ‘The Last Resort’ about ‘Where the old-world shadows hang / Heavy in the air….’ That would exactly describe Model Farm, just outside the town of Dalton. It was built at the end of the 19th century, on what architects at the time called ‘the English country cottage design’. Hmmmm… More like the House of Usher, but in a lovely way. This huge, rambling pile, with its butternut panelled walls, its wooden staircase, complete with stained-glass window and a newel post carved into the effigy of a hooded girl, had an atmosphere you could cut with a knife. To add to this, its current inhabitant was my great-aunt Teck. As her grandson, a local lumberjack, said to me, ‘When Granma starts to talk…. I used to read a magazine, but now I listen. It kind of blows your mind.’ He was right. The dear old thing was incapable of giving a straight answer to a straight question (like ‘How do I find my cousin’s apartment once I get to New York?’), but in going off at incredible tangents, she’d give a wonderful, vivid description of vanished ages and ways of life.
Up ‘til then, I’d never been anywhere where it was possible to be so completely alone. The woods behind the house were those that stretch from north of New York all the way to the Canadian tundra, and from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific. On a couple of occasions, I came nose-to-nose with wildlife that had yet to learn the fear of Man.
A lot to get into just one song. Although there’s plenty of lead guitar on this album, it’s somehow appropriate that this is one of only two songs with actual guitar solos (the other being Piggy With a Pen.) The long melodic lines were inspired by the sense of the sheer space that surrounded me there. Also, the panoramic intro, with Maddalena’s flying flute, followed by my variation on Moog, I hope, gives the same feeling. To get the ‘clock chimes’, I used my fire irons, and pitch-shifted them a couple of octaves, and by almost drowning my Moog motif in the verses with reverb, against Jason’s dryer piano part, I tried to give the stereo picture a depth of field beyond the usual left, right and centre. Maddalena’s impromptu flute lick just before the third verse lifts the whole song to another level – it just does – while Dave’s wonderfully sensitive drumming, to me at least, adds a sense of the Berkshire Hills and Catskill Mountains that were the discreetly dramatic backdrop to the whole place, emphasising the sense of space, rather than enclosing it.
Credit must also go to my sister, Arabella Rodriguez, who let me record the vocal from the middle-eight onwards at her studio in her secluded farm cottage. My flat, being in the town, isn’t great for recording full-throttle vocals. Since I can hear people chatting in the street five stories below me, the whole town’s going to hear me – and my mistakes – if I really let rip. At Arabella’s, there were only a few sheep to criticise my efforts, so these and the lead vocal on the first two verses of ‘Utter Nonsense’ were recorded there.
So, it’s only taken me thirty-eight years to get a version of ‘New England’ that I actually like.
Where Shadows (Bedini)
There are cultures all over the world that take ghosts for granted; people who think there’s nothing more natural or less frightening than communing with Great-great- great grannie Beth for a word of advice about the kids or the weather. I find it interesting that in the sceptical West ghosts are used by writers and film makers to frighten us.
My personal theories are a little too complex to be gone into here, but for the purposes of this song I presuppose they are real, and that they are the continued existence of consciousness and personality after physical death. It therefor begs the gloomy question: if, after I die, I want to pop back as a loving father and see how my children are doing, will I just be scaring them out of their shoes?
It was during the recording of this song that I reappraised my guitar playing. I’m afraid I decided to take out all the sweep-picking, ‘skipping’ (see ‘Utter Nonsense’) and tapping, etc., deciding instead to aim for tone, melody and feeling. In other words, I finally stopped thinking about myself as the performer, and more about the music.
Utter Nonsense (Bedini)
For some reason, the guitar riff that forms the core of this song came into my head while Jason, Maddalena, their two children and I were looking round a castle just up the road in Triana. It stayed with me until I got home, where I recorded a few bars of it, so the computer would remember it if I didn’t. The technique I used is something that’s been around a lot longer than I have, but I think of it as ‘skipping’, plucking an open string repeatedly with up and down strokes of the plectrum, while hammering on and off with the other hand, up and down the same string, producing a top line against a staccato drone. I built the rest of the music round this riff, but I just couldn’t think of a suitable lyric. For months. It really frustrated me: what was I going to do with this backing-track? Usually, an idea of what a song is going to be about comes to me during the recording process; something in the atmosphere being created points me in a certain direction. Occasionally, when I feel that something I’m working on expresses the inexpressible, it becomes an instrumental. This, however, was definitely a song. There was no escaping it. In the end, I copped out, or thought I had, by writing a nonsense lyric. Yet it’s surprisingly difficult to do this convincingly, without just sounding silly. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded or not; that’s for you to decide, but listen to ‘I Am the Walrus’ or ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and neither of them makes literal sense, but each beautifully conveys moods and images, if not definite meaning.
The Buddha Song (Dowdeswell-Allaway)
(Over to you, Dave, although this time round I shall offer a little something for you to use or delete as you see fit.)
When Dave first played it to me, I was struck by the strength of its delicacy, and my immediate reaction was to play nothing at all on it. There are times when that can be a musician’s greatest contribution. Coaxed into making some sort of contribution, I tried really hard to keep things to a minimum, and let the heart of the song shine through.
Piggy With a Pen (Bedini)
This song is unusual in that I wrote it on a fretless bass, using two-note bass chords as the foundation. Building it up from there, the sound retained its brash arrogance and… well, its sense of annoyance, anyway.
And if there’s one thing that continues to annoy me, it’s the irresponsibility of a small but damaging number of sensationalist journalists. The really clever part of their technique is to never actually tell a lie. They just leave out certain truths, thereby creating the lie in the readers’/listeners’ minds. There was a time when I began to suspect that the only paper with any real integrity was The Sunday Sport. At least it didn’t try to pretend.
Under the Same Moon (Bedini)
I’ve never been one for dogma (although that might be a dogmatic thing to say. Ummm….) To me, dogma produces the lowest form of reasoning, the blinkered view, the closed mind. It affects religion, politics and even the sciences, because all these things are created and sustained by the individuals who are active within them, and some of those people – by no means all – refuse to listen to any point of view other than their own.
But different doesn’t necessarily mean better or worse.
This song is about accepting and even celebrating the differences between people, cultures and countries. Do we really want to live in a homogenised world? Not that I approve of the social injustices that persist in many cultures, but then that’s my point. Many, perhaps even all, social injustices are created by bigotry which is… well, dogma. Take away dogma, and you take away discrimination in its uglier forms – sexism, racism, sectarianism….
That’s my view, anyway, but perhaps I’m being a little dogmatic myself. (Except, of course, I invite you to disagree if you see fit. Who was it who said that the definition of a liberal is someone who sees everyone’s point of view except their own?)
The song itself is the one I’d have taken out if the album had become too long. Why? Because buried within the lyric is a forced rhyme of which I’m deeply ashamed, but I just couldn’t find any way out. If you spot it, you’ll see what I mean, but if you don’t, I won’t spoil your listening pleasure.
Black Skies (Bedini)
Because I’m a bit of a fan, and also because I felt the album needed a piece with that kind of energy, I decided to have a poke at something along the lines of the Doobie Brothers. Two ampy guitars panned left and right bouncing off each other, while the vocals do something similar in up-tempo question-and-answer. As you’ve probably guessed by now, for me, these days, recording and writing are the same process. Gone is the bedsit with the acoustic guitar. I get an idea which might be a riff, or even just an atmosphere I want to create, and start recording, letting one idea build from another. Mind you, it can make finding the multitrack files a little awkward, since I’ve started recording before even thinking of a proper title.
In this case, Nature came to the rescue. At a certain point I went to get another guitar from my bedroom (hypocrite!) and when I came back, I looked out of my windows to see the most dramatic sky I think I’ve ever seen. Great black clouds, etched in orange gold, were lowering over the surrounding mountains, so I thought, ‘Great. There’s my title. Now I’ve just got to flog my brain for a lyric.’ I did, and d’you know what? The rest of the words have nothing whatsoever to do with the sky being black.
In Memory of Three (Dowdeswell-Allaway)
(Over to you again, Dave!)
Middle East (Bedini)
Another song in which the guitar riff came unexpectedly into my head. I was also anticipating my first trip to Morocco, which might have had something to do with why the piece has the atmosphere of, shall we say, the Hollywood view of North Africa. To get my experiences and impressions of the real thing into a piece of music would require a concept album. At one point I considered calling it ‘Muddle East’ in deference to my clichéd view and general ignorance of the place, but quickly decided that this might appear to be some sort of racist joke.
So, in a sense, it’s a fantasy about a place I had yet to actually visit, an atmosphere piece once again, a dreamscape, though not quite a nonsense song like ‘Utter Nonsense’. Dave, as Dave does, ably picked up the general feeling with his North African hand drums, interspersed with his kit, and brought a stronger flavour to the song. (He had already been to Marrakech, so he knew what he was playing about.)
This is the only track on the album where my use of ‘tapping’ remains in the final version, but I was using a setting on the guitar synth called ‘strange whistle’, which doesn’t always trigger as fast as one might like. Nevertheless, it provided (I think, anyway) an interesting texture in the back ground during the final section.