Occasional Notes on a new Recording
I have decided to keep you informed as
to my progress or lack of it as we move into record
mode. I will
try to explain how decisions are made and how I
arrive at the treatment a song gets.
Thoughts on the title.
(Most recent update:
I started the new year proper yesterday by trying
to collect the various Lyrics to the songs I have been
writing over the past nine years. I am hopeless with
computers and in spite of the patience of others am
still pretty hopeless and have saved scraps of work
all over the place.
I am still in search of a few but am confident
enough that I am now ready to commence on my plans
to record this spring.
I spent most of yesterday working on two sets
of lyrics which may have begun several years ago. I
find it good
to leave work for sometime and then return to it
having lost the urge to protect the integrity of
and the gap gives me time to be critical over content
rather than just being pleased because it rhymes
in the right places.
Cannabis Creek was a nickname for
a group of hippie type individuals who built a little
on the river Fal near Golant. It was to be a simple
celebration of an enviable uncomplicated lifestyle
as they whiled away the summer months with bongo
drums and wooden flutes preparing their brown rice
old pot on a stand with an open fire some forty years
Slowly as I worked on the tune and more importantly
the guitar part, the song took a swerve into the
uneasy co existence of two cultures.
1 The Village
2 The commune.
• 5 January 2010
Yesterday I introduced a third element for interest.
An attractive hippie girl who gains the attention of
one of the boys/men in the village.
This may well have happened
but I doubt it. Several of the original Golant saw
mills chapter are known to me and are still in the
Cornish alternative music scene. The important thing
is that I have now got a real chunk of life to work
into the song and I am very pleased with the way it
is going. Musically at the moment it has a regular
verse format with an eastern European instrumental
chord bridge in a minor key. I am thinking of writing
a sung chorus for this part but will see how the writing
progresses. I am also fond of the guitar part but would
want to add some other instruments to it.
• 6 January 2010
Today I went for a four mile walk in the melting snow
and pondered on what I wrote yesterday. The other song
I worked on was inspired by my encounter with a real
Cajun band when I was in Louisiana a few years ago.
An elderly lady addressed me in French and asked if
I would like her to teach me to dance the waltz. I
felt I could dance the waltz already but so as not
to seem ungracious I agreed. She actually asked my
wife Nanna if it was OK to dance with me and when reassured
that it was ,proceeded too take me round the dance
floor. She seemed pleased with the resulting clear
round and I thanked her for her kind instruction.
In the song we meet a guy who did not want to go to
the dance but he agrees only to have the “ghosts
of an old flame appear during the Doh see doh of the
infectious Cajun music.
I have often found that
by picking up a completely alien instrument you can
come up with a tune that would not have emerged on
the guitar. So it was with this tune. I bought an “Irish” bazouki
(from Romania) off the internet and with my few mandolin
chord came up with this tune almost at once. Not knowing
the “voicings” or chord positions I stumbled
onto a shape that took the tune into a reflective mode
as opposed to the swinging verse part and the whole
idea came quickly after that. I think the lyric is
all but finished now on that one. I hope for a good
band feel on this tune and will be getting some of
the usual suspects together to make this one danceable.
I still have to work on the scansion on the chorus
We are not quite snow bound as the postman managed
to get up to our place today. However we are the
last house on the hill that he is prepared to try
to deliver mail to.
I spent 2 hours this morning and 2 hours this evening
on verse 3 and 4 of “Cannabis Creek”. I
have ended up with two extra verses and deeper complications
in mood from the original idea!
This is a frequent problem for me. A basic idea slowly
becomes an epic and impossible
to keep short.
Musically this piece rips along at a pace so I guess it will seem short although
I haven't timed it yet, anything under four minutes for me is a short song.
I am playing a cheap nylon strung guitar as I check
my scanning but I think I will revert to steel string
for the recording. I am still considering a flute
ensemble for the backing for this. Perhaps with a recorder quartet. I am
also beginning to see the possibilities of voices singing
selected lines from the
verses in the bridges a la Gilbert and Sullivan/Incredible String Band (that
would be appropriate)
I have to get up and move about the house every half
hour after staring at the lines on the screen.
Often a particularly convoluted couplet will straighten
out when I go for my 2mile jog which I have been unable to do for the last
days because of the ice and snow and my senior years. Perhaps tomorrow
will nail these thoughts and knock out at least one verse from the total.
I heard about a local studio from Steve Turner today
so will check that out next week.
• 14 January 2010
I was talking to my friend and luthier Tom Mates the
other day. Tom and I are huge fans of the guitar playing
of the Rev Gary Davis.
Tom came to my Cadogan Hall show in December where
I played my tribute song “Reverend
Thunder”about our shared hero. Tom suggested that I should try it on the
twelve string guitar. Rev Davis played a lot of his music on a Gibson B45, and
it just so happens that I have one of these instruments, so I hope Tom will set
it up for me to try and see whether or not to use it on the actual recording.
I am so glad that I performed this song a lot over
the last year because it is a bit of a fist-full as
far as chords and picking go. Now I am much more confident
with it I hope to be able to get a studio recording of it which will truly
the great man.
• 16 January 2010
Spent an hour at the piano this morning. I am trying
to reach competence at playing “Daddy’s
Whistling Home” I have always loved thirties
and forties melody writing and I regard this song as
a success in that department. I wasn’t good enough
to play the piano on the recording hence my determination
to get it together. It has little to do with my current
project but I lose myself in the piano as much as the
guitar and all I wish is to be able to play competent
song accompaniment. I feel as my guitar playing has
improved it has dragged my piano playing with it and
my sense of harmony and chord voicing has matured.
The song I am writing has the working title”The
Break In the Union”
On one level it is about a couple parting but I would
love it to be perceived as a metaphor for my fear
that Scotland and England may separate. It is a real
to me and whilst accepting that a nation should have
the right to self determination, it saddens me to
think we may break our union.
My problem (just like in a real one to one relationship)
is apportioning blame or accepting that a course
has been run and for both sides the party is over
The melody I am working on is, I hope, one that
will sound like an old Scotish romantic ballad
would lend itself to some strings and an orchestral
backing. (it has the word adieu in it) It will
also need a reed or possibly traditional pipes.
Spent another hour on the tune tonight trying
to get the left hand chords to underpin the
seem to have lost the lyric to this one but
I remember enough of it to re work it if I have
• 21 January 2010
Yesterday I found the lyric to the Break in the Union
and have placed it on the computer in a place I know
I will find it more easily.
The whole creative process has somewhat ground to
a halt this week although I have been playing everyday
and losing myself somewhat in piano playing.
The shock of hearing of the death of Kate McGarrigle
has made me think even more about what I am doing.
Kate and her sister Anna have written and performed
some of the most beautiful songs of my generation.
Their first album had the biggest emotional impact
on me than anything I had heard up until that time.
Their fantastic harmony singing which can possibly
only come from sisters and their unguarded honesty
in writing about their loves and losses was and is
I saw them perform on a number of occasions and we
met several times. For me the most memorable was when
I was at the Edmonton festival in Canada. I was singing
on stage as part of a “sing around” with
Nanci Griffith and Archie Fisher.
Kate and Anna had already sung and I was splaying
'The Hands Of Joseph” By the time I got to the
end of the song the girls had learned the tune and
these angelic harmonies drifted out on to the summer
air. It was magical for me and later we all posed for
a photo which I treasure.
I just got back to Cornwall after a brief London
stop and Tom Mates (my luthier) has taken the twelve
Gibson to do some work on it in readiness for the recording
of Reverend Thunder.
I have also found two versions of a song entitled “Lantern” which
is about my mother visiting her “Grampy” in
a village in Oxfordshire. She told me the story several
times of how she use to brush his hair and him falling
asleep before they trudged over the fields back to
Brackley. In many ways it sounded an idyl but all three
children had left home before they were sixteen years
old. Her little brother Ray joined the navy at 11 years
I began to think of the contrast between these facts
and believe I have worked up an interesting scenario.
The trouble is the lyric no longer fits the tune and
the tune was to be part of the hypnotic state of unknown
memory, or memory one step removed.
I will try to get studio enquiries together this week.
to February •