Home » Journal of a CD

::: N E W S :::

Gates of Eden
Retrospective Box Set
A four CD retrospective of Ralph's musical career

::: F E A T U R E S :::

Studio Journal
You Well Meaning Brought Me Here: Ralph's memories on the recording of the album: 'You Well Meaning'


::: M U S I C : C L I P S :::

First Song: From the Album:Not Till Tomorrow
Let Me Down Easy: From the Album:Easy











Diary of a CD

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.

>> January

>> February

>> March

>> April

>> May

>> June

>> July


>>Coda: Thoughts on the title.

(Most recent update: 16 September)

• 3 January 2010
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.

• 4 January 2010
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 its newness 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 encampment down 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 in an old pot on a stand with an open fire some forty years ago.

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 and
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 yet.

• 8 January 2010
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 few days because of the ice and snow and my senior years. Perhaps tomorrow I 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 salute 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 concern 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 tune that 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 tune better. I seem to have lost the lyric to this one but I remember enough of it to re work it if I have to.

• 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 intensely moving.

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 suddenly 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 string 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 old.
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.

continue to February •