Red Sky

Red Sky

Ronnie Scott who ran the famous modern jazz club of the same name in Frith Street, Soho was famous for his corny jokes that he recited on a nightly basis to the groaning patrons of his famous establishment.
One of them a parody on the old weather forecasting proverb went along the lines of

“Red sky in the morning
Shepherds warning
Red sky at night
Shepherds house on fire’

It made me laugh the first few times I heard it and I often quoted it.
Around this time there was a news item on the poor hill farmers of Wales who were forced to sell the flocks for slaughter because of their meager income failed to produce enough finance to meet their commitments. The sight of these hard men so broken by their tragedy was hard to bear. Farms were being closed and mortgages were being called in.
Times were desperate.
For years I owned cross collie dog and there is nothing more pathetic than a sodden collie. The image of the dew dropped, droop tailed drizzled dog padding along behind his master with the field hedges snagging at his jacket seemed to sum up the situation and the echo of Ronnie Scott’s joke provided the punch line to the song and the title for this album.

As a result of the Billy Connolly World Tour of Scotland series (for which I provided some of the music) I had become involved with Steve Brown (Billy’s manager.) We hit it off very well and Steve offered to manage my career. I was very positive about this move and it gave me a degree of security that was re assuring and stimulating. By the time work began on this c.d. I had done the music for Billy’s World Tour of Australia and written the theme song which Billy sang.
I had written it in the key of C which was a little low in pitch for Billy and Graham Preskett had done the arrangement so it was not possible to change to a higher key when Billy went to record it. Steve suggested I record it for this album and it was the first track we put down at Dave Pegg’s Woodworm Studio in Oxfordshire. I was a bit nervous but at least the song was not brand new. I played it solo with Steve and a few others in the control room and after a couple of goes I could feel it slipping away from me. I am no good in repetition, two takes is about my lot, then I have to leave it for another day. Steve had been involved in a lot of record production but after a while he left it to me and Maart Alcock to see the album through.

No need to explain this really but I guess we have all known people who seem to know no fear. This is for those who are not fearless but take courage. This is what bravery is about.

This moment really did occur and all the words are true or at least how I have chosen to remember the moment. In those few passing seconds I glimpsed a sense of the little trio’s freedom and it gave me a deep pleasurable nostalgia for my own early sense of the unfolding adventure.

The thoughts in this song were mine before the Billy Connolly series. Billy and I had often talked about the paradox of Australia’s timeless culture before settlers arrived and the no nonsense practicality of the Ozzies. Our feelings of close kinship with Australians is also paradoxical in so much as it is almost impossible to be further away from home with out moving into outer space yet still feeling closely related. Sometimes you need to stand a long way off to see the whole picture.
As I write this Australia is on fire again.
Seeds will germinate from the heat. People will move or rebuild their homes and forget that the continent will burn again. Lakes will appear and disappear and for a while longer the fragile and threatened aboriginal culture will be told through the encyclical breathing and mournful continuum of the single notes of didgeridoo and the throb of drums that are the true musical accompaniment to the mystery of the “dreamtime”.

The difficult rhyme scheme of this heartfelt song of guilt meant that some of the sentences became a bit convoluted. However my good friend Steve Turner plays beautifully on this and so fluently that perhaps you haven’t noticed. I just played a basic electric guitar so that I could replace the sound without any leaking on to the vocal mic on this track. However Mark Tucker (engineer extraordinaire) said he really liked the sound of it so here it is in one take.

My brief undistinguished military career started and ended whilst I was still fifteen. However what I learned in those six months has stayed with me forever. I know where soldiers come from and why they volunteer I know that bravado and feelings of invincibility held in young mens’ consciousness are often viewed as a nuisance in civilian life but once in a uniform those same words take on a different meaning, bravado becomes courage and feelings of invincibility become bravery.
Lost boys refers to “lost generations’ of disaffected and rebellious young men. J.M. Barrie’s lost boys are those who never grow up. The lost boys in this song are those who never got the chance.

I just loved the sound of these two words together and was reminded of an instance when I arrived un noticed to meet a couple of married friends who were bickering quietly in a pub.
As soon as they became aware that the were being observed smiles emerged and the bickering and ruing were shelved for later.
I guess old lovers can use their resentment for failing to achieve what they had hoped to by bickering and ruing as a substitute for bonding. The implication in this song is that whatever transpires they are mutually dependent on each other and kind of “in love’

The thunderbolt is what Michael Corleone experienced when he first saw…(Girls name needed here). in “The Godfather”
I think this tune owes something to a hymn called
“He who would true valour seek…
It certainly has a hymnal feel. It is one of those tunes that fall under the fingers in D shapes. I think this was first take. I love playing this in concert.

Easter lilies is the direct translation from the Norwegian Pasque Lilles and what we call daffodils. This story was told to me by a Norwegian woman. Easter, traditionally a time for new beginnings and the daffodil one of the first flowers to push its way through the snow, trumpets the arrival of spring.
This song is about survival.

I always liked this Buddy Holly song and I was noodling away with t one day when I came across a new way of phrasing it. During a break n recording I played it to Dave Pegg who instantly suggested we record it. So we did and I love it.

Years ago I read an account of a man falling from a ski cart. It was reported that he took this opportunity to perform swallow dives and spins as he sped to his death. A remarkable act of bravado in the face of the inevitable.
Julie and Chris enhanced this song with their terrific B.V. Arrangement.

Saucers was my father’s nick name for my mother on account of her large pale blue eyes.
An Irish friend had asked me why I had never written a song about my mother. The quick answer is that she would not have approved and the overtly sentimental songs written about mothers are too much for me.
I had written a book about growing up and I hoped it would exist as a tribute to her. Nevertheless there was perhaps a way in to say more or something different about her. My friend the painter Moreen Moss when asked to explain why she put certain objects or colour’s in her paintings explained that they fitted the composition as far as her eye was concerned. I took the same tack as far as my ear told me what combination of words “fitted”.
This song is a sort of word and music collage.

There are times when this would seem to be the case.
I have experienced this feeling and hope I am mistaken.
Maart plays the plaintive lead guitar line but still cannot alleviate the intended desolation of the subject matter
I have never played this song in public. This is its only performance so far.

This idea was prompted by an item I read which may have been apocryphal about a jet liner whose engines stalled. The captain forced the plane into a dive and sort of ‘bump started” the engines and saved the aircraft from disaster.
I used this as a metaphor for relationships that may have lost their spark. Alan Thompson was at the end of his session with us and his car was waiting to take him to the Airport for a tour of Finland. I persuaded him to stay for enough time to make one pass at this song with Chris Parkinson on Hammond organ. This was the first and only take

Anther piece of spontaneous studio magic. I had written this lyric some time before but had faltered over the tune. Whilst goofing around on the electric guitar I found a strange ambiguous opening chord which led to a sort of blues sequence.
I tried it against the lyric and it fitted. I played it to the boys and they jumped on it and we recorded it in two takes.
I am still amazed at Gerry Conway’s memory for the pushes after just one take.

This is a deliberately tricky beat sequence to blend syllabic-ally but worth the challenge and it truly expresses my joy at being on my way to my home in Cornwall

The longest metaphor for a broken heart that I know comes from the angelic McGarrigle Sisters song “Heart Like a Wheel”
I tried to out do them in the middle eight on this song. Sometimes the guitar comes up with voicing that practically have the words uttered. So it was in this case where the vocal wryly tries to “brave face” a broken heart.

Chris and Julie gave this track a wonderful continental feel. This was always my intention. My wife told me how she loved those French noir films when she was a teenager. Obscure and indulgent as these movies often were, they had a pace, style and language that communicated with her. It was not necessary to understand what they were about so long as you ‘got” it. Her other reason for loving them was because they were hers to enjoy and there was a clear distinction between what her parents would have liked and what she liked. What would have happened to the punk movement if the punks’ parents had enjoyed the music as well?
I loved these films too, if only I could have cracked the code I would have learned the secrets of our very existence.

This song was written from the perspective of one of the partners separating at the end of a relationship that has lasted for some time.
It is a true story.
On several occasions people have told me that when they became divorced one partner insisted on taking all the music and records they had shared. This statement seemed so poignant that it was bound to end up in one of my songs.
When two of my oldest friends separated this was one of the things that happened to them. Their situation was unique in so far as they lived a hard life in remote woodlands in a cottage with no electricity or running water. Their struggle to make a life in tough surroundings was part of the glue that held them together. Eventually though the trees that had once sheltered them and the vines that wrapped around their relationship ended up stifling it and them and they drifted apart. My family were fortunate in sharing some of the happier times with them and it is these memories I will keep with mine.
In a poetic sense we are to ponder whether it was their fault they separated or did the woods destroy their relationship
For only the second time in my life I woke up with this complete tune in my head. Steve’s playing on this is great.