Water Of Dreams
After the release of Slide away the Screen, WEA Reprise Records decided that they needed to look at their roster of artists.
They brought in a new man the late Dave Dee and he looked at the books and I was one of the recording artists they decided to “let go”
In truth my contract was up and to be honest it was a relief. Ever since the phenomenon of
“Streets of London” there was the unspoken belief that there would be another chart success. Indeed, the whole approach on “Slide Away the Screen” had been to produce an album that was “radio friendly” It did not happen and although I loved the experience of working with so many fine musicians, it was probably a misplaced judgement as to what the audience would have liked and something of an indulgence on my part. It is probably worth explaining a little more my feelings about music here.
I have always loved melody. The better the tune the more potential for harmony and depth in arrangement. Once a tune of mine has passed my own criteria I begin to hear the ‘orchestral’ additions. By this I mean the voices of the other instruments that will take part in the final recording. In particular the lower voicing i.e. cellos, violas bass. Then vocals. then lead instruments. violin and lead guitar etc. Even when I play a concert with just guitar I hear the other instruments in my head and hope others will too. It was pointed out to me that something of the sort must be happening as I still had an audience!
All my songs emanate from the six strings of the guitar or occasionally some of the eighty eight notes of the piano. I write with the harmony of as much as six to ten notes at a time. Some of the best melody writers write with just one note at a time. Lionel Bart I believe wrote all those great tunes on a glockenspiel with just one mallet. A single melody line.
A melody line placed over harmony on a finger picked acoustic guitar tends not to move about too much and yet it is complete itself if done correctly. I would site James Taylor as a classic example and on piano the incredible Randy Newman who does much the same thing.
I had just acquired a new guitar from master luthier Tom Mates and was experimenting with open tunings especially the key of D. Suddenly I was free of what I perceived as M.O.R. expectations and I could explore some issues that responded to just a little more anger than previous protest songs had shown.
My brother Bruce was managing John Martyn at the time and they had been working with a wonderful producer called Martin Levan. Martin arguably produced two of John’s greatest albums at this time.
“Grace and Danger” and “One World”.
Bruce suggested Martin Levan and I try to work together.
The two of us hit it off immediately. Martin had a quiet approach but was very strong and creatively one of the best guys ever behind the glass. We began working at his preferred studio in Willesdon and later at Air London. He encouraged me to play solo for much of the sessions and as my trust grew in our mutual understanding, introduced various musicians I would never have thought of approaching. Most notably Phil Collins. Phil was wonderful, very self effacing and a little unsure of what he called “folk stuff” nevertheless he played with that marvelous slightly easy swing on the beat and the two tracks he played on really benefit from his approach.
“Cold on the Stones”
“Song for Martin”
I had recently attended one of the best Bob Dylan shows I had ever seen and Bob’s re working of “I Want You” was racing around my brain. In his later treatment it had transcended from a lightweight pop song to a mature song of desire which was incredibly powerful.
I played it very slow on the piano and it seemed everyone thought it might make a single. On reflection I guess we recorded it right for that purpose but I still prefer it played solo on piano. I will re record it one day.
The title track
“Water of Dreams”
is about the absence of outrage over the unrelated deaths in police custody of two men Liddell Towers and Jimmy Kelly, and the death of a protest marcher Blair Peach whilst on a lawful anti racism demonstration march. I was, and still am
appalled by Thatcher’s Britain and the fact that people were acquiescing in the slow removal of freedoms reminded me of the rise of fascism in Germany in the thirties when allegedly no one “knew” what was going on. I could not believe that we the British public with all our sense of freedom were keeping our heads down, seemingly believing somehow that protesters of any sort were deserving of any harsh treatment (witness the miners’ strike) and that all of them were in some way planning the overthrow of democratic government. The death of two men whilst in custody on completely unrelated matters hardened my resolve to write down my fears and only added to my anger.
The tune to “Water of Dreams” lent itself to a modal accompaniment and the multi track tape was sent to Ireland where the marvelous Billy Whelan (who incidentally went on to write a fairly successful musical called “River Dance”) arranged a part for Liam og O’ Flynn who is one of Ireland’s greatest uilleann pipers. Liam graced the track with his gorgeous playing. When we got the tape back from Dublin and spun it in, we were all goose bumps and tearful. Thanks again to Liam and Billy.
We mixed the part back in the track and the music is supposed to be that troubled dream like consciousness that floats to the surface and disturbs sleep. Almost like crying for attention.
“Bentley and Craig”.
Second take on my new Tom Mates guitar. I have written fully about the incidents in this song in my autobiography and will not go into it again here. Suffice to say this appalling miscarriage of the “spirit” of justice was finally closed when Maria Bentley was compensated for Derek Bentley’s execution after her brave and inspirational mother Iris Bentley died before hearing of Derek’s pardon. I sang “Bentley and Craig” at Derek’s re internment in Croydon’s Mitcham Road cemetery and at Iris’s request at her own funeral. I continue to sing this song from time to time to remind those who still harbour feelings to bring back the abhorrent capital punishment, but also to honour Iris whose courage and perseverance in the face of heartless bureaucracy and indifference remains an inspiration to those who seek justice.
We recorded tracks with Gerry Conway and Dave Pegg at Essex Studios in Poland Street.
“Gotta Be With You”
was written for a woman I knew who sacrificed everything for a new love. She is from Norway hence the apt metaphor of burning ones boats/bridges.
harks back to my memories of working at Mitcham fair as a youngster and the glorious sense of freedom the show people enjoy and that I cherish so much. Few people use the patois and patter of old showmen but growing up just down the road from where the fair takes place, our local south London dialect is littered with old Romany words and cockney style rhymes.
“Affairs of the Heart”
was recorded at Willesdon with another of John Martyn’s side men Billy Livesey on piano and Phil Palmer played lead guitar. Phil and I last recoded together on Sandy Denny’s last sessions (Ray Davis is his Phil’s uncle and Ray was at art school with Peter Thaine and me)!
I have always enjoyed good country music and marvel at some of the great honesty contained in some songs.
“I’m not a Rock”
nods in that direction and we recorded it on the same session. Albert Lee came to the studio straight from a transatlantic flight to play on that track and he looked wrecked but played great. We next worked together on the Everley Bros tour. What a guitar player Albert is !
“Please Don’t Haunt Me”
began as a guitar exercise and you would have to see me play it to understand that cryptic explanation. The lyric is self explanatory.
“Hands of Joseph”
again played on my new Tom mates guitar with wonderful Prelude providing backing vocals, tries to celebrate the joy of guitar playing and the enviable belief that someone watches over us as in “Mrs Adlam’s Angels” This whole piece is an homage to the inimitable Joseph Spence’s swinging guitar style. He was the musician, mason, carpenter from the island of Arno in the Bahamas and a huge influence on my playing style.
“Geordie’s On The Road”.
A totally true story about a great Geordie lad I met in New York and again in L.A, in 1971 and who until recently attended all my gigs in Newcastle. We lost touch and I feared the worst, I am delighted to say tat Alan turned up at the “Sage” in Gateshead on the last tour and we are in contact again. The re release of this album on Leola records contains two other songs produced by Martin Levan.
*“Grey Sea Strand”
(another true story from Donegal) and
which was my attempt to write almost a new national anthem. I still think we need a song that reflects our new diversity and more of a belief in a spiritual heart beat to our country. This was very nearly a hit but I withdrew support for the song when the Falklands war took place. The idea of selling records on the backs of dead soldiers and jingoistic reactions flew in the face of the third verse of the song and was the direct opposite of my intention when writing it.
It has now found its way back into my repertoire.
I was recently contacted by the daughter of the surviving brother in this song. It appeared he knew a song was written about the incident but the family had not heard it.
I sent them a copy of the album and they were extremely kind in their comments but felt that it would be too sad to play to their father. However just last year he mentioned the song again and now in his eighties the family played it for him.
It seems he loves the record and I have sent him others to see other sides of my music. I am in touch with the family and hope to visit them in Dublin and Donegal in the future visits to Ireland