Thursday, 14 July 2016

Under A Spell

A lot of the music I am working on has been around a long time – though part of the reason is the time it takes me to complete projects! – however, when something brand new comes along and falls quickly into place, it is both welcome and a pleasant surprise.

There is always music on the go, recently I have been giving my 14-year old nephew, and Justin Bieber fan, a recording experience, and I'm hopeful something will come of this. We came up with one new song together, and dusted off an old 'Boys Talk' song; both have potential, and benefit from a fresh voice and some contemporary youthfulness.

New Song
'Under A Spell', started off with me setting out to re-record a song I had; brought into Cubase, I did a bassline, then suddenly I was singing something else over it! Things to say... The 'magic' was happening… an idea… the bass, a melody to play with, some strings… then it turned out I could 'play' a saxophone. The verses evolved, and a middle 8 added. Finally, I brought in some percussion. Within a few weeks (very quick for me), a brand new song was created. A jazzy feel; something a bit different. My tale of inescapable, bewitchment; a bitter-sweet romance told in just over two-minutes.

In my other life I am do community engagement, part of which involved me organising some entertainment for a 'Yarn Bombing Festival' to 'bring the community together'. Whilst not formally on the programme, there was always the possibility that I would do a turn, and amongst the Beatles songs, I do like to at least throw in a couple my own humble efforts… I did a backing track from my recording, and was able to try out the song at this event.

Under A Spell

The video is of the very first performance of the song – needing the lyrics, the words still not fully embedded in my head. It was an awful day weather-wise, blustery… there were hardly any people about, so not much thought about the presentation, just me on stage 'getting up to sing'. My talented nephew, Luke, who earlier had made his singing début, helping by holding the music stand in the wind. Later embarrassed that he got some ribbing from his mates at school for the dancing when the video was put on Facebook with him tagged (I explained: "You were only getting into the music!" Reassuring him that he would soon be the talk of the playground for his talent at singing.) Not sure what do with myself during the sax solo, I'm doing a bit of 'dad dancing', but what the heck!

One comment I got on the day, which as a songwriter means a lot… (talking about a past relationship) "You said exactly how I feel." That is the magic of music – you capture moments and feelings, and if you get it right, they resonate.

I performed the song again the next day, looking a bit smarter, but the camera batteries failed, so this video without any airs or pretensions will have to do for now.

The audio track is the studio version overdubbed onto the video, in case you are missing the sound of the wind!

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

You Made Me Feel Better

I was looking back at the writing of the latest YouTube effort – You Make Me Feel Better (blog post 5 April 16) – very much a journey. It came out of a new friendship and musical coming together. Not long out of university; a long way from home, a new job, finding my feet… At work I’d heard of this guy who did music – something I wanted to do. So one day, I plucked up the courage to ask this then stranger for help to 'properly' record some of my songs, next bringing in a tape of some recorded on cassette. Fortunately, he was both interested and nice enough to help.

Mike Meade had been in gigging bands, had experience of recording and had a circle of musical friends. He gave me some tapes of his; demo recordings with his band and on his own. Really good music; some of it very poppy (Stripes) and some of it very clever – him weaving little stories with synthesiser, drum-machine and multi-tracked vocals on a 4-track – often with a theatrical quality.

Recording at Jester's
We shared a passion for music; a love of The Beatles (me being from Liverpool helped), and of vocal harmonies. A couple of hired in 4-track weekends to record a few demos, turned into a few budget studio recordings (one a week-long session requiring a bank loan). We gelled, and in forming a musical partnership and friendship, hung out together, laughed, joked, talked and bounced ideas off each other. Musically, I was very green at the time, no experience of being in a band, but had had music in my life - making up songs for a few years and a little live singing entertaining tourists on the Isle of Man. We soon had this idea of being a 'modern Everly Brothers' with synths and electric guitars.

It was quite an exciting time; things were happening amongst Mike's circle of friends – some in charting bands – then there was his friend, Clive, who not only had a presence and a charisma, but was coming out with record-quality, radio-friendly music. Another friend Tony, a guitarist/producer we would work with, was in a 'happening' underground band – The Sons of Valentino... I was honoured, if a little overawed, about being in such talented company.

John and Paul
In the tradition of Paul going to John's to write, we did a bit of that... Mike coming over with his keyboard and us jamming seeing what we came up with, sometimes having a tape machine to catch those ideas. It was fun, occasionally magical, and we fed off each other. There was a healthy competition, so if one of us had an idea, we would both be invested in it. I think because I was the lesser musician, needing some approbation, once we had the song idea, I would like to take it and to finish it off if we were stuck; also the words sometimes need an individual focus as in writing from experience or the heart.

A sea shanty
Looking through my songs folder, there are lyrics in Mike’s hand, which suggests he had the original idea (meeting someone who 'made him feel better'). I have a recollection of us trying to write this song, building on that "You Make Me Feel Better"... we were in my room in that shared house in Hounslow, my girlfriend at the time, a nurse, was there – a song for her? - it was up tempo, and had the chorus (same line repeated), we tried some verses (on the theme of a new love to lessen the hurt of a previous love). The middle 8 ("I'm never down...") was conceived. Looking at the sheets of lyrics, there are several attempts at writing verses, however that incarnation was never finished.

A year or so later and living in Slough, having learned how to play a bit on the keyboard, I revisited it experimenting with my new keyboard skills – slower because I couldn't play fast! – coming up with some new verses; the chorus and middle 8 remained. Still the same idea of a new love to get over an old one, but now more wishful thinking – romanticised. Scribbled on the sheet of paper where I’d been writing the lyrics was: "I want to feel like this".

Mike and I did have a run-through once with the new lyric and feel, by this time we were on different paths. The music hadn't taken off. For me, a song to play now and again if having a jam. I always thought it was quite a nice song with a positive, hopeful message, As it happened, all those years later, it became the one to start the ball rolling on YouTube, even if just me on a guitar. Knowing it was 'to do' project, I worked on it, creating the music and building up the vocal textures – eventually it was done. Pleasing to have been able to shoot the video on my beloved Isle of Man.

You Make Me Feel Better

You Make Me Feel Better - filmed on location on the Isle of Man

There is still more to come from those early days – songs to dust down and put on show. For me, unfinished business; more about getting it done than any particular aspiration. The answer to the question: why can I do this? Generally, 'Music Makes Me Feel Better'. So I do. And it is good to have music in your life.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

You Make Me Feel Better

Whilst I continue to be busy with the music, I have been quiet on here. A quick review of activity suggests I should do some belated updates – the new songs, the revisited projects (I don't always get it right), what I have been up to, and how I approach the music; maybe a little about my other work to give some context. The cross most striving musicians have to bear is that people don't take you seriously – the expectation that you should be doing something more productive! Saying it is "who I am" met with a glazed look. As I say, a gift and a curse…

Full Circle - You Make Me Feel Better

10th April 2010, I uploaded the first YouTube video, me strumming the guitar singing the said song filmed and edited by my brother, Kevan – a start! The video going on to get over 2,000 hits (by some way my most ‘popular’ video). It wasn't the plan to have such a simple track, wanting to produce fuller music backing for my online music. It is a bit frustrating that this version and video continues to out-perform the more accomplished songs and videos that followed!

Six years later, I have finally got a proper version of 'You Make Me Feel Better' recorded, and was fortunate to be able to make a nice video to go with it – on location! In the meantime a couple of dozen other musical projects have come and gone… I had started work on the track in 2013 getting down basic drums and chords, putting down some 'guide' vocals; soon it becomes one of many other songs I'm working on and falls down the pecking order. In the summer of 2014 I was able to make a rough demo that could be used play whilst singing to camera and videoing some footage whilst in the Isle of Man.

Groudle Glen - filming 'You Make Me Feel Better' for video
Groudle Glen - filming for video
The Isle of Man has always been a big part of my life, and after a long hiatus, it was the death of an important figure that brought me back, and into the bosom of some dear friends. So it was a joy to be there; to have a place to stay, and the loan of a car to get round the island. And a mission to film at least one video.

Two days of filming: the first up at the Point of Ayre at the northern tip of the island with a crew (Danny on camera, Barbara with the portable speaker for playback); I then decided to get some extra footage taking the tripod and filming in the beautiful and serene Groudle Glen, and then around Laxey (another glen, the tram station, and at the harbour and on the beach). The song wasn't finished, but at least I had some footage in the can for a YouTube video.

Time went by and the need to focus on one song. The meat of the backing was done a while back, in recent weeks I focused on the guitar parts (these projects tend to be organic), recording some new parts which seemed to fit. I have a confession, the outro was meant to be a guitar solo, which in the end became a keyboard part. (Guitars and recording is another story!). After much effort – and so much effort goes into these musical projects – I was able to do a mix and I had something to use for making the video.

You Make Me Feel Better

You Make Me Feel Better - filmed on location on the Isle of Man

I spent a day reviewing all of the footage I had – lot of it! And the next day I was able to make that all important start, and get some momentum. There was a nice opening shot – me singing on a bridge in Groudle Glen – it soon became obvious that the two days footage wouldn't work together (continuity), though I may use the footage for a second video.

It took 2-3 days to do the edit with Sony Vegas. When I film, I will have an idea of progressing the song as I settle at different locations, with enough footage for the cutaways (for transitions, and to hide the bits that I don’t want you to see). When you start there is always the concern that there is enough good, usable footage to get to the end. It is then a couple of days of watching the video to check for errors, tweaking it. Lip syncing is often a challenge – AVCHD files taxing the processor, such that I have to monitor in low quality!

A final music mix, then the final HD render. As I prepare for the upload, I write some words to accompany the new video. Then it is live… I post the link on my Facebook account and do some tweets.

There is one edit error spotted! A minor fix I’d missed during the making of the video, which I only saw again when I’d uploaded it! Always the way… annoying in that you want it to be a good as it can be. I’ll leave if for now.

Chris Buckley filming for 'You Make Me Feel Better' at Laxey MER Station (2014)
Filming at Laxey MER Station (unused)
Pleased with the outcome of both song and video. I resisted the temptation to incorporate touristy elements promoting my beloved Isle of Man (the tram station shots for example), better to be a bit more generic. Decent song, and video looks good, nice flow to it.

Positive reaction and a vast improvement on the initial, basic, stop-gap offering from 2010, which annoyingly was the follow on video offered by YouTube! (I've now unlisted it; there is also an advisory note on the original pointing to the new video). It would be nice if the new 'proper' video did as well; however, the views on the newer videos are very low (so low I don’t think even my family are watching them!). Disappointing given the effort that goes into them, but hey-ho! No point beating myself up about it. Qué será será. Most important thing for me is to get the songs done.

I’ll do a further blog about the song itself next time…[here.]