Thursday, 19 December 2013

Beavering Away

Beavering away on the music as ever, so a little update (nothing new since Lover Boy). I must have a least a dozen projects on the go… there are a couple of re-workings of previously uploaded, earlier efforts: definitive, more complete versions of 'Gillian' and my very first upload 'You Make Me Feel Better.' There are a few from the Boys Talk days – two studio recordings from back in the day, and a couple of re-recordings. The question is how to present them? I have been thwarted in my plans for one of them; a good song, well-recorded about watching people and body language - a duet - I wanted a couple of hipper, younger guys to play Mike and me, miming to the track in order to have something visual to put out. I had people in mind: one is willing, the other too self-conscious! So it's back to the drawing board on that one.

One of the pending re-visited songs I played at a party to people who wouldn't have heard it for over a decade and they still remembered it and could sing along! For me that was a 'moment' – encouraging; the song must have 'something'. I'm not averse to letting others sing it, so I hope to get my nephew James up to have a go - besides being younger and more handsome than me, he sings well and does have a certain charisma and presence when performing. It will be interesting hearing it done by someone else.

In another revisited recording, an earlier song – 'Just In Case' - has me singing it differently, changing the melody making it a little more contemporary which I like - another one to finish off! There is the Spanish version of 'I Told You So' which I translated when Mike and I did the studio recording – that recording a bit dated now - the current version sounds impressive with me singing and harmonising in Spanish! I'm quite proud of that, feels like an achievement.

There’s a pretty good 'January' song about self-belief. Also, a new song about meeting up with an ex and realising perhaps you were a bit hasty in dumping her all those years ago! The video filmed on the Isle of Man before the song (music) has been finished!

I have of course missed the deadline for my Christmas song – again! Annoyed at myself over this. Not particularly jolly, a sad one about loss and separation - Christmas for a lot of people is often a time of reflection. I've had it for years, and last year almost had it done, then I played with it vocally, completely changing the melody. It has something – maybe next year.

All in all, so much on the go. My difficulty seems to be finishing them off! Whether it's because I'm very much a one-man band, sometimes losing focus and motivation, I don't know. It should be easier than I make it! Past experience tells me that sometimes having a foil to work with/off does help with creativity and moving things along.

I have so much time for all these musicians having a go, trying to make it happen, following their dreams. Some of the off-the-radar music I hear is ridiculously good. That is a double-edged sword sometimes, when you then become more aware of your place in the musical universe. I had a quite a lot of interest from ReverbNation recently propelling me up the local charts reaching the Top 10 - material to come would be much more worthy of this attention - still, it is nice to be appreciated, especially by other musicians.

Of course, life throws other pressures at you. I really need to generate some income to allow me to carry on and do the music. Savings are disappearing rapidly; the time I gave myself now in extended injury time. The next couple of months will be interesting!

Before I upload new material - hopefully very soon - here are a couple of rough and ready videos from a fundraising party I did last year. The first is cousin, Danny Thomas, and me singing my song 'Just In Case'. The second is me, Danny and brother Kevan doing an impromptu three-part harmony covering The Beatles song 'This Boy'.

Just In Case (Live at The Trevrann)

This Boy (Live at The Trevrann)

Friday, 15 November 2013

Lover Boy, Yeah Right!

I'm always fascinated by the stories behind songs; the inspiration and how it came to be. Both as a fan of music and musicians, and as a creator: I often find myself dipping into books, TV or radio documentaries or the online depositories of insight such as blogs, music magazines, Wikipedia or websites like Songfacts. Whilst I do write a bit each time I finish and upload a new song and video, the blog gives me a chance to expand on that if I'm of a mind...

QY10 home studio music synthesiser
My latest offering is a song I'd had for a while and first demoed on 4-track using a new at the time video-tape sized sequencer – a Yamaha QY10 – which was the first time I'd had access to such sounds (decent drums, bass, pianos). You could programme patterns, put them together and the results were quite passable. For Lover Boy I had the stereo multi-instrument synth parts on two tracks, and played guitar (arpeggio for verse, strummed for the rest), bounced to make the backing track before using the two available tracks for vocals (main and a harmony). I’d always liked the result: dramatic drums, 60s feel to the guitar and a harmony on the chorus that lifted the song. In time, with computer music I would have access to more tracks and thus more possibilities... hence revisiting it now.

Music is my therapy
The song itself was born of a relationship – no surprise there! There were high hopes, some on-off moments, but in the end it didn't work out. Incompatibilities, old romantic wounds unhealed, career uncertainties as I veered from the path of normalcy with a leap of faith into new business venture. So a period of some turmoil and change - in hindsight quite pivotal - and a fruitful time for musical inspiration. 'Lover Boy' being about that not nice place to be with the girl moving on, the boy licking his wounds and thoughts of 'shoulda-woulda-coulda'. We'd met through an event-driven social group, so in the end it was awkward - and painful; 'walking away' would be my way of dealing with it.

I can picture the moment of inspiration: angry, hurt, feeling sorry for myself, sat on my bed, guitar in hand, I just played a chord run of D/A Suspended 2nd (Dsus2/A) to C/G Suspended 2nd (Csus2/G) - for me unusual chords giving a new sound - as the line "I'm feeling hung up and I don't know why" came to mind, followed by the colourful image of "emotional wreckage". As a composition, it came quickly and I made a natural progression to G then to F for the chorus; Am to G for the post-chorus "someone catch me as I fall." The fingers finding the chords; the voice inside my head finding the melody. Within a couple of days the song was written (quick!), and so as not to forget it, I taped a run-through on cassette. The very first line is a subconscious lift from George Harrison's dissonant chorded Revolver song 'I Want To Tell You.' Aware of that, in the new recording I would change the line to: "I'm feeling hung up, there's a reason why", which actually makes more sense! There was a space left for a solo. I had a dramatic musical 'stop!' which was easy enough to do with the QY10, this leading into a reprise of the intro to get to the repeated choruses to end the song.

In re-visiting Lover Boy I took the 4-track instrumental backing from the 90s, and using my Cubase music sequencing/recording software, I was able to add more guitar and fresh vocals, extending the end to add the "watch out Lover Boy" warnings that I'd had but not been able to record first time round. The space left for the instrumental break was filled by the new guitar solo that I’d come up with; as a one-man band these days, needs must, and I have a go. The result isn't too shabby!

Recording can be a slog!
During the recording process I seemed to get very bogged down with the new guitar parts; the multi-tracking of vocals and guitar would also test the processing power of the computer. All a bit frustrating. In the end, taking a stereo vocal mix and creating a new file, I started the guitar parts afresh, and got the finished version of Lover Boy done during October (2013). After so much time a relief to get it done! Toyed with the idea of putting it up on iTunes to generate some income. It's not perfect, so I wasn't sure. When I can get a home demo to sound like a professional recording… maybe then.

Doing the video
With a certain self-imposed pressure felt due to the lack of finished songs in my 'year of music' and many works-in-progress in the wings, I needed to sign it off. Whilst there is a story to be told, for quickness and practicality, it is just me with a static camcorder set-up with three perspectives and some guitar close-ups for cutaways, all against a red cloth background for consistency. Filmed and edited over a week using Sony Vegas, and then uploaded to YouTube.
Lover Boy

I'm pretty happy with the song; one of my more polished efforts. The reaction has been positive.

As for the girl, we lost touch a long time ago. The hurt passed. Musically I'm grateful for some decent songs, with a couple from that period still to do. Do think it must be quite something to be a muse...

Thursday, 7 November 2013


My goodness! It's been a while! You know that thing where the longer you leave something, the harder it is to go back and do it... well that’s me with this. The fact is, whilst I've been busy doing music over the interim, I think I'd become a bit jaded with the lack of progress: getting these songs done - seems to take an inordinate amount of time - and making any real impact. Any endeavour or labour of love is a bit of a slog, and brings with it its frustrations – and indeed moments of self-doubt. So writing about these trials and tribulations could wait, whilst I quietly ploughed on.

Of course, when I have these moments I remind myself that this journey is really about working through the collection of musical creations I have going back over the years, and the cathartic experience of getting them out of my system – albeit belatedly. It's something I need to do. So slowly, slowly I do them as best as I can with the resources and abilities at hand, learning along the way. With a sense of relief, letting go once done and moving on to the next project.

Having organised the bits of paper, I totted up my songs on a spreadsheet and got to about 50 that I’d written (either solo or in collaboration), which is quite a lot! There will be others not fully formed awaiting rediscovery amongst the 'ideas tapes'. It is surprising how long a tune can stay with you, fixed in the mind, etched on the soul; some of these songs will have been with my many years, some are new, and some are old songs with new bits giving them a new lease of life. I might have three-quarters of a song and think I need a new bit for here, and it will come and feel like it was always part of that song. The creative process continues to amaze. The process of recording is more of a challenge, more involved and prolonged.

My Happy Place
Filming Lover Boy video
I do enjoy losing myself with my headphones on singing into the mic, and playing guitar as I run through the many works-in-progress. The discipline of focusing on one thing at a time is sometimes lacking! Those first steps in getting it down can be a bit daunting. Yet it usually comes together and the results are getting more polished. Admittedly, not always getting it right, some earlier songs will need revisiting! Moving forward is what matters. Time is not finite, nor procrastination the best of friends.

I’ll try and write a bit more frequently. Though I'm reminded of a tweet by @Skip_Licker, one of my favourite tweeters:
“Recreate the thrill of having a blog by shouting out of your window into a cold, uncaring and lonely night at 3am.”
Made me laugh anyway.
A bientôt!