Looking for the beginning?

Looking for somewhere to start? Check out Song 1 here!

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Song Number 52- End

Well, how could it be called anything else?

So that's it - 52 songs in a year.  I'm crying my bloody eyes out as I'm typing this, for goodness' sake.  Exhausted.

In the next couple of days, I'm going to do a blog post thanking everybody properly, because if I try to do it now I'll end up missing people out and spelling names wrong.

So for now, let me just say thank you so much to everybody who's been following - everybody who's listened to a song, who's made a donation, given the Facebook page a thumbs up, re-tweeted a tweet, left a comment...

Now I'm going to go and celebrate the end of this bizarre and wonderful year with my wife, who's had to put up with more crap from me than I care to imagine!


Goodnight, and Happy 2012 to you all!

Song Number 51- The Point Of No Return (William Hartnell)

I like song titles with parentheses.

So this is it, the penultimate song.  Recorded the music yesterday evening - it's one of my favourite beats, but I don't think I've used it so far, have I?  Pride In Mathematics is a similar thing, but not quite the same.  Rushing has led to me totally ballsing up the compression on the lead vocals, I'm afraid - bit pumpy.

Now, lyrical content.  "When all around has fallen" was the line that popped into my head first, so I started writing about a post-apocalyptic world in which society has completely collapsed, and people desperately cling on to the little things that make them human.  But I got bored with that, and it kind of morphed into a comment on an argument my brother and I had while I was up north for Christmas.  It got quite vicious.  And the subject of the argument?  Quite simply, it's because my favourite James Bond actor is... Timothy Dalton.

Unfairly maligned

What a bloody stupid thing to argue about.  So the song's about people fighting over stupid things that really don't matter.  I wanted to get a Dalton reference into the song, but it just wasn't fitting right... so I changed it to one of my other many unpopular opinions; viz. William Hartnell is my favourite Doctor Who.  I'm not even into Doctor Who, really - but by Jove, I'll defend Hartnell to the death if I have to, which luckily I almost certainly won't.  Of course, I could have changed that particular line to something more sensible, but I've done 51 songs this year - I'm not feeling very sensible at the moment!

Right, enough of this - I've got Song 52 to do before the clock strikes 12 and my computer turns into a pumpkin. 

Friday, 30 December 2011

Song Number 50 - Pride In Mathematics

Let's finish this thing off, shall we?

4 hours, this one took - writing, recording and mixing.  Either I'm getting faster or I'm caring less and less about performance quality. 

The chorus was something I had in my head upon waking back in July (the original recording of me mumbling it into my phone at 7am is amusing), but it was only this evening I came across it again.  The rest of it's loosely inspired by the story of Harold Camping, the American radio preacher who wrongly predicted the end of the world earlier this year.

As I'm sure you'll understand, I'm very short on time now - so as I've not been able to trawl the net for suitable video footage, I've knocked up a quick drawing of Mr Camping.  Looking at it now, I seem to have drawn an elongated George W Bush.  Hell, I'm a musician, not Bob Ross...

"Hey, why don't you give the friggin' Mayans shit for once?"

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Song Number 49: What You Expect Me To Do

Brain... not... functioning...

The song's about a dame who ain't no good, no-how, and I was hoping to put together some sort of femme fatale montage, but I don't have time - so instead you've got a photo of Kim Novak.  That'll do, right?

Second song to be recorded today, and I'm shattered.  Just need to get as many done as I can before succumbing to this cold and/or going up North.  No more time today, and tomorrow's stuffed, but hopefully I'll get one one more done by Friday night.

Tick tock tick tock tick tock...

In the meantime, enjoy this one - and don't forget to donate at either http://www.justgiving.com/songaweek or by texting "SONG52" plus "£amount" to 70070!

Song Number 48- Say It Again

I wanted to give the Christmas song more time to breathe but there's no time for that!  Ah yes, the sound of the annual Christmas cold creeping in - "Say By Dabe", I should have called this one!

We're heading up north to see my folks for Christmas soon, and while I can record up there (see Song 41 for the results of that), I'd rather spend the time lounging in front of the fire eating chocolate oranges

So here's song 48, inspired by the website of a "sales expert" who trains cold callers.  It's one of the most nauseatingly smug sites I've ever seen - one look at it and you can feel the vomit rising - and that's even before you start pondering on the rather depressing notion that we now live in a society where a Cold Calling Trainer is even a necessary job.

"Song a week? YOU are weak!"

My first job was selling kitchens over the phone.  It's impossible - people are either in the market for a kitchen or they're not; you can't persuade someone to drop a couple of grand on a new one, even if they have been "specially selected by our computer to receive a £500 gift voucher towards the cost..."  Turnover at that place was incredible.  I lasted three weeks, before I was replaced by a guy called Brad Cheesebrough

But enough of that - got to get on with Song 49 now. Please keep your donations coming in by visiting http://www.justgiving.com/songaweek - and now you can donate by texting the code "SONG52" and the amount you want to donate ("£X") to 70070!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Song Number 47 - Johnny Got A Toy


So, getting in early, this is my Christmas song for the year, inspired by my mother and uncle's good-natured attempts to annoy each other by furnishing the other's children/grandchildren with the noisiest presents they could possibly find. The alternative title for this one is "Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Loud," and I believe it represents what for many people is the true sound of Christmas - an almighty racket, braying your head in from the moment the kids wake up to find their stockings full, right through Boxing Day, and only stopping when you finally rip the batteries out of every electronic device except the TV remote control.

Featuring the lovely Jess as "Exasperated Mother"

Remember these little bastards?

Seven songs to go?  How have I still got seven songs still to go?!

[EDIT: Oh no, hang on - it's only five.  Ach, my brain!]

Song Number 46: Indication of the Facts


Still time to donate - you know the drill! I'm keeping the lines open til about half way through January, I reckon. http://www.justgiving.com/songaweek

I had two parts to this song - one was the atmospheric intro/first verse as you hear it; the other was something that sounded a bit Ben Folds Five-ish and I wasn't too keen.  It just didn't fit - it sounded like I'd had two half-ideas and crammed them together (for a more successful attempt at this, check out that old hippie chestnut Something In The Air by Thunderclap Newman).  So I removed the BF5 bits and wrote something else that seemed to fit a little better.  I think it's still a bit bitty and directionless, but I do like the verse sections - the second verse in particular feels like it could be developed into something more interesting.

I never realised Pete Townsend produced this. So there you go.

The video is an advert for an American brand of coffee I lifted from the Prelinger Archives, a wonderful place to waste far too much time!  The sex education videos are wonderful. 

Tomorrow (or, rather, today) I'll be putting song 47 online, a song which promises to represent the true sound of Christmas...

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Song Number 45: Centre Of The World

No offence intended, of course, but this bit of fluff is dedicated to teenagers, people who have teenage kids, and everybody who ever was a teenager (especially me).

Words came first, then chords, then a beat, then I moved the beat around to make it more interesting, then changed the chords, then scrapped the words completely and wrote new ones, then simplified the beat because it was dragging (the original is still there, processed to buggery and just about audible in the intro/first verse)
If I had a pic of me as a sulky teen I'd have used it.
This isn't far off, though.  Except I wasn't even cool enough
to wear a backwards baseball cap.

The inspiration for the final lyric came from a conversation I had with a teacher friend of mine about her having to hand-hold so many of her students (I don't have that problem, of course - all my pupils are lovely!), and our realisation that we were probably just as much of a pain in the arse at that age, as much as we'd like to forget it.  The footage, by the way, is from The Educated Fish, Directed by Dave Fleischer in 1937. 

45 down, so that's my original, scrawny weakling target met - just seven more to go and I'll be at the full-fat, gold-plated, big hairy bollock of a target!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Song Number 44: Hymn

You probably won't be expecting this:

Something a bit different.  Someone suggested I do a Tom Waits style track, and this was what came out.  I actually planned to do a Tom Waits impression with the vocals, but it just sounded too silly.  Not a bad impression, if I say so myself, but it was still me doing an impression rather than singing in a more honest voice.  Does that make sense?  Anyway, this is just me, my voice, my piano, and an over-worked noise gate.

Is that you,  Moxey?

Eight more to go...

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Song Number 43: Light To Darkness

Big day today!

Here's Light To Darkness, a song which has proven an absolute nightmare to record - like so many other tracks this year, I had the song ready to go for what seemed like ages but couldn't get ten minutes together to record the vocals!  And when I finally did, my computer had a hissy fit and recorded the whole lot with all sorts of digital glitches, so I had to re-do the lot today.  But it's done! 

Most songs you'll hear on the wireless can be split into three components - the verse; the chorus; and another bit.  Here I've done two different bits, and tried to create a third by sticking the two together.  Does it work? Or is it a mess? Who cares - it's another song down.  Nine to go, and there's something else as well:

WE'VE DONE IT! Yes, folks, we've passed the £1,000 mark!


I'm over the moon, particularly considering the original target was £250!  Thanks to everybody who's donated, and everybody who's helped me out by telling your friends and colleagues, Tweeting and Facebooking.  The people at Parkinson's UK are delighted, and on a personal level I can't quite belive I'm still going!

Now I know I've had a panic on lately over getting the songs finished, but you've kept your end of the bargain, so I'm now doubly determined to get the last nine done.  Song 52 will be online on New Year's Eve!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Song Number 42: When The Cameras Are Gone

Lot of background to this one.

I'd written the music, but was struggling to come up with something to write about lyric-wise.  Andrew Nicholls, marvellous guitarist and singer with Earthtide, suggested "how about a song which cryptically extols the virtues of channel four at 3.30pm every weekday......."

Well of course everybody knows what's on at 3.30 on weekdays on Channel Four - Countdown.  Great show.  Horrendously addictive.  And that got me reminiscing about sitting with my gran, watching possibly my favourite ever quiz show, Fifteen to One - it was on just after Countdown (or was it just before?) and featured William G Stewart asking question after question after question to fifteen contestants.  No messing about; no 'hilarious' anecdotes about family holidays; no Brucie Bonuses and definitely no Michael Barrymore.

Horrible man, horrible man,
horrible horrible horrible man.

So anyway, here it is: a song vaguely about quiz shows. There's also a reference to The Crystal Maze in there.  Happy days. 

One more song and I'm into single figures. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Song Number 41: Scene

From out of the frozen tundra it came...

Wrote and recorded this in my father's studio on Sunday afternoon while we were visiting them up North. 

Dad's studio, like mine, is what is politely termed a "project studio", which is a polite euphemism for saying no bugger else can get the thing to work, so I belted this out pretty sharpish to avoid prolonged arguments over the relative merits of Cubase and Logic. 

There are some really lovely mics and pre-amps up there, and I'm very pleased with the sound of the (one take!) drums.  If I'd had more time I could have (should have) spent longer on the bass and vocal sounds, but there you go.  BVs were done sat in front of the computer with a hand-held SM57 for speed.

As far as the writing goes, I like the "across the ocean floor" line, but the mid 8 bored me so much I chopped a bunch of bars out of the middle of it and skipped to the end of an improvised rant about being sick of the sound of my own voice.

The video's taken from Little Annie Rooney, from the wonderful Fleischer Studios.

Song 42 coming as soon as possible, I promise.  Thanks for all your donations and comments so far.  Please keep them coming  - these last few weeks are going to be really really tough!

Monday, 14 November 2011


Currently up north visiting the folks, and I've managed to record Song 41 and write most of Song 42 while I'm up here.  Hopefully I'll make a start on recording 42 tomorrow before we come back down south, and I'll get at least one of them online by Tuesday.

In 41, you'll hear me getting so sick of the sound of my own voice, I bluntly cut a good 20 odd seconds out of the song just to get to the end quicker.  Also lots of suspended seconds, which I love (I'll try and write about that next time - remind me).  42 may feature a complete waste of a beautiful Martin Dreadnought guitar, but we'll see.


Saturday, 5 November 2011

Song Number 40 - Same

Come on, come on, come on...

Only £150 needed to reach the target - we can do this!  http://www.justgiving.com/songaweek

Haven't really got time to write about this one.  Nothing much to it, structurally; bit of a rush job.  Noise in the intro isn't a turntable scratching - it's a Linn drum loop I programmed, sped up, gated, whacked through a ring modulator with a delay on it, mixed down, and pitch-shifted.  Then the higher chords in the chorus are linked to it by a vocoder - thought it'd be nice to fiddle about with.

Quite pleased with my voice in the last section - it's better than it was this time last year. 

From here on, I'm going to be doing what I can when I can, but unfortunately the work I need to do to pay the bills has caught up with me.  12 songs in 56 days?  No problem.

Friday, 4 November 2011


Song 40 is recorded, but I've not had chance to put it online yet.

Song 41 is written (pretty much) but I've not had chance to record it yet.

Time is short; stress is high; but donations are healthy and I will get these last 12 songs done, I promise!

In the meantime, thank you for your continued support, and let me once more raise the Song A Week battle cry:


Monday, 24 October 2011

Song Number 39: Feeling Go Away


Love 80s-type Electro-Soul; Hate Parkinson's Disease! Come on - donate generously at http://www.justgiving.com/songaweek

Vocals, Linn LM-1 drums, piano, saw wave and a bunch of bells.  As much as I enjoy doing tracks like Amenartas, Long Long Way and Lucky One, I also have a real fondness for minimal productions.  I think it's growing up as a big Prince fan that did it - tracks like When Doves Cry, If I Was Your Girlfriend, and pretty much the whole of the Dirty Mind album are very bare in their productions, and these are tracks that would either excite me or, for some reason, give me the creeps.

It wouldn't take much to scare me, though.  Terry Gilliam animations used to terrify and fascinate me, as did the video for And She Was by Talking Heads (Dir. Jim Blashfield, who did the same creepy things with Xeroxed photographs in Michael Jackson's Leave Me Alone). 

Nooooo! Make it go away! Make it go away!

Anyway: to the song.  The words were written before the music; though "Sleep reset me/feeling go away" came into my head with its melody fully formed.

The drums are all done with Linn LM-1 samples - the explosion sound that sits where a cymbal normally would is actually a handclap slowed down to a zillionth of its speed.  I love the sounds of the LM-1, but it's hard to use them without making it sound like I'm trying to be Prince (at this point, my family will no doubt be shouting, "But you are!").

Get over yourself, Falconer

 After putting the piano chords in, and then writing the melody, it all sounded perfectly pleasant, but not particularly interesting.  I wanted something that would jar the ears, but sound intriguing rather than repulsive - and so I shifted the piano track along so each chord comes in slightly behind the beat.  I hope it doesn't piss you off too much, but I just didn't want the track to sound too comfortable; the singer, after all, is in an uncomfortable, sleep-deprived, confused state.

So anyway, that's that.  Let me know what you think, either here, on the YouTube channel, on the Twitter account (where I spend most of my time!) or on the Facebook page.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Song Number 38: Lucky One

Hello - it's me!

Yup, that's Donald Duck in the picture.  And if you don't donate a few quid to Parkinson's UK, Donald will be most upset! http://www.justgiving.com/songaweek

Incidentally, while I mention Donald Duck, have a look at this great piece of Allied WWII propaganda - brilliant, and slightly disturbing:

But anyway, back to business.  This track is an overproduced monstrosity - basically me trying to be Todd Rundgren.  Rundgren is a fantastic musician - a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer responsible not only for some tremendous chart-friendly hits such as Prime Time (produced for The Tubes); Hello, It's Me (from his wonderful album Something/Anything) and the first Bat Out Of Hell album by Meatloaf and Jim Steinman... but also for a catalogue of work that's always interesting to listen to (the beautiful a capella album, produced nearly 20 years before we were getting excited about Björk's Medúlla), even if the experiments sometimes miss the mark (such as the one-joke-stretched-too-long With A Twist).

When you're this talented, you can wear what you want
Nowadays, Rundgren's still producing consistently interesting and listenable music, with plenty of tracks you feel are great even though you're buggered if you can work out why.  As I mentioned in the last post, I was privileged to have got to see him at London's Jazz Café a few weeks ago, when he played one of the most relaxed, fun shows I've seen in a long time - despite what impressions you might get from the above photo, he seems to be a very funny guy who doesn't take himself all that seriously.  Much like another favourite of mine, Frank Zappa, he's an artist who definitely rewards the time and mind-space you're prepared to give the music.  Start with A Wizard, A True Star.

So yeah, millions of tracks; lots of overdubbed vocals; and a big, flappy Vistalite drumkit like his current drummer Prairie Prince.  The guitar chords in the chorus, for example, are made up of three guitars, a synth, a clav, and strings.  Daft.

BY THE WAY - I see from the little Feedjit thing on the side that I'm getting visitors from all over the place, day and night.  Firstly, hello to you all!  Second, while you're here, please leave your comments and maybe make a donation as well!  We musicians crave attention and constant reassurance, you know...

Monday, 10 October 2011

Song Number 37: Waterloo Staircase

Try this with headphones on.  In a dark room.

DONATE TO PARKINSON'S UK AT http://www.justgiving.com/songaweek - if you don't, it means you like Parkinson's.  *FACT*

So this track was written in a few minutes, and the main purpose was to play around with the backing vocal sounds and try to convey some of the atmosphere of one of my favourite places in London.  The title should give you a bit of a clue (HELLO!) as to where it is.  It's a small staircase nobody seems to use, and it feels like one of the few places in the whole of the Capital that isn't covered by CCTV.  Not that I want to get up to anything naughty there, of course - I just remember the wonderful feeling of calm that washed over me the first time I walked up it and realised I wasn't being watched by an electronic eye.

Doing all manner of prohibited activities...
The backing vocal noises have no effects on them other than a spot of reverb - I did a lot of waving my hands in front of my face, singing into a saxophone bell, and other ridiculous things, but it was a delight to be able to play around with noises like that again - I think part of me was inspired by a recent Todd Rundgren concert, at which he played this track from his "A Capella" album - Lost Horizon.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Song Number 36: Stink Eye

Back?  I never went away!

As I said in my previous post, I've been having trouble with this one - just found the backing so uninspiring and New Jack Swing-ish.  Anyway, I plugged away at it, and came up with this, which is just a fun bit of nonsense.  It's also the first time I've heard the word "Hinny" used in popular song...

Donations have been sat at that level for too long - we need to get a shift on if we're to reach this £1000 by New Year.  Tell your friends about the site - send them a link to your favourite song - then donate at http://www.justgiving.com/songaweek

Song 37 is also finished - I'll let this one breathe for a bit and then get it up tomorrow or Monday.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Working on Song 36

I'm once again at a point in a song's development where I've got a backing track sorted, but it's so uninspiring I'm struggling to find a melody to fit with it. 

Now comes the part where I stop layering up instruments and start layering up vocals, grunting sounds that might fit, and hoping they form themselves in to words and sentences later on.

What's not helping is that this track is so New Jack Swing-ish, and I can't stand New Jack Swing!

But not to worry - I'll come up with something.  And I can always take comfort in the fact that it can't possibly be worse than I Wanna Sexx You Up...

The wardrobe's even worse than the spelling!
Fuck me, the '90s were bleak.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Song Number 35: Fat Kids Are Harder To Kidnap

Challenge Accepted!

NEARLY THERE!  If this song made you laugh, donate some money to Parkinson's UK.  If you thought it was in bad taste, it's not Parkinson's UK's fault - so donate some money to them anyway.  Then feel free to send me a stiff letter. http://www.justgiving.com/songaweek

Right, then.  Mr John Siely, a regular at the open mic sessions at The Guildford Tup, challenged me to write a song with this title.  I said I'd perform it at the open mic two weeks later.  Of course, what happened was I ended up leaving the song til the last minute, so this was written in the hour before I was due to go on stage with it. 

And today, I was in no mood to argue with the technology in my studio, which was sulking about something, so it only took half an hour from start to finish.

On to song 36.  And of course the gig - yes, the gig.

Tuesday 27th September, The Bedford, Balham


Plenty of parking at the Sainsbury's across the road (at least there was last time), and the station (National Rail and Northern Line Tube) is just around the corner.

The night also features Big Mamma's Door (excellent blues band) and Anna Phoebe (classic rock electric violinist. Yes!)

This is my favourite venue in the capital, with the best sound and a great atmosphere. The gig will also be streamed live on the internet at http://www.justin.tv/thebedfordlive

We'll be on pretty late (10 o clock start, we reckon), but get down early to see the rest of the acts, too.

COME DOWN and see my wonderful band - they deserve your support, because they're all splendid musicians.  Don't believe me?  There's only one way to find out...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Song Number 34: Ballad of a Slow Man

With apologies to Dylan fans everywhere...

We're almost there, guys - just another couple of hundred to go and we'll have hit our £1,000 target.  Please, if you haven't already, do your bit and pledge a couple of quid to Parkinson's UK at www.justgiving.com/songaweek

As you know, I've been trying to write lyrics away from the studio, which is something I've struggled with for a while.  I'm getting better, though - Me and The Morning and Fallen Down were both written before the music, and I'm quite pleased with both of them.  This time I thought I'd try something that lends itself particularly well to blurring the poetry/music divide: the folk ballad. 

Wanna buy some mandies, Bob?

So here it is, my attempt at an early Bob Dylan-type ballad.  I wanted to tell some kind of a story, but couldn't really think of anything that grabbed me.  In the meantime, I played around with the all-important first line.  Once I'd got that, the story (or rather the situation of an old man waiting for a lift - literally) presented itself readily. 

Recorded in one take, with the vocals through a Rode NTK and the guitar through an SM57 - it doesn't sound half bad, especially when you consider the strings are the self-same strings I boiled for Track 6!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Song Number 33: Fallen Down

Another one bites the dust...

We're almost there - but let's not get complacent! PLEASE DONATE SOME PENNIES TO PARKINSON'S UK NOW! justgiving.com/songaweek

So what's all this racket at the beginning about?  Well, I had a drum beat playing on the computer, while at the same time importing a CD.  Perfectly in time with the beat, the "Import Finished" noise sounded. 

And that's about that, really.  Transposed melody in the second verse - I like doing that.

Rehearsal today in readiness for the Bedford Gig on the 27th September!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Bohemian Rhapsody and other maulings!

Great fun at the Guildford Tup last night, listening to some cracking performers and meeting some lovely people.  The set included plenty from the Song A Week repertoire, as well as a dust-off of Work To Do  and a totally off-the-cuff rendering (if that's the word) of Bohemian Rhapsody!

What's wrong with Brian's face?!

Particular thanks to John Siely, who has challenged me to write a song with a particular title - come down to the open mic at the same place on 21st September to hear the result!

Also, hallo to Michael the Magpie from Apex Corner McDonald's!

Next on the agenda:

Tuesday 27th September, The Bedford, Balham


Plenty of parking at the Sainsbury's across the road (at least there was last time), and the station (National Rail and Northern Line Tube) is just around the corner.

The night also features Big Mamma's Door (excellent blues band) and Anna Phoebe (classic rock electric violinist. Yes!)

This is my favourite venue in the capital, with the best sound and a great atmosphere. The gig will also be streamed live on the internet at http://www.justin.tv/thebedfordlive

We'll be on pretty late (somewhere between half nine and ten, I reckon), but get down early to see the rest of the acts, too.

And in the meantime, I've got the next three songs all on the boil at the moment.  It's a busy few days/weeks/months ahead, but I'm confident about catching up and getting these songs done and dusted. 

If you're new to the site, check out the "Why Parkinson's" page, and have a flick through the songs (the "Just The Songs" page might be most useful there), and please, please, please donate some money to Parkinson's UK.  I'm not doing this for the good of my health, you know!

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Song Number 32: Last Time You Break My Heart

And that's it for tonight...

There's a bonus point for anybody who can guess where the drumbeat at the beginning comes from. 

More fiddling in the studio for this one, though the title/chorus came to me in one go before I set foot in there.  The second verse ("I'm taking steps...") is a bit of a Talking Heads reference and there's a Linn drum machine clap in there I've been wanting to use for ages.

If it's good enough for Prince...

Unfortunately, over the month I've been away, having my throat raped by air conditioning, my tuning's gone to pot, my tone's back to that horrible whine I've been trying to get away from for so long, and I appear to have forgotten how to mix a track properly.  I've not been well, people.


Song number 31: Me And The Morning

Back in Blighty...

... and while I quite like how this song moves around, my throat's still not up to the challenge. 

It's about my love of the English weather, especially in the morning.  Early mornings are a bit of a novelty for me, really, so when I do see them I love them.  Even when it's cold, grey and drizzly, there's a wonderful feeling in standing there in your kitchen with a nice warm mug of tea, with that slight nip in the air.  It's one of the few times when I feel happy to be apart from the rest of the world. 

One more to go for tonight's update...

Song Number 30: Bakelite Lady

By this point, I was starting to have trouble...

Recorded in a terrifying old house in New Orleans, this one features instruments sold to me by the wonderful CJ of Amro music, Memphis TN.  However, after a fortnight of hostile temperatures and equally evil air conditioning, my throat was really starting to suffer...

I might also add that the flute sounds out of tune because I was using somebody else's guitar that they'd left in this house, and it was flat.  I didn't dare tune the thing up for fear of breaking a string, and on our month away every music shop in the US seemed to be closed except Amro, which was a 9 hour train journey away.

Song Number 29: Peppermint


This was written and recorded at 7 in the morning in the bathroom of a Chicago hotel room.  I can't play harp at the best of times, but when I'm trying not to wake the neighbours it's even worse. 

The kick drum is the hotel room safe.

But I'm not stopping there...

Wednesday, 17 August 2011


Now then!

Currently in Vegas, having a great time. All but totally unable to get anything musical done - it's hard work this holiday lark - but I have been working on one aspect of my songwriting: lyrics.

It's rare that I'll be completely happy with one of my lyrics. If I say exactly what I want to say, I think it's too corny. If I blur the edges a bit to make things less obvious, it sounds too contrived and desperately cryptic.

I shouldn't be too worried, though. The lyric (yes, lyric) to a song is ultimately of less importance to most listeners than the music; I cite We Built This City by Starship (lyric by Bernie Taupin, Elton John's lyricist of choice) as evidence, though I could list plenty more number one hits with lyrics that would have made William McGonnegal blush.

This in mind, though, I still think lyrics are my weak point, so I'm taking a few moments here and there to scribble some verses on various topics into a brilliant notebook I picked up at Walgreens. Practice makes perfect, after all.

A few thoughts on some of the music here in the States: most of the best current chart songs you hear piped in shops and restaurants are by British artists- well done us! Standard of buskers varies as much as back home, regardless of the city, though Memphis seemed to have a generally higher standard of player, and fewer wedding band songs. The two tracks I've heard piped the most are Rollin In The Deep by Adele, and (bizarrely) Runaway by Del Shannon. Worst ambient music by far was in San Francisco: felt like I was trapped in a Honda advert or the soundtrack to Juno. Las Vegas has the oddest taste in music. Don't believe me? Look who's playing Caesar's:

I know! Also, a local entertainment guide reads, 'Matt Goss, known as "The Voice"...' Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that Paul Rogers?

Anyways, I'll be back home and able to record in just over a week, though I've not played a piano, kit or bass properly since I left, and you don't even want to know what all this air conditioning is doing to my throat!

Tonight we head to the Venetian to see the Blue Man Group- well excited, as even on a small screen DVD they're pretty spectacular.

Until the next time, here's a picture of an amazing cheeseboard we saw in Carmel, CA:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone in the USA. Please don't burgle my house.

Monday, 8 August 2011

New Orleans track done

But again, I won't be able to upload it til I get back. I can reveal, however, that it's called Bakelite Lady, and features the sound of my iRig mic not bastard working!

It's even harder than normal, writing songs away from home. On the plus side, there's a guitar at the house we're staying in at the mo, but I'm just not in a working frame of mind. I've noticed the thing that suffers first (and most) is melody - I end up semi-improvising the same tired blues lines I always use.

The answer, of course, is to set time aside to concentrate on songwriting; working on ideas and creating proper, rounded songs. But fuck it- I'm on holiday. ;-)

Speaking of which, just a few words on music in New Orleans. There's a bit of trad jazz here and there, and there's the annual Satchmo jazz festival on at the mo, celebrating the life and work of Louis Armstrong... but the place just doesn't seem to have a soul. There's nothing that doesn't just seem put on for the tourists.

Also, there's a lot of stodgy, chugging, accordion-based blues. It's horrid.

We did, however, find this:

Who says Americans don't do irony?

San Francisco next...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone in the USA. Please don't burgle my house.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Memphis update


Just leaving steamy Memphis. I'm still unable to get any new songs online, but in the meantime you can still donate to the Song A Week for Parkinson's UK project by visiting http://justgiving.com/songaweek. Also, have a look at these bits and pieces:

Patrick Dodd - best blues and R&B act we saw on our visit; really excellent.

Dodd and his band

Dodd himself - a white guy with dreads, and I still liked him. That's how good the show was.

Wonderful drummer; great hair

Memphis Jones - local musician, comedian and, well, tour guide doesn't really do the man justice. Inspirational.

And finally, my own take on the Stax sound, back at Song 27: Actions Speak Louder Than Words (with apologies to Stax fans everywhere!) Click on the picture to hear it!

The original Stax sign, above the stage at the Rum Boogie Cafe on Beale St.

On the sleeper car to New Orleans now. It's just like North By Northwest, only Jess is prettier than Eve Marie Saint, and I'm straighter than Cary Grant. Just about.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone in the USA. Please don't burgle my house.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Guess where I am...

May not look much to you guys, but I've been waiting about sixteen years to see this. So exciting!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone in the USA. Please don't burgle my house.

Saturday, 30 July 2011


Hello all!

I'm blogging from a motel in Racine, Wisconsin but despite how that sounds I'm having a fantastic time!

But Song A Week doesn't go on holiday, even if I do. Last night, in a spare 20 mins while we were waiting to go out in Chicago, I wrote the words for song 29; and at half eight this morning, in our hotel bathroom, I recorded it. However, though the song's finished, I can't seem to figure out how to get it online just yet.

In the meantime, here's a statue of a man embracing a massive fish.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone in the USA. Please don't burgle my house.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Jagger Jagger Jagger: free download!

Free download from Soundcloud at Soundcloud.com

Please consider a donation to Parkinson's UK while you're enjoying this free track!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone in the USA. Please don't burgle my house.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Song Number 28: Jagger Jagger Jagger

Leave it out!

JAGGER SOME OF YOUR SWAGGER OVER TO PARKINSON'S UK by clicking on the widget above or visiting http://www.justgiving.com/songaweek

Now available for free download at Soundcloud.com!

Right, what's this all about then?  Well, I was listening to the radio and realised that there are two songs doing the rounds at the moment referencing Mick Jagger (I assume it's Mick, anyway) - viz. Moves Like Jagger by Maroon 5 & Christina Aguilera, and Swagger Jagger by X-Factor singer number 415b, Cher Lloyd.  Both are top 40 hits.  The first is so mind-numbingly mediocre you wonder how M5 ever produced the brilliant This Love, while the second is just fucking terrible

So I thought, "I can do that".

People of Britain: you did this to yourselves

Featuring the vocal talents of Jazzy Jess, Ice P, and The Notorious A.L.E.X., and the liberal use of Melodyne, as well as Logic's own brand of pitch correction, it's a hook-laden monstrosity that will disgust and delight in equal measures.  Not to be fed after midnight.

And now, folks, I'm off to the States for a month on honeymoon, but I'll be doing my best to get some recording done while I'm out there.  I'm not sure how able I'll be to actually put the videos together though, but we'll see what happens.

Mind the roads!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Secrets Of The Pop Song: more thoughts

The second and third programmes in this very interesting series are now online here, and you can read my musings on the first show here.

  • What makes a song a hit? Boy George says "Airplay."  There's a lot to this.  One thing the programme didn't mention is the amout of money paid by record companies to plug their artists' records (or, indeed, get them onto BBC documentaries writing songs with Guy Chambers).  Lamont Dozier of Motown writing legends Holland Dozier Holland, on the other hand, says "I don't know - and I've had, like, 78 top ten hits."
  • Another guilty pleasure (if harsh) from Boy George, who's actually coming across very well in this series (normally gets right on my wires): "People say 'Oh you've got to admire them because they've been so successful and sold so many records.'  I don't.  Arms dealers do well."
  • Guy Chambers "has written over a thousand songs, and had 21 hit singles."  That's a 2% success rate, which puts things in perspective for whining songwriters like me who complain they're not getting their piece of the pie!  Indeed, while the radio pluggers were going wild about the Ballad from the first show, they were unconvinced about the Breakthrough Single from the second show, and weren't even shown commenting on the third programme's Anthem.  Both of those songs were good... but not great.  And this is from one of the UK's most renowned writers - but where he scores over others is that he'll keep on writing those fifty songs until he gets the one that works.  (Interesting moment in the third programme where after a day of pounding out three ideas with The Noisettes, he wasn't afraid to ditch all three and pound out another three ideas.  Excellent).
Deals with a 98% failure rate very well
  • Is there anybody in the top 40 at the moment who isn't from a stage school, a reality show, or the loins of a record executive?  Nepotism's always been around, and of course A&R people are going to make stage schools their first stop, but the industry does seem to be more than usually saturated... or is that just me being jaded?  It'll be interesting to see what happens when the BRIT school's bubble finally bursts.
  • Writing songs - jamming, making random sounds/words to find a melody
  • Brian Higgins, ringleader of Xenomania, one of the best songwriting/production houses since Stock Aitken & Waterman (just Google them - fantastic track record, no pun intended) - group of half a dozen or so writers, with one decision maker.  Reminds me of Motown's quality control meetings...
  • Round Round by Sugababes: piece of new music formed basis of the track; chorus was taken from a 2-year-old track written by Xenomania co-writer Miranda Cooper.  It's easy to get precious about songs, and see them as whole pieces; but if you have one song with a great chorus and nothing much else, and another song with a great verse and nothing much else, why not try and clag them together?
Tried to find a pic of the Sugababes' current line-up
but nobody knows who's in the group this month

  • Rich Harrison, producer of (amongst other things) Beyonce's Crazy In Love and Amerie's One Thing, talks about starting with an instrumental, then "grunting" a melody over the top of it until it forms itself into something workable.  Seeing a pattern here?
  • Group writing - Tawiah singing her melody/lyric; Chambers suggesting she changes the odd word, then adding his own counter melody.
Another argument breaks out over who wrote the mid 8

  • Jessie J: "80% of my time is taken up with talking about making music, not actually making music."  Seems like a smart girl - reckon she'll be around for a while.  Incidentally, BBC, her career did not "start with writing songs for Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift."  Nobody's career starts there!
  • Quote of the series from Sting: "My critical factors are highly attuned." It's nice to know that as empires rise and fall, Sting will always be a complete knob. :o)
Sumner's Constant
Also on this week were a couple of shows about Ray Davies and The Kinks and a superb documentary on Harry Nilsson - watch it now if you haven't already!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Hang on again...

I'm off on (belated) honeymoon to the States on Monday - four weeks around the North, South and West - but this means I've been cramming a hell of a lot in at the moment to pay for it!  But Song A Week will still be continuing.  Here's what's coming up in the next few weeks:

  • Song 28 - the most ridiculous track I've done since Marty & Me back at track 4
  • Thoughts on the second and third Secrets of the Pop Song BBC programme - read my thoughts on part one here
  • Various wibblings about musical things I come across in the US of A
  • And of course, Songs 29 onwards.  Yes, courtesy of VocaLive I'll be able to record while we're out there.  (I have a very understanding wife - it was actually Jess's suggestion!)
Ta-ra! Mind the roads!
 But in the meantime, as we'll be going to Graceland at some point, here's a track I recorded a few years ago of which I'm very fond - it's an odd little thing, but I'd love to know what you think.  I think it's kind of a prelude to Song 26: Escape on Amenartas.

More tracks at my Soundcloud Site 

And finally, do try and come along to the gig tomorrow night (Friday 22nd July) at The Star Inn, Guildford. We'll be playing a few new tracks from the Song A Week project, and will be supported by Steve The Drummer's band Earthtide - 70s inspired metal with stoner grooves.  They are not to be missed - a truly excellent band, with excellent musicianship and superb heavy-as-Rick-Waller guitar riffs that lift them above most other metal bands on the circuit.  £2 in; doors about 8.30. 

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Song titles

A lot of writers start with a song title, and that gives them an idea of what the song might be about, and therefore what sort of music would go with it.  Plus, it's an advertising line for the song.  If you're flicking through an album and you're faced with the following track list:
  1. Breakup song
  2. Love song
  3. I love you
  4. Captain Corelli's Buggered Off
  5. Sad song
  6. Song for my father
... which track are you going to skip to first?  Exactly

So where's a good place to find a song title?  Well, my current favourite source is newspaper columnists.   Newspaper headlines aren't always poetic enough (from various newspapers today: "Murdochs to Testify"; "Betty Ford's Son Eulogizes Former First Lady"; "Indonesian Volcano Erupts"; "Met Chief Under Pressure"; and, of course, "Brooking Good" - another story about Kelly Brooks in her pants). 

Columnists, on the other hand, and especially editorials, don't need to sum up the news story (the readers will already have read about it earlier in the paper), so they just have to sound enticing.  For example: "Fixing The Holes"; "The Sky Falls In"; "Fade To Grey"; "Absolved Of Blame"; "Wrong Target"...

But pick up any book and you'll find something.  Here are a few from a random page in Speak, Memory, the autobiography of Vladimir Nabokov: "Linden Avenue"; "Conventional Ghost"; "Persons Unknown"; "Some Mysterious Stranger"... or 1791 - Mozart's Last Year by H.C. Robbins Landon: "Rewrite The Second"; "Outside The Line"; "Language Misleading"; "New Intrigue"; "Dresden 13"... or even the classic Collectible Spoons of the 3rd Reich by James A Yannes: "Diamond Colours"; "Sleeping Carriage"; "For All Intents And Purposes"...

However, I have to say the award for greatest song title of all time has to go Joe Tex for the absolutely superb (and totally genuine) You Might Be Digging The Garden (But Somebody's Picking Your Plums).

I Gotcha!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Song Number 27: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

I'm off to the States this summer (belated honeymoon - so excited!), and part of the trip will take in Memphis, and Stax Studios.  With that in mind, I thought I'd try and write a Stax-type number:

Stax for a long time was seen as the slightly bruised sister of Motown, and you either liked one or the other.  However, both studios had quite similar ways of working - staff writers; house band; featured artists.  The most famous arrangement of the house musicians, of course, was Booker T and the MGs: Booker T Jones on Organ; Steve Cropper on Guitar; Donald "Duck" Dunn on Bass; and Al Jackson Jr on Drums.  Like the Funk Brothers at Motown, they were a crack team of session musicians who were expected to walk into the studio, lay down a track in a couple of takes, and then move on to the next one.

Still a really cool logo.

Unfortunately, keys aside, I'm not a crack session musician, but I did my best!  If I'd had more time, I'd have done a more authentic-sounding sax arrangement - the Stax horns were always so much cooler than this one here.  Plus only having an alto sax makes things sound rather thinner than I'd like.

However!  I did play around with the panning on this track, to make it sound like a 3-track recording: Bass, Guitar, Drums and Organ recorded on track one (centre); Horns and tambourine recorded on track 2 (left); vocals and hand claps on track 3 (right).

But enough of that - it's time to donate! http://www.justgiving.com/songaweek.

Anyway, I've got to rush - off to see my teenage heroes Primus tonight.  My God have mercy on my eardrums.

Monday, 11 July 2011

BBC: Secrets of the Pop Song, part 1 (Ballad)

The BBC is currently running a three-part series called Secrets of the Pop Song, in which top UK songwriter Guy Chambers (more hits than you can shake a stick at, most famously providing the best songs of Robbie Williams' career) pairs up with a different artist each week to write a different type of song.

Spectacular doyle, Robbie Williams, who made the mistake
of thinking he was bigger than his songwriters

If you haven't seen it yet, check out part 1 here, in which Chambers writes a ballad with Canadian balladeer Rufus Wainwright.

As I was watching it, I jotted down a few thoughts:
  • Starting with a title can give you the concept of the song, and the atmosphere of the music straight away, meaning you can streamline the playing around on instruments you do to find a suitable riff or musical style. 

  • When I write a riff or a chord sequence, I follow my ear initially; but then I need to check whether the result is “comfortable” to the audience, or just predictable. Audiences sometimes like to be pleasantly surprised with where a song goes, but they don't like to be jerked around all over the place.

  • Lyricist Don Black: “If you can recognise yourself in a song” then you're onto a winner. Very true. If a song's too specific in its lyrics, only people who've experienced that specific situation will be able to relate to it. If you make the words a little more general, boiling the song down to the basic emotion rather than the specifics of the situation that moved you to write those words, then more people will feel like the song “speaks” to them.

  • Sting, along the same lines, talking about Every Breath You Take, which he intended as quite a bitter song about a troubled break-up, being played at people's weddings because other people hear a different meaning altogether. “It means whatever you want it to mean”.

    Ok, he's a bit of a knob,
    but he's sold more records than all of us.

  • Boy George, saying it's easier and better to write from personal experience. I'm not sure that's always true, and I certainly don't think that it's best to write lyrics in the heat of the moment when an emotion's at its most powerful. Most of my songs are about my personal experiences, but they're almost always imagined or remembered a while afterwards, when I'm in a different mood; otherwise I end up being too specific (see Don Black section), or just too much like an angry teenager's diary. Also, look at Randy Newman, who writes superb songs often from a different character's point of view, not his own.

  • Don Black again: artist-specific songs and in-jokes often make songs unsellable from a publishing point of view. A song that's too much like a Rufus Wainwright song (with RW being a pretty idiosyncratic artist) would be a turn-off for a publishing company, since they wouldn't be able to place it with anybody else on their roster (unless they happened to have a roster of Rufus Wainwright soundalikes, which isn't likely!)

  • Radio scouts going mental over the final track. Of course they are – the show would have been a damp squib if the end product had been a flop, and also it's a well put together track. The quality of the recording, too, is excellent. I do wonder, though, if they would have been quite as excited if they hadn't known who'd written it...
This last point also raises a problem a lot of songwriters have, namely the quality of their demos. Nowadays, scouts aren't remotely interested in anything that's done on a dictaphone with just you and your guitar – the demo has to sound slick and well-produced; pretty much ready to broadcast as it is. It's a shame, really; a great song is a great song, regardless of the production quality. But with technology getting better and cheaper as time goes on, every songwriter potentially has professional studio-quality sounds within their budget, so of course the standard of demo production is going to rise; and it's only natural that a scout's ears are drawn more to a shiny radio-ready demo than a poorly-recorded sketch. 

Wonderbollocks Records do not accept unsolicited wax cylinders*

In the past I've had A&R people turn down my demos because my vocals weren't up to scratch – I was livid at the time, because I wouldn't have been singing the song on the final record, so what the hell does it matter what my voice sounds like? But that's the way the industry's working at the moment, so there's no point griping. If your vocals aren't up to the job, hire a singer. If your demos are getting returned because the production's not good enough, throwing a tantrum (as I've done many a time) isn't going to get you anywhere. It might not be fair; it might not be right; but it's how it's done.

*photo courtesy of Ohio State University
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