NOW WE ARE FIVE – new band members, our first gig after lockdown and the French Revolution

It’s been a while since the last blog, probably because I’ve been writing for the next album. It feels weird to write those words when we only released the last one a few months ago. In this one I want to bring readers up to date on our latest incarnation, and how it’s all going. So here’s the new line-up with our two new guys.

In fact, Lukas started practising with us this time last year but we didn’t want to confuse matters with the album coming out, and he has brought a new dimension to our live sound. We had been debating whether to introduce a keyboard player for about three years and the one or two we tried didn’t work out for one reason or another. In one gig we brought on Andrew Baird to play guitar while I did keys for three songs but that would never have been sustainable. As we came close to finishing the album we realised the necessity of keyboards if we were going to do justice to the tracks we worked so hard to produce. We subscribed to Bandmix, a site that introduces musicians to bands, so was Lukas and we all met in my garden last June after the end of the first lockdown. As he lives in south London it’s a 45 minute drive down to the rehearsal studios in Outwood but through the winter up to Christmas and since April, Lukas has made the trip week after week. He takes his music seriously. Not only have we worked as a band but I’ve been up to Crown Lane Studios, his base, to work on projects. A little bit about him… he was born in Dublin, moved over to London in his teens. He’s got a solo career alongside his work with us. Check out his Facebook page at(16) Lukas Kelly | Facebook. He has a great album due out, well worth listening to when it’s released.

The two new boys, Lukas (left) and Russell

Russell joined us a little later, in October. He lives quite close to me , and we have loads of friends in common, including our old band-mate Andrew Baird, but we had never met until I found him, again, on good old Bandmix. Russell may not have as much band experience but he too works really hard. We’ve spent several sessions round at mine working on his guitar parts. To be honest, we’d nearly given up until he came along. We had tried out a couple of lead guitarists, one who lasted half a rehearsal before packing up his kit and leaving. The idea with Russell is to let him play his way in very gradually and he’s doing a great job, bringing some skills on acoustic guitar which provides real scope for live performances.

Having been a trio for quite a while it was strange for us, and for our new band-mates. When you’re only used to listening to two other instruments and you’re taking your cues off them, and suddenly there are two more to listen to, it takes concentration and application. But we’re lucky they’re as keen as we are to be a cohesive unit. That means you go home and work on the areas you’re not certain about, where you think you might be weak, and where you think there is room for improvement. Being a musician requires a lot of self-criticism. Best to get it right before anyone else hears it and blasts your self-penned masterpiece to pieces! And as the weeks go by and we know each other better, we get better.

So it was on 28 May we did our first gig as a five-piece. It was also our first time out of lockdown, first time after release of the album. A lot of firsts. Our hosts were the Sound Lounge at Morden. Lukas had introduced us to the venue as it’s just around the corner from Crown Lane Studios where he records his solo music. It was so great to be up on stage playing our music. It’s fair to say that before lockdown, although we did some 7 or 8 original songs, the rest of our repertoire were covers. This gig really reversed the two. I think we did 6 covers, the rest being our songs from the 2017 EP and the album. Yes, there were some strange elements to it. The audience had to remain seated at tables of no more than 6, and it wasn’t as full as we would have liked but I get the sense a lot of people are still rather reticent to be in a crowd. And the problem with playing original music is that it takes a little time for audiences to become familiar with your music and sound. But it went well. We can… we will improve, but with the new songs for the next album coming through, we have some exciting material to try out live.

I have to include one surreal episode. A lady in the front row had brought her embroidery with her. First time I’ve ever seen that at a gig and it reminded me of the French Revolution. Wait a minute, you may be saying. Isn’t it a bit of a stretch from the Reign of Terror in 1792 to a gig in 2021 in Morden? To the best of my knowledge there were no French aristocrats on stage waiting to be guillotined, although my Dad is a direct descendant of Viscount Savage of Rocksavage (absolutely true, but possibly a story for another blog). But here’s the connection: over there in Place de la Revolution (now called Place de la Concorde), where the guillotine did its dirty work, a bunch of women called ‘tricoteuses’ used to sit knitting, just under the part of the platform where the heads of the unfortunate aristocrats fell into a basket. OK, you had to be there. Happily, we didn’t lose our heads, and thanks to Hannah, Alex and all at the Sound Lounge. And of course, our ‘tricoteuse’.

Influences: Out of African Music

“Temptation” African Instrumental

If you’re listening to the above clip you could be forgiven for thinking it was an excerpt from some African band rather than the Lavender Hill album but it’s not far off. First, this is something new and un-heralded so if you were expecting a vlog or a podcast, apologies. Last week I was interviewed by Alex Horwood the photographer and videographer we work with. I thought it would be a quick 15 minutes but he turned up with 2 cameras, a still photographer, lights, and a sound recorder. After he finished he told me he wouldn’t finish editing for at least a week, so we had to make some changes to our scheduling for this week’s Adventures in Music. Luckily I had this one in reserve, so let’s talk about one of my influences. African Music.

Music didn’t take me there but within minutes of leaving Lome airport in West Africa, I couldn’t escape it. You heard it on flimsy antique Japanese transistor radios from the roadside, blaring out of bars, from markets where rip-off copies of Western soul, pop and rock sat next to the work of Congolese, Senegalese, Malian and Cameroonian musicians. I’ll be honest, I didn’t understand it until one day I heard Mory Kante’s “Yeke Yeke” and it all came together. All music is visceral. You hear it, you like it or you don’t like it. It was the exuberance, the inexorable rhythms…the sheer energy I loved.

Describing African music as an entity on its own is a little disparaging. It’s like lumping soul, jazz, pop, rock and folk together. One person who has done more to educate the UK public about this huge sprawl of rhythms, killer percussion and brilliant vocals, it’s Andy Kershaw. When I returned to Europe, listening to him actually broadened my knowledge, he is so well-versed in this music. There are so many strands in West Africa where I spent a few years and we haven’t even talked about Southern Africa. Then you think about the crossovers, from Fela Kuti, the African reggae of Alpha Blondy from Cote d’Ivoire and the individual brilliance of Youssou N’Dour who has pulled influences from everywhere to create a music all his own. On my iPlayer I even have a few songs by the Afro-Celt project, a fusion of Irish and Kenyan music. All the different countries have their own brand and it’s generally an evolution of traditional music paired with Cuban and Latin rhythms. In Senegal it’s M’balax; in Cameroon it’s Makossa and I’ll be talking about that later in the blog. And I can’t help mentioning the Ghanaian band Osibisa who brought the sounds of their continent to Europe in the 1970s with a storm and one of the best album covers I’ve ever seen! And just to namedrop, I spent one unforgettable evening in Accra jamming with their keyboard player Kiki Gyan.

Osibisa

I played in a few bands with fellow Europeans in the early years, churning out covers for ex-pats through West Africa and although I knew a few I really didn’t collaborate with local musicians until I went to live in Cameroon.

In the coastal city of Douala there was a vibrant music community, led at the time by the fantastic sax player Manu Dibango. I’d only been there a few weeks when a friend pushed me onstage with a group of African musicians. We started to do weekly slots in the city’s clubs and our band, called Tempting Fate, was in demand. There weren’t too many European/African combinations. And through the guys I met Tom Yom’s.

Tom

Tom’s brand was makossa. It’s a blend of traditional music, soul with strong bass lines and heavy brass, but we started a collaboration that stopped only when I left Africa. It crossed all the boundaries and if today I break the rules of music, or push its boundaries he persuaded me it was OK to do it. He was a really accomplished, serious musician and although self-taught in both music and production he was adventurous and not afraid to try new techniques, one of which was sampling. He would record traditional African instruments then re-create their sound on his synth. I started work on a solo album with him but it wasn’t finished for reasons of time – he had to go to France to work. It was pretty ironic that African musicians earned more in Europe than in their own country and if the chance arose, off they went. One gig in Paris or London could earn them enough to live in Africa for a year. But from that half-finished project came two of the songs you can hear on the Lavender Hill album: “Apocalypse” and “Temptation”. The clip from ‘Temptation” above was my best effort at reproducing a couple of percussion instruments Tom put on the original recording, sadly lost in the depths of time. But we worked on another song he included on one of his albums, “Sunny Days”. We did the demo at his studio in Douala, then I met him in Paris to record the vocals. Although it’s not very African, you can hear his fantastic voice. He’s the second one you hear. That’s me the other half of the duet.

Moving Pictures

Tom died in 2007. Manu Dibango sadly died of Covid last March at the age of 83 after a distinguished career. Unfortunately he’s only known in the the English-speaking world for “Soul Makossa” and being sampled by Michael Jackson but he and Tom were huge in Africa. Somewhere there’s a picture of Tom, Manu and I. Wish I could put it on this blog but having moved around so much it was lost. Kiki Gyan isn’t around any more, a victim of his success more than anything. But when I think of everything they, and the dozens of African musicians I played with over the years I lived there, taught me; and remember the joy and pleasure they took from their music I can only feel immensely grateful; and you can bet echoes of those rhythms and beats will be there in future songs on every album we make.

THE ELUSIVE SEARCH FOR DEFINITION

Hi. Confused of Surrey here. Or a member of a band still searching for a definition of its music. I can hear the chortles of incredulity from here… “What, an album, an EP, new songs in the process of being written and NOW you’re asking yourself what category you fit into?” Yes, I see how it might play. To be honest this head-scratching has been going on for a long time, ever since we started playing our own songs. When we were playing rock, blues and indie covers it was easy and obvious. Even the EP was pretty unequivocal. Or was it? “Somewhere in the Desert”… What is it? Folk, Americana, or some hybrid? https://open.spotify.com/album/7dvwiWR5V4Zfwl0p3WFJT2?highlight=spotify:track:6ShP7ixIK5wT9N6aGcQK9d

You see what I mean? In its purest form, according to Razz, it doesn’t actually matter. We are Lavender Hill, we play our own brand of music, end of… However, this works until the outside world pokes its head through the door. One evening in the rehearsal studio, Lukas, our new keyboard player who was looking for gigs in and around London, asked the question for a totally legitimate reason. Promoters want to know how you define yourself so they can find the appropriate venue and event to offer you a gig. If you sound like Take That they don’t want to put you onstage at a death metal show. Well, I guess they could do it for comedy value, or if they didn’t mind the band’s body parts being thrown around the venue. It’s easier now we have a current album. The promoter can listen to it and make their own choice, but even that isn’t simple. Do they listen to the entire album, or a single track at random? The answer is, it depends if they have the time or the inclination. They might select a song at random, decide they don’t like it and toss the CD notwithstanding the possibility they might listen to another song and really like it.

It may be an understatement to say the album is quite diverse. Here’s a link if you haven’t heard it already – https://ditto.fm/lavender-hill . When you’re asked who you sound like, and this happens a lot by bloggers, promoters, pluggers, reviewers…well, it’s difficult. It should be great to declare loud and clear how original your music is, so original it doesn’t fit in any category. It doesn’t help. Try telling a rock journalist you sound like a certain band and they will have an immediate pre-conception of what you should sound like. Then they listen to a track and say we don’t sound anything like said act. I’m going to wade into dangerous territory here and say a couple of correspondents have described us as early Pink Floyd. Thanks, very flattered, Floyd a big influence, always admired the band etc. Then someone else says we sound like something else. On the face of it there isn’t even an issue. Guitar power chords over a driving rhythm section, drums and bass right up at the front of the mix. That’s a rock band, pure and simple.

Further confusion arose when we were selected for the Ditto Music ‘Indie Hitlist’ playlist on Spotify. Here it is – https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3Kg4EKpK8OtkhDvIOVm5cc Really exciting to be in the company of some superb artists. So now we’re an indie band? And listening to the playlist there is a musical spectrum as broad as the Sahara Desert. I don’t have a problem with that, and certainly, depending whether you accept the definition of an unsigned act playing outside mainstream genres, which was how the term was created in the 1970s, we are most definitely an indie band. But I had a conversation with Razz about it, and he was pretty unequivocal that we don’t conform to the expectation most listeners associate with the term “indie”. So now we’re back to square one.

My fault, I guess. If every song had been like ‘Dancing in Silence’, we would be neatly labelled, packaged. Job Done. So instead we dive into ‘Apocalypse’, bass-driven, almost a dance track if it weren’t for the rock chorus. Then two songs, ‘Electra’ and ‘The Fire’ which are very definitely verging on soft rock. Just when you’re nodding in confirmation, track 5, ‘Favourite Son’ smashes you in the head like you’re standing next to the cabs at a 1974 Deep Purple concert. And on we go, careering around like an out-of-control musical dodgem car at a fairground, picking up elements of swamp rock in ‘Chainsaw’, the gentle folk of ‘Lavender Hill’, and ending with a jazz-influenced ‘Temptation’ and the metal of ‘What Did You Do?’ I’m exhausted thinking of all the influences and genres in this album and I wrote most of the tracks!

It doesn’t really explain what I would call eclectic and others would call a hodge-podge of styles. We have every reason to thank our producer Tom Hughes for finding a uniformity through all the tracks on the album. The songs might be incredibly different but the way we play them is pretty much the same apart from ‘Lavender Hill’ and I’d argue we’re allowed one outlier.

And we’re not trading new ground. There are loads of great, well-known acts and bands who change genres and styles on the same album. Prince, David Bowie, Queen just off the top of my head. The difference between them and us is they are so well-known they define themselves. And it isn’t as if the music business has changed. Even in the 1960s you were either a hippie band, a rock and roller, or a pop star. One of the reasons Bowie didn’t break earlier was no-one could work him out. Who would dare to call Prince a funk artist once they heard ‘1999’ or ‘Little Red Corvette’? We’re still struggling to be allowed to reach that point and until…if…we do, we have to accept this need to pigeon-hole, to fit us neatly into a sub-genre. We’re still looking. I found one called neo-rock. No? What about Art Rock, Math Rock….Sunshine pop. So what do you think? Perhaps we can create one especially for us. Any ideas? Surrey Rock? London Rock. Or perhaps just Lavender Hill Rocks!

Words and Meaning Part 4

So we come, finally, to the last 4 songs on the album. It’s been pretty interesting for us to articulate thoughts and ideas about them. There are times during the writing and recording process you just do something. You don’t stop to think where a line of lyrics came from, or what was in your mind when you dreamed up a melody line for a verse or a chorus. They happen, and it’s only in retrospect you actually reflect on reasons or motivation.

As this series comes to an end we’ll be back up to date next week, talking about promoting an album during lockdown and getting ready for the world when musicians can go out of their front doors again, and rehearse and play gigs if there are any venues left.

SPEAKING RUSSIAN

This song was so much fun to write, and we love playing it for a whole bunch of reasons. It all started with ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’ by The Beatles. When we first started playing as a band it was all covers and this was one of them. Razz told me it’s inspired by early Beach Boys hits which seems logical. Anyway, here’s a clip of us playing it in 2016. Sorry about the sound quality or lack of….!

I have a lot of affection for Russia. I’m not talking about their government. But Russian people are absolutely brilliant. They’re generous, totally non-judgemental, spiritual and they drink loads of vodka. In another life I spent a lot of time there. I had a flat in Moscow and travelled extensively, from Siberia to St Petersburg to the Caspian Sea. They have a colourful history, wonderful architecture and scary roads. Russia, and my very good friend Vadim, is the reason why Lavender Hill exists. I’ve definitely told this story before but that evening in January 2015 when he and I jammed until 4 in the morning in his lakeside house north of Moscow is the reason I got back into music after a hiatus of 20 years. So I don’t remember exactly when I started thinking about the guy from ‘Back in the U.S.S.R.’…. you know, the one who flew in from Miami Beach B.O.A.C., man he had a dreadful flight.’ And what he would be doing now, 50 years on. Was he still in Russia? What was his life like now?

As for the music, I wanted to pay tribute to Paul McCartney so we kept the structure of “USSR”. It was one of my favourite Beatles songs off their best album. Thanks Fab Four. And yes, I am singing in Russian on the last line!

SPEAKING RUSSIAN*
 Been livin’ here so long I think I know the place
 Still I just can’t call it home
 So many things I miss about the good ol’ west
 So many nights I watch TV alone

 Winters here seem to last a year or more
 Snow freezes to my bones
 Shops are full of food I can’t eat
 Borscht and vodka are all I know

 CHORUS  
 Spend all day speaking Russian
 Only thing that I can do
 Reading signs in a different way
 Always makes me blue
 But it doesn’t stop me wishing 
 For a place I once knew
 
BRIDGE
 St Petersburg girls are still as cute
 They make the river cook
 And Samara sweeties look so fine
 But I’m too old to do more than look

 Most days I end up drinking vodka
 And I try to pick up the phone
 But I never get around to makin the call
 And I listen to the dial tone

 CHORUS
 Spend all day speaking Russian
 Only thing that I can do
 Reading signs in a different way
 Always makes me blue
 But it doesn’t stop me wishing 
 For a place I once knew
 
 

TEMPTATION

This song has a lot of history. It was written a long time ago, but the first recorded version dates back to 1992. I was in Douala, Cameroon, working with the African singer Tom Yom’s, sadly passed away in 2007. He wanted s0me lyrics in English and as we worked together I started bringing a few songs into the studio with a view to recording an album. That didn’t happen because of time pressure but several of the songs survived. This one’s about guilt and I think it was inspired by a film called ‘Fatal Attraction’ with Michael Douglas and Glenn Close. That suffocating feeling of knowing you’ve betrayed someone you love. On this song the riff came first, that very dark nine-note, two bar repeating motif. Then the lyrics. The verses, slow, quiet and dark then crashing guitars rising to a climax on the second chorus. Then Tom put in this interlude with interesting African percussion. I did my best to replicate it on synth with a heavily modified marimba. Then into a rap. Originally this was a Cameroonian singer called Pauline (I don’t think I ever knew her family name even though we sang together a lot). She had a deep, rasping voice. I asked Dom Harvey of Dead Before Mourning if he knew anyone who could do it and he recommended Chantelle Bartlett. She blew Tom and I away in the studio, nailing it and breaking into a song on the final line, a little touch that made it into the final mix.

TEMPTATION
 I should not be here tonight
 My soul tells me it ain’t right
 I should walk away and fight
 But I cannot see the light
 
 Now she walks at panther pace
 Gleaming eyes and fierce grace
 Can’t take my eyes from her face
 And I fall through through time and space

 Temptation, desperation
 Where is my salvation
 I try so hard to be true
 But then I let you down again
 
 Temptation, tribulation
 Facing my damnation
 My weakness is my downfall
 But I don’t have the strength to fight    
 
 Now the passion is all spent
 This strange room full of her scent
 And I dread this deep descent
 And all this fallen night meant
 
 The empty streets they mock me now    
 Dawn’s contempt will not allow
 To forget that solemn vow
 I made and broke and brought me down
 
 Temptation, devastation
 I wait for condemnation
 I let myself betray you
 Now I drown in my despair
 
 Temptation, desolation
 I live in isolation
 Hidden in the darkness
 Of a never-ending night
 
 RAP
 Body count of a hundred and five
 No-one in here left alive
 Mercy ain’t my kind of style
 Saw you comin’ from a hundred mile
 Get you bou an’ you’ll be mine
 Today, tomorrow just a matter of time
 Just remember I’m out here
 Whatever you hope
 I’ll be near
 Waiting for the moment
 When I strike
 When you give in to my
 Temp-tation
 
 3-VOICE A CAPELLA
 Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah 
 Temptation
 Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah 
 Temptation
 Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah 
 Temptation
 Tempta…..tion

WHAT DID YOU DO?

Here we are at the last song on the album. This was a long time in the writing. It began in April 2016. I’d been down in the back room at Horley Guitars working on my technique with Dom Harvey. “I won’t be able to make it next week.” I told Dom. “I’m off to Budapest for a few days.” He recommended I go to Elizabeth Bathory’s castle. Who was she? I asked. History’s most prolific serial killer with a reputed 650 victims, was his reply. Legend has it she bathed in the blood of her victims, mostly girls and young women in the belief it was good for her skin. She was reported to the King of Hungary who put her on trial. She was found guilty and walled up in her own castle with just a maid for company. I didn’t go on that trip because the castle is in modern day Slovakia, borders having changed a lot in the 400 years since her death, although I am probably going to make the journey later this year. But one of our companions on the trip, the French writer Phillipe Cuzin knew some of the story and my curiosity was piqued. I read a couple of books about her, watched the movie with Anna Friel and listened to the Slayer song about her – Beauty Through Order. The impetus to actually write a song came from Dom, again, who had this chilling intro with an impossible chord arpeggio at the end. I devised an acoustic guitar riff for the verses, and when I started writing the lyrics the first two verses came quite easily. But there is a twist in the lyrics because the story may not be as true as history has led us to believe. The King of Hungary owed her a lot of money, more than he could repay, so there is a possibility her crimes either never happened or were massively exaggerated, which is why the words in the second chorus are different to the first. The most exciting part of the song is Dom’s solo, which defies superlatives. When we recorded it in two takes I sat awe-struck at his virtuosity and I listen to it time and again still hearing nuances and little flourishes I hadn’t noticed before. Thanks, Dom.

WHAT DID YOU DO*
 Do you sleep easy in your grave?
 Or do your victims cries disturb your dreams?
 Were you the mistress or the slave
 To a craving that stained your soul
 Made your heart black as coal
 They say that you were brave
 Holding back people from a foreign hand
 But you took from those you saved
 How could you be so cruel
 To those who trusted you
 CHORUS
 Your sins have never been forgotten
 And centuries have passed
 The blood of innocents is on you
 Yet the question still remains 
 From those that never knew
 In your troubled dreams
 Do you ask yourself
 What  - did you do
 The ones who came for shelter
 Thought they would be safe in your care
 They ended in your cellar
 Some little girls no older
 In darkness they grew colder
 They walled you in a tower
 To punish you for your evil killing ways
 If not for your power
 Your end would not be slow
 To a different fate you’d go
 CHORUS
 Your sins have never been forgotten
 And centuries have passed
 The blood of innocents is on you
 Yet the question still remains 
 From those who say it isn’t true
 The only one who really knew
 Do you ask yourself
 What – did you do?

Words and Meaning Part 3

LAVENDER HILL*
 Fields of lavender used to grow here
 When the green country was near
 Times were so much simpler then
 No buses, trucks and meter men
 On those fields houses grew
 The railway thundered through
 Bringing in a different age
 Writing history’s newest page
 This was the world I first saw
 And my Dad the same before
 We saw changes come so fast
 Than in that foggy past
 CHORUS
 This is where I come from
 And I always will
 Been away a long long time
 But something calls me still
 To the road I can never forget
 Where the memories fill
 Oh-oh Lavender Hill
 On the Common I would play
 Sweet memories of another day 
 The sun would always shine
 Childhood always seemed so fine
 As our city grew and grew
 Those who came were all so new
 But time and moments changed us all
 And barriers they always fall
 On a sun-splashed window pane
 Pavements gleaming from last night’s rain
 Our road waking to a dream
 Of something we all believe
LONDON RULES
 This city got no time for fools
 Spits out losers, gotta be cool
 Moves so fast, speed of night
 Keep on running, out of sight
 Never be wrong, always right
 Bigger prize than a case of jewels
 Yours if you only have the tools
 Win it big if you keep it tight
 All there if you’re set to fight
 Piece of heaven bathed in light
 BRIDGE 
 Give up what you need to
 Do what you must do                            
 Go where you have to
 Say anything you got to
 This town runs on heavy fuel
 Getting there can be real cruel
 Keep on climbing to the height
 Take it all with all your might
 Fly on upward like a kite
 These streets can be so hard
 They’ll become your graveyard
 Dyin from a monster’s bite
 ‘stead of a pool of total delight
 Then you know you lost the fight
 CHORUS
 One thing to live by
 If you gonna get by
 Written up there in the Piccadilly sky
 Second is nowhere
 You gotta get there
 See it flashin’ from City to Mayfair
 Always keep to the unwritten law
 Stick to it if you want some more
 Learn them all right from the start
 Know them all by a beatin heart
 London Rules
 Yeah, London Rules

GHOST

This turned out to be one of the more musically demanding of the songs on the album. There are three time changes, a rap and a very long note to hold. I started writing the lyrics after reading about ‘ghosting’. Surprisingly no episode in my past life contributed to it, just an article in the newspaper. The rap was as much a shock to me as anyone else. I’d probably been listening to The Red Hot Chilli Peppers! I was trying to make the bridge work to no avail, tried a kind of spoken word/rap thing and it stuck.

 
 
 GHOST
 Thought we’d last for ever
 Joined at the heart for life
 A perfect golden couple 
 A gorgeous daydream wife
 But nothing lasts for ever 
 Our bond cut by a knife
 You left without a letter
 You left me half alive
  
 BRIDGE (RAP)
 I stopped believin’ 
 And I stopped grievin’
 And started life again
 I found a new place
 With a new face
 And broke my old chains
 I put you from my mind
 Once and for all time
  
 I heard the phone ringing
 I saw the e-mail name
 I recognised the writing
 When the letter came
 I binned every message
 With no single regret
 I never even bothered
 Like we’d never met
  
 CHORUS
 That’s right, baby, you’re a ghost
 Far away on a different coast
 In another time and space
 Banished to another place
 Don’t want to see you now or then
 Don’t care a damn if it gives you pain
 Ended for me on the day you left
 Now you’re a ghost
 Just a ghost
 Just a ghost
  
 Your voice is just an echo
 A whisper in the air
 Your face a distant memory
 An image no longer there
 The time moves forward
 And worlds turn outward
 And I found new reasons
 To start living again 

BARDOT LIPS

Who remembers Brigitte Bardot? My memories of her are vague to say the least. I sort of recall her in a Western movie called Shalako with Sean Connery but I saw it on TV in the 1980s. It made an impression. Spending my childhood summer holidays in France she was there on magazine covers but I discovered she also sang these bubbly French pop songs and in that way your memory blasts something into your mind when you’re thinking you should be writing lyrics I got this jangly sort of rhythm and the words “Bardot Lips”. I did a bit of reading around her life and times and the lyrics sort of wrote themselves.

BARDOT LIPS*
 French films and magazines
 Black and white photos in my teens
 Of a lady in bikinis and crazy hair
 On a beach in Tropez and everywhere
 French guys paid her court
 She said and did what she thought
 Always thought she was so free
 And that seemed to be her history
 CHORUS
 She had eyes that could hypnotise
 Green as the sea and worldly wise
 Always laughing at the world
 Always seemed the effortless girl
 But one thing got me and always will
 A part of her like those killer hips 
 A smile that could launch a thousand ships
 Bardot Lips
 Nothin ever lasts for long
 Some memories aren’t so strong
 We move on to someone new
 To find someone new to fixate on 
 Brigitte faded in the past
 My fantasies would never last
 But when I see an old photo
 Back to Tropez my thoughts would go

Words and Meaning Part 2

FAVOURITE SON
Brother, I’m sorry that it hurt you
Sister I know it made you cry
I know you deserved better
And no-one knows the reason why
But when he made his choice
Our father could never lie
Like it or not he picked me up
From the place I had fallen by
And told me, with a hard stare
I was the chosen one
I am the favourite son

Rock and sand all around
Sun burning up the sky
No shade to cool down
Vultures circle high
Thirst tears at my soul
Skin on fire in this hell

Adrift in a raging sea
Waves break all around
Angry waters close on me
Far from a rocky shore
Crying out for help
No-one to hear my call

BRIDGE
Close to death but I don’t care
I done wrong that I can swear
Broke the rules and smashed some hearts
But that’s all over now
I have been forgiven
By those I have done wrong
More important, most of all
I know you’re watching proud
Unclimbed rock around me
Fingers numb from cold
Cliff rises high above me
There is no way out
No way down this mountain
No-one to hear my prayer

CHORUS
Found a road to take me home
To those I love the most
Put aside a wild life
With a reason to survive
On the side of angels
The greatest prize there is
Feeling like I’ve won
Knowing I’m your favourite son
Knowing I’m your favourite son
CHAINSAW
Tricked up with your dragon tattoo
I’ll take a bet trouble never had trouble findin’ you
Violet eyes and red lips did it for me
Helped on by a tequila slammer or three
Woke up to sunlight through the blinds
Thought you soft beside me was a good find

Slow smile and a lazy drawl
Never thought falling would feel like that at all
Long kiss and I was hypnotised
Didn’t take long till I realised
Beauty is sometimes just skin deep
And sometimes the price is steep

CHORUS
You took a chainsaw to my heart
You ripped my soul apart
You left my life bleeding
When you practiced your black art
By the time I looked around
At the pieces on the ground
You left me there to die
No tears left to cry

Don’t need to know voodoo
The devil don’t look far to find the devil in you
Started out thinking you were pure
But you turned out to be a witch for sure
Sure thing you’re good at what you do
I’d still take the same ride even if I knew

When I woke up in an empty bed
Found out just where finding you led
Broke and broken shattered dreams
Reality this time is what it seems
Nothing except a deep well of pain
Must be crazy but I’d do it again

ext trackHere we are back with the written word. Videos take a lot of time to make – if you’re me they do, at least. And it’s good to mix it all up. You never know what’s going to happen next. I never know what’s going to happen next. So let’s move on to the next track.

PICTURE

‘Picture’ was written in early 2018 and we’ve been playing it in our gigs for the past few years. It didn’t have the easiest of development paths if I’m honest. It is actually very simple to play, but we couldn’t seem to get our usual energy into the song. It took ages to get the tempo right, then Razz was unhappy with the way I sang it. As usual, he was right. He wanted more edge. It comes across as a sunny, happy song but I need to explain the context.

I went back to the early 19th century for inspiration with ‘Picture’. It’s about “History’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and her insanity came a distant second compared to her lover, Lord Byron. She called him ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ which is the starting point for the lyrics. The opening lines are “We knew each other a long time ago; When I was crazy and dangerous to know.” I can’t find the picture of her beside a shining sea as per the lyrics but as I’m writing about a poet, allow me some licence.

PICTURE* 
 We knew each other 
 A long time ago 
 When I was crazy 
 And dangerous to know 
 You were so fresh 
 Just out of school 
 With ruby lips 
 You shone like a jewel 
 Then you went east 
 And I went north 
 I was still crazy 
 And the world was too slow 
 You flew back home 
 To a crescent beach 
 A world away 
 And out of reach 
 CHORUS 
 And then I saw a picture 
 Of you beside a silver sea 
 And a tide of memory 
 Came flooding back to me 
 Nights that never ended 
 Days of magic light 
 Made me long for a tomorrow 
 Where things could turn out right 
 Those years between us 
 Seems an hour ago 
 Now I have that picture 
 And somehow I just know 
 There’s a way back somehow 
 For me to come to you 
 Till then I have a dream 
 And this is what I’ll do 
Seems an hour ago 
Now I have that pictur
And somehow I just know 
There’s a way back somehow 
For me to come to you 
Till then I have a dream 
And this is what I’ll 

LAVENDER HILL

Words and Meaning. Part 1

With the album due for release in just two weeks I’m devoting the next couple of blogs to an explanation of the songs; how, why and what we recorded. First because, although you may be able to find lyrics in the metadata of some downloads and streams, in others you won’t. Similarly, when we produced the CD we wanted to make it simple. In future pressings we might go for a more sophisticated case. Until then, here are all the lyrics, and sorry if it goes on longer than the usual post. I had a conversation with an old friend who had listened to her pre-release copy of the album and she had some very insightful thoughts about the meaning of the songs as they related to me, my life, my experiences. Some of them were spot on, others I hadn’t even considered until she said it. But you can attribute meaning to any song as it relates to you. Metallica says ‘Nothing Else Matters’ is about their fans. I always thought it was about vampires! A song has different meaning to everybody so I’m going to be a little vague. Our songs can be about whatever you want them to be!

Dancing in Silence

I’ve told this story a few times over the past six months since we released this song as a single. During the first lockdown I was out one Thursday evening clapping the NHS, and listening to all the neighbours applauding, banging pans and cheering. A phrase came into my mind: “You are not alone”. I went indoors and wrote the song. We decided to release it as a single with all proceeds to NHS Charities, but the logistics of recording, then filming a video when you were supposed to stay indoors and socially distanced was a challenge. It entailed a lot of exchanges through DropBox, WeShare, external hard disks being dropped into the producer, Tom Hughes’ post box, but somehow it worked. However, the original song came out too long for a single so we cut the Bridge. When you listen to the album version, it’s restored.

Meanwhile, we had a video to make. We asked all our friends, relatives and neighbours to make a smartphone clip of them saying, “You are not alone…..We are not alone.” Then director Alex Horwood and I spent hours going through news footage and relevant open-source film. The band was shot in the course of a day. Me, appropriately in Silverlea Woods near our home in Horley, Razz in a field outside East Grinstead. You would never know he was 100 yards from a busy road. Then Rob in his back garden. The weather was fantastic and Alex got all the footage he needed. For the next three days we worked on putting it all together. If you check out the video on YouTube at https://youtu.be/li7Qlw81juE you’ll agree Alex did an outstanding job. The whole project took less than three weeks from the time I wrote the song because we wanted it to be released while it was still topical. Ironically it is as relevant today as it was last June.

DANCING IN SILENCE
There’s a cloud across the nation
As we live in isolation
Feels like we’re floating
In a sea of not knowing
We stand far apart
With our frozen hearts
Connected by our phone
Yet living all alone

We search for salvation
In this fog of desolation
Like we’re treading water
This sickness makes us falter
No-one hears our cry
No voiceless reply
Just echoes in the sky
Where only angels fly

CHORUS
Alone in the darkness
I hear the music swell
I’m dancing in silence
I do it so well
The sound fills my senses
Tears down my defences
Music like bright colours
Fills my lonely soul
While I’m dancing in silence
I am not alone

We feel a dislocation
Yet hear a faint vibration
Under the empty floor
Behind the sealed door
Nothing we can hear
But there is something near
Songs of hope in the air
Reaching in from somewhere

BRIDGE
While we live in solitude
The desert of our days
We can find the reasons
In many different ways
The persistent drumbeat
In our memory stays
We will dance in silence
Till the music remains

APOCALYPSE

I wrote this song in 1991 when I was working with the late Cameroonian musician Tom Yom’s, for an album that was never released. It still retains the soaring synth line on the chorus we originally thought of such a long time ago. It’s about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelations and horror fiction ever since. The Four Horsemen are the bringers of Conquest, War, Famine and Death. When I first read of them as a relatively devout 14-year old schoolboy, it was in a book called ‘The Devil Rides Out’ by Dennis Wheatley and it scared the hell out of me. I don’t think I slept for months! Fast forward to the 1990s and a question came into my mind. Who were the horsemen? What was their story? Why did they come to be fulfilling this horrible role? It’s not like they would be lining up at the JobCentre, is it? And I just imagined one of the riders doing it to get revenge on the guy who ruined his sister’s life. I absolutely understand anyone who says, why didn’t he just go round to the love rat’s house, or even set the tabloids on him, but you’ll need to give me some literary headroom.

Musically, for me it’s all about the bass line. I had always wanted it to be strong but Rob really takes it to another level. You can’t dance to many of our songs but this one definitely has a beat to get you on your feet. As long as you don’t think about the lyrics!

APOCALYPSE
Face of an angel
Smile of a saint
As pure as light
A vision in white

Choirboy face
Cupid’s lips
Evil heart
Soul of the damned

Fateful night
Lust at first sight
No resistance
She fell in your arms

Passion spent
Threw her away
A smashed up heart
Broken life

Well wait til you see me coming
Riding on a pale horse
Coming after you
Riding (riding, riding)
That’s when you’ll know your future
When you’re standing at the abyss
Looking in horror at your apocalypse

Thousand foot cliff
She stands alone
A final tear
A silent fall

A fresh-dug grave
Mother’s tears
A family torn
Vengeance sworn

Stormy night
A blasted heath
A bargain made
A lightning flash

One of four
Endless ride
Famine and War
Damnation calls

Wait til you see me coming
Riding on a pale horse
Coming after you
Riding (riding, riding)
That’s when you’ll know your future
When you’re standing at the abyss
Looking in horror of your apocalypse

THE FIRE

No messing about with this one, it’s dedicated to my Long Suffering Partner (LSP) and the love of my life. It’s out now as a single. Feel free to listen to it here https://ditto.fm/the-fire-lavender-hill on your preferred streaming/download platform. And as Jan is my muse, my support, a backing vocalist and contributed a lot of the photography to our CD cover it’s appropriate this should be about her. I wrote the song in 2018, sitting on the terrace of our home in south-western France, as the sun was setting on the Pyrenees. The lyrics were probably the easiest I have ever written and there is nothing allegorical, complicated, no hidden meanings. They just came out, and what you read below is unchanged from that evening. After I’d finished the lyrics I went inside to get my guitar and worked out a melody as the stars started to come out.

THE FIRE*
Standing beside you after all this time
So close so strong it feels so fine
This is the way it’s meant to be
Two of us with one heartbeat
Every minute I ‘m thinking of you
Of words you say and things you do
These are the days of us together
Two of us linked now and forever

Gazing in your eyes as we lie in bed
As your look of love fills my head
This is how I could spend my days
Two of us bound in so many ways
Finding your face in a crowded place
When I see your smile I’m still dazed
This is how I always saw our life
Couldn’t cut our bond with a knife

CHORUS

We jumped into the fire
Passion hot as the sun
The very second I saw you again
I knew you were the one
Two parts of a single soul
A dream finally come true
The fire of love that feeds us
The unbreakable me and you

Every moment we spend apart
There’s a black emptiness in my heart
Then I look forward to see you again
And straight away my heartbeats gain
There will be no end to this our love
Till a day when the bright stars fall above
Knowing we are bound forever as one
I feel as if my life work’s done

ELECTRA

This one, the last we’ll do in this post, has a couple of levels. On one it’s about the figure from mythology, Electra and her father Agamemnon, the general of the Greek forces in the Trojan War. The actual story is a little complicated but the important part is his pride in his daughter, and her love for him in spite of his many flaws and faults. On that other level this is dedicated to my daughter Allie, an avid reader of history and mythology, who I’m very proud of.

The stand out feature of this song is the flawless vocals of Chantelle Bartlett. She only sings a single word, ‘Electra’ but she does it with passion, feeling and su much strength it still gives me goose-bumps when I listen to it.

ELECTRA
We may be in different worlds
A million miles apart
But still I feel you close to me
You are in my heart
When all about is deep despair
Your voice seems so near
Your words are all so clear
They give me comfort
They’re all I need to hear

Remembering another time
When our days entwined
It was you who turned to me
And the fault was mine
But you never let the fire go out
And the memories remain
Kept on a golden chain
Recalled all the time
Keeps you close again

CHORUS
Electra
You are the brightest star
Shining in the darkest night
A beacon seen from far
Electra
You show the clearest road
Standing tall and seen by all
Sure in what you know
Electra
Electra

Now I’ve moved beyond this life
I watch from another place
I see you take this world by storm
You win this mortal race
My pride in you is always strong
I will always belong
To the one who gave me reason
To always carry on
Beyond that fatal dawn

THE SONG

Our single ‘The Fire’ was released yesterday. It wasn’t the kind of launch we might have expected a year ago before lockdown and social distancing. I wrote this blog post and spent most of the day either promoting it on one of the bewildering number of social media and music sites we subscribe to rather than toasting our achievement with champagne. I guess we’re all holding our breath for the album release just three weeks away, but thinking about it now, it is a milestone. Another surprising moment is the publication of this blog on a Monday, the day it’s actually supposed to be out. The reason is, I wanted to explain how I write songs before the two two next posts where we’ll be publishing the lyrics of the album tracks and describing what inspired us to write the individual songs and what they mean to us as a band.

And while we’re promoting our single and the album we’re writing for the next album. For anyone rubbing their eyes in disbelief, yes, it’s true. The treadmill never stops. There are three reasons why. First, because if we are going to release another album in 12 months, we have to start now. It will have taken 16 months from our first meeting with Tom Hughes, the producer, to release this album. We’re not the slowest. I’ll put my hand up, Razz and Rob had finished their tracks by December and although lockdown slowed us up it was slow-arse Silver who didn’t finish guitars, vocals and keys until July. Second, because when we start doing gigs again we need a fair-sized repertoire. We could do 90 minutes with a few covers but if you play original songs it’s a point of pride to play your own stuff. And for those pessimists who reckon it will be another 12 months before venues re-open (those who haven’t gone bust), we plan to start live-streaming as soon as we are allowed to meet up. And third, because the songs are there. I’ve got them ready, I’m making demos as I write.

Today I’d like to try to give you a sense of the process of writing a song. There are probably as many ways of writing as there are songwriters. Even more. I write some one way, some in another and I’m pretty confident I’m not the only one. I guess there must be a university or a college or an online course… definitely a book or a website which will tell you how to write a song. Maybe I should enrol! But in the end you have to start with inspiration. You’re sitting there thinking to yourself, I want to write a song; and the question you, or someone else is going to ask you is, ‘What’s it going to be about?’ And you don’t need to be specific. It can be about an emotion – love, desire, heartbreak, joy. It can be about music. Our track, ‘Rock and Roll Life’ is about that. So there’s no shortage of subjects to write about. We’re talking about a song with lyrics. An instrumental is even easier. Ask Bruce Hornsby who wrote the most beautiful piano piece called ‘Song C’. And all those classical composers who wrote Rhapsodies in Em, Etudes in C# and so on. But for the purpose of this post we’re going to work through a song with lyrics and melody.

So you know what you’re going to write about. Don’t worry about the title yet. We’ve got a little way to go before we write those words. You can have a working title. I know a metal band who use working titles that are absolutely eye-wateringly disgusting! You can change titles quite easily. Changing lyrics can have unforeseen consequences.

So now we come to a fork in the road. Lyrics or music? Which comes first? Sometimes they come at the same time. I was/am walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a mediaeval pilgrimage route through southwestern France and northern Spain. Was, because I started it in 2019 and reached half way with the intention to do the remaining 500 Kms last year. That didn’t work out because of a pandemic but I’m still hoping to get to Cape Finistere this year. It’s for a good cause. I’m doing it for cancer research. Anyway, my point is, I was walking through a forest in the foothills of the Pyrenees and a song came to me. Two lines…”Pilgrim; Why are you doing this?” Followed by more lyrics and music. I pulled out my phone, opened the Voice Recorder and sang it. Just as well I was in the middle of the country and there was no-one else around. That’s happened to me a few times before and it’s great when the whole song just comes in one burst. Other times I wake up and there’s a riff or a line of lyrics jangling around in my head. Then it’s a rush to get to a guitar, my piano or a sheet of music. Most times, though, it’s a bit more prosaic. You need to work for your song. I’ve actually got a load of titles. More than 100 at the last count but if a new idea comes in my mind I’ll take it. If I am sitting at a keyboard, computer or musical, or if I’ve got a guitar to hand, and a melody, or a lyric fits, I’ll write it down because there’s nothing worse than forgetting it. That song you know will get a billion streams, lost somewhere in your subconscious. In the end, you’ll work it out. And I haven’t even spoken about collaboration. Razz and I have written a couple of songs together. He gave me the lyrics and I did the music. It works fine. He also writes on his own.

While you may write on your own or with someone else, as soon as you take your song to the musicians who are going to play it, then it becomes a collaboration and you can never be too precious about it. I’ve had demos thrown back at me by the guys. We’ve spent hours trying to make a song work and it still doesn’t come out the way it sounded in my head. You can’t be precious. Positive criticism is sometimes tough to take but if it improves your song it’s a gift.

AND YET SO FAR

How’s your Christmas been in this strange year? We had our final rehearsal a couple of weeks ago. LSP brought mulled wine and mince pies to Barnstorm for the band, we exchanged presents then we went our separate ways into forcible isolation. We miss playing, especially because all the new songs were coming together so well. Unfortunately, having found a (legal) way to record an album and shoot a video during lockdown number 1, having practised religiously every week since we were allowed out, Tier 4 has slammed the door on our development as a band until further notice. It’s not the end. No way. We haven’t come this far to let a little old global pandemic derail our plans. If anything, life is getting more exciting. The album is coming out on 1 February. One of the tracks, ‘The Fire’ is released as a single on 10 January. We’re in business; and we’ve been writing new songs, probably enough to record another album in 2021. And if that’s not enough, we’re re-releasing our original EP on Ditto Music, also out in early January. And in a few weeks time we will be announcing our two new members, a keyboard player and another guitarist. They’ve been practising with us for a few months. We’re looking forward to announcing them.

I may have said before, but the past few weeks have just emphasised how difficult being an unsigned, manager-less band can be. Any ambitious would-be Peter Grants or John Reids out there wanting to take us on, apply here. In all seriousness we’re not looking to be the next Led Zeppelin or Queen, but certainly the administration and operations of the tiniest, most unknown band is complicated and, I’d have to say, unwelcome. We want to be in the studio, rehearsing, recording, writing. If I can persuade Razz to work on a video that will be a miracle! Let’s say the man hates photo- and video-shoots much more than, I don’t know, going to the dentist. I guess if I’d wanted to arrange and promote an album release or book a gig, I’d have become a manager and even then I’d probably have been fired after 10 minutes. You need very different specialist skills for it, and if you don’t have them, navigating your way through a music distributor’s registration and uploading process is not easy. Plus, we…I took a decision to switch distributor and take down our existing releases from our previous partner. I don’t think you can call an EP and a single a back catalogue without sounding like a complete w***er but we took the decision to move to Ditto Music, principally because they have a really good promotion package, they’re not so big as to be monolithic and cumbersome, and you get responses from real people in a time frame you can work with.

When someone says in a radio interview, “we’ve got an album coming out,” there’s one of two possibilities: 1. They’re signed to a record label, they’ve recorded the album, and their involvement in promotion is personal appearances, interviews etc; 2. They’re not signed to a record label (and in this case they don’t have a manager, see previous paragraph), so they have to do all the above, plus get their music on to playlists, write personal letters to reviewers and radio stations, boost their tracks on online A&R sites, all the while keeping up a constant stream of social media posts. How great is that? Fun, no? No. Trust me, there are people who are really good at social media. They enjoy it. While we love to interact with our friends on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and this blog, in normal times we may not be so assiduous or prolific. Same with promotion. If you have enough financial resources you can shell out the money for a ‘plugger’, someone who knows which radio stations will play the kind of music you make. I mean, we’re not going to be on Classic FM any time soon. But it’s really very expensive and our budget for the album went on recording and production. We want to make music. That’s why we’re in a band. But getting the music heard is all about getting it out there, increasing reach, as the term goes. And for the moment this is what we’re all about. It’s never too late to learn new skills, and as we look towards another month…two months….three months in lockdown what else have we got to do? So if a Facebook ad for Lavender Hill appears unannounced and unexpected on your news feed, be kind and say something nice.

If you want to get your music heard, one of the best ways is to get playlisted and over the past few days I’ve been trying to understand how it works. A lot of unknown artists have managed to increase their profiles by getting their songs on lists, predominantly on Spotify and Apple Music. It isn’t easy and you need a degree in the subject to figure out where algorithms and influencers come in. If you have an opportunity to get on one, you need to jump all over it because it increases the chances of getting on others. There are people and sites who do nothing except get their clients on playlists and trying to do it part-time is enough to try the patience of a …saint? But along with all these other skills, once you’re in the loop it can only be an asset.

As we close in on the release of the single this Sunday, and in spite of trying to be a jack-of-all-trades and emphatically a master of none, we can’t help but feel satisfied at having produced and released our music, in a lockdown under the most difficult of circumstances. The wonder of it all is, we’re getting ready to work on a follow-up album. Don’t they say madness is repeating the same mistake! I’ll take that definition. You have to be more than a little crazy to be in this business.