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.
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
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?