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?

Author: Adventures in Music

Silver is the singer and guitarist of Lavender Hill, a British rock band formed in 2016. He started playing guitar from the age of 9. His first band was formed when he was 11, playing Beatles covers on acoustic guitar. Since then he has been making music in the UK (Buster), France, Africa (Tempting Fate) where he also collaborated with the Cameroonian artist Tom Yom's, and the United States (Mid-Life Crisis - the American version). He writes songs on his own and with Lavender Hill's drummer Razz B and has also published a novel under his real name, Graham Knight. And his name is more to do with the colour of his hair rather than his bank balance!

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