Well, this is it. My last song of 2011 is as simple as can be. I recorded it on the 30th December, curled up in bed at about eleven o’clock, playing my ukulele and recording it with my iPad and cheapo headphone-mic. Somehow it seemed better to finish the year with something simple and clean, rather than complex. So that’s it. I’m done. 52 songs, over 52 weeks. And none of it would have been possible without the support and encouragement of my friends. So that’s nice. Here it is.
Archive for the ‘52songs’ Category
Category 52songs, Assistant, Music, Observations, Weekly Song
Inevitable, given my song a week project, that I’d attempt a Christmas song; this one was written and recorded in an single sitting on, you guessed it – Christmas Day, after having sat on my doorstep with a cup of coffee watching people packing up cars. Recorded straight to camera with a bit of overdubbing afterwards. I might buy myself a clarinet next year.
“It’s the first Christmas in a while,
When it’s been so unseasonably mild.
I drink my coffee on the step
and watch my neighbours heading home again.
I watch them go,
oh let it snow.
It’s my first Christmas in this street,
moving from place to place really takes it out of me.
Drinking coffee, watching cars.
Counting presents, counting cards.
I watch them go,
oh let it snow.
I don’t know,
why won’t it snow?”
The editing process has become quite important to me this year. It’s how I work out if there’s a song there at all. Often as I work on stuff I find myself adding layers compulsively; deep chords on tinny pianos or squeezed from my toy accordian, harp plucks or banjo riffs (naturally, in these computerized times, I’m speaking figuratively and of ‘virtual’ instruments). It’s only once I’ve finished, often a bit bemused with what I’ve produced, that I start to edit.
Sometimes I need only peel away a layer or two of skin to see that I’ve been cantering down the wrong track – I’ve lost some crucial part of the melody, or worse still been trying to remedy a tune which I might better have abandoned early. At best, I usually find I’ve been gilding the lily, and the editing process tends to consist of turning things off and on again, trying to work out if they add or subtract from the song.
This week I recorded something very quickly and intuitively, then spent ages trying to brush it up. In the end, I peeled the apple right down to the core, so what we have left is rather frail and insubstantial. Ironic, then, that I spent ages arranging it to sound more professional before abandoning those additions. Never mind – I like what I have, even if it is, broadly, what I started with.
Yes, been listening to S.M this week.
That’s Alec’s cat, Ripley, by the way. Say hi, Ripley.
As I approach the end of my song-writing year, I find myself flicking back through the work I’ve done looking for things to tidy up and complete; there have been plenty more songs started this year than there have been finished. As I go, I rarely find much I want to keep; perhaps a drum loop here or an arrangement there. This week’s effort grew out of the latter; a simple passage of synthesized string instruments which lingered after I gave it up, and saw a bit of life injected at the weekend. The song is very simple; for some reason I had in mind a cottage in the footholds of some Welsh valley; and I like one line very much – “you skim off the rind but you know you’re the skin of the peach”.
I shot the video in Cambridgeshire visiting my parents; the explosions of seeds from the bloated bullrushes counts as one of the most memorable things I saw, never mind filmed, in 2011.
Oh look, here’s Sam on lead vocals, with Dan and AS on back up. Sort of.
I put together this music slowly, over the course of the year, looking for an opportunity (or the courage) to do a rap over it, and eventually chickened out. But over the course of the year I’ve swapped lots of voice messages with Sam, who’s over in Paris, so I thought I’d put some of those rambling messages to use.
Most of our musings and conversations over the year have related to various projects we’re undertaking, and our shared need to focus on things. So there’s our chorus.
“Bella at the table with her labels and her hangover,
Bella’s eyes all smudged out as the memories take over”.
There was a TV programme I remember watching a teenager, but I can’t remember which – I think it may have been something by Dennis Potter – Lipstick On Your Collar, perhaps – or the rather saucy BBC adaptation of The Camomile Lawn. There was a scene when a beautiful, made-up woman sat at a wooden table. I can remember nothing more about it, save for that – and that’s what came into my head when I was writing this song.
I love this one; I was very proud of ‘Done Driving’ when I recorded it a few weeks ago, but Dan gave me the idea of trying a remix rather than a new song. That felt, on the face of it, like a bit of a cheat, so I decided to do it only on the condition that it was a radical re-vamp rather than just a slightly adapted take. Specifically, I wanted to change the mood without altering the basic bones of the song; so this version features almost all of the components of the original but filtered through a totally different mood; so we have upbeat horn breaks where before we had moody introspection. Thanks to Dan for a really good video, as well.
As with so many of my songs this year, I’d struggle to tell you what this one is about, but I can give you an exact geographical reference for where I was, mentally, when I wrote it. Literally, I was in my flat in Brighton, but everything about the song somehow is located for me by the Stuyvesent High School in Manhatten, just across from Jersey City over the Hudson River. That sounds horribly pretentious, but I have a clear memory of standing there trying to hail a cab a year or so ago, and somehow, early in the writing of the song, that memory came back to me and infected the song. Conversely the video, very literally, is set in my flat – you can tell, perhaps, that these flowers are a touch past their best.
Category 52songs, Assistant, Music, Observations, Weekly Song
I try to write a bit about each song I do here, but sometimes other things seem more relevant. This is a nice enough song, I think, but the moment I paired it with the images below, filmed by Dan the morning after our friends Ali and James got married, it meaning got lost a bit. So instead of rattling on about the song, I’ll just mention what a glorious day we had with our friends, and how nice it was wondering through the fields and orchard the next morning.
Very early this year I asked my friend Pete if he’d be interested in helping me write a song, and he immediately sent through some guitar stuff for me to work with. Almost immediately I was struck with paralysis and the files sat on my hard-drive untouched for about six months. Pete is one of the best friends I’ve ever had and the co-architect of some of the happiest afternoons and evenings of my life, playing with my band, so working together on a song meant a lot and I wanted to get it right. Eventually I dug the files out and worked them up into something that I’m very happy with, sounding, as it does, very like the kind of song which me, Pete, Andy and Ali wrote in the early 2000s. So of all the songs I’ve worked on this year, this is probably the most important to me.
Sometimes songs come together incredibly easily and it’s always a little bit wonderful when they do – especially if they’re super tuneful, as this one is (or at least, super-tuneful compared to my usual fare). If I remember right, I wrote it during Question Time. So there’s a tip.
Lyrics and chords; why not play along.
Because I’m writing so frequently, and seeking to prevent things from sounding samey, I’ve noticed little trends in terms of how I arrange songs – early on I was introducing electronic elements and looking to borrow from dance music and hip hop in how I structured things; a bit later I seemed to be working hard on intricate string arrangements. Following that, I concentrated hard on glockenspiels and harps, looking for warm ringing sounds to offset the bleakness of my strumming. Recently, I’ve used woodwind instruments and accordians, instruments I wouldn’t have dreamed of incorporating twelve months ago. I dunno if these surface differences keep things interesting for my listeners – assuming I have any – but they certainly keep things fresh for me. Anyway – here’s an example of the more organic sound I’ve opted for recently. This one’s called ‘Aldrington’.
For this week’s song, I was satisfied to shy back from creating something with a verse and chorus and, for the first time, dispense with lyrics. For reasons I’m not altogether sure of, I’ve never listened to any instrumental rock music; the likes of Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor bore to me tears, although when you consider that I very much like listening to Durutti Column, jazz and modern classical stuff, perhaps it makes more sense to simply say I don’t like post-rock. Either way, I always think it’s rather pointless writing music and not lyrics, but that’s my own prejudice and one I should get over. For this, I tried.
It’s really just a slightly awkward riff, looped with some weird distortion over the top – but I’m pretty pleased with it. My friend Dan shared it with a friend of his, Linda, who took a bit of time out of her day to dance along; and Dan created the accompanying video. Thank you, both.
The song is called, aptly, Forty – it’s the fourtieth song in this project.
Get up to date with the other 39 songs here.
This song is really just another collection of images, inspired by a walk through Brighton on a foggy morning this week; watching prescription lines snake out of chemist doors and postmen rattle their carts down Buckingham Road. It ends with an image I didn’t spot, but which sprang organically to mind as I was writing – that of kids on bridges, noting down trains or dropping pebbles on cars. Lyrics below.
There’s a stupid typo at the end there; ‘kids go two ways, getting older / up on the footbridge / carrying notepads or boulders’.
I feel like talking about this song is kind of pointless when the obvious point of interest is Dan’s regal, rather scary video, made using his brother’s iPad and some somewhat emerging technology. The song itself is about being over sentimental and squeamish. Which I am.
Yet another song about siblings from someone who’s never had any. This was loosely inspired (in mood, if not in subject matter) by a couple of books; The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, and Spurious, by Lars Iyer. Both are books in part about wandering, and looking for something. A mournful family song about trading, making compromises and deals.
The chords are Am, C, G all the way through.
- Done Driving
So on the road to the old town,
This doesn’t go, this doesn’t go fast enough.
I was on the road to the old ground,
where my brother lay.
I was on my way back home,
and then I asked myself,
“Do I know why I’m going here or not?
I know he’s old, and not in love”.
And maybe I’m done driving,
all of the road is edging me
back to where I’ll be in the end.
So I turn round and come back again.
I don’t know, I don’t know if I can.
I was on the road to the heartland,
where my brother lays.
I was on my way back North
and then I realised,
I don’t know how my brother came to this.
To call me in, without giving in.
This song started as a sort of joke, so it’s odd to be presenting it as a serious contribution to my Weekly Songs project; but I felt like I was getting a bit bogged down in regretful, slow indie rock so I wanted to try to capture some of the spirit of the music I was enjoying this week – the perky lyricism of The Kinks and the clean elocution of Laura Marling; and I felt like I wanted to try a more traditional accompaniment, too, switching from my normal fare of synths, glocks, pianos and electric guitars to accordians and fiddles. The resulting song is half serious, half comic – a quickly penned and slightly arch story about a little town that decides it’s had it with marriage. Thanks once again to Dan for the video.
Here’s the 35th song of the year; written in the week after the End of The Road festival, and with some lovely EOtR footage in the video courtesy of Dan.
This song was influenced, I think, by the book I was reading that week – The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt; it’s a tale of two brothers on a long journey together, and I had fixed in my mind some notion of a final journey, almost hallucinogenic, weighed down by the symbolism of its finality. I think maybe there was some chasing in there; bolted horses or UFOs.
Thanks Dan for the vid!
I’m a massive fan of character songs – Colonel Brown by Tomorrow, Casey Jones by the Grateful Dead, David Watts by The Kinks, Tracy Jacks by Blur, Peter Pumpkinhead by XTC – and this is my contribution to the genre. Wilson Brown we don’t know an awful lot about, except that he works out of town and keeps coming back. No-one really knows him, or knows why. In my imaginary England, there’s a Wilson Brown in every town. And there probably is.
Here is my 33rd weekly song of 2011, video once more courtesy of the marvellous Dan Corns. This one is deliberately a bit slighter and more light hearted than a few I’ve done. First one to include a lyric about my mum. Hi mum. And there’s a line inspired by the End of The Road festival, too, where I spent this weekend.