Writing Songs

I wrote my first song when I was about seventeen, fifty years ago. It was called Gardens and Steve recorded it on a borrowed Revox reel-to-reel in his mother’s wool shop in Heysham Village. We recorded another song I had written called Morning Into….. We took the tape along to a local studio in Hest Bank called, I think, De Lane Lea, and asked them to make a 7″ single from the two songs. They did, but maybe because we played it too soon, or because the quality of the materials wasn’t too good, it soon got very scratchy and almost unlistenable. Anyway, for anyone who is interested, here it is.

 

And here’s the B-side (as we used to call them, back in the day).

I didn’t write anything else for years after this, mainly because I had no confidence in either my songwriting, my singing or my guitar playing. Thinking about it now I did write a couple of things while I was drinking and living in the caravan at Meadowfield (and I must write something about Meadowfield at some point. It was a very unusual caravan site!). I remember writing a song called It’s in the Wires, a sort of paranoid view of the world, unsurprisingly considering my state at the time. I think I wrote a couple of other things but I can’t remember what they are now – with all the alcohol related brain damage it’s a wonder I can remember yesterday!

I carried on playing and trying to sing, but just at home, and eventually, for some reason, I was asked to join a local band, AKA-Bats, as rhythm guitarist. I don’t remember why they asked me, I don’t even know how they knew I could play, but anyway ask me they did. Continue reading

Enthusiasm(s)

I was thinking about what I do with my life and realised that it goes in phases, phases of enthusiasm for one thing and another.

At the moment it’s e-books. I love reading (a continuing enthusiasm which has never left me) and when I discovered e-readers it was like the answer to a prayer. Instead of carting around a book, usually in a coat pocket or a shoulder bag, I could take all the books I needed, or thought I needed, in a nice, neat little package, always ready to open at the page I was on. I won’t tell you how many e-books I have (it’s a lot!) and my enthusiasm at the moment is having all the ones I want to read on my Kobo Aura (love it!) and have them sorted into categories – fiction, non-fiction, science, sf, fantasy, music, films, literature etc. I use Calibre, a free ebook catalogue programme where I can sort them, categorise, download covers and lots of other nifty things. It’s my favourite computer programme (not an app, apps are for mobile phones) and an example to a lot of commercial software companies of how to write a programme that is elegant, useful and, all in all, a pleasure to use.

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Calibre – my favourite programme

Continue reading

2015 – Home Music Recording 3

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Recording a song

I’ve been working on a song for ‘Limestone Wood’ now that I’ve managed to get Ardour up and running properly.

Again, it’s based on lyrics Steve emailed me – I’ve got a whole bunch more to work on as and when. It’s been great fun. I’ve got everything set up more or less to my satisfaction, keyboard to my right, mic stand behind it (althought he mic stand is slipping quite a bit so I’ve ordered a new one from Amazon, one with a clamp so I can attach it to the edge of the desk Rode NT1000and swivel it around to where I want it). The main problem I have with mic stands is that the mic I use is quite heavy – it’s a Rode NT1000. It’s a great mic, responsive and clear but it weighs a ton. Ah well.

One problem I had with Ardour was using virtual instruments. With Windows programmes this is fine, they use VST instrument plugins and there are lots of them. Whereas in Linux the main formats are LAPSDA and LV2 and I struggled to find instruments that would give me what I wanted e.g. decent pianos, synths, basses and, last but not least, a useable mellotron (think the intro to Strawberry Fields Forever). Anyway, I finally came upon the Calf Fluidsynth which uses soundfonts and now, after doing quite a bit of trawling on the web, I’ve got most of what I need – and it’s all FREE!

So, here’s a copy of ‘Oh You are Clever, Mr. Braces’. I’ve done two versions, one which is explicit (no, the only explicit word in it is ‘poo’) and one where the word isn’t used. By the way, this is meant to be Mrs. Braces singing so the vocal will need to be redone to take that into account.

Oh you are clever Mr. Braces

Oh you are clever Mr. Braces 2

2015 – Home Music Recording 2

DSC00096I have managed to get Ardour 4 up and running now and, apart from crashes when I try to use certain plugins, it seems to be working fine. I’ve plugged my electric guitar in (this one’s a cheap copy of a Gibson Les Paul) and am putting it through a plugin called ‘Guitarix’, which has a great choice of amps, preamps, speaker cabinets and effects.

The problem I always face when starting to record is that I spend ages finding e.g. guitar tones, synth presets or suitable drum loops and not enough time trying to get something down on disc.

So, anyway, the first thing I’m going to have a go at is a song for Limestone Wood based on some lyrics Steve sent me. The title is ‘Man and Machine’ and is one of Braces songs about his lorry, the lorry which seems to be central to his life. I’ll post a copy when it’s finished.

To read Part One click here

Home Music Recording 1

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My Old Studio Setup

This is my old setup – windows with, I think, Cockos Reaper (a great programme which is ridiculously cheap for what you get), an M-Audio Keyrig 49 controller keyboard, a pair of Yamaha NS10s – borrowed from Steve and now, sadly, no longer with me – an M-Audio Fast Track interface (not shown), various mics and guitars etc.

My Music Recording Setup

I haven’t done any recording for a while and, when I last recorded any music, I was still using Windows. Recently I’ve switched over to Linux – Ubuntu Studio – and though the operating system is fantastic (and free!!) I’m finding the setting up of programmes for recording to be a bit of a hassle.

I’ve installed Ardour 4, a free Digital Audio Workstation, and a bunch of plugin effects and software instruments etc., but I seem to get quite a few crashes when using the plugins – very frustrating. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll get it sorted over the next few days.

The other thing I need to do is to put new strings on my acoustic. I haven’t played it for weeks and the old strings are a bit dead. One thing I hate doing is changing strings, it always seems like a real chore. But then, when the new strings are on, I get excited because the guitar is suddenly sounding good again.

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This is my acoustic, a Freshman FA400FBJ which I’ve had for about 10 years

The main reason I’m trying to get everything set up is that, last week, we had a visit from Steve and Ric (a musician friend) to go through the script for Limestone Wood. It feels like it’s all starting to move again. Steve has come up with some more lyrics for the programme and I’m keen to get back into putting together more children’s songs.

I’ll write more as I get back into the swing of things.

A bit exhausted today as I was down in South Wales yesterday running a course on ‘Heroin Addiction and Blood Borne Viruses’. The drive back took about 6 hours, the traffic was very heavy, and I’m not as young as I was.

1968 – Hurdy Gurdy Man, Donovan

In the Nineteen Sixties Morecambe had two piers, West End Pier and Central Pier; now there are none. Central Pier was one of the two venues in Morecambe where young people went dancing – the other was the Floral Hall (The Beatles played here twice, in 1962 and 1963; sadly I didn’t know about it and anyway I was only 13 so probably wouldn’t have been able to go). The West End Pier was wrecked by storms in 1977 and Central Pier suffered several fires in the 1980s and was finally demolished in 1992 after a further fire destroyed the ballroom a year earlier.und6

So, to the music. I have a vague memory of going the Central Pier ballroom when I was about 16 to see The Undertakers, a sixties Liverpool band. I can’t remember much about it (this is a constant refrain, probably due to an excess of alcohol consumed over the years – but not for over 30 years and something I intend to blog about at some point), but I do know that I was very nervous being there, surrounded by older boys and men who were probably planning to beat me up. Just as an aside, I spend much of my adolescence and early adulthood afraid of violence; I had been bullied as a kid and tended to roll over and show my belly when threatened. There, mini-confession over and again, back to the music. Continue reading

1952 – Bill and Ben, The Flowerpot Men

We moved onto Delamere Avenue in 1950, when I was about eighteen months old. The house we moved into, number twelve, was about a third of the way down a line of semi-detached, pebble-dashed council houses facing out over the roofs of the houses opposite towards Heysham Harbour and Half Moon Bay. It was part of a new estate, Trumacar which, when we moved in, was still being built. My mum used to tell the story of how I had somehow become friendly with one of the builders and how he had taken to letting me sit with him in the cab of his lorry while he was working. One day she heard a knock at the door and opened it to find him standing there clutching a tear-stained creature covered head-to-toe in a layer of dirt –  I had fallen out of the cab into a pile of gravel. Being very small and gravity being what it is, I hadn’t fallen very hard and so, apart from a few bruises and scratches, I was relatively unhurt. That was the last time I rode in the lorry.

Bill and Ben were my first heroes. I was three when it started, but my first memory is of running home from school so as not to miss it on TV. As far as I remember it was on at about half past three and school was about half a mile away at the bottom of a hill, so it was quite a rush to get back in time – and of course there was no video recording or pause-and-rewind in 1954. The funny thing is that, in my memory, I am rushing back to number 11 Delamere, not number 12, even though we didn’t move into number 11 until about five years later (that’s another story which I’ll come back to at some point). Continue reading

1999 – River of Orchids, XTC

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Hasn’t a clue

‘With arms stretched wide’

George doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life; he doesn’t even know what he wants to be doing tomorrow. I’m the same, I’ve never known what direction I was going in. The difference between George and me is that he’s a dog and I’m not. You know how it goes, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’. That’s easy when you’re a kid, ‘Astronaut’, ‘Engine Driver’, ‘Ninja Assassin’. When you ask George the same question he just looks at you as though he’s giving the question serious thought, but that’s as far as it goes – silence (add the word walk or dinner and you get a more positive response. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and I’m sixty three! Some people seem to know, they appear to have their lives all mapped out – school, university, career. Me, I never had a clue. Oh I knew what I didn’t want to be – boring, insane, accountant, insurance man – and I’ve done pretty well at avoiding three out of four (Guess!). But as to careers and long-term plans, no idea.

Just as an aside, about twenty years ago I wrote a song about insurance men; at least it’s called ‘Insurance Men’. I’ve no idea what it’s really about and I know that some people find it a bit disturbing; even I find it a bit disturbing. Have a listen, see what you think. Maybe after you’ve listened to it (I’ve cut it down as the whole song is over nine minutes long), you’ll have a better chance at guessing which of those four things I didn’t manage to avoid! By the way, the song, along with most of the other stuff I’ve done, was recorded and mixed by my best friend Steve (of cellar fame) at his studio, ‘The Mill’ in Blackburn. So ‘Insurance Men’ is a ‘Run of the Mill’ production. I’ll say more about ‘The Mill’ in a future post.

https://youtu.be/WUes8UsuOLk Continue reading

1962 – 32 Minutes and 17 Seconds with Cliff Richard, Cliff Richard

Down into the Magic Kingdom (I’ve dropped the ‘Dive one’ and ‘Dive two’ stuff because I think it’s a bit naff)

I have to confess right at the start that I’ve never heard this album; I’ve seen the sleeve many times but never had anything to do with the record inside it. Not that there was a record inside it in Steve’s cellar, it was just one of the album sleeves decorating the walls. But this was The Cellar, full of electronic gadgets and tape recorders, microphones and dalek voice machines (or at least that’s how I remember it).

As I said in a previous post, Steve and I reconnected at the Co-op where, in between serving customers (and in Steve’s case adding up their bill wrong so that they either got their order very cheaply or paid too much), we spent our time:

  • reading Mad Magazine – especially anything illustrated by Don Martin
  • talking about music – we were both big Beatles fans and had just started to discover bands such as The Velvet Underground, The Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band and The Incredible String Band (so, middle of the road stuff then)
  • trying to think of ways to embarrass the temporary manager, Edwin, by sending notes supposedly written by him to the girl in the Post Office who we knew he fancied, asking her to meet him at a certain place and time. I don’t think he appreciated this! As far as I remember we did get into some trouble from the people at the Post Office, but I can’t remember what the outcome was but I do know that the meeting between them never happened. Wonder why.
  • thinking of ways to torture the delivery boy who lived across the road in a gatehouse to Heysham Head with an archway (see photo)d1704-l474054

While working at the Co-op Steve mentioned that he was into electronics and recording and that he’d been recording a songwriter called Dave Wynne (see previous post). I was very excited about this and Steve said I could visit his cellar and see what he was up to.

Well, over the next few years Steve’s cellar became my second home – actually more like first home as I think I spent more time there than I did at my mum and dad’s. You know how places have their own particular feel and smell; well the cellar, or ‘The Cellar’ as I think of it now, had the damp, cellary smell of creativity and invention. I loved it! I think if Steve’s mum and dad had said that I could put a bed in there and live in it I would have jumped at the chance. Continue reading

1967? – Memories and Regret, Dave Wynne

Dive Four – ‘You haven’t got a little bit of butter to go with that?’b0040-happy_memories_heysham_-r

In 1966/7 I was working for the Co-op and I was sent to work in the Co-op grocery shop in Heysham Village for a couple of weeks while the manager was on holiday (that’s the co-op on the right with the blind). Steve, someone I’d know at primary school, was working there and we soon found that we had a lot in common (Mad magazine, music, torturing the delivery boy). But I mainly remembered him from the bus to school – he went to Balmoral Road, I went to Morecambe Grammar but we caught the same bus – where he had gained a bit of a reputation as a mad professor, inventing electric shock machines and devices to make dalek voices. He was also known as an expert bogey builder (bogeys are what we called carts made using old pram wheels with a rope for steering). Anyway, he invited me down to his cellar (all mad professors have to have a cellar, it’s one of the rules). This is where he played around with electronics and recording equipment and, as I was a fairly mediocre guitarist with aspirations and an occasional songwriter, the idea of being able to record my music was an exciting idea. He played me some of the things he’d been recording with someone called Dave Wynne.

What was exciting was that he was doing multitrack recording, this at a time when most albums were being recorded on just four tracks. As far as I remember he did it by having two tape recorders – recording a track onto one machine then playing this back and recording it onto the other machine while, at the same time, adding another live track. I’m sure he’ll correct me if this is wrong. The problem with writing about something that happened so long ago is that memories fade and get distorted (a bit like old tapes) and when, like me, you only have about seven brain cells left for one reason or another, they end up more faded and distorted than ever. Continue reading