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 →
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 and 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.
I 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.
I had thought this album was released earlier than 1969 as it was around this time that I first encountered cannabis. Ah well.
There used to be a hall on China Street in Lancaster. I think it was called Priory Hall but I’m not sure. if I ask Steve, he’ll know. Anyway, it was there that we (Steve and I) went to watch Liverpool Scene. They were a group of poets with musical accompaniment. The best known member was Adrian Henri, a poet from Liverpool who had already become fairly well known from two poetry books, ‘The Mersey Sound’ (1967)and ‘It’s World that Makes the Love Go Round, (1968)I don’t know who did the cover for this book, but it certainly fits the times.
So we went to the concert. It was good. Before Liverpool Scene we had what seemed like several hours of Jeff Nuttall reading from his book ‘Bomb Culture’. Then came Liverpool Scene.
I had always thought that when we went to see the Mothers of Invention (that’s Steve and I) in Manchester in 1969 it was at the Free Trade Hall. I’ve just discovered, through the delights of google, that they actually played at the Palace Theatre in 1969 and didn’t play the Free Trade Hall until 1970. I know it was 1969 because of the lineup – Frank Zappa, Jimmy Carl Black, Don Preston, Roy Estrada, Euclid James Motorhead Sherwood, “Bunk” and “Buzz” Gardner, Ian Underwood and Art Tripp.
It was my first ‘big’ concert (I was 20, a slow starter) and Steve smuggled a tape recorder in and recorded the concert – it’s okay, statute of limitations and all that; anyway the tape, sadly, is long lost. They were on tour to publicise Uncle Meat, which had come out earlier that year.
I had been a fan since buying their first album, Freak Out, in Morecambe in 1967. I’d never heard of them – who had in Morecambe in 1967 – but the title, the band name and the sleeve shouted New! Strange! Different! – all magnets to me at 18 when any music that was unlike any I had heard before was, by default, worth a listen (just as an aside I remember my sister Jackie, who had moved to London, telling me about a record she had by the Stan Kenton Orchestra that was ‘really weird’ and promising to bring it up to Heysham for me. She eventually did bring it and it was weird and I didn’t like it). Continue reading →
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.
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 →
*DISCLAIMER – all of the following is based on my admittedly faulty memory. To repeat the saying, ‘If you remember the sixties, you weren’t there!’
In the late sixties Steve had gone from group manager (The Mind Machine, which I will write about at some point), to light show creator. He has always been a creative whirlwind and if this was a superhero comic he would be the mad professor and I would be the trusty sidekick. Light shows seem to have come into being independently both in Britain and the United States. Pink Floyd were, as far as I know, the first British band to use a light show and, in America, bands such as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane were employing lights at the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms in San Francisco (somebody correct me if I’m wrong).
Anyway, Steve had started playing around with various lighting effects in The Cellar, using an old slide projector. He had added a motorised drive so that when a circular slide was placed in front of the light source the motored rotated it causing the effect to change. The main ones I remember were:
circular slides filled with coloured oils – as the slide rotated the blobs of oil moved around causing a constantly changing pattern of coloured blobs
Sheets of diffraction grating
two circular pieces of polarised glass with strips of sellotape between them
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 →
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.
I love my shed. It’s my own private world. Okay, it’s only about eight feet square with one window facing Half Moon Bay and a door to the back garden, but I can shut myself in here and not have to think about anything else. I’ve got a couple of comfy chairs in here and a small table and, of course, my record player (a Fergurson in a wooden case with a sort of grey leatherish lid. It’s five watts! You could buy an extension to plug in to make it stereo but I don’t have that.
In fact I’ve never heard stereo, the first time I hear a record in stereo is at my Swedish friend Mick’s flat on Euston Road. He puts on Yellow Submarine and it’s amazing, the voices moving across the room from left to right – or possibly right to left). Of course this is a long time ago and, my memory being what it is, which is mainly defunct, some of the facts may be wrong. But it’s my story and this is the way I’m telling it; think of it as a kind of unreliable biography.
But the shed is real – and the record player – and the window looking down to Half Moon Bay.Continue reading →