Love And Work
Track by track introduction
1 READY TO BEGIN
Welcome to the record, friends.
Here's the track-by-track ...
How's your attention span?
Today we start with a very jangly guitar riff, 4 chords and a list. Doesn't get more 'middle aged guy' than that does it??!
And lyrically its me kind of checking in with myself and saying 'Yep I'm up for this, I still love it'. Robbie McIntosh told me he was channeling Pete Townsend when he played the intro, and as for me I left well alone and got the mandolin out for the first time in a mighty long while.
2 TURNAROUND TOWN
My pal Che Besford, who drums on this track, divides his musical year equally between work with Capercaille and with Black Grape. 'Eclectic' doesn't even come close...
So it was no surprise that he dug into this waltz of sceptical acquiescence with gusto, and nailed it in one take. Kudos Tracey Browne for harmonies.
3 YOU NEED LOVE
The starting point was a conversation with a friend which left me feeling vaguely sad and not knowing why. Thinking on it the following day, while on a train to Cambridge, I realised why, and drafted these lyrics.
When I realised I was in 'piano ballad' territory I knew I didn't want things to get too sweet, so instead of calling in the string section I asked the wonderful Hammond-meister James Hallewell to give me his best Al Kooper, and he responded brilliantly.
I then got my harmonica out and Seadna McPhail humoured me.
4 YOU BREATHE NEW LIFE INTO ME
My third stab at a song with this title. The tune arrived one night, I liked it but it was poppier than I would normally tackle as a vocalist. The next day lyrics started to form in my head and I scribbled them down in the back of a Manchester cab in a traffic jam.
I still wasn't sure how to tackle it in the studio, knew it didn't want to sound too Gary Barlow (much as I love him) ..but when we fired up the 'Strawberry Fields' mellotron there was suddenly a new direction to take. Robbie came up with the slide line for the intro, I heard it and grinned. I was like 'yeah ok this is pastiche. But it's fun'.
5 WORK IN PROGRESS
True story...I was on heavy medication for an agonising back injury. One fateful night I unwisely over-rode the 'no alcohol' caveat and had a couple of drinks before bedtime.
The following day I turned the iPad on and found the first 2 verses to this, timed at 1:42 am...I had absolutely no recollection of writing them.
This has never happened before but I figured it was now down to me to finish them.
So finish them I did.
Or - to honour the spirit of the song that they became - maybe I didn't?
6 FROST FLOWERS
The oldest song on the record.
The components are this. Midwinter in the Midlands, a freezing walk into the insomniac dawn to a city park and some grasslands. Hangover doing battle with guilt. A short story from Sarah Emily Miano's "Encyclopaedia Of Snow" rattling around my head.
7 SNOWFLAKE OBSIDIAN
A little fiction about a bookish late teen crossing paths with an older itinerant musician and deciding wistfully, over the course of 9 verses picked on an old nylon string guitar, that there was probably no future in it.
8 DRINK THIS IN
Expressing contentment is a big challenge to a songwriter. Angst is much easier.
Here, I think I channeled a song by the late Bobby Charles called "I Must Be In A Good Place Now" (covered by Vetiver) which is to me the most perfect musical encapsulation of an unassuming Zen like state of happiness ever written.
Some lovely restrained slide playing from 2017 UK Americana musician of the year CJ Hillman. We adopted a 'less is more' approach and he caught exactly the mood of the song.
9 MAKING MOMENTS
Mostly written in a hotel in Bristol, then tied together after a conversation with my older son about the myth of the super hero.
10 THE EXTRA SONG
So, I wanted an extra song for the album. This was the extra song. I had been walking Old Compton Street in Soho one beautiful October day and remembering a bar there which my Father and visited when I first moved to London many years ago. Next day I started humming this tune while walking around my hometown, free associating about everything on my mind that day - from my own mood to alarming global events..from wonderful musical kindred spirits and friends loved, to friends lost. And, finally in the last verse to action, belief in good and the pledge to keep faith in these messed-up times.
Unusually for me I let the song tumble out quickly and left it unedited, a little snapshot of where my head was.
I'm an optimist by nature, I wanted to end the song and the album by toasting the future - so to that end, instead of bringing in muso mates I brought my family. Egan aged 10 played fiddle and sang harmony, Asher aged 5 played his drum, Thea was cajoled into playing whistle, on which she is a wizard and a dark horse.
The album closes with the sound of us playing in the next phase.
A little anxiously maybe but we're all grinning.