while writing 'Nonsuch', a Proteus sound module
and had it re-jigged to include a lot of
orchestral samples. It sounds wetly hippy, but I
was trying to get my head into this SPACE. More
rosin-ville than plectrun place. When 'Nonsuch'
and all its doings were well and truly done, I
sat down one day and drifted off, doodling
aimlessly. Before long, I started to get hot
under the trouser cuff. This cyclical phone pad
sketch that had wormed out note by note, over two
bars of cascading pizzicato strings and an
offbeat rosary of trumpet clusters. Was really
making me want to dance and yell.
I made sure
my garden shed studio door was locked, and
removing my shirt, shoes and socks, I proceeded
to fling myself around like a grinning dervish
for the next cauple of hours. I was so happy.
Scat singing myself into a coma, I decided to
turn on my cassette machine te capture the best
phrases. This was all happening too quickly and
too beautifully, I needed words to sing, where's
my notebook? I couldn't lose this transient
I flipped through my rough book looking for words
or couplets jotted down for just such an
occasion, and there it was. The phrase 'I heard
the dandelions roar in Piccadllly Circus'. A real
dreamer's line, but one that had stuck in my head
because of its rolling contradictions*.
You can't hear a dandelion roar, it's a flower
not an animal. Piccadilly Circus is not a circus,
and doesn't have animals. But wouldn't it be
wonderful if the grimey hub or London was full of
flowers, etc. It seemed to chase its tail in the
same way that this music did. It was perfect, so
'just right' - was it that this little key
immediately opened up a glowing treasure chest of
words and intentions enabling the optimistic
floral cousin of 'Roads Girdle The Globe' to
spring into fully formed maturity.
shocked and delighted like a kid at Christmas to
find something so new and modern laying in happy
ambush for me. How did my clumsy spam fingers
find this? One part Philip Glass, one part Gil
Evans, two parts nursery rhyme with a slice of
carol on the side. Although I would find nothing
else so orchestrally pure, this was the biggest
boldest signpost saying 'Go down that road, don't
wait any longer'. The electric guitar was getting
put back in his case for a while.
note: this demo was recorded on a Tascam 238 8
track cassette Portastudio. It lacks the long
drip/pluck intro of the finished version, which
came to be as a better way of building this sound
river, one ploop at a time, as I was convinced
from its inception that it would make a great
album opener. I had no way of altering or
remixing this demo as I had sold the recorder te
Blur's Damon Albarn. Sounds like he's used it
well since then.
originally wanted it as a title for the
'Nonsuch' album but it obviously wasn't to
I'D LIKE THAT (SAY A SUNFLOWER)
This track starts with the very
first mumbled mono cassette sketch, here titled 'I Lik That'. As soon
as I get an idea I slam it down quick, so as nat to forget anything,
onto the nearest tape deck to hand. All that exists of this early
capturing is just under one minute's worth.
We then cut to the eight
track ADAT demo I made when the song was all written. We slapping on
my own legs because I wasn't sure of what the finished drumming
should be. But hey!, both Haydn and Nick liked the self
flagellation percussion so we kept the idea in, right to the end. I
think for a long time I was a little embarrassed by the light whimsy
of this song and would play the demo for people muttering a presage something like 'Oh, it's
the soundtrack of the Paul McCartney fan club barbecue, ha ha'. Well,
I was right and I was wrong. Sure it has more than a smack of Macca
about it, but that's nothing to apologise for. The man's been an enormous
influence on me and is bound to surface all over the XTC catalogue,
I guess he bobs up equally with Brian Wilson from time to time. Damnit,
why did I have to grow up during the Sixties?
When my marriage fell apart in
93, I took myself to New York. For Erica's female solace, to drink (too
much) and to co-write with Nicky Holland, I remember well, offering
her the embryo of 'I'd Like That', but snatched it back when I
realised it was coming to completion very quickly under its own
steam. I recorded the main body of this demo back in England on the
22nd of March 1994, after completing the 'Through The Hill' album with
Harold Budd and at least four songs for the film 'James
and The Giant Peach'. But that's another story.
A nagging but nice chord change
and melody had been rolling around my brain since 1986. I
remember liking it so much that I kept pestering people asking, 'Are
you sure this isn't a song by someone else?' This keeps happening to
me. I'll labour over a tune excitedly for while then, near
completion, I'll play it for the nearest set of ears and they'll say something like
'Oh! Isn't that 'Hey Jude'? or 'Isn't that Surfs Up?' But with the idea
for 'Theatre' I didn't get
this reaction, only 'sound nice'. I mentally filed it away for
a rainy day.
The melody didn't find a
bome til I Dr. Frankensteined it onto those nice brown chords,
looking far a chorus, in early 94. I always had a hard job throwing
anything away, and thank goodness. The two parts seemed a
marriage made in heaven. I enjoyed doing the guitar solo
even if it sounded a mite like the man who bulit his own guitar from a fireplace, Brian May. Perhaps mine
is more like the man who built his own guitar from matches, Bryant and May.
You know you're doing alright if
at some point during recording a demo, your hair stands on end.
Which it did when I reached the 'Easter... in her bonnet' section in the
middle. Self fright or self delight is difficult to
achieve at the best of times, but here, bang out of nowhere, it
arrived in bucket loads. Every pore of my skin was smiling fit to
bust. Where does this stuff come from? Surely it's not me thinking these
songs up? I live in Swindon! Maybe my right arm is an aerial picking up the
practical jokes of angels or the whisperings of Genii. Surely my washing machine motor
of a secondary modern school brain isn't capable of thinking up songs
Please don't ask me what the name
of the chords are, I just don't know. This in not unusual for me, not knowing the
chords or even keys of songs. I'm not really
a musician, more of an ideas man who found himself holding a guitar.
If it sounds right to my shell likes, in it goes!
Technical note:- There's no bass guitar
on this demo as in my excitement and rush to get it finished I forgot to leave a
spare track to record one on.
KNIGHTS IN SHINING KARMA
If the demo of this sounds close to the
finished recordings the reason is simple. I'm not great at finger picking
style guitar, so once I'd got the speed, feel and a relatively mistake free performance
from each of the two electric guitars that constitute the backbone of this song,
why should I
play it again? For the master
recording we lifted off these two guitars, which I was very happy with, and
merely re-recorded the vocal. (Thinking
about it, we also kept the bendy acoustic guitar theme and finger cymbals as
That's the thing with home recording.
If you capture a good performance in the stress free environment of your
shed or wherever, there should be very little preventing you from dubbing it to your
'great' quality master tape. Providing, of course, it's not going to a nightmare for other
musicians to play along with.
During 93/94 I was going through a bad patch
in my life and 'Knights' came along
as a real comfort, a song to salve my worried mind. It was me crying tea
tears at the sink, it was me laid awake fretting all night, bands breaking
out in sores and blisters. i needed hugging and guarding in a moment of pain,
so I tried to do it to myself in song.
It will probably come as no surprise when I
tell you that the music came
from me 'dicking about' with the Beatles 'Blackbird', not 'Julia' as some smart-arsed
have suggested. The 'Jealous Winter Sun' sections, with their descending finger
picked chord shifts, to me, betray their origin more than any other parts of the
song. But I should add that I have never knowingly stolen any music from anyone
(unlike those shamefaced Dukes!), it's a simply a case of playing your faves,
making mistakes and being open enough to grab the cock up and use it.
The same way 'wrong' Hendrix inspired 'All You Pretty Girls' or messing about
with The Beach Boys 'I Get Around' gave birth to 'Books are Burning'.
Our ex-manager thought it reminded him
of the theme from Steptoe
and Son, a dangerous thing to say for a manager who's oontract is coming up for
renewal, but Steptoe's Theme is alright by me and I sort of see what he
Music Hall always lurking in my writing. Perhaps it's too many nights spent in
working men's clubs watching my parents dance the gay Gordons, where usually at the end
the night my father was invited to get up and sing a melancholy
ballad with too much vibrato, or just as bewildering, the family ritual of
watching 'Sunday Night at the London Palladium' on our 22 inch TV set, for me,
usually in my pyjamas, viewed upside down, on the settee. It all sinks in and I
am acutely aware of the songs' old fashioned-ness,
so much so that I had a dream where I was doing a duet on 'Michael Barrymore'
Big Night Out' exchanging the occasional line with Barrymore and both of us
joining in on the chorus, kicking our legs out and clutching hat and cane.
Rhythmically I was anxious to avoid the 'Flanagan and Allen lope' in favour
of the 'Good-day Sunshine tromp' but inherent feels in songs are difficult to
suppress and what you try and hide in a song usally turns out to be the very
thing what people like about it, artists being too close to their art so to
speak. But Still Andy hasn't accused me of writing 'Granny Music yet, at least not to my
face and I won't ask
him to put on the 'Penguin Suit' for 'our routine' in some future promotional
film or video, but you never
know it might
simply be a case of 'Gracie Fields
When that four watt light
bulb goes on in my head I usually reach for the nearest
instrument, which, nine times out of ten, ends up being my
daughter Holly's school guitar. It's about two-thirds scale,
nylon strings, doesn't stay in tune and was built in Romania.
Now, as everyone knows, Romania is to Great Guitars as Adolf
Hitler was to champion figure skating. But what the heck, it's
handy and I seem to have acquired it by default. Boys and pop
groups are of more interest to her at the moment than Tom Dooley
Anyway, I was scrubbing
away one day on the top four strings and dreamily droning a
melody that seemed to sound archaic and summoned up the rolling
hills (which we're surrouded by in the bowl of Swindon). I
rushed out to my studio at the bottom of the garden and knocked
up a loop of percussive noises. Something seemed to be growing.
When I traced out my humming melody on a string sound,
everything fell into place. I got 'that' single.
The lyric came quite
quickly. The music seemed to suggest the land and forests.
Vaughn Williams with a hard-on, a Pagan ritual, a celebration of
the timeless, the spirit of the trees, the Greenman.
I tried to put into the
song all of the essence of the male side of nature. The tall
oaks and the eternal father, THEthe lover or the green budding
son. In short, mother nature's man in all his forms. It takes
two to tango monotheists!
In almost every interview
I've done for 'Apple Venus volume one', I'm asked why did we go
for a middle Eastern sound for 'Greenman'? What?! For me, there
isn't the faintest pyramid shaped thing in sight. Call me the
village idiot but it's all rooted in English Folk Music to my
ear. Less old bazaar in Cairo, more Marlborough Mop.
Technical note:-All the
orchestral sounds on this demo are again Proteus. it would be a
few years before a forty piece orchestra in Abbey road got to
grips with it. Holly's guitar is called an 'Okada' and was the
cheapest in the shop.
I tried and tried NOT to write a
divorce song, I really did, you have to believe me. The last thing I
wanted was to come over as a grieved cattle bum crying into his beer in
the bar of heartbreak motel. Or even worse, as Phil Collins. i mean,
divorce is so...middle-aged and crap.
Trouble was, the internal stale
steam kept building, the pus kept expanding inside my head. I needed a
safety valve, maybe if i just put all the hurt into one song. Not even
that XTC should record this song mind you. Just let me release this cak
out of my head, then I can move on.
Boy did this thing come together
quickly, and do you know what?, I felt better clearer about things the second
I finished the demo. In fact, I felt so different, I became very reluctant
about going back to the state of mind I was in when I wrote it.
This would only make a difficulty if the band ever recorded it, and of
course we wouldn't choose to pick it for the album. It sounding so
petulant and snide. Nobody would want to record 'Dictionary'. So. no
problem. This dog doesn't need to return to his vomit. I feel different
from that now.
Oh dear! Everyone In the band loves
it our new record companies love it, the producer loves it and the few
friends who've heard it, love it. I was to be hoist by my own petard.
Protesting meekly would do no good. if everyone else likes it so much,
I must be in the wrong. Perhaps it was my embarrassment at penning such
a childish tantrum of a song. Very reluctantly I agreed to record It,
hoping secretly that it would fall at the last hurdle. But no, it came
out fine and I was left feeling annoyed for writing such a self exposing
This demo recording is close to the
finished thing. I guess I knew how it ought to go all along.
Ho tentato e ritentato di non scrivere una canzone sul divorzio, davvero, devi credermi. L'ultima cosa che
avrei voluto era entrare nel bar di un heartbreak-motel e piangere accorato come un bovino davanti ad una birra scadente. O anche peggio, come Phil Collins.
Voglio dire, il divorzio è così ... una stronzata di mezz'eta'.
Un guaio, esaurito l'entusiasmo che custodivo, il pus si stava espandendo nella mia testa. Avevo bisogno di una valvola di sfogo, forse mettendo tutto il dolore in una canzone.
Non che fosse importante che gli XTC registrassero questa canzone.
Volevo solo espellere fuori dalla mia testa questa sostanza, in modo
da potermi nuovamente muovere.
Ragazzo tutto questo è successo rapidamente, e sai cosa?, mi sentii meglio, avevo fatto chiarezza e questo favorì la fine del demo. Infatti, mi sentii così diverso, divenni molto riluttante ricordando lo stato mentale in cui ero quando lo scrissi.
Procurerebbe solo difficoltà alla band se lo registrasse, e chiaramente noi non lo avremmo scelto per l'album. Suona così scontroso e sprezzante. Nessuno vorrebbe registrare 'Dictionary'. Così. nessun problema. Questo cane non ha bisogno di
mangiare il suo vomito. Ora mi sento diverso.
Oh caro! Tutti nella band lo amano e le nostre nuove case
discografiche lo amano, il produttore lo ama e i pochi amici che lo hanno sentito, l'amano. Sono saltato in aria proprio col mio petardo. Non avrei fatto bene a protestare.
Se agli altri piace così tanto, devo aver torto. Forse era il mio imbarazzo a desiderare una canzone con tale collera infantile. Con molta malavoglia fui d'accordo a registrarlo, sperando segretamente fino all'ultimo che avrebbe incontrato un ostacolo. Ma no, venne bene e mi abbandonò l'irritante sensazione di averlo scritto esponendomi.
La registrazione di questo demo è vicina alla versione finale. Suppongo di
aver saputo come dovesse andare.
Having been seen to have owned five
sheds at one time by various people who know me, it wasn't long
before I came to be known in certain quarters as 'five sheds
Moulding'. So perhaps it follows then that one day I might be
best placed to advise friends and fellow hobbyists' of the joys
of owning one, but it never occurred to me I would do it in a
song. I might have written the tune in any of the outhouses if
not for the ephemera of moving house occupying all the them, or
at least the ones in good repair. You could say that most of my
working life has bad a connection with one shed or another
having worked as a groundsman before I became a full-time
musician (the horticultural link perhaps?) and whether your
putting the Hornby '00' through its paces, peering through a
telescope at the moons of Jupiter or even writing a song, being
alone in an outhouse at an odd hour gives you a sense of being
at the frontier of discovery, a kind of Dr. Jekyl feeling, whose
experiments must not be disturbed. However, I should point out
that men who spend too much time on their own invariable arouse
suspicion, so to avoid that 'dirty raincoat botanical gardens
Tunbridge Wells feeling' be generous with the invites to your
piece of paradise.
"Fruitnut", after all this
was conceived in my own front room, which maybe of little
interest but I am sure the keys that I choose for my songs are
related to my fear of being overheard from the next room.
Singing out at the top of your voice in a proper recording
studio can be an intimidating experience but doesn't compare to
the humiliation or being caught in mid falsetto by a member of
one's family. I can think of only one other surprise
interruption which might surpass it...
Yes, you could say my singing has
been in hushed tones of late and I've recently wondered whether
I might be approaching 'Como-tose', a condition resembling the
vocal delivery of the well known crooner, but as there are plans
afoot to feather another bunker I'm hoping this will raise the
larynx up from the 'swing low sweet chariot range' to a more
natural level, otherwise it's back to tight trousers for me.
I CAN'T OWN HER
If it hadn't been for
Haydn Bendall pushing rather passionately for this song, I doubt
if it would have made it past this demo stage. Again, I felt
like I'd exposed rather too much of myself to feel comfortable
with. I'd written
a song, which to
my mind, had made me look weak, soft, indecisive and worst of
all for a man, romantic. My life had been in turmoil. Someone I loved
dearly was leaving my life and someone I loved dearly was
entering it. I guess I was grasping for permanence under big
waves of uncertainty. How could I seal my relationships, how
could I stop this from happening in future? You can buy a chair.
And own that chair. You can buy a pen and own that pen, but you
can't do that with a person. The Gossamer frailty or human love
had frightened me awake.
Another reason I was
reluctant to record a finished version was the 'loungey' feel of
this demo. It was recorded,one or two chord at a time, into a
computer with a sound that was a
mixture of piano and string samples. This gave it a plump but
leaden, sedate feel. Somehow, in my head it was more rolling and
turbulent (much more how the album version thankfully turned
out) and more like the clinate in my heart.
One thing the demo caught which I
think is a little mlssing on the finished one is the almost
astral sense of suspension, brought about by the high F sharp
hanging over the 'swirling
sky' C chords. This interval makes me think of a paper lantern
moon dangling from a cotton thread. I can't help it, my head's
wired that way.
As a kid, I had no idea
what the harvest festival ceremony at school was supposed to be
about. This bizarre mix of Christianity, paganity, help the Aged,
a jumble sale and fridge raid, all seem to crash together (with
schoolboy lust interest) in the lyrics of this song.
This demo is in two
sections. The first being that prime fumbling onto mono
cassette. You can hear me trying out a chorus of 'one kiss you
gave me' e teetering over an embryonic melody. This has been
edited at 1.04 minutes onto a slightly later eight track A DAT
recording. Think you'll agree the song by this stage feels
Don't get too wigged out by
the burbling maffled orchestra under the early version. What
happened was when I got the idea, I Just grabbed the nearest
tape, which I think was maybe some 'Handel', and I slammed it
into the nearest recorder. In my urgency to catch the muse I'd
forgotten that the tape deck was faulty and never properly
erases what's underneath. So here we have it, an inadvertently
psychedelic version with a baroque master unknowingly jamming
with me from beyond the grave.
I decided to move the
arrangement from acoustic guitar to piano simply because of the
evocation of an English school assembly. Music master seated at
the grand in the hall, girls one side, boys the other. Furtive
but powerful glances shooting between the ranks of confused
white shirted trainee adults. A smile from a girl across, the
room can have an atomic blast impact on a spotty, shy lad of
thirteen. Ground zero at your heart.
I'm very proud of the lines
'see the children with baskets, see their hair cut like corn,
neatly combed in their rows'. This, for me, is the whole
confused dream of school harvest festival distilled into a few
I was approached
by a musician in the mid 90's to contribute to, or complete,
some Instrumental he was about to record. Could I fina themes to
go over them or add lyrics and turn the pieces around into songs.
I threw myself into the project, well, I was on strike from
Virgin what else was there to do? A really oblique but sad theme
came up far one instrumental which I felt rathrer proud of, but
I was beginning to smell fish about the project in general. So
we parted ways, far reasons too many and varied to go inte here,
and I was left with my haunting melody.
I kept the tune, changed the chords
underneath (I didn't want anyone to accuse me of
stealing) and tried various keyboard sound, out to support it. I
liked a sample of an
acoustic guitar, which sounded oddly more like a harpsichord,
and a whole chain of
mental events went off to create the lyric.
Harpsichords always make me
think of balloons. You know, the Montgolfier Brothers type of
craft. Balloons make me think of escape, maybe from a besieged
place. Escape from something bad. Bad ways, bad thoughts. You
can see where I'm headed.
'The Last Balloon Home' was
for a while, the working title of the 'Nonsuch' album, but was
not to be. All that time it was laid in my lyrics book,
whimpering to me, "make
me into a song" it called, so now was the time.
Its primarily a sad song, we,
who are stained by our bad deeds, our violence, weapons, vanity,
we aren't going to get on board that balloon to a bitter place.
It's the young who are. It's the young who must not make the
same stupid mistakes that we have. They are the hope. They must
not listen to us, they must drop us, like ballast, if they are
to rise above it all. I'm an optimist at heart and feel, even
though it's grey here, that above and into the future it will be
brighter, fresher where my children are going.
wholeheartedly for the
wretched fake trumpet solo on this demo. But didn't Guy Barker
make up for it with some magnificent flugelhorn on the real