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From The Other Side Of The World

February 27, 2011

February is ending and I’ve not blogged since new year’s day. That’s poor form.

This time last week I started recording a new song that I’d written the previous day. Untitled ‘Song For Paul’ was born out of the news of the death of our internet mate Paul Culnane.  I went into my little home studio with my guitar on the Saturday afternoon and just kept playing to see what I could come up with. For about an hour I flailed around with nothing coming but managed to get into that zen-like state when I don’t criticise or think. I’ve learned to keep the recorder running while writing. Every few minutes I rewind and capture the best bits. Not worrying too much about the lyric but keeping in mind what the whole ‘story’ of the song is – in this case it was the long-distance relationship I and others had with our friend.

Paul struck me as a troubled soul but it would be unfair to simply remember him that way. We all have our demons and we’re too quick to summarise a life by thinking only of the tough times and ignoring all the goodness. As far as I can see Paul lived for music, fun and people. He loved glam, pop and wrote about it. The internet took to Paul like a duck to water. I’d get long rambling emails from him about all sorts of music, the loves of his life and the days when things didn’t go so well. I wish I’d kept them. His Facebook page has become a bit of a memorial and people from all over the world have come together to remember a fun, loving person.

The song formed pretty quickly – I still have the writing session and it seems to have taken less than an hour to get a verse and chorus section. The middle 8 came quickly and it was definitely going to be instrumental.  Recently I’ve tried writing with a capo on the guitar because it forces me into keys and chord shapes I wouldn’t normally try. In this case on Capo 3 I was able to play in C minor which would normally be tricky to maintain while writing.  Along the way the chorus fell into my lap: a standard G major chord slides up to A something-or-other and then to Bflat something-or-other and back down again.   When I got to the middle 8 I was able to sing a simple melody over the top of the chord changes and didn’t bother with a lyric – it was going to be instrumental and I wanted an excuse to use a mellotron sound.

I wanted to get the song recorded and online by the weekend so despite having a busy week managed to make time in the studio to work on the track. The pressure of time meant I had to make decisions and just get-on-with-it.  Dan emailed a bass part and Steve emailed a few lead guitar tracks and a lovely triple-tracked slide guitar part for the chorus.  Lyrically the rest of the song fell into place – Dan sent some suggestions for lyric tweaks which tipped my basic lyric over into something I was comfortable singing. By Friday I had it rough-mixed and ready for the last bit which was Dan’s participation in the backing vocals near the end of the song.

The drums are courtesy of Toontrack Ezdrummer which is a great tool for the non-drumming singer-songwriter. Basically a collection of real drummers recorded to MIDI files which are then used with a sample playback engine. This gives you the real feel of a drummer with great quality sounds. Easy to edit and adjust: the drum part in the coda is a pattern from earlier in the song with the snare taken out. I might have manually played the cymbal crash at the end.   The acoustic guitar is my favourite instrument (my Martin XCT-1) mic’d by a Neumann into a TLAudio 5051 mic-pre. The strings, horns, electric piano are all from Logic which is my sequencing software of choice. I start with Garageband so I don’t over-complicate things, then I open the session in Logic Studio to edit and tweak it. Once I’m happy with those parts I export them as audio files and copy them over to my ProTools workstation. The ProTools system is over 10 years old but I’m in no hurry (or position) to replace it. It works just fine.  I then track the acoustic and vocals on the ProTools system which I treat like a multitrack system. It keeps me from fannying around too much with the parts and it’s easier to use for tracking ‘real’ instruments.

The backward bit in the middle is me reading out some of Paul’s sayings & expressions. No point in having mellotrons and Harrison-esque slide guitar if there’s no backward stuff is there ?  Those backing vocals at the end were fun. There’s about 8 versions of me and a similar number of Dan in that choir.

What have I learned from this ? Doing it for the sake of it is enough reason to keep writing and recording. Get it recorded and don’t put it on the long finger. Don’t be afraid to get contributors in. I can’t wait to set Steve loose on a couple of my other songs and already have a track I want to send to Dan for more bass duties.

Anyway, Paul I hope you like it.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2011 6:18 pm

    Always happy to oblige…;-)


  2. Jorge Gomez permalink
    April 9, 2012 5:39 am

    The song is right on with who Paul was, It sucks he is gone I hate not having him there when I need someone to talk to he used to be the best person to go to. I dont know if this is a bit to much to ask, but do you know the cause of his death? Ive been wondering for a long time but I never got an answer. My email Is



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