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And in the end the love you make is equal to the love you take

September 30, 2013

‘Cause the high heel he used to be has been ground down

I’m done.

No more pretending to be a singer-songwriter and trying to get my songs “out there”.

I’ve deliberated for weeks on this and saved this blog entry before publishing. This isn’t heat-of-the-moment stuff.

After much effort and countless favours from friends old and new I got that album out a year ago.

Since then I have tried to place songs on radio, get online or print reviews, get gigs, get festivals, get anything. The result has been soul destroying and I don’t want to do this to myself any longer.

I’ve finally accepted what I probably knew all along but didn’t want to face up to. The songs aren’t all that good and the voice isn’t doing much for anyone.  That’s OK because not everyone can be good or great and there’s enough creative and wonderful songwriters out there.

In a private detective’s overcoat

Getting live gigs is becoming silly now and embarrassing. I looked back on another year of festival submissions and took a look at who was playing those tents around the country. Younger than me, more soulful than me, edgier than me. I’m a man out of time haha.  I’m also the oldest guy at every gig. It’s getting a bit creepy so probably best for all concerned 🙂

I thought the levelling of the playing field with online blogging would maybe open up the possibility of a review but despite contacting over 20 blogs who review and feature material not dissimilar to mine I didn’t get a single bite. Not so much as an acknowledgement.   Bloody hell at least the record companies back in the day used to at least send a form rejection letter “not what we’re looking for at the moment”.

Radio play is not coming my way no matter how many angles on promotion I take. I have a wonderful video for “Saving Souls” and a box of promo singles all ready to go but no-one wants to hear it.

I can’t even give this shit away.  That sums it up. Maybe that’s what I should have called the album ! 🙂

And dirty dead man’s shoes

Speaking of which, I’ve got a few albums left. If anyone wants a copy drop me a note. When they’re gone they’re gone.   There’s no more gigs. I’m not prepared to bare my soul to a room of people who would much rather talk among themselves over a pint. Somehow I don’t think my particular brand of middle-age middle-class angst will be missed 🙂

If you supported me by coming to gigs: thank you.  If you supported by buying an album: thank you.  If you got a free album: thanks for playing it. If you requested a song on radio: thank you.

It hasn’t all been bad. I’ve made some friends along the way and had one of the best nights of my life launching the album (even if I lost my shirt on the night). Here’s a great memory:

What’s next? I’ll stick to making little bits of music and watching some really talented friends create amazing songs and perform in front of audiences alongside fine musicians.  I think the songs are better off in a notebook or on a hard-disk and I’ll be better off not trying to improve, craft, compete with myself, spend time chasing elusive exposure.  A win-win.

I had to make a life decision a long, long time ago between being an artist or being an aspirational middle-class professional. I don’t do regrets but there’s no way you can do both. Burning the candle at both ends is not good for either side of my brain. It’s exhausting trying to flip between the business person on one side and the creative on the other.

He stands to be insulted and he pays for the privilege

Before I knock it on the head and throw the last toys out of my pram I’ll leave with the single release for “Saving Souls”  since I’ve already spent the money for distribution and a video because my friends were so good to help make it.

Keep an eye out for my communication in the next few days… whether it’s on the blog, mailing list or Facebook.  Grab a copy if you’d like one and let’s pretend one last time 🙂

Groups of guitars are on the way out Mr Epstein

April 25, 2013

My normally positive outlook is going to take a backseat for this blogpost.

Back in January I repeated an annual process I’ve been doing for the last 2 years: I started sending in submissions to the various festivals that take place around Ireland.  Rather than a scattergun approach I deliberately researched each festival looking at previous year line-ups to make sure my material/show was a good fit. This year was going to be different: I had an album under my belt and a strong video channel on YouTube with clips from my album launch show.

From the dozen or so submissions made I received no responses. None. Nada. Not even an automated response to say “sorry we cannot reply to individual submissions because we’re overwhelmed with your emails”.

Not liking my music I can deal with. I know what I’m producing isn’t to everyone’s taste. I get that. I don’t like it but can take the rejection.   Copy-and-paste “thanks but no thanks” communications I can also deal with. I process a lot of email and communications in my day job and I completely understand why it’s necessary to take an impersonal approach.

Getting no response whatsoever is getting beyond a joke. Weeks/months later when I revisit the festival websites I then see that they’ve announced artists.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m not looking for a seat on the right hand of Calvin Harris.  I’m looking at the “independent” / “emerging artist” stages.  I recognise some of the acts from previous years and festivals/gigs from around the country.   What do they have that I don’t?   The doubt monsters start to creep in.

There was one very notable exception to this. In February I sent a submission to a festival to be held in Dublin this June that looked very credible. In previous cities & years it had guest panellists of great repute. This was the real deal.  “Peter, just to let you know that I’ve been listening to your music and I really like it” went the gist of the email.  I thought to myself: at last!   Sure enough last week I got confirmation that I was one of 100 acts to be confirmed for the festival. I immediately confirmed my availability and sat down to plan how I’d take advantage of this opportunity.  I was ready to pay again for rehearsal rooms and to do the rounds of pulling-in-favours to get a band together for the gig possibly even having to shell out to pay the musicians. More expense in order to play. I’m about to release a couple of songs to radio as “free download singles” so this invite couldn’t have come at a better time. I could use it to try create a bit of a buzz around the release and it always looks very credible to radio programmers.

Before I go any further, and for the benefit of non-musicians who might read this blog, I should point out that the emerging and independent artists for this and most other festivals do not get paid and do not get any expenses covered. You’ll be lucky to get a beer!  What you get is a chance to play on a stage and hope that some of the audience will stick around for your set. If you’re really lucky you might get a handful of people to sign up to your email list and if you’re really,really lucky you’ll sell a couple of CDs.

Yesterday morning an email arrives marked “high priority <name of festival>”

I am writing to let you know that unfortunately due to an error in the artist selection process, we over-invited 14 artists to play at <festival name>. I am extremely sorry for this error and to have to
give you the news that you are one of the 14 that were over invited. Please accept my most sincere apologies.

All members of your band will still receive an access all areas pass (other than to workshops), if you could give me the names of the band members, I will arrange for them to be put on the guest list for the event.

Whatever about the rights and wrongs of this I’m sure dear reader that you agree this is a crappy way to handle the situation.  The sender didn’t even realise that I was a solo act: that’s how much attention was paid to this.   In a city the size of Dublin there is little difference between finding stage-time for 114 acts and 100 acts.

And then it begins.  I did a little Facebook status rant to blow off some steam. Some encouraging responses from friends helped.   Looking on Twitter I saw a few acts that had confirmed their participation in the festival (boy am I glad I didn’t post anything on social media or my mailing list!)  and every single one of them was from outside the country.  “WTF?” as the kids say.

Last night I found myself in my hotel room unable to sleep (travel will broaden your mind but disrupt your body rhythm unlike anything else in the world). I looked at the (lack of) sales of my album, the black hole of gig requests: half a dozen asks for support slots ignored in the last month alone, the demoralizing non-response from festivals, the 20 blog submissions for reviews that went un-written (or even acknowledged).

I was THIS CLOSE to closing my website, blog, bandcamp store and Facebook page. I’d had enough. No more.

Of course I didn’t do that.  Once I got over feeling sorry for myself I remembered every past rejection and screw-up and finally fell asleep thinking about the bollox who stiffed us after a club gig in Dublin back in 1987.

So where to next?  Keep on plugging away I suppose.  There’s a caseload of CDs in the studio that need new homes. Reality check: a small but very appreciated fraction of the Facebook fan-page likes and mailing list members have bought my album. A fraction – nobody is obliged to buy but I thought I should share the reality of releasing an album. There’s some really great work being done by a friend to create single sleeves for my ‘radio singles’ and I’ve been inspired by an old Thomas Dolby live concert DVD to revamp my live show and remove the reliance on favours from musicians. It might even set me apart from the other singer-songwriters out there.

Which means: there’s still people out there who might buy my CD, there’s still gigs and festivals out there and one of my radio singles might just get a result. 

It still grinds my gears though . . .

This blog post  I Think You’re An Asshole, So I’m Going To Tell You, Asshole resonated with me.  I don’t think anyone associated with the festival that stiffed me is an asshole. I reckon most of them are barely, if at all, getting paid to put up with egos, slackers and assholes (that’s “musicians” to you and me).   So, I’m going to move onward an upward and not be a dick.

Deconstructing 12 Step

February 25, 2013

12%20steps12 Step started from a single phrase uttered by my son Ben. We were on holiday in a sunny place with a swimming pool. Ben had spent so long in the pool and the sun was so bright he remarked as only a little boy can do “I’m turning blue !”

For months I had that opening line “I’m turning blue… because of you” and it went nowhere. I’ve read lyrics by real songwriters who cleverly develop a word theme through the song so I thought verse 1 would be blue and verse 2 would be… red.  Too clever for my own good aren’t I?

One evening I had a conversation with someone who was coming out of a bad relationship. His former partner was/is a nightmare by all accounts.  Putting on his “hat” (see what I did there?) I tried to tell a story from the side of someone who has stuck it out but eventually reaches breaking point.

The air turns blue next to you

You’re out of line we’re out of time

I’m always stuck in your firing line

Watch out . . .  here comes the chorus !

Over a simple C to A minor progression.

Jumps up to B7 to E for the chorus when he puts his foot down.

I deserve more than this shouldn’t be a one way street
I deserve more than this shouldn’t be a one way street
I deserve more than this

Have you ever been to a dinner or party when there’s someone who wants to crawl under the table because of their partner’s behaviour? Picture the scene as this guy apologizes again for what happened. Again.

I’m turning red at everything you’ve said

In the morning when they’re gone

You won’t remember what you’ve done

I should stress… this is all fictional and no actual people were mentioned in the writing of this song.  The song title “12 Step” refers to 12 step programmes as I wondered what it might be like to be stuck in a relationship with someone who needed all 12 Steps every day.

Middle 8 sections: what’s not to like?  The middle 8 is a section in the middle of a song to give the listener something fresh… also called the ‘bridge’.  You can read all about it here if you’re so inclined.
I’ve wanted to use the A minor > B minor 7th > C > D progression for years and now I finally had a place for it.

I will try I will fail look at me I’m too good for you
I will try I will fail look at me I’m too good for you
I will try I will fail look at me running after you

A twist in the end… yet again he’s suckered back into the relationship and we hear her complaint

I deserve more than this… she said

The recording of the song took me through a few versions but it wasn’t until Mark (bass) and Tim (drums) got to grips with it in a rehearsal room that it took proper shape. My favourite bit are the backing vocals in the middle 8 singing ” me me me me me . . . “. They were fun to record and I have to credit Dan Prendiville for the idea.

12 Step was remixed by two friends (Dave Riley and Dan Prendiville).  I sent them the multitracks and let them loose with it. I still get a kick hearing what they did and you can too (for FREE!) just visit my online store and get a free digital download of “Other People’s Remixes“.  While you’re at it… buy a copy of the album “Other People’s Hats” too.

Deconstructing “Saving Souls”

February 12, 2013

The Scritti Politti classic “The Sweetest Girl” was playing in my mind’s ear while writing. I’ve always remembered an interview with Suggs from Madness who spoke about this recording when Madness released their own version. He described it as a demo. He was right. It still has that etheral 2-in-the-morning 4-track demo to it.

drowning

“Saving Souls” is track 6 on my album “Other People’s Hats“.  I clearly remember writing this late one night in my home studio. Sat at a keyboard I left a simple percussion loop running while I vamped some chords and decided to keep it as simple as possible. I approached the lyrics by thinking of those Sophie’s Choice situations a parent can find themselves: only one hand to save someone drowning…. trying to keep control of the fast moving car on an icy road…. all that good stuff that surfaces in your nightmares.  You too eh?

Meanwhile in the conscious world this song is about a couple holding on for dear life
when circumstance is trying to tear their family apart. It can sometimes feel all that’s left for you is to save their souls.

Save yourself from the wind Save yourself from the rain

I know we’re saving souls tonight

On the road rainy night Slippery slope do it right

I know we’re saving souls tonight

Sacrifice yours or mine? Hold on tight grip the line

Till we both run out of time

The lyric and melody came in minutes. One of those lucky breaks. When you’re in the zone and your writing muscle is well exercised it seems to happen that way sometimes.

Recording the song was very satisfying.  I kept the original demo which was a simple electronic percussive loop, fender rhodes keyboard and a vocal.  I somehow lost the settings for the loop which annoyed me no end.  The original idea was to have a Roland CR78 drum machine playing the rhythm.  Once upon a time I had one of those drum machines. You’ll probably recognise it from that Phil Collins album “Face Value” which features the drum machine on a few songs including “In The Air Tonight”  Sometime during early 2012 I located a €5 soft-synth plug-in which gave me a software version of this collectable device.

cr78

I kept pushing for space in the track and wanted to keep the instruments to a minimum. This is a tricky balance because I also want to keep the listener’s interest up with instruments poking in-and-out between the lyric.

Mark played a great bass part on this. One of my favourites of his. We octave doubled the bass and I asked him to channel Tony Levin.  In my mind I heard the bass line on Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush “Don’t Give Up“. The bass part does a great job of not playing all the notes. Do you know what I mean? It’s the gaps that matter. Lovely stuff.

By this point I knew I wanted two more instruments. Harking back to Phil Collins “Face Value” I have always liked the slide guitar played by Eric Clapton on the track “The Roof Is Leaking“.  I called Jude Shiels who obliged with two takes of playing. Nailed it in 30 minutes and left me to edit to my hearts content.

Almost there.  I had left some gaps for a solo instrument and I knew it was going to be for my old buddy David Mayne who I had last played with in the 1980s. Dave is a truly brilliant sax player and he “got” straightaway what the track needed. 3 or 4 experimental takes and I was left with more virtual tape to edit.

My old buddy Tony Faulkner was over visiting the house one day and I was telling hinm about the slow but steady progress on getting this damn album finished. I said there was one track that would make a nice video but it wasn’t yet mixed and I didn’t have the budget to make a video anyway.  By the second glass of wine Tony had volunteered to produce the video and mix the song.   Result 🙂

We spent a great evening in my studio and referenced some Trevor Horn productions on a couple of Seal albums while building a mix. This was like old times – we’d dreamt of pop stardom in the 1980s. Well… at least I had.

Mix completed I gathered some volunteers to spend a day shooting a video. Tony is editing the video… which reminds me I must give him a call.  I think this track might be an interesting radio single.

My 2013 appearance at Slane…

January 25, 2013

Ok a bit of a fib (sort of).  Tonight I played in Boyle’s of Slane which is a very nice venue that hosts the “Purple Sessions”. It’s been a while since I played live. Actually no that’s another fib: it’s only been a few weeks. It feels like an age though.

First solo acoustic gig in a long time. It felt strange not having a band behind me ! Even stranger not having Mark who has been holding down the bass for the last 18 months or so. No we haven’t fallen out: he’s got a life, study and work to do so I’m not going to abuse his generosity of time.   Anyway I digress….

The show tonight was videotaped so I’ll be sharing it soon. I played material from “Other People’s Hats” and it felt GOOD to be on stage.  It felt even better having a listening audience which included a couple of friends who travelled from Drogheda to show their support.

I held this romantic image in my mind of the wandering troubadour singer-songwriter driving through the night to get home after playing his songs in another town. Capturing more fans along the way and selling some CDs.  I got a few new fans tonight as they kindly gave me their email addresses and are now on the mailing list 🙂

The last time I was in Slane was to see David Bowie live at Slane Castle in 1987, the previous time was to see Bruce Springsteen in 1985. I wonder what the teenage me would make of the shaven headed singer-songwriter me ? Why have I kept going when I’m long past the burning optimism flame of youth and, let’s face it, acting half my age playing gigs and writing songs ?  I’ve thought about this and it came to me midway through my set tonight: because I have to and because I bloody love it. I’m a show off … so sue me !

I was recently asked this question by a blog reader and it has been on my mind for a few days. Why have I and a few others of a similar vintage (mid-80s hopefuls) either kept going or resurrected their love for making music and why have others stopped?   I think if I had burned myself out back then I would probably not be doing this now. I never “boiled over” but rather I “simmered” all this time.  Does it explain why I never made it (to use that expression yuk): if I had been more passion back then and stayed the course and immersed myself in what is really my true love would things have been different ?  Well of course they would but different how ?  I’ll never know.

Oh and the venue has hosted some fine singer-songwriters. Here’s one:

Image

Deconstructing “Dirty Little Secret”

January 17, 2013

Child-in-Shadow-Bright-Light-by-woodleywonderworks-450x299Track five on “Other People’s Hats” is a very dark song titled “Dirty Little Secret“.

In this song I’m trying to tell the story of abuse as told by a victim who vows to haunt the abuser for the rest of their days. It opens with the device that has allowed abusers get away with this: fear and secrets. Always dirty little secrets that cannot be spoken of. I should make it clear at this point that I am not a survivor of abuse nor is it taken from any true story.

Your dirty little secret, your filthy little lie
No, I won’t tell no-one I’ll keep it till I die

Your face at my window hide under the bed
Stay there for a little while
Not a word is said, not a word is said

The song is built on an E minor chord with semitone movement to build tension. The track uses vintage synth sounds mostly the Arp 2600 plug-in… I can’t afford those old analogue synths so have to rely upon software emulations. The drum machine is a simple loop. I added some tremolo’d and distorted guitar to the chorus to lift it.

Fear turns to anger in the chorus

When I die look out for my ghost
You know why
You should fear me most Fear me most

The only point of reference I have is what I have read of the abuse of children in Ireland at the hands of authority figures (primarily priests). Victims weren’t believed.

Jumped up attention whore
Look at me look at me
The black the blue the uniforms
Nobody believed, nobody believed

For the middle 8 the victim gets to hit back at the abuser and lays out what’s in store for them.

I’ll be the face at your window I’ll be the noise in the night
I’ll make you jump at shadows Every wrong you did I’ll put right

I struggled with the last verse and was chatting online with someone (the name escapes me, I think it was another musician) and they helped with this last verse. When the secret is out in the open the abuser loses their power over the victim.

Our dirty little secret from the night before is doing the rounds all over town
A secret no more, a secret no more

I have to admit that sometimes this song is too dark to play and it wasn’t pleasant recording it. At the back of my mind was a voice asking me if I was sure I should be going with this subject matter. Not that it’s difficult to listen to but that I might inadvertently cause hurt to a victim of abuse with cack-handed ideas and words.

Here’s a video of an acoustic performance of the song recorded in a mobile video studio in Dublin’s Phoenix Park on a winter Saturday.

Deconstructing “Bed For Sale”

January 16, 2013

newagentSo onto track 4 on the album…

Back in 2009 when I was starting out with song-writing and live performance I wrote track 4 from “Other People’s Hats” titled “Bed For Sale“.

I was watching an interview with the songwriters from Squeeze Glen Tilbrook and Chris Difford. They were telling the story of how they met. It was via one of those notes you will see in a newsagent’s window. I thought it was pretty amazing that such a simple device brought about one of the best songwriting partnerships of the 20th century. One of them commented “..there among the notes for a bed for sale…” and it stuck in my mind. The title “Bed For Sale” stayed with me and a few days later I was doing a songwriting session when I had no idea if something would come out of it.

I thought about why someone would sell a bed. I cannot imagine it’s particularly hygienic or commonplace. Why would someone sell a bed? Was it a couple that had split up or perhaps someone had died? All of this was pouring onto the page while I let the first words that came into my head get onto paper.

Bed for sale, sign in a window caught my eye I had to stare.
Alongside lonely hearts and car parts, washing machines and jumble sales.
From the outside looking in it’s so easy
But the truth lies within, within their story and we all have stories.

The song uses a drop D tuning (DADGBE) which lets you really hammer that open D major chord with all six strings. You have to change some of the chord shapes and you can get some interesting sounds by doing this. The ‘train beat’ drum part is in fact a drum loop as is the jaws harp you can hear in the mix. A very country feel off the song is hardly surprising given the amount of American country music played in my house during my childhood. (Not very authentic country all of the time but plenty of country clichés in the chords and parts).

The second verse tells one of the possible reasons for this note in the newsagent window.

Bed for sale, two careless owners took for granted what they had.
Caught up in the sheets of another lies were told and hearts were torn.

By this time I figured out what the song was really about (let’s face it it’s not about a bed). Generally people are quite pass remarkable about other people’s relationships. It’s different when you’re inside the bubble of the relationship and you won’t necessarily see the world as others do. I wondered about the imaginary couple in the second verse and asked how did this happen? That gave me the middle 8 section:

How did it come to this ? A four by three in a window.
How did it come to this ? Have we nothing else to show?

You cannot put a price on a relationship.

Bed for sale memories are extra never underestimate the cost
Underneath her pillow lies the secret you’ll find me there if we get lost

No, I don’t know what that last line means either… one for my analyst I guess….

This song has been really well received at live shows and even requested so I might just put this out as a single to radio…

Deconstructing “Punch Drunk And Naked”

January 15, 2013

naked-guitar-heroMoving on to track three on my album “Other People’s Hats”Punch Drunk And Naked” was borne from many open mic nights and gigs in pubs. Why do we put ourselves out there only to be talked over and largely ignored? Why do we bare our soul to complete strangers?  With help from Dan Prendiville these lyrics came to be:

I’m lost in the room conversation buzz I can’t hear a word
I’ve waited all day to stand up on a stage and say what I want to say
Punch drunk and naked backed against the ropes holding on to hope
Punch drunk and naked spirit on the floor but I’m coming back for more

I’ve stood on stages and played songs written from a very personal perspective: the death of my mother, the love for my children, the black dog that creeps up on me and so on. While playing I can hear the buzz in the bar, the clinking of glasses and mobile phones ringing.  You feel naked and vulnerable it feels as if every shout in the bar strikes to your very soul.

I have a greater appreciation for the craft of songwriting now that I’ve got this album under my belt. Hours are spent writing and re-writing before you even record a demo version of the song never mind a production master. Some of my songs I recall writing at 7:00am because that was the only way to guarantee time alone for 30 minutes. It also goes with the ‘morning papers’ routine and yields interesting results: your brain isn’t so cluttered with work and other stuff at that hour of the day.   I don’t think I could hazard a guess at the hours I’ve spent in my studio learning how to record songs and the long nights trying to play like a proper musician.

This labour of love something I must do I can’t explain to you

The hours and the days I will give away just to get to play

The song was written on both guitar and piano. I can play simple piano parts and fell back on the “Lennon” style and moved the bass note around in my left hand – something that’s not so easy to do on guitar.  The chorus chords use a G# diminished to A major progression (a “Partridge” chord says Dan).

The middle8 section uses a similar idea: moving the bass note under an A minor chord.

I’m reeling from the blows now everybody knows I’m guilty of wanting to appeal
I’m standing for the count you just knocked me out
I wonder if it’s easier to quit

The recorded version on the album uses stacked up multitracked voices (all me) singing harmony which gets a natural reverbed sound because there’s around 16 or 24 of me on there. Doing a simple part like that is a lot of fun because you can hear the rich sound building as you work on the track and you can experiment with the harmonies without too much pressure. I find this easier than doing seemingly simple harmony lines for a lead vocal.

The theme of the song makes it an easy choice to open shows with.

I’m playing for you
so put down the phone
and listen to the show

Chris Welch did a really great cover version of this – it appears on the accompanying disc “Other People’s Covers” which you can download here using the “name your price” model (in other words you can have it for free if you like).

Deconstructing “Elvis Has Left The Building”

January 14, 2013

Moving onto the second track on my album “Other People’s Hats

Elvis Has Left The Building” was written the day after an Elvis Costello concert in Dublin’s Vicar Street.If you’d like a free download of this song follow this link.

It was a sunny day and I was sitting in the garden with my guitar, notebook and phone (for recording). I wrote the line “It was a photograph…” in my notebook and the rest of the song flowed from there.

It was a photograph from so long ago that I had almost forgotten

I didn’t think to ask because I didn’t know how deep we had gotten

When the songman sings on the radio the words are real but he doesn’t know

No one is listening

Elvis has left the building, we’re waiting outside.

Elvis has left the building, we’re standing in line hoping this time it’s him.

In my notebook I wrote stream-of-consciousness for about 20 minutes. Not thinking and just writing whatever words came into my head. I find this is a useful way to tap into memories and develop a song storyline. I was thinking of some fun times I’d had with Paul and remembered a visit to Mac’s Secondhand Records in Dublin’s George’s Street Arcade sometime in the 1980s

It was a picture sleeve of a childhood dream the man didn’t notice

So we made a deal and got out quick before he could spot us

When the video plays on the TV screen it brings me back to all of our schemes

And all of our dreams

Paul and I are fans of the Beatles: a little known beat combo from Liverpool. You might not have heard of them…  Anyhow we would often visit Mac’s of a Saturday to see what new arrivals were there. Mac himself wasn’t there on this visit and he had a young assistant covering for him while he had lunch. There was nothing new out on the racks but a box of 7″ singles had arrived in but had not yet been priced. We asked to take a look and flicked through various scratched and insignificant discs until stumbling across a relatively rare picture sleeve of the “Strawberry Fields Forever” single. We were a little excited at this find but played it cool. It got better as we continued looking and found a second copy !  Finding one was lucky, finding two was almost spooky.   Now these singles were relatively rare and usually would have been out of my budget and by the time Mac priced them up out of most people’s budgets ! We took a chance and offered the guy £20 for a handful of singles from the box (not wanting to draw attention to the rarities). He took the money and we ran… just as Mac was returning from his lunch.  The video is the classic promo video for “Strawberry Fields…” which always reminds me of endless conversations between Paul & I about what we would do and where we would go. Youthful dreaming.

The verses of the song use a simple Aminor to Gmajor chord sequence. As I was playing this and humming a melody I could hear pedal steel guitar in my head.  “Nice idea” I thought and parked it away thinking I’d never find a player. Of course as you’ll have seen on this blog, heard on the album and seen on the live video I did find a player who played exactly what I heard in my head.

Will you come and get it ?

Won’t you stand to see him ?

Won’t you try to make it ?

The real show has just begun

Although the initial spark for the song was the experience in meeting Elvis I wanted the broaden the story to express what it’s like to be a fan of a musician/songwriter. In the first rush of fandom you want everyone to feel what you feel and you’ll shout it from the rooftops evangelising the new gospel according to the new Elvis/Dylan/Floyd.  You’ll do silly stuff like hanging around outside a venue in the hope of meeting them, you’ll discuss their music with other fans, you’ll buy every record and search for those bootlegs and live tapes. You’ll go to the crappiest venues and pay over-the-odds for tickets.

After the guitar solo I take you back to the stage door where we’re waiting for Elvis

It was a so-so night and a so-so show

But we couldn’t care less

The door opens up and out he steps into the half-light

The man in the suit said it’s ok you can hang for a while but don’t you dare

Overstay your welcome

I took a bit of license here. The show most definitely wasn’t “so-so” but fans will forgive artists when they’re having an off-night.  The man in the suit is the security guy.

Elvis/Declan/Napoleon Dynamite eventually did appear and was very gracious signing anything offered and chatting with us. Now I was a bit tired-and-emotional having put away a bottle of wine during the show so I rambled some nonsense which EC seemed to find amusing if the photos are anything to go by.
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Getting that photo taken with Elvis righted a wrong from many years ago.  The first time Paul & I went to see him live was for a series of 3 shows on successive nights in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre in December 1986. Through a friend I had managed to secure front-and-center seats for each of the 3 shows. On the third night Costello brought out the Spinning Song Wheel, resurrected for his 2011-2012 tour, which he would invite audience members up on stage to spin. Whatever song it landed on the band would play.  I was shouting for him to get Paul up on the stage to spin the wheel using the ruse that it was Paul’s birthday. I don’t recall if it actually was Paul’s birthday that day (I think it might have been a couple of days later) but I thought it would be a laugh if he actually did this. Unbelievably Elvis stopped and asked what were we shouting… he brought Paul up on stage and got the theatre to sing happy birthday to Paul.  I was snapping photos like crazy and couldn’t wait to give this very cool souvenir to Paul.

The following day I took the camera and would the film back before opening it up and sending the film for processing. As I opened the camera my heart sank when I saw that the film had snapped inside the camera and was now exposed to the light. All of the photos were gone and to this day we’ve never been able to find photos from that show with Paul on stage.
155724_118332674899837_7264283_n Finally. Outside Vicar Street. We met Elvis.
We had our photo taken with him. We got there eventually in the end. I do recall trying to explain the whole “camera” incident to Elvis but he was looking at me as if I was speaking in tongues…probably best to leave it there. We thanked him and wished him well. If you’d like a free download of the song follow this link. While you’re thinking that over here’s a live version of the song recorded with my band at Dublin’s Grand Social venue.

Deconstructing “This Hometown”

January 13, 2013

Dublin%20Airport%20-%20T1%20Departures,%20Dublin%20Airport%20car%20hireI’m going to write a series of blog posts which will try to give some insight into what I was thinking when writing the songs on my album “Other People’s Hats“.

The opening track “This Hometown” attempts to give a different perspective on emigration.

Ireland has a history of emigration. For many the reason cited is economic. I argue that this is not entirely accurate. This is a small island and cannot sustain the ambition of so many. I believe many emigrate because the world offers so much opportunity. For recent generations the stifling control of religion and civil war politics was reason enough to leave.

I emigrated in 1990 and lived in New York for a while. I left a job, family and friends because I wanted to see what the world had to offer and I didn’t want to reach 40 years of age and say “I wish I had…”. New York offered so much opportunity on a plate for me and I wouldn’t have changed that experience for the world. I did return to Ireland and have met many others who travelled and came home. Part of me still has that wanderlust so who knows what might happen when the kids leave college?

“This Hometown” started one evening when I was in my music room goofing around with some cover versions messing around with the chords and went off on a tangent. On capo 2 I was playing Dmajor to Eminor and started to tell my story.

I’m leaving town tomorrow getting out for good
Sick of all this fighting and dying neighbourhoods
I’ve had enough of crying and I’m tired of all the rain
Now it’s time to put up or shut up so I’m gonna take the plane

I knew that I wanted to tell the story of a couple who were emigrating.

You and me we’re alright
I will never let you down
Let’s run away together
It’s time to leave this hometown
So long

As I worked on the song I struggled with some of the lyrics and mailed them to my friend Dan Prendiville who helped me knock them into shape and he contributed lines to the song which I wouldn’t have thought of.

I’m gonna buy me a one way ticket and fly from this despair
Cos for years I have been drowning now I’m coming up for air

Now that we’ve heard from both sides we know that neither of them was willing to go alone.

If I go will you go? I can’t do this alone.
I’m leaving here with you babe I can’t do this alone.
I can’t stand it anymore, can’t stay here anymore, can’t live here anymore

I wanted to get across the belief that many emigrants leave to escape the parochial, one-horse-town suffocation that still exists on this island.

I’m not going for the money or leaving here in shame
My empty soul is tired so tired
Too tired to play this game

When working on the song arrangement with Tim (Drums) and Mark (Bass) I saw the benefit of bringing in real musicians. They helped with the punctuation of “This Home Town” which helped put a hook under the song title. On the recording I played around with a lapsteel guitar which sounded more like a regular bottleneck guitar and was a happy accident.
In the back of my mind the dual male female vocal interchange wouldn’t go away. A couple of people who heard the song demo remarked that I should get a girl in to sing some of the lines with me. This is how Suzanne Bushnell ended up on the track and made all the difference. Another good lesson was to trust my original instinct just as I had with the pedal steel on “Elvis…”

I had never entered a song contest in the past but for some reason I decided to try the 2012 Christie Hennessy song contest. Imagine the jaw drop look on my face when I was told the song had made the final. It was a great excuse to head to Tralee for a weekend and hang out with some professional songwriters. Even getting featured on the IMRO (Irish Music Rights Organization) website was a bonus.

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