Friday, July 27, 2012

“No-one wants to hear about your kids…”

I was listening to the equivalent of the extra disc from a Songs from The Blue House box set this morning as, while looking for something else on the CDR shelf, I had stumbled across a copy of some early mixes for ‘Tree’, which included the songs that didn’t make it onto the final album. We whittled our initial selection of around fifteen or sixteen numbers down to the final running order after a lengthy process of deliberation and reference to outside panels of the great, good and discerning of taste (Mark Ellen, then editor of The Word magazine, gamely took part and expressed his concern on a later podcast that he may have mortally offended “Boggins the bass player” by marking an entry down. He hadn’t).
The main thing that the excluded items share - in common with a couple of things recorded for, but due to be left off our forthcoming album - is a lyrical theme based around children - their care, maintenance and/or lack of presence in the room. It seems that although we as listeners are prepared to make time to hear about loves lost, life on the road and the increasing difficulty in procuring quality pharmaceuticals whilst on tour, nothing stubs the metaphorical toe of the sombre artist’s listener than a not so subtly-nuanced reference to the pram in the hall. Even semi-carnally. For example who among us hasn’t reached for the skip button when John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy delays the arrival of Watching the Wheels by a full four minutes on Double Fantasy? Don’t answer that, by the way - there’s always one. The pram in someone else’s hall, on the other hand - that’s fair game – I mean who doesn’t love Hey Jude? (this question is posed on the same rhetorical basis as the above, by the way).         

Obviously there are clear reasons why a couple of the other songs I listened to this morning didn’t make the cut which are completely unconnected to their lyrical direction – quite why we were so enamoured of the concept of kicking a shed down a flight of stairs that we persuaded drummer Paul Read to unleash his inner Keith Moon in order to enhance the coda to a sensitive little acoustic ballad of Helen’s called Move is lost to posterity. That the session occurred on the same day as we had already spent fruitless hours getting him to overdub the sound of cutlery-as-percussion* may not be entirely unconnected. In the meantime, I’d forgotten we had even ever written a song called Move, let alone recorded and mixed it.
That we would dispatch a car to deepest Oxon. in order to collect Dame Judy Dyble, late of Fairport Convention and Trader Horne, so that she could deliver a beautiful reading of a nursery-baroque song called Little No-One and then leave it off the finished product seems an act of willful perversity. Playing it in the car, the string arrangement alone had me welling up, and that was even before I remembered that I’d had one exegesis of the lyric delivered to me with such blinding clarity** that I physically reeled at not having spotted the obvious before.

My Twinkly Lights was an early and obvious candidate for the cut, even before its twee and clunky sub-Springsteen blue collar narrative became bedecked with the sound of sleigh bells and a festive flute and fiddle part as a result of the banjo player identifying at an early run-through that the descending chord progression lent itself perfectly to the overlaying of the melody*** of the carol Good King Wenceslas, which was funny the first four times or so, but which we all agreed would pall over repeated listens – that and because we weren’t sure if Jingle Bells is out of copyright yet. We occasionally dig it out for downloads in December on the website however, and it is the first thing we offer to donate to festive charity compilations.             
The real pearl in the out-take oyster though, is When Mama Sings, wherein Our (ostensibly gruff and unsentimental) Glorious Leader fires up the ringing open chords and delivers a quite, quite moving paean to the smalls, featuring a remarkable intertwined violin and cello arrangement trumping even that of Little No-One. And a bouzouki. I think in the end we already had a slow ballad, possibly based around the pursuits of loves lost, life on the road and the increasing difficulty in procuring quality pharmaceuticals whilst on tour, and so it missed the final cut, or it may, of course, have been the bouzouki all along. Perhaps we should put them all on a special compilation for new parents to give to one another when they hit the three month mark and are so coincidentally full of love and bereft of sleep that they’ll listen to any old thing at three in the morning. We could call it “No-One Wants to Hear About Your Kids”.

 ps; ...and, as if by magic
Thank you, James.
*”More fork, more fork!” I remember being one of the instructions being bellowed over the talkback from the control room, which is not something anyone particularly needs in their headphones, let alone a drummer who’s taken the day off to help some mates out.       

** By one Keith Farnish by the bar at The Cropredy Festival in 1997.     
***"Tempus adest floridum" ("The time is near for flowering") first published in a 1582 song collection, if my Wiki cut and paste does not deceive me.

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