The great unpleasantness seems to have been going on for an eternity now. Gigs are off, book signings are muted, and expensive residential studios in the country are beyond reach...so some things remain constant, at least. Brooding on the state of the isle, Tony James Shevlin - songsmith of this parish - issues an edict. “Be at mine on Wednesday” he says. “And bring the dog.”
TJS has the mind to write a song about the current state of affairs, and enjoins me to contribute some of the words I have swirling about in my head as a result of many of our conversations on the subject, and a number of the chords I have at my very fingertips. This is best done in person, we feel, as recently someone has asked if they can record one of my songs and I have spent three days looking up a variant on ‘E’ so I can inform them of the dramatic change involved in the second line (it’s ‘best aside’ not ‘pesticide’ I feel it is pertinent to point out via text message) and so we consider that it’s probably appropriate if we just show each other what we mean in person, although the shorthand between Shev and myself means that I could probably just say “The ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ chord” and we’d both know what I intend.*
Hence I am reflecting on a shit show of a year, guitar in hand, and he has generously provided tea and biscuits. He’s also holding the pen, which means he has the whip hand in terms of what goes down on paper. You can read up all you like about how if you don’t remember it in the morning it wasn’t memorable enough, but we’re both of an age that sometimes we have to write down what we came into the room for, so it makes sense to the pair of us to have a method of at least jogging our memories when it comes to why there are four empty tea mugs and a packet of hobnobs on the garden table. Also, he’s got one of those new-fangled phones that record what you’ve just done, like the young people have and so if we wanted to Snapchat the session, we’re all covered. After a couple of hours we have three verses, a chorus and a banging middle eight, or at least an agreeably sentient one. At about three I make my excuses and break off for the school run. I’m collecting, not hanging out like David Crosby at the gates of Tamalpais High.
We exchange notes. We arrange to record a reasonably proper version, and so the next week I return to Shevlin Towers. Since we’re recording, this time I don’t bring the dog. She’s terrible on barre chords anyway. Tony runs down the guide version he’s put down and I scan the wall of guitars, looking for a suitable victim...um, tool. First up is the Yamaha, which I immediately capo at the second so I can play the song in D. This is my default recording mode. Up next, the dobro. These do not lend themselves, generally, to artificial key-transposition devices and so I finger-pick - a technique first taught to me by Donovan, at that Ashram in 1967. The National guitar is shining like the Mississippi Delta, and comes off the wall completely in tune, if not a little dusty.
I like Strats but historically, they don’t like me. I pull one off the wall nevertheless and drop in a descending line over a chorus, feeling like Stephen Stills, only without the hockey jersey and raging coke habit. There’s a custom Tele, with a tone control coil tap. That goes into the mix too. About the time I pick up a bass to try and fill in a descending line on that middle eight I was talking about earlier the lap top is set to ‘save’ and I am quietly reassured that nothing will go to waste.
The dog needs walking anyway.
*Turns out it was an Emajor7