Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Forever Burn

She met a man on a night out.  They got on. They saw each other a lot.  He became distant. She knew she was losing him, though her feelings for him grew stronger every day.  She knew he was the one.  The last night she saw him he'd been round her house and they'd talked.  He didn't say anything that led her to believe he was about to walk away yet as he kissed her goodbye and walked up the steps out of the front gate, she looked at the porch light and said she'd leave it switched on until he returned.  It could have been a candle or the moonlight, but this porch light represented everything she felt - a connection across time - that he wouldn't be back.

She didn't hear from him for a few days and when he finally did get in touch, he was distant, morose and apologetic.  The light still burned - outside and in.  He never really broke up with her, he just stopped calling.  She thought of going to see him, surprising him - she thought of ringing to ask what he was thinking.  She left the light on in case he returned.  For him to find his way back to her.

She never saw him again and she's married now to another man - she lives in a different country - she's changed her name - she's had another child to another man - she's still crazy - she's just as happy as she ever was.

But that light still burns.  And it will burn on forever.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

New Demo...

Recorded three new demos in the last week - here is the first (unproduced as yet) with a guide vocal.

The other two 'Headlights and high hopes' and the Gary Numan inspired 'The Dreamers' will be up on here (soundcloud) before you can say 'trapped in the 80's'

ciao for niao

Thursday, 18 July 2013


Sometimes you don't want to know
Don't want to hear what's going wrong
Put the world on pause
Crawl around
Find promises that don't belong

Sometimes you don't want to feel
Don't want the fear of every day
Hide your face
Sing distraction
Close your eyes until it all goes away

Headlights and High Hopes

Songs can grow organically - you either get the main theme and idea down in one sitting and go back later to beef it up a bit and add middle eights and what have you - or you just feel a nice melody or in my case, I stumble on a new sound and fiddle with the reverb and phaser until it sounds suitably wierd. 

The two songs I've been working on for the last few weeks are 'Promises are Snowflakes' and 'Headlights and High Hopes'.  Both are songs - and I mean 'songs' in the sense of something that flows, has meaning, emotion.  They're not there to dance to. They're not there as 'lead singles from the album' to get a top ten hit in 40 countries around the world.  They're carefully crafted mood peices that in my mind sound like the type of song you could put at track 10 or 12, leading the album out and leave the listener hanging, thinking, considering their lives and whether they're going to get up and do something worthwhile tomorrow.  It would be highly pretentious of me to assume that though, so at the moment, they're just bits of clay - I'm spending a lot of time on the structures and the melodies so that the end product has a fighting chance of saying everything Douglas was feeling when he was writing the lyrics. 

Then I'll go and spoil it all by adding vocals!  Should be at the first demo stage sometime next week and up on soundcloud after that.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

We could have been Duran Duran...

It's surprising how little of the musician in me goes into an album.  I've been reading John Taylor's
autobiography and he speaks of Duran Duran's band dynamic right at the beginning - how he and Roger Taylor fed off each other and they'd create grooves and play for hours. 

I've written songs with over 30 people and most of them, in fact 90% of them were guitarists.  Whether using one to strum basic chords or playing it like it was part of their own body - it was their instrument of choice when writing songs. 

I'm not a good 'jammer'.  I love that band environment, don't get me wrong - I love adding my paint to the pallate, feeling that vibe and getting in amongst it.  I've never been a showboater so when it comes to a part of the jam where everyone gets a chance to show what they can do I get the exact same feeling every time - 'this isn't going anywhere'.  It's one of my greatest frustrations with other musicians - it's because they're just that.  At one with their instrument, lost in the ether of sound, feeling their way around a chord set and being happy to wallow for a few hours in the same groove.  I get itchy, I want to change the chord set every five minutes, forcing others to while they gaze at each other with confused expressions which seem to say 'what was wrong with what we were doing?' and 'You're not in control here, we just want to dance around the same 12 notes, putting them in a random order over and over again in a kind of stress therapy.

Only very rarely has a song come out of any jam I've been involved in and even then they've been one dimensional.  It's because musicians aren't always writers - and I've been writing music for so long, I forget that.  Some musicians just want a piece of music in front of them, play their part and go home.  Some want a vibe to solo along to.  Some think structurally - I think in patterns and melodies.

I was invited to a jam session once at the house of an old school friend.  He was a drummer and a bloody good one - he had a studio, mixing desks, a saxophone - I often used to think he invited people round to show off and when he got behind the drum kit, he was a man possessed. 

However, drummers don't make good leaders. 

When I got there, Urban Fox's current Bass player was there in the corner doing what he does - a guitarist whom I'd known at school though never really connected with - he was superb.  He knew when one note was better than fifty, he knew chords, he knew rhythms, he knew effects. 

Behind the keyboard sat a guy I'd known for about a year.  He'd played guitar in Urban Fox at a gig in April 2000 although he always said his instrument was the piano.  I was the keyboard player and for lack of someone with vocal talent, the singer as well.  I could let him take over keyboards - but I'm not a front man and never will be.  We struggled on into 2001 and the collective didn't really go anywhere. That's when I saw him behind the keyboard at the drummer's house. 

They started playing a song - it was good, it sounded like they'd been playing together for years such was the talent in the room.  In reality it had been about six weeks.  I stepped up to the mike - 'Dead beat, like the rhythm of a drum and I don't know where it comes from' - the words started writing themselves - the melodies started flowing.  This is how a band should work... I thought.  It's like when Simon Le Bon first showed up to sing with Duran Duran and belted out 'Sound of Thunder' to what the band were doing. 

Hang on, the riff is just going round and round and repeating.  This could be so much better.  However good these guys think they are, they could be much much better.  We break for a rest - I can't rest - I kick the keyboard player out of his seat - he's a virtuoso, he knows jazz (a foreign language to me), he knows Cole Porter - I know Beethoven and Bach.  I'm all about fugues and cadences.  'This is the bridge', I say to the guitarist who nods in an appreciative manner and starts riffing around the six chords - 'and this is the chorus'.  He plays again.  The drummer looks annoyed.  Ian goes along with whatever's happening. The keyboard player takes his place back at the keyboard looking bemused.  The song works - intro, verse, bridge, chorus. 

'Why don't we record a few takes next week and I'll bring some polished lyrics along?', I say to the drummer.  He dismisses me and walks off.  We've known each other for twenty years.  In an hour, I've done what  they couldn't in six weeks.  Do his toes feel stepped on?  Does he think I'm trying to take his baby away?  With someone, anyone, directing these musicians - these excellent musicians who were not writers or producers, this whole situation could have been very Duran Duran if only the drive was there.  I'd need singing lessons and a make-over if I was going to go all 'Le Bon' but the potential in that room was huge.  Unfortunately, so was the drummer's ego. 

I was never invited back the following week - I knew I wasn't going to be allowed back in that studio when I saw the look on the drummer's face as I left.  I found out later he thought my lyric 'dead beat' was about him.  How can you lose what you never had?

Walking home that night in 2001, at 1am, the full moon hanging in the cloudless sky and reflecting off the damp pavement.  The still air and empty street filled my head.  I stopped and looked over at the park - a place that is usually so full of people, laughter and games - standing empty in the chilly darkness.  'I'm not a musician', I thought to myself.  They were all still back at the studio, smoking, drinking, laughing, planning their next jam. A jam that would never go anywhere.  A jam that would last hours and have nothing to show at the end. 

When I spend a few hours in a studio, I have at least three songs, a few demos, ideas to go back to later, some riffs and at least one melody.

I've spent the last couple of months developing the ideas that were written in a few days in April 2013.  Fleshing out, adding bass lines, drum patterns, synth decoration.  Using my workstation to build midi patters, electronic loops, fills and guitar decoration that makes it sound like I can play the damn thing.
It's surprising how little of the musician in me goes into an album.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Happy Accidents

Developing the seed of an idea that is 'Headlights and High hopes', I got the piano riff worked out, layered the synths and bass templates for laying the guide vocals and then needed to add a drum track so I picked a simple four four just for now until I can open up the structure when I've got a melody down - the drums sounded a bit flat so I added a filter but picked the wrong plug-in and made them sound airy and deeply sonic! Superb!

An accident that has knocked up the atmosphere from nice to deep.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The image and how you use it

I've always known this but it was made even more powerful when I was watching a few clips from Live Aid in 1985 on youtube.  U2 singing 'bad', which is a good song - it's not a great song - but the way it was performed, with Bono looking every bit the confident front man, looking like he knows everything worth knowing.  His not being fazed looking out at the thousands of people, not caring if any of them are standing there thinking 'this song is boring', they went on to riff the song into a nine minute epic while Bono wandered off into the crowd to dance with someone as he always did.

It wasn't just about the music - as good musicians as they were - it was all about what they represented, their message, their look and then with the Joshua Tree, it suddenly was all about the music and the countryfied image, the rock and roll and all those influences.  It was about creativity until they ended up morphing into a band that mocked that which had given them the pedestal.

Urban Fox will always just be a recording band - we have played live but we know we're hobbyists, and our songs are ok.  However, with the internet and distribution to various channels, you don't need radio play - we're happy if anybody stops by soundcloud or downloads us off I-tunes and likes what we do.  We'll never have an image, or a message and as such, we'll always be an internet band who writes and records and releases music into the ether to try and get one of our tunes into the soundtrack of someone's life. 

I know how important music has been to me, Peter Gabriel and Gary Numan managed over the years to speak for me, listening to their songs and hearing every word describing my own situation and Tears for Fears and Erasure representing everything that is maginficent about song writing - the layers, the powerful rhythms, great melodies, the usage of embelishments to light up a verse or a chorus.  Listen to Erasure's 'Chorus' album - Siren Song and Home are amazing tracks - the keyboard work is nothing short of magical and continues to influence everything I write when I'm at the synthesizers, and their 1995 album 'Erasure' was their very own 'Dark side of the moon', a masterpiece which I could listen to on loop for days. 

'The Hurting' is a  truly magnificent album too and listening to it start to finish with the lights down is an experience I wish everyone could have - and feel the same as I do. 

My hope with the new album - which incidently might be called 'Departure' after Douglas described the track 'Hope' as just that and I like it better than 'The Storm' - the album isn't a storm really, it's more of a celebration - is that someone stumbles across it and enjoys it.  And that's all.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Head of Steam

After a marathon singing/mixing session, there's two more full song demos up on Soundcloud now - both on the Urban Fox one and the Rob Shadon one. 

'Love's last victim' was a bit raw so I've gone back and added some 'beef' under it so it sounds more produced.  'The Storm' is also up there - sounding quite ragged but that's demos for you.

I'm currently working on 'the destiny of truth' which has a new second verse and probably won't sound as empty as the other demo sounds.