andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Monthly Archives: June 2015

More Kantele Music

A more substantial blog, soon – but in the meantime, I’ve uploaded a track with the kantele I was telling you about in it (for those of you technically minded, I recorded the kantele part using a single Rode M2 mike, placed close to the middle strings – it’s absolutely dry: I’ve not added reverb or any other effect).

I’m still just mucking about with it, really – I don’t really know how to play it, but setting the song in A major gave the maximum opportunity for simple accompanying lines.

Advertisements

Keeping Fit by Breathing: A Time Capsule in Blackford

As some of you know, we’re currently doing up a flat in Edinburgh’s South Side, with a view to (eventually) Daughter and Heiress using it as her student accommodation. It’s an ex-Council flat, built around 1960, in a block of 6. We think the old lady who lived in it it last moved into it with her husband when it was new, as its first tenant. It’ll be, as they say, nice when it’s finished: great location, with views of Arthur’s Seat out one window, and Blackford Hill out the other. Solid, roomy construction, but everything needing done.

As we’ve gone through the arduous process of stripping away wallpaper and floorcoverings, the flat has gradually given up its secrets. It’s what you might call domestic archaeology: decorators seem to like leaving little messages, such as the the blokes who, 15 years apart, decorated the living room and left, under the wallpaper, their names, and the fact they were cousins. Or this little chap, left hidden by another decorator under the paper in the main bedroom:

Photo0015

Another thing which our tradesmen seem to have turned up is this rather impressive looking metal knob – I thought at first it had come from the 1990s central heating, but a Google search reveals the company to have gone into voluntary liquidation in 1970, so it’s a bit of a mystery what it was:

Photo0016

Best of all, though, is the copy of a page of the Scottish Daily Express dated Saturday, September 19th, 1959, which turned up when the guys were lifting old floor coverings in the kitchen. Talk about a time capsule! A columnist called Albert Mackie has a rant about the removal of a clock at Edinburgh’s West End, and various other malfeasances, which mainly can be laid at the door of the Edinburgh Corporation (one Councillor, George Hedderwick, is slated whilst Mackie admits ‘even on the subject of smoking, while I don’t agree with him, I admire his single-minded sincerity in wanting smoking stopped’).

The entire bottom half of the same page, though, has even bigger news: Campbell’s Soup is back in the shops, for the first time since the war. A reminder, perhaps, that rationing had only ended 5 years earlier, in 1954. The flat itself is a reminder of those times too: the larder has a solid concrete shelf to keep meat cool in those pre-fridge days. We’ve decided to retain it as an original feature, much to the disgust of the plumber who had to core through it to get the piping for the new central heating system in.

There are some great mad wee small ads as well. Individually tailored slacks and jodhpurs, anyone? 100% Nylon outsize dress, in a ‘non-transparent floral design’? Just in case, you could wear the ‘briefest bra in the world,’ as worn by ‘models and showgirls.’ More practical, perhaps, a ‘sit-at ironing table, to save back and leg strain.’ Or ‘support & conceal those varicose veins with Helsur nylon elastic hose!’

The list goes on. ‘All-purpose’ chairs. Army blankets. Naval open razors. 8 watt amplifier, to ‘transform’ your guitar, or ‘similar instrument.’ 24 inch deep frame log saws. Learn Radio and TV servicing ‘for your own business/hobby.’ Cut your own hair with the patent ‘Easytrim.’ Hernia sufferers were spoilt for choice: the ultra-lightweight Rupta-Brace offered ‘undreamed-of relief,’ while the Autocrat Airmatic Appliance enabled you to tackle the heaviest and most strenuous work with COMPLETE CONFIDENCE. Not just complete confidence, mind – COMPLETE CONFIDENCE.

My favourite, though, has to be this ad for keeping fit by breathing:

keep fit by breathing

I think it’s my duty to rebury the paper under the new plywood floor I’m putting down in the kitchen ahead of tiling it. Mind you, the way these renovations are going, I might take a note of the address for the Rupta-Brace…

Songwriters on Songwriting: Me!

The other guys are a hard act to follow. However, while I’m waiting for a couple more in this series to come in, I thought I’d have a go at the questions myself. So…

Andrew C Ferguson is a writer and musician blah blah blah. Since I’ve updated the About page recently, you can always go there if you want a flavour of who the hell I think I am.

Music or words first? Or a bit of both?

Music first, almost every time. It’s interesting that the other guys have different approaches, which is why I asked the question, of course, but for me it starts with a tune, or a bit of a tune. It might only be a few notes, but unless there’s some sort of musical hook the song doesn’t get going, really.

Like Norman and Mark, I have a notebook, and jot down lyrics which can sit for months, or years, waiting for the right melody before they become something. I suppose, having written in so many different forms – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, stuff in between – before I dared to call myself a songwriter, I’m stupidly confident I can knock out a few words if there’s a tune of some sort to set them to.

I mean, songs are just flash fiction that rhymes mostly, right? Could explain why mine are so wordy…

Do you use a particular instrument to compose with, e.g. a favourite guitar; if you use piano/keyboard and guitar for different songs, do they produce different results?

Well. Again, I’ve played guitar for years, and that was initially my go-to instrument – usually the De Ville semi-acoustic, because it’s so easy to pick up and play.

However, I bought a second-hand Korg X5D  off Gavin Inglis a couple of years ago. It’s got some good sounds and some not-so good sounds, but one good one is a setting called ‘rock piano.’ A whole lot of songs are starting to come out of that, now. Basically, I’m not a good enough guitar player to know how a complicated chord change, or a melody line, can be played straight away – whereas with the piano, you can modulate chords or pick out a melody with only the most basic musical knowledge.

Having said that, I could never imagine not using the guitar at some point with most songs – it brings a whole different energy. I mean, I’m not planning a whole career of slow piano ballads!

The main thing though is capturing the melody (see below).

Some songwriters talk about the process as if it’s like catching something that was there already, out there in the ether – as if the song was just waiting to be pulled in. Does it ever feel like that to you, or is the process much more mechanical for you?

Melodies have a really unfortunate way of coming to me at inopportune times – my mobile phone has a collection of voice recordings of me going dah dah-dah, dah-dah-dah dah… as quietly as I can because there’s a tune in my head and I’m trying to capture it before I forget it. I’m usually doing it quietly because I’m in a public place and trying not to have people think I’m in need of urgent psychiatric assistance.

One place I hear a lot of new tunes is in the swimming pool. I’m not sure why: I think it’s a combination of half-heard songs over the tannoy, and the rhythm of the swim. Either way, it’s pretty hopeless – I can’t sing them into my mobile, and when I get back to the dressing room there’s Bogie in the Morning on Forth FM or whatever playing some crap song, and the whole tune just gets obliterated. Really annoying. I’ve composed whole albums in the Fife Institute, but I can never remember them!

If I’m really lucky, I wake up on a non-work day with a tune in my head (they often come to me just at that stage of waking up, when the door to the sub-conscious is a sliver ajar; or, funnily enough, just after lunch) and I can fire up the computer, switch on the keyboard, and capture it without waking the rest of the house up. Then, sometimes, it feels like I’m pulling a kite in out of the sky – it really does feel as if the whole thing’s been up there, waiting to be hauled in whole.

Or, the other analogy I have for the process sometimes is that it’s like that experiment you used to do in Chemistry making nylon – did you ever do that? Where you wind a bit of this glistening thread onto something and, gradually, gently, you pull more and more of it out of this beaker full of gak until you have a great long piece of the stuff. If I have a chorus, for example, but not the verse; and I just have to sit and wait for the rest of it to get drawn out, piece by piece.

The lyrics are a lot more mechanical – after that intial idea in the notebook, it’s a case of deciding what story I want to tell. That can take a while. I’ve got a tune down in Mixcraft at the moment that I think is The Best Tune I’ve Ever Come Up With (I tend to think this about every third song or so) and I’m trying to craft lyrics that are good enough for it.

It’s kind of like the tunes are female friends of mine and the lyrics are new boyfriends who are never quite good enough for them. Work that out for yourself, Sigmund.

Name an influence on your songs that maybe wouldn’t be obvious to most of your fans.

Fans? Shucks.

Carole King. When I used to write songs back in the day as a student, I had a bad case of Dylanitis and thought the lyrics had to be some sort of mad poetry. Unsurprisingly, my lyrics turned out as if I’d been bin-diving in Bob’s paper recycling – really bad knock offs.

King, on the other hand, taught me that you can say things quite directly and simply and that’s all you have to do, if the tune and the performance is good enough. That came from her crafting songs for other people with Gerry Goffin in the Brill Building in the early Sixties, but she didn’t forget it when she went solo in the Los Angeles Canyons. It’s about capturing an emotion.

Also anyone else who writes lyrics that have the ring of honesty. A lot of the early punk was like that. Though it’s hard to beat as a couplet the Proclaimers line ‘Even with the girls on the back of the bus/there was always the risk of a slap in the pus…’

Do you always write with your own (or your lead singer’s) voice in mind, or have you ever written for someone else? How did it turn out?

I don’t have much of a singing voice. I mean, I can just about hold a tune, but that’s it. I suppose, though, I write with my own voice as the initial instrument, and then stand back in awe when a proper singer like Kelly takes it and does what she does with it. I mean, the very first time she’s done some of my stuff the hairs on the back of my neck have literally stood up. Listening to a playback of my own voice singing makes my teeth stand on edge.

Do you ever revise your songs after you’ve started performing them, or are they pretty much fixed?

Pretty much fixed. I sometimes think a word or two could’ve done with a bit of fiddling, but by then it’s usually someone else singing it, and I feel it’s too late to tell them to change.

Name three favourite songwriters of yours.

Dylan (obviously, though he’s still a bad influence)

Nick Cave: I’m a late convert, but the breadth of what the guy does is just stunning. My brother recently called the song Norman Lamont covered (see below) Cave-esque, which I’ll take any day.

Leonard Cohen. Again, a bad influence on me, because he’s got that whip-smart, literate, lyrics-as-poetry thing, but they’re never just smart for the sake of it. And he’s not depressing! Well, not all the time.

And to redress the gender balance, Suzanne Vega. Oh, and Regina Spektor.

 

Andrew C Ferguson can most usually be seen toting his De Ville as one half of Tribute to Venus Carmichael. Their EP is still available, but not in the shops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below here there might be an advert. Nothing to do with me squire.

 

All the Time in Heaven: a (very brief) album review

I should, like all moral reviewers, start by declaring any interests. Norman Lamont has been on the bill of both gigs I’ve ever organised, namely Dylan Uncovered and Cry of the Cave People. He was recently an audience member at a Tribute to Venus Carmichael gig. He’s also, as it happens, just covered one of my songs, brilliantly so in my biased view, on Soundcloud: Somewhere You’re Out There.

However, I don’t owe him any actual money, and I don’t know him that well personally, just through music, as it were: I didn’t know, for example, that his daughter was in Nepal when the earthquake hit when I went on Saturday to see him at A Night for Nepal, at St Philip’s Church, Joppa, on Saturday. Norman read a (beautifully written) note from his daughter about her experience of the eathquake. It was a great night, with Nepalese dance, Bulgarian folk songs, blues harmonica, and custard filled pastries: Norman’s performance with his current band, The Heaven Sent, was the highlight though.

I also got the chance to buy a copy of his recent album, All the Time in Heaven, which showcases Norman’s songwriting and arranging skills perfectly. When I listen to stuff as good as this, I do wonder how, even in the cluttered landscape of music and musicians we all live in, guys like Norman aren’t better known than they are. Standouts so far on a limited amount of listens are the single, Not About to Fly, a jaunty story of childhood conspiracy theories; and Fingerpuppet, where the lyrics are counterpointed perfectly by the gorgeous acoustic guitars.

However, I’m thinking the opening track, The Monk From the Mountain of Sorrow, is one that will repay several listens – it’s complex, musically, with, again, rich lyrical underpinning: based loosely, I understand, on elements of Leonard Cohen’s life story.

But don’t just rely on what I say: have a listen. The link to Not About to Fly’s below. One other thing I didn’t know about Norman I take from that song: he’s from Ayrshire, the other end of the Central Belt coal seam from me in Fife. Maybe that’s why I feel an affinity!

Next up, I have the effrontery to answer my own interview questions. Plus musings on music and publishing business models, and some discoveries in an ex-Council Edinburgh flat.

Anything below this like an advert is up to WordPress, not me