andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Attack of the Killer Drones

Drones have been getting a bad press recently, and rightly so: but don’t worry, this isn’t about the type of drone it’ll soon be economically realistic to buy to send on CIA-style missions against the neighbour’s cat. No sirree Bob. The drones I’m talking about are of the musical variety.

There’s a strong tradition of droning in Scottish music of course: it’s an essential element of the bagpipes, as anyone who’s ever walked past a busker on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile can testify (incidentally, what was up with that on Saturday just past? There were, like, two of them doing a duet next to David Hume, and although I’m no expert, they were properly good? No Flower of Scotland or anything!)

Anyway, when I was starting to put together material for my forthcoming (at some point) solo album/vanity project, ‘Songs in a Scottish Accent,’ there were a few people at the top of my list of potential collaborators, and one of them was Craig ‘Harky’ Harkness. Apart from being – at various points – my unpaid (other than the occasional pint) sound and recording engineer, producer, mentor and provider of fun musical facts, Harky is a greatly underrated (especially by himself) musician and composer of interesting noises. One which I have still on my phone is literally called ‘Harky’s Drone-ilicious Comp’ (I think someone else named it for him, as he was too modest to call it anything, typically) which has featured in a fire safety film made by Fife students and now to be shown more widely.

When we first started batting ideas back and forward, Harky – perhaps because he knew of my liking for Kula Shaker – sent me this short piece which he’d put together on his phone, using a shruti box app and, I think, another synth app. The droning of the shruti box – an Indian instrument – the high, wailing, synth, and the positively hypnotic, weird beat he’d added to it, was intriguing to me, to say the least. I saw it as a perfect length for a short spoken word piece.

My more conventional musical tropes were then brought to bear on it. Layering on guitars and keyboard was easy enough – for those of you that are interested, I used my own, semi-acoustic De Ville for the distorted solo – amazing how a clean acoustic signal can be thoroughly dirtied up with the right software. I added a burst of bagpipe sample at the start, as a sort of hommage to my homeland drone. I also have some decent tabla samples, so I built them into a basic beat that complemented Harky’s original percussion. Then I was ready to put some words on it.

The first piece I’d had in mind, called coincidentally David Hume’s Blues, proved unsuitable. That was partly because I’d had so much fun with the distorted guitars I’d have had to shout half the story: but mainly because I couldn’t get the words right. The words I used instead had a strange provenance.

In April 2014, we went on one of our Spanish expeditions, taking in Granada, Ubeda, and Malaga. It was a great trip, but the experience was coloured by my state of mind at the time: my Dad had passed away in January of that year. The small notepad I’d forced myself to take with me, to write something – anything – for the first time in three months, felt like a burden rather than a source of pleasure. All the same, some disjointed thoughts, observations, and images, made their way in. I was under no illusion that any of it might be useable.

After the holiday, the notebook – one of these fake vintage ones you get, with a faux animal skin cover, and unbleached pages that are very pretty, but difficult to write on, especially in a moving bus – went into the bookcase, unread for a year. When I did dig it out, some of the words then got sewn together loosely: it took another year before I looked at them again, tightened them up, and began to see the patterns in them: the Moroccan street-hawker dodging the cops on the Street of the Catholic Kings; the Moorish ruler of the Alhambra, grieving for his kingdom; and, of course, my own sense of loss. The final version owes much to Jane McKie, my poetic mentor (like Harky, also unpaid).

So that’s how the words and music of ‘Leaving Granada’ came together. Hope you like it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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