andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Monthly Archives: August 2016

Songs in a Scottish Accent 3: the Thing with Final Versions

So. If you’ve been following the story so far (and there’s really no reason for me to suppose you have been, tbh) I posted a wee while ago about this solo album/vanity project of mine, ‘Songs in a Scottish Accent.’ In putting up a demo version of one of my songs, ‘Forecast to Freeze,’ I wrote that the thing with demo versions was that, sometimes, you’re just so damned enamoured of the thing you rush it out warts and all, desperate for the world to hear your genius musicality. Prefaced, of course, with a remark along the lines of, ‘It’s a bit rough, but I think you’ll get the idea…’

Now, as I approach the stage where, for the sake of my sanity apart from anything more worthy, I need to finish this thing, I realise that there comes a stage where you can’t call it a demo any more. It’s the final version. And while it may not be over till the generously proportioned woman who’s entirely comfortable with her body image sings, once you send that track off to the guy that presses the CDs and he’s nailed it down with his tungsten carbide drill or whatever (I’m hazy on the tech, here, you’ll appreciate) it really is the final, final version. At least for that CD.

But, I realise as I follow down the various options (always so many options!) for mixing the tracks for ‘Songs…’ you can never, really, truly say a version’s a definitive version. Take ‘Scotland as an XBox Game,’ for example. I thought I’d finished with that sucker, right after I put the track on my taster EP, ‘Autumn Fruit.’ (which you can totally have for free, post free, anywhere in the world, in exchange for occasional mailing to an email of your choice). No need to meddle with that for the full album, I thought. And then I decided to stick a harmonica solo on the end of it. Why? Why not?

Meantime, of course, my good mate and musical mentor Gavin Inglis had taken it away and made an 8 bit remix of it, just because he fancied it. More of that version soon, as soon in fact as Gav decides he’s got the final, final, final version.

In the meantime, here are three final(ish) versions of songs that are going on the album:

I shoved up a version of ‘Forecast to Freeze’ before. However, partly because I realised the key was actually wrong for my voice – y’know, that little thing that proper singers get all prissy about – and partly because, as my good mate and band leader Mark Allan has included it in the setlist for Isaac Brutal and the Brutalists, I wanted to do something definably different from the band’s rendition of it – I rerecorded it, in D instead of C this time, with a good few changes to the instrumentation. Not absolutely sure about the percussion yet! POSTSCRIPT: Yeah, the percussion didn’t really work – the version below’s the final version, with just the shaker thing.

‘Forest Fire,’ on the other hand, will be new to you. In contrast to ‘Forecast…’ which I’ve said before sprang, fully formed, from my waking musical interlude, with Springsteen on the main channel as I scribbled the lyrics down over breakfast, ‘Forest Fire’ was a total pain in the backside to write, execute and record from start to finish. Partly, of course, this was because I decided it was a piano-led song, which meant, as a non-piano player, trying to be as painstaking as possible with the accompaniment before recording the vocals. The latter then took multiple different takes on three different occasions before I was satisfied.  Which is, like, a lot for me. The low strings, (a setting on the Korg X5D called X Strings, for those interested) to be fair, only took half an hour.

So why all the trouble? Well, the lyrics may be pretty opaque to everyone else, but I know what they mean! I hope they come to mean something to you as well, of course, even if it’s something completely different to their original intent. In fact, especially so.

The third song/spoken word piece, ‘Credo (I Want to Believe).’ is in a lighter mode after all the introspection of the last two. It’s basically my philosophy of life set to a soundtrack which is the illegitimate offspring of those two fine Nineties bands, Kula Shaker and Stone Roses. With probably a bit more of the former in the bone structure. I had a lot of fun recording it.

So, enjoy! And don’t hold me to these being the final versions…

Although, given time constraints, they probably are.

POSTSCRIPT: they are now! I don’t have room or inclination on Soundcloud to host every version, so these are the final album versions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t Send In The Clowns: Jason Isbell Review

Some friends, loyal colleagues and family have been nice enough to ask me in the last fortnight what I’m ‘doing’ at the Fringe this year. To which I’ve replied: nothing. Nada. Not a single thing. Zilcho.

And, relaxing with a couple of bandmates and a pint of the amber nectar in the White Horse as other people’s friends, loyal colleagues and family were shovelled in and out of the back room which, on 1st October, will be Tribute to Venus Carmichael’s for the whole evening, I felt incredibly okay with that.

Anyway, enough about me. Imagine instead that you’re rising new country/rock musician Jason Isbell, booked into the Liquid Rooms for two nights running in the middle of August. You step out for a pre-gig bit of fresh air, and you’re engulfed in the madness that is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe: acres of railings plastered with posters of desperately gurning stand-ups; thronging crowds of confused Japanese tourists, fire-eaters and shouty posh boys with fliers; and the steady grind of gridlocked traffic, all trying to get somewhere, anywhere, where there isn’t a tour bus parked in the way. It must have been a relief for the poor chap to dive into the sweaty fug of the Liquid Rooms, and his own gig.

A genial onstage presence, Isbell had a nice line in amused bemusement at the carnivalesque maelstrom he had found himself in. ‘This is muiscal improv,’ he announced, prior to launching into another well-rehearsed number with his small but tight band (drums, bass, second guitar and keys/accordion). ‘Actually, there’s a reason why most musical improv’s free.’

I had first encountered Isbell through Jools Holland’s Later… and liked him enough to look him up on Youtube. For those of you, like me, raised to associate country with rhinestones, cheesy grins and a particular type of fake sincerity, his music’s nothing like that: though the melodies clearly owe a debt to the country tradition, the storytelling and songcraft in numbers like ‘Cover Me Up,’ and ’24 Frames’ remind me of Springsteen at his best, but without the bombast. Switching between Les Paul and acoustic for some numbers, Isbell showed he was no mere strummer, with both he and the other guitarist using slide on occasion as an extra texture.

In terms of material, fortunately for me he drew heavily on his last two albums, ‘South Eastern,’ and ‘Something More Than Free,’ with highlights the two songs, mentioned in the last paragraph, plus ‘Stockholm,’ ‘Flying Over Water,’ and ‘If It Takes A Lifetime.’ An encore of ‘Elephant’ and ‘Super 8,’ went down a storm with the enthusiastic, crowded-to-the rafters audience, who were noticeably singing along to the more recent songs. From the look of the crowd – twenty-somethings and up – Isbell has a growing fan base, and if he can keep playing killer gigs like this, it’s only going to get bigger.

It was no mean feet to fill the Liquid Rooms to the brim – twice – with all the other competing attractions, but he and his Alabama bandmates were definitely who everyone there wanted to see. ‘You be careful,’ he admonished us, sending us into a night full of Fringe tomfoolery.

Quite right Jason. There’s a whole lot of real clowns out there.

A Street Called Silence

En la sombra del catedral, la calle Silencio…

One of the many pleasures of going back to the northern Spanish city of Salamanca was rediscovering the ‘secret’ garden at the side of the cathedral. It’s called the Huerto de Calixto y Melibea, and it’s only secret in the sense that it’s tucked away where not many tourists would find it. Inevitably, of course, it now has a Google entry, a 4.6 star rating, and 37 reviews, but don’t let that put you off: on a hot day, it provides welcome shade and, despite the busy traffic on the main road circling the old town below, an oasis of peace and quiet. Significantly, most of the Google reviews are in Spanish, suggesting those who know about it are local (or at least Spanish!)

And yes, the street that leads to it is really called Silence:

Photo0195

This sense of the garden being hidden in plain sight, tucked away in the centre of the city like an open secret for those in the know, stayed with me after our previous visit. Salamanca is a well-to-do, beautifully maintained, university town: I always describe it to people as ‘the Spanish Oxford,’ because it has that same sense of long tradition, wearing its academic trappings lightly.

It’s not without its problems, of course, and you can’t sit in the many outdoor cafes without being panhandled by various beggars, some of them clearly victims of the current economic crisis, some addicts of various kinds. However, when I got a Spanish-style guitar figure in my head, months later, it was a different kind of contrast that came to me: the story of a passionate affair, conducted by means of secret liaisons, at first in the garden, and then, perhaps, somewhere more convenient in the long hours of siesta.

The ‘Cavalcade,’ incidentally, isn’t meant to be literal, but rather the paseo of the well-to-do, respectable sorts, taking their early evening stroll through the jaw-droppingly beautiful Plaza Mayor, perhaps stopping at a cafe there for a drink before strolling along the main connecting street, the Rua Mayor, to the cathedral to pay their respects. Meanwhile, in the garden down the side of the cathedral….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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