andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

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Wrong Box: Events News

Now my novel, The Wrong Box, is (virtually at least) a reality, I’ve organised a couple of launch events. There are some others in the pipeline, but in the meantime (the link takes you to the Facebook event, if you’re that way inclined):

Fife Launch: Wednesday, 10th May, 17.30 – 18.45 – a just after work session at the Rothes Halls Library, Glenrothes, with Yvonne Melville of OnFife interviewing me. It’s free, and there’s free wine!

Edinburgh Launch: Thursday, 18th May, 19.45 – 23.00 (ish) Henry’s Cellar Bar, Morrison Street, Edinburgh – in the rather more rock n’ roll surroundings of Henry’s, what I’m calling ‘More Than A Book Launch, since it involves not just me talking to Writers’ Bloc stablemate and long-term WB supporter Gavin Inglis about the book, but spoken word readings from Gavin, Andrew Wilson, and Stuart Wallace, as well as music from both the bands I’m in, namely the troubador americana of Tribute to Venus Carmichael, and the country punk of Isaac Brutal (mein Herr Bandleader pictured below, in mean and moody mode).

Please note: at both events there’ll be only a limited number of books for sale, so order in advance to avoid disappointment! You can get the Kindle edition on Amazon, or the paperback edition from them or, if you prefer, from Waterstone’s.

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The merits of a leaky ceiling: how the Wrong Box came to be

Madrid and a cold beer, starting point for most of our Spanish travels

I went to see Jackie recently. It’s good movie, although there’s something a bit odd about it: the Guardian review probably sums it up for me. There’s a dream-like quality to it that got me thinking, because the way that the various forms of the sleeping state influence creative work interests me a lot.

I’m scarcely an original in using dreams to help the creative process: writers and musicians from Robert Louis Stevenson to Prince have talked about how they’ve plundered the stuff clambering out of their night-time subconscious. Stevenson’s classic horror, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, for example, came to him in a dream, although the cocaine he’d been prescribed by a doctor for his ongoing health problems might have had an influence too. According to that particular creation myth, he got as far as the first transformation scene before his wife woke him up. Wives, eh!

Which leads me to the inspiration for my published-at-long-last novel, The Wrong Box.

Most of my creative endeavours, whether musical or writing wise, tend to have shadowy beginnings – a half-heard piece of conversation; an encounter on the express bus to Edinburgh; an earworm of a tune that won’t go away despite it appearing during work time. In the case of novel’s story, however, I can more or less trace the date of its inception to a week in April, 2008, and the Hostal San Bartolome, Almagro.

Anyone that knows me half at all will know that I’m a lover of Spain and all things Spanish, and not even just the wine neither. Every year for the last fifteen or so, we’ve been spending time travelling through that great country, all the time seeking out different regions, different places to visit that are off the tourist trail. Because we rely on train and bus to get about (just never fancied driving a car in Spain, funnily enough) that usually involves reasonably decent-sized towns. However, in 2008 we decided to push the envelope a bit, and explore somewhere that even the more generous Spanish classification of ciudad wouldn’t cover.

First stop, though, after touching down in Madrid and spending a night in the unremarkable but reliable Hotel Mora, was one of the great Spanish northern cities, Valladolid. It was a pleasant three nights there, from what I can remember: the things that stood out were the storks nesting on the roofs of the churches, and the quirky proprietor of the Hostal Los Arces showing the 9-year-old Daughter and Heiress the model house he was building out of sweets (although that now sounds so unlikely, I’m wondering if I dreamed that bit!)

From there, we had to head back south, through Madrid, and change trains at Ciudad Real to get to our second stop, the La Mancha town of Almagro. It was, in retrospect, quite a small place to spend almost a week, (from 5th to 11th April according to the itinerary I’ve unearthed) and I remember wondering, as the tren de media distancia crossed what I was to describe, in a subsequent poem, as a ‘tiny wrinkle on Spain’s great red face,’ whether I’d overcooked the length of our stay there, and undercooked Valladolid.

I had. It rained. It wasn’t a warm rain. Although what I described in the same poem as the ‘green and white layer cake’ of buildings forming three sides of the central square had its charms, in the rain those charms were a bit, well, on the soggy side (I’m giving you the absolute best bits of that poem, by the way – you can see why it never made publication). As we huddled in the bars and cafes of the plaza mayor with the locals and very few other tourists, we also came to realise that, given the somewhat niche appeal of the place, we had probably arrived a week or so early, tourist season wise. Not all the cafes and bars were open all the time.

We gravitated initially towards one place in the square which seemed popular with the locals: the food was decent, if a little red-meat heavy, and they had, like most bars in Spain do, a decent Rioja as the house red. We ignored the bullfighting on the telly at first as one of those cultural things that come with the package; but by the time of the second visit, the relentless procession of Hemingwayesque scenes from the plaza de toros started to grate a bit. Then we learned that the son of the establishment was a bullfighter, and took the hint that they probably wouldn’t be changing over to the football any time soon.

The main alternative seemed to be the bar/restaurant on the side road that led to our hostal. It was often virtually empty, and the waiter a youngish bloke who didn’t seem that sure about anything we asked him. The food was ok, though, and the inevitable telly was tuned to a channel that featured lots of what we took at first to be nature programmes. On closer inspection, these turned out to be actually about one of La Mancha’s other obsessions, la caza: the types seen striding about various grassy wetlands weren’t there so much to appreciate the bird life as blast the hell out of it with guns as soon as look at it. Oh well: asi es, as the Spanish say. By way of compensation, the uncertain young waiter decided we merited an end-of-meal taste of the local liqueur: three glasses of the stuff (including one for said 9-year-old D & H) appeared unbidden at our table.

Needless to say even we Scots leave it a couple of years before starting our kids on spirits. The Redoubtable Mrs F, meanwhile, had taken one sip of the yellow liquid and decided it was something I had to deal with, either by drinking or pouring into a handy plant pot. The plants were plastic, so down my neck all three went. I still have no idea what it was, beyond perhaps being the subject of a bet back in the kitchen to see if the crazy extranjeros would drink it. I’ve a vague recollection we even got charged for it.

All of this was nearly offset by the charm of our accommodation, the Hostal San Bartolome, and the young woman who ran it. Built around a central patio, the place was brightly painted, had real plant life in it, and was comfortable, accommodation wise. On the debit side, it was a bit – well, crumbly. I owe the place a debt for forcing me to find the Spanish phrase ‘el techo de nuestra habitacion esta goteando,’ (our room’s ceiling is leaking) as well as one for the handle falling off the door of the room I can’t place exactly now. All good practice, but not particularly great in terms of rest and relaxation (I’m sure they’ve fixed it all up now, of course).

Anyway. There we were, and there was the rain, and after dinner there wasn’t a lot to do except retreat to our room and hope the door handle didn’t fall off the outside while we were inside.

And whether it was because of the weather, the leaky ceiling, the third shot of mysterious yellow liqueur, or the bed which, in common with most Spanish hostal beds, wasn’t designed for those of us north of 6 feet tall, sleep didn’t come easily: which is how I came up to dream part, at least, of the story which was to become the Wrong Box.

I can’t remember specific details now, of course: but the essentials, I think, were there, of an obnoxious commercial property lawyer who wakes up with the hangover shark biting his head and the dead body of a client, naked, dead and with his toe stuck up the tap, staring up at him from the bath. There was always the idea of women having been there but then having disappeared; of there being some wider conspiracy at work that he didn’t appreciate; and of dark forces at his workplace.

Every so often throughout the night I’d wake up, hearing nothing but the sound of the others’ breathing and the downpour outside; then drift back off again, back into this dream that spun on with its story. There was another character, one from one of the housing estates that encrust the far outer ring of Edinburgh’s historic core: a conspiracy theorist who, alone, could help the lawyer find out the truth.

Towards morning, the periods of wakefulness became longer, as a watery light started to bleed through the curtains of the room. Inevitably, the left brain – the half that likes to impose order and structure on ideas – took over: the lawyer’s name would be Simon English, and his Englishness was a factor in the whole story, making him the stranger in a strange land. I don’t know at what point I came up with the name Karen Clamp for the conspiracy theorist, although I suspect it was then, still half-dozing, when the trapdoor between the two brain halves was still half-open.

As soon as it was light enough to see, I crept to where I kept the notebook I always carry with me on holidays and scribbled some essentials down. There were still long, arduous hours of plotting to come before I could start on the story properly, because I was determined that, if I was going to commit all the spare time it would take to write another novel (the previous two remain, tucked up in a digital drawer on the hard drive, unpublished and unpublishable) I was going to have a story that actually ticked all the story-formation boxes. My fantastic Finnish friend, Hannu Rajaniemi, was to help with all of that. But for now, fresh from the alchemical moment of creation, I knew I had something.

In the movie version of this moment, the rain would have stopped, and my family and I would have walked to our breakfast café through tendrils of steam drawn from the pavement by the rapidly climbing morning sun.

In reality, it just kept on pissing down, of course.

 

The Wrong Box is now available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon and, in Scotland, Waterstone’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Karen Clamp Speaks: a second extract from the Wrong Box

Extract from Chapter 2: My Name Is Karen Clamp

Second extract from my forthcoming novel, The Wrong Box, available in Kindle and paperback editions from Amazon or, if you prefer a ‘proper’ bookshop, Waterstone’s. In this extract from Chapter 2, Karen Clamp introduces herself, and hears something interesting not entirely by accident.

I must finish up and get the bairn in from the green. I have to
get some of this down though. There’s somethin really, really
no right about those lassies down the stairs from me.

My name, for the record, is Karen Clamp. Age: 40. Dress size:
20. Means of support: zero. I live in a third floor maisonette in
Ivanhoe Court, on the Auchendrossan Estate. No exactly your
Edinburgh tourist destination, by the way. Unless you’re a fan
of Trainspottin.

Oh aye. I read that filth. Makes us all out to be druggies and
scumbags. Full of swear words. I heard that that Irvine Welsh
used to work down the housin department in Leith, and blagged
all their best stories. Don’t see him down there much now though.
Well that’s no me. Don’t drink, don’t take drugs, don’t swear.
You can ask anyone that kens me about that, even the people in
the Cooncil. ‘In many ways, Ms Clamp, you’re the perfect
example of community empowerment,’ one of them says to me
recently. In many ways. Sarky cow.

Anyway, that’s another story. Those two lassies down the stairs
from me are involved in somethin and they’re in it up to their
filthy wee necks. I heard them talkin this mornin on the baby
monitor.

Aye, that’s right. The baby monitor. I ken how that sounds,
but hear me out. I have my reasons, believe you me.

The folk the Cooncil have had in that flat below me over the
last few years would make Trainspottin look like A Room With A
View
. Convicted paedophile, at one point, before the locals
nearly lynched the guy. Then a couple of chancers who ran it as
a party flat. Raves every other night. Then, of course, a cannabis
farm. That was actually ok, because they were keepin a low
profile until they’d got the crop fully grown. The worst thing
about it was the police raid, burstin our door down by mistake.

When the Cooncil gutted the flat downstairs, after they finally
threw out the last set of druggies, I took the chance to nip down
when the Cooncil workies were away havin their two hour lunch
break, and install some handy wee devices. Never too early to
ken what the neighbours are up to. Never too early to ken what
the Cooncil are up to either, for that matter. I may be the size of
a number eight to Muirhouse, but I’m no stupid.

See, I kent the lassies had been out on the randan on Friday
night and came in late. Woke me up as usual with all the doors
bangin and that. Luckily, the bairn would sleep through a
thermonuclear strike on her toy cupboard.

Then, this mornin, just when I’m on my second coffee of the
day, I hear them through the baby monitor talkin to each other,
almost whisperin like, except the East European lassie can’t keep
her voice down ever and that other one, wee Debi Murray, it’s
never long before she starts pumpin up the volume too.

‘So, what happen to him?’ The East European one, Elena I
think her name is, says.

‘Never you mind, hen,’ says Debi. ‘The less we ken about what
went on after we left that flat, the better.’

By now, I’m mildly interested, although I’m still thinkin it’s
some kind of low level drug deal. I’ve got bigger fish to fry than
that, especially all that corruption that’s goin on in the Cooncil
that I’m just one step away from blowin the lid on. Then the
other one says somethin that makes me sit up and pay attention.
‘But it’s on the radio, Debi,’ she says. ‘Top businessman found
dead in Stockbridge lawyer’s flat.’

That nearly sends me scamperin for the laptop, to check the
news websites, but I’m no wantin to miss any of this. I’m wishin
now I’d put in recordin devices that are compatible with
Windows. That way I could be recordin all this. Course they
didn’t have them when I needed them. They’re releasin bits of
technology one bit at a time, just to make us buy more. Plain as
anythin.

‘It isn’t our problem, Elena,’ says Debi. ‘We did what we were
told to do. We weren’t to ken he would react that way.’
Just then, the ice-cream van starts up below the deck access
again. If I could get down the stairs fast enough, and if it weren’t
for my confidence issues, I’d stick that guy’s head down his
freezer with the Vanilla Flake. Either he’s got one of these ham
radios, or it’s signals given off by his chimes, but whatever it is,
it throws the baby monitor out of whack every time he comes
round here with them on. Ice-cream van, eh? What a joke. Fags’ll
be the least of what he’s sellin to the kids.

I take the chance to check on Candice again. She’s eight, now,
so you can’t keep them wrapped up in cotton wool forever. She’s
a good wee lassie though, always plays down on the common
bit drying green where I can see her. She gives me a wee wave
and I wave back. It’s the McLatchie lassie with her, from the
looks of it. Low risk.

Anyway, by the time heid-the-baw in the van has gone off
again, the lassies have been out to him for fags and come back
to a different part of the flat where I can’t pick up what they’re
sayin. It’s only in the livin room, you see, that the listenin device
still works. One out of three isn’t a very good success rate but,
given I ordered it off the internet and it’s installed semi-legally
in the flat downstairs, I don’t suppose I can do much about the
guarantee. Probably the batteries come to think of it.

So I go onto the internet and, sure enough, down a wee bit
from the top stories, a wee piece sayin:

BUSINESSMAN FOUND DEAD
IN CITY SOLICITOR’S FLAT.
A prominent Liverpool businessman has
been found dead in a flat in the city in
unusual circumstances. The flat’s tenant, a
solicitor with prominent city firm Benzini,
Lambe and Lockhart, is said to be helping
police with their enquiries. No charges
have been brought and police investigations continue.

It is understood, however,
that the body was found naked in the bath.

They couldn’t resist that last bit, could they, eh? All sex, sex,
sex. It gets my mind racin though, for a different reason. How
do those lassies ken about it? Solicitors and businessmen –
sounds like it might be the Freemasonic thing again, although it
could be somethin to do with the Cooncil and their Black Ops
Division. I just can’t tell at this stage. No enough to go on…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Simon English speaks – an extract from The Wrong Box

First extract from my forthcoming novel, The Wrong Box, available in Kindle and paperback format on Amazon, or from Waterstone’s. Warning: this extract contains swearing and sexual references – over 18s only.

Extract from Chapter 1: Jimmy Takes a Bath

Simon English, posted north after an unfortunate misunderstanding involving the trainee and the London office’s boardroom table, finds himself waking up after a night looking after his client, Jimmy Ahmed, to find him naked, dead and with his toe stuck up the tap in the bathroom of English’s flat swap. Simon summons the authorities.

There are two of them, of course. They always hunt in pairs:
they’ve seen it on the telly. There’s an older one, with cropped
hair, a whisky-sour complexion, and bags under his eyes he
could take his Farmfoods shopping home in. The younger one
is dark-haired, whippet-thin, and in a suit so nasty you could
probably get a cream for it.

‘Mr English? DS Martin, and this is DS Futret. You have a
body,’ the first plod says, looking tired out already. I’m
rehearsing a line about saying fuck all till my brief arrives, when
the buzzer goes again. As I go to answer it, the two cops barge
in, and head for the bathroom without so much as a by-your-leave.
‘I’m from Gordon Drummond & Co.,’ a metallic female voice
says. I press the buzzer, and hear the door clunk open in the
stairwell.

The two cops are standing in the bathroom doorway,
muttering to each other, and I’m trying to act casual whilst
standing close enough to overhear them, when the flat door
opens and a whiff of Chanel announces my lawyer’s arrival.

The voice had warned me not to expect the old soak
Drummond himself. I’ve seen him preening himself in front of
a set of Session Cases on the news often enough to know he
wouldn’t pull himself out of bed on a Saturday morning, not
even for a thousand of Tony Hand’s favours.

I’m still not prepared for the sight that I turn to see. She’s in
her late twenties, I reckon, although she looks younger. Pert,
upturned nose, brown eyes, masses of chestnut curls.

‘I’m Sylvia McMonagle,’ she says, putting out a china-white
hand. I blurt out something while I take in the rest of her. The
neat dark suit isn’t this year’s, but it’s crisp enough. She’s
obviously dressed in a hurry, because she’s left the top two
buttons of her white (my favourite) blouse undone, as well as
(first real bit of luck this morning) the bottom one.

Thereby showing a little fold of tummy above the skirt line
that, with appropriate guidance, could develop nicely into a
Buddha belly. I take to her right away.

As soon as she’s shaken my hand, though, she goes straight
past me to DS Martin, standing in the bathroom doorway.
‘This him, then?’ she says to him. Martin smiles in recognition.
‘Well, Sylvia, it’s the only one we’ve found so far.’ He leans
towards her casually, his grin getting ever more ugly. The
younger one has disappeared into the bathroom, presumably
getting a closer look at Jimmy. I’ve opened the window since my
last contribution to the world of fishes: don’t want them to think
I’ve gassed the poor bastard to death.

‘We’ll have to treat it as a suspicious death, Sylvia,’ Martin says.
She hasn’t moved away since he came in close, despite the fact
the man stinks of fags. ‘It’s no normal for a man to die in a dry
bath with his toe stuck up the tap. We’ll get SOCOs in.’

I clear my throat. ‘Ehhmm. I was wondering when I’d be able
to use the bathroom again?’ It’s a stupid thing to say, I know,
but I kind of feel left out of things here. Bit of a spare prick at
the party. Martin deigns to look in my direction.

‘Can’t say sir. That’ll be SOCO’s call.’

I should just stay schtum, of course. My mouth won’t flap shut
now, though. ‘Oh I see, yeah, Scene Of Crime. Of course. Only,
would I be able to use the toilet before they…’

Martin’s looking at me like I’ve suggested doing a dump on
the deceased himself. He shakes his head. ‘No.’

Now Sylvia, my lawyer who stands too close to cops, is
looking at me. ‘I suppose you’ll want to interview my client, Jim?
Can we arrange a time now that suits everyone?’

Martin blinks his baggy eyes slowly and glances over at his
colleague, who has poked his rat-like head out of the bathroom
doorway at that moment.

‘How about now? Down at the station, since we’re all up and
aboot on a Saturday? I was hopin to get to Tynecastle later, as it
happens.’

Sylvia smiles, and flutters her eyelashes at him. ‘Yes, okay.’
Shouldn’t she ask me? ‘Can you give me ten minutes with him,
first?’

‘Sure.’ Him now, is it? Mister Fucking Third Person Suspect?
The two cops tramp out, Martin giving me a look like he wishes
he could just lock me up now and save the paperwork, the cunt.

As the door bangs shut behind them, I go into the kitchen to
rescue the coffee, which is getting petulant.

‘Want a cup?’ I say over my shoulder to Sylvia.

‘No thanks.’ The way she says it makes it sound like even
thinking about coffee at a time like this is another character
defect. My head’s pounding like a fucking construction site and
anyway it’s my flat, sort of, so I pour myself one and take it
through to the living room where Sylvia has planted herself, legs
crossed, and notepad at the ready.

After some preliminaries like name, age and so on, she asks
me to describe the previous night. ‘I’d had a bit to drink,’ I say,
doing my guilty schoolboy look. She peers at me intensely. ‘Any
charlie?’

‘Since you ask, once we’re clear of the cops I’d be glad to – ’
her look makes clear she’s not amused. ‘Ehm, yeah, we did a line
in Jimmy’s hotel room before we got going. That was all for the
night, though. Just good old fashioned booze from there on in.’

She says nothing to that, scribbling in her notepad, so I
blunder on with the story of the evening, the Oyster Bar, the
Thai restaurant, Indigo’s even though it was rammed,
then…then a club, that was it, Rum-Ti-Tum-Tums in the
Cowgate. And then…

‘…and then it all gets a bit blurred, I’m afraid.’ I give her my
best smile. ‘But I’m fairly sure I left Jimmy at his hotel.’ I was
fairly sure, wasn’t I? But weren’t there women…?

I looked at Sylvia, who looks as if she’d been given a lemon to
suck. ‘I’m going to ask Jim Martin to give you a blood test, see
what’s still in your system,’ she says, tapping her pen on her
notepad.

‘What? Why?’ I’m starting to get really pissed off with her now,
the way she’s looking at me like I’m some kind of a criminal. I
mean, I’m a fellow lawyer, after all.

‘Just a sort of intuition,’ she says, shifting in her seat, and
re-crossing her legs. She puts her head to one side. ‘Tell me.
When you first woke up, did you feel anything out of the
ordinary? Disoriented, maybe?’

I think back to the moments before I stumbled into the
bathroom. ‘Sort of, yeah. Yeah, when I first got my eyes open I
didn’t really know for a minute where I was. But then, I’ve only
just been transferred from the London office, so I’ve just been
in this flat for a few days. Why?’

Sylvia’s smiling slightly now, in a way I find incredibly
annoying. ‘Just wondered. Call it woman’s intuition.’

I open my mouth to question her again. I’m not at all keen to
open up my bloodstream to the inquisitive snout of the Lothian
and Borders Crime Lab.

Then I notice that, in shifting position, Sylvia’s blouse has
ridden up a bit to reveal her belly button. I look up, to see
Sylvia’s smile has gone, to be replaced by her what-the-fuck-is-this-I’ve stepped-in look.

‘Why are you looking at my stomach all the time?’ she said. ‘Is
there something wrong?’

‘No, not at all,’ I murmur. ‘Rare eye condition. Look, if you
recommend I take a blood test, I’ll take a blood test. You’re the
expert in this field.’

Little does she know it’s the jewel in her navel that’s convinced
me. Terrible curse, male hormones. Especially the hangover
horn. That’s the worst of all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Wrong Box Speaks – Again!

Here’s the second of my audio extracts from my forthcoming novel, The Wrong Box. In the second part, we rejoin Simon English in the wardrobe as Yvonne’s husband resumes his search…

There’s not been a huge take up so far on Part 1. Next up will be an extract featuring Karen Clamp, the other main viewpoint character, who’s the yin to Simon’s yang. I’ll probably just publish it as a written extract.

Anyway, those of you that do listen, enjoy, and thanks!

The Wrong Box is Coming!

No, not the story of a logistics breakdown by Yodel, but news (for those of you who I haven’t reached yet by other social media) that my novel, The Wrong Box, is to be finally published on 20th April. Here’s a pic of me with a proof  copy:

Image may contain: 1 person, glasses

You can pre-order it on Kindle or as a paperback on Amazon. There’ll be a couple of events in April/May: best way of following progress would be to join up to the Facebook Group, or follow me on Twitter (@andrewcferguso4).

Incidentally, if you know of any book groups that are looking for this kind of thing, and would like the author to turn up and talk about it (either virtually or literally, depending on distance); or any other book festivals or the like I could promote this at, please let me know!

Here’s the blurb:

All I know is, I’m in exile in Scotland, and there’s a dead Scouser businessman in my bath. With his toe up the tap.

Meet Simon English, commercial property lawyer, heavy drinker and Scotophobe, banished from London after being caught misbehaving with one of the young associates on the corporate desk. As if that wasn’t bad enough, English finds himself acting for a spiralling money laundering racket that could put not just his career, but his life, on the line.

Enter Karen Clamp, an 18 stone, well-read wannabe couturier from the Auchendrossan sink estate, with an encyclopedic knowledge of Council misdeeds and 19th century Scottish fiction. With no one to trust but each other, this mismatched pair must work together to investigate a series of apparently unrelated frauds and discover how everything connects to the mysterious Wrong Box.

Manically funny, The Wrong Box is a chaotic story of lust, money, power and greed, and the importance of being able to sew a really good hem.

Songs in a Scottish Accent 6: Never Forget Who We Are (Slight Return)

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And so, at long last, my solo album/vanity project, Songs in a Scottish Accent, is finished. The box of newly-printed CDs arrived yesterday, and test plays on the home and car audio confirmed that, yes, it’s me groaning out of the speakers.

Go to my page on the album now, and you’ll see that it’s free in return for a contribution to a refugee charity. Not that I’m going to check up on you, of course: stop me and get one next time you see me at a gig or wherever, or write to me and I’ll post it to you; after that, it’s on your head which charity you give to, and how much.

On the page itself, I go into why it’s Songs in a Scottish Accent. Why a refugee charity though?

That explanation’s bound up with the creation of the track I’m putting up below, ‘Never Forget.’ I’d been aware, as most people must be by now, of the spiralling refugee crisis in North Africa and Southern Europe for some time now. However, as I said in a previous post about this track, the trigger for me writing the poem was the sight of English football fans rampaging through a French town, attacking locals and being generally racist and unpleasant.

The poem’s not meant to be just about that, however – nor is it meant to express a view on the post-Brexit domestic political questions we’re wrestling with in the good ol’ U of K: to be clear, the line about living in the early days of a better nation isn’t meant to express a view for or against an outcome of a second Scottish independence referendum, if we get to that. The ‘we’ of the title, and constant refrain of the poem, can be taken to mean any part of, or the whole of, what generally gets called ‘the West.’

In other words, the poem was meant to reflect my feelings about the whole way in which the West has responded, post 9/11, to Islamic fundamentalism by means which, to me, cut away any supposed moral high ground we might lay claim to. Things like the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay; the ‘special rendition’ missions to render terrorist suspects, not to the law’s due process, but to illegal torture methods; more recently, the frankly incredible way Muslim women wearing burkinis were treated this summer on French beaches.

Those might be described as state-sanctioned: but let’s not kid ourselves. The rise in hate crimes since the Brexit result, to give just one example, shows how people – ordinary people, who could live just down the road – give the lie to any complacency that we in the West are in some way more ‘civilised’ than the terrorist nutters who seek to attack us. Tied in with that now seems to be a general climate of fear of ‘the other,’ whether it be our peace-loving neighbours of a different faith than ours, immigrant workers, or even the refugees currently overwhelming aid agencies in southern Europe.

So what did I do? I wrote a poem. Well, that’ll show them!

Perhaps more constructively, I would like to see the fruits of my artistic labours go towards something positive. I’m very, very, fortunate to live in a rich country, with a well-paid, secure job, with family and friends safe and well. Just a few hours in a plane away, on the other side of the continent I still call mine, hundreds of thousands of people – ordinary people, who could live just down the road, but were unlucky enough to live instead in countries ravaged by war – are risking their lives crossing the sea to the dubious safety of ill-prepared refugee camps, relying on the kindness of strangers.

So, if you lay your hands on my CD, enjoy the words and music, but in return, drop some money into a tin either in reality or online, and help these guys out.

 

(Incidentally, in the previous post I had set the words to a Mogwai track. Someone commented on Facebook that I should do my own music to accompany it, and I have. Thanks, Janet!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In my Shipyard of Songs

In my Shipyard of Songs at the moment, there are a whole order book of them at different stages of completion: some have only the most basic structures, the keel of melody and a few ribs of lyrics (I can see my lack of nautical knowledge getting me into trouble with this metaphor already); some well on the way to completion, with just one or two final touches needed: a trim to the sails, or a beefed-up outboard motor by way of extra guitar; some needing the barnacles scraped off and a new lick of paint before they’re seaworthy again.

Then there are one or two crafted, sitting around the edges of the Songyard, waiting for an owner. These are the ones that just don’t quite fit any of the collaborative projects for one reason or another, but which are, I think, seaworthy. What to do with them?

‘Somewhere You’re Out There’ is one of these. I still like the melody (so much so I worry I’ve subconsciously poached it from somewhere); and the lyrics – well, the lyrics mean something different to me now than when I first wrote them, let’s just say. You could apply them to different life situations, and I kind of like that.

However, the down side is there’s only me to sing these ones, so you have to put up with my less than perfect delivery. See what you think, and let me know. I’ll probably be doing a bit more of this in the coming months – I might even try to put something up once a month, whether it be original material, or a cover, and replace it the next month with something else.

Also coming up: some reflections on writing, music, and new business models; and I interview myself.