Exploring the merits and demerits of composition techniques, I have written here and elsewhere about recycling, quoting and sampling music. I have pondered the commonplace practises of borrowing themes, phrases and styles, and the inevitability of inspiration leading to imitation. Since this blog is also intended as a demonstration, I thought it would be sensible to take something of my own where this has occurred and examine it on that basis.
For a couple of years, I enjoyed a great gig in Mondello, Sicily, which is a holiday resort of that beautiful mediterranean island which the Italians enjoy. The booking was 3 weeks to a month long, usually in one or two clubs, in February, out of season, so the venues were full of locals rather than tourists who would have expected a set full of covers. We were booked on the basis of our dynamic live show and all original songs.
My band at the time consisted of myself on lead vocals, keyboards, guitar and anything else I could lay my hands on, my writing partner and friend Kevin Goldsborough on bass and guitar, a 16 year old Ross Godfrey, who went on to star in Morcheeba, on guitar, his dodgy friend Nick on sax and percussion, and Sophy Griffiths on vocals and acrobatics. A drummer would have eaten up our funds, so we replaced live drums with loops, which I created myself from rehearsals, and programmed beats. I used the playback element to enhance the arrangements, which gave us a bigger sound, and kind of made up for the lack of kit. It was a modern sound for the time, and mostly the gigs were a riot.
She was the greatest thing that ever happened to him,
Tender as a girl can get
It would ease your mind to know, but you won’t ever
If she told you now to go, you would forgive her…
“Angel” is a song I wrote to fill a gap in my band’s live set, designed to get the crowd moving. The laid-back Sicilians were there to watch, listen and socialise, but we could generally coax them onto their feet. This song, which describes the siren call of sexual promise, quotes one of the most inspiring pop / rock musicians to have emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century, David Bowie.
Aside from giving me the ability to co-write with one of my musical heroes, the song is a collaboration with Kevin Goldsborough, who supplied the wonderful melodic bassline, which moves from dark and brooding in the verse to cheerful and uplifting in the chorus. We wrote hundreds of songs together, until it became second nature. Kevin’s musical clarity and expression remains a sublime part of my life. Funnily enough, he comes from exactly the same part of London as Bowie, and when he sings, listeners often pick up on the similarity. It’s the south London vowels.
With “Angel” I wanted to introduce layers of meaning, making the song accessible to the listener without knowledge of the other song, whilst adding another dimension to anyone who did have knowledge, which illustrated its meaning on a meta-level. I don’t think it matters that few people would get this – it is in the song for seekers to find – so long as it works on the simple level of tune, narrative, groove. Falling under a musical spell is an analog to falling under a sexual spell, commanding the soul and demanding that the body moves.
I quote Bowie’s song both indirectly by referring to it lyrically, by interpreting it in the arrangement, and also directly by incorporating it into the chorus. I’m not going to tell you which song I quote – if you know, then leave a comment, and I will fess up. This is a demo with a live vocal, recorded on a four track tape machine, so it’s a little bit rough around the edges sonically, but that is forgivable. It is a decent representation of how the band sounded live, and I think the recording is good for all that.