Breaking Up

Dana WindowsIt’s a classic theme, one of the seven songs in rock ‘n’ roll – the break up, lovers parting in glorious colour, and of course, in tragic black and white. For some reason I’ve always written these songs (!) but I wrote very my best break up song not in a space of suffering, anger, denial or sadness, but in contemplation of what happens, that recurring cycle of promises made in passion, which prove to be no more than chimeras.

“Wouldn’t Do That” has a double meaning which runs all the way through it, and while I don’t want in this blog to be my own literary critic, I’m happy to point out the obvious: Is the promise made not to leave, or once gone, not to look back? is the question I was asking, and it’s one which is poignant to this day.

I’m quite proud of this song, because the major/minor chord progression expresses the bitter-sweet idea I was trying to articulate before I even began to say it. I quite naturally fell into singing a falsetto, and played the most soulful harmonica I’ve ever managed, which you can hear in this demo.

“I promise I will never hurt you”
“I promise I will never leave”
Promises made are broken so easily
Brave words are just wind in the trees

What are these worlds we live in?
Doing our thing separately
Surely we must have forgiven each other
Wasn’t our loving for real?

Well I’ve been so long in lonely world
Living without a loving soul
And I know it won’t be long ’til I’m missing you
But I made myself a promise
That I wouldn’t do that…

And it’s a long and lonely road
Living without a loving soul
And I know it won’t be long ’til I’m missing you
But I made myself a promise
That I wouldn’t do that…

© Dean Whitbread 2006, all rights reserved

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Tom Waits for No Man

Some songs have me singing along like a drunk, eyes misting and as passionate as a fool, and these of course are generally ballads. Time by Tom Waits is one of my favourites.

Tom Waits tells some of the best stories in contemporary music, tales of regret, penury, lost love and broken dreams. Lilting pace, acoustic guitar and accordion, and the Brechtian theatrical mask drops to reveal unexpected sincerety and tenderness, an oasis in the middle of an album of cacophonous guitar and cranky lyrics. “The rain sounds like a round of applause.. ” “And the things you can’t remember tell the things you can’t forget that history puts a saint in every dream…” And, what a chorus:

“It’s time, time, time that you love…”

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The Subliminal Ballad

The Ballad is a kind of song essential to almost every artist’s repertoire. Most often it is a slow love song of joy or heartbreak. It is the song never heard in death metal or nosebleed techno. It is the song which cuts across generations and cultural divides. It is the song most easy to massacre, and also the song which lingers longest in the affections. It is the song you sing at 3am, drunk, when all other songs have left you.

Many years ago I wrote some great ballads with Guy Sigsworth, a now well-known writer and producer. Guy’s background was Cambridge classical, and the first music I heard of his was a rather bizarre marriage of dance music and harpsichord. Quite obsessive, Guy was capable of producing really tight arrangements imbued with his very English suppressed emotion. He could produce reams of backing tracks full of musical ideas, but what he couldn’t do easily on his own was cross the divide into lyrical, expressive territory and finished pop songs. Guy had some success with Seal, and later with Bjork.

One of my favourite songs is called Cut Me and I Bleed, and I lived with this track, which was at that stage a sketch without melody or middle eight, as I spent time in the town of Glastonbury, Somerset. The music has a hymnal quality, and Guy’s swooping bass and melancholy-sweet organ arrangement seemed to fit the frustrating romance I was experiencing, in this place centred around the majestic ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. Returning to London, the song formed in my head, I added guitar and strings, completed the middle eight, and wrote the melody and lyrics in a day.

A couple of months later I returned to the town, cassette in hand, in order to make a gift of the song to the object of my affections. Walking up the high street, depressed and rather lonely, I heard the bells of St John’s in Glastonbury High Street toll. Their distinctive rising and falling melody has exactly the same form in the song I had written, every other line in each verse. I knew at once that the ever-present chimes had infiltrated my consciousness and emerged subliminally in the ballad.

Aside from having a direct connection with my history, I still feel a lot of affection for Cut Me and I Bleed, as it manages in my view to begin with a personal experience and transcend into something universal. It expresses the urge for healing via love better than anything else I have yet written. As for what happened to that particular affair, well, as the lyrics imply, it didn’t work out; but, some months later, I did meet a woman who was to become central to my life for many years, thanks to music and the Glastonbury chimes.

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