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April 8, 2014

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Extravagance EP

A 10 inch single is coming out for record store day on April 19th. It features two versions of Extravagance, the one you know and the original version. Here’s the story of how that came about.

The music, as always, came first. A descending strum on the bass starting at the 12th fret. A, A maj7, G, Gmaj7. This riff had started in a faster format, just before the band split up. Whilst messing about on the bass a couple of years ago it came back to me. I slowed it down. Added a chorus: same format starting on E at fret 7. Then a middle 8 of Am into Am6, Am7, and ending on a D7 of sorts which neatly takes the cycle back to A. Easy. Transfered onto piano and played some arpeggios. Transposed up an octave onto guitar. Add a hundred instruments courtesy of Swales, including sitar and stylophone, and there it is. Now what am I going to sing about?

Luisa Casati was on my list of people to write songs about. Extreme wealth, extreme profligacy, extreme vanity, and recorded for posterity by contemporary artists. That’ll do. The original lyric took this as a starting point, and then went on to explore modern concerns. Namely sex. The ease of gay sex, despite the iceberg of HIV. The ease of falling in love over a pint, for a night, maybe only fifteen minutes. Utter extravagance in my experience. But still we need love, celibacy not being a realistic option. Love, sex, monogamy, queers: what a mess! So I wrote this:

ExtraVagance

Louisa leashes up the cheetahs
Takes them for a diamond stroll
Adds more kohl to her eyelids
Paints her birds a shade of violet
Winds a snake around her neck
Toasts the wax effigy of herself
Plans a wild electric party
To display her gilded body

She fell to debt in sordid London
Scavenged crow feathers for her hair
Once you’ve been exotic
Its hard to be forgotten
Bury me with my Pekinese
Naked under cloaks of leopard skin and panther
In death no under achievement, in death no loss of detail
Age cannot wither her
Nor stale her variety
It matters though she’s dead
She must have extravagance

Take me to the Pyramids, he said,
Feed me nectarines and honey
Treat me Greek, make we weak
Fly me down to Mozambique
Buy me shiny machines, a tudor house
An estate of deer, my own moon and my own star
And all I need to repay?
Is to kiss your hoary whiskered face

I took Ryan down to the Scala
Where we talked lager until dawn
I’m keen as mustard, says he, I’m warm as custard, he lied
I’m fluent in vodka, says me, and I slur gin easily
And I felt we were hot for sin
But back in his blank white room
We stared at the rubies shining in our hearts
And all I could think was what a waste, is my heart really
Worth this extravagance?

I need love like I need lungs to breath
It’s not a luxury like icing sugar, brooches, diadems
Not an expensive extra item
On the poor neglected menu of life
Stuck low under fridge freezers and fries
I need it night and day
A terrible reckless crave

I took Frederick out to the forest
Where he chopped wood and I baked chocolate cake
We were happy finally
So happy finally
Till the wolves/crows called out to him
Talked of the mess of flesh he’d left in the city
He dribbled and he ran
To satisfy a whim

To kiss him seemed folly, to stay the night a mistake
To promise a week, a month, a lifetime!
Extravagance

So now you can see where Folly came from. But the tune bothered us. Was it too fast? Could I sing it slower? No. So the only way to change the speed was to change the tune, and so the scansion was gone. My challenge then was to write a new tune, and then fit new words to it. Very hard, as the old tune had been in my head for months. I know some pop writers work by getting multiple tunes for their chords, but that’s as they go along, quick editing. I’d only done this once before, with Drive That Fast which I’d originally called Sedition. The lyric hadn’t gone down well so I wrote a new one. But the tune stayed pretty much the same.

When at last a new tune did come, on a morning dog walk before work, I taped it on my phone. Modern conveniences. Back in the studio I dumdedummed along with the music and the tune settled. Then I needed the words. Damn, I couldn’t make them fit in a pleasing way. I wrote the first verse, based on Luisa, and got stuck. It became clear I needed to stick with this single theme, and on I went. The variations I had previously worked on were discarded. Editing can be harsh. And so the LP version came:

Who dares walk her cheetahs on the dark canals of Venice..

It probably is better. But I’m so glad the original version is being heard. I still think it works, and I was never convinced about the speed of the vocal being wrong. Too high for me perhaps. I like both versions, but the original I think is wittier, smarter, and truer. This demo version has a different bass line too – my original strummed hard bass chords rather than the flanged final one. But again I prefer the original: hard, urgent. You can hear my nails getting bruised, which is really what it’s all about.

Xtrav!

March 16, 2014

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The critic laughs

March 16, 2014

Been watching the amazing Robert Hughes series/critique of modern art The Shock of the New, which is available at http://www.ubu.com . If you don’t know ubu.com then you’re in a for an orgy for art heroics and histrionics. A place where madness collides with genius and stupidity. Which is really where we should be trying to spend most of our time.

In one episode of Hughes’ he discusses Richard Hamilton as part of Pop Art. This advert was jokily made for one of Hamilton’s assemblages. It stars Lorraine Chase. If you’re under 40 it won’t mean much, but it made me chortle. My next birthday present please:

Piano drill

March 10, 2014

This is a mediocre piano in a beautiful box designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for his House for an Art Lover. Note the drill on the right. This has given me ideas.
10 new pieces of music have come together since Folly. Not songs yet, and I’m not sure what’s going to happen with them. But I fancy putting a band together for it. Piano, cello, drums, bass, guitar. That should do. Maybe a dancer, they seem to go down well.

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The Snake

February 25, 2014

A bass instrument on display at Glasgow’s Hunterian museum.

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Distruction

February 24, 2014

Genius labelling at Glasgow’s Fopp.

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And finally, Cyril

February 22, 2014

And finally, Esther, here is a Thom Gunn poem via the medium of Spongebob Squarepants. The world has collapsed, we bathe in its shards, giggling.

Pause

February 22, 2014

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Harry’s House

February 22, 2014

Off for a few days break so I skim through CDs and pick out The Hissing of Summer Lawns by Joni Mitchell. Could be my favourite of hers. What is it about Joni? Words, tunes, that sometime harsh sometime soothing voice, the guitar tunings, the dedication to following her notion to the bitter end – see Paprika Plains. She got under my skin at the age of 14 which is why I like her unreservedly (until Mingus that is, a bit like Scary Monsters with Bowie, an amazing run of albums then a swoop into a unfathomable chasm) and have no notion as to why others don’t. I don’t understand why Laura Marling gets compared to her; two very different planets to my ears.

Here’s a live version of Harry’s House. What intrigues me here is how she plays her guitar with such nonchalance, yet coaxes out a huge sound, and over the top sings a maudlin tricky tale with the waxen face of disinterest, as if she was doing the washing up.

Joni taught me much about being brave lyrically. Thanks Joni, now go do the dishes:

Sunday

February 16, 2014

After a walk in the unexpected sunshine I flicked through Douglas Dunn’s Elegies, and then found this on YouTube (!). Reductive modern life remedied by this reflective verse mourning his wife.

And listening to Ghostpoet. Dialtones is a favourite. Here’s a sweet stripped back version. Really like what’s going on here:

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