Poem For Father's Day
Perhaps we are silent now
And that we'll never sing again
A card on this day
May never be the same
And yet we offer it in your name
Afterwards to be put away
With those that we gave
On past Father's Days
Sunday, June 18, 2017
Beautiful days of sunshine. Wandering in fields, into bluebell woods, hiding in rhododendron groves of sweet scent, and under shady trees with their boughs low to make the perfect seat. Hermitage upstairs room, with nobody to disturb the creative flow. No unnecessary objects, except the essentials. Acoustic guitar, lyric sheets, notebook for thoughts, ink pen, digital recorder, Patti Smith book, MP3 player with the appropriate music for the week.
A whole week deep in the countryside. A luxury but a necessity. Clear the mind and focus on composing. Everything starts to flow and becomes real. No outside influences. No TV, radio, newspapers, computer, phone, traffic, crowds, police sirens.
I spend the days going for walks, and sometimes I take the guitar and begin to compose. Then I come back to my room. A space of creativity. I record on the digital recorder so I keep all the ideas clear in my mind.
On my last day, I spend the afternoon sitting under the shade of a great tree. The light is shimmering through the leaves. Blackbirds fly into the branches; down to the ground and then away. Sheep with their newborn pass by, stopping to listen and look, and then go on to another field. A bumble bee flies past the microphone of the recorder. I start playing a melody I've been saving for some time. I have some new lyrics I started writing whilst I was on a walk. It begins to become a song. It sounds promising.
So now I'm settled back in London. Home. It's where I belong. I have hopes. All these songs which need working on. There's much work to be done. I'm going to start a new series of paintings. Explorations of colour and texture. A new sketchbook which I bought some years ago in Florence, will record the progress the new album. After reading 'Derek Jarman's Sketchbook', it seems like the perfect way to utilise the unused Italian book. I will put all the lyrics into it, with all the changes I may make; images, ideas for art work and videos. Everything and anything. My week away was productive.
May 24, 2014
When you begin to unpack your bag on holiday, those strange butterflies begin to calm themselves; the journey from home to destination is always slightly tense, as you're often worried about missing trains, whether you'll find room for luggage or if the seat you've reserved will be pleasant. Also, the simple act of leaving familiar surroundings behind. So now you've reached your destination, you can breathe. It was raining when I arrived in Windermere; I took a taxi to the guest house as my bags were becoming a burden. Traveling light never really happens, especially with a Polaroid Land camera, film and other essentials. The Victorian villa house was very clean and tastefully decorated, and my attic room on the second floor was particularly cosy. It was the main reason I chose it. I had the most welcoming news that I was the only guest, and that nobody would be expected for another three days. Breakfasts were taken by the window of the dining room, overlooking a little garden which was inhabited by birds. Although it seemed to rain quite a lot, it didn't hinder my plans.
My first pilgrimage was to Hilltop, Beatrix Potter's home. I decided to get the boat from Ambleside to Bowness, and then another boat onto Hawkshead; a shuttle bus then took me to Hilltop. The house was everything I hoped. There was such an evocative feeling. I have been to many places that once housed writers, painters, musicians, and often there is in these dwellings a great sense Spirit of those people; at Hilltop there was Potter's dark wood furniture, displayed with blue and white crockery, ornaments on the mantle and a fire blazing. A watercolour paint box on the bureau. I love the creaking floorboards of old houses. It is part of that Spirit I spoke of; I found this also at Dove Cottage in Grasmere, where Wordsworth lived with his sister Dorothy. I had visited it in 2006, but wanted to return. I arrived on a late afternoon, on a beautiful rain free day after a day at Derwentwater in Keswick. Most of the visitors had left, so I drifted around the small dwelling, looking at Wordsworth's old suitcase, spectacles and other belongings. I thought of De Quincy and Coleridge, both in their Opium dreams, conjuring up visions onto paper. Of Dorothy lovingly tending to her poet brother, whilst quietly recording her own observations of nature and hearth. Dorothy is a poet in prose form, only she did not seek to publish or wish for fame; she chose to quietly record her feelings, and often it is those people who display a great sense of emotion in the everyday things. The lakes are very beautiful. Derwentwater glistened in the sunshine on that day. I walked along and stopped here and there, taking Polaroids or recording thoughts in my new notebook. The sky and clouds, the people rowing, the light on the water.
On the day I revisited Coniston Water, I stood alone once more on the jetty, thinking of that day when there was a mist as the boat took me to John Ruskin's house. Of Donald Campbell and his boat sinking to the bottom, only to be brought to the surface many years later. Of 'The Mourning Mist' which seemed to say so much about loss and Autumns past. I did not get to Brantwood this time, as the water level was too high for the boat to land, so I went on further to the next stop to visit Ruskin's grave in the village churchyard. A beautiful celtic cross, with Pre Raphaelite imagery woven into it. After a tea and cake, it was time to head back to Windermere.
Blackwell is an Arts and Crafts house overlooking Lake Windermere. It is very special. I visited it in 2006, and for my last day I went back. Unfortunately the shuttle bus did not go there, so I had to take a taxi. I stayed there all day, sitting in inglenooks, writing in my notebook, taking Polaroids (they let you photograph there) and generally taking in the atmosphere. Beautiful oak wood panelling, floorboards, Arts and Crafts furniture and ceramics. There was a small exhibition of work collected by a man whose name I forget. Included was a tiny woodcut by William Blake. I was quietly ecstatic. After lunch I went onto the terrace to look down at the lake. The rain held out for a little while. It was only later when I went back in, that it started again and thundered. By then I was having some tea so it wasn't too bad. Only when I got back to Bowness did I get soaked, but luckily the bus wasn't too long coming. Before bed I would read Morrissey's 'Autobiography' or record a few thoughts in my notebook, or look at the Polaroids of that day. It's good to go away, and have a change of scenery. I was glad to come home though: to food that agrees, to a bed that is softer and inviting, to my guitar, my CD's and things. To these I added a small pale green/blue milk churn shaped pot, which I bought at Blackwell; made by a Cumbrian potter, it now houses my paint brushes and sits on my work table. A soft grey scarf for the Winter. Postcards of some particular interest, to remind me of my trip, now displayed as reminders. A 1949 pocket edition of 'The Prelude'. 'With deep devotion, Nature, did I feel, In that enormous City's turbulent world Of men and things, what benefit I owed Where to the sense of beauty first my heart Was opened...'
29 October, 2013
Thoughts On A Bluebell Wood
Sometimes, removing yourself from your present surroundings, can give you a sense of clarity which perhaps you might not reach when the brain is so congested by familiar spaces, people and sounds. I took myself to a quiet place which always has a positive effect on me when I go there; in previous years it has provided me with inspiration for my work, as well as enquiry into myself which at this time is very much needed. When you're stopping yourself from going forward there has to be reasons, and going to this beautiful place in the country enabled me to question my fears, because in the silence I was able to think. All the negative thoughts seeped away, and I was able to sit down and be productive with the new songs. My room this time was upstairs and removed from the main part of the house. Clean and ordered. Single bed with white linen, and simple furniture which included a desk where I found a blue A4 writing pad for myself to use; I inscribed it as 'Album No:3' and took out all of my new lyrics and placed them over the bed one at a time. "Are these relevant to me now?" I asked myself. If something is no longer meaningful, it should be discarded without fear for in time new thoughts and ideas will come about. One particular lyric I've had for many years was removed, because it's not relevant for what I have in mind for the new album. I thought it was time to address this subject now, in the way that 'The Affliction Of Childhood' did for my childhood illness, but now I see it as potentially spoiling a completely fresh set of ideas and lyrics unless I write something new on this past event. I somehow doubt it.
I did not take any cameras with me this time. I wanted to travel light, which a heavy camera and other accessories does not allow. This time was for looking with my own eyes. I did take some carefully selected music for my player: Joni Mitchell, who has been one of my favourite artists for many years, but recently I've been listening to her more closely than ever, listening to her as a lyricist who uses words in a very expansive way; who uses the guitar in a way which is free to go beyond accepted stylings, and whose voice matured as time went on which complimented the maturity of the themes in her mid to late period. I found myself listening to 'Hejira' and 'The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, or 'Don Juan's Reckless Daughter'. The reflective 'Chinese Cafe/Unchained Melody' with its smooth guitar and bass lines. Joni seems to be helping me undo some knots in myself, in the way Patti Smith also gives me a kind of freedom to embrace myself as an artist.
One morning I woke at 6.30 to find the sun was already out, unlike the previous day which was overcast and rainy. The birds were singing. I opened the curtains and the lambs in the field were already nuzzling the sweet grass, and making little bleating sounds. I recalled Blake's "lamb of God". After a hearty breakfast I headed outside, making my way down the path towards the copper beaches shining in the morning sunshine. At the road, I crossed over and went into the field making my way along the path towards the entrance into the wood. When I got in I took the path laid out for walkers, not really knowing where I would be lead to even though I'd been there previously. I observed the ground, the tall trees and the sky. And then in the distance I saw to my left a sight so beautiful and immense. Blankets of deep bluebells I had never witnessed before, carpeting the woodland under majestic trees with that shade of indigo. I crept in and stood inside of the enveloping blue and the sun shimmered in beams of gold. I found my heart melting, with my anxieties lifted in a moment of transcendence. Perhaps fears are self-induced. Perhaps we are who we are, and there is no point wishing you were otherwise. So in these moments of clarity you can make the next move. When I returned to my room I continued to write. Not about bluebells or shimmering woods. But rather the feelings of things.
May 18, 2013
Thoughts On A Blue Guitar
About a fortnight ago I bought my new acoustic guitar. I bought it from Hanks in Denmark Street. This guitar is in a 1940's parlour style, and has a solid North American spruce top, with mahogany back and sides. This isn't the model I originally thought of buying, but Tanglewood brought this one out recently, and I felt the sound was just as good as some of their other parlour guitars. Mine has a bright bell-like tone, and is perfect for finger-picking. Plus it's nice and small for me and my little fingers. I've been playing around with an acoustic version of 'Shine Like Silver', in a bit of a Joni Mitchell finger-picking style. I must write some new songs in open tunings, like I used to in my Folk days when I played at Bunjies. I remember I used to be wracked with nerves, which is why I eventually retreated never to sing live again. When it's just you and your guitar and you're pouring out your heart, you just can't hide from anyone. It's safer in the studio, because you feel more relaxed and in control. But not to say I'll never play live again. I thought I would for 'Illuminant' but like always I decided against it. For now I have all these words waiting for music, and also the Fender Jaguar waiting in the wings (the money has been saved up!). So, as well as the gentle Joni style I also want to plug into an amp and make a bit of noise too. I know for sure that the next album will be more guitar based, relying less on software instruments. I want real drums this time, maybe slightly jazz-like. Just more organic sounding. Who knows which way things will go, but I have a bit of a vision going on in my mind. It's on a low heat so I'll let it simmer for a while before turning things up.
February 24, 2013
The London Notebook
I wanted something special to record thoughts, sketches, potential lyrics and ideas for what I hope to be my third album. So I have made myself a notebook. It is an amateur attempt at bookbinding. I bought the handmade paper ready sewn into a pad, but it hadn't a cover and lay in the drawer of my writing slope for months. I had some wrapping paper depicting a map of England and Wales in 1851, which I had bought many years ago whilst doing my studies. I never bought it to use as wrapping paper, but perhaps to so something interesting with it. So now after all these years, it has been put to good use to cover this book, using two pieces of card as the panels, and a segment of the paper for the spine. Improvised mostly but I'm glad it came out right. It's wonderful how some paper, card and glue can make a treasure.
I'm a little cautious about mentioning a third album. Perhaps it is somewhat premature. I suppose lack of funds will delay any notions of it. However, I am writing lyrics on scraps of paper and storing them away. Sometimes things come to me as I'm about to sleep, when words are swirling around, so I scramble around in the dark like a blind person for pen and paper. I still can't get into the habit of keeping any beside the bed. I'll let the words keep flowing. I have written down titles and a few themes also. Even thoughts on instruments. I'll let things unfold if they're supposed to happen.
February 20, 2012
"I solitary court the inspiring breeze, and meditate the book of Nature, ever open..." These lines by the poet James Thomson, from his work 'The Seasons', is important in the making of 'Illuminant'. About two years ago when I started writing and composing the songs, I discovered Thomson's poem; the songs were already imbued with weather imagery or spoke of particular seasons, so the poem seemed to come into my life at the right time. 'Everything Was Golden' is really a Summer song, and partly inspired by my first visit abroad on my own, to Florence. 'Wonder Of Snow' was conceived after we had an abundance of snowfall in London over late December 2009, and when I was in the studio recording it in December 2010, it was snowing quite hard so it really was made within that weather. 'Dew Bright Earth' is from a line from 'The Seasons', though the song was originally called by another name. The opening lines were written many years ago when I was studying for my degree, and I always liked them so decided to adapt them to this new song. 'Shine Like Silver' is a declaration of independence. The personal independence you feel when you're moving forward as an individual. So 'Illuminant' is ready to go out into the world, after all the hard work put into each aspect of it. There were difficult periods of course, but things are never straight forward in the creation of songs; ultimately I have enjoyed the process, especially in the studio. Doing the paintings and photographs and bringing all of the designs into finished products is rewarding, and knowing that one can execute work to the requirements of printers and manufacturers. I hope the outside world likes 'Illuminant'; I know that I have done my best, and nothing has left my hands that is imperfect to me. It's time for the little feathered friend on the cover to go out into the world and find some listeners...
November 20, 2011
Studio Thoughts (Part Two)
Last night at around 11.45pm, the E.P. was finally mastered after a few minor changes that needed attending to. I knew that if I didn't do these, I'd be tormented for eternity; better to see to them rather than suffer later, though the listener probably wouldn't notice such minute details that bring me out in a sweat. I can never leave something alone, but if it puts my mind at rest it's worth it. Chris did the mastering, which is an art in itself. I'm very pleased with the overall sound of the four songs, which is very expansive and lush. I feel they exceed what I did on 'The Spirit Of Elegy', or perhaps I've just learned more since doing that album. I've enjoyed the studio so much, playing with different sounds and hearing the compositions come into their own. There's only so much I can do with my own setup, which is why a studio can be a good thing, especially one you feel comfortable in as I do at Birdland.
I am nearly finished doing the illuminated lyrics to illustrate the E.P. I'm about to start to transcribe the lyrics over the watercolour illustrations, using a slightly thicker nib with ochre ink as opposed to my usual fine nib. When this is completed, everything will be copyrighted. So there is still work to be done with art work, choice of photographs and the video. I hope then to begin to let people preview the new songs before the release in November (it just had to be autumn). I hope to do a gig as well, but this is still a work in progress; I might use the studio to rehearse a set, and try to really nail it before committing to anything. The old nerves are still a problem, but perhaps they might not be if I can create my 'World' onstage.
So after nearly two years since I began composing this E.P. it is done. Sometimes I wondered where it was going, because often it seemed as though I'd never come up with anything worthwhile. But I should have known from past projects that things come together in their own time. I recently read something by Rilke which I'll end with: "Everything is gestation and then birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of a feeling come to completion, entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one's own understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born: this alone is what it means to live as an artist: in understanding as in creating."
August 5, 2011
Studio Thoughts (Part One)
Since November of last year, I have been recording new songs at Birdland studio. As always, my engineer Chris is the expert when it comes to recording and mixing: his skill and guidance are truly invaluable. I'm very pleased with the way the songs are sounding. There is still work to be done, not only on the songs themselves but with art work, photography and a video. I've completed the painting which will be used for the cover of the CD. Also, I'm making preparatory drawings for illustrations of the lyrics, which will be in watercolour and ink; these will be included in a special booklet and CD version of the E.P.
I take a long time putting out new material, and this is because the project has to go through a process of gestation; there is usually a mood or theme, and I will use this as a springboard. It might be months before I even sit down to compose the music, but I'll have things written down in the form of titles, verses and other jottings which will suggest a song. When the time comes to compose I will know a particular sound I want, so if I create something that acts as an anchor for a potential vocal, I'll continue with that sound. Sometimes I live with that sound for a while, and let it suggest a vocal melody; often I might feel completely at sea before I really get that anchor, and when that moment arrives I know that I can envisage something worth persevering with. For these new songs I purposely left things open for the studio work, which I hadn't done before; usually the backing tracks done at home aren't changed much in the studio, but this time I wanted room for change. This has brought an element of surprise when something new is tried within a song, even though it might not be completely radical. I've enjoyed working this way, which is why I'm relishing every moment in the studio, as the songs are in a state of transformation even now.
I started working on these songs at home in Sept 2009, so it has been a slow process to get where I am now. If it had been an album, I don't think I would have released any new material until 2012, and I wanted to do something sooner; an E.P. has enabled me to focus on just four songs and put more detail into them. I think I'm going to go over budget in the studio using the amount I would have for an album, but it's important to do it right. I hope the listener will truly be able to experience the 'world' of these songs. I found this quote from William Blake's 'Jerusalem' that I'd written out in my notebook: "I rest not from my great task! To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity..." I've been looking to Blake for inspiration because he had a 'vision' for his work, and proceeded on his own path by using his own methods; in my small way I'm trying to do the same.
April 3, 2011