Perhaps this sounds like the beginning of a children’s story, but the other day we saved the life of a bumblebee. We were walking up a pathway from the promenade to the park and Olivia heard a high pitched buzzing. On investigation in the wall, covered in undergrowth, a bumblebee was trapped in the silk of a small spider’s web. After much digging and scraping with a small stick we managed to free the creature and it triumphantly flew away. The very small spider looked rather upset and suggested that in the animal kingdom this is how it goes, “We trap each other” it told me, “And then we eat each other and that’s how we survive. Now you’ve helped the bumblebee escape and I might not come across a meal like that ever again, my spider children might starve”. I remembered the footage on television from nature shows where they showed lions bringing down gazelles and thinking as a child “Why don’t they go and rescue the gazelle?”. But, in this case it was because it was a bumblebee and from what I understand, the bees are in trouble at the moment and the more trouble they get in, the more trouble the world gets in, because they pollinate our crops, so I feel no guilt stealing dinner from the spider and setting the bumblebee free.
As week four of the lockdown begins I can’t imagine how it is for people confined to their flats, worried and wondering when it will end. At least here we have the sea, we can go down to the promenade and breathe in the salty air and be invigorated by the mass of water that stretches from the shore to the horizon in multiple shades of blue and green. Our friend Jack told us that over the hot Easter weekend the police were removing people from the beach. All this as we watch what happens in Sweden and especially in the capital city Stockholm where my daughter, her partner and my granddaughter live. There’s no closing of schools and shops, bars or restaurants, gatherings of up to 50 people are allowed. Only time will tell if they are making the right decision. The economy versus the ravaging of the vulnerable. I actually try not to read too much about the details anymore, I might skirt over some scary headlines, but there’s so many stories and differences of opinion about it all and the confusion only causes more anxiety. Death and conspiracy theories aren’t really the way I like to start my day. Fill your day with positive things instead and use the internet to discover wonderful things, not fueling negativity and despair. Research and listen to inspiring music, learn about interesting things, read the books you never have time for, watch interesting films, learn some French. You won’t have a chance like this again.
I know it’s going to drive you mad talking about this again, but today we were in the studio with the Space Summit project. Today I was reminding myself of the chords and parts for a song that were a little hard to remember until we realized that it was capo on the third fret. (CAPO – a clamp fastened across all the strings of a fretted musical instrument to raise their tuning by a chosen amount.) This forgetfulness happens when you write something and then move on. Even if you record it, you listen back sometime later and forget how you did it, despite it being you that wrote it. This is the case for my song More Is Less from Nightjar. I know I tuned the guitar weirdly, but I can’t quite figure out the shapes and what string was what. So, here’s some good advice for all budding singer-songwriters or composers, video yourself when you’ve consolidated the part so you don’t lose it in the long grass.
The studio was intense today, it often is, because it has to be right. Of course different people have a different idea of right. Some want pristine perfection, some want a collapsing sincerity and what’s right is subjective. It’s why Donald Fagen didn’t form Generation X. (On a tangent I was always mildly amused in the archive that alphabetically Generation X were followed by Genesis, Bon Iver by Bon Jovi.) We worked on two different songs today, on one I played tambourine and on the other guitar and bass (listen here). Percussion is a tricky skill, if you shake a tambourine over a backing track you’d better be in time. (I was happy to hear that the tambourine I used today, Dare bought in Bombay.) If you think too hard about it you lose the feel, if you are too casual about it you drift out of time, so the only way is to have a disciplined nonchalance, works every time. The songs I played guitar on had lots of holes in the rhythm, so it had to be dead on with the drums. It was acoustic 12 string and it took a lot of concentration. Then I had to write and play the bass part and that took some thinking and some counting and some use of that little finger. It’s the little finger that needs to be used in case of days like today. So more advice, use your little finger as much as you can so that when you have to use it, you have the strength and can control it. We will continue tomorrow with electric guitars as we build the song into its potential.
Music today has been slightly odd, I went to a real obscurity first. The Human Beast were a three-piece from Edinburgh, they only made one album called Volume 1 (1970) which sadly suggests they might have been planning a Volume 2 that never came to pass. There’s a cover version of Maybe Someday written by Mike Heron from the Incredible String Band (it was the opening track on their debut album released in 1966). The Human Beast are a Heavy Psych power trio and well worth investigation if you like this kind of thing.
Next came the Psychedelic Sixties Blossom Toes, a period piece, a little wacky at times but often transporting you to the era in a blissful nostalgia. Jim Cregan was in this band, you might remember him for playing the guitar solo on Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile) for Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel. He was also in Rod Stewart’s band for 20 years. He also played with Stud (1971), that included the other two members of Rory Gallagher’s Taste, John Wilson and Charlie McCraken. The band also featured John Weider who was with Family for a spell. In Stud he played bass, guitar, banjo, violin and cello. This led me to Family’s A Song For Me (1970) where Weider was also doing his musical instrumentalist thing.
So many records, so little time. One might say so only play the amazing ones, but what’s amazing is how other people see music, whether it be Generation X and Genesis or Bon Iver and Bon Jovi. My version of music is spread across a lot of records, but today it’s The Saddest House In Stockholm from Spirit Level, recorded live in the studio in Stockholm in one take. The song was written about a house I used to see every time I took the ‘pendeltåg’ (pendulum train) to the dentist. This is the train that goes back and forth from the city to the suburbs, hence the name. The house stood in the middle of the railway tracks, completely surrounded, I couldn’t ever see how you could enter the house. It was as if the owners wouldn’t sell and made the train company lay their tracks around it, but they left them no entry or exit. I took the ‘pendeltåg’ often because I was always at the dentist. I remember when she first looked in my mouth and said “Oh my god, who has done this to you?”. She said she’d never seen such amateurish dental work…but that’s another story.
The Saddest House In Stockholm
The saddest house in Stockholm
Remembers former glories
Of views without the railway tracks
And flats with many storeys
Its towers were a splendour
But now I just feel pity
To see the broken windows
And walls full of graffiti
I long to sit alone inside
And recreate the past
Imagining an antique clock
That ran a little fast
And suddenly, it’s all bare boards
And giant walls and ceiling
Witnessing this empty shell
That once was full of feeling
The rain beats on the rooftop
But the heart already stopped
The fading yellow Stockholm paint
Around the bend bulldozers wait
Their gnashing blades of blood and hate
They’re anxious just to satiate
Condemning her to her cruel fate
Her beauty seemed to act as bait
Her ugliness to take his shape
A shadow cast from his dark cape
That dwarfs her curves and crashes her gate
Her doors will split, and her stairs innate
And dust and rubble in the grate
She’s so young, but it’s too late
The saddest house in Stockholm
Settles on her rock
Remembers her friend
His fingers and hands
The ticking, though, has stopped
Spirit Level (1992)