Everything In The World Is Fighting Everything In The Sky EP: A Partial History

Here’s a short essay I wrote for my new EP (released Nov 1st 2016)

On 22 December 1808 Ludwig Van Beethoven premiered several new works at a concert in the Theater an der Wien in Vienna. It was something of a disaster, the pick-up orchestra was so chronically under-rehearsed they had to restart one piece and the whole thing ran massively over time but some pieces were hailed as classics. One, Symphony no. 6 (the ‘Pastoral’ Symphony), had a programmatic nature, the 4th and 5th movements depicting a thunderstorm followed by a “Shepherd’s song of happy and thankful feelings after the storm”.

Sometime around 1918 the young Woody Guthrie experienced the terror of being caught in the path a cyclone with his family in Oklahoma. Writing in 1943 he described the scene

Bales of hay splitting apart blew through the sky like popcorn sacks. The rain burned hot. Everything in the world was fighting against everything in the sky. This was the hard straight pushing that levels the towns before it and lays the path low for the twisting, sucking, whirling tail of the cyclone to rip to shreds

In 1951 Italian artist Leone Tommasi began a series of sculptures inspired by Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. They were shipped to Argentina but remained in storage till 1962. at some point they were badly damaged and it wasn’t until 1975 that the statue representing the 5th movement, a male and female nude in an attitude of thanksgiving to God, were placed in the Buenos Aires Botanical Garden in the Palermo neighbourhood of Buenos Aires in Argentina where they remain to this day.

In 1983 I reconciled myself to the fact that I was never going to be as good a drummer as my friend Mark Nelson so I poured all my efforts into the Tatra Classic nylon string guitar (£29:95!) my mother bought me. A year later I formed a band with Mark and began writing an ambitious 3 part rock opera about nuclear war. Appropriately, given the theme, very little survived, but we did perform the instrumental 2nd movement ‘The Storm’ a few times live.

In 1997 George Lucas reedited Star Wars IV: A New Hope to make it look like Greedo shot first. Five years later Steven Spielberg followed suit, doctoring E.T. The Extra-Terrestial by replacing the agent’s guns with walkie-talkies.

In 2011 Ariel Hache visited the Buenos Aires Botanical Garden and photographed Tommasi’s 5th Movement statue.

In 2012 I wrote Fingernails and played it at The First Tuesday Songwriter’s Group. The same year Aimee Mann released her song Little Tornado. I misheard “Oh no, no we don’t, no we don’t know” as “Oh no, Noah don’t, Noah don’t know”.

The following year the misheard line found it’s way into Everything In The World Is Fighting Everything In The Sky. I tried to build the song on a beguiling 3/4 – 3/4 – 2/4 time signature I heard in Russian Hill by Jellyfish but when I performed it at the First Tuesday group I was too ill to put the effort into making it work properly and the song drifted into whatever time signatures felt natural and stayed that way.

In Oct 2013 Mark Nelson heard my demo of Everything and offered to remix it (i.e. mix it properly). Which I wilfully misunderstood as an offer to mix an EP. And play drums.

On Dec 3rd of that year I was teaching in a primary school. I had already written a song for the First Tuesday meeting that evening, but had a line going through my head and an idea of singing it over diminished chords. I wrote Me And The Devil in the school office during my lunch break. When I took it to the group that night they were very positive but Chris Hull said I should write a bridge. Which was obviously a ridiculous idea.

In Jan 2014 I wrote a bridge.

Later that year I start recording in earnest. Rachel McClean recorded cello in my front room, Lisa de’ Ville and Simon Broomhead sang at the studio and Joe Strange brought his Chromatic Harmonica. Liz Frencham sent bass tracks from Australia then sent more bass with some vocal tracks too. Mark set up half a kit, made notes on a flip chart and trusted me to run the board. Thanks to google translate and half the Argentinian population of Facebook I contacted Ariel Hache who gave me permission to use his photo and Simon J. Curd added the graphics.

Along the way there were the usual problems – computers crashed, guitars broke, breakdancing classes interrupted. Houses were moved, babies were born, traffic collided and countries were toured.

But no storms.

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My New EP Is Out On Nov 1st!

It’s been a long time in the works but my EP is FINALLY uploaded and ready to be released. Everything In The World Is Fighting Everything In The Sky features 3 songs and heads into darker and bluesier territory than my debut EP Let’s Build An Airport. It features the songs Fingernails, Me And The Devil and the Woody Guthrie-inspired title track.

You’ll be able to buy it through iTunes and Amazon, as well as directly from CD Baby and Bandcamp and stream it on Spotify (amongst others). If you buy it through Bandcamp you can get both EPs and the My Ride single in a ’25% off’ bundle. You can also pay far more out of the sheer altruistic goodness of your heart.

For a limited time only you can hear the demos of these songs here, here and here. Once the EPs out they’ll be replaced by the ‘official tracks’

And you can get a sneak peak of Me And The Devil as it appeared on Dean Jackson’s BBC Introducing and Steve Oliver’s Sunday Alternative.

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Writing Songs With – Charles Dickens: What Would Dickens Say?

With downloading we listen to everything in bits. Could you imagine what Charles Dickens would say if you said, ‘Could I just have one chapter?’ You’re creating a short story culture. What happened to narrative?

Tori Amos: Mojo Magazine May 2007

I love that quote from Tori. So wise. So perceptive. So wrong.

The truth is that one of the greatest English novelists did in fact publish full length novels like Hard Times, A Tale Of Two Cities and Great Expectations in weekly instalments. In his own way his creative strategy was a precursor to the digital downloads and the ethos of constantly releasing new ‘content’. In other words, if Dickens was a 21st century musician he’d be releasing his albums a song at a time as digital downloads.

Dickens’ example helps to confirm my belief that great art is often created by people who are not preoccupied with making great art. Think of Bach having to come up with a new piece every Sunday for the church service. Or the Beatles cranking out a new record every three months for Parlophone. Or Motown literally modelled on that shining beacon of creativity, the Detroit car manufacturing industry. Or Dickens (and Conan Doyle, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Flaubert, not to mention Melville, Eliot, Hardy, Trollope, Thackeray and Beecher Stowe) producing the paper equivalent of a weekly soap opera.

But to say Dickens published in instalments doesn’t give us the full picture. Dickens didn’t just complete a novel and then drip feed it to the public. He wrote them as he went. It’s normal to read a novel not knowing how it’s going to end. It’s more unusual when you realise that the author might not know how it’s going to end either! But it gets better than that. When Dickens published The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist in monthly instalments, for ten months he was writing both at the same time! Three months after finishing The Pickwick Papers he started writing (and publishing) Nicholas Nickleby even though he was still working on Oliver. He only started to get ahead of schedule on Oliver after signing a publishing deal for the finished novel a few months before the serialisation was completed.

Publishing as you go has some benefits.

Deadlines are your friend

I’m a fan of deadlines . Dickens’ writing commitments kept him sharp and made him prolific.

Writing without “time to reconsider, to change [his] mind, to go back, to cancel, to rewrite” sometimes delivering the chapters to the printers at the very last minute, it killed any chance to second guess himself and succumb to the paralysis of analysis.

It was incredibly hard work. He pushed himself even harder than he needed to, working “furiously fast to give himself free time. He lived hard and took hard exercise. His day began with a cold shower, and he walked or rode every day if he could”. He was suspicious of taking too long a break from writing saying “I feel it better and wiser to keep near my oar”.

At the risk of stating the obvious, constantly working is the best way to improve at your craft. And nothing makes you work like a deadline.

In his biography of Paul McCartney Barry Miles writes

The speed of artistic creation varies enormously from artist to artist…but all would agree that the printer’s boy waiting in the hall, a one-man show in six months’ time or a block booking of a recording studio in three weeks’ time exert a powerful influence on the creation of art.

Miles is almost quoting composer Rossini who said

Nothing primes inspiration more than necessity, whether it be the presence of a copyist waiting for your work or for the prodding of an impresario tearing his hair… I wrote the overture to La Gazza Ladra the day of the opening in the theatre itself, where I was imprisoned by the director and under the surveillance of four stagehands who were instructed to throw my original text through the window, page by page, to the copyists waiting below to transcribe it. In default of pages, they were ordered to throw me out the window bodily….

Audience Feedback

Publishing as he wrote meant Dickens was in constant contact with his audience. The feedback from those reacting to his work allowing him to make adjustments ‘in real time’.

Stories changed shape in the process. The Old Curiosity Shop grew from a collection of short short stories into a full length novel due to financial pressures on the magazine Dickens was editing. Biographer Claire Tomalin says “[By April he was improvising] from week to week a novel he had not even thought about in January.”

In David Copperfield there is an unpleasant character called Miss Mowcher who is a dwarf and beauty specialist. Mrs Seymour Hill, a female dwarf and chiropodist (and neighbour of Dickens) threatened to sue for defamation. To escape a lawsuit Dickens offered to change the plot and transformed Mowcher into a sympathetic character.

Not everything we try will work and sometimes (especially with larger scale works) it might be a good idea not to spend three years working on something before you find out whether it’s any good…

Peer Feedback

Dickens also got feedback from reading chapters aloud to his friends which “lifted his spirits” and gave him intense pleasure “nourishing his belief in himself and helping to carry him through … pain and unhappiness.”

In this he stands in a long tradition of mutually supportive schools, movements and artists collectives from the Inklings and the Bloomsbury Group to Jack Hardy’s Songwriter’s Exchange (the inspiration for First Tuesday).

Wizard Of Oz lyricist Yip Harburg was part of another New York artists group

Starting in the 1920′s, and continuing through the 1930′s] we got together almost every night, often at the Gershwins, where there were two pianos, and we could play everything we had written that week and see how it went over. The others gave you criticism or an idea – there was a real camaraderie. People took fire from each other. It was like the days of Samuel Johnson and Fleet Street. We all wrote for each other and inspired each other. You wanted to come up every week with something worthwhile. We were all interested in what the other fellas were doing. Sometimes you would hear the whole score of a show before it opened. We ate it up, analysed it, as the composer played it over and over at the piano.

There was a kind of healthy competition among us. You would not dare to write a bad rhyme or a cliched tune. We had such great respect for each other’s work, and the integrity of our music and lyrics. The give and take added to the creative impulse. It was an incentive, it opened up new ideas, and made it necessary to keep working.

Sources: Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin, Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now by Barry Miles and Fascinating Rhythm: The Collaboration Of George And Ira Gershwin by Deena Rosenberg

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New Notts Music Explosion!

There are a whole new bunch of great Notts music coming out in the next few months, some of it from First Tuesday members, former pupils and collaborators.

Following up his excellent Aeon album Scor-Zay-Zee is releasing the Gangsta Wraps (Take The Throne) EP on Sep 30th.

Copper and Lace the debut album from Americana masters The Most Ugly Child is out on 25th Nov. Mountain Schmountain‘s second album Skate Chills is already out (check out the Dewey Decimal video).

Simon Curd (of Mou Schmou) did the artwork for my new EP and Mark Nelson mixed it. Mark’s band Amazing Planes have a single Good Thing out now from their forthcoming album Lost In Translation.

Joe Strange‘s long awaited album A History Of Birds should be out any day now as should the Garlic EP from Sea Monster Eyes

If you catch The Edi Johnston Bit performing live you’ll be able to get your hands on his ukelele-powered comedy hip hop EP Rock Paper Scissors right now. A digital release is coming soon is out now on Bandcamp!

Speaking of hip hop – the crazy/prolific Bru-C has a fantastic track called Marimba which he’s gonna make downloadable when it reaches 10k plays – which surely isn’t going to take long.

And last, but not least, my EP Everything In The World Is Fighting Everything In The Sky will be out Nov 1st. You heard it here first.


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While You Sleep The World Still Turns Without You

During the time you are unconscious planet Earth continues it’s rotational cycle independently of your will or observation. (So get over yourself).
M.C. Escher is my favourite MC.
Download     mp3 demo

Behind The Song

Written for FAWM 2011 as part of a challenge to write using the I-V-vi-IV chord progression, this was my second ever FAWM song. It cycles through all 12 keys (and then some) backwards through the circle of fifths. The progression is D – A/C# – Bm – G, then G – D/F# – Em – C etc.

The I-V-vi-IV and all variations thereof is the most overused chords sequence bar none, indeed shortly after writing this I banned my self from using it and have only used it 2 or 3 times in the last 6 years. But I had the idea to have the patterns overlap, with the last chord of the first progression become the first chord of the next progression. Or to put it another way, the IV chord of the first key becomes the I chord in the new key. Or to put it yet another way, to trick you into thinking you’re hearing a four chord pattern when it’s really a series of three chord pattern as follows

D A/C# Bm
G D/F# Em
C G/B Am
F C/E Dm
Bb F/A Gm
Eb Bb/D Cm
Ab Eb/G Fm
Db Ab/C Bbm
Gb Db/F Ebm
B F#/A# G#m
E B/D# C#m
A E/G# F#m

and back to

D A/C# Bm

For the lyrics I wanted something circular in nature. I started singing “life is like a wheel” but I came up with this and thought it was more meaningful

While You Sleep
The World
Still Turns

(repeat till drowsy)

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