My first album was recorded in 2004. It came about due to my acquisition of a Zoom MRS 1266 12-track digital home recording studio. The album was recorded fully on this device at my home in Pudsey. I was spending so much time with it that my partner began referring to it as my “other woman” and named it Claudia! As a result, rather tongue in cheek, on the rear cover of the album I credited the recording as having taken place at Claudia Studios!
I’d been performing live as an acoustic soloist for about three and a half years by then, but had been writing songs for twelve years and was desperate to get them recorded. Some already were. In fact everything that ended up on Ardent Reverie, had already been recorded on my earliest recording ventures in the mid-’90s. Those were done on a “boogie box” which was basically two tape decks, one of which could record an input and the contents of the other tape deck at the same time. That meant that you could build up multiple parts by recording, then swapping the tapes and repeating. The trouble is the quality isn’t great to start with, but it decreases further with each new take. To make matters worse, I improvised the drum sounds – I tapped a mic on the floor for the kick drum, struck dampened guitar strings as a snare and tapped the loose change in my pocket as a hi-hat! The results in terms of sound quality were terrible!
I subsequently recorded Lynette, Pressure Drive, Bad And Good and Slammin’ Jammin’ on a borrowed cassette 4-track, which was better quality, but I just didn’t have the time with it that I’d have liked. The majority of these early records featured electric guitars rather than acoustic. In 1999, I did an album on another borrowed 4-track which was acoustic based and was a mixture of covers and originals. This was just a cassette and was not of good enough quality to do anything with. One final pre-Ardent Reverie recording venture was at a proper studio, where I recorded a live demo of four covers for purposes of getting gigs. There was just no way I could afford the studio time to do the recording that I wanted though.
The main benefit of the Zoom 12-track, as far as I was concerned, was that it featured programmable drums and bass, which provided me with the opportunity to present my songs considerably closer to how I had envisioned them, with a full band sound, and with a decent quality end product. Whilst I had friends who could have laid down actual drum and bass parts for me, this feature meant that I could work to my own timetable and take as much time as I wanted. It took me a while to understand how to get the best out of the studio though and as such the drum and bass parts are not quite how I would have liked them on this record. Needless to say, the album was produced by yours truly.
For the cover I wanted a simple photo of me playing live. At the time, I was performing regularly at The Fox & Newt in Leeds, where they had commisioned their own “rogues gallery” of their regular acts. I got the permission of the photographer, Andrew Gilliver, to use the one he’d taken of me for the album cover.
For the title of the album I looked for a descriptive theme in the songs. What I came up with was burning passion and dreams. I then considered a variety of synonyms, with the help of a thesaurus. Fervent Reverie was a close contender, but I settled on Ardent Reverie. Distribution was a complete DIY job. The recording studio’s integral CD burner made the discs. At the time, I didn’t own a computer, so I printed the inlay cards and CD stickers on my dad’s computer. I put them all together by hand and sold them at gigs.
The songs on Ardent Reverie are my earliest, featuring everything I wrote from 1992-93.
Take Me Back is all about nostalgia for lost youth, which is a bit weird seeing as I was only 18 when I wrote it! It alternates between verses in A minor and choruses in A major, reflecting mixed emotions of sadness over long lost friends and happy memories of good times. The guitar break before the final verse was intended to be “Led Zeppelin-esque”!
A Love Of My Own reflects a naive 19 year old who was not having much luck on the women front! It’s a pretty cheesy one really. I was originally trying to get a bit of an Eddie Cochran feel, along the lines of Three Steps To Heaven, but it didn’t turn out quite so rhythmic. What is a little different about this track is rather than a guitar solo, I did a brass section, featuring multi-layered tenor horns.
Slammin’ Jammin’ is the only track that doesn’t feature acoustic guitar. The simple reason for that is that it just doesn’t work on acoustic. It’s all about a fictional dance craze. This was written in Autumn of ’92 and just weeks afterwards, World Wrestling Federation Superstars’ Slam Jam hit the UK charts! A particular feature of this track is the Brian May-style multi-layered guitars.
I regard Lynette as the first song I wrote. I had composed some simple instrumentals for my GCSE music about 3 years earlier – before I’d even begun to learn guitar. One of those, which was nothing more than a line of melody, then titled The Words Of Love, became a fully fledged song some 19 years later when I arranged it for guitar and set lyrics to it, renaming it I Will Cherish You, as part of the Bewilderment project. Some months before Lynette, I’d also written the riff to Pressure Drive and one verse of lyrics that I later anonymised to become the first verse of You’ll Always Be My Love, but Lynette was the first complete song. It’s a story of love at first sight at a wedding reception, based loosely on real events… I basically copped off at a wedding! The love bit was mere artistic licence! The riff is a great hook and the song as a whole is one of those annoyingly catchy ones! Again, I aimed for a Brian May-style guitar break and during the outro, two lead guitars with different effects – one with an auto-wah and one with an octave – duel from either speaker.
I’d Surely Die Without You was inspired by a girl I was chasing at the time. It’s a rare (for me) fingerpicked one. I did get into a bit of a rut with writing ballads in D major with similar chords and structure around this time, of which this is an example, but it is a nice, simple song.
The first riff I came up with became Pressure Drive. However, the song evolved considerably between its writing and the recording that ended up on Ardent Reverie. It was originally intended to be a fast, heavy rocker in the style of Motorhead and that’s how it was on those early boogie box and 4-track recordings. But to make it work with an acoustic guitar, I slowed it down and put a phase effect on the guitar. This worked really well and gave the song a whole different feel. The phaser on the dampened string strikes in the intro makes it sound like a helicopter! It’s an odd title, I know. It’s meant to be about being yourself and not submitting to whatever type of accepted norm you get pressurised into being.
The first lyrics I ever wrote were those of the first verse of You’ll Always Be My Love, except that they featured the name of my girlfriend of the time. I made it anonymous when I developed it into this song.
There are two main influences behind Bad And Good. The overall feel and riff were inspired by Queen’s Son And Daughter, although using open chords rather than Brian May’s single line riff. The middle section just before the guitar solo is a bit of a rip-off of the similar section in The Small Faces’ Tin Soldier. The song is about a strained relationship that somehow works and was based upon a previous relationship of mine – which ultimately didn’t work!
Kings Of The Sun, along with Bird On A Wire, came about from me picking out random film titles and using them as a starting point to write songs (unconnected with the films). For the content, I sort of pinched some ideas from The Beatles’ Sun King and also used something that another ex-girlfriend used to talk about which was self-hypnosis. I actually thought she was talking rubbish, but it gave me some ideas for this song! The song took on a new dimension with the interesting bass part that developed on this recording.
Bird On A Wire was one of the weakest tracks on my original boogie box sessions. It was originally in B major and played with power chords. To make it work on acoustic I changed the way I played it, changed it to C major and used open chords. The result was one of the standout tracks on Ardent Reverie. It became a favourite at The Fox & Newt.
Colour My Mind is the only co-written song on the album. I’d teamed up with a couple of guys at university with the intention of forming a band. Lee Williams was to be the singer. The band never really happened, but Lee and I did write this one song together. It began as his idea and he’d written all of the lyrics except for the heavy section and the last couple of lines. I contributed those, along with all of the music. Lee had also given me Slammin’ Jammin’ as a title, which I then wrote the song around.
Too Hot To Handle came about by me just laughing at my inability to hold down a steady girlfriend at the time! I particularly like the explosion at the end!
The final track, Try To Live Your Dreams, is the one on this album of which I am most proud. Very simple in structure, but very effective. I remember coming up with the idea on a National Express coach to Leeds from Nottingham and jotting down the first lyric ideas on a fag packet or whatever was to hand. The style is inspired by Brian May songs, ’39 and Let Your Heart Rule Your Head. The drum part on this recording rather took it away from the sound I had first imagined though.