My second album, Life?, was recorded in 2004, at “Claudia Studios”, straight after recording Ardent Reverie, and released in early 2005. It was self-produced in the same way as Ardent Reverie, but I was beginning to get the hang of the 12-track and was able to be a little more experimental with the process.
Unlike the songs on Ardent Reverie, which all came in quick succession in an intense period of songwriting, these songs represent a period of 7 years or so of sporadic songwriting. When I began recording all of my songs on “Claudia”, I knew that because of the number of songs, there needed to be three albums and I wanted them to reflect my development as a songwriter by having one album with the earliest, one with the middle stuff and one with the latest songs. That presented a dilemma in that I’d written a bunch of songs in 2000 around a theme and to keep them together and keep the chronology across the three albums, I’d have to have an imbalance in the numbers of songs per album. I decided to split the 2000 songs, with Long Way From Me and The Ocean, You And Me ending up on Life? and the rest ending up on Mercurial Moods.
I decided to name the album after the track, Life, with the addition of a question mark, which I thought was thought-provoking, presenting a variety of interpretations. This led to the idea for the artwork, where, with the help of some software, I was able to turn half of my face into a zombie! The background to the cover is looking out to sea at Pittenweem, in Fife, Scotland. The rear of the cover featured a shot out to sea from the Isle of May.
The title track came about from noodling around with a bottle neck with the guitar open tuned to D major, in 1994. I was in a philosophical mood and the second verse – surreal as it sounds – is exactly what had happened to me the night before. Its initial working title was Introspective Song. The recording has more extensive instrumentation than most of my recordings, with two acoustic guitars, two electric guitars, blues harp, bass and drums, in order to build to a big sound for the climax. This was a particularly quick one to write, completed in full in one morning.
Also written in ’94, She Left Me is another love at first sight story, based in real life. It’s an accurate account other than the love bit! The guitar solo is inspired by one by Dave Davies of The Kinks, in a live version of Celluloid Heroes.
Let It All Hang Out is a lot of fun, all about boys’ crazy nights out. It’s a funk-rocker with lots of Jimi Hendrix-style chords. This was written at the end of ’95, whilst I was in Strange Daze, and was performed a number of times live by the band.
The Ocean, You And Me is a love song that compares the singer’s lover to the sea. It’s inspired by the setting of an actual holiday romance, in St Ives, Cornwall. The musical style of this one is a gentle, swaying beat, intended to reflect lapping waves and is influenced by The Jam’s English Rose. A tenor horn plays on the intro and also provides a pleasant counter melody in the last verse.
Long Way From Me, all about the trials of long-distance love, is my favourite song on the album. The song as originally written, featured a whistled outro, but I couldn’t make this work either live or on record. So when I play it live I bring it to a close at the end of the last chorus refrain and on record, a guitar solo plays to fade.
I wrote all of the music and most of the lyrics to Prejudice in 1993 in and amongst the songs that wound up on Ardent Reverie. I couldn’t settle on a chorus or title though, so it went onto the back burner and wasn’t completed until a year later. It seems obvious, but the word, “prejudice” didn’t pop into my head in relation to the song for ages. Once it did, the very simple chorus tied up the song. The main bulk of the song is inspired by a mixture of songs by The Who – the riff by Run Run Run and the verses and bass solo by My Generation. A robot vocal effect for the spoken middle section seemed very appropriate. The guitar solo is again influenced by Dave Davies.
Slum With A View is the only song on the album to have another writer. It started off as a poem by a friend of mine, Leki McCarthy, which was given to me in 1994 to try and make a song out of it. It wasn’t straightforward as the structure of the lyrics was originally a thirteen line verse followed by an eleven line verse!
The End Of The Line gives away the frustration I was feeling by 1995 in terms of getting nowhere with my music. It’s kind of the antithesis of Try To Live Your Dreams.
Nothin’ But Trouble was my attempt, in 1994, to write a blues song with slightly unusual structure, but with utterly stereotypical lyrics. It was fun to record and I was particularly pleased with the blues harp part.
Just A Dream Till Then was written in 1999 after a three year absence of any songwriting. It was typically inspired by a breakup. This recording turned out with a bit of a country feel, which hadn’t really been in mind when it was written.
Sour Milk Sea was written in early ’96 for Strange Daze. It was another one hurriedly jotted down when it came to me on the National Express coach. I was familiar with a former band of Freddie Mercury’s with the same name and had thought it would make a good name for a song. I found out years later that it was the name of a George Harrison song and Freddie and his pals had thought it would make a good name for a band! I can’t really explain what the lyrics are all about! This song was in fact originally recorded by Strange Daze on a cassette 4-track.
Life’s What You Make It was another one with a big gap in starting and completing its writing. The music was completely written in 1993, but I didn’t come up with any lyrics for it for two years! I’m particularly proud of this recording. I was aiming for something epic and anthemic like We Are The Champions, which was the main influence for the lead guitar part. The multi-layered vocals on the “la la la…” part are inspired by another Queen song, The Prophet’s Song. There are lots and lots of vocal parts on there to achieve that big choir sound at the climax of that section. I got some cool sound effects out of “Claudia” for the ending.