The Inside Story On The Paul Curtis Version Of Sweet Lady Genevieve

Well the voting’s well under way now, but there’s only a short time left and I still need as many votes as possible – every vote counts, so if you haven’t yet done so please vote for my entry to the Kinks Covers Competition.  Listen to the track and vote here:

I thought it might be interesting to tell you how my interpretation of Sweet Lady Genevieve came about.  I happened upon the competition quite by chance, but this was like my dream competition, so I immediately became totally focussed on getting an entry in.

I decided that I didn’t want to do one of the best known Kinks tracks, that I expected a lot of other people would do, and I also wanted to do one that I hadn’t played before, so that I could approach it completely fresh.  I’d had a go at playing Sweet Lady Genevieve before, but never learnt it properly, so it ticked both boxes, and it also happens to be one of my most favourite Kinks songs, so that was decision made.

I can’t remember exactly what order I came up with the aspects of my recording that were unique to my version, so I’ll just go through them in a logical order.  I really like the bass part on the original version, so I kept that roughly the same.  In fact it’s slightly simpler on my version because of the limited time I had, which I wanted to invest more in my own touches.  The drums I’ve changed quite a bit.  The kick drum hits the quaver just after the third beat of the bar, rather than the quaver before the third beat that Mick Avory played.  The high hat plays quavers rather than crotchets as on the original, which seems to drive my version on more, whereas The Kinks’ version has more of a plodding feel.  This more driving feel is emphasised by the tempo I’ve used, which is just a fraction faster than the original.  The Kinks’ version actually speeds up slightly as it goes on, starting at between 116 and 118 beats per minute and finishing between 120 and 122.  I’ve used a steady 124 beats per minute throughout.  The third significant difference with the drums is that on the “Rock you, hold you…” sections, I drop in an extra strike of the snare drum on the semi-quaver before the third beat.

As a tenor horn player, an easy way of putting my own mark on the recording was to stick some tenor horn on there.  I replaced the harmonica from the original with a tenor horn section.  Unfortunately, the tenor horn being an E flat instrument and the song being in A major, meant that the tenor horn part was in F# major, i.e. six sharps.  In lamen’s terms the key is a bugger to play in!  To give it an extra something I ran an arpeggio under the intro section, which actually comes in on its own for two bars first.

I wanted to put on some multi-layered electric guitar harmonies, à la Brian May, which I put on the second verse only and I was really pleased with the effect.  I did experiment with doubling up the tenor horn section with electric guitar harmonies on the outro, but I thought it sounded too muddy.  Then I tried ad libbing an electric guitar solo in the background over the outro, but again wasn’t keen on the result, so I discarded the electric guitar altogether on the outro.

That brings us to the backing vocals.  I thought that the verses lent themselves to a backing vocal style like that on Somebody To Love by Queen or certain ELO tracks, i.e. “answering” rather than backing in places and in a falsetto style.  Having worked out where to put the backing vocals it actually required me to add two words to the lyrics, so “So bright” was added after the “Once under a starry sky” line!  I maximised use of the backing vocals in order to contrast with the original version, so you’ll hear them where there weren’t any on the original.  But, just to make further contrast, I didn’t put backing vocals on the “Take you in my arms” lines and instead played the relevant parts on the tenor horn.  The recording of the backing vocals was the most intensive process.  Each line of the three part harmonies was recorded three times to try and make it sound like a bigger choir.  So, you’re actually hearing ten voices including the lead vocal.  I started the track differently with an acapella chorus of the main “Sweet Lady Genevieve” line, before going into the tenor horn section riff.

I thought hard about how I could do something different with the lead vocal.  I considered what I regarded to be the stand out track on Ray Davies’ “See My Friends” album, which was Paloma Faith’s version of “Lola”.  She made very subtle changes to the melody by going up the register on “… Soho” and “… cola”, and down the register on the second “…cola” of the verse, whereas in each case the original remains on the same note.  This, I thought, worked to great effect, so I thought how I could do something similar.  I went down the register rather than up, on the first “Sweet Lady Genevieve” of the chorus, and came up with something rather less subtle with the final “Sweet Lady Genevieve” line of the chorus, traversing an arpeggio before hitting a climatic high note at the end.  I believe I succeeded in giving the song a new hook there!

The final difference is with the outro.  I was after a round of intertwining vocal lines in the style of The Beach Boys, such as in “God Only Knows”.  I did a fade out rather than a definite ending.

So that’s how I did it.  Hope you found that interesting, and don’t forget to vote!!

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