This is the eleventh of my ongoing series of blog posts on the Making Of my new album as Granfalloon, Calendar - Volume 1. To read the first in the series go here.
Track 11 - A YEAR AFTER THE PARTY DIED
(Your local music venue)
This is a song inspired by music venues. Here’s a brief history of my… history with music venues…
My love affair with music began comparatively late as far as musicians go. I think I wrote my first song at 17, spent my college years writing 3 songs a day, then spent my university years trying and failing to form a band and eventually played my first live show at the age of 21 (maybe 22) years old in the fine city of Preston.
Having freshly graduated with a degree in Avant-Garde music from UCLAN in 2003, I took the obvious next career step of pursuing a job in serving alcohol to people in pubs. The pay wasn’t great so I had to work a lot of them. A working day could entail between 3 and 5 different pubs between the hours of 10am and 4am. One of these pubs was a newly opened music venue called The 12 Bar. It was owned by a couple who had just moved from Doncaster, called John and Be.
John Bates was a larger than life character and, depending on which stories you believed, his background was in the 1960’s graphic design boom, he was a 70 year old former-millionaire, who had lost all his money due to some nefarious conspiracy, AND he was the best man at Peter Stringfellow’s first wedding. He stalked around The 12 Bar premises like a cross between an unshaved preening peacock and a proud father giving his wedding speech, dispensing stories and cracking jokes.
John LOVED music. He lived and breathed it. He took me on as a young barman in 2003 and not long after he had me putting on gigs and doing sound for the bands. Every shift was a lesson in music history, be it folk, rock, jazz, country, soul, bluegrass, ska, blues, or punk (blues and punk were his two favourites). He recommended more music to me than anyone I’d met since my songwriting mentor Steve Gunter.
Wild Billy Childish, Big Star, Safe As Milk by Captain Beefheart, Emmylou Harris, everything on Stiff Records, Taj Mahal, Fairport Convention, The Reverend Horton Heat, We’ve Got A Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It, the list of artists and albums and labels he put my way was endless.
The 12 Bar was imbued with a special atmosphere and felt like a place where everyone was welcome… locals and students rubbed shoulders easily and the venue played host to some wonderful acts. This was where I felt a part of something. The people of Preston that frequented these gigs were warm and welcoming. It felt like a family. John and Be, in particular, felt like surrogate parental figures to me.
When The 12 Bar went under and it got bought out by their competitors (a conglomerate of businessmen who had owned venues in Yorkshire during the early 2000s Indie-Dance boom), I tried to make it work but it was never a good fit. If a venue isn’t a home, if it’s just a business, it never feels right to me. That John Bates-bluster probably got under my skin early.
It was the same family-feeling I got from The Mad Ferret back in 2007 when I met Frasier Boon, who had just moved into the premises. He had a very different character to John. He was less preening peacock, more silverback gorilla… but there was that feckless enthusiasm for music under the bluff exterior. So I got on board and put on the first of many shows there (it was Wave Machines, Seven Seals, my old band thee Uncomfortables, and Ivan Campo - still have great memories of that one) and we went on to create a music festival there and lay the foundations for that same kind of magic that I’d experienced at The 12 Bar. We had some good years there. These venues and the people I worked with probably spoiled me as I’ve struggled to find venues and promoters who match these principles and priorities since.
The Ferret environment from around 2007 and for the following 5 years felt like the stuff of legend to me as I got to grips with working live sound and putting on gigs. I made some great friends and again started to find that family feeling which is something, looking back, I realise I’ve been trying to replace ever since. It felt natural to portray the characters around the venue as characters from history, literature, pop culture, and mythology. Captain Ahab, Cupid, Methuselah, Saint Peter, Lothario, even the Devil all get their turn: All coming to terms with their own mortality and the end of something special…
By this point, I’ve spoken at length in the previous blog entries about some of the pitfalls and concerns I faced with this album. I was keen to keep it on the right side of the Tom Waits/Musical theatre see-saw*
Following on from helping me with ‘Please Write Responsibly’, Dom Major helped me rework this one. The Verse originally had a long non-repeating line of chords which ran…
Bm |D F#7 |G |F#7 |D Em7 |F#m7 Gmaj7 |F#
We simplified and retained only the first quarter of this chord progression: Bm, D and F# (no dominant 7th’s!) for most of the song though the third Verse still felt it wanted that longer progression so we modified that section using the original chords, into a self-styled ‘Middle 8’.
We also switched the some chords in the chorus to the relative major or minor chord, which I find is always a useful trick if you’ve become jaded with a song. Switching an E minor out for a G major, or a D major out for a B minor, can just give you that subtle change in flavour you need to re-invigorate your excitement for a melody.
With the bones of the track down, I had Andy Lyth come in to play some banjo on it, and add some drums where it needed it (it didn’t need much). Daz Woodcock recorded some bass on the track, Dom some guitar, and SJ Pearson came to add some vocals. Robin Koob (Run Remedy) also dropped by to have a bit of a fiddle and pepper the track with some improv violin parts.
I had half an idea to record something in the vein of Bowie’s ‘Memory of a Free Festival’. I wanted everyone involved in the album, singing the chorus as a refrain with sparse instrumentation. An outro to put the album to bed (before the dawning of the next day with ‘Rushmore’). This being the last track of the album we recorded, we sadly ran out of time so I never got my Bowie-esque outro, I have to pause the album when I play it and imagine the refrain happening before I let ‘Rushmore’ play. One of the many examples of why I always wish I could move more quickly when recording albums. Those cats rarely herd themselves swiftly though.
A PLEA FROM YOUR LOCAL MUSIC VENUE:
You can read more and pledge help and donations to The Ferret in Preston at... https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/p/savetheferret
And buy tickets for fundraiser events at...
'Memory of a Free Festival' - David Bowie
'Frank’s Wild Years' - Tom Waits
Only one more song on Volume I to break down now. Hopefully the ‘Rushmore’ blog post will be out next week. Thank you for your patience over the Winter break. In other news, we are well under way with recording both Volume II and Volume III. I’m looking forward to finally realising this triple album in the way it feels it deserves.
So it goes.
*Tom Waits. Tom Waits is the right side of that see-saw.