The Seagull Song

The evolution of a song. This started off two years ago as an exercise in lyric writing for an online course (MOOC) on songwriting by Berklee College of Music. The result of that exercise was a song called The Letter which was described at one open night as a sort of country & western reggae song. Then about 6 months ago I wanted to write something in the DADF#AD tuning that was a bit more exciting so I decided to use the words from The Letter. It still didn’t really work!

Then one evening I was with my songwriting mentor and friend Vincent Burke and he had a go at the lyrics while I was playing the guitar. Instead of ‘I’m sending you a letter’ he wrote ‘I’m sending you a seagull’ and then he also came up with a new chorus and a great verse – the one about sending you a song and the lines ‘maybe I’m a memory falling from the blue, memories can cut like glass, cut you through and through’. I liked what he had done and I really liked ‘the seagull’ but I had a problem with it making some kind of sense.

Then my birthday came along and an artist friend and swimming buddy called Pip Tunstill gave me a little present. It was a small white box and when you opened it up there was a seagull and the sound of the seashore. Synchronicity … serendipity … I then reworked the lyric so that it made sense (to me at least) and played the new version at a few open mics and at Dermot Jones’ 50th birthday party. It was beginning to make sense.

I kept fiddling and added a short guitar instrumental after the second verse and an outro at the end to tie up all the loose ends and then it seemed to be done. The Seagull Song. So many contributed to its creation which is rather lovely. 🙂

Making Love, Music and Silence

Music and love making are supposed to be wonderfully spontaneous but are there things that you can do to ensure that everything comes together?

The Never Wilbys get together to play some music – Kitchen Hero from Jonathan Buckley on Vimeo.

I guess we all want certain things from the music we make together: harmonies, mindful jamming, order, live performances, to hear the sound of own voices. In the Never Wilbys, we share a love of playing and the end product ranges from the noisy to the heartfelt and beautiful.

Are we just looking for one night stands or do we want a relationship; to work a few songs up to the point where they are really tight and refined? For myself I think it would be great to really know and refine a few songs so that we could improvise and add to them confident in the knowledge that we truly knew them. We could give a performance that would delight everyone. But I also like the one night stands and playing new songs!

I did ask if anyone had any songs that they wanted to work up and we came up with a few. But how do we make that happen? My thought was that each of us should take responsibility for our song, make sure that we know it, and have some ideas on how the rest of the band might play it. Usually when we get together we just get on and play which is great. But I guess we all go away with ideas on what might work better: use silence more, work on harmonies, try not to speed up, etc.

How do you get a band to work together effectively? Constructive feedback can be good and recording what you play. I’ve tried to tone down my voice because listening to recordings made me realise that I have a tendency to bellow. And last time around Vince said I was ‘speeding up’ and Ben said I was not pausing in Venus. That is really helpful.

I do like the recordings because it’s difficult to hear how you sound when you are playing. And every now and then I actually like the recordings. From last time we got together I thought ‘Venus’ had a bit of a groove going and ‘Heros’ was really nice.

If I look back over some of the other recording it is when we  just kept going, jamming on something that we entered a whole new realm of music making. Its great because we start talking to each other musically. It’s more in the moment as opposed to linear progress through a song. And if we really knew our material it would be easier to more of that.

Some time back I did a blog post on David Byrne’s book How Music Works. I never knew that solos evolved because the band was hot, the dance floor was full and they needed to keep playing that popular section for the dancers. Byrne also notes that ‘tight’ doesn’t mean everyone plays exactly to the beat; it means ‘everyone plays together’: ‘the emotional centre is not the technical centre, that funky grooves are not square and what sounds like a simple beat can either be sensuous or simply a metronomic timekeeper’.

So maybe it’s more important to play ‘together’ than ‘in time; a bit like the difference between having a relationship and going on a date. As a relationship develops then there will be new levels of intimacy and the desire to ensure that the other person has a good time … or sounds good. I guess it might be about delaying one’s own gratification, control, rhythm, letting go of inhibitions, and really feeling the beat. If we are going to play together then perhaps we need to learn how to dance around each other, give and take, and communicate

And the other thought I had was that when we play together, we should make a point of performing John Cage’s Four minutes thirty three. Nothing like an empty cup to start off with.

Hey Hey

This is a cover of the Big Bill Broonzy song. I was taught it by legendary British folk singer and songwriter, and great accoustic blues guitar player, Wizz Jones. It was recorded on my phone in the cafe at Tooting Bec Lido. Bit rough but at last getting a bit of a groove and snap to the song. It was also covered by many others including Eric Clapton who had these lyrics with the song (I haven’t managed to sing and play at the same time yet :))

Hey hey. Hey hey, baby, hey.
Hey hey. Hey hey, baby, hey.
I love you baby,
Sure ain’t gonna be your dog.

Hey hey. Hey hey, baby, hey.
Hey hey. Hey hey, baby, hey.
My arms around you baby,
All I can say is hey.

Hey hey. Hey hey, baby, hey.
Hey hey. Hey hey, baby, hey.
I love you baby,
Sure ain’t gonna be your dog.

Hey hey. You lost your good thing now.
Hey hey. You lost your good thing now.
You had me fooled,
I found it out somehow.