Eloise the project visual artist asked me the question “Is this church?” during the first session. Both Eloise and I have roots in the Christian faith but I guess most of the time we might describe ourselves as on the periphery of the established church, dipping in from time to time. I couldn’t answer a definitive yes or no. I think what she was alluding to and what I have begun to recognise is that, as artists, we have found a home in this project, somewhere we feel we belong. I’m going to explore that more in future projects I expect.
Shane has been my primary songwriting partner for the project and sending my initial musical sketch to him to come up with melody lines, harmonies, hooks and fresh verse has become a significant part of my writing process. Shane’s instrument is the drum kit, but he’s got such a good ear for melody and has a unique quirky mastery over the English language due to him being a writer.
The starting point for this song was Shane playing the drums. He’s such a great drummer, but his main role during the sessions has been as photographer, and I desperately wanted him to play on at least one of the tracks so he put down his camera for this one. He suggested listening to a Blockheads song and repurposing the groove. I then played around with some chords I was enjoying on the piano and the song started to take shape. Shane came up with the melody for the first half, all be it with some Beatlesy lyrics he’d penned just to get the melody down and I wrote the melodies for what I call “the tangle” at the end.
This song is a way of me expressing my core values and some of the ideas around what “church” is and might be. At the centre is LOVE. It’s everything in my world, it’s God, it’s purpose to life and it’s the thread of goodness that I feel blessed to be aware of throughout my life in many different manifestations.
The song is a collaboration. I asked Eloise to provide me with quotes and poetry and after a reflective period of about two weeks reading the poems pinned to my whiteboard in the studio, I was finally able to nail down my lyrics for the first half of the song and weave ideas from the poetry of RS Thomas, Yeats, Carole Ann Duffy and Eloise’s into what I call “the tangle” at the end of the song.
It’s recorded in Gloucester Guildhall. I’ve been working in this place on projects since 2000 and visiting as a member of the audience for all sorts of brilliant performances by amazing artists. It seemed fitting that I should bring the song that expresses what I truly and deeply believe in to a place that has a rich and strong tradition of music making and for myself and many is the heart of live music in the city.
To share the same performance space and to quietly stake a place in the history of music making at Gloucester Guildhall amongst the great and famous (Oasis, Radiohead, Mercury Rev, Eliza Carthy come to mind) has a similar surreal effect on me as paying tribute to Aethelflaed.
It is also fitting that I was able to invite my friends Katherine, Tim, Helen, Stuart, Vicki and Seb who share the faith I have, if not the sentiments in the song to sing the lead parts and make up the band with my closest songwriting collaborator Shane taking a break from photography to play drums, Colin and Charlotte who I play in a band with on guitars along with Charlie who has brought along his guitar and amazed the audience at the Guildhall open mic for many years, me on piano and an old best friend from university Stuart on bass who also sang some brilliant harmonies. It also features one of three scratch choirs that were assembled with the help of Vicki who also led the choirs, helping the singers to learn the songs quickly and get prepared for the recordings. If you listen carefully you’ll hear my original layered harmonies from the initial demo recording.
If you're wondering about the film. That's my eldest son Euan. Nikola and I reviewed her footage and edit from the Guildhall session and we agreed that it needed something dynamic to rescue it as a lot of the imagery was static, lacking movement. So I asked Chris to shoot some additional footage on Selsley Common one evening and then we slotted some bits into Nikola's edit replacing some of the shots that weren't working. It's not a masterpiece, but it was fun and nice to pay Euan some pocket money for his excellent work as an actor!
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