This track started life as the incidental music for Annie’s adaptation and production of ‘The Breakfast Club‘ by her theatre group First not Last. Having seen the play the music was fixed in my mind as something school-related. I started to think of an old friend of mine who had only ever loved one girl, a girl he met at school, and naturally enough had ended up marrying her. I imagined what it would be like looking back on a lifetime of loving one person from a time when your children had grown up and left home and you were remembering the day you first met. I was really pleased to be able to weave in a reference to the song’s origins in the first two lines…
Although not the hardest song to write, the sixth number took the longest time for an idea to develop. I ended up putting the track on repeat and leaving it playing while I was doing the ironing!
This was around the time when Annie and I were having a bit of an altercation with an old friend, and along with listening to the music I was stewing about this as the hot iron flashed to and fro in time to the music. The words for the chorus gradually built up as the song repeated over and over. With the chorus solidly in place, the other verses were simply a matter of extending the story beyond its starting point and imagining the life of any lonely old man who has no-one left to dance with but himself. The final version retains certain echoes of said old friend while telling a generic story of loneliness in old age.
The only piece of original music on the album not to be written by Annie, Nostalgia was written for guitar by my elder daughter Natalie. I don’t know whether she expected me to write lyrics for it when she sent it to me, but it is such a hauntingly sad piece of music that I couldn’t help myself. The result, empowered by Annie’s arrangement and production skills, is for me the best song on the album (and also the shortest). Since the lyric is an amalgam of thoughts of loss: of a partner, or a daughter, or a father (from two perspectives) and also of hope for reconciliation, it is a very powerful song for me. Recording took several attempts before I could sing it without choking up.
Home Town was our fifth song and following on the heels of Broken Rules, Cry the Night Away and Summer Flight, ideas for all of which had come to me relatively quickly, I decided to try a couple of experiments of my own.
The first experiment was not to settle for the very first "song story" idea that I came up with. Instead I wrote three sets of lyrics to the music, intending to let Annie choose which one she liked best. As it turned out she chose the one I thought was the strongest so there was no dispute. The benefit of this approach was it gave me confidence that my strongest idea also made the best song (that I was capable of writing).
My second experiment was to attempt to draw directly on whatever creative force had been driving me up until that point. With the earlier tracks I’d been playing them over and over until the words started to come, or an idea for a story suggested itself. This time, I opened a new document, got myself ready to type and then played the music straight through, the idea being to type the first thing that came into my mind as the music was playing. The only preparation I did was a few minutes’ meditation, to try to connect with what you might call ‘my muse.’ I set the music playing, and started typing. At the end of the first run-through, I had written all but three lines of the song. I played the missing sections through again and after a few minutes, the right lines came to me. The whole process took little more than ten minutes for this song.
The third song to be written and for me the hardest, because Annie decided to play a trick on me and try “an experiment.” Instead of sending me a completed track to write to, she record an “intro” section, a “verse” section, a middle eight and an instrumental, and asked me to put them together in whatever combination I saw fit.
Finding myself without a concrete framework in which to build a story, I floundered about for a while before one or other of the sections (I forget which) began to make sense. Once I’d been able to come up with an idea, the structure of the song took shape and the rest of the lyric followed. Not an experiment I’d be keen to repeat any time soon!
Broken Rules was the first song we wrote. Annie was astounded that she had managed to write a complete song and I was even more astounded when lyrics started popping into my head as soon as I listened to it. I still think the end result is one of the strongest songs on the album and it has been universally well received by everyone we played it to, which was a great confidence booster.
The song is also notable for a spooky bit of synchronicity between us. The original version was two lines shorter (immediately after the middle eight) and we both came to the conclusion, independently and after we’d recorded it, that there was something missing from the song at this point. Annie wrote the extra few bars and the two missing lines suggested themselves to me immediately upon hearing the revision.
My personal favourite of all the music Annie wrote for this album, on the very first listening Summer Flight transported me back to the summer of 1977, lying on my back in Alexandra Park listening to the radio while trying (and failing!) to revise for my second year exams. I was also reminded of the previous magical summer when a delightful lady called Julie took me by surprise by inviting me to dinner. The strange-sounding lines
Long summer days and restless nights
You bring them back to me
Quails roasted under candlelight
Flying to be free
refer therefore not to an attempt to cook a quail over a candle, but rather to the meal we shared that evening and the fact that we ate by the light of candles. Incidentally the first and only time I’ve eaten quail.
Make It Happen is the second track Annie layed down and when it arrived in my Inbox we were still both flushed with the sense of achievement from finishing song #1. I think that feeling is apparent in the lyric for this number. We started to feel that nothing was beyond us – that if we wanted to reach for the dream it was there for the taking. All we had to do was Make It Happen.
The ninth and final original track from Annie, and for me it almost wrote itself. The beat of this track called up a memory of walking home from school with my best friend, both of us thinking the world was at our feet and no-one could stop us bulldozing the path to our future. There was the start of the story, but the song also tells how, looking back on that day from a time when you have already made your mark on the world and achieved some measure of success, still there’s nothing to beat that childhood feeling of freedom – kicking up the autumn leaves without a care. Finally, even though as kids you think your friends will always be there, all too often something comes between you and friendships are left behind in the rush for the top.
This was the eighth piece of music to arrive from Annie (of nine) but the very last lyric to be written. I found the melody line to be so evocative of something fragile and sylvan that I really wanted to write something that would do it justice, but unusually even after several listenings, nothing would come.
So I shelved it for a few weeks while I continued with Annie’s final track. When I eventually returned to it, the first line came to me immediately. It conjured an image of the fragile Earth orbiting in the vast blackness of space:
Sapphire of the skies, alone she flies through the dark
This was exactly what I’d been searching for. The story of the song, how the Earth is all we have to protect us from that blackness and how our mistreatment of it could so easily result in its destruction, followed naturally from that first line.