The last song on the album also happens to be the last one we wrote, and is unique in that it came to me already half-formed.
It started life as a piece originally composed by Annie for a Chorlton Players’ stage production of ‘Live Like Pigs’ by John Arden in 2008. The play centres around the feelings of travelling folk in the 20th century, and Annie had written a couple of verses to set the scene for the play.
My challenge, therefore, unlike the way we usually work, was to pick up the threads of the story Annie had started and find a way to complete it. I let the ideas stew for half a year before I was nudged into completing the song in July 2009.
Incidentally, ‘Slobuzenja’ is a Romany word that means ‘freedom’ but which has also come to refer to the diaspora of the Roma into western Europe and the USA following the abolition of slavery in Romania.
The second track followed literally right behind the first – Annie’s music arriving barely a week after I’d put the lyrics of Rainy Day Delusion to bed.
My mind still filled with thoughts of stalkers and deluded people, I remembered the flashing smile and dark hair of someone I’d recently met. That was enough to set me on a train of thought of how chance meetings can change people’s lives when they least expect it, and how dangerous and destructive such changes can be (if you let them).
The fourth song from Annie landed in my Inbox in the middle of summer 2006 and it would be hard to imagine a sunnier melody. It immediately conjured up memories of the previous summer when we had taken my daughters on a fabulous family holiday to Greece.
With such vivid images pulsating through my mind, this soon became another of those songs that virtually wrote itself. The only thing that gave me pause was whether to include any lyrics on the quiet and (relatively) mournful intro. Here again though, the contrast between the sadness of the start and the jollity of the main part of the tune had a very obvious parallel between the joy and laughter of that holiday, and what had happened five years earlier.
Writers are always being told to “write what you know.” So I did.
One of only two songs we wrote in 2007 – quite the most barren year since we started this whole songwriting palaver – Something and Nothing is unique (so far) in our repertoire as being the only one where we both take part in the lead vocal.
This arose as a result of the song’s story being about two people. It’s a happy accident – I don’t plan these things! Friends have expressed surprise that we haven’t chosen to include a proper duet in any of our songs to date. Who knows? Album 3 (at the moment hardly even a glimmer in anyone’s eye) might take up that challenge.
For now though, this is as close as we get. A tale of mental cruelty, and the person who inflicts it.
This is the “eleventh track” referred to earlier, which arrived within a day of “What It Means.” In fact I started writing the lyric for this while in the middle of thinking about that earlier piece as it was giving me so much trouble.
Having the ideas for two lyrics swimming about in my head at the same time proved incredibly counter-productive, and in the end I left the half-finished (and untitled) Rug Rat alone for over a year. If Annie hadn’t decided it was time we got things finished and started recording, it probably would still be sitting on that metaphorical shelf. As with everything I’m tempted to procrastinate about though, the reality is never as scary as the idea, and when I came to pick it up again I discovered it was already more than half finished and what remained was simple to work out.
For music written halfway through Spring, it still retains its ‘winter edge’ but I think it could have gone either way. As it turns out this cheery tale of an axe murderer is probably the darkest on the album.
This tenth track arrived only a day before the eleventh track, and I began to feel the pressure was really on. I reacted to this in my usual way – by procrastinating. If I’d been worried that six months passed before I completed Grey Horizon then imagine how I felt as a total of almost eight months ticked by while I was struggling to find inspiration for this piece.
Perhaps I was feeling creatively strapped by the decision that all the tracks on the album would be either ‘weird’ or ‘wonderful.’ Next time round I won’t put myself under this kind of pressure. After all, the days of the “concept album” are way behind us. In the age of digital streaming even the concept of an “album” is a bit of an anachronism!
Anyway, I’d been wanting for some time to write a song in celebration of my relationship with my partner Nikki. It just took me a little longer than it should have to realise that this was the tune I could do that with!
Energised by the creative focus that drove us to releasing Suburban Nostalgia in time for Christmas 2005, Annie sent over this first piece for our second album – then a mere dream in the distance – almost immediately after the New Year holiday.
I had no immediate idea for the song, beyond knowing that I wanted to move away from the retrospective feel of SN which, as its name implies, had many tracks that looked back either with fondness or regret, on days passed.
Sure enough, being written in January, this was another mournful dark track that spoke of rainy streets and strangers seen fleetingly through windows. Who could know where such brief encounters can lead? And, if I were to inhabit the mind of a stalker, how far would the delusion of friendship take me, after the most innocent request for help?
Annie delivered the sixth piece of music to me at the beginning of September 2006. She called it her “Jethro Tull” piece, on account of the folk-rocky sound very reminiscent of the famous prog rockers.
The stories for the previous five pieces of music had suggested themselves to me almost immediately on hearing the music, but this time it was different. I listened to the track over and over, and nothing came. In the end, I shelved it, and it was almost three full months before I had the idea of making it into a song that, coincidentally, is both weird and wonderful at the same time – although at the time I wrote the lyrics we were still some months away from coming up with the album title.
As you may have realised by now, I love playing with words, so I took great delight in dropping subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, hints into the lyric as to who the “sovereign stranger” might be. The biggest clue of all, of course, comes in the final seconds of the track…
If, as I’ve speculated in the past, the time of year influences the character of Annie’s music, then it should come as no surprise that this track was originally written in January 2008. You can almost hear the winter in every note!
Whether I was subconsciously influenced by the slowing pace of our production – there’d been a gap of ten months since she had sent me the music that was to become Spin Doctor – I don’t know, but unusually it took me six months to pick up the inspiration and finish the lyric. Since it was by now more than a year after we’d settled on a name for the album, it was no trouble to go with the “weird” theme for this tune and turn it into a song about depression.
And to my mind, there is no more depressing scene than sitting in the corner of a deserted roadside diner on a grey and rainy winter’s day, letting your coffee get so cold that it ends up with dead flies circling around in it.
The music for this track followed fairly hot on the heels of me completing the lyrics for Me and My Girls. I felt like I was on a roll with songs that tell “real life” tales, and for this I had in mind someone who always gives a lot to others, but all too often gets little in return.
That can be true of all of us, at one time or another, but it’s particularly poignant when it happens to the same person, time after time.
In many ways this song is the most powerful on the album. I’m especially pleased with the stripped-back quality of the lyric, which even so manages to hold layers of hidden meaning, all of which are purely intentional.
The eighth track to be written, the music came to me in March 2007 and (as I remember) it almost wrote itself. I’d been stewing about one of the latest political headlines and my usual cynicism about politics and those who practise it soon gave rise to this tale of lies, greed, corruption and double-dealing.
It rapidly became my favourite of all the new tracks, especially when Annie came to master it and discovered a clip of Gordon Brown on YouTube that provided the perfect intro!
This was the third arrival in my Inbox and the first of the new album not to sound as though it was telling me an out-and-out “weird” story, although it would still be some time before the twin themes of the album became apparent and gave it its name.
In common with Suburban Nostalgia’s “Summer Flight,” the music instantly suggested a sunny summer’s afternoon to me – there must be something about late spring/early summer that makes Annie pen “feel good” music – but this time round I was still slightly influenced by the two tracks that had gone before. I wanted the song to be something more than a fluffy flight of fancy. I think we’ve achieved that, since the tale is actually about a woman waiting for her lover to arrive for an afternoon tryst. Is he married? Is she married? We don’t know, but it seems to me that the situation isn’t totally straightforward!