The Logical Song

Widcombe Rising

Right. Muso mates, I need your help. I need to do a recording of the Widcombe song, and I don’t play fiddle, accordion or (much) mandolin. Here’s what we’re going to do.

  1. I’ll demo the song with guide vocal & drums, plus acoustic guitar, (possibly) banjo and bass. It’ll be a Logic Pro file – around 50-100MB, best guess.
  2. You’ll download the file (and a .pdf of the sheet music) and use your own copy of Logic Pro to record your performance/s (I need at least fiddle, accordion and mandolin, plus many vocals on the chorus).
  3. Send me back your own .zipped version of the Logic file (via YouSendIt or similar) with all the audio files included.
  4. I’ll drop your part into the full arrangement.

Performance brief as follows –

  • we all need to sound like a Morris band – so fiddle or accordion (or both) can take the melody
  • keep it folky, light, bouncy and authentic
  • you don’t have to play all the time – parts can drop in and out
  • there are some obvious harmonies in the chorus – please do go for it
  • vocalists – no American accents please!
  • Shakey bells – well, if you must

Your payment will be a performance credit, a hyperlink from this blog, and a beer next time I see you. In the event that you’re not in the Bath area, you may have to get drunk on my undying gratitude instead.

Contact me via Facebook or whatever if you’re up for it. The Logic file download link will be available in a couple of days. Now download the sheet music so you can start practising.

Widcombe Rising pdf download.

Living in a box

This man will not appear in my blog very often.

Just a quick post today from the phone, to try out the excellent wordpress for iPhone app. I had a meeting on Wednesday in London at the Institute of Musical Research. It’s a group called the UK Popular Musicologists’ Collocquium and represents an all-too-rare chance for (popular) music staff from different universities to get together and discuss academic articles and analysis relating to popular musicology. There are about eight of us the meetings, which are chaired/organised by Allan Moore (editor of Popular Music Journal), and we get together every six months or so in Guildford or at the IMR (any musicologists reading this, do feel free to get in touch with Allan if you’re interested in becoming involved). I’ve made a basic WordPress/edublogs site so we can collect together study materials and YouTube links – UKPMC site.

This meeting’s theme was discussion and analysis relating to a particular track – Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’. It is a fascinating song (noted for its lack of bass line) in that it appears to be based on one eight-bar chord loop – Am  | G   |  G   | Am   | Am  | G   | G   | E7  Am | – but is actually based on a four-bar loop that is only actually stated halfway through the track  – | Am  | Dm/A  | G   | E7+5/G#  E7/G# |  (hey, this stuff keeps me awake at night).

Like any multi-million-selling song, it’s always interesting to note just how well-constructed it is – and to make inferences about why it was so successful. It seems to obey most of the general ‘rules’ of songwriting (lots of primary and secondary hooks, lots of monosyllables, effective lyric imagery, economical use of language, clear meaning, unusual title) while deliberately challenging them in other ways (relentless/repetitive chord loop, quirky rock-funk guitar solo intro followed by guitar-less arrangement, slightly mad lyric lines “animals strike curious poses”, classical extended mono-synth outro). Prince, for me, is like Bono or Sting – however smug or irritating they might seem as people, you have to admire the sheer talent at work.

And, as a bonus, while walking past Hyde Park I got to see five K6s all together. If you’re unsure why I have become such a phonebox geek you need to read this previous post. After which you may still be unsure.

Five K6s near Hyde Park. Model A, 1936, if I'm not mistaken.
Five K6s near Hyde Park. Model A, 1936, if I'm not mistaken.

Last few song tweaks

I’ve made some edits to the original version of the Widcombe song, having identified a few things that I thought were wrong with the first draft.

  • The melody didn’t rise enough in the chorus – so I’ve taken it up a diatonic third and got rid of the scalic 3-note rise.
  • I didn’t like the ‘give a damn’ lyric in verse 3 – replaced with something less abrupt.
  • The sibilant consonants in ‘canalside safe’ were a bit ugly when sung at speed – now fixed.
  • The melodic shape of the end of the chorus was too repetitive – pitches now moved around a bit.
  • The song needs to be applicable to the Widcombe Mummers (who now get a mention in the chorus). This has worked out OK, because I wasn’t happy with the original chorus lyric anyway “all join together” – too clichéd.

Here’s the final version. Probably.

Widcombe RisingDownload pdf version

Here it is as text only…

Widcombe Rising
Words and music by Joe Bennett, May 2009


English Morris feel, 2/4 bounce; crotchet=92

Chorus
D
So let’s all join the Mummers
G                     C
Listen can’t you hear?
G                           C
It’s the sound of Widcombe Rising
G        D7     Em        C
and we sing it every year, oh yes
G/D           D7    G
we sing it every year

G                          D
As I walked down this fair Parade
G                 D
One sunny day in June
G                D
I met a man along the way
G                    D
Who said good afternoon
C                      G             C                     G
I asked him for directions to get to Pulteney Weir
C                G                  D                          G
He said if I was going there I wouldn’t start from here

I asked him if he had a job
He cheerfully replied
“I sit by the canal all day
(Just) watching for the tide
And since I started working, I think I’ve done some good
From Allie Park to Beechen Cliff there’s never been a flood!”

So let’s all join the Mummers…

He said he lived in Abbey View
Had been there all his life
And now that he was ninety-two
He wanted for a wife
He said “I’ll love her truly, and give her all I can
As long as she lives less than fifty paces from The Ram!”

So let’s all join the Mummers…

A song for… Widcombe

This post will mainly be relevant to Bathonians, who may know about the ‘search for a song’ for local Bath district Widcombe. The whole Widcombe community thing is great – street parties, arts events, local history and political pressure groups – all in a group of fewer than 1000 people.  So today I’ve had a punt at writing a traditional English Morris Dance tune (with local references in the lyric). No audio demo yet (as you know my studio is currently being built) so this is done in traditional notation. Any folkies reading this – do you feel like doing a demo with traditional instruments?

Widcombe Rising

Download Widcombe Rising (pdf)

You’ve been framed

All the isolation (on three sides, and floor/ceiling) is now complete, with the final layer of SterlingOSB providing (another) different density in the ceiling, which now consists of so much plasterboard, OSB, rockwool and timber that the ceiling is now almost as low as it was before the roof was raised.

This is where, according to Jeff, the ‘studio building begins’. Artis and Jeff have made the frames that will form the interior shell of the live room. Their construction methods and measurements are a trade secret, and I’m under strict instructions not to blog them – you can contact Howard if you want to discuss commissioning a design. I can tell you it’s a particular combination of rockwool, timber and plasterboard of various specified grades, thicknesses and measurements, with particular bracings. What you end up with is a dense/heavy stud wall, onto which, eventually, will go another timber frame, which will be filled with rockwool of a different grade then covered with fabric. There will be bass traps in the control room, but the dimensions of the live room may make this unnecessary – Howard plans to run spectrum analysis on it before we make this decision.

I’ve said too much. If you print this out, you must eat the paper. Don’t let it fall into enemy hands. In fact, I suspect they will be coming to get me right n

Teaching songwriting with a Mac laptop

Demo panel at the UK Songewriting Festival 208[note – Feb 2013 – most of the links from this 2008 article are now defunct, but the basic principles of how I project lyrics in lectures are the same, so I’m leaving this post online for archive purposes].

I occasionally get asked, by undergraduate studentsFestival songwriters, and songwriting teacherswhat software and hardware I use to project lyrics and play back songs for analysis during songwriting lectures. Sometimes the question actually hijacks lectures and diverts us from discussing the actual song, so I’m going to write this blog post about it, so next time someone asks, I can just send them this link and get on with talking about songwriting!

This is unapologetically nerdy and exhaustive, because the people who ask about this sort of thing often want lots of technical detail.

The hardware
During lectures I have my Mac laptop with me – it’s a standard Mac Powerbook running OSX andiTunes. This is connected to a VGA projector (see photo) and a mini-jack audio cable connects the Mac to whatever sound system we’re using (in the photo example we used a small mixing desk on the table, routed into the theatre PA system in the ceiling).

The library
My iTunes library is around 6000 MP3s that I’ve collected over the years from various sources. The computer is always live on the ‘net, so if someone in the lecture class wants to discuss a song I don’t have, I just spend the £0.79 then and there and buy it online.
Because I’m sometimes running a PowerPoint or web browser simultaneously, I like to be able to play and pause iTunes remotely in the background. Sometimes I use the Apple remote for this, but most of the time I prefer to use a background application called Synergy, which is a simple iTunes controller that provides play, pause, next track functions etc, using function keys.

Lyrics and MP3s – the background
We all know that despite many years of attempts by rights owners to prevent fans publishing song lyrics online, it’s possible to locate the lyrics to almost any song on the ‘net. But using a web browser to do this live in a lecture is inelegant, and distracts the class from the song. So I combine two techniques – MP3 lyric metatags and lyric widgets.

An MP3 metatag (or to get really techy, its ID3 metadata… stay with me, here – it gets interesting soon!) is simply a way that the MP3 file can have textual information or images (title, artist, composer, cover artwork and lyrics) attached to the file. iTunes has a really simple text editor – just click Apple-I on any iTunes track to bring it up.
So once the lyric is found on the ‘net and then pasted into the MP3’s iTunes lyric info window, it’s there in the file forever, right there on my hard drive. This works for MP3s and also protected AAC files bought from the iTunes Music Store.
So far so good, but that’s still a lot of hassle, especially if I’m running seat-of-the-pants lectures like this year’s SWF (where I asked every member of the audience to write down a choice of song for analysis, then downloaded them live in the classroom). And it’s also not very useful to bring up the Apple-I info window, because the font size isn’t big enough for the class to see on a projector.

The widgets!

In 2005 I discovered Mac OSX lyrics widgets. These are small applications that run in the background using Apple’s OSX Dashboard (i.e. they work with any Mac). There are several, but they all do essentially the same thing – display lyrics attractively on screen from the iTunes lyric data. But that’s not all. If they don’t find any lyric data, they automatically search the ‘net for the lyric, and then extract the text from the lyrics sites they interrogate, and paste it into the MP3 for you. All this happens live, in the background, meaning I can download a song (legally, of course) and then have the lyric embedded in it within less than 10 seconds.
I use several widgets, running concurrently, because they all search slightly different lyric sites. I’ve found that if one widget doesn’t find the lyric, another one will, and then the first one will simply pull the data from the MP3 itself (which will have been embedded automatically by whichever widget found the lyric online first). My current ones are;
Sing That iTuneFireHarmonic and the defunct but easy-to-find PearLyrics.

Icing on the cake – hot corners
Mac users will know that OSX supports hot corners. So I set up the Mac so that every time I move the mouse pointer to the top left of the screen, it launches Dashboard. Having previously set things up so that the lyrics widgets are always running, this means, in a lecture, all I have to do is play an MP3, sweep the mouse to the top left of the screen, and the lyrics appear!

But there’s more…

Sometimes, we have an iTunes playlist running while we’re setting up a lecture – a list of recent hits, or songs in a particular form, theme or genre. So to make this a bit more visual, I also occasionally use Jewelcase, a shareware plugin for iTunes that displays not only the lyric metatag, but also the JPG of the album cover metatag – and puts the whole thing in a beautifully rendered spinning CD jewel case. Projected 20ft high in a lecture, it is a thing to behold!

And a tiny bit more…
This setup works great for lectures, but sometimes we’re discussing tempo. We can usually find the chords and key of a song (just by having an acoustic guitar to hand), and we can see its form usually from looking at the lyric and listening to the playback, but finding the tempo was always a bit fiddly, using a metronome there in the lecture.

So I searched the ‘net for a tool that would enable me to mouse-click along to a track, display its tempo in Beats Per Minute, then embed the tempo in the MP3 for next time. It’s called BPM Widget. Does what it says on the tin!