And so peaceful until…

Yes, I know the blog’s been a bit quiet lately. The studio has actually been quite busy with the Widcombe project and a couple of small freelance things, but mainly I’ve been preparing for a lot of commitments and events outside Bath in November. I’ve started the songwriting PhD (at Surrey) and had an initial meeting with my supervisor, Prof Allan Moore. The working title of the PhD is ‘investigating creative interactions in collaborative songwriting’ and I’ve been reading background materials for my initial literature review. I’ll probably post some more detail soon about the PhD for any interested songwriters or other musicians & academics – I’m hoping that the blog will be useful in this respect, because I want to (continue to) amass a comprehensive list of songwriting-related contacts, publications and interviews etc. So it’s always great to hear any recommendations that people may have for songwriting books or analyses – or, for that matter, any experienced collaborators who want to find out more about the study. There seems to be only one book that deals specifically with collaborative songwriting – Walter Carter’s The Songwriter’s Guide To Collaboration. Not that the PhD is going to be exclusive academic – it will involve interviews with songwriters and a lot of actual co-writing (it combines musicology and composition).

Part of the work involves investigating the psychology of creativity, in musicians and others, so it’s fortuitous that there’s a conference next week at Surrey about this very subject.

We're buying a stairway to Scotland

And I’m gearing up for a week in Scotland at the end of November working on the Burnsong project. Burnsong is a Scottish (Arts Council) organisation that promotes songwriting – not the songs of Burns himself, but of the values and beliefs he expressed in his work. They run an international songwriting competition, and the ten winning songwriters spend a week writing and recording at a remote farmhouse in Dumfries. We’re then going to perform the songs at a one-off gig (on 30th Nov) at the Scottish Parliament building, which will be broadcast by BBC Radio Scotland. Apparently we’re setting up the whole band on the staircase pictured – I’m intrigued!

Producer Chris Blanden and I worked on the Burnsong project back in 2007 (the songwriting venue was the same, but the 2007 gig was at BBC Glasgow). For 2009, the whole Burnsong event promises to be larger in scale, due partly to the fact that 2009 is the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth. We’ve already heard the winning songs, and there’s some good stuff there, from traditional Scottish folk music to acoustic singer-songwriters, and (I kid you not) a plate-smashing song. I’m planning to blog the project every day anyway (as we did in 2007), and as before will try to get as many MP3s and lyrics online as possible; it’s possible that the project will generate 50+ songs (10 writers, 7 days) and Chris is pretty adept at producing good-quality acoustic demos from the first playback sessions.

Until I meet these men I am unable to get into the studio.

And now some bad news. I’m locked out of the studio! Rainwater found its way into the wood of the exterior door, which has now swelled so much that I can’t get it open. Hoping for some dry weather, and that it will shrink a little, so I can book a Man With A Plane. And a guitar recording project came in this week with a 7-day turnaround. So I’m going to do this using Chris’ help and a mobile recording setup. Which, as he says, kinda proves the point that we, er, don’t need studios any more…

Shower Thee People

The studio has been busy since its completion. Or rather, its near-completion. Everything is sorted technically so I have 16 simultaneous inputs available, 12 of which have valve pres via the M1F. Howard will be returning soon to fit the XLR wall plates and do the relevant soldering.

Remember the holes that Artis drilled for the cables?

Remember the holes that Artis drilled for the cables?

So in the absence of wall plates I’m just poking XLRs through the holes in the walls (which are now the only route that sound can travel between the rooms – a pretty clear example of how effective the studio’s soundproofing is).

The studio will have three main functions – a recording/co-writing space for commercial song projects and work relating to my Songwriting PhD; a production facility for the CDs that go on the cover of my guitar books (e.g. the next book in the Complete Junior Guitarist series); and, er, everything else – i.e. whatever other musical opportunities arise that sound fun or interesting. In this third category I’ve undertaken three projects recently – a Techno remix of a James Taylor song, a community-based recording of some local people’s original songs, and (mainly to test out multiple drum mic-ing) a prog-rock drum session for a couple of CM graduates, Chris and Tom.

The Guitar book

The Complete Junior Guitarist was published in Sept 2009 and early indications are that it’s doing OK in the shops. The people at Music Sales tell me that there’s a dearth of good-quality guitar teaching material aimed around ‘Key Stage 2’ (i.e. junior school kids aged 8-11), so this is the book I’ve tried to write – not patronisingly full of pictures of anthropomorphic cartoon animals as younger starter books can be, but not based on particular bands, styles or artists, as more teen-focused books often are. So the book ended up quite ‘serious’ but I think this matter-of-fact editorial tone is what a lot of kids this age like to read. What I’ve avoided (I hope) is ‘dumbing down’ of the audio (there are 52 tracks on the cover CD including backing tracks for all the pieces, and I used live session players for bass and drums rather than compromise by programming the kit part). The book also focuses on short melodic pieces, as opposed to chords, which are much more difficult for the beginner – I’ve never understood why some guitar books do this.

I’m hoping to write book 2 in the series during 2010, and the home studio will enable me to try out ideas for the next book’s cover CD without worrying about the ‘meter running’ pressures of hired studio space or players’ time (although, as before, there will always be a pro drummer on the final session – I’m not going to be a good enough kit player any time soon).

Thanks BTW to everyone who helped me to choose the title for the book (see previous blog entry) – Complete Junior Guitarist won the day, which has the added advantage of making this book the first result when these three words are typed into Google.

Song for Widcombe

A guitarist mic'd up with an SE100 condenser in the dry room.

A guitarist mic'd up (with an SE100 condenser) during one of the Widcombe project song sessions.

In an earlier post I mentioned the Song For Widcombe community project, and the song I submitted ‘Widcombe Rising’. Since then I’ve gotten to know the lovely people involved in the Widcombe Association and become generally more interested in Mummers‘ plays and songs. The association wants to put together a CD of its top 10 ‘finalist’ songs, and I listened to some of the original demos, which were varying in quality depending on the kind of recording kit each songwriter had access to (some only existing in sheet music form). Given my views on Performance vs Songwriting, it seemed only fair that none of the other songs on the album should be compromised by a technically poor demo – so I agreed to run some studio sessions for those writers who didn’t have access to decent recording kit. The motive for this wasn’t entirely altruistic – I need to test the studio as much as possible to check the signal paths and get to know the patchbay, layout, ergonomics etc… plus the sound of the room, mics & speakers. And given the varied collection of instruments that Mummers’ songs may include (concertina, fiddle, melodion/accordion, piano, recorder, flute, piccolo, bass drum, bodhrán, guitar, upright bass, banjo, and multiple male and female voices) this was the perfect opportunity.

Here are a few descriptions of the ensembles we’ve done already – there’ll be a playback session of these and others in Widcombe in a couple of weeks. I won’t post MP3s for now, as I don’t have permission from the writers to do so, but hopefully this will be forthcoming once the project is over; you may also be able to download the tracks from iTunes at some point in the future.

  • 4-part male voice folk choir and bass drum
  • G&S-style piano and male voice
  • Piano, guitar, sampled Tuba and male voice
  • Folk band including concertina, piccolo banjo, floor tom, snare, recorder, fiddle, guitar and multiple voices
  • Folk band including programmed kit, electric bass, sampled fiddle, accordion and tin whistle, guitars, multi-tracked male voices, handclaps and tambourine

At the other end of the musical spectrum (or certainly some distance along it) I did a session yesterday for a couple of Bath Spa graduates who needed to do some drum tracking for a ‘prog’ album. We did a deal – they get a day’s free recording time, and I get to use their (excellent) drummer Tom on a future session for no fee. Traditional community bartering… perhaps all this olde worlde folky-ness is affecting me more than a little…

Tom does some drum tracking in the dry room. An unusual drummer - no rack toms.

Tom does some drum tracking in the dry room. An unusual drummer - no rack toms, and two hi-hats.

Vocal and guitar take in the control room.

Chris puts down a vocal and guitar take in the control room.

Techno Techno

Finally, here’s a mix of a track I did a couple of weeks ago with a old mate from my days at Future Publishing. He’s a fan of classic Techno (and knows much more about it that I do) but has always had a soft spot for James Taylor (the songwriter, not the jazzer). So here’s our remix-in-progress of JT’s Shower The People (You Love With Love). It’s turned out a little more ’70s Disco than ’90s Techno – I blame the off-beat handclaps on the intro. The track is, of course, doomed to unreleased commercial obscurity, considering its obvious and constant use of uncleared samples of a well-known recording, but hey – it was fun. And James – if you’re reading this, hope you forgive us for timestretching you up to 130BPM.

Shower Thee People MP3 (JB & DR remix)

Buy the original on iTunes

And we sing it every year (oh yes)

Thanks to all the musicians who offered to play on the Widcombe song. The consensus was that my original proposal (FTP-ing Logic files and hoping for the best with plugin compatibility) was just too impractical for the different tech setups you all have. So here’s a simpler solution.

  1. Download the MP3 of my demo (done in the new studio, of course!).
  2. Using whatever multi-track kit or software you own, add a track of yourself playing your instrument (or singing) on it.
  3. Send me the audio file (320kbps MP3 should be fine) of your part only and I’ll drop it into the mix. Don’t worry about lining it up – I’ll figure all the tech stuff out.

I’m looking especially for ornament folky-ness – there’s an approximation of a whistle/recorder part on the final chorus. Plus, of course, you need to join in the main theme after each chorus.

If we find a male vocalist who’s improved on my guide vocal (shouldn’t be difficult!) we’ll use that for the final version.

We’re in G major BTW. Well, of course. And it’s 95 BPM. See this previous post for the full brief.

Widcombe Rising – MP3 download

Widcombe Rising – pdf of sheet music download

—————-

Widcombe Rising
Words and music by Joe Bennett, May 2009


English Morris feel, 2/4 bounce; crotchet=95

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)