Day 3 of our Lendanear To Song in-print Festival: ACCIDENTS HAPPEN
Day 3 of our Lendanear To Song in-print Festival:
says Norman Warwick
We have just had a complete refurbishment of our offices here at Sidetracks And Detours, and I write this as I sit, for the first time, at my brand new desk, with drawers and filing space and one those proper journalist´s spotlights that illuminates my keyboard. This is my new writing space and I can only hope that the alchemy of creativity that has always worked for me previously will continue in this new environment.
Colin Lever (left), my song-writing partner, (although we are somewhat geographically estranged these days) is currently turning some of the songs we recorded forty years ago into a proposed comedy series for the radio and is even re-locating some of the characters we created in those songs. In the e mail I reproduce below he makes me very nostalgic for those Lendanear days of writing, performing and recording. It sounds like Colin is employing the same sort of methodology in his comedy writing as he did in our song-writing. I sense in what he says that he is talking, listening and negotiating his way down sidetracks and detours that are not even signposted. He trusts his instinct, though and the instinct of the good people he has about him. I remember how fiercely he used to defend his own ideas whilst always remaining open to mine, and how we both were always mindful to remain receptive to the magic of the moment.
Colin says of his current work that he is ´still working on the 1st episode (of Open Mics) (left) . It’s taking a long time (and money!.
I am working with the engineer that produced Gilbert O’Sullivan’s latest album.
What is being created is beyond anything I could have imagined.
You write the dialogue, the gags & put in possible sound effect ideas & then by magic (it is magical if tedious at times) what was written on paper has turned into a multidimensional piece of comedy.
The actors (most new to the skill) have performed miracles, creating characters that I had only briefest of ideas about.
Wils (the producer) is now laying down context, cutting, pasting, fading in & out f/x, adding/taking away gapping to enhance comical timing.
I was told early on, by a couple of actors, that radio comedy is the hardest to deliver. That may be the case but I am having a ball giving it my best shot. I will be out of pocket but it’s worth it
Once complete, I will have to use the pilot to try and get funding for the next 4 episodes.
I’m going to contact breweries, any contacts?
There has been a further update since then, received only last week.
The sit-com radio play/podcast is under production (the pilot episode) sponsored by ArtHouse Jersey. It is being produced by Wilson Nash (who produced Gilbert O’Sullivan’s latest album)
The sit-com is based on the novel of the same name but differs substantially from the book version in that the main protagonist is Daph, the put-upon housewife.
The song Para Lara (that I wrote as a poem for a young lady I know here on Lanzarote) is also underway, with the music written by Colin being produced by Simon Hector. It has a strong Latin feel, encompassing Spanish Guitar and bongos.
When were still working as Lendanear I wrote several lyrics for an EMI recording artist called Morgan Lee James. I had been introduced to him by Pete Benbow who, then and now, was a ubiquitous artist on the local music scene, being an occasional member of Saraband, Lendanear and Double Trouble as well as occasionally playing with Morgan.
During our first meeting with Morgan Lee James (left) , rock recording artist, I realised that he was rather more of a Cemi Detached Suburban Mr James, of the Manfred Mann genus, living on a middle class estate in Bacup. I went armed with a few Lendanear goodies in case Lendanear might be able to earn some ASCAP or PRS payments out of him. Colin and I had just recorded our first album, Moonbeam Dancing, and I took a few lyrics over. One of the original compositions we had recorded was Cup Finals Every Night, a paean to playing football in the street. Like most bands in a studio for the first album, we threw everything at it, and our producer Dave Howard added, at our request, crowd sfx, snippets of tv commentary and a sample of the Match Of The Day theme tune,…and the kitchen sink !
There had been ´magic abroad in the air´ at that session, but as American singer-writer Hugh Moffatt once told me, ´we must intend what we write for light years of travel´ and so I was quite happy to let Morgan Lee James have a go at the song. In Lendanear´s mind the song was about Northern kids playing on cobbled streets, but Morgan transformed it into a reflection of cockney wide boys on their way to watch a match, In fact I look back on his take on Cup Finals Every Night as being several years ahead of its time, being prescient of Vindaloo by Fat Les.(right)
I also took with me a few new lyrics I hadn´t yet shown Colin, who was cool about me working with another partner. One of these new pieces was called (Trying To) Catch Lightning In A Jar, which Morgan turned into one of ten of our collaborations he recorded on his next album.
In some ways, that song is an example of the magic or the simple twists of fate that occur so often in the arts. I´d written the lines as being about how memory preserves our special moments, but as I write this now, I see that it was actually about trying to capture the precise moment when the magic happens, when the alchemy of creativity takes place.
I still think of songs as being invisible angels that guide us from sad to glad and back again, and as you know I always intend the songs for light years of travel. Nearly all my songs are still waiting at the bus stop, and might still be there when inter-galactic tour coaches are flashing by a few hundred years from this day, but their time will come. In fact one of the songs I wrote for Morgan re-surfaced when I played a gig several years later at Shaw Theatre with an ad hoc band and we included my Warwick / Lee amaes Jamescollaboration like Something In The Key Of Blue and Tia Amore.
Of course, if you are a working artist who believes in the alchemy of creativity you have a responsibility, I think, to maintain a life style that allows you to be receptive, and responsive, to the opportunities to contribute to that alchemy. It is the biggest regret of my life that I have so often missed out on opportunity and success for my work because I failed it by not in the right frame of mind or circumstance to receive it.
Nevertheless, I fondly remember those days when I was green and carefree and recording with Colin as Lendanear.
I mentioned earlier that Colin and I sometimes thought of all this alchemy of creativity as being simply a series of happy accidents. That was certainly true when we were recording that first album. We recorded it in Dave Howard´s studio in Salford. Dave was, himself, a multi-instrumentalist and with his wife Helen played the same folk circuit as did Lendanear (right). He was also a BBC sound engineer and therefore a much sought after producer by aspiring and established bands.
Whilst we recorded Moonbeam Dancing the studio seemed to have revolving doors, and as Stanley Accrington went out in came the wonderful singer Chris While who later joined up with Julie Matthews (left). Dave´s wife Helen would tell us to put the kettle on in the kitchen whole she went into the booth to add sublime vocals to one or other of our tracks.
There were definitely some moments of accident for which we took the credit without having a clue of how we had created them. Indeed, we weren´t even certain whether the very title of the album, Moonbeam Dancing was a product of the alchemy of creativity between a genius lyrics and musician combination (me and Col) or simply a happy accident (place your bets now !), I had written a poem called Moonbeam Dancer to incorporate an imagined character Colin had introduced me to, called Coal ´Ole Joe. I guess I hoped Colin might put a tune to it and sing it as a song, but instead he suggested I perform it as a poem on stage, and that he would just put an eight bar bridge at an appropriate juncture.
Somehow, alchemy or accident, he chose instead to tag on a verse of Just The Way You Look Tonight after the fourth verse of a six verse monlogue. This worked well enough on the recording for us to add it to our club performances and it became a central part of our act. I would come on stage dressed as a miner, and go into my monlogue about a miner from back in the old days, who, on his day off from the darkness of the pits chose to spend his respite by returning, instead to the darkness of a local cinema, where he watched the black and white films of the day, particularly those starring Greta Garbo. When Colin´s segue way of the Dorothy Fields and Jerome Kern composition song came in I would select a lady from the audience, walk towards her and invite her to dance. In the incongruous venue of a folk club we would dance to Just The Way Look Tonight, (first made famous by Fred Astaire, of course), despite regular refusals from the older ladies I usually chose, of ´not me love, not with my gammy leg´!
It didn´t always work, but I swear that on 99% of the occasions not only did I somehow became Coal ´Ole Joe but also my dancing partner would become Greta Garbo ! It was only when we were researching something for the sleeve notes of the Moonbeam Dnacing album that we learned that the name Greta Garbo (left) translates into English as spirit that dances in moonbeams. The alchemy of creativity ? A magical happy accident, more like.
A further development with that song was that the following year we played it live at a fairly major festival raising funds for those affected so badly by a drought in Etheopia, and strangely Dave Howard was at the mixing desk. You could have heard a pin drop when we performed it that day, and in a pregnant pause before the applause began, the audience heard compere, Hamish Imlach, a major part of a folk dynasty, whisper into his microphone, ´wow, pure radio.´
Another song we recorded on that debut album was Doing The Spacewalk, a sweet little love song of three eight line verses with no bridge and no chorus, but with a compelling, driving guitar riff from Colin. We listened to Helen add her gorgeous vocals and told her how grateful we were as she stepped back out of the booth. We nipped back in and immediately begged Dave to distort the hell out of what we had just heard. He added echo and applied fade and fluffers and tweeters and all manner of stuff, until it sounded like Helen was hearing Colin´s lines from across the universe and was repeating them to a life form we had yet to meet.
So, at precisely the same time during the alchemy of creativity around that song, Colin and I had recognised the moment of magic. Perhaps it was because there was something so angelic about Helen´s singing that we had the idea of rendering it cosmic rather than Christian,…..or perhaps the song made the decision.
Lendanear had, however, created a problem for ourselves because as much as we loved Doing The Spacewalk we knew we would never be able to reproduce that sound on stage,…..not least because we didn´t even have a girl singer !
Still, Doing The Spacewalk appeared on all three of the albums we recorded as a group, the second of which was a live recording made in front of an audience at Leigh Folk Club (right). We had actually become a permanent line-up by then, having been joined only a couple of weeks beforehand by a female vocalist, — Catherine Barlow. Ten years younger than Colin and I she had had impressed us at the very professional audition we conducted. She arrived on time, and offered to learn our songs up within a week, which she did and so she was in: her second performance with Lendanear saw her recording a live album !
Aware that we could never replicate what we had achieved with Helen on that first album, we nevertheless decided to perform Doing The Spacewalk live with me delivering some sort of eerie whisper as an echo of each of Colin´s lines. On the night of the live recording Cath suddenly joined in from nowhere but only after Colin´s opening line and my sotto voce response. By creating a third space, for her voice, for each line, she turned a one-dimensional live song into a Round and by the time she sang the last line, Colin´s vocals and guitar and my whispers had faded and she sang then drifted away on a gorgeously slowed down and sustained vocal reverberating ac appella in the silence. Before the audience could applaud the end of the song Cath Barlow went immediately into an unaccompanied version of Star Trekkin´, a popular song of the time paying homage to the famous tv series. It was recorded by The Firm, (left) a British music act, formed by guitarist, session musician and music producer John O’Connor, and was expected to be a one-hit wonder, but the duo had further hits in the 1980s with novelty songs.
None of that ´alchemy of creativity´ that seemed to surround both the recorded versions we now had of Doing The Spacewalk could have happened, though, without the receptivity I have spoken of earlier. Perhaps though that alchemy is what brought about that receptivity
Another odd example of this alchemy through creativity on our first album occurred with a song we never intended to record, and that in fact hadn´t even been conceived until the night it was actually recorded. I was waiting at Dave Howard´studio outside the recording booth as Colin and our guest musicians Pete Benbow and Graham Price over-dubbed on You May Go Dance, a poem I had written at college about ten years earlier. I was never allowed into the recording booth when singing was required. That I was a spoken-word only performer was unanimously agreed between my fellow writer and band-mate, our produce and his wife, and our guest musicians who at the time were performing as Double Trouble.
Even though I was massively impressed by what was happening to my poem I was bored by the lengthy process and so did what I would always do in such situations. I picked up a pen and was ready to write a poem but hadn´t decided what I would write about. Leaned against the desk in front of me, though, was Pete Benbow´s old, black guitar case and I noticed, as if for the first time, that the case was covered with stickers that included travel tickets, admission tickets to folk clubs and, I seem to remember, a photocopy of his driving licence. As I began listing these stickers I realised they were effectively telling the story of an itinerant musician (although he pretended in real life to be a mail-man).
By the time my mates came out of the booth, I had written six verses and Pete took a quick look and liked them and said he could play something behind them. I laughed and said it wasn´t even finished.
¨Yes, it is. Just repeat the first verse as the last and it tells the whole story !´
He was right of course, as was proved when he picked up his guitar, plugged it into his amp and created a swirling, dreamy backing. We agreed we could work on that, and he put the lyrics in his case and we forgot all about it.
About six weeks later, we were mastering the recording with Dave, and suddenly there was that song called Old, Black Guitar Case, that had somehow been recorded on an open mic (once more an example of alchemy through creativity, as of course, Colin´s radio comedy is called Open Mic).
We laughed and said that, of course the song wasn´t ready at all, and we would save it for a subsequent album. Dave agreed to edit it out but store it somewhere for safe-keeping, and we moved on.
Dave was looking after the pressing of the masters on to the eventual cd or tape or whatever, and Colin and I were looking after sleeve design, liner notes and packaging. We had the sleeves printed and then collected a small run of cuttings from Dave. We put about 250 covers into cassette cases and proudly inserted a taped recording into each one. Only when we got it home and listened to it did we realise Dave had forgotten to wipe off Old Black Guitar Case !
All the songs had been placed in a chronological order of the story they told, be it about a first haircut, a new suit, first love or marriage and fatherhood, so that Moonbeam Dancing, the album, was effectively our biography to date. And yet somehow, the little throw- away of my words and Pete´s guitar playing fit perfectly into that story, perfectly placed. Of course, it wasn´t mentioned on the track-listings but hey ho, it could be our hidden bonus track. All the (other) big stars were doing that at the time.
I was in charge of circulating the album to the media, and as well as the Folk Routes and other glossies, I also sent one over, with a press pack that didn´t mention Old Black Guitar Case, to Pete O´Brien, owner and editor of Omaha Rainbow (right) , an occasional publication in thrall of singer writers like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt and, massively, John Stewart who I think of as the greatest song-writer of my lifetime.
Mr. O´Brien ran a very personal Lomax Gold chart listing in the magazine, based on review copies of albums sent to him from artists in both the UK and America. To my great surprise he listed Cup Finals Every Night by Lendanear in his personal selection at the time. There we were at number nine in a top twenty that included those aforementioned writers and artists in the previous paragraph.
The thing about Omaha Rainbow was that it had become a bible, almost, to all aspiring and established artists, and one of its readers in America was apparently intrigued by the name of our group, and contacted the editor for further details of where he might get hold of Lendanear. A few weeks later I received a letter and cv of introduction to Jeff McDonald (left) , singer song-writer and producer from Ohio. He had opened on several occasions for John Stewart, had recorded many of his own and John´s songs and he said all kinds of nice things about the tape Pete Obrien had sent over for him of our album, He was intrigued by our ´hidden´ track of Old Black Guitar Case and asked for our permission to record it on his next album, Born Smack Dab In The Middle ,……. yeh, go on, then. You can if you want,
In Jeff´s hands, the song became a celebration of the partnership of the singer and the case, whereas what Benbow and I had created was a tale of mutual dependency, but hey, we had intended it for light years of travel, remember.
The song was also recorded by Don Samson in California who also took the song to a sunnier place, and all because of that Omaha Rainbow,
Jeff McDonald (left) grew up in the golden era of 1960s/’70s acoustic performers and writers. He was first influenced by groups like the Kingston Trio, all of whom became great personal friends, and also the Chad Mitchell Trio. This then grew into the singer/songwriters of the era, with writers like Gordon Lightfoot, John Stewart, Jim Croce, Ian Tyson, Don McLean, Bob Seger, and Paul Simon becoming heavy influences. Growing up in the early ’70s Chicago folk scene, Jeff knew and hung out with Steve Goodman and John Prine. Over the years, Jeff began branching out into other forms of music, including country, rock, standards, and Motown. It also led him to begin writing songs himself (about 70 so far). These days, he does a dance-friendly, one-man oldies show, playing and singing to over 800 backing tracks of every genre from the ’50s through the ’80s. He has recorded a number of solo albums at Sweetwater Studio, including The Great Road, Wolves in the Kitchen, Palm Trees and Honky Tonks, My What A Pair, and Rivers of Light: The Amazing Songs of John Stewart. He also records and performs Americana music in a duo with friend and playing partner Mark Thacker (see separate listing). He has shared the stage over the years as an opening act for such notables as the Kingston Trio, the Limeliters, John Stewart, Nanci Griffith, Rosanne Cash, Steve Goodman, Peter Tork, Noel Paul Stookey, Tom Paxton, Sally Fingerett, and Pat Alger.
So we are left again to consider whether all this was the alchemy of creativity or rather just the happy accidents that Colin and I preferred to call it? The truth just might be that the hundred or songs Colin and I have written have come about by diligence and hard work and a tried and trusted methodology,….its just that we can´t (or won´t) define that metholdology.
Ten years later when Lendanear split, Col and I each took our writings in different directions. Colin wrote newspaper articles about the education system in which he had been a teacher, as well as novels and factual books. I became a self-called music journalist interviewing top singer-writers as a freelance writer. Or to put it another way, I remained the little boy with his nose pressed against the sweet shop window.
I learned, though, that we were not the only artists to wonder how it all happened. It seemed to me that most writers either avoided questions about their writing methods, by giving answers like the one John Stewart (right) gave me when he said, Í´m a radio receiver and I just tune in when I need a song. Ít seemed to me that some writers like John, Townes Van Zandt and Tom Pacheo were very wary of disturbing the muse !
Nevertheless, that John Stewart answer became the opening line of my lyric to Songs For Sarah, that became the title song of Lendanear´s third album. Is that the alchemy of creativity or just plain plaguerism ?
I guess all this is something to do with trying to identify the catalyst of creativity. I started this piece with Colin´s praise for the team that is working on turning his Open Mic script into a radio series. He seems in awe of what they are doing, but they have all gathered around his piece of work as a catalyst for developing the series.
We community artists used to be called, at the time Lendanear were recording,… agents of change, and perhaps that we would be a better name for the process that the academics call The Alchemy Of Creativity. That fusty, academic title implies some sense of methodical and chronological process employed by an artist, but in truth I think sometimes the songs were employing us, as surgeons to give them birth on this earth in this place at these times.
In fact, for me, it more often felt as if the songs were writing me, rather than as if I were writing the songs. Quite often it was my completed lyric that first revealed to me my metions on or knowledge of a subject. Each of those songs, for good or bad, shaped me in some way and turned me into the person I am.
Those happy accidents I have referred to earlier in this article included an accident of diction when we were recording Two Thousand Feet and Colin´s sounded like he was singing my line of ´caught in the grip of a camera´s eye´ in way that sounded like ´caught in the grip of a camerá´s sigh´, which was perfect.
Spontaneity must be one of the ingredients in that so-called alchemy of creativity, and so must receptivity to opportunity and to suggestion. So many Lines I wrote for Lendanear have stayed with me as codes for life…..
when joy is not spontaneous it merely masks a sorrow
and none of that alchemy of creativity could ever occur unless writers are able to step back their songs at some completion point and say those songs You May Go Dance,…..a title from Lendanear´s debut album.
Thank you for joining us here on day three of our week long five day festival. We hope you can re-trace your sidetracks & detours for day four of our festival when we will be looking at an incredible piece of serendipity that saw Lendanear and the song-writing genius Alan Bell in the same room each giving a debut performance of their songs written independently about Jack Easy or, as Alan: called him, The Concertina Man. Alan Bell was a much loved figure on the folk scene for so long, as a song-writer par excellence, charming stage presence, organiser of the annual Fylde Fost Festival and persuasive advocate for the arts in general and for folk music in particular.
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