Month <span class=April 2016" src="">

Month April 2016

Kansas City Won’t Let Me Go

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When I first looked at my US tour itinerary, artfully put together by James Constable of Oh Mercy! Records, Kansas City didn’t really mean that much to me, other than it was a gig destination sandwiched between shows in St. Louis and Omaha.  Little did I know that it would become such an important part of my adventure, and that I would become so enamoured of it and the wonderful people I met there, that I would return not once, not twice – but three times; the last time travelling all the way from Santa Fe, New Mexico in a day, to be with my new friends and share in their July fourth celebrations (a bit too keen, according to the State Trooper who stopped and fined me for speeding in Lawrence County, Kansas).

Each time I came back I met more people who took me to different places.  Being a songwriter, I naturally made notes on each visit, and eventually these musings wound up in a song called Kansas City Won’t Let Me Go.  At the end of my last visit I debuted the song to those present. It went down very well.  They implored me to record it as soon as possible.

Normally, my recording regime is to have all the songs ready and record in stages – the drums one day, bass next, acoustics next and so on.  Although I was not due to go in to record a new album until this summer, I felt compelled to book some studio time and bring this song to life.

My first port of call was the Drum Studio in Ipswich.  Its proprietor – Martin “Webby” Webb – was happy to occupy the drum stool on the session and it wasn’t long before he and I were toying around with different beats.  The eventual part that Webby came up with was deceptively simple (well, he made it look easy!) but was exactly what the song needed.  The track bounces along but has a great feel.

A few days later, I was in Oh Mercy! Records supremo Pete Thompson’s Halfway House studio, hidden away in the Suffolk/Norfolk hinterland, where I replaced the guide acoustic guitars I’d previously put down at Webby’s.  I was also going to replace the guide bass I’d put down but when Pete and I pulled up the faders and listened to what I’d played, we decided there was no need.  It seems that my salute to the bass playing style of the sadly missed Ronnie Lane with its lazy sway was perfectly adequate as it was, it even complemented the drum track (note to self – for better results, from now on, every time I record a bass part, pretend it’s only a guide– it makes for a much more relaxed feel!).

It was time to bring in the big guns – on piano, a man with whom I’ve shared many stages and studios with – the redoubtable Adam Whyatt; and on lead guitar, widely regarded as one of the best blues players in the region – Mr Tim Ainslie.

Adam was up first.  We simply ran the track a couple of times and Adam played through it.  I could tell immediately that between those two takes, we had enough rollicking licks to choose from (as it happens, we only used the first one in its entirety – Adam “One Take” Whyatt!).

When Tim started playing I knew I had chosen wisely.  He’s a very laid-back guy and in the technique that he has honed over many years he can effortlessly mix jazz and blues licks.  He captured perfectly, the tone and timbre of how I heard the song in my head, and his subtle and cool playing conjured up the atmosphere and ambience of the Kansas City I have come to know.

Another day, another session; lead vocal and harmony vocal dispatched pretty quickly (I come from the school of: “If you can’t get it in a couple of takes, you shouldn’t be in the studio at all!”).  We spent longer in the pub than we had in the studio.

After living with a rough mix for a couple of days, I left Pete to work on the final mix, with me coming in at the end to tweak bits here and there (“pan the piano left, a little” / “a tad more bass” etc.).

The next morning I sent the mix to the master of the dark art of mastering – Pete Maher.   As a favour, he mastered the track that morning.  It was quite a buzz to know that I was pushing in ahead of one of his other clients, maybe U2 or Jack White or the Killers or the Rolling Stones.

I’m very pleased with the results.

I can’t wait for my friends in Kansas City to hear it and hope that they like it as much as they did on the fourth of July last year.

Cover photograph: Matt Mayfield

Sleeve design: Sam Devito

You can hear the song at:

Judgement Day

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Here’s another video from our BBC Radio session last month. This is Judgement Day. It features Shane Kirk on guitar and my sister Jules AKA Tiny Diva on backing vocals. You can hear the recorded version of this song on Spotify by typing in Restless Celtic Heart.

Nashville State of Mind

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A few weeks ago veteran broadcaster and all-round good egg, Stephen Foster invited me into the BBC studios in Ipswich, Suffolk to record a live session of five songs.  This is the first of them.  I am joined for the recording by my sister Jules on bass and backing vocal, and by Mr Shane Kirk on slide guitar.  Filming by Unity in Music.  Sound recording and an excellent cup of tea by the wonderful David Butcher.  Enjoy!

Let me tell you all about the new EP…

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So, the new EP Restless Celtic Heart has been released and is available on all the major digital platforms.  I say new, it was actually recorded just over a year ago.  As I was planning my 2015 US tour to promote the album Songs From the Last Chance Saloon, I realised that I had incorporated five new songs into my set and I was concerned that I didn’t have copies of them for any willing audience member wanting to purchase them.  As usual, Oh Mercy! Records supremo Pete Thompson came to my rescue with his innate problem-solving skills.  “Why don’t we record an acoustic EP of the five songs?  We could print up some ‘white label’ CDs to sell at gigs”.  Brilliant! So we did.

On the first of two consecutive afternoons, Pete and I settled into Black Monk Rehearsal Studios and we recorded all of the guitars.  It was meant to be just one guitar and one voice for each song but whenever I get in a studio environment I get ‘studio fever’ and end up overdubbing extra parts.  I used my trusty Takemine acoustic for the main parts in all of the songs except From the Look in Your Eyes;  my Yamaha Folk guitar provided the main part for that, as well as many of the incidental lines on all the other songs, only stepping aside for my dobro for the slide parts on Nashville State of Mind and the later riffs on Restless Celtic Heart.  And just to give the recordings a warm bottom end, I added some bass lines courtesy of my Indie acoustic bass.

The following afternoon, we set up shop in the CSV Rehearsal Studio, where we added a lead vocal on each song, and my sister Jules came in to provide vocal harmonies on three of the five tracks.

Pete and I gave ourselves a few days away from the tracks, reconvening at the end of the week to listen back to what we had recorded.  As we were after a ‘live’ feel, there was very little to mix;  with a little bit of EQ here and a bit of reverb there, we were done and dusted in time for last orders at the local pub.  As with Songs From the Last Chance Saloon, we sent the mixes over to the wonderful Pete Maher – skilled magician in the dark art of mastering!  He took no time at all to make the songs sound shiny and bright.  The whole enterprise from entering the first rehearsal room to mastered tracks took less than a week. Outstanding!

Just over a week later, the record label took delivery of boxes of CDs.

Let me tell you a little bit about the songs on Restless Celtic Heart.

Nashville State of Mind

After finishing the recording of Songs From the Last Chance Saloon, I wanted to go out and play the songs in an acoustic environment to see if they stood up in such a naked state.  Where should I do this?  I know! I’ll go to Nashville, the home of great songwriting!  Despite having no music connections in Tennessee, I was lucky enough to secure some spots in many of the city’s songwriter venues and so I booked a flight and a hotel and off I went.  I had the most amazing time; the welcome from the locals – songwriters in particular – was wonderful.  I wrote the first two verses sitting in my hotel room;  it was right alongside the AT&T building – known locally because of its resemblance to the caped crusader – as the Batman Building;  the final verse was added when I arrived back in the UK.  It’s my salute to the city and the indomitable spirit of the many musicians and songwriters who are its life blood.

Next Big Mistake

I’m standing in a bar, a couple of beers in, with a recently divorced male friend.  He spies an attractive young lady sitting at a table nearby.  Another beer later, they make eye contact.  He smiles at her;  she smiles back.  Flirty smiles are batted back and forth.  I suggest he might let the ink dry on the divorce papers.  “No” he says, “She might just be my next big mistake!”  My songwriting radar goes through the roof.  While I ask the bartender for a pen and paper, he asks the girl if she wants a drink…

Judgement Day

I lost someone very dear to me.  The pain was so raw that I couldn’t even draw upon the cathartic powers of songwriting.  Some years later, I had a dream in which this person came to me and simply said:  “It’s okay.”  The next day, I wrote the first verse and the chorus of this song.  It probably would have remained unfinished but that weekend, both my beautiful daughters were home.  As usual, they persuaded me to take them out for a meal in a posh restaurant.  A waiter took a photograph of us.  He didn’t know it but he had captured perfectly the love and warmth between us.  When I viewed it back later, it occurred to me that this was a photo they would look back on when I was no longer around.  In this somewhat sombre mood I wrote the second verse.  Finally, in an effort to rescue the song from being so morose and melancholy, I wrote the final verse, a manifesto for how I thought my girls should live their lives – with vigour and verve and vitality!  So it’s a song about death but it’s also about life, too!

From the Look in Your Eyes

It has been many years since I had my heart broken but you never forget that moment, when you know, deep down inside, that it’s over.  No words are needed.  A look can say it all.

Restless Celtic Heart

The Irish have always travelled.  Not always because they wanted to – but because they had to.  The further that I travel away from Ireland, the more Irish I become, so it’s no surprise that I wrote this song in Nashville.  The parallels and connections between traditional Irish music and Country music (by way of Bluegrass) are fairly obvious;  and there are many ballads that were brought across the Atlantic by Irish immigrants.  I’d been listening to a lot of Johnny Cash when I wrote this – the intro riff is a not-too-subtle-salute to the man in black.  It’s also a personal tribute to my grandfather and father who personify the spirit and enduring image of the Irish rover.

Restless Celtic Heart is available from Oh Mercy! Records

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See below for video of title track