Sunday, 23 December 2012

Thomas P. Cope

I've been dipping into the diary of Thomas P. Cope, a Quaker merchant from Philadelphia in the first half of the 19th Century. His observations are fascinating and like many letters of the time, can be beautifully poetic. He speaks a lot of his business, the weather, his ailments but also of contemporary events. This evening I read this entry from September 22nd, 1800 and although I'm unlikely to write a song out of it, I felt the need to share it.
"A conspiracy of the negroes has been detected at Richmond. Several of the unhappy wretches have been executed & others are expected to suffer the same fate. So long as seven thousand fellow beings are held in chains in these United States, their cruel & hardened oppressors may look for plots, conspiracies & insurrections. Nature revolts at the idea of bondage in any shape, but when that bondage is attended with other circumstances of barbarity such as tearing a fond husband from the arms of an affectionate wife & forcing the smiling babe from the breast of a tender hearted mother, of severing whole families & cutting asunder all the dearest ties of humanity, of dragging those innocent & hapless victims into a far and distant country, never, never to return, but to endure every species of heart rending torture under the galling yoke of a never ending slavery, except by the welcome interposition of death; surely those forgers of fetters, these tyrants of their species, are not to expect from men, formed, like themselves, for the sweet enjoyments of liberty, a tame and unresisting submission to all their deeds of merciless injustice. I would not be a dealer in flesh for all the riches of Indastan; nor a master of slaves for the fairest portion of my country. When I contemplate the nature of man, his restless spirit & daring efforts to regain that state of freedom of which he is wantonly deprived by his fellow man, I think I can see, in the sullen temper & discontented acts of the negroes in the southern states, a gathering storm, which may one day burst forth & overwhelm the oppressor & the oppressed in one general indistinguishable ruin."

Monday, 17 December 2012

Corlears Hook

With the build-up to our album launch in January and our tour in February, I must admit that I have been a little distracted from my main objective - to write songs. However, I was recently compelled to write something on a story I came across in a book on artisan organisation in New York City during the early republic. The story was brief - only a few lines - and was about a boy who had run away from his sick parent. As with a number of other songs I've written, this unfinished tale got me wondering what became of him.

All we know, from the account by Reverend Ezra Stiles Ely, is that the boy had absconded from his parent, who was an invalid at the New York Alms House. Ely, who in 1812 was chaplain of the Alms House, was doing his rounds through the city. Asking after the missing boy, he was told to visit a cobbler living in one of the city's many cellar dwellings. Here, Ely found the boy, alongside a mournful cobbler and his family. He had kept the boy for a week but could no longer do so, "because he was too small to sit on the bench of the profession." Ely took the boy back with him. The cobbler, in justification said, "he cannot earn anything yet." The unnamed tradesman was left with a stark choice: a sentimental gesture towards one of the city's many destitute children, or feed his family. This incident was set against a backdrop of huge upheaval for the city's trades, particularly the 'small masters', who in the wake of the "commercialization of trade" from New York's expanding economy (soon to be the country's leading port city), were left clinging to a dying tradition.

(Incidentally, Ely features in one of my earlier songs, Julia Died of Cholera, when he comes up against congressman Richard Johnson, who fought for Sunday mail deliveries to remain in place, despite numerous petitions from Christian preachers like Ely who saw it as a violation of the Sabbath. Wonderfully, Johnson said, "Stop [the mail] one day in seven, and you retard one seventh of the advancement of our country.")

Corlears Hook, named Crown Point, during the British occupation of the city during the Revolution

But what of the boy? Born into poverty, his options were limited. It is possible that he would have returned again to the Alms House, but more likely, given the boy's independent spirit, he could just as easily ended up looking for work in the rough and lively area of Corlear's Hook (beyond what is now the Lower East Side), perhaps Walnut Street, with "its grogshops, ballrooms, and bawdy houses, enticing young mechanics, sailors and drifters." Perhaps he became the young boy employed by a baker to sell cakes and pies in the street, who was caught spending the profits to "have connection" with a young streetwalker. Whilst ministries attempted to stem the tide of depravity as they saw it, the residents enjoyed numerous forms of recreation: cockfighting, bull-baiting, alongside shows from travelling musicians, daredevils and acrobats. Celebrations such as these - including heavy drinking and gambling - provided ample relief from a hard day's work. Our young man initially returns then to the cobbler who housed him briefly, only to find him no longer there, having moved his family to the western New York, to tramp, to find more work.

What happens next I'm not entirely sure. In what could become an epic, Flashman-style tale of travel and adventure, I'm both excited and wary of this potentially picaresque tale. I see our adventurer travelling throughout  New York, helping build the Erie Canal, listening to Charles Finney preach, meeting Sojourner Truth, Martin Van Buren, Joseph Smith, shaping events unwittingly.  

For now, he remains in Corlears Hook, and so does the song.

Quotes are taken from Chants Democratic by Sean Wilentz.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Golden Book

It's been over a month now since we recorded our album and we're due to get the final mix in the next few days. In the meantime, we've been busying ourselves trying to sort out tour dates, looking at artwork options, doing a river baptism photoshoot (pictured) and generally plotting here and there about what we want to do with the album. Although fun, it quickly reminds me of what I need to soon get back to and it seems a long time since I actually wrote a song. I wrote a short song called The Golden Book just before we went into the studio, which was a song about revenge and redemption from the perspective of a prisoner of war who is confused by where to direct his anger. The protagonist reverses his role by becoming the torturer to an innocent victim. It's a brutal tale, and my hope was to explore that idea of someone trying to find relief in revenge.
Where that fits into future projects, I'm not yet sure, as I'm now moving onto writing our next album. My idea is to write a very focused canon of songs which all take place in one town in Western New York in the 1820s and 1830s. I've touched on the Burnt Over District a little before in previous songs and that period is certainly the most interesting to me in American history. Whether I write self-contained stories or try and produce a clearer narrative throughout the songs is something I'll discover in the writing process - or more likely, the research process.

I'm also very lucky to have recently befriended some fantastic people in the History department at the University of Sheffield, who we're hoping to collaborate with at some point. I've received some great reading recommendations and I've just started on What Hath God Wrought: The transformation of America 1815-1848  by Daniel Walker Howe. It's a tremendous read and brings to life the huge change going on at that time. The project is a great challenge and I can't wait to get stuck into it. It'll require a greater effort on my part, though I also have to remember we're intending to release an album in the new year!

Sunday, 12 August 2012


We're into day four of the recording and I've got a few minutes to blog. I thought I might have been able to blog every day but it's just been too tight a schedule. Over the last three days, we've recorded 14 songs, just one shy of the 15 we brought in and thankfully, it's the song we'd rehearsed least. Today and tomorrow are all about tidying up vocal takes, adding backing vocals and any other additional bits and pieces we want to add - pedal steel, extra guitar parts etc. We've also invited a pianist and a sax/clarinet player down tomorrow but we'll have to see if it'll work out.

Our two newest songs, Through the Trees and Peggy Eaton have, written a couple of weeks ago, have turned out particularly well and have well and truly earned their place on the album. The more acoustic songs (Sally Hemmings and Imitation of Life) have been a wee bit trickier, and I was concerned that we'd swamp them but they've also found their place.

Recording at Club 60, with Paul Blakeman, has been the best studio experience I've had and hopefully the results will reflect this. We've been able to do most of the songs live with myself up in the control room doing vocals and guitar with the rest of the band down in the club (for those who haven't been, the club is essentially a cavern, which makes it a great environment to work in). Overdubs have been fairly minimal today although we were slowed up by the first three (Peggy Eaton, Men of Rank and South), with required a bit more work, but we've got through the last three pretty sharpish.

I've just gone through a bit of a slump of tiredness, which has made it hard to do vocal takes, but I'm coming out of it now and we're about to move onto Cawing Cuckoo. One of my few major key songs, it should lift us all a little. That's all for now, but I'll try and check in again tomorrow...

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

15 songs

Last night, we added two more new songs to those we'll be taking in to record for the album, making it a total of fifteen. This was our target and it was looking uncertain that we'd make it, but yesterday I managed to find some time before rehearsal to finish off one and write another. I happily discovered a desk beneath various pieces of equipment in the unused control room in our studio and hastily constructed a writing space (see picture). With a copy of Limits of Liberty and my two trusty notebooks, I happily got to work. The first, Through The Trees, was all but finished, needing a few edits to the lyrics. This is a song I had the bare bones of a few weeks ago and I mentioned it in a previous post. The song takes the perspective of the last great Federalist, Alexander Hamilton, as he makes the journey to his fateful duel with Vice President, Aaron Burr. I wanted to bring the tragedy and stillness of the event. A character I wasn't expecting to see in this song was the doctor, David Hosack, but his account was so vivid that his voice became a central part of the narrative. As Hamilton lay dying on the boat back across the Hudson River, Hosack tends to Hamilton. There was always ambiguity surrounding Hamilton's intentions with his shot but in my account, the final line settles it: "I did not intend to fire at Aaron Burr." As we played it last night, the discordant riff set the dark tone and we all seemed to settle upon a slightly stumbling, lazy feel. We agreed that given time it may have become more refined but we'll be glad to record it in its ramshackle state.

The second song regards a character I've wanted to write about for some time. I attempted a song about the Petticoat Affair, or more specifically, the wonderful Peggy Easton, over a year ago, but I missed the sentiment I was after with the lyrics and the melody. Easton, or O'Neale as she was, had married the Tennessee Senator, John Henry Eaton, shortly after her first husband, John Timberlake, had died at sea (there were rumours that he had committed suicide after hearing of Eaton's affair with Peggy, though pulmonary disease is the more likely cause of death). The new romance was frowned upon by Washington society, and as Eaton became President Jackson's Secretary of War, Floride Calhoun, wife of the Vice-President, managed to turn Jackson's cabinet against the couple. Jackson - whose own late wife had been attacked for years for marrying Old Hickory before attaining a divorce from her first husband - took none too kindly to the gossip mongering and stuck by Eaton. Before long, his cabinet had been purged and incredibly, the affair altered the direction of many of the Washington's leading politicians. Through his own maneuvering, it almost certainly put Martin Van Buren in the White House and ensured John C. Calhoun would never secure that office.

Peggy herself, daughter of a Washington hotelier where many politicians stayed, was an astonishingly vivacious woman, who never held her tongue and despised the society ladies who turned against her. In her own words, "I was a lively girl and had many things about me to increase my vanity and help spoil me. While I was still in pantalettes and rolling hoops with other girls, I had the attention of men, young and old, enough to turn a girl's head." Peggy would end up dying penniless and poor. At the age of 59, three years after John Eaton's death, she married her 19-year old Italian music teacher, who duly swanned off to Europe with all her money and her grand-daughter, who he later married. No doubt a woman with few regrets.

Whilst not quite entirely written (my trusty compadres arrived at rehearsal before I'd written all the lyrics), it sounds like one of the most complete songs we have. Everyone seemingly had their parts written by the third run through. It's full of energy and a hell of a lot of fun to play. It's now only a week before we go into the studio and I'm mightily relieved we reached our target. It gives me a little time to revisit other lyrics and do a bit of polishing.

Also, just to let you know, I'll be blogging every day we're in the studio, so make sure you check in next week.

(The above quote of Peggy Easton is taken from John Meacham's excellent biography of Jackson's presidency. Although very well written, be warned, it focuses heavily on the petticoat affair, due to new source material. More extensive Jackson accounts of his presidency are undoubtedly out there. However, it did introduce me to Daniel Webster's tremendous defence of the Union (Webster's Second Reply to Hayne) to Congress during the Nullification Crisis. It gave me shivers reading it. My good lady had it written out and framed for me.)

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The album

After an immensely fun Tramlines weekend, I've finally found a spare half hour to sit down and let you know what we're up to. It's just over two weeks until we head into the studio to record our debut album. I wrote down all the songs we've got ready (see left) and it numbers thirteen so far. Some of them are a firm part of our set now (Mary Lamson, South, Men Of Rank); other newbies have recently been added (we debuted Cawing Cuckoo on Sunday at the Folk Forest, whilst Charles Grandison Finney just missed out); others still go back a couple of years but never seemed to fit either of our two EPs (Imitation of Life, Martha My Lover, Old Rebel Sue). Chappaquiddick was one we tried on Your Obedient Servant but when we started recording it, we realised we'd taken the completely wrong approach. We'd gone in very heavy on what is a very simple song.

 Then there are a couple that still require some work. One of these is Marry Me (Ellen Hart) and lyrically, I'm still adding to it. It's another song about Edwin Stanton, a character I find myself returning to. The verses are sketches of his romance with Ellen Hutchinson, who became his second wife. At this point, Stanton was known as Lincoln's cantankerous Secretary of War and as he courted Hutchinson, many of her friends were warning her off the old curmudgeon. He's scarred irreparably from the loss of his wife, child and brother, they said. He'll bring you nothing but misery. Stanton was persistent however, and eventually she fell for him. The song sees Stanton fighting the ghosts of his past, whilst pleading with Ellen that the past is gone and holds no weight over him. A hardened man by now, he doesn't find this argument difficult and despite the night terrors and the daily pressures of the war, here is a man in love, terrifyingly so.

It's possibly the one I'm looking forward to recording most, as he's my favourite character. It's fascinating that someone can go through such a dramatic and tremendous change of temperament as a result of personal suffering. As I sing about in Mary Lamson, Stanton had turned from a carefree, loving husband and father to a driven, angry and ambitious man, as he struggled to provide for his brother's family. His career became his life and this reaction to his mourning created many enemies along the way.

So, I'm still attempting to bring together all these verses, some of which are just snatches of some of these sentiments. Tonight we've got a rehearsal and this is what I want to work on. I want it to go from that persistent voice of proposal (the simple hook line is 'marry me, Ellen Hart') to those voices he attempts to control.

I've got lots more to say, both about the album and our Tramlines weekend, but as ever, I've got to be elsewhere. I'll keep you updated.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Code Duello

Alexander Hamilton was never to be president of the United States of America. Born in the West Indies an illegitimate child, it would never be his right, yet due to his influence and lasting legacy, his face adorns the ten dollar bill. A hugely divisive figure, Hamilton was probably the most vociferous of Federalists (the political branch who believed in the necessity to order and efficiency of a powerful central government) and co-authored the wonderfully written Federalist papers to make the argument. It would never really be won and as such, their industrial revolution sluggishly creeped quietly forward throughout the mid-19th Century. He almost sounds saddened and expectant of defeat when he writes, "An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government will be stigmatised as the offspring of a temper fond of despotic power and hostile to the principles of liberty." Hamilton was indeed passionate and it would ultimately be the death of him. In a duel of honour, he was killed by a bullet to the abdomen by vice-President, Aaron Burr.

The political rivalry between Hamilton and Burr was longstanding and interesting in itself as is the reason for the duel, but I was struck by the image of this fatal duel amongst such eminent men. Burr had arrived first with his 'second', William Van Ness, at the appointed time and place - 7am at Weehawken, New Jersey, on the Hudson River - and began to make a clearing for the dueling ground. Hamilton arrived shortly after with Nathaniel Pendleton, his second and the arrangements began. Ten paces were marked out and lots were drawn for position, which Hamilton won. Hamilton fired first but wildly and into the air but it seem he had not 'thrown away his fire', as the custom for this was to fire into the ground. Burr then, hearing the shot fly past him, legitimately fired his own shot into the lower abdomen of Hamilton. He died the next day.

An inaccurate imagining of the Hamilton-Burr duel

The scene is fantastic and, I think, incredibly sad. I wonder how the seconds felt as they prepared and what level of bravado was shown. What did it feel like to be a witness to such an event? When Hamilton raised his pistol, had he made his mind up? According to his diary entry the night before, he intended to throw away his first fire. Was he in two minds? A further theory suggests that Burr himself misfired his shot, as a witness had him step forward after Hamilton fell, as if in regret.  Last night, I tried to write a song about this scene and although they're not finished, there are two branches to the theme. One is melancholy and other quite brutal. Hopefully, they will both become something to bring to the band but they need a lot of work, mostly with the lyrics. I'm wary of trampling too heavily on the character of Hamilton particularly, as I've grown quite fond of him. Burr will perhaps take a more brutal sketch, as I'm saddened by the result of the story, though that hint of regret warms me to him slightly. I'm looking forward to getting to know them better in both songs.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Challenge

I have, for a number of years, believed that being prolific in songwriting, has more to do with the time you dedicate to it rather than waiting for the lightning bolt of inspiration. So, if it's about making time and it's a skill and a craft that I want to keep improving on, it can be frustrating when time is precious or the only time you have is half an hour before you go to sleep and you're worried about waking up the neighbours' kids.

However...! I make too many excuses and now I am committing myself to a challenge. A modest one, I'll admit, but a challenge nonetheless. I've tried these songwriting quotas in the past, with varying success. A fellow writer suggested I try writing four songs in an hour for two hours solid and see if there was anything worth keeping or see if there were bits I could piece together. I tried it a couple of times. There's wasn't much worth keeping. Still, it was fun trying and I liked the discipline of it. I also wouldn't mind trying it again sometime. I can imagine the results would improve with time. Given my limited hours, my challenge shall be thus: one song per week. One song to take to the band every week. This post makes me accountable so if I haven't posted within seven days talking about a newbie, I expect anyone reading to berate me for it.

Apart from it providing me with a good target, I also want to take in a few new songs to the studio in August. Though we've got enough for a full length album, I'm hoping we'll have time to record more than we need to create a bit of competition for places. I think we're all really looking forward to recording but we've still got some work to do before we're entirely ready. One of the things I'm interested to see when we do get in there is what surprises are thrown up - which songs, with a producer's eyes on them, will come up short and what will unexpectedly come alive.

In other news....

We've entered the Green Man Unsigned competition, with the promise of an opening slot at the festival. I LOVE Green Man, though it's been a few years since I've attended, and we'd love your support if you can spare a couple of clicks. Follow this link to give us your seal of approval. The top ten artists go through to the second round and another ten are hand-picked by Radio DJ, Huw Stephens.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Charles Grandison Finney

I've been trying to write a song tonight about a chap called Charles Grandison Finney. Finney was a pastor in the rural town of Rochester, in Western New York in the early 1830s and had been extremely successful as an evangelical preacher, doubling the town's church membership in six months. Rochester was a fascinating place around this time and is a wonderful picture of some the changes America was experiencing, socially, politically and industrially. With the building of the Erie Canal through the region, Rochester, along with other canal towns,  experienced something of a boom, as trade flourished. Industries sprung up overnight and a hierarchy was quickly established, as previous artisans and tradesmen found themselves on the payroll for companies they could not compete with. At the same time, the 1828 presidential election brought with it nearly complete suffrage for white males. Whereas previously, it was the state legislature that apportioned its votes to the electoral college, now the election of the nation's president was directed by the people, all be it excluding women, blacks and Indians. This new empowerment, combined with a growing industrialisation, caused huge class divisions. Additionally, the Second Great Awakening, the revival sweeping the north-west of America, hit full force in western New York, which became known as the burnt-over district, such was the frequency and potency of the evangelical movement in this region. As such, many of Rochester's town leaders were converted - quite often by their wives - and in turn, the workers of newly converted businessmen were also encouraged to see the light; encouragement being in the form of rewards for those who attended church on a Sunday. A canny way of controlling an increasingly volatile workforce, empowered by the vote. A further tactic - supported by the town's now large religious community - was to turn the town dry; to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol.

Map of the New York State Canals (1853)

Finney saw an opportunity to unite the town's leaders in his mission against the "demon rum". The factions of old political aristocracy and the new anti-Mason movement, had created a hugely hostile and bitter political atmosphere. Finney had huge influence over those he had converted but the old wounds amongst the leaders needed healing if he was to achieve his goal. They were soon to be united into the cohesive Whig Party. In order to compete with Jackson and the party machine of the Democrats, they had to get organised and to do that, they had to bury the hatchet. Religion did the trick and Finney played his part. Harry L. Watson, in his book on Jacksonian America summarises it well: "Finney had converted large numbers of middle-level employees, who now joined the party of their employers and gave the forces of temperance and order an effective political majority at last."

So, I'm trying to write a song about this figure, who fascinates me. I've already got a picture in my head of what he looks like. My idea is to write from the perspective of Finney, as he speaks in a meeting of the Rochester's town leaders. I've got a verse so far but I'm not entirely sure where it's leading. I like the idea though and most importantly, I'm getting into this character - he's fantastic!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

A Brave Sound

Now This Sound Is Brave have been covering us for the past couple of years, since we released our first EP and a delightful bunch they are too. Recently, they've started a great feature entitled, A Good Read, A Good Listen and A Good Drink, with various musicians contributing their thoughts, so I was very excited to be asked to put forth my own preferences. A toughie undoubtedly, but after much pondering I managed to plump for some real goodies. Take a peek right here.

John Trumbull's depiction of the Declaration of Independence.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Double Gig Day

Yesterday was our Double Gig Day, the first we've done in a long time. The sun just about held out for the first, in Weston Park, organised by Toast Magazine, with monies going to the Children's Hospital. I managed to break a D string in soundcheck, which didn't bode well. It 's now becoming a bit of a joke. I've broken about 4 or 5 D strings in the last couple of weeks. I think there's something up with the indent on the bridge. However, we braved on (after replacing the string) and felt it went really well. Tom admitted to forgetting pretty much all the chords to opener, Men of Rank. Didn't notice at the time so I think he must have covered it well. It's quite funny doing the banter at gigs 'cause your instinct is to start asking questions ('How you doing?' 'Had a good day?'), which is a bit ridiculous really. You're not going to have a conversation with the audience. I attempted to unify the audience by asking what the collective emotion was in Weston Park, sensing we may be able to harness our energy and speak as one. I got a few whoops. Twas a lovely affair and I must extend my thanks and congrats to the Toast boys for doing a top job. Thanks chaps.

First time I've played a bandstand. Tick. Oh, and the sound was surprisingly good. Our expectations were really really low. Really low. Much to our delight, the engineers not only did a great job - I could hear my vocal really clearly, my one essential and by all accounts, it sounded great out front - but they were also very decent gents. Hope to work with them again in the future.

Tom mentioned he spoke to a friend after, who, on hearing us for the first time, said we sounded like Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and a lighter Queens of The Stone Age! Not heard that latter comparison before. I dig.

Straight onto SoYo, where they appear to own Monday nights. Matt and Tariq do a fantastic job of the promotions there and it's always interesting to see what touring band they've booked. Hungry Kids of Hungary managed to get a very catchy riff firmly stuck in my head for the rest of the night during soundcheck! Lovely chaps and an interesting sound. Really really poppy but with some interesting melodies and tight as a nut. I think by the time they got on stage, the West St crowd were populating the place and the mood changed a bit so they found it harder to hold the crowd. I think it's tough for a touring band when they've no idea what they're stepping into. The singer called it a "weird night" later and I can understand that. You do get a mix of people in there. Mondays are obviously a live music night but if they can keep the night going for a few more hours after and earn a few more quid, they're gonna want to widen the market a little. I think we took to the stage an the optimum time. People had a few drinks in them and were a bit jolly and were up for listening and giving a bit of banter, but they weren't so inebriated that they were acting like tools. Highlights for me were Julia Died of Cholera, which we killed and South (download for free here!). I screwed up the first song, Men of Rank slightly but it wasn't disastrous.

After watching Hungry Kids of Hungary, Ben and I went to the Redhouse with a few friends to keep the night going. We waited it out until they started playing some good music and finally it came: Chuck Berry, Elvis, The Supremes. We tore it up. And then it took it's toll. We crawled back to our beds. Ace night.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Club 60

At the end of April, we played a gig for Sensoria 2012 at Upper Chapel, a beautiful church in the centre of Sheffield. It was a really fun night, which included our own tribute to the late Levon Helm, a cover of 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.' The first time performing in a church, I quickly became conscious of some of the irreverent content of my lyrics: "I'll parry and I'll goad / For what greater prize / to win this land / from where religion must die". Oops. No disrespect intended to the Unitarians, though as their website states, they are a "haven of religious liberalism and tolerance." Phew.

Anyway, as a consequence, Jo and Nigel, Sensoria's organisers, invited us to play at Club 60 for their end of festival party. It was the first time we played their and again, we had a great night. Little did we know, Blakey - Club 60s main man - records all the shows, and pretty much straight after we stepped off stage, he took us upstairs to have a listen to the show. We were impressed and got into a conversation about recording with him. He's got oodles of enthusiasm and after talking about our various options, we arranged to meet up a couple of days later to discuss it further. The studio is full of various contraptions that took me back to my childhood - a BBC computer, for example! I remember, as a ten year old, being completely hooked on a general election game I played on my BBC. Hmm, I was a strange child.

So, after discussing some of the finer details, we booked in 5 days of recording in mid August. Were all pretty psyched about going into the studio - it really is like going away on camp! - though we've got a bit of work to do before then. There are a bunch of new songs that need plenty of work on them and we're just figuring out what's going to make the cut. A difficult process but we feel we've got plenty of good stuff to choose from.

One of the newbies, 'Marry Me, Ellen Hart', musically, is something of a tip of the hat to Nick Cave's Henry's Dream - perhaps specifically, 'Papa Won't Leave You Henry' - which I only found out recently was produced by David Briggs, Neil Young's long-time producer. Unfortunately, they weren't too pleased with the results or Briggs' live studio approach, so ended up remixing it. This consequently gave us the Live Seeds album, as they wanted to do the songs justice. Hmmm, still in my top 3 Nick Cave albums, no matter what they think. Lyrically, 'Marry Me...' continues my obsession with Edwin Stanton, Lincoln's cantankerous Secretary of War, as he woos his stubborn second wife. The lady in question was warned off the old curmudgeon by numerous friends (Stanton had turned from a care-free, loving father and husband to an embittered and ambitious man after the death of his wife, child and brother in the space of a few years) but he persisted and soon got his way.

It's looking like it'll appear on the album, along with a few others that haven't been aired live yet. In the meantime, here's one of the songs from the Club 60 gig that will also appear on the album. Tis all yours to download for free. Enjoy.

Our latest recruit

We've had a few different incarnations over the past three years, and I may elaborate on our story along the way, but our current lineup consists of....

Pete David: vocals, guitar
Paul Heath: bass
Ben Fuller: drums, vocals
Tom Baxendale: guitar

Tom is the latest Union recruit, joining us a couple of months ago, and is an excellent songwriter in his own right. Tom and I played in bands together about 8-10 years ago, before he disappeared to London for 7 years. His return to Sheffield coincided with us enjoying an extended spell as a three-piece but I was keen to add a further melodic element. He'd played with us a couple of times before - once at an immensely fun warehouse gig in Hackney Wick - and it was a natural fit. Our musical education has been very similar - with much swapping of recommendations - and he's been a big influence on my songwriting. On Thursday night, Tom played at Opus Acoustics at the Riverside and in terms of craft, it was, as it often is, a reminder to me of how to write songs. Check 'em out for yourself here.
This is Tom's old band, The Rainy Day Club, performing at The Gladstone in that London.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Let me introduce myself...

My name is Pete David and I sing in a band called The Payroll Union.

I've written blogs before, on politics, books, football, film... and music, though never my own. Maybe that's weird but I think it probably makes sense to a lot of bloggers. It's a lot easier to write about other things - people and worlds elsewhere - and the veil of distance can provide you with an illusory sense of objectivity. So, it's with some trepidation I write these words. The blog, I hope, isn't entirely vain. One thing it isn't meant to be is a personal diary. I don't have a problem with those types of blogs - some can can be very funny and insightful -  but I think there is a fine line between self-reflection and self-absorption. I don't intend to attempt that balancing act. What I do want to do is provide an insight into our band. Why? Because being in this band is fun. Because right now we're writing our best stuff. Because I want to keep a record. Maybe it will be cathartic, as is the hope of many bloggers. I know I'm going to enjoy writing it, despite my trepidation. Let me know if you do too.

So, what to expect... I'll obviously let you know what we're up to - gigs, recording, videos etc. - but I'll also talk about songwriting (be warned, I'll bang on about my subject matter - primarily American history - quite a lot!), who is influencing me, any successes (and failures... we've had a few) we manage to acquire along the way. As George Jung would say, the gladness, the sadness, the madness and the badness. But we don't do coke. Yet.