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.)