Toehold: and the Value of Collaboration

As I’ve often averred, a complex, troubled period of my life has left me denuded of many of the friendships I used to rely on – most specifically the band with which I played for many years (I know you’re not reading – and even if you are you still hate me – but I miss you guys horribly).

While with the band I was always the creative force. When we were playing original songs, they were almost entirely songs of my own creation. But if I provided the raw materials, it was the band who would forge the song into something great. Sometimes, they would discount a song altogether (sometimes I agreed with their shout, but there were many many songs we left by the roadside to my quiet dismay) but they would also hammer and sculpt the raw materials into something better than just the acoustic framework. A drumbeat here… a bass run there, and suddenly the original song could take on a whole new dimension.

And sometimes the contribution would go further than that – with ideas for lyrics or a chord change bubbling up as we jammed away. So while I credit myself a lot for basically everything, sometimes it would be impossible to understate the contributions that they made to the music. That’s why – as stupid as it is given the fact that we never actually sold any music – I was always keen to give equal writing credits to the lads.

Anyway, that’s enough tedious history. The reason I bring this all up is that here is a genuine piece of collaboration – the first such example in years.

I have had a half-written lyric for a song called T.R.O.U.B.L.E. for a couple of years now – with the idea that the chorus would actually be a chant, spelling out the word. I’ve never quite found the bit of music to fit to it (unusual for me, because mostly the music comes before the lyric). I’ve tried electronica, blues rock and then at the end of last year came up with a sort of rock ‘n’ roll 12 bar – a bit akin to Brand New Cadillac (the Clash version from London Calling (1979)).

So, having put together this musical backdrop – complete with clanging guitars and an insistent beat – I tried piecing together a melody…. but it never really came.

Annoyed, I left it to simmer with other similar pieces in my vast boiling pot of parts… until my tame guitarist came to visit the other week, bringing with him his gorgeous semi-acoustic Gibson with its whacking great whammy bar and glistening pick ups. He also brought with him with a desire to “do something surf-y”.

Well, you can imagine the rest. I played him my thuggish Clashesque 12 bar and over the course of an hour he penned the astonishing great guitar part you hear now. He prodded me to lighten the backing, wack up the reverb, and add some acoustic guitar to get  a more authentic sound and… voila! A slice of surf music – and (double bonus) no room for lyrics at all. Just 3 minutes of idiomatic guitar excitement.

With this, my second album is now 95% complete – and apart from one guitar solo (to be recorded in the next fortnight) ready for release.

Preposterously, my third album is also mostly done – barring lyrics.

These might be personally painful times in many ways, but they are also golden times from a creative perspective.