Wednesday, 15 June 2011

THUNDERER & EXCELSIOR - Song By Song

Like the 'Railway Architecture' discussion here, this would've worked nicely as an audio documentary with lots of demo snippets etc. but who has the time? Maybe I will do that one day. Perhaps picture me saying all this sat at a mixing desk in a darkened studio. Anyway, 2008's CLASSIC debut album. Song by song. Go! EDIT: I had a listen to this the other day and it's not half bad I tell you. Might give it another spin tonight too.

Horrors The first thing to say about this song is that the chorus, due to a mix up with the 4-track machine in 2004, is the chorus of 'The Squadron Leader' played backwards. The verse riffs are excellent and live became my 'Hang Onto Yourself' as the favoured gig opener. I remember wanting it to be more '96 Tears' or Sparks 'I Wish I Looked A Little Better' but as I recall no one knew those songs. It came out much better anyway. The album version is the original recording that we did way ahead of the album sessions proper, it naturally became our first single coupled with 'Orders' as the first two songs we finished. I always liked that pairing as it was like all life is in those two words - 'Horrors' and 'Orders'. A cracking debut coupling. I actually remember where I was stood on Goswell Road the moment I first sang the chorus in my head. Then ran to work singing it so I didn't forget it. A great award winning animated video by Mr Dirty Earthworm too.

Devil In The Detail
Single number 2, and an early live favourite - even back when it was just called 'Devils' and was yet to gain the chorus hook. That was happy accident while I added keyboard to a half finished demo - a newsreader said the phrase while I still had the melody fresh in my head and WALLOP! the classic Silvery track. Extended somewhat with a key change at the end and a delicious guitar solo added, it had a long gestation period. Although you'll see it was still fully formed by the 2005 demo you can hear on that bad / fun video of us at the funfair on Youtube which was made a year later. Backed with 'The Squadron Leader' as our first bonafide non album B-side (we stopped doing them as it has become clear people don't actually listen to B-sides these days - hence two 14 track albums) the coupling outdid 'Horrors' in the Indie Chart and cracked the Top 20. Another good video too, but unfortunately led to a still ongoing phobia of video making.

Action Force Single number 3, and due to some creative tracklisting by the label, track number three on the album, 'Action Force' again dated back to 2002 or thereabouts, but with the guitar playing the piano part. Infact as the songs became more vaudeville, getting a keyboard player climbed higher and higher up the 'to do' list. I made a decent video too, collecting clips of old diesel locomotives, giving rise to my idea that any future Silvery DVD release will be called 'British Transport Films'. No idea if this charted as the label decided to withdraw the vinyl pressing so it didn't qualify. FFS. Before 'You Give A Little Love' and 'Two Halves Of The Same Boy', our biggest radio hit to date. Clue: repeat the chorus a lot and add handclaps. We did two BBC session versions of this (Radio 1 and 6Music) mainly to make use of the huge pianos that the BBC always had on hand.

A Penny Dreadful
An effort to write a song that was actually a song rather than exercise in cut up lyrical snippets, instrumental hooks and exciting drums like much of the material was before it, 'A Penny Dreadful' is probably the most successful song on the album. I'm not too keen on the recording, mind. Although I like the 'Ziggy Stardust' production, my voice was shot by that point. A good band performance. I'd have to say I wanted to start writing like that do due to certain bands leaking loads of demo sessions. They just didn't care what state of undress the songs were seen in. Although frustrating, I found that quite inspiring. So sure enough, 'A Penny Dreadful' was finished when I knew I could play it all the way through on an acoustic guitar without wincing. I remember the chorus came complete with lyrics and all in one go. That happens sometimes. Like 'Orders' too, which is basically the same riff moved up a couple of strings. One trick, innit? Lyrically, it is directly related to some of my earliest songs that celebrate the art of letter writing. A lost art form.

Warship Class
Curiously, and bar the slow metamorphosis of 'Horrors', the newest song on the album. Part of a 4 song demo I made naming each tune after an extinct diesel locomotive class, it is explained here. The instrumentation was pretty much in place on the demo, but it's fair to say the drums made it unstoppable. Notable live performance: Bath Moles Club, braining myself on the low ceiling during a big jump in the middle. I collapsed to the floor and had a twitching eye for the rest of the week.

Star Of The Sea
I love this song, which maybe why I never found this recording satisfying. The long instrumental section was grafted on from an older almost identical song called 'Peachy', and the noise outro can be traced right back to my earliest musical experiments. Each musician read something that meant something to them, each divided up into the stages of man - childhood home, education, adult home. That kind of thing. Bassist Joe made the mistake of saying his complete home address, which bizarrely among the cacophony, was plainly audible in the mix. Took a couple of goes to hide that.

Revolving Sleepy Signs
Together with 'Foreign Exchange' the oldest thing on the record, dated right back in almost identical form to the late 90s. I guess that happens doesn't it? Bowie was using stuff he wrote at the age of 16 well into the 80s. Actually, if I think about it - the outro is even older, lifted from a 'Chiquitita' rewrite I did called 'Marriage'. Funny what this musical archeology digs up isn't it? The solo comes from another song of similar vintage called 'Never Ever'. That was a good song. I seem to remember the chords to 'Revolving' were the same as 'Ashes To Ashes'. I might need to check that though. One of the songs crying out for an organ on it to replace and expand on the similar original guitar line, I think the best keyboard performance on the album.

Orders A smashing little song, and a super original demo. Indeed, that sped up guitar bit at the start is taken directly from the demo. As things like 'Devil' were written imagining what the 4th Suede single would've sounded like if they hadn't got lazy, this was an exercise in Glam era Sparks. Of course, it ended up more like Blur doing 'Captain Of The Pinafore', but hey. I remember it was originally written using the city as a metaphor for the human body and an open letter to whoever was the celebrity junkie of the day. It changed quite a bit, but was better for it. To be honest, at this time I learnt a great lesson. Where previous demos had been made using the same methods, the writing came on leaps and bounds once I started adding bass, keyboards and sampled drums to the demo recordings. Unfortunately, that way it doesn't give other people much room to expand the arrangements.

1994
A love song to a year? Surely not? '1994' became the title track of the great unreleased Silvery musical (I should find the original tracklisting from that so I can reconstructed it with the finished songs from both albums). The drums on the demo were sampled from 'Talent Is An Asset' by Sparks (any song with a drum intro was fair game for looping on a minidisc for demonstration purposes) and the feel was trying to be like Swimmer's first single 'Boxes' (yes, from 1994). There was a similar song called 'I Am A Writer' that was good too, but this tune had a funnier guitar solo, hence became the one we did live. Radio top chap Steve Lamacq caught us off guard when he said it was his favourite off the album when we were convinced he liked 'Action Force'. I had to beg that this wasn't a single in 2009 when dickhead Blur got back together. We went for the very non-Britpop 'Nishikado' instead and missed out on a support slot. FFS.

The Nishikado
Like 'Devil', this has a long gestation and became arguably the best Silvery song to date. Performed for years in its original verse / chorus form - I pushed and pushed for it to go up and up and get longer and longer (a trick learnt from the great unreleased song 'A Man Has Disappeared In The Sky' AKA 'Waterframe'). Indeed, it was the last song recorded for the record sometime after the main sessions had finished as the arrangement just wouldn't settle. Should maybe have left it to the 2nd album, but I get the feeling it wouldn't have got recorded. Also like the 'Devil' chorus, this one was a happy coincidence as I was demoing it at home. I had the chorus melody but then playing Bamboozle on Teletext, one of the questions was 'Who invented Space Invaders?' I didn't have a clue, but me having to go back to the start resulted in a great chorus lyric of 'Toshihiro Nishikado'. It fit perfectly. An excellent keyboard sound, echoing the brilliant sound on Belle & Sebastian's 'Lazy Line Painter Jane' but that didn't stop me from leaving the recording session under a cloud. The video was OK - made for tuppence in my Shoreditch pad with my friend Nick helping in the edit. As it was my first attempt, it's worth noting that the nightvision thing wasn't supposed to be on. This did really well on some Dutch chart. Top 5 as i recall.

Ghosts
Almost identical to the demo, I decided this needed to be on the album as I wanted to see if people from the future would actually appear. There will be Silvery CDs on Earth far longer than me, so it was worth a shot. The lovely xylophone outro is actually the same scary / funny notes I made up for the outro of the original 'That Which Is' demo from 2002. Funny how these things get recycled. Originally shared the name '...Of Ghosts And Spirits Walking By Night' with another song but became plain old 'Ghosts' when we started doing it live and the setlist was never wide enough to fit the name on.

Foreign Exchange & The Drilling Machine
The absolute oldest thing on here bar the 'Revolving' outro. A trip to a Foreign Exchange immortalised in song, although a slow rewrite (on and off over 10 years) made it more Silvery, and the addition of the outro (originally entitled 'Battle Bridge', or sometimes 'On The Racket') made it the centrepiece to Silvery live in 2007 - 2008. A fantastic BBC version was performed live to the nation on 6Music which I think I prefer to the album cut. Was also renamed several times over the years - 'Hero Apollo Man' and 'The Lady Vanishes' spring to mind - but settled on the original name in a flash of nostalgia.

That Which Is / That Which Is Not
Frantic and compressed, this was a perennial favourite on demos - I think 2 previous almost identical versions were cut, and early live renditions had a second guitar doing the keyboard riff. We were even called 'fairground' before we added a keyboard, which is amazing when you think about it. The first Silvery song to have a video made for it WAY BACK, featuring rehearsal footage and badly edited UFO stuff off a TV documentary. It was nice. Not only the first Silvery song to be issued on CD, when Clash magazine issued it ahead of the album in Summer '08, but the first Silvery song to be played on Radio 1 when Lamacq played one of the early demo versions back in '06. Even at that point I didn't think that sort happened anymore.

Animals Are Vanishing
Started out as a pastiche of 'Scary Monsters' era Bowie, a swift timing change and hey presto, some classic Victorian circus glam. We played it in early form without the outro for a while, but then while reading a book about the lost rivers of London I set their names to Pink Floyd's 'Astronomy Domine' - replacing the stars names with the far more mysterious lost underground rivers. Hence it became the tale of real life Victorian explorer Jonathan Hollingshead who searched for the sources of these rivers. As the end got longer and longer in the studio, it became clear that he wasn't going to re-emerge into the light and could still be down there. The perfect ending. Then of course, it became impossible to do it justice live and only rarely got an airing - usually when enough Ex Silverys were in the room to add to the choir at the end.

But of course, there is an epilogue with the hidden track 'The Ship's Cat', inspired by me finding an old ship's compass on the beach at Netley when I was little. Mix that with vague memories of a Bagpuss episode and there we are. we actually did that live a few times, most notably supporting David Devant & His Spirit Wife at that big venue in the N1 centre in Islington. A good chance for everyone at the bar to go to another bar in another venue. Again, great organing underneath it, making it positively Tim Burton.

There we are then. I should imagine I'll keep updating this and changing it slightly - adding more links to stuff. I might even add some sound clips. All in all, a really great record I think. Over long perhaps, rushed in places, but a perfect artifact of an excellent line up. And that is a classic bit of cover artwork by Mr Dirty Earthworm. I keep being asked what the title means. Well, if you have a flick through Viz from August '04, you'll find the answer. Thanks for reading.