Mosaic.

Today my band ‘Gravity Dave’ have made available an early mix of one of our original songs, ‘Mosaic’.

Now, I can sit here and tell you why you should listen to it, that it ‘rocks’ and suchlike (it does), but that’s not really what I’ve got this blog for.

So instead, I’m going to use this particular chunk of cyber space to look at the lyrics, do a bit of a self-critique and explanation of the process by which I get lyrics together. Of course this changes from song to song, but some elements remain constant throughout the process.

This may seem a little self-indulgent, but we all listen to and absorb song lyrics every day without giving them too much thought (unless they are particularly strong or controversial) and I would wager that a whole host of music lovers wouldn’t give much heed to poetry while still being able to recite the words to hundreds of their favourite songs. So today is an exploration of the lyric. And to top it all, you can listen to the song afterwards, if you like.

Ever remember school assemblies where the teacher would take the Lord’s Prayer line by line, examining the nuance and meaning of each word? Well, we did, every term. It was interesting (the first time around) and stopped it being a drone of syllables we all strung together in a lazy drawl every morning. Whatever your beliefs, whatever text you are studying are hearing, conscious awareness of the moment, the content and the context is much better than an apathetic wave of indistinct noises passing through you, passing by you.

Funnily enough, that scene, sitting cross-legged in a cold school hall, listening and learning, putting your hand up to be spoken to, taking it all in, forms the basis of ‘Mosaic’, as you can see in the first verse:

Dusty floors, cross legged and cold. Rusted doors, criss-cross windows. You clap and fall down.

                The ‘criss-cross’ windows are those safety glass door windows you get in public places, schools, hospitals and such like, where within the glass pane there is a black metal grid. Clapping and falling down, well, as I remember, there used to be several games like that.

Raise your hand, and comply. Understand, we’re all trying to not let you down my friends.

                Here we start to get the theme of the piece. This song started as an idea about conformity, the lack of critical thinking, the architects of our personalities from cradle to grave, concentrating on the most malleable time of our lives, school. In this case, primary school. Now I’m not saying I had a bad time at primary school, I didn’t, but I want to contrast the very ‘English’ Methodist school upbringing I had against the anxiety I often feel now, the world being as it is. It may have been okay for me, but education was very rigid, very set-in-its-ways, very, well English, I’ll say again.

On a technical note, when you hear the song, you’ll hear that the word ‘trying’ both forms the end of the line and the start of the next, split in half by the syllable’s. I like doing this, it’s fun.

So that’s the first verse. I’ve built on the theme I have in mind with the imagery of my school days. Onto the chorus.

We’d never say it but you are Mosaic, please stand far way and you’ll get the full picture.

                Now we get the first mention of the title, Mosaic. If memory serves me well, this was a natural progression from the preceding ‘we’d never say it’. It’s cool when you can get one word to rhyme with two or more others. Of course ‘say-it’ and ‘Mosaic’ are not true rhymes, rhyming as they do on the vowel sounds of the ‘a’ and ‘i’, but  it’s not tenuous and passes by the ear well I think.

Once I found the word ‘Mosaic’ (a great word, don’t you think?), the rest of the chorus can start to be constructed around it. Obviously, standing away to get the full picture is a feature of mosaic’s – close up they are just a senseless amalgam of shapes and colours.

We’d never risk it a broken statistic, we’ll stick to the past and the pain and the scripture.

You may have noticed that the voice changes in this section too. I’m now speaking as ‘the man’, as it were (such a hippy). This is not to blame anyone specifically, but our education system was provided to us at the whim and prudence of the wealthy and utilitarian. Although there are some great people doing great things to recognise and nurture individuality and critical reasoning, it is hardly the main aim of the system. No, let’s face it, the main aim of the system is to compartmentalise us into an economic unit and classification to enable statistics to be drawn and activities planned on a global scale. That’s just the truth of it, not even hidden. Now more than ever our kids are being ear-marked for their future demographic from the moment they walk into school. That’s why ‘we’d never say’ that you are a complex picture of many aspects, and not ‘risk’ producing a broken statistic (one that breaks out of the prescribed parameters), and we will stick to traditional teaching. The use of the word scripture here is just to reflect the lack of choice we had in our spiritual/religious teachings at school (or exploration of the alternatives). The ‘pain’ is a lyrical liberty, but can mean the net-effect of all these considerations.

We’re trying to reach you, to reach you, to reach you… etc..

This is the hook line of the chorus that I ‘ramp up’ from a chant to a high-scream! It is a mantra of education I think, I hear it a lot in interviews with various ministers. Simultaneously trying to ‘reach’ through and connect with the individual while trying to fit them into a starched curriculum. Onto verse two.

                Afternoon’s, bruised knees and fights, silver spoons, stay out of sight from playground kings.

Break-time! Everyone loved break-time right? Unless you were being bullied or what-not, and then it was shit. I went through patches of this. It’s not nice. When I moved to Stoke with my family aged 9, my accent was different. I was sometimes accused of being ‘posh’, which was funny seeing as I had moved further South from Scarborough, my parents were originally from Middleborough and Essex and from a ‘proper’ working class background. But kids are kids. This is just a hark back to the ‘rule of the playground’ where the kids who liked to taunt and bully roamed free, and the rest of us just tried to get on with it. Thankfully, the vast majority of us.

Broken bones, shattered by words, sticks & stones, don’t even hurt, don’t even sting, here comes the break…

Having said all that about ‘kids will be kids’, I’m sure some of you experienced the old ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me’ line when trying to tell an adult about some nasty piece of work giving you a hard time? I always thought it was a cop-out, I think I still do. Words are one of, if not the, most powerful weapon in our arsenal. They may not have the immediacy of weapons, but without them, there would be no weapons. I can hardly see us grunting our way to the discovery of combustion and ballistics. Language, words, as has been well described before by much greater minds than mine, just chip, chip away, constantly being  rearranged, altered, strung together and stored. Surges of meaning and revelation build over centuries, generations, and sometimes can spark in a moment and change everything. If you think that words can’t hurt, you are not giving them the reverence and respect they deserve. As for the ending line, that’s a little joke, it is both the ‘break’ of bones, and literally signalling the ‘break’ before the chorus.

Which brings us back to the chorus that in true rock/pop style, is a repeat of the first without deviation. This leads nicely into a musical outro that strips back the themes from the song and then builds them back up again into a climactic progression, underpinned by our drummers excellent tribal tom-tom backing.

Well, I enjoyed delving into that. Of course, when I wrote these words, I didn’t sit here and think of all this for each line. Generally, I start with either the theme or an interesting combination of words and then build it up from a mixture of ad-libbing at practice and good old graft with the pen and paper. My words are almost always led by rhyme, set within a context. That’s the challenge. Trying to find a word that fits without distorting the theme. On other occasions the song may be totally led by the sound of the words, purely for aural-aesthetic purposes. This leads to lyrics akin to Lennon’s ‘I am the Walrus’ and ‘Come together’. They are celebrations of words, loosely held together, but more for their own sake. I like this but you can’t do it all the time, not if you want to convey any coherent association of ideas at least occasionally in your art-form. It would be like only ever writing stream-of-conscious monologues forever, which although fun, lack poignancy and depth.

If you read this and enjoyed it, please, please take a listen to the track which all being well, should be posted below here. I am lucky to have such a talented group of guys working on these songs to set my words to. Musically I love this piece but am only responsible for the melody, my guitar parts and maybe the chords of the chorus… (can’t remember right now!) I could write a whole other blog on the musical construct of this song, but maybe I’ll save that for another piece, another time. Also, if you like it, give us a ‘like’ on Facebook (linked below) & reverbnation, there are plenty more songs coming and we gig regularly. Thank you.

Listen here:

http://www.reverbnation.com/gravitydave/song/18135122-mosaic-studio-demo

Like us here:

www.facebook.com/gravitydave

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A gig at a leisure centre? Okay then…

So I sing and play guitar in an originals band called ‘Gravity Dave’ (www.facebook.com/gravitydave). We’ve been going in one form or another for a year and a half now, and all of us played in various bands for many years before.

We work hard every Thursday night rehearsing and writing new material. We pay the practice room fee out of our own pockets and of course, all our equipment costs and maintenance and occasionally recording costs and such like. I’m sure you’ve heard all this before if you know anyone in a band, but live ‘band’ music really is becoming the lesser revered and funded sibling of the arts.

On Friday we played a gig in a leisure centre cafe. That’s right, a leisure centre cafe. As in, there were people filing in and out behind us on their way from/to various sporting activities. The night itself was organised by a local music promotions company and takes place in that venue every last Friday of the month. When we signed up for it, not unusually, the thought that the venue would actually be within diving distance of a swimming pool had not crossed our minds. But when we found out it didn’t matter, because we’ve played plenty of conventional venues without audience anyway, so it could be a turn up for the books, who knows? You see, that’s what it comes down to sometimes, just hoping we stumble across the places where folks still turn out for live bands and original music in Stoke & Staffordshire, wherever that may be.

As it happened, there weren’t really that many folk there. Each of the three acts had a small showing with them, mostly family and friends, and the organisers had mustered a small crowd, but all in all, we’re talking less than 20 I reckon (that includes the acts). I must say at this point that the actual music was great and well received by the few who attended. I didn’t really catch enough of the first act ‘The Carpet Lions’ to say much about them here (they had a flight of the concords thing going on, but it felt a little unformed, but they were only teens and it takes some confidence to try that kind of thing), but I did have the pleasure of catching ‘The John Macleod’ band’s set (www.facebook.com/mrjohnmacleod). As soon as they got on stage I relaxed. It would be one thing to play a gig in a leisure centre with next to no audience and a weird line-up (comedy acoustic acts followed by rock/punk acts?!) but seeing a ‘proper’ group take the stage at least gave me something to hold on to.

They played a great set which moved through prog to folk (which actually makes a lot of sense), with a charismatic front man (John Macleod), a synth/accordion player who was able to create studio-esque backing to the live music (adding buckets of ambience) and a meaty bassist working with the drummer to keep each tune powerful and driving. I’m not a music reviewer, so if you want an idea of how they sounded, half of the set sounded like ‘Cake’ and the rest was more traditional (yet brilliantly realised) rock/folk. I apologise emphatically if any of them read this and totally disagree – the long and short of it was, I thought they were great.

So after watching those guys, it was our turn and we did our thing. It’s not my place to review myself, but we were told by the Macleod guys and our support (and the sound guys) that the set was good and people enjoyed it, which is all we can hope for. The usual groan of “It’s a shame there weren’t many here…” came from all quarters, and after meeting some nice new people, swapping details and vowing to gig together at some point, we went home, happy with a nights work and glad to have made an impression on the few that were there, if nothing else.

I don’t know if there is a moral to all this. It’s hard for me to judge because playing in a band myself means I don’t always feel that obliged to go to other nights when I’m not on the bill. That’s not being egotistical, it’s just because all being well, those nights are all rolled into one and I can play and watch all at the same time. Playing at a leisure centre was weird but it still worked in the end because it’s quite simple – a couple of good acts and an audience in one room makes for a night (plus booze, there must be booze). The one element (at least in this area) that is missing is audience. I know you might scoff and say that’s because we don’t have one of our own, but it’s a catch 22 situation really – if the passing audience isn’t there to pick up new fans, how can you expect to get new fans?

My favourite nights are usually the free ones. This gig was £4 a ticket, and the band could get £1 for each sold. We were given 32 tickets, which even if we had of sold them all, would have been £32 between 4 people. That’s £8 each for a night that started at 6pm with the sound-check and ended past 11pm. That’s not the organisers fault as this isn’t unusual for a night like this, but when you think that we pay around £50 a month for our rehearsal room, that’s not even being covered, let alone our petrol and thousands of pounds worth of equipment costs. And anyway, we didn’t sell the tickets because it was out of our usual area, too expensive and  quite possibly, because it was in a leisure centre and I don’t think people’s brains could quite process that!

It’s a familiar story and I think the reason it happens is because we would do it anyway (most times) paid or not. So why pay for something that you can get for free? Well, because we would get better with more time and resources to develop. Your nights out would get better. The music in the country would get better. The charts would get better. The quality of people’s lives would get better (in cultural terms). The local music industries would be better funded. More money for recording studios, photographers, film makers, merchandise companies, venues, technicians etc… as a real culture of good quality live music is fostered. But hey, cover bands get paid. But cover bands need something to play! One day all the bands will be cover bands and when people finally get bored of the sets, it will be because no-one is left making original music anymore. We will be doomed to listen to bad versions of the Kings of Leon for all eternity. We will be Mustang-Sallyied to death.

So this may seem negative but I don’t mean to be. I know the sentiment was there with the organisers, and I’ve been in that position before as an event organiser myself where the last people you think about paying are the bands because all the other stuff takes so much money and time to put in place. Maybe one of the solutions for bands is merchandise – selling CD’s, downloads, badges, t-shirts and what not (we’re going to give that a go as we play our next few venues), but it is a shame in a way that it comes down to that when you’ve spent months or years coming up with a solid 40 minute set of original songs, played them, been appreciated, but not paid.

And it’s not all bad. We are surprised every now and again and we know that it’s up to us to seek out and play the better venues with the bigger crowds, though that will probably mean playing out of the county. Having experienced Liverpool’s music scene directly on occasion and vicariously through my older brother (who plays in two bands up there*), I know it exists. But then, Liverpool has a legacy, as does Manchester, London and Birmingham. Stoke’s legacy is a bit of a mixed bag, but there are bands in almost every spare room and dilapidated factory unit around here, brimming with enthusiasm and ability, trying to get out. I wish we didn’t have to ‘get out’. I like it here, it’s where I live. I mean, going further afield is cool, but it would be nice for that to be an optional extra, knowing that there are plenty of packed (and paying) venues back home in the meantime.

Well this has turned out to be a long post! I’d be surprised if anyone reads this far. If they do, confound my expectations by leaving a little comment. Even if it is just the world ‘splurge’. I’ll know what you mean by that, it will make me happy.

Finally, my band are quite busy at the moment so check out www.facebook.com/gravitydave for event information. I’m on local radio with them tonight, and I guess that might make it into my next blog anyway.

Ta for now. Splurge.

Garry.

Ps. If anyone from VB Music reads this – Keep it up. I’m talking about the broader world we all find ourselves in. The unusual venue is a bit of a hard one to get your head around, especially with it not being near to a town centre, but the way the night was ran and the feeling among the acts was positive. Tickets prices are probably too high for a lot of people, especially when they also need to travel out by taxi to the venue and such like. Audience’s need incentives (free or cheap entry, easy location) and set up a merch table for the bands with someone to man it if possible. I hope this helps and doesn’t sound arrogant, but you do want to build these nights up I imagine and I reckon these few things would help.

* My bro’s bands – Check them out and all that:

https://www.facebook.com/HillaryandtheDemocrats?fref=ts – Hillary & the Democrats

https://www.facebook.com/goodgriefliverpool?fref=ts – Good Grief!