Friday 12 June 2015

Songs of Love and War

I am finally in the process of achieving a long held ambition. In January 1985, following a split in my band in September 1984 and a period of severe ill health, I entered a period of intense reflection as to what I wanted to do with my musical career. Throughout my career I've kept a scrapbook and the page for 1988 tells the story!

Of course there is a bit more to it than this
It starts in the top left corner, with an Advert in January 1985 for a new singer for the False dots. When the ad came out, it sort of made me laugh when I read it. When I spoke to Gavin O'Toole at The Hendon Times, he asked what sort of music we are and I replied that we were "the antithesis of Dire Straits, sort of like Mark Knopfler would sound if you held him upside down and shook him as he was playing". This translated into "playing Dire Straits type rock". Luckily for us, it didn't put off potential singers, and we hooked up with Allen Ashley (who used the name Allen Lucas for his career with the Dots in 1985). I'm not sure if I ever told Allen that the local paper had got it wrong or the full story, but we hooked up under the Dire Straits type rock headline. I guess I figured that if that was what had attracted him, it would be a mistake to tell him. As it was, it really didn't matter. I guess no one listening to us would immediately associate our sound with Dire Straits!  I immediately wrote the song "Maybe Once More", just in case. It is the most Dire Straits sort of thing we do, but don't let that put you off, it's a great song. I just had to have a song in the genre, in case that was why someone came for audition.

The year progressed with a gig at The Old Bull Arts Centre in Barnet, a CND benefit gig in Cricklewood a gig at The Tiki club in Belgium (that is the rather amusing photo), another gig at the Old Bull and finished with a big Xmas gig in Mill Hill, at The Three  Hammers.

But that isn't the whole story. It was the most musically intense year of my life. It started with me recuperating from a life threatening illness and depressed at the breakup of a very serious relationship (as well as the band splitting on the verge of great things in Sept 1984). I didn't have high hopes for 1985. I vowed to spend an hour a day practicing guitar. One of the issues in the '84 split had been that certain other band members had felt my playing was below par. I'd started my musical journey as a punk rocker and I dislike technically complicated pop music, which was where the band wanted to go. I felt we were better keeping it simple.

I did however face up to the need to up my game. When Allen got in touch, I had mixed feelings. He was not in the mould of any of my other co-collaborators. He didn't want to socialise with me. He just wanted to be part of a band that played interesting and original music. He had other artistic projects and music wasn't the only string to his bow. I'd always played in a band where they all became extended family, socialising, etc. For me, I found it odd working with someone who wanted to turn up to rehearsals, work hard for a few hours then go home and have an early night. We'd always see the rehearsal as the start of the nights partying. But as I was off alcohol for medical reasons, it was no bad thing. I also found Allen to be a prolific writer and an excellent co-collaborator. We soon built up a body of 14 songs. This fell into three main categories. The first was my old songs, that I'd written and he just sung. Some of these we'd done with the previous band. These were songs like Action Shock. The second were my new songs. Generally Allen took these and changed a verse or a line here or there and I must say improved the songs. Perhaps the finest example of this is Blue Soldier. I wrote this originally about the Falklands conflict and the experiences of a mate of mine, who was a marine. It was also originally called Soldier Blue. Allen read it and loved it. He felt it was more Wilfred Owen and world war one. He took ownership of it, changed many of the lines and wrote a brilliant middle section. It changed from being a morbid dirge to a dynamic and exciting highlight of any show.

The third were Allens songs. These he'd generally hum or explain the sort of music he wanted and I'd come up with a backing.  Examples of these are Winter in Your Heart, Lover and Running Away.  By December 1985, I felt we'd become an extremely good band, had a strong set and had a lot of potential for "doing things". Sadly I couldn't reconcile my vision of the band with Allen and we amicably parted. Allens songs mostly left with him. We retained several for the set, but I've been a fairly prolific writer, so I just felt I'd rather play my own stuff. So a lot of great songs lay asleep in the lyric bag, for a long, long time.

As I really liked the work I'd done with Allen, I always felt that it almost criminal that all we had to show for the hard work (we rehearsed several times a week and spent hours writing at home separately), was a handful of gigs and few dodgy cassettes. I just felt that the band was better than that.

Fast forward to 2009. I'd always been curious as to what ex band members were up to. By chance I was googling and I found Allen had mentioned The False Dots on his website. He's built a career as a Sci Fi author and edits collections of short stories, building up a reputation. He also does poetry and Jazz nights. I wrote a jokey blog in 2009 and mentioned Allen. He got in touch with me to correct a statement that I'd made regarding authorship of a song lyric. That reopened a dialog and we initially recorded a few of the numbers acoustically. Listening to these, I realised that it would be nice to record an album of the material. Anyway, as I had other commitments (as does Allen), we discussed this sporadically for a few years. I used some of the acoustic music in videos I'd made for this blog. They seemed rather suitable. I did however want to get the band back into the studio.

Which brings us up to date. We started playing the odd gig sporadically, staring in 2012 with Frien Barnet Library when Occupy reopened it. That seemed like a poignant place to get the band back together. We got our long time drummer, Big Gray Ramsey to play and Fil Ross, who has been a False Dots since 1998 pitched in on bass guitar.  At Xmas last year, Allen asked me of my plans. I said that in 2015, we'd record the album and do a few more gigs to promote the songs. We started with a gig recently at the Midland Hotel in Hendon, to brush off the cobwebs. This was followed last Saturday by a day in the studio recording the Drums, backing tracks and vocals. If you've ever wondered what happens in the studio, here is a little taster. This is Allen singing "The Fern House"

The Fern House is perhaps our most interesting track, for a number of reasons. It was the last song we collaborated on before we split. Until the Midland Gig, we'd never played it live. I believe Allen has played it acoustically at various shows over the years. Personally, I don't think it is a song I'd like to play acoustically. I think it works best as a full on piece of psychedelia, which is largely musically constructed around the sound of an electric guitar with heavy echo and effect. I am pretty sure Allen would take a different view. He loves the song in all its incarnations. I however think it showcases many of the things which I so love about the band. Graham's drumming is beautiful. Fil Ross's insistent hypnotic bassline is awesome. The song is truly strange lyrically, but I think quite beautiful. This is just an unfinshed snippet, I expect it to be awesome when finished. I don't think there is another band anywhere right now playing as diverse and interesting a collection of music as the current False Dots set (of course I am biased!). I love the fact that the band takes chances. You will see thousands of better musicians, but that is not what The False Dots are about. We are a team playing a style of music that we believe is about creativity and painting musical pictures. We are very much bought into the early punk ethos of playing it as it is, live and with feeling. We value performance over technical perfection. The lyrics are often funny but there is no compromising of what we try and say. I would say that Allen and myself are both "difficult characters" in our own way. If we believe in something, we both find it hard to compromise on that. That has probably resulted on many great ideas not making it into our music, but those that do are ones we both buy into. There are no songs that I think are rubbish, that we play to appease Allen or vice versa, which is a downfall of many bands. It is like the old golf club black ball, we both have to be OK with it.

So after all of the trials and tribulations, 30 years in the making, we've decided on a title. It will be called "Songs of Love and War" (unless we come up with a better title). I am pretty keen on the idea of releasing it as a limited edition Vinyl record, with a proper gatefold cover (although again this may change). I don't expect the album to sell millions of copies, or The False Dots to turn up on the Royal Variety show any time soon. I think that our music is an acquired taste. I guess that 80% of people who hear are music won't get it. I do however hope that the 20% who get what we are doing will really enjoy it. I remember the first punk Album I bought. It was Puremania by The Vibrators. I put it on the turntable and span it 10 times in a row. I loved it. I still do. If it our album has one tenth of that effect on anyone, I will judge it a success. For me, making music has always about trying to do something different and something special. Whilst I haven't always succeeded, I think this album will hit the spot. I want it to sound great, look great and smell great! You can only do that with vinyl. No compromise.

Viva La Revolution!!!!!

1 comment:

JVK said...

Very interesting. Love the cuttings! I remember the Old Bull gig. Long live the Dots!