Monday, 3 August 2020

Inside 'Stand Alone' with Til The End Of Time

Inside 'Stand Alone' 

Song Title: Til The End Of Time
Performer: Damien Edwards

The original idea for 'Til The End Of Time' was written some time ago around 2015. The first draft of the lyric was written by Adrian and dedicated to his grand daughter. I imagined it as a walk along the beach quite 'dreamy' and 'thoughtful'. It was one of those demo's that I didn't spend a lot of time on. I originally thought of it as a song I would sing myself at some point.

Musically I wanted to put the rhythm on the piano and swap the part with the guitar. The "Supertramp" Rhodes accompanied by Stewart's 'chords wash'  to give it a real 80s vibe. I renamed it 'The Gary Barlow' song when we were working on it as the chorus had a line which was very reminiscent of Gary's high range falsetto on the lines ' I will paint the rainbow in the skies' etc. 

Lyrically it is probably one of our most uncomplicated songs. It's about unconditional love from parent / grandparent to child, partners, family. It was nice to do a song with no cynicism for once and the finished lyric doesn't vary much from the original draft:-

This then sat around for a while whilst we completed 'Coffin Road' with The Darkside Owls. 


Rollacoaster were booked to perform at one of my friends weddings and I was very involved with the organising of the whole thing. I was listening to the way Jim (dad) was talking about his speech for his daughter (Dominique) and they were talking about having a second dance after the bride and grooms. It was then that I thought back to this song and thought it would work perfectly as a gift from Jim to his daughter. Revising the lyric slightly and making it more a parent / child emphasis was relatively easy and I thought well my vocal certainly isn't going to cut it with the calibre of singers that I work with. Enter Mr Damien Edwards and well:- 

Damien Studio Take 

In the vocal booth

Now we had a track worth finishing! We also recorded an acoustic version of the song in one take and Damien added his own interpretation of the song which was completely 'off the cuff' and gave it a more of a classic love song vibe. This version also appears on the 'Lost Inside EP'. I added numerous vocal overdubs to create a "Bee Gees" type of feel and gave Stewart a brief of 'make it sound like 1984!' which of course, he did. We kept the backing mainly electronic and this was one of those tracks that has endless layers of keyboards. I used the Korg SV1 for the main piano parts and the Roland Jupiter 80 for the layers. It's one of my favourite synths as the programming is both relatively easy to use and so "editable" which was great for adding and removing parts. At one point I think we had eight layers and a sequencer track so it was definitely a nod to my 'Trevor Horn' upbringing where more is always more. 

Damien's voice is just amazing. He approaches each session with such professionalism and in the prep get's to really understand where the song is at both emotionally and musically. Be sure to have a look at his website here: Damien Edwards Website

The song was finished in time for the wedding and Rollacoaster performed it on the night. It's great to perform your own songs live especially when this one was so personal. Jim gave Dominique a CD of the song for her to keep. 

2020 Video

I've always thought the real strength of this song was the simplistic lyrics. It's an effortless listen and the vocal delivery is just stunning (a much needed improvement on my original demo). I had included it on the 'Lost Inside' EP and with March 2020 stopping us in our tracks Damien kindly offered to make a lyric video of the song. We made the video with video recordings from our mobile phones and I really like the 'homemade' approach. The feelings raised in the lyrics seem more poignant now than ever. 


Friday, 22 May 2020

Appreciating Kraftwerk

With the passing of Florian Schneider from Kraftwerk and with plenty of time on my hands currently I thought I would share my appreciation of Kraftwerk and the influence they have had on me and probably many others. This blog is by no means definitive and only as accurate as my own experience allows but I hope it serves as a "toast" or "nod of the hat" to what I believe was one of the most influential groups of the 20th Century.    
First Impressions

I first heard Kraftwerk in 1975 as an 8 year old browsing through mum and dad's record collection which wasn't extensive and mainly comprised of Irish folk or some classical music. I think a few Jim Reeves records were in there. However, in amongst this was this blue cover of "Autobahn" which was still in it's shrinkwrapped cover. The end of the record was opened so you could take the inner sleeve out but it clearly hadn't ever been played more than once. Knowing my parents the way they are with music they probably put it on and thought 'what is this' and promptly put it back in it's cover and left it. I played it of course and it really didn't make much sense apart from how 'empty' it was and I'm sure my 8 year old brain probably didn't process this anymore than the 'bleeps' and 'clicks' of a kids game. Apparently though my mum reminded me recently that I spent three days driving them mad with saying "Auto Auto Auto Bahn" afterwards. It passed and countless years of Piano grades beckoned so the blue cover was simply put away.

An Awakening

Pop music was certainly creeping into my life by the end of the 70s and I had really loved the flamboyancy of Bowie (especially after seeing 'that' performance on TOTP where my dad acclaimed "he should be shot") and the rich lush harmonic sound of ABBA which I was playing more than the Grade 7 pieces by now. It was 1981 and Top Of The Pops was 'my' domain. Nobody else watched it in the house, dad occasionally dropped in and commented on the 'Legs and Co' song but Ultravox, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Duran Duran, Soft Cell and Depeche Mode were really 'cool' and certainly appealed to my now hormonally imbalanced self. A particular thought was that Phillip Oakey had the coolest 'haircut' and I tried to copy him unsuccessfully as my parents simply said "grow up". Luckily at 53 I'm still managing to achieve this one part of my teenage self which is still there as my hair now covers my left eye. Anyway common to all of these bands was that they cited 'Kraftwerk' as their singular greatest influence and reeled off the list of tracks. I had bought the single 'The Model' which started life as a b-side to "Computer Love" and was playing both songs on repeat. I remembered the blue cover of  'Autobahn' that was now gathering dust but still in immaculate condition as it hadn't been played since my clumsy effort a few years earlier. On this listening I got it! Simply this was the future which is ironic as it had come out nearly a decade before. That was my 'eureka' moment and my 'I have got to have some of this'. Sadly Grade 8 and O levels beckoned.

"Synth Head Hall"

I was very lucky when I came into all of this as my first synth was a Roland JX - 3P in 1983 (still a great synth). I played this in an Irish country band 'Connemara' and tried to convince the lads that big synth sounds and celtic music would be amazing. It was met with 'you can't do an old time waltz to a machine' so I guess Clannad were destined to play Wembley whilst I was playing the Irish club in Leagrave, Luton. Shortly afterwards I added a Casio CZ5000 and a Yamaha RX21. Why was I lucky? All of these electronic machines could talk to each other via MIDI which came out in 1983. Simply put MIDI allowed you to link up all electronic instruments digitally via an interface which meant they all stayed in time (sometimes too accurately) and pitch with each other. I could layer a piano sound with some strings and run a short sequence of notes in time with the drum machine. All at the touch of one or two notes. When synthesisers first arrived there was a minor scare to the Musicians Union that they would put orchestra's out of work but that was just another 'moan' that disappeared along with playing long sets. At first it wasn't very stable and an acute memory 'recall' of my own was programming a drum beat to 'Vienna' which skipped and half way through went into ' Never Can Say Goodbye'. Why is this important? Well when listening to Kraftwerk I split them into two sections, Kraftwerk only released two albums after 1983, 'Electric Cafe' and 'Tour De France'. The richness in these albums is clearly the advancement of technology of being able to get the 'machines' to work by themselves via our now reliable MIDI. Anything prior to that was completely played and constructed organically. The four members of the band were playing a traditional 'rock and roll' framework of Bass, Drums, Guitar and Keyboards only everything was electronic. These 'analogue' instruments were themselves temperamental and when left on for a long time would overheat and the oscillators generating the sound would in turn go out of tune. To get the precision and accuracy must have taken a great amount of energy both creatively and laboriously playing repeated patterns. The other thing to bear in mind is I came in to this where 'polyphony' or the ability to play chords was commonplace. At the start of Kraftwerk career the synthesisers were 'monophonic' in that it played a single note. To create a 'chord' you would have to record a second and third note separately. 

A Musical Conundrum 

The music of Kraftwerk really shouldn't have worked. Most 'pop' songs fall into a formula of AB writing in that section A or verse is followed by a section B a chorus. A series of repeats etc depending on the sophistication of the song but essentially it's 2 or 3 parts. By the mid 80s Kraftwerk were certainly writing in that framework and 'The Model' highlights the exact 'pop formulae' of the time. However go back to the early 70s and it was more akin to a classical piece with 'movements', 'first themes' etc. It's been well documented that the band quote 'In its early incarnation, pursued an avant-garde, experimental rock style inspired by the compositions of Karlheinz Stockhausen'. The form is more in keeping with the progressive rock of the time. For me personally it's a rich tonal palette of rhythm and melody entertwining and developing in an almost natural fashion. It has no rules to apply, a simple idea of "Pocket Calculator" takes a four bar 'loop' and simply adds some spoken lyrics and "calculator sounds" on top. It's a relentless mechanical fixed groove with drop ins and drop outs and stays on the one chord! Perfect ambience

Listening To Kraftwerk

So if you are new to Kraftwerk where do you start? I don't suggest the beginning. Although 'Autobahn' is regarded as the first proper release there are also 3 previous albums. In chronological order 'Kraftwerk 1 & 2' and 'Ralf And Dorian'. They are very early recordings and on 'acoustic' instruments. Purely for completists as it is a mile away from the true "electro" line up beginnings of Autobahn. If you are interested in these recordings they are becoming available on vinyl this year as part of the Record Store Day 2020 releases. Personally I would start with 'Man Machine' as it's a combination of the pop sensibility that was to come and a reflection of their own experimental past. In a time where 'playlists' now dominate the way we listen to music, you could compile a list of favourites however each album is designed to be listened to as an experience, so pick and album,  pour yourself a nice large scotch sit back and let an hour of your life be looked after by Ralf, Florian, Fritz and Wolfgang.

Dancing To Kraftwerk

I was never a really big 'clubber' but between 1985 and 1989 when I wasn't gigging "Sweetings" nightclub in Bedford was the place 'to hang'. So armed with either a "Bezique and Lemonade" or a "Diamond White" (even by my standards this stuff was proper lethal!) we would go out on a  Friday and a Monday (Cheap student night) night. The 12" single was at it's height. These were long extended, rhythm and bass enhanced versions of records firmly directed at the "four on the floor" form of club music. I still remember the DJ playlist that would hit at 11.30pm on a Friday night as we refilled our drinks:

Relax  (Frankie Goes To Hollywood)
Love Song -Extended (Simple Minds) - Definitely a 'homage' to Kraftwerk Love Song 12"
Girls On Film - The Night Version (Duran Duran)
Blue Monday (New Order)
The Robots - Extended (Kraftwerk) The Robots Mix Version
I Feel Love - Glorious 15 minute Version (Donna Summer)

Pure ear candy, all extended, bass enhanced and percussive beyond belief and perfect to just 'lose yourself' in. It was probably enhanced by a number of other things which I couldn't possibly mention. Have to say what was the Bezique all about as it was a truly awful drink!

My Personal 10 ten Kraftwerk Tracks

This was so difficult to actually decide but this is my own top ten:-

1. Tour De France
2. Pocket Calculator
3. The Model
4. Computer Love
5. Metropolis
6.  Radioactivity
7.  The Robots
8.  Trans Europe Express
9.   Autobahn  
10. Ohm sweet ohm

"A Design For Life"

Kraftwerk never saw themselves as a band. They saw themselves as a futuristic concept where machines would take over the roles of humans. Everything about the band was meticulously planned. The striking minimalist artwork which really did influence all the design work of the '80s' generation. Take a look at the work of Mark Farrow  Link To Mark Farrow Design and particularly his work with New Order and The Pet Shop Boys. The live presentation of the "showroom dummies" playing the instruments in perfect symmetry and the groundbreaking videos which got more sophisticated as their career progressed. Every part of the process ensured that when Kraftwerk 'spoke' it was as a brand. No one voice just a collective.   

What Happened To Kraftwerk?

Kraftwerk's classic line of Ralf Hutter, Florian Schneider, Karl Bartos, and Wolfgang Flur were together from 1974 - 1989. Wolfgang left in 1989 and replaced by Fritz Hilbert and Karl soon followed behind. replaced by an ever changing member. There are a number of reasons why it's cited that two of the band's members left more or less the same time including the incredibly slow pace of production in a time when albums were been generated annually. My own opinion is that Kraftwerk were a band and as a band member myself you become family with all of the inherent issues families have. The 'evergreen' period of creative output and energy will always eventually either falter or change direction, it's quite natural. Also, imagine being together for over 15 years in that kind of intensity. Interestingly after those members left Kraftwerk never released another album so maybe they were the 'catalyst' to finish things. Florian himself left the band in 2009 and a number of reasons were given including not wanting to tour anymore but think about in reality Florian and Ralf had been together for around 40 years, maybe he just retired! It was work
Another thing to bear in mind is that in the 70s Kraftwerk predicted and designed music 'to be played by machines' and nowadays I can record a full demo on my laptop. The mid 80s saw a new revolution of 'sampling'. A ground-breaking method of 'capturing' any live sound and being able to manipulate it. The need to create sound from waveforms wasn't needed anymore as you could simply 'sample' it and manipulate it. Kraftwerk were now seen as 'old hat', 'analogue' so maybe the desire to create 'new' material had just expired. 

In Conclusion

I have to personally thank Midge Ure, Andy McCluskey, Paul Humphreys, Jim Kerr, Martyn Ware, Phil Oakey, Holly Johnson, Howard Jones, Nik Kershaw and many others for opening the door to Kraftwerk. I've been lucky enough to meet most of my 'heroes' personally and professionally and it is an honour to spend time with them. Invariably we will talk about influences and they always refer to Kraftwerk as one of their foundation stones. The word translated simply means 'Power Station', 

It's left me with a thirst for electronica and the beautiful instruments that produce it. My own keyboard museum now totals 18 and I do promise to sell some of them one day but the new Roland Jupiter X is totally fabulous and a combination of the old synths and the moogs that our "Godfathers Of Electronica" were playing but made much more simple for use by yours truly!

Further Information


Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Making The Invisible Visible - The Writing Of Behind My Wall (Part 2)

Making the Invisible Visble - The Writing Of Behind My Wall (Part 2)

From Demo to Track

Following on from the previous post the song "sketch" now needs to be developed. The first stage is to prepare an accurate demo

Demo Version

After sitting with the "sketch" in the car for a week or so you do hear what works and more importantly what doesn't. Large cuts can be made or extended. In the case of this song not much was changed. We added the piano "Coda" at the end of the song just as a bookend to the beginning

At this point we get the lyrics and the tune finalised and fitting both rhythmically and melodically. The opening line of the song "Sometimes In Your Life" originally didn't fit as well as the 3rd verse "You can't hide away from all that haunts you" so that line became the blueprint for the verse rhythms. This in effect is when the "song" is written and to a degree complete. We record this version as the definitive demo.

Demo To Track

Making a track is a similar process to the demo. The difference is the song will be finished and in a releasable state (with a bit of luck) or certainly in a position where it can be used for adverts or radio play. The hardest part of this is actually listening to others especially if you have written the song. You are attached to it and therefore have an "inside out" view rather than looking at it objectively. I tend to have a group of people I run the track by initially just to get their opinions.

Stewart and myself decided that this song was going to remain the "Pianoman" song and the structure of the song and instrumentation should just support that. It is to be produced as a "band" song rather than electronically so live instruments would be the way forward. This makes a big difference to the "sound" of the track. We can work electronic tracks in the studio, live tracks we either have to put a band together and record or work via email with other musicians in their own studio to "build" up the instrumentation.

We worked with Jonathan Howells on this track who put the drum track down for us and emailed it all back. (The wonder of technology!)

Behind My Wall - Drum Take

Consideration is now given to who will ultimately put the vocal on the song. I'm happy preparing demos myself but I don't feel my voice "sells" the song when there are so many amazing singers out there that will bring it alove. The hunt starts here!

Once the drums are added the track starts immediately to sound more finished. I removed the accordion / harmonica line replacing with an Organ and decided that some of the guitar parts need revision against the live drums.

The latest version

Here is the latest version of the song now with live drums, revised lyrics and a few instrumentation changes. On this version we have taken off the "fat" of the track and left it without some guitar which will be replaced and the lead vocal added. The vocal on here is a corrected vocal from the sketch to align lyrics and melody

Behind My Wall - Drum Take

Friday, 29 April 2016

Making the Invisible Visble - The Writing Of Behind My Wall

Making the Invisible "Visible"

The Writing Of Behind My Wall

In response to many requests and enquiries as to how I put songs together or indeed how I write songs I thought I would share the process with you with the writing of a new track "Behind My Wall" from start to finish. This is by no means a definitive way as to the process we write but in this song's case it's the story.

 The Lyrics

So what comes first the words or the music? Well in this case it was a set of lyrics from Adrian that arrived the morning I was due to record another song. For some reason it just hit a nerve and although very little remain of the original draft I could hear the track almost in it's entirety on receipt. I highlighted below the lines in red which got the "chop" on the first draft

Original Lyric:

 sometimes this world can feel so lonely
when theres no one there to see you through
when your locked in doubt
and you cant get out
and your blind to see what you can do
and when you reach your darkest hour
and there nowhere left for you to turn
when theres nowhere left to run
the light has faded from your sun
and the fire inside your soul no longer burns
let me be the one you run to
let me be the one you run to
be the only one you call
I can be your only fortress
let me help you build a wall
doesn't matter how your feeling
when you are low and all alone
i will find a way to reach you
pick you up and bring you home
ill be the one that brings you home
 the only one you call
I can be your only fortress
let me help you build a wall
doesn't matter how your feeling
when you are low and all alone
i will find a way to reach you
pick you up and bring you home
ill be the one that brings you home
you can hide away from all that haunts you
i will find you wherever you should roam
if you cry i will hear you
want direction i can steer you
ill always be the one that brings you home

The lyrics that are first recorded took the framework from the above and we added lines "in the moment" or just improvised on the first vocal take. Sometimes you just get rhyming nonsense but occasionally you get something special. The middle 8 section "You Can Fly" was completely improvised both musically and lyrically but for me brought a tension that wasn't there. I think listening back it comes from a Supertramp influence.

Forget your ipads, tablets, mobile phones etc I do find the act of physically writing helps with "meterage" and "weight" and sometimes when you see a line written back it clearly doesn't fit into the song. It's a good discipline for me. 

The Music

I had always wanted to put a straight "pianoman" song together. Even the "Pazz" album which is predominantly piano based keeps the piano as a background instrument rather than a lead. So unapologetically if this sounds like a Billy Joel or an Elton John song well it probably does. Wev'e captured the first take of the piano on my facebook page which gives a framework to the verse and chorus as well as the opening "hook"


So combining both the lyrics and music the first thing we do is produce a "sketch" to give an idea of the song. At this stage lyrical and musical accuracy is not the major concern. The sketch will contain many errors as essentially it's about a day's worth of ideas all thrown together with very little taken out. Most of what is on this version is "improvised" and lacks cohesion however you do start to get a flavour of the track and for me living with it in the car on journey's I start to hear the "That doesn't work" or "I Like that" and prepare the track demo version.

For the first sketch we use programmed instruments with maybe live keyboards and guitar. This particular track was completely written from the piano take which is more or less the original take. At this stage the only accuracy we really look for is the speed of the track as ultimately it sets up the "groove" and "feel" and a couple of beats per minute (bpm) can make the difference in the song sounding just clumsy.

Unfortunately I am not blessed with an amazing voice which is why I spend most my time working with other singers but it does have a very large range and it's great just for getting the idea in place and gives everybody a smile along the way. It probably isn't as bad as I'm making out but I do self deprecation very well (good catholic trait!) 

Friday, 1 August 2014

Summer's Here

Summer Part 1 

(June / July)

So into Summer we went and what a busy time it is turning out to be with various gigs with Back to the 80s, Rollacoaster and even some solo performances. Sometimes they all merge in to one but here are some higlights from early June. 

Rockin' out with Back To The 80s at The White Hart in Newmarket.
New website no up and running:

The calm before the storm at The Hilton Hotel, Park Lane with Rollacoaster

Monday, 2 June 2014

April / May 2014

April / May 2014 

What a busy couple of months and what a year this is turning out to be.

Forthcoming Live Shows

4th June      Solo Pianobar Show        The Hilton Hotel, Park Lane, London
7th June      Back to the 80s                Kings, Newmarket
12th June    Rollacoaster                     The Hilton Hotel, Park Lane, London
21st June    Rollacoaster                     The Grange, Rutland
28th June    Rollacoaster                     Ely, Cambridgeshire
4th July       Mat Cardle                      Saffron Walden 8 Day Weekender

Monday, 7 April 2014

March 2014

March 2014

The year kicks back into action in March and ended up being a very busy month. Here are a few highlights