BLOG NO.16 IF YOU’D LIKE TO READ BLOG NO.15 FIRST, CLICK HERE.
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Whilst in the past I’ve partly explained how it was I ended up doing 65 (now 66) folky-type tracks and blogs about them and my musical past, I don’t think I’ve fully explained their genesis. So, for anyone interested, here goes…
In the beginning….
It all began back in March, 2017 when I started to work on a belated 40th anniversary version of a musical I wrote at the age of 16 in 1974 called Leaving School for my older nephew, David Calvert, who played the teacher in it. (See THIS blog.) Before recording these, my illnesses had made me give up on writing and recording music. Silent (acid) reflux (for one) has partially damaged my vocal cords, which hasn’t helped; but writing and recording those songs not only got me back into the swing of it, it warmed the voice box up, and, more importantly, got me being creative again. We are creative beings, and I think we all need to be creative in one way or another, whether that be gardening, fixing a car engine or composing songs.
Once I’d completed the 22 tracks of Leaving School (it wasn’t meant to be that many!) I needed another project to do, so I thought I’d record some of my (very) old Northeast England coal mining ballads (I grew up in Stanley, Co. Durham) and maybe do a few new ones to add to them. I seem to have got a bit carried away with that idea! I soon passed the amount of tracks I could get on one CD, so I thought I’d try and make them into two. After a few weeks I had past this number also, and began to wonder what to do with them? Maybe I should give them a theme, I thought? It was whilst I was part of the way through a third CD that I wondered about turning them into a kind of musical ‘history’ about the Northeastern English counties of Durham, Northumberland and Tyne & Wear. (‘History’ is in inverted commas because some of the songs are about fictional events.) So this is what I did, and, having chosen this theme, I then had to chose which bits of ‘history’ to cover. That, actually, came quite easily.
I then decided to use them to experiment and, because they were originally just going to be for my ears only – and possibly David’s, as well as his ex-coal mining brother, Alan and another older nephew, Keith Wilson – I wasn’t too worried about trying to please a wider audience or folk music lovers. Since I’d had 40-odd years of doing that as a professional performer, this time it would be for me. If anyone else liked them, it would be an added bonus, but not important. It was just great being creative again, even if I did get very frustrated with myself for my lack of musical skills – especially on guitar – and just how much my voice had deteriorated since I was last recording my songs back in 2004 to 2007, when I also had a purpose built studio beside our old house…rather than the 2 meter square one I have now. I think, had I been writing to entertain others I would have composed some very different songs.
Technological Tough Guys!
I was actually amazed that my now ancient equipment – ancient in technological terms – was still working. I purchased much of it back in 2000/2001. Any songs I had already recorded, other than the newer ones for Leaving School, were done on a Roland 2480 24 track (at the back near the window in the photo above), and I needed to transfer them to my MacBook Pro laptop and the music programs GarageBand or Logic Pro X. This was going great until the equally ancient Plextor CD writer attached to the Roland I was using to do the transferring decided to give up the ghost! This meant I could only do a stereo recording of them onto my Mac, rather than having the individual tracks to be able to adjust. As it turned out, I ended up re-recording many of them. How happy I was that I did have the amazing DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) that are GarageBand and Logic Pro X. What incredible pieces of software they are – which we tend to take for granted – and what fantastic virtual instrument and real instrument loops they contain. There are some tracks I couldn’t have done without the latter, and I am eternally grateful to Apple and the musician they used to create them.
Another amazing piece of software and kit has been GarageBand on the iPad, which has some great virtual guitars that can be played via its screen. (See image below.) Each instrument also has four Autoplay chord settings, which I ended up using a lot; being someone who isn’t great on the guitar it was a saviour. It has the same thing for strings and piano.
I spent about two months doing the 5 ‘albums’ and 65 tracks (adding another one later), and I was at a loss as to what to do after I’d finished them. I’d put three albums onto CD and sent them north, but my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) was getting the better of me so I decided to put them all online on SoundCloud instead (image below); still not with any thought of anyone but family listening to them.
After a little while I began to think, ‘Should I see if anyone else might like them?’ Of course, to do that you’ve got to go out and advertise y’self! I knew I would first have to set up a WordPress blog. That wouldn’t be too taxing – he stupidly thought – as I’ve had a couple of blogs before, both about the Arthurian subject. I set it up pretty quickly, and it was only going to cover the folk songs, but to get more people to know about the blog and SoundCloud I couldn’t stop there, oh no….
Next, I did something I said I was never going to do again: I went back on to Facebook. There was a good reason for doing this; because I needed to set up a Facebook (‘Fan’) Page I had to have a Facebook account. So, I signed up again and set up the Facebook Page. Interestingly, it hasn’t taken much traffic to these blogs or to SoundCloud. What did help the latter though were two of the Facebook Coal Mining groups. Whilst not all my songs are about coal mining, the majority are, and it’s hardly surprising that these ex-miners would be interested. They were the most nerve-racking of listeners for me. These were men who had actually been there and done that. Luckily for me, they seem to like them, and, ironically, the one song I was most worried about they have liked the most. As the Americans say: ‘Go figure’.
Then, I went even crazier and returned to Twitter. For someone who, because of CFS, is supposed to try and avoid extremely stressful situations, I was setting myself up – again – for doing the exact opposite. When I told my health counsellor what I was doing, he just looked at me with that ‘Is that wise?’ look on his face. I’m glad I did set this up, because it not only got more people to listen to the music and read the blog, but it got me writing about my career, and ‘meeting’ some great people. Initially I did the blogs about my career called My Close Encounter Of The Music Legend Kind purely because I thought they would get more people coming to my blog site and, hopefully, listening to my music too. Well, I was right on the first count, but, judging by my site Page and SoundCloud statistics, I don’t think it’s getting too many people to go to the blogs about the folk tracks and have a listen to my musical attempts. Hardly surprising really, as most of those wanting to read these – include either current or budding puppeteers – are probably not that interested in folk-type music, especially ones that are primarily about the history of a specific region of England. However, just so you know, I have blogged about the other kinds of music I have done – see THIS one for example – and I will be doing more in the future. I’ve also added a couple of songs to the right-hand sidebar.
What doing these blogs about my career have been is therapeutic. Before I started all this I was completely staying away from anything to do with puppetry or animatronics, because it was just too painful to think about, having had to give it all up over three years ago. I couldn’t even watch them on television. So this has helped me deal with that, and take away some of the pain. Still, it’s not always easy writing about it.
Whilst there are a good number of people listening to my songs and tunes, most of those have coming via two of those Facebook Coal Mining groups, they still haven’t had a great many plays; which doesn’t actually surprise me considering that they were never meant for the general public. What I’d like to do next, song wise, is get folk artists interested in doing some of my better ones, and I might work on doing that next. I would also like to have a go at composing pieces specifically to be listened to by those into folk music, to see if there is any better response. If there isn’t, then that’s fine too, because at least I’ll know. It can take a while for things to catch on though, so I will give it a few months. If it still doesn’t work, then I’ll find a new project to do. In the meantime, I’ll continue writing my Close Encounter blogs, which seem to be the most popular. I will also continue to use them as therapy for accepting that I can no longer do what I once loved and did, but that I am extremely proud of (most of) it.
Blog No.17 will cover the first four tracks of Part 3 (1900 to 1945). Blog No.18 will be Part 5 of my Close Encounters with George Martin (producer of The Beatles), Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits and a Newcastle lad) and Irishman Paddy Moloney (The Chieftains), all in one day.
Thanks, as always, for reading and please do leave a Star Rating it at the top of the Page (good or bad, I don’t mind), or Like it below if you’re a member of WordPress. You can also leave a Comment below. Until next time,