Rosewood (2001)

This is currently the earliest recording project of mine that I have made available via my Bandcamp pages, a decision due rather more to technology than any embarrassment over my “juvenilia”. (For example: my 1996 cassette “Five Songs” contains some material which I think stands up reasonably well, aside from the odd mis-step. However, to present them to you again, I’d have to transfer the recordings from my old TASCAM 424mkII cassette portastudio master tapes—assuming I can locate them—and perform some serious remastering and mixing on them. Perhaps a project for my copious free time?)

But I digress. I recorded “Rosewood” sporadically between the autumn of 2000 and the late spring of 2001—a world away from where I now find myself, in a multitude of senses.

“Rosewood” was born out of a meeting of streams of influence, not least the technical (so let’s begin there). I had just invested in my most serious piece of recording gear yet: a Boss BR-8 eight-track digital multitrack which recorded onto 100MB Zip disk cartridges. (Liberating then, this now-obsolete technology means it is already now very difficult to transfer master multitracks from the BR-8 to a more current format, meaning that remixing my early-2000s work may or may not be possible in future.)

I paired the BR-8 with my PC of the time, running Cakewalk Professional 6 MIDI sequencing software (with SoundFont sample banks providing instrumentation)—the BR-8 handled the audio (non-MIDI) recording duties. I fed the optical digital audio output of the BR-8 into the PC, and mixed the sources in software, into Cool Edit 96. Instead of using a keyboard, I played all the MIDI (synth) parts using my Steinberger S-series electric guitar with Roland GK2 pickup, running into a Roland GI-10 guitar-MIDI converter.

This setup, whilst maybe seeming quaint at over a decade’s remove, was quite a step up from the cassette four-track arrangement I had had access to until 2000, and as a result “Rosewood” is probably the first of my recordings which I think even begins to approach “studio quality”… a quest I continue to pursue to this day!

It’s a bit difficult to recall with certainty, but I think at this time I was feeling a little competitive with a friend’s band (who were enjoying some success at this point, including a number of UK support slots with a US singer-songwriter of some note), and whilst I was happy for them and proud of their achievements, perhaps “Rosewood” was a partial gesture of “so neerrrr!”… as if to say, “look what I can do… on my own!” Of course, I never told them that, and it may even be that this wasn’t a factor (at twelve years’ remove, who can say?), but most of my album projects feel to me like they have some element of “I’ll show you what I’m capable of”, so anything is possible…

The songs. It’s probably the case that “My day in the sun”—along with the album cover—reflected the “coming out of the woods” feeling I recall having in my life at the time. The mandolin in the second half of the song really takes it in a different direction; I think it was inspired by the closing theme music of “Ally McBeal”, which I remember watching sometimes back then. Sadly, I lent the mandolin to a friend whom I subsequently lost touch with—perhaps it’s time to get searching Facebook? 🙂

“Touring the aerials”, like a few of the songs here, shows my then fascination with Neil Innes’ compositions for The Rutles, and in particular, how Innes pastiched specific Beatles songs (or genres) without plagiarising them, well enough for Fabs fans to know which Rutles numbers were sourced from which Beatles originals. I wondered how Neil would’ve written a Rutle version of “Flying” from “Magical Mystery Tour”—”Touring the aerials” was the result, complete with a snippet of a late-60s BBC engineering announcement in the coda.

“Carole’s clown” received a dedication in the original sleevenotes to George Hersee (1924-2001), who passed away during the album’s recording. This gave a clue to the diligent reader, what the subject of the cryptic song lyrics was: Hersee designed the iconic Test Card F for the BBC, which features a photo of his daughter Carole and her toy clown Bubbles.

I wrote “Today’s the day”, the album’s oldest composition, in 1997 during a difficult time for me, and one day I was feeling so lousy that I decided in a fit of bloody-mindedness, to write the silliest, most banal and upbeat pop song I could possibly muster. This one was the result, emerging within the space of about two hours. Not for the first time, music was my comfort and my therapy.

“Albert Lord” was my rewrite of “Arnold Layne” by Pink Floyd—via yet more Innes-esque 1967 whimsy, with a guitar solo inspired by Andy Partridge’s great one on “Easter Theatre” by XTC. Finally, the quickly-improvised “Sketch for autumn” shows me in Durutti Column mode, trying to emulate Vini Reilly’s guitar filigrees and ending up sounding a lot more like me.

What more remains? Artwork… me attempting a mashup of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Clarice Cliff art-deco, using a pen, paper and an old copy of Paint Shop Pro. Instruments? Steinberger electric guitar, Washburn D10 acoustic, Hondo mandolin, Squier bass… was my old Gordon-Smith GS2 electric on there too? I forget now…

So, from half a world away in time: “Rosewood”. File under “it is what it is”, or perhaps “if you like it then it’s probably something you’ll like”.

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