A Tale of Two EPs

Cairo_Kinshasa_Music
Cairo and Kinshasa – their skylines overlain, two great cities with mighty rivers surging through, and surging with the music which will inspire my work. 

A month ago I mentioned a musical reset, and the importance of goal setting. My big musical goal for the next year is to try and write, record and produce two new EPs of original songs. This is the start of the journey, and here I want to set out my vision of the form these two works will take. At this point, they are quite unsullied by the inevitable compromises, upsets and detours that lie ahead. By blogging their development from an intangible dream to a finished piece of art I hope to motivate myself to push on with their creation, shed some light on the creative process, and record their evolution.

What follows is a brief outline of my vision for each EP. They share some qualities:

  • Both already have working titles. Giving a title to something that doesn’t yet exist is a powerful act. It tries to will it into being.
  • Both will have overarching themes, in one case lyrical, the other musical.
  • I envisage both EPs as being about six tracks in length. Today’s mode of music delivery makes the labels of EP/LP irrelevant in technical terms, but I find them useful in packaging a musical idea. Six songs to me feels like a good goal – enough content to properly explore a theme, while not being as intimidating as saying to oneself “I’m going to record an album”.

Manmade Canyons EP

This recording will be, for want of a better term, the more professional sounding of the pair. I intend to record it in a studio, with a small cadre of professional musicians, and basically try and create the best work possible on a limited budget. The central theme of the album will be exploring how beings of wild places, be they human or animal, survive in the unnatural confines of the city … and particularly a city as overwhelming as Cairo. Musically I hope to touch upon some features of Egyptian music. Some characteristics might be:

  • I already have a lot of songs written or half-written for this, such as;
    • When The City Is Home
    • Bold Little Weasel
    • A Tree of Heathens
    • Pass Without Trace
    • Possibly Five Legged Holy Cow
  • Make a trio of my guitar/guitalele, plus bass and Arabic percussion the core of the album. If things are going well, perhaps add some other Egyptian instruments, such as oud.
  • Try and find some good gear, or a good studio, to record in, without breaking the bank.

Confide in Me EP

This is the lo-fi record. For far too long I’ve been resolving I would start learning the craft of getting my songs down on tape. With this project I want to finally start taking steps in that direction. With that in mind it will necessarily be a simpler, shoddier affair, as I learn on the job. What I’m hoping though is for a finished product good enough to have some wonky charm. Its characteristics might be;

  • Recorded at home using simple equipment – free recording software (probably either Audacity or Garageband), a Zoom H5, though I might get one higher end mic for recording vocals later in the process. I’ll probably still seek a wiser hand for tweak and mix what I’ve got after the fact.
  • Writing the songs as part of the recording process (on the whole). By doing this simultaneously, I hope something different will emerge than would if I followed my usual method of completing a song before committing it to tape. For example, I intend to create some rhythm tracks first, and see how these influence the lyrics and guitar parts layered on top of them.
  • Kitchen-sink percussion – I abhor the drum machine, but I’m no drummer myself. I’m going to try and create my own densely-woven rhythm parts by crudely playing all kind of mundane objects and layering the results.
  • One of the questions I haven’t answered yet concerns the arrangement of the songs. Do I want to the write fingerstyle compositions, which would also exist happily as stand alone pieces? This is more challenging, and will probably take more time to compose and master. Or do I instead consider this a two-guitar record? The benefit of this is a lot more freedom regarding what’s happening on the strings, and a chance to dive into lead playing, which hasn’t really been part of my guitar journey in the past.
  • The musical inspiration will be the early guitar music of the Congo, the acoustic precursors of modern soukous, the music played by artists such as Bosco Mwenda and Losta Abelo.

On this blog I’ll be jumping between the two projects, aiming for at least a post on each every month, documenting each important chapter in this tale of two EPs.

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A Tale of Two EPs

Foolin’ with an Oud

When I first arrived in Egypt I resolved to learn to play the oud. Like many a resolution of mine, it was probably the greater part wishful thinking, especially as I hadn’t really appreciated how busy work would prove to be in Cairo. A year has come and gone, but finally I have something to say on the subject of the oud and I.

oud-zamalek-stairs

For those not in the know, the oud is a stringed lute played throughout the Middle East, even travelling as far as Borneo where it evolved into the gambus. It is regarded as the ancestor of the European lute, and thus also might be considered the grandfather of the guitar*. Modern ouds usually have about eleven or twelve strings, which are mostly strung paired. It plays with a natural, woody tone, and lacking frets beguiling slurs and slides give it a distinctly oriental sound.

My first exposure to the instrument and its music was via BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction, which finished one of their witching hour shows with a piece from Anouar Brahem’s album Barzakh. Even as those tumbling notes lulled me to sleep I knew I was hooked. My interest was recently revived when watching a performance by Driss El Maloumi at the Rainforest World Music in Sarawak a couple of years ago, and I’d now cite Driss as my favourite oud player. Since moving to Egypt, I’ve seen the oud used in all different kinds of situations – sometimes in a classical music context, more often with folk ensembles playing Nubian, Bedouin or Sufi music, sometimes providing simple accompaniment to a singer, and sometimes as an exhilarating lead instrument playing solos to make a guitarist weep.

One Egypt’s most prominent players (although actually Iranian) is Naseer Shamma. I went to enquire about lessons at his famous Beit el Oud school, where I was ushered up to see the man himself, largely I believe because he was only person to hand who could speak English. He was in the midst of demonstrating a lengthy piece to a colleague, so I was left to sit quietly in his office and observe him playing at close range for some ten minutes, after which he eloquently apologised for keeping me waiting! If only I could get such an experience every time I’m on hold . . .

I was able to prevail on my friend Ahmed Saleh to lend me one of his ouds a couple of weeks ago. This oud was the one he had first started learning on, and it certainly looks like it’s seen some years. The ornamented rosettes of the lesser sound-holes have some damage, it’s missing its highest strings, and its lowest string (the only one which isn’t paired) kept slackening to the point of utter flaccidity, so I ended up taking it off.

As a result, I was only playing the thing over four paired strings (rather than six), but this hasn’t really mattered, because when it comes to the oud I have very little idea what I’m doing. Though there’s plenty of learning resources out there on the Internet, I chose to embrace my ignorance and see what I could come up with just through experimentation. Over the last fortnight I’ve made a point of picking up the oud daily and trying to coax some music out of it. Here’s what I’ve learnt:

One of the immediate challenges I faced was simply the oud’s dimensions. A guitar nestles nicely in your body, its curves are welcome and inviting. The oud meanwhile is quite awkward. Like me, it has a significant protruding belly, and those two convex shapes are in direct opposition to one another. As a result, finding a comfortable position is difficult, and the instrument often slides away as I play it. Another difference is the pick. Rather than being held perpendicular to the thumb, as you would with the guitar, the long oud pick is cradled in the whole hand, emerging parallel to the thumb as if you were holding a dagger. Thus the angle of attack on the strings is quite different, although I found this change easy to adjust to.

Frets have been sketched across the neck of Ahmed’s oud. However, unlike the guitar, it’s not very easy to see what your fingers are up to when playing the oud, so these biro-marked frets weren’t really much help anyway. Surprisingly though, the oud’s lack of frets didn’t prove much of a problem. Guitar playing has given my fingers and my ears a sense of where the right sounds should be, and in truth the oud’s fretless neck is actually helpful in this regard, for if you miss the note it’s easy to slide to where you want to be and make out like that’s what you meant to do all along. However, I did find that when playing a cyclical riff it was easy for my fingers to drift away from where they’d begun, gradually sharpening or flattening the notes.

Overall, the biggest bugbear is tuning. Ahmed tuned it when he first lent it to me, although his talk of ‘la, mi, sol etc.’ and my vocabulary of ‘A, E, G etc.’ did lead to some confusion. Based on what I understood to be Ahmed’s advice, I tuned the oud quite high, the four functioning strings being A, D, G, C. After a bit of research, I concluded I should in fact be at F, A, D, G. Although this initially felt too low, with the bass strings lacking much tension, the more I played the more right this felt. Even so, I spent a lot of time tuning. The wooden pegs on the oud creak and slip, and it often feels like by the time I’ve finished tuning the last string the first has already shifted out of tune. I don’t think Ahmed’s oud has been played for a while, which doesn’t help it stay in pitch.

Another thing I haven’t got to grips with is what approach to apply to playing the oud. Obviously, the classical Arabic music tradition is a vast and currently rather abstruse (at least to me!), and on top of this there must be scores of different traditional styles. One thing I’ve noted is Egyptians play the oud in a very melodic, meandering manner. I’m used to the carefully ordered patterns of Western music, where themes repeat and beats usually fall in the same place. Listening to local oud accompanists, I’m struck at how hard it is to predict where they’re going to go – they rarely seem to play the same thing twice, yet don’t deviate far from the central melody, and the low thwack of the bass string comes and goes at random, rather than anchoring a piece as it would on a guitar. As a friend pointed out, my recent attempts to play the oud often leave it sounding closer to the guitar, though that doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

So, what next? I can generate the occasional pleasing sound. But my experimentations suggest to me that unlike other stringed instruments, the oud doesn’t really feel like something you can just dabble in. It feels like it deserves time and commitment.

Oud-House-Cairo
source: cairo.gov.eg

If one wanted to learn oud, you couldn’t really wish for a better place than Cairo. There are lots of opportunities for tuition, foremost among the Beit el Oud in the Old Quarter of the city. How evocative it would be to study the instrument in the 300 year old courtyard. No doubt it would also be an avenue towards discovering more of the culture of Egypt. Still, the stark reality is that my current work schedule means I can’t commit to their schedule of three evenings of lessons a week, and if I can’t muster up such complete immersion I’m not sure if I see the point.

It’s the same conundrum that’s often arisen. I’ve been interested in learning electric lead, or slide guitar, or even some percussion, but there always seems so little time in the day, and so much more to discover and improve upon with my fingerstyle guitar playing. I have several songs on the guitar to finish. So my feeling is that for now the oud will have to wait in the wings.


*Though it would be foolish to imagine that the lineages of musical instruments run in such straight lines.

Foolin’ with an Oud

1m4s Day 14: Half Way Reflections

At this stage I’m roughly half way through my project to write four songs in a month. What’s struck me so far is how difficult it is to ascribe a ‘method’ to a process that resists such strictures.

Although I’d like to believe in the strength of my own creativity, I’m also well aware that I’m quite ‘left-brain’ dominant. In most things I quite like order, or at least the outward impression of such. This thinking has been leading my approach to this project, where I’ve stepped through several stages in a song-writing process that are largely self-imposed. The intention to start big, with lots of ideas for lyrics and music, and then narrow down the focus has been of variable value. Lyrically, those sheets of lyrics I turned out in the first couple of days have been some of the most rewarding steps, and I feel I have lots of content to fall back on as I begin to shape those words into songs. But the macro-approach to the music – my insistence on writing different chord progressions but resisting getting too into the details felt a little self-defeating, and I think the musical arrangements should have progressed well beyond these nascent stages after two weeks work.

Having listened over the different ideas I’ve come up with so far, four songs emerge as the most promising. Still, understanding what a messy affair songwriting tends to be, I wouldn’t be surprised if by the end of the month, one, two or all of them have fallen out of favour.

This is the shortlist:

When The City Is Home: This is the title of a short film my wife is putting together, and she’s asked me to write a ‘theme song’ for it. The concept was born from our experience moving from rural Borneo to the heart of urban Cairo. We’re both people of the country at heart, and value our relationship with nature, so naturally we’ve taken great interest in the wild creatures that make their home in the city. This will be the subject of the film, and indirectly the song.  I want the song also to reflect its environment, so this is the song where I’ll try and evoke some of the Sufi music I’ve been discussing.

Let’s Make Our Bed Together: A love song to my wife, each verse a window of different stages of our relationship – the central metaphor being the act of ‘making the bed’ being the reset that overcomes each challenge we face together. My wife may scoff at the thought of making the bed being a mutual act, for I am a lazy git, but for the purposes of a song it works. Musically, it would go in the African rhumba direction, though the lyrical content might suggest something of a neo white boy soul kind of sound – and by that I mean akin to Radiohead’s House of Cards.

Bold Little Weasel: Strangely, Cairo is full of weasels, who like Britain’s urban fox have adapted to the challenge of living in the city. It always gives me a lift to see them darting across the street, so much so I thought they deserved their own little ode. So lyrically, this looks like a companion piece to Where The City Is Home. I’d like to try and turn this into a jolly number – I’m imagining something that evokes the British Sixties fingerpickers – a la Angie or Al Stewart’s Small Fruit Song but with a few Egyptian flourishes.

Confide in Me: A love song to a lost soul, who turns to all the wrong places for redemption. It’s one of those ideas that seems to lend itself very naturally to a song form – each verse decrying a different ill-advised spiritual saviour, with chorus imploring the song’s title. One of the most fully developed musical ideas I have so far is another bouncing bit of African flavoured fingerpicking which I think will serve as the foundation of this song.

It’s the last throes of the day job before the holidays come at present. Soon there should be a bit more free time on the cards, and hopefully the chance to really start moving these songs forward.

1m4s Day 14: Half Way Reflections

1m4s Day 11: Have I Got Anything?

cairo-sunset-egypt

Over the last couple of posts I’ve shared a few very early demos of ideas. All in all, I have about twelve different ‘mini-ideas’. What I’ve been doing today is singing along to these different passages of music.

First of all, I shuffled up the song lyrics I concocted last week. Then I simply turned on one of the demos, grabbed a page and started singing the words. Whenever I came across a melody which seemed to work I recorded it. For each musical ideas I’d experiment like this with different groups of lyrics, forming a ‘bank’ of different melodies. Afterwards, I will sit down and sort them out, homing in on the most promising for further development.

This has been by turns sometimes rewarding and sometimes frustrating. Certain things come with complete ease, and on others I’ve sat warbling ad infinitum, until I started to feel a little out of my mind. By the end of today I had 25 different vocal ‘memos’, recorded simply onto the sound recorder of my tablet. Below is an example, not much to speak of at the moment, but I think there’s potential there.

Have I got anything? Certainly, I think most of what I’ve come up will be discarded, but with so many ideas on tape I don’t need so much. I’d say there were at least three ideas I got really excited about (and notably, most of these were to the musical themes which were least interesting). By songwriting standards, three out of 25 isn’t bad going. I’ll listen again with fresh ears tomorrow or the day after, and see if there’s anything worth salvaging, and where to take what I’ve got next.

1m4s Day 11: Have I Got Anything?

1m4s Day 3: Musical Fantasies.

This is the fun part. I’m spending today considering the musical accompaniment of the songs I’m writing, but at this stage I won’t be touching an instrument. Freed from the constraints of my abilities, today I’m better than Jimi Hendrix, Ali Farka Toure, Richard Thompson, Derek Gripper, John Williams and Martin Simpson all rolled into one, if only in my head.

My decision to write these songs purely on the guitalele will be a major influence on how these songs turn out. Its higher, happier sound lends itself from certain sounds over others. For instance, I’ve been yearning to write some reggae tunes but feel these would benefit from more bottom end that a proper guitar lends. The same goes for those Mali desert blues. For now, I’ll leave those on the shelf.

One the main areas I want to explore is the kind of African fingerstyle playing I’ve started to explore already, on songs such as Love’s A Big Word. The video below is another good example of the form want to further emulate – in fact, accidentally finding this video on Youtube was what led me to get a guitalele in the first place:

Of course, African fingerstyle is a preposterously broad definition, so more specifically it’s the playing of old musicians such as Bosco (from Congo) and Daniel Kachamba (from Malawi) that I want to emulate. A useful resource in this regard is the DVD African Fingerstyle Guitar by John Low, in which he breaks several examples of this playing, all the while looking deeply uncomfortable about the whole experience. Some of these he even plays capo-ed on the fifth fret, so the key is the same as the guitalele’s. Back in September I began work on a couple of tunes in this style. I didn’t get very far but those fragments might serve as starting points for this project.

Looking over the work from the last couple of days, certain songs appear like they might suit such an approach: Bold Little Weasel, Let’s Make Our Bed Together, Confide in Me. Of course, at this stage I’m speaking in the vaguest of vaguest terms as the songs are still in the primordial sludge phase of their evolution.

When The City Is Home is being written to possibly soundtrack one of my wife’s documentaries, so with this in mind it can’t grow as freely as the others. My wife’s suggested the music reflect Cairo, and she’s particularly interested in Sufi music. It’s an attraction I share, but I’m not sure how the arabesques will translate onto the guitalele – the fixed frets mean it can’t express the microtones which are such a feature of Eastern music. Still, I’ll give it a go – as usual, even if I fall short of my goal I might well end up somewhere different but worthwhile. A Different Kind of Light and Dusty, Dirty & Polluted are also about Cairo, so if I make any kind of progress with this music I might find accompaniments for those too.

Here’s some Sufi music, apparently performed by “El Tony”.

The final idea I’m toying with is trying to master some complicated charango rhythms and applying them to the guitalele. I used to play charango a little when I lived in Peru, but never got very far mastering the wonderfully complex, bouncing strumming, as demonstrated by this Boliviano from La Paz. It would be quite fun, but looking back to the lyrics I’ve been writing, I’m not sure if any of the titles really fit this kind of sound. Perhaps Pass Without Trace?

And if you need a bit more charango, and don’t mind quite a lot of viento, look no further!

So basically I’ve just spent the day dwelling on musical fantasies, and avoiding the real challenge of actually trying to play some of them! Perhaps that starts tomorrow?

N.B. For the time being, I’ve turned off the automatic email alerts whenever I publish a blog. As this is going to be happening several times a week, I don’t want to clog up people’s inboxes with endless updates. If you’re worried about missing a post, the best approach is to follow my Facebook page.

1m4s Day 3: Musical Fantasies.

The Sun Slumps Down

 

I’ve written three new songs here in Egypt – this is the latest I’ve finished but the first I want to share. The Sun Slumps Down was filmed in my flat in Zamalek, Cairo, and includes the sounds of the parakeets that live about, the honks of horns and the ever-present low-level hum of the traffic.

Zamalek

It might be rather hard to believe, but the song originated from my attempts to play a song by Tabu Ley Rochereau*. The finished article sits quite a long way from Congolese Rumba – further than I’d like it, but at least my shortcoming resulted in something I could confidently call my own. It’s interesting that regardless of how hard I try, the centre of gravity remains the sound of the English folk tradition. Despite my efforts to emulate the music of Central Africa, I suspect The Sun Slumps Down sounds more like something that might have been played at Les Cousins in Soho during the Sixties folk revival. It’s a perennial conundrum; in my blog about composing A Dance for Sharks I noted a similar and unlikely trajectory from an Afrobeat inspiration to something more familiar.

 

Here I took a different approach than normal to the vocal melody, rather than writing a set of lyrics and fitting them to the chords I was playing (which is the usual method). I didn’t want the words to dictate the melody too far, so I recorded several demos just singing gibberish or la-la-la-ing over the guitar track. Thus the vocal was about 70% mapped out when I started writing proper lyrics, and I tried my best to write to the existing melody. It meant I had to drop a few choice lines, but I think it helped me craft a better song overall. It’s a technique that has worked for me before – I did a similar thing for an old Lazy Lizards song called You Are The Sky and the results sounded good to my ears.

One of the holy grails of fingerstyle playing is being able to keep the basic propulsion of a song (usually through its bass line) going whilst simultaneously playing a solo. I give myself a little instrumental break in the middle of The Sun Slumps Down. It’s well short of the ‘one guitar sounding like two’ wizardry of the best fingerpickers, but I am trying to push my further with what I can do. Originally I composed a longer sequence, carefully tabbed out using Guitar Pro, and resolved to learn it note for note. Inevitably though, when practising I couldn’t always be bothered to fire up the computer and go back to look in detail at what I’d figured out. As a result, the ‘solo’ part shrunk to four bars of the licks I could remember. This natural paring down was probably for the best, I imagine I remembered those licks because they were superior. Or maybe they were just the easiest.

Originally called The Well, I decided The Sun Slumps Down was a more evocative title. As the song developed, more and more of the imagery reflected the sunset – the time of day became more significant than the place. One technique I used in composing the lyrics was harvesting words that struck me as being interesting, or perhaps just sounding pleasing. In this case I used as my source articles and reviews from online music journal the Quietus. The writing in the Quietus, as the best music writing should be, is usually a little over the top and at times verging on the ridiculous. As a result, they tend to spew out some curious vocabulary. As I browsed through pages that took my fancy, I jotted down words I liked in my notebook. Then I tried to build sentences around the words and shoehorn them into the narrative of the song. At times it worked – often it didn’t. ‘Slump’ was one word I took that stuck. The sun slumping down felt to me a neat way of emphasizing the languid scene being captured in the lyrics.

I approached this song as vignette, a description of a scene inspired by two moments living in South East Asia. In Borneo there was a water pump I often used to pass on the way to school that was used by the villagers in the kampong to bathe and wash clothes. In the countryside in Laos, rivers are often used for the same purpose, and I recall disturbing (completely innocently) some young women at their ablutions on an evening’s walk. Early drafts of the song also included young men hiding in the bushes, spying on the women as they bathed. I was trying to draw allusions towards awakening sexuality, but ultimately it just sounded too pervy. Instead I looked at the angle of the cultural divide, with the foreign narrator the only one bearing witness to the scene. Without a shared language it can seem so difficult to make a meaningful connection beyond the look described in the song. At times people in other cultures can see impossibly far away. It surprises me that I still have moments of feeling like this, even though my own experience has shown given time you can forge a connection with just about anyone on our little planet.

Here are the full lyrics

The Sun Slumps Down

Verse 1

There’s a well beyond the village

And at a certain sunset hour of the day the maidens come to bathe

Where the old wives shuffle

Away they go with their buckets and pails, bowing heads to gossip

The hypnosis in how the water behaves in its leaping splashes and cascades

I swear it sings a serenade

As the sun slumps down

As the sun slumps down

But a single girl holds my gaze

 And she does not look away

But there are no words that we can speak

At least none that we can say

Verse 2

When the butterflies flutter

And make their certain zigzag way to take sleep beneath a leaf

When the fireflies stutter

Starting up their lamps just for the night ahead

There’s a dozen steps between me and her

But no matter what the fantasies stir, this moment won’t go any further

So the sun slumps down

So the sun slumps down

Yet the barbed branches hold me tight

At the dying of the day

And there are no words that we can speak

At least none that we can say

 

*Somewhat improbably, Wikipedia tells me that Tabu Ley Rochereau wrote somewhere in the region of 3,000 songs. I need to write something like 2,950 more songs to catch up. No problem, surely . . .

The Sun Slumps Down

Where The Loot Is Buried

I was all geared up to record and post a new song this week when my guitar broke. Nothing serious, just a slipping tuning peg – no doubt a casualty of Cairo’s dusty conditions. But (of course) the neighbouring guitar shop hasn’t got the requisite part, meaning I either have to battle across town to find somewhere that does have the right set of pegs, or wait a few days for my local place to get some stock in. In Cairo these choices present a whole host of maybes. At least I have my guitalele to entertain me in the meantime.

Cat on Guitar
A wasted visit to the guitar shop.

I haven’t been idle on the music front, despite the blog being a bit quiet. I’ve been absorbing a lot of great Egyptian live music, getting a sense of the vibrant scene here. There’s lots of fascinating original stuff happening in Cairo, as well as engrossing traditional music. I’ve written three new songs and I’ve also been continuing to play with my friend Reem on the cello. It’s a nice sound and I hope I get to share some of it soon.

Whilst we wait for those plans to come to fruit, here’s a song from last year.

There once was a movie called Assault on Wall Street. It starred that other guy from Prison Break, and looked a bit naff. I remember it being the film we didn’t choose on a number of movie nights. From the trailer, it looks to be about a tough guy who loses all his savings in the banking crash, then decides to get his own back in the true American way – buying a load of heavy weapons and going on a killing spree.wall st

Perhaps I should check it out; because I rather fancy Where The Loot Is Buried could be its theme song. I wonder whether a jaunty ukulele-led protest song in quasi-pirate language was what the producers were looking for to play out over the end credits.

“I’m tired of talking

I’m tired of negotiating like a civilised man

I’ve a cutlass in my hand”

I’ve written before about my list of interesting song titles. Where The Loot Is Buried sat on that list for a few months. I can’t remember whether something in particular inspired the title. I do remember that its basic chords and groove came to me one morning in a hostel in Lima, Peru in December 2014. The ukulele probably has a shared history with the charango, a Peruvian instrument which also has a high treble string where you wouldn’t expect it, lending both a perpetually cheerful sound. I had a charango when I lived in Peru way back in 2004, and I think I was searching for a charango rhythm when I found the basic foundations of this song.

Obviously, the title brings to mind piratey behaviour, and allowed me to indulge in all kinds of piratey language when writing the lyrics. It was tremendous fun. But there’s one line though which I’m uncertain about, the Indian Giver. It fits nicely in terms of the meter and the melody, and thematically as well. It’s a phrase that was thrown around a lot in the folk-rock years of the sixties and seventies. Both John Martyn and Richard Thompson, two of my favourite songwriters, have songs that use this line – an Indian giver describes someone who gives a gift but expects something in return. Its roots lie in the misunderstandings over property between the white settlers and the Native Americans in the earliest days of the European colonisation. Given the rather bigoted etymology, I did question whether to leave it in the song. Thinking about now, I still do. Probably something to explore more fully in a future blog.

 

I’m planning that Where The Loot Is Buried will be one of the tracks on my increasingly delayed EP. We do have one song done now – you can hear The Beat of a Babbling Heart on Soundcloud.

Where The Loot Is Buried

I’m tired of talking

I’m tired of negotiating like a civilised man

I’ve cutlass in my hand

That’s bare and swift to greet

The naked throat of any lamb

That chooses not to bleat

Oh they’re meat

Tell us where the loot is buried

 

You sail a different pirate ship

One that’s never left the slip

And though the Jolly Roger’s not your flag

The whole world knows your dirty rag

Tell us many mischief makers, make us malcontents all merry

We’re gonna ask you very nicely once

But then we’ll execute and bury

 

You’d better spend that fatted bonus

Awarded under your own onus

Send hired men to stone us

Bash us, break us, own us

There’s another ninety-nine behind to bring you to your knees

So would you tell us where the loot is

Would you tell us kindly please

 

And if I am a buccaneer

Then you sir I do declare to be most honestly my mirror

Yes you sir lily-livered, you sir all aquiver

The very man to make first ape at the zoo

The Indian Giver

Tell us where the loot is buried

 

You sail a different pirate ship

One that’s never left the slip

And though the Jolly Roger’s not your flag

The whole world knows your dirty rag

Tell us where the loot is buried

UPDATE! The studio version of Where The Loot Is Buried is now finished and awaits your listening pleasure right here.

Where The Loot Is Buried