For one week only we are previewing Boo Hewerdine’s new release ‘My Name in the Brackets‘, one of our current featured Albums of the Month. In addition, Boo takes us track by track through the album:
My Name in the Brackets
I was given a Dansette and a handful of 45s. What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For?, I Remember You, Seven Little Girls. Records from that strange era between Rock & Roll and The Beatles. I would study the labels. The title, the singer, the numbers, Columbia, HMV, the stuff about rights written around the edge and most intriguing – the names in the brackets. It turned out that these people had “written” these songs. Songs could be made up. Conjured out of thin air. I decided then, at the age of seven, that’s what I would do. I couldn’t sing or play an instrument but I had an internal jukebox going on the whole time.
Putting together this compilation was a peculiar experience. Once I’ve finished a record I put it away and move on. While I’m writing and recording, though, I’m completely immersed. It’s always been about externalising that inner Wurlitzer. Listening to these songs took me back to long unvisited times and places. Nothing sounded as I recalled. In that region between memory and fact is a bitter-sweet world. I liked it.
Track by Track by Boo Hewerdine:
Here is a track by track guide. Come with me on a magical trawl through my back pages, or something.
My favourite going out song is Mumblin’ Guitar by Bo Diddley. I was sitting on pal’s sofa and I wondered what it would be like to mix Bo’s Shave and a Haircut rhythm with some major and minor 7ths. I started playing a four chord loop. G D Am7 Cmaj7. It sounded, for want of a better word, yearny. What should I sing about? What word would sum up that mixture of R’n’R and those wide open chords? Graceland. Tony Shepherd and I worked on the descending bridge later. And he came up with the clincher. The A7sus4 – bam ba. The words came easier than ever before. It was like I had finally found my own voice rather copying other writers’ styles. Love at second sight would see me through. I was pleased with that.
I had made records before but Graceland seemed to record itself. Dave’s beautiful drum pattern floated us. I wanted to have I’m Not In Love aahs in the chorus. Jane sang a G, B and D on separate tape loops that we mixed them in and out by hand. We listened to a cassette of the mix in the car. I have never forgotten the shiver of amazement. Listening to it now I think we did OK. I sing better these days but I like young me.
In which I think I invent the word joyfulness. Tony and I would write in a tiny upstairs room. Me on guitar, him on keyboard. He knew chords and bass movement. He was a proper jazz drummer. We started something then I went to work. I came back to this. That fantastic instrumental melody. In the pedalled verse I used gloomy Robert Johnson metaphors, in the chorus Mahalia Jackson joyfulness. I had always been fascinated by R&B’s parentage of secular and church. Lyrics were coming to me now.
Tony knew Kevin Flanagan – an American saxophone player. We found a sitar sound. I used Mahalia’s voice from Jazz On A Summer’s Day. Later, Greg Walsh who was my pal and had done Heaven 17’s Temptation (!), did a mix. I wandered out into the London dawn with it on my Walkman.
The Bible mimed this on the Tube. In a railway works in Swindon. The last day before it closed down. The longest serving employee is with us on a moving platform. On a vain note – my spectacles are somewhat unsettling. I got a call from CBS at work in the warehouse. I thought they’d rumbled my cheeky use of Mahalia’s speech – they had rung to offer us a record deal.
HONEY BE GOOD
Signed. Second record. I’m back on my pal’s sofa. I’m playing A and B bar chords. I try leaving the top two strings open. In ten minutes I have it. I make a demo, I’m sure it’s a winner. It is greeted cooly. We move on. The Bible’s second album Eureka has a long and awkward gestation. Session one is largely abandoned and we are now to be produced by the heroic Steve Earle. Thank you to Ensign’s Nigel Grainge for this wonderful idea. Look him up. Steve finds Honey on a forgotten tape. Surely it’s a hit! Number 3 on the airplay charts, Wogan, it’s everywhere. It was not to be. Playing this years later at the second Grand reunion show Neill’s cannoning guitar in the outro might be the best thing I’ve ever heard.
The only song I ever wrote with Neill. It’s three years since we split but I find a lifeline through my Blanco Y Negro deal. We reconvene for our favourite year. Dodo, the eventually released third album, is the one I listen to. Soon to be master producer Jim Abbiss oversees a joyous session at the Chapel. Leroy is with us. We have our bass player.
Dreamlife descends, changes key, descends, changes key. I talk all over it. And eventually, after the detour of that middle 8, we wend back to C. I love this song. We made a video – I have lost my copy. I seem to remember we had to stick our faces into fishtanks or something. Videos.
I’m on my own again. I wrote this is in a dressing room at Bangor Uni at the end of the last Bible Mk1 tour. I have an idea. Jim and I go to the Church in Crouch End and make an album in a day (You know, like Please, Please Me). At the end of this idiotic venture I had all but lost my voice and poisoned myself with over consumption of throat easing honey. This was the last song we recorded. I sounded knackered. I was. Clearly, this wouldn’t do. I went to Loco near Newport with Mark Freegard (Jim’s pal and recommendation – and still who I go to). Me, Calum and Rob added stuff to the Church sessions and finished the Ignorance album. The singing here makes me wince, but Rob Peter’s bang-on drums and Calum MacColl’s waspy guitar make it a favourite. I was nearly burnt to death making a promo in a Summer rape field. The beating Sun and reflecting yellow flowers frying my reddening mush. I meet another long time go to – the amazing photographer Kevin Westenberg.
Nick Drake. Who recorded that? John Wood. Geoff Travis had signed me to Warners. He suggested John. I went to see him in his posh B&B in Dumfriesshire to ask if he would give me a go, He had been away from recording since early Squeeze. Baptist Hospital was recorded in two sessions. the first with Richard Thompson, Danny Thompson and Rabbit Bundrick in the band. I was a bit overawed. This is from the second session with a band of my peers. I could breath easier. Neill, Gary Clark, the Alanis bound drummer Matt Laug and the much missed bassist’s bassist Eric Pressly. What a band!
Joke was the first song I made up that I thought was good. I wrote it for my post-school band Placebo Thing. I would write a whole new set each time we gigged. I thought that’s what you did.
MY LAST CIGARETTE
Gary Clark started this at Chipping Norton at ten one night. We were making the King L album Great Day For Gravity. We had to finish it quick so we could make last orders. kd Lang later put this song on her Drag album. I forget why but this version was recorded in Cava in Glasgow. Later Eddi would make her Songs Of Robert Burns album here.
The pre-chorus changes of Gary’s are exquisite – Am7 F#m7 C/D. Genius.
THE BIRDS ARE LEAVING
I wanted to make another album with John Wood. I felt we had unfinished business. Thanksgiving was one long adventure. (Baptist Hospital and Thanksgiving were named after two largely fruitless Nashville songwriting trips. The first album after my motel window view, the other from a lonely, mistimed visit.)
The band Teddy Borowiecki, Neill, Tim Harris and Martyn Barker (The Bible’s current drummer)
Strings, Tony Cox. amazing tales of Nick Drake and Francois Hardy. A trip to Mull to discuss the arrangements. His wonderful partner, the singer Lesley Duncan, now sadly no longer with us. We won the pub quiz in the Mish Mash. I still have the prize. A denim baseball cap with Mish Mash in golden embroidery. I clinched it cos I knew a female mouse was a doe.
Then off to Montreal to mix. The state of the Canadian dollar made it cheaper than working in London. We stayed in Kate McGarrigle’s brownstone. I had Rufus’s room as he was away. A 17 year old Martha Wainwright sang on some tracks.
This track fills my head with exciting memories. And yet it is probably the saddest song I have. And I have a few.
MAPPING THE HUMAN HEART
What with one thing and another I found myself without a record deal. I decided to bite the bullet and do things myself. I had met recording engineer Frank Birch on my first foray into songwriting workshops on the Danish island of Samsø. He told me about a studio he had the run of in Jutland that was owned by Denmark’s leading supermarket magnate. Frank could let me have some time at this amazingly equipped place for a knock down price. A date was set for February. Excellent. Except I had no new material. I wrote all the songs in that gap between Christmas and New Year. I was worried about making a completely solo album (the initial Ignorance session error in my mind). He suggested a multi-instrumentalist friend of his. And so I met the jaw-dropping Gustaf Ljunggren. He arrived in a van full of things to strum, bow and blow. We found a derelict harmonium in an outbuilding. The studio had the most incredible live room. But we preferred the sound in the corridor between the control room and the studio for some tracks. Which sort of took the wind out of the sails of the visiting owner. NB we were in the middle of a Christmas tree orchard.
This song is from the most concentrated period of writing I ever did. I would try and finish five a day. When I listen to this album it’s almost like I don’t remember writing it. It is my favourite album
THE GIRL WHO FELL IN LOVE WITH THE MOON
Jacob Eriksen died recently. All my best friends have come through music. I would go to Copenhagen or he would come to me and we would just have the best time. We came up with this song in the last few minutes of a long day. Sometimes the best ones come when you are all tuckered out. When I sing this I miss him.
PATIENCE OF ANGELS
This and The Girl.. were recorded for Harmongraph. I thought it would be an idea to make an album of some of my songs that had been recorded by other people. But my versions. For any songwriter hearing somebody sing your stuff is a never ending thrill. Both of these songs were recorded by Eddi Reader. I’m not sure what I would be doing now if I hadn’t met her. We are now over twenty years into an always evolving adventure. That was one lucky break!
Patience was a life-changing song. At last I was a “writer”. People started recording my songs. We sang it on the Brits, I was nominated for a BAFTA, a ballroom dancing version was recorded.
I remember being on tour and getting out of the van at a petrol station. In the Summer air I heard Eddi singing this from one car radio and Joke from another.
Blimey! Last year they even made a whole Radio 4 program about this one. I love it when songs have their adventures once they leave you.
This song is for the single mother I could see from my flat window in Victoria St.
BELL, BOOK & CANDLE
This version was recorded for Emmerdale. My friend Steve Bennett worked for the program and wrote an episode that he imagined it in. Find it on Youtube. It’s really quite touching.
Recorded by one time gigging partner the guitar magician Rob Jackson and featuring my good mate Rosalie Deighton on the singing.
I wrote this for Eleanor Shanley. I totally lifted her arrangement.
It’s been in a few death scenes in other films and TV programs.
At last I meet Tom Rose. My record label ever since. And now my manager as well.
Recorded at Mark Freegard’s in Glasgow.
A real sense of coming home with this album God Bless The Pretty Things.
There’s Gustaf, John McCusker, Heidi Talbot, John Douglas, Ewen Vernal….
This and Geography are for my wife and best friend Audrey.
I went through a phase of writing songs in DADGAD capo 3
Written on the same day as Muddy Water, recorded on the same day as Muddy Water.
These are my two most requested songs live.
I used to love playing these two with Rob and Rosie.
I remember doing these at South St Arts Centre in Reading and feeling I was getting there as a performer.
I originally recorded these and eleven other songs in Britannia Row and recently found them after ten years. I’m going to release them as an album Open next year.
BLAZE OF GLORY
I formed State Of The Union with Brooks Williams three years ago. We have made two albums. State Of The Union and Snake Oil. It has been the most effortless and enjoyable thing I have ever done. We did several duo tours and on a good night I think we were bloody brilliant. Brooks is an amazing singer, writer and, of course, acoustic guitar player. He also has immaculate timing.
I sincerely hope we get to do it again. This song, rather perversely, features no guitars at all. I just happen to really like it. Go and see Brooks when you can. He’ll blow your nut!
And here we are at now! I met Chris Pepper a few years ago and he would record my demos in his folks’ back room. He now has a studio just up the road from me and I love working with him.
I am doing recordings in the spirit of my pre-Bible band The Great Divide. We are always pushing the gear, using odd instruments. Treating each song as a toy. Amazing Robot was a board game I had when I was kid. A magnetised robot would deal with questions by spinning on a mirror and pointing at the correct answer. Things were easy then. When I heard this played on Radio 2 I felt incredibly proud of what we had conjured up in that room. Check out my pal Ecki’s excellent video.
I did a sketch of this at Chris’s and felt more excited than I perhaps should be after all this time. An Omnichord, white noise and Hafdis Huld’s BVs sung from Iceland via Facetime in twenty minutes. I think this might be the best song I have written about Stockholm Syndrome to date. Or ever.
LAST SHOT ON THE ROLL
I went to visit Alister Atkin who makes guitars. He made my favourite guitar. It needed fixing after receiving a bit of a bashing. I hadn’t played it for ages. While I was waiting for him I got it out and had a play. Goodness but it sounded good. Within minutes I had this. The next day I hot-footed it to Chris’s and recorded it. Here at the end of this collection I am still as enthralled in the whole process as I ever was. And there is my name in the brackets.
06/12 – with Eddi Reader – Skegness
13/12 – Acoustic Tearoom with Brooks Williams – Kirkby Stephen
16/12 – BOO HEWERDINE XMAS SHOW!!! – Ely
12/01 – Colchester Folk Club – Colchester
17/01 – Celtic Connections with Findlay Napier – Glasgow
29/01 – Rothbury Roots Rothbury
12/02 – with Eddi Reader – Kilkenny
13/02 – with Eddi Reader – Mullingar
14/02 – with Eddi Reader – Sligo
16/02 – with Eddi Reader – Belfast
17/02 – with Eddi Reader – Dundalk
19/02 – with Eddi Reader – Dublin
20/02 – with Eddi Reader – Limerick
21/02 – with Eddi Reader – Skibereen
22/02 – with Eddi Reader – Ballymaloe