How many ways are there to rock a lockdown?
In certain circles, after the end of the Second World War, it was common to ask “did one have a good war?” It always struck me as a really strange phrase – people revelling in personally prospering from a catastrophe that saw millions dead, people’s lives destroyed. But I guess that, for those lucky enough to survive, life must go on.
I suppose we get it now – “How’s your lockdown?” is the 2020 equivalent. This has been my lockdown so far…
In March, we were at a crossroads. It was clear that the plans for the rest of 2020 were in the shredder. The planned spring and summer of gigging, festivals, trips to Germany, Holland, Italy, Ireland and beyond, clearly wasn’t going to happen.
Early on, it was obvious that we were entering into strange times, and I suppose it wasn‘t easy to get a handle on it. But being a fairly positive type, I thought “how do I put this period of isolation to best use?”. By the time that the Facebook link 10 things for a musician to do in a lockdown landed, a mere two days into the UK lockdown, I’d already attacked a few of them – stripped down and refurbished guitars, finished a couple of songs I’d been avoiding, cleaned and tidied up all my equipment, finally getting to grips with the mandolin I bought on a whim….etc.
With venues closed and gigs cancelled, I quickly explored the idea of live streaming of gigs. Not quickly enough: within days, the internet seemed flooded with live streams, solo performance videos, and “festivals from home”. Some have been fantastic, but with everybody from The Boss to the neighbour’s cat live streaming, I quickly concluded that the last thing the world needs now is me warbling through a set of covers without my band to cover up my numerous deficiencies!
Likewise with the Covid-19 songs. I’d already half-written a couple of songs: one a very crude and allegedly humorous (ie, warped) ditty called The Lockdown Blues which would have either “gone viral” or got me locked up for depravity; the other a more reflective thing called We’re In This Together, which isn’t entirely Coronavirus-specific – more a meditation about the state of humanity in general – but would certainly apply to, and probably resonate in the lockdown.
Before I got round to recording either, and within days of the start of the lockdown, I started receiving a dozen videos a day of songs, as I’m sure we all did. Some have been brilliant – lots of hilarious stuff, some great satire, and some really virtuous things… Luke Flear – a young musician from the village I was brought up in has made loads of money for the NHS from his song Keep Fighting On
(It’s not as much as we could have if we taxed the billionaires and the likes of Amazon who have done so well from the lockdown, but that’s not Luke’s fault. Well done, dude!)
Personally, despite numerous people encouraging me to drop a C-19 song, my heart was never really in it: largely superseded by other priorities (of which more shortly), but also tempered by the feeling that it didn’t quite sit right to be publicly profiteering from such a tragic situation, particularly when friends were losing family members and loved ones.
Anyway, by that stage, I was already fully immersed in The Great Project: after spending a few days toying with these ideas, I had found a focus. I had three albums in varying stages of completion, that I’d not been able to find the time to complete in the last couple of years.
After years of too many distractions (gigs, rehearsals, work, family stuff, pub, cricket, mates….etc) and a lack of focus on my part, the lockdown had given me the opportunity to finally finish the 3 albums I’ve had in varying states of readiness, seemingly forever.
So, with no excuses, and the long-distance help of Dan Worrall, (sound engineer, producer and general consigliere) I have spent the vast majority of the last two months working on them in my home studio.
The first album, “Not Before Time”, is finished, with the exception of a couple of vocals that will be re-recorded as soon as we can get into Dan’s studio without putting ourselves or anybody else at risk. This album has been described as a sort of “greatest hits that never were”, and contains the cream of the songs I wrote between ‘the dark ages’ and finding my way back to performing a few years ago. It will be released on 2nd July, about which I’m thrilled and relieved in equal measure: it still sounds fresh to me, despite the length of time it has taken to put together (6 or 30 years, depending on how you look at it!)
“Disposable” will follow shortly behind. This is an album themed around the state of the world according to a few of the people at the sharp end. It’s raw and sad and angry and gritty…and hopeful. “Disposable” was obviously written pre-Covid-19, but I hope is even more relevant today than at the time of writing.
The third album, “Squaring The Circle”, should be out early in 2021, all things being equal. This is very different, thematically and musically, from the other two albums. I’ve tried to explore wider musical influences, building on the rocky bluesy core with some funk influences and elements of northern soul.
I’ve also got a few new songs written – one full album plus a load of standalone pieces, to add to those I’ve written over the last couple of years and the usual 100-or-so seeds of snippets and ideas that may or may not one day germinate into something coherent and approximately 4 minutes long! We’ve already tried some of the new stuff live, to great reaction; but most still exist merely in my mind, as voice memos on my iPhone or in the “guide track” file on Logic Pro X on my MacBook!
All being well, we’ll be back in the studio before too long to give life to these new songs. We’ll drop things onto the website for preview, in time.
With regards to playing live, we’ll be touring behind the albums as soon as it’s safe and legal to do so. All the venues and festivals we were booked to play in 2020 have said they will want us in 2021. Here’s hoping that venues, festivals, pubs and clubs survive the economic meltdown, despite the predictions that the industry will be decimated.
So, that’s the story of my lockdown. So, from a purely selfish point of view, I’ve “had a good war” despite the heartache of knowing that friends have lost loved ones and family members, not being able to see my family, missing my friends, missing my band, and missing playing live.
From a wider point of view, let’s hope that the post-Coronavirus reflection also matches that of the post-war era, which saw the creation of the NHS, the welfare state and a more inclusive society – real achievements on the wave of the “we are all in this together” sentiment that did so much towards winning the war in the 1940s. Hopefully, we don’t go back to “business as usual”, which was, let’s be honest, not working for vast swathes of people in this country and around the world, not to mention driving us headlong into ecological catastrophe under the banner of economic growth, nationalism and the rest of the nonsense. There has been a groundswell of such kindness and care, contemplation of nature and the environment, and re-evaluation of values, that we may be hopeful.
Stay safe, and keep rocking!