The first album, “Not Before Time”, is finally due for release. It has, to say the least, been a long time coming. Hence the title.
The album started life in the 20th century. Some of the songs were partially written during my first “incarnation” as a musician: Musically, In The Beginning, In Perspective, Leave Me Alone, and Solidarity were all written in the last century, although lyrics were written – or at least completely re-written – more recently. Throughout the intervening years, I wrote intermittently but constantly made notes of ideas, lines of lyric, riffs. Some of these made it onto the album: A Long Way was written in 2013, around the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, for example.
In 2013, having returned to writing in earnest, I started playing and performing again, mainly as a solo artist. New songs were added and, crucially, lyrics were written and re-written. One of the few benefits of the album having taken so long from germination to completion is that the years gave me the time, opportunity and experience to develop as a lyricist. Back at 21, I think I had some good musical ideas (and some terrible ones too), but couldn’t write original lyrics to save my life. By now, I was finding my voice, with years of experience of life, the universe, music, and ideas to inform my writing. As a result, I think the album reflects me as an artist and as a person – there’s a bit of everything in there: light and shade, anger and joy, self-doubt and bravado, political and personal, complex and simple, sane and crazy!
When I was given the opportunity to record the album, with my best material all written for a full rock band, I did not want to put out a solo album: I felt that the songs needed a full band sound. At this time, however, I didn’t have a full band, so we came up with a plan.
Dan Worrall – the producer and sound engineer – was brilliant. He translated what I had in my head, and helped mould the finished sound of the songs. I wanted a crispness to the songs, that would really let all the syncopation and interplay between rhythms flourish – to create a sound that was fresh, but still had a timeless quality to it. For that reason, the instrumentation is all classic rock – “real” instruments, with minimal synthesised sound, and no sampling.
We set to work in 2014. Initially, I laid down guide tracks on either piano or guitar plus bass, and recorded the guide vocals. Then we brought in “the pro’s”!
First to contribute was Aron Bicksey, who did an amazing job on the drums and percussion. Then the bass. Initially, I had put a bass line on the songs – I’m obsessed with bass lines, and was very specific about what I wanted: In The Beginning, for example, is built entirely around the bassline. Phillippe Clegg was invited to translate my rough-hewn bass into something more rounded, and he really breathed life into the tracks. Keyboard, guitar and blues harp parts were added. I also wanted a horn section on several tracks, but was convinced – again, by Dan – that all I really needed was Mimi O’Malley. He wasn’t wrong – Mimi put her fantastic saxophone on several tracks, layering up to create the effect of a full horn section where necessary – and added clarinet to A Long Way. She also helped with backing vocals – the BVs on Wait For Me are particularly haunting!
The net result is an album that has been described as a sort of “greatest hits that never were” – the cream of my songs written over decades that, to keep the theme going, have taken six years from initial recording to release. The intervening years saw the project sit on the shelf, awaiting release. When the Coronavirus crisis struck, there were no distractions and no excuses. With some tinkering from Dan and a revision of vocals on some songs, the album is finally ready to be heard.
Not Before Time.
You can listen to preview snippets of the songs from Not Before time here
To buy Not Before Time – on CD or download – visit the shop