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Songs: Breaks In The Journey

notes / gigs / releases

You'd never take a map
You'd never think of deviating
From your list of junctions that
Are your means of navigating
With sandwiches and thermos flask
No need to stop at service stations
You've run your life like that
Your confidence and faith's amazing

But will you ever
Start to think
I wish I could have stopped more often
Stopped and looked at wildlife centres
Took a trip round national monuments
Walked along a public footpath

Me, I took the scenic route
Had no idea where I was going
Thatcher'd ripped up all the road signs
And public transport's eyes were closing
And though I'd never win the races
Strolling home on Shanks's pony
I talked to people and saw places
That I'd never dreamt of knowing

But will I ever
Start to think
I wish I hadn't stopped so often
But put myself on firmer footings
Paid my bills, spent more time working
Early nights and forward thinking

Your autobiography
Was written arse to tit
You wrote the final chapter first
And worked backwards from it
I've made mine up going along
No clue what's coming next
I guess my memoirs'll never have a
Definitive accepted text
I was too busy making facts to check
That the whole thing overall made sense
It makes no sense
It makes no sense
At least not yet

My footwell's filled with souvenirs
The paintwork's patched and dated
The seats are ripped and stained with beer
But it's a car that I've created
And anyway our destinations
Have always been the same
And if I find you got there first
You won't hear me complain

And if I ever
Start to think
Should I not have stopped so often?
I'll think of all those wildlife centres
Trips I took round national monuments
Friends I met on public footpaths

Published by Wipe Out Music Publishing

Until recently at work I sat next to someone about ten years younger than me who had a completely different Work Mindset to me, a mindset that seemed to be shared by loads of other people I met of a similar age. When I'd left school there hadn't really been any jobs so we took what we could find, got our Life Fulfilment elsewhere, and never really took Careers particularly seriously, just blundering from one job to the next. For this reason I've always found it a little saddening to talk to people who went through school a decade later who seem to have been indoctrinated with the idea that Career Is Everything, who've been focused on their career since about the age of 11, and who have devised and kept to plans on how to get the job they "want".

It's easy for people like me to just sneer and say they've got the wrong idea altogether, but the more I've talked to people with that viewpoint the more I've come to admire their determination and confidence. Personally I wouldn't want to have to stand by anything I wanted when I was eleven years old, and especially wouldn't want to have to live with the decisions I made at fourteen, but these people appear, to me, to have started being serious about their life at a very early age, to have thought hard about what they do, and to have stuck with it. Even now it's not something I like having to do, and it's a kind of tenacity that you've got to admire.

That still doesn't mean I think it's right, mind you, as it seems to me that if you focus firmly on one goal and stride towards it you miss out on all the other exciting opportunities that pop up along the way. My own job, for instance, didn't even exist when I was at school, and if I hadn't done a series of secretarial jobs and messed about with Macros and things in my spare time I wouldn't have the glittering career in academic computing that shines so gloriously across everything I do to this day. No indeed.

The song itself was also prodded into being by some work I was doing a while back on The Hibbett Archive. I'd had a bit of a clear-out and realised that I had a massive pile of about 50 cassettes of old demo tapes, song ideas and, especially, gigs which I could never bear to get rid of, but would like to have in a bit of a tidier format. I managed to get a tape player hooked up to my computer and was busily transferring them to mp3, and listening to all these old tapes made me thing about all the brilliant things that had happened to me, all the fantastic people I'd met, and the ludicrous adventures we'd had, all through not making presumptions about what we'd be doing later on that evening, let alone in thirty years time. It's not really worth throwing all that away just for the sake of a tidy looking CV.

Hence the song! As ever with my stuff once I hit the right metaphor I was OFF, and this one was based on the fact that, around then, Tom and I were doing a few gigs as a duo and were spending many happy hours buzzing round Britain hopelessly lost because we'd taken one of those Internet Directions Lists rather than a map, and it'd all gone wrong. From that all the other Travel Metaphors trundled out, my favourite being the bit about "Shanks's Pony", which I've been trying to get into a song for ages. It took an evening (January 27th, according to my blog) of strumming to get the tune then the words filtered through the next morning (on the District Line between Mile End and St James Park - I'd've been going to a meeting at the Department Of Work And Pensions in that case, which is enough to give anyone pause for thought about their life choices) and then the last bit was the first half of the middle eight, when I got back to my own office. The chorus was the biggest deal for me though - I astounded myself by being moved to tears when I first sang it! I don't know why it suddenly hit me so hard, but it's got to be a good thing that it did.

As ever when I took it to band practice it required some de-indie-fying, and the first thing to go was one of my classic Incredibly Complicated Middle Bits. Quite a few of my songs have these in demo version, as when the songs are played on their own (especially the way I tend to play them at first) it all gets a bit samey, and so I'm forced to throw in a series of almost random chords, usually involving a C#m at some point, as it always strikes me as Classy to do so. One of the many GRATE things about The Validators though is that they can actually play a lot better than me, have more imagination in the area of rhythm, and can generally knock songs into a much better shape, so that the bit with the classy chords suddenly sounds clunky and unnecessary.

The roughing up in this case happened by chance when Mr Frankie Machine played a forceful version of the bass riff in frustration at trying to think of a better way to play the song, and I leapt around going "THAT'S IT!" like a band leader in a rock biography film. Tim leapt onto it, and we were off.

We played it live a few times, and each time I was impressed and a little afeared at Emma's determination to sing all the words too. I thought it was GRATE that we were able to do it, but as I often change/forget words during Live Performance I did think the whole thing was a bit worrying. The solution, I discovered, was just not to think about it and carry on as normal - Emma by now has got used to my "unique phrasing" and regularly amazes me by being able to sing along AND harmonise with things that I tend to think of as both rhythm and harmony free. I do sometimes feel a bit guilty when, at gigs, I sing something wrong and she sings it right as people tend to think that it's her who's got it wrong, simply because MY years of experience are in Looking Confident About What I'm Doing, but hey! I don't feel guilty enough to stop doing it.

My favourite part of the recording for this song was done after we got back from Cornwall. Even after we'd ditched the Classy/Clunky Chord Sequence in the middle I wanted the "your autobiography" bit to sound a bit weird, and eventually I came round to thinking that, as so much of the song was about people living their lives backwards, maybe I should play some backwards stuff over it. I'd written in the Recording Ideas book that we should have something like this, and gloriously Mr Machine had already put some backwards bits on at the start and at the end of the middle, but I knew what was required: A BACKWARDS GUITAR SOLO!

To be honest, this something I usually think would help most of my songs anyway, just because I love them, but having recently installed music software on my machine for the "Zipcodes" recordings this was the first time I was in a position to carry the idea out. As a Beatles Obsessive of long standing I had always wanted to have a go at George Harrison's methodology from when they first started recording backwards stuff. He'd work out an entire guitar solo played forwards, write the whole thing down, write it all down again back to front, and then play that. It sounded bizarrely complicated and so I set out to do it.

One of the problems with this was that I can't read or write music, and another is that I can't play it particularly brilliantly either, but luckily I had my new music software to hand so was able to have three or four separate goes at the track and then edit it together to make one that, actually, sounds pretty good - especially just after "definitive accepted text", which is the only time my George Harrison Plan works particularly well, but by GOLLY I think it's worth it.

Funnily enough, about a year after writing this song, I got approached by a Publishing Company with the idea of writing my Rock Memoirs. I spent a couple of months researching my own life and found that I'd been completely right - there was so much lost to the mists of time, drink and daft ideas that there was never going to be a version that everyone who'd been there would come close to agreeing with. This made me happy.

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