Monday, February 01, 2016

The Boy From Down The Hill



 During my last visit to old Blighty (shamefully, it was way back in 1994) I passed by a butcher's shop while walking down Scunthorpe High Street, and did a bit of a double take at the headless pig carcass hanging right there in the shop window. Of course, while growing up there, such a vision would have been an innocuous part of the local scenery, with nary an eyelid batted. But, I suppose I'd been over in the US long enough at that point to find it noteworthy, jarring even. Well, it's not a sight commonly seen in your local hyper-sanitized Publix supermarket is it?

Arriving back at my folks' house later that afternoon (at the bottom of the hill, natch), I scribbled down the words, "Headless pig in a window telling me I'm home; it doesn't matter where I go, this is where I'm from", with a view to building a song around them later on. I know, I know - they're daft lyrics, and a headless pig isn't likely to be telling anyone much of anything - but what's a little dramatic license between friends?  

Tellingly, I could never make use of the phrase in a way that I liked. I tried a couple of different melodic approaches and chord progressions over the next couple of years, but wasn't thrilled with any of them, so I gave up on it and let it languish in the old lyric notebook.

Fast forward some 18 years or so, and I had this little folkish guitar riff in search of a lyric, and as I usually do, I set about leafing through the aforementioned notebook of scribbled lyric fragments for inspiration. When I saw the old "headless pig" snippet, I gave it a whirl, and to my pleasant surprise, after a little nip and tuck, it dropped in there quite nicely. The rest of the song came together quite quickly after that, as if making up for lost time.

I sent Ed an acoustic guitar and vocals recording of the resulting song for him to play with, assuming that its future lie in jangly folk-rocker land. Silly me. Ed turned it on its pig-less head, returning my song with ghostly, plinking piano parts, ominous-sounding drums and all manner of clanking percussion tracks that sounded downright medieval to me. I loved it.

From there, the song winged its way over to Swindon where XTC guitar maestro Dave Gregory had his way with it, sending us a slew of swooping backwards guitar phrases that gave the song the psychedelic nudge it needed to render it almost unrecognizable from the vision I originally had for it.

Then, it was up to Massachusetts where the fab Dave Mattacks breathed further life into it with his own swinging drums and percussion tracks. Like Ed, I'd been knocked out (still am, actually) when I'd heard the two Daves together on XTC's swoon-worthy Nonsuch album, and the fact that we had them both together again on one of our songs, no less, made Ed and I giggle like little schoolgirls. Not that it takes much...

Yes, this one has been around the block, as they say. I do love that aspect of collaborating with others, though. For better or worse, you end up with something that never would have happened with any one ingredient missing. It's just a thrilling adventure to me. Of course, it doesn't hurt when you're on board with musicians of the calibre of Woltil, Gregory and Mattacks. Even if they do sound a bit like a law firm, I'm a lucky boy indeed.

Funnily enough, this song's title harks back to my schooldays back in the 70s. I had a mate who lived in a nice detached house at the top of the hill up from where I lived. I resided in a dodgier area of terraced council houses at the bottom of the hill, and if his dad answered the phone whenever I'd call his house, I could often hear him say as he passed the phone, "It's for you... it's the boy from down the hill".

I'm not sure if his words were a variation on the classic "wrong side of the tracks" idiom, or whether he was just speaking geographically, but for the sake of the song, I'm going with the former. Besides, it hints deliciously at the great British tradition of class warfare and the mutual mistrust that can lurk therein which makes for a more interesting song. Either way though, I felt drawn to the phrase at first hearing and I hung on to it in hopes that I'd be able to make use of it someday. True to form, it only took me 40 years.

Scunthorpe footage courtesy of Steve Bird, and Capertain.
Still photos by Bob (The Boy From Up The Hill) Hinchcliffe

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Song for The Donald?





Despite the somewhat judgmental and political tone of the lyrics as they stand today, Elastic Man began its life with me simply singing from the point of view of someone who would do and say whatever (and even be whomever) it takes to keep his significant other happy - bending over backwards, as they say.

It was initially sung in the first person - "I'll try to be what you want, do the best that I'm able; be the head of the restaurant or a crumb at your table", but as the lyrics began to take on a more silly, cartoonish vibe and the flip-flopping Elastic Man theme began to assert itself, I began singing in the third person because, well, who doesn't like pointing fingers and shaking their heads in bemusement at the follies of phony politicos? On top of that, singing from the point of view of a soulless, spineless, vacuous and opportunistic liar would come across all creepy, like.

Although the majority of my songs are written on the acoustic guitar, sometimes I like to write something on the piano. Since I am to piano playing what Mike Tyson is to hand puppetry, this leads to lots of uncertainty and errant chords. This is good, in that it throws you out of your comfort zone and although much of what you play might be overly simplistic and trite, occasionally one of those happy accidents comes along to thrill you.

It happened almost right off the bat with this song. I was trying to play a simple chord but missed it; my hands landing rather clumsily on the wrong keys. I didn't really know what the resulting chord was, but I knew that I liked it. It married with the melody in a far more interesting fashion than the chord I'd actually tried to hit, and it proved to be the kick in the pants I needed to continue on experimenting with the song.

No such clumsiness from the rest of this song's contributors, though. Snazzy drum tracks courtesy of our good friend Chuck Darling; acrobatic (elastic, even!) bass part from Andy Irvine; sublime electric and slide guitar playing supplied by Sir Dave Gregory; and the usual inspiring aural fingerpainting from our Ed all conspire to make me feel like the luckiest sod around. At the risk of sounding kinky, I'd bend over backwards for the lot of them.

Bendy fool has spoken!

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

"Cycle" - What They're Saying...



"No filler to be found here, overall its like a musical shot of happiness with the overall theme “Seize The Day”. Simply beautiful and very highly recommended."
- Powerpopaholic

"Full of clever twists and turns and knowing nods to a variety of pop styles, Cycle’s heartbeat is perhaps best demonstrated in the gorgeous. slightly trippy folk-pop number, “Elastic Man,” a sixties hug with echoes of Paul McCartney and Donovan that sounds like it’s enclosed in a Dukes of Stratosphear wrapper. The elegant “Wake Up Dreamin'” evokes images of a warm summer night that follows a sunny day that was chock full of surprise. The very English ballad “Little Regrets” conjures up images of Martin Newell as arranged by George Martin, a very good thing."
- Alan Haber's Pure Pop Radio

"Cycle finds veteran Florida folk-popsters (pop-folksters?) Steve Robinson and Ed Woltil teaming up for a collection of songs that’s a high water mark in each of their careers. In a music world full of self-conscious irony and angst (lots of angst), these slices of optimistic, classic 1960s influenced jangle are a refreshing alternative."
- Rob Caldwell, No Depression

"Remember when you heard one of those classic, timeless albums for the first time? One that, as soon as that needle hit the surface of that slab of vinyl,you just broke out into a smile? You couldn’t find a reason why it made you feel good to be alive; it just did. It would have you smiling one minute and the tears welling up the next just because it sounded so good. ‘Cycle’ is such an album."
- Malcolm Carter, Penny Black Music

"Tampa Bay's premier folk-poppers team up for one of 2015's best, a graceful and melodic collection of tunes that bring the pastoral side of XTC to mind."
- Steve Ferra, Absolute Powerpop

"Yeah, but are you selling any?" - Mrs Robinson

"Er... the Cycle CD by Steve Robinson & Ed Woltil is now incredibly available for purchase at:

Bandcamp https://steverobinsonedwoltil.bandcamp.com/, at 
CDBaby (http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/steverobinsonedwoltil1) ,  and can be downloaded at the
iTunes fortress (https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/cycle/id989681104)" 
- Steve R.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Me and my leaky head...



A couple of years back, Ed turned me on to the aural delights of Ron Sexsmith's recordings. His earnestly delivered songs really grabbed me. They seemed unrepentant in their sweetness and melancholy and I loved them immediately. It was probably due to listening to a fair bit of Ron's introspective, open hearted confessionals that I ended up writing "Little Regrets".


I sent a simple piano/vocal recording of it to Ed, and as he so often does, he transformed it into something quite grand, adding orchestral touches aplenty and giving it a stateliness that I'd never have conceived. He actually even rewrote a couple of lines, but I forgave him quickly, and we moved forward.

Harmonies and counter melody vocals were subsequently added and Steve Connelly kindly donated some lovely pedal steel flourishes. Actually, he might have asked for them back if he'd known of my plans for the song's coda. You see, for some reason I thought it might be a good idea to tie in the vague Edith Piaf "Little Sparrow/No Regrets" reference in the bridge by pretentiously singing a couple of lines in French towards the end of the song. I even went to the trouble of writing more lyrics and translating them into French. Of course, after I tried singing them, it quickly became apparent that a vaguely northern English-inflected voice singing in a half-arsed French accent is more comedic than dramatic, so I promptly erased them. No regrets there.



I could kick myself
I’ve skipped so many towns.
They raced past my window so fast…
Thought I was glory bound. (I think I let them down)
Ugly city scenes,
Pretty village greens.
Little regrets behind a white fence
I could kick myself.

Sometimes I hate myself
for stupid things I’ve said.
They rolled off my tongue so fast
Me and my leaky head
Ill-tempered cries,
Well-mannered lies.
Little regrets grin down from the shelf
Sometimes I hate myself.

No big sweeping scenes or dreams of innocence
(How soon we forget)
Little sparrow shoots an arrow through my heart
when she sings her song, No Regrets…

I should forgive myself
or so I read somewhere.
But the world keeps spinning so fast
and we’re getting nowhere.
Give me belief,
and sweet release.
Little regrets come down from the shelf
I’ll forgive myself.
Little regrets behind a white fence
I forgive myself.
Little regrets like everyone else…

Credits:
Steve Robinson - Lead & background vocals, piano
Ed Woltil - Keyboards, programming, bass
Steve Connelly - Pedal steel guitar

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

See how her garden grows...



Trying to express the joys, anxieties and sheer wonder that come with parenthood in a 3-minute pop song is an exercise in futility; you have to be a nutter to try it. So it was that I sat down with my guitar, looking for inspiration in some of the old crayon drawings gifted to me by my daughter during her childhood years, and attempted to capture in song, but a snippet of the awe she inspires in me. 

Since Emma's pictures usually came adorned with gaily coloured hearts, flowers and butterflies, it's a no-brainer that the lyrics would be heavy on garden metaphors, so no apologies for the song title of Butterflies, giddy references to raindrops on petals, teardrops on cheeks, little children shooting up tall, and summery flowers reaching skyward. Sappy? Yep. All part and parcel, I'm afraid.

Well, kids are our little flowers aren't they? We try to nurture them as best we can, we watch them grow, take delight in their blooming, and spend an inordinate amount of time simply being dazzled by their beauty. 

So here I am, several growing seasons on, and my little girl is blossoming into a lovely and talented young woman right in front of my eyes. I'm terribly proud of her of course, but as she eases into adulthood, I know that along with the attendant sense of joy and wonder, I'll also be dealing with a whole new set of worries and anxieties. There'll be car insurance deductibles to contemplate, college reconnaissance spying missions to initiate and dodgy prospective boyfriends to interrogate.

Butterflies? I still have them.


Flushed cheek and teardrop
making my heart stop
teaching me all I know

Her face like thunder
and innocent wonder
see how her garden
grows up very high
to kiss the cloudy skies away

She paints hearts and flowers
in ivory towers
See all the smiles they bring

Delivered in whispers
signs them with kisses
see her she's pulling strings
to hold me down
or lift me off the ground

At once to fly away
then crashing down
and I'm all butterflies
and sunshine smiles
enjoy the ride
here we go...

High, high, high!

Petal and raindrop
making my heart stop
See how her garden grows...


Steve Robinson - Lead & background vocals, acoustic guitars
Ed Woltil - Background vocal, acoustic guitar, keyboards, programming

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

'ello 'ello!



Hello Hello was written soon after reconnecting with my old mate, Mark Pearson. Mark and I had been bandmates back in the UK in the 70s, but we lost touch after I left for the US and he moved down to London.

When you don't see someone for a couple of decades, and you happen to live on different continents, catching up is a bit of a tall order. While e-mail is easy and convenient, it doesn't really compare to a hug and a couple of pints in the pub does it? With so much water under the bridge, it's difficult to know where to start, and truth be told, we barely did. Instead, our correspondence quickly resorted to the familiar, trotting out old memories of rehearsals, gigs and, well, pints in the pub.

We did, of course, exchange photographs of our kids, which in turn got me to leafing through some dog-eared photographs from some of those early gigs. I remember being a little shocked at how young and carefree we looked in them. Well we would wouldn't we? We were young and carefree after all; much like our own kids are now.

Mark was always someone I looked up to. He was only a year older than the rest of us, but there was a charismatic self-assuredness about him that we all lacked. Quicker-witted, more stylish (not a difficult task, admittedly) and with a rather more diverse record collection, I suppose he was the leader of the band. I mention this because one of the aforementioned gig photographs seemed to capture a bit of that for me. 


In it, I'm wearing Dunlop Green Flash plimsolls (don't ask), rolled-up jeans, an old nylon pajama top (please don't ask) and a rather serious, if slightly dazed expression (possibly second-guessing my choice of attire). Mark, on the other hand, cuts an altogether more swaggering figure, wearing an untucked white dress shirt and a pair of zipped-at-the-ankles fencing trousers with matching scowl.

It made me smile; it made me reflect on the different paths our lives took; and it made me want to use the term "fencing trousers" in a song...


Look at me in this one
trying hard to be sincere
And look at you in fencing trousers
and your finest sneer
We were so young
and we were full of it,
fearless on the face of it
and not much underneath
to hold us back,
from taking all the chances,
never looking in,
and never needing answers

Look at how we lost ourselves
and found ourselves again
I pissed off to the USA
while you went down to London to find yourself
Guess I did the same
on different streets with different names
and different points of view
to fall into,
busy taking chances,
drinking it all in
and looking for the answers

Hello hello
Hello hello
Hello hello (we're back again)

And then your parents leave you
with no one to impress
Little children helping you
to make sense of this great big mess
of headlines, deadlines, white lines
by the book, take your time
and take a look at him

He looks a lot like you,
(it might be just as well)
Look at her upon a pedestal,
she's casting spells
They are so young
and they are full of it,
fearless on the face of it
and innocence beneath,
pure and easy
Living in the moment
drinking it all in
It's looking like the answer

Hello hello
Hello hello
Hello hello (we're back again)

{ EXCHANGE PLEASANTRIES }

It made me happy when we said hello
Ain't it funny how we sing about what we don't know?
It made me happy when we said hello
Ain't it funny how we talk about what we don't know?


Steve Robinson - Lead & background vocals, acoustic & electric guitars
Ed Woltil - Bass, keyboards
Aaron Kant - Drums & percussion
Steve Connelly - Lap steel & pedal steel guitars
Emma Robinson - Background vocals

Friday, April 17, 2015

Love Somebody!






Love Somebody started its life as a rather dodgy albeit well-intentioned and affectionate Bob Dylan parody. Purely for my own amusement, I'd strapped on my acoustic, slipped a harmonica holder around my neck and barked out "You don't need a therapist to show you how to love somebody; don't need to be a poet or evangelist to love somebody true" in my best Bob impression.

Like most Dylan impressions out there, mine isn't very good and it soon had the dogs suitably howling and running for cover, but I was quite enjoying myself and continued the stream of consciousness warbling undeterred. Before I knew it, the lines, "You don't need to be a Beatle or Bee Gee to love somebody; you don't need permission just to let it be" popped out and although I was amused by the silly impudence of it all, I also wondered if I hadn't stumbled on something that I could use.

On my Away For The Day CD, I'd done something similar with a Syd Barrett-style goof that eventually became the song, Bright Side Of The Moon, so I wondered if this too might have the germ of a decent song beneath the goofiness.

So, I turned on my recorder to capture a hastily recorded snippet for future reference and went about my business. In this case, my business was coaxing the dogs out from beneath the furniture.

Upon subsequent review, I discovered that the lyrics and melody sat quite well with me and set about fleshing it out a bit. I set up a repeating drum machine pattern to play along to so that I could find more of a groove for the song and it fell into place quite quickly. To avoid running afoul of the local neighborhood association (and possibly the SPCA), I dropped the mad, affected Zim-like vocal sneer and wailing harmonica and sang it straight, so to speak.

A bridge section and some harmony parts later, it was starting to sound quite promising to my ears. So, I had Ed come over with his trusty Epiphone Casino and we went out to my old garage apartment where he deftly added some lovely electric guitar parts. From there it was sent to Dave Mattacks at his home in Massachusetts where he promptly gave the song the feel and groove it needed. A bass track and a little dollop of orchestration to taste (again, courtesy of Ed) and Bob's your uncle!