Thursday, June 22, 2017

Fathers, daughters, brothers and neighbours...



As a young, pasty-faced teen, I discovered the Everly Brothers via our kindly neighbour, Pete Morris. Chock full of Elvis, Little Richard, Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly LPs, Pete's abundant record collection quickly betrayed his obsession with 50s American rock 'n roll, and fortunately for me, he was keen to share his wares.

One fateful day, he loaned my dad the Everly Brothers eponymous debut album, and despite the fact that the songs on it had all been recorded before I was even born, the pure sonic attack of their conjoined voices was a complete and utter revelation to me. I suppose it was the first time I became really aware of harmony singing, and I was hooked at first listen.

Looking back, it was a bit of an unlikely discovery for me. I mean, it was the early 70s after all, and being fully immersed in all things glam-rock, my time was spent fixated on Bowie and Bolan rather than Boudleaux and Bryant. At the time, the strains of those two-part bluegrass-inspired harmonies delivered by two quiffed brothers from Kentucky, were probably as alien to me as Ziggy Stardust and Electric Warrior were to my dad's generation. No matter though, hearing those impossibly crystalline voices ringing around our living room just left me wide-eyed, and it sort of re-shaped the way I heard music.

It's strange, I already had a guitar at that point - I couldn't really play it, but it did have lots of glitter glued to its body so I could look cool (daft) lip-syncing away to my T.Rex 45s - but I don't really remember ever trying to sing, prior to instinctively grasping for those Phil Everly harmony parts. Fortunately for me, my dad was quite a handy singer himself, and despite my mother's protestations, he and I would often try and emulate their singing. Some of my fondest memories involve the two of us having a go at "All I Have To Do Is Dream", "Wake Up Little Susie" and Bye-Bye Love" in our old living room. "Hey dad, you be Don and I'll be Phil!" (I'm embellishing; let me have this one, ok?)

Rose-tinted reminiscing notwithstanding, it is telling that the only time I've ever waited around for a post-show glimpse of any of my musical heroes was at an Everly Brothers show here in Florida back in the mid-90s. I'd gone prepared too; a reissued copy of that classic Everlys LP under one arm, and a sharpie in the other, and at the evening's close, I giddily left the venue with it signed by Phil and Don.

The following year, I returned to England for a brief visit, and the highlight of the trip for me just might have been seeing the look on the face of one Mr. Pete Morris when I knocked on his front door and handed him a belated thank-you note in the form of a signed copy of the album that he'd inadvertently schooled me with, some 25 years previous.

So here we are in 2017, and their music sounds as sublime as ever to me and much to my delight, my daughter seems to concur. Having her join me on this past Father's Day for a "Long Time Gone" singalong certainly brought a few of those fuzzy old memories of my dad and I singing together, into sharper focus.

Confession: It honestly didn't strike me until sometime during the writing of that last paragraph, that the album from whence this song came was actually titled, "Songs Our Daddy Taught Us". Given the backstory and the fortuitous Father's Day timing, it's probably way too cloyingly cute to mention it, but it's done now. 




Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Ooh La La...



I always fancied having a go at a Faces song. Unfortunately for me and my lacklustre vocal range, the mighty Rod Stewart was their lead singer, so I steered well clear. Tackling a Rod vocal is akin to taking on a Paul Rodgers tune, or if you're really insane, a Steve Marriott one. Best not to attempt it and risk embarrassment or injury.

So, I took on Ooh La La, since it was the only Faces song that Ronnie Wood sang. I love Woody, of course, but vocally, he's no Rod Stewart. He's not even a Ronnie Lane, to be fair. Ah, I love 'em all though, and I always loved this song.

Actually, I shouldn't remotely have a go at Woody; I tried singing this song in the original key that he sang it in back in the day, and I couldn't remotely manage it. Came a cropper, actually, so I had to lower the key to a safer zone for me. Not only that, I messed up the words in the last verse when it came to singing it on the night. Well, it was supposed to be fun and impromptu like, but on reflection, it might have helped to rehearse it. Oh well, I wish I knew then, what I know now...etc.

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