Saturday, 21 April 2012

My Top Five: Trev

Ok, with the threat of a 'Texas Wedgie' from Toronto Tim a ringing in my ears I'll give it a go.
I've said before that my/our songs are a bit like babies; it's really hard to be objective; your affections are oft with the slightly cross-eyed ones.
Blimey, I'm even going to have to break this into sections:

Pre Marcus:
Much credit should be given to the live band that played on the first two albums. We were a tight bunch back then; there was never any money to show for all of their hard graft. Top men, all of them:
Steve Davis: Guitar and keyboards (and co-producer for the first two and a half albums)
Les Nemes: Bass
Mark Hornby: Electric and acoustic guitar
Trevor Smith: Drums and percussion
Phil Smith: Sax and keyboards

Walking John Wayne: This came together effortlessly and has aged with a certain dignity.

Whiskey Kisses: There aren't many of my songs that I imagine other folk covering but for some reason I always hear Willy Nelson crooning this with Emmylou Harris. They'd better get on with it...

Wheels of the World: Maybe not the greatest song ever written but it captured the live band in all its glory; this is what Miracle Mile sounded like at gigs. I remember guitarist Mark Hornby turning up at North London's 'Protocol Studios', tardy and a little worse for wear from celebrating at his son's birthday party. On arrival he reversed into a wall in the car park, stumbled in, realised that he'd brought the wrong guitar; Les Paul instead of Telecaster; and then launched into the solo that still gives goosebumps.
A capable and enthusiastic drinking partner and hands down the best guitarist I've ever played with...

Star Watching: A great pop arrangement, beautifully realised by co-producer Steve Davis.

Blue Sea White Dog: This always feels like the song where I first found my true voice as a singer. 
I love the arrangement and well remember the live line up recording it at Jacob's residential studios. 
I hate to take credit, but I asked drummer Trevor Smith to play with brushes rather than sticks (he wasn't happy) and the song suddenly moved from pop/rock towards something more intimate. A high point in recording for the band and also, in a way, the beginning of its end, with my inclination towards a quieter, more controlled sound. 

'Scientist Specials':
There are some songs that came out exactly as intended; I guess that endorses a certain craftsmanship.
Then there are the ones which morph into something totally unexpected; a slug into butterfly, or vice-versa. These are invariably the productions that Marcus has left his fingerprints most indelibly upon; the ones where I've presented him with a vocal and a scratchy guitar only to be summonsed back to the studio weeks later to be sat in 'the comfy chair' in front of those fabled 'Big Speakers' and be totally bewildered, then blown away. I'm a bit of a control freak so it does take a real leap of faith for me to take my hands off the wheel; the relief and wonderment at The Scientist's mad alchemy has reduced me to a quivering pulp on several occasions and I still live for those moments; love it when Marcus beams at his own sound sculptures.
My favourite of these 'Scientist Specials' are:

Glow: Vocal done, I described the boozy subject matter; and said that I'd like a 'woozy' feel. The rolling tom toms and swelling cymbals perfectly suggest the highs and lows of an alcohol fueled existence.
I remember the piano bass notes on the 'hold your horses' section parting my hair; a real thrill.

Lights of Home: I'd expected the end section's key change to build into a dramatic cacophonous climax; instead Marcus drops the arse out of the song; the effect is doubly potent: genius!

Yuri's Dream: I love the grungy slide guitar in the intro, that's offset by the clarity of the glockenspiel and BJ Cole's heavenly slide. There's a lot going on but the whole production is balanced and complete.

Papillon: I gave Marcus the acoustic version (essentially the mix that you hear on 'Hopeland') and he tweaked it into something quite beautiful, initially with twitchy drums on. They worked fine but seemed to take the eye and ear from the sentiment, so 'we' binned them. I'm not sure that Marcus has ever forgiven me... Still, an inspired production, he definitely had his Lanois leathers on that day.

Jim: This isn't actually a Marcus production; this was me and Steve Davis, who worked with me on 'Bicycle Thieves', 'Candids' and the first half of 'Slow Fade'. It was the first session that BJ Cole ever did for us. We also wanted double bass and our then guitarist Mark Hornby suggested getting in a guy that he'd been working with for Tasmin Archer. We booked the faceless bassist and in walked Marcus. The solo section, where the upright bass echoes the guitar line, still activates the hair on the back of my neck. I thank that this song and 'Blue Sea White Dog' were the first real inclinations of how I really wanted my post live band recordings to sound... 

I should also mention 'Guggenheim' as this was the first ever Cliffe/Jones production; I won't bore you with the technicalities but it started life in a top end residential studio ('Jacobs', where the Smiths recorded 'The Queen is Dead'). We were forced to steal the parts as digital scraps and it ended up being reassembled with scissors and glue in Marcus's kitchen...
'All the Way to London' and 'Under My Tongue' should get special mention also; Marcus brought a pop sensibility to what might otherwise have been mordant melodies.

Happy Pappy:
The MM songs that I'm proudest of:

Alaska: The lyric engages and the production is epic without being pompous.

Five Points of Light: I'm not sure that the recorded version is definitive but, for me, there's not a false note in the writing.

Milk Moustache: I love the quirky arrangement; the sentiment just the right side of saccharine...

Love Letters and Long Goodbyes: Written for an injured, much loved friend. We nailed this one...

Sister Song: I hope that it still works; I can't really listen to it anymore; as genuine an outpouring as I'll ever muster; never again I hope...

The Scientist's Seed:
Finally, special mention to those songs that started as musical pieces from Marcus that we then melded into song; I'd call these our truest collaborations:
The Dust Will Shape Your Sins
My Bourbon Sky
Step by Step
The Secret Fold
My Beautiful Mirage

OK, that's a few more than 5 and I haven't even touched on the 'Jones' songs yet.
Today it's:
Something Resembling Love
Bluer Skies Than This
I Deny

Thanks again to Toronto Tim for suggesting this; it's been interesting to see what's connected; to read how and why the songs reverberate.
It's heartening to know that they live and breathe out there in the big wide world...


  1. Jesus! Finally 'the' shirt in all it's gaudy glory... a real eye-catcher! That is quite the photo. Taken during your bohemian "hippy" days?

    Asking you to do "Sophie's Choice" with your beloved offspring was perhaps a bit cheeky... appreciate your giving it a go!
    You sure covered a lot of bases... Giving much credit to all involved, a brief MM history lesson, some wonderful stories behind the songs, and continuing in the Di-honored tradition of squeezing in just a couple of extras!

    Thanks for perfectly capping the series Trev.
    You certainly have much to be proud of, and we look forward to more of your beautiful babies... cross-eyed ones too!

    1. The Jesus Shirt is still hanging in the wardrobe, smelling of mothballs, although it seems to have shrunk somewhat...
      Sorry that I couldn't be more specific; it is a bit of a scattershot choice of songs.

    2. Thanks again for suggesting the idea; the responses have been illuminating, encouraging and kind: it's been nice to hear that I'm not a total wastrel...

  2. I have been working my way through all your songs over the last few months. Whilst I have fairly eclectic tastes in musical styles, I am very picky with what actually makes it into my hallowed collection.

    In all honesty, whilst I have not heard a song of yours that prompted a lunge to the fast-forward button, there are a number of songs that really are something quite special, five of which were listed in my top selection. What you have is the gift of tapping memories, everyday actions or observations into honestly constructed lyrics, with which you assault this listener's emotions. Add to that a second wave of manipulative and soothing sound and I am often wiping away a tear at a similar past event recalled. That is powerful magic that only musicians with sensitivity and perception can begin to understand.

    You, are definitely, one of them.

  3. Blimey Isobelle; that's quite an affirmation and much appreciated.
    The hope is always to connect; I hope that it's not too manipulative but I guess that there's a certain amount of 'charming' that needs to be added to the craft involved. If the songs get any emotional response then they've worked a good shift in helping us recognise that we're all (essentially) made of the same stuff. I know that those are the kind of songs that I need to reach for so; quite a compliment...
    Thanks, as ever, for listening so hard!
    Trev x