These are studio-recorded songs I used to do with Don MacLeod back in the 80s when we worked mostly as a duo, sometimes with a singer called Sarah whose surname – shamefully – totally escapes me. Don is a very fine acoustic guitarist with blues and ragtime leanings, and our repertoire was fairly eclectic, but included quite a few of our own songs (written together or separately). Most of the songs here come from my cassette album Sheer Bravado, plus a couple from the Diverse Brew (provisional title) album we worked on with Bob Theil, Bob Cairns and Pat Orchard – unfortunately it was never released. Those tracks did appear subsequently on the cassette album Scriptwrecked and pretty much all of them were formerly available on the CD Twofer. None of these albums are currently available.
Don now lives in Worcestershire, and I live in the West Country, so we don’t often get to play together, but you can often find him playing around the Malverns, and sometimes there (and further afield) with the Julie July Band.
There were problems with the source tapes for these sessions, sadly.
- The tracks for Sheer Bravado were recorded on a type of Ampex tape that was subject to a form of deterioration called ‘sticky shed syndrome’: the glue breaks down and polyurethane rises to the surface, resulting in a gumminess that disrupts playback and can damage both the tape and the player. (Some tape types from several brands at that time developed the same problem.) While such a tape can be (and was, in this case) repaired by baking, the fix is temporary, so if I wanted to revisit the tapes directly, it would have to be rebaked with no guarantee of success. So this is the best I was able to do by remastering. I don’t have the mix tapes, so there is very little I can do about the sometimes inexpert mixing. On the other hand, my voice generally sounded better then that it does now.
- The Diverse Brew tracks were taken via cassette rather than directly from master tapes. Two of them actually sound better than you’d expect, but there isn’t much I can with any of them except basic remastering.
Sheer Bravado tracks, recorded at Centre Sound, Camden, in 1983.
‘Speak My Heart’ is one of Don’s songs: here, he plays acoustic guitar while I sing and play lead guitars.
‘View From The Top’ is a song Don and I wrote between us: generally, I’d write the words and he’d put a tune to them. (In fact, most of the songs I’ve written solo have started with the words: I guess I think of myself largely as a lyricist, though I’ve done some settings of verse by Housman, Kipling and Yeats, too.) The vocals, guitar and keyboards are all me on this occasion.
‘She’s Gone’ is basically Don’s song, though I tweaked the words a little. Don plays some rather classy acoustic guitar, while I contributed vocals and lead guitar.
‘So Much For Romance’ is another of Don’s songs. He played acoustic guitar and piano, and I added vocals, acoustic lead and keyboards in a later session.
‘Scratch One Lover’ is one of mine. I played acoustic guitar and sang, and Don added acoustic lead.
‘Sheer Bravado’ is my words set to Don’s tune. Bizarrely, the same tune was originally used for a different lyric of mine called ‘Solo’ (nothing to do with the Sandy Denny song of the same name). I think Don preferred and sang the ‘Solo’ version. I might revisit ‘Solo’ at some point if I can find the lyrics. I think I still like this better as a song, though the slide on this version is a bit off-key in places. Vocal and both guitars by me.
Diverse Brew tracks, recorded at Hallmark, central London
‘True Confessions’ is one of our songs written together. Don played acoustic guitar and piano. I sang lead and harmony vocals, and there are additional harmonies from Anna (Lyn) Thompson, with whom I was working as a(nother) duo around that time. Lead acoustic and electric guitars are me, and percussion was by Richard Davy.
‘One Step Away (From The Blues)’ is one of mine: it’s a song I still sing a lot. I played acoustic guitar and electric slide guitar, Don played acoustic lead, Bob Theil played acoustic 12-string.
‘Heatwave’ is mine, and has nothing to do with Martha and the Vandellas. Actually, it’s about some of the negative aspects of living in London in the 1980s-90s. On the original track, I sang and played acoustic and electric guitars and banjo, while James Bolam (not the actor) contributed piano. However, it could be included here on the grounds that Don and I used to play it together, even though we didn’t record it together. However, it didn’t transfer at all well to a digital format. If you’re desperate to hear that version, it’s here. The solo version below is a bit rough, but it includes the lyric as I sing it now, slightly shortened from the 80s version.