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The Bird has wings…

8 April, 2016 Leave a comment

I know I said this was over and done with… But I have reason to return!

For those of you who follow(ed) this blog and hoped to hear what became of the lyrics written during this process then I have a pleasant surprise for you. Having left Morpheus Rising almost 5 years ago I was unsure what would happen with the lyrics I’d written and some of the musical ideas I had. I quickly decided I wanted to continue to write the songs, I wanted them heard, but I wanted to do them justice.

Five years later and I’m finally in the place I need to be to start working on these again and, hopefully, do them justice. Of course, they’ll sound nothing like I first envisaged, I wrote them with the guitars/style of Pete and Daymo in mind and I’m now working on them with my own guitar style with contributions from across the UK and beyond.

It’s coming together! Slowly, but there’s definitely movement.

Over the last few years I’ve had little or nothing to do with any bands, or music in general, other than as a voracious listener of all styles and genres. At least that’s the public face of it. In actual fact I’ve been slowly working away on my own songs, writing notes and lyrics, sketching musical ideas, teaching myself mixing and recording techniques, learning how to improve my ability to play the guitar (after a fashion) and generally keeping my toes in the water so to speak.

I’m now at the point where I have sufficient ideas and, perhaps more importantly, the promise of more free time which will allow me to focus more on actually working towards getting these ideas in to some form fit for public consumption. I’ve spoken to a few musicians I respect regarding contributing their talents to some of the tracks and, thankfully, they’ve agreed to assist me in fulfilling my aim.

The first of these collaborations was actually completed some time ago. As a first step I wrote, and recorded, the music for the Birdsong lyrics while I was in Kenya and recorded some basic tracks myself. I contacted my longtime friend Craig Hughes, a well respected solo musician and founding member of Dog Moon Howl, to ask him if he fancied writing some lead guitar parts. He got a bit carried away! I ended up with three additional guitar parts and a couple of stunning solos to add to the mix.

You can hear the work in progress version of the song on my new SoundCloud page, but be warned, there are still some rough edges to knock off. I hope you like it and please, if you do (or even if you don’t!), do share it any which way you fancy… The more people that hear it the merrier ;o)

In the coming weeks and months I’ll be writing on the blog on the new Scaedunengan site. I’ll pop back and update you once this has been set up and it’s all systems go.

In the meantime, I hope you like the track…

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Lest We Forget…

10 November, 2010 1 comment
The Cenotaph at Whitehall is a memorial to mem...

Image via Wikipedia

I must first apologise to those few of you who read this blog. I  had intended to write much sooner after my return from R&R but circumstances haven’t been favourable for various reasons.

I don’t know when I’ll get to post this, suffice to say I’m writing it the Sunday prior to Remembrance Day and Op Minimise has been in force since 7AM. It’s been a sombre day with yet another British soldier being injured. This time I know the cause, and the injuries, and I’m appalled.

It’s at times like these that I question this life, not in the personal, suicidal tense but with regards to being a member of the Armed Forces as a career. Many people when confronted with a service person questioning their employment in this time of conflict ask “well, isn’t it what you signed up for?” In many cases this is an innocent, if naive, question, on others it is meant to draw debate. I know it’s not why I joined up, yes there was the awareness of the risk it may occur, but at the time I joined the Northern Ireland Peace Process was under way (albeit in its infancy) and Bosnia was beginning to ease its burden on our forces. By the time I’d completed training I found myself in Kosovo, since then there has been a constant stream of conflicts drawing us further afield, stretching us further and increasing the toll of dead and wounded each Remembrance Day.

It’s been said that with great power comes great responsibility but that’s just it; those who are out here do not have any great power, they are simply dedicated to a task which has fallen to them for whatever reason. They are no different to you or your neighbours, friends and family and yet the Nation expects them to face what no man should be asked to. Teenagers are forced to face their mortality, and their mates, on a daily basis, and all those who support them face the knowledge that the incessant procession of helicopters approaching Nightingale mean more of us have come closer, or too close, than any ordinary man should be asked to.

In 2008 when Morpheus Rising released An Ordinary Man in aid of HELP for HEROES I was criticised by fellow servicemen for the lyrics. Their argument was that we are anything but ordinary, we were a special breed, a breed apart. They missed the point. We are not extraordinary individuals, we do not have extraordinary powers, but we do face extraordinary situations and dig deep enough within ourselves to find the strength of character with which to face those situations. It’s a matter of camaraderie, fellowship and a common bond of respect for those whom have gone before which enable us to do what we do, whatever we do.

He’s an ordinary man
Why should he find himself doing these things
No ordinary man should be asked to do
He’s an ordinary man
just trying to do these things no one else can
He’s an ordinary man

The full lyric for An Ordinary Man can be found here. The song is currently available on the re-released single Fighting Man and can be purchased from iTunes and most online music stores as well as in CD format from Amazon UK and Morpheus Rising’s own store. Proceeds from the single are being donated to HELP for HEROES and the Royal British Legion‘s Poppy Appeal.

The personal impact however, is a different matter. What happens in this conflict and those things people see have an effect, a different one on each individual, but they will have an effect.

I remember speaking to a young Royal Anglian in hospital who explained that, despite having only served 4 years in the Army, he was leaving once he returned home. His reason? Not the fact that he had lost friends, nor the fact that he was lying in the hospital bed opposite mine having been injured by shrapnel from an RPG. His reason was the fact that he had joined the Army to be a sniper and he was out here doing just that. As far as he was concerned he had nothing left to achieve. He had joined the Army with a goal and that goal had been reached. Time to leave.

There are others who go home with a desire to return, they relish the challenge, they crave the adrenalin, they want to avenge their friends.

There are those who return home physically intact but shadows of the men they once were. PTSD, or shell shock as it was once known, is now widely accepted as a serious condition which needs treatment and care. In years gone by it has been ?? as cowardice, madness or an excuse. It is not. It is a reaction to something which has been seen, been done, even heard, which that individual’s character has decided is too much to deal with head on. It manifests itself in a different wat with each person who suffers. It is prevalent and it needs to be dealt with.

In reality everyone questions there involvement in a conflict such as this. Whether the reason is religious, moral or ethical, at some point every man jack will question the validity of the decisions made in the heat of conflict or the peaceful corridors of power. It is this journey of self discovery which will determine the type of person we are. It is the revelations we become aware of through that process which will determine the people we will become.

They ask me where I’ve been,
And what I’ve done and seen.
But what can I reply
Who know it wasn’t I,
But someone just like me,
Who went across the sea
And with my head and hands
Killed men in foreign lands…
Though I must bear the blame,
Because he bore my name.
‘Back’, Wilfred Gibs

On Thursday November 11th at 11AM I hope you will all observe two minutes silence. Not just for those who have already paid the ultimate sacrifice, or those who find themselves at Headley Court, but also for all those Fathers, Sons, Daughter and wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, relatives and mates who find themselves out here doing their job. After all, it’s what they joined up for isn’t?

P.S. Since I wrote this we’ve been on Op Minimise continuously…

3’s A Charm

20 October, 2010 2 comments

I wasn’t going to do this while I was home… but those who know me must have known I wouldn’t be able to resist ;o)

It’s been a few days since I returned to the fold, and they’ve been bliss. Family and friends, music and looking forward to more of the same over the remaining week.

Why am I posting then? Well, having been away I haven’t been able to pay as much attention to new music as I’d like so, over the last few days, I’ve taken the opportunity to give some new releases the attention they deserve. There have been many, and some I’ve yet to listen to, but 3 in particular have been given the full treatment, lights off, volume up, AKGs on…

I had one of them sent to me in Afghanistan but I wasn’t able to give it the attention it deserved (and believe me, it needs attention!) out there, the other two were waiting patiently on my desk when I returned home.

First up, ‘The Big Red Spark‘ from the world’s smallest progressive rock band, Tinyfish. This is a hard one. Despite knowing one of the members I’d heard very little of Tinyfish’s previous material and so had no bar against which to measure. Perhaps this is a good thing as I doubt anything that’s gone before could have been compared to this. A concept album in every way ‘The Big Red Spark‘ can, in my opinion at least, only ever be listened to in its entirety (discounting the 4 extra tracks on the bonus DVD in the version I received).

Cover art from Tinyfish's The Big Red Spark

The Big Red Spark

There’s a flow to the album which demands that you follow the curve, to jump into ‘I’m Not Crashing‘ without having heard the previous 18 minutes or so would diminish the experience to the point of negating the whole thing. With this in mind I find myself drawing comparisons between ‘The Big Red Spark‘ and another concept album I have to listen to in its entirety, Marillion‘s Brave. Now, I’m not saying that Tinyfish are similar to Marillion by any means (although the influence of Mr Rothery is more than apparent in the guitar playing of Jim Sanders), I just feel that there is a similar impetus to the album. Both are dark concepts however Tinyfish manage to portray the darkness and concern of the ‘doomsday’ machine while retaining a levity to the music. It’s this juxtaposition of concept and performance which I find most intriguing, and it’s this which makes it works so well.

Next up was an album I’ve been waiting on since I heard of its release very early this year. Alter Bridge have already released an album which is up there in my favourites, 2007’s Blackbird, and expectations for this, their 3rd release, were high. I’d heard a couple of tracks from AB III

Cover art from Alter Bridge's AB III

AB III

prior to it’s release, the single ‘Isolation‘ which was available to stream from the Roadrunner website  and the ‘Words Darker Than Their Wings‘ which was available as a free download for 24 hours from the same site prior to the album’s release. I must admit to being somewhat disappointed on my first listen, but then perhaps day 1 of R&R wasn’t the right time to try it out… but then I listened again and felt the same. Oh dear! Not one to jump to conclusions I waited a couple of days and set myself down in a quiet room with my headphones and tried again. This time it clicked, the power of Mark Tremonti‘s riffs is dumbfounding, the dynamics, the breaks, the arrangements are outstanding and Myles Kennedy‘s voice is, as ever, quite simply staggering. In retrospect I think the difficulty I had at first was that I was expecting a Blackbird II, or at the very least something which resembled a mixture of One Day Remains and Blackbird, but ‘AB III‘ is something completely different. As stated by the band the subject matter of this album is for more introspective and, as a result, it also smacks of a darkness not found in the previous offerings. Highlights for me would include the opening couplet of ‘Slip Into The Void‘ and ‘Isolation‘ along with ‘All Hope Is Gone‘ and the storming ‘I Know It Hurts‘, but to pick these out is an injustice to what is, finally, a tour de force in the catalogue of what is fast becoming one of my favourite rock bands of the new millennium.

And now for something completely different…

It may come as a surprise to many that, despite my various links to the band, and my predilection for the style of music they play, I have never owned an original release by Mostly Autumn. Shocking I know, but it’s the truth! Yes, I’ve seen them live on several occasions and yes, I know several of the current members very well (not least Andy Smith who plays bass in Morpheus Rising!) but I quite simply have never purchased anything they’ve released.

Well, I’m glad to say that’s now all changed. I’m one of the individuals who pre-ordered ‘Go Well Diamond Heart‘, Mostly Autumn’s first album with Liv Sparnenn as lead vocalist.

Cover art from Go Well Diamond Heart

Go Well Diamond Heart

I had no choice really, Liv collared me at one of the Morpheus Rising gigs earlier this year and ordered me to buy it as some of the content would ‘mean’ something to me? And she wasn’t wrong. ‘Go Well Diamond Heart‘ has a theme running through it, not a concept as such, merely a common thread to several of the lyrics interspersed with some of the band’s more usual ethereal fair. The title track is dedicated to Ben Parkinson, a member of 7 RHA, who was caught in a landmine explosion in Afghanistan while ‘And Now The War Is Over…‘ could have been written for any serving member of the Armed Forces who have served in any conflict. The album has something for every kind of MA fan, there’s the acoustic folky feel to tracks such as ‘Violet Skies‘ and ‘Deep in Borrowdale‘, the straight forward rock of  ‘Something Better‘ to the grandiose of the title track and ‘Ice‘ (included on the 2nd CD only available with the pre-order). Knowing members of the band I’m only too aware of the amount of work which was involved in producing this album and the end result is a testament to every minute of it. Emerging from 13 years with Heather Findlay as the lead female vocalist this album could have been lost somewhere in the ‘in between years’ while the band found their feet. I’m glad it hasn’t, and I’m glad I broke the cycle and bought this album, it’s a diamond.

3 great albums which will each rate highly in my 2010 rankings, but 3 very different experiences.

A Female God* and Falling Angels

20 September, 2010 Leave a comment

Having meandered from the true path of music, in all its forms, in the last post I’m about to return with a vengeance to the reason this blog was created but…

Before I do I’d like to discuss one more song which smacks me straight in the face every time I hear it.

Now, before I go any further I must emphasise that, despite being a ‘modern man’, I am not really that into ‘chick flicks’ as they are called, but every now and then something comes along which really has an impact. Most recently it was ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife‘ and others would be ‘Meet Joe Black‘ or even ‘The Champ’ (but that’s going back a way… But of these, none comes close to the sheer splendour of a film about an Angel choosing to fall from grace in order to feel love.

City of Angels‘ has something special about it, a quality I can’t describe or quantify, and it doesn’t diminish no matter how often I revisit the film.

Perhaps because of this, or perhaps because it is such a powerful song in its own right, I have developed a great feeling for the song performed by Alanis Morrissette for the soundtrack.

Uninvited‘ is a haunting track using the passion created by strings to great effect over a simple keyboard and percussion setting. Perhaps better known now as the dance version released by Bailey Tzuke (I can appreciate both versions), the original is something quite special. Even before I took the time to listen to the awkwardly phrased lyrics (part of its charm?) I felt the pain and anguish it portrayed. Having taken the time to listen to the lyrics I can’t believe how accurately they reflect the emotion of the film’s primary characters

Like any uncharted territory I must seem greatly intriguing
You speak of my love like you have experienced love like mine before
But this is not allowed
You’re uninvited

I’ve often tried to express emotions like these in song and, as far as I’m aware, I’ve never succeeded. Songwriting comes in many forms, as my (soon to be teenage) youngest daughter, herself an avid singer/songwriter already, explained to me recently; there are moment songs, feeling songs and story songs. I think I have cracked the latter, and I’m sure I’ve dabbled in the first (I’ll need to check with her first I think!), but the middle one always seems to elude me, because of this I think I respect those who can achieve it so eloquently all the more. And Alanis Morrissette has done it here with such eloquence I’m speechless… well, not quite ;o)

* I do not consider Alanis Morrissette a deity before anyone starts a pogrom, I’m merely nodding to her cameo role in Dogma, a film I’m usually far more willing to admit to liking!

War Songs, Pt. 3: Watching…

9 September, 2010 Leave a comment
Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge in Barcelona 3-6-08

Image via Wikipedia

I was going to wait until the weekend until I posted this, however, as I heard the new single ‘Isolation‘ today, pre-ordered ABIII and ordered tickets for the Birmingham show in October (Yes! I’ll actually be home for a gig!) I thought I might as well make it Alter Bridge day!

Some songs embed themselves in your psyche. Not those songs that hook themselves into your consciousness for a day, but those which you hear and they immediately mean something to you. It doesn’t even necessarily have to coincide with the sentiment of the song. It’s personal, and it’s special.

One such song for me is ‘Watch Over You‘ by Alter Bridge. The reincarnation of Creed, a band whose lyrics I always found insightful perhaps due to my faith or perhaps just due to their skillful creation, were something of an unknown to me when the first album was released.  One Day Remains was very much ‘Creed with a new vocalist’  however Blackbird, their 2007 follow-up, was something entirely different. Myles Kennedy stamped his authority on this one, and then some. His vocal style and breadth of range never cease to amaze me and he is one of a handful of lyricists whose work I wish I could call my own. Tracks such as ‘Blackbird‘, ‘One By One’ and ‘Before Tomorrow Comes‘ are as fresh now, 3 years on, as they were when I first heard them. Thoughts such as

Will I be defined by things which could’ve been, I guess time can only tell

are with us all, and yet they are so hard to write. But of the songs on both albums ‘Watch Over Me‘, in both its original form and as a duet with Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil, means far more to me than the simple lyric can.

Leaves are on the ground, Fall hs come
Blue skies turning grey, like my love
I try to carry you, and make you whole
But it was never enough I must go

And who is gonna save you when I’m gone
And who’ll watch over you
When I’m gone

You say you care for me but hide it well
How can you love someone not yourself

And who is gonna save you when I’m gone
And who’ll watch over you
When I’m gone

And when I’m gone who will break your fall
Who will you blame
I can’t go on, let you lose it all
More than I can take
Who’ll ease your pain, ease your pain

And who is gonna save you when I’m gone
And who’ll watch over you
And who will give you strength when you’re not strong
Who’ll watch over you when I’ve gone away

Snow is on the ground, Winter’s come
You long to hear my voice, but I’m long gone

At this time in particular I want to ask these questions of my wife. She has so much going on while I’m away, I need to know she will be safe, and protected from everything and yet I’m powerless to do so. I can only gain strength from the knowledge she has family and friends to lean on in my absence.

I think, of all the songs I’ve sung to myself over the years, this is the one I’d most like to cover. Perhaps not in its original form, but maybe as either the acoustic version seen on the live DVD or, if I could convince someone to play the role, as a duet. A bonus track next year? You never know…

War Songs, Pt. 2: When I’m Gone…

7 September, 2010 Leave a comment

After Iraqi Freedom came Enduring Freedom as the War On Terror trundled on, Op FINGAL became Op HERRICK and our future career paths were mapped for at least a decade. I found myself in Afghanistan with a new trade in a position beyond that which my rank secured and I revelled in it.

This time I believed why we were here, I had a purpose and goals to achieve during the deployment. I had my sights set on promotion, education and experience. I got all 3, although the latter came in ways I’d never expected.

During my tour of duty I made friends with soldiers who faced death every time they left the confines of camp. All of them had experiences they would never discuss, most of them returned home safely with memories they would rather forget and some of them made the journey home under their Nation’s flag unaware they had been carried home by those who honoured their sacrifice. These experiences, and that of losing a friend caused me to write the lyrics to An Ordinary Man on my return. It also made me question my career, my role as a Father, husband and friend.

I’d never heard of 3 Doors Down before my deployment and, had I not worked closely with some US forces I probably wouldn’t have. As it was I received a copy of their album Away From The Sun from the same guy I bought my Ibanez from (yes, I bought a guitar on tour!) and am forever grateful for the discovery.

The straight forward American rock is easy to listen to and original enough prevent it ever sounding stale. The lyrics however, are what had me hooked. This tour was the hardest I’d done so far and, with my doubts over my role, the feelings I had for my family and the thoughts I held regarding all aspects of home they struck a chord. Two in particular seemed to echo my thoughts and feelings at the time, one was When I’m Gone and the other Here Without You. They’re two very different songs, one mainly acoustic, the other much harder and despite the similar sentiments to me they mean very different things. One is full of gratitude for the strength given by someone special and the will to carry on while the other is a promise that, despite all that happens, nothing has changed.  I’ll let you decide which is which…

So hold me when I’m here, right me when I’m wrong
Hold me when I’m scared and love me when I’m gone
Everything I am and everything in me
Wants to be the one you wanted me to be
I’ll never let you down even if I could
I’d give up everything if only for your good
So hold me when I’m here, right me when I’m wrong
You hold me when I’m scared, you won’t always be there
So love me when I’m gone

I’m here without you baby but you’re still on my lonely mind
I think about you baby and I dream about you all the time
I’m here without you baby but you’re still with me in my dreams
And tonight, there’s only you and me
Everything I know and anywhere I go
It gets hard but it won’t take away my love
And when the last one falls and all is said and done
It gets hard but it won’t take away my love

It’s surprising how you can place your life in order through the music you listen to, the effect it had at a particular time and the meaning it inherits from your own feelings when you heard it first. It’s what makes music so special, it’s something different to each and every person who listens.

Bursting Into Life…

21 June, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m away from home just now. I have been for a few weeks and will be for another week or so. Before that I was home for a short while, but I’ve been away off and on, if I’m honest, for the best part of 13 years. Over that time there have been many songs which have grabbed my attention, not all rock as you may expect, sometimes very simple songs.

One such song would be Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol. The last time I was on tour I had an acoustic guitar with me which I played (or tried to) as often as possible. With the song having such a simple guitar part it was a sure bet for me to learn with my limited talents.

There are things that happen while you’re away which don’t hit you until you get home. One of these is your perception. I mean everything, your senses adapt to your surroundings, the sights, sounds and smells which seem so alien to you on arrival soon become ‘the norm’ and all memory of colour is washed away.

This was my situation when I landed in Brize Norton at the end of my tour. I’d spent six months in Helmand Province being blinded by the drab tan landscape, bombarded with alternating smells of shit and baked earth and listening to armoured vehicles, Chinooks and whingeing Staff Officers, I was knackered. As I pulled out of Brize in the hire car I dialled in Radio 1 and it was Jo Whiley with her Live Lounge, she introduced the show’s performer for that day and I nearly switched over, Natasha Bedingfield? Surely she was just another digitally tuned pop starlet who couldn’t really perform? How wrong could I be!

As the song began I was filled with a sense of colour as I drove through the Oxfordshire countryside, have you ever noticed how true the words ‘green and pleasant land’ really are? The fields and trees seemed to glow with a fluorescence which was hard to comprehend, add to that the smell of moisture in the air and my combined senses lifted me to a place of heightened awareness, and then she sang:

Forget what we’re told
Before we get too old
Show me a garden
That’s bursting into life

It’s strange how some things, no matter how simple, stay with you forever as freshly as the day they happened. I can still close my eyes and visualise the view and, if I hear the song (especially her version), everything’s pulled so sharply into focus I can actually smell the moisture in the air.

It’s the little things that matter.