My latest track "Winston's Black Dog" is a completely new departure and its arrival has surprised no one more than me. I would never have predicted that I would (or even could) write a cool-jazz blues song for the first song of the tracks that will eventually comprise my second album. "Winston" seems to have strayed from the world of 1940s film noir: "The Third Man", "The Big Sleep" and "Farewell My Lovely" all come to mind. For those who don't know, the title refers to Winston Churchill, who suffered from depression all his life, describing it as his "black dog".
Back in late March 2017 I was feeling down and went for a long walk in the countryside in the Meon Valley as therapy. It worked, but as I was walking, the phrase "Winston's black dog came calling today" ran through my head. I didn't really take it seriously as a potential song at the time, but later that day I picked up my guitar (capo on 3rd fret for you techies) and began to play a couple of favourite chords over and over again, as is my habit when writing a new song. I experimented with some VERY jazzy-sounding chords - dominant 9ths and 13ths and the odd augmented 5th - and to counteract the complexity of these chords I kept the tune very simple. The words came easily and quickly - I'm especially fond of the line "He'll try to mess with your mind". The alliteration makes it a gift to sing.
The arrangement was obvious. The wailing alto sax solo was inspired by the playing of Barbara Thompson (of Jon Hiseman's "Colosseum") and some lush vibraphone chords had to be in there, along with an upright double bass (courtesy of my Variax bass guitar which takes such matters in its stride) and a big hollow-bodied Gibson ES-175 much loved by jazz guitarists such as Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery and perfectly emulated by my 6-string Variax guitar. Add some atmospheric tremolando strings and a vintage 1930s drum kit played with brushes (one of my favourite Abbey Road virtual instruments) and there was no need for anything else. The vocal took a couple of takes to nail and as usual I included some of my trademark lower third harmonies to bolster the lead vocal line, but in this case they were chromatic dissonant harmonies - quite challenging to pitch correctly..
I couldn't resist making a video for it. Just as I had plundered every musical cliche from the film noir genre I thought I'd do the same with the (necessarily black and white) visuals. Flashing neon signs, "Dutch angle" shots, chiaroscuro lighting effects all went into the mix along with venetian blinds and creepy shadows. The effect at the 3 minute mark was pinched shamelessly from "The Wizard of Oz" - not film noir but it works perfectly in the context.
So, where to next? Who can tell: I just go with the ideas that are given to me. I strongly believe that this is part of the bargain. Any creative artist in any medium has to run with the ball that is passed to them because failure to do so will result in the ball being passed to other players instead. I have a number of half-finished ideas which need to be completed, among them a gospel track called "Deep Roots" an entirely a capella track called "Up on the Downs"... and then there is the upcoming Phoenix theatre show when Cavan, Mark and I will be showcasing some of our original tracks.
So much to do!