This track, which dates back to late 2015, blends the styles of two of my favourite musicians: James Taylor and Mark Knopfler. Of course, the two of them got together for real in the neglected masterpiece “Sailing to Philadelphia” and echoes of that track can be heard in “I Wish I Was” – most noticeably in the jazz brush drums (a vintage 1930s kit recorded in Abbey Road studios) and in the guitar solo.
The song came about because of the way James Taylor plays D and A chords on his guitar. He fingers them in a non-standard back-to-front way which means he can use his first finger to hop down to the bass strings and create finger style patterns which can’t be played if the chords are fingered conventionally. I tried playing the chords the way James does and a phrase came in to my head: “I wish I was a sailboat racer”. I had no idea what it meant (I still don’t, to be honest!) but it quickly grew into a verse along the lines of the folk song “I will give my love a cherry”. The notion of land, sea and air appealed to me as it had a timeless folksy feel to it, as the singer searches the vast emptinesses of land, sea and air for his love. At first the third verse began “I wish I was an airline pilot” but Cavan felt, quite rightly, that this neologism broke the spell of the other two verses so I changed it to “airplane” pilot”. Once I had that structure in place, the chorus “Over land, sea or air” almost wrote itself.
I’ve always loved the way Mark Knopfler uses space in his music. Someone once said that the last thing a musician learns is when NOT to play, but Mr K must have been born with that instinct! Just listen to “Private Investigations” to see what I mean. I’ve tried to capture that sense of space in the solo of “I Wish I Was” which fits nicely with the open spaces of prairie, deep blue skies and ocean in the lyrics. The echoing of each phrase by an acoustic guitar (in the opposite stereo channel) is not a Dire Straits device, however. I pinched it from Paul McCartney (What would I do without his limitless treasure store of musical ideas?!) The solo of his “Some Days” features a similar idea.
The long outro again pays homage to Dire Straits and especially the loud snare hit which occurs every four bars or so. This was influenced by a similar idea in the closing section of “Calling Elvis” where the late Jeff Porcaro beats the hell out of his snare in the same fashion. The drum pattern throughout the song is intended to mimic a steam train in full flight. I remember seeing Genesis at Knebworth Park in the early nineties. During the performance of “Driving the Last Spike”, a tribute to the railway navvies of the nineteenth century, the huge video screens showed a close-up shot of a steam train’s wheels travelling at speed which Phil Collins’ drum patterns perfectly counterpointed. I must have kept that image in the back of my mind for the last twenty-odd years – you never know when an idea like that will prove useful!
This track is the oldest on the CD and is the earliest recording that I am proud to call mine.