mick and carol dolby at MDM
On Monday of last week I headed north on what I call the London Midland bus. It is a slow train that stops everywhere but it is quite a relaxing journey providing you can find a seat, which I did. The sky was brooding and threatened rain. Summer is not what it was but what is? Still life is good and I hope the weather might improve.
The hardwood trees of Leafy Warwickshire are magnificent at this time of year. Great stands of ancient oaks fill the vista for miles in every direction. The rain has been good for trees and the shady canopy each provides is lush and emerald bright in the occasional dappled sunlight.
Later I am chatting with the bass man long into the night as we catch up on events since last we met. The time has flown.
A couple of years ago I rarely spent much time sitting around with a guitar playing for pleasure or to provoke half an idea to reveal itself in a new song. That has changed. I am rarely far from a guitar that is out of its case and ready to go. It was not long before I had to pick up Bob’s beautiful Martin acoustic guitar. He knows his axes and bought himself a beauty when in the USA. This beauty has the warmest sound and is a delight to play.
I play some new sketches and fragments of songs still unfinished. I am fishing for feedback that can be used to complete the writing. We explore the songs from a conceptual perspective and it is a pleasure to work in this way. We begin to layout a methodology that will push us both to think outside the box and push the envelope.
We spend a lot of time reminiscing. There are so many common childhood memories and iconic events that shaped our lives.
On Tuesday we head out to take my Signature Squire stratocaster guitar to a guy Bob knows. He looks after Bob’s guitars so that is good enough for me. We arrive at the shop in Kenilworth. Up a flight of stairs that reminds me of little old guitar and amp workshops in Denmark St (Tin pan alley) in London. Every thing here looks right and in it’s place.
MDM Music is run by Mick and Carol Dolby. It is a great little shop with a range of well-chosen guitars and basses. It is clear Mick knows his audience and there is some thing for every one. Mick remembers the EBB and coming to see us locally back in the day.
I was impressed by the range of retro valve amps and other audio relics on display. This is the emporium of an enthusiast and collector. There is an old Selmer twin valve amplifier that Mick shows us. It reminds me of the very old days when this amp was on a lot of guitarists wish lists. Vic Unitt had one when we had our first rehearsal with him at The Nelson Hall in Warwick. That day we both got an electric shock from each other as we inadvertently touched guitars. It was down to old wiring and phase anomalies. Anyway we were both thrown across the stage and landed on our backsides. What a way to start out!
The next day Bob and I go back to the shop and the guitar is a good un. Mick has done a nice job on the set up and it plays much better. This little Squire is gold. It looks and sounds just like a 62 Fender and costs about £300. Mick reckoned it was the best Stratocaster he’d ever had in his shop at any price so, there you go. I like it too so I’ve bought another one on ebay. I can take both anywhere with worrying about them too much. The old originals are a different matter all together.
After picking up the guitar and carrying out a few other chores Bob and I headed to Warwick for lunch. We arrived in the Market Square where I posted a few cd s. The place is still dead and dull. I have since checked out various websites to see if my critical eye let me down and to check if my old prejudices against the place have lead me to an unfair evaluation. They go on a lot about local traders and family business which is all well and good. I like to see some one’s name over a shop as opposed to the euro chain shops that fill our high streets but any one needing any thing that you couldn’t have bought off a wagon train in the old west would need a visit to nearby Leamington.
Could I buy a pair of cool shoes in Warwick or a nice t-shirt – a packet of Shitake mushrooms or a packet of guitar strings? NO!
I made a list of what I think most people would deem essential shops that are not part of the local scene. It is a long list. The all day breakfast consumed opposite Warwick Museum was quite ordinary so that one would be tempted to look elsewhere if breakfast was required next day.
Warwick is lovely to look at but conservative in the extreme. To answer those who have asked, the answer is no – I won’t be retiring there or any where near there.
Ethelfleda started the settlement of Warwick to make a stand against the Danish Vikings who used the River Avon to advantage. I think it a shame the Danes were not more successful in the area. We might have a different kind of County Town and a more vibrant one.
Wednesday was also rehearsal pre-production day and Bob and I did a little work before hooking up with Rick for Thursday and Fridays rehearsals.
Thursday dawned and we all met up at Sam’s rehearsal room near where the River Avon meets the River Leam on the edge of Warwick’s boundary with Leamington.
This was our second time of meeting up and it took only a short time to get going. We worked on three or four songs including Six white horses and the Half light. It was fun to sing the entire arrangement of the latter with out words for the verses. I made it up as I went along employing my new phonetic lyrics.
The more I do this the more natural it seems and it seems to communicate the vibe of the music. The chorus is finalised though and I love singing it. We played Evening over rooftops at Bob’s request and a few other bits and pieces.
We began work on a brand new song that has the working title of A mess of men. This is fun and has a riff that is truly mighty and as Rick described it, a little bit mad. Rick had set up his own kit for these rehearsals and this made a huge difference. I was intrigued by his tuning and the range of percussive sounds he produces. He decides a Bodran is needed for the new song and that he will bring one the following day. We kick around some backing vocals and chat a lot. Later I write two verses for the new song. Personally I am all for the leisurely rehearsal plan. I hate rehearsing when every thing is written and settled but at this stage it is a lot of fun.
A discussion around less is more produces a huge fat backwards bass. The note is plucked then the volume control is turned up giving the sound a slow attack like a bowed bass or cello. The Bodran is flappy and the sound of real skin lends itself to the atmosphere of my fake medieval melody. I’m transported away to the wilderness of a romantic, far northern place and I feel a yoik coming on. My head is spinning when we come to “the bells – the bells” then cacophony in space and mandolin from hell played by Marilyn Mansons dad. A kind of alternative solo really …thank you for asking.
There is a long way to go but the foundations are good and we continue to develop a common understanding and most important of all we get on well. Communication is easy and direct. This is good fun and a tonic to me.
Suddenly there is a new love song in the air or where ever embryonic music resides. It’s just a sketch but I realise with a bit of work it’s another good ‘un. It’s Bob’s song in a way. It provides a working theme and I realise I have to come up with a viable way of finishing around six or seven new songs. Never been there before though some songs do take me a long time to finish and this time I am writing the basic core of the songs for a three piece outfit. The sugar / acid coating can come later, where appropriate.
So after more chat into the early hours I fall asleep after another satisfying day. We are knackered.
Next day I ride the Virgin Bullet back to London Euston. It takes just 50 minutes which is really cool. I am looking forward to the next episode as we progress towards some thing very different and hopefully some thing very special. I deserve it, the guys deserve it and so do you. Keep the faith.