What's it all about then?

In the early 80's, when I was a drummer, I was asked to join a musical theatre group who were touring a production called 'Thursday's Child'. It was explained to me that Thursday's Child was not a story in the conventional sense, but a journey of discovery. It had a beginning, a middle and an end, not in time, but in thought. To be honest, as the young and slightly wayward man I was at the time that all sounded like arty farty nonsense, but once I had heard a recording of the work the more I thought about it the more it made sense. Andabrek is the same. Just like Thursday's Child it has a beginning, a middle and an end, but the story does not represent a chronological series of events, but a thought process. I have already been asked if I will be releasing a single from the album and I'm not keen, but if it helps to promote the album itself then maybe it's the right thing to do. I'm not keen on the album being available as individual mp3 downloads either. It seems unlikely to me that an author of a novel would sell their work a chapter at a time and I don't see why this album is any different. In that light, Andabrek is an anachronism. It is being released into a pick'n'mix world where music is almost exclusively listened to a track at a time; download a bit of this, a bit of that, and then press the 'random' button. Andabrek resides on that shelf in the seventies record shop labelled 'Concept Albums' until such time as it is eagerly plucked from it's temporary resting place and is cherished on the bus ride home where it is lovingly unwrapped and placed delicately in the stereo's cd tray as the sleeve notes are poured over by the headphone adorned listener as they sit back with a glass of their favourite tipple ready to totally immerse themselves into whatever new world awaits them.

The recording

I'm a keyboard player by trade, an ex-drummer, and a frustrated guitarist - in fact I can't really play the guitar at all but I can thrash out some power chords when needs be. I wanted the album to be so much a work of mine that I had to do as much as possible. I drafted in some great musicians to cover the things I just couldn't do, but the vast majority of the album is played by me using electronic piano, synthesisers and samplers, and my trusty old Peavey electric guitar which I bought because it was blue and it matched the décor in the studio. At the time of the recording I was running a studio just outside of Exeter and I opted to engineer the whole process myself. Whilst this was a brilliant decision from a control point of view, it was a practical nightmare. For every vocal take I would have to cue up, hit record, close the outer door, close the inner door, get to the microphone, put on the cans, get ready, perform, take off the cans, get back to the doors, open them both, and hit stop. It was a tedious and frustrating process. For the technically minded, the album was recorded using MIDI hooked up using a MOTU interface to an Apple G4. The idea of this was so that when it came to mixing, I could tweak the sounds I was using. As it turned out there was an upside and a downside to this decision. The upside was that by the time I came to mix (seven years later) I had a much better Hammond sound than I had at the time of recording. The downside was that I had to reassemble all that original equipment in order to be able to do the mix. Luckily, seven years later, I plugged everything in, turned it on, and it just worked. I can still remember a euphoric feeling of disbelief as I hit the play button for the first time. That might seem obvious, but using a PC every day as I do now, it's not a concept I am used to anymore.

The songs

The theme of the album is already apparent from the cover, the influence of Howard Jones' Human's Lib, and the links with Patrick McGoohan's TV series 'The Prisoner'. There is much to discover, and I am sure that each person that listens will discover something different in the album and in themselves. I don't want to give away more than that because the joy of the album is in the discovery itself. Every line of every song has been agonised over, so that even after many listens there is hopefully something new to hear. It can be a self-fulfilling process; if you change your view of the world after listening to the album and then come back and listen again, I'm sure you will discover something new.

I have been asked many times now in interviews where the idea for the album came from and after giving the matter much thought I suppose the very first trigger came when I was eleven. I was due to go on a school trip to the Natural History Museum and as a treat we did not have to dress in school uniform. On the morning of the trip as I descended the steps of railway station I could hear the excited voices of my classmates echoing up from the platform below. What I saw next almost made me laugh out loud; every single boy was wearing a bright T-shirt and jeans. From a distance they all looked exactly the same. We had all inadvertently swapped one uniform for another. Looking back, what had started out as an opportunity to express individuality had turned into an almost Pythonesque moment.

everybody is an up tempo, loud, big bright neon sign of a song. I suppose if there were to be a single from the album then this would be it as the song pretty much lays out the theme of what is to follow, much like an overture. It poses the question "what could you be if you'd only set yourself free?". secret agent follows and was inspired by the journeys I used to take on the London Underground. The original title for this song was 'play for today', which is pretty poor and luckily this was accidentally remedied by Devon virtuoso guitarist Arthur Cook when he heard the triangle part and exclaimed "sounds like some sort of secret agent"! I am indebted to him for that; The new title expresses the meaning of the song so much better than my original one. I suppose that subconsiously that's why I wrote the triangle part in the first place, and it took someone else to realise it. digital destiny throws us firmly into the 80's in the style of Thomas Dolby I am told. The reason for the difference in style is that the music is supposed to reflect the content of the lyrics and therefore had to sound as mechanised as possible. There is something fantastically nerdy hidden in this arrangement - it's right in your face pretty much all the way from beginning to end but I wonder how many people will get it. As a tantalising clue, here's my favourite nerdy joke: There's only 10 types of people who understand binary - those that do, and those that don't. Possibly the biggest contrast of styles on the album occurs at the junction where 'digital destiny' ends and your work is done begins. This soulful and heartfelt piano based ballad was written for my parents but much to my eternal regret they both passed on without ever hearing it. As with the previous song the arrangement is very much intended to reflect the lyrical content and the instruments were carefully chosen to represent the sounds (and the 'musical differences') of the house I grew up in. The link to the main theme may not be so obvious and is perhaps a little less direct, but none the less it is a very important part of the journey. The perspective naturally shifts in see you tonight which is a song written for my son when he was very young - just vocals and piano in this poignant piece which has often been referred to as a lullaby. For me, it is a reflection of the previous song. For him, it is reassurance. The inspiration for the lyrics came from a song which was given to me many years before. The original song had a totally different meaning but some of the lines inspired this one and I retained a fair few of them in this version. b
lackjack is recorded as if live and many people have commented that on the strength of this song I should write the next Bond theme! I don't know about that, but I'm sure that many fellow musicians will be all too familiar with the 'leading horses to water' feeling in the dying moments of the track. The sound of this song is there to conjure up an image of cabaret and has its origins in the infamous "last night of music at the White Hart" gig, featuring myself and six other musicians, most of whom had never met until that wonderful night. be there, the second ballad, is the melancholic moment on the album, reminiscent of those early hours of the mornings after the drunken euphoria of the night before. I feel the need now to tell you that the line "when I fall to the ground" has no connection to drink. The key to understanding this song is to figure out who it is I'm talking to. It's not as obvious as it might first appear. inside out is heralded by Westminsteresque chimes and rides on a relentless rhythm hopefully reminding us all of the incessant march of time. This is, if you like, the moment of revelation in the story, and is in stark contrast to the song that precedes it. It is a response to the question asked in 'Everybody'. 'Inside Out' was actually the original title for the album until I met a man called Malcolm in a pub who gave me the word 'andabrek'. I'm indebted to him too. twelve bar blues is seemingly the most incongruous song on the album. I know of one person who skips it every time they listen to the album because she thinks it doesn't fit. However, you have to remember that this album is a train of thought not a series of chronological events and the placement of this song, at this point, serves the purpose that the song itself describes - there is a rhetorical word for what this is, but for the life of me I can't think what it is! My favourite line in this song is "don't upset the status quo" as it is meant literally, but naturally there is the association with the band of the same name who are of course famous for their twelve-bars. There's also a little irony in that the song is that it's not actually a twelve-bar. angry man settles the album down again to it's more serious purpose. There's a hint of Art of Noise in this regretful song. It's very personal and it's the song from which I quote the chorus in the sleeve notes. It was inspired by another moment at The White Hart, and Kevin Taylor - the landlord at the time, has the dubious honour of being the real "angry man". He really was angry and he really did bang his fist on the table and shout at me and tell me just the same things my father did - but not being my father it somehow hit home. He was angry because as he saw it I was wasting away my talents drinking in his pub instead of getting out there and doing something with my life. megamorphosis is the penultimate track and strictly the last part of the story. It begins very quietly, paying homage to the opening of Thursday's Child. It gently builds until we are enveloped by the voice of the guardian, played to perfection by none other than my childhood Dr Who, Tom Baker. This epic track climactically bursts into an instrumental flurry of rhythm and almost chaotic sound. It describes a wonderful moment - perhaps the best moment - the moment when all is possible. The track ends to the sound of the children of St John's School in Sidmouth performing a tribal dance before the school bell heralds the end of the day and the children run outside to play. Shortly after the release of the album I met with Mr Foster, the head of music at the school, who supervised and conducted the children at the recording, and it was a grave reminder of just how long this album has been in production as we realised that by then, they would all have grown up. After a respectful pause, the album concludes with a reprise of angry man performed just on piano, very much in the style that the song was originally written. It is an echoey, haunting sound, full of memories for me of playing the grand piano in my school hall all those years ago. It is a time to reflect on what has gone before. My favourite part of the whole album is the very last note.
It's a quiet, almost unheard note.
It's a full stop. It says... "this is the end".

Stephen James.