The Heat Of Molten Diamonds
by Kevin Hewick
'The Heat Of Molten Diamonds' is an album about riots, revolution, loss, and the joy of rambling and the power of all embracing universal love.
On a cold, snowy January day in 2013 I made my way back to Aylestone in Leicester to Deadline Studios to start a series of new recording sessions. Inspired by David Bowie having just sprung 'Where Are We Now?' on an unsuspecting world I told no-one I was making a follow up to 2012's 'All Was Numbered'. Other than Adam Ellis engineering it and myself nobody knew I was there. Small things amuse small minds I guess, these early sessions were my 'doing a Bowie' as I called it. I thought we would lay down a simple but powerful one man and an acoustic guitar collection and take everyone by surprise.
I committed myself to attending the slots I'd booked with Adam but as I went in ever prone to depression I found myself to be on a low even by my standards. A few personal blows triggered off a lot of despair in me - I even got fixed on an Arthur Lee 'Forever Changes' type feeling about how I was going to die, this was going to be the last album I ever made. Hopefully not the case..
On a more mundane level I have a full time job and the usual everyday stresses, it's the classic thing of the artist trying to keep all of those things at bay, or absorbing them at least, to create the body of work, and also knowing that that from the bleakest of moments can come the most life affirming art, even though the people I want to move the most with these songs will probably never hear them or utterly dismiss them if they ever do. That leaves the rest of the world then.. But even anyone close to me, who loves me, who knows I struggle with all this stuff, even there I had to keep this project under wraps to get it off the ground, I even had Debra wondering what was I doing with some of my daytimes.
As for Adam Ellis at the studio, he is very calm, very laid-back, he rides the waves of my moods well and always extracts coherent performances from me. As we got versions down I began to hear that there could be something 'more' to them. The possibilities of the studio could be harnessed to expand some of this material. Sessions had to be scattered here and there and as the weeks went by having the takes we had also set off further expansion to lyrics and melody. I felt very driven.
I finally rang Flash to ask him to add some drums to a couple of things. He was the first person other than Adam and me to know we were even making an album. He was there within an hour of the call and doing his part on 'Americanta'. The electric guitars and bass came out as well. Ever since the 2006 Pink Box EP we have tended to be 'the band', Flash drumming and me everything else and that formula worked again here. Even to my amazement a couple of songs grew 3 or 4 minutes past the 10 minute barrier. It was a 'moment' when Flash and I laid down a seamless 13 plus minute take of acoustic guitar and drums for 'Another Jerusalem'.
Just as you get 'cooking on gas' stuff happens. I was thrilled to do a few live dates supporting the legendary Lene Lovich but I took ill straight after with a nasty bug that wrecked my voice (and the rest of me) form the end of March right through into May (and I had another spate of it affecting my vocal quality in August and September) After that things got a bit 'painterly' at Deadline Studios, adding material written since the initial sessions and revising lyrics and running orders and so forth as and when time and funds permitted.
The 'secret' acoustic album became known about but mostly wasn't an acoustic album at all anymore, it was all about the power of layers of guitars and drums and percussion, some extra spice to Flash's parts added on tambourines and djembe by Adam - No keyboards, no synths, no cellos, no brass, no other voices, nothing but guitars and drum kit and percussion.
The final vocal overdub was on Halloween, I never dreamt it'd be over 9 months in the making though if you compressed the sessions into one period it would have taken about 3 weeks.
In those final few weeks and into early November I spent some enjoyable times with Jim Tetlow and his wife Mo at their house sorting out the design for the CD and booklet. Jim is another Zen-like person, very positive and very creative. The Yogi tea helped us to 'get there'. I knew the cover image would be a 'selfie' taken in July 2012 at learning difficulties outreach project Ansaar in Leicester's Highfields. They have a little 'Snoozelen' relaxation room – fibre-optics stood in for molten diamonds. The inside photo is taken from a video by Jim, a dark lit moment from the 'Simon Says' festival at De Montfort Halls in August.
Like the 'closed shop' of the album itself only Jim, Mo and I saw the CD art until the last moment. Jim didn't even get to hear the album until it was pressed and manufactured in late November. The entire thing could only be heard/seen by me until the last moment so letting it all finally go free into the world is a funny feeling.
I have had some massive help with this, my dad Ken Hewick funded the manufacture of the CDs. Without him I'd have had to held the release off until well into next year. Our webmaster here at kevinhewick.co.uk has set up a Paypal mail order system and the album can be downloaded from Bandcamp or Reverbnation but it's here by mail or at my gigs or at the odd select record store you'll get the full good old old fashioned CD/lyric package.
I've been writing lots more songs alongside it for future projects, my head is already onto the next one. I want to get at least one collection out a year, I have so much material.
Anyway it's just in time for the festive season - I'm just trying to be a twerking class hero against the 'Greatest Hits' and the novelty songs and the X Factor winner but hopefully, like a puppy 'The Heat Of Molten Diamonds' will be for life, not just for Christmas.
This song has been a mainstay of my live set for a long time. It's hard to think of a time it didn't exist. I have a habit of not getting these types of song down in satisfactory recording session versions - gems like 'The Art Of Giving A Toss' 'The One Way Door' and 'The Dancer' remain unreleased - though in the case of 'Americanta' I have tried a few times but the power of the one man and a guitar live version has always eluded me in a studio setting. We tried again like that here and the takes were good but not mind-blowing, so then I thought lets try it electric with Flash's drums - that way it felt like we got it at last. Flash only knew there were any sessions going on until an hour before, he just came and did this incredible drum performance.
The original impulse of 'Americanta' was rather petty on my part, I got fed up of Americana, all these American singer-songwriters coming over to to the UK with beards and dungarees on who'd 'lived in a cabin' and were 'authentic' - so 'authentic' they'd charge £10-£15 a pop to see them.
But on a train going up north I wrote down that first line "On the cactus trail the sun can kill without pity.." and a whole spate of cowboy movie type images unfolded and behind that was the simple motive of it being about a place that you love but you hate, it's like my old song 'Run Down Town' on steroids - the place you want to escape from but cannot get away from. And Coca-Cola taking over the world. The repetitious chant's at the end are very much my nod to how Jackie Leven and Doll By Doll used the same device on their lost classic 'An Honest Woman'.
A YOUNG MAN'S DREAM OF REVOLUTION
This song was written when much of the album was already in the can but it just seemed to fit and it gave the set something with a universal message, we can all feel for the ideals of our youth and for our lost dreams.
The ideals may never die but the idealist sadly does..
The idea came to me in a very chance way. I'd been contacted by a friend of a young man called Fénian who passed away at the age of only 25. He had been the singer of a locally based band Cloned Spirit who gained a lot of infamy and caused a lot of crazy debates and a fair bit of ridicule on the local Pineapster music website because of the way they heavily hyped themselves. I saw them play just the once and they were not so bad. He told me later he thought everyone was a bit hard on them and in retrospect I have to agree.
He went on a well-known student activist at Leicester University not a side of his life I knew directly of at all but I could see his immense popularity there. We kept in touch a little through Facebook and I saw him express strong, radical political views, so strong Facebook even banned him at one point!
His friend referred to him sleeping under the 'Erin Go Bragh' flag. That image stayed with me and I adapted it to "He slept beneath the flag/Of the homeland that he never had" which may not be directly true of Fénian himself but it struck me as a good symbol. I live in this country but it is not the homeland I hope for, our ruling elite are making their own population like exiles in their own land.
I then mixed up a whole lot of stuff, a more softer, idealised version of the uprising in 'Another Jerusalem' and, I admit, I'd seen the film of 'Les Misérables' and the doomed rebellion in that gave me the image of the heated political debates in "the taverns" and of the barricades.
It was recorded in September at the time of the anniversary of Jimi Hendrix's death. I felt so many meanings in it.
I had a very simple drum beat in mind so Adam did that. It was a magical feeling to get that and get the acoustic guitar and bass down, and the vocal, and I then had the idea of using my Hofner lap steel which I had had as a Christmas present in 1973(!) It's now over 50 years old and still has it's original flat wound strings on.
I got the idea of the repeatedly whispered 'Revolution' from the looped shouts of "REVOLUTION-REVOLUTION-REVOLUTION" on the intro of The Manic Street Preachers 'Motown Junk'. My revolution's are whispered on the outro of this track.
I can pinpoint the exact moment this song was born, during lunchtime December 5th 2012. There's a big TV screen in 'The Last Plantagenent' a huge Weatherspoons pub in Leicester. I was with my workmate Mtha. On the screen parliament was debating the Autumn Statement from the chancellor George Osborne but the sound was on silent. All you could see was them laughing. I turned to Mtha and said "Look at them the country is in this state and they're all laughing about it! It'd be no great loss if someone came in there with a machine gun and mowed the lot of them down!!" That outburst wasn't the usual peace loving Kevin speaking there but the image stayed with me.
The day after, December 6th, I did a lyrical doodle on my iPhone called 'Welfare State Empire'. That is what 'Another Jerusalem' started out as. I lost most all of WSE but a bit of it evolved into "Upon being informed/Of Our nations decline/The government front benchers all laughed/Until the balaclava boy came bursting in /To give them an early bloodbath. With that I was on my way.
I soon had a version I was singing live but it seemed to lose people at about 8 minutes long. When I got into Deadline I thought we'd make it a Bob Dylan protest song type thing of about that length but I felt the takes we had were lacking something. I also kept expanding the lyrics, it was revised and corrected right up to October 2013.
Again Flash was bought in and in an incredible concentrated effort we did a 13 minute plus rhythm track of drums and acoustic guitar in one go.
Overdubbing the bass and the electric guitar was exhilarating, something was happening here. It was amazing to sing against this epic track.
So the song begins with parliament getting wiped out and the UK descending into violent anarchy and millions of Ed Sheeran soundalike buskers before heroic, idealist Blakean mystical socialists make a valient attempt to rebuild it. Originally it had them fleeing "across the water" in "the ice cream van" (an image straight from 'The Day Of The Triffids') but then I thought about a glorious Soviet/Animal Farm style scenario only with Boxer triumphant in the end.
So Ed Sheeran singing 'The A Team' and Robin 'Hoodie' and Farmer Giles all appear - there's a kind of mixed up homage to the cover of Pink Floyd's 'Atom Heart Mother' in that section. The Guy Fawkes masks are put on in the final verse, from Alan Moore to William Blake I tried to include it all.
Not one for the three-minute attention span.
ELEGY FOR JACKIE LEVEN
I often feel like I write too many laments, but, for me there is much to lament..
Jackie seemed immortal, invincible, the life force of ten men in his own body. It didn't seem possible that he would leave us so soon. Two years on the pain doesn't go away, yes, he lives on in his songs, his songs are undyingly great art, but the loss still feels immense.
I knew Jackie off and on from 1979 through to his untimely passing in 2011. The effect on me of him and his band Doll By Doll was, and is, immeasurable. I was allowed into where they lived, to hang out with them, be a part of it all. I can see now that they ran counter to all the stuff going on with me in Manchester with Factory and Tony Wilson. They are a big part of why I never belonged there. They explicitly said a different thing about life, love, music, death. Close to it as I was I wish I had understood it better and acted more firmly upon it. I would probably be long dead myself by now if I had have done but I might have lived a more complete life, I might have done my perfect act and left the building instead of this half life of making albums like this then falling back into the void again.
This song really won't make entire sense to barely anyone, every line refers to something connected to Jackie.
So this is not so much a song by song as a line by line:
"We miss your dirty stories/We miss your scared songs" is exactly the contrast between those two sides of Jackie. Sometimes he overdid the dirty story bit - a lot of children at Leicester Summer Sundae Festival 2005 got their introduction to anal sex via Jackie's opening joke at 3 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon.
"The last time I ever hugged you / There seemed far less of you to hold" It was a shock at that last Leicester Musician show in June 2011, his white shirt looked huge on him and I could feel he was wasting away, I'd hugged that big, solid man mountain so many times. Of course he denied there was anything wrong except for having had kidney stones. I remember thinking that must be some kidney stones, I'd had them and it was agony but I didn't lose weight like that.
The refrains at the end of each chorus "Wild gypsy soul.. Crazy acid soul.. Eternal warrior soul.. Beautiful shining soul.. Celtic hard man soul.." are all 'Jackie-isms' .. Gypsy Blood.. The Crazy Song.. "Eternal is the warrior/Who finds beauty in his wounds".. Shining Brother, Shining Sister.. Fairytales For Hard Men.
"In exile from the Kingdom of Fife/Always on the wanderers road" The Kingdom of Fife was what he called it and 'The Wanderer' was a achingly moving song he sang.
"On constant psychotic overdrive/More than human for every show" The 'psychotic overdrive' was the name for the end of every Doll By Doll set where they went into the strobe-lit howling feedback finish of 'The Palace Of Love' - it really did shock people. I've never seen anyone do it with such ferocity, it could seem relentless, endless and disturbing. 'More Than Human' was a key song on the Doll's seminal 'Remember' album and Jackie did indeed seem it to me as he sang.
The next verse has factual things in it, Jackie did stamp a beat on a board, and the battered old Gallagher guitar he used did once belong to blind bluegrass great Doc Watson.
"Are you deep in a secret forest/With a hundred grieving men" Jackie was a keen member of the men's movement and friends with it's inspiration, the poet Robert Bly of 'Iron John' fame. He would go to the gatherings that they held where fires would be built, stories would be told, and men would wail and weep and cry out.. and he mentioned one to us on the evening we were at Milford in Derbyshire to record the live Stornoway Girls album, Jackie's shortlived 'supergroup' with Dan Britton, Lee Allason and me. He told us he had been in a forest the previous weekend with "a hundred grieving men" "That's it!" I went "That's the tile for the album! 'A Hundred Grieving Men'! " Jackie was not amused. The live album got called 'Greetings From Milford'.
"Or in some lonely dressing room/With triple Vodkas for your friends" Jackie always asked for triples.
"Play it again for Sir Larry" Through the mens movement Jackie became friends with Richard Olivier and met Sir Laurence who loved Jackie to sing and play guitar for him.
"Jamming good with Nick and Tony" not Weird and Gilly.. Nick Whiffen who briefly played bass with Doll By Doll after original bassist Robin Spreafico, and Tony Waite who became their bassman for the next two albums. Both Nick and Tony lost, as Jackie would be, to cancer.
"The first round of drinks are on Scots John" Jackie's dear crazy sidekick who traveled with him down south from Scotland, subject of many of Jackie's funny stories including Suzanne Vega and 'The Winky-Wanky Bird' and himself lamented in Jackie's brilliant 'Desolation Blues'
This is a survivor from the initial January 2013 sessions, take three, just me and a guitar, it's what the whole of 'The Heat Of Molten Diamonds' was originally going to be like. We thought it said it all as it was.
The final two song of the album are uplifting by my standards, they have hope in them, even I want to instill some sense of hope into listeners!
I remember endlessly circling these chords around on a guitar while watching the 2012 Olympic Games on TV. It was shorter when it was first performed then I expanded it. I like this take with just the 2 acoustic guitars.
The words commune with nature and the simple joy of having a companion to share the road with and that you have to dare to go forward, life is a journey not a destination as the old saying goes.
People seem to really like this track, Chris Garland at Pink Box says it's his favourite song of the year by anyone.
SEEKING A RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE
This goes back a few years but never got performed live, it still hasn't been at time of writing. It's unusual for me to record an unperformed song.
It was earmarked for a proposed joint project with Christian songwriter Haydon Spenceley that we called 'Faith And Doubt' where we were each going to do contrasting songs on those topics, needless to say I was to be 'Doubt'. We never did 'get it together' to start recording, though we still want to one day, but I just got looking at this song again and found myself rewriting some verses and then thinking how well it would fit in with this album.
It's the longest song of the set but it's also the simplest. LOVE is a religious experience, the best religious experience you can ever have. It's about having a religious experience without a religion getting in the way.
Love, yes, a religious experience in itself then, but.. I can't live up to it, you can't live up to it, none of us can live up to it but let's just forgive ourselves eh?
I never meant for it to be so long, I expected to be about 10 minutes, just me and an acoustic but we added Adam on djembe and Flash on the drum kit, and me on some bass and some extra acoustic guitars, it was nice letting it all unfold with long instrumental passages, there are no real solos of any length on the rest of the album. I used an Eric Clapton Fender Stratocaster belonging to Adam to do some electric guitar parts but it sounded too 'Dire Straits' as I called it so I redid all of the lead guitar on my usual Gibson Les Paul Custom with more overdriven grit, and more passion, and more 'Neil Young', and more 'Jimmy Page'.
I was wondering how to end all this but God showed me a way.. two Jehovah's Witness's just knocked on my door, how about that!
I told them that they themselves were good people but that their religion was full of hate and full of lies. It was the best I could do on a Sunday morning in my pyjamas.
KEVIN HEWICK DECEMBER 1ST 2013