Touching Stones, Tasting Rain
by Kevin Hewick
All these song-by-songs for each album mean a lot to me. I know the songs should speak for themselves and I certainly believe these on this album do but there are many layers to them, stories behind them, the motivations for why I wrote them and what happened when we came to record them.
Sessions for this album started well. It was my third to be done at Deadline Studio with Adam Ellis, so we've got a good understanding of one another and how to best build a track up from scratch.
We went at a good pace through September and October 2014 but then one morning I woke up and my right fingers were numb and it did not wear off. I had to adapt my guitar playing. I still have to. Tests showed I had carpel tunnel syndrome and I had an operation in July 2015 but it was unsuccessful.
Then to add to all the woes I got a bad throat infection. I ended up as a guitarist who couldn't play guitar and a singer who couldn't sing...but somehow we picked up the ball again but things took longer - and I kept writing new songs and wanting to add them to the list and timewise we went over the Christmas 2014/New Year 2015 line.
With its blend of songs with ink still wet on the page and longstanding live favourites that hadn't ever been recorded I began to think of this album as my equivalent of the old/new blend of Led Zeppelin's 'Physical Graffiti'.
Unfortunately Pink Box Records felt it should be a shorter album and their deepening interest in vinyl singles as opposed to 70+ minute albums led to a mutual split. I did re-record 3 songs - and, most crucially, I improved them as versions.
However I overran my original budget by A LOT.
Meanwhile the artwork sessions with Jim Tetlow were leisurely, sociable affairs but again it was a long job with a lot of detail involved.
In all this I live a life like anybody else does, I have a full time job, I have commitments and responsibilities. There's also a lot of love and light and kindness and fun and humour in my life but I face a lot of personal demons in my music. I know I endlessly address my estranged daughter and my late mother. There are moments when I am talking to them, pleading with them, explaining to them, so by that criteria maybe it should all be kept private but...no, I am sending it all 'out there'. You sing to the universe as much as you sing to your own little joys and woes. I want to reach people, I want to share something with them, art in a word.
Anyway, for a while when it was finished I froze. I've described it as like being way in the lead in a marathon and stopping dead just before the finishing tape and watching everyone else run by and beat you. I began to think it would make a great 'lost classic' released years after its making or even after I died.
Yet here it is...it was made to be listened to, not locked away.
Mill Lane is like the lungs of Blaby in Leicestershire, I walk along it a lot.
Does it feel as intense as this? Yes, I suppose it does.
My mum's ashes are buried in Mill Lane Cemetery. I have several other songs that reference this area.
We were well into recording already and had allocated what was to be the album but, not for the first - or the last time, I came into the studio and said to Adam Ellis I've written this new song, there's something about it, we have to get a version down!
Adam got this perfect solemn beat going for me to play and sing against. I called it like a Kate Buobeat. I imagined mellotron on it so we called a local 24 hour mellotron hire company and they got one over for me to use ASAP.
I just knew first track, Side One Track One, this was that.
And I knew we had the album title too - "Walking though shadows/ I knew I'd see again/ Beneath the trees/ Touching stones, tasting rain"...
Islington Street is a really bleak place. It's across the way from Freemans Common in Leicester, nothing but industrial units and a waste recycling plant where a great bluesy grungy songwriter Rhett Barrow used to work. I always thought of Rhett toiling in there, but that us arty types are exempt from physical labour but there was this sensitive, feeling guy doing this mean, dirty job.
The bit about tying up my lace is an in-joke, anyone who knows me knows I can't do up shoelaces to save my life. I never could, as a kid I was way behind others in my class at tying them and to this day I have problems with it and my laces are always coming undone.
This track brings in our famous 2-man band that has served us well on 4 albums now - Mark 'Flash' Haynes on drums and me on everything else.
I got to use an Eric Clapton Fender Stratocaster belonging to Adam Ellis on this track which reminded me how much those guitars suit me. I've owned 4 in the past, have none at the moment - the best one got stolen.
BILLION PEBBLE BEACH
The picture of my dad with Smokey the dog in the lyric booklet was taken on the actual day that inspired this song.
We had gone to Worthing to look at guitars of course in the wonderful shop David Crozier used to have there, Guitar Junction, one room was nothing but Martin acoustics, incredible examples.
On the 'billion pebble' beach there we were, an old man and a dog and a son, feeling kind of lost, my mum had gone, my daughter wouldn't speak to us anymore...and the dog wanted to run into the sea... I saw everything that day, right down to the "fish heads and tails" fed to hundreds of ravenous seagulls from out of sacks. More waste disposal though the fish would have liked their head and tails back I guess.
This had been the usual end of set number, solo or band. Recording this was a big deal because it felt like it had to capture something very powerful and vivid, these kind of Sundays get set in stone in your mind. How can any version live up to the great vision in your mind? I think we about do it here.
I had a really bad chest infection when we did the electric guitars. I was literally lying on the floor feeling so ill. Tom Lewitt was there with Adam showing him some recording desk techniques. It was like the spirit of Rock 'n' Roll folks - I picked up my trusty 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom and played the solo here - a real 'Jimmy Page' moment except if Page did it people would be saying it's his best guitar solo since Led Zeppelin.
Now my dad is older and but not so well, Smokey the dog spends a lot of time with me. I hope he likes this song because it's his song.
I was talking to fellow songwriter Paul Carden one night at The Musician City Acoustic Club where I compere most Mondays. We were talking about Facebook and I said how alone you could be yet chatting to people all over, it was like "the Coca-Cola of solitude." It sounds awfully contrived but straight the way I said wow that's like a line out of a song. I do that a lot and I then go and actually write the song.
The personal and the universal are in this lyric.
The Internet connected world is especially novel for my generation. My first mobile phone I was 45. I didn't own a PC until I was 47, so there is a clear memory of when we didn't have this stuff...when we didn't NEED this stuff..
I read about the Forgotify app that randomly seeks out Spotify tracks with zero plays. Of course once the track gets a play it disappears from Forgotify. I tried it, and yes, it works. There's a lot of neglected classical stuff on there.
I thought of my songs ending up like that, forgotten on Forgotify.
The song expanded into the personal and the political. I don't quite know how I did it now but I suppose I just connected images together.
Tony Wilson was fascinated by the CB radio craze of the early 80s so he gave everybody on Factory Records 'handles' - the one he gave me was' Folksinger' - hence the first line.
I wasn't exactly a teenage bell-ringer in truth but some of my friends were, at All Saints Blaby, and we would all hang out in the bell tower. The vicar would just leave us to it, telling us to "not get up to anything"!?!?!
Bloody kids in 1973 eh?
Bottles of cider would appear, necking and groping girlfriends would commence etc - not by me, no girls showed any interest in my direction. I would go off and play on the organ in the church pretending I was Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson.
It's the best song that mentions fracking, Margaret Thatcher, hostile architecture, John Lennon, Miners and Shoeshiners, Clement Attlee, The X Factor and Simon Cowell and Henry Cow ever written. Beat that Billy Bragg.
THE ART OF GIVING A TOSS
This song has been around a long time but for reasons even I can't fathom it has never made onto an album until now. One version was recorded with the Hewick Haynes & James line up in 2011 but it just didn't gel.
I think Mark and I have nailed it at last, it is so convincingly like a band though it's just him on drums and me on the rest.
The message is 'Be true to yourself'. And to others. Easier said than done, I know.
When Leicester music scene website Pineapster ruled the (music) world (in Leicester anyway) they did an awards ceremony and 'The Art Of Giving A Toss' won 'Best Song Of The Year 2005'. The trophy was an actual pineapple. I had this great art installation idea to keep it for a year and bring it back to the 2006 awards show but as it was into a couple of months of rotting away my mum threw it in the bin during one of her domestic blitz visits to my house...and there was no 2006 Pineapster Awards show anyway..
Only I would win an award for best song in 2005 and not release the darned thing until 2016.
LOVE AND GUTS
This song was nearly forever lost. I had slapped it down on a cassette (yes, I still use cassettes) and forgotten about it. I just happened to check through the tape a few months later and there it was and I was like wow, this is good!
At first it had been a ridiculous doodle about Shania Twain, "Shania, don't be love's denier".
It took me a while to work out that it is Jesus in the first person. A Dennis Potter type Jesus - you can still see his brilliant 1968 take on Christ on You Tube in glorious black and white.
One of my really good basslines. I love playing bass but can't sing at the same time. Dave Dhonau has played it on some great live performances of this with Mark and me.
SPLINTERS AND THORNS
Some things just seem to appear, to unfold, this was very like that. It's simple, direct and again laced with a Christian type imagery but more like a kind of Patti Smith version of Christianity than the usual version.
You can project any meaning into it, images of sacrifice, remorse, reconciliation...
I once recorded 8 takes of this at Gary Birtle's home studio. It seemed like it would never make it onto an album but then with Adam I tried this delicate Telecaster guitar/Precision bass arrangement and it worked.
This connects Love And Guts and Splinters And Thorns with its semi-religious feel, a religion of unease with no church may I add.
This was the first song recorded for the album. It's just me and a guitar. The song was very new, this take was the third run through, it felt very pure, very true, it has an honest kind of energy.
Going from the piles of flowers at a place of grieving to a plea for salvation. A 21st Century hymn but not the kind they sing in churches.
In November 2014 I was asked by Dr David Manley to play at the opening of an exhibition of Kevin Coyne's paintings at Deda in his native Derby. The original idea was to do a set of his songs but I got the notion to write a special song for it too like the three I did for Paul Morley's Meltdown Festival event in 2011 that led to the creation of the 'All Was Numbered' album.
I got the title from a review that described Kevin as an 'Anti-Star'.
It makes reference to various songs and Coynesque concepts - The spotty dog is from 'Lunatic', 'The World IS Full Of Fools' and he did indeed paint a picture every day.
Dandelion clocks for Dandelion Records and all that. Maybe a Touch of great Coyne admirer Jackie Leven in the " booze on the tracks" and how I phrase "This is the true story of the breakdown blues, of the blues breakdown"...
I did but three shows with him and only met him on one other occasion but Kevin was an extraordinary man, one of those unforgettable figures like Jackie Leven and Larry Cassidy. When they're gone they're gone, leaving amazement behind them.
This was another one of those times I came in the studio and told Adam I'd got a new song - and we just did it.
I had the idea of getting a great singer Daryl Kirkland of The Kirkland Turn to duet with me on the "Blues black" chorus. Adam kept ringing him and texting him but we couldn't get a answer so we went ahead and did it with the usual Hewick/Haynes two-man band. Live, with Dave Dhonau on bass it's become a mainstay of our trio sets.
A THOUSAND ALBUMS YOU MUST HEAR AFTER YOU DIE
There's a glut of music nowadays.
'Touching Stones, Tasting Rain' is maybe lost somewhere in that glut. A lot of the glut is good music but not great, essential music. I may be a deluded fool to try to reach beyond being 'good' - but I am trying.
My attachment to the classic era might be due to my age, I dunno, but fans like me and Gary Birtles got Bowie's 'Blackstar' the day it came out, like the old days. It was an event. Little did we know what was going to happen a couple of days later. Another symbolic passing of the golden era of golden years.
So here I am, psychically super-glued to my Blonde On Blonde, Astral Weeks and Forever Changes, still believing music can change the world/ save the world even.
And I don't want to stop hearing the magic when I'm dead. Pipe it into my coffin.
Neville Edgar was as described in the lyrics - a gentle soul with a deep voice that displayed little emotion. His passion was music, I would find him at the front of all the punk/new wave shows at De Montfort Halls, easy to find because he was big and tall, bearlike with no concessions to fashion, with his long hair and in his duffle coat he looked like a prototype downer rock fan but was also at home with The Clash, The Damned, The Buzzcocks, The Jam, The Stranglers, Talking Heads and the like. Two loners together we saw them all.
We never got much beyond that, in more recent years, ever jobless I'd find him hanging around in the Haymarket Shopping Centre in Leicester and we'd talk about the old days. I'd try to get him to come to local gig things but he never seemed to.
Alcoholism and diabetes are not good companions really. Neville left this world as quietly as he had lived in it. I was very sad when I heard about that, too late for his funeral even and a pauper's grave - that term sounds like something out of Dickens doesn't it?
As we recorded it I firstly had the idea of it speeding up into a punk song at the end with Mark and me in 'Keep Your Flipped Wigs On' punk band mode. Then I thought lets get a real young teenage band to take the song over so I got my wonderful young friends Ash Mammal to do just that, in fact they did more, Cassidy Rowe even added a few lines of his own to the lyric. Being with them as they did it ( in less than an hour complete with backing vocal overdubs with Adam and I etc ) was a real highlight of the sessions.
We even did the 'band changeover' thing live at the album launch, it was like handing over the flame to them.
Ironically for such a modest, it guilty quiet man 'Neville Never' has turned into a bit of a valedictory anthem. I somehow feel a bit guilty about that, I just wish I could have reached out to him more while he was still here.
I can vividly remember writing the words to this on a train passing through Dundee.
Like 'A Thousand Albums' and 'Forgotify' this moves through eras, it's a 'Time Traveller' song.
It's about a folk dancer, a rock n roll dancer and a techno dancer. Timeless longing for 'The Dancer' of the ages.
We had a bit of a time doing this track too, a bedrock of Mark, Adam and Tom Lewitt on percussion and me on acoustics, slide guitar, bass guitar and micro-Korg synthesiser. A lot happens here.
FOLLOW ME ON MEMORY BEACH
This is the oldest song on the album. I have performed it many times over the years as far back as with the trio with Lee Allatson and our dear late friend Tom Westmoreland, and solo.
I'd always though it a shame it never 'fitted' on anything yet it seemed too lovely a song to lose for good on very large pile of unreleased Hewick material.
I wrote it gazing into an early modelling photograph of Marilyn Monroe on a beach. Her look just seems to draw you in which what Marilyn was about I guess, that was her power.
It might be as bad a fantasy on her as ever written, I re-read the Norman Mailer 'biography' recently and he is as 'bad' as I am here.
It's also an invitation to join her in death. I was a younger man when I wrote it and the death fantasy thing was just that then, at 59 with not so hot health I can feel it more as death reality now. I was actually quite ill ad I did the main vocal take and I think it gives it a kind of resigned reading, an old man tired of this world dreaming of a beautiful 'reward' on the other side though I'm not sure if he deserves it.
We can argue about the whole 'woman as muse/symbol' nonsense. Male fantasies can be rather pathetic in the old sense of the word, pathos.
I slightly rejigged the lyrics and had the idea of getting Dave Dhonau on cello and we created a 3 cello/ 3 acoustic guitar drone synth 4 minute odd coda that is a whole thing in itself.
As seen on the CD booklet, we did not loop the D drone on the microKorg synthesiser. I played it. I held down the note for 10 minutes.
A song that seemed to come out of the air, I was using a DADF#AD tuning on the Yairi guitar and this came to me, big bold block chords and then a dreamy part.
A song about silence is a total contradiction but I like contradictions.
With another drone synth low in the mix this is meant to feel linked to 'Follow Me On Memory Beach' to give the album a 12 minute chillout zone ending.
Jonathan Read did some marvellous trumpet on here, our final overdubs of these seasons. I've known him since he was in hippyesque visionaries The Gathering and he now has the superb Bluebird Parade and he is in the brass section for The Specials and has worked with many of the ska/bluebeat greats.
It intentionally takes it all back to Mill Lane, sounds of entire cities further than the song of just one bird. A cycle.
'Touching Stones, Tasting Rain' had a lot in it for me, it's a singing novelsworth of ideas and images.
The more I release the more j can show people a full artistic vision, a body of work. I hope I get time to get it all out, there is still so much and it's ever expanding.
A star of the album is the Gibson J45 acoustic that was a gift from my dad, he got it from our good friend John Montague of All Guitars and you see it with me on the album cover. It was previously owned by Ralph McTell no less, he got it in New Orleans in 2004 and it was set up and given electronics by Tom Mates, Eric Clapton's guitar tech. It strums at the heart of most of the tracks on here, bright and expressive. I try to be worthy of her. Old friends like my Yairi DY-95 (main acoustic on 'Keep Your Flipped Wigs On' and 'All Was Numbered') and my 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom also appear. The Les Paul has been on most everything since 1993's 'In An Open Air Surgery' cassette.
The cover image came from a thing I saw my USA Internet friend Jack Turner do, a humorous take on an eccentrically attired 1890s Orville Gibson holding a modern Les Paul electric guitar.
Most of the booklet photos are by me - studio shots and things in Blaby/ Mill Lane including All Saints Church and my then messed up garden, an 'Angel' fridge magnet on Jenny Barrett ( aka Bowles) fridge in Countesthorpe, Doll By Doll Anton Artaud badges, the Hewick obsession with crows, pigeons and Marilyn, my dad and Smokey on Billion Pebble Beach, and a free CD copy of Lou Reed's 'Metal Machine Music' at every table at Pizza Hut.
All put together as a booklet and a cover by the ever patient Jim Tetlow. The now sadly late Hazel was our special design consultant wanting fuss and tummy rubs throughout our design sessions. Hazel was a dog by the way not a human lady.
During the 22-month period from first chord to last full stop the list of friends, human and canine, who departed from is grew alarmingly long. The wind is blowing through us one by one but while we are here we shall sing and dance - but without a plugger and limited or non-existent support from the media and the BBC.
I want to leave you with one thought: The music business is not a business at all. Music is music not business. I try to make it as pure as I can. It is purer than I myself am and it comes to wiser conclusions than I do, conclusions I want to share and throw out there. You are out there with your own conclusions and feelings and stuff. We share all that in this magical space, my songs are just a little contribution to the beautiful debate we share.
Kevin Hewick. September 2016.