Last night I recorded a version of one of my favourite songs by The Divine Comedy, ‘Bad Ambassador’. (One take, so as not to annoy our neighbours too much…it’s not the sort of song that works quietly!)
It was the fifteenth anniversary of the release of Regeneration, the album that the track is taken from, on 12 March 2001.
Fifteen years ago I had just moved back home after graduating from the BMus course at Edinburgh. I was working at the Ulster Orchestra as their Education & Community Outreach Assistant. My diary reminds me that I was teaching clarinet to a wee girl called Sarah; I took her and her mum along to see the orchestra performing Mozart’s clarinet concerto. I was helping prepare the confirmation class at our church. I was playing in a band with my friends Jonny Boyle, Gareth Leslie, and Gareth’s brother-in-law Ben.
I didn’t work out how to play this song until years later, but Neil Hannon’s acoustic version was definitely released as a b-side…free with a weekend paper, I recall. Also on that CD were some behind the scenes videos of Neil in the studio with producer Nigel Godrich. He was renowned for his work with Radiohead and there were certainly tell-tale similarities in some of the sounds and techniques on the album.
Juuuust sneaking in ahead of the deadline for this one today! I’m deviating from the Christmas theme a bit in honour of the fact that today marks the 50th anniversary of the release of ‘Rubber Soul’ by The Beatles. Their sixth album, and probably my favourite of theirs.
Today, under the second window of my creative Advent calendar, is my cover of John Mayer’s jazz waltz Christmas love song, St Patrick’s Day. The guitar chords are very, very much up my street, and our voices have a similar range.
If you’re interested in learning how to play the song, I’d recommend getting the published sheet music. It’ll save you a lot of trouble. Believe me, there is a lot of incorrect stuff on the internet when it comes to music…! My go-to site for lyrics and chords is Sheet Music Direct. Paying a euro for their clear formatting and accuracy is absolutely worth it, compared to trawling around hoping the person who posted such-and-such a tab actually knows what they’re talking about
First up is something special that I’ve been meaning to get done for aaaages. It’s a piano arrangement of the Christmas classic, Winter Wonderland, written in 1934 by Felix Bernard (lyrics by Richard B. Smith). I wrote this at the request of one of my piano students at the time, Chloe. A big, big thank you to my friend Mark Summers and his father, Ian, for their advice on the musical typesetting.
So, please have a listen 🙂 The mp3 is downloadable, so feel free to add it to your Christmas playlists! Just click the little ‘down arrow’ at the top right of the SoundCloud player below.
One night I did, as near as dammit, a perfect show. I got every laugh, never missed a beat, my timing was exquisite; I was relaxed, disciplined and hilarious. There had been nights when I’d got most of the sketches dead right, but never before had I done the whole show impeccably. I was superb. (Please remember we did about 180 performances and this happened just once.) The result: exhilaration. And then, the next day, depression. Because I realised I’d never do it so well again. Every night from now on I would go on stage and do it less well than I was capable of — it was going to be downhill all the way. And for a week or so after that, doing the show became a struggle: I was having to push myself through an emotional sound barrier, going on stage to do an imperfect performance that was going to dissatsify me. It was a ridiculous expression of perfectionism but it made me belatedly realise that that’s why I always called myself a writer-performer: I wanted to write something, perform it perfectly just once and then move on. Of course, I eventually found the right professional attitude: to keep it as fresh as possible every night, and take pride in your discipline, but now it always felt like work.
This is a great piece of film that captures the visuals and sound of our last show. It was a weird day, knowing that it was the final show, but it was one of our very best. I’m really glad it was recorded 🙂
You can see my mascot polar bear, that I’d picked up in an amazing hardware store in Glendive, Montana, a week previously.
Here’s a screenshot of my ursine mascot, sitting majestically on top of my beloved Nord Stage. The shot does rather fly past if you don’t know what you’re looking for!