Monday 30 July 2012

Winchester From St Giles' Hill

'Alfred had me made (or made me again)'

The third song on English Electric (Part One) is called Winchester From St Giles' Hill.
Winchester is a beautiful and historic city in the south of England. St Giles’ Hill lies to the east of the city and forms part of the western edge of the South Downs. From the top of the hill you can see all of Winchester, and the song is an historical view of the development of the city and of (as Peter Ackroyd calls it) the ‘long song’ of England.
Winchester stands at a number of crossroads in time and provides a narrative of British and English history in miniature. There was a prehistoric settlement at Oram’s Arbour, then it became a Roman town and afterwards, a Saxon capital and stronghold. The Normans built a castle and a massive cathedral. It became a centre of learning with the opening of Winchester College and, in Victorian times, the railways came and with them the modern age.
Michael Wood has stated that 'Geography is history and history is geography' and Winchester From St Giles' Hill seeks to link the development of the city with its place in the landscape.
'A river flowing from the chalkhills through the water meadows and the open fields.
Walls were made and streets were laid down,halls and houses, schools and churches.'
Winchester From St Giles' Hill begins and ends with a flute and piano motif. The theme also forms part of the instrumental section where it is played on classical guitar. Alongside David's flute, a key feature of the song is the beautiful and complex piano playing of Danny Manners. I asked Danny to develop the piano part so that it sounded like a mountain stream racing down a hillside: of such obscure requests, beautiful arrangements are made.
The next song to be featured as we count down towards the release  of English Electric will be Judas Unrepentant. David will be telling the tale of that song on his blog in a few days' time.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Judas Unrepentant

Judas Unrepentant from English Electric Part One appears on the covermount CD of Prog magazine which is available from newsagents tomorrow.

Sunday 15 July 2012

About the new songs - The First Rebreather

Over the next few weeks, in the run-up to September 3rd, David and I are going to tell the stories behind each song on English Electric Part One. I'm going to kick off with The First Rebreather, which is the opening song on the new album.

The First Rebreather

Like many people, I'm fascinated by the world beneath our feet. Many towns and cities in England are riddled with underground passages and chambers (London, Bristol and Exeter being obvious examples) and a number of books have been published on these hidden places. There is also an organisation called Subterranea Britannica dedicated to the study of man-made underground spaces in Britain.

As BBT listeners may know, we have featured one such underground place in a song on The Underfall Yard called Winchester Diver, which tells the true story of diver William Walker who saved Winchester Cathedral by diving under the flooded foundations. The title track of The Underfall Yard also included some references to the world below.

When it came to writing English Electric, I remembered a story that Dave Gregory told me about the making of the Severn railway tunnel. On the basis that there can never be too many prog songs about diving into flooded tunnels I started researching the story and found an article called The First Rebreather which gave me the song's title.

As soon as I've got a good title, the creative juices normally start to flow and so I quickly set about writing the soundtrack and lyrics to the true story of a man called Alexander Lambert who dived heroically into the flooded Severn Tunnel in 1880. The navvies who built the tunnel and who were hard-drinking fearless chaps were terrified that the river would break in and drown them all. However, when the tunnel flooded, the water was found to be fresh rather than tidal. The navvies had, in fact, struck an immense underwater spring which flowed through a fault in the rock (they called it The Great Spring). Conventional diving equipment was used to try to close an iron door in the tunnel to hold the water back. The equipment failed due to the air-hose continually being snagged.

The tunnel engineer had heard of a man called Henry Fleuss who had developed an experimental diving apparatus called a Rebreather (in effect, it was the first aqua-lung.) Fleuss was persuaded to make an attempt on the tunnel but was so frightened that he turned back and said he would not return to the darkness ‘for £10,000 or more.’ The equipment was handed over to Diver Lambert who carried out a number of dives which involved swimming 1000ft up the flooded tunnel in complete darkness. Lambert, The First Rebreather, confronts his fear in the tunnel whilst the workmen await his return.

‘The first rebreather’ is a strange phrase which sounds almost super-heroic which, indeed, Lambert was.  So, I decided that, for the purposes of the song, The First Rebreather would be seen as a sort of superhuman creature come to save the navvies from the Great Spring.
Lambert would, of course, have looked very odd in his diving gear and, to the superstitious men, I’ve imagined that he would have looked like a Mummer (also known as a Souler). Mummers’ plays generally feature a character who brings back to life a dead person, so that fitted quite nicely as Lambert tries to bring air back to the lungs of the tunnel.
In the song, The Great Spring has also become a character. I remember being frightened as a child by the story of Beowulf swimming into the mere to slay the beast and again, I’ve used that imagery. In Beowulf, his men waited by the water for him to return. He returned ‘at the ninth hour’. The closing vocal section of the lyrics is about the workmen waiting for Lambert to swim back to the surface. As The First Rebreather is also a direct follow-up to Winchester Diver, I have also worked in some references to The Divine Comedy.
Musically, The First Rebreather is built, for the most part, on Dave's insistent guitar riff and Andy Tillison's beautiful organ playing. In the choruses and in the Moog solo section we set out some themes which are reprised in different songs later on (and also in songs on Part Two). The First Rebreather also introduces the sound of our string quartet to the album.
The next song we will be featuring in this series of blog posts will be Uncle Jack, which David will be writing about on his blog in a few days' time.

Saturday 7 July 2012

News round-up

Quite a lot of things happening at the moment, so I thought I'd do a little round-up.

The new album English Electric (Part One) is out on 3rd September with pre-orders being taken at our new website here.

The track listing is:

1.The First Rebreather (8.32)
2.Uncle Jack (3.49)
3.Winchester From St Giles' Hill (7.16)
4.Judas Unrepentant (7.18)
5.Summoned By Bells (9.17)
6.Upton Heath (5.39)
7.A Boy In Darkness (8.03)
8.Hedgerow (8.52)

On English Electric, we are joined by special guest musicians Andy Tillison (The Tangent), Louis Philippe, Rachel Hall (Stackridge), Danny Manners (Robert Wyatt, Cathal Coughlan)and our brass band and string quartet. Full information on the album can be found here.

We also have an English Electric tee-shirt which will be nice to wear during the blazing hot summer sunshine we're having in England (ahem). Tee-shirt sales are being handled by the lovely people at The Merch Desk. Tee-shirts are available in various sizes and colours and in gents and ladies styles. The Merch Desk also have a special offer tee-shirt / CD pre-order deal which is worth checking out.
Earlier this week, we took part in an interview with Nick Shilton of Prog magazine for a forthcoming feature article on the band. In the meantime, a track from the new album called Judas Unrepentant will feature on the covermount CD of the next issue of Prog magazine which is due out on the 18th July.

I've recently been interviewed by Brad Birzer and the interview has been published here. An interview with David will also shortly be published online.

Our Group page on Facebook continues to grow and has become a wonderful place to talk about music with like-minded people.

We are also active on Twitter and recently heard via Twitter that Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater is now a fan of BBT.

Finally, we are pleased to announce that BBT have signed a licensing deal with GEP. Whilst we are keen to retain our independence from record labels, we recognise that GEP will be able to assist us with distribution and promotion and so we have signed a deal which is right for the band and hopefully for GEP too.

More news soon.