Sunday 24 February 2013

Curator of Butterflies

The idea for this song started with a short newspaper article. The article was about the Natural History Museum and had a sub-heading of Curator of Butterflies which caught my eye. I was also interested in the final paragraph where Blanca Huertas, the Museum's Curator Lepidoptera describes how, as a teacher, she can explain 'everything with butterflies: genetics, taxonomy, camouflage, life and death'. As you can see from the scan of the cutting above, I underlined the final three words of the article. I tore the article out of the paper and placed it in the trunk where I keep ideas for songs.

When writing began for English Electric I opened the trunk, came upon the article and started work on a song which I called Curator of Butterflies. The chord sequence was composed on an acoustic 12-string guitar with the second string tuned up to 'C'. The melody was written very much with David's vocal abilities in mind. Much of the later musical arrangement was by Dave Desmond (brass) and Danny (piano.) Dave Gregory also came up with one of the main musical motifs of the song so this is very much a track where a lot of people have made significant contributions.

Many of the songs on English Electric have a story to tell but this one is a more philosophical piece. There is a female character in the song but I must stress that this person is not Blanca Huertas. I do not know Ms Huertas and would not presume to write about her. However, that short article about Ms Huertas was the direct inspiration for the lyrics and, in particular, those final three words: 'life and death'. The song is about the fine line between those two extremes. As I grow older I become more aware of my mortality and the mortality of my family and friends. The knowledge that we hold about our mortality means that life can be a beautiful burden.

Curator of Butterflies is the final song on English Electric Part Two and therefore brings to a close this series of pieces about the songs on the two BBT blogs. We do hope listeners find some music to enjoy on the album and we would like to thank all listeners to our music for their support and interest. We would especially like to thank the wonderful community of music lovers which has come together on the BBT Facebook group. If you can judge a band by its listeners, then BBT is a good band.

There will be a special double CD edition of English Electric later on in 2013. This will feature three additional songs and we will revise the track sequencing in the light of it being a double album rather than two separate releases. As we have made clear elsewhere, the three additional songs will also appear on an EP release and will be available for separate purchase as downloads so we are giving listeners various opportunities to purchase the extra songs without feeling the need to buy the albums again. We are also in discussion with Plane Groovy about releasing EE2 on vinyl (with the additional songs on the 4th side of a double release.)

We will tell you about these releases and other things when there is news.

Sunday 17 February 2013

The Permanent Way

'The permanent way' is a Victorian expression which means the finished track and bed of a railway. I am sure it was intended to be a utilitarian term but it's a phrase which is full of mystery and hidden meaning. 'Way' is an Old English word meaning "road, path or course of travel". 'The permanent way' seems to suggest a longstanding connection between the countryside and the people who work on the land linked by the ancient (and new) pathways running through the landscape.

English Electric is not a concept album but many of the songs are thematic. On The Permanent Way, which is the penultimate track on the album, we have brought together the stories of the individuals and communities working on and under the land who, along with inescapable geological forces, helped to forge the British landscape.

As well as the connections between the songs on the two parts of English Electric we have also sought to explore the links to our 2009 album The Underfall Yard and the 2010 EP Far Skies Deep Time. Many of the themes explored on The Underfall Yard defined our work on English Electric. The title track of The Underfall Yard is primarily about the visionary engineers who made their mark on the land during the 19th century. In that song, the navigators and the engineer can be found:

'Working the way through the valleys and fields,
grass grown hills and stone.
Parting the land
with the mark of man,
the permanent way.
Using just available light,
he could still see far skies,
deep time.'

Where people have helped to shape the landscape it is at the hands of ordinary folk that this has been done. Sometimes this has been at the behest of powerful land-owners and at other times it has been due to the vision of those far-sighted men-of-iron. But in the end it all comes down to ordinary men and women, in communities past and present, working on the land.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Keeper of Abbeys

A few years back we visited the North Yorkshire Moors. We stayed for a few days at an English Heritage cottage within the grounds of an abbey at Rievaulx. I'd seen pictures of the romantic ruins of this abbey throughout my childhood and had always wanted to spend some time there. The cottage allowed us access to the site after hours and so were able to see the ruins in their splendid isolation when all the visitors had gone. At night the abbey becomes a very eerie place which meant a ghost-hunting trip was in order and, of course, we spooked ourselves very badly (there were dark shadows and ravens that refused to sing.)

On our first day at Rievaulx I noticed a man tending to the stones. He was there throughout our stay and worked from dawn until dusk. He was an interesting-looking chap, lean and tall with a square-jaw and a face that had been exposed to the elements over the years. He reminded me a little of Ted Hughes or, in my imagination, Heathcliff.

I became fascinated by this keeper of the abbey and plucked up the courage to say hello. I expected him to be a typically taciturn Yorkshireman but, in fact, he was happy to talk and so I got to know a little bit about his story. He came down from the moors to the valley every day. He loved the abbey and wanted to make it beautiful so he worked hard throughout the hours of daylight. There was, however, an air of melancholy about him which I couldn't put my finger on. At one point he said he had really wanted to travel the world but had never managed to escape.

I walked back to the cottage and made some notes about the keeper of abbeys and later, from those notes, wrote the words that became the lyrics to the fifth song on English Electric Part Two. I have, of course, used some artistic license in painting a portrait of this character (in particular I imagined a reason for his melancholy state) but the song is for the most part a reflection of the man I met at Rievaulx.