Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Somewhere But Yesterday


The following post contains material that could be described as "prog-tastic", "prog-errific", and even "prog-tabulous". This may cause distress to small children, domestic animals, and anyone with a known risk of anaphylactic shock upon hearing the words "25-minute track", "concept album", or "if you like early Genesis, you’ll love this". The author shall not be held responsible for any ill effects brought on by the further reading of this post (including headaches, nausea, dizziness, flatulence, sudden growth of improbable facial hair, ’air-drumming’ in 7/4, believing that Jon Andersons’s lyrics actually make sense, becoming strangely unattractive to 99.53% of the population, failing to realise that "Thick As A Brick" was Ian Anderson taking the piss [brilliantly, it has to be said], and feeling strangely cheated when a song only has two (or fewer) oblique references to:
a) semi-apocryphal figures from ancient history
b) ’astral projection’ [or any other equally-unproven ’supernatural’ phenomenon]
c) ’The Lord of The Rings’.)

Right then - not my fault from here on in, so don’t try blaming me if you develop an overwhelming urge to buy the entire Gentle Giant back catalogue.

14 years (you have no idea how much it hurt writing that) after the release of Citizen Cain’s album "Somewhere But Yesterday" (no, not a clue, I had no responsibility for the titles, song lyrics, etc), I was cheerfully searching away for something entirely unrelated when I stumbled upon one of my fellow ’ex-Citizens’ - Alistair MacGregor, guitarist extraordinaire, who emigrated to Ozland soon after the album was done, and is now a full-time function band muso - and doing very well, too by the looks of it...

This, of course, brought back all sorts of memories - completely knackering, thrice-weekly band rehearsals in (drummer) Nick’s basement, down in the ’peeling-and-fading-Victorian-seaside-resort charms’ of Portobello; sometimes struggling with the 85% of the basslines (’where the feck’s it going next? aaarggh!’) that were written by Stewart, the (musically hyperactive) keyboard player; and above all else, the great month we spent out at Splitlevel Studios recording the damned thing.

Admittedly, this did involve a lot of sitting around, listening intently for tiny variations between mixes...which, when one of the tracks does, indeed, run for over 25 minutes - there’s a lesson in there, maybe - can feel as if entire years of your life have ebbed away through the control-room floor...but then for that same track, there was the childish fun of building an unfeasibly large and (dangerously) unstable pile of everything unbreakable I could lay my hands on in the studio, just so that we could create as ’authentic’ a sound of a garden wall being demolished as possible. Being a musician can be *such* hard work, sometimes.

[Would you believe that the last copy of this album I saw on Amazon UK was going for over £60??
Nice to see someone making some money out of it at last]

Then there was the night we finished-up just in time to spend half-an-hour standing around outside, completely oblivious to the cold, gazing up in awe at the Leonids meteor shower (Splitlevel is outside Edinburgh, and round one side of the cottages you can be almost entirely shielded from light pollution, so the effect was pretty spectacular). Appropriately for a prog band, our sense of timing was "most bonus", as Neil, (producer, and owner of Splitlevel) was wont to say.

It was also the only occasion my flute tootling has been recorded for posteriority - all 20 seconds or so of it. Mind you, it is the only real bit of flute on the album - the rest was all done by Stewart using samples - not that any of the reviews it’s had over the years spotted the difference, which says a lot about...er..something. Either the reviewers’ ears, my playing, or the quality of synthetic woodwind in the early 90’s. And since it couldn’t possibly be my playing, well...

I’m still slightly bemused by some of the (often bizarrely over-the-top positive) things people have said about it (yeah, I’ve ’googled’ it - a bit sad & needy, yes, but then it’s the only "proper" CD I've made), and I hate the lazy Mike Rutherford comparisons (I’ve never been much of a fan of his, to be honest) some folk have made when it came to the bass playing (doesn’t sound anything like him...well, except for those bits where it sort of does...but I didn’t write those bits), but my personal favourite comment I’ve come across thus far is:

"WOOOORGH! This is it! - Utter utter prog - on toast! - In progginess terms this is drinking undiluted Ribena from the bottle!"

Is it entirely surprising they’re from Holland?

Still, maybe there’s more to this ’ex-proggers-in-function bands’ business than meets the eye...Alistair’s doing the business in Ultra Violet, both Nick & I were in WildGeese...

If you ever find yourself on a cruise ship, and come across a wee (slightly podgy, with a receding hairline) keyboard player, who occasionally slips bits of Marillion in to alleviate his boredom, well...you never know...? And if he’s working in a duo with a guy who sings ’60’s standards’ in the style of early Peter Gabriel...

p.s. I love prog. Give me great steaming wodges of it, church organs, complex time signature-changes, massive pretensions and all. Sorry, just felt that needing saying, in case I’d given the wrong impression above. I even still enjoy listening to "Somewhere But Yesterday" - even the bit where I got my part right, while Stewart’s playing was slightly off, but it ends-up sounding like I’m the one who cocked up. Not at all annoyed about that, even after (sigh) 14 years.

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