I should probably admit to being something of a slow worker.
This album, which was supposed to be a couple of throwaway bonus tracks, or a swiftly turned around EP, or a handful of live session videos to help point people, and their wallets, in the direction of its predecessor, has taken me far longer to make than it should have done. So long, in fact, that I no longer see it as a standard issue piece of promotional material, but a body of work that I hope will come to hold its own amongst my repertoire.
Having released my second* album 'Oceanography' in the spring of 2018, I embarked on a few brief tours to promote it. The first, in the UK, saw myself, my long-time drummer Ste, and new companions Ed and Oli do our level best, with the marvels of modern technology, to recreate the audacious wall-of-sound that characterises much of that album…in some pubs. Next, I was back at my day job as the touring multi-instrumentalist for the ultra-successful British band Bastille, pulling double shifts every night as the band had, unbelievably kindly, offered me the opening support slot for their 'ReOrchestrated Tour', taking in such dizzying prestige as London's Royal Albert Hall. Finally, with next to no money to my name, having funded a substantially loss-making 'full band' tour (and still recovering from my first 'proper' tax bill…), but with a string of dates around Germany and Austria looming, I had to make the decision that it would not be possible to take a full band with me. Instead, with the help of my friends Ben and Ed, a plan was formulated whereby we would perform a set of bare-bones acoustic versions of my songs, and travel using InterRail tickets, as I had done many and several times previously as a solo artist. So pleased were we with the new arrangements, and on such a high from a wonderful experience touring the continent, we planned to book in a couple of days in the summer to record them together at Ed's house.
But, you know, that's the thing with plans, isn't it?
That summer, back once again to my day job as part of Bastille's live band, with a set of simply-strummed guitar chords falling regularly under my fingers, I could feel something new turning around in my head. It felt like it would be one of those 'everything' songs. The kind of song where a writer manages to translate exactly where and who they are at a certain time into a handful of verses. In a hotel room somewhere in Spain one afternoon, the lyrics found their way out of me, and became 'Last Night's Glitter'. It sounds like I've romanticised it, but that's genuinely what happened.
Jump forward to the spring of 2019, and my wife and I had just finished having the garage of our first home together converted into a recording studio of sorts. This, along with the purchase of my first ever decent acoustic guitar, and a newfound love of finger-picking from helping to develop stripped-back versions of Bastille songs, reminded me of those old plans to record some acoustic arrangements of my own work. I spent many scattered days between Bastille tours over the next several months finessing and recording the new versions. I made rules for myself. No double-tracking. No wild guitar effects. No walls of sound. No clutter. Think small. I bought a lap-steel. I asked a few of my Bastille touring colleagues for contributions; mournful horns from arranger extraordinaire Jonny Abraham, clusters of woodwinds by the amazing Rittipo, and an angelic string arrangement for the newly-penned title track, performed by my friend from stage-right Ciara Ismail. I didn't give them much in the way of direction, just sent them the songs and asked that they add whatever colour they saw fit. I re-used some of the audio material from my previous albums; my favourite parts that got buried under all of the other layers I insisted on adding. Steve Durose's beautiful choral arrangement from 'Sing to God', the Mellotron chords from the last chorus of 'Ruins', and the original string recordings from the 'More Stately Mansions' album, finally giving mine and Jon's arrangements some room to breathe.
You can hear the birds in my back garden. You can hear the summer rain bouncing off the skylight in my studio's ceiling. If you listen really closely, you might hear my dog Luna shuffling around in her bed in the background of the quieter moments.
This album sounds like home.
This album is me, at home.
*…officially, anyway. Happy 10th Birthday, 'Geekk.'