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  The Making of 'Answer Ballads'

Introduction
1. Mrs Jones' Song
2. Maggie's Song
3. Daniel's Song
4. Roxanne's Song
5. Pearl's Song
6. Billy-Joe's Song
7. Marie's Song
8. Bobby's Song
9. Lucille's Song
10. Mrs Avery's Song/Sylvia's Song
11. Dino's Song
12. Jolene's Song
Final
 
 

In spring 2012, I embarked on making an album of 'answer songs': in which hitherto silent characters from other people's songs are given voice. This blog is an account of the songs that I picked, and of how I went about writing and recording my 'answers'.

Original Song:
"The Boys Are Back In Town"
Composed: Lynott
Released: 1976
Performed by; Thin Lizzy

"Friday night they'll be dressed to kill
Down at Dino's Bar & Grill
The drink will flow and blood will spill
And if the boys wanna fight, you'd better let 'em"

Answer Song:
"Dino's Song”
Composed: Rotheray/ Roberts
Released: 2013
Performed by: Alasdair Roberts & The Rotheray All-Star Moose Collective

"Now we are all prone to some mischief
But witness the figure in black
Picking through puddles, slipping on glass
It's the Glorious Phantom of the aftermath”

WRITING THE SONG

In 'The Boys Are Back In Town' the bar which is frequented by 'the boys' is, in passing, named. 'Dino's Bar & Grill' is the place where the drink will flow and the blood will spill.

Where there is a Dino's Bar & Grill, one may reasonably assume there is a Dino (incidentally, I have no idea if Dino's was ever a real place. I have, as a point of principle, avoided all such research).

Running a bar is a tough job. And running a bar where 'blood will spill' on a regular basis is even tougher. I figured Dino was a part of the decadence and chaos, not just an observer (see footenote 1).

So Dino's is a crazy place, and Dino is part of it. Immediately words like 'bacchanalia' spring to mind. I started picturing 1970's Dublin as a hedonistic, anything-goes, fin de siècle hellhole (3). But how to make this idea into a song ?

The best way I could think of was to avoid the night itself, and focus on the morning after. There have been a lot of great 'morning after' songs (4), especially in the country genre, so it would be a struggle to be original. Finally I figured a good angle might be to make Dino's hangover into a character in its own right, a shadowy figure lurking at the edge of his perception. This idea (5) propelled me along and I finished the song quite quickly.

When the lyric was done I sent it off to Alasdair Roberts, a butt-shredding guitarist and a wonderfully quirky songwriter -perfectly suited to a concept like this. He surprised me by eschewing the axework, and coming up with a piano-based tune vaguely reminiscent of 'Werewolves Of London' (6) which takes the song off on a really atmospheric, slightly disturbing tangent.

RECORDING THE SONG

alasdair

We started off with a demo, recorded by Alasdair on his own. Here’s how the demo sounded:

Listening to this demo, I didn’t see any big production job here. I figured Ali would just sit at the piano, hammer out the song, and we could all just follow him. And that’s pretty much how it panned out. Here’s how it sounded, with Ali at the piano, Damon Butcher on the organ, Murray Briggs on drums and me on the bass:

This seemed great to me, though I was worried that the main piano riff didn’t sound fat enough. So we asked Rod Clements to follow the piano riff with some slide guitar. Here is the second rough mix:

This guitar, for me, really brought out the groove of the song, and I was happy. Apart from adding a few backing vocals, we were done. Here’s the final version:

FOOTNOTES

1 This has certainly been true in all of my favourite 'crazy' bars, Bucci bar (2) on Goodge St, London, run by Simon, being my favourite ever example.

2 Don't bother, it's gone now

3 Possibly a bit like Mos Eisley

4 'Sunday Morning Coming Down' by Kris Kristofferson is a classic example of the ilk

5 I believe the technical term is 'personification', but feel free to correct me

6 In a good way