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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:
'Me & Mrs Jones'
Composed: Gamble, Huff, Gilbert
Released: 1972
Performed by: Billy Paul

"We meet everyday at the same café
6:30 and no one knows she'll be there
Holding hands, making all kinds of plans
While the jukebox plays our favorite song"

Answer Song:
"Mrs Jones's Song"
Composed: Rotheray
Released: 2013
Performed by: Lisa Knapp & The Rotheray All-Star Moose Collective

"Every table is taken
Since our cafe turned into a bar
It's a two minute walk from the station
Or it's a ten minute drive in the car"

WRITING THE SONG

'Me & Mrs Jones' was a song that used to regularly come on the jukebox in The Grafton (see footnote 1), so I was vaguely aware of it. Although I never particularly liked or disliked it, I quite enjoyed the feel of the main riff- in fact I borrowed it for the guitar part on 'Rotterdam'. (2)


All I could remember of the lyric was that the guy had 'a thing' goin' on with Mrs Jones, and that they used to meet 'every day in the same cafe'. This didn't give me a lot to go on.

About ten years ago, the area around where I live began to change. Princes' Avenue, previously purely a shopping street, began to sprout a host of what I have now learned to call 'cafe bars'. I don't dislike these bars, in fact I use them regularly- but, like most of those of my generation, I grew up on, or in, pubs. Or, what I have now learned to call 'proper pubs'. Unfortunately the advent of the cafe bar in Hull coincided with the near-death of the proper pub. This has been a matter or some concern to me, and to many others.



This gave me a handle on the Mrs Jones song. What if, unlike me, she loved cafes and hated pubs? This was an imaginative stretch for me, but I decided to go with it.

My scenario for Mrs Jones was this; 20 years after the end of the affair, and hoping to catch a whiff of the old magic, she returns to the cafe, only to find it has been converted into a bar. I decided that this bar could serve as a metaphor for everything that is wrong with Mrs Jones' city (which I pictured, for no good reason, as being New York) but also wrong with the way men and women relate to one another in the modern world.

I went into the studio with the wonderful Lisa Knapp, who, as it turned out, didn't fancy writing a tune (3), so I had to come up with a tune on the spot. Normally I'm not very good at this, but it turned out pretty good this time, a sort of Gladys Knight & The Pips affair, with lots of backing vocals. Lisa did a brilliant job of singing it, and I will probably use it as the opening track on the album.

RECORDING THE SONG

lisaknapp
Lisa Knapp

The first stage of the recording was to teach the song to Lisa. Here is a clip of me and Lisa, running through the song together in the living room at The Sound Cafe:

So then it was into the studio with the gang. Here’s how it sounded at first:


Damon Butcher

Sounded fine,especially the lead vocal and Damon Butcher’s lovely piano part, but I still had Gladys Knight And The Pips in my head, as well as the fabulous ‘Cut Up the Clothes’ by Mrs Washington. With these influences in mind, we immediately embarked on a series of overdubs, the most important of which were the backing vocals.

The final stage was to send the song to Ros Stephen for a string treatment. Here’s how it ended up, after we’d thrown the kitchen sink at it:

FOOTNOTES

1 My local pub from 1985-1999

2 Heaton/Rotheray, 1996

3 She wasn't happy with the meter, ie the rhythm of the words