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  The Making of 'Answer Ballads'

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

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:
"Maggie May"
Composed: Stewart/Quittenton
Released: 1971
Performed by: Rod Stewart & The Faces

"The morning sun when it's in your face really shows your age
But that don't worry me none in my eyes you're everything
I laughed at all of your jokes my love you didn't need to coax
Oh, Maggie I couldnt have tried any more"

Answer Song:
"Maggie's Song"
Composed: Rotheray/Carthy
Released: 2013
Performed by: Eliza Carthy & The Rotheray All-Star Moose Collective

"When I saw you again, after all this time
All you saw was the changes
My story was written line by line
You can’t read my book, just by counting the pages
I’ve lived my life a butterfly,
In a series of painful stages"


'Maggie May' was not a song I had to struggle to remember. It's been an ever-present on the radio for most of my life. The story is basically young fella/older woman. What might nowadays be referred to as a 'cougar' situation. My instinctive reaction to this song has always been 'if you like her that much, why not stick with her?' And if you don't care about the lines on her face, why mention them?' So I felt a bit defensive about Maggie right from the start. Maybe it's my age, though I think I felt the same way about it when I was younger.

The age-gap theme in the song makes it quite easy to write a reply, pretty much along the lines of 'enjoy yourself, it's later than you think' but delivered with an anti-ageist twist. And since it was easy, that's what I did.

The writing of this song was the most enjoyable on the album, in that it was a real co-write. I turned up with the lyrics , and Eliza Carthy and I bashed out a tune together, eye-to-eye over a guitar. All the other songs I either wrote by myself, or simply sent the lyric to someone and asked them to do a tune. Both those ways are fine, but I like the eye-to-eye thing best, and I'd not really done it for a few years. I also enjoyed the fact that Rod Clements of Lindisfarne came down and played mandolin for us , which made a nice little bridge across the years (see footnote 1).


Eliza Carthy

Here’s how it sounded, recorded in Robin Hood’s Bay at Oliver Knight’s studio, bashed down live by Eliza along with me, Rod, Damon, Gary and Bradley (guitar, mandolin, piano, percussion, double bass, respectively).

This mandolin gave me a moment's pause- in fact I nearly mixed it out. My reasoning was this: I was determined throughout the making of this album not to adopt the style, or even the musical genre, of the original songs at any point. I didn't want to lapse into pastiche- it would make the whole thing a bit silly, and besides, 'Flight Of The Conchords' have basically done the same thing already, much better than I ever could. Anyway, I eventually left the mandolin in there, I figured it was only a very oblique reference, at worst.

There was really no need to change anything for the final mix. I think the only non-live elements are Eliza’s backing vocal and violin. So, with almost no additions, here is how the final mix turned out:


1 ie because the mandolin on 'Maggie May' was also famously played by a member of Lindisfarne