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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:
"Daniel"
Composed: John/Taupin
Released: 1973
Performed by: Elton John

"Daniel my brother you are older than me
Do you still feel the pain of the scars that won't heal
Your eyes have died, but you see more than I
Daniel you're a star in the face of the sky"

Answer Song:
"Daniel's Song"
Composed: Rotheray/Drever
Released : 2013
Performed by: Kris Drever & The Rotheray All-Star Moose Collective

"I abandoned you with caution
Smiling in the face of your fear
Like a virgin at an auction
Terrified just to scratch his ear
Thank you, oh my brother
For listening to my rhyme
I should have written something shorter
But I just didn't have the time "

WRITING THE SONG

'Daniel' is a lovely song (see footnote 1) - a song which tells a story, but (as in all the best stories) in which you feel most of the story is left untold (2). Why is Daniel leaving his brother? Why have his eyes 'died'? You get the impression, though it isn't stated, that Daniel is leaving forever, he's not just off for a beach holiday and some Watney's Red Barrel. There is some shared tragedy in the background here, I feel. The untold story is an invitingly blank canvas for the writer of the reply song.


My first decision was that the love between the two brothers is absolutely genuine. This was the basis of my song. There has been some historical disaster (I imagined a car crash that killed both parents), and Daniel, the older sibling, has been forced into a father figure role. He loves his brother, but feels he has given up enough of his own life and needs to get away- right away to another country - to escape the responsibility that he once took up so willingly. Probably he thinks this move will also be a good thing for his younger brother, who risks being rendered an eternal juvenile by his uncritical hero worship. This idea gave me my first verse (quoted above) and the rest followed quite easily.

I sent the lyric to Kris Drever, who came up with a lovely tune slightly reminiscent (to me at least) of Pat Garrett-era (3) Bob Dylan. Kris had the perfect voice for it as well. (4)

RECORDING THE SONG

kris
Kris Drever

Not having heard a demo, the first time I heard this song was when I arrived at the studio. Here is a clip of Kris playing the song to all of us, sitting around the kitchen table at The Sound Cafe. Unfortunately my phone goes off halfway through the song (sorry Kris). Sitting behind Kris and me is bass player Kenneth, no doubt making mental notes.

We went straight into the studio after this and recorded the tune with the band. Here’s how it sounded:

This version, which is all live apart from Kris’s overdubbed slide guitar, sounded fine to me. The only things I added later were some Pat Garrett-style backing vocals and a few touches of extra percussion. Hence, the final version sounds hardly any different:

FOOTNOTES

1 I will leave to one side my minor irritation at the idea that Daniel thinks Spain is the 'best place he's ever seen', simply because 'he's been there enough' . Sounds to me like he's never been anywhere else, so of course it's the best place he's seen. But we won't mention that.

2 Which, incidentally , is why the 'Harry Potter' books are such a good example of bad writing.

3 ie, the best era

4 Think 'aching weariness'