This collection of pieces are from my latest recording, “Sketches From Memory”. Download or stream these tunes by using the links at the bottom of this article.
These were written during a week’s stay at Dartington in the summer of 2011. The seven pieces were written at the rate of one a day. Each piece would be sketched out in the morning and tidied up during the afternoon. They have been a staple in my performing repertoire since that time.
During this time, I was trying to explore some different approaches to guitar playing, moving away from the standard guitar scales and chord shapes. I used a range of starting points for each of these studies: shapes and scenes from the surrounding landscape, ideas absorbed from other musical traditions… and sometimes just letting the fingers move freely over the fretboard and watching/listening to the outcomes. Here is a brief rundown of what is going on:
21 Hundred – this is based on a memory of Nick Drake’s lovely guitar playing on his song “Three Hours”. But memory has a way of playing tricks, because it doesn’t sound much like the original. The middle section is slow, reflective and, although short, is very satisfying to play. The ending is unusual. I’m not sure where the idea came from, but I’m glad it did…
Early Showers – the accommodation at Dartington can be quite basic, so if you want a hot shower, it is best to get in there early. Suitably invigorated, I went straight to the guitar and let the fingers sort something out. There is not much of a melody going on here, but the rhythmic ideas are interesting and the juxtaposition of two contrasting keys feels quite natural. The intro and ending are reminiscent of some of the changes from Bowie’s “Heathen” album. One of his great albums from the later period – and well worth a listen.
Reclining Figure – there is a fine sculpture by Henry Moore in the gardens titled “Reclining Figure. The shapes, texture and setting of this carving provide an abundance of ideas for musical exploration. I have since gone on to use sculpture as an inspiration for more recent works. Abstract and conceptual works by Barbara Hepworth and Andy Goldsworthy have been particularly rewarding. The opening is quite guitaristic and pastoral. The middle section has some interesting single string melodies – seemingly unrelated ideas which blend together well if you handle them in the right way.
Monk takes a chord progression from a song by Thelonious Monk called “Ask Me Now”. These chords can be voiced in such a way that they provide a descending pattern which moves steadily downwards fret by fret. I put them into a less sophisticated ragtime style setting. It chugs along in a meandering sort of way and is great fun to play. This piece is given one of my hallmark cadenza style endings, where I can take a few risks because, whatever happens, the end is in sight.
“M” is unlike anything I have written before or since. It is difficult to describe as well as being quite a difficult piece to play – and it often doesn’t come out right. But when it works, it is good. The ‘percussion’ is an important element and the contrasting dynamics and tempos give it a special character.
Requiem – the title has no special significance. On listening back and reflecting I can hear the ghosts of music I have always enjoyed listening to. For example there are echoes of Steve Winwood’s folk style pieces with Traffic, Ian Anderson and other music from this musically rich era. The fingers are simply taking a walk down acoustically memorable highways and byways…and I’m just watching where they go.
The gardens at Dartington are formally structured and if you sit up on the banks and look down you can appreciate the mathematical structures and symmetries which underpin their design. I have used these proportions and patterns in shaping the melodies and setting out the structure. The chords which begin and end the piece are simple patterns which also take in sounds from adjacent open strings to yield a more sophisticated harmonic output. These chords will have names, but it is nicer just to listen to them and accept them for what they are – secret sounds from a secret garden.