As teenager growing up in Stoke-on-Trent my first experiences of live music consisted of going to watch local musical heroes Grace at the Wheatsheaf, a famous venue later frequented by the likes of Pulp, Radiohead, Oasis and Green Day – now a Wetherspoons pub. Being seriously into Genesis at the time (and now) the progressive rock label on a poster in Lotus Records was enough to draw me in.
Over time I got to know the band and we supported them a few times with our band at the time, Epilogue. In conversation with Harry their extravagant flautist/saxophonist we learnt about their rich musical background. It seemed Harry, Mac and co had had brushes with fame on a number of occasions. Here they are being introduced by Toyah Wilcox on 80’s BBC show Look Here, a show which also featured a performance from Duran Duran:
A radical departure of style, in the early 80’s, saw Grace metamorphosise into a slick synth pop band called White Door consisting of Mac, Harry and Harry’s brother John. To me this is a prime example of the quality of the song being all important and the style of delivery being secondary. They produced the album ‘Windows‘ with Andy Richards who later became well known for his work with Trevor Horn on hits recorded for Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Grace Jones and many others. He also worked with George Michael, Wet Wet Wet and the Pet Shop Boys
For our first inspirational track we’ve gone for the album opener Jerusalem.
Frosty 1973’s take
My initial idea was to take similar sounds and rhythms to the original and come up with a completely different tune. I like the idea that the chosen songs might act as starting points for independent original work. I created an SH-101 bass line and a few different musical motifs but it was sounding a bit empty without any vocals.
To give the track a bit of colour it crossed my mind to find a speech synthesised voice to repeat the word Jerusalem. This is something I have fond memories of doing for a project at high school using my old Amstrad CPC-464. I had in my mind the Speak & Spell type voice but actually speech synthesis has moved on a bit since those days. In the end I chose Amy at www.ivona.com and when I typedin her script I was amazed at how poetic her reading sounded and how much emotion she managed to inject into the words. I’d listened to original song many many times but never really paid attention to the subject matter. Musically the song is quite upbeat but hearing the words on their own revealed some sense of tragedy. I don’t know for sure what’s behind the lyrics but listening to them in this way I imagine a news story on the television or radio reporting some terrible event in a foreign land, being watched by someone far from home with their partner in a cozy living room in winter.
The poetic nature of the reading put me in mind of the BBC Shipping Foreceast. In the shipping forecast extra emphasis is placed the name of the region and the degree of the weather condition. To emphasise certain words in the project I cut them out, moved them down 3 semitones and put a bit of echo and reverb on them. I didn’t need to do any spacing of the ‘performed’ words. Somehow they just seemed to fit and, serendipitously some of the music I’d already recorded seemed to mirror the rhythm, pace and melody of the words.
The Parsnip’s take
I like the characteristic fade in of the original. You don’t get enough fade ins and outs nowadays. The clap with delay is the first landmark so I wanted to keep the prominence of a delayed clap. This one is clear, simple and intentionally unsubtle. The title, ‘Jerusalem’, imparted an irresistible urge to get a church organ into the mix. Fading in the church organ echoes the original fade in and I like the way the power of the organ sound builds past the point you expect as it fades in. I added loads of diffuse delay on the organ to give it a touch of the cathedrals about it.
The melody of the verse is reproduced to leave you in no doubt that we’re inspired by the original but the chord sequence underneath it is changed slightly to introduce a discordant note as I got a bit of an ominous feeling from the original despite its uplifting musical arrangement. Big pulsing bass kicks in to give it a bit of drive before the kick rocks up to alternate with the clap to give the track a compelling plod. At the same time as the bass kicks in, the synths are let loose. I usually have a few layered synths running free over hill and dale making interesting and often unpredictable ambient or melodic sounds. On this occasion, they are swimming around in a cathedral having fun and games with the organ.
More echoes (literally) of the original come from vocal samples which are so short because they are the only bits without drumming and other prominent parts of the original mix showing through. Multiple delays and ridiculous feedback ensure these vocals hang around for a few bars. This cacophony drops off for the breakdown with a chorus vox sample providing the core with some plinky plonky synth shenanigans to underpin it. “Todaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay”.
After the breakdown, the full beans kick in again and the today vocals sit on top for a bit of variety. I particularly like the accidental interplay of today vox with the synths towards the end of each 4-bar cycle. This carries on for a few too many bars and then parts are incrementally removed, dance mix style, to give the swimming synths their 15 seconds of fame before finishing with the solo church organ because you can never get enough of the church organ.
All created with Propellerhead Reason.
(Halfway to) Jerusalem? I based everything on the verse. Didn’t get as far as the chorus. Deadlines!