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Saturday, 28 March 2009

Written in granite: This Man Is A Cathedral

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The first time I became aware that the world contained a song entitled I Am A Cathedral I knew this was going to be for me. I've a feeling I heard it on the radio one night in about 1982, some disc jockey said, and now we have a song called I Am A Cathedral and it wasn't going to matter WHO it was by, nothing was going to spoil it for me. The next words were a little puzzling... "by Peter Sarstedt." Everyone knows one record by Peter Sarstedt, or certainly everyone did then. That record was (and indeed is) Where Do You Go To My Lovely? It was one of those records I'd heard so many times on the radio that I'd... well, I'd stopped hearing it, I suppose. Familiarity can do that and occasionally you need something to jolt you out of it. We'll come to Lovely in a moment... Anyway, on came Cathedral, acoustic guitar lightly strumming, a voice even lighter proclaiming that the singer was a cathedral, stained-glass windows and all. What on earth was he on about? I had no idea but it sounded intriguing. Shortly afterwards I picked up a very cheap compilation album called... Oh go on, take a wild guess. As well as the ubiquitous title track, it featured Cathedral and a number of other tracks which, as I now know, were mostly drawn from Mr Sarstedt's eponymous debut album. I must admit that at the time it didn't really sink in, I adored Cathedral, yes, and I gradually started to appreciate the genius of Lovely... but much of the rest of it went over my head.

Let's go back to Where Do You Go To My Lovely for a moment, shall we? And let's just admire the achievement here... Because this was a huge, huge hit – reaching number one in more than a dozen countries - and a certified "classic", i.e. a track that someone like me, who'd been five or six years old when it came out, had known all my life, there'd never to my knowledge been a time when I wasn't aware of it. And yet, when you actually look at it, well, it's an odd one, isn't it? For a start it's really rather long... Five-and-a-half-minute singles were fairly rare even in the late seventies but in 1969 they were even fewer and further between... However this was no proto-prog epic with full band and orchestra, in fact musically it's one of the sparsest things you'll hear. Other than its jaunty "in-case-you-were-in-any-doubt-that-we're-in-Paris" accordion intro and the briefest hint of strings for a few bars and a reprise of said jaunty Gallic accordion over the outro, the instrumentation is just an acoustic guitar, bashing out a single four-chord sequence for the entire duration, and voice. So how did this become such a huge hit? Simple, it's got a truly brilliant lyric. There aren't many lyrics in pop music which can carry a whole song at all for two minutes, let alone five and a half. This one is sardonic, witty, superbly constructed and it has a great pay-off, none the less effective for being telegraphed from the start. Oh and it features some wonderfully cheeky rhymes.

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I must admit that, as I failed to come across any more of his records for 20 or so years, Mr Sarstedt's work drifted to the back of my memory – very much my loss. However 5-6 years ago I came across a 2CD set of his first two albums, the eponymous one featuring the aforementioned two classics, and As Though It Were A Movie. This latter is the only album title I can think of off the top of my head to contain a use of the subjunctive tense and it gains its author immense credit in my eyes. Perhaps we'll have a closer look in a later Written In Granite... The only other Sarstedt album I have is the recently released The Lost Album, which I downloaded (legally and for a consideration, I should add) recently and whose acquaintance I'm still making. Let's return to the first album, though. Side one opens with Cathedral and side two with Lovely. The former still sends shivers up and down my spine, it's a thing of such beautiful construction that you can't help believing that yes, he is a cathedral. He sounds like one, anyway. When we were driving up to Liverpool for the sessions which led to Tomorrow morning, 3 a.m., we were listening to a cassette, as for some reason fate wanted us to hear something specific and my iPod kept cutting out, so we scuttled back to earlier technology. The tape in question was of a compilation of songs culled from Tim Hardin's first two Verve albums. Now Hardin's songs tend to be very short so the whole album lasted barely 25 minutes or something. And at the end of it, after Tribute To Hank Williams had finished, suddenly there was that gently strummed acoustic guitar and on came I Am A Cathedral. I'm not of a terribly mystical persuasion but I do know when I'm being told something, so when we went into the studio I made sure I played the musicians the track and said "let's go for this kind of feel... Only as long as Where Do You Go To My Lovely..." I think our single has come out with something of Cathedral in its make-up. Perhaps it's in the way it's the rhythm of the acoustic guitar allied with that of the words that holds the whole thing together, although that's perhaps actually closer in execution to Lovely, in sheer verbiage, but perhaps it's also in some of the more baroque touches, the ornate pieces put in to set off or indeed sometimes to illustrate the words. Or perhaps not.

The rest of Peter Sarstedt is terrific too, although perhaps something of an acquired taste to modern ears... It's so utterly English. The Wikipedia entry on Peter Sarstedt describes him and his brothers as "Anglo-Indian" – for this is another odd thing. No fewer than three Sarstedt brothers made hit records in the sixties and seventies, aside from Peter himself, there was also Richard, who recorded under the name of "Eden Kane" and Clive whose stage name, rather bizarrely, was "Robin Sarstedt" and I do remember his arch My Resistance Is Low being a hit in the mid-seventies. To give you a flavour of the album here are some of the song titles: The Sons Of Cain Are Abel (terrific title, eh?), No More Lollipops, Sayonara, Blagged, My Daddy Is A Millionaire and Many-Coloured Semi-Precious Plastic Easter Egg... Those are all on the first album. Musically the LP covers an awful lot of ground, from some really gorgeous material every bit as out-there statuesque as anything Scott Walker was attempting that same year (1969), some folkier material and then some stuff that's actually rather vaudevillian. However throughout it's the lyrics which hold the attention, the music is always designed, in most cases to devastating effect, to set off the lyrics and they're brilliantly written.

Mention should also be made of the moustache sported by Mr Sarstedt. It takes a very special talent to carry upper lip furniture of such magnitude off with such aplomb. In any case The Granite Shore definitely owe a debt to that first album and also to whatever force it was that brought I Am A Cathedral wafting through the air of our car unexpectedly during the drive up to Liverpool to record the single. On such moments of serendipity do weighty matters turn...





Sunday, 22 March 2009

Written in granite: The Shipping Forecast

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The first copies of Tomorrow morning, 3 a.m. b/w Workhouse were sent out to those hardy souls who'd decided to brave the elements and explore unmapped terrain on Thursday, with more joining the expedition on Friday and Saturday. We've been told that Occultation expect to ship all remaining advance orders either tomorrow (Monday 23/3/09) or else no later than Tuesday but that the vast majority are already in the post, winging their way across the world... We've already had a few e-mails from some of these adventurers and we're pleased to report that they are finding the journey to be full of strange new beauties although occasionally with surprises in store.


Getting the first copies of your own record is always strange... Will it look and feel the way you imagined it? Most importantly will it SOUND right? To be honest, until now I've never had much truck with the whole concept of vinyl sounding so much better than CDs, I could certainly see that as an overall sensory experience it was vastly superior, of course, this was one of the reasons we were so glad to be given the opportunity to work in the 10" format. But would it actually sound better? Well... yes it does. Honestly, it sounds so much better I can't believe it. This is particularly true of Tomorrow morning, 3 a.m. where so many more of the layers that were added to the sound come through, the bottom end of the recording is so much fuller... That's not to say it doesn't sound great in digital form because it does, but on vinyl it just sounds... the way it was intended to sound. And of course when you factor in the sensation of holding a 10" square sleeve, taking the record out, watching the Occultation moons spin round and round on the turntable as you plonk the stylus down and wait for a few moments before it starts... Why on earth did we ever allow this to be taken away from us?


Anyway, as an artefact Occultation have done us proud, this really is very beautiful indeed. The outer sleeve is printed on high-quality card and features a detail from one of Ged Quinn's extraordinary paintings, reproduced by kind permission of the artist, the back offers a few clues... Then inside you'll find a beautifully printed full-colour glossy lyric sheet and the record itself, the label on one side reproduces the detail from the front cover again and the other features the soon-to-be-iconic Occultation moons, which are mesmerising as they spin round and round on a turntable.


Occultation have been sending all initial copies out First Class, even though I know they only charged people standard postage and they've also been using extra protective packaging because it'd be tragic were anything to damage these beautiful items. No expense has been spared at any point during the process of recording, mixing, mastering, designing and manufacturing of these records and we're incredibly proud of them.


In other news, The Granite Shore now have a MySpace page; I still find the whole concept of "friendship" at such locations somewhat baffling... But then I suppose the whole business of friendship in the real world is no less fraught with mystery. Having said that most of my friends in the real world are at least... well... alive. In the virtual world of MySpace our admiration for the likes of Mickey Newbury and Jacques Prévert has but increased... These are people with whom the ties of friendship cannot be severed, nay, not even by death.


Anyway, I'll be making an effort to resume more regular entries on this page over the next few weeks. Naturally the imminent release of the single has taken up a lot of time and attention recently, but now that it is upon us it's time to start thinking about the next thing. Occultation's third release will be another single by The Wild Swans, most likely on 7" vinyl, but then we've been talking about doing another Granite Shore record a month or two after that, so that could well be early summer and current thinking is that it might perhaps be a three or four-track EP, perhaps on 12"...


More to follow. Thanks to everyone who's already ordered the single and has written to us or to Occultation with such kind words. A lot of hard work has gone into this so it's really extremely gratifying to know that it's appreciated.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Written in granite: By the label

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We expect the Granite Shore singles to arrive from the pressing plant sometime next week and they'll be sent out to everyone who's ordered copies in advance as quickly as possible after that.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Written in granite: We Have Lift-Off

First of all I must apologise for the long silence. However there is a very good reason for this...


Occultation Recordings are now taking advance orders for the first Granite Shore single, Tomorrow morning, 3 a.m. b/w Workhouse which is the second of the label's first two releases, released simultaneously with the first new single in twenty years by Liverpool legends The Wild Swans. Both singles are available individually for £8+P&P but that for a limited period they're available to order together for just £12+P&P (and P&P is charged only on the first item in this case). Both are being released on individually-numbered limited edition 10" vinyl although there will also be a full digital download release in a few weeks' time. Initial copies of the Wild Swans single ordered direct from the label will also be signed. I've always adored the 10" format and I've also wondered why more people don't put them out... Well, now I know: it's because, being a non-standard format which requires resetting of all sorts of machines at the pressing plant, a 10" single is actually significantly more expensive to manufacture than an LP. If you then decide to put your 10" single in deluxe packaging, with full-colour outer and inner sleeves, featuring the work of Britain's foremost painters (and if you do that you do need to use the highest quality printing techniques) then all of a sudden you find yourself with one hell of a bill. To the labels everlasting credit there has not been a murmur of "er... couldn't we cut a few corners here?" and everything has been done to try and fulfil our vision. At least, that's been the Granite Shore's experience and from what The Wild Swans' Paul Simpson has been saying in interviews it sounds as though their experience has been much the same. This is going to be a truly great label and The Granite Shore are very proud to be a part of it.

The sleeves of both 10" singles feature works by Ged Quinn, the original Wild Swans keyboard player who also appears on their new single, English Electric Lightning b/w The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years. His portrait of a cat as Saint Sebastian which graces the Wild Swans sleeve is already attracting considerable attention. The detail which appears on the front of our single is taken from a 2007 painting of Mr Quinn's entitled The Lone Ranger.

Reports from Occultation suggest that both singles have been selling very quickly and that these limited editions are unlikely to be available for very long. A few reviews have already begun to circulate on the Internet, most notably this piece by Alistair Fitchett on his excellent Unpopular blog.

We've been told that the vinyl should be delivered to the label from the pressing plant over the next week or two and then all advance orders will be despatched as soon as possible. In the meantime, if you do place an advance order you'll be sent complementary high-quality (320kbps) MP3s of the tracks to be listening to while you wait. These MP3s do sound pretty damned good, but we were amazed at just how much better the vinyl sounds when the test pressings arrived a few weeks ago. There's so much more bottom end and so much more of the detail comes through. This is particularly noticeable on Tomorrow morning, 3 a.m. because we did spend a lot of time adding all sorts of little things to it. It's a song which is written on at least two levels and so it seemed appropriate for it to have various levels musically as well.

So what's next for The Granite Shore? Well, obviously a lot will depend on what happens with this first single. Occultation are planning for their third release to be another Wild Swans single – as I'm a huge fan myself this is great news; you wait 20 years for a Wild Swans single and then two come along at once. Then the fourth release, perhaps around the summer, will be another Granite Shore record, perhaps an EP this time and then we'll be working on the first album throughout the year.

The Granite Shore website has had something of an overhaul over the last couple of weeks and this will continue, time permitting. I hope that I'll also now perhaps have a little time to devote to Written In Granite again, I have neglected it rather badly since November, but then, as I say, the single took up a lot of time and energy and there are also plenty of other things in the pipeline.

More to follow soon...


 


 


 


 

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