A funny thing happened yesterday

I was walking to Windsor, through the fields of Eton College, having finished work and on my way to meet a friend for a drink. I'd been walking for about ten minutes in the relative darkness, as a light drizzle started falling, listening to 'Fill Up The Room', the new album from Saturday Looks Good To Me. I'd got onto track three, called, I believe, When I Lose My Eyes, the longest song they've done, one that builds up with a series of climaxes that never quite resolve themselves; very clever for what it is, and possibly my favourite on on the album.

I was just about to cross the wooden bridge that separates Slough from Eton, from the suburban cul-de-sac known as The Myrke and onto the green playing fields of Eton- ample room for rugby, cricket and football, and an athletics centre, as well as the odd pedestrian like yours truly.

Suddenly I heard something. I can't recall if it was something that happened in the song, or maybe something that happened that reminded me of something else, but my brain felt like it had opened some sort of floodgate. All of a sudden, a song fell out, perfectly formed; melody, theme, lyrics, arrangement, the whole thing. As the thinned patience of the rest of the band will attest, my usual composition method is to come into rehearsal with the barest of ideas, try out a series of changes as a band until it sounds good, then try to complete it from there. This time, it was all already there. Despite the rain, I pulled my phone out and started to make little text messages with note of lyrics, arrangement ideas, things that could be used and remembered. Rather than the natural progression of one idea leading to another, this was like being stuck in the Crystal Dome with the timer running down, haplessly grabbing at any shred of inspiration that was available before they were lost forever. This, I felt, could be our Classic. The one song that stands head and shoulders above anything we'd ever done before, or would do since. Delusions, of grandeur, perhaps, but that's what I was thinking. The only place this song could exist was as the closing track of our next album. Whatever sonic delights the album held would be topped by this mighty masterpiece that would leave the listener breathless with joy, finding worth once again in the power of music.

I wandered on, replaying my notes and the song, refining, twisting, perfecting. All the way through Eton high street, I could hear this thing. By the time I got to Windsor, with ten minutes before I was due in the pub, I felt I HAD to formalise it further, or it really would be lost. I ducked into Starbucks and ordered a coffee, grabbing a fistful of napkins and borrowing a pen from the bemused schoolie working the counter. I scribbled down as much as I could, feeling only mild guilt at the logo on the napkins – "Less Napkins, More Trees, More Planet" – until I was scraping my memory for anything that would've sufficed. The job done, I gently folded the napkins into my bag and spent a distracted, but enjoyable evening in the pub, catching up on old times.

By the time I got back to my Mum's house (where I was staying for the evening instread of returning to London), I felt more in need than ever of trying to do something with this. Alas, with no musical instruments to hand, I could only vent my frustration by informing some of the band about my evening. I sent a text to John and Sharon, proclaiming "I've just written the closing track for the second album. Epic doesn't even come close", and went to bed.

Not twenty minutes later, my phone vibrates. It's John:

"You bastard! So have I!"

I let him know I'd settle for the closing track of Side One.



What Do You Want For Christmas?

The Gresham Flyers spent last Sunday at our favourite (well, only) recording studio. Given that it was such a wonderful day, it only seemed fair to tell you about it…

It’s been months since we’ve seen the inside of Soup or its proprietor Simon, and since the album’s finished we’ve not had much call to visit. We’ve got about seven new songs in various stages of completion, but none that have required urgent taping. This all changed when we got an email from Cherryade Records, who asked us to contribute to their annual Christmas compilation. To my mind, there was only one song that we could do- a song that I’ve badgered the others to rehearse for the last two Christmases, but has never been taken up. The song is Diamond White Christmas, which was written by John a few years ago, and released as a charity Christmas single by his old band The Milburns- not to be confused with the derivative and rather terrible Milburn. The recording is a wistful, melancholy affair, with a military drum-beat holding together the duet between John and guest vocalist Tricia Stubberfield (who is currently using her graphic design skills to rustle up artwork for our album) as the guitars swell to a joyous but eye-moistening climax. I’ve loved it since I first heard it and rate it as one of John’s finest compositions.

There was debate over whether we should try and write a new song. After all, Diamond White Christmas had already been released as a single by another band, so we were effectively ‘covering’ the song, despite it being written and sung by one of our own. Seeing as we’d raided John’s archive for earlier songs- Red Nose Day, Blackpool, and the riff to Cricket Bat all pre-date the band’s existence- it was finally agreed on that we would re-do Diamond White Christmas in Gresham Flyers style. We sent the Milburns’ version to Rachael at Cherryade, who loved it. We rehearsed the song a few times in between our other new stuff, and it stuck enough for us to devote a lot of time honing it down. Sharon, slightly daunted by Tricia’s vocal and melodica performances, managed to pick the song up quickly enough and make it her own. The countermelody she sings to John’s lead at the climax is spine-tingling. James- whose abilities as a human drum machine are unsurpassed- managed to break the choruses up, giving it a more graceful feel. I alternated between trying a soft bass-line or leaving out the bass completely and sticking to extra drums and sleigh-bells, but really wanted to give the song a drone- I was thinking bagpipes and Mull of Kintrye. In the end, I was so desperate, I walked into a shop on Denmark Street and plonked down a hundred quid for one of the six remaining E-bows still for sale in the country, after about two minutes’ fiddling around with it. They told me it wouldn’t work on a bass. They were wrong, though it takes a lot of patience.

Come the day of the production, it was obvious this had to be big. We’d booked the whole day to do one song, contrary to our previous days where we’d do two complete songs, or lay down the basics for four songs to come back to later. Not this time- all the focus was on Diamond White Christmas.

After all the equipment was set up, introductions made (this was James’ first recording session with us, and he and Simon hadn’t met) the click track was aligned and James, with Martin and John on guitars set down the basic track. For six whole minutes, they played the song flawlessly and it was down in one take. It was slightly faster than the original, but still powerful. A great start.

John goes back in with his guitar and added some extra to the climax of the song. We’d agreed that the song needed to have a ‘Salvation Army’-style feel on the drums, which meant we’d have to put more than one drummer on the track. When we first discussed this, I mentioned we could get Andrew, Kerry and Dan back to play on the song, in the spirit of Christmas, but we decided that would work a bit better if we did that at a gig. Instead, John put down a military snare of his own from the second verse, and I doubled James’s part on the third verse with a slackened snare. Although John and James are far better drummers than me, the differing styles and competencies make it sound far more ‘real’.

The rest of the day was spent putting various things on top of the track to make it sound enormous- a Hammond organ, two basses (one drone using the e-bow, the other coming in after the first verse), the hook played on a vibraphone and Rhodes piano, more guitars, the inevitable sleigh bells and a choir. Yes, a choir.

Simon was the catalyst for the choir; instead of multi-tracked Sharon and John, he suggested it might sound better if we had different voices of varying abilities to make it sound like Midnight Mass in a small church, with the traditional churchgoers and the drunken revellers singing together. Simon, James and John took the middle part, beefing up Sharon’s heartbreaking refrain. Sharon and our friend Lizzie, who’d dropped by to say hello were assigned the top end, sounding like the most innocent child’s choir (one missed opportunity occurred when Launette from Strange Idols happened by the studio; alas we hadn’t got round to the vocals yet, so didn’t get the chance to have her to sing with us…). Martin and I were on the bottom end, adding extra depth. Listening to each of these parts in isolation may not have been awe-inspiring, but put together and mixed, it was beautiful.

We took two hours to mix, and after various tough decisions- choir upfront or mixed back? Where do the sleigh bells come in? - we arrived at 5:58 of sheer beauty, the best thing we’ve yet to put down. John spent an hour listening to non-stop, and sent the rest of us emails detailing his favourite parts (for my money, the greatest moment occurs at the climax, when the sleigh bells join the choir, shortly followed by the melodica refrain). Everyone that’s heard it thinks it’s wonderful. My Mum played it four times in a row and suggested a video for it.

You really should hear this song. It’s coming out on November 26th on Cherryade Records’ A Very Cherry Christmas.



The Gresham Flyers: Missing In Action?

I’ve got a CD in front of me- nothing very special to look at, just a standard Sony CD-R. The significance of it is probably lost on the majority of the global population, but to at least six people, it’s the final piece of a jigsaw that has been slowly put together over the last 13 months. With a couple of false starts, and plenty of drama, we can now confidently say that we have finished recording our debut album. The last two tracks we did were new versions of Shiftwork (titled Shiftwork2, in true New Order style) and Factory Records Museum, which we finished mixing last night. Despite being recorded with a slightly depleted lineup (see below), we can certainly say that both versions are a vast improvement on the previously recorded versions, even if the 7inch version of Shiftwork is already a classic (apparently)

All that remains is to decide on a track sequence, do a bit of sweetening- the odd new vocal or bass part here and there and then let the inhumanly talented hands of Mr. Simon Trought do what they need to do to make it sound like a coherent Proper Album. Nonetheless, the actual task of agreeing on an album title, and which track(s) should be left off may very well be the final nail in the Flyers coffin- we’ve all been putting sequences together of the 13 nominated tracks and we’re all very stubborn!

I realise that in the interim between this blog entry and the previous entry, four eventful months have elapsed. The actual machinations of the band have been at work as normal- we’ve paid two visits to the studio and put down a further six songs, and played out hat-trick of North London gigs, and kept up the rehearsals with a fervent zeal. But, underneath all of the successes, there’ve been changes afoot.

First though, to set the scene, the trio of late November north London gigs were about as active as we’ve ever been; we played all three in a fortnight to a mostly enthusiastic reception. The venues and billing increased as we went, from the opening band at Archway tavern, to a spectacular show at the Bull & Gate (undertaken after a full day’s recording) to a suitably ramshackle finale headlining the superb Mixtape night in Stoke Newington, complete with our own freebie CD called ‘The Gresham Flyers: Under The Influence’, which collected tracks chosen by us from other influential bands and an exclusive new Flyers song. We got to play with some excellent bands along the way, such as Opaque, Foxes!, and (especially) the highly entertaining Bonsai Kittens, and we did ourselves proud I’d say. Every silver lining has a cloud, though, and as you may have noticed, where we were once six, the departure of Kerry means we are currently five.

This unfortunate parting of ways with our newest member was certainly not what we expected or wanted, especially after such a successful year together. But, it has happened, and though she’s gone, Kerry has left a very definite stamp on our sound. It’s not been easy to replicate her superb drumming, and as you hear from the tracks we’ve put on our Myspace page, she’s made an invaluable musical contribution. Luckily for all of us, she played on just about every track on the album (apart from the two above- the drumming was done by Andrew and me), so we’ll have a very firm lineup throughout and a fantastic document of how we sounded throughout 2006, not to mention a fucking great album. Despite the split, Kerry’s also assured us that she’s happy to fill in if we need a drummer in the future, so there may be an opportunity to play with her again. I would hope so.

For now, however, we’ve added James to our ranks. Whilst things are still being ironed out in terms of whether James can balance being a full-time Flyer and continue to provide his drumming skills to his long-term band tELLEY, it’s a certainty that we’re all very glad to have landed on our feet with another excellent multitasking drummer, and one who fits in with us on a personal level. I first met James about four years ago when both of us were traveling around Australia. We ended up sharing a dorm in Sydney and a cleaning job that meant both of us could stay rent-free in the hostel, whilst spending the evenings in salubrious indie clubs in the King’s Cross area of the city. He stuck around after I went off up the coast, and we lost touch, despite his gift of the first Scaramanga Six album which he played drums on, and got repeated spins on my Antipodean road trip. A serendipitous chain of events last year, which involved finding a new copy of that album in my office, and both of us finding each other on myspace at exactly the same time meant that we’ve stayed in touch, to the point where James was the only serious consideration to fill the Kerry-shaped hole in our ranks. As above, it’s too early to say whether James can commit to the band full-time (he won’t be on the new album, but we’ll try and get a new EP recorded sometime this year which he will be on), hence his name’s missing from the band lineup or photos, but it’d certainly be a boon for us if he does decide to stay. Aside from his excellent drumming, he is a thoroughly decent bloke.

Which brings me neatly onto our future plans. It’s definitely all change round these parts as Andrew plans to revamp the website, the album gets put together and we look forward to some new gigs. We’ve got an exciting gig that we’ll be announcing in the next week, but for now, the band is still incomplete as Sharon recovers from her recent tonsillectomy and we’re currently rehearsing without her. Hopefully she’ll be back up to speed in no time and we can get ourselves back out there! In the meantime, if you feel you have a mild Flyer deficiency in your life, we’ve got an exclusive album taster on the new Tasty Fanzine compilation Tasty Tracks Volume 3. Find yourself at a Tasty Fanzine gig around Nottingham or Leeds, and blag yerselves one of these (lineup below)



Tasty Tracks Volume 3:

The Gresham Flyers - Suits
Days Like Postcards - Whispers and Raindrops
Pocketbooks - I'm Not Going Out
Lardpony - Who Loves Sol?
Postal Blue - For You
The Argyl Wishlist - Weatherwerk
Lorenzo Snow Collective - Three Drunken Brothers
The Solvents - John Lennon
Finlay - Phantasmagoria
Of Saints and Liars - Where Did Ya Go
The Loves - I My She Love You
Airport Girl - Hold Me Through the Night
Sodastream - Reservations
Spring Hill Fair - A New Road
Stagecoach - Giddy Up
Hemsted - Charkdisco
Moogle Charm - The Old Men
Frankie Machine - Gyproque (Plans & Apologies Frankie Panky Mix)