mccluskey/humphreys

lennox/stewart

2013

“We are living in a karaoke world, a world without a point of view. Karaoke is mouthing the words to other people's songs, singing someone else's lyrics. Karaoke is an amateur performance of other people's ideas. It is a virtual replay of something that has happened before: life by proxy - liberated by hindsight, unencumbered by the messy process of creativity and free from any real responsibility beyond the actual performance.”


These are the wise words of Malcolm McLaren. So what is the legacy of this pop music tradition that made Britain so great? A talent show on telly? Oh please let it not succumb to this.


There is another side to this whole business of making covers of other people’s songs.

  1. -Cheer admiration for the work of our greatest music heroes?

  2. -Yes, perhaps.

  3. -A sycophantic and subversive groveling, trying to suck up to the top liners kind of thing?

  4. -Yes, that too I suppose. But most of all to me, the making of the Mimicry album was an educational exercise.


Mimicry - Autumn 2013

I started to compile a list of songs that I wanted to make a cover of back in 2006. The songs have changed over the years but some of my favourite artists have had a permanent place on the list. It’s not just ten of my absolute favourite songs I have here. I really love Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush, Send In The Clowns by Stephen Sondheim or Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth by Sparks but those songs are way above my level. They are songs that exceed my vocal range and they have an emotional vibe that I can’t reproduce. No, I had to do songs that were feasible for me and that I could sing convincingly enough. But actually the songs were selected more by instinct than design.


Work began by searching the internet for MIDI-files. Well, I do choose the path of least resistance if it’s offered to me and a MIDI-file is great for starters. The melody line and the chords are there. Four out of the ten songs had a MIDI-file floating around the internet and two of the songs had a guitar chord tablature. With three songs I had to use my sense of pitch to hammer out the chords and melody. Two worked fine but it all fell flat on it’s face when I was doing Tomorrow’s Just Another Day by Madness. This simply was a too complicated arrangement to decipher, so I had to buy the musical notation. I hadn’t read notation since my teen ages but I was determined to do it and somehow it actually pulled through.


- Hang on Martin, four plus two plus three adds up to nine, doesn’t it?

  1. -Yes but one song is a collaboration with Jon Russell aka Jonteknik and on that song I only provided the vocals and electric guitar.


From the technical point of view, the idea was to bring back the samplers and digital synths from the early and mid 80’s. Machines that were too expensive at that time. Too expensive for me at least and in the 90’s they were considered obsolete. Not only that but the condition of those machines were also very poor. I had an unfortunate experience with an Emulator II back in 1993-1994 that simply was not mendable so I had to sell it to a collector mainly as a display unit. The hunt for new sonic adventures during the 90’s had made everyone turn their interest towards the analogue synths again. Now could the prefabricated sounds of the digital 80´s bring a smile of recognition to todays listeners or are the sounds simply a sullen reminder of a sad moment in pop music history? Could there be a penalty for the ones who make this kind of yesteryears synth-pop? I suppose our loneliness is punishment enough.


  1. -But Martin don’t tell us that you actually bought the crappy old 8-bit samplers just for this occasion?

  2. -No of course I didn’t!


The beauty of plug-ins are that now you can have all those old machines in your modern Apple Mac computer. A french company called UVI Sounds & Software have a very unique approach to this and have made a lot of retro sounds available for us to enjoy. The ones I’ve been using for the Mimicry album are reproductions of E-mu Systems Emulator and Emulator II, Fairlight CMI IIx and the NED Synclavier. Waldorf Music in Germany have made the metallic brute, the PPG Wave as a plug-in version and with the Arturia V-Collection came the sophisticated icy queen of frosty sounds, the Prophet VS


So did I manage to put something new, creative and personal into my versions of these songs? I leave it to the individual listener to be the arbiter of taste in that matter but if I succeeded then the title Mimicry is of course ironic.


Here Is The News

Music and Lyrics: Jeff Lynne

Now, The Electric Light Orchestra or ELO is a wonderful 70’s glam-rock band. The ever so brilliant composer and arranger Jeff Lynne has made some of the catchiest songs of that era and always with an ability to come up with a new sound for every record ELO made. The song Here Is The News is from their 1980 album Time. It’s a conceptual album and the heavy use of synthesizers and sequencers makes it sound futuristic. ELO used the term astro-rock and it’s not that misleading. My version is a little snappier and more synth-popish. The bell sounds that plays the melody line comes from both the Emulator II and the Prophet VS and are played in different octaves to create a Kraftwerk Electric Café sort of feeling. I did quite a lot of vocal harmonies during the chorus parts and yes it’s the Bell Labs Voder that opens the song with ”Greetings everybody”. 


The Man Who Sold The World

Music and Lyrics: David Bowie

”A man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?” - Robert Browning. Yes, make a Bowie cover and you’re up against some stiff competition. This one in particular has become a favourite among goth rock bands, grunge (following Nirvana) and even on talent shows. Bowie is also the major hero for the first wave of synth-pop bands emerging in the late 70’s but there hasn’t been an electronic version of the song so I thought I should give it a go. My version is a down tempo, funky, poly-rhythmic little thing. 


Tomorrow’s Just Another Day

Music: Mike Barson Lyrics: Carl Smyth

”Pop's quintessential Cockney mucker ” as NME wrote about Suggs but Cor Blimey! I had imagined that national treasure Suggs of Madness was London to the core. In fact he’s born in Hastings. The lesson in cockney rhyming slang that my version of the song begins with is more done in the spirit of things rather than thinking about any geographical restrictions. The chord progression really eluded me and it wasn’t until I’ve bought the musical notation that I actually understood the cleverness of the song. I made a shuffle beat version with quite a lot of dance elements in it and perhaps you'll find yourself doin' the Lambeth walk. Oi!


The Set Up

Music: Rupert Hine Lyrics: Jeannette Obstoj

I was about eighteen when I discovered Rupert Hine’s fantastic trilogy Immunity, Waving Not Drowning and The Wildest Wish To Fly. To me those three albums became the manual of how to make interesting synth-pop arrangements. It was avant-garde but never self indulgent. Still catchy and poppy but never disposable. Mr Hine steered his musical ship in a very precise direction and I’m still very happy to surf in his wake.


Twist In My Sobriety

Music and Lyrics: Tanita Tikaram

In 1989 we received a satellite dish at home and suddenly the opportunity to watch music videos all day was presented to me as a seventeen year old. What could be ”whatter”? The eighties that began with post-punk/new wave, peaked with shoulder pads, hair spray and colour saturated videos had completely changed it’s mood by now. The video for Twist In My Sobriety was something quite different. It was an all sepia toned short movie that hardly featured the artist. My version is a try at arranging with the orchestral sounds from the Synclavier library. Woodwinds, brass, flutes and strings. Bowed and pizzicato ones. Too much sample based pizzicato can end up in an Orinoco Flow, so I had to tread carefully with this one.


Young Offender

Music and Lyrics: Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe

The immaculate Pet Shop Boys. The biggest and most influential electronic pop band ever? They surely have a lot of followers anyhow. The song Young Offender is from the 1993 Very album and this was during the Hi-Energy period. My version brings it down in tempo and is a bit more relaxed. Actually more like a The Beloved track, if you don’t mind.


In Every Dream Home A Heartache

Music and Lyrics: Bryan Ferry

Ah, Roxy Music a lovely 70’s glam-rock band that thanks to Brian Eno introduced the synthesizer to the British at Top Of The Pops in ca 1972. The song is a very dark and sinister one with a melancholic oriented chord progression. The clever lyrics from Bryan Ferry is at least according to himself about ”the emptiness of opulence and a love song to an inflatable doll”. My version takes full advantage of the mid 80’s digital synths and samplers.


Tomorrow Never Knows

Music and Lyrics: John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Another of Ringo’s famous malapropisms or Ringoisms as John and Paul used to call it. Not the most air played of songs from the Beatles but certainly a very influential one among musicians. The Chemical Brothers based their Setting Sun on this and it has also been covered by numerous artists. Although I haven’t heard an electronic version of it. Well, one small step for man, one giant leap for Yoko Ono.


Almost

Music and Lyrics: Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys

On the list that I compiled some eight years ago for a potential covers project, there was an obscure song from OMD’s first album. I was really happy when Jon Russell asked me if I wanted to join him in doing this song. I contributed with the vocals and some guitar playing and Jon did the rest of the arrangement. It’s also mixed by Jon at his Jonteknik Studio in Shoreham-by-Sea. Both Paul and Andy of OMD have heard our version and gave it their approval. By chance Mr Vince Clarke of Erasure also heard our version and made a comment to Jon about it: ”Quite good...very PSB”. I was levitating for days when I heard this.


The Walk

Music and Lyrics: Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart

The Sweet Dreams album is in many ways the epitome of early 80’s synth-pop from the UK. Annie and Dave made quite a dent in me with their powerful songs, brilliant synth-arrangements and eccentric image. They are also to be held responsible for all of this since Eurythmics was the band that med me buy a synthesizer in the first place.


The telephone filtered bonus track is a number I picked up from an IBM 704 computer at Bell Labs’ and is also famous for being a song computers like to sing during malfunctioning and deactivation.


In Every Dream Home A Heartache - Video

Retrospective futurism or futuristic retro? Er...uh...I’ll let you decide. Anyhow the location is a disused water tower that has been converted into a luxury flat. I rented the penthouse for one night since I thought it suited this Roxy Music cover. ´The emptiness of opulence´ as Bryan Ferry himself describes the lyrics. Yes, it’s me popping up on the screen of the old Apple Mac and actually a computer isn’t that much of a TV now is it?


The Mimicry illustration made by Nils-Petter Ekwall is inspired by the graphic illustration that Bell Labs used for presenting the Voder at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Mr Ekwall has of course taken his personal view of this and added some features that would remind us of a certain person with a bowler hat.

tikaram

hine/obstoj

lennon/mccartney

lynne

mimicry

 

Mimicry music

For online streaming through:



Mimicry video

In Every Dream Home A Heartache















Mimicry lyrics

Here Is The News.pdf

The Man Who Sold The World.pdf

Tomorrow's Just Another Day.pdf

The Set Up.pdf

Twist In My Sobriety.pdf

Young Offender.pdf

In Every Dream Home A Heartache.pdf

Tomorrow Never Knows.pdf

Almost.pdf

The Walk.pdf


Public Service

Mimicry Preview.mp3


Gallery

Artwork: Nils-Petter Ekwall

Photos: Martin Philip

 

smyth/barson

ferry

tennant/lowe

bowie