Album sleevenotes matter to both of us. It’s a music nerd thing admittedly, but they put the songs in context and flesh out the bones. Sadly, they seem to have been forgotten in many releases in the digital age, but we were determined to find space for them somewhere.
We wrote two versions of the lyrics of Birkenhead before using one of the more upbeat verses from each version. Verses about Wilfred Owen and the trams have disappeared into obscurity.
The idea for Hardest Working Man was triggered by the title of a biography of James Brown sitting on my bookshelf. Just what the Godfather of Soul would have made of this sorry tale, we can only guess. Imagine him strutting across a stage in all his finery screeching “knew every port and shipping line“.
Cover Our Tracks was hastily written in response to the revelations that followed the Grenfell fire tragedy. There is no more powerful medium for expressing anger and frustration than a song.
We Were Soldiers is one of two songs that John composed a few years ago recounting old family stories. It’s the tale of his great-grandfather who took himself off to the front in the First World War under the ruse of stepping out to buy cigarettes. Fortunately, he did eventually return.
How Short The Time brings a country feel to the album – check shirts and bootlace ties were the order of the day in the studio when we recorded it. It is also one of the songs on silent shores with an autobiographical thread running through it. Sometimes life can be very unpredictable.
It’s hard to know where to begin with Nobility of Rain. That the most complex song on the album should have sprung from a random track title generator seems a bit ironic. In a nutshell, it’s a song about rainfall; yet somehow it grew into so much more than that. When we played the acoustic version to producer Jon in the studio, his instant response was to throw the proverbial kitchen sink at it.
Another song to take two attempts to write was the title track, Silent Shores. Love songs can go one of two ways: you can get them right, or you can fail miserably – there is no middle ground. We’d like to think that we got away with this one. The first draft will remain locked away forever.
Our first collaboration, No Place I Call My Home, is about existence and the passage of time – solitary doesn’t necessarily mean lonely. These themes are echoed in Reflections Unseen, our 2-minute ukulele song about an ageing heron. It sounds like a song from another age.
Sit It Out (like Nobility of Rain and No Place I Call My Home) started off life as a poem. Stormy Thursday, as it was called, was written at my desk watching Storm Doris cause havoc in the park behind the house. The chat in the studio came round to Roy Orbison the day we recorded it, and as the session progressed, the song took on a more distinctive 60s pop feel.
Storyteller is the second of John’s songs about the people and places in his family’s past. It’s a whirlwind of anecdotes, strung together neatly by the only banjo on the album. Who was Jimmy Johnson, and just how good a dancer was he? I guess we’ll never know.
Finally, Truthsayer evolved from the second song we collaborated on, The Truth. I’ll be honest, as much as I liked the structure and melody of The Truth, it was just a little too preachy and worthy for my liking. I would have been quite happy to cast it adrift, but for a chance comment by John at the traffic lights beside Central Library. His suggestion that we rewrite the lyrics to sing about a whistle-blower instead changed the destiny of the song … and its title.
A massive thanks goes to everyone who has helped us with the album and encouraged us along the way, not least of all to Cathy and Louise. And also to Jon Lawton at Crosstown Studios, a man of limitless talent, ideas and patience. Great times!