It was about this time last year that I started writing songs again. The flood of news that began last summer and hasn’t let up since had, at first, a demoralising effect, and then, quite suddenly, a galvanising one, reminding me that one way to counter negativity is to be creative.
Earlier this year I started recording demos; now here I am – three quarters of the way through what is turning out to be an actual album. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing when I started, but here it is.
And what a glorious counter it is to the continuing chaos and despair, and the news, news, news . . . inescapable. I keep thinking how lucky I am to have this option, an outlet for some of the feelings. There’s darkness all around, but music feels like light, and I’m loving singing again. In the five years since my last album, I think my voice has got deeper and faintly grittier, and I wonder whether that’s just age or something post-menopausal.
Best of all is singing the harmonies and backing vocals, double tracking with myself, answering the lead vocal. I think I would have liked to have been one of The Pips.
But it’s also the camaraderie of recording, the escape from the solitude of writing. Much of the time I’m at producer Ewan Pearson’s home studio in Walthamstow, and together we’re coming up with guitar lines and synth parts, stretching ourselves to the limits of our collective abilities. There’s a DIY element to the process. Recording a vocal one day, we find we’re getting too much of the sound of the room, so we construct a little make-shift vocal booth by dragging two bookcases upstairs then draping a bedspread over them.
On election day we head to the studio that Ewan shares with Andrew Weatherall in Seven Sisters. Andrew is there, and what a lovely man he is, full of stories and jokes. He gets me to sign his vinyl copy of Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, and says he was only listening to it the other day and it still made him cry. We spend the day putting a vocoder part on a disco song and briefly forget all about the election and remember fun instead.
Other days we’re in the Strongroom in Shoreditch, surrounded by beards and coffee, and I’m recording a song called “Queen” when someone hands me a mug with “Queen of Shoreditch” written on it, like a good omen. And on yet another day we’re in the posh RAK studios, and you know it’s posh because there are plates of biscuits everywhere.
By now the record is taking shape and starting to develop a personality, which is quite synth-pop, and a mood, which is quite “up”. When I worked with Ewan a few years ago, we had a song that we described as “The Carpenters On Acid”; this time there is one we are calling “Shoegaze Phil Collins”, but those labels are for our own amusement more than anything else.
Pretty soon the logistics of actually releasing it will have to take over: coming to an agreement with the label and deciding on promotion; thinking of a title; having publicity photos taken and photos for the cover. I’m thinking about artwork, and about videos, and that sets me wondering – do people even make videos nowadays? I’ve been doing this thing so long, and yet it’s changed so much that I’m not sure it’s even the same thing any more.
But on the day Stella from Warpaint comes in to play drums, and then is joined for one particular song by Jenny Lee on bass and Jono from Jagwar Ma on guitar, the groove they get going is so hypnotic and euphoric that we record a full 11 minutes, even though the song is only four minutes long, and we’re all dancing in the control room, and I don’t want the song to end, or the day to end.
In fact, I realise, I don’t actually want to finish making this record. A quote from my student days comes back to me, from Troilus and Cressida: “Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.” That’s it entirely. I hope you like it, sure, but there’s nothing much I want to win or achieve or prove. It’s the making of it that I enjoy. I wish it could go on for ever.
This article appears in the 05 Jul 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Corbyn mania