Nick’s Ramblings….

Heritage Soft tail on Route 66

Hi, it’s me, hope you’re all doing well.

It has been an awful long time since the last Ramblings so I thought I’d pop in to say hello. So much changes in the World which is a good thing as we strive to move towards…..er, well we don’t really know do we? We just strive!

There is so much stuff to ramble about I don’t know where to start.

As most of you know we usually take about 3 years between albums. You have to bear in mind that actually writing the music is only the tip of the iceberg, there are so many other things to do, organise the tour to go with a new album, and that is like organising 30 weddings believe me, everything from catering riders telling promoters that the drummer can’t eat things with cheese in but the lighting tech is a vegetarian who only eats things with cheese in! Making sure the tour bus trailer is measured and big enough to hold all the equipment. Writing lyrics, recording, rehearsing ..finding new drummers [well, until we found Vinnie!] Yup there is a lot in it. Sometimes though, it isn’t 3 years between albums and that is because this awkward thing called “life” gets in the way.  Sometimes when people write to us I honestly think they believe the Pendragon members all live in the one same big house and are hard at work day and night concocting swathes of music and they can just pop downstairs to the studio to rehearse and record. If only……

It takes weeks and thousands of pounds to organise just getting us all in the same room together to rehearse, Peter’s got his day job,  Clive doesn’t drive, Vinnie does drive but hasn’t got a car, Verity and Zoe live in Timbucktoo….so they tell me.

Sometimes making an album takes 5 years. There is no great conspiracy, no sitting around doing nothing, no attempt to go into acting, no band musical differences.  Sometimes it just takes 5 years.

Me & my Dad camping

Me & my Dad camping 2009

Last year my Dad died, this happened exactly 3 weeks after my girlfriend Wilcey’s Mum died, and I do mean exactly. Wilcey’s mum went at 2.10pm and my Dad went 3 weeks later at precisely the same time. It was part of the universal laws, I believe this stuff!

Me and my Dad had been pretty close for a long time, not so much in my late teens and early twenties but later on we often sat up till 3am drinking whiskey putting the world to rights. He was in the army and was technical director of Unicold Walls, which was all about frozen food, he invented the machine to freeze peas, next time you see a frozen pea you will see a small hole in it, my Dad invented the process to enable freezing them. I don’t think he ever quite got the rock music/band thing, but loved it when I played Schindler’s List on the piano. I can’t say my Dad dying stopped me writing music as such but it refocused me for a while, I spent a lot of time thinking about the world and people and wondering how I could move forward as an individual, these times I think are essential for us all to evaluate who we are. So after the Masquerade 20  tour which was only weeks after my Dad died I went up to Orkney and just parked up on the beach and had campfires and walked along the windblown beach just gazing out to sea with the oyster catchers and the arctic terns around . Buddhists call it mindfulness, these are the times where we spiritually progress if we want to.

Orkney

Orkney

I was with my Dad when he went, he was ready. He used to be really active with walking, camping, swimming and he was unable to do any of these in the last few years. I absolutely believe in life after death and that this world is just a small part of the journey we take, so I feel my Dad was fine. After he’d gone for a few weeks there was a whirlwind of energy around that I believed was him.

Sunset at the new gaff!

Sunset at the new gaff!

I also moved to Cornwall. I’ve wanted to live near the sea for years but we figured it would be better to wait till the kids had left school and got their own lives underway. So a massive upheaval from Swindon, all the music gear, motorbikes, surfing. camping gear and  thousands of cds, it was a mammoth task but now I can see nothing but the sea and green rolling hills, instead of bad tempered, territorial neighbours and having to put up with noisy trains and roads. The peace in Cornwall is sublime. We’ve even got sheep and cows literally the other side of my garden fence.

Cows at the bottom of the garden.

Cows at the bottom of the garden.

Bliss!…and very inspiring to be creative.

Inspiring garden views.

Inspiring garden views.

I wouldn’t say the house needs renovating but there is a lot of work to do on it, it needed a new boiler….the cold baths were just getting too much! So we’ll be doing as fair bit of work on the place over the next few years.

Some people have written to me saying I should stop surfing and camping and get on with a new album. What they don’t realise is this – music isn’t there to be demanded on tap when you feel like having it, it is a thing that transcends time frames and deadlines…it’s ready when it’s ready, that’s the way I’ve always done it.  It is because I go surfing and on my motorbike that I make music in the first place, because these are the sorts of things that inspire me as a person, I get my energy from them and then write about it, not specifically biking and surfing but the inspiration these things bring, for example all of Men Who Climb Mountains was about being in the moment, the energy that mountaineers and explorers feel, what they find out about themselves,  it’s about feeling alive! I sometimes had this fear of going off the top of a big wave, well big for me, sometimes it’s frightening as you paddle for it, then as soon as you are on your feet a totally different mentality sets in, survival, the warrior in you explodes into action and you are no longer frightened. So many people have this in so many walks of life, how do you conquer your fear? When you do, you feel alive more than ever. This is what I wrote about in Mountains.  This is what I write about, my experiences influence the lyrics. This is not what everyone does, other people do it another way, but this is my way, we’re all different and that’s the way it should be.

I don’t produce music to please people, I produce it to please me and within that I hope others will want to share in it. Some people suggested I should get on with another album because it’s not fair to keep the fans waiting this long.  Making an album is like making a big cake. when the cake is made you invite everybody to share it, but some people want more, they feel entitled to it as if it were owed to them.  I wasn’t aware that I owed anything to anybody, [apart from making the best music I possibly can] believe me , the moment you feel like you own part of somebody something is wrong. I try to explain to people that making music is an individual experience, some will say if this band or that band can do it, why can’t you? And I’ll tell them…because our experiences are different, I am not them and they are not me, difference, that’s what makes the world go round! We all do things differently!

I write from my experiences and from the heart, I need to feel things to write about them, so I need my adventures and quirks to put them down on paper….isn’t this partly what people listen to us for? Other people write about fantasy stuff and other things…..fine, maybe they don’t have to go out and experience a feeling to write about it.

So, yes I am writing a new album it will be called Love Over Fear , it has been inspired by many things [while I’ve been surfing huh huh…] but one of these was stuff like Brexit. I was pretty shocked at the amount of aggression and anger towards each other after this, people in the same families at each other’s throats, it was very disappointing to see that we couldn’t accept that EVERYONE is entitled to an opinion and beating them over the head with our own is not going to suddenly make them see the light! Some of the lyrics in the new album were going to be more political, and some of them are a bit, but I don’t want to make a heavy weight table thumping album, I want to make something that I hope people will find uplifting and beautiful, so that is where I’m going with the concept, music and lyrics. …[at the moment!], so they can escape the world weariness of stuff like Brexit debates for a few minutes.

Piano with a Seaview

Piano with a Seaview

New Songs/New album

So, even though I’ve been bobbing around in the sea, riding across America, or gazing at the stars, I have actually written quite a lot of music. A lot of it has been written on acoustic guitar and piano, which means the songs will be strong as they are not reliant on layers of ‘production’ to prop them up. I’m going for a lot of atmosphere and retro sounds, it’s a bit back to basics in a way. I’ve found a lot of music today is produced to such an extent it has lost a lot of personality, if you listen albums from the 70’s where they were recorded on analogue tape, used valve compressors or old Neve mixing desks and such like, there was a warmth and an individuality to every album, I’d love to try and get this on the new album, so I might use the old Korg 01W keyboard [which was used a lot of The Masquerade], Mellotron and some amazing retro type reverbs. Hopefully the new album will be more about the vibe, atmosphere and melodies than an over sanitised production.

I’m thinking of starting the album with a guitar looper, where I just build guitar sounds to create an atmospheric backdrop, then I have a great riff that comes in. I’m loathe to describe songs by talking about comparisons but there really is no other way to describe “music”. I suppose if you had to describe it, the riff would be the same kind of effect as Shine On You Crazy Diamond ……Dow Dow Dow Dow, you know…that one. But obviously sounds nothing like it, just that type of effect.  It all builds to a solo acoustic guitar rhythm then it will either get heavier and a bit wild or into something with a triple harmony guitar lead guitar melody and Pat Methenyesque rhythm….not quite sure where this one is going yet.

Then there is Starfish In The Moon, the Big guitar riff at the intro of the album returns and has this magical light feel with a jazzy piano, fretless bass and jazzy drums, nearly all these ideas are in my head by the way, I can see in my head how they will come together but it’s dead hard to explain…like trying to describe the colour blue! Starfish In The Moon has old school chords and follows the same kind of pattern as Paintbox or Man Of Nomadic Traits, with a big melodic guitar solo in the middle. Melody is the name of the game on this song and it just oozes tunes.

Next song…phew dunno if the songs will come in this order but so far Song 3 starts with acoustic guitar picking that goes into very strong chorus and I’d like to feature Verity with some opera type vocals or I might save that for another track…..geez, so many choices, possibilities! Most of these songs don’t have names yet, so…..song number 4, has a feel like the uptempo part of Nostradamus, a great live track, starts with Ukelele and goes into a thumping Pogues type anthem, I think this one is going to be called 360 Degrees. I would also like to see if I can get Zoe to do a bit of fiddle on it, and get Peter to do one one his stomp special bass lines.

The next one will probably be the epic of the album, it just developed more and more and I kept sticking new bits on it, again extremely melodic with some great vocal melodies and hopefully some great keyboard tunes.

I have a couple of piano songs that I’d like to add to the album, one was going to be called Whirlwind which is about my Dad, and other one is a slow piano version of the triple harmony guitar lead guitar melody I was talking about at the beginning.

I think the last song on the album will be a tune that’s  reworked from a part of The Shadow at 3.07, it sounds nothing like it but it uses the same guitar technique, again very melodic.

Of course this lot could all get turned upside down and we’ll make a Country album but at least this gives you some kind of insight into what I’ve got planned. Also for artwork I saw some beautiful pictures from an artist from Cornwall in a shop in Boscastle which I had to buy. I’m going to contact her to see if she can do the new album cover for us, I think this will be a very fitting way to present the new songs, with the emphasis on something with lots of detail and a very powerful atmosphere. I want to make an album that might be called a late night album, one you can lose yourself in and one that conjures up a great deal of escapism. Let’s see……..

Upcoming gigs

I’m really excited about the gigs we’ve got coming up, going to Japan is a real landmark and returning to Canada is very exciting. I also can’t wait to get back in the tour bus for our short jaunt to France Chez Paulette, Germany Das Rind and Zentrum Altenberg, Holland Boerderij and London 229. These are some of my favourite places to play and the tour bus is a magical existence, there’s something about putting the world to rights with yer buddies in the back lounge of the bus with a Jack Daniels and coke whiles trawling over a moonlit Alps at 2am in the morning! I still love playing live. For these shows, which we’re calling the Masquerade 20 +1, we’re doing most of The Masquerade stuff and similar set list as MO20 as with the house move, everyone else’s projects and everything it was impossible to vary the set list much. That being said we plan to play some stuff from Not Of This World as that album was neglected on the MO 20 tour.

Twig in Verona

Twig in Verona

A book

I’ve finally got round to start penning a book. Not just a book about Pendragon, but a book about all sorts of stuff that’s just been swirling around in my head for the last 50 years. There will probably be some pretty revealing and at times very funny things about past band members which you will definitely find entertaining and surprising. There will also be other stuff like how much I hate middle lane hoggers on the motorway, and a bunch of my “way out there” political and philosophical theories. I have no timeframe for this book whatsoever, it’s a bit like an album, it’s ready when it’s ready, it will probably be a few years off yet tho.

Masquerade 20 DVD

Making this dvd was a bit of a struggle, I’m sure I am getting more fussy as I get older. We spent forever on some aspects of it because I was convinced it was out of sync in certain places and I wouldn’t let it go. I felt there was an amount of budget cutting going on when I received the final footage, some of the lighting looked a bit unexciting and there were fewer cameras, like the camera on a stick was missing. This camera featured in a lot of the last dvds.

Me and Karl spent ages on the mix getting it good, and I was surprised at how good it ended up sounding, I was very worried on the night as I had the beginning of what turned out to be a really nasty cold which affected my throat big time on this dvd, as it turned out it gave me a Phyllis from Coronation Street tinge, nice, low and growly.

The other thing that made this a pain in the ass was the recording team forgot to record the audience, which makes the sound really dry and can completely lose the atmosphere,  But Karl managed to find out that one……just one of the cameras happened to have its audio mic on which was mono and felt like the musical equivalent of Apollo 13 getting back to earth on a torch battery. However when we put the faders up , it just sounded amazing! We got lucky, it could have been a disaster. The thing I really like about this DVD is the togetherness of the band, the vibe between the musicians. It really comes over that we have been together a long time and that makes it for me.

Route 66

A mate of mine, Mark, who got divorced and had nowhere to live some years ago turned up with some bags and asked if he could stay for a couple of weeks…..two years later……he was still there. It was him that got me back into motorbikes and we used to stay up late talking about how great it would be to take a couple of Harley’s across America, and bitching about our evil ex wives! Well, in May this year we went to the US and did Route 66, it was unbelievable, I love America, the scenery in places like New Mexico is stunning, the people are great even if  some of them  struggle with our insanely over the top English sarcasm and silly sense of humour.

Some of the food, especially stuff like bbq ribs were out of this world. Meatloaf and all the food in fact at at Del’s Restaurant in New Mexico was amazing. Of course the ribs were not as good as Wilcey ribs which is what Max and I have after a day’s a mountain biking in the Forest Of Dean, topping it off with Wilcey sticky toffee ginger pudding,  Rekorderlig cider and Z Nation on Netflix…bliss!

I don’t often ask men to come into the toilet and take pictures of me , but I had to ask Mark to get a snap of this classic barely fit yer ass in cubicle in a diner in Missouri!

America's smallest loo!

America’s smallest loo!

And for the bike fanatics…….

Easy Rider Chopper

Easy Rider Chopper

A replica of the Captain America chopper from the film Easy Rider

The Harley Fatboy…didn’t want to go round corners and was like wrestling a bear over 75mph! It broke down on day 5, so I got the Heritage Softail for the rest of the trip, very nice bike for long journeys.

Harley Fatboy

Harley Fatboy

Heritage Soft tail on Route 66

Heritage Softail on Route 66

So, there is all the news, some gigs, a new album, just done a dvd…still keeping the flag flying….. look forward to seeing you all on tour!

lots of love

Nick B