OLD MAN IN A HURRY PAUSES TO SCRATCH HIS HEAD

03/01/2022

‘Never complain, never explain’, they say. I honestly don’t have much to complain about, but I do like explaining things, particularly my own work. However, when it comes to ‘Old Man In A Hurry’, my pedagogic instincts remain, pretty much, thwarted, as I can’t explain a lot of it.

After rushing to get ‘Old Man In A Hurry’ into peoples’ Christmas stockings, and with the initial dust starting to settle, I was able to take a more relaxed look at the thing, and I have to say that it seems to be a decidedly mysterious album. It definitely works for me, and I am extremely happy with the result, but there is much more ambiguity on display than is usual with my stuff.

’Oh, I Know’ is very odd. The singer appears to embody various characters who are either doing or planning various hostile and unpleasant things, and he defiantly protests his lack of remorse to some partner who seems to be, equally defiantly, reluctant to engage with anything. But what all this is actually about is anybody’s guess.

‘Four Pails’ has always been an ambiguous song. In its original incarnation, it was one of the few serious moments in a comic stage musical, ‘The Ascent of Wilberforce III’, and marked the point in the show where one character experiences the first cracks in his severely materialistic view of life. Nonetheless, the song has been seen as a persuasive statement of precisely that materialist world-view. Ambivalence or what?

The lyrics of ‘Coo-ee’ are decidedly strange. Who are these disembodied voices teasing the narrator? And what does he see when they finally reveal themselves? Don’t ask me; I honestly don’t know. Maybe they are the Eumenides, the Furies, or maybe they are Ancestors, or Ghosties, or Fairies. But whoever they are, Dorie Jackson embodies them perfectly.

And what on earth is ‘Mad Daggers’ all about? The words of this ‘song’ have been with me for a long time, but without ever giving me much idea of what they were trying to convey. It seems to take place in some sort of anachronistic time-warp where we find a regimental punk rock band as part of the forces defending a British Imperial outpost, far away and long ago. I felt sure that this imaginary band, ‘Mad Daggers’, would be very fast and loud, and an answer to the problem of creating the right musical treatment was conveniently at hand. I do like a bit of extreme Metal, and Steven Hargraves, Webmaster of http://www.judge-smith.com and graphic designer of the CD, is an accomplished exponent of this highly specialized form of musical mayhem. But why does the recitation sound as if it’s taken from a 1940’s 78rpm gramophone record?

A couple of tracks include an attempted suicide and people drowning, while ‘Neither Here Nor There’ was inspired by repeated visits to a care home to visit an elderly friend, where I heard these exact end-of-life images and narratives.

Question marks hover over elements of the music as well. The title track, ’Old Man In A Hurry’, links a rhythmically curious brass riff with what sounds like a blatant cultural appropriation of Burundi tribal drumming. In fact, it’s a standard Boogie rhythm (or, as the Americans have it, a ‘Shuffle’) played with the sounds of a pair of big Japanese Taiko Drums. These two musical elements have been inseparably linked in my mind for years, why I do not know, long before a place for them on this album became apparent.

Several tracks feature the sound of a Theremin, an early electronic instrument, which I use to double and reinforce parts of the vocal line, a technique I find very useful, particularly with my peculiar vocal melodies. It worked well in this role, but however useful it has proved musically, the Theremin, familiar to us from every cheesy old science fiction movie, is, inescapably, weirdness and strangeness in a box.

However, the point I would like to make is that at no point in the process of making the album did I deliberately insert any confusing or ambiguous elements. As always, I tried to present my material as clearly and pleasingly as possible. These mysterious lyrics and incongruous musical juxtapositions were simply already there in the songs themselves. And these songs seem to have been stacking-up over the years, waiting for the opportunity to present themselves in all their lovely lack of rationale.

Having name-checked Steven Hargraves and Dorie Jackson, I must obviously also acknowledge the amazingly important contributions to the album by Dorie’s Dad, David Jackson, and John Ellis, both serial collaborators on past CDs of mine, and by Cellist Helen Lunt, and Pianist Robert Pettigrew. None of their musical skills and creativity, as featured on these tracks, is in the least bit ambiguous, it’s all lucid and beautifully done. Thank you.