Some of the music in this project may be familiar to those who have been subjected to my playing. I have gone back as far as the farm to my earliest compositions. You may have heard me play some of these when putting the kids to bed or when I retreated to some secluded nook to get a fix of playing. I did this project for me but I also because I want to share this part of me with the people most important in my life, my family. It is an honour to be your brother or son. I don't even have to be more specific than that. My beautiful, strong, intelligent sisters, my capable, loyal, strapping brothers, my spectacular parents no one has ever had a better family. As many of the old songs did not make it to this project there may be a volume 2 of history at some point in the future.
Every Minute (click on arrow for detail)Solo accoustic guitar
This song was composed (if it is not too pretentious to call what I do composition) as a lullaby for the kids when they were young. I wanted it to be sweet and interesting. Being a father is not a part time job. When I held Tullya, MacLeod and Beowulf for the first time I knew they would be with me every minute for the rest of my life. To me the song is both melancholy and joyful the parts representing the pain of separation and the joy of being with them. While this may not have been intentional in the composition it is how I feel when I play it. For a part of every day of their childhood I had to endure the separation when I went to work. I know I was privileged to have a business on the floor below them but sometimes hearing their little feet as they ran across the old bouncy upstairs floor on Rue Charon made me sad I was not there and other times made me feel overjoyed by their very existence.
Alan Malcolm Blues (click on arrow for detail)Electric Guitar, Bass and Vocals. Lyrics
Those close to me may not be surprised when I say I have struggled with acute anxiety large part of my adult life. I would play this on the rare occasion I got to plug in an electric guitar and sometimes on my acoustic. It represents a day in my life when the anxiety gets really bad as it did(does) from time to time. The words are new. I would never have uttered them when the children were young I could not admit it even to myself, I had obligations to fill. I did feel it when I played though. The final word's "Alan Malcolm" I hear in mom's voice, it was what she called me lovingly but admonishingly when I was being unreasonable as a child.(Parental Advisory: Use of strong language.)
Teprine (click on arrow for detail)Acoustic guitar and Bass
The first songs I composed were for the first batch of nieces. I would play for them when putting them to bed when babysitting. I don't remember them all (in fact only a few). Terpine was composed for a vibrant energetic kid who just made me happy. The song is energetic, chaotic and I must admit the playing is a little out of my control. So anyone that knows Tep would probably agree that at least catches her pretty well. I wanted to use spoons and crashing pots and pans for percussion as I have memories of Teprine and Bianca marching around Timberlea Trail bashing pots (with Courtney and Devin following like ducklings) but I don't seem to be able to get that right (who knows maybe I'll do a remix). I used to sing it to her but over the years lost memory of the lyrics.
Five Fruit Jam (click on arrow for detail)Electric Guitar, Bass and Alarm Clock
You have never heard me play this. It is derived from my enjoyment of screwing around on the pentatonic scales and a song I played with Chantal when I was teaching her to play guitar before a painting accident deprived me of my side(wo)man. The structure of the song is set by the bass. I would have Chantal practice two chords over and over and would noodle on a pentatonic scale. It was both fun for me as I could just daydream and let the guitar sing, fun for Chantal as she got to gain proficiency while participating in making music but not so fun I fear for anyone that happened to be around as we would go on. For this reason I limited the song to five minutes end it with the alarm ringing and the words "Wake up Alan" to end my daydreaming. I probably would be happy to make a 50 fruit jam.
Ka Koff in E (click on arrow for detail)Solo Acoustic Guitar
This was a lullaby I would play for the kids. Actually it is the fusion of two of my songs "Hoe Down" and "Bombs over Baghdad". I wrote these to play at bed time realizing they fell asleep faster if I played so loud they could not talk. At the end of this era when they were hard to put to sleep the deal was I would play this until I broke a string or they fell asleep what ever came first, on occasion I broke more than one, this seemed to satisfy the kids enormously and they would always fill their part of the bargain and go to sleep after such an event.
To me this song represents the absolute joy of playing. Why a player might play alone in a small room for years regardless of no apparent improvement in ability or audience. It is impossible to describe the dynamic between the ear of the player and an acoustic guitar how a slight shift in your head position can change the very nature of the sound. There have been times much to my embarrassment when I have been caught by a passer by contorted over my guitar the sound box shoved against my chest trying to get my right ear as close to the sound hole as possible with my left ear pointing towards the back of the guitar. The bass and treble of the instrument are separated in a way I have never heard in a recording. It is an amazingly visceral experience. By shifting my head back and forth I can influence the equalization in a way I can not by adjusting my playing(possibly due to limited ability). This is why I say the best seat in the house is not in the front row but the one holding the guitarist.
I can not describe the absolute joy and unbridled excitement of letting loose on an old dreadnought. The sound box vibrating against your chest the percussive nature of the instrument messing with your heartbeat. You do not have to be a good player to feel this (this I know). When you let loose certain songs are an adventure. The guitar taking the player for a roller coaster ride across the fret board not knowing were you will go next. You just sit back gladly just following the guitar. It is times like this that a player knows every song in the world is in the guitar, if only the player can coax it out (alas).
When I decided to record this I was going to put rigorous structure in it so in the event anyone might listen they would have context and know what to expect. This went out the window. This is the first run through really just to check the sound levels on my Tascam so I just went for it. Listening back to it I decided this was the best way to try and share the excitement of playing. I took the track off the Tascam and onto my computer tripled it left it unadulterated in the center, did a bass boost and biased that to the right and a treble boost and biased that to the left(or the opposite I don't remember). This to try and give an idea of the depth of sound one hears when right on the guitar. I must admit first time I heard it on a stereo was was hugely disappointed. In fact it took Chantal the better part of a day to get me out of my funk. However if you listen to the track on a bassy set of head phones (like my $20.00 Skull Candy phones) with the volume up, up, up you may get the visceral experience and feel the joy of discovery I was talking about earlier. Phasing the closing harmonics from channel to channel at the end are an exaggerated example of how head position changes what you hear when you play. The only way I think you may get closer to the experience of playing is to spoon a sub-woofer with the left and right speakers next to you head. If only you could hear what I hear you might understand why except on rare occasions or for the kids(when they were young) I really can't play in front of people. The instrument sucks me in takes all my attention so for me it is an antisocial act. It feels disrespectful to ignore those around me and un-fulfilling if I don't. Exposed and confused with divided attention I feel I suck (OK, more than normal).
The Love Family (click on arrow for detail)Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar Bass and Vocals. Lyrics
This song is one of my few collaborations. Written with Macleod when he was very young. I was sitting on the bed playing in the back back room (Chantal and my bedroom at the time) when Macleod(4 or 5 years old) came sat next to me and announced we were going to make-up a song called "The Love Family". It is for this reason the song has way more structure than most of what I did at this time. This also explains the opening lyrics "Sitting on a bed with MacLeod". As the song was composed within the attention span of a 5 year old its chord structure is very simple. That is not to say I don't love it. I played it as a lullaby for the kids for years. I must say playing it again after many years to record it it made me realize that when Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy could not return to Narnia it was probably Aslan who cried the most tears. I would not trade the fantastic adults my kids have become for anything but I miss my babies. I admit I did not initially have a verse for Teprine and Bianca having composed songs for them when they were young. This verse was added at the insistence of Tullya, Macleod and Beowulf who were having none of that omission. Children have an amazing sense of justice. Teprine or Bianca if you see this I just want you to know this omission does not make your verse less true. By this time I was no longer playing for you as you fell asleep (at the age you were by then that would have been just weird).
The Song You Gave Me (click on arrow for detail)Acoustic Guitar(s), Flute and Vocals. Lyrics
What can I say but the entry in the book of love for our parents has got to be it's biggest chapter. I feel privileged to have grown up with their example. This song was recorded many years ago by compulsion. I was trying to keep dad in town during a blizzard. Standing at the door telling him it was foolish to drive back to the farm under those conditions and he could be warm and safe with us. Our father did not miss a beat and said to me in a moment of candor " I can't help it, she just gets more beautiful every day and I don't want to miss one.". I started composing it that night. I felt the need to pay tribute to that commitment. It is called "The Song You Gave Me" because in fact they wrote it by living a life of love, joy and commitment. I just recorded it. The song features the gorgeous voice of the beautiful Bianca and the flute work of then 10 or so year old Tullya. I thought about doing a new version with the newer better gear I have but I can not bring my self to touch it. In some ways it does not feel like my song.
A Coutry Lullaby for Baby (click on arrow for detail)Solo Acoustic Guitar and Cooing
One result of having sisters with lives when you are young and unattached is that you may end up doing a bit of babysitting. At least this was the case for me and it was a both a privilege and good practice for my own babies. I learned early that babies need reassurance almost as much as they need sleep. Just your presence in the room would have a calming effect but it had to be in a way they knew you were there but not there to pick them up.
Being perhaps a little obsessed with guitar at this time it is no wonder that a lot of my compositions regardless of what my intention when starting was became lullabies. The reverse is also true, some of the lullabies I composed morphed into something else. This song however stayed near its original intent as I later used it for my own babies. It was along time ago but if memory serves I wrote this song "A Country Lullaby for Baby"(the name is new) for Bianca and Cynthia(though it may have been Courtney and Sarah). It was around the time of their birth I actually took a guitar lesson. I took the lesson with Candice in Alexandria. In retrospect a wasted opportunity. Being perhaps a wee bit arrogant thought I was above the country and western style that was being taught. It has been an interesting experience playing these songs after many years. Things come to you, like the realization this song is largely based on a standard country music progression the teacher tried to teach me and I promptly dismissed. I think I attended one lesson now wish I had have taken more.
When Chantal suggested this would be a good candidate for History I was not sure but decided to play it again just in case. This resulted in some pretty vivid flash backs to the back room at home, Timberlea Trail and Candice and Bob's old place in Dalhousie. Memory is tricky but one of these vivid memories is of sitting in the yellow glow of incandescent light in the front upstairs room at Candice and Bob's playing this to baby Cynthia or Sarah (you forget how small they start) in a pale yellow terrycloth sleeper with the post good cry whimpers. You know how a baby's whole body shakes and they sharply and haltingly inhale after a good cry. It reminded me that while there are no lyrics as such to this song as baby started to calm down I would coo reassuring words to them on the C and A minor chords. The words went something like "Mommy loves you, Daddy loves you and I love you, yes I love you" The combination of a soft voice and guitar seemed to have a calming effect. I limit this to 3 minutes or so, six times through the very simple pattern if I played as many repetitions as it took to calm baby down it would be way too long to listen to, perhaps I simply bored baby back to sleep. This being said for a song so very simple I was surprised at how much effort it took to play it again with anything near the level of proficiency I once did. 20 something Alan would be horrified at this level of playing, I include it only because it is part of History (his story).
Full Disclosure: I am not claiming that I babysat out of pure altruism both Candice and Deidre can attest I would shake them down for smokes and cokes for my effort. I suited us all very well except for the nights when in a Candice and Bob where in a hurry I would get a pack of Bob's Matinées (talk about sucking air) instead of my Golden packed Export-A Lights. Yes Bob, I'm still bitter.