Lately I’ve been looking back at some of my old recordings and trying to get some improvement in the sound to make it possible to put a few songs out there, just for fun. They were all originally recorded onto cassette tapes, so you can imagine that hiss and degradation of the actual tape over time play a large part in the current sound. Fortunately, a few years back, I converted the vast majority of songs, first onto CD and then to mp3 files, which at least means I can mess about with them a little. I’m using the free software Audacity which is very good, but I’ve no doubt someone with professional software and the knowledge to use it could do better. However, my limited knowledge and free software is all I have. I can live with that.
I sometimes forget just how long I’ve been writing and recording music. My first tape, imaginatively called The Songs Of Neil Davies, was done in 1975, and the last one (on cassette) was done just after my met my wife, and was equally imaginatively called Cathy, and recorded in 1994. That’s almost 20 years of recording onto cassette! That gives me 67 cassettes of music (a mixture of C60s and C90s – that’s 60 minutes and 90 minutes respectively). There’s been a couple of mp3/CD albums since then, and, most recently, two albums (mp3/CD) under the name The 1850 Project, written and recorded with my son.
I also have an old note about a tape called The Book which was completely deleted and destroyed. It was done in 1976 and I have a vague memory of it being a, no doubt, pretentious concept tape with a science fiction theme. I can’t remember any of the music, but I must have thought it terrible as, despite some pretty awful songs here and there on other tapes, it’s the only tape that was completely wiped from existence! I wish I’d kept it, just for curiosity’s sake. Oh well.
What I wanted to briefly look at here are those cassettes, the method in which they were recorded and what they show about the state of my mind at a given time. They also highlight my inclination towards obsession, particularly when it came to girls.
The majority of my albums in the 1970s, and the first years of the 80’s, were recorded using two cheap cassette player/recorders. I would record a track on one, then play it back, singing or playing along with it, and recording that onto the second cassette. Then, playback, play along and record onto the other one and so one, depending on how many overdubs I wanted to do. Each overdub seriously degraded the quality of the sound, so the simpler songs with fewer overdubs tended to come out the best.
My instruments were a guitar, an amp, a couple of effects pedals, and whatever keyboard my dad had in the house at the time (an upright piano for a time, then an organ). I sang straight into the cassette recorder, no mic. The guitar doubled as the bass (clean sound, lower strings only, often played with fingers to give a slightly deeper sound). I had no drums. Instead I had a couple of chairs (an old armchair and a kitchen chair with a cushion on it) and a couple of bamboo sticks (once tried some metal rods, but the wood was better). The armchair became the bass drum (hit with the stick, no pedal obviously) and the cushion on the kitchen chair the snare (and everything else). No cymbals, but an occasional tambourine which “magically” appeared from school one day!
In 1977, while in the band Liquid Pig, the other guitarist, Dave Roberts, kindly lent me his reel to reel tape recorder, which had an overdub facility. I used this to create 90 minutes of music on an album called High Rock. No drums (the clearer recording made the chair-drums sound even worse than usual) but some decent clear recordings with guitar and vocals.
Also in 1977, one of the tapes (There but for the grace of God and the opportunity) has some recordings from a rehearsal session for Liquid Pig, again recorded by Dave’s reel to reel. Unfortunately I decided to overdub some vocals and tambourine on a few of these tracks. Wish I hadn’t. I don’t have the originals!
At times during the 70’s (and usually via people in other local bands) I was able to use wah-wah pedals and, once, an echo machine. Actually the echo machine was overused, but you can’t blame me for wanting to play with a new toy!
My obsession for most of these tapes was Barbara (the girlfriend of a friend of mine), and many have a dedication to her on the inserts. There was a memorable interruption to this via Vanda (out of which I got the album The Week (V.K.)) and also Lorraine (several songs on several tapes about her) but my crush on the unavailable Barbara was the underlying constant for much of the 70’s. Finally, towards the end of the decade, with interest in Barbara fading, I briefly discovered the daughter of our new next door neighbours (the album Shades Of Ailsa came from that) and found a fascination in the barmaid (and now shop worker) Michelle. In all cases, actual relationships were either non-existent (Barbara, Ailsa, Michelle) or very short lived (Vanda, Lorraine) – and by short I mean a week or just over. I was a lonely boy!
In fact, since the very start I had been clinically depressed, but because of medical standards at the time and an old family doctor, this was not diagnosed until much more recently (and by the much better doctors available to me after the family moved). My only diagnosis back then was “the general malaise of an overweight boy” and a course of tonic pills. It was during this time that I began self harming.
During the 80’s four things changed – first, I discovered drum machines (starting with a very basic one borrowed from a friend, then moving to one that worked on the Atari 800XL computer I had, and finally to a very decent Sony one, bought by my brother Philip and incessantly borrowed by me). Second, I bought a new guitar amp which had twin cassette recorders built in. With these I could overdub back and forth anything that went through the amp, with much less degradation in quality than previously. This also meant I had to buy a mic to allow vocals and acoustic guitars to be recorded. Guitar and drum machine went straight into the amp. Third, my brother also bought an MX Music Computer, complete with full size keyboard and cartridges for different sounds. I discovered synth and keyboards began to play a much bigger part in my writing and recording. Finally, I developed a new obsession, with the youngest daughter of a friend of my mother (and whose older sister I used to play with when I was younger). This was Andrea and the age of A.T.I.P.I. appearing on the tape inserts. I don’t wish to mention full names here, but I will say that the last three letters stand for “Is Perfection Itself”. Told you I was lonely, and very very depressed for much of the time.
The quality of recordings improve from this time, and I also begin playing with music on the computer (even writing my own simple program to allow me to preset drum beats and also music notes).
My obsession with Andrea is chronicled over five albums (tapes) in 1982 and 1983. These are A.T.I.P.I., The Outward Trend, Country Sun, To Andrea With Love and The 5th Hour. You can then see it fading gradually during 1983 with albums like Still True (For You), Rocking Back and Thoughts.
Musically, my influences over all this time were fairly wide. Early on it was almost exclusively Classic Rock like Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Status Quo (every local band did Status Quo covers back then!). In the mid Eighties I discovered Prince and his influence is very obvious at times (dangerously close to rip-off in a couple of songs). It was listening to Prince that also relaxed my lyric writing, and the occasional swear word began to appear.
By the time I met Cathy in 1991 and fell truly in love for the first (and probably last) time, my writing and recording had slowed dramatically. In fact, the last tape I had recorded was in 1989. Meeting Cathy inspired one more album (called, of course, Cathy) in 1994, and then I temporarily retired from writing and recording music.
Until 2000 when I began playing with two new things – mp3.com and sampling. I’d done a little sampling back in 1987, largely on an album called Sample It (and you say my album titles aren’t subtle!), but this was bigger stuff. Creating whole songs just from sampled sounds (all made freely and legally available I might add), and on mp3.com you could upload your songs and even make CD! Remember, this was early days for this kind of thing. The result was the album Age in 2000.
Then, in 2001, I rediscovered my interest in playing the guitar and the resulting album, called New Dawn, featured both guitar driven songs and synth driven songs. I’d dropped the samples by then.
Then, silence… until a rash promise to my son to pick up the guitar again for his 18th and my 50th birthdays (a day apart in March 2009). The result was The 1850 Project, my first experience in a proper recording studio and my first live gig since the late 1970s! Our first CD (released alongside the live gig) was simply called The 1850 Project. We went on to write and record a second CD (and much better one I think) The Family. Both of these albums are available through iTunes, Amazon and elsewhere.
Although my book and story writing is now my main focus, I still want to write and record music and, with my son, there are plans and home demos towards a third album… the main thing stopping us is money for studio time. Since my redundancy, that has proved too expensive to justify.
And that’s it, the brief history of my musical journey (it might not seem it to you but, believe me, it was brief!), from overdubbing between two cassette tape recorders to multi-track home recording onto computer and proper studio recordings. Quite a change!
SOLO DISCOGRAPHY (if you can call it that when it’s mostly on cassette tapes!)
- The Songs Of (1975)
- Space (1975)
- 3rd Try (1976)
- 4B (1976)
- Intruders (1977)
- There But For The Grace Of God… And The Opportunity (1977)
- I Rest My Case (1977)
- High Rock (1977)
- Blonde (1977)
- Christine (1978)
- Attitudes (1978)
- The Week (V.K.) (1978)
- Night Walkers (1979)
- She’s In There Somewhere (1979)
- Back Again (1979)
- Is This The Best You Can Do? (1979)
- Never For Free (1979)
- Back In The Old Frame (1979)
- Shades Of Ailsa (1979)
- Lights In The Sky (1979)
- Eye Opener (1979)
- Innocence (1979)
- Still Rock N Roll (1980)
- Dedicatory (1980)
- More Of The Same With A Difference (1980)
- Mystic Nights (1980)
- Perseus (1980)
- Legend (1980)
- Schoolies (Short N Sweet) (1980)
- Morning Light (1980)
- The Man It Was That Cried (1980)
- Footprints (1981)
- Romantic Fool (1982)
- Electric Amnesia (1982)
- Guitar 400 (1982)
- A.T.I.P.I. (1982)
- The Outward Trend (1982)
- New Outlook (1982)
- Country Sun (1982)
- The 5th Hour (1982)
- To Andrea With Love (1983)
- Still True (For You) (1984)
- Rocking Back (1984)
- Thoughts (1984)
- Strange Mood (1985)
- Words In The Silence (1985)
- Regress (1985)
- Commentary (1985)
- Small Talk (1985)
- One Of Many (1986)
- These Days (1986)
- Voyeur Of Love (1986)
- Summer Illusion (1987)
- Sample It (1987)
- Cannibalistic Tendencies (1987)
- Two Weeks In The Past (1987)
- Secret Love (1987)
- Legend (Rewritten/rerecorded) (1987)
- Colin By Neil (1988)
- Strange Journey (1988)
- Inspirations And Desperations (1988)
- That Girl Again (1988)
- Who Wants Reality? (1989)
- The Closest I’ll Get To A Christmas Album (1989)
- Approaching Finals (1989)
- The Ultimate Combination (1989)
- Cathy (1994)
- Age (2000)
- New Dawn (2001)
THE 1850 PROJECT DISCOGRAPHY
- The 1850 Project (2009)
- The Family (2012)