All about Blue Bolero


The Blue Bolero album is kind of a cinematic journey that documents my personal life from when I was a kid living in the English countryside until the time I made the big move to Los Angeles California. The album didn't start out that way, but when I got a little more analytical about it, and the more I wrote each piece, the more apparent it became that it was a personal journey through time. For the first time ever, each of the titles on this album were actually written in the order that they appear on the record. It's all very indulgent I know, but there we are. So let's dig in a little to each song shall we?

Overture
This, I suppose, represents my early childhood years and all its crazy directions. The piece is a little over eight minutes long and has three distinct sections. A long intro build up, a swing jazz section with a solo and a final piece that kind of cements all the sections together. At first I was messing around with orchestral string samples and thought it might be wildly different for me to approach composition from this perspective. Less of a 'songwriting' stance and more of an experimental compositional one I think. I certainly didn't want to restrict myself in any way creatively and I definitely wasn't thinking commercially. This first piece set the tone for the album and I thought, either this is a one off, or it might develop into a whole CD. It turns out the latter was the case.

Blue Bolero
After writing and recording the Overture demo I kept hearing the word 'Bolero' in my head. I don't actually know why. This Overture certainly wasn't a Bolero, but something kept niggling away in my brain telling me that I should write a Bolero. Aside from Ravel's Bolero, I wasn't even that knowledgeable about the bolero rhythm, and I wasn't totally sure how to approach writing something like it. When I took a listen to Ravel's Bolero, I thought I should maybe take the snare drum rhythm pretty much exactly, and see what came out when I wrote something. I knew also that I wanted the piece to build dynamically, so by the end of the song, there would be this grandiose musical climax.

This title track was the first on the album that featured a minor chord with a major seventh added to it, a particularly dark sounding chord, and one that film composers like to pull out from time to time due to its cinematic qualities. This chord became something that unified the album by the end.

In my early teens, I would come home from school and my mother would pour us all a cup of tea and then have her 'Beethoven hour", or in other words, '40 winks', a little nap whilst listening to her favourite classical music. I got to know Beethoven's symphonies quite well back then. This title track is a little memory of that time. Not that this title in any way has any resemblance to anything Beethoven ever wrote, but it is somewhat classical in nature.



Please Mind The Gap
Growing up on a farm in the English countryside was a different kind of experience. We lived far from anywhere it seemed. Not quite an island existence but we certainly lived a good eleven miles away from the nearest town and only three buses a day would take us there.

I have two brothers and a sister and my two brothers and I are roughly a year apart in age. My sister is a good six years younger. As we got in our teens, it became more and more exciting for us brothers to take trips into London on our own, without the aid of our parents. We felt quite grown up, aged 13, 14 and 15, taking the train from Aylesbury to Marylebone in London. Then we would ride around on the London underground (the tube as it is called over there). I remember that we had very little we wanted to do (aside from feeding the pigeons in Trafalgar Square) but it felt exciting to know that we could get around on the tube on our own. It was quite liberating.

Very often at certain tube stations you would hear over the loudspeaker "Please mind the gap!" This was so folks wouldn't step off the train and fall down onto the train tracks. Many years later I remember riding around on the tube and hearing over the loudspeaker "Mind the gap!" It appeared that they no longer included the word 'please'. I wonder if they felt that it was more effective to make it an order and not a request. Perhaps passengers had previously thought it optional to step onto the platform or not. Anyway, this song harks back to those exciting and liberating times when we saw the world from a teenager's point of view. Katisse Buckingham plays just the most beautiful alto flute in the last section of this song.


Contemplation
As a jazz guitarist who favors playing an archtop jazz guitar with a clean sound, playing with upright bass and swishing brushes is just heaven to me. The main reason is that when a band is playing softly, the jazz guitar can speak and express the full dynamics of the instrument without struggling to keep up. On my past more funky albums I have certainly learned how to keep up but often at a cost. Playing a song like this one really enables the instrument to breathe and I can take time and space to make the instrument sing. It's a subtlety that one favors with age and experience I think.

This song featured another unifying musical motif which was the minor 3rd movement from one chord down to another. In this case it was the opening chord of Ebm11 going down to Cm11, then to my Blue Bolero chord of Fm9 (maj7).

Why Contemplation? Well as a child I spent many many hours up in my room practicing the guitar, often torturously, wondering whether I would ever get it all together. The fact that I did probably led me to believe that contemplating might actually be a good idea. I certainly do live in my head, so I suspect I won't be changing anytime soon.


Sensual overload
This track almost didn't make the album. I wasn't sure whether it was stylistically too close to something I might have recorded on previous albums. But the more I worked on it and listened to it, the more I thought that it might be a good idea. I love playing over distant chord changes where you have to really think about the notes you choose. It's that delicate balance of mind and emotion. I played my Fender Strat on this song and got to play a nice expressive solo. Dewayne Smitty Smith added a real nice Fender bass part to it and when I heard the final version, I stepped up to the plate, orchestrated it more with strings, and there was no way this wasn't going to make the cut

Regarding Tetchwick
The farm we lived on as kids was called Tetchwick and like any other family, we all got to earn a little money working on the farm during the summer school holidays. When I say 'a little money' I certainly mean it. Of course back in the day those little pennies were worth a little more, but we certainly put in the hours driving tractors, bringing in the corn from the summer harvest in order to build up our little piggy banks.

As you can imagine, the weather was often harsh. I remember one day cutting down bushes with my younger brother Justin on the most freezing icy cold day. When I got back home later I had to thaw out my hands in a sink of hot water for a good 15 minutes.

Rain was never a mystery to us, trust me. We were certainly used to being drenched to the bone on many occasions. All good character building though. This little musical interlude 'Regarding Tetchwick' is reminiscent of me practicing my classical guitar in my room with the rain beating down outside, something that became all too familiar.


Fast Train To Everywhere
So it became apparent, I think to most of us kids, that farming was not really for us. None of us seemed drawn to it and I think it fair to say that most of us were confused by anyone that was. With this in mind we all felt like the big city might be the answer. Personally it was more a question of getting on a train and telling the driver to just drive, and frankly it didn't matter where! Not that we had unhappy childhoods, far from it, but there was an inner drive in all of us to see much more of the world. This song certainly feels like you are on a train.

On Second Thoughts
In 1980 I took a year off from school and spent a year in Los Angeles getting very musically inspired. I worked in a little sandwich shop in Northridge to make ends meet.

After about eight months in LA I returned to the UK and went to the London College of Music to do a three year fellowship studying classical guitar. A few years later I realized that my earlier introduction to California got under my skin and I started to take little reconnaissance trips once a year to see if there were any professional opportunities for me.

One year I came over to LA with a finished master album that I had paid for myself. I was confident I could score a record deal, be welcomed into the LA music scene, and have an official reason to come back. Well nothing could have been further from the truth. That particular trip knocked me for six!

The album I had made was called "Maincourse" (now available for sale on my website) and was kind of a fusiony, somewhat self indulgent guitar record. I had some interest but couldn't clinch a record deal. I even heard from one A&R guy who said "It's good Chris but nothing to get in bed about!" Charming I thought. Perhaps he knew something I didn't.

Anyway, I returned to London that year extremely dejected and thought, maybe Los Angeles was not for me after all. On second thoughts perhaps I should just stay in London and keep my silly ambitions to myself. It was a real knock for me.

So this little musical interlude represents that time. One thing I soon learned about myself is that I'm not a quitter and even though I didn't come back to LA the following year, I think I made one more trip the year after that, and things were very different.


Sunrise
There is good news and bad news about living on a farm in England. The good news is that you live a pretty healthy life and despite all the hardships that family often faces, we were pretty close and well adjusted. The bad news is that working on a farm requires early hours.

I should at this point present to you that farming was absolutely not for me. In fact, all members of my family would tell you that I was a bloody awful farmer, and I would be hard pressed to defend myself. Except for the fact that I was absolutely the best bale stacker of all three boys. Without a doubt! Now they would tell you I was delusional, but I say no. I am holding to this truth. This is my story and I am sticking to it! Now what I was not great at was closing field gates after I had fed the sheep…

On several occasions I was woken up by my father around 4:00am, who would burst into my room shouting, "Chris you have let the f****** sheep out again and they are all over the sodding village! Get up lad it's time to go get them! (These unfortunate times did however instill new words into our ever growing vocabulary!) And so we jumped into the car with our sheepdog (thank god for him!) and off we went to rescue the sheep who were walking up the main road through the village. Luckily sheep being 'sheep-like' tend to stick very closely together making it fairly easy to round them up and bring them back home. There's nothing like causing a traffic jam on the A40. Clearly I was a professional at it.

As a footnote to this little story, I must add that there is nothing remotely interesting about a sheep. Nothing at all. They all look pretty much alike, they all behave exactly alike and they are all completely incontinent! Conversely, lamb shank is one of my favorite restaurant dishes. So sunrise was not unfamiliar to us, hence the song. Good times.


Bossa Blue
I got to play a good amount of nylon string guitar on this album, something that I haven't done at all on past records. However, I thought it appropriate on this album, particularly as I spent my entire childhood trying to hack through Bach preludes and fugues. I also haven't recorded any Latin influenced music before, save perhaps one track on my Love & Paragraphs album. Bossa Nova can be quite an intoxicating rhythm and I saw no reason to neglect anything I wanted to try on this record. Bossa Blue is also the radio single from the album. The little vocal hook in the chorus is me singing with enough effects on my voice to make it sound acceptable.

Lost In Angels
My drummer David Karasony was recording most of the drum parts at his own studio when I suddenly started to compose this piece. When I finished writing this track I immediately knew I wanted to put it on the record and sent it over to my drummer as an extra song for him to play on. It is almost entirely an orchestral piece, only really featuring my guitar as an after thought. The piece has probably the most cinematic feel of all the songs on this record and has quite a dark and somewhat mysterious quality about it, quite 'film noir' if you like.

When I eventually took the final plunge and made the commitment to move to America, I did so in no uncertain terms. I had decided that, in order to make the move to California, I would need to cut off all possible ways to return to the UK, provided things should take a turn for the worst, and of course they did. However, I had sold my car, given up my little flat near Camden Town, sold every single piece of musical equipment I owned, even sold my stereo system to my Dad! So when things went bad, I knew that I had to get it together here in LA, 'cos it would be the same if I returned home. I also told myself that things would probably get lonely on my focused path. And indeed they did, but I was prepared. This song 'Lost In Angels', truly represents that time when I had to deal with those early dark times in Los Angeles.


March Of The Bowler Hats
This piece is a somewhat frenetic tune featuring the very gifted keyboard skills of Mitch Forman. I remember going back to visit the UK quite some time ago, probably fairly recently after I moved to LA and driving over Tower Bridge. My memory of this is somewhat blurry as I honestly can't remember whether I was living in London at the time or not, but I suspect I was just visiting. So I was driving over Tower Bridge early one morning (why I was up that early is a complete mystery to me!) and on the sidewalk to the left of us were all these businessmen wearing suits, holding umbrellas and wearing bowler hats. It was really quite a sight to see, even back then. I had no idea so many London businessmen really dressed like that. Do they still? I have no idea. It was really quite Monty Python-esque. This song is nothing more than a memory of that time.

At The End Of The Day
I am a sucker for ballads. I would do a whole album of them if I thought I could get away with it. My whole journey from growing up on the farm, to moving to London and then finally the big move to California was now complete. If I knew back then what it took to realize my wildly ambitious dreams, would I do it again? I certainly don't know, but I do know that I am glad I ended up where I did, and the fact that I don't have to do it over is quite comforting.

It has been a long ambitious journey. Sometimes I wonder if life is easier when one has fewer ambitions. Perhaps there is less disappointment and smelling the roses is a little easier. But when I look back, at the end of the day, I know I made all the right moves.

When I lived in London it confused me that many of my friends were extremely successful and I wasn't. I assumed I would be too and it was only a matter of time. But I was wrong, London and England was not for me. I had to figure it all out by moving away.

One thing I have realized is that we are all on our own paths. Every one of us has our own unique journey and what works for one, as sure as dammit, will not for another. There are no rules, we make our own, and that is the wonderful thing about life. People are as unique as their personal journeys.


Bolero Finale
For the final piece on this album I wanted to tie it all together somehow musically, so I thought, what if I took a melody from the original Bolero theme and did something different with it. So I changed the key, took the tempo up and made it into a jazz waltz. This last piece is a celebration of life, where the true climax of the song happens in the last section of the guitar solo before the melody comes around again.

So there it is. Another album completed. I think this one is probably the most honest I have recorded so far, and this is possibly because for the first time I undertook the entire process alone. For the first time I didn't care about commercial constraints, I didn't care about having special guest performers on the album for the sake of creating a sales and marketing perception. Everyone who performed on this CD was there because I felt they were the absolute best I could find to help realize this album. If I have shot myself in the foot then so be it. I am very proud of this album and I hope you enjoy it too.

Take care

Chris


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