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Bible! Revelations

The Bible!

Article from Making Music, March 1987

Those silky, jazzy chords... those beautiful open fingerings... these are the things you find in The Bible! Jon Lewin worships at the altar of good songwriting.

"Success is a relative term... I think I'm more interested in respect. The best thing that's happened to us so far was that review which said we were 'consummately good songwriters'..."

IT'S ALL RIGHT for Tony Shepherd to say that, because he's just seen himself on The Tube, playing keyboards with The Bible! And with singer and guitarist Boo Hewerdine, Tony is responsible for those consummately good songs, compositions of the calibre of 'Gracelands', their turntable hit, and the song they featured on The Tube, 'Mahalia', which lodged in the upper reaches of the independent charts. Both songs were taken from The Bible!'s mini-LP on Backs Records, "Walking The Ghost Back Home".

If you haven't already heard the records, try to: they're masterpieces of sensitive brevity, intelligently written songs with an air of space — Prefab Sprout with better tunes. The Smiths without the pretension. Which is why we're interviewing them (not because you used to play in a band with them, Jon? — Ed).

What's the secret of those fantastic songs — how do they get such an open jazzy feel to their music, while staying resolutely poppy and tuneful? Our man Boo is remarkably unguarded on this subject.

"Well, we often play chords with the wrong bass notes — that opens up the sound and feel a lot. Our most frequent chord uses the bass simply shifted up a tone. If you want an example, 'Kid Galahad' [from the LP] is C with a D bass, and E with F# bass; nice warm squodgy chords.

"Another trick is to put the wrong chord high up over a low chord — like high G at the 15th fret over an F at the first. That's the basis of our sound; you can do it with two guitars, or keyboard and guitar, or just on the keyboard. But the voicings of the chords are important, they have to be separated enough. Tony's very careful with his voicings..."

Is it really that simple? All our admiration boiled down into that?

"All our poppy songs," Boo continued unreservedly, "in fact all Bible! songs use G, Am7, D, and Cmaj7, with an occasional Em7, Bm7, and Asus4 thrown in..."

Gasp! He's told us everything!

"We use lots of passing chords," Tony interjects helpfully.

"And we often leave open notes ringing inside chord shapes," Boo concludes.

Although Boo and Tony are obviously the bosses in The Bible! (what happened to God? — Religious Ed.) the other members of the group are important. Guitarist Neil MacColl and drummer Dave Larcombe joined from the Roaring Boys (best remembered for their much-hyped six figure advance from Epic, and their subsequent five figure lack of success).

Neil is the son of folk singer Ewan MacColl, and a highly regarded guitarist in his own right. As Boo explained, Neil's dexterity has already had an influence on The Bible!'s songs.

"I strum, and Neil does the fiddly bits, basically. I'm not the world's finest guitarist, and while I might have millions of guitar ideas, I couldn't put them all into practice; now I just tell Neil, and he does them."

Dave is an old friend of Boo's from Cambridge school days, veteran of two other youthful pop bands. His joining The Bible! allowed Tony (a distinguished jazz drummer in his own right) to concentrate on keyboards, and songwriting. Boo and Tony originally met when the latter was playing drums on an early demo for Ensign Records.

Bassist for the group's current tour with China Crisis is Neil's brother Callum, yet to be confirmed as a full-time member.

The final chap (chapter?) in The Bible! is saxophonist Kevin Flanagan, who was responsible for that 'Baker Street' like riff at the beginning of 'Mahalia'.

"Tony wrote the sax tune for that," Boo told me. "We'd got a guitar riff which we realised while we were recording wasn't quite up to scratch, so Tony came up with this tune really quickly."

"I had to write it out in musical notation for Kevin, as he's a bit of a pro, and wants it all written out when he comes to the session, otherwise he charges you extra," Tony laughed. "I've known him for years from jazz gigs, playing drums in his quartet with Erroll Clarke."

Producer Greg Walsh, who remixed the singles, was responsible for transforming the sax sound from a weedy soprano to the joyous noise it is on the single.

"The 'Mahalia' mix he did at a studio in London called The Point," Boo said. "Just using a compressor and an old echo box, he still manages to get a really brilliant fresh sound. Tony's original piano was old and really out of tune, and Greg compressed and chorused that until it sounded not like a piano, but a really good instrument."

"An accordion!"

When I spoke to the hand they were demoing four songs for their new album in Spaceward Studios, prior to embarking on a nationwide tour with China Crisis (who had specifically asked for them, and waived the usual buy-on fee). The LP's working title is "Eureka!", but recording proper won't start until a producer has been found, Boo explains.

"Last year we recorded six or seven new tracks and they sounded like the first album but better, even though they weren't brilliant. We think we need a producer to pull something out of us, as we aren't technicians. Also we don't want to have to struggle for hours over a bass drum sound — we'd like to be able just to say we want it like this, so the creative process doesn't become bogged down in technicalities."

They might work with Greg Walsh again, though Geoff Emerick (Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney) is another possibility. Tony is a huge Steely Dan fan, and would plump for Gary Katz if he could.

"It'd take about five years to make a single, though...

"We're interested in things with lots and lots of space. It's incredible how many records you hear with too much going on — good playing, but too much of it."

"With these demos, we'll go away and decide not what it needs, but what it doesn't need. We're going to record hopefully 15 or 16 songs, and when we get it down to ten, we'll be pretty pleased with all of them. In the meantime, we'll just get on with what we're doing, which is demoing and touring."

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Publisher: Making Music - Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.

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Making Music - Mar 1987


The Bible!



Feature by Jon Lewin

Previous article in this issue:

> Music Machine software

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> Rise of the Name

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