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Dave Stewart's Music Seminar (Part 11)

Waiting In The Wings

Part 11. Dave Stewart explains the recording of one of his songs and passes on a few tips into the bargain.

There comes a time in every musician's life when he or she is put on the spot. The moment can be relatively safe, like a request to explain a piece of music to another musician (whereupon you inexplicably forget altogether how to play or sing it, and blurt out a jumble of wrong notes), or life-threatening — a gang of Millwall supporters spot you carrying your mandolin case on the tube, surround you and ask if you are a musician. When you answer "yes" (fearing the complications of a negative response) they demand that you play something as proof, preferably in the goth/deep house/electro/rap field. Or just embarrassing — you're at a party when some tireless inebriate remembers that you can play an instrument and announces it to the throng. "Give us a tune, Trev", the cry goes up (doubly infuriating as that's not your name). Don't they realize that the battered Victorian piano in the corner is no substitute for your vector synthesis workstation?

Mercifully, these situations are uncommon, but they bring in their wake a host of unpleasant physical sensation. Most common is a tingling in the base of the spine, accompanied by hot flushes and a feeling of imminent dampness in the trouser region; sure signs that the musician's self-confidence has been challenged. You have to play, and play now — no groping for a manual or winding back the tape to have another go. And if you can come through these moments with honour satisfied, (I usually find a quick chorus of 'My Old Man Said Follow The Van', the old English music hall song, does the trick) you feel in some way validated. Strange isn't it?

You might imagine that I, being the kind of big-headed bastard who writes books on music and assumes that everyone will be interested enough to read them, am immune to such moments, but I've had my share. One such involved the recording of a song called 'Waiting In The Wings' some years ago. I had been working on a single, and time was running out (funny how it always does that). With one day's studio time left, we had finished and mixed the A-side, but hadn't even begun to think about the B-side. I had nothing written, so I turned up at noon the last day, without a song, to face an expectant engineer and a blank tape.

This is not my preferred way of working, and I have subsequently learned enough self-discipline (and paid enough studio bills) to avoid such embarrassment, but given the choice between blowing out the session and trying to create something on the spot, I opted for the latter. The first step was to sit at the piano and bang out a handful of chords (like so many before me — Gershwin, Stravinsky Beethoven... trouble was, I wasn't them). I had been listening to an old Argent song called 'Freefall' and found myself mindlessly playing its chords. Their basis was an A bass pedal over which the major triads of A, B and Bb rotated, so I thought I might as well start by stealing that idea. Rather than voice the chords in their basic form (as in Figure 1) I opted for something a little more oblique (see Figure 2).

Figure 1. The obvious way of playing the chords.

Figure 2. The not-so-obvious way, as featured in 'Waiting In The Wings'.

I then rummaged through my short term memory, past the usual jumble of football results, shopping lists and phone numbers, hunting for a current chord sequence. I always carry one of these in my head. They most often take the form of a sequence of four or so chords which sound good when repeated, relying on the change from the last chord back to the first to create a feeling of forward momentum. Seated at the lonely piano with the minutes and pounds ticking away, I watched my fingers with interest as they plonked out the music in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Chord sequence for the chorus of 'Waiting In The Wings'.

That would have to be it. The bit in A could be the verse, and the D chord sequence the chorus. Next I needed a tempo, so I could add some rhythmic structure to the harmony. This was generated by running the metronome click of a drum machine into a terrible old SDS5 analogue drum module, thereby triggering the hi-hat sound. The SDS5 hi-hat had four different presets, none of which sounded remotely like the real thing, but I was able to use them to map out the arrangement by changing preset every time I felt a new section should start. Most of the song was in 4/4, but for good measure I threw in a pattern of 4+4+4+5 beats for the chorus, and one of 5+5+5+6 beats for the keyboard solo. That'll confuse 'em!

I also figured out an extension to the verse chords that meandered through Gmaj and F#min before modulating into Eb and Bb and a bridge section in B. Having recorded the SDS5 hi-hat, I put down some simple piano chords to initiate the arrangement, and then spent the next few hours in a frenzy of overdubbing, adding twangy synthesizer, MiniMoog bass, vocoded voices and a drum part (also played on the SDS5). Not being possessed of the degree of limb co-ordination that marks a good drummer, I had cause to regret the bars of 5/8 and 6/8 I had so perversely included, as it took about three hours to work out where the bass and snare hits should go... I got it right in the end, although I had to be hosed down afterwards.

I'm happy to report that by the end of the session, I had written a song, and though it took an extra half day to write the lyrics and record the vocal, I was well pleased to have composed it on the spot. Though I have spent months working on more sophisticated songs, the simple but quirky arrangement of 'Waiting In The Wings' (see Figure 4.) still gives me a lot of pleasure.

Figure 4. Full arrangement of 'Waiting In The Wings'.
(Click image for higher resolution version)

Figure 4. (continued).
(Click image for higher resolution version)

First published in 'Keyboard Magazine', Japan.


'Waiting In The Wings' is from the album Broken Records — The Singles by Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin, available via mail order from Broken Records, to whom any correspondence to Dave and Barbara should be directed.

Broken Records, (Contact Details).

Series - "Dave Stewart's Music Seminar"

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 (Viewing) | Part 12

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Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - May 1991


Music Theory


Dave Stewart's Music Seminar

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 (Viewing) | Part 12

Feature by Dave Stewart

Previous article in this issue:

> The Power To Be Portable

Next article in this issue:

> EastWest Communications

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