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Although I didnít learn an instrument at school, I picked up a fair amount of musical theory, and after leaving home aged seventeen, I bought a guitar as soon as I could afford one, and began studying in earnest. At some point I also made a half-hearted attempt to learn the recorder. I switched from steel strings to nylon, then back to steel, and at one point I owned both acoustic and classical guitars. I never had the slightest aspirations to become a performer, which was just as well in view of both my lousy technique and terrible singing voice.
The first meaningful piece of music I ever composed was, as might be expected, fairly basic. I called it Chestnuts after Chestnut Avenue in Leeds, where I was then living. The second was an even simpler piece, called Melancholy. I wrote my first ever song around 1980-81; it was a passable effort in a One Note Samba or Carolina In The Morning sort of way, but is otherwise best forgotten. After that I composed very little until 1985 although I started writing poetry - including lyrics - bigtime in the Autumn of 1983.
Elton John and Bernie Taupin met through an ad in a music paper; Alan Barber and I met through an ad in a newsagentís window, and he was quite a find. An incredibly talented classically trained guitarist, he also tuned pianos, and could play a piece of music by ear having heard it once. I spent many happy hours at his Norbury Crescent home where he arranged my songs and where we composed a bit together. Alan reckoned he had composed some two thousand plus pieces of music, and seen a mere handful published. I was at times skeptical of some of his arrangements thinking you canít just whack a chord on top of a note, but he was vindicated by another (established) composer. I think I met this guy through an advertisement in Loot; like Alan he was incredibly talented, but he wasted a lot of my time. He was looking for a lyricist and only a lyricist, and was not interested in arranging for other people, but when I gave him Alanís arrangement of one of my songs - I canít remember which one - he sat down at the piano and played it masterfully.
Alan and I teamed up with other local songwriters; there was a guy called Roman who was composing some quite tasteful music; if I remember he didnít write lyrics at all, I put words to one of his pieces and called it Youíll Never Love Alone.
There was also an Egyptian guy whom I remember well; I put words to one of his compositions, and he took the song along to a professional musician who made a demo of it in his home studio. I think Alan went with him; whatever, he didnít like the result. We had at least one meeting at Romanís place where at least five of us turned up. One guy had the finished product: a young black girl had recorded at least one of his songs on vinyl. We were not so lucky with singers; the two women I contacted turned out to be timewasters, and one of them was a total muppet. There was also a guy who was interested in recording Call Me Round, but nothing came of this - due to my lack of resources.
I ordered three demos of Barber arrangements of Baron songs by mail order from a professional studio, giving strict instructions as to how they were not to be recorded; specifically I said that I did not want Erudite Women to be arranged in reggae style. Surprise, surprise, when the demo arrived it was recorded in reggae style. The finished version of Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained was if anything worse. It sounded nothing like my song much less like a Barber arrangement. I wrote an angry letter to the studio, but my anger was tempered a little when Paranoia arrived. Although it had been altered significantly, the resulting uptempo arrangement was - in my humble opinion - a fine commercial song.
My attempts to place any of these compositions came to nothing. The so-called A&R man for one record company returned my tapes with a syncophantic rejection letter on at least two occasions, and it was obvious that he hadnít actually played them. Ironically, his worthless missives were headed Professional Department, or some such. I wrote to the Managing Director, CEO or whatever, and received a reply defending this moron, which claimed that he too had listened to the songs but didnít think they were for his company. And it was just as obvious that he hadnít played the tapes either! There were other misadventures, but I will not detail them here.
Around May of 1986, I booked Studio 99 at Woolwich to record a topical novelty record - a rap song, of all things. I will say no more about this here, but it was basically a piss take, and went down like a lead balloon.
The recording session was an enjoyable experience though, reasonably priced, and the engineer - a guy called Nick - joined in. I managed to record several instrumental tracks during the same session including Theme From An Empty Garret and an instrumental version of Would You? Alan liked this last track, remarking that it had a particularly beautiful melody - though not necessarily in those exact words. I aim to please! Ironically, twenty-one years after writing this song I had cause to ask the same questions therein. And found the answers wanting. Theme From An Empty Garret was exactly that; in June 1986 I was granted the tenancy of 93c Venner Road, and I composed this sitting on a box or something in my empty bedroom cum living room.
This piece sounds more difficult than it is, and I had no trouble with the arrangement, although as with all or most of the manuscripts Alan ran his eye over it. I never had problems sight reading, at least not if I knew vaguely what a piece sounded like or was supposed to sound like, but sometimes I found it a little taxing to tell a minim from a crochet, etc.
My garret remained empty until September, in the meantime I moved in with Mrs Jefferies. And here another strand of the story begins. At some point I saw a card in a newsagentís window - lady needs piano tuner, or something - this is what people did before the Internet! I told Alan, and we went along to Cottingham Road, Penge, where we were met the lady in question. She was a widow, and must have been seventy something then, obviously very well bred, and had been reduced to near poverty by cruel circumstance. She was a bit suspicious of both of us, but when she heard we were songwriters too, her suspicions thawed.
For reasons I wonít go into here it took me a long time to furnish what was to be my new home until well into the next Millennium, and I ended up staying with Mrs Jefferies for three months. She was glad of the company, and I was glad to shell out some rent and more to assist her a bit. I assisted her in other ways too, as far as I could, and although like me she had long grown used to her own company, she seemed genuinely disappointed when I moved out.
I composed a bit with my proxy landlady, and at one point the three of us - Alan, myself and her - dined together on a shark dinner, one of my better ideas! I remember remarking to him as it was served: ďWould you like a tentacle or a fin?Ē
It was our hostess who labelled me The Dark Man. This came from a short piece I composed on her piano, The Dark Man Theme; it was very simple but I thought it was the beeís knees. That and Cottingham Melody are the only two pieces I have ever written on any instrument besides the guitar.
Mrs Jefferies had been writing songs with the same intention as us, and getting nowhere just as fast. Being a somewhat older person her material was not chart-oriented, unsurprisingly, but that doesnít mean it had no merit. We wrote two pieces together specifically, Ephemeron, which was my song, but I needed some help with the music, and Waiting In The Wings For The Call That Never Comes; if I recall, I came up with the full title, but the sentiments and most of the song belonged to her, although in due course I came to share those sentiments more deeply than I could have imagined, even then.
I continued to see Mrs Jefferies, albeit with decreasing frequency, but eventually our relationship faded, and my visits dried up altogether. I wonít go into details here except to say that her only daughter, who had married a much older man (a fellow academic), had presented her with a grandson - on whom she doted - but that was the only ray of light in her life. She had been dealt a very bad hand, certainly since her husband died, and at times saw the world as a vast conspiracy that was working remorselessly against her. In the end I became a part of that conspiracy too in her eyes, although years later when I ran into her in Penge, she was more affable. In checking the electoral roll recently I found the name Stella J. Jefferies appeared on it until the year 2000, which made me fear the worst, so I went to First Avenue House and checked the index of wills from 1999; when I failed to find her name I had a glimmer of hope that she might still be alive. Unfortunately, Probate records are not an infallible guide, including in this case; on November 27 I found the name Stella Joan Jefferies on the Ancestry.Com website; she died in Surrey in 2000. Iím not ashamed to say that I was overcome with emotion as I was when I heard of the death of Jessie Gilbert. Although I hadnít seen Mrs Jefferies for perhaps twice as long as Jessie, unlike the latter I had known her reasonably well, having actually lived with her. And I might add that along with Judith Hatton and the sorely misguided Lady Birdwood she was without doubt the finest woman I have ever met. The one consolation I had on learning of her death was that unlike Jessie sheíd had a reasonably long life, though by no means a happy one. I couldnít help thinking though that this was another friend I had failed dismally.
Returning to 1986, shortly, The Dark Man - also known as TheDarkman and thedarkman - became an ITMA editor named T.D. Man; (Roger Eatwell knowns all about him). I should perhaps mention at this point how ITMA originated. When I was living in Leeds in the late 70s/early 80s, on seeing me, not for the first time, obviously, some old codger remarked ďItís that man againĒ. I really canít remember the context of our interchanges or even who he was, but it was definitely friendly banter. I had heard of I.T.M.A. from my boyhood - no, Iím not that old, but I was au fait. Innocently I assumed I.T.M.A. was Tommy Handley; I realised later it referred to Adolf Hitler. Strange world.
When I began my career in publishing it seemed only natural to use the ITMA label; I flirted with InterText Manuscripts, then InFoText Manuscripts, before finally settling on InÉoText Manuscripts or sometimes InÉoText MAnuscripts. Sigh. Alan was likewise in the know, and approved, although I think he too thought I.T.M.A. was Tommy Handley.
Returning to music proper, by far the most extensive piece I ever composed was a classical guitar solo called Dance Of The Mad Ballerina; although I put words to it, it rendered best as an instrumental. For once I used the full length of the fretboard, and although with a bit of pedal point and some heavy arpeggios it sounded very sophisticated, it was remarkably easy to play, certainly easier than the much slower Spanish Romance, which being written in the key of E and thus involving four sharps as well as a lot of stretching was about the most difficult piece I ever mastered, and that in a very liberal sense of the word.
Although I wrote a fair amount of purely commercial material, and at times some real mushy stuff, I like to think I penned some inspirational songs too. From my youth I had been heavily into conservation and environmentalism, pre-youth in fact. I read Kenneth Mellanbyís Pesticides And Pollution soon after it was published, so it was not unnatural that I would write a song or two about this and related issues. A Song For The Trees was the first of my eco-songs. And it shows. I wrote the words in 1984, and although I had the music in my head, it took a year or so for me to put it to paper. Hymn To Gaia was the last in this genrť, and of all the songs I have ever written, I think this is the one of which I am most proud. I wrote it some time after the Baron/Barber collaboration ended, which meant the arrangement was very basic. Unfortunately, as with The Dark Man Theme I cannot - yet - publish the music here. Back in the 90s I had a couple of DOS-based music programs which enabled me to generate simple melodies, but having been away from composing for so long, I found it a struggle even to transcribe for the MIDI, and as I write these words I have just finished the last of three extremely laborious and ultimately fruitless sessions in the local caff. On top of that, many of the original scores need some attention. For example, the first sixteen bars of Chestnuts should more properly be in 3/8 time rather than 3/4; donít ask me about the middle eight. Or should that be the middle sixteen!? All this aside, I have not ruled out putting a MIDI file or two on this site at some unspecified future date, but as far as my life has any further purpose, it lies far away from music.
Returning to Hymn To Gaia, as ever, it is the simple things that are best. The words and the music came to me in a flash of inspiration. I have had similar experiences, particularly with my early poetry: works such as Martian Landscape, Rookery and Water Boatmen. All writers have such flashes, of course, indeed, this sort of thing is not restricted to writers and composers, but in my case it was never so instantaneous, clear and profound as with this song.
Another eco-song, Canít Sink A Rainbow, found its inspiration in the 1985 act of sabotage and murder by the French secret service which caused international outrage. We found someone who was interested in recording it, but in the end he decided against it. Greenpeace were likewise suitably unimpressed.
At one point I/we had high hopes for the novelty song Sex Aní Drugs Aní Snooker; we sent this in to the satirical TV show Spitting Image and received a rejection letter that was far from hostile. In retrospect I should have invested in a demo, or even made one myself. Alas, a song like that soon dates, but it was one of my better efforts, in that genrť, at least.
When the penny finally dropped that there was no way in for Al, I left the music behind, and stopped going round to Norbury Crescent. Alan too had other things to attend to, in particular his young son, of whom he had custody.
After our collaboration ended, I had some muted success - if that is the word - when Andrew Savage published some of my material. A piece of music I wrote at some point was used as the backing track for Shapes Of Brains, ditto Grinning People; Andrew wrote the words for both of these, and did everything else. He also arranged and recorded a novelty song of mine, The Funny Farm; his arrangement was a lot more down tempo than mine, but considering the primitive equipment he was using, it sounded really good. To my ears, at least! Andrewís recording of The Funny Farm appeared on both The Big Mouse, 4 and Super Trouper 21, publications he had originally started in leaflet form. This is the way we did things before YouTube! Super Trouper 21 is also known as/subtitled Leaping. Andrew also recorded Be Good To Yourself for Is God A Dropout? I actually recorded a demo of this song - a rare, almost unique example of Al singing. Andrewís arrangement differed significantly from mine. Finally, an instrumental called Walking The Giraffe appeared on Glojjunipidnops; Andrew had a thing about giraffes; previously I had contributed both a limerick and a poem to his giraffe anthology, Neck.
This was the extent of my musical success; had I been more successful I would almost certainly not have ventured as I did into Holocaust Revisionism and related fields. And the world would have been all the poorer for it. But not me!
Sometime in the mid-90s I donated my remaining guitar to the local charity shop; I havenít played for well over a decade, and doubt I could anymore, much less sight-read. Although I havenít knowingly discarded any of my compositions, one or two of the songs published here are incomplete, word-wise at any rate. Nor have I included absolutely everything I wrote either by myself or in collaboration with Alan; I may add some of these others at a later date. Then again, I may not.
With the Internet explosion and particularly with the rise of YouTube and similar sites over the past few years I suppose I should have put these on-line long ago. Who knows what it may have led to? And it could be argued that I owed it to Alan, to Mrs Jefferies, and dare I say to posterity? At any rate, I didnít, but for what it is worth, here at long last is The Dark Manís contribution to our musical heritage, albeit as an afterthought to what is in all likelihood my last ever major site update, and in this connection I refer the reader to the previous update, of November 6, 2008.
December 7, 2008
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