Liner Notes for Excelsior!

Spelling it Out
Inexperienced at composition, but desiring to learn music theory as well as grooving practice, I opened the matrix editor of the sequencer programme (the part where notes are indicated by blocks which indicate their pitch and duration) and wrote my name, one letter per bar. When I played it, I was pleasantly surprised that rather than being a dissonant row, it seemed to have a right old tune hidden in it. So after a bit of tidying (and some experiments with different voicings and emphases), it emerged as the profound hit you can hear today.

Each instrument gets a chorus (or verse) and thus a lot of variations in sound can be realised.

Anchors Gone
This isn't really a new piece. You see, I wrote the tune of Anchors Aweigh (an old Navy/Royal Marine March greatly beloved of members of my family) into my cover-disc free cutdown sequencer programme. Then I created a set of chords and an arrangement for it. Then I threw away the old tune, slowed it to a crawl and wrote a new melody… so on balance I suppose it's legit to claim it as originalish.

I like to think there's a touch of the stillness of a harbour after the ships have sailed away, which has been captured in the tone of this piece. The water which was churned up and muddied by anchors and propellor screws has returned to a gentle lapping, with crickets chirruping in the long grass behind the quayside. After a brief opening statements, some degree of busyness recurs as the tune is embellished and additional instruments add their contribution to the message of peace.

Overbite at the Till
I wrote some puppet scripts for a Children's Holiday Club, and the lovely Theresa Casey and her magnificent teeth (and vast personality) were happy to record the narrator's part. I kept the master tape, complete with fluffs, phlegm movement and giggles, and snatched bits to enhance this track. Once again, I was out on the extreme edge of my technical ability in achieving this.

The initial statement of the theme drops away, leaving a nicely empty section. Then the strings return (cheers to the Scratch Amadeus Ensemble quintet) and finally a picked guitar. The kisses at the conclusion always do it for me… teaser indeed!

Concerto No 1
An attempt at seriousness, for once. Can you smell the fresh bread, pickles and blue cheese of the picnic by the river? Birds flit by; clouds dance through an azure sky; the water tinkles across small stones… Who am I trying to kid?

Rhodes arpeggios inform long string chords, and the first statement of the theme. A sonorous piano picks up the tune, finally giving way to nylon guitar and even more enthusiasm from the strings.

Rhapsody on a Theme by Telemann
Georg Phillipp Telemann (1681-1767) was a rival and friend to JS Bach in Hamburg, and his theme here rhap-sodised originally opened the second movement (vivace-moderato-vivace) of his lighthearted Quartet in G major for flute, oboe, violin, cello and continuo. I first became familiar with the dancing tune when I was at school, as a chap who rejoiced in the name of Nicholas Boys Haslam used to whistle it incessantly. Many years later, I was given a recording of Teleman's Musique de Table, and there was young Haslam's tune all over it!

Congas and hammond set the atmosphere for this one; they ramble for a while until the Telemann piece makes an entrance (at 2.24, if you're counting).

The final statement of that theme is provided by cello, in acknow-ledgement of the composer's love of that particular voice, as demonstrated by its featured place in his Musique de Table works.

Lord of the Trance
Hopefully breaking the sense of relaxation created by Telemann, here's a cynically hard-edged version of the way-too-popular Lord of the Dance classic of the guitar-tutor book Faith, Folk and Clarity. Random noises, kicking drums, aggressive keyboard voices and a massive disregard for style fill our senses.

Please note this cover design for the sheet music reflects the loose drawing style so beloved(?) of readers of the Good News Bible.

Hopefully it's impossible to dance to this, either in a house/rave way, or with those annoying keep-your-body-still-while-your-legs-go-mental efforts.

Radiance Radical
A longtime favourite, Felly's waltz deserved a facelift, but I hope I've kept the heart and soul of the number. Plinky-plonky piano is soon replaced by a more dreamy approach. Jesus is still honoured (he's still the radiance of the Father's glory, after all), but the percussionist gets a chance to throw in his two penn'orth.

Garage Funk
Take some processed Garageband strumming and a slightly quirky drumbeat and add a bit of simple Rhodes, with a standard structure, as befits 12-bar. Nothing new, but toetapping all the same.

Sugar-Free Excelsior
What's in a name? Well, my life became more or less sugar-free two and a half years ago, so I wanted to make it clear that a similar strength of will was required to cobble this piece together.

Excelsior is a favourite word. It refers to the packing material (often shaped like cheesy wotsits) with which some deliveries are stuffed. However, these days, bubble-wrap will often suffice.

One or two juicy little jazzy moments here (0.46; 1.00) give way to some great cymbal work and an exposed bass before the piano breaks in again with the main theme (2.03). Into half time at 3.35, the theme is restated a little later. The brief second movement (5.42) develops the theme a little and then moves (6.29) into a gentler groove.

The third movement (7.45) has a similar feel to the first until (9.16) it swings away into something reminiscent of O Sacred Head Once Wounded, but with changes. At 9.45 comes the first exclamation of Excelsior! with the piano once again taking the lead. Some jazz improvisation follows (11.11) and at 12.43 the soaring theme re-emerges.

You've Got a Friend
Carole King's great song deserves little more than restatement, so this isn't a cover version as such but a simple backing track for a heartfelt vocal (provide your own if you're able). Beware the slight diversion of some descending chords before the chorus!

Admitting Hoodwink:
a note of honesty about the musicians:

Piano, synths, Hammond organ Andy Back

Drums, percussion Nathan Student

Fretless, electric and upright bass  Matt Black

Acoustic & electric guitars  Ian Spyrer de Deet

Vocals & overbite on track 3  Theresa Teaser

String Section: Scratch Amadeus Ensemble

violins Róisin d’Boe, Barry O’Large

viola Pete Siccatto, cello Sal Ponty

string bass Spike Balanced

Horn Section:The Brass Monkeys:

trombone M Booshaw, trumpet Val V’rattler ,

alto & tenor sax Smokey Reid

I spent many happy hours under the harsh but fair tutelage of Nathan Fellingham, learning to play the drums; Matt Black is a pseudonym I've used many times (get the Breakdown EP); International Band of Mystery and Garrett hero Dieter Hachenberg once stated that my guitar playing inspired him to learn the instrument. You already know about Theresa.

String players know that you have to rub gunk called rosin into the bow to get the best vibrations, that bariolage describes the sound made by bowing two strings simultaneously (as often heard in folk fiddling); plucking the strings (rather than using the bow) is called pizzicato; sul ponticello refers to a bowing technique close to the bridge to produce a particular timbre or tone; and bowed basses balance on a long spike.

Meanwhile brass players purse their lips against a mouthpiece establishing an embouchure, trumpeters may often rattle their valves, and saxophones, while categorised as brass instruments, are played using a reed.