Blog 10: Back to the 70s

The next three songs that feature in the second half our set are Lady Grinning Soul, Queen Bitch and John, I’m Only Dancing. This section is a firm step back into the 70s and starts the ramp up into a banging end of set in which we normally get people up and dancing.

Lady Grinning Soul is a kind of pause for breath before that. It’s an absolutely fabulous song and one that we seem to play well every time. It has such a cinematic feel and the words and music marry up perfectly. The absence of keys resulted in Andrew re-working the intro and after a short pause, Jane comes in and delivers an amazing vocal performance. As in Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide, the guitar chords become more complicated but regardless of that, the song just seems to float along. Interestingly, we recorded this song at Rofl in February 2018 and the music for recorded version was done on the second take (Andrew made an error in the solo! – how he still remembers that I don’t know, so hard on himself – Ed).

As 2019 has gone on and more songs have been added, Lady Grinning Soul has been sacrificed on more than one occasion to fit another “slow/not so well-known” song into the set. Now we have more than 40 songs we can do, this becomes one of the major challenges as you also need to balance the set for the type of audience you will have. Inevitably, you cannot do too many slower ones or lesser known ones. However, many regular followers have consistently told us that it’s one of their favourites of the songs we do, and they are always asking for it, so we try and include it as often as possible.

One of the reasons it particularly plays into our hands is the “top of range” vocals from Bowie, which are easier for the female vocal range to cope with. It contains the highest note he ever sung on his studio recordings and he never performed it live (which is another reason die-hard Bowie fans love hearing it live). There is your Bowie trivia for the day!

Queen Bitch is up next and after a short stint on the microphone from Allan, Mel strums the intro chords on an acoustic before we all kick in and it rolls along in a very upbeat fashion without much pausing for breath.

Being a straight-forward guitar song from that era, the challenges did not lie with the instrumental arrangement, but rather with getting the pace right so the lyrics can be delivered. This song was on the original list we started with but with needing to learn 20 odd songs quickly, it was one challenge too far for Jane’s tiny little head, and it got put back until she had got some of the other songs down and freed up a bit of brain space to absorb this one.

The studio version of this song is actually surprisingly slowly paced and we definitely seem to get through it at a brisker tempo. With the volume of words and general jumping around involved, this makes it quite hard to deliver! It’s definitely got better and better though, throughout this year. The pace is pretty spot-on and really works in this part of the set.

There are a number of songs where we have consciously employed the dynamic of acoustic and electric guitars and other songs that see this combination include You Feel So Lonely You Could Die, Starman and next in this set of three John, I’m Only Dancing.

‘John’ is another song that typifies Bowie’s glam rock era, its starts in a similar vein to Queen Bitch, with Mel starting on acoustic guitar before drums, guitar and bass kick in. It must be a bass player thing but apparently this one has a cracking bass line – ask Phil and he will talk to you about it for hours! John, I’m Only Dancing is one of those “blink and you’ll miss it” songs that rattles along at an alarming rate of knots. If it wasn’t for Allan counting us out at the end, we would never know when to stop.

This is one of Jane’s mum’s favourite songs and it traditionally marks the point in the set when she will come to the dance floor. We asked her to comment on this song and why she likes it so much and we got  “It’s the name, because John is my son’s name” so there you have it; it’s a great example of how Bowie’s music can influence and touch people in very personal ways.

A striped-down acoustic version of this can be found at the start of an interview we did for Notts Music Network: https://youtu.be/iAvmjVJbO8o