Blog 21: Great songs but which ones?

We mentioned in our last blog that we now feel we have a sufficiently large repertoire of songs which allows us tailor our set lists to suit our audience. Whilst this is a blessing in many ways, it can bring it’s own problems – the main one being an embarrassment of riches. Over the course of the last twenty blogs, we have commented on songs that have featured and, by and large, tended to stay in our set lists from our earliest days. There are other songs that rotate in out of our set list, New Killer Star, being a case in point, and some we played for a while then stopped to allow new songs to come in. An example here, would be Cracked Actor which has never re-surfaced. We have earmarked a future blog to look at some of these and who knows, reviewing them may mean we bring them back.

For now though there are a couple of songs, both absolute gems, that we are going to look at here. One of these, Slip Away, has meandered in and out of our set list whereas the second, Lazarus, is likely to remain an ever-present. So much has been written about the significance and poignancy of the Blackstar album that there is little we feel that we can add but having formed our band in the aftermath of Bowie’s passing as a way of honouring his music, we always knew that we wanted to cover one if not more songs from this album but we were aware that being a five piece band with no keyboard or sax player would limit our choices. Alex’s arrival opened a whole host of new avenues for us to explore and so when we decided it was time to look at Blackstar, we all offered our thoughts and suggestions. Despite the grittiness of the subject matter, Lazarus appealed to us all and became our initial choice. Other selections from Blackstar have been put forward more recently for future rehearsals so we hope to take a look at some of these now that we’re able to rehearse together again.

In a band where there are two guitarists, a decision usually needs to be taken by Mel and Andrew as to who takes on any rhythm and/or acoustic guitar parts and who will be tackling any electric/lead guitar elements. By the time this conversation took place, Mel had already worked on a number of the lead guitar parts which sound terrific and Andrew was more than happy to take on the rhythm guitar role. The song starts with a simple guitar intro from Mel over Allan’s drumbeat before the rest of the band and the vocals kick in. With the exception of the mid-section which features a different chord sequence entirely, the remainder of the song’s chord structure stays constant throughout so we just use its progression as an opportunity to build the tempo.

Having completed recordings of Ziggy Stardust, New Killer Star, Starman and Lady Grinning Soul at the fabulous Rofl Studios in Nottingham in January 2018, we went back there in February last year to record Lazarus and our video can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qprTjFon2Bc

The album Heathen contains some great songs and Slip Away was drafted into the set following persistent nagging from Andrew (please don’t ever ask him how good he thinks this this song is!). The song references an American TV, film and stage performer, “Uncle” Floyd Vivino, whose show featured puppets called Bones Boy and Oogie both of whom are mentioned in the song. Originally titled “Uncle Floyd” and conceived for the officially un-released Toy album, the song begins slowly with a combination of delayed guitar notes, volume swells and cymbals. The first two verses build towards a truly inspirational chorus which showcases the amazing vocal harmonies of Jane and Mel. The song structure then repeats with two more verses followed by another chorus before playing out (we must get a Stylophone for Jane). At the Bowie convention in Paris in 2019, we were treated to a beautiful rendition of the song by Sandrine Sand and whilst we are likely to rest it from time to time, Slip Away will always be a joy to play.

Don’t forget to keep your heads warm!

Alex, Jane, Mel, Allan, Andrew & Phil