Around the time of the second Iraq War, I started jamming on a Sunday afternoon with a local Ararat musician, Darren Sherwell. It started out as a bit of fun. He was an accomplished player and excellent singer. My fingers were full of rust – but somehow,in those first fumbling hours we made a pretty solid connection.
Our jam sessions were disorganised and impromptu. He was into the Beatles and McCartney in particular while my major influences remained Deep Purple and to a lesser extent, Jethro Tull. The strange combination worked and we’d start with something like And I Love Her, then swing through a variety of moods and songs that included such Purple tunes as Soldier of Fortune, Strange Kind of Woman and Ted the Mechanic before inevitably finishing with a ramshackle but spirited version of Smoke on the Water.
It was just a bit of fun – a bit of fun that we both looked forward to more and more. One of the keys, I think, was that we weren’t trying to prove anything to each other – we took the opportunity to learn different techniques and approaches and I think we helped each other to improve as musicians. Darren even encouraged me to add my vocals to one or two songs – which was quite an achievement as I’d always thought my voice to sound like a tired, tuneless fog horn and singing embarrassed me.
It wasn’t long before we started to record our jams (I still have a disk of one session tucked away in my treasures) and we started to realize that at times we sounded pretty good. There would be bits and pieces that presented possibilities for further development and exploration and we started to seriously consider putting some songs together.
In my early years I’d played with a lot of musicians and was always frustrated with where things went. It either developed into a giant pissing competition or everyone had totally different ideas about what they wanted to do. What usually happened was that we ended up playing largely unsatisfying covers of Kiss or the Angels and creativity was left at the door. On the occasions I tried to form my own band with the soul purpose of making our own music, I never found musicians who got where I was coming from and half formed ideas that had been formulated in my practice hours never saw the light of day. By the time I had my twenty first birthday I’d largely given up on the idea of doing anything serious and let my guitar become a means of expression and an outlet for my frustrations. Serious practise though was largely a thing of the past. The riffs and half formed ideas that I had put together were never entirely forgotten, but left to rot away in an overflowing cabinet drawer in my mind that housed all number of broken dreams and aspirations.
Darren’s enthusiasm and encouragement inspired me to dust off those old ideas and start working with them again. I had one entire chord progression worked out and just needed some lyrics to fit. Cautiously and full of doubts, I showed Darren the chord progression and percussive rhythm and he was excited about it. “Have you got some words?” he asked.
I promised to put some together and needed to look no further than the coverage of the Iraq war to draw some inspiration from.
Shortly after I had the words written and had recorded a basic guitar track with a guitar solo overdub (pretty much to show this is where we’ll put the solo) and dropped off the words and music files to Darren’s place.
I didn’t expect much. I never do.
Darren called around several days later to say that he had completed the song. He gave me a disk. I couldn’t believe what he’d done. Somehow he’s taken my rough sketch and turned it into a full blown color picture. I couldn’t believe my ears.
“Do you like it.”
I nodded. “You kept the guitar solo.”
“I didn’t think it was much. I was just noodling.”
“It works. Why change it?”
I can’t really say how much that meant to me. I’d spent most of my musical life thinking that I just wasn’t good enough and that my playing was barely adequate and here was someone who I regarded as an infinitely superior musician not only prepared to accept my ideas but to let my work stand alongside his.
The song was called In the Face of Love and Darren listed it on a music site called Soundclick. I think he was more hopeful about its prospects than I was.
A week later the song was sitting in a reasonable position in the blues/rock charts on the site and we decided to do another one.
I’d been playing this simple jig riff since I was about 18. It borrowed from Blackmore use of open strings as drone notes and strangely had a Celtic feel to it. Emboldened by our earlier success, I hung some chords and words around the riff and sent it to Darren.
The result was a song called Nonsense Jig and Darren excelled himself bringing this song to fruition. I still think of it as my best piece of creative work, even though I’ve won awards for fiction and had my written work widely shared by people like Julian Assange, there’s something really satisfying about that three minute jig that still brings a smile to my face.
The thing is it isn’t mine – it’s ours and that’s where the magic – its where I think the magic always is for musicians – finding people that you can collaborate with to bring a spark of an idea into a fully formed piece of work. You literally pluck notes from the ether and assemble them into coherent form. It really is magic.
We kept jamming and writing together for another couple of months but outside pressures were coming to bare on both of us, making it more difficult to find the time to make those sessions happen.
One of the final things we did together was to play a short three piece gig at the town’s annual concert. The hall was packed. I’d never played in front of that many people. Fortunately, I just had to play rhythm and Darren made an excellent front man. I can’t remember what the songs were but I think we finished with a Beatles tune and we left the stage to a wave of applause. It was a hell of a buzz.
Sometimes I catch myself wondering what would have happened if Darren and I had met fifteen years earlier when we both had fire in the belly. If the chemistry that happened between us had happened in a similar fashion, I suspect we could have made an impression on the music business. How big is a moot point. However, I was a substantially different person when I met Darren to the one who wanted desperately to get his ideas out as a young man. The reality is that in all probability I would have kept my ideas to myself, afraid to show what I had to offer. I did it everywhere else. I think it would have been the same.
As it is I’m grateful for the musical time Darren and I spent together. It was more than fun. It was good for the soul.
I rang him today and thanked him.
I have this riff that I might send him….
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