It was meant to be a 50th birthday present. To myself. My ageing self.
When I was a teenager, I learnt how to play guitar. For my 17th birthday, my parents gave me a Morris acoustic guitar, which I still play. On that guitar, I wrote songs. I wanted to say more with my song-writing, so I learnt piano – sort of. I played those songs in bands, working with some fantastic musicians. With my mates, I recorded a single, titled Live in Hope, produced by Kevin Shirley. Kevin went on to produce a few other obscure acts such as Silverchair and Aerosmith. A few of my bandmates went on to have fulfilling careers in music.
But in my early 20s, I stopped. I wandered off into telling stories not with melodies and lyrics, but mostly with scripts and pictures, which I have enjoyed. I have also been writing books, which I have found immensely satisfying (have a look at the Words page while you’re visiting). I hadn’t stopped my association with music altogether. I continued writing songs and playing them, but only to my wife, Jo.
Approaching 50, I started doing what many middle-aged men do. I thought about not what I had done, but all the things I hadn’t done and what I wanted to do. What I kept thinking about was my music.
With the support of Jo and our boys, I resolved to stop thinking and start playing – in a studio. This would be how I marked my turning 50. I chose five of my songs and booked to record them at Love Hz Studios, in Sydney, with Michael Carpenter producing. I liked the fact that Michael is about my age (okay, a couple of years younger), has a bunch of musical experience, and the wisdom to know that I was not on some nostalgia trip; rather, that I had a firm idea where I was headed with my music and what I wanted to say. As he said more than once, ‘You’ve been living with these songs a long time.’ But no matter how clear you are about the destination, it’s good to have someone like Michael to nudge you in the back and say, ‘Keep going’.
I spent a few weeks in the studio, on and off over a few months, recording the songs. I sang and played the guitars, bass on a couple of tracks, and keyboards. It’s a solo project, but it hasn’t been a solitary journey. As a birthday present, and because they’re beautifully generous friends, a few of my former bandmates joined me: Steve Morton plays the drums, Peter Pihlak plays bass on a couple of tracks, and John Foreman plays keyboards, including two breath-stealing solos in Noble Intentions and The Catcher. Another friend and mentor (she’s my singing teacher), Nadia Piave, provided some gorgeous, ethereal vocals on Lorelei.
Something happened on the way to completing the songs. I decided I wanted to do more than package them as a birthday present to myself. I wanted them to be heard.
I decided to release them on CD and plonk them on the internet - not that I knew how to do that. So I had the recording mastered by the vastly experienced Rick O’Neil (who, incidentally, remembered mastering that single I worked on back in 1988 … Rick clearly has fine ears and a great memory).
For the CD’s front cover, another friend, Mark Tedeschi, allowed me to use his stunning and haunting photo of a place that I know so well from my childhood: Newcastle Ocean Baths. Jo drew an insightful portrait of me for the inside sleeve, and on the back cover is a photo I took of the door to Love Hz Studios. Walking through that door helped me find my way back to my future.
I’ve called the EP My Old Self.
I know conventional wisdom for the marketing of new music would dictate avoiding the word ‘old’ at all costs. But I’m old enough to not care about that. Indeed, I hope this project, which began as a marking of time, indicates that you have to make the most of time. If you want to do something, do it now. Further, I hope these songs are an affirmation that you’re never too old to start something – or to finish something.
This music is the map to my old self, not in an age sense, but in a far more elemental way. After all, when people have recovered from being ill or feeling lost, they often say, ‘I’m back to my old self.’ Through this project, I’ve returned to my old self. This is me.
CD cover photo: Pavilion by Mark Tedeschi
Home page illustration: Jo Bevan
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