I was talking to musical one-off Paul Vickers (aka comedy one-off Mr Twonkey) a few weeks ago and we thought it might be interesting to do a blog about how, during the COVID lockdown, he had managed to write an entire album for his band Paul Vickers and The Leg.
Exactly a fortnight ago, I FaceTimed Paul and bandmate/co-songwriter Dan Mutch at Dan’s home.
They share a lockdown bubble in Edinburgh.
Yes, a fortnight ago.
COVID lockdown lethargy has hit me.
This is how the conversation went…
JOHN: So, you have recorded an album…
PAUL: Well… not yet.
DAN: We’ve written it.
PAUL: We’ve demo’d it. But we now need the rest of the band to come in… I dunno…
JOHN: So this whole idea of John, call me up and I’ll tell you how to record an album during Lockdown was all bollocks?
PAUL: Well, not complete bollocks. I thought we could talk about how creativity…
JOHN: You were just lonely. Admit it.
PAUL: I dunno. What shall we talk about? I feel like we should do something.
JOHN: Can you juggle?
PAUL: Not to any great standard.
JOHN: How are you going to get all six people in the band together to record this album? You’re having Zoom calls?
DAN: No. Just been the two of us working away on stuff, mainly.
PAUL: We haven’t seen the others for quite a while.
JOHN: You two can be creative by sitting around writing songs, but what are the other four members of the group doing?
PAUL: Pete Harvey’s up in Perth. He’s the cello player.
DAN: He has been making snowmen and he runs his own studio and does arrangements for string quartets. He had a livestream a few days ago of a piece he’d written.
PAUL: He did strings for Deacon Blue recently and he works for King Creosote quite a lot.
JOHN: The others?
DAN: Alun Thomas goes in to the gallery he works at and goes to the cellar and… is allowed to… erm…to do what he wants.
JOHN: (LAUGHS) Any more details on that?
PAUL: Well, he can play the drums.
JOHN: And the other two?
DAN: They’re both care workers.
JOHN: I did a couple of blogs in June last year with two of The Tiger Lillies. One of them was in Berlin and the other in Athens. They were able to record albums together online but, because of the variable time-lag online, the end result was out of sync, so they had to painstakingly re-edit everything after the recording.
But writing is OK? The two of you get together in your bubble or on your separate sofas?
PAUL: Yeah. But it’s what you write that’s the problem.
We tried to write an album about a cruise ship, because that’s what it felt like at the beginning of the first Lockdown. I abandoned the idea because, after the pandemic’s over, I don’t know if anybody is really gonna want to hear songs about lockdown and stuff like that.
JOHN: Well, I don’t know. The whole of the late-1940s, the 1950s and a lot of the 1960s was all films about the 1939-1945 War…
PAUL: I suppose.
JOHN: But you’re screwed, aren’t you? You can’t even do virtual gigs, because you can’t get all six people together. So are both of you phenomenally frustrated? You can write things but you can’t perform them.
DAN: Doing gigs seems like a distant memory. But, if you have stuff to do, like writing songs… Well, you have more time to work on and develop them.
PAUL: And – what we’ve done – it’s a really thoughtful collection of songs. I think the album title will be Winter on Butterfly Lake. It’s not our usual kind of thing. There’s a lot of heartbreak and soft and romantic kind of songs.
DAN: It is a heartbreak album on Paul’s part.
PAUL: Yeah, there’s been some things happening in my personal life that sort of… changed things a bit. And we decided to move away from Susan Oblong songs…
JOHN: Which are…?
PAUL: Songs that are kind of angular, funky kind of songs with cut-up meanings or lots of metaphors. That had become our over-riding style, but then I thought I’m going to be a bit more honest and confessional and put my heart on the table a bit.
DAN: It’s much more personal.
PAUL: Yeah. And that’s changed the tone of the songs and they’re put together and produced in a slightly different way. It has resulted in a change of direction to some degree.
JOHN: My cheap psychology here… Is the fact that they’re more reflective also something to do with the fact you’re in isolation?
PAUL: It might be…
JOHN: Or it might not be.
PAUL: Or it might not be. But I’ve tried to be as honest as I can be.
JOHN: The words come first or the music comes first?
DAN: Both. It’s usually me playing an acoustic guitar and Paul having an idea and it sparks off, then we put it into GarageBand and keep working on it.
PAUL: I’ll have things I’ve been thinking about for a while which come to the surface and Dan will have certain bits he’s been playing around with that might fit and, once you get a melody for something like a first verse, it usually starts flowing quite quickly.
If it goes well, you can’t get it down quick enough; you’re always ahead of the game.
But, if it doesn’t go well, there’s a lot more shuffling of papers, a lot more cups of coffee and moments of… erm… of quiet contemplation.
JOHN: Well, what else shall we talk about? Why have you got a black sheet of A4 paper on the wall?
DAN: Ehhhhhh…. No particular reason… I like drawing and things like that. So I like putting blank bits of paper on the wall to think about what I might draw on them.
JOHN: And it’s black because…?
DAN: Somebody left some sheets of black paper round here.
JOHN: Do you actually need to get all six of you together? Surely in modern recording, people often record their individual bits separately and recordings are made in layers.
DAN: Sometimes we do that, but it’s not the same as actually playing with people. And, when we do the final recordings, then we probably want it to have gone through that kind of development with everyone playing it loads of times together because it changes things.
PAUL: Yea, the structure of things will change.
JOHN: So when might Winter on Butterfly Lake come out?
DAN: It would be good if we could get it done by the end of the year.
JOHN: And it’s solely dependant on the indeterminate lowering of the COVID threat…
PAUL: There’s gonna be a real blocked pipe syndrome, I think – All the things that people have been holding on to will be released – albums, films – How many times have they delayed the release of the new James Bond film?
JOHN: Yes, there will be oodles of $200 million films coming out next year which should have been released last year and this year. Maybe you should title your album Paul Vickers and The Leg: The Constipation Years.
PAUL: Well, when all these things come out of the blocked pipe at once, it’s gonna be messy. There will be a danger of getting lost in the sludge… Either the sludge will create a kind of social ecstasy with all these brilliant things all happening at once… or, more likely, most of it will just get completely ignored and people will move on to the next thing.
JOHN: If these Lockdowns continue for another year, what on earth are you going to do? You’ll be so creatively frustrated.
DAN: We’ll probably just carry on writing stuff for when the time comes…
PAUL: You should see Dan’s fireplace. He had a dream where a lion came into his bedroom and…
DAN: That was it. That was it. A lion coming into a bedroom.
PAUL: I’ll send you some pictures of Dan’s fireplace… There’s no deadline for posting this blog, because… well… nothing’s happening…
…and I’ll send you a link to our Bandcamp page – and Dan and I will do you an acoustic lockdown fireside version of Slow Runs the Fox from Winter at Butterfly Lake.