My Blog

Welcome to my blog

 

This blog will mainly be the opinions and thoughts of  an independant, professional musician as he makes his way around the world.

 

It is purely intended as an insight into what life can be like from the point of view of a musician.

By seansnook, May 9 2017 09:32PM

Today marks the one-year anniversary of a new era for me. One in which I started living my life without the physical presence of paternal grandfather, Ron Snook. At the same time it marks the end of the final chapter for him. One in which he was finally free of the torturous and terrible effects of the dymentia that had been tightening its grip on him for the past few years.


The last two and a half months of my grandparents' time on Earth was extremely upsetting, for all concerned. Both grandparents spent it in hospital. My grandmother, Rose, was recovering from a broken hip coupled with the onset of cancer and my grandfather was suffering with the effects of his dementia. Apart from a few years during and just after WWII, those two and a bit months were the longest they had spent apart in approximately 68 years.


Exactly one year ago today Ron had been transfered to the same hospital as Rose so that they could at least see each other in what little time they had left. It had been a month since they had spent time together. That night they both went to sleep knowing they were just one floor apart. Heartbreakingly Ron didn't wake up. They never had their 'one more time'. Just over two weeks later they were both gone. The family organised a joint funeral, which was very fitting. At least they were together in death.


As I sit on my sofa writing this I can recall sitting here a year ago and receiving the phone call from my dad telling me of his father's passing. As soon as we hung up I broke down wishing for my 'one more time' with him. As ever, there are always regrets in these situations. Mine was that I never got to say how proud I was of him. Happily I made sure that I did have that conversation with my grandmother.


I wanted to do something to commemorate his memory, their memory and the memory of both sets of grandparents that are now no longer with me. I decided a tattoo would be a good idea. I wanted something that would honour both my English and Irish herritage. With the help of someone that I had met whilst on tour in Ireland, Barra O'Tuathail, I discovered the word 'Seanchai', phonetically pronounced 'Shanakee'. It means 'Storyteller' but not in the sense of someone down the pub telling stories about what happened to them on the weekend. A 'Seanchai' is more of a custodian of tradition, a historian. Someone who would have a large collection of stories and local history memorised and would recount them for entertainment or education. My grandfather, Ron, was a local historian who catalogued everything from war memorials in the South West to slides of family holidays and travels. He would often tell us grandchildren, and absolutely anyone who would listen, stories about Bristol's past and family members. I have inherited his love of history and am always looking at what has been to see how it may affect what will come.


The word 'Storyteller' seemed like the perfect word to use; Ron was a local historian/storyteller, I believe that grandparents in general are 'living history and the purveyors of stories' and, as a songwriter/musician, I think of myself as a storyteller. So it ties me nicely to my past as well as being my future.


I did some internet research and discovered the original ancient Celtic writing, Ogham. So I decided to have the word Seanchai writen in Ogham on my arm. My mum's reaction was "Who did that to my baby?" and "I don't like it, why would you want naughts and crosses on your arm?". So I guess no matter how old we get to some people we will always just be their baby/brother/sister/mum/dad etc.


My tattoo is on my forearm and can only really be properly seen by me when I am playing my guitar. In those moments when I have 'The Fear', the self-doubt of my musicial ability or the nervousness of singing my songs, I can look down and see and feel my grandparents' influence so that they can always give me strength and support.

By seansnook, Dec 31 2013 08:58AM

When talking about the Graceland album, Paul Simon said that is was what world music is all about, “taking your influences and mixing it with other styles and cultures to create something new”. I was constantly listening to Graceland during the recording process of Do Nutty. Whilst it did conjure up childhood memories of Chevy Chase, it was the mix of South African rhythms and sounds, Zydeco instruments and Pop songwriting that kept drawing me in. I thought that it might be an interesting idea to go through my own album in a ‘Classic Albums’ kind of way. Maybe if I keep calling it a classic album people will eventually agree!!


I thought I’d start with the sleeve as that’s the first point of entry into my 35 minute world.


Venue: I have been asked if this was my house. As much as I’d like it, my house doesn’t have a replica of an early 20th Century pub in it. The shot is taken in a pub called The Adam & Eve, a local, one time favourite watering hole of my uncle. It is also where friends and family gathered after his funeral to commemorate, share memories and, well………get drunk basically!!


Glass of Wine: This is a reference to, not only the drink of choice but to the last time I spent an entire evening in my uncle’s company. He and his, then, partner brought around my 6-month-old cousin to my mum’s flat. The evening was filled with red wine and laughter combined with the mocking of, swearing at and plotting the demise of Chris Tarrant. He had been spending a rather large amount of time on my TV with ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ To this day, it is still a pass time I enjoy, even though his airtime has been significantly reduced.


The Record: One of the great things about music is the sharing. Whether that’s turning a friend onto something they’ve not heard before or taking in the atmosphere of a live show surrounded by strangers. For Christmas 1987 my uncle gave me a copy of the Prince & The Revolution, ‘Purple Rain’ album. I’d heard of Prince but hadn’t gone out of my way to listen to it and wasn’t quite at the age where I would go out and purchase music I liked. It opened my mind to a whole new world of music. Whether he’d bought the album thinking I would like it or just went through his own collection and thought, “I don’t listen to this any more, I’ll give it to Sean” I don’t know or care. The mixture of R‘n’B, Rock, different production techniques and musicianship had me hooked. The next time I saw him he asked if I liked Prince to which I replied, “Yes”. He looked at me, smiled and then jokingly called me a liar.


Hand written papers: When sorting out his possessions family members found odd diaries, notes, letters etc. What you can see on the table is a sheet of A4 with his scribbling on it (This is much clearer on the inside picture). You can clearly see the opening line of To You…”The world is not square”.


CD: There is a CD to my left, which is the debut album by Zoon van snooK released on Mush records. It’s called (Falling from) The Nutty Tree. Zoon, as I don’t call him, is my brother. Although completely different musical styles and approaches both albums share the same theme/inspiration.


Ireland Football shirt: This is much more of a direct reference. Because my Uncle was both Irish and a football fan it made sense to have both on the sleeve.


The whole idea for the sleeve came as I woke up one morning. It just popped in my head as a fully formed thought. It was completed before any of the music and set the tone for the album. Everything from the sleeve, artwork and music to the recording, production, mixing and mastering has been thought about for hours on end to make sure I was happy with it. The fantastic Debora Lowe took the sleeve photos.


Tracklisting


To You: I wanted the album to start with something unusual to draw the listener in. The noise at the start is created by using my effects pedals. Those of you who know or have played on stage with me will know how much I like my effects pedals. The idea came late on in the recording of this track I was experimenting with a noise for another song and when it didn’t work I tried it at the beginning of To You and loved it. Musically I was thinking along the lines of elements of Eleanor Rigby, Glen Campbell and Ryan Adams. The vocal harmonies in the chorus were an after thought. Once I heard how amazing they sounded on ‘Little Star’ I got the girls to sing on as much of the album as possible.


Summer Song: From very early on the other musicians referred to this track as ‘The Pink Floyd one’. I couldn’t hear it until the pedal steel part was added and then I heard what they meant. The Pink Floyd element came by accident as musically I was thinking of something completely different. I was working along the lines of The Band, Neil Young’s ‘Harvest’ album and ‘Mother’ by John Lennon. This was initially called Nutty’s Lament but I thought The Summer Song was a much more positive title. This song has become the ‘theme tune’ that encapsulates the whole album. I made a video to accompany it featuring footage of me as a child as well as that of my uncle when he was young.


Me mine: Over time I have tried this song with various feels, structures and styles. Which is how and why it ended up the way it did. This is ‘the Ringo song’ on the album. Although not sung by the drummer I was working along the lines of Don’t Pass Me By from The Beatles’ ‘White Album’. It’s a much more direct, 2 section song than the others and I wasn’t sure if it would make the album to begin with. I wanted a Honky-Tonk piano sound but soon realised that was a silly idea. In the end I used the ‘wonky’ guitar part as my ‘hony-tonkness’. Not many ‘Pop songs’ have a half diminished chord in it. I could go all ‘Jazz Theory’ and explain that the verse sequence is a substitution of the basic I chord to VI chord sequence but I won’t. In truth I played two chords that sounds ok next to each other, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing until I had to explain it to another musician.


What About Me?: This started out with me messing around with extended Jazz chords. That led to the 3/4 feel which in turn pulled me towards the New Orleans style drum pattern. Eventually, thinking “in for a penny, in for a pound”, I went all out and wrote, scored and recorded the Horn section playing a “New Orleans Funeral March” type thing. Lyrically it’s definitely rooted in the ‘Anger’ stage of the grieving process but I tried to keep it upbeat with the horn line crescendo.


Stupid Is: For this track I was working along the lines of The Beatles’ Rubber Soul album, which itself was influenced by Bob Dylan. Vocally I was going for a Paul Simon-esque melody. The over all feel of the track I was going for was, again, somewhere between the White album and Harvest. I used the pedal steel as opposed to electric guitar to try and take it away from the standard 4 piece rock band sound. I’d recently watched a documentary about the making of Queen’s ‘A Night At The Opera’ and discovered that Freddy Mercury double tracked all of his backing vocals. Hence, the Backing Vocals on this track and Me Mine.


About Me & You: The origins of this song are different to the others. The lyrics came first. I don’t like it when people explain what’s clever about a song and why you should like it (Ralph McTell, I’m looking at you!!). But this song is all based around word play. The last word of each line is the start of the next one. I liked the idea of each line spilling into the next one. I always wanted this to be a stripped back, String-led track. Unlike the Horn section in ‘What About Me?’ I didn’t have a string part scored, it was all in my head. So when Hannah came in to record the Viola and Violin I simply sang each line and we layered it up as we went. I was buzzing for days after recording the string parts.


The One I Need: The intro to the track came during the recording process. It wasn’t my intention to start the song with such an impact but it was one of those things that developed as it was being tracked. Production-wise the Graceland album directly, sonically inspires this song. I liked the close, unconventional vocal harmonies used on ‘I know what I know’ and the percussion sounds used throughout the album. This whole song builds to the percussive outro. I asked my friend to bring in everything and anything to try and create a complete rhythm section. There’s Latin and African influences as well as the ‘Buddy Holly-esque’ thigh slapping á la ‘Everyday’. This is also one of the few tracks that I create sound scapes with my guitar pedals.


I Have Made My Bed: This is the most recent song to be recorded. I wanted this song to sound like The Band. The guitar parts took me a whole day as I wanted each phrase to echo every line and fill every space exactly. I had recorded a version of this as a demo with a different set of musicians about a year before. Unfortunately it was lost in a computer malfunction that resulted in my starting the recording process again. I managed to salvage some individual parts so the BVs, acoustic guitar and percussion was saved from the old version and used in the new recording.


She’s My Angel: The reference for this song was ‘Tender’ by Blur. I recorded the basic rhythm tracks for the whole album live. The reason being I wanted the songs to sound like human beings in a room playing music together, capturing a performance not just the notes. This track in particular benefits from that approach. The dynamics and feel all come from the performance. The song is written from my uncle’s point of view talking to his daughter.


Worth It: I wanted this song to sound like a cross between Wilco and Ryan Adams. It has become a live favourite and I think it’s the most immediate song on the album. The song also has another memory, other than my uncle, attached to it. It was a favourite of the person who used to work on the door of the Fleece & Firkin in Bristol. She’d always say how much she loved the line “All I want to do is wake up next to you and see you smiling”. Sadly, she passed away some years ago and every time I perform the song I remember her.


Little Star: This song was always going to be the closing of track. I wanted there to be an uplifting end to the album so that the listener went away feeling upbeat or maybe go back to the start to listen again. The obvious stand out section is the Gospel-esque choir at the end. That came to me out of the blue one day. I couldn’t afford to hire a whole choir so I got the girls to sing each line together into 2 mics and built up the harmonies with all three of them singing each line. Again, I sang the parts and they copied me until the whole thing was finished. There were extra tracks of handclaps and foot stomps added in. The applause at the end was an idea from the end of an Oasis song. My favourite part is right at the end. Having successfully sung a tricky harmony line, you can hear someone shout “Get In” and then they all crack up adding a natural, accidental ending to the album.


There were two elements that I didn't trust myself to do, namely recording my own vocals and mixing. Not that I am incapable but I knew that if I undertook those two tasks myself I would still be there now trying to get it 'right'. So I asked a good friend of mine, Dave Lewis, to record my vocals for me. His knowledge and guidance made the whole experience much more enjoyable. Where I would have been doing vocal parts again and again I could trust his opinion when he said "that's the take". The mixing element could be a story unto itself but I can sum it up by saying that it was expertly done by Mark Aubrey.


2013 has been an amazing year. One that I never thought would end up with me releasing an album. Who knows what the next year will bring......World Cup success for England?!


Happy New Year!

By seansnook, Mar 23 2013 04:21AM

So the story begins….


Welcome to my first blog. As the rather poor pun in the title might suggest the main theme of these blogs, initially at least, will be based on the 2 50 States in 50 Days tours that I’ve undertaken with Kevin Montgomery.


When I tell people of the tour that I undertook the response I get is normally one of two things. The first statement would be “which States didn’t you go to?”. This is followed by a 5-minute conversation, back and forth about how there are only 50 States. The second most common response is “Did you go to *insert the name of a State*?”. I would then say “yes, I went to all 50 states.”

- “What even *insert another state*?”

- “Yes, I’ve been to ALL 50 STATES”.

- “Hawai’i…..what about Hawai’i?”

- “YES. I’VE. BEEN. TO. ALL. 50. STATES!!”


And so on and so forth.


People always ask me what my favourite State is. The first answer that springs to mind is “Drunk”. My proper answer is that I truly cannot pick any one particular State. Every State has something beautiful that I’ve never experienced before. Some specific highlights that I will cover in these blogs include: the sunset in North Dakota, the open roads of Montana and Wyoming, the night sky in the Arizona desert, following the river from Boise, Idaho into Montana. There are more obvious things like being in L.A, New York, Boston, Dallas and Nashville. Also, much more personal/spiritual things such as being in the very recording studio that Buddy Holly recorded all of the records that influenced my early playing. It was also heart warming for me to see Kevin sit in the exact same chair that his Dad would have sat in 50 odd years earlier listening to his songs through the exact same speakers. I will talk about this episode of the tour when I cover New Mexico.


Musically, I found America extremely influential but not for the reasons that one may think. Yes, I am a massive fan of the ‘Sounds of American Culture’ from Hank Williams, the whole rock ‘n roll movement, Muddy Waters, and Steve Cropper to Nile Rogers, The Black Keys, The Black Crowes and everything else in between. There’s also the New York ‘Art Rock’ of Talking Heads to the ‘Anti War Chants’ of Creedance Clearwater Revival. For me, travelling around America and listening to the radio, I learned a lot about how records are written and produced as compared to the UK.


It was on the second 50 States Tour that I decided I was going to record an album of my own material. Not because I thought I could do better, not because I felt I needed to be heard but because I realised that my own musical output is an amalgam of everything that I have heard, learned and studied from the moment I became ‘aware of music’ to the present day. There was a sudden realisation that it was ok to use all of my influences and put them into the one big pot that is ME.


And so where to start? Well, my American experience begins and ends in Los Angeles, as does the careers of many an artist. The first time I felt the California sunshine was October 2009. I’d been doing some gigs in Japan with Kevin and then flew from there into LAX (oooh get me!!). I have a dreadful fear of flying so the thought of 10 hours in a metal tube weighing the best part of 100 tonnes, travelling at 500mph, at 32,000 feet in the air doesn’t exactly fill me with joy. Anyway, I survived both Japan and the flight. Kevin took me around his old haunts and showed me some of the sights. It was all exactly how I’d imagined it would be. Maybe it’s an indictment of my miss-spent childhood but the whole city felt very familiar to me. After all I’d seen it in films, news clips and TV shows.


One thing I’d noticed about L.A was that no-body has a normal job. Despite the fact that they were washing the car, cooking food at the restaurant or serving beer in a bar they’d always, without fail, say “I’m an actor/producer/screen writer/musician/etc”. Another lesson I learned was never ever-bloody-ever order a Jameson’s and Lemonade. I ordered this on the first night. The bartender looked at me oddly and said “really?”

I thought that she was a whisky snob and was about to give me a lecture on how I was spoiling a perfectly good whisky by putting a carbonated, sugary lemon drink with it. So I said, all blasé, “yes, I know, it’s weird, but I like it”.

Kevin followed it up with “He’s English” - This explanation became a theme of the tour which seemed to cover every aspect of my behaviour from my choice of drink to my sense of dress.


Dear reader, if you order a lemonade in America you will be given a sugary lemon juice mixture. What I should have said was “Jameson’s with Sprite” (other carbonated lemon based drinks are available). I will never forget the taste of a very nice Irish Whisky mixed with sugar and lemon juice. I, of course, pretended that it was exactly what I wanted to drink!


Another abiding memory of L.A is meeting Jerry Fuller and his wife Annette. They are close friends of Kevin’s family and when he lived in L.A they were like second parents to him. We went out for a meal with them on our first night in the city and Jerry told stories of his time singing in The Champs and recording with Glen Campbell. There was a particularly funny story about a drummer, a two-hour gig and laxative chewing gum.


For me, a rough-ass Bristol boy from a council estate South of the River, with a fixation with ‘the birth of modern music’, this was an absolute dream. A few days later we were invited to their house and when we were in the kitchen Kevin asked if Jerry could show me around his study. We walked up some stairs to a small mezzanine with a desk, a sofa and some office furniture. The walls were adorned with photographs of Jerry and Annette and people who can only be described as icons of music. He played me the first recording he ever played on. A standard rock ‘n roll song that had a rawness to it. He explained how they didn’t have a drum kit so used a metallic dustbin lid to provide the back beat.


I am obsessed with History. This is something I have picked up from my grandfather who is a local historian. So, as you can imagine, this contextualising of modern musical history had the same effect on me as someone wearing a ‘cat nip suit’ in a cats home.


Sitting in Jerry’s office listening to him talk about his first recordings was so inspiring. Although he has been officially retired for some years now I could see the excitement and twinkle in his eye as he reminisced about the part he played the birth of contemporary music. I hope I am still in love with music as much as Jerry is when I reach his age. At that point I realised that I didn’t actually have anything that I could look back on and say “this is what I did”. I am in no way comparing my musical output, now or in the future, to ‘Travellin’ Man, Young Girl or Show and Tell but I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t put my own music into the world, regardless of how well it is received, then I wouldn’t be able to, one day, sit in my own office listening to the recordings and remember the musicians that played on it, what microphone I used for the viola, what studio it was recorded in and all of the other fond memories I have of the recording process.


Now, over two years later, I am nearing the completion of my album and I am extremely happy with how it is sounding so far. I often joke that there is still plenty of time for me to ruin it. But I honestly think that in years to come I will look back on it and be proud of my writing, engineering and production as well as the playing/singing of some fine musicians that I am lucky enough to call friends. All thanks, in some part, to Jerry, Kevin and every other experience that I had on my journey around America.


I recently read a quote from Mahatma Ghandi which I thought quite apt. “You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result”


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