I coulda been an Arranger…


First of all, let me be honest: I have no musical ability whatsoever. At primary school, I got on with the recorder – until you had to start using your right hand as well. After A-levels, I bought myself an acoustic guitar, only to rapidly realise I had no aptitude for it. And during my marriage, we acquired a set of drums, only to discover that whilst I was capable of creating a lot of vigorous noise on it, I couldn’t create any kind of organised noise.

As for singing, a music teacher friend of mine once assured me that I was not tone-deaf, but rather tone-dumb: I knew the note I wanted to produce, I was just incapable of producing it at will!

That wasn’t entirely fair. There were certain songs that I could harmonise with quite efficiently on late-night Friday drives returning from delivering the kids to their father for the weekend, though my dear wife was more often dumbfounded by my apparent ability to sing a song perfectly adequately but a half-tone out.

I can’t even do that now. I’ve never been one to praise my own efforts, but the cracked and gravelly thing that’s my ‘singing’ voice nowadays can’t get anywhere near a reproducible note. Not that it stops me, when the headphones are on, from singing forcefully. But that’s with no-one around to hear.

I may or may not have mentioned this before, but the last few months I’ve been engaged on a massive musical project that, at times, has seen me burning as many as four CDs in a day. It all began with a moment of forgetfulness: about to go off for a long train journey, I realised I’d overlooked recharging my mp3 player. As a substitute, I grabbed for my long unused portable MD player and a handful of MiniDiscs. I had enough presence of mind to put in new batteries but not enough to remember to grab the headphones. So it was all a bit of a bust really.

But it reminded me of those MiniDiscs, and I started playing them. It was a carnival of sound: music I’d long forgotten I had, music I’d long forgotten existed. I wanted it to be more accessible so I’ve spent the last three to four months in collating all those songs, organising and theming them, combining with stuff I’d long since downloaded, and as a result creating over 50 new CDRs for myself.

Among the long-lost-and-forgotten was the theme music to ‘Budgie’. This was an early Seventies comedy/drama starring Adam Faith in his breakthrough acting role as Ronald ‘Budgie’ Bird, a young chancer just out of prison, ducking and diving in London, perpetually beholden to Scottish gangboss Charlie Endell (played by Iain Cuthbertson, whose characteristically gravelly call, “Eh, Budgie” was much imitated at my school).

The theme music was written and recorded by Ray Davies, in a solo gig away from the Kinks. I loved it but it was not, so far as I was aware, commercially available at the time so, in order to capture it, I had to record it ff the TV. Using microphones.

The task was doubly difficult in that the music was never played as a continual whole. The opening credits went directly into a ballad style verse, the closing credits the same but with a different verse. Links into and out of adverts consisted of a short guitar motif. All told, it was not really satisfactory, so I did something I’d never done before or since: I taped all the bits and then, laboriously, using two tape recorders and no editing equipment whatsoever, I linked the bits together in a manner that built them into a recognisably structured song.

I used one of the advert breaks, doubled, as a lead into the opening credit verse, slipped another double breaks in as a bridge to the closing credits verse, and used the break again as a fade-out. It was primitive, the sound quality was poor, even before I bounced the track at least once to transfer it to cassette, and finally onto MiniDisc, where it lay, unheard and forgotten, for most of a decade.

When I was engaged in the transferring process, I tried wherever possible to get new, digital, clean tracks. Many of my old favourites had been recorded off the radio, so intros were missing, or talked over, and the songs often were refreshed by eliminating these long ago words or lacunae (I had had Robert Palmer’s ‘Back in Your Arms’ for forty years without listening to its intro, and that’s just one example). In total, no more than fifty tracks needed to be transferred directly from the MiniDiscs which, given that there were between 650 – 750 tracks to begin with, was a tremendous testament to how much music is available now.

I came to ‘Nobody’s Fool‘, the title of the ‘Budgie’ theme song. I wondered if, in all these years of rarities being released, whether it was available. It was indeed, and I downloaded and burned it. But best of all, I recognised it in every moment. For the song as recorded entire used all the primitive bits off the TV show that I had long ago miked and stapled together, in the same order. I had arranged my version of the song exactly as Davies had written and recorded it.

I coulda been an arranger…

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