Did you ever wish you could go back in time and walk down the road not taken?
Say what you like about catastrophic global pandemics but all that furloughed downtime is a gift of unclaimed hours and days unlikely to happen again this side of the pension. I saw others making use of this time to create beautiful gardens, build dream kitchens or finally put up that shelf in the hall. There were to be no more excuses for procrastination.
For our band, lockdown meant locked out of the recording studio, just as we were about to hire the orchestra, the choir, the whistles and the bells. Our cunning plan was foiled (for now anyway) and space was, for the foreseeable future, strictly rationed. But there was time. Time regained. And temptation. Temptation to retrace our steps and wander along the road not taken; a forbidden road full of memory and ghosts.
On April 5th 2013 we played our final gig as The Starlets (at the Lucky Break Snooker Hall in Clydebank, for those of you who appreciate a splash of local colour). As I remember it, we’d worked our way up to third on the bill that night so it wasn’t as though we didn’t have a certain standing to consider as one of the necessary sacrifices. The next day we were A New International. From then on, it was all Year Zero, a shining path to a brave new world and any facts not fitting the theory would be airbrushed from the narrative. All anciéns regimes, idle aristocrats, White Russians, Trotskyists, counter-revolutionaries, fifth columnists, refugees and wrongthinkers alike, well, a bullet was too good for them. Off to the gulag with you. Hocus Pocus and the Commissar vanishes. In musical terms, this meant many songs were left behind, banished to exile. Lost songs.
But still, even the Bolsheviks knew a Fabergé egg when they saw one. We throw nothing away. Waste is a sin.
There is more.
The post-revolutionary period (2013-present day) has seen the gradual emergence of a growing number of dissidents: songs contemptuous of party line, songs which revel in sex and decadence and glamour. They shouldn’t be allowed really. And perhaps they won’t be. Later songs.
Music is time travel. The lost songs date from as far back as 1997; the later songs, as recently as 2019/20 (one or two lyrics were finished just last night). More than a few are a mixture of the two – melodies from the past brought back to life by newly written lyrics. Or vice versa.
I have spent much of the lockdown period drinking in a cupboard, working on songs I’d forgotten we had. You could say I’ve been making my own entertainment. Beyond the cupboard, the band have adapted to a new way of working – zoom pow wows, home recording, file sharing and working remotely with producer and resident magician of Sheffield’s Yellow Arch Studios, Mr Colin Elliot – trying to answer the question of how. How, inspired by the make-do-and-mend spirit of the blitz and on a budget somewhere in between minimal and non-existent, how could we make something that still sounds like a record?
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are travelling, song by song, towards a new record and would like to invite you to share the journey with us. “Lost and Later Songs” is an alternative remembrance of things past and a reimagining of our present and future, all recorded under lockdown conditions.
Tennessee Williams wrote – “Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.”
Perhaps all this will be time recaptured, if only for a moment.
We are now walking down the path not taken. We must document all that we can, for we are unlikely to pass this way again. We certainly didn’t before.
– Biff Smith, in the lost and later year of 2020
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.