A Traveller’s Guide to Lost and Later Songs#2

For those who may appreciate some background detail, I offer below my workings.
All audio references refer to recordings from the secret playlist, “Lost and Later, Early Days” –https://tinyurl.com/bdcwef5v

#2 Ghost Light
A synth-pop devotional in praise of the light, 14th April 2010 at 9.50am is the earliest noted record in the archives for this one. It sounds uncharacteristically early in the morning for me but, as the politicians like to tell you, statistics don’t lie.
The night before, I had been out drinking with my friend Paul Tasker of the Doghouse Roses. We decided to round off a very enjoyable evening with whisky and tunes back at Paul’s flat during which I remember Paul modelling a beautifully made Swedish Army greatcoat which he’d picked up somewhere or another on the internet. He cut quite a dash as he marched smartly up and down his living room, swaying his whisky to and fro with a martial air. Among various other pressing issues up for discussion that evening, Paul mentioned that he had an old synthesiser he was looking to get rid of and did I want it? That sounds like a laugh, I thought, and we settled on the princely sum of £20.
The next morning, I woke to find I was now the proud owner of a Yamaha SK10 Symphonic Ensemble. There it was, propped against the wall of my bedroom. Oh well, I thought, I had certainly woken up to worse.
I plugged it in, switched it on and quickly realised that I had got lucky here. What a lovely noise. I thought of arcades and 1980s computer games, John Hughes movies, pastel-coloured leg warmers…. There was a string setting that sounded just like Phil Oakey and Giorgio Moroder’s “Together in Electric Dreams”. I was instantly transported to a childhood kitchen scene – my sister and I doing the Sunday dinner dishes whilst we listened to the Top 40 on a state-of-the-art Sanyo transistor radio and singing along to “Electric Dreams”. Then, light speed forward 20 years and dancing to the very same song with my friend Dan Mutch in an empty and just about closing Edinburgh bar after stopping in for one last drink, two children trying to stay up past their bedtime. Like happy news, unexpected and unlooked for, the song soared euphorically out of the bar’s massive speakers as Dan and I pushed our drinks aside in shared joy to find that the dancefloor was there all along, like the yellow brick road, right underneath our feet and we didn’t even notice it.
Music is time travel.
I’ve often thought that the synth pop wizards were really piano balladeers, heirs to a grand tradition but operating under different conditions, in different times. Pop by other means. Pop, of course, must always be by any means necessary, or at least by any means available, but I wonder what Vince Clarke would have created if he found himself behind a baby grand in 1920s Broadway, or if Cole Porter was given a Moog to fool around with.
A lovely sound can in itself be an inspiration. The SK10’s string setting made me feel like it was hard to go wrong. A riff seemed to present itself immediately to me; then it was just a question of which chords sounded good beneath that riff. Being something of a musical illiterate, I often play wrong chords. But sometimes the wrong notes sound better than the right ones. It can, at times, be hard to keep up with my mistakes.
I tend to be a music first writer. I travel lightly and assume the lyrics will meet up with me later on, somewhere further down the road. In the meantime, my notes-to-self include:
– make a joyful noise along to the music
– which words does this noise sound like?
– what does the music make me think of and/or feel?
This one made me think about disco lights. Yes, that’s what I’d do. I’d write a song about disco lights. And so, the song began travelling under the name “Gold Silver”.
“Gold Silver” made it as far as the “Come to the Fabulon” studio demos, recorded in Red Eye Studios, Clydebank in 2012-13. Although there was a variety of styles among these demos there is, you might say, a fine line between variety and anomaly. In this context “Gold Silver” sounded like a completely different band and, much as that in itself appealed to me, the song was, by majority decision, disappeared around the time of the Fabulon album rehearsals of 2013. During a band meeting in the Laurieston Bar with producer-in-chief Colin Elliot (see also “Loverboy”), I distinctly remember “Gold Silver” being given its marching orders, packed off to the Siberia of Song. I believe the term “Eurovision reject” was used.
But remember: we throw nothing away. And another thing, while we’re here; I really like Eurovision.
I remember Drew Barrymore’s lines in “Donnie Darko”, about how the words “cellar door” were considered by many to be the most beautiful in the English language. A matter of taste, of course. For me, as a Eurovision fan, the most beautiful words I ever heard were “Come in Helsinki”.
So, “Gold Silver”, a song out of time and place, found itself banished to the margins, perhaps until some future time, maybe our Eurovision entry. Or our lockdown album.
Come the lockdown, the band’s campaign shifted to the home front. With the mobilisation of all able-bodied songs – past, present and future – I found myself dusting off “Gold Silver” only to notice I hadn’t quite gotten around to finishing the lyrics (so much of life is about managing disrepair). This was around the time of the closing of the theatres when the image of the ghost light, a tradition I’d never heard of until then, began to do the rounds. The image and idea of the ghost light made me think that the lights in the song needn’t only be on the dancefloor; a thought which gave the song its final title and helped me to finally finish that thing I started on a bargain £20 synthesiser one hungover morning, 10 years previously.
I think the ghost light is a noble tradition, an arresting image and an eerie reminder that there will be times when there is no light other than that which we create for ourselves: in the empty theatres, clubs and bars; in song, in dance and in every whistle that tries to charm the darkness.

*This was first posted in June 2021

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