Play Something We Know!

If the concept behind the Suzi Chunk album “Girl From The Neck Down” was “to make the kind of record they don’t make anymore”, then the first Groovy Uncle LP certainly had its own agenda. It’s noticeable these days how obsessed with nostalgia people have become, particularly with regard to music- tribute bands, karaoke, X-Factor cover versions, ill advised reunions- and just about anyone who has ever written and performed their own original compositions will at some point have heard the the tiresome, drunken cry from the back of the room – “Play something we know!” I’ve always found this request both irritating and baffling. Why would anyone NOT want to hear something new? Surely there are only a limited number of times a man (or woman) can tolerate yet another rendition of “Mustang Sally” or “Wonderful Tonight” before the urge becomes too great and he (or she) gauges his (or her) own eyeballs out?

I’ve often thought that one of the key factors behind the massive popularity of Mancunian magpies Oasis rests in Noel Gallagher’s ability to write brand new tunes their audience already knows. Make ’em big, bold, strident,catchy but most of all familiar-something we can all identify with and sing along. So when it came to putting together a debut album for Groovy Uncle (the first on the State Records label) I knew what I wanted to achieve and didn’t have to think too long about the title – “Play Something We Know!”.

The opening track is a song I’d written back in the 90’s and had already recorded a demo of it with the band I was in at the time, Johnny and The Bandits (who later morphed into Goodchilde). The track was never released and remained on a cassette tape gathering dust but I’d always been rather fond of the song and knew it would sit nicely on PSWK. Inspired by the Tony Hatch song “Call Me” (with a nod to  “Never Ever” by The Action), “Count On Me” is a straight ahead, reassuring feel good song that sets the tone for the rest of the album. The line-up for this track: Ben Jones, Paul Moss, Mole, Glenn Prangnell.


Girl From The Neck Down – Part 3

In 1967 George Harrison attended a lecture on Transcendental Meditation given by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the Hilton Hotel, London. Backstage the two met for the first time and with a typical display of ice breaking irreverence, the Beatle asked the giggling guru: “Got Any Mantras?” 

That always sounded like a song title to me…

The original version appeared on the Groovy Uncle album “Play Something We Know!” where it poked gentle fun at would- be hippies: “you wanna be a flower child/the smell of that incense drives you wild”. I thought Suzi could do a wicked, funkier version of the song. I was right.

“I Can’t Stop The Rain” is an appropriately titled track for what has been a very soggy 2012. A relentless downpour on the soul served up in a late night, bar room jazz stylee with a distinctly Dusty vibe. Fine piano from Peter White on this one.

Another song borne out of troubled, convoluted times “It’s Not Your Heartbreak” was a conscious effort to write for Suzi a black soul influenced balled along the lines of Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. Well, that was my starting point and that influence is most prominent in the line “I wish for a day/you could feel the same way/as I do” when the backing vocal harmonies kick in. The original take included a horn section but my well intentioned arrangement made it sound too cheery so we took it out and replaced it with a guitar part courtesy of Bruce Brand which gives the song just the right amount of melancholy.

To top off the album I decided we needed a “goodbye”song- a lump-in-the-throat ballad full of yearning written with the sole intent of breaking hearts. Yeah, one of those. The backing track was recorded at the end of a long session when we were beginning to wind down and this gave it a nice, laid back feel which is exactly what I wanted. A week or so later Suzi and I layered some lush vocal harmonies together after she’d completed the lead vocal. If I’d had access to a grand piano and orchestra I’d have used them on this track. This’ll more than do for me though. It’s a lovely finale.

The making of this album has been a complete labour of love for me. I had never written songs for someone else before and it’s been a most enjoyable challenge.  Hearing Suzi   interpreting my words and music has made me listen to my own songs in a different way. I’d like to thank everyone involved in the making of this record for their hard work and support not least Marty and Mole at State Records. Most of all I’d like to thank Suzi Chunk for giving me a much needed metaphorical kick up the arse!

“Girl From The Neck Down”-Suzi Chunk out September 2012 on State Records (THSLP 003)  She’ll learn ya!


Girl From The Neck Down – Part 2

The opening track on the album harks back to a song I wrote in 1986 for my first band, The Offbeats. “For The Millionth Time” was probably the best of a dozen songs we recorded at the now defunct Woolly Studios on the Isle of Sheppey and was earmarked for inclusion on our second album “I’ll Do To You What I Did To Rommel”(a line delivered by Derek Guyler in the 1971 film “Please Sir!”in case you’re wondering). The album was never released or even completed but the track did see the light of day via a German vinyl compilation album and an alternate mix reared it’s reverb-soaked head on a red flexi-disc, free with every copy of “In The Crowd” mod fanzine! Both are collectables now, so I am reliably informed. “For The Millionth Time” was intended as a blue eyed soul type stomper but I always felt the original was too fast and it lacked a horn section so when it came to recording the Suzi Chunk version I made sure it was closer to my original idea. This new version has a much more soulful mood to it.

“I Can’t Stand Mirrors (And I’m Scared Of Heights)” was a song I wrote to accompany a little animated film I made a few years ago for a laugh. It was a straight ahead 12-bar rock’n’roll tune which I ended up singing on the demo in cod Elvis style. When the fun was over I locked the demo away and almost forgot about it until I was looking for exactly that type of song for Suzi’s album. On the new version John Littlefair once again provides a great horn section and the track does what it says on the tin.

“Wish Away The Moon” almost didn’t make it on to the album. In fact I wasn’t going to play it to Suzi at all. The song was heavily inspired by Harry Nilsson and I  liked it a lot but after listening back to my own demo I didn’t think it would be Suzi’s thing. Too soft and fragile perhaps. In the end I persuaded myself to send it to her. A few days passed without a response and I thought my instincts had been correct. Then I received a 3 word e-mail: “That is beautiful!” When it came to recording I wanted to evoke a certain amount of vulnerability-a touch of Nick Drake or Vashti Bunyan. Barely there. So the line-up is simply Mole on double bass, me on acoustic guitars and Suzi on vocals. The fragility in her voice on this track is…. something else. If your bottom lip doesn’t tremble just a little bit then you are, frankly, not human.

The final track on side one (it feels good to still be able to say that in this digital age) is the title song “Girl From The Neck Down”. Returning home from the Purple Weekend Festival in Leon, Spain last December (after Groovy Uncle had played a rare and most enjoyable gig) Suzi said something which prompted me to say “You sound like a girl”. She responded with “That’s because I am a girl! But only from the neck down”. I didn’t say anything at the time but I knew I wanted to use that phrase. A few weeks later I called to ask what she thought of “Girl From The Neck Down” as an album title. She loved it. “OK we’ve got the title so I’ll see if I can come up with the song“, I said. The rest of the day was spent writing what turned out to be a quirky,country- tinged number with a bit of a nod to Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood. A couple of people have already said it’s a favourite. It’s a catchy little number and I’m pleased with it considering it’s the only track on the album that could arguably be described as filler.

See ya on the flip side!

Girl From The Neck Down – Part 1

At the time of writing this we are edging towards completion of the Suzi Chunk debut  album,“Girl From The Neck Down”. We began late June 2011 when Suzi came down to Kent intending to record three tracks for what was originally going to be the second Groovy Uncle LP-the follow up to “Play Something We Know!” We laid down “Probably Normal”, “Big Screen” and “No Stone Unturned”. The final touch on that session was to be the sublime flute playing of Phil Brown and it was while waiting for him to arrive on that hot, sunny afternoon when State Records‘ Marty Ratcliffe vocalised what I’d already been thinking; “This should be a Suzi Chunk album!”

And so it was…

“No Stone Unturned” was the oldest of these tunes, going way back to God-knows-when and I can’t even remember writing it, which is unusual for me. The Groovy Uncle rendition made it on to the first album and there is an acoustic live version by Suzi-along with me and the ridiculously talented Ben Jones -recorded at The Barge, Gillingham in April 2011. For my money though, the Suzi Chunk album cut is the definitive one. Haunting, soulful, moody, sexy and cool, she more than does the song justice and Ben’s guitar playing is perfect. Mole’s drumming is spot on as always while Allan Crockford’s bass playing is big and brilliantly effortless.

“Big Screen”. I started this one at the piano and it instantly took on a melancholic,reflective feel. The backdrop is a bleak, seemingly heartless Every Town as seen through the careworn eyes of a “sensitive outsider” who yearns for escape from “these narrow streets and cobbled minds”, where boys will be (monkey) boys and girls “reserve their right to sup”. Yeah, that old chestnut! In the end though it’s a song about hope-a kind of “Over The Rainbow” for the karaoke generation, if you will. “Big Screen” was the song that triggered the notion of working with a female singer after I wrote it back in 2006. Originally I heard it as a John Barry-esque arrangement but as the recording progressed a very different mood took hold especially after the addition of a subtle, mournful,”it’s grim up North” style brass section. Suzi’s vocal delivery gives the song a restrained sense of yearning and she finishes with a nice piece of three part harmony work. It’s a fine track. Well, I hope it is…  

“Probably Normal” was the first song written purposely for Suzi-i.e the first of the album tracks that hadn’t already existed prior to her involvement with the GU project. It’s a sunny, samba-infused little tune that would have sat nicely as filler on an Astrud Gilberto or Dusty album. But it had a traumatic birth…

Somewhere around mid-2011 I woke to a beautiful blue sky morning; the sun streaming through the curtains on what should have been a feel good kind of day. A day for writing songs and righting wrongs. And then it kicked the front door in and came looking for me! It gets you, you don’t get it. By “it” I’m referring to… depression?… anxiety?… some sort of emotional breakdown? In the song I named it “the feeling of not right”. Fact is, I reached for my guitar and held on to it like the only piece of driftwood in a troubled ocean and through tears I found both the chords and the mantra. It was all gonna be alright. This is normal. Probably. I’m probably normal….

I like songs with melodies and arrangements that are contradictory to the lyrics. Just because a song has a dark subject matter doesn’t necessarily mean the tune needs to be a morose, minor key plod. I also like the fact that there is a little nod to The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band classic “We Are Normal” as Suzi and I are massive fans. Click on the link below to hear a clip of an early mix of the track.


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