At the command of my Evil Record Label Boss, I have written about a 4th Bad Elephant track:
Now this is interesting. A 20 minute song cycle that uses the harmonic and lyrical stylings of your English songwriters like a Paul Weller and Ray Davies.
Hunt’s website describes his work as ‘Quintessentially English’, and there’s plenty in the music to back this up. He handily has a list of his favourite albums on his site which includes (amongst many eclectic things) The Who, Paul Weller, Oasis, The Beatles and Supergrass, all of whose influence can be heard here. The track even starts with a quote from Michael Caine in Alfie and references tea, road-works, fags and fog all sung in a London accent. It tells us a tale of urban romance, love loss, freedom and ‘bus stops in the rain’. Can you get more English than that?
Harmonically the track also chimes with that English style of songwriting. In particular the opening section, Alfie and the closing Windswept both make use of chord progressions in the Mixolydian mode. Alfie has an ascending pattern of arpeggios based around A7, and Windswept has chords based around D, Am C. That bluesy seventh chord as home and movement from the major tonic to flat 7 chord is right out of the Who, Beatlesy playbook and the sliding open string chords are exactly what you’d expect from someone who lists Nick Drake’s Pink Moon as a favourite album.
This is really interesting because prog tends to eschew blues harmony. Not all of it granted, but plenty of the early prog stuff was trying to be European and avoid blues-rock based stuff, whereas those English singer-songwriters and rock bands never denied the influence. So there are plenty of ingredients in Making Tea… that just aren’t prog at all.
So why’s it on a prog(ish) record label?
Well, a. because it’s good and Bad Elephant is as much an exercise in art as it is in commerce (at least that’s their excuse for not making any money) and b. because it’s 20 minutes long. What could be more prog?
How do you make a song work over 20 minutes?
There’s more than one way to skin that over-large moggy. Hunt has chosen to approach it by tying together a medley, or song cycle. So Making Tea is Freedom is split into 6 sections, two of them instrumental and all of them capable of standing on their own. Aside from a recapitulation of material from Alfie at the start of Windswept each song uses new ideas to further the musical journey.
How do you keep things interesting?
Key changes, instrumentation and paying close attention to energy levels, that’s how. Jon takes care to have energy build over time, so that while we start off with just guitar and vocal, by about ten minutes in drums and bass have joined in and things are getting genuinely rocky.
The first rocky climax gives way to the instrumental, synthy calm of ‘Me’ before acoustic guitars take us back to drums and electric guitars in the mid-paced denouement.
This is good, refreshing, different.
I’ve written about 4 Bad Elephant tracks now, and they’re all different. There is one similarity that I think is common to many proggish songs, and perhaps distinguishes prog structures from pop songs. All of them have, towards the end, had noisey up-tempo passages, followed by calm that moves to a final, mid paced ‘singalong’ melodic coda.
All of them have been pretty modal in harmony too, which is what you’d expect, and all have involved changes in key and/or time signature and generally a bigger artistic pallette than you’d expect from non-proggish musicians.
All in all, lots of fun. I wonder what’s next?