IronBark song by song – Watermen’s Square

What’s it about?

Watermen’s Square is about some watermen on the Thames who dredge up an evil rusty twisted metal skeleton, take it back to the the Watermen’s square. Once there the executor turns up and claims it. Terrified, they hand it over.

Watermen’s Square is a real place in Penge, South London. Here’s a picture:

In reality it’s just an exceedingly pretty collection of houses built for the Freemen and Apprentices of the Watermen’s company who worked the Thames and associated waterways. It stands out as an incongruous bit of architecture in an otherwise kinda dull urban street.
In my song, it’s where the watermen drag the huge misshapen iron skeleton that eventually becomes the hulking body of the Miser’s Triumph.
It ain’t a happy place.

Its the middle song from the Miser’s Will, and possibly my favourite. It hangs somewhere in the middle of lullaby and horror story and the one I enjoy singing the most.

The Writing Process:

Watermen’s Square started heavier than it sounds now. I had recorded an instrumental Alice in Chains rip-off with the melody played by several harmonized guitars. A rough version of this was hanging around on my harddrive for about six months until I got the point last month where I needed a third song in the Miser’s Will and didn’t know what to do.

So I dug out this Alice in Chains rip-off, calmed it down, and there it was.

The Recording Process:

It took forever to record the vocals for this. So long and so frustrating a process was it that I ended up writing several entries of a diary about my singing voice.

Mostly I got there in the end.

Inspired by/Blatantly steals from:

Alice in Chains acoustic stuff.


If you enjoyed this post, why not support an independent artist by grabbing some music here

You can download a free ep here.

You can also join the mailing list for instant access to a free song and a to get regular updates about releases and gigs. Click here for the mailing list!

IronBark song by song – What The Orderly Saw

The Miser’s Will II: What the Orderly Saw

What’s it about?

The second song of the Miser’s Will is from the point of view of a hospital orderly. He witnesses a doctor cutting a brain out of a body, placing it in a jar and then trying to diddle the man who hired him to do so. He is killed, as is the orderly.

The Writing Process:

This is connected to the first song musically both in terms of the arrangement, at least to begin with, and the minor arpeggios which aren’t a million miles away from the Cartographer’s Tale either.

Here’s the original demo. As you can hear, it was pretty much fully formed by the time I recorded it:

It’s through composed, the music changing to follow the story, and most of it turned up pretty easily. I’m not the sort of songwriter who slaves over songs, constantly editing and rewriting. I much prefer to let things simmer and stew at the back of my mind until they come to fruition of their own accord. What the Orderly saw obliged me by doing so very quickly. As we shall see, some other tracks on this weren’t as easy to write.

The Recording Process:

There’s some actual live percussion in this! Most of the percussion on Ironbark is programmed drums and sound effects. What the Orderly Saw has real tambourine and Djembe as well.

There are also lots of messy synth sounds which I recorded with my trusty Sonuus G2M midi converter.

Inspired by/Blatantly steals from:

Black Holes in the Sand by Gravenhurst, the poem ‘There was an old woman who swallowed a fly’ and a couple of Opeth numbers


If you enjoyed this post, why not support an independent artist by grabbing some music here

You can download a free ep here.

You can also join the mailing list for instant access to a free song and a to get regular updates about releases and gigs. Click here for the mailing list!

IronBark – song by song – The Cartographer’s Tale

The Miser’s Will I: The Cartographer’s Tale

What’s it about?

This is the first song from The Miser’s Will, a series of interlinked songs that share a story and some musical ideas.

There were basically two ideas that drove these songs along. One was the desire to write a set of songs I could actually play live, just me and my guitar. I’m a singer songwriter used to performing as a solo acoustic act, but with Spinning the Compass I foolishly composed a set of songs that were very hard to play in that manner. The Miser’s Will is an attempt to rectify this.

The other impetus was the story itself. I have a habit of emailing myself little snippets of lyrics or ideas. Searching through my inbox I came across an email I didn’t remember sending that said ‘A story about the search for strange artefacts that are used to construct a body’. That’s what the Miser’s Will is all about.

The lyrics are from the POV of a cartographer who recieves one of his own maps with instruction to go to a specific place and dig. He does so, unearths some leather and brass claws, and then follows the instructions that came with the map and letter. These take him into the middle of London, where the dark and deadly ‘man in black’ (the executor) promptly shoots him and nicks the claws.

The Writing Process:

The Cartographer’s tale was written for February Album Writing Month, an online challenge I attempt most years to write an album’s worth of songs in the month of February. What i usually do for this is write very quickly, just acoustic guitar and voice. Here’s the demo, which as you can hear is very similar to the final version of the song.

I was trying a couple of things with this song.

1. As I said, The Miser’s Will was designed to be playable solo. A lot of my previous album was not designed with solo gigs in mind and I wanted to remedy this with the new work.
2. An attempt to combine nerdy time signature changes and two relatively unconnected keys and pop-folk sensibilities

Also of note – the chorus in this song is used elsewhere in the Miser’s Will.

The Recording Process:

The drum kit is made up of various samples of plastic bins and things. The percussion arrangement is inspired by ‘The Flying Chaucers’ and English folk group I heard just before starting to record.

The rest is an attempt at relative minimalism. Which I then decided to fill up with synth lines.

Inspired by/Blatantly steals from:

‘The Flying Chaucers’ and the sort of arepggios Matt Stevens might use.


If you enjoyed this post, why not support an independent artist by grabbing some music here

You can download a free ep here.

You can also join the mailing list for instant access to a free song and a to get regular updates about releases and gigs. Click here for the mailing list!

IronBark – song by song – Steamlife


What’s it about?

I started writing a short story (Yes, one of my hobbies is creative writing. No, you can’t read any. It ain’t good enough. Maybe three decades in the future I might but some proper effort into it, but not yet. No. Don’t ask again) about a man who tried to introduce elements of selection (natural he hoped, artificial in practice, sexual eventually) into his designs for steam engines. These led to designs for machines that designed their descendants and the whole thing got out of hand and led to tiny feral steam powered creatures living under his floorboards.

Or so he thought.

And then the Pinnochio, Data-from-Star-Trek story ensued where the half-mad designer was forced to defend them as being life forms worthy of respect (Doesn’t anyone know what the heart is for? he pleads).

Yes, this is the sort of thing I write songs about. Sod that love stuff, balls to sex drugs and rock’n’roll. Self aware steam-powered insects is where it’s at.

The Writing Process:

I wrote the following for my old songwriting website that no longer exists:

A Brand New Old Song and Why You Should Never Throw Away Songwriting Ideas

One of the most important things you can do as a songwriter is keep track of your unfinished ideas.

Many years ago…

About two years ago I started writing a song. It was a heavy metal song sort of in the phrygian mode with crunchy stoccato riffs and a chorus that I couldn’t sing very well and probably wasn’t very good.

I recorded part of it, but I don’t have a heavy metal band and never finished it.

Ten years previously I half wrote another song. It had slightly embarrasing juvenile lyrics and the verses weren’t up to much but the chorus was good. I needed to use that chorus in a decent song.

For at least 10 years I did nothing with that chorus.


At about Christmas time 2010 I started work on my second solo album, IronBark. I went back to that heavy metal song, made it more rock than heavy metal, replaced electric guitars with acoustic.

But the song still didn’t work because it didn’t have the hooky chorus that I felt it needed.

After several months nudging at it that hooky chorus from ten years ago came back to me – I had to dig through some old cupboards to find the piece of paper I’d written it down on, but even through three house moves I’d kept hold of it.

I changed the key, did some cutting and pasting and made it fit.

Two songs I didn’t know how to finish and thought were dead ends turned into one song that I’m proud of. It’s madcap and silly and the lyrics are absurd, but tis become one of my favourite new songs.

The Recording Process:

This was recorded over a very long space of time. The original heavy metal version was recorded in 2009, left on a hard-drive then revived almost as an after-thought when I started on IronBark in late 2010.

It was recorded with the original chorus, which I cut out and replaced. The distorted metal guitars were replaced with acoustics, weird noises added at beginning and end.

The guitar solos in the middle took forever to get right. Listen carefully and you’ll actually still hear mistakes (I shouldn’t point this out should I?) but I’ve never liked perfect recordings.

Inspired by/Blatantly steals from:

Not sure. Perhaps slightly from the bands ‘Unexpect’ and ‘Frameshift’. But only a little. This one is almost original.


If you enjoyed this post, why not support an independent artist by grabbing some music here

You can download a free ep here.

You can also join the mailing list for instant access to a free song and a to get regular updates about releases and gigs. Click here for the mailing list!

IronBark song by song – The Beast of the Air

The Beast of the Air

What’s it about?

The Beast of the Air is about hunting Sky Kraken from an airship. It’s about the difficulties of defending one’s livestock from such creatures, particularly in light of their bewitching tentacles and hallucinatory scent.

Yes, like all the songs on IronBark, The Beast of the Air is a narrative affair. I can’t help it – I grew up listening to heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth all of whom wrote narrative songs about various sci-fi and fantasy topics which has led me to writing my own story-based songs.

Musically the album is a mixture of my folk, prog and indie influences, with a bit of metal here and there but lyrically it’s all narrative, and all set in a steampunk world.

The Writing Process:

Here’s the first recording of Beast of the Air. It’s an acoustic version, but as you can hear it didn’t change very much between the intial idea and the recording:

Here’s something I wrote about on my songwriting blog in 2011, back when I used to have a songwriting blog. I think it gives a fair account of the songwriting process:

Here’s a little story of how I wrote a song about hunting Sky-kraken

Sitting down with my acoustic guitar, I just started playing. I didn’t know what I was going to play except that I wanted to write something new.

Lately my fingers have been finding E lydian rather too easily, so I started with an E major 7 chord and a few twiddlings with the scale – not enough to be called a melody, just a bit of noodling.

I carried on playing, entirely aimlessly…

Alun Vaughun a fantastic solo bass player had recently turned me onto the music of Mike Kineally. His songs use lots of complicated chords, I decided I wanted something harmonically lush – so some 9th chords worked their way into my guitar part. Nothing like Kineally really, but that memory triggered the chords.

A few more moments noodling…

The last big gig I went to was Opeth at the Royal Albert hall – some Opeth-like chords appeared under my fingers – but I remembered Kineally and for some reason that meant I had to play a little melodic run that didn’t sound like Opeth at all.

I had been reading PZ Myers’s blog – he’s a biologist who likes Cephalopods. This combined with my recent obsession with Steampunk and suddenly the song was about hunting Sky-kraken in an Airship.

Steampunk led to memories of Radiohead’s video for There There, which led to a chorus ripping that off – and now the Kraken was winning because the chorus melody was about the bewitching power of it’s ink and tentacles.

All of this occurred at a far less conscious level than I’m making it appear, and it resulted in this song

The structure of this is pretty standard: intro, a couple of verses, a chorus, a middle bit, back to the chorus. What makes it stand out I think is the instrumental arpeggios and the slightly dreamy atmosphere. I think the chord choices I made help create a slightly sweet, slightly odd mood. Also of note is the structure of the melody in the intro. You get the first part of a line, then the line again a little bit longer, then a third time with the full melodic line. That’s something i do quite often, for example in the intro to Watermen’s Square, or the title track from Spinning the Compass.

The Recording Process:

The album was recorded in my spare room with two cheap mics, a cheap and simple version of Cubase and a few free plug-ins. At the time I considered myself a novice when it came to recording – I still do!- but I was certainly getting better at it with Ironbark, and this album was a step up from the original version of Spinning the Compass, my first album. I know it doesn’t sound pro yet, but I’m proud of it.

Of particular note in the Beast of the Air is the wailing ‘Kraken’ sounds – these were recorded with my guitar by playing through a Sonuus G2M midi converter – something I used to play a lot of the synth sounds on the album.

Inspired by/Blatantly steals from:
As well as ripping off Radiohead (a little), some of the arpeggios are very similar to a couple of Opeth tunes. Sssssh, don’t tell anyone

This song got a live airing at the Asylum, one of the biggest steampunk events – here’s a blog post about that – but I haven’t played it that often. Maybe that’s something Gareth and I should get around to doing.

As I enjoyed writing about the creation of my most recent album Happy People I thought I’d go back and write about some of my earlier songs. It turns out I started a blog series about Ironbark. This post is an updated version of one that appeared back in 2011


If you enjoyed this post, why not support an independent artist by grabbing some music here

You can download a free ep here.

You can also join the mailing list for instant access to a free song and a to get regular updates about releases and gigs. Click here for the mailing list!

Weekend at the Asylum – Steampunk festival gig report

The Steampunk Asylum at Lincoln last weekend was the most enjoyable gig I’ve played for some time.

Here’s some video, courtesy of Mr Andrew Fletcher:

It had looked like I’d have a difficult journey as I needed to get from work in London to Lincoln in only three hours. As it turned out, I had a smooth straight forward journey, arriving at the Charlotte House Hotel at just after 6pm.

My brother Joe, my partner Rachel and our friend Julia left London three hours before me, but arrived only twenty minutes earlier than I did. They claimed the train ahd been delayed, but I suspect they were just getting things wrong.

The first act were Broadarrow Jack, playing their last gig before splitting up. Their set was lots of silly folky fun, including a quite marvellous song about zombie horses. Lots of fun, but sadly you’ll never be able to see them.

Keep an eye out for Crimson Clocks, however which some members of Broadarrow Jack have gone on to perform with.

My own gig was the first with another musician playing my solo songs, as Joe played bass and sang backing vocals.

The setlist included a couple of tracks from Spinning the Compass and the whole of the Miser’s Will from Ironbark.

I can honestly say I haven’t enjoyed a solo gig as much in years. There was an attentive, appreciative audience, no-one through anything and people said nice things afterwards.

The rest of the weekend was having our photos taken by strangers, possibly because of what we were wearing.

All in all, a lovely weekend. It’s also left me itching to play more. I’m sure Joe would be up for playing a few more gigs. Just need to find a drummer. Watch this space, and all that.