This was my first attempt at producing an album. Being bandless at the time, I played the guitars and bass and used a d*** ******e for the drums. Steve Chilton, bass player from previous bands The Reflex Blues Band and Pigs on the Wing was persuaded to sing ('Are you sure you don't want me to play bass?'), and Margaret was persuaded to play keyboards ('Are you sure you don't want me to sing?).
'Second Contact' refers to eclipses of the Sun or of the Moon, and is the technical term for the start of totality. Astronomy is something of an interest of mine, and a total eclipse of the Sun was something I have always wanted to see.
Some of the tracks are directly connected with the eclipse of August 1999, which was the first one I actually saw (Second Contact, Isfahan, After Mongolia, Chasing the Dragon and Afterglow) while others were added later. The reason behind this is that I have absolutely no intention of doing another solo project and there was some material I wanted to get out of my system.
I suppose the final underlying theme is one of 'life changing events' - second age, second chance, second thoughts, second wind, second bite at the cherry, that sort of thing. (Pretentious? Moi?) One's songs can usually be looked at in two ways. The first one is literal - the world is infinitely fascinating and needs no embellishment from us. The other is metaphorical. It may be a serious point I am trying to make, but often it's just ambiguity for the sake of something to think about. (Memories of 'O' level Eng. Lit. come flooding back. How come the teacher always knows what the author meant?)
Musically, there is usually little conscious thought given to the material (and doesn't it show!) If it sounds right, it is right. If it sounds wrong, then it's still right 'coz I say so and I wrote it. Anyway, there now follows a track by track analysis of the, er, tracks.
Trying to Get Along
Literally: The puppet master is a real person of my acquaintance. He taught at the college where I work, and his hobby was puppetry. This describes a typical encounter with him.
Metaphorically: People who listen to your point of view and then tell you why you are wrong and they are right.
Literally: Wandering around Glossop on a damp Sunday afternoon. Been there, done that, got the wet T-shirt.
Metaphorically: Learning to take responsibility for your own life. We each have only about 26000 days to live, so don't waste too many of them feeling sorry for yourself. Most days are actually more interesting than the eternity we will eventually spend inside a wooden box.
Literally: Short for 'Golf Bravo Hotel Echo November', which is the Phonetic spelling of G BHEN. This is in turn the registration of a Cessna 152 belonging to Leicestershire Aero Club to which I also belong. (The instrument panel is shown inside the CD cover.) Gaining my private pilot's licence in 1996 was something of an achievement, and this tune is a rather limp look at flying.While we are on the subject: It has to be said that the sensation of 'freedom' while flying has so far eluded me. Feelings of serenity, peace and oneness with the Universe are all symptoms of oxygen deprivation and are not much sought after by pilots. Being the dull, unimaginative types that we are, we are more interested in minimum safe altitude, carburetor ice (don't ask) and finding our way back home again before it goes foggy, while the other brain cell tries to hold a coherent conversation with a friendly neighbourhood air-traffic controller. (Q. What is the difference between a good landing and an excellent landing? A. A good landing is one that the pilot walks away from. An excellent landing is one that the passengers walk away from...)
Metaphorically: Whoever heard of a metaphorical guitar solo?
Literally: A chronicle of our travels chasing eclipses. 'Mountains of fire' refers to Kilauea volcano in Hawaii in the summer of 1991. It rained! 'Blizzards of hell' refers to Mongolia in the spring of 1997. It snowed! 'The dark side' is the dark side of the Moon, that is, being caught in its shadow at totality. Here it is a hope for the future, the song was written before we had seen a total eclipse of the Sun.BTW: the harmony guitar bits allude to a certain Mr. May who was with us in Mongolia and who is well known for such frippery. If he had not been distracted by his beat combo, he would in all likelihood now be a professional astronomer. (His PhD thesis was on observations of asteroids in the infra red region of the spectrum, but it was never submitted.) If you have the Second Contact CD, that's him in the red anorak on the Great Wall of China.
Metaphorically: Nope, nothing to add.
We saw the August 1999 total eclipse of the Sun from just outside this town in Iran, a case of third time lucky. The sights we saw, no words could ever say.
Literally: A trip to Mongolia in March 1997 was our second attempt to see a total eclipse of the Sun. It was blotted out by a blizzard. 'The mountains of the Moon' should have been 'the mountains of Mongolia', but it doesn't scan. The 'man we met' (the previously mentioned guitarist of note) is an avid eclipse chaser and was with our group hoping to add to his tally of successful eclipses. He said we must try again - which we did!
Metaphorically: Knowledge speaks, wisdom listens.
Chasing the Dragon
Chinese folklore holds that an eclipse of the Sun is caused by a dragon eating the Sun, so this is about chasing eclipses.
Metaphorically: (Never mind what I said earlier about metaphorical guitar solos.) Chasing away myths that obscure reality. Have you ever wondered why anyone can see stars, but only believers can see dragons and UFOs? Still, what do astronomers know - they spend all their time looking at the sky. Scientists are actually conducting searches for extra terrestrial intelligences, but they are using radio telescopes rather than crystal balls and divining rods. Silly scientists!
On a more serious note, don't be misled by the druggy terminology of the title. IMHO, people don't abuse drugs, drugs abuse people. Comprende?
Behind the Veil
Literally: Iran is a strict Muslim country, and the women must cover their faces with a veil. Here 'behind the veil' simply means we see life in a (to us) alien culture. Our observing site was next to a cemetery for the Iranian victims of the Iran-Iraq war, the 'bloody field'. Iran and Iraq are the 'two peoples fighting', and the first two verses of the song are about this war in particular, but also conflict in general, Iran-Iraq, east-west, Christianity-Islam, truth-certainty, the past-the future etc. The third verse is about old men who claim to have possession of some profound truth. Perhaps they do, but why don't they agree with each other? How many conflicting profound truths can there be? Verse four is about how easy it is to hide people behind the veils of race, creed, sexuality or culture. Eclipses come and go, but we don't seem capable of escaping from our own shadows. The fade out is an innocent little boy setting out on his own journey into a world full of puppet masters, but he is wise to the old fools.
Metaphorically: 'Everything under the Sun is in tune, but the Sun is eclipsed by the Moon.'
While we are on the subject: We had no idea what to expect in Iran, having only media stereotypes to go off. Wrong! Iran is a young, vibrant country that is finding its feet after the recent revolution, and it continues to undergo much change. We had no problems at all walking around unaccompanied (we didn't have 'minders'), except that we were often accosted by groups of locals who were fascinated to learn all they could about us. One of our group was even invited to a school to talk to the English class about Manchester United and life in post Thatcher Britain! The dress code is fairly strictly enforced (even on the plane at Heathrow) but it applies to men as well as women. In some ways women are equal to men, for example in respect of education and jobs, but there is a long way to go towards our version of true equality. We were treated with respect and genuine friendship, and came away with similar feelings towards Iran in turn. The final part of our tour was into the south east of the country where opium smuggling is rife, and we were given an armed guard to protect us from the threat of being kidnapped by smugglers. And you thought astronomy was boring!
So there you have it, now for the difficult second album. Oh, I forgot, there isn't going to be a second album...
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