I’d Rather Be A Sparrow Than A Snail

Long term readers of Old Rope will be well aware of my vanity. They aren’t fooled by the post-2016 digression into banging on about whatever I happened to have read or watched this week. Yeah yeah, some Iranian film, blah blah a Brazilian book. No, they know that there is a dormant hubris just waiting for the right psycho-geological shift to trigger a massive eruption of piping-hot ego.

Well, that moment is upon us. Run to the hills lest ye be swept up in the boiling magma of my self-indulgence. Don’t stop to collect your prize possessions. Grandma is a gonner anyway. Go! Go now!

Still here? Well then, you’ve only yourself to blame.

In the town where I was born, there lived a man who sailed to sea. And that man decreed that everyone from Liverpool is obliged to be in a band, write songs and make music as if your group was the greatest in all the land, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Old Rope is no exception to that ancient rule and, after a period of inexcusable absence, I have been writing and recording some silly songs, then whining at my more talented mates to play on them like some sort of needy reverse HMV dog.

For the most part they have obliged, honouring the pledge they made in childhood to the Liverbird flag, hoisted above every primary school. There is a song that goes with it, but I shan’t sing it for you here as I didn’t write it, and therefore it’s not as good as my latest EP of pseudo sea shanties, is it?

To augment the sterling work of my compatriots, I have decided to give my latest works an international flavour. Off on some much needed jollies to South America anyway, I slung a couple of mics into my suitcase along with the various recording ephemera one needs to set up a makeshift recording studio in a Latino apartment, then fired off some messages to friends abroad and decided to make a real go of it.

I had no idea if anyone in the Americas would be daft enough to answer my call. Texting mates asking for musical hookups felt like a sort of weird blind date situation and gave me an idea for a musical dating app called Bon-go. It’s sort of like Grinder or whatever but you are basically finding like-minded musos willing to have a dirty one night (mic)stand with no judgement. Patent pending, though if any tech nerds reading this want to help me make it a reality then get in touch.

My first stop was Peru and, continuing the Tinder theme, I got lucky. A friend of a friend agreed to play drums and percussion on some tracks and so it was that I found myself in the cool Barranco district in Lima. You know the type, shades of bohemia, a dash of tourism and an unhealthy dollop of gentrification. It was the perfect place to record some tambourine on songs about insects and the eco catastrophe that awaits us. In the words of ‘my’ violinist Giff Gaff Gifford the Griffon, “I see you’re living your best hipster life in some drummer’s flat.”

Rafa was a really good sport and enthusiastically helped out with percussion and drums on five tracks – way more than I could have realistically hoped for. With only two mics to play with we had to be creative. No doubt mixing engineer Friar Abbott Ale will have my guts for garters when he sees what we got up to – I’m sure we broke a bajillion recording rules – but it sounds pretty decent to my humble ears.

Quite a few of the songs are works in progress, though some have been kicking around for years. Much like a baby turtle hatching on a beach, their chances of survival are slim. The gulls of self-loathing and the eagles of damning-with-faint-praise will see most of them off before they get to the water and freedom.

I had hoped to get a music teacher to play some or-fentic Peruvian instruments, like zampaña, charango, cajon, cajita or quena, but the guy probably got wind of the ludicrous nature of the project and smelled a rat (or guinea pig?), so he bailed. Oh well. Authenticity is so fake anyway.

Instead, my querida YiYi slipped out to the artisan market and picked me up some PANPIPES and a little wooden thing that looks like a cheap recorder. We’ll see if someone back in Blighty can play it with their dignity intact. I had kinda hoped for a larger quena flute but that would probably have been expensive folly.

We also decided, on a whim, to film a video to accompany one of the tracks, so if somewhere on this page you see any clips of us pootling about on rented scooters or me making a tit of myself in the street pretending to sing then you’ll know why.

For me, recording music has always been a drawn out and frustrating process, thwarted by the limitations of my own abilities and the withering patience of my more able and talented pals. This time, I’m enjoying the spontaneity of setting up a few microphones and just giving it a whirl, or pulling out a camera and shooting ideas as they come to us. This is the beauty of working with new people, something long recommended to me by my musical confident Bill-bo Bassman. Unlike those I’ve known for twenty-plus years, newbies aren’t tired of my nonsense yet and they don’t have the confidence – or are too polite – to tell me: ‘that’s complete crap’.

Though the songs I’m working on at the moment will hopefully form some sort of album one day, for the moment I’m calling this leg of the sessions ‘the Paul Simon Project’. Whether that’s because I’m discovering new musical influences from far-flung lands and making ground-breaking, apartheid-busting smash hit records, or just guilty of crude cultural appropriation depends on your point of view. What does ripping off Simon and Garfunkel’s version of El Condor Pasa count as? I dunno.

I’m gonna plump for the former at any rate. Music is meant to be shared, borrowed, absorbed and changed. Besides, I’m not gonna make any money out of it, or dress up like an Inca on the full-colour gatefold LP sleeve. Wait, that’s not a legally binding promise is it? Cos that could be fun. It would be in the fine tradition of late seventies funk records with bizarrely elaborate fancy dress covers. Or perhaps the fucked up tradition of honkey-ass white people missing the point.

I digress, again. Hunched over a laptop in an airport, sat on a bench by a boarding gate, then ensconced in my seat on the plane, making a mess with cables and blankets and bags, I’ve bashed out some rough mixes to fire off to Rafa back in Lima and The Competent Ringers (my de facto ‘band’) back home. Rio awaits on the next leg of my tour. The odds of bagging the super slick guitarist Just In O Rio are looking slim, but you never know. If nothing else YiYi and I are gonna record some Nazca maraca in a hotel room like a poor man’s John and Yoko.

Wish me luck. I feel like a rockstar given the kindness being shown to me and the fact that YiYi has blagged me into Secret Priority Class on this flight and the cabin crew are slipping me free beers. I’d rather be a sparrow than a snail, yes I would. Yes I would, if I only could.

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