The music of the book

‘Homeward Bound’ has a Spotify Playlist.

George Turnbull, who is seventy-nine and one of the lead characters in the novel, grumbles ‘I don’t have a bloody iPod’* but maybe you have a device that plays Spotify.

As you read the book, you might find yourself wondering ‘what is that song?’ so, if you don’t have a record collection as expansive as George’s, you can now listen to it online

If you find any song titles that are missing from the list then comment below and I’ll add it to the list.

Six-month-old Ellis is enjoying the launch of Homeward Bound at Ink@84 bookshop in Islington

*other brands of music player also available

In praise of the album

I want to praise the album. Not the digital download or even the CD offering outtakes and extra tracks. I mean the humble vinyl long player (LP). And not because I’m just being retro and nostalgic.

A traditional LP was a single disc with twelve tracks, six on each side. It varied, of course but what didn’t was the playing time, usually totalling about 15 minutes each side, 30 minutes in total. (Cliff Richard made one titles 32 Minutes and 17 Seconds, while rock’n’roller Del Shannon brought one out titled ‘1661 Seconds,’ though I never actually timed it.)  The duration was originally set for technical and quality reasons, but it was an ideal length to sit and listen. Without standing up to skip tracks, the listener followed through each side in its entirety. It was planned by the producers to a pattern. Tracks would alternate from fast to slow, starting and ending with a bang. In between, there would be different styles, pacing the listener through the selections. In later years, artists became more adventurous and programmed the tracks to tell a story, sometimes joining tracks so they melded into one, and the concept album was born.

At first hearing of an album, the listener might not like every track. The variations and changes of style didn’t suit everyone – perhaps track two was a ballad from a singer more associated with rock, or track five was a solo by a band member you didn’t like – and it’s true that the strongest material was always saved for the singles and pole positions at the start of each side. But what it meant, as you listened through all 15 minutes each time is you gradually got used to the differences, growing to like the new, different or unexpected. For me, many became ‘growers’ that, over time, have become some of my absolute favourites. And it gave the artist latitude to create a package, set moods and deliberately lift and drop the listener, not just a series of songs that could be played in any order. There are so many examples to illustrate, but suffice it to say that Sgt. Pepper by the Beatles and Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys are two brilliant albums that used the programming that an LP offered.

Then along came CDs and now streaming. CDs did the initial damage. You could skip the tracks you didn’t like and the neat LP package of 15-20 minutes listening time became continuous through 60 minutes or more with added tracks and outtakes. Any planned sequencing the artists had created became irrelevant. Then came streaming, where the concept of an album was destroyed forever. Each track available singly, skip it after two seconds if you don’t like it instantly . . . what chance for something a bit different?

The consequence is, more choice has led to less. Less chance for artists to innovate and less excitement for listeners at discovering different music and building a love of something new. Music is now compartmentalised into types and we choose the ones we know and are familiar with. Specialist radio stations and channels offer oldies or rap or hits, but where’s the mix, the opportunity to expose listeners to something they weren’t expecting? There’s BBC Six and – ironically, given its history – BBC Radio 2 but people the age I was when music first really excited me are not listening.  I’d duck my head under the bed covers and listen to the new releases on Radio Luxembourg, the sole station to play records. It was only on in the evening and the sound was poor, and it was simply record companies plugging their music, (they used to fade records after about 90 seconds so they could play more in the time they had), but it exposed me to things I’d not heard before.  Then came the offshore pirates, and they played what the DJs liked – and as they were such a motley crew, you could hear almost anything.

Today, we choose what we think we want and shut ourselves away from anything we don’t think we like or that might take time to appreciate. Why wouldn’t we? That’s what choice allows us to do.  But I’m not sure it’s a good thing.

Richard Smith’s novel Homeward Bound is published next week and already available on Amazon and Waterstones online.

https://www.waterstones.com/book/homeward-bound/richard-smith/9781838591595

Hi-fi or low expectations?

I listened to music as a teenager on a tiny record player which crunched the sound and where a drum roll sounded like damaged vinyl. Yet it gave me hours of listening pleasure. And in the evenings I went down to the local and put my 10p in the jukebox. That gave the music a completely different dynamic. My ambition was to treat myself to a proper hifi system – record deck, amplifier, speakers. I achieved it during a summer holiday where I worked days and nights. Forty-five years on and I’ve continued to upgrade, lucky enough to have the space to accommodate a reasonably sophisticated set up and thick enough walls not to disturb the neighbours.  But there are no set rules and I’m no snob when it comes to how people choose to listen to music. Yet all is not well.

Some songs are just meant to be heard on a jukebox…

‘Alexa, play music.’ The words that strike fear into me. Convenient, very clever and with an almost infinite supply of songs, the music invariably squawks out of a speaker that would have made my tiny record player sound like the organ at the Royal Albert Hall at full tilt. Tinny hardly covers it. And often twittering away in the background. Or the ear buds playing over the sound of a rattling tube train.  And everywhere you go, playing away almost inaudibly in the background in shops, hotels and restaurants. Yet the musicians will have spent maybe hundreds of hours perfecting the sound, mixing and completing it with the best loudspeakers money can buy. For what?

Sound has been downgraded in almost every walk of life. Televisions have been flattened at the expense of any kind or respectable audio system. Streamed and downloaded music is compressed to reduce the amount of bandwidth needed. And the trend towards miniaturisation deprives good quality sound of the one thing it needs most – space to breath.

What’s most worrying is that this is now the norm. Fewer people aspire to decent audio systems as I did, and when they do it’s invariably to rattle the walls with home cinema systems.

What’s the solution? There isn’t one. I just hope producers and artists continue to believe in quality and keep production standards up. Or my listening pleasure’s done for!

*

Richard’s new novel ‘Homeward Bound’ – about dreams, choices and rock’n’roll – is available from local bookshops, Waterstones and Amazon online.

Hi-fi or low expectations?

I listened to music as a teenager on a tiny record player which crunched the sound and where a drum roll sounded like damaged vinyl. Yet it gave me hours of listening pleasure. And in the evenings I went down to the local and put my 10p in the jukebox. That gave the music a completely different dynamic. My ambition was to treat myself to a proper hifi system – record deck, amplifier, speakers. I achieved it during a summer holiday where I worked days and nights. Forty-five years on and I’ve continued to upgrade, lucky enough to have the space to accommodate a reasonably sophisticated set up and thick enough walls not to disturb the neighbours.  But there are no set rules and I’m no snob when it comes to how people choose to listen to music. Yet all is not well.

Some songs are just meant to be heard on a jukebox…

‘Alexa, play music.’ The words that strike fear into me. Convenient, very clever and with an almost infinite supply of songs, the music invariably squawks out of a speaker that would have made my tiny record player sound like the organ at the Royal Albert Hall at full tilt. Tinny hardly covers it. And often twittering away in the background. Or the ear buds playing over the sound of a rattling tube train.  And everywhere you go, playing away almost inaudibly in the background in shops, hotels and restaurants. Yet the musicians will have spent maybe hundreds of hours perfecting the sound, mixing and completing it with the best loudspeakers money can buy. For what?

Sound has been downgraded in almost every walk of life. Televisions have been flattened at the expense of any kind or respectable audio system. Streamed and downloaded music is compressed to reduce the amount of bandwidth needed. And the trend towards miniaturisation deprives good quality sound of the one thing it needs most – space to breath.

What’s most worrying is that this is now the norm. Fewer people aspire to decent audio systems as I did, and when they do it’s invariably to rattle the walls with home cinema systems.

What’s the solution? There isn’t one. I just hope producers and artists continue to believe in quality and keep production standards up. Or my listening pleasure’s done for!

*

Richard’s new novel ‘Homeward Bound’ – about dreams, choices and rock’n’roll – is available from local bookshops, Waterstones and Amazon online.

Three questions about music

“I’m now going to play some songs from my new album.”

It’s the expression that strikes fear into every concert-goer.  We want the hits, the songs we know. Why do they do it? Why do we go?

Why do people go to gigs and then spend half the time talking or at the bar?

Why do musicians spend months recording, using the best facilities, mixing on giant studio speakers, only for people to listen on a squawking Alexa speaker or on ear buds as background noise to the sound of a train?

These and other issues will be my blog for the days leading up to publication of my novel, Homeward Bound, about two people divided by time and music.

Why ‘Homeward Bound’?

With just a couple of weeks until it’s officially published, people are asking me what’s with the title, Homeward Bound? The answer is in the book, but for a few clues, the first chapter opens with seventy-nine-year-old George reluctantly being given a tour of prospective nursing homes by his daughter and son-in-law. And he’s not happy about it. At all!

And, of course, there’s a song, Homeward Bound, sung by Simon and Garfunkel. It’s one of the records George’s nineteen-year-old granddaughter, Tara, discovers in his music room, and its discovery leads to a mystery.

Music plays a big part in both George’s and Tara’s lives – as it does in the novel. If you’re not familiar with the song, you can hear a recent-ish live performance by Paul Simon on youtube. There will also be a Spotify playlist of all the songs mentioned in the book nearer to publication.

The cover is unveiled

This is how the cover will look. I just stared into my local bookshop’s window and looked at the fancy artwork and brightly coloured sleeves of other people’s hardbacks and special editions… and crossed my fingers that this simple design will stand a chance of getting noticed. Odd how months and months (then add a few!) of work suddenly boil down to worrying about graphics.

Anyway, please feel free to spread the image. And I hope you like the blurb. Every time I’m asked to summarise what the book’s about, I come up with a new approach – the one on the book cover is quite different from the publisher’s original ‘Advance Information’. I’ve refined it somewhat by necessity. If I’m asked to describe it face-to-face by anyone, I find I’m mentally sub editing as I speak while watching their expression change from interest to indifference! It’s a bit like answering ‘How are you?’ with a full description of your sinus infection, tendonitis, cough that won’t go and bunion (or whatever!). I’m still searching for a perfect, “I’m fine, how are you?” response.

By the way, I’m fine – how are you?