The Journey of Making ‘Twenty Miles from Home’
The title Twenty Miles from Home is intended to conjure a journey. The perception of the listener directs its meaning; you have been on a long journey and are in the final stretch on your way home (my perception), or you are far from home, or you have nearly made it but not quite. ‘Home’ is a very emotive word and concept.
The songs on the album were written at home in County Down, Northern Ireland and in Wiltshire. Eight of the twelve tracks were written solely by me. The Rock was co-written with Dominik Sky, the best vocalist on the planet. Oblivion was co-written with Craig Murray and Twenty Miles from Homeand Diamond Shine were co-written with my compatriot, Paul McIlwaine. The title track of the album has a specifically Northern Irish feel to it; I was aiming at a kind of Robin Mark feel as I was writing the melody. In a musical sense it represents arriving home hence it is the last full track on the album.
Some of the songs were used as part of my final project for my Master of Music in Songwriting, but this is not my major project. It is the depiction of a spiritual journey some of which was written after my degree was over.
The album starts with the voice of my niece, Scarlett Burnside rather than my own voice. Her melody represents the role of music in childhood in forming identification within a family and within a community and the power of those songs to evoke powerful emotions once we are older. Her voice sounds haunting and distant, like a memory, whereas mine has been produced in the centre of the listener’s hearing as it represents the here and now, the one who is remembering. At the very end of the album I reprise Scarlett’s words, but her voice is the last the listener hears: the voice of memory, longing and the ones we love: the voice of home.
The album also features the beautiful voice of Dominik Sky in The Rock and Parallel Worlds. We recorded two different versions of The Rock and settled on the one for solo voice, although Dominik sang vocalise and harmony on it. There is also a duet version. As the album was about a life’s journey and to a great extent about loss and overcoming grief, I felt it important that other voices as well as those of the central character were portrayed. In Parallel Worlds we here the story of a woman who has decided she no longer wants to be in the relationship she is in, that she has her own life to lead, but the last line of the chorus ‘we’re two strangers walking in parallel worlds’ implies there is another story, it is really the story of two people hence there had to be two voices.
The majority of the lead vocals and harmonies on the album are provided by me. It took more than six hours to record the harmonies on Oblivion (including the break we had to take when lightening hit the studio…). The beautiful chorus melody written by Craig Murray (aka Archie Atholl) made me glad of my classical training with its difficult intervals. I really enjoyed the vocalise elements of this song.
The most difficult to song was Over the Edge and the vocal you hear is one continuous take, beginning to end (not the usual method of recording a vocal part). It required a different technique to most of the other songs, including a bit of belting.
The album starts with the song of a mother remembering her daughter’s childhood, with the sense of one moving away from home. This was very much based on my own childhood when my grandparents taught me to use music in the midst of the trauma which suddenly beset our family. I now live in their house, so in a very real sense this is ‘home’. The journey continues through insecure youthful relationships (The Rock), which are replaced by insecure adult relationships (Over the Edge) and a sense of loss but without acceptance. Between the Lines reflects on the difficulties of forming a relationship with someone who has had trauma in their life, how we start to live on our own islands due to past losses. Then the mood lifts a bit with Our Flat in Chelsea which is about the passing of teenage dreams, but without regretting that they did not come true, just a fond remembrance of times past rather than grieving. The central song of the album then becomes Oblivion in that that one song encapsulates the themes of loss and grief but also of acceptance. It was based on Tennyson’s observation in In Memoriam that ‘it is better to have loved and lost/ Than never to have loved at all.’ Tennyson was referring to loss through bereavement although in modern times the words are misrepresented as referring to the end of a romantic relationship. Here it makes no difference; they pertain to pain. At the start of the song the singer thinks she will never get over the void that has been created in her life, by the end she is more philosophical and decides to move on. The next song is based on the theme of moving on, but not really knowing where to go, on having ‘no home and no horizon’. I wrote it infront of the sea in Bangor about Ailsa Craig far in the distance. It so happened that I had been in Scotland a few days previously and seen it from the other side, an odd experience. For most of my life it had been the constant rock in the distance after which streets and nursing homes in my home town are named. It is called Paddy’s Milestone as it is halfway between Belfast and Glasgow, and I was halfway between one phase of life and another. Parallel Worlds and Tall, Dark Stranger have much more of a sense of direction and acceptance of loss, and even of taking the good memories of a relationship and the changes that it made to your life and outlook into the future. It is the beginning of the end of the grief. Diamond Shine celebrates finding something beautiful in unexpected places; it could be God or another person but a very real change is made from darkness to light suddenly and unexpectedly. J.R.R Tolkien talked about ‘eucatastrophe’, how sometimes in life, but rarely in art, things just suddenly come right.Twenty Miles from Home has some semiotic images of death )being home, the prodigal son) but is a song of triumph. The character is restored to ‘her own ones’ and to God. She has come through the journey of grief and loss to a place of celebration. There follows a reprise of Broken Dolls in my voice to encapsulate the journey and bring the album full circle, ending on Scarlett’s voice which represents memory and love; those we love are never really gone from us, they live on in the people we become.
The album art plays on my name with an image of Eden, the ultimate symbol of exile and ‘home’.
Twenty Miles from Home is available to stream here.