Perthshire's multi-instrumentalist bluesman LINS HONEYMAN talks us through the tracks on his new album 'The Secret Of A Tunesmith'
Lins Honeyman has appeared live in bars, prisons, churches, coffee houses and living rooms - both solo and with his band. "To keep things fresh," he plays guitar, harmonica, piano, mandolin, dobro and ukulele performing a range of original material, old blues numbers and the odd surprising cover or two. Lins' latest release 'The Secret Diary Of A Tunesmith' is is second full length album of 2014 and is available for free or name-your-price at www.linshoneyman.bandcamp.com. It draws on songs Honeyman composed and recorded as part of an online songwriting collective. Lins explained, "Back in December 2012, I was invited to join an online songwriting collective called Tunesmiths. I joined existing members Iain Young, Mary Keith, John Edwards and Ken Patterson - all very talented composers and musicians in their own right - in a project that would stretch me musically and stylistically. The premise behind Tunesmiths is that, roughly on a monthly basis, each member should write and record a piece on a different but predetermined theme or genre. For example, one month the challenge could be to write a waltz, the next to write a TV theme tune and so on."
Lins continued, "Having only a month to write and record each piece proved to be both an enjoyable and, at times, pressured experience. A variety of different styles make an appearance on 'The Secret Diary Of A Tunesmith' with ambient sounds, blues and cod-classical pieces sitting side by side with a fictitious TV theme tune, a slice of satire and a children's song. I used as many instruments as I could find around our house from stylophones and ukeleles to guitars, harmonicas and recorders. Not content with that, I even sought out items that were not really instruments at all - a plastic box, a door, a briefcase, trees, stones, shoes and such like all make an appearance on this collection of disparate tunes."
"The Demetrius Files"
The Tunesmiths challenge that resulted in this instrumental was to write a spy or detective film/TV theme tune. I chose to write a theme for an imaginary TV detective series (probably mid-'70s Granada TV) with the eponymous Demetrius being a somewhat grubby and rule-bending detective in a darkened and equally grubby office. Keen to establish a catchy hook to grab the virtual viewer's attention, the melody came fairly quickly and it was then a case of building up the track's suspense by hammering out piano chords, adding a key change and duplicating the melody with some harpsichord and organ sounds.
The challenge for this Tunesmiths track was to write a piece connected to water. This composition is split into three parts, all of which contain original instrumentation and sound effects without the use of sampling. The first part aims to evoke the image of the ocean on a still night with perhaps a full moon reflecting off the water. The middle section, still set at night, sees the focus change to the murky depths of the ocean floor whilst the final part finds us back on the shore as the sun comes up. The instrumentation on this recording includes a synth wash and keyboard vibes for the first part. For the underwater section: a low keyboard note, bass guitar, ukulele and mandolin (strings scraped instead of plucked), my youngest daughter Martha's toy piano for the submarine sound and me thumping Martha's bedroom door whilst the last part has a synth wash, acoustic guitar and the sea at Broughty Ferry beach near Dundee recorded especially for this piece.
The Tunesmiths challenge that resulted in this piece was to write music that used only a semi-tone/tone scale (ie, where the notes go up by a semi-tone, then a tone, then a semi-tone and so on). Working out a musical sequence using this limited number of notes gave birth to an atmospheric and melancholic piece and I decided, instead of coming up with a sung melody, I would write a short script written in the first person for four people. The setting is the aftermath of some sort of nuclear fallout where the speakers are forced to go underground and wait until it's safe to return to the planet's surface. Recording the spoken parts involved heading round to different friends' houses with my trusty digital recorder to record each person as they read their part of the script. To add variety, Les, the two Gavins and Andrea were chosen as they all had different accents.
"1940s Wartime Dancehall Blues"
The Tunesmiths challenge for this track was to write and record a ballad. Whilst perhaps not a ballad in the traditional sense, this song does tell the story of a young man who has fallen in love and faces the bitter prospect of being called up to serve in the Second World War. Specially recorded for Tunesmiths, this song was originally written in 2004 shortly after I purchased my very first ukelele. I was keen to reference a number of WW2 elements such as the bombing of Buckingham Palace, black outs and Glenn Miller as well as the sartorial challenges of the day (paint-on nylon hose and working/dancing shoes.) This particular version contains not one but four layered ukeleles as well as a thumped briefcase. Lastly, my vocal was put through a grungelizer effect to give a 1940s gramophone feel to proceedings.
"The Mighty Fifteen"
For this piece I was asked to write a song using an asymmetric time signature. Accustomed to using standard time signatures, I asked my good friend and drummer Jon Assheton to come up with some alternative percussion sounds. We originally tried out a 7/8 rhythm using a cajon but settled on a 15/8 time signature beaten out on a floor tom. Taking Jon's floor tom rhythm, I then came up with a ukelele accompaniment but struggled for a long time to formulate any sort of melody or lyrics. With time running out before the challenge deadline date, I ended up standing in front of the microphone with my harmonica and, thankfully, the melody came just as I pressed record. Most definitely in spaghetti western theme tune territory, I added some layered "whoah" vocals and Hugo Montenegro whistling for good measure.
"A Forgandenny Summer's Day"
The Tunesmiths challenge for this track was to compose a song about summer. Taking my childhood home of Forgandenny in Perthshire as my inspiration for a reminiscent tale of summers gone by, I went out to my parents' house - they still live in Forgandenny - in May 2013 and planted my digital recorder at the entrance of their summer house and recorded the abundant birdsong within their garden. Using a guitar part (open G with a capo on the second fret) that had been floating around my head since the mid-'90s, I then put lyrics to it to reflect a longing for past summers and a rekindling of hope. Late on in the writing process, I decided to namedrop my home village which may make this the first and only song to mention the name Forgandenny. A mandolin part was added as well as a harmonica drone and four layered recorder parts to add a bit of colour to the overall song.
"Some Animals It's Probably Best Not To Be"
This time I had to record a children's song. After coming up with a bouncy keyboard riff - using the clav sound that's not a million miles away from the Rhubarb & Custard theme tune sound - I figured that all the best children's songs are about animals. With the aim of putting across the positive message that it's best just to be yourself, I decided upon four animals to help me do this. Aware of the Roald Dahl approach of adding a slightly dark humour element to children's stories, I made the possibility of terrible things like squashing somebody, offending someone with a smell, being eaten and squashing somebody (again) happening the reason for staying as you are. My youngest daughter Martha (just three at the time) helped out with the vocals whilst her older brother Sam blew raspberries on her tummy during the skunk bit. If you listen carefully you can hear Martha giggle. The elephant's footsteps were created by hitting a plastic box and all other sound effects were sampled.
"Feet In Land"
The Tunesmiths brief for this track was to write a garden song. Coming up with the well-used C major 7/F major 7 chord structure, I decided to write a song from the perspective of a long-standing fixture at the foot of a garden. That fixture has been there for about 250 years ("a thousand seasons I have seen") and has provided a place to hide and a surface for lovers' names to be carved out on. The minor key middle section reflects some of the sorrowful things that the fixture in question has witnessed over the years whilst the last verse returns to the major key to end the song on a more hopeful note.
Following on from the garden song challenge, the Tunesmiths challenge for this track was to create a composition related to nature. Thinking of a way to not only write about nature, I decided to use some natural elements in the song. The looped percussion track consists of me hitting a tree trunk with a stick plus some stones and bits of wood knocked together. The tree trunk sound was looped with added reverb and, if you listen carefully, you can also hear a rook call out in perfect time! To juxtapose the natural sounds that make up the percussion loop, I opted for a more electronic approach for the rest of the songs with various synth sounds making up an ambient dance groove which ends with a recording of a rather spectacular thunderstorm that took place the year before.
"Round And Round"
The Tunesmiths challenge for this song was to write either a round, a canon or a fugue. I opted for the first option and set about recording four nylon string guitar parts, introduced four bars after each other and four vocal lines which follow the same principal. The different parts have complete stereo separation with two parts of the left and the other two in the right. The message contained in the lyrics (improvised when recording) is a positive one about the world continuing to go round no matter what happens, thankfulness for being alive and loving one another. As the voices and guitars meld together in the middle of the song making it hard to make out what is being sung, it reflects how these principles can get lost in the clutter and busy-ness of everyday life. The song ends with a solitary guitar and vocal to highlight that the ethic of loving one another should survive despite everything that has gone on before.
The brief for this Tunesmiths challenge was to record a version of the world famous "Minuet In G" by Christian Petzold but thought to be composed by JS Bach until about 1970. I decided to only use small instruments to record Petzold's tune (hence the "Mini" in the title) and first of all mic'd up a tiny Casio keyboard that I had bought on ebay. Then, after adding ukelele, harmonica and stylophone parts (listen out for the crackle from the stylophone pen lead), my better half Jill recorded the main melody on a toy glockenspiel.
"God Bless Richard Dawkins"
The next challenge was to write and record a comedic piece and I opted for a slice of satire. With tongue firmly in cheek and a nod to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, this song is about the evolutionary biologist and verbosely staunch atheist Richard Dawkins. I opted to sing from the point of view of someone who had a faith and then, after hearing Dawkins spout forth, changes his or her mind. Unfortunately, the person still manages to use language related to faith and sees Dawkins as a preacher and a missionary (all things he would undoubtedly deny) as well as claiming that being an evolutionist was what he or she was "created for" which, of course, is a contradiction in terms! The song ends with the conclusion that, if Dawkins suggests you shouldn't believe in God because he's probably not real, then it stands to reason that, by believing in Dawkins, he himself ceases to exist. Recorded with an acoustic guitar put through a distortion effect, a one take vocal, a classy kazoo and harmonica solo and topped off with a touch of tambourine.
"The Wind And The Rain"
Having been asked to musically adapt a Shakespeare sonnet, play or song I remembered once seeing a version of Twelfth Night at my local theatre. I set about adapting the song that is sung at the very end of the play - "Feste's Song" - in a style suited to me. Having always been fascinated by field recorder Alan Lomax's recordings of call and response songs by American church congregations and field workers, I bluesified the bard's lyrics and recorded the response vocals and handclaps eight times over. Just like any play does, this song too finishes with applause.