1 Call to Arms
This grew out of an idea we'd worked on - and discarded -sometime around the sessions that led to the KNIGHTMOVES EP. The original was a somewhat ponderous affair based around our first experiments with drum machines - in this case what was then the forefront of technology - The Linn Drum. When the others told me they'd decided to use the original melody as the starting point for a new track, I was sceptical. But when I heard what they'd done, I was convinced. It was a relatively straightforward matter to develop the original melody and lyrics into something a little more sophisticated and hard-hitting. Recording such a high-pitched vocal was more problematic. We experimented with various keys, but couldn't find one that was a happy compromise for my voice and Niall's guitar parts. In the end I just had to go for it!!!!
2 Beat the Drum
We always knew this would be a bit special! Early incarnations of the idea surfaced around the time of our first abortive return to activity around summer 93. Even then it was clear that it would develop into something strong. Graeme had the vocal melody and lyrical idea which eventually turned into the first verse. As usual I took the idea and stood it on its head a little. If "The Atlantis Suite" had been a parable of the cold war told as a fantasy, then this was a chance to re-visit the topic in the post-Berlin wall world we now found ourselves in. It was hard not to make it sound too one-sided.. I wanted to get the sense that we'd all lost something in the ideological/economic confrontation of the last 50 years. Visits to Russia and other former eastern bloc countries only heightened my conviction. It was a hard one to get right. Eventually it sort of widened out to be a generalised invocation of the individuals right to self-determination, and the warning not to be taken in by demagogues. Musically it progressed quite slowly. All the ingredients were there, but for something so deceptively simple sounding it took a lot of trial and error to come together in its final form. We think it was worth the effort.
3 Hide and Seek
One of the very few tracks that I can unashamedly claim as primarily my own!!! Usually Pallas songs arrive by a long and complex process whereby an original idea cooked up by one or other of us goes through a process of writing. re-writing, extra bits being added etc. till we arrive at the finished - often completely different - article. The basic idea and melodies for this one arrived pretty much in one piece after a couple of days fiddling about on my part with a DX7. It was also my first successful writing attempt on a keyboard!!! It caused much consternation and amusement for keys player Mike Stobbie, who couldn't understand my ham-fisted chords!! The guys then "rocked it up a bit", developing the basic structure into a much more harmonically complex whole.. It's not really about anything in particular, just tries to capture a sort of claustrophobic paranoiac atmosphere I felt the chords suggested.. I'm not really that depressed (honest)!!
This track I'd probably describe as the "problem child" of the album. I was never entirely sure it was going to work until I heard the final mix!! A rough version of the opening section had been around for quite a while, but we never seemed to be able to get a handle on where exactly it should go. Lyrically I'd originally been trying to write about the experience of working at night in a newsroom where everything around is quiet, but you're being bombarded by wire copy and images from those parts of the world still awake.. It was supposed to be about the detachment of seeing often quite harrowing raw news footage from wherever.. while sitting in a half-light drinking endless cups of tea to stay awake. Slowly the focus switched to the Internet - which I was also starting to get to grips with at the time.. Being alone and at the centre of things at the same time.. seemed to be very much a modern form of alienation..
By this time the guys had settled on a rough arrangement, which was sent down to me on cassette from Aberdeen.. I then tried to settle on some vocal parts, which in turn suggested further changes.. It's difficult to work this way - especially when you're 500 miles apart - so it took a little time to sort out.
We were still hammering it out when I came up to record the final vocals!!!! I went away from the sessions still unsure if it would all hang together.. Imagine my delight when I came back from 2 weeks holiday to hear the mixes Niall had done.. It had improved out of all recognition.. one of my favourites on the album..
5 All or Nothing
Another older piece developed beyond its original limitations. The version on "Sketches" had basically been Niall and I messing around with a sampler and tape loops. The song just sort of appeared. I'd always liked it, but it had been deemed not PALLAS-like enough for development until quite a late stage in the album, when we felt it might be just what we needed to balance some of the other tracks. Again I didn't hear what the guys had done till I came up to record the vocals. The rhythm had been developed into something much more organic and funk-like. Graeme's bass was a particular departure. I didn't think I'd ever hear Mr Murray "get on the one"!! It allows all the musicians in the band to show off - but without disturbing the context of the song or disrupting the beat. It's opened some fresh horizons.
Graeme, Niall, and Ronnie had been tinkering with this idea for some time when I got involved. At that point there was no vocal melody, just a feel and rough arrangement. I quickly got into "spiritual" mode, deciding that it suggested a mythic - perhaps eastern quality. The massive forest fires that were destroying large parts of Indonesia proved to be the lyrical starting place. The suggestion was that although local farmers were being blamed, the real culprits were the large companies taking advantage of the corruption of the Suharto regime to do large-scale land clearance. It worried me that a possibly irreplaceable natural resource was being wasted by man's petty greed. I'd just been to Malaysia and seen the endless acres of Palm-oil plantations that had quite recently been rain forest, and that had made an impact. The shaman was meant to symbolise the more symbiotic relationship with nature that many societies had in earlier times, with the added value of having a link to the spiritual "super-natural" world that underpinned it. I'm not religious myself, but I felt it was a good way of getting into the subject without getting too obvious or preachy (like I have just done!!!) I caused a bit of consternation by writing the "I hear you now.." section over what the others had intended to be instrumental. But I think it works. Musically it was quite a painstaking effort, balancing sounds and parts to create the necessary texture, rhythm and melody, while keeping the ethereal quality which had attracted us all. "Less is more" was the dictum (often over-looked in the prog genre), and despite the belated appearance of the pipes and drums of the Banchory cheese militia :-) I think we pulled it off. It'll be interesting to try live.
7 Man of Principle
A track that has been so many different incarnations over the years that its difficult to know where to begin. This is a survivor of the writing sessions for the aborted "Voices in the Dark" album which was due to be the follow-up to "The Wedge". Originally starting life as "Children of the Bomb" (don't ask), it changed chorus to become "Man of Principle". It even had a few live outings before the band broke up. It had been re-demoed a couple of times during the wilderness years, and was a marked contender to show the rockier side of the band on the album. It particularly gives Niall an opportunity to do his Steve Vai/Joe Satriani/anyone who's been to GIT impression (though he toned down the fret-wank on the final version). It rocks!
A real sense of coming full circle with this one.. It had been one of the last things Ronnie had written with the band before he popped out for an extended visit to the shops all those years ago.. As I remember, he'd come up with this basic keyboard idea which developed into the opening section.. Originally I'd seen it as a short, quiet piece.. the lyric was originally aimed at a close friend who'd moved away and seemed to no longer have any time for his former friends in his new life.. It was about saying goodbye.. Despite my protestations the others (Graeme in particular I think) had a grander vision of how it should develop..It was also one of the first times we'd written comprehensively with a sequencer, and I remember Ronnie going through a lot of pain every time we made a minor change to the arrangement.. In those days sequencers were a lot less user friendly!!I gradually settled on the theme of drug abuse after trying to figure out what would want someone to cut themselves off from everyone and everything he'd ever known.. What was so bad, and at the same time so good you'd want to keep your best friends out of it, while wanting it only for yourself.. only one answer - Heroin!! (pity we couldn't have foreseen "Trainspotting"!) It was slated to be the centrepiece of the projected "Voices in the Dark" album, and as such we played it a lot live following Ronnie's departure and Mike's arrival. Mike added his own particular twists to the track in performance and there was always a great sense of regret during the wilderness years that there'd never been a proper recording of it.. When we finally got it together again, there was no doubt it would be on the album. We finally did it.. and it's such a great track to play live!!
9 Blood and Roses
Graeme should really be the one to talk about this, as it was really his baby. I'd heard an early instrumental version of the track and heard Graeme's early working version of melody and lyrics. We had intended that he do the lead vocal, but when we tried it seemed to suit my voice better. I made a few minor changes to the words, but its more or less as Graeme wrote it. He's never been too clear about what it's about - I have my own mental image, but its personal. Ronnie's piano playing on the track is inspirational - another example of the "less is more " approach. But we did have to get a wind-machine in for Niall to do the guitar solo!!!
10 Wilderness Years
Another track where the vocal melody and lyrics were primarily driven by Graeme. This was written fairly late into the sessions, although the kernel of the idea had been around for a while. The hardest thing about this was agreeing an arrangement. It's often the case that the others have an idea of how they think a track should go, but once you start to write the words (or in this case, hone them into shape) it demands changes to the arrangement so that it makes lyrical as well as musical sense. This was one such occasion. The underpinning odd-time signature riff caused voice/lyric complications which took a while to sort out. It's quite a heavy track, and good fun live.
11 Fragments of the Sun
Classic PALLAS!! This track for me captures some of the grandeur of the Atlantis material, without entirely re-treading the same ground. We knew we needed a big-sounding track for the album, and we had talked about bookending the album with a development of the BEAT THE DRUM themes. From that grew "Fragments." We had already used the name as a working title for a much earlier track we'd been experimenting with back in 93. The chorus for that became the basis of the words for the first verse. Once again Graeme was the driving force here, with a fairly clear idea of melody and words.We actually recorded the vocals the day after I first heard it, taking it section by section as we settled on words and tune. It was an extremely inspiring session - we were on a burn and we knew it!! Once we came up with the words for the "Hear our song.." section we knew we were home free. I could barely sing it for the tears streaming down my face. The hardest part was the end section, where I couldn't keep it together for the line about the Sentinel. Graeme was worried I thought it might think it too cheesy (I often refer to Graeme as the cliche king), but it so perfectly summed up our feelings about the band and the album that it was the perfect end to what we now knew to be a killer album.