This week, I was delighted that my most recent musical endeavours with my two-person band St Jude were released on Spotify. Our EP, The Small Hours, consists of three songs and an instrumental piece – all recorded during lockdown. We’re very proud of it – not only because we think the songs are great (have a listen) but because it marks a moment; 20 years since we met.
In September 2000 my great friend and musical partner Tom Andrew-Power joined me at Alexandra Park School. I was Deputy; he joined as a Director of Studies and an English teacher. We were in our early 30s. It was the start of a beautiful friendship – between the two of us and our families.
We always had a shared interest in education – Tom is a phenomenally good teacher, always inspiring, always looking out for the underdog, taking his students under his wing and giving them some self-belief. He loves poetry and teaches it with real passion. We share lots of lovely symmetries – both married to successful, talented school leaders (Deb and Kirstie), both with two fab children. (Alongside Daisy and Phoebe, both our sons are called Sam. Tom and Sam x 2.)
But our friendship was originally built around music. One morning I was tinkering on the school piano in the hall and Tom wandered in; he said he’d love to sing in a band again and would love to have a go writing a melody and lyrics to my tune. I was delighted – I can barely sing at all, so my tunes were destined to go nowhere on their own. I made a rough recording of a version of the song (on a cassette-recorder nicked from the MFL department) and a couple of weeks later he came back with the tune and the lyrics, (a process we followed thereafter).
This was our first song: Stay As You Are:
I love the lyrics from the start: It’s the simple truths that come to haunt me every time…
We loved playing it just piano and vocals and, after a few renditions at school fairs and lunchtime concerts, students picked up on it. It became a bit of an anthem. In 2004, we secured a gig at the Hope and Anchor in Islington and lots of our friends and students came down to watch, packing out the basement venue. It was a special moment hearing a crowd of people sing along to the stay as you are chorus.
Another time, at the leavers’ ceremony for our very first cohort of Year 11s, we were asked to play Stay As You Are as part of the event. Tom added some lyrics to the instrumental middle 8 to reference their passage to the next stage of life:
And now the summer’s here, your life will be enough/ And all that’s coming will replace what you have lost..
The funny and weird part of this was that the guest of honour for this event was Alistair Campbell. He thought it was very odd for teachers to be performing for students in this way – and said so!
We wrote some other songs at that time too – and spent time in a recording studio run by a fabulous character called Adam Fox. The studio in Hillingdon was a garage at the back of an over-grown garden; a place where Adam weaved his magic. Our first collection of songs made up an EP we called Ghosts and Empty Air:
Here’s are another of our songs from that time – Displacement Song – I can’t breathe in this machine – essentially about the stresses of work!
This started life as a vocals and guitar song… we loved playing it. It’s probably my favourite of all our songs.
In Adam’s hands – it was transformed into something completely different, but very cool. Truth is that nearly all my playing was replaced by Adam playing it better – but it’s my song so I feel I’m in there, even if I’m not making the sounds!
I’ve always absolutely loved the creative process of making music; of writing songs. There’s something fabulous about creative collaborations where you have a deep respect for the other person’s talents.. and I’ve always been in awe of Tom’s commitment to writing serious lyrics and his great singing. It’s hard to share the feeling with other people – nobody ever loves the songs anywhere near as much as we do (how could they!?) but I play them all over and over, and love them deeply. It’s hard to explain. A kind of private exhilaration; a deep sense of satisfaction with all the creative choices that never seems to fade.
After 2004, life moved on. Tom moved to Hampshire and gave up teaching for a while. I went to Indonesia 2005-8. But, in 2009/10, we reconvened to make some more songs in a burst of creativity, all recorded at home on my computer with garageband. Here’s a favourite from that time.. Still.
After this real life really kicked in – everyone was too bogged down in the business of working for taking a proper breather for creative pursuits. For about 10 years! Opportunities for us to make music just didn’t come together though we did still manage to keep our family friendship going.
By the time lockdown came around, now in our 50s, Tom and I were itching to make music again. He is back into teaching …
We both found some headspace to engage with our writing process again. This time, remotely. I had made up some pieces of music and sent him recordings; he spent some weeks dreaming up the melodies and lyrics and sent back some files of him singing. I stitched them into garageband and.. new songs were born. A beautiful process with fabulous outcomes.
It’s fabulous to connect with someone else on this creative level – especially with music, it has an emotional element that runs between you through the sounds and rhythms even if you’re making it asynchronously. Our last effort was On A Rise. This is special to us on many levels. We first wrote the basic idea on a family camping trip about 8 years ago.. a rare musical interlude. We have visions of playing the Pyramid Stage with this epic closing singalong – but we just had the hook line and the main chord sequence. I then recorded a full version earlier this year and waited for Tom to add the rest… it took a while but, boy did he deliver:
I am the burning man / Today’s incendiary / For all this clarity / A conjury of fires
Oh human usury/ Inhuman penury / Immoral weaponry / Of sociopaths and liars
I just don’t know how anyone can write words like that… I love them! Then, in its new incarnation, Tom’s son Sam was co-opted to add some guitar – he plays the blistering opening and closing solos. And, finally, my son Sam provided the photo for the Small Hours EP… It’s a family affair.
I suspect, as schools are now back in full swing, that we’ll struggle to find time for much more of this so, who knows, this could be our final reckoning. I hope we find time for more… but even if this is where we leave it, I’d be happy. Proud. I’m grateful for 20 years of friendship, for the musical bond… for all of it. Maybe the next EP will come out when we’re in our 70s, still rockin’ it!
On a hillside, looking eastward, watching the sunrise.
Just listened to Stay As You Are – remember it very well in 2004! 🙂
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Thanks a lot Ross. Happy days! Way before we find ourselves talking to ED Hirsch. 😎
The lyrics are so gently crafted / and the chorus is on a loop in my head already . I’ve just taken up playing again after a lag of 10 Yrs – it’s a bit finger sore and clumsy but listening to you songsmiths is encouragement ( I’m
76 ) still mentoring
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