Drums. Bass. Guitar. Simple. Ron Sexsmith’s autograph. The dog is eating your shoes. What’s that light? An ordinary voice. Something happened to the hard drive. It’s all gone.
I started the Daveylamps in 1999 as a studio project initially, with the help of Brett Collery. Simple. A three piece. A Davy Lamp is a gas light source used in the flammable atmosphere of an underground mine. Scientists have proven that Daveylamps is a bad name for a band.
I’d seen Ron Sexsmith play at a music festival in Galway on my travels, and I was knocked out by his songs, which he played as a three-piece. Having started out playing music in a very non-standard combo, I wanted to give this kind of lineup a go. Mark Gomes and I had worked together on a quick soundtrack for a community documentary. I’d demoed material at his house on his four-track, playing fairly unsuccessfully with loops and beats. He had his own group at the time, Lovepack. He wasn’t really a drummer, by his own admission, but had a kit he hit, so I invited him to play, at first on these recordings, and later live. He now plays as Mark Barrage. Madelaine rejoined as a floating member on cello. Brett would play bass.
The three-piece didn’t last long once we were in Brett’s studio. I got excited, rearranging songs. Let’s add weary jangling electric to Angels Moving Furniture. A skippy beat to Brown River? Those chords are a bit ‘Here There and Everywhere’, so let’s add David Kidd’s Beatlesque three-part harmonies. Navigation’s a bit celtic: let’s slow it down & add Irish instruments.
Brett was willing to let me play in his studio, and play along with me, as I sought to open the songs up. Here are the rough mixes from the sessions:
Also opening up was my approach to singing. I’d never given it much thought before. To date, as long as it was in tune it was OK. I’d never thought of myself as much of a singer. I enjoyed playing the guitar more. A strange ambivalence for someone fronting a band, playing their own material.
But if I couldn’t sing ’em good, I made an early decision that I’d have to write ’em good, so I’m glad of my ordinary voice. The vocals you hear on these recordings were ‘guide vocals’, meaning they’re intended to give shape to a work-in progress, rather than be the final product.
Having started singing in earnest (in all senses of the word) in my late teens, I was now headed towards thirty. I dropped keys, and started to explore the lower register of my voice. Hardly Barry White. I’d embrace the electric jangle of my 12-string and plug it into an amp, controlling the sound rather than relying on the sonic lucky-dip of a DI. Here we are in Brett’s studio:
I only recall playing live once, at a band night at the Queen’s Arms Hotel on James Street in New Farm. We rocked the house. No we didn’t. We were just OK. Better in the studio. It was fun, though. We covered Ron Sexsmith’s ‘Lebanon, Tennessee’ . The load-in was a bit of a hassle, with the drums and all.
I always tried to leave a recording session with some kind of rough mix if I could, even though it was sometimes an impost after a long day’s work. It helped build the shape of the song in my head, as well as satisfy the archivist in me, who, with this blog, is well and truly out of his closet, (or is that filing cabinet?) Now you could burn a CD, rather than dubbing a cassette in real time, taking away a rough version was easier. Brett had just started mixing these tracks, and we were going to do the vocals ‘properly’ when his computer melted down and we lost the lot. He lost a lot more. Luckily I had these works in progress you hear here.
My favourite recording from these sessions is a new version of ‘Simple’, a waltz which references Pablo Neruda’s ‘Tonight I Can Write’. We found a setting on Brett’s vintage Jupiter-4 analog synth that washed along with the backyard cicadas and Kellee Green’s spacious, melancholy piano. This, along with Navigation, actually touches what I think I was reaching out for with this project.
Kellee played, along with everyone else, for free. David Goldsworthy played ulieann pipes and tin whistle. Brett’s beagle Buzz ate the piper’s shoes while he was recording. Luckily he was not wearing them at the time.
Though The Daveylamps only glowed briefly, I like what their light revealed. When obscurity knocks, having friends and musicians who reckon your songs are good enough to pour themselves into is a wonderful thing. I value their time, faith and collaboration. This music was never released. I considered it unfinished at the time. Here it is.