The Pockets are a four piece Brisbane band that play ukuleles and sing in the sweetest, tightest harmony. They’ve just released their debut album and I’m proud to say I’m a part of it, having written lyrics for about half the tracks on it. I knew they were recording, but wasn’t sure when it was to be released, so it was a beautiful surprise to finally hear the record for the first time. It’s a rare experience for me to have been purely a lyricist.
This is a band that takes its time but makes it worth the wait.
The degree of difficulty is high in this kind of music, but The Pockets make it sound easy. The instrumental and vocal arrangements are made with love, and are truly moresome. They’ve selected some choice covers to play alongside their originals, including tunes like the much loved Pure Imagination(Bricusse/Newley) – a tune you might know from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and obscure classics like Sixty Seconds Got Together (David/Livingston) which was sung by the Mills Brothers, but I’ve heard The Pockets say they first saw on the Muppet Show as sung by The Gills Brothers, an ensemble of singing fish. Each of the covers is reinvented, and sit very comfortably alongside their original compositions, which have tunes and performances of such strength and classicism that they sound like they’ve always been there. Here are some notes on the songs I had something to do with.
This is a tune Samuel Vincent and I wrote for Tyrone and Lesley – their version can be found on third album Gentlemen Songsters. It’s one of the best songs I’ve written, so I’d always hoped that a proper singer would have a go at it one day, and now that’s happened. Sam created the vocal arrangement, which takes the tune from a spare, lonesome moment accompanied only by U-bass, to a very rich and complex place.
Kellee Green and I had written a number of tunes together by the time this one came around. She wrote and mentioned an idea she had about a young woman walking by a riverside, feeling blue. I love writing lyrics from starting points like this, and knew I wanted it to be a song about the Brisbane river, a waterway I’ve written about before. The whole town’s built on its floodplain. This time I looked into its history for the first time and invented a scenario about a dark and passionate dalliance with a ferryman, before the bridges were built. The kind of affair that’s hard to get over. Not for the first time, floods, rivers and love entwine in a song.
When I write with Kellee, it’s via old fashioned email. We don’t usually discuss genre or style. I usually write the words first, then she shapes the music, often with a harmony arrangement at its heart. The advent of her music edits the words and phrasing to some extent and certainly draws out elements such as verse, chorus and, appropriately enough for this song, a bridge. Sometimes another loop happens in the writing when the tune demands more words, but my memory of this one is that it arrived in my inbox as a rough diamond – an mp3 demo with Kellee singing all the parts.
This tune was rather different for Kellee and I, because she’d already composed not only the tune, but also some of the lyrics, which I built upon to create a set of further options, from which she selected to complete the song. To fulfil the reversal of the songwriting process, I created a demo as part of the process, and sent it to her. As a lyricist you can’t ignore classic formulations of sun, sea, sky and moon because they surround us all, and of course we think we see ourselves reflected in them, even though they’re unconcerned with us – It wasn’t until I re-listened to this demo that I realized there’s a ‘blue sky’ verse in there that didn’t make it into the final version of the song, perhaps because I or Kellee thought it was too obvious. There’s a sense of sweet yearning that was always been in this song, even from the first wisp of Not Today, that’s fully bloomed in its final version. It’s a tune that stays with you.
There’s nothing quite like holding the hand of someone you’re in love with, and this song began with that uplifting feeling, and developed from there. It’s deliberately old fashioned, drawing on Tin Pan alley craft. There’s a particular Al Bowlly song from 1931 also titled Hold My Hand (Gay/Carter) that I may have had in mind as I was writing the first draft of the lyrics.
“Neither chains of steel nor chains of love can keep her from the sea”
Secret of Roan Inish, Screenplay John Sayles
The starting point for the lyric was ideas around the myth of the selkie. In these stories, a man (usually) finds a naked woman on the seashore, steals her seal-skin, and compels her to become his wife. Though she may bear him children, she yearns to return to her true home, the ocean, and the moment she rediscovers her skin, she’ll return to the sea, leaving behind her family. It’s a beautiful, mysterious, sad idea that I chased through the composition of the verses. Though I had a sort of cultural memory of this story, and have been visited by seals on one rather strange occasion on the coast of Ireland, the idea was sharpened by my recollection of a lovely John Sayles film called The Secret of Roan Inish.
I was interested in playing with minimalism as I put together these lyrics, leaving out details and working with short phrases to open up an implied narrative. There’s word play in here but I wanted to shake off genre. Kellee’s vision for multiple harmony parts must have influenced the composition, but I don’t know. All I got was a demo with Kellee singing all the parts, followed by an amazing moment where I saw the band play it live for the first time: it’s rather epic.
Purchase or stream this album straight away. It’s available everywhere. You’ll be glad you did. See The Pockets if you can – they’re lovely live. Here they are on Facebook. I’ve written about my songwriting partnerships with Kellee and Sam here and here