2017 ::: 2010 ::: 2009 :::
Jens Lekman - Hotwire the Ferris Wheel, Come on Home to Me, Yeah! Oh Yeah!
Jens Lekman and I got together for the first time in 2009 to record a cover of The Magnetic Fields song ‘Yeah! Oh Yeah!’ for a compilation called ‘Score! 20 Years of Merge Records’. Songs that had been released on the label were covered by various artists, including Ryan Adams, The Shins, St Vincent and The National, Okkervil River and Bill Callahan. Jens and I did a slightly funereal version of this darkly funny Stephin Merritt murder ballad, recording it in a hotel room, on guitar and omnichord.
Then he sang with me on a cover of Lee Hazlewood’s ‘Come on Home to Me’ for my album ‘Love and its Opposite’. And finally I joined him in a duet called ‘Hotwire the Ferris Wheel’, on his album ‘Life Will See You Now’. Like many of Jens’ songs it’s a slightly fantastical story, in which I get to sing the line “Let’s do something illegal!” playing a character who can, yes, ‘hotwire a ferris wheel’.
John Grant - Disappointing
I adore John Grant. In 2015 I went with my friend Damian Barr to see his concert at the Hammersmith Apollo, and John had reserved us two centre seats in row A of the circle, which felt like sitting in the royal box. I said to Damian, “They might as well have set up two THRONES for us.” John’s warm baritone filled the room; we wept through the defiant protest song Glacier, and it felt like being hugged from the stage. Nothing makes me happier than the fact that he asked me to sing on one of his songs, and look at the lyrics he gave me! “The genitive case in German, it’s true,/ Is something that I am quite partial to./ Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Prokofiev,/ Dostoevsky, Bulgakov, Vysotsky and Lev.” You could wait a lifetime and never be asked to sing that.
Tevo Howard - Without Me
This is another song where I was sent a backing track, this time by Chicago house star Tevo Howard, and wrote a song over it, which was released in 2010. Known more for his stripped back house tracks, Tevo also used to DJ a club night at the People Lounge bar in Chicago, where he’d play things like Cherrelle’s Saturday Love, Alicia Myers’ I Want to Thank You, Joe Jackson’s Steppin’ Out, M’s Pop Muzik, and Soft Cell’s Tainted Love. I would very much like to have gone to one of those nights. I think this track we did together captures some of that blended love of both house and pop music.
The Unbending Trees - Overture
Ben discovered Hungarian trio The Unbending Trees – based around singer/songwriter Kristóf Hajós-Dévényi and pianist Balázs Havasi – via Myspace, releasing their first album Chemically Happy (Is The New Sad) on his Strange Feeling label. From that album comes this track, Overture, on which I duetted with Kristof, and which is honestly one of my favourite vocals I’ve ever done. Slow and stately, the song has a kind of melancholy grandeur, a yearning warmth, and an unembarrassed vulnerability, like so many of Kristof’s songs.
Tiefschwarz - Damage
In 2005 I hadn’t written or recorded anything for five years. I hadn’t sung anything except The Wheels on the Bus. I was happily at home with my kids and no interest in returning to pop music, when yet another request arrived for me to sing on a dance track, this time from Ali and Basti Schwarz, aka Tiefschwarz, and because they caught me at precisely the right moment, I said yes. The song I wrote for them, Damage, marked my return to singing and recording after that long break. It reminded me how much I enjoyed singing in the studio, how familiar it was, perhaps even the fact that I was good at it.
Adam F - The Tree Knows Everything
Obviously the best fact about drum and bass artist and producer Adam F, or Adam Fenton to give him his full name, is that his father was Alvin Stardust. I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that. It’s an unexpected juxtaposition, and there’s something equally unconventional about the track I recorded with him for his 1997 album Colours, a song he’d written called The Tree Knows Everything. Set to a skittery drum and bass beat, it’s a pastoral elegy, full of childhood memories in which actions are witnessed by a sort of mystical tree. The tree of the title that “knows everything”. I told you it was unconventional.
Massive Attack - Protection, Better Things
In 1993 Massive Attack sent me a cassette through the post, with the idea of me co-writing and singing with them. Ben wrote the words “Massive Idea” on the tape, and we put it on in the car one day. Sounding nothing like their first album, Blue Lines, or indeed anything else I’d ever heard, I had to live with the tracks for days before I could get a handle on writing anything. And then I wrote Protection in about ten minutes and never changed a word and it’s one of my favourite things I’ve ever done. What works so well is the amount of space in the track – a hole into which my voice slotted like a key.
The Go-Betweens - Head Full of Steam, Apology Accepted
Ben and I were great friends with Lindy Morrison and Robert Forster of The Go-Betweens, and I so I got to sing some backing vocals on their fourth album, Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express. It’s a great album, and should have been a hit, as should so much of their catalogue. One of those bands who have a sign saying “should-have-been-huge” hanging over them. But they had two frontmen, Robert Forster and Grant McLennan, who shared the songwriting and the singing, perhaps both a strength and a weakness. Head Full of Steam is a Robert song, Apology Accepted is Grant’s. Both are passionate, I’m singing at full pelt, and my tuning wanders, but I love it. I remember that evening – friends, a dark little studio, singing my heart out.
The Style Council - The Paris Match
In 1982 Paul Weller split up The Jam, and the next time he appeared on stage was at the ICA, duetting with me on The Girl from Ipanema at EBTG’s first London gig. It wasn’t what anyone expected. In late 1983 Ben and I recorded with him for the first Style Council album, and I sang this song, The Paris Match. Paul was never happy with the way I pronounced “fire”, so it was quite a difficult song to record, but in the end I think it’s terrifically moody and languid, a wearily sensual vocal from me.
Working Week - Venceremos
This was recorded in 1984, and in the spirit of those political times, was released in support of the UK Chile Solidarity campaign, which opposed the dictatorial Pinochet regime. Simon Booth wrote the lyrics, partly inspired by and in tribute to the singer-songwriter Victor Jara, who was tortured and murdered during the 1973 Chilean coup. The words are allusive and poetic, Simon was keen to avoid the blunt didacticism of some political song-writing. And I was joined on vocals by Claudia Figueroa and Robert Wyatt, the three of us each singing in distinctively different styles, which gives the record much of its character.