INSIDE THE MUSIC ONLINE - November 2020
S o f t S h i n e T h e R i v e r L i g h t s
I was born and raised on the south bank of the River Thames and spent much of my youth crisscrossing its muddy waters, whether trudging despondently to school across Blackfriars Bridge or dashing excitedly over Hungerford Bridge (then a narrow, puddle-strewn footpath adjoining the railway line) to the bright lights of Soho, where at the age of 16 I discovered live music in all its Sixties glory. At night we could hear the sounds of boats on the river, and when let loose during the day we Waterloo kids would roam the riverside cobbled streets, daring each other to venture down the sinister 'barge alleys' which, terrifyingly, ended in a sheer drop to the rushing torrent below. Amazingly, no-one fell in.
All this seared the Thames into my synapses, and years later those childhood memories and feelings bubbled up in 'Walnut Tree Walk' on our album Green and Blue. That song's dark undertow has now ebbed away and been replaced by a cosier nostalgia which spilled out in 'Drizzle Cloaks', another song about the river. In my mind's eye I'm back in London, walking in the rain down that long stretch of the Chelsea Embankment between the Chelsea and Albert Bridges. It's night, there's no-one around, I'm a long way from home, but I'm getting there... and rather than a mood-dampener, the rain actually cheers me up. Maybe it's a British thing?
M a j o r T o M i n o r
In contrast to the relative harmonic complexity of some of our music, this song is based on a very simple repeated chord change heard in many 1950s pop records. When learning piano or guitar you'd likely play it as C major to A minor, but in 'Drizzle Cloaks' it's played a semitone higher - Db major to Bb minor. The beauty of this classic progression is that the notes of the first chord's major scale also sound good over the second (referred to as the 'relative minor'), which makes it easy to write melodies and improvise solos!
This chiming motif (played on sampled piano) recurs throughout the song:
The left hand part (which uses a Db sus 2 chord rather than a straight major) was improvised and meanders a bit towards the end, while the right hand's chiming octaves stick to the script. When playing the part take care to use the sustain pedal where directed, otherwise the chimes will sound like staccato accents!
The piano pattern is doubled an octave higher by a Yamaha DX7 harmonics patch and a swirly Roland D-550 pad with a built-in fifth interval:
I added this bass line and marimba-style rhythm part, also created on DX7:
Here's a mix of the keyboard parts:
In order to make the old DX7 mono sounds easier on the ear I imported them into my Korg Kronos keyboard as patch data and added stereo effects. The programmed hi-hat was eventually replaced by real drums played by the ineffable Gavin Harrison.
V e r s e C h o r d s
The above eight-bar sequence became the song intro, which recurs throughout as an instrumental vamp. In my original demo the sequence also continued under the verses, but once I started writing the vocal I felt the verse chords needed more variation. Below is a chart of the verse sequence - note the key change to E major in the last two bars, and the extra notes (marked in red) added to the chords in bars two and 10:
Some additional verse ear candy, courtesy of Eric Persing's brilliant Omnisphere synth:
Guitarist Beren Matthews plays the verse changes like this:
The first two chords sustain for two bars, after which all chords are played for one bar each. In the last bar the G# note played on the D string moves down a tone to F# (as shown in brackets) between the second and third beats while the other strings ring on. As explained in the first article of this series, these guitar shapes are designed to complement rather than duplicate the keyboard voicings, resulting in a composite sound in which both instruments retain their own harmonic flavour.
T h a m e s B r i d g e
Having briefly wandered into E major at the end of the verse, we return to Db major for the bridge:
Beren's rendition of the bridge chords, which concludes with the guitar doubling the five-note piano melody in bar 7:
V o c a l W o r k o u t
The lead vocal on the bridges is punctuated by Barb's three-part backing vocals.
Like the parts I used to write for The Northettes (the legendary vocal trio who added harmonies to my band Hatfield and the North's records back in the day, with Barb handling the alto register), these were originally composed on a keyboard and individually written out on paper.
This approach is somewhat unusual in the pop / rock world, where BV harmonies tend to be worked out by ear, sometimes at the last moment - my partner recalls 1970s recording sessions with her band Spirogyra when someone would say, "Do some harmonies, Barb!", and she'd spontaneously record a harmony line over or under the lead vocal, making it up as she went along. The shout would then go up, "Do some more!", and that's when the trouble can start. It's relatively easy to track a lead vocal with a single parallel close harmony, as in this example from the chorus of Drizzle Cloaks:
The following vocal harmony in verse 2 is based on the same kind of parallel movement with contrary motion on the words 'to the':
In these examples both the lead and harmony parts have a strong tune which could stand alone, but in my experience adding a third harmony inevitably involves sacrificing that melodic potential, which I've seen become a bone of contention in other artists' sessions. Going back to our three-part bridge BVs, the middle part sounds pretty monotonous on its own, but when you add the other parts the harmony magically comes to life!
C h o r u s P a r t s
The chorus (which temporarily changes key to Bb major) is based on this piano part:
I hesitate to compare my pianistic efforts to those who play the instrument for a living, but the rhythmic interjections made by the thumb of the right hand help motor the part along, a technique used by Elton John, Bruce Hornsby and others. The additional high-pitched chiming part marked in blue is played using the DX7 harmonics patch mentioned earlier, and can be incorporated into the piano part if you feel like it! Again, follow the sustain pedal instructions to hear the correct chiming effect.
Here's Beren's chorus part:
Beren overdubbed these arpeggios:
I n s t r u m e n t a l & P l a y o u t
After an instrumental passage based on the intro's major-to-minor progression we return to the bridge, which ends with this repeated two-bar pattern:
As you can see, the harmonics, 'marimba' and piano parts collectively perform a cascade of falling notes in the second bar. Those parts are hard to pick out in the stereo album mix - roll on the 5.1 surround version!
The cascade pattern concludes its final repeat with a bar's rest punctuated by a mighty whack on Gavin's snare drum, which heralds the playout. This features a repeated harmony lead line played by guitar and keyboard:
Here's an extract from the album mix of 'Drizzle Cloaks', featuring Beren Matthews on guitar and Gavin Harrison on drums:
Watch Beren play his 'Drizzle Cloaks' parts
More guitar videos here
Drizzle Cloaks (D. Stewart)
Soft shine, the river lights
Guide my way home tonight
I walk the rainy streets
Weary and alone
Wet stones beneath my feet
Reflect the neon skies
Me and the crowding ghosts
Neglected and unknown
And I'm wondering (all my life)
I've been wandering (all my life)
I've been waiting for the sky to fall
When the rain comes...
Rolling from the roofs and splashing my shoes
It bathes my eyes and restores my long term views
Sun or rain, I can't seem to choose
Drizzle cloaks the city
Washing away my blues
Soft chime the city bells
Call to the faithful few
Washed up and all alone
I just keep moving on
Slow steps down to the river
Flowing easterly today
Eats away the sands of time
Water goes its own way
And I'm wondering etc.
Drizzle cloaks the city (I got nothing to lose)
Drizzle cloaks the city (no-one left to accuse)
Drizzle cloaks the city (I just can't seem to choose)
Drizzle cloaks the city
Washing away my blues
Drizzle cloaks the city
And I keep moving on
Thanks for reading!
Dave Stewart, UK
'Drizzle Cloaks' by Dave Stewart, © Barbara Gaskin Music 2018.
From the album Star Clocks by Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin, ℗ Broken Records BRCDLP-07.
See Inside The Music Vols. 1 & 2 for more Stewart / Gaskin song deconstructions.
Stewart / Gaskin home page
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