Wings On Our Shoes

(Part 1)

The opening track of our album Star Clocks sees the return of Henry and James, two figures from our musical past. Longtime Stewart / Gaskin listeners may recognise these characters from our 1984 B-side of the same name, but to trace their origins you have to go back to Thomas Dolby's song 'Leipzig' (1981), which tells the story of the frustrated middle-aged UK office workers Henry, James and Leonard looking for exciting employment opportunities overseas (see 'Historical Notes' below).

As well as being one of our favourite tracks of this era, 'Henry & James' helped introduce our music to a US audience. Consequently, I felt a sense of gratitude and a certain attachment to these gentlemen: I pictured them stepping confidently into a space-age future, now interstellar commuters clad in bowler hats and brandishing furled umbrellas, politely exchanging greetings as they boarded the 8:22 to Saturn each morning... and, thanks to the miracles of modern science, not looking a day older than they did back in the eighties. Well, it could happen.

The chorus of 'Wings On Our Shoes' is based on this main keyboard part:

'Wings On Our Shoes' main chorus chords

Underpinning this chord pad is a 16th-note keyboard 'step time' sequence (more on which later) which adds rhythmic drive and harmonic mobility to the main chords:

An 8th-note mallets part adds propulsion:

'Wings On Our Shoes' mallets part

Here's a mix of the three keyboard parts, with a count-in so you can play along:

F r e t   Y e   N o t

'Wings On Our Shoes' was the first song we worked on with guitarist Beren Matthews, who has since become a permanent fixture in our musical set-up. Beren describes the process:

"We began by identifying the chords as played by Dave and using that as a guide to form complimentary voicings for the guitar - that often involves omitting certain notes from the guitar chord so as not to muddy up the sound. We worked through the progression one chord at a time, exploring multiple voicings for each till we reached the perfect arrangement that would allow both parts to be cohesive, but speak clearly in the mix."

"I'd not worked like this before and had to do some quick thinking. The attention to detail seemed intimidating at first, but it soon became clear that we weren't just looking for a by-the-numbers doppelganger of the keyboard chords. Looking back I can see that this was an important step in realising that there's freedom to be found outside the standard 'old faithful' guitar shapes we tend to lean on: it felt like we were giving the part time to reach its final form, letting the music dictate the chord shape rather than allowing the chord shape to dictate the music. It was a new challenge, and showed me that as reliable and comforting classic chord shapes may be, if we stay curious, there may be something new and exciting on the other side of that fret!"

The final guitar part:

'Wings On Our Shoes' guitar chords

Watch Beren play the chorus chords

Note the straight D major shape (yes, they are occasionally allowed :) on chord #6: this simple voicing blends nicely with the more elaborate 'D add 9' keyboard chord, a good example of one instrument leaving out a note to achieve a more spacious composite effect.

Beren operates his own studio and is available for online sessions - more guitar videos here

A   S t e p   I n   T i m e

As mentioned above, an important ingredient in the chorus is the 16th-note 'step time' sequence which bubbles along under the slower-moving main chords. Back in the day, MIDI step time recording played a big part in creating the original 'Henry & James' keyboard parts: you play in a string of chords slowly, one step at a time, adding semi-random ties and rests as you go, and if you're lucky the final result has a coherent rhythm. In the case of H & J, I got lucky: the technique worked a treat on the chorus and bridge parts, creating a quirky syncopation I could never have anticipated. Most of my subsequent step time experiments proved less fortuitous, but once I'd decided to bring H & J back to life in the 21st century, it seemed fitting to revisit the sequencing technique which had helped inspire their first appearance in our music.

Incidentally, this fast-moving 16th-note part was never intended for live performance - its musical effect relies on its mechanical precision, which would go out of the window if you tried to play these two-handed chords in real time! For the 'Wings On Our Shoes' chorus I used Logic Pro's 'step time record' feature to enter each chord individually, then edited the sequence to insert a few rests and ties in strategic places.

A l l   T o g e t h e r   N o w

The combined keyboard and guitar parts sound like this:

Add Barbara Gaskin (vocals), Gavin Harrison (drums), a synth bass line and some cosmic guitar whooshes, stir vigorously, bake at 350 degrees for a few months, et voila:

Wings On Our Shoes (D. Stewart)

Clear skies, they're coming through
All the way from yesterday
See them stand in an orderly queue
Henry and James, and old Leonard too

Fresh fields and pastures new
Space commuters, no time to lose
Henry and James say 'how do you do?'
On the Interstellar from Waterloo

Now the moon's just a step away
Off to the stars and back in a day
We can fly wherever we choose
When we're crossing the universe
With wings on our shoes

New worlds swim into view
As they leave the Milky Way
Astral travellers go where they choose
Now departing from platform two

Out here where the asteroids roam
Cats and astronauts feel right at home
Deep space is a good place to be
Out of range of the BBC

Now the moon's just a step away
Off to the stars and back in a day

Henry and James sail into the blue
Off to Saturn on the eight twenty two
Scanning the sky for cosmic clues
When we're crossing the universe
With wings on our shoes,
with wings on our shoes


Historical Notes

  Thomas Dolby's 1981 song 'Leipzig' (aka 'Leipzig is Calling') introduces the UK office workers Henry, James and Leonard.
  These characters re-emerged in the Stewart / Gaskin song 'Henry & James' (1984).
  Mr. Dolby's original version of 'Leipzig' was produced by Andy Partridge of XTC.
  TD plays the role of Johnny in the video of our 1981 single 'It's My Party'.
  Barbara and I recorded our own version of 'Leipzig' in 1983 - it's a great song, hats off to the composer.

'Henry & James' can be heard on the remastered album Broken Records - The Singles (Special Edition) - there's also a reworked version on The TLG Collection. An extended version, first released on a giveaway Flexidisc by US magazine Keyboard in 1985, appears on our Hour Moon EP.

Thanks for reading!

Dave Stewart, UK

'Wings On Our Shoes' 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 music deconstructions.

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