Wings On Our Shoes

(Part 2)

The song 'Wings On Our Shoes' began life many years ago as a short instrumental sketch with a working title of 'Beyond Henry' (if I tell you the demo was recorded on DAT tape, that should give you an idea of its age!) I liked the idea of resurrecting the Henry and James characters from our 1984 song, and thought this music could be the right setting - however, it was only four bars long, and despite racking my brains I couldn't find a way of developing it. Something was missing, but I couldn't figure out what it was.

By the time we started recording backing tracks for our album Star Clocks in 2015, 'Beyond Henry' had expanded considerably: I used the old demo as the verse music, added a step-time keyboard chorus sequence (explained last month), composed an instrumental middle section and wrote the vocal melody (no lyrics yet). The song was almost there, but now the original demo music was sounding pedestrian alongside the lively chorus. The breakthrough came when I jammed this part on a keyboard guitar sound over Gavin Harrison's verse drum part:

(The sequence was originally the first bar repeated over and over.) I recognised this 16th-note groove was what I'd been missing all along, scrapped the old 'Beyond Henry' idea (maybe it will turn up in a future H & J-themed epic) and wrote the following chord sequence to be played over the top:

'Wings On Our Shoes' Verse A keyboard chords

'Wings On Our Shoes' Verse B keyboard chords

As you can see, a low pedal note of C# runs under all the chords. Here's how the whole thing sounds:

Now the keyboard parts were sorted, it remained to compose a new verse vocal tune and write the words. The latter never comes easily to me, and the song still lacked a proper title (usually a starting point in my songwriting). Days passed with no lyrical inspiration, but then mysterious images of winged messengers started filtering through from my sub-conscious. Astral travellers? Something to do with the god Mercury? Winged feet? The light-bulb moment occurred when the phrase 'wings on our shoes' popped out of nowhere, after which everything fell into place.

The next job was to record guitar on the new verses. Here are the chord shapes our guitarist Beren Matthews played over the second half of each verse:

'Wings On Our Shoes' Verse B guitar chords

All chords are played for two beats apart from the first two (four beats on each) and the final F# - G# (one beat on each). See 'Guitarists' Corner' below for Beren's tips on playing the part.

B a c k i n g   V o c a l s

To help build the arrangement we added backing vocals in the second half of verse two:

'Wings On Our Shoes' Vs2 BVs

Here's a stripped down mix of that section:

Barbara takes up the story:

"I really look forward to recording the vocal harmonies on our tracks - it's one of the most enjoyable parts of recording for me. Our method of double-tracking three, four or sometimes five separate parts (worked out by Dave) requires a fair number of tracks and in the pre-digital days of analogue tape they had to be recorded first, often with a fairly skeletal backing, then bounced down (combined) to make room for everything else. Nowadays we have an almost limitless number of record tracks and I can do the BVs when the song is almost complete and the lead vocal is in place, which makes much more musical sense.

"Until we hear the harmonies along with everything else on the track we can't be sure they are exactly what we want - they may sound good played on a keyboard, but different when sung. Dave usually gives me a chart with the harmonies written as chords and I write them out as individual lines to make them easier to read. The first thing I work out is the phrasing, the all-important shape of the lines and where to take a breath. Then I decide on glides and grace notes and make marks on the page to remind myself. On WOOS I recorded a rough demo of everything which we listened to together to decide whether we wanted to try any alternatives. When the parts were fixed I recorded them carefully and Dave mixed them. It's enormously exciting to hear them balanced up for the first time: parts which didn't make sense on their own become part of the whole. I found it amusing to be singing 'oohs' in the background and then suddenly and seriously proclaim the letters Bee Bee Cee. It still amuses me."

In this extract you can hear the verse and chorus joined up as nature intended:

S t e p p i n g    O u t

As explained last month, the original 'Henry & James' keyboard parts were created by MIDI step time recording, a technique which enables you to create fast-moving sequences by entering a series of chords slowly, one step at a time. 'Wings On Our Shoes' being a space-age continuation of H & J, I thought some more of this technique would be in order, so created the following two-bar step-time sequence as the backing for the keyboard solo. The part was never intended for real-time performance, but if you play it slowly you'll hear its internal chordal movements.

'Wings On Our Shoes' Solo step time

Here's the lead line I played in the keyboard solo:

'Wings On Our Shoes' Solo lead line

A harmony part comes in over the last four bars:

'Wings On Our Shoes' Solo harmony

Have a go yourself if you think you're hard enough! :)

G u i t a r i s t s '   C o r n e r

If you're wondering how to play three-note guitar chords while mercilessly thrashing all six strings, Beren Matthews has these tips (apparently he mastered the technique in his youth playing the riff from Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid', but don't tell anyone):

"In order to maintain a strong rhythmic attack, many funk players strum all six strings freely whilst only allowing a few of the strings to ring out. This is something that becomes automatically ingrained over time, but it takes a lot of practice!

"The trick is to keep the picking hand strumming rhymically throughout and use the fretting hand to form the chords whilst simultaneously dampening unwanted strings. In the case of the example shown above, the strumming hand plays all six strings in a regular 16th-note pattern with alternating up and down strokes. Meanwhile, the fretting hand is in position for the first chord shape. Importantly though, the fretting hand isn't pressing down: rather it's resting on top and across the strings, dampening and deadening them. (Playing the dampened strings produces a percussive sound we call 'dead notes'.) The fingers only press down when the chord needs to be sounded, and lifted immedately after to deaden the strings once more - this stops the notes from ringing out any longer than is required.

"In this part, the first 16th note would be a deadened down-stroke and the second 16th note is an upstroke which sounds the chord. Of course that only addresses half of the issue, since unwanted strings still need to be deadened whilst the chord is being played. The job then is to fret the chord whilst using spare fingers to sit lazily across the unwanted strings - in a situation where one doesn't have enough fingers to go round (and in the absence of genetic modification), some fingers may have to pull double duty. For the first chord in this sequence the tip of the index finger is fretting the G string whilst the rest of the finger lifts slightly and rests (without pressing down) on the B and E strings. Meanwhile, the unwanted low E string can be damped by the second finger (assuming the 3rd and 4th fingers are used to fret the A and D strings) or (my preferred solution) the thumb reaching up and over the top of the neck.

"Though this sounds complicated and convoluted in explanation, I hope it sheds some light on the mechanics of funk rhythm playing!"


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


Thanks for reading! Farewell and stay safe till next month, when we'll take a look at the song 'Heavy Heart'.

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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