SWAG 11: “Of Sparks and Spires”

This is the most involved track on the album. The chords of the verse and chorus sections are deliberately chosen to be evocative and from the same mould as Elgar or Vaughn Williams and, as such, almost evoke an air of patriotism and pride. There’s a touch of Blake’s Jerusalem to this track, in the music certainly, but in the lyrics too which on the surface are a rose-tinted reminiscence of England as viewed from afar (from a distance both in terms of time and space).

This is a long song, but the majority of it is built from two sections of music, an organ riff, and a set sequence of chords with a piano figure. It is the numerous modulation and treatments of these raw pieces that provide the dynamics and flow of the song. A third piece of music is used as an interlude, a kind of tranquil retreat in the middle of the track, over which the wonderful Anna plays a flute lead.

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The Llechryd birds (albeit a different part of the recording) make an appearance again to set the mood. Early demos of this track started with the piano figure in 9/8 but, even played very softly, this was too immediate an intro for the track. We felt that the song needed to start really gently and build before the band thundered in. At this point, Thomas created the electric piano figures at the start. I think Thomas is a real keyboard hero in a non-traditional sense. He tends to shun the lightening fast moog shredding kind of thing and always concentrates on mood and atmosphere. He’ll just walk up to a keyboard and play a dense cluster of notes that will melt your heart. I think he does so here. A few understated notes on the EP and you’re totally sucked into the piece.

The piano figure is initially backed by a virtual symphonic treatment of the main chord sequence, Tron strings, a brass section, et al, with a scripted melody line played on trumpet by Paul Marks, a friend of Amy’s. Incidentally, the flute solo was totally scripted too, and had to be learned by Anna. She really made this challenging part come alive with some passionate playing.

9/8 is such an interesting time signature. On the one hand it’s almost the archetypical ‘Odd’ time signature beloved of Prog fans everywhere (memories of Apocalypse in 9/8), and yet at its heart it can easily be made to have a waltz feel in 3/4 time. We actually play a lot with the feel of the time signature in “Of Sparks” and we move from a 9/8 feel in some sections to a 3/4 for the more emotional evocative bits.

You know, I think we’re all really happy with this one. It’s probably the closest we’ve ever been to taking a classical approach to the writing and making it work and sound natural in a rock context.

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