Interview with Steve Daggett
In the Lindisfarne '86 tour program -where he shared a biography section [and photo, see on the right] with a certain 'Santa Claus'- you can find some info about Steve Daggetts' musical roots. He started his musical career at the age of 14, formed 'Stiletto' in 1980 and was, for the next four years, involved in engineering and production for other artists. Until… One day in 1983, while working on 'Winter Song' with a group of local school children, Steve met Alan Hull. They began making a few recordings and, to cut a long story short, he ended up co-producing Lindisfarne's 'Dance Your Life Away' in 1986.
However, it should take almost 15 more years until Steve finally released his first ever solo album Troubadour Territory.
Please find attached a two part interview with Steve. Part one is more focusing moe on background info and the general making of the album while part two is giving detailed information about each track.
RG: Steve, how come it's taken more than 20 years to finally make your first solo album?
SD: I guess I was just so busy designing, managing or freelancing in studios all over the country. I was working with so many different people and couldn't contemplate being focused enough to record my own album. The material was there but the opportunity wasn't.
RG: Had you not thought about making your own record in the late 80's when your name was on everyone's lips because of your well known connection with Lindisfarne?
SD: I never imagined that my name was on everyone's lips. Lindisfarne at the time were selling out in major concert halls country wide because of the big live show. As for record sales they couldn't get arrested, post 'Back and Fourth', so if they couldn't sell records what chance had I?
RG: Well, no matter which of the tracks of Troubadour Territory I listen to, I don't get the impression that these are tunes which have been culled from the past 15 years. Am I right or were some songs/lyrics written a long time ago?
SD: The songs 'New Skin' and 'Always On My Mind' were written in 1989 and are the only survivors from my work at that time. 'New Skin' was written on Kathryn Tickell's old upright piano while I was waiting for her to prepare for a gig. It originally sounded like Neil Young's 'After The Gold Rush' but it transformed when I played it on the guitar. The rest of the songs were mostly written between 1998/2000.
RG: How big is your back catalogue of self-written songs?
SD: Difficult to say, I wrote a book of stuff back in the late 70's for Stiletto and another load of songs for It Hz in the 80's. I recorded 13 tracks in 1993 for an electric band album (New Skin and Always On My Mind included) that I buried and 20 songs for 'Troubadour Territory' of which 13 were on the final cut and I'm currently writing some new material. I probably have a lot of songs that just lie around for a while and I'll kind of re-discover them.
RG: Was it easy to make the final selection?
SD: They kind of picked themselves, although the running order was a little trickier. I prefer to buy albums that are diverse in style and running order so I tried to arrange it just how I like to listen. I dropped a few of the bigger sounding arrangements in favour of the solo performances.
RG: The total length of the CD is 49 minutes so, physically there would be enough space for another 20-25 minutes of your songs. What are you feelings - as producer and musician - towards the potential of squeezing 80 minutes on a single CD? Looking at 'Troubadour Territory' how did you decide on it's length and number of tracks?
SD: For me A CD is just as long as it is. Back in the days of vinyl albums, if a side of a disc was longer than around 18 minutes there would be a sonic sacrifice, particularly with the dynamic range. Now with CD and other digital formats there is no technical restriction but I do own a few CDs by people I admire that perhaps outstay their welcome when played from beginning to end. So it's quality rather than quantity.
RG: We all know - from your Lindisfarne days - that you are able to play quite a few instruments. Nevertheless, 'Troubadour Territory' features a couple of guest musicians. Was it an easy decision to make and how did you decide what guest musicians to use?
SD: Drummer Stephen Robson, I have known since my teens. He played with Punishment of Luxury while I was with Stiletto. We even ended up playing on the same bill at a festival in Dundee one day. He's a very versatile drummer and percussionist, adaptable and intelligent and is great to have around in the studio. Jim Hornsby I've known of for years but never had the opportunity to work with until I produced the Prelude album. A great feel player, very 'American' and like me likes to get things to 'happen' in the studio. He and I share a love of the first take. George Curry and I also go back a long way and he is the mandolin player in Hoggshead, the band that features Terry Morgan on bass guitar. He's a great live player but hates recording studios so I had to coax him into it and nurse him through the red light fever 'ordeal'. Keith Nicholson has played bass with a lot of bands that I have either engineered for or produced. I asked him to play on TT because I've always liked how he plays and he said yes. I had spoken with Rod Clements who had agreed to play some bass and Dobro on the album, however he was away touring with the band when we were in the studio so unfortunately it didn't happen.
RG: About a year ago I heard from Michael Bailey that they'd fought like cat and dog about the final running order of the debut Morgan le Fay CD 'Glororum'. Bearing in mind you had no other producer to discuss it with, how did you set about making the decision?
SD: I stored all the various finished mixes and takes on a mini-disc walkman, cut up all the song-titles on pieces of cardboard and just shuffled them around whilst listening to the disc. Most of this operation was carried out travelling on the East Coast mainline between Newcastle and Berwick. It's funny how the CDs running length ended up the same as that of the journey time. Fortunately there are no announcements on the CD apologising for track 5 'New Skin' running 24 minutes late due to sheep on the lines.
RG: When did you record the CD and how long did it take?
SD: It was recorded between September and December 2000 at The Cluny Studio in Byker, Newcastle. Some additional dubbing and most of the mixing was done at Trinity Heights Studio, Denton, Newcastle. I can't say how long it took because some days I'd work for three hours and others thirteen, as is my way. I'm not a nine 'til five kind of person. At a guess, if I totted it all up, about 20 days but that includes all the alternative versions and unreleased mixes etc that I had gathered for the final selection.
RG: What guitars did you use on each track?
SD: All of the 6-string acoustic guitar was played on my precious 1964 Gibson Country Western that I bought several years ago from John Coleman, who used to play guitar with Alan [Hull] and Terry Morgan as teenagers in 'The Gift'. The intro and opening verse of 'Mandolin Moon' was played on Alan Hull's old original Yamaha FG, complete with Brown Ale stickers and much DNA. It also features my old 60s Hofner Westerner used as a high string. 12-string parts on 'Mandolin Moon' and 'Rise' were played on my early 70s Fender Villager. Electric guitar parts were played on my late 80s custom built Fender Stratocaster fitted with Dan Electro lipstick tube pick-ups.
RG: What is a high-string guitar?
SD: It's a guitar strung an octave higher than standard. Imagine a 12-string guitar with the 6 standard strings removed. This is often called 'Nashville tuning' although in fact it involves no special tuning. Dave Hull Denholm uses one quite a lot on stage.
RG: What Alan Hull compositions currently feature in your live repertoire?
SD: I know many but a couple of regulars are 'January Song' and 'Lady Eleanor'. I sometimes play 'One More Bottle Of Wine', 'Winter Song' or 'United States Of Mind' but only if it's a listening crowd - whatever takes my fancy at the time.
TROUBADOUR TERRITORY - Track by Track
MANDOLIN MOON RG: Dedicated to the memory of Alan Hull. It’s a great opener and probably most peoples’ favourite track. Lyrically it contains no less than 10 Hull song titles, and there’s even a reference to ’STD0632’ (the instrumental tune from Alan’s first solo album, ‘Pipedream’). Did you intend to write a song based around song-titles? (Barclay James Harvest did this too using Beatles titles.) SD: ‘Mandolin Moon’ was written on the anniversary of Alan’s death. He was very much in my thoughts as I sat in the kitchen of Vicki Townsend’s house (White Gables, where Alan and I mixed ‘Back to Basics’) with the moonlight streaming in. I had a vision of him standing in the room playing his black Ovation guitar. I just began to write how I was feeling and the song happened very quickly. The song title thing just sort of evolved. I’d put a few sneaky ones in the first 2 verses and thought ‘YEAH’, why not verse 3? I’ll try and create a little scenario. (STD0632 was the old standard trunk dialling code for Newcastle from outside the area in the 70’s). It was pretty late at night and I went straight into the studio and laid it down on a digital 8-track. By the morning most of it was done and I went into SAMS Studio in Newcastle to transfer it to 24-track and began to repair bits and pieces. I had arranged for George Curry to replace the mandolin part, but he was late and by the time he arrived I’d finished the track. It was the first time I’d ever played the mandolin but it just all fell spookily into place. I managed to get hold of Stephen Robson to play drums to the finished track. He was in town but didn’t have a drum kit, so we set off to borrow one. It belonged to a guy called Bob Porteous who was a drummer in the band ‘Fogg’ in the 70’s. He’d quit drumming but had hung onto a drum kit. When we got the kit into the studio another spooky event occurred. As I lifted the bass drum from it’s case an old yellowed scrap of paper fell on the floor. I picked it up and shivers went through me, for someone had hand-written the lyrics to ‘Winter Song’. Bob Porteous couldn’t give any explanation, very strange. I called up an engineer friend of mine (Steve Chahley) to mix it for me as I was now without sleep for 30 hours. I liked the final mix a lot but didn’t like the intro, so when it came to put TT together I didn’t want to do it all over again as I thought it might lose it’s magic. A new intro and first verse were recorded and edited onto the main track (very ‘Strawberry Fields’). I’d borrowed Alan’s beat up Yamaha guitar from Terry Morgan (to take photographs of) and I thought it was appropriate that I should use it for that opening sequence.
TROUBADOUR TERRITORY RG: This is a very simple song, featuring vocal, a guitar and a harmonica. Apart from the vocal it reminds me of Neil Young's 'Harvest'. 'I'm tired, it's 5 am' - is this how the song was written? SD: Pretty much so. I recorded it just a few days after I'd written it. I wanted to write a title track and from what I can remember, I started late one night and finished it in the cold light of morning. I only did two takes in the studio and picked one of them, I think the harmonica swung the decision. The Neil Young comparison is interesting as a lot of people have said it sounds like early 'Gasoline Alley' era Rod Stewart.
CYBERCAFE RG: This is definitely a tune for this Millennium. Great lyrics - did they come from your own experience of the 'Cyberworld'? The instrumentation is even more basic than 'Troubadour' - there's not even a harmonica. Did you try other arrangements, or was it always a guitar-and-vocal song in your mind? SD: I was walking along Market Street in Newcastle a few years ago and spotted what must have been the first Cybercafe in the city. On the pavement was a sign saying Cyberbreakfasts £3.49 before 11am and I thought yeah, I'll have some of that. On entering I realised my mistake. The place was full of computers and a few people sat around tapping away at qwerty keyboards. It was so clinical, no smell, no sound other than the occasional bleep, blip and the constant hum of the hard drives and no, what I can only call, soul. I came out and by the time I'd reached Central Station most of the lyric was written. I'd always had it in my head that this would be just vocal and guitar and must be recorded live. I realised it was the right decision after I'd played it on stage a few times as the response from audiences was very positive.
JUST TO SEE YOU SMILE RG: Happy greetings, via Dylan's 'I shall be released'. That's what it reminds me of each time I hear it. Any comments? SD: I laid it down with acoustic guitar, drums and a guide vocal. Keith came along later and just locked into it on the bass. It lay on the multi-track for about a week then I played it to Jim Hornsby. I sang a melody line to him that I had in mind for the guitar and he just said DYLAN. We messed around getting a tremelo guitar sound for about an hour and Jim played it in about 4 minutes. I dubbed a harmonica and a keyboard on later and got to like the guide vocal more and more each time the tape went past, so I kept it. Although there has been much comparison to Dylan, I don't think it sounds like any Dylan song in particular.
NEW SKIN RG: On this number you play acoustic guitar and mandolin. George Curry (mandolin) and Phil Armstrong (acoustic guitar) are also credited with these - why is this? SD: George Curry played the mandolin tune because he played it better than me. I played the mandolin rhythm because I played it better than him. Phil Armstrong doubled up the mandolin tune on acoustic guitar, which gave it an unusual sound with more body. Phil has been a dear friend of mine for a long time and was scheduled to feature a lot more on TT but other commitments and a hand injury from a bizarre hoovering incident prevented this. For the Lindisfarne trainspotters, Phil was the guitar player from the 'Heads Held High Tour' and soundtrack album that Alan and I were involved with back in 1986. He also played guitar on Ian McCallum's 'Left Handed' and 'Big Bigg Market' albums.
THIS TIME OF YEAR RG: This is an outstanding tune, in the literal sense of the word. To my tastes it doesn't fit in with the other tracks or the concept of the album as a whole. It's probably not a bad tune but to me it's overwhelmed by your distorted voice, the rap-style verse and that awful drum loop - in my ears. I'm curious to hear your motives behind using this arrangement. SD: Not like me to be controversial. I think you might be on your own on this one judging by most people's reaction to the CD. To answer your question - I love singing through amplifiers, I also use synthesizers (especially shiny happy digital ones) through amplifiers so they take on a different character and space. The rap style verse isn't really meant to be a rap at all. I thought a rhythmic spoken word kind of thing would sound more intimate at that point of the song. I don't think Puff Daddy is shaking in his shoes right now. I had a drumbeat running in the background while I was writing the lyrics and got to like it. I liked it so much I put it in the foreground (and through an amplifier) and Stephen Robson and I played some real percussion along to punctuate it a bit. Maybe you might like the acoustic version I play live a bit more. Sorry.
RISE RG: Back to basics, a wonderful lightweight tune, accented by a few notes from an electric guitar and synthesizer. SD: I wrote this as a message to myself and a few other people close to me who were all going through hard times and adversity. Cancer, unemployment, bereavement, drug abuse and depression, it was all around. I originally recorded it a bit quicker and 'country' if you can imagine that, but felt the lyric had lost its weight. So I set out to give it more space and gentler sounds. More singing through amps I'm afraid.
LOVE SONG (part one) RG: Any special meaning behind part one? SD: I've been asked this question a few times. It's a relationship song and relationships evolve. One reviewer suggested it was cynical. I disagreed, who's to say that 'Love song part two' will be happy or sad. There might be a part 9 who knows?
LIVE YOU LIFE YOUR OWN WAY RG: It must be the bamboo flute and border pipes but this song feels like it comes directly from the highlands. SD: Written from my living room window overlooking the Cheviot Hills. I could have recorded it using Dobro and accordion but that's not what I was seeing. Another 'message' song, It's about being content with simple things and not measuring success with the usual trappings. Follow your heart.
HAVE A DRINK RG: Is it fair to say that this is another tribute to Jimmy Alan Hull? SD: Not entirely, he's in there, as he's in 'This Time Of Year' also, but this song is really about pub life. Drink is a real leveller, my local pub has accountants, farmers, office workers, artists, musicians, salesmen, journalists, students, whoever, all sharing conversation and time together. I imagined that if a visiting alien popped in for a pint, he'd fit in quite well.
COUNTRIE JUNKIE RG: This is in a similar vein to 'This Time Of Year'. It benefits from the presence of a real drummer (Stephen Robson) instead of a drum loop. SD: I wrote this with a particular country singer I know in mind. If she ever gets to hear it she'll know who she is. Again I'm experimenting with the vocal textures. Jim, Keith and Stephen all put great performances in on this take.
ALWAYS ON MY MIND RG: Back to what Steve does best: a simple melody accompanied by his voice, an acoustic guitar and harmonica. SD: Originally recorded in 1990 by a group of country players and it sounded real good. I'd been playing it live with just the harmonica for a while and decided to take it just like that. At first I was concerned about the title but after a while just stopped thinking about it.
EVENING WORLD RG: Begins with a 12 second mandolin intro, which sounds very much like the outro to Rod Stewart's 'Maggie May' - played by a certain Ray Jackson. A nice tune - a good end to a fine album. SD: Written about three places I seem to have spent most of my life travelling between. The lyric covers a thirty-year span. I got the title from an old tin advert I saw on a wall in Stockton on Tees, 'Evening World' being the title of an old newspaper. Any resemblance to 'Maggie May' is quite unintentional. After I'd written the song I knew it was destined to close the album.
For further info about TROUBADOUR TERRITORY distribution details, reviews by various papers & magazines etc. please check his website at www.stevedaggett.co.uk where you -of course- will find the latest gig dates too.
You can contact Steve directly at: Steve@stevedaggett.co.uk
P.S. Steve's time with Lindisfarne in the late 80s will be covered in another interview later this year.