Dave Jackson is a busy man. His first book of poetry is published this month, he’s put a new band together of old friends to play material from his brilliant new album, Cathedral Mountain, and to rework old Benny Profane material.
He’s also taken on the gargantuan task of turning one of his stories into a full length film. We sent erstwhile band-mate Robin Surtees catch up with Dave, singer with The Room and Benny Profane, to discuss his latest projects.
Tell me how your new book of poetry came about?
The lyric book has been planned for some time. Gladys Mary Coles of Headland Publications first put the idea to me about four years ago and has had various versions of the book in her possession since I finished recording the Cathedral Mountain album with John Head and Tim O’Shea. In fact, an early idea was to publish the book with that album.
[Coles] normally publishes poets, rather than lyricists, but seemed to feel that my words worked well on paper. I still feel that it’s best to hear lyrics sung, which is why I included a CD of recorded versions of some of the songs with the book; I mixed the old with the new including unreleased songs or previously digitally unavailable material.
What can people expect from the book?
In terms of songs for the book, I decided to privilege newer material. So all of Cathedral Mountain is included, together with some new songs I’ve written with Greg Milton.
Then the book works backwards in time via the two Dead Cowboys albums, Twin Evil Stars and Comings and Goings, a few songs by Dust – a band that Becky Stringer and myself had with guitarist Ian Johnsen – and through quite a lot of Benny Profane material to my first proper band The Room.
There were originally about a hundred songs but they had to be whittled down because the book itself had to be roughly eighty pages. With the older songs I was looking for ones that still resonated somehow.
Your new LP is a marked departure from previous ones…
Cathedral Mountain is quite a marked departure from previous band-based projects, because whilst I couldn’t have written, recorded or performed it without John Head and Tim O’Shea, the idea was always to base it around the lyrics and vocal lines that I brought to them and to make it quite a sparse, stripped-down recording based around my voice.
In the past, I’ve improvised vocal lines and lyrics to existing guitar lines but with the new set of songs we always started with me singing unaccompanied and John and Tim worked the chords out from there.
You famously damaged your hearing at a Swans concert in the 80’s, is this why you don’t use drums at the moment?
The only drums on the new album are overdubs, some toms on At the End… and a full kit played by John on Going Stray. We recorded the backing tracks without drums or indeed a click on most of the songs, which gave the whole thing a looser, organic quality.
I did lose a number of decibels at mid range at a Swans gig back in the late 80s and spent a while singing live wearing earplugs. But the real reason for wanting to record and play without drums was just to remove a ubiquitous rock element from performance and to see if other aspects of the music might come to the fore.
I think the reason that a lot of people still have such a fondness for pre-seventies recordings is that the drums are less to the fore unless they are the basis of the song.
Have you extended this approach to any of your other music?
Since Cathedral Mountain, John and Tim have moved on to other projects I’ve been working with you and Greg Milton (Dead Cowboys) again, we’ve revamped a number of Benny Profane songs to see how they work in this style. It leaves more room for melody and the backing singers really come into their own.
The LP seems to have a strong narrative theme…
The songs on Cathedral Mountain are mostly story-based. I write screenplays and have written a fantasy novel, so I suppose those elements are always present in my lyric writing too.
Both Cathedral Mountain and Deadly Ship relate directly to the feature film, Violet City – which is about a fantasy version of Liverpool. It should be finished by next year.
What are the origins of Violet City?
The film is based on a novel I wrote as part of a PhD submission. I teach Screenwriting at LJMU with my colleague John, and we decided to write develop and film a low-budget feature, shot almost entirely on green screen in the style, if not the spirit, of Sin City.
Just over a year later, we’ve got over two hours of main actor footage and are currently shooting second-unit footage and building a virtual world, together with airships and man-eating plants.
Tell me about the live shows
The live shows involve myself, Robin Surtees (guitar), Greg Milton (guitar), Andy Wilson (keyboards) and the Cathedral Mountain Choir.
We played our first gig with this line-up at Un-Peeled, a festival celebrating John Peel in Preston a week or so ago. We’ll be playing a concert at my lyric book launch at Static Gallery this week.
We’ll be playing songs from Cathedral Mountain and a few choice Benny Profane numbers, re-imagined.
Dave Jackson’s Songs from Violet City
7:30pm – 11:30pm, Thursday 17 November