Exclusive: Traycer Band album artwork revealed

It's been more than two long years in the making, but The Traycer Band's album is finally due for release this autumn. Solomon himself told us of the recording plans in his last guest post. Now, in another MMW exclusive, we get to preview the cover artwork for the album.

And here it is:

As widely forecast, the album is named after the hugely popular track The Staircase, a song which, as Solomon described in his Postcard from Barcelona, is always a great crowd-pleaser.

As for the music, that's being kept tightly under wraps (other than the title track) by ROTA Records for now. Be assured that any sneak previews or other inside info will appear here first!

 

Plectrum to Pen: Traycer hints at next writing project

Following our exclusive interview and Solomon's guest post during his sell-out Spanish tour, the multi-talented and somewhat mysterious Mr Traycer has been good enough to write for us once again.


This music lark is a delight. I mean, at my age, to discover one's writing seems to work in a completely new context is just so thrilling. To have a bunch of superb musicians willing to make me look good is staggering. And then to find that the notoriously fickle public are actually prepared to part with money to listen to us is the cherry on the proverbial icing on the jolly cake. I feel like a kid again! And believe me, it's a very long time since I really was. So long, in fact, that I struggle to remember who was on the throne at the time. Vague recollections of bedtime stories of a failed rebellion in Scotland but that's as far as it goes…Sorry, I digress.

Well, after Spain we had a big conflab about the planned Traycer Band LP, sorry, I mean album. Apparently the first two singles sold well enough for Goldstar to give us the backing for a full studio session and it's all due to kick off in August! We have about six songs lined up, ideas for another three and no idea about the rest. It's a while off yet but it'll come round soon enough so we need some serious creative juice-flowing to happen pretty soon.

I like to keep a few irons in the fire so at the same time I'm talking to my publisher about the next book. After an epic historical fantasy series like Rider of the Ages I decided to dial back the mythological / extra-terrestrial / sci-fi element but still run a little wild with some what-if history rewrites. The classic example is “What if the Nazis had won the war?”, and it's been done a few times. So I'm trying to be somewhat more subtle but no less surprising.

Naturally I'm only at outline stage and haven't even signed a deal yet, but I wondered whether I could do a bit of the modern “focus group” thing and offer a little taster for your considered opinion? Good. Bearing in mind, then, that the finished product may quite possibly bear absolutely no resemblance, here for your delectation is the possible blurb for the forthcoming Solomon W. Traycer novel, A Kingdom Divided:

In a post-war Britain where Churchill was re-elected and Ulster stands on the brink of leaving the UK to create a united Ireland, the Prime Minister enjoys a surprisingly warm relationship with Soviet Russia's Josef Stalin. Unbeknown to the PM, Stalin's agents are behind a resurgence in Scottish and Welsh nationalism creating unrest and pressure for independence. Angered by the UK's cosying up to the USSR, the USA threatens Churchill with a trade embargo.

Why is the British PM so willing to co-operate with Stalin, and what does the USSR hope to gain by destabilising the UK? Top civil servants, horrified at the turn of events, send out secret cries for help to other countries. Secret Service agents are staggered to receive a reply from a most surprising source – disgraced Nazi Rudolf Hess. Under the guise of a trade mission, agent Sammy White arranges to meet Hess in a secret location in Berlin…

So there you go. Does it grab you? Would you want to read it? I'd be awfully grateful for your thoughts.

Why is the British PM so willing to co-operate with Stalin, and what does the USSR hope to gain by destabilising the UK?

(Feel free to use the comment thingy below, or if you're an old-fashioned soul at heart you can write to me c/o my agent, Shackleton Promotions, 3rd Floor, Blackstone Building, Heath Lane, Bath, BA32 7JH.)

 

Guest Post: Solomon Traycer’s postcard from Barcelona

In what we hope will be the first of many guest appearances, renowned author and musical newcomer Solomon Traycer takes time out from touring to reflect on his new experiences.

Barcelona's a gem; a great place for extra leisure time between shows (sorry – I know one ought to say “gigs”, but I'm a creature of a bygone age). While I may be a rookie in the music game, my modest success with the written word has given me a bit of influence – meaning I was able to put in special requests to the tour manager!

We seemed to go down well last night, despite breaking not one but two strings in the space of three songs. Astonishing how fast Jay can change them and tune them up. And the audience were very tolerant of my appalling Spanish. I was very moved when we came back out for the curtain call (sorry, encore) to hear them chanting – chanting! – for The Staircase. It's not as if it's sold that many copies; I suppose they must have heard it on YouTube. Anyway, it was a real high to end on; such a buzz, as they say!

The band and crew went out on the town till goodness knows what time but they understand that an old crock like me can't stand the pace after a couple of sweaty hours on stage. I preferred to get to sleep by midnight and have most of today to explore, so that's what I did. Don't get me wrong, we get on really well; in fact we're all out for dinner tonight to review the set before heading to Madrid tomorrow.

View from the bullring

I wandered round the Ramblas this morning and then headed across to the Montju├»c side where there's an old bullring that's been turned into a shopping centre. As I stood on the viewing gallery taking in the magnificent view it struck me that I ought to set one of my novels here, maybe back when the bullring was still used…there you go; if it's not lyrics it's plot lines!

Right, back to the glamorous rock star life. I've got sore fingers, the novelty of being “on the road” is a distant memory and I long for a certain quiet cottage in Sussex. No! This really will not do! I always used to despise musicians bemoaning their lot as they travelled around lapping up adulation and indulging in their favourite pastime, and look at me doing the same! Shameful.

Well, I hope that's OK. “Give us a bit of the real Sol,” they said, so I trust I've obliged. Having spent decades speaking through my characters it's rather novel (pardon the pun) to be speaking as myself. It remains to be seen whether I, and you, take to it.

 

Interview With Best-Selling Novelist Solomon Traycer

Recently we at Mark: My Words were fortunate enough to spend some time with renowned thriller writer Solomon Traycer. Although we’d hoped to catch up with him in his Hampshire cottage, his agent was adamant he would only talk to us at the M:MW offices.

 

Our first job was to find some offices. The best we could come up with was hiring the British Leyland Business Suite at the Travelodge just off junction 3 of the M42. Not exactly opulent surroundings, and having to nip to the Little Chef every time you wanted a Danish pastry was a pain. We just hoped Solomon would understand, having been a struggling artist in his time. In the end we needn’t have fretted, especially as Sol (as he’s known to his friends) brought a bag of six Morrisons croissants.

MMW: Thanks for giving us your time today; it’s a pleasure to meet you.

ST: You are absolutely welcome. The West Midlands is quite charming and grossly under-rated in my opinion. If you like that sort of thing.

MMW: Can we start by asking you where you were born?

ST: Of course.

MMW: So…where were you…born?

ST: Right, right. Well, to be honest, depends who you talk to. Been told everywhere from Barecelona to Huddersfield over the years. And I had a cousin who insisted I was born on another planet.

MMW: Nobody seems quite sure how old you are.

ST: Hah! You and me both. I have a lot of memories…so many…just not sure how far back they go.

MMW: Surely your birth certificate…?

ST: How about we talk about my books? I have one due out next month.

MMW: Absolutely. I know it’s the tenth in the Rider of the Ages series, but is it the last?

ST: I honestly can’t tell you. When we published Fury of the Ages four years ago it was designed to be the last. The loose ends were tied up and that was that. I had so many other projects on the go I was ready to move on, but the demand from the public for more was overwhelming. I left it for a couple of years while I worked on The Ash Pit but now here we are. I’ve learnt always to leave a little something in a novel so it can be picked up again should the opportunity arise, and this time I needed it! So, who knows? Never say never again, I say.

MMW: Those other projects included a venture into the music scene. What prompted that?

Traycer Band gig, 2011

ST: I like to surprise. Many authors take to writing later in life after doing other things. I’ve been writing as long as I can remember, so why not do it the other way round?

MMW: And the indications so far are that fans love this latest surprise. You seem to be in more demand than ever. I’ve even heard it said that the papers want to know whose shirts you wear!

ST: It’s exciting and very humbling. Almost like being born again. Me, a guitar, a bunch of outstanding musicians and instant interaction with my audience. Out of this world and quite, quite cosmic. Oh, and mostly they’re BHS. The shirts.

MMW: Solomon, there’s so much more we’d love to ask you but unfortunately we could only get a morning’s booking of the British Leyland Business Suite as it’s needed by the Wolverhampton & Dudley Austin Allegro Preservation Society this afternoon. So, for now, thank you very much.

ST: No sweat.

MMW: Might we be able to persuade you to write guest posts on our blog?

ST: Call my agent.

Ziggy Stardust and the appeal of questioning reality

I'm of an age where documentaries about musicians and groups from the 70's are appealing, regardless of whether I am, or was, a fan. In the case of Pink Floyd and the making of Wish You Were Here, for example, I am most definitely a fan. Mott the Hoople, on the other hand, not so much. I knew some of their songs (All the Young Dudes probably being the best-known) but never owned any records (unless you count the presence of the said Dudes on a compilation album obtained by dutifully collecting coupons from Sounds magazine over several weeks; I think it was the original Sounds Like a Good Album to Us but can't find any track listings on the Web – only for SLAGATU Vol. II, which I also collected for, and had forgotten the tracks until researching for this post. I can't play it any more since discarding the turntable. This is a bit of a loss and a matter of some regret. And also a way-too-long diversion. Oops.)

To avoid further diversions on the way to the point, I'll say nothing of the Simon & Garfunkel documentary about the making of Bridge OverTroubled Water, which in any case was shown on BBC1 not BBC4 so doesn't count anyway. Anyhoo, the most recent one was the story of David Bowie and his temporary alter ego, Ziggy Stardust. We were told how Bowie struggled for success until he came up with the bright idea of inventing a rock star. Who happened to be an alien.

It seems his first plan was to get someone else to play the part and mime to his singing. Eventually he decided to adopt the persona himself and the rest is history: hit album (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars), sell-out tours and the like. If I've seen the iconic clip of Bowie draping his arm round Mick Ronson's shoulder while they played Starman on Top of the Pops once, I've seen it a thousand times. Well, more than five anyway.

The pretence went further. When Bowie went to the States to perform as Ziggy he was relatively unknown. His manager nevertheless adopted the tactic of demanding that the record company (RCA) cough up for all the trappings of celebrity – top-class hotels, limos and not one but two bodyguards. So now not only were they inviting the audiences to come see someone acting the part of a rock star, but they were also making out that the guy pretending to be a rock star on stage was himself a rock star off stage when in fact he wasn't. Or not yet. Or at least he was becoming one. Or…confused? Whatever. It seemingly worked.

At the time of writing you can still get the programme on BBC iPlayer. But if you don't get to see it I'm sure Google can send you to many a Web page telling the story.

I am still not a Bowie fan as such. I like some tracks but find others deadly dull. But I can appreciate the man's talent and ability to do the whole reinventing your image thing long before we'd heard of Madonna. What really struck me, though, was the sheer audacity of just deciding to pretend to be something he wasn't – yet – knowing that everyone knew it was a pretence. Nobody honestly believed that Ziggy and the band came from Mars. (OK, OK, no doubt some did, given the drug culture he was mingling with – and which sucked him into addiction until the late 70's.) It was an agreement to be deceived.

Bowie doesn't have the monopoly in on-stage personas, of course. One only has to think of that nice Mr Alice Cooper, for example. Now there's a guy who's been playing the same character on stage for 40-odd years. People say that in real life he's as nice as pie. In fact, he's a Bible-believing Christian and clearly has no problem squaring that with a show based around horror and violence – albeit one he dubs “Vaudeville”. The point is, the audience clearly buys in to the pretence, the fantasy.

Reality beyond reality

My mind wanders to films like The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor and, more recently, Inception. All built on the premise that there's more to reality than we thought; that there's reality (or realities) within, or beyond, what we experience day to day. These stories, like stage fantasies, must appeal to something universal in us. Or, at least, in me.

Two things come to mind.

The first is that, actually, there is indeed a reality beyond what we see day to day. This world isn't all there is. This life isn't all there is. There are forces beyond the visible. Forces for good and forces for evil. Forces that control us, one way or another. But this is no Hollywood script or a conspiracy theory. It's the spiritual reality of life as revealed in the Bible. That's why me and Alice Cooper believe we owe our lives to Jesus Christ. Unlike Alice I have failed to become a rock star (thus far), but then again God hasn't enabled Alice to be an IT manager. Get over it, Alice.

The second thing is that I'm considering “doing a Ziggy”. Not, regretfully, on stage, though. (I don't quite share Mr Bowie's taste in clothes – although I am thinking about spiky red hair.) No, it's more in the arena of words on the page. On, in fact, this blog.

To date, I have not scored notable success with the microphone or guitar. But my wordy things seem to work quite well, sometimes. I still want to write about faith, truth, teapots, Paddington Bear and the like. But, as they say, maybe I should stretch myself artistically, try a new wordsmithing direction – writing stuff that isn't actually true. Adopting, if you will, a persona.

Cue fanfare. And watch out for Ziggy.

 

Bat Out of Hell: Why Meatloaf got his theology wrong

Bat out of hell album cover

I hadn’t heard Bat Out of Hell for several years until a recent gig by The Classic Rock Show. Jim Steinman’s famous title track from the 1977 album is over-long and frankly a bit self-indulgent, but nevertheless contains some beautiful guitar licks and some archetypal classic rock moments.

Many have questioned the dubious morality of Steinman’s lyrics, speaking here, as on other tracks, of one-night stands and the like. Indeed, this 80s Christian book convinced me to trash my vinyl copy of BOOH, along with several others. (Not sure I’d do the same now, although I do accept that some lyrics, and artists, can be a less than healthy influence.) But it’s not Mr Loaf’s moral standards I want to draw to your attention, but rather his appallingly slapdash theology.

Where, for a start, do you find any suggestion in scripture that there are bats, or come to think of it, any other flying mammals, in hell? As far as I can see, hell (and its ultimate upgrade, the lake of fire) is reserved for “the Devil and his angels”. Oh, and any unrepentant sinner who refuses to accept Jesus Christ as saviour.

Secondly, the inference is that, where there to be such visually-challenged, roof-dwelling rodents in hell, they would somehow have the option of leaving. Er, no. When you’re in, you’re in. One way. It’s an eternity thing. Nobody and nothing is an anything out of hell.

Frantic

Thirdly, and finally, my take is that the whole lyrical purpose of the image is to imply an exit at great speed. Supposing, for a moment, that the bat was given day release, on what basis has Meatloaf decided that the flight would be frantic, lightning-fast or at least fairly rapid? Where’s the empirical evidence or the theoretical analysis? For all we know the Lord may have designed the eternal lake of fire to have a massive gravitational pull, thus rendering escape barely possible, let alone feasible at high speed. See my problem?

Sorry, Jim. It just doesn’t stack up. But, hey, it’s a long time ago and I’m sure you’ll not make the same mistake again. Just don’t make the even bigger mistake of ending up there to prove it for yourself. Oh, and for the record, sinners who reach the gates of heaven won’t be crawling. They’ll be rejoicing, confident and smiling a big, big smile.

From a Bottle Full of Dreams to Journey’s End – Guitarist’s Gig Log

AT more than extreme risk of sounding pretentious (because it is), herewith I give you some notes from my most recent gig. (Let’s be honest, first and only gig to date but hey, everybody starts somewhere – even those who just turned 50.) And “my” is stretching a point. It was actually Autumn Dawn Leader‘s gig – Heartstrings & Heartsongs – at our church last week.

Heartstrings_band

Featuring Yours Truly on accoustic rhythm guitar, Heartsongs showcased several of Autumn’s self-penned songs, many of which have been buzzing round my head since rehearsals began. The set included:

  • The Dream – Great opener and “The closest I get to rocky,” as Autumn puts it. Jolly good fun to play. If only I hadn’t messed up the first intro bars it would have been close to perfect. Allegedly nobody noticed but I await the video with interest.
  • Fire and Rain – A version of the James Taylor song accompanied by two quiet guitars. In fact, this show’s the first time I’ve seen fellow (and better) guitarist Bob play electric – in order to avoid accoustic overkill – and very cool it was too.
  • Come Here, Let Me Hold You – An Autumn love song that makes its way “from crooning to belting”, as per her musical direction.
  • My Knight – A melodic ode to Autumn’s beloved hubby accompanied by Ellen’s gentle backing vocal and suitable knights / damsels video produced by my good lady. Note to self: In future when not involved in a song, leave the stage!
  • Journey’s End – Beautiful ballad based on a poem written by said beloved hubby. The sentiment brings a tear to my eye as I think of getting older with my own beloved lady.
  • Bottle – Simple and heartfelt, just Autumn and the keyboard. Quickly written (in 10 minutes, it seems) but encapsulating Autumn’s experiences of dreams deferred and the angst attached thereto. 
  • Undivided – Based on one of David’s psalms set to Autumn’s music, this is a plea to God for a devoted heart of worship and a life dedicated to His service.

The set concluded with a rendition of the classic Simon & Garfunkel number Bridge Over Troubled Water. I’m a great admirer of Paul Simon’s lyrics and musicianship, and though I doubt he meant it to speak of God’s faithfulness, that was the clear sentiment by this stage of the show.

It all seemed to work pretty well despite my fluffed (or altogether missing) chord changes, which is quite right because this wasn’t about one instrument (thankfully). Great experience and who knows maybe not the last.

By now you’re probably looking for links to MP3s, videos and YouTube-y things. Follow the YouTube links to individual videos above or see Autumn’s YouTube channel. You can also keep an eye on Autumn’s Facebook page or follow her @songmistress Twitter account.

For now, I really must find out how to play an F2 chord…