Riverbank Songwriting (1986 – 2013). Stranger
“Just had a listen to these tracks. Classy, melodic rock, great playing and punchy natural (rather than over-technical) production. Really nice that you’re releasing this stuff. Here’s a lot of great music that never saw the light of day because it wasn’t part of the “star-maker machinery”. Forget Mole, Rat & Badger – Andrew Brel is the real hero of the Riverbank!”
Riverbank songwriting is the pick of 21 songs I wrote and never published during the time I lived in Riverbank, in East Molesey. Now remastered in my studio in California from the original DAT’s and published myself through CD Baby, each one is available for cover.
Starting with ‘Stranger‘, a song about my South African experience and a popular choice in my set list in the 80’s which I then recorded in a professional studio with Ken Ganpot and Ronnie Johnson.
It is a song about social alienation, telling the story of a migrant mine worker during the Apartheid years who has no rights and ‘bleeds sweat to free the golden dust’ in a process which excludes him from any reward. “They took it all and left nothing for us.”
He struggles to accept his lot, tempted to cross the border and take up the armed struggle. But he is ‘not a violent man so he stayed home.’ He understands that he is ‘born as a stranger in a foreign land, he must accept conditions he cant understand.’ Finally his lesson is that ‘We have no wisdom with which to explain why we make the same mistakes again and again.’
I wrote this one evening in the window seat of my Riverbank apartment late at night in 1986, with an old Gibson guitar and a pack of Camel lights, after ruminating over how fortunate I felt to have found a home where I was myself no longer a stranger in a foreign land, but only there because I was escaping being exactly that in South Africa. The miner metaphor followed quite naturally. I remember playing the chord sequence in the same key as Bob Dylan’s ‘Just like a woman’ and thinking I had better add an 11th or something equally distant from Dylan’s song. I usually found it difficult to write a song that did not in someway draw from the Bob Dylan songbook. He seems to have covered all possibilities for guitar based songwriting sequences, one way or another.
The lyrics followed in one go, literally. Pen to paper and all but the middle 8 is unchanged from that five minute writing moment. The middle 8 is an afterthought on a subject that occupied my thoughts a great deal back then. Accountability. How do the perpetrators of these evils, in this case racist disempowering exploitation, get away with it after the light of awareness shines on their actions. “Who pays the piper when the song draws to its close. I wanna know. Who pays the piper for what’s been. Taken away.” Having a ten year old voice sing that line was fitting. It was after all the youth of South Africa at that time, the eighties, who lost their youthful opportunities through their enforced economic slavery and social disenfranchisement.
I played this song many times through the eighties in bars and clubs around the UK, many times with Ronnie Johnson, who was a great supporter of my songwriting and especially this song.
Kens vocal on the recording, which includes Geoff Dunn on drums and Phil Mulford on bass still sounds great some thirty years later. My friend Chris West engineered the live session at Dave Mackay’s studio in Woldingham.
The picture I chose for the cover is one taken by my friend Kaveh Golestan in my studio at that time, Hampton Court Studios at 3 Bridge Road. Kaveh had only very recently returned from a 6 month visit to the front line of the Iran Iraq war, to which he returned annually for the 8 years of that conflict, sharing many remarkable stories with me as well as the whole world through his award winning photo journalism.
Written and Produced by Andrew Brel
Recorded and Mixed by Chris West and Andrew Brel at Dave Mackays Studio, Woldingham 1987
Guitars: Ronnie Johnson
Drums: Geoff Dunn
Bass: Phil Mulford
BV: James Ganpot, aged 10
Vocal: Ken Ganpot