2 Shades of Grey

Songs from the soundtrack of your life


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from Major to Minor

American statistician have analysed 120,000 pieces of music and come to the conclusion that the happiest sounds in music – the minor and major 7th chords – are dying out. And lyrics are becoming sadder since the 1950s.

Pop songs are usually written using a mixture of major and minor chords. In the 1950s the four-chord sequence often featured in doo-wop music was  very popular. A major chord followed by its relative minor, then up to the subdominant 4th (or its relative minor) before moving to the dominant fifth usually with a 7th. e.g. C – Am -F – G7 or C – Am – Dm -G7.

Think of songs like “Blue Moon“, or “Where have all the flowers gone“. And more recently Wham’s Xmas song “Last Christmas” which uses only those four chords throughout the song.

Generally speaking minor chords sound sadder than major chords. Apparently 60 years ago the dominant 7th chord outnumbered minor chords. FYI a dominant 7th chord is a major chord with a minor 7th on top of it e.g. C – E – G – Bb. Think of white piano keys. Middle C  (Root) then 2 keys up to E (major 3rd) then two more keys up to G (Major 5th) then miss next white key and add next black key Bb (minor 7th).

I think that could be due partly to the fact that dominant 7th chords are frequently used in what are called turn-arounds i.e. the music at the end of each verse which leads into the next verse. Dominant 7th chords have a tension which needs resolving by moving to a major (or minor) chord. Think of Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby” which is played with dominant 7ths crying out for resolution on the last line of each verse.

Also many songs written in a “twelve bar blues” format would feature the dominant 7th e.g. “Lucille” or “What’d I say“.

Perhaps surprisingly what the scientists found was that the chords most associated with upbeat words were minor 7th chords i.e. like a dominant 7th but with a flattened 3rd e.g. C – Eb – G – Bb. These were widely used in soul and disco music in the 1970s. The major 7th chord was also popular at that time.

They say that music became grimmer since guitar music became popular although that might be changing a little now. And with that the increase in the use of minor chords, the huge decrease in the use of dominant chords (down from 10% to 1% since the fifties) and the disappearance of the major 7th chord.

The major 7th is a beautiful chord with a bitter sweet dissonance as the major 7th note clashes with the root note e.g. C – E – G – B. You can hear it at the beginning of Chicago’s “Colour my world”, and in the Beatle’s song “Misery” as they sing that word.

You’ll hear a combination of major and minor 7th chords in Glen Campbell’s “By the time I get to Phoenix” and in “Valerie” by the Futons and Amy Winehouse.

And in jazz standards it’s a common feature e.g. “Every time we say goodbye”

So let’s not write these chords off just yet. Leonard Cohen knew what he was talking about in “Hallelujah” and what do statisticians know about music anyway?

 

 

 


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Xmas shopping aided & abetted by Xmas songs!

Looking forward to another round of Jingle Bell Rock or White Christmas?

A clinical psychologist has warned of the effects of continuous Xmas music on your mental health. “because music goes right to our emotions immediately and bypasses rationality” says Linda Blair (no connection with the Blair Witch project although you might wonder if she’s related to the Grinch).

She goes on to say “it might make us feel trapped – it’ a reminder that we have to buy presents, cater for people, organise celebrations”. Or it might be that the music is so annoying we can’t wait to get out of the shop?

She thinks shop staff are most at risk and have to tune out the music otherwise “you spend all your energy trying not to hear what you’re hearing”.

So what are the big stores actually doing this year (apart from churning out increasingly irrelevant Xmas ads which are so PC)?

Marks and Spencer will be a music-free zone but Asda will only have one hour a day free from christmas tunes and will even let staff become DJs for the day!

Asda perceptively said “we love the arm and fuzzy feeling that the festive season brings but for many Brits the novelty starts to wear off in December“.

So why do you have to start selling Xmas stuff so early?

John Lewis is having christmas music for the first time this year. In the past they have invited small groups of musicians or choirs to play and sing to create more atmosphere. And that’s fine, 2 Shades has done that in Tesco in the past. “The music at the Christmas Shop is a new addition”.  Yippee, more piped music!

Sainsbury‘s is also expanding its musical reach. Usually only played in its cafés it will be played throughout the stores this year.

Not everyone is happy Pipedown, a pressure group for silence in public spaces, said “It was estimated some years ago that department store workers on the shop floor will have been forced to listen to Jingle Bells up to 300 times in the run-up to Christmas“.

Marks and Spencer was probably the first store to stop playing piped music and there is evidence the public don’t like it so it’s a bit disturbing to see that some stores have turned up the volume as it were just for Christmas.


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Rockin’ on for charity

One thing about old rockers – and I’m talking about those musicians that were around in the sixties when groups really took off and there was someone with a guitar on every street corner – is that they like to keep on playing.

We can’t all do world tours to top up our pension plan but we can do some good in the community and I see lots of evidence of that.

My friend, and ex-vocalist with the Avalons, David is a member of The Can’t Sing Choir in Congleton which comprises just seven men but 40+ women.

The Madhatters: David on guitar with Ken, Clive, Dave and Peter

To introduce some variety in their programme the choir’s MD asked David and some of the male singers to perform several songs with David’s guitar accompaniment.

It worked well and David said the “boys took a liking to being in the limelight“.

So when a local dementia support group “Golden Memories” asked them to perform for them they jumped at it. (It’s a worthy cause 2 Shades has performed for in the past with David guesting with us).

They sing a mix of songs mainly from the fifties and through the sixties.

And their name? Well I’d sent  David a copy of the photograph taken at our Pendleside Hospice gig.

When David’s wife saw the picture of 2 Shades wearing hats she thought it looked stylish, as did the members of the group.

So hats it was – which gave birth to the name Madhatters. And now they have more similar gigs in the pipeline.

David posing with my guitar in the early sixties

So it’s good to see my old fellow musicians still performing, and often for good causes.

On a personal note David didn’t start to learn to play the guitar until he retired but is now a fine player with some tasty guitars.

Back in the early Avalon days he wanted to hold a guitar (like most pop idols of the day) as you can see from this posed picture.

It only took him 50 years to get round to learning what to do with it but proves it’s never too late to learn something new (and that’s good for your brain too by the way as I posted several years ago).

 

 

 


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2 Shades plus 1 entertain local hospice patients

2 Shades of Grey entertained patients and staff this week at Pendleside Hospice.

Cancer care is a cause close to their hearts having performed at Macmillan coffee mornings in the past and also fund-raising for the hospice by playing at a local pub.

On this occasion they were joined by percussionist Roy Shoesmith, former drummer with Mike’s old group The Avalons (see archive) who last played together in 1966.

On these occasions we encourage community involvement in the performance and include a pop quiz based on 60s favourites from the Kinks, Beach Boys, Sam Cook etc. and expect them to sing along.

The Pendle-ettes didn’t let us down!

The music ranged from standards by NKC and Ella to Tex-Mex, country and latin and included a tribute to Glen Campbell with three of his best Jimmy Webb penned songs.

Everybody enjoyed the event so thanks to everyone who helped: Margaret and Gemma and the other lovely staff.

And also thanks to Roy for stepping in at a few days notice to help us out.

 

Hospices rely on donations so if you want to support them go to https://www.pendleside.org.uk/


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Music while you work

Biz Psycho

Millennials are re-creating the war-time experiences of having music played in factories by bringing music into offices.

Last year PRS for Music, the music licensing organisation which collects royalties for musicians, granted 27,000 licences for offices to play recorded music, up almost 10% on the previous year.

And that’s good news for musicians who must be heartily sick of being ripped off by young people ripping tracks from web-sites in the belief that they are “entitled” to free music.

Whether or not music does help productivity is open to debate. Certainly the government thought it did during WWII when they promoted “Music While You Work“.

The American company Musak actually patented a “Stimulus Progression” system to keep factory workers focussed by varying the intensity of the music in 15 minute chunks; something I have posted about elsewhere

Many factories have scrapped music on health &…

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Beat music pt 2

As I mentioned last year one of my favourite magazines was Beat monthly which had morphed into Beat Instrumental monthly by issue 18 in a slightly larger format and a price increase up to 2/- old money (i.e. 10p). This September 1965 issue was the last one I have but it went on until the early 1970s at least and copies can be found on the internet from £0+ a copy!

The Animals were the featured group on the front page shown rehearsing for a TV show. It was in full colour. There was an editorial comment inside about how much better everyone would come across if we had colour TV!

(NB BBC 2 broadcast its first colour pictures from Wimbledon in 1967. By mid 1968, nearly every BBC 2 programme was in colour. Six months later, colour came to BBC 1. By 1969, BBC 1 and ITV were regularly broadcasting in colour).

The inside front cover was a full-size b&w photograph of Ray Davies playing a Framus 12-string guitar.

The Player of the Month was Jeff Beck. This was a few months after he replaced Eric Clapton in The Yardbirds.

He said he was playing a Fender Telecaster which cost about £125 “not expensive” he said (well about three months wages for the average guy in the street).

A surprise for me was seeing Bill Wyman’s column giving advice on bass guitars and playing them. He was still in the Rolling Stones so must have had some spare time.

There was a full-page review of a Moody Blues gig. This was the original line-up and they were still playing R&B covers with some of the material from their first album “The Magnificent Moodies” – of which I still have a copy – which including their big hit “Go Now”

There was also a feature on Graham Bond and his new “orchestra” a Mellotron (which cost £975).  It provides a range of instrumental sounds from violin and guitar to piano and trumpet.

He amplifies it through a 50-watt Leslie cabinet, similar to his Hammond. He was keeping both so heaven help the roadie.

The article also noted that bassist Jack Bruce was switching from a Fender six string, which he played through a Vox 100-watt amp, to a string bass. Bond thought “it would fit in better with a lot of gospel-type numbers we will be trying soon”

The magazine contained the usual round-up of music around the British Isles with a survey on Northern Ireland (and those showbands), and the Richmond Jazz Festival.

The Jazz Festival opened with local boys The Yardbirds and The Who (who got a passing mention only). The Animals (playing a Ricky guitar with Vox amps) and  Manfred Mann played some of their more “way out” stuff. The Animals were pleased with their performance as they later supplemented their sound with four saxes and three trumpets from the New Jazz Orchestra and the Dick Morrisey Quartet.

Manfred Mann closed the festival on the Saturday night but it was left to the Animals to close the event with the Impressions‘ song “It’s alright”. For this they were joined on stage by Long John Baldry, Rod Stewart and Julie Driscoll (Steam Packet) and Gary Farr. I wish I’d been there for that 10 minute rendition!

There were a couple of page long features, one about the Byrds, which included David Crosby, (and who’ve had serious problems with their early performances in the US with broken down amps, inadequate microphones and poor guitar balance, something which had also happened in the UK). Elsewhere in the magazine was a piece about the British Birds who were more than annoyed about the Byrds pinching their name.

The other one was about how The Fortunes wanted to stress their vocals after finally getting a hit with “You’ve got your troubles“, to the extent of appearing on Thank Your Lucky Stars on TV without their instruments.

Among the short stories was news that John Lennon had bought a Mellotron (just like Graham Bond) ahead of their US tour, Sonny Bono confessing he only knew seven chords on the piano, and several other musicians looking at replacing pianists with organ players and the like.

A profile on ex-Animals’ organist Alan Price talks about his leaving the Animals, due to ill-health and fear of flying, but also because he wanted to get back to his jazz roots. So keyboards/organs seemed to be on the up.

Even a full-page story about The Beatles return appearance on British TV after being away from live performances filming also featured an organ. The programme was shot in Blackpool and John Lennon was shown playing a Vox keyboard.

This was a variety show in which they performed six songs, although the magazine writer only mentioned one. They opened with “I feel Fine“, then “I’m down” with John on the Vox organ, Ringo sang “Act Naturally“, that was followed by “Ticket to Ride”, Paul then sang “Yesterday” as a solo accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. They finished with their latest song “Help“.

You can see the performance below – or you could until someone blocked it but you can still find it on youtube at https://youtu.be/Qxit-xPfkJI.

It’s interesting to look back and see who was just breaking through and who’s still around.


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Fame at last – 50 years too late?

As a local Lancashire group the Avalons managed to generate local press coverage at a time when anybody playing a guitar was popular – and East Lancashire was full of good groups.

But we never made it into the national press – apart from an article in Q magazine explaining why we broke up, of which, in hindsight, the less said the better.

But journalist Richard Houghton has published a book: The Who – I was there, about fans’ and groups’ experiences over the years.

He’d spotted my blog post on when we played with them and asked if it could be included in the book. Of course, why not?

So here is his book and here is part of our story about supporting one of the best rock bands in the world here in East Lancashire back in May 1965.