This is the third in my series of posts about music projects I’m currently working on or planning for the near(ish) future. To find out more about my current project, The Wassailant, click here. For some info about The Death of Byron von Raum, my Marius-von-Raum-pilots-a-mecha-and-has-a-bad-time narrative album, click here. Today, as promised, I’m talking about my plans for another album. They involve goblins. Lots of goblins.
When did you first realise you had a goblin problem?
That’s a difficult question. When we were small, my sister and I had a cassette of BBC Radio’s 1968 adaptation of The Hobbit – I remember loving the bizarre audio effects the BBC Radiophonic Workshop added to the voices of the goblins to make them sound truly vicious and monstrous (sometimes to the point of making them sound incomprehensible). As an awkward teen™ I considered the hilarious lore for the Orcs and Goblins/Orks and Gretchen the very best part of the Warhammer/Warhammer 40K universes.* But this is all just indicative of fondness for goblins. My actual low-key goblin fixation, I blame on “Gunpowder” Tim Ledsam.**
Several years back, Tim ran a session of “Aye, Dark Overlord!” an RPG masquerading as a card game where the player characters are all cowardly but vicious, back-stabbing goblins tasked with explaining to the Dark Overlord (a very sardonic Tim) why they’ve botched his latest convoluted scheme. Each goblin has to think quickly and talk slickly to shift the blame onto the other goblins so they don’t get barbecued. And somewhere in that game, I discovered my abiding love for all things goblin. I love their dumb manic energy, how they may be small, but they only have “big” emotions and have no conception of subtlety.
During my time as a Mechanism I tried to incorporate as much of that feral goblin-style energy as possible into Marius and the characters Marius played – which is appropriate, because I’m incredibly shy. Back when I joined The Mechanisms, Marius was a persona that allowed me to perform in situations where the real me would be shaking too much to hold my fiddle.*** Goblins don’t care about giving a perfect performance – they just swagger into the fray with crazed eyes and overweening confidence and for me, that makes them likeable no matter how badly things inevitably go for them. I became more self-confident over time as we performed more, but for a long time, adding in those “extra,” over-the-top mannerisms gave me the confidence I needed to hold my own as a character in a very strange band.
To hammer the point home, a couple of years ago I was in an Edinburgh Fringe show, an awesome fantasy comedy musical by Questing Vole Productions called “The Quest”. My main job was playing mandolin with the band but I also got to live my best life as a gleeful, vile goblin (as well as a dwarf who just wants to be left alone)! I was nervous when I took the part because it was the first time I’d played anyone other than Marius in several years. It wasn’t a big part or anything, but I ended up loving that show – it was the first and only time I’d felt completely free of anxiety and stage-fright leading up to and during a stage play, just confident in my ability to do my small role well and have a good time.**** In conclusion, goblins are my Spinach, my Super-Serum, my 1-up Mushroom, my Power of Greyskull.
You’re a very strange person. So what’s the story with this album then?
So a couple of years ago my partner, Ruth, surprised me with a collection of awesome illustrated goblin postcards she’d found in a market – all with a different type of goblin from a range of regions and folk traditions. They are gorgeous – I’d love to show them here but neither of us can find out the name of the artist and I wouldn’t be able to credit them properly. Anyway, they’re now framed and in pride of place in my flat – I hope I always have them so that one distant day after I’m gone my offspring can find them in a dusty box in the attic and be properly weirded out.
I walk past them every day and sometimes I stop and allow myself to get drawn into all the cool details. One of them’s a Trow, drenched in seaweed, with a violin slung over its back and wielding a bow like a sword – when I look at it, I imagine haunting fae music, beautiful and menacing, that a human fiddler could borrow but never truly own. And I move on down the line and there’s a Redcap and a Knocker and a Boggart – and don’t these guys deserve their own songs, too? Someday, I promise myself, I’ll write a song for each goblin.
Cut to June 2020, and the lockdown. I’ve taken a break from The Wassailant – I haven’t been well. I’m still recovering but also trying to work from home, like an idiot. I’m semi-delirious and trying desperately to get any work done – and my brain is suddenly bombarded with a deluge of goblin-related lyrics and song ideas. It was really annoying at the time – but also, the lyrics were good (which was strange because good lyrics never come easily to me). So, I write them down before I forget them and before long a concept for a proper Goblin Album is taking shape. A take on Saint-Saëns’ Carnaval des Animaux but instead of meeting different animals, we’re meeting different …goblins. What if all the goblins in the world – every permutation of goblinkind from folklore and fiction – got together for a shindig, once a year, to catch up with their goblin mates and share the tale of the year’s nefarious antics?
You’re describing Cats, with goblins.
Yes. Yes I am.
What plans do you have for the songs?
I don’t have anything recorded to show (and won’t for a fair while yet) but as a teaser – my concepts for songs include, but are not necessarily limited to:
- Goblin Convention!
- Vengeful Aegean Yuletide Goblin (not a joke, this is already complete and it may be the darkest song I’ve ever written)
- Highway Stagecoach Robbery gone Horribly Wrong – Goblin to Blame?
- Mistreat Helpful Goblins at Your Peril
- Goblins have Stolen my Betrothed (and to be fair he’s Probably Happier Now)
- Tender, Gay Country Western Love Ballad about a Goblin and a Coal Miner
- Goblins at the Vanguard of the Night Horde
- Goblins gave us Music (But at What Cost?!)
- The Real Goblins were the Friends we Made Along the Way
These aren’t the final titles for the songs! None of them are intended to be particularly comedic, but if some of them end up that way, that’s fine too. Some of these concepts will pan out, others won’t, and I may end up adding/removing ideas later. But it’s a fun selection of ideas and my plan is to include a range of musical styles to complement them – there’ll be the folk and folk-rock styles I’m more used to working on, but there’s also the aforementioned country western track and the Christmas Goblin song is going to be full-on grunge!
Are you working on this at the moment?
Not actively – when I have a good idea, I add it to my music journal, but to be honest with you, this project is at the back of the line in terms of my priorities right now. My focus at the moment is getting The Wassailant ready for the end of 2020 and after that I want to start moving ahead with Byron von Raum in earnest. That said, my brain does pretty much what it wants and most likely I’ll end up working on goblin songs when I should really be working on something else between now and then.
So those are my planned musical projects. Between those three albums, that’s a lot of music and it’s daunting to think about, especially with life moving us all in unexpected direction! But I’d rather have a series of projects planned out than find myself stuck for something interesting to do. I will get to the goblins someday – I have a clear enough mental image of the finished album to know that it’s a project that’ll see the light of day in one form or another and that when I get round to making it, I I’ll have a whale of a time.
Thanks for reading – I’ll be posting further updates and some fiction at some point in the next few weeks. See you there!
*And still do – did you know there’s a canonical Warhammer 40K Ork Warlord who is so unhinged and destructive that he’s named after Margaret Thatcher? Or that Orcs/Orks are idiots and paint their chariots/cars red because they think red makes it “go faster” – but they believe this so hard, their faith creates a magical aura that actually makes the vehicle slightly faster? I love them but I never played them because that’s way too many models for any human to paint.
**Go listen to Tim’s song, Goblin Finds! It’s a slice of goblin perfection.
***Marius’ on-stage antics and some elements of his costume were also inspired by Ian Anderson, the frontman of prog-folk band Jethro Tull. But honestly, watch a video of him performing, particularly in the band’s 1970s heyday and tell me that man is not the essence of goblin made flesh.
****The other big reason I loved doing that play: the people involved! Questing Voles has an ever-changing cast and creative team, but all of them (cast, crew, directors, writers, musicians and producers) are the funniest, daftest, kindest dorks you could ever hope to meet. I worked with some old friends for the first time in forever on that show and met plenty of awesome new people. If you ever find yourselves at the Edinburgh Fringe at the same time as Questing Voles, buy a ticket. You will be inundated by a never-ending flow of bad puns, but you will have a great time.