The Story of the Bavariations Album
Back in 1987, I had a poem, ‘Noo Yawk Chant / Sheer Funk’, as the opening track on side one of an album called God Save Us From The USA which was released in support of The Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign.
Years later, a guy in Bavaria called Thies Marsen (Thies is pronounced Tees), who’d been in various local German punk and indie bands came across this recording and began playing around with it, chopping up my words and setting them to his own music using a blend of live and electronic instruments. However, once he’d finished working on it, he did nothing with the resultant track beyond including it on mix-tapes for his friends.
The first I knew of it was via an email from him in 2010 in which he introduced himself, said what he’d done and added that the resultant song was attached. I loved what he’d created and responded enthusiastically. Thus began a long series of email exchanges through which our working relationship developed.
With reference to that first track, he explained in a later email that ‘I mixed the Noo Yawk track in the year 2001, but after 9/11 I really didn't know what to do with it - especially because of the end of the song: ‘You just blow ‘em away, Uncle Sam.’ It seemed to be a little too realistic. So it took some years till I pulled the track out of the deep space of my computer and decided to send it to you.’
In that first reply, I asked if he’d be interested in me recording and sending him some more of my poems to work on. He liked the idea. Six months later, we’d got several finished tracks. More time elapsed while both of us did different stuff.
However, early in 2012, I played these tracks to a friend, Nagbea. He ran a small Bradford-based indie label, Sound Shack Records. He was keen on them and, in the late summer of that year, released our three-track debut CD, The Bavariations EP. This consisted of Head Came Off, Fan and Noo Yawk.
Later that same year, Sound Shack also brought out my 56-track spoken-word collection, Motormouth, on 3 CDs. I sent a set of these to Thies.
In April 2013 we had our first phone conversation. This was because a Bavarian radio station, having heard about our EP and the fact that we’d released it without ever meeting or even speaking, had commissioned Thies to produce a one-hour documentary about the two of us. Two months later, in June 2013, Thies came to visit me in Bradford. We spent a couple of days together recording conversations which were later edited into the German radio documentary (and he guested on my weekly radio show). That remains the only time the two of us have actually met.
We did nothing more for three years, then, in 2016, Thies was back in email contact with a brand new track – The Dying And The Dead. There was then another lull until October 2018 when he emailed me The Forces. It was the start of a series of emailed tracks… For These and Ghost Town followed in November, with Big Dog’s Best Poem arriving at the end of December. We were, by now, well on the way to having an album’s-worth of tracks.
In January 2019 came his remix of Noo Yawk and, during the first ten days of February came a flurry of emails to which he attached first This City, then remixes of both Fan and Head Came Off, followed by This England, The Usual Poem and, finally, Lifetimes.
We had all twelve tracks for our debut album!
In a recent email Thies explained that ‘Lifetimes is based on a song I wrote some years ago named Exile in which I reflected on a political situation that makes it necessary to flee one’s country… so not exactly the same theme as in your poem, but there is a relationship. Lifetimes and Fan are the only songs where I used older recordings and added your words. All the rest use exclusive compositions. And it is really amazing how well it works putting your words and my music together. My way of working is not by taking a poem and then thinking what kind of music would suit. Most of the time it starts with a riff that comes to me while I’m jamming on my old guitar on the sofa. So, for example, with The Usual Poem, I found a riff late at night, recorded it next morning, and then scanned your Motormouth CDs to see if there was a poem which would work with it. And, astonishingly, there is always one of your poems that suits. Even though I’m an atheist, it seems as there’s something metaphysical that operates over the thousand miles between us… and this in a time when your island and my continent are drifting more and more apart. I’ve now heard each of these songs more than a hundred times and I’m still not bored by them. In fact, I still love them. And I hope that other people will love them too.’
And I say amen to that, Thies… although I’m also an atheist! It’s been an utter joy to have received each of these tracks. What you’ve done with my words is extraordinary. I know of no comparable collaboration.
Nick Toczek, February 2019