London-based R&B/soul group Mamas Gun released their new album, Golden Days, on May 10 via Ubiquity Records. This was the group’s first self-produced album, and it was recorded live on analog equipment in one three-day sitting in a small room in the countryside just north of London.
We asked Mamas Gun founder, singer/songwriter Andy Platts to take us through each of its track to understand the inspiration behind each song, and some of the work that went into the making of this album, which also includes keyboardist Dave “Eighties” Oliver, guitarist Terry “Spiller” Lewis, plus new members Cameron Dawson on bass and Chris Boot on drums. This, Platts declares, is “the best version of the band to date, built on years of important creative exploration with previous lineups.”
“You Make My Life a Better Place”
Written with soul singer and exceptional songwriter Conner Reeves, “You Make My Life a Better Place” is a song which encapsulates much of what Mamas Gun is about. At its heart, it’s a simple classic pop song which makes its message very clear. Musically I was striving for something which captured some of the magic of those classic soulful records by the likes of Bill Withers, Marvin Gaye or Hall & Oates. The richness of some of the harmonic choices is nicely offset by the tough and bouncy rhythm section. This was one do those songs which were written very quickly, perhaps in 30-40 minutes.
“On the Wire”
“On the Wire” is a song written as a warning to the British public in the weeks leading up to the EU referendum vote in the UK. Tensions were running high and every media outlet seemed to be doling out conflicting information, whilst the politicians used it as scaremongering exercise, more interested in scoring points against their political opponents. The song was a plea for rationality and unity. Musically, it leans on the falsetto vs. tough soulful funk aesthetic of Curtis Mayfield by way of 60’s soul. It started life as the horn riff (but on piano) and was gradually developed from there. My favorite part is the ‘wiiiire’ backing vocal section on the choruses!
“I Need a Win”
Sometimes life seemingly deals you all of it’s deftest and most severe blows in one go. Written in the weeks following the loss of mine my and wife’s first unborn child, the song (the lyrical aspect in particular) is an exorcism of the most exquisite, heartbreaking pain. Sometimes, in my life anyway, songwriting is the only thing which can help ease one’s suffering, helping you to arrive at a more philosophical place. This is probably my favorite track on Golden Days. For the lead vocal, for Dave Oliver’s restrained and tasteful piano voicings, for the overall sound, and for what it means to me.
“Diamond in the Bell Jar”
Late one night I was up reading Sylvia Plath’s sole novel The Bell Jar. There was a line from it which stayed with me and helped to inspire the lyrics for the chorus. I wrote the complete song from start to finish in my car on the way to rehearsal, stopping several times to scribble down lyrics and make voice recordings. Arriving at rehearsal I presented it to the band and the whole thing was arranged and given life in a couple of hours. It’s called “Diamond In The Bell Jar” as a tip of the hat to that line in Sylvia Plath’s novel, that diamond of an idea which led to so much more. The song has a haunting bittersweet feel to it that I always enjoy listening to. It’s one of my favorite tracks on Golden Days.
I’d had the chorus’ main hook in my head for a few days before I sat down to pull on the thread to see where it would lead me. Chance would have it that my wife heard the idea and contributes some great suggestions. It led to us creating this song as a tribute to strong hard working metropolitan women everywhere, with London setting the stage. Chris Boot is solid as a rock on the kit on this (sexual hi-hat work) and Terry Lewis’ guitar solo is pure fire on this!
Another of my personal favorites, “The Spooks” slow-burning ethereal soul is a place where a few sounds and influences converge. Sonically, I guess it’s a bit of a mash-up of stuff by Lewis Taylor, Tame Impala and the Beach Boys. It’s about putting a name to fear and doubt and questioning whether things like relationships or commitment can last over time and great distance.
In many ways, the reverse of “The Spooks.” The influence of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye can be felt in this paean to the infallibility of unity and togetherness. Surfing a “Georgy Porgy” type beat, the time glides on luxurious chords and wayward sounding synths to deliver a defiantly upbeat and positive message. Love the outro on this one.
Everyone gets nostalgic at times. If you’re a 70’s musicphile like myself then it’s even weirder to be nostalgic about a time in which I didn’t exist! (I was born in 1979…) But this song happily retreads those heady times when living was about burning through money, drugs and parties. It’s also a bit of a love letter to the present, to acknowledge when you are experiencing a golden time of an era – which is certainly the case in Mamas Gun. The band feels like it’s hitting its stride in a way that it never has previously.
“Strangers on a Street”
I had a huge falling out with a friend years ago. We haven’t spoken since. I dreamed one night that I saw them walking towards me on the street, our paths finally colliding after all this time. In the moments before we came together on the street, I woke up. So the song is really the dream set to music and is just one big unanswered question. Musically, I wanted to write a song in a jazz form, something along the lines of “For Once in My Life.” Credit to John Pickup, who arranged the horns on this one – the outro is red hot killer! Cam Dawson’s bass lines also get a special mention here, magically holding it down whilst taking some fearless contrasting choices against the harmony.
“This Is the Day”
Recorded late one night at my studio, the door was open and it was raining. Chris (drummer) was capturing the sound of the rain on mini-cassette, whilst on the piano, we had one ribbon mic (which captures in a figure-of-8 pattern) to simultaneously record the piano and vocal. I did it all live in one take. It was a spur of the moment thing to try the song like this and we just went with it. Ultimately the hope in the song shines through but the aesthetic and understated performance makes it sound like the singer has undergone a lifetime of struggle before finally coming out on top. It also acted as the final destination for all the breadcrumbs which are laid throughout the album between the songs, which share a similar aesthetic.