Saturday 22 June 2024

Do Your Thing

Cover version of the month #98
BMX Bandits (with The Wellgreen) and Lighships cover Moondog

I had never heard of Moondog until 2022 when I caught Gerard Love playing a string of Autumn shows in and around Glasgow. Gerry introduced a cover of Do Your Thing which had had a slow, dreamy, flowing and gorgeous melody that melted hearts. It seemed to have been written for him!

I found out that Gerry released a version on the b-side to Lightships Sweetness In Her Spark single in 2012. I later learned (quite recently) that BMX Bandits had recorded a version back in 2009 with friends Marco Rea and Stu Kidd (The Wellgreen) that came out on YouTube in 2012.

Moondog's original sets his beautiful melody over some stunning piano and he delivers solid advice for just over 3-minutes over 2 verses, including;

Do your best

And opportunity will do the rest

Don't give in

Capitulation is the greatest sin

And in the second verse;

Learn to wait

And while you're waiting, learn to concentrate

Moondog's voice, melody and words feel and sound effortless. Almost like a hushed and dreamy nursery rhyme. The piano is delightfully playful and I'm guessing that (like me) you'll play this song a few times in a row. 

BMX Bandits with The Wellgreen recorded a loving cover back in 2009 (see below for an interview with Duglas T Stewart) when they had a couple of spare hours in the studio. Duglas, backed by the talent of Marco Rea and Stu Kidd, remain pretty true to the original. The fact that the trio had limited time helps create a very organic feeling, the little keyboard solo sounds beautifully lofi and pure. Stewart's voice works so well with Rea and Kidd doing backing vocals and harmonies. Kidd's military style drumming is a delight and the fact that both Stuart and Marco are exceptionally talented multi-instrumentalists means that a couple of studio hours can be extremely productive. You can hear the love for the song in this recording. I'd been planning a blog on Do Your Thing for some time, but only discovered the BMX Bandits version very recently.

Photo by Mark Gilles

Do Your Thing is already pretty dreamy, but on the Lightships cover, Love and co add a psychedelic sleeping pill to slow it down and stretch it to 5 minutes 35 seconds, replacing the piano with gentle xylophone, guitar, brush strokes on the drums. The melody really suits Gerry's voice and style. This is pure gorgeousness, beautifully hypnotic, you can get lost in the music. If the original is a dreamy nursery rhyme, Lightships version is a psychedelic lullaby. Close your eyes and drift away. The last two minutes are exquisite.

Moondog original 1978 version

BMX Bandits (featuring The Wellgreen) version 

Lightships version

The Moondog original and Lightships cover version are added to my Everything Flows Cool Cover Versions playlist on Spotify which also features all of the songs listed below an interview with Duglas T Stewart. Search for the title or CLICK HERE

You can download the BMX Bandits version from Bandcamp

Thanks to Duglas for answering a few questions about Moondog and creating a playlist.

1. How did you discover Moondog? Did someone introduce you to his music, or did you stumble across it yourself? 

I discovered Moondog's in Japan in the early 1990s while in Tokyo with BMX Bandits. My girlfriend at the time, later my wife, Midori introduced me to lots of incredible music and she recommended that I should buy a CD that featured two of his albums, Moondog (1969) and Moondog 2 (1979). 

John Hogarty, who was playing guitar with us at that time also bought a copy. I had never heard anything like his music before. The rhythmic patterns with so quirky and brilliant. Some of it was like jazz, some of it was more like orchestral soundtrack music and then there were almost nursery rhyme like vocal rounds and songs with simple truths at the heart of them sung by Moondog and his daughter. Although I am making some comparisons there it still felt totally unique. It sounded as though it was created by an original thinker. 

2. What attracted you to cover 'Do Your Thing'? How important were The Wellgreen to the recording?

We recorded our version of Do Your Thing in just a couple of hours on June 1st 2009. I had thought for a long time that I could imagine it as a BMX Bandits track. The melody sounded like it would suit BMX bandits and I had an idea of how I wanted to approach it, a bit like a School House Rock song meets BMX Bandits (School House Rock was an American educational animated series that featured cool songs with an educational twist. Two of the most famous examples are 3 is the Magic Number and Unpack Your Adjectives). 

Marco & Stu from back in the day.

I was at Marco Rea from the Wellgreen's studio with Stuart Kidd, who was the other half of The Wellgreen at that time, and Brian McEwan, who was one of BMX Bandits then. We were recording another song for a tribute album that was never released. I suggested since we had recorded the other track so quickly that we should have a go at Do Your Thing. I explained my concept for it and I really wanted to utilise the magical vocal blend Marco and Stuart have together. 

The original Wellgreen vocal blend and Stuart and Marco's incredible ability to work really quickly and instinctively was key to how the track turned out.

3. Are there any other songs by Moondog that you are fond of?

Moondog is a major musical figure for me and for a number of my musician friends. Bill Wells is a major Moondog fan and was meant to be collaborating with Moondog and then sadly Moondog died before it could happen. Norman from Teenage Fanclub is a fan and recorded a version of another Moondog Song (My Tiny Butterfly) with Bill Wells. The first V-Twin single, a collaboration with Bill Wells, used a sample of a Moondog rhythm as its backbone. David Scott of The Pearlfishers is also a major fan. 

David and I organised a tribute concert to Moondog featuring a set of versions of some of our favourite pieces written by him. I think The Trashcan Sinatras have covered a Moondog song in the past and Gerry Love's band Lightships also recorded a version of Do Your Thing. Gerry took the song in quite a different direction from us and it is really effective, testament to the strength of the original song. The Pastels are also Moondog fans. 

I helped put together a reissue of an album that Moondog made in 1957 with Julie Andrews. He is a unique musical figure. He was blind and lived and performed on the streets of New York dressed like a Viking playing music on his own home made instruments but found an audience for his unique music and in later life he moved to Europe. I am going to make a playlist of some of my favourite Moondog music to go along with this piece.

A taster of Moondog for your ears - by Duglas T Stewart

4. BMX Bandits have covered a number of songs over the years. Do any (apart from this one) stand out for you?

There's too many to mention but one of my personal favourites is a cover version of a song by a Hong Kong duo My Little Airport called You Don't Wanna Be My Girlfriend, Phoebe. It is such an incredible song, our version's arrangement/ instrumentation is very different from the original. It was recorded by Stuart Kidd, James McEwan and me, again  very quickly and it was also recorded in 2009. I'd like to play it live sometime. 

5. My own favourite cover version is probably Richie Havens cover of Lamont Doziers Going Back To My Roots. Could you choose a favourite (or a few if you can't narrow it down)? 

The obvious choice for me is one that you have featured on here, Harpers Bizarre's version of Jim Pepper's song Witchi Tai To (Duglas kindly answered some questions on this incredible song HERE) but I will give you another one, which is an album of cover versions by Laura Nyro and LaBelle called Gonna Take a Miracle. I know that your sister also loves that album. I think I recommended it to her. When I first saw the tracklisting of the album I thought it was crazy. It features all of these versions of classic songs that I thought had untouchable original versions . I couldn't understand anyone having the audacity to cover these classics but I decided to buy it because I was curious as well as outraged. When I listened I couldn't believe what I was hearing, it is so incredible, so life affirming from start to finish and it remains one of my ultimate favourite albums to this day.

6. Lastly, if you could choose someone to cover one of your songs, who would it be, why and what song would you like them to sing and play?

My favourite new artist to emerge this Century is a singer, songwriter, multi instrumentalist and arranging talent called Sofie Royer. Please check out her incredible album Harlequin if you don't already know it. Well, of course I would love for her to cover one of my songs and I would be delighted for her to make her own choice of any of my songs that I have written or co-written. That would be such a thrill but she has enough great songs of her own so that's just an idle dream. 

I love recording and playing live cover versions of songs that I love by other artists because I am a fan and also it's a great way to learn new ways of doing things that you can bring to your own music in the future.

UPDATE - on Friday 21st June Duglas watched The Cords and said; "The Cords were fantastic at the Glasgow launch for Grant McPhee's Postcards from Scotland book. I loved their whole set, which they finished with a beautiful cover of BMX Bandits I Wanna Fall In Love. I had tears in my eyes."

Previous covers of the month blogs

13. Hurt
39. ABBA-esque
40. Jumpin' Jack Flash
64. Lola
82. Drop
87. Indian Rope Man + bonus Strawberry Fields Forever + This Wheels On Fire
92. Valerie

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