Tales From The Songwriting Frontlines

Photo by: Aurélien Digard

In an interesting and technical entry for our Songwriting Blog here at Positive Songs Project we caught up with regular PSP contributor and wonderfully prolific songwriter Mickey Van Gelder.

Mickey Van Gelder is a Blues musician, songwriter and lyricist based in Lancashire, UK. He’s played with harmonica player Pat Clarke around Manchester and at the Colne Blues Festival. He’s written songs with Pierre Matifat of The Swinging Dice for both of their albums released so far and he’s sung with them several times since 2014 in the UK and touring around Northern France shouting the Blues. He is very proud to be working with French prog-rock band Cheap Wine having written the lyrics for two of the songs on their LP ‘Schrödinger’s Pipe’ released in 2020 on the Celebration Days label.

In the early 1980s, he was lead singer and guitarist in the Brit-funk band World Series which included Pablo Cook on percussion. Their 1983 single ‘Try It Out’ was recently re-issued in 2019 on the Chuwanaga label in Paris.

He discussed with the Positive Songs Project how he used the mathematical number sequence known as the Fibonacci Sequence to write his piece of no-fi electronica ‘Ahava’ for Phase 2 Positive Song.

Listen to ‘Ahava’ here:

Mickey writes:

This is the start of the Fibonacci sequence:

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55…

Each number is the sum of the previous two. The ratio between successive numbers get closer and closer to “The Golden Ratio”.

This ratio is found in nature and seems to be some kind of most efficient number when it comes to fitting seeds in flower-heads, creating spiral shaped shells and so on.

Having written a Blues from the perspective of a dog for a PSP badge, I decided to indulge myself and see if I could build up an electronic rhythm using the Fibonacci sequence. Maybe it would sound pleasing because of the Golden Ratio?

I thought that I could use 8 as the basic 8 quavers to the bar and try to place a cross-rhythm to a count of 13 against it.

I had a chat with my son who has a degree in music and he said that you don’t normally write different time signatures for different instruments playing together. I decided to put everything in a standard four to the bar rhythm and see what pattern emerged with the bass playing one note at the start of each count of 13 quavers.

I ended up with a scribbled diagram that looked like this:

The pattern repeats every 13 bars. This diagram is the key to the structure of my tune “Ahavah”.

I really liked the result that each beat in the bar gets accented at some point in the 13 bar sequence.

Using Noteworthy Composer software, I built up a steady four-on-the-floor percussion part but put a synth bass note on each of the highlighted beats. To begin with, I kept the harmony down to just alternating between two closely-related chords and used a single-note bass part on a low E on every quaver in every bar.

Just that 13 against 8 rhythm sounds funky. I put it on a loop and very quickly I forgot about counting and just enjoyed the off-beats.

Once the rhythm was written out, I was able to place the harmony and the melody in time with the 13 count and phrase the changes over the 13 bar pattern.

As for the title, “Ahavah” is the Hebrew word for love. It has the numerical value 13.

The Positive Songs Project has been great for me. Being part of a community really got the creative juices going and gave me something to work towards each week. And I met some lovely, like-minded people. Thanks everyone!

Check out Mickey’s work with Cheap Wine:

Watch the ‘Ballad of The Good Old Light Bulb’

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