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My name’s Shirley Lee and I’m one fifth of the band Spearmint. We are currently beginning to pull together ideas for the next album. You can read about our previous adventures right here… My second solo album is released in June 2011 and is called “Winter Autumn Summer Spring”.

My first solo album came out in 2009 and was called simply “Shirley Lee”. After Spearmint had released our fourth album, “Paris In A Bottle” in 2006, it felt like the closing of a chapter for the group, time to try something new. The idea began to form that I would make a solo album, but perversely, I was clear that I wanted to make it with the band as I was really happy with the way we playing. It was to be a solo album because it felt like such a personal batch of songs, but in a way it was a Shirley Lee album made by Spearmint.

I knew I wanted the experience of going into a proper studio with the band, as we hadn’t worked that way since our second album “A Different Lifetime”. I had been aware of Brian O’Shaugnnessy’s Bark Studio for some time. “Screamadelica” was recorded there, as were the two Denim albums in the 90s. Recently I had been reminded of him because he produced two Broken Family Band albums – I am very fond of all these albums, think they sound great, and so we decided to record with Brian.

The album was not as “ambitious” as some of the things we have attempted with Spearmint, but that was deliberate. I wanted a more natural, simple, soulful feel to go with the content of the album, as it is mainly love songs, and I think we got this.

While we were mixing, I got together with Jim and my girl Bridie one Sunday afternoon down at Hammersmith Bridge so that Jim could take some photos for the artwork. It worked a treat; Jim got some gorgeous snaps of us in a range of different lights – they are featured in the lyric booklet which goes with the album. Hammersmith is my favourite of London’s bridges – it is so romantic, and so beautiful.

The Songs:

Upside Down On Brighton Bridge
It is a love song and I wanted to capture a dreamy summer atmosphere on it, which Brian caught straight away. I had the “Bah’s” towards the end of the song on my demo, and Jim loved them. I didn’t add them to the song in the studio because I felt they were twee and clashed with Jim’s guitar line. Jim protested so much that I went back in during mixing and added them. When Jim heard the new mix, he texted me early one morning saying “This morning I say Hallelujah for the Bah’s on Brighton Beach”.

Dissolving Time
Like many Spearmint songs this is about trying to live life in the moment. I often feel that real life is passing me by as I think about the past or plan the future. The song is a rallying cry to removing obstacles to fully living in the present. I love Ronan’s drumming on this, and Jim’s harmonies on the verses. Andy proudly used his new 8-string bass through a fuzz pedal on the choruses.

Spiralina Girl
As with “Brighton Beach” this is a straight-ahead love song for Bridie. I love Si’s harmonies and Jim’s guitar lines – this is one of my very favourites on the record.

The Lights Change
I do not expect anyone to get the words to this. And I am not about to explain them.

Come On Feel the Lemonheads
There are two versions of this: the acoustic one featured here, and the punkier full-band version which appears on the “Life In Reverse” song-cycle on the special edition of “A Week Away”. This is my home-recorded version, though I did get Simon round to add harmonies. The lyrics are all true, so that explains the title!

The Smack Of Pavement In Your Face
I wrote this during the last Spearmint tour of Germany and Austria. By the time we got to Vienna I was keen to try it live, and had the bright idea that we would play it in the set without having ever rehearsed it. After all, it is a straight-forward Country song, and I know how well the band can play – quite often they come out with great things the first time I bring a song into rehearsal.

London Ghost Story
Originally the title track, this is an instrumental interlude in the middle of the album. When we were on tour, I had a terrible cold, and one night I went to sleep early, huddled in a sleeping-bag while the others were still up chatting. Si had a Lovin Spoonful harmonica instrumental on his phone, and he was playing it to James as I fell asleep. It was the feeling of being full of cold and gradually drifting off that inspired the sound of this. I like the feel of this one – nice work Brian… And lovely bass playing Mr Lewis…

Walked Away
I recorded the verses with beats at home, and we recorded the band sections with Brian. Hear Ronan wigging out on the bongos towards the end! A song about having a row and being too proud to make up.

A love song for Bridie. This track features me messing around on the same Omnichord (a kind of electronic harp), we borrowed to use on the “A Different Lifetime” album. We then hung onto it for years – I think Ronan has finally given it back to its owner, his friend Paul.

The First Time You Saw Snow
Bridie grew up in New Zealand and had never seen snow. I grew up in Yorkshire and was used to heavy snowfall each winter. It very rarely snows in London, and last winter the forecast one night was for snow the next morning. So I set the alarm for early and we went out to the park in it. The song tells the rest of the story…

The Traffic In The Street
Another love song and very much a band track. I had a lot of trouble getting the altered rhythm of the break down bit two thirds through – Ronan introduced that on the drums and we all went with it – but it took me ages to get. Jim’s guitar at the very end reminds me of an early Be-Bop Deluxe track – I adore Be-Bop Deluxe!

The Reservoir
My father died a few years ago, and I have written a number of songs for him since, but this was the first one which I felt captured what I wanted to say. It is just me on this track, recorded at home. I am very very proud of this song, especially the words in the middle, the “Firstly, you’re a fool; secondly, that would be lovely” section. Originally the song did not feature my father’s voice at the end. It was after I had done the recording that I remembered I had a cassette somewhere with a recording of Dad’s voice from an old answerphone. He had rung me up and left a message to say that he had been in a hypermarket in Belgium, and had heard a Spearmint song being played over the loudspeakers. He was very excited, and I was very proud and touched that he had left me the message. I had this vision of him standing there expecting the other customers to start applauding, or dancing… I got the idea of adding the tape recording to the track, and was then undecided for ages. It seemed gratuitous to me, and a bit tasteless. I eventually used the old adage of whether he would mind or not and decided he would like it, so I tried adding it. It fit perfectly, and it is wonderful to hear his voice again! As Simon said, “It was good of Dad to pop in and help out on the album”.

The Last Song
I had the idea that the intro and middle of this would sound as though they were recorded from out in the street while we played inside the studio, so that is exactly what Brian did. You can hear the Walthamstow traffic and doors slamming. A declaration of total love and the last word on my feelings.

So there it is: my first solo album.