Ode to Frank – the story behind ‘Neil Young’

For some time now I’ve been going onto Facebook to record my ‘Wake Up’s’…those songs which we all have drifting through our heads first thing in the morning as we wake up from our sleep. I haven’t done it as yet today though, for this Saturday wake-up is somewhat different.

The song in question is a number called ‘Neil Young’… a ballad penned by one of my high-school friends, Peter Davies. I’d been playing with Pete, his wife Gabi, and another old schoolmate Frank Roskell, for a little while playing covers of music from different artists and genre’s. Eventually, the three of them struck out on their own and I continued recording and following other musical interests.

Frank came down to see me one day afterwards to have a chat about what they were hoping to do with the band, from then on to be known as ‘The Good Intentions’. He was enthusiastic about the music which Pete was writing and intending to perform, and asked if I’d be interested in recording a few tracks for them to release as a four-track CD. The disc would be handed out to venues and radio stations to try and get bookings and some airplay. I agreed immediately, and we set to work not long afterwards to record the tracks. Pete and Gabi would come in and record their parts, then Frank and myself would record his own contribution and he’d assist while I produced and mixed the final product.

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The Good Intentions – Frank Roskell, Peter Davies, Gabi Monk

While we were working on the initial arrangements of the songs, it became clear to both myself and Frank that ‘Neil Young’ stood out from the other tracks which were arranged with a more usual ‘alt-country’ feel. ‘Neil’ was a simple ballad, beautiful in its simplicity, but with a strong memorable hook in the chorus which would stick in your mind after you heard it. Both Frank and I believed that it deserved a stand-out arrangement to match it.

Pete recorded his lead vocal and guide acoustic guitar track first, and then Gabi recorded her own vocal harmony. For the rest of the day Frank and I worked right through and laid down what we subsequently called the ‘wall of guitars’. Perhaps with a bit of both of our ‘prog-rock roots’ showing through, we recorded a total of six different guitar parts – bass, lead and acoustic – to add to the acoustic guitar with Pete had initially recorded. The effect was what we had both hoped would be achieved in the final mix – a lush curtain of sound which would support the vocal riding on top of it.
After much work, coffee and a lot of laughter and fun, Frank asked me how he should finish it. “Just noodle a bit.” I replied. He then spent five minutes working a simple end guitar solo out and we recorded it straight off. We played the track back and looked at each other… we both felt that it still wasn’t quite there yet. And then I had an idea. “Pink Floyd. Give me a chord that Dave Gilmour would end a song with.” And he did… and that final chord gives me goose-pimples every time I hear it.

And that is why this wake-up tune is different to all the others… for we lost Frank Roskell the other day after he suffered a short and quite unexpected illness. Of course, Frank represented something different to everyone – a father, brother, school-friend, band-mate; a good mate you could have a good laugh and a drink with. And also, in the end, I don’t think anyone would dispute that he was just a really nice guy.

But for me personally, that day working with him on ‘Neil Young’ will stand out in my mind whenever I hear it in the future. In the end we were just two mates, doing what we loved doing most, and having a really great time while we did it.

Thanks for the good times Franko… sleep well my friend.

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