❉ Micko & The Mellotronics’ head honcho gives us a song-by-song breakdown of their new album.
“The songs on ½ dove – ½ pigeon focus on ‘kitchen sink’ type dramatic themes and often reflect upon this through comment which can come from the mouths of others, day to day stuff. I’m interested in using ‘headlines’ but most of the time again not always mine; my take is in the small print.” – Micko Westmoreland.
Micko Westmoreland is a musician, actor and director, who has been producing music for over twenty years, most recently with his band The Mellotronics, and the album ½ dove – ½ pigeon. With a mix of classic rock riffs and clever, dense lyrics, the album was described by reviewers as ‘fascinating, fun, challenging [and] entertaining’ and on this very website as the Album of the Lockdown.
We chatted to Micko (virtually of course!) about the new album, and what it’s all about…
My first record was released about 25 years ago, an electronic track named imparticular. For a long time, I was spellbound by the possibilities that electronica could offer. It seemed limitless, and the studio is still very much treated like an instrument today. However, creative industries tend to be one hell of a ride and I underwent a sea change in the new millennium when new challenges became literary. I never read very much as a kid, so I’ve been making up for lost time, turning it into an advantage, a never-ending quest for knowledge ever since.
The songs on ½ dove – ½ pigeon focus on ‘kitchen sink’ type dramatic themes and often reflect upon this through comment which can come from the mouths of others, day to day stuff. I’m interested in using ‘headlines’ but most of the time again not always mine; my take is in the small print. So, the tracks are tiered a bit like a wedding cake: they can be ‘liked’ (or ‘disliked’ for that matter) on any level.
I used to live in a housing co-op with a number of serial complainers. It never ceased to amaze me the amount of endless energy they would have for this practice. There was one particular neighbour, nicknamed ‘The Dragon’, with particularly noteworthy histrionics. I took the notion of “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”, and applied it to the song. It had to have an undercurrent of repressed tension and outrage – repressed because, at the centre, the protagonist had something to hide. Whilst in the act of complaint about the ambiguous behaviour of others, there’s a self-consciousness that ensured protection/privacy. The lead is afraid of being unmasked, because an incident of some kind has clearly taken place, and that’s confirmed by the final line payoff.
‘Caught on camera, point of view, in and out it’s all untrue,
A carnal matter I can’t undo’.
For the video (with Suzy Kane from The IT Crowd and Extras), we chose to play this lewd aspect down, and instead developed a parallel narrative with filmmaker Ashley Jones about a defective TV, which worked just as well.
Psychedelic Shirt tells the story of venturing to an out-of-hours school disco in a dishevelled scout hut in Leeds! Top Man flick heads seized upon my newly-procured paisley shirt and sought to destroy it. I’d taken it off because I was too hot and left it on a peg in the boy’s loos. Later, I found the article, ‘mopped up in the fluid, screwed up in a ball’ on the lino floor exactly as the lyrics say.
I was forced to make a choice between victimhood or empowerment, but left contemplating shades somewhere in between. In the video we developed a narrative of a little Micko seeking reassurance from a big Micko, who now played in the band. The shirt became the transcendental object, journeying from near destruction to reformation. Ace guitar on this one from the legendary Jon Klein (Specimen/Banshees) and a great cartoon video, with artwork by an old school mate, Peter W.
This track was inspired by a guy I saw regularly sat in a local pub reading the Daily Mail. There was a seething distain and unwillingness to accept changes in culture etched upon his face. That expression had embedded itself there. Even though the character is not particularly likeable, I wasn’t looking to condemn or project hatred towards him. In the video shoot with Ashley, we worked up the idea of an estate agent/Brexiteer type loosening up, after accidentally finding himself in a gay bar and buying a pint from a bearded drag star (Mr. Ted). He was able to progressively let go of his prejudices and go with the flow.
People have the capacity to change after all and the video in particular looked to champion this. Knock out bass lines on this one from the one and only Horace Panter of The Specials, and a brilliant performance in the video by Little Britain’s Paul Putner.
You Killed My Father
Growing up can be a difficult time and something that everyone can relate to. On occasion, there can be design faults in the architecture of early life which you can do little to alter, only look forward to a time when things change.
The most important aspect of the track for me, though, is the final line in this redemptive tale.
‘Dig in this trench of forgiveness, forgo warfare to remain sane’.
Neil Innes and violinist Dylan Bates play wonderfully on this track. I met Neil about eight years ago and ended up playing in and producing a super group called The Spammed with him in it, along with Rat Scabies, Horace Panter and Kevin Eldon. You Killed My Father was written with Neil in mind, and I have nothing but admiration and thanks for the tremendous creative spirit and influence he was. He lent intimate piano and wrote the string arrangement for this track.
Rest in peace Uncle Neil, you were such a wise old bird.
A twisting tale that beggars belief, Imelda Marcos’ story is one of corruption, subterfuge and extravagance: a beauty pageant queen turned political mastermind and tyrant. An unscrupulous politician, Marcos appears in the Guinness Book of World Records for the Greatest Robbery of a Government – yet, despite a notoriously lavish and illegally-funded lifestyle, she sustained a lifelong career in government. Karma only finally caught up with her in the form of corruption charges a mere three years ago. She’s alive to this day (aged 91) and although no longer able to hold office remains a divisive public figure.
So, I set out to search for morals in a story lacking them. In the current climate of US politics, Imelda Marcos was ahead of her time. I found her to be highly manipulative, deceptive and prepared to go to any length to succeed in her endeavours, however far-fetched they seemed. Imelda Marcos demonstrates that power, money, fame and influence are not the prerequisites to greater happiness. Keiko Yamazaki helped out with some killer high-pitched backing vocals on this.
Sick & Tired
This was the first track that I wrote for the album. It contains a different point of view in each verse (We/He/She/They/You). The song is about magnifying trivial things and missing the big picture. The last verse inspired the whole song. I gave some money to a homeless person and was criticised by a local resident for doing so. He thought I was colluding with what he thought was his problem! Obviously, the plight of the homeless is a much bigger issue than having to walk past it. Somehow though this perspective had been lost. For me, if I’m going to complain, I always look to put myself in the shoes of others first. It seems to help out all round. Nothing seems to satisfy, finding fault in everything, happy to externalize than except what lies within, the chorus proclaims, and I think that’s very true.
I was looking both to affirm the positive, and counter the idea that unknowns are negative in this track. I have an author friend in the States called Georg Eifert, who’s an eminent psychologist. He wrote a book called Anxiety Happens, which I was reading at the time, so a lot of those theories and ideas came into play and influenced the writing. I wanted the song to have a perilous feel, to try and capture a superstitious dread, but to temper that with the defiant optimism of the message.
Weimar Republic swinging bass by the band’s own Vicky Carroll. Horns by the one and only Terry Edwards. Violin by Dylan Bates.
This track is the letter best left unsent. From that let’s just say that sometimes friendships fall into the wrong gear for too long – and being struck in reverse is no fun for anyone. Killer drums from Nicolas MacKay on this track, right on the edge.
So much time can be spent on thinking about the past and projecting into the future. For me, this forensic analysis always seems to breed doubt, and as far as I’m aware that doesn’t bring very much happiness. The song is pretty playful about it all. Without wishing to sound preachy, the words to the final verse spell out the resolution in an uncompromising way.
“I don’t exist to impress the world,
I’m here to make myself feel good
I try to see the world as it is
I allow myself to live as I should”.
I rest my case.
After spending a long summer living in New York in the 90s, I’ve no idea why I decided to come back to the UK. As Quentin Crisp put it in his alternative Queen’s speech many moons ago, only a one-way ticket is required. The track has a very optimistic feel, a good way to finish an album – it makes the listener want to start all over.
I wanted it to have a glam-rock-tinged ‘youth is golden and only we truly understand’ vibe. The defiance and fertile imagination found in many people of a certain age. ‘Party like New York City until the day breaks apart’, seemed to convey that hedonistic, creative optimism, mixed with a bit of poetic melancholy. The outro to the track is a space-age tease. We could have extended this instrumental section way longer, but wanted to create an appetite for more. Should have done though really, as I find that it’s the only point on the album where I get to fully relax…
Hopefully this walk-through has encouraged further investigation of the music. Thanks as ever goes out to my band mates Nick MacKay, Vicky Carroll and especially co-producer Jon Klein for their wonderful creative contributions.
Thank you for listening!
For those interested in digging deeper, all of Micko’s lyrics can be found here in full: http://landlinerecords.com/half-dove-half-pigeon/12-dove-12-pigeon-lyrics/
❉ Stuart Douglas is an author, and editor and owner of the publisher Obverse Books. He has written four Sherlock Holmes novels and can be found on twitter at @stuartamdouglas
Photo credit: Ashley Jones.