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Below you'll find a series of notes, written by John himself, on the five tracks that appear on Across The Door Sill. We'll be adding to this page, in particular by inserting the various videos to the songs. So let's start at the beginning....

Across The Door Sill

Sleeve gallery

John's track-by-track notes


This was written – as were all the songs on this album - in a very stream-of-consciousness way, letting the words literally pour out of my head onto the page, different images and scenarios creating themselves as the lyric evolved. I’d used this method before to write lyrics, such as with “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” and “Coconut Bible” in the ‘70s, and more recently with songs like “Oh, Do Give It A Rest, Love”. But what I hadn’t done before was adopt that method to write the music as well. Before, I had changed and re-arranged the initial lyrics to fit a chord structure or tune, so that by the time the song was finished the words differed quite a lot from the original stream-of-consciousness layout.

I put the words on the piano in front of me and began to create chords and a melody around them. I sang various tunes around the words and recorded a lot of it as I went along, like building up a jigsaw of ideas, finally choosing an overall structure which worked best and recording the piano “properly” singing the melody off-mike.

The process of building on that then began, overdubbing several pianos and backing vocals, and finally recording the lead vocal, which itself was done more by feel than final form, recording four or five separate lead vocals in varying ways, trying out different ways to sing the lines. When I mixed the track, I picked the different vocal takes which I thought worked best in each verse, mixing them into one main vocal track.

The “Who Cares” chant also happened by chance. Originally it was going to be part of the lead vocal, but as I went along it became obvious it would work better as a chant sung by many people, almost like a siren chorus commenting on the scenes described in the verses.

A journalist recently said that it sounds like I am depressed or disappointed by singing “Who Cares” as an answer to the verses, but in fact the chorus “singers” represent more our shared helplessness at a world we sense is not within our control any longer – if it ever was.


The lyric is composed as if one is taking part in a dream sequence, where we watch someone waiting for a train, and read their thoughts as they fall asleep waiting, and in their dream decide to drive instead. We then follow their surreal adventures to the end of the song – and two-thirds of the way through, as often happens in dreams, the narration or the viewpoint changes from first person to third person - where the “traveller” wakes up and hears the whistle from the platform as his/her train is about to depart.

I wanted this song to have a very filmic slightly ghostly otherworldly ambiance, there is a falsetto voice singing in the distance as the narrator’s dream unfolds, and a languid sense of not being in control of any of the events he/she is becoming a part of. Dreams often have us as the onlooker and the protagonist all at the same time, but there is always that sense of things happening unexpectedly but which don’t surprise us, as though we’ve read the screenplay already and are now acting it out. I kept this track quite simple in its arrangement, a single lead voice with the “siren” singing in the distance, the pianos slowly and purposefully moving forward, taking our character along with the “action” they are both part of and observing.


I hadn’t intended it to happen, but this song became very much a hark-back to the folk songs I grew up with in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s. Its whole structure seemed to create itself as the lyrics sat in front of me at the piano. This sometimes happens when writing songs, it’s almost like it has been waiting to arrive out of the ether and I just happen to be there to welcome it home. A similar thing happened when I was writing “The Time of Day” in 2004 and that too has a kind of folk feel to it. It must be my Irish ancestry!

“Preservation” is one of those songs I could hear being played on a guitar as well as on piano, which is unusual for my songs, it’s even written in a guitar key (A), again an unusual key for me to write in – I usually pick things like E flat, which is really difficult for guitarists to play but perfect for the piano.

Again, the lyric was written using the stream-of-consciousness method, but a definite theme emerged as I was writing it, with a sense that we are all floating in space, unaware of our destinies, with our own desires and ambitions, but actually with no control over any of them coming to fruition. We get burnt and scarred by events but can do little to avoid them, we can only try to ensure we survive them.


This is the shortest song on the album and is the only one on there which began with a line which came unbidden into my head – “Running drowning from the building” – which immediately set my imagination going and I developed that line into a scenario of its own. As with “Who Cares”, I used a multi-voice chant for the chorus, singing “It’s a crazy mixed-up world”, sung as from each of the decades I’ve lived through and been aware of what the world and its vast population can do to us and others. Consequences coming out of random events. We learn about the characters in the song as it develops, and watch what happens to them, while the chorus sings its lament on what it sees unfolding before it.

I liked the idea of mixing two old sayings – “Pigs might fly” and “Pie in the sky” – to make a single image, all of us at some time in our lives dreaming of making our lives different, special, giving us an exit to something better, while all the time overhead are those pigs and pies in the sky which fly by just as we are dreaming.


This lyric is full of my childhood memories, randomly gathered together as the song plays. Sometimes those memories are split-second images in my mind, but they have stayed with me all my life. The lyric began with a childhood memory of washing hanging out, looking pristine and fresh and smelling gorgeous, running through it as it blew in the wind, and the images then simply tumbled out of me onto the page.

I wanted the track to have a fresh, clean Spring-like feeling to it, and bring everyone into that child’s world as remembered, so recorded the vocals quadruple-tracked and widely panned, so one gets the impression this is not just one “child” remembering those lovely and not-so-lovely things we experience growing up, it’s a group of kids taking us through those days of enjoying being praised by adults, being bullied (but ultimately forgiving the bully), loving lying in meadows waiting for friends to arrive, experiencing the changing seasons, family gatherings, and my own personal memory of a birthday party aligned to that timeless Lesley Gore song it sort of (but not quite) namechecks.

Bonus track


"Viewpoints" was originally going to be part of Across The Door Sill, but for timing issues regarding the vinyl (quality can suffer on LPs when side lengths are too long) I took it off, and wrote and recorded the shorter ‘Pigs ‘n’ Pies’ specially as the replacement track. But I’ve decided I would like people to hear it, as it was originally going to be on the album. It was conceived in exactly the same way as the other tracks on there, written as a stream-of-consciousness poem which I then set to music using a freeform method in both the writing and recording.

It’s now available as a free bonus download to all those who have purchased the LP, CD or download version of Across The Door Sill from Occultation’s website.

John Howard 2016