Writing ‘Raynaud’s Hands’
If you’re not sure what song I’m talking about, it’s this one — maybe have a listen as you read.
As with most of my songs, the beginnings of this one were in the melody — the music, rather than the words. Instead of just messing around until I happened upon some nice combination of notes or chords (like I usually do) when I began to write ‘Raynaud’s Hands’ I was actually trying to figure out how to play someone else’s song.
I had been listening to John Martyn in big doses from the moment that I discovered that the track ‘Fairytale Lullaby’ — on Bombay Bicycle Club’s acoustic record, ‘Flaws’ — had been written by the man himself.
When I find an artist who’s style I like that much, I usually download just about everything I can find belonging to them. I start at the start, and listen to their whole career, all the way through — that way you get a real sense of the kind of arc the artist lived through. In this case, however, I found myself pretty much stuck on John’s first record — ‘London Conversation’ (sorry, can’t find a link to the full album for you :/ ). In particular, I was listening to his version of a Bob Dylan track ‘Don’t think twice, it’s alright’, which, by the way, is just gorgeous.
You can have a listen here, when you’re ready.
Anyway, I had been listening to that song for about 7 or 8 months — on and off — and finally decided that I needed to figure out just how John played it. I scrambled around the Internet, trying to find scraps of information about the possible guitar-tuning he used, or some idea of chord shapes. Well, nothing I could find was really scratching the itch, so I decided to just tune my guitar to an open tuning that I had been playing around with for a few weeks already (CGCGCE, capo on 6 — for those interested parties).
Then, I just started playing around with different ideas until I got something that — I thought — had the general vibe of the Dylan / Martyn song. It was only when I compared what I had done to the actual recording of ‘Don’t think twice…’ that I realised two things:
- I was quite a bit off, and
- I could probably just use this to write my own song.
This turned out to be the basic verse part / main theme for ‘Raynaud’s Hands’.
As for that weird bit in the middle, I can’t really explain how that came to be; I just felt it needed something to break it up, and that’s what I came up with. (Honestly, I’m not entirely satisfied with it, but it’ll do for the moment.)
It’s fairly common for me to begin with one idea for a set of lyrics and to abandon it entirely, as happened with the first batch of lyrics for ‘Raynaud’s Hands’.
Originally, for example, the first verse read as follows (see if you can sing along at home, kids):
No, I’m not sure what I need
Which makes the gettin’ of it hard.
No I’m not sure what I need, darlin’
But I need somewhere to start
In fact, as I look at the original text now, I see that I had actually titled it ‘Don’t Think Twice: Part Two’.
I was more or less happy with that version: I had taken it from start to (abrupt) finish in about 3 days, which was (at that time) quite quick for me. But as with the other 40–50 songs I wrote in that 5 month period, I was sure there were improvements to be made.
I wrote that version in Spring / Summer of 2013, but it wasn’t until that Winter that the melody popped into my head again, and I finally realised what my problem with the original lyrics was: They were too Summer-y — the song ought to have a colder, more Winter-y feel.
I have terrible circulation in my hands — always have. I was walking into a college class, fending off the early morning cold by rubbing my hands together and exhaling warm air.
At this point, I can’t remember too clearly what happened next: Either me and my friend — ‘A’ — had a quick chat about how both of us hate that our hands get so damn cold all the time; or that didn’t happen at all and my mind is just fabricating incredibly innocuous conversations. The latter happens with frightening frequency.
In any case, I had the idea of a person who had to really struggle to — let’s say — send a text, because of poor blood circulation in their hands. I mean, this had happened to me before: The point was that the message (and therefore the recipient) had to be pretty damn important for me to go through the hassle of sending a text, when my fingers felt more like fleshy-meat-stumps than anything remotely capable of fine-motor skills.
I just liked the idea, the image it put in my head.
So there we have the first line:
Raynaud’s hands send || a message meant for me.
After that, the rest is details that followed on from that idea, with the notable exception of the phrase ‘the union of a kiss’ that I blatantly stole from one of the most amazing songs I’ve ever heard: Judee Sill’s ‘The Kiss’.
So there you have it, how I wrote that song ‘Raynaud’s Hands’, from start to finish. If (Heaven forfend) you want even more of these atrocious, ghastly details, contact me at one of the spots below (pick your favourite, I don’t mind). Otherwise, go about your business: Have a lovely day.