Des de Moor
Recordings: Testing Times

"The 2004 (!) model."
Clocking in and clocking out- Illustration from the International Time Recording Catalog, USA 1914. Work in progress
Gritty or zitty?

Testing Times is the long-planned follow-up to my previous album Water of Europe, a new set of original songs. It's been listed as forthcoming for some time, and back in January 2002 I performed a number of the new songs at a series of special shows at the Rosemary Branch in London. All the songwriting was completed by October 2002, but the album still hasn't appeared, and some people may be wondering what's happened to it.

Well, the truth is that once again I've been sorely tested trying to find the time, especially since I can't afford to devote all of it to music and also have to earn a living. After finishing the writing I was all set to plough ahead with arranging and recording, but then the opportunity arose to revive the Darkness and Disgrace show with Russell Churney in London in February 2003. As always when we perform this show, everyone asks if we have a recording of the songs, so, acting on the advice of everyone including Robb Johnson at Irregular Records, I decided to put TT aside and record Darkness while it was still fresh in our memory. In the event I wasn't able to get all the requisite people together in the right place for some months, and work on the recording wasn't finished until the end of August. But it's out of the way now, and I have no excuse for not getting on with Testing Times! Spring 2004, I hope -- watch this space for more news. (DdM, 30 August 2003).

Soon after Water of Europe was safely despatched to the pressing plant, Irregular Records' Robb Johnson asked how I was getting on with thinking about a follow-up. It was then I realised with a shock that I had a major task ahead of me.

I'm not naturally a prolific writer, and Water had completely exhausted a stock of original songs assembled over seven years since my last recording. I could have done an album of covers - I'm happy to interpret other people's work as well as my own - but if I wanted to justify the second part of the description 'singer-songwriter' I had to knuckle down to some serious work.

Starting from a clean slate was daunting, but I quickly realised it had advantages. I had the opportunity to create a more coherent collection than before: without restricting myself too tightly to a theme or story, I knew from the start there would be a number of unifying preoccupations to the material, as suggested by the multiple meanings of the title Testing Times which came to me early on in the work.

I also knew I wanted to be more focussed. Having finally found my voice as a performer, I had a better idea of the kinds of songs I wanted to create for myself: contemporary songs that related to the traditions of satirical cabaret and chanson. At the same time, I'd try to be simple and direct, and avoid the lyrical and musical over-elaboration that had affected some of my songs in the past.

These circumstances required a new way of working. In the past I'd generally finish one song before moving on to the next, but this time I started by making an outline for the whole album and then working on bits of different songs in turn. To have any hope of completing the work within a realistic timescale, I literally had to force myself to write, to sit down and not get up again until I'd made at least some progress, and it helped to be able to move on to another piece when I got stuck.

The disadvantage here was that no new material emerged in a completed form for a long time, and I acknowledge the forbearance of regular attenders at my gigs who spent a couple of years listening to the same old stuff. On the other hand, as the work has progressed I've been able to complete several new pieces in quick succession, so rather like the proverbial buses they all come along at once.

Even so, progress has been slower than I'd initially hoped, interrupted by upheavals in my personal life and other creative projects, such as creating new cabaret shows and translating for Barb Jungr. There were two major bursts of work in the Autumns of 1999 and 2000 when I was house-sitting at my parents' place near Canterbury, and while staying in Edinburgh during the festival in August 2001 I hit a particularly productive patch. Finally in November 2002 I took a week's break to concentrate entirely on songwriting and have finally cracked the 'inspiration' side of the last few numbers, and am now moving on to the arrangements and demos stage in preparation for recording.

My original scheme has been modified slightly as work has progressed and in some respects the collection is looking less like a 'cycle' than I originally intended. The material is broadly split into a set of eight cabaret songs intended for acoustic performance, and a more close-knit cycle of five numbers entitled The Invisible Empire, which will see me return to using some samples and sequences as well as spoken word in the setting. There will also be a Jacques Brel cover and an extra cabaret song to conclude the collection.

  • Testing Times: The title track, completed in Edinburgh, August 2001, and since performed in a simple arrangement at numerous live gigs.
  • Diamonds on the Dam: My contribution to the canon of cabaret songs about Amsterdam. Most of this was written in October 2000 but I only completed it to my satisfaction in Edinburgh, August 2001, and premiered it in September.
    Click here to visit the Downloads page for an MP3 file of this song. Download a live recording.
  • Old Queens: an ambitious song that I began in October 1999. I finalised the lyrics in Edinburgh in August and finished the music in November 2001, although it is very complex and has not yet been performed.
  • Stupid People: this was an "early escaper" from my initial burst of writing on the project and has been in my live set since October 1999.
    Click here to visit the Downloads page for an MP3 file of this song. Download a demo version
  • Imaginary Friends: a very dark song completed in September 2002, but not yet performed.
  • There's a bomb in my life: Completed in Edinburgh, August 2001, and premiered in September.
  • Night Bus: A humorous slice of life, completed in May 2002 but not yet performed.
  • Freedom to Roam: An unusual ballad reflecting my ambivalent feelings towards the countryside which I'm hoping to get a guest vocalist to sing. Finally finished at the beginning of December 2002 after lengthy struggles with getting the tone right, and not yet performed.
  • Madeleine: I've been performing my own translation of this classic bittersweet character piece by Jacques Brel, Gérard Jouannest and Jean Corti since a Brel show I contributed to in Winchester in August 2000, and I thought it was high time I recorded it.
  • The Invisible Empire: five linked songs.
    Cargo: An a cappela piece completed in Edinburgh, August 2001, and premiered in September, now incorporated into an extended cycle.
    Angle's Land: A partly autobiographical song that forms something of a sequel to 'Grandmother was a Hero'. My notes go back to 1999; some of it was written in Stoke on Trent in July 2001 and I finally completed it in November 2002. It should be premiered live in December.
    Ephesus: I've been struggling with this ever since I visited the eponymous city, now a ruin, in 1992 and it was on the original list for my last album but was never completed. It has finally evolved into a spoken-word piece set against a musical and sound-effect backdrop, and the words were completed in November 2002.
    Cheap Flags Flying: A late addition, which started to form in my head in Prague in September 2002 and was completed soon afterwards. Still awaiting performance.
    Swimming with the bulls: The final piece in the cycle draws on the preceeding songs. Fragments, including the ending, date back to my first serious work on the whole album in Wingham in October 1999, but the unifying idea occurred to me in the Uffizi gallery in Florence in October 2002 and was completed in November. The musical setting needs to be finalised.
  • An Incidental Bard: Mainly written in October 2000 and in the live repertoire in singable form since early 2001.
  • It's then you know: Completed in Edinburgh, August 2001, with music co-written with Russell Churney, and premiered in September. Although it was originally sketched in for this album, it's since been poached for the Irregular compilation 9x2.
    Click here to visit the Downloads page for an MP3 file of this song. Download this recording.

2 December 2002

 Live Testing
Many of the songs from Testing Times are now being performed in live sets. See the Gigs page for details.

 On this page
Progress reports on my latest recording project, Testing Times.

 On other pages
Read lyrics or listen to MP3 downloads of selected songs from this project. Read about my previous albums, Water of Europe (1999) and Photographs in Empty Houses (1992), look for new lyrics or return to the recordings index for a full discography.
See Performances to find out where you can hear some of these songs performed, or for an introduction to my work, click here.

 Pirate Jenny's
For more on my musical cabaret and chanson club, click here.