Day 13: Whatever You Do, Don’t Go In The Basement

20440_283277551659_6270968_n

I’ve recorded two songs called Whatever You Do, Don’t Go In The Basement. The first was a pretty rough home recording from 1997, one of hundreds that I made between the ages of 14 and 23 with a Yamaha keyboard, a four track tape machine and a very basic mixing desk (can you tell? Yes you can). It’s possible that I should have spent more of this time making friends instead of alone in my bedroom experimenting with tape loops, but there we are. What’s done is done.

The second was for Swimmer One’s first album The Regional Variations – the music for that one was mainly written by Hamish, although I wrote the lyrics (which are completely different to the words in the original, I just revived the title because I liked it). I remember being especially pleased with this song title. I always was when I thought I’d come up with the kind of title that the Pet Shop Boys or Sparks might use. The Pet Shop Boys, in particular, have always been fans of the gratuitously long song title (This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave, You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk etc).

Basements, obviously, are where terrible things frequently happen in horror movies, and occasionally in real life too. Alongside attics, they’re great metaphors for dark secrets and ugly, destructive truths. The Swimmer One song is about an unwanted confession that drives two people apart. The earlier song’s narrator is less weary and more idealistic, perhaps – I think you can tell that they’re a bit younger  – and more willing to venture into an unknown, underground place with the person they’re addressing, ‘as you long as you will hold my hand’.

The Swimmer One lyric is one of my best, I think – it gives you just enough information to draw your own conclusions, but is ambiguous enough to be open to lots of interpretations. It’s also restrained – a lot of meaning packed into just a few words. I wish I’d done that more often.

There are lots more of these teenage home recordings here if you’re interested, including a really terrible one I made when I was about 14. In my head it sounded like the Human League. In reality it sounded like a weird boy shouting into a tape recorder.

Day 12: Drowning Nightmare 2

We’re now on to Drowning Nightmare 2, from side two of The Regional Variations (not that it strictly had a side two, being a CD-only album, but in my head it does).

I think songs are often at their most interesting when the narrator is a completely unsympathetic figure. It’s a challenge to one of the main conventions of songwriting, which is that songs should reflect our own emotional lives and offer some sort of comfort. If songs didn’t do this, after all, we would hardly spend whole days listening to them on the radio.

There are, of course, lots of songs in which a singer confesses to doing something awful (usually breaking someone’s heart rather than, say, committing crimes) but the point of these is usually redemption. You are supposed to like and relate to the singer more because they have been honest enough to confess to their misdeeds, just as you would (hopefully) do yourself.

And so a song that offers no comfort to the listener – or redemption for its narrator – can be quite a transgressive thing. If you don’t hear many of these, it’s probably partly because songs (more so than plays or novels) are generally assumed to reflect the personality of the singer, and few songwriters want the world to think they’re terrible people – most performers, after all, want to be liked.

Drowning Nightmare 2, though, is one such song. A man is walking into the river Clyde in Glasgow, presumably to his death. The narrator of the song is one of a group of people who, instead of intervening, are just watching this spectacle play out before going for chips and cheese. At the end the narrator expresses the hope that the whole experience will help him sleep better.

The song was inspired by a few different things. I’d been going to the National Review of Live Art, at which people like Franko B were putting their bodies through painful experiences for a paying audience in the name of art. I’d also been listening to 1. Outside by David Bowie, a dystopian concept album set in a world where a subculture of underground artists are murdering and mutilating people and presenting the results as art. So I was thinking about complicity in suffering. It’s not clear in the song whether the man walking into the Clyde is some sort of artist, drowning himself in a kind of extreme conceptual art performance (perhaps as part of NRLA, which was just a couple of streets away at the Arches), or whether the audience on the shore has just decided to treat this act as if it’s a piece of art, in which, to quote the lyric, he ‘became something more than a drowned man’. The question, I suppose, is whether one of these scenarios is any better than the other.

I haven’t written many songs like this – I prefer writing songs that are comforting, partly for the sake of my own mental health – but it can be fun to give it a go. I can’t quite remember but I suspect this one was influenced by Momus, a few of whose songs are about people doing terrible things for inexcusable reasons – like the narrator of Trust Me I’m a Doctor, who is attempting to justify the sexual abuse of his patients. I remember how shocking and compelling I found that song when I first heard it, and how I then listened to it on repeat. It’s not a song you tend to hear on the radio, for all sorts of obvious reasons.

Listening back to Swimmer One’s first album, I suspect I was a better songwriter when I wasn’t trying to write something that might get played on the radio. I also suspect we were often at our best as a band when we weren’t over-thinking things. A late addition to our first album, Drowning Nightmare 2 came together very quickly – a short guitar and drum machine sketch Hamish recorded before we had even met, to which we added very little, just a vocal and an electric piano part by me, which carried on beyond the end of the demo to create a new coda (the part that begins ‘I was so sick of all this shallowness…’). It was all it needed, really.

Day 11: The Balance Company

Like a lot of Swimmer One songs, The Balance Company started life as a rough instrumental recording by Hamish that we then developed together. I remember being keen to do something with this one because I thought we could make it sound a bit like Franz Ferdinand or the Killers, who were new and exciting at the time, and therefore we might have a ‘hit’. This was often my instinct when writing Swimmer One songs. Perversely, this instinct was coupled with another, counterproductive fear of making any of the lyrics or titles too ‘obvious’, and therefore coming up with titles like Largs Hum (a reference that will probably mean nothing to you unless you live in Largs or have an obsessive interest in unexplainable low frequency noises) or indeed The Balance Company. What the hell is a balance company? I wish I knew.

With hindsight, I can now see that my instincts were topsy turvy. What I should have been aspiring to do is make music that sounded like nothing else you’d heard before, with lyrics that felt familiar and were therefore accessible and relatable. Like, you know, Bjork or Kate Bush. As opposed to a band you haven’t heard of who occasionaly sound a bit like Franz Ferdinand.

A disclaimer: Hamish might well describe the creation of this song – and indeed all of our songs – quite differently. I’m pretty sure he wasn’t trying to make something that sounded like Franz Ferdinand or The Killers (more likely his reference points were Roxy Music or Neu). But then his instincts always tended to be better than mine. I suspect that a lot of our best songs were good, at least in part, because I had an idea and he said no.

Anyway, this is another Swimmer One song (like National Theatre) that I struggle to love largely because I wish my contribution had been different. It was almost good – inspired by Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire, I’d been wondering how a company of angels might operate. Would they enjoy their jobs, given all the pain and tragedy in the world that they were clearly failing to fix? Would it be deeply frustrating a lot of the time? What would they feel they’d achieved? ‘Balance’ was the best answer I could come up with – as with so many jobs, if the successes just about balanced out the failures they might feel ok about it. Hence the Balance Company. However I suspect that a pop lyric that takes almost a whole paragraph to explain probably isn’t doing its job.

Daniel’s film for this song is another example of other people’s instincts being better than mine. I turned up at Out of the Blue in Leith wearing basically whatever clean clothes I could find that morning, thinking that if I appeared in the film at all it would be fleetingly and in the background. The people doing 90 per cent of the performing would be the theatre company Highway Diner, who were basically devising a theatre performance in the course of one day, on film. To link it all together, Daniel then decided I should sing the song straight to camera. Since I lived in Glasgow there wasn’t enough time to go and get changed, so the clothes I was in would have to do. Of course Daniel ended up using loads of this footage, prominently showcasing the not very nice cream jumper I happened to be wearing that day. I would have much preferred almost anything else in my wardrobe to be immortalised on film, but there we are.

On the plus side, there’s a bit in this film where I’m sitting on some old car seats with my future wife, which will be a nice memento for our children one day. Look kids, here’s Dad pretending to drink tea from an empty mug and Mum pretending to be dead in a road accident.

Day 10: National theatre

20440_283270266659_1574277_n

I still associate National Theatre with failure, which is a shame because it’s quite a good song, but there we are. I have a strong memory of phoning Hamish, my Swimmer One bandmate, very late in the Regional Variations recording process and possibly quite late at night, and tearfully insisting that the lyric wasn’t good enough and that we should either re-record the vocal completely or leave it off the album. I remember I wanted to rename it something like Everything we have will soon be underwater and him saying, quite reasonably, that the lyric was fine as it was and that anyway there were already at least two songs on the album about things being underwater, and me not being able to argue with that.

Another strong memory of this song is having a drink at the (sadly missed) Arches in Glasgow in 2006 with Vicky Featherstone, the first artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland. Vicky had come to see We Just Make Music For Ourselves, a show we’d just made with a theatre collective called Highway Diner. Anyway, Vicky suggested we should perform the song at the NTS’s launch party. I got very excited about this, because it seemed like exactly the sort of thing the Pet Shop Boys would get to do, and said yes immediately. And then a few days later Vicky withdrew the offer, on the grounds that as well as being in a band I was also arts editor for the Scotsman newspaper so it might not be appropriate. I remember feeling quite gutted about this, given that I didn’t even want to work at the Scotsman any more because I’d much rather be in a successful band. I bet this didn’t happen to Neil Tennant when he was at Smash Hits, I probably thought. Given how little money we ever made from The Regional Variations, I’m glad I didn’t give up the day job. At the time though I was still in the grip of my wannabe pop star fantasies so couldn’t quite see it that way.

I can now see that there was probably something deeper going on here, which is that National Theatre was, at its heart, a love song inspired by a relationship that, by the time we got round to recording it, was foundering. I’m not sure I even knew or had accepted this at the time, but the fact that I wanted to rename the song Everything we have will soon be underwater does suggest that my subconscious was trying to tell me something. Anyway, it’s only quite recently that I’ve come close to detaching myself from this song enough to enjoy it and appreciate the lyric, which has some reasonably insightful things to say about a culture in which turning your emotional life into a public performance is regarded as normal (the ‘national theatre’ of the title was reality TV, but it could also be Facebook or Instagram).

I often wonder about this aspect of songwriting. What happens if you write a sincerely meant love song but by the time it’s released you don’t feel that way anymore? There must be loads of examples of this. I imagine you just have to find a way to separate yourself from it – and actually you need to do that to an extent with all songs anyway, since they belong to other people’s imaginations once they’re out into the world – but it must be a difficult process.

Anyway, if there are people out there in the world who love and relate to National Theatre, great. But I’m still ambivalent about this song. (With apologies to Hamish, who did some really great work on it and has never seemed that bothered what the songs are actually about as long as the lyrics sound good. Although I’m quietly proud of the fact that we had a song called National Theatre on an album called The Regional Variations, in much the same way as I salute Girls Aloud for having a song called Biology on an album called Chemistry (I still think they missed a trick by not releasing a remix album or video collection called Physics).

Day 9: But my heart is broken

But My Heart Is Broken is probably Swimmer One’s best known song, thanks to its appearance in a 2009 film called Spread, starring Ashton Kutcher and directed by David Mackenzie (who just made The Outlaw King). I was very excited about this at the time; I’d really liked David Mackenzie’s previous films, Young Adam and The Last Great Wilderness, and this was his first American film, with a big movie star in the lead role, so seemed likely to get a lot of attention. At last, I thought (again), this is our moment!

Except that Spread, sadly, didn’t do very well. The number of different titles it was given in various countries – L.A. Gigolo, Toy Boy, Oh yeah, American Playboy, Jogando com Prazer, Love, Sex and Celebrity and S-Lover, as well as plain old Spread – suggests nobody knew quite what to do with it. In the UK it trickled into cinemas between Christmas and New Year, presumably in search of a niche market desperate to escape anything festive. It’s a bit of an oddity, a film set in LA but soundtracked by various Scottish bands, about a not very likeable person having lots of loveless sex before falling for an equally unlikeable person who leaves him for someone she doesn’t love. The film then ends with Ashton feeding a mouse to an African bullfrog.

It looks beautiful though, and made good use of our song – appropriately, it comes in at the moment that Ashton’s heart gets broken, although it always annoyed me a bit that they faded us out before the chorus. Luckily, someone later took it upon themselves to make a video of the whole song with footage from Spread. which has been viewed about 100,000 times on YouTube (the version linked to above is a lower quality copy of the original, which got taken down presumably for copyright reasons). This alone probably resulted in more Swimmer One sales than any promotional material we put out ourselves, and helped finance our second album, so thank you whoever you are.

David Mackenzie went on to make Perfect Sense, one of my favourite films – partly because I like Max Richter’s soundtrack so much – so I feel like we’re in good company.

If I was to revisit this song, I’d like to take out a lot of the words in the first section. I hadn’t realised this until recently, but I had a tendency in Swimmer One to write too many words for songs where the music was mostly written by Hamish, in an egotistical attempt to make my presence felt more. Hamish was generally quite good at spotting this and gently persuading me to cut things back a bit, but this song feels like a classic example of lyrical over-indulgence on my part. The music in the first section is pretty much exactly as Hamish originally wrote it, only with better drums (also by him), and I put so many words on top of it – with two different voices competing for attention – that you can’t actually make some of them out. The words also distract your attention from a really good guitar riff – which, on some devious level, was probably my intention. Conspicuously, the bit of music that I mostly wrote (the ‘my heart is broken’ section when the strings come in) has only four words in it. To my embarrassment, it took me years to notice I was doing this. Sorry Hamish.

A footnote: years later, I discovered that a film journalist I know called Siobhan Synnot was going to interview Ashton Kutcher, so I asked her to pass on a copy of Swimmer One’s second album with a note essentially saying ‘thanks for helping to pay for this’. She tells me that she did. What he made of it I have no idea.

Day 8: Drowning nightmare 1

Drowning Nightmare 1 was the opening song of Swimmer One’s first album, The Regional Variations. (There’s also a Drowning Nightmare 2, but we’ll come to that later). Conventional wisdom says you should put your strongest, most immediately arresting song up front so you reel in your listeners straight away, which is why so many pop albums open with a hit single. I tend to prefer opening songs that act as a prologue, beckoning you in and setting the scene rather than hitting you over the head with a big hook: whether they be understated prologues like September from David Sylvian’s Secrets of the Beehive or Festive Road from the Divine Comedy’s first album Liberation, or knowingly OTT prologues like the Orchestral Intro from Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach, or Suite II Overture from Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid. It suggests confidence, I think. And it’s always better to come across as confident than to come across as needy.

Drowning nightmare 1 is neither an obviously understated prologue nor an overstated one. I was probably thinking of album openers like Skin & Bones by the Sundays and Is This It by the Strokes (albums that could have opened with Here’s Where The Story Ends and The Modern Age but chose to put those songs second – now that’s confidence). But the song does have an unusual structure that feels more like an intro than a complete piece – there’s a verse, another verse, then something that sounds like it’s going to be the chorus but turns not to be, then something else that sounds like it might be the chorus but turns out to be the ending. And then it’s over, prompting the question ‘ok, now what?’ (Largs Hum is what.)

It’s one of my favourite Swimmer One songs, and also one of our darkest – the nightmare it describes is about being on a TV chat show which for some reason is being filmed on a sinking ship, with a host who continues to ask his guests banal, intrusive and increasingly explicit questions about their sex lives even as the whole room fills up with water. The audience, meanwhile, is so absorbed in the spectacle that nobody seems to have noticed that they’re all about to die. Over a decade on, I think it’s still a pretty good metaphor for the times we live in, in which we obsess over celebrities and pop culture while stumbling towards a global environmental catastrophe in which sea levels are likely to rise to a point where they engulf thousands of us. * As I write this, Venice is in the midst of its own drowning nightmare.

* Yes, I’m aware of the irony of making this point in a self-indulgent song blog.

A wee footnote. Like various other Swimmer One and Seafieldroad songs, Drowning nightmare 1 has had a second life in recent years as trailer music for the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival; every SMHAF trailer since 2015 has featured one of our songs, which pleases me a lot. In fact it’s now my ambition to get every single song Swimmer One ever released into a trailer. Between SMHAF and a couple of other festivals/arts events we’re already about a quarter of the way there. If you’ve got a festival you need trailer music for, do get in touch.

Day 7: Cloudbusting

Cloudbusting, released in 2006 as a double A side with Largs Hum, was Swimmer One‘s only cover version, unless you count Heroes, which we performed for the first dance at our friends Kirstin and Alan’s ‘not wedding’ (a big party celebrating the fact that they weren’t getting married) but never quite got round to recording properly.

Although… technically Cloudbusting is two cover versions, since we threw in a bit of Lovesong by the Cure at the end. Or, depending on how you look at it, it’s three cover versions, since the arrangement Hamish came up with was a bit of a nod to Something Good by Utah Saints.

In hindsight it might have been sensible to include Cloudbusting on our first album, given that it was one of our most popular songs (even acknowledged on the original song’s Wikipedia page, which makes me happy). The recorded version is notable for a lead vocal by our friend Cora Bissett, who I first met at an album launch by her band Swelling Meg; I thought they were brilliant, told her as much, and we kept in touch. Later I heard that Cora had mostly given up on music and was focusing on theatre. What a shame, I thought, she’s such a good singer, we should make a single for her given that we’re an up and coming band who are probably going to be famous soon. And so we did.

Either I didn’t know the whole rags-to-riches-to-rags story of Cora’s former band Darlingheart at that point, or I just hadn’t been listening properly because I was so caught up in my own ambitions (and specifically my vainglorious idea that we could somehow be the Pet Shop Boys to Cora’s Dusty Springfield, or the Massive Attack to her Tracey Thorn, forgetting that you need to be an actual pop success yourself before you can help relaunch someone else’s pop career). Anyway, given that Cora is now a multi-award-winning theatre director, I’m very glad she stuck to the path she’d chosen, but recently it made me happy to see Cora revisiting her musical roots – and singing on stage again – in her show What Girls Are Made Of. (An aside: we still have some rough recordings of three or four songs by Cora, made a few years later, which we’d hoped might become an album produced by us, a project that stalled mainly because we were all too busy with other things; one day maybe…).

I had various other daft ideas around that time, including an EP that I thought it would be funny to call Swimmer One Meet Girls. This would have consisted of Cloudbusting, a remix we’d done of Never Enough by Astrid Williamson, and a couple of other tracks we never got round to recording. In the end we came up with a better plan, which was to ask our friend Laura to join the band. We first met Laura when we performed at a brilliant cabaret/live art night she ran in Edinburgh called Silencio, one of our first ever gigs. Later we made a theatre show at the Arches in Glasgow with her company Highway Diner, which was a lot of fun and ended up taking us to Italy. Later still, Laura and I got married, had three children, and moved to the Outer Hebrides, but that’s another story.

Laura singing Cloudbusting would later become a highlight of our live shows. We didn’t do many of these so there’s not much footage around, but our friend Susie did once film us doing Cloudbusting on her phone, at the Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh. We’re at a funny angle for the first few seconds before she remembers to turn her phone sideways.

Our version of Cloudbusting has been put on YouTube a few times by various people. My favourite is the one that describes it as ‘Cloudbusting – remix’, as if we had somehow found a plug-in that makes Kate Bush sound Scottish.

 

 

Day 6: Largs Hum

20440_283270321659_1154863_n

Largs Hum was the song that always opened Swimmer One‘s live shows, on the grounds that a recorded voice suddenly saying ‘Tobermory!’ quite loudly in a Scottish accent is a very effective way of grabbing an audience’s attention (as well as testing whether the sound levels are right before the song actually starts). The voice belongs to Rodney Relax, an Edinburgh poet (and, at the time, Hamish’s postman) whose claims to fame include the fact that there is a statue of him – as a young punk with a mohican – in Edinburgh’s People’s Story Museum.

It’s probably Swimmer One’s signature song. It is, as far as I know, the only one of our songs to have its own spoof (Scotland the Brave by London novelty punk band The New Royal Family). It also led to my one and only appearance on the Fred Macaulay show on Radio Scotland; they were doing a feature on the actual Largs hum – a constant, oppressive noise whose cause has eluded experts for years – and, inevitably, their producer ended up Googling our song.

Disappointingly for Fred, the song doesn’t have much to say about the real Largs hum. More significant sources of inspiration were The X-Files and It’s Grim Up North by the KLF, as well as my love of various Pet Shop Boys songs in which Chris Lowe reads out lists of things. The idea, loosely, is that the person singing the song is convinced that the Largs hum is evidence of some sort of dastardly conspiracy (‘does the government know? do the churches know?’), and that the fact that he can hear it makes him a target, so he is travelling around the coastline of Scotland to find out the truth before it’s too late. In the middle eight he has a moment of clarity/psychosis, where he ends up in something resembling Brigadoon (‘a village appears as the mist clears’) before he sets off on his way again, eventually ending up back where he started. The lyric grew out of Hamish’s original rough recording – the rhythmic pulse that opens the song, plus a bit of guitar – which I loved from the first moment I heard it. It felt oppressive, a bit overwhelming at times, and yet you could dance to it. It was also oddly Scottish, as if Massive Attack were trying to make ceilidh music (now there’s a review quote I wish someone had written). If hearing it for the first time hadn’t coincided with me reading a newspaper article about the Largs hum, the song might well have ended up being about a rave in an abandoned tea cake factory / cargo ship on the Firth of Forth.

Largs Hum might be our best song actually, and has given me lots of fond memories. There was the single review that weirdly but flatteringly praised my ‘Scots Bowie’ accent (probably the only time anyone has decided my singing sounds Scottish – maybe my voice’s proximity to Rodney’s created some sort of magical audio illusion). And I always loved the audience’s reaction when ‘TOBERMORY’ suddenly boomed out of the speakers without warning. Sometimes they would nearly spill their drinks. Sometimes they’d laugh (nervously or derisively – either was fine with me). But they certainly never ignored us. I think my favourite memory though is of  the gig we played in Islington when someone shouted ‘Stoneybridge!’ along to the music – a brilliant heckle.

 

 

 

Day 5: How could something like that be love

I wonder how many people have actually heard How Could Something Like That Be Love, the second B-side of Swimmer One’s second single? One or two people still like it, evidently, since somebody has gone to the trouble of putting the demo version on YouTube.

I actually prefer the demo version, even though the single version had some lovely backing vocals by Cora Bissett (now an award-winning theatre director, back then the former lead singer in Darlingheart); I would embed that version here too but I can’t actually find it online, although if you’re curious you can still download it from Amazon. The version on this page is from an unreleased (at the time) EP called No Running, No Smoking, No Bombing: an Introduction to Swimmer One.

I really dislike the phrase ‘demo version’, and am only using it here because it’s a convenient, widely understood shorthand for a rough, unfinished recording. I dislike it because it implies an auditioning process, suggesting that you need to demonstrate your talent to somebody with power over you, someone from a record company probably. Hamish and I never had much patience with that – we just make music for ourselves, after all – and I often wish there was a better shorthand for a rough, unpolished recording, since I often prefer these to things that sound more ‘finished’. I’m a big fan of Babybird’s five home-recorded albums (especially I Was Born A Man), the incredibily prolific Momus, and Red House Painters’ rough early recordings.

When I first heard I Was Born A Man, around 1995, I was at university in Stirling, and decided I should found a new record label called Bedroom Records, which would release compilation albums featuring eccentric, maverick songwriters who made quirky, inspired music in their bedrooms, according to their own rules (people like me, as I saw it). I recruited a couple of friends to the cause and we put an advert in the NME calling for submissions. Hundreds of cassettes arrived in the post. Most of them were absolutely terrible, with only three or four, to my great disappointment, being interesting enough for the album we’d hoped to release. So we abandoned the idea – a blessing, I suspect, since the internet would probably have made Bedroom Records redundant within three or four years anyway. We threw all the cassettes in the bin or taped over them. If you’re one of the people who sent us one, I’m really sorry.

I’ve gone off on a tangent here. How Could Something Like That Be Love is a song about an ex pop star who has retreated into the countryside after some sort of a scandal, written from the perspective of their loyal partner, who has had to nurse them through some sort of unspecified illness. In this version the pop star seems to have since died, in the final version the lyric is slightly different and they seem to be still alive. It’s strange listening to this song now. I’m not sure why I wanted to tell this particular story, although it’s perhaps quite telling that we’re only on our second single and I’m already writing about a failed pop star fading from view. I quite like the lyric though, especially the bit about the nosy neighbour who “thought he recognised you from some cheesy one off pop hit, ironically the wrong one”. Ah yes, the fleeting nature of fame.

Day 4: Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe was one of two B-sides on Swimmer One’s second single, Come On, Let’s Go!. By this time we’d learned not to spend a ridiculous amount of time making B-sides and this one was recorded very quickly. Ironically, it perhaps had a bigger impact on my life than anything else Swimmer One ever recorded. I quite often find myself telling people what has now become known as ‘the Dave and Kay story’.

The song – for want of a better word – consists of a beautiful piece of ambient music by Hamish (here indulging his life-long love of Brian Eno) accompanied by three slightly different recordings of the same monologue, about a couple called Dave and Kay, ‘upwardly mobile professional types’ from an unnamed big city who go on a weekend snowboarding trip and consider never coming back. The recordings were three alternative takes recorded for an advert, and the script was full of the kind of hilariously bland aspirational language you only ever hear in cheesy commercials, but for some reason we became hypnotised by them. The more versions we listened to, the more it seemed as if something genuinely profound had happened to Dave and Kay, and Daniel Warren’s dream-like film – made up of time lapse footage from three different locations – captured that feeling very well.

I liked that the ‘Lake Tahoe’ in Dan’s film was clearly not the real Lake Tahoe, or even in America, or even a lake. Instead, a beach somewhere in Britain – filmed over a whole day as the tide falls, rises and falls again – seemed to represent a fantasy wilderness, awe-inspiring and empty, romanticised by two city dwellers as ‘the kind of place I could spend the rest of my life’. Significantly, I think, the film ends not on that beach but back in the city – a different city, in fact. Did Dave and Kay ever start that new life in Lake Tahoe? Not likely. It was, clearly, just a fantasy. And so I never asked Dan where the beach was. I felt the film would be more poignant if I didn’t know. It was what it represented that was important.

The year Dan made Lake Tahoe, 2004, was also the year I met Laura, who later joined Swimmer One and is now my wife. We must have watched the film quite a few times back then, but saw nothing of ourselves in it (we didn’t have our own parking spots, for a start, or even our own car). It was only years later, after we had children, that we began to plot our own more modest escape from our more modest city existence. We looked at houses and little patches of land in Bute, Skye, Arran and near Aberfoyle, before finally settling on Uig on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis. We’d never been there before but fell in love with it pretty much immediately.

After we bought our croft, Laura and I began telling friends on Facebook how we’d found the kind of place we could spend the rest of our lives. In response, Daniel posted a link to that film from 2004. For a moment I was puzzled. Why was he sending me something I’d watched dozens of times before? And then, for the first time, I realised. Uig beach – two minutes’ walk from the croft we had just bought – was Lake Tahoe.

Did we move to Uig because a film subliminally planted the idea in my mind over the course of 12 years? Was I, on some level, hypnotised into wanting to move there by the constant repetition of the Lake Tahoe story, as I recorded that piece of music and listened back to it? I honestly don’t know. Something had clearly sunk in though. Two years before I visited Lewis for the first time, I wrote and recorded Isle of Lewis, a love song based around a description of an imaginary road trip to the island. Eventually I changed the title to Islands of the North Atlantic but the song is about exactly what my family and I went on to do, driving a camper van to an island in the north of Scotland, laying the foundations of a new life.

That, however, is not the spookiest part. A few months after we properly moved to Lewis we bought a house. We discovered that our neighbours were another couple from the mainland who had moved to Uig looking for a different kind of life. They were, of course, called Dave and Kay.