How to Tackle ‘Lilith’

by John Chamberlain, John Chamberlain Art and Illustration, Leeds, UK

Each Saturday I would visit Stefan’s flat, a 221B Baker Street style building worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Since our decision to make a concept album we had egged each other on to regular meetings to discuss and make steps to create this progeny.

My natural inclination would be to turn towards the piano and Stefan’s would be to turn to electronics, music computer programmes and the bass guitar. Both of us are prone to getting mired in endless research and discussion of the possibilities for our creative projects. Particularly at the beginning of our meetings we would trawl YouTube and old books and magazines for visual and sonic inspiration.

We realised we needed a name. I wanted to make our music duo sound like a law firm so I suggested ‘Smith-Chamberlain Associates.’ However, we settled on the punchier ‘Beat the Devil,’ based on the teen horror book of the same name.

From teen horror novel to Pandora's Box logo . . .

From teen horror novel to Pandora’s Box logo . . .

Similarly we quickly came up with a logo with central Pandora’s Box illustration scanned and re-appropriated from a Victorian book.

With our initial identity sorted we need to decide how we would tackle the text of George Macdonald’s Lilith in musical form. We were unsure whether to make an adaptation very closely faithful to the book or whether we should use the text as a springboard for our own ideas. We initially printed out the whole book, highlighted certain words and extracts that particularly appealed. Then we made a wall plan with a post-it note for each chapter, noting down key appearances of characters and scenes which could then become songs and musical pieces.

We found ourselves ditching and editing chunks of the book and as a way of deference and apology to George Macdonald for such defacement, we decided that the finished album would include extracts and quotes from the original book in the sleeve notes. In defence of our approach, we realised that the album needed to exist in its own right apart from the original novel and if we felt that certain parts of the book jarred with the flow of the album, then they would have to go.

The continual joke of the project has been that ultimately the LILITH! album would eventually become a bloated west end musical upon which Stefan and I would become sickeningly rich without the need to make anything else. From that joke we thought we could take elements from the musical or theatre show or film, with spoken word extracts and narrative. We attempted to record some narrative; however, we couldn’t settle on anything that sounded authentic enough to the various characters in the book, so narrative became shelved for a while with the possibility of returning to it later. We realised that parts of the book would be best served as spoken word narration or written in album sleeve notes.

The most important realisation of the project is that we needed to see it as several multi-faceted projects of increasing ambition. In that way, we can see how far we can get within our limitations.

The first aim is to put together all existing musical material we’ve created and make a demo E.P. that would somehow put across our bigger and more imaginative ideas.

Eventually we will become the jewel-coated patricians we wish. . . . .

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