How I wrote ‘Farewell To The Fairground’ by White Lies’ Charles Cave
The Killers, Arcade Fire and the Get Carter soundtrack are just some of the influences behind this late 00s classic
Last year found White Lies celebrating the tenth anniversary of their debut album, To Lose My Life. Balancing elements of post-punk, electro and indie rock, the core trio of Harry McVeigh, Charles Cave and Jack Lawrence-Brown laid down one of the last classics of a decade which now seems like mainstream guitar music’s last hurrah. A UK No 1 (and certified Gold), it has now been given the full reissue treatment. A new 10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition features new artwork and a selection of B-sides, an alternative version of Unfinished Business, remixes, live tracks and unreleased demos.
As well being an album in the truest sense, one which rewards those who still listen from start to finish, To Lose My Life contained a quartet of singles which became mainstays on UK rock/indie radio stations. Each of Unfinished Business, Death, To Lose My Life and Farewell To The Fairground showed a different side of White Lies, and here bassist Charles Cave talks us through a song which came to him surprisingly easily…
“I was sitting on my ex-girlfriend’s bed and, for some reason, I had my acoustic guitar with me. I was probably just playing palm-muted 16th notes as a kind of wrist exercise – the way teenagers with a taste for metal do. I started climbing up from a C# and the verse lyrics and melody just came. I will have noted them down on paper. No sooner as a verse was there, the chorus just emerged. It’s a chord progression we have used in other songs, and again climbs up from the A power chord. The song seems to be constantly climbing up towards something, which marries well with the lyrics about escaping something; a metaphysical place that can no longer offer us what it once did. Okay, the ‘fairground’ is a fairly trite illustration for that, but I was 17.
“I should admit now that this song was actually written before we became White Lies. I think it had about a year’s existence (and became a demo we are going to release for the first time on our To Lose My Life deluxe vinyl) before White Lies was born.
“Anyway, the next day I went to see Harry [McVeigh] with these two sections of the song, and an idea that we should have a middle section break- down a little bit like All These Things That I’ve Done by The Killers. Their ‘I’ve got soul…’ heavily influenced our ‘Keep on running…’
“Harry had an old version of Logic, but at that point didn’t really know how to use it to much productivity. Neither did I. We tried programming the backing for the song, but I remember it was pretty robotic-sounding. However, we knew the kind of drumbeat that would match the sixteenth bass pattern. It’s a kind of No Cars Go [Arcade Fire], but also a sped-up Machine Gun [Portishead]. Both songs were in rotation around that time. Harry tinkered with some chords for our middle section and we plotted out that breakdown which has become a big part of any White Lies show.”
“Anyway, we then went to rehearse it with Jack and I seem to remember it coming together within a day at our practice room. We played it at the last two or three Fear Of Flying (our old band) gigs. I remember our sound engineer at the time coming over to stage after we played it for the first time at a soundcheck in Leeds. “That’s a proper song,” he said. He was known for his brutal, Northern honesty. So I think we all took that as a big thumbs-up.
“Skip forward maybe a year and we’re playing it to Ed Buller, producer, at his house as we did pre-production for our debut album. It was the only song from the Fear Of Flying days that we wanted to bring forward. But given that it was possibly the last song we wrote as Fear Of Flying, that makes sense. It was a transitional song.
“Ed decided we needed a hook for the intro (and outro). He played us the Get Carter soundtrack, and we made our own sampled instrument to match the kind of compressed and distorted piano, harpsichord twang heard in that film. I remember that riff coming almost instantly. The sound really inspired it.
“It is a song that has pretty much won over everyone that came into contact with it. It remains a massive highlight in our set maybe….13 years on (!?). Annoyingly, it’s an example of a song that took very little effort, in terms of the bare chords, lyrics and melody. It wrote itself on an acoustic guitar in a bedroom. Oh, if only they could all come like that”