I wrote the backing for Rooftops—the marimbas, guitar, chords, drums and structure—in 2007 when I was working on Syncopated City. I thought it would be a song. I wrote a song and sang it and it was terrible. Over the years since then, I’ve given it to every vocalist I’ve ever worked with, all of whom politely tried to write to it, but it never worked. It wasn’t meant to be.
Fast-forward to 2018. After working with Steve Pycroft on the big band, and knowing that Steve is an incredible orchestrator, I sent it to him in a final attempt, and he wrote the amazing orchestral melodies you can hear. He sketched them in a program called Sibelius - it’s great for orchestrating but doesn’t sound ‘all that’.
The first thing that came to mind was to use a soprano operatic vocal, and I knew straight away it had to be Cydnei B. I went to Middlesex Polytechnic with her 1980-83 and she was amazing then—bat shit crazy like me—but she specialised in extended techniques, a kind of young version of Cathy Berberian. We used to do loads of minimalist stuff together; music, comedy, you name it. So I tracked Cydnei down in Nottingham, and she came to my studio for the day. Hairs on the back of my neck doesn’t do justice to how I felt when she started singing the parts.
I’d prepared a little trick in the studio as I felt this track was going down the Ennio Morricone path. I set up a basic spring reverb, which is two tins, each with a hook soldered onto the base, and a long spring connecting them. I put one tin by her mic, stretched the spring across the studio and miked it up with an old AKG 414. My nine-year-old son, The Secretary-General, started flicking the spring and you can hear that on the intro and outro. You can also hear Cydnei shrieking into it in the middle of the tune.
The icing on the cake was provided by Natus, an artist who appeared on New Blood 018 on Med School. He’s a violinist at the Royal College of Music, and he and his friends overdubbed live instruments on top of Steve Pycroft’s MIDI parts. I added a few layers of Spitfire orchestras and we had our sound.
I think this is the most unusual piece of Drum & Bass I’ve made, therefore it had to open the album. The title describes that moment when you climb on to the roof, take one last look at your world before you embark on the journey of building better worlds.