Track-by-Track // Dean McPhee – Witch’s Ladder
Track-by-Track // Dean McPhee – Witch’s Ladder

Track-by-Track // Dean McPhee – Witch’s Ladder

Dean McPhee Witchs Ladder

The Alchemist

I enjoy looking at old Alchemical art, symbols and emblems and they have a very powerful and mysterious atmosphere that I feel resonates with the mood of this track. This opening track to “Witch’s Ladder” consists of a sparse, folkish guitar melody at the start but then progresses into a looped riff with an octave bassline, over which I play a solo with EBow and slide. The track starts off with something fairly grounded, builds and progresses into something more otherworldly and sublime then returns back to earth again. In the words of director Harry Wheeler, the video that was filmed for “The Alchemist” expresses this by documenting a journey to “meet the sky”, culminating in drone footage of me playing on a foggy hillside on the edge of a quarry near my home in Bradford.

The Alder Tree

I wrote “The Alder Tree” back in March 2020 immediately after recovering from a fever and cough that left me ill for a few weeks about a week before the first lockdown. It was impossible at the time to know for sure whether I had Covid-19 due to no testing being available but I did test positive on another occasion later in the year and it was very similar, so I assume I had it back then too. I work in front line social care as a key worker so I was not in a position to avoid the virus and this piece of music is a reflection on the experience of being ill and recovering. Alder is a type of wood that grows around water and it symbolizes both resilience and protection. My guitar body is also made of this wood and this track is a reflection on how making and listening to music has given me the strength to overcome difficult experiences.

Red Lebanese

Red Lebanese is a nostalgic reference to an old school strain of resin from back in the 90’s which is known for its potent, spicy aroma and intoxicating body high. The track is a slow, deep drone tune with layers of EBow and digital delay which aims for a hypnotic, trance-inducing sound. It consists of a Freeze pedal drone over which an EBow melody is played on one string of the guitar. This is then processed through my loop pedal with the loops set to decay after a certain number of plays. I recorded it as a rough improvisation which I liked so much that I decided to recreate it and learn it exactly. Rather than learn it by heart as I usually would I made a basic score where I wrote down the relevant fret numbers and a symbol for the open low strings and used that as a reference when I recorded it.

Eskdale Path

The title of this track is a reference to the Wasdale Corpse Road in the Lake District – an area in the North of England which has some spectacularly beautiful countryside. A Corpse Road is the path taken by dead bodies in the past which were carried over the fells to be interned, in this case in nearby Eskdale. Many of these roads have supernatural stories attached to them and and in Eskdale there is a story that the ghost of a horse carrying the body of a dead woman haunts the road which I thought was a particularly evocative image. I find it interesting to read about the experiences of people who have come close to or briefly died and how they often report surprisingly positive, sometimes beautiful experiences. In creating this piece of music I was going for a mournful, transcendental and even joyful sound which reflects the journey of a body travelling across the incredible landscapes in this area to their final resting place, but also wanted to soundtrack their journey from the state of being alive to whatever awaits them beyond this world.

Witch’s Ladder

A Witch’s Ladder is a name ascribed to a piece of rope with feathers threaded through it which is believed by some to be a magical object. In the 19th century a so-called Witch’s Ladder was found in the loft of an old house and was assumed to be something connected to the occult. It was then put on show in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford along with other items labelled as “Magic and Witchcraft”, generating a debate amongst folklorists about what it was, with various competing theories about its uses and origins. In reality the majority of the claims made about the rope were false and it has most recently been suggested that it may actually have been a “sewel”, a tool used to lure and hypnotise deer. This track is the title track of “Witch’s Ladder” and closes the album, moving through a number of stages from free flowing unaccompanied guitar to various layers of ascending riffs, loops and basslines with solos over them. I am looking forward to playing out an extended version of this piece when I return to playing live in the near future.


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