The cosmology of song writing

cosmos-500

Song writers have to be prepared to answer these two questions ad nauseam:

“How do you go about writing songs?” and “What comes first, the words or the music?”

I recently watched a documentary about the Eagles (yes, I know, but they were good really) in which Glenn Frey, (or was it Don Henley?) spoke about sharing a house with Jackson Browne, and hearing him get up in the morning and work away for hours and hours at the same bit of a song, over and over. Don, (or Glenn?) was made to realise that song-writing is principally about hard work and perseverance. So that’s one answer to the first question.

To learn more, should you really want to, I’d recommend reading Jimmy Webb’s book, Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting. It is a superb in-depth exploration of the whole business.Jimmy WebbAs for me, I was niggling away at ditty this morning and suddenly struck by an analogy as I stared at a screenful of words, half-lines, rhymes and suchlike ascii scribble. It was this:  my songs seem to come together in the same way that stars and planets coalesce from cosmic dust. Everything whirls around in a cloud for ages until little clumps form, which attach to, and sometimes detach from, each other. Eventually a lyrical solar system is formed. In the old days the ‘universe’ in which this process happened was a note-book with pages of scribble. Nowadays it’s a word document. The ‘cloud’ is made up of single words, short phrases, perhaps a couplet or two. They expand, join up, move around, collide and shatter, disappear completely or if luck is in, form into solid pieces of lyric. These pieces may then suggest a larger structure, a form of verses, chorus, bridges and so on.

Although this process can happen over a day or so, more usually it seems to take a lot longer, though not perhaps as long as it took our galaxy to form. I have unfinished songs which I began decades ago. Space junk, cosmic debris. They circle round and appear in close orbit every year or so, then disappear into the black again. I don’t expect them to ever fall to Earth.

 

As to the second question, here’s the thing sometimes the tune comes first, sometimes the words, but usually they arrive in bits together. So no need to ask that question again. Ever.

 

 

 

A Harrier

A song dedicated to the beautiful North Norfolk coast and to bird watchers everywhere. Ruth and I knocked this up one holiday. The inspiration was the sight of a horse staring over the fence as we drove along; he was obviously counting the cars on the North Norfolk coast road. With apologies to Paul Simon.

Cley

A HARRIER

Give us a cuddle, we’ll have our packed lunches together.

I’ve got some Nescafe here in my flask.

So we bought a pack of Wagon Wheels,

And Mr Kipling’s Cakes,

And walked off to look for a harrier.

 

“Cathy”, I said as we boarded the Hopper in Titchwell,

“Hunstanton seems like a dream to me now.”

It took me three days to hitchhike from Sheringham,

I’ve come to look for a harrier.

 

Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces-

She said the man in the camouflage hat was a twit.

I said, ‘Be careful, have you seen the size of his camera?’

 

Toss me a Jaffa Cake, I think there’s one in my knapsack.

‘You ate the last one an hour ago’.

So I looked at some Garganey,

She claimed Temmink’s Stint,

And the geese grazed out in an open field.

 

“Cathy I’m lost”, I said, though I knew she was knitting.

“I’m empty inside, I could fancy a pie.”

Counting the cars on the North Norfolk Coast Road

They’ve all come to look for a harrier.

The Ghost of Lady Bennet

This song was written for the Living Archive Band’s radio ballad The Horse and the Tractor, but was not included when the ghost story fell victim to the editorial axe- a not inappropriate metaphor! The song intertwines two stories- the murder of Lady Grace Bennet at Calverton Manor, Buckinghamshire in 1694, and the childhood fears of Richard Fountaine who was brought to live in Calverton Manor after his family had bought the farm and the house. Not surprisingly, having heard rumours of hauntings, the boy was not happy, as he recounted much later in life:-

Richard Fountaine talking to Roger Kitchen in 2009

Manor House

Grace Bennet was widowed when her husband Simon died in 1682, and thereafter she lived alone as Lady of the Manor in Calverton. She was widely disliked for her ‘mean and covetous’ ways, and being ‘a terror to the village’ she would have anyone found gathering firewood on her land severely beaten.

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Farewell, old friend

No going back. I have sold my fiddle.

My 19th century German workshop Maggini copy, with two bands of purfling front and back, and an extra turn in the scroll (apparently not one of Maggini’s signatures).

In thirty years together we have seen and done a lot: from Castlethorpe Village Hall to Westminster Hall, from Leicester to Leipzig, countless ceilidhs, innumerable morris stands and nearly as many pubs as there are stars in the sky. I ought to be sad, but I truly am not. I keep saying that l’d rather all my instruments were being played and loved rather than hanging on my wall, and I mean it. It isn’t even leaving the village, so I could ask to see it every so often if I really wanted to. It is in good hands. So long!

Old friend

The Valley of the Shadow

Arras, April 9th 1917

Today marks the centenary of the opening of the British and Canadian offensive at Arras, on the Western Front.

Hawtin Mundy of New BrHawtin Mundyadwell, Buckinghamshire, fought and was captured in the battle. His powerful memories were recorded late in life, inspiring community drama and song that ties modern Milton Keynes and its inhabitants to its past.

Here is a part of Hawtin’s moving testimony:

Hawtin’s description of the battlefield at Arras was carefully turned into song by Paul Clark for the play Days of Pride, and has never failed to move audiences each of the many times it has been sung since. Continue reading

Slipjazz

Fresh old music from the depths of StudioBlend:

I named this tune years ago. If only  I’d known then what would happen when you search on ‘Slipjazz’ I might have had second thoughts. Ah well… Continue reading

Bells

My family and other campanologists…

Image result for Whitechapel Bell Foundry

We have an old bell sally at home, tied to the balusters upstairs and hanging down into the hall. When I was still repairing violins, customers (children usually, but not exclusively) would ask what it was. Continue reading

Shining, Sheltermore & Samuel Palmer

Two years ago I set myself the task of finishing off a number of tracks which had been hanging around for some time. Here are the resulting two albums. Sheltermore is pretty folky (after the folk-rock of the first track), while Shining is much more layered, instrumental and personal.

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Facebook… resistance is (apparently) futile.

Facebook, eh? What’s that all about? I decided to find out…

I have resisted the idea of signing up for Facebook for years. “What? You’re not on Facebook?” folks would say. “How come? You some kind of weirdo?” Continue reading