learning the craft
I learned the craft of songwriting in the 60's and 70's, which was a fine time to be a young, aspiring composer. The 'folk boom' was happening and songwriters such as Dylan, the Beatles, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were just beginning to find their voices; expressing emotions and viewpoints most people would never dare think, let alone sing in public. But it was ok with the protection of a guitar in front of you! We could rebel, be very rude to everyone and bare our souls in public with impunity. As a young man, I loved joining in with those apparantly free, angry, emotional voices and the beautiful, hopelessly naive songs we all sang.
Next of Kin - my first band
Along the way, I spent many happy hours learning the craft of songwriting by visiting and playing in the many UK folk clubs that were appearing and disappearing in the back rooms of pubs across the UK. They were strange places filled with expectancy in the smoke-filled, stout-tinged air as hundreds of would-be Simons, Jonis and Dylans queued up to do floor spot "carrying soft guitars in cardboard cases all night long" *. Floor spots were the 60's versions of open mic sessions; and there was a lot of real talent too. A lot of amazing, beautiful music was laid down back there.
Those were great times to form a band!
The phenomenal success of the Beatles opened the door for thousands of other bands to spring up and there were plenty of record agents and labels ready to put a contract on the table. Stories are rife of bands who unwittingly signed away a lifetime of royalties in those early days. On the back of this surge of interest, young singer songwriters found an even wider audience for their broken hearts and rages against the machine. Roy Harper recently said in a concert that his whole career as a singer songwriter probably only happened because of his song 'Nobody's got any money in the summer' that appeared on an Island Label compilation LP in the 60's.
Playing with other musicians is also a great incentive to actually write songs. In the 70's I spent night after night up until the early hours with my bottle of gin, a packet of rollups, my guitar and my notepad, churning out song after song for various bands I formed. There was nothing quite like the buzz of hearing a bunch of other musicians apparantly condoning and validating my middle-aged angst!
Inevitably, my songwriting changed as I grew older. The 60's, 70's and 80's were fine times to be young and carefree, but in the middle years a more serious tone seemed to come into things. Along with the surprise wrinkles and strange aches in the bones comes the stark realisation that the opportunity to create music fades fast. It seems the grim reaper is not holding a scythe at all, but a guitar case? This grim realisation inspired me to try and make some sense of it all through buddhism and various 'personal growth' movements. My songwriting reflected this and the songs became less of a way to impress listeners with all the musical tricks of the trade, but more of an attempt to make some sense of my three score years and ten.
At the turn of the century, something mellowed and got more rounded in me, and the lyrics and melodies of my songs began to reflect this. The songs I am writing now seem to be coming from somewhere different in me, I feel less attached to whether others like them or not, they feel more formed and 'ready' for singing somehow? I feel all those years emulating mentors like Paul, Joni, Dylan and the others, all those nights spent in smoke filled, ego-stroking, chaotic folk-clubs, were not wasted. They taught me how to write songs and gave me the confidence to find and grow my own way of writing songs.
These are exciting times; there is new public interest in singer-songwriters, all my stalwart songwriting heroes are in their 60's and 70's and stilll writing beautiful music; and new songs are arriving out of nowhere, just about enough for a new CD a year.
I feel I am writing on the crest of a wave of creativity I have been preparing for all my life and this coming decade promises to be a very fruitful time for me. I hope you also enjoy sharing some of my songs.
(last updated April 2016)
* Joseph - by Paul Simon