Where do songs come from? There are as many answers as there are songwriters. Sometimes the music arrives first, and its emotional feeling, expressed by melody, harmony, rhythm leads to the lyrics and thus the meaning and expression of the song. Other times, words arrive first, either as a result of the preoccupations which I carry around, or sometimes less internally, as a result of real world events, or in collaborative situations, from other people’s worlds.

But sometimes, the song arrives joyously complete, words with their tune, perfectly popping into existence like a mushroom out of the grass. Actually finding mushrooms is something I’m quite good at, despite growing up in Croydon. I used to walk a mile or more to school after a long bus ride, and during those walks, whether rain or shine, my mind would be filled with inner symphonies. I’m sure that’s where my arrangement skills were born. I’ve often wondered whether personal music players are robbing a generation of their inner music, with a consequential loss of ideas, as the brain is given over to receiving music rather than creating it.

In the same vein, nobody walks any more. I spent 6 hours today just walking around London, some of it on Hampstead Heath in glorious late winter mud.

Art, literature, music, are all, like philosophy, intimately connected to our physical self-direction – walking. Walking seems of itself to provide a natural foundation for music, and I would list it as important an inspiration to music as the great emotional experiences of humanity, love, loss, lust, and the delight of the senses in all other aspects. I have known this from as far back as I can remember, and I recall my delight at finding it so beautifully expressed by Bruce Chatwin in his marvellous book, The Songlines.

Songwriting is a muscle which requires exercise. The more songs you write, the better at writing you become. Keeping a notebook is essential. Don’t let the blank page stare at you, get something written down, every day if possible, as long as you are not stale. My advice if you feel stale – go for a walk!

Finally, I try to live an ecologically-aware life, and within my livelihood, I frequently rescue good but unused ideas from past efforts and work them into fully-fledged songs. I also like taking discarded but viable music from elsewhere and growing it into something fresh and wonderful. In a writing context, this can mean a verbal phrase, a musical riff, a vocal line, a sampled recording, and this kind of collage is not only natural for me, but also a great way to root a song.

I’m not a huge fan of taking an old song wholesale and just constructing a new song over the loop as backing, karaoke-style, unchanged production except to add beats and beef up the bass; but I have been known to de-construct TV themes, nursery rhymes, obscure soul classics… It’s not, as they say, where you’re from, it’s where you’re at, or rather, where you end up at the end of your journey, that really matters, and it is perfectly possible to arrive somewhere original having begun with a blatant lift.

As T. S. Eliot said,

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.

Hampstead 2009

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Music for Podcasts

I know quite a bit about music podcasting. As a writer / producer I’m in a quite a good position because when non-writers need a piece of music for podcast, which means they need to be able to provide music with the correct license applied, they have to search for it online, whereas I can sit and compose.

In 2006 myself and some friends started the UK Podcasters Association and for two and half years, I ran this small but important new media organisation. It brought me into contact with much of the music industry from the BPI to AIM to off-the-radar labels and artists, and questions which I answered on panels, in business meetings and on the telephone were consistently on the topic of music podcast licensing.

But most importantly, because of podcasting I became friends with many independent media makers from all over the world, warm-blooded mammals who are busy inheriting the new media earth from the dinosaur corporations. These people are so many steps ahead of the game. Some podcasters continue to put out quality, personal radio-style programming to large and loyal audiences, amd others have graduated into commercial activities which have transformed part-time hobbies into thriving businesses.

When in January 2007 Big Brother racism row erupted, I wanted to write about it but not to cover the same old boring ground. I couldn’t help but think about Shilpa Shetty’s accountant, and how delighted he must be with the cash windfall. That muse took me into the realms of fantasy, and so I composed and produced a track specifically for one particular podcaster, Martin Devaughan, officially the UK’s first podcaster having sparked up sometime in October 2004.

In this slow-tempo sardonic rap, the accountant of Shilpa Shetty is obsessed with the size of his manhood, having paid too much attention to spam emails, and it takes a rare moment of enlightenment and a reminder of the advice of the Kama Sutra to restore his sense of proportion – almost. Martin the cheeky sod sped it up for his podcast, but here is it restored to it’s proper languid pace.

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Welcome Stranger Tomorrow

In 2006 I wrote and produced an album for Claire Smith, “Welcome Stranger Tomorrow”. It was a project to develop a young singer, who didn’t have lots of confidence to start with, but she did have ambition, a decent voice, and a relatively wealthy father who was prepared to invest in his daughter’s future. As well as introducing Claire to writing techniques and studio craft, we arrived at a collection of warm, melodic songs, which though it remains unreleased and has not been professionally mastered, bears repeated listening and hangs together well as a live set or an album.

The only way I have ever found to grow newly emerging talent is to spend a lot of time trying things out and experimenting to see what feels natural, and then within that, see what might work live in front of an audience and be commercial.

The problem with pop is that it demands instant in-your-face success, and that demand sucks the life blood from subtlety and grace and inspires copycat banality.

My writing partner and sometimes co-producer Mark Crook and I steered a course away from these pitfalls and in the end, developed Claire from a 16 year old willing but naive songwriter to a young woman capable of sustained original output.

My personal favourite is (selfishly!) the song I wrote with Claire’s white soul voice in mind, sung in falsetto on the demo, “Wouldn’t Do That” – a song which comes totally from my own experiences at the time but which seemed to synch up with Claire’s own early adult preoccupations. Either says a lot about my level of maturity, or that like everyone else, I am still learning and growing.

Claire is currently in her third year of an English degree and continues to play and sing live.

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Welcome to my music…

I’ve been making music since I can remember, but this is the first time I have attempted to provide a complete overview of my musical activity. This is a start… there’s a lot here and this site is as much an attempt to assemble my musical output in its entirety, as it is to present my career in some kind of logical order.

What might you find here?

As well as pop songs which have enjoyed the benefit of commercial release, I have a largely unpublished back catalogue of songs which is currently known to a small group of friends. Since 1994 I have been observing the ongoing paroxysms of the music industry as it collides with internet technology. Now that broadband is widespread, podcasting a norm, DRM is pretty much dead in the water, there are half-a-dozen ways to self-promote, self-publish and reach a sizeable audience, and having been heavily involved in many of these developments on behalf of media corporations, organisations and a small selection of famous people, it seems churlish not to do the same for myself.

I truly love funk music, have written numerous bass-driven groovy tunes. I even produce a funk music podcast, but I when I write it is regardless of style, and in most instances style is determined by the song as it arrives from the musical universe. Though I’m very happy to accept commissions, or as with the Daily Song project, write around subject matter provided by current events, songs tend to arrive by and of themselves, and it’s always been that way.

At the end of 2008 I decided to move my old blog to a new home on the WordPress platform, and to utilse, my most famous domain, for a music website – not before time. Welcome to my music.

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