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Songwriting – a fact of imbalance

Proportionality is a lost cause. I have the curious knack of making my major key output sound more minor than most peoples’ minor key output! It might tell of a deeply troubled nature. I would, there is no doubt at all in my mind, be a deeply troubled individual did I not have the therapy – catharsis, even – of writing songs. I guess it gets it all “out of my system”. If that’s the only point to all these songs, then that’s point enough. Who knows what I would have got up to had I not been “locked away” safely with a guitar.

The truth be told, I’m always too quick to see the down side of a situation and the risks (and not the rewards) associated with a course of action. The sunset moves me more than the sunrise (which I’m rarely ever up and about to see, anyway) and my glass is often half-empty.

Further (and to metaphorically ram the point home with another metaphor), my prediliction for lifting up a rock in a garden to inspect the bugs underneath has always been a habit, and I’ve only recently learned to wait to do it when no-one’s around to see.

Whence many of the songs’ melancholic substrate, no doubt.

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Songwriting – a question of balance…

… between the melancholy and joyful. What the heck? What is it about melancholy songs that they just seem to drip from the fingerboard seemingly without call or effort. Whereas, in contrast, happy songs require the skills of a musical sorcerer. I can sometimes approach a pastiche with burlesque outbursts or strains of manic hysteria, but straight songs of joy or celebration, or – perish the thought – peaceful contentment seem to be beyond me.

So it is hard, when thinking of a CD compilation to avoid populating it with a mixture of hand-wringing, angst-ridden confessions interspersed with laments of unrequited lust and with only with the odd aforementioned hysterical jabbering thrown in for light relief. A genuine moment or two of repose would be welcomed by most, I think. But how the heck do I write a song so contoured? Indeed, without contour? A song so lacking in spirit, momentum and even point that it has all the life of a bank holiday coach trip? I suppose a pleasant song – which such a song must be – is condemned to be just that: pleasant. Not beautiful, poignant, ugly, urgent, resigned, bitter, ironic, exuberent, or even bad. Just pleasant. And unnecessary!

Or maybe these peaceful songs are valued as balm for the enervated souls (one of whom I am on occasion, I daresay). This music of repose is a narcotic which you’d be well advised to avoid. Children: just say “No”!

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My atheism and a song concerning it

I have a song which is quite new called The Outfidel which I played at a session at folk club on Friday night. It displays my atheism and may be offensive to some religious individuals who are sensitive that way. I suppose that my singing of it will alienate some people to my music in general, by association. I guess, too, that my publishing of this here will turn some people away. Ho-hum. I’m too long in tooth now to concern myself about such prejudices.

But what of gods and the supernatural? I simply can’t believe it. I have no grounds to believe it. And the idea is even absurd to me now. It would be the height of dishonesty if I were to profess even to having an open mind about the matter! And surely any God would not be welcoming of such hypocrisy! Anyway, it seems to me, if I look at a map of the world, that the belief set of an individual is a function of where she was born, raised, and “educated”, and little else.

Occasionally when I hear of the promise of immortality in return for faith it feels It’s like one of those letters that drops in the mailbox that tells you that you are a lucky jackpot winner (one of a “select” few?) and all you have to do to collect is call the number below. You would like to believe it’s not a fake, but you know it’s a ruse.

I could hardly care less what adults will choose to believe so long as they leave others in peace. But the indoctrination of young children is entirely another matter. To my mind it’s abuse and the results can be intellectually and emotionally crippling for the children so treated. I hope the sponsors of faith schools the world over will one day be recognised by historians for the damage they have done.

The Outfidel is in my mind to record shortly [Edit: done – hence the links].

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The act of songwriting…

…has never been a challenge for me. I think it’s because I’ve been doing it so long – since I was so uninhibited as a kid – that it’s a habit that’s simply been ingrained. I’ve never thought about how to go about the task. I did it before I thought about it. Like a very young child “learning” to swim.

Yes, as an adult I have thought about form and content and have tried to be dispassionate and self-critical about the output – and it’s true that some stuff I thought was fine at the time (of writing) I’ve considered juvenile in retrospect. In truth – although I’ve never counted – I must have written about two hundred “songs” before I made up one that in my estimation was worthwhile. And by that I mean fit for playing in public and recording for release on a record. Yes, there were pages upon pages of songs I wrote between the ages of fourteen and seventeen I distinctly remember painstakingly annotating lyrics with chord symbols, as neatly as my left-handed writing could achieve. They’re all gone now apart from a few fragments that I’ve retained since they may still be serviceable in some way.

So, as I recently lurked at a particular songwriting forum reading about the struggles people have with the act of songwriting, I’m at loss as to how I could contribute in any way because, in truth, I’ve either forgotten about how I overcame these issues or I never had them at all. I struggle to empathise. And I’m reluctant to explain so lest I appear arrogant or dismissive.

There are not so many things in life that I find so natural to do as to write a song. I may be limited in terms of the scope or breadth of my writing, but the act provides a constant rhythm to my days.

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More on How Well

I posted How Well at a few places to get the benefit of some objective ears and some feedback on any “issues” with the recording. It seemed be liked by most of the good folks who took the trouble to listen and respond with comments. That’s always a relief and provides a little charge of confidence. Somebody heard “syllables in bundles” in the refrain. I like that. I don’t think it was a criticism.

More than one had a distaste for the “last” chord (it’s actually the penultimate chord but I guess it might feel like the last judging by the effect it’s having). On the guitar, its fingered as D major chord with a Bb in the bass. I stole the idea from the end of the 1st movement of Howard Hanson’s 2nd Symphony. Anyway, I suppose the chord is really a Bbmaj7 with an augmented 5th. I explained away its use as being a musical panic attack: “It reminds me of the occasions when I’ve almost dropped off to sleep and am awoken sharply by some trivial worry that has presumably been lurking in my sub-conscious, just waiting for the moment to strike!” I hope they understood!