Some Thoughts About Songwriting
We’ve had a number of discussions in recent weeks about the way in which songs are written, and it has made me think about how I used to write my (mostly unrepeatable) songs back in my late teens and early twenties, why it all largely dried up by the time I was in my early thirties, and why in my mid-fifties it all came flooding back!
One of the recurring themes of our more recent discussions is ‘which comes first, the lyrics or the tunes?’ Both the Moorscape album and the Dry The Life EP are based mainly on songs that were written lyrics first, and that applies also to much of the current project. Moorscape and Guns were exceptions to the rule where the tunes came first. It has seemed logical to write the lyrics to the songs for The Breeding Ground of Vile first because it comprises a collection of protest songs, but more recently things have begun to change.
Almost every time I pick up the cittern or guitar these days either a new tune emerges or I suddenly remember one of the tunes from my student years. I have made no effort at all to try and remember for stuff from back then. They just seem to appear as if someone wants me to bring them back to life. Then more recently I found that a tune from ten or fifteen years ago was a shoe in for the lyrics to The Burning Gates of Hell.
One of the joys of modern technology is that you can capture those spontaneous tune developments on video so easily, but the downside is that I have ended up with a collection of tunes or parts of songs that may never be good enough to use. I was mainly too poor to have any technology all those years ago and while I helped mix for a couple of bands in my student days, the technical side of music didn’t interest me until I began to record seriously in 2015. It seems that memory can at times be better than any technology, not just for the tunes or songs it brings back, but also for the emotions and reasons behind those songs.
As we were putting Moorscape together I remember saying to Kieran “where has all this songwriting suddenly come from?” and he reminded me that I had always been a writer, not necessarily of songs. The earliest writing I can remember is a ‘book’ I wrote called The Fylde & Bowland and I think it must have been when I was still at Primary school. It was written in the patronising style of geography text books of the time, and was full of ‘as all readers will know…’ and crap like that, which was in itself a way of copping out of the bits I didn’t really understand. By the time I had met Kieran I was into more sophisticated writing such as The Mouse of the Pankervilles which contained the immortal line ‘He moved his feet through the mud like a maggot rummaging through a bowl of Ready Brek’. Enough said.
Although I have plenty of quieter moments (monosyllabic at times), those who know me will confirm I have never really had a problem with words! For me writing is a way of processing a range of emotions, from anger or hurt to love or compassion. It could be that I find it easier to express myself that way. So there have always been words, from those early days to the largely unrepeatable student songs as punk drew its teeth in the mid-70s (Famous People, Fuckin’ Wars and The Girl Behind The Cheese Counter to name but few), to the writing of poetry as I travelled on business in airport lounges or ferry ports, and now to a spree of serious songwriting that has so far lasted nearly three years.
I wonder that it may be a transient thing because for a number of years my main outlet for anger was the stream of politically influenced sketches and cartoons, some of which you will find in the gallery section of this website. When the songwriting returned, the drawing stopped. These days songs come to me in three ways: lyrics first, then tunes to fit; matching recent or old tunes with lyrics (The Burning Gates Of Hell); and new tunes that spawn lyrics (The Madness, Ocean). However the songs come to me, the thing they have in common is that they generally tell a story. It’s for others to judge whether the stories are told well, whether the tunes work, or whether the songs are good, bad, or indifferent.
But I like creating them, and actually for an artist that’s all that really matters.
My Music Catalogue: https://johnreed.bandcamp.com
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuKuP-Z8UAg THE SUN GOES ROUND THE MOON
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZK9tCEmJ3k DRY THE LIFE
Produced by: http://www.heygamal.com/bio.html
Record label: ND4PRM
Official Photographs: http://www.frankroper.photography/portfolio/