Write More Better Songs Faster

If you’re a songwriter whose New Year’s Resolution is to write more songs, or write better songs or just write some songs full stop, then one of the best things you can do is join a songwriting group. These are places where you can preview new ideas in all their raggedy glory and get feedback and encouragement. Not only that, but the inherent deadline will force you to actually get off your sofa and write (unless you write on the sofa of course).

If you live near Nottingham there’s a monthly group called First Tuesday that I’d heartily recommend – because I host it! Because we’re artistic non-conformists, the first one of 2015 takes place on the second Tuesday of the month (Jan 13th). There’s lots more info here about how you can get involved.

But if you live anywhere else on the planet a great place to start would be February Album Writing Month. It’s free, it’s super positive, you don’t HAVE to produce an album, you don’t HAVE to write 14 songs, but aiming for that will certainly jump start your songwriting in ways you couldn’t dream.

More info here. If you’re even vaguely tempted head over there now and read up because the site is taken down and spring cleaned just before FAWM starts.

Posted in FAWM, First Tuesday | Leave a comment

The Top 10 Things I Listened To, Watched And Read in 2014 (Even Though They Weren’t All Made In 2014)

Most of these are available on Amazon. Click here if you want to earn me a little commission at no expense to yourself.

Music. Albums. (Mostly).

1) AM – Arctic Monkeys  A long awaited return to form for one of my all time favourite bands

2) Silver Birches – Injured Birds  Beautifully recorded distinctly British folk, created right here in Nottingham. Like Oscar Wilde being introduced to Howling Wolf at a party.


3) FAWM 2014 Demos – Liz Frencham Unless you took part in February Album Writing Month you might not get to hear these songs for another year at least. But I did, cos I know people. Australian Jazz vocalist/double bassist Liz Frencham to be precise. I also really enjoyed getting to know the music of FAWMers Woody Muller, Expendable Friend and Hamilton Poolhall this year too. (FAWM links will only be live till Jan 2015. You can hear more of Liz’s music here and here)

4) Blood Money – Tom Waits  Songs from the play Woyzeck including God’s Away On Business
5) A Creation Liturgy – Gungor Virtuoso praise and worship. Who’d have thunk such a thing existed? Sufjan Stevens’ slightly more normal brother.
6) Hypnotize – System Of A Down Daron is the best rock guitar arranger since Jimmy Page

7) Celestial EP – Field Studies Stunning vocals and dreamscape guitars. Another awesome Nottingham band.

8) His Best Chess 50th Anniversary Collection – Howling Wolf The voice! The guitar!
9) At Folsom Prison – Johnny Cash One of JC’s strings is a quarter tone flat for about 3 songs and he does a couple of tunes off his comedy album. And it’s still awesome. Check out Johnny and June’s duet on Jackson.
10) Glassworks – Philip Glass PG’s most accessible album.

Books.

My Top 10 Books fell neatly into 2 halves

Best Non-Fiction

1) The Jaws Log: Expanded Edition (Newmarket Insider Filmbooks) written by one of the script guys (also an extra) and bound in a weird shark skin feel cover
2) Tom Waits on Tom Waits: Interviews and Encounters Hilarious, thought provoking and pure poetry. See my many blog posts here
3) Hotel California: Singer-songwriters and Cocaine Cowboys in the L.A. Canyons 1967-1976 A book about the music industry where nearly everyone is a bad person
4) Monkey Business: The Lives and Legends of the Marx Brothers I’m a lifelong fan but I learnt a whole bunch of new stuff
5) The Defeat Of The Spanish Armada Gripping

Best Fiction

1) American Gods Epic. The Stand with superheroes.
2) Suttree Probably McCarthy’s warmest, most humane book and everyone doesn’t die.
3) World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War Almost nothing like the film. Which is good.
4) Hamlet (Wordsworth Classics) Yep. I went full ReBard. Deal with it Melon Farmers…
5) Red Riding Nineteen Eighty (Red Riding Quartet) Boy are these books dark. Three down one to go…

Films

Not really in any clear order…

1) Temple Grandin - watch this film!
2) The Lego Movie
3) Philomena
4) Penguins Of Madagascar
5) Interstellar
6) Inglourious Basterds
7) Lincoln
8) Mr Turner
9) Telstar
10) Seven Samurai

Also enjoyed Sightseers, The Lives Of Others, Rush, Primer, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy and Rewatching The Fisher King and A Hard Day’s Night. TV-wise I loved Sonic Highways, An Adventure In Space And Time, Queen: Days Of Our Lives, Firefly and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Posted in Nottingham Sounds, Top 10 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Five Biggest Encouragements For Indie Songwriters In 2014

2014 was a tough year in many ways – I didn’t suffer from writers block as much as writer’s-can’t-be-bothered. (even though I still wrote 31 songs this, it was well below my personal best of 47). But by the end of the year these five things had helped to snap me out of it and give me a renewed sense of optimism and purpose. Maybe they’ll help you too.

They are

1) Dave Grohl’s documentary series Sonic Highways
2)
Mike Leigh’s biopic Mr Turner
3) Steve Albini’s 2014 Face The Music Keynote Address
4)
The documentary film Standing in the Shadows of Motown
5) The First Tuesday Songwriting Group

What all of these have in common is that they portray artists making art in the midst of life happening. Things like mexican standoffs with gig promoters, illegitimate children, suicides, being dissed by the reigning monarch, riots, alcoholism, threatened eviction, hurricanes. Some artists labour in obscurity, others meltdown in the spotlight, others work on after the crowds have been and gone. We have champions, patrons and supporters – to stretch our canvases and shave our dinner, preserve our legacy and remaster our lost tapes when were gone. But we do the work of an artist. And the art gets made. Regardless.

Whether you like Foo Fighters or not Sonic Highways did a great job of spotlighting unsung heroes from 8 music cities in America and gave glimpses into the process of recording in different studios, collaborating and lyric writing. A couple of episodes are still on BBC iPlayer there’s a longer trailer

and more info here

Mr Turner is visually stunning and has some great performances (especially from Timothy Spall). It’s still around some cinemas and will be out on DVD (in Feb?) 

Steve Albini’s Keynote Address is remarkably encouraging for someone with a rep of being a curmudgeon and leaves you hopeful that the music industry is heading in the right direction (at least for those of us who aren’t money-grabbing sharks) You can watch it on YouTube or read the full transcript

Standing in the Shadows of Motown is the story of Motown’s house band The Funk Brothers combining interviews, reconstructions and a glorious reunion concert. It’s bittersweet but goes a long way towards rightly crediting the men who “played on more number-one hits than the Beatles, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys COMBINED” It’s available on DVD and you can find it on YouTube.

Being in a songwriting group forces you to write regularly whether you feel like it or not. Looking back I’ve realised that many of my best songs were written solely because I HAD to write something for the next meeting. If you live around Nottingham you’re more than welcome to attend First Tuesday Songwriting Group. If not look around for a similar group in your area (or start one!). Failing that – sign up for February Album Writing Month.

Posted in Top 10 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kids, Eh?

Had a touching moment today. Went back to teaching as we had a christmas concert to rehearse for, but after a little while my voice started to give out (due to Wednesday’s accident). And one by one these little kids strumming away on Rudolph started taking up the slack and leading the singing for me.

*The whiteboard ‘vandalism’ is by the same kids, but from a different session

 

Posted in A Blog's Life, Teaching | Leave a comment

EP #2 Diary – Part 5

As winter starts to draw nearer I feel like hibernating. By about 4:30pm I feel like I’ve been sedated. At the weekend I grabbed my son’s electric and forced myself to do some lead guitar and luckily my ‘neighbour’ was quiet enough to get something down. It took way too long (of course) and I became conscious that I was losing the groove after 3 or 4 takes but it was taking me 20 or 30 to really get happy with my note choices. I spent 2 hours recording 30 seconds only to totally rerecorded it the following night. I’m unimpressed with my soloing but it does the job of lifting the track in a few spots.

I still have a bits of vocals to do, but last night I was involved in a serious accident while travelling back from the sessions Nina Smith and I have been running with Deeper Than Forever. The bus we were on had a head-on collision with a car – killing both it’s occupants instantly. The bus passengers suffered various injuries, Nina lost a couple of teeth and I injured my throat hitting it on the seat in front. So apart from just dealing with the shock/aftermath, I’m probably not going to be able to sing/teach properly for a little while. But maybe I’ll be able to prepare Fingernails for mixing if I feel up to it.

Posted in EP Diary | Tagged , | Leave a comment