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.
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.