Looking for the beginning?

Looking for somewhere to start? Check out Song 1 here!

Thursday, 31 March 2011

You can now follow by email!

That's right, folks - simply enter your email address in that box on the right, and blog updates will be sent straight to your inbox!

If you haven't already seen, all the songs are posted just by themselves on the "Just The Songs" page, so you don't have to wade through all the blog posts to listen to them.  Thinking about doing a one-off fundraising gig at the beginning of 2012, playing the most popular 20 (or thereabouts) tracks from the SAW2011 project, so I'm keeping tabs on which ones are going down well, and your feedback on the tracks is much needed.

Remember - all of this is in aid of Parkinson's UK, and if we're going to hit that target, I need you to help me spread the word about this site!

To help you, here's a bit of html for you - just copy and paste the following into an email or a blog post, and send it to as many people as you can!

<a href="songaweek2011.blogspot.com">Writing A Song A Week in 2011 for Parkinson's UK!</a>

Thanks for your help, folks!  And if any of you are around tonight (Thursday 31st March), some of the band and I are playing an impromptu set at the Slug & Lettuce, Guildford.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Art Attack! (alas, not with Neil Buchanan)

I'm afraid, folks, that the next update will most likely be even more delayed than usual, due to the fact that my main Song a Week recording day is Sunday, which happens to be my 1st Wedding Anniversary!

Me n Jess, bossin' the Charleston innit!

So apologies for that, but I'm sure you'll forgive me this once...

Also, I've been playing with a Bamboo tablet - song 11 saw the debut of my shoddy artistic "skills", and instead of taking the risk of infringing somebody's copyright, I'll be drawing my own pictures for the YouTube vids in future.  How thrilling!

You'd better never bother with me ol' Bamboo...
While we're on the topic of art, here are a couple of art sites and webcomics I rather like:

Paper Sails - blog and main site of my friend Roland MacDonald.  Tremendous artist.
Perry Bible Fellowship - hilarious, like a sick James Thurber
Hyperbole and a Half - hilariously illustrated anecdotes of everyday life and childhood memories
Oglaf - DEFINITELY FOR ADULTS ONLY but beautifully drawn

Enjoy!  I'll be back online soon with Song 12 and more musical wibblings.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

New Press Clippings

Check out the Clippings page for recent interviews in the Hartlepool Mail and Middlesbrough Evening Gazette.

More to come, hopefully - I want to be thinking about upping the donation target again by Halloween!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Song Number 11: Let Me In

Just in the nick of, once again, here's the latest:

YOU KNOW THE DRILL! Give a few pence to Parkinson's UK at justgiving.com/songaweek or by clicking on the widget on the top right!

I always tell my students, if they need to make excuses for why a particular recording was below par, they shouldn't publish it- they should keep working at it until it's right and then publish.  Unfortunately, the weekly deadline has forced my hand, and so I've had to put this up despite my snot-infused sinuses!  Not that I'm making excuses or anything...!

This song started with the title, Let Me In.  Then the four main clav chords, which were originally in C, but then I realised that Song 10 was also in C, so I dropped it down to B flat.  Next came the second set of chords and the melody line for the title.  After that were the drums (wanted a breakbeat type affair, and I ended up stripping a lot of the original beats out to thin the sound out at the beginning and give the track more dynamic), and the bass.

Had fun with the production on this.  The slide down on the bass is actually me making that noise and recording it with an SM58 stuck up hard against my throat!  The string sound's been put through noise gates and limiters, then time stretched and compressed to break the sound up a bit.  The sampled beat at the beginning was a lot mushier, so I attacked that with a noise gate and limiter.  Put the clav through a pitch-shifter, tremolo and bit crusher in the "up" sections and the outro, too.  What I'm trying to say is I wanted to mess the sounds up a bit to try and make them sound a little less like off-the-hook sounds, even if that meant they didn't sound particularly pretty!  Check out some of Dave Stewart's productions for this.  The sax sound in Thorn In My Side, for example - horrible, but it doesn't sound like any other sax that's ever been recorded, either; so it sticks in your head.  And it's in addition to a great song, rather than just an annoying noise that's been put in to detract from weak songwriting.

I find starting with a title helps, sometimes, to give my songwriting - and especially the lyric - some structure, rather than just aimlessly shouting words at the monitor in the hope that somehow they'll fit.  It doesn't matter if the title means anything or has any particular connotations - it's just a hook to hang things on.  I've written a lot of songs like this, and the practice came from the need to save new songs with a name when opening them in Cubase (I now use Logic).  I'd give the new, unstarted song an arbitrary name, and then when it came to writing the lyric, sometimes that title word/phrase would find its way into the song; sometimes it wouldn't.

I'll write more about this sort of thing another time.  Right now, I want you all to donate, pass the link to the blog around to your friends, re-tweet this post, and do everything you can to help me generate interest in Song A Week 2011 so we can hit this £1,000 target!

Friday, 18 March 2011

Songwriter Spotlight: Diane Warren

Last post I talked a little about one of my influences, Harry Nilsson, a man who rarely seemed to stick to a formula, and whose maverick style was both the making and the breaking of him.

He had success as a songwriter with One (Three Dog Night) and Cuddly Toy (The Monkees), but while his songs were (in the first half of his career) generally delightful, and sometimes great, they were often without any sort of commercial potential, and it was his voice that really made Nilsson a star.  Like Randy Newman, one of the truly great popular songwriters, he had a tendency to subvert his own material with his off-the-wall and quite dark humour.  Newman once said:

"If I could write “I Love You Just The Way You Are,” I’d have been happy to have done it. But I would have written the whole thing, and at the end, I’d have gone, “you stupid bitch,” and blown my chances."

One person, though, who seems to have always resisted the "quirky" and got stuck into the business of songwriting is Diane Warren.

She is one of the big influences behind why I chose to write a song a week, rather than any other fundraising activity.  This is a woman who, by all accounts, works from 8am til 6pm, five or six days a week, just writing songs.  It will generally take her a week to finish a song, from the first words/notes to the final demo recording, and she appears to be a total recluse with little social life, who never gigs, and rarely gives interviews.  But look at the results:
  • Unbreak My Heart (Toni Braxton)
  • Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now (Starship)
  • If I Could Turn Back Time (Cher)
  • I Don't Want To Miss A Thing (Aerosmith)
  • Because You Love Me (Celine Deon)
  • Don't Turn Around (yes, the Aswad one)
  • How Do I Live (LeAnn Rimes or Trisha Yearwood, whichever you prefer)
And so on and on and on.  Don't Turn Around, incidentally, was one of the big songs in my childhood - I just hated the fact that the singer wasn't fighting for his love to stay with him, even though it was clear he still wanted her.  Really stuck with me.

These are great songs.  Hardly any of them are my cup of tea, to be honest, but they all work beautifully.  Some people get sniffy about people like Diane Warren, saying the songs are "formulaic" or that they all sound the same.  Bollocks.  Just about every song is written to some sort of formula, even if it's in reaction to one.  I'll write more about formulas another time. And these songs aren't all simple I-IV-V chord progressions either - the chord changes in How Do I Live, for example, are ingenious, changing key from verse to bridge to chorus without you realising what's happened; no clunkiness at all. 

And as for the accusation that they all sound the same, I'd say that Warren is one of the smartest songwriters around.  By honing her craft, working on songs she loves and that mean something to her, she has made herself the go-to woman for this sort of track.  If she wanted to start writing electropop floor-fillers, I'm sure she could, and she'd probably do it well... but there are other people around who are doing it better, and Warren knows that.  In the meantime, she's made this sort of song her own.  You know you're a great songwriter when somebody says "We need a [your name] type song for the album".

It's not easy to write a song that's clever, effortless and accessible all at the same time such as Don't  Turn Around or How Do I Live.  At some point this year, I am going to try and write a Diane Warren type song... and I bet I won't be half as good at it as she is!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Song Number 10: I Should Be Here

TEN SONGS!  We're into double figures, folks!

And now, PLEASE donate a few bob to Parkinson's UK by clicking on the widget in the top right, or visiting justgiving.com/songaweek.

BEFORE I TALK ABOUT THE SONG, I'd like to say a massive thank you to everybody who came along to the Water Rats gig on the 9th.  It was a great success on the night, but I need you all to do me a favour and, as Batman once said, TELL ALL YOUR FRIENDS ABOUT ME!  If we're going to reach this £1,000 target, we're going to need all hands on deck.

Now, the song.  This one was written and largely recorded in the early hours of this morning after eating a large takeaway in front of a documentary about Harry Nilsson.

 Nilsson is one of my biggest influences as a singer and songwriter.  When he was in his prime, his voice was just beyond compare; and his best songs wouldn't have disgraced Lennon & McCartney.  Even if you've not heard of him, you'll have heard him - "Can't live, if living is without you..."; "Everybody's talkin' at me.  I don't hear a word they're sayin..."; "One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do..."; "You put de lime in de coconut you drink em both up..." and so on and on.  For the uninitiated, I recommend you check out the albums Nilsson Schmilsson and Harry.  The former was the biggie that made him a star, beautifully produced by Richard Perry; the latter is a slightly earlier album that sounds like what music might have sounded like had Rock n Roll not come along - it's one of my 5 favourite records, and if you don't absolutely adore at least one track on there, you simply have no heart.

He was a flawed man, bent for whatever reason on sabotaging his own career, and could be a bit of a bastard when he wanted to be... but he was also capable of this.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Song Number 9: The Change

Starting to fall behind again...

Now it's time for you to do something - DONATE to PARKINSON'S UK by clicking on the Justgiving widget on the top right, or visit http://www.justgiving.com/songaweek

I'll be honest with you, I'm disappointed with just about everything on this track.  First proper stinker of the year.  Started off as an excuse to get that backwards Bo Diddley thing in, but the words are poor; the vocals were a rushed one-take job this morning... poor all round, really.  But I needed to get a song up today as we're already in week 10, so I couldn't afford to be too proud. I promised 52 songs - I never said they were all going to be good!

Onwards and upwards, though - once I've got TOMORROW'S GIG out the way, I'll be starting on the new track with a clear head. 

Sunday, 6 March 2011

6/3 update

Just had the last rehearsal with the band before Wednesday's gig, and I'm over the moon.  Final details are as follows:

Monto Water Rats
328 Gray's Inn Rd (2 mins' walk from King's Cross Station)

Get your name to me, and arrive at the venue before 7.45, and it's £6 entry
£8 for the rest of you

We'll be on at 8.15, all being well!

Other acts:

Anita Maj - feisty rock minx
Decline and Fall - edgy Stooges-type rock
Gecko - they do a song called Pigeon, so they're alright in my book
The Red Suns - epic; a bit like Joy Division with a big reverb unit
and the headline act, The Rock Of Travolta - Radiohead/Muse fans walk this way...

I've also been working on Song Number 9, which should hit the internet tomorrow or Tuesday.  Harmonica debut on this one, too.

AS EVER, please spread this site around.  Something like this would do:

"Dear BFF - there's this bloke, right, and he's writing a song a week every week for the whole of 2011, and it's for Parkinson's UK and the songs are, like, totally amazing - CHECK IT OUT!"
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