Category Archives: Music

Music

Contents
Mozambique at Havering Folk Club
Who is Nick Harper?
Is The Mixing Desk Getting the Balance Right?
Wizz Jones with the Beatniks in Newquay Cornwall 1960
Can you learn how to write lyrics?
Hold on below
Marilyn and Ella at Theatre Royal Stratford

Mozambique at Havering Folk Club

Havering Folk Club – Mozambique

Well, here’s a funny thing. Peter Walters from Havering Folk Club has started putting up some live performance videos on youTube and here’s one of me singing “Mozambique”, often a popular song from Dylan’s Desire album of 1976.

This would have been recorded on September 3rd 2008 according to this entry on my music blog

I think the visuals survive the youtube compression OK and the sound quality is simply what you’d expect from the built in mic of a video camera. Thanks Peter for taking the trouble to do the editing and format conversion etc.

Andy Roberts Night at Havering Folk Club – 1/4/09

By the way, if anybody is in the East London/Essex area for April 1st 2009 that’s when I’ll be doing a whole set of my own songs and others as a featured member of Havering Folk Club for the evening and any support would be appreciated. It would be great to see you there in our quaint little pub, The Golden Lion, Romford where the club meets Wednesdays at Eight.

haveringfolkclub

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Who is Nick Harper?

Dave Burnham made a video about Nick Harper.

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Is The Mixing Desk Getting the Balance Right?

The job of a sound mixer is to get a clear signal from each of multiple channels and then put them together to make a coherent whole, perhaps varying the mix constantly as the complex inputs change, contributing to the developing moods of a performance.

It’s an important role because each individual member of the audience will have different ideas and preferences as to which elements should be amplified and which muted, depending also on where they are sitting. So the mixer has to have ears everywhere, taking the overall auditorium into consideration without compromising creativity.

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Wizz Jones with the Beatniks in Newquay Cornwall 1960

Wizz Jones sings a topical song about the Beatniks in Cornwall 1960 and Alan Whicker reports on the local council’s letter to shopkeepers urging them all to refuse to serve people with long hair.


Wizz Jones with the beatniks in Newquay 1960

Wizz Jones was one of the seminal acoustic singer songwriters who helped to create the british folk guitar style, and he still plays monthly at a small club in Tooting.

The beatnik era was before my time, in that I was a child in Cornwall at the time and can remember these stories on the local TV news programmes as well as seeing the “No Beatniks” signs in all the cafes in St Ives, another Cornish resort which took a hard line against the beats, eventually deploying police and dogs to chase them out of the town.

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Can you learn how to write lyrics?

 

Learn how to write lyrics?

The story goes like this: I was reading Friendfeed and came across a link to a site about How to write Lyrics and thought to myself “Well that’s a bit presumptuous isn’t it?” On visiting the site I found advice which seemed to recommend ‘tuning in to the music of the spheres’. Bah humbug said the little critic sitting on my shoulder, so I left a terse drive-by comment and moved on thinking no more of it. Then the original author read it and called me out, so good for him. We’ve had a good chat since during which I realised that I’ve never written down my own story about getting to grips with the songwriting process, so here it is as promised.

Join the Songwriters Circle 30 Day Challenge

My problem with writing lyrics

I picked up a guitar and learned to play when I was about fourteen, mostly devising my own versions of favourite songs by ear. Songs by people like Loudon Wainwright who is possibly the greatest lyric writer of all time, are music staveusually pretty simple in terms of the chord structure and I’d always loved to sing. Very soon I wanted to write my own songs because that’s what any musical artist seemed to need to do in those days, and it’s still the case today, if not more so. I found that the music came pretty easily, just out of experimenting with the sound of new chords and progressions, jamming with myself for hours on end so to speak. The lyrics, on the other hand, were problematic. I kept a notebook with two ends. At one end I wrote down rough drafts and odd verses, full of crossings out and rewrites. Then when I thought I had a finished song together with music I’d copy it to the pristine end and feel pleased with myself for having completed one. The trouble happened within a few days or weeks when I’d try to play the new song again and decide that it’s rubbish. Often the crossings out and rewrites had made it worse, or the original material was based on a really bad concept in the first place. Part of the problem was that I hadn’t fully understood that song lyrics are not poetry, and many of the most sucessful songs look pretty awful if you try just reading them as cold print. And teenagers are always very self conscious, so amongst all of this, just a handful of songs emerged which stood the test of time. “Hold on Below” is one of those from my early teenage period, together with Puddles and The Show Carries On.

The theory of idealism

Because I didn’t understand why sometimes, rarely, I was able to write lyrics that I was happy with, while at most other times nothing good would come out, I began to entertain the theory that the inspiration was coming from somewhere “out there” rather than from within. That fits with a philosophy of idealism which is common enough in our society, and prevalent amongst artists but which I now view as particularly unhelpful. I could go for months and even years at a time without writing a single song, waiting for the right conditions in which the muse would arrive. I even wrote one about that very idea which contained the line “I’m just the man who held the pen that wrote it down” which is very similar to the concept at the How to write Lyrics site where it says “I don’t write music, music writes through me”.

My new approach to songwriting

If you have ever read published authors advising hopeful writers on how to write a novel, the advice usually comes in the form “Sit down at a desk and start writing. Then continue writing every day for at least eight hours until you have written the first draft”. They have to treat it as any other job, otherwise it will never get done. So I decided a few years ago to try the same approach to songwriting. I knew I had a song which I wanted to write, a ballad about a journey I had made. I planned myself a day to write it, and decided that I would spend the day on a river boat cruising up and down the Thames, making good use of the all-day ticket.

how to write lyrics on board Mercedes Thames cruiser

I took with me paper and pencils, and maps to remind me of the journey. There was a convenient table on the boat so I installed myself there and got everything out, knowing I had all day to get the song lyrics written. I love being on boats so this had been a great idea, and within a couple of hours I had about eight or nine verses written so I could afford to take an enjoyable lunch break. That song remains unchanged (well, apart from the pronunciation of Ugijar) as “Winter in Andalucia” for which I get requests from time to time, and it’s a nice one to play if I ever feel like quietly fingerpicking and can remember all the lyrics.

Intentionally writing song lyrics

So this was nothing short of a revelation. If I set out deliberately to write a lyric, I could do it!

Songwriting trip

A few years later, I was badly let down by a companion with whom I’d planned a holiday. I decided to go anyway, as the flight and car were all booked up, but instead of trying to have a holiday by myself I would treat it as work and do lots of writing. I said I would write a CD, which meant writing enough songs so that maybe ten or twelve of them would be worth keeping. Eight would do it at a pinch, and I had a week, so one song a day seemed reasonable.

Writing lyrics on an Aeroplane

I started writing the day before, and made good use of the time on the plane. After a day or two on the road I didn’t restrict myself to writing sat at a desk. In fact I often started composing a first verse or so while walking.

Creative Walking

Zoom back a few years and during a sparse phase for songwriting there was one song which emerged from out of a camping trip. Filling two large water containers then tramping back downhill, the rhythm of my gait started me off humming and then I shut myself away for half an hour and wrote some lyrics to the new tune. That’s Mondura Dam.

So during my deliberate CD writing trip I fell back on the creative walking technique once or twice, and then made sure I memorised the verse or two composed in my head, so I could write them down and elaborate after I got back to the hotel. Incidentally I don’t think I could do that with a companion.

How to Write Twenty Three Lyrics

By the end of that trip I had no less than twenty three new lyrics which I’m still using as base material. Gernika, Cormorants and The Wreckers Prayer all came from then, and there are a few more which may also represent some of my best work. So I’m definitely convinced now on the question of how to write lyrics, that the deliberate method is the best one for me. The same philosophy probably stands for other forms of writing and creativity as well, like this blog post for example, which I planned yesterday and then got out of bed this morning with the deliberate intention of getting it written and published.

 

Links

  1. The Songwriters Circle – support group
  2. Andy Roberts Music page at DARnet
  3. Free Download Andy Roberts songs from last.fm
  4. Free Download, music player and widgets at Andy Roberts on ReverbNation

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Hold on below


( ambient avatar by chinposin )

Linda got me talking about the old days last night as we compared memories of the early 1970s and this song “Hold on below” was mentioned, it’s so old. I would guess from 1972 or possibly 1971, I think I was fourteen when I first picked up a guitar and churned out a schoolbook full of songs within a few months, only a handful of which have survived the passing of time like I think this one does. The recording was made in Dover in 1980-1 around the time that John Lennon was shot, and I think I must have recently bought a new set of strings for the old twelve string guitar because it sounds quite bright compared to other recordings.

Andy RobertsHold on Below

Lyrics are kind of bleak and nihilist with a streak of rebellion, which is perfectly fitting for a teenager and I ‘ve really no idea where the nautical analogy came from, canal boating possibly.
The embedded mp3 player is from Last.fm and applied to the WordPress blog using the excellent “embedit” plugin which I’m delighted to have discovered because it overcomes the theme breaking problems associated with embedded scripts, and keeps the code well out of reach of any wysiwyg editor.

Below is just an image link to the Last.fm page for the song:

Hold on below - Andy Roberts

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Marilyn and Ella at Theatre Royal Stratford

ella fitzgeraldI’m really looking forward to going to the theatre tonight. We’re not going to the West End though, but to the Theatre Royal in Stratford. That’s Stratford, East London, home of the 2012 Olympics; nothing to do with Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. The show is called “Marilyn and Ella” and it’s about a famous meeting between Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe at a time of continuing racial segregation in the USA. Yes, it’s set in 1955, just a few years before I was born and when American society was run under a system similar to apartheid. So it’s a small, two woman production I think, but with a big subject plot and some big songs. The premiere was last night, so tonight, Saturday should be a big night too.

Theatre Royal

Theatre Royal Stratford

I suppose Theatre Royal, Stratford East is my local theatre, but I haven’t been for a few years. There used to be a series of excellent productions once a year which sometimes moved on to the West End such as “The Invisible Man” and “Zorro” but I think the moving force behind these died, and the raison d’etre for local theatre has moved more towards serving the perceived needs of the local community, a community which arguably doesn’t really exist except from a political or funding point of view. But the playwright is Bonnie Greer, an accomplished writer and whose performance on TV the other night in Question Time I think it was, well she just outshone everyone else on the panel.

Bonnie Greer

For the Sunday Herald in August 2006 Bonnie Greer said “I wrote this basically because the information has been suppressed, and if you don’t control the information, it controls you. That’s certainly true in the case of Marilyn Monroe, who was a victim of information control even after her death. She was the biggest movie star in the world and she made this kind of stand for Ella Fitzgerald. People at the time didn’t understand it, so they glossed over it, and now not many even know about it. Which means that it has never really been celebrated.”

Interestingly, this musical stage play began life on Radio 4 as “Marilyn And Ella Backstage At The Mocambo” and then at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006 as “Ella Meet Marilyn.” The play has been competely re-written for the 2008 production, and if it has been crafted skillfuly for Theatre Royal Stratford then there’s every chance of a West End transfer in due course.

Celebrity

So part of my anticipation is to see if the question of the emancipation of the excluded black people as a whole class is brought up or glossed over through focussing on forging a pathway for the very few to rise up to become celebrities, leaving the masses behind them. The Marilyn Munroe icon has become a symbol of celebrity itself, so there are some interesting mixed messages inherent in the subject matter. The part of Ella Fitzgerald is played by Nicola Hughes who has been in Porgy and Bess and Chicago and Wendy Morgan from A Street Car Named Desire and The Bill is cast in the role of Marilyn Monroe. So that’s two very brave women to go on stage and play those huge stars.

Songs

I’m also going to enjoy the chance to hear some great songs performed live on stage.

Someone To Watch Over Me; My Funny Valentine; Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Wonderful old classics with which I am familiar not from the Jazz legends themselves but from the great covers sung by Mari Wilson in the nineteen eighties.

They Can’t Take That Away From Me – Lady Is a Tramp – Bewitched. Bothered and Bewildered – Every time We Say Goodbye – Just Two Little Girls From Little Rock – The Man That Got Away – Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend

Also some new songs by musical director Warren Wills.

http://theatreroyallondon.com/

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Thanks for reading Andy Roberts articles about Music on the DARnet Blog