faith · music · Political · Songwriting

The Front Of The Queue ?

Re: My recent post – How to avert the crisis.

I just finished this song that seems to say a similar thing:

Waterfall

She wanted freedom –
But there’s was nowhere for her to go
It’s hard to choose between
A bus ticket and a winter coat

See how the water flows
Freely the waters flow
But never to her door
never to her door


He always thought –
Just stand in line and it would come to you
It might take time, but you would get to the front of the queue

See how the water flows
Freely the waters flow
But never to his door
No never to his door


See how the water flows
It seems like the water knows
Maybe the water chose ?
For some to have it all
While others are in hell


Cool water
Cool, cool water
Cool, cool water
Flowing down

See how the water flows
Could be the water knows
Say that the water chose
To be a waterfall
So no one is in hell.

See how the water flows

Could be the water knows
Say that the water chose
To be a waterfall
To pour upon us all..

Grace · music · Songwriting · Storytelling

More Grace Still To Come

When I had almost got this song finished, I played it to a few people – at a songwriters circle, which Simon and I go to, and then to Kiri, and then Ben, friends who live nearby. It was so helpful to get some feedback.

When Ben heard the song, he had just popped round for a chat, and I asked if I could play the song for him. At the end he was really positive, and then asked if I had thought about having a bridge with a slightly different feel at some point. He sang what was on his mind .. picking up of the central idea of grace, singing – There’s more grace, much more grace, still more grace.

I loved the idea and went away and worked on it … it was harder than I had thought – I wanted to get some harmonies in there and I wasn’t sure where to put this new section. Should it go in the middle of the song or near the end ? Also, the song was already nearing five minutes long, and I didn’t want it to go over that length.

After about three or four goes at recording it with the bridge in different places (and losing one recording completely), I decided that enough was enough and asked Bev to come in put on some harmony.

I’ve written so much about this song – and really pleased to have got it to something I’m happy with.

So many thanks to those who helped along the way, Bev, Kiri, Ben, Simon – it’s such a privilege to have friends who listen and encourage and make suggestions. Bless you all.

You can listen to it here: More Grace

I hope you enjoy the song.

faith · music · Songwriting · Storytelling

Next Stage Of The Process

I’m enjoying recording the process of writing a song in some detail. It’s a bit of a risk, putting this out there when I’m not sure if I will be happy with the end result.

I’m also a bit unsure about taking away the mystery of this process, especially as I am very much an amateur and beginner at the art of songwriting.

I’m going to put this out there for now, and when the song is finished, and recorded, I might take the posts down so that the listener can take the song and make of it what they will.

In the same way that ‘the beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ I believe that once a song is out there in the public domain, the songwriter does not control the song – it will have a life of its own and be interpreted in different ways according to the listener.

So here’s where I’ve got to. The song started to be about an elderly man (verses 2 and 3 below), but then quickly changed – to be the story of a life – with verse 1 about a child, and verse 4 a snapshot of the cemetery where she and her family are reunited.

I think yesterday I went off that idea of the life of one person, to change to each verse being about a stage of life, but not necessarily the same person all the way through the song. More that each verse would represent a stage in life.

That got me thinking about Shakespeare’s seven ages of life – infant, school age, teenager, young adult, middle age, old age, end of life/death.

By that measure, I have the school age, young adult (or possibly middle age), old age, and death.

This may not work, but then I would be looking for infant, teenager, and middle age.

I’ve also got something I’m trying to work into each verse – the second line having the word ‘line’ in it. In the end, that may feel forced, but I’ll go with it for now.

See the children in their Sunday best
Smiling, standing all in a line
My mother in her new blue dress
With her sister just behind

He’s living in shotgun house
Three rooms in a dead straight line
Built on just a half a city lot
Sure they’re doing just fine

The doctors listened to her heart
Strolling down the beds in a line
Just some scribbles on the patient chart
But they never gave a sign

You’ll find them at the edge of town
Standing in a dead straight line
Waiting in the spring sunshine
With roses all around

Church · community · Following Jesus · music · Song for Today

Song For Today #25

We had a reading in Church today from the first letter of John that included these words …
This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome ….
1 John Chapter 5 verse 2

And the Gospel reading was from John’s Gospel and included these words of Jesus:
This is my commandment, that you love (and unselfishly seek the best for) one another, just as I have loved you.
John Chapter 15 verse 12 (Amplified Bible)

Mike, the preacher today, introduced the Gospel reading by showing us that the first section of John 15 (that we had last week), is about the believer’s relationship to God, the second section today is about the believer’s relationship to others in the faith community, and the third section will be about the believer’s relationship to the world.

The phrase in the reading from John’s letter tells us that what God requires of us as we relate to one another is not burdensome. Straightaway my mind locked on to the word burden. Caring for one another in the community of faith is not a burden, because they are my brothers and sisters in Christ. There’s a pretty straight line from there to the song for today:
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

The road is long, with many a winding turn
That lead us to (who knows) where, who knows where?
But I’m strong, strong enough to carry him – yeah
He ain’t heavy – he’s my brother

So on we go, his welfare is my concern
no burden is he to bear, we’ll get there
For I know he would not encumber me
He ain’t heavy – he’s my brother

If I’m leaving at all, if I’m leaving with sadness
that everyone’s heart isn’t filled with the gladness
of love for one another.

It’s a long, long road, from which there is no return
While we’re on the way to there, why not share?
And the load doesn’t weigh me down at all
He ain’t heavy – he’s my brother

Words and Music: Bobby Scott and Bob Russell.
Recorded by the Hollies in 1969. A classic!

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Grace and Peace

music

Seeing In A Straight Line

At age 16, guitarist Robbe Robertson had the opportunity to join Ronnie Hawkins’ Rockabilly band, and made the long journey from the cold of Canada to Arkansas and the steamy south. It was THE turning point in his life, and from this decision would emerge one of the seminal bands of the late 60’s early 70’s – The Band.

Hearing this story reminded me of an encounter I had on Victoria train station in the late summer of 1973.
Just a few weeks before this encounter, I had finished my first year studying engineering at university, and failed two important exams. It could have meant the end of my student life, but there was a possibility of a reprieve. I could retake the two papers at the end of the long summer holiday. My friend Mark had failed the same papers, so he came to stay that summer, and together we went through every single past exam paper we could get our hands on.

By the end of a couple of weeks, we had done as much as we could, and we duly turned up at the university to do our retakes. They put us in a small room, with just enough room for two desks, one behind the other. The retake papers were placed on the desks, and nervously we turned the first page. The first reaction as I read through the questions was one of surprise, closely followed by joy! I had done the questions all before. They had simply lifted questions from past papers! My relief must have been audible, and I could also hear Mark’s reaction – not quite the same as mine. He also recognised the questions, but in his panic he couldn’t remember how to answer them. There was no-one else in the room, and no CCTV, (!) so I whispered to ask if I could help him. He declined the offer, whether through fear of being found out or a degree of self belief, I’m not sure. Anyway, after a while, his state of fear subsided, and we both got on with answering the questions.

We both heard a short while later that we had done well enough to continue with the course in the autumn. As it turned out, I had done very well on the retakes, and my tutor was pleasantly surprised, even shocked!

The encounter outside Smiths newsagents on Victoria station, which is the real point of this post, came between doing the retakes and getting the results. After our stressful couple of hours in that small room, where our memories of electronics and structures were tested, we had a few more weeks of holiday before the new term, so we both went home.

On the way home, I had caught a train into King’s Cross station, and then across London by tube to Victoria. As I was waiting I was browsing the record stand outside W.H.Smiths. I was aware of someone else also looking through the records. After a minute or so, we struck up a conversation, both of us clearly interested in the same sort of music. He introduced himself, and as we were talking, I explained that I had failed my exams, but hope to pass my retakes and go into the second year etc etc.

At some point I started talking about my love of music. In those days, I had a 4 track reel to reel tape recorder, taping from the radio, playing around with using echo and such. It turned out that he worked for Decca records, and as the conversation went on, the possibility of starting in the music industry with a view to being a recording engineer became exciting. He left me with his card, saying that if I changed my mind about continuing at university to give him a call.

On the train journey back home I was already envisioning a future in the music business. The bubble burst when I got back home and relayed the conversation with the Decca man to my parents. I was from a family where education was important, and to leave at this point would be a risk. I would be throwing away a secure future for something that may or may not work.

I was persuaded. Actually I don’t think I put up much of a fight. I’m maybe a safety first person at heart ?

The title of this post is ‘seeing in a straight line.’ That phrase came up in a conversation between T-Bone Burnett and Rick Rubin (see my last post). Seeing in a straight line is what we do most of the time. There maybe some special times when we are able to see around corners, but most of the time we don’t.

Back in 1974, I wasn’t able to see around the corner. I maybe had some stuff in my peripheral vision, but not enough to divert me from the easily visible path ahead.

I think since then, I have been able to see around the corner a couple of times, and allow myself to be taken to a new place in my life.

Thinking back to that conversation on Victoria station, I have no regrets. We probably all have some regrets, but for me, that’s not one of them.

And finally – listening to Robbie Robertson got me asking the question ‘If you could choose to have been present at the recording of one record, which would it be ?’

For me, it would be when Robbie Robertson and the Band recorded their second album, called simply ‘The Band.’ (Or ‘The Brown Album’). Here’s a link to a live recording of one of the songs on that album The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
(3 million views and counting).

music · Songwriting

The Melody Of The Expression

On my run this morning I was listening to a conversation between T-Bone Burnett and Rick Rubin. T-Bone is a musician and record producer, and Rick Rubin has an impressive CV as a producer.
They were talking about the way that lyrics have their own inherent rhythm – and sometimes for example, a lyric will have a particular feel to it that suggests it should be repeated. A hook line. It might be that the lyric is the heart of the song, and needs to be repeated. Or it might be that it just has a feel about it that is chant-like.

T-Bone then said “it’s the melody of the expression.” There’s something about words that suggest the pace of a song, or whether the melody should be bright or melancholy. Think of Jimmy Webb’s song ‘Up, up and away.’ The melody does exactly that – it goes up … and then seems to float when he gets to the line ‘… in my beautiful balloon.’

So on the way back from my run I thought I would try it. I looked up at the trees on my street and sang :
I see you up in the trees. (the melody going up on the word ‘up’)
So I carried on: I see you up in the clouds
Then, why not have: I see you everywhere I go
So it’s logical to sing: Your face is always on my mind
and then: The traces you have left behind

All in about 20 seconds. I wonder if this will result in a song. In my mind, the last line couldn’t have been anything else, and it’s strange how that line then determines where the song is going.
It’ll have to be about a) Someone who has died (Not again please! I’ve wrtitten too many of those)
or b) A lost love.

I think it will be lost love. I need to write a happy song one day. Oh Well.

Back to T-Bone. He made the observation that (in America, that is), the canned music that you hear in supermarkets and shopping centres tends to be from the 60’s. The 60’s was a time of great change and at the same time great optimism. So many of the songs reflect that mood, and it was a time when the music industry was young.

It seems that there is a tendency for movements and organisations to feel fresh at the beginning, but over time become jaded and bound by the pressures of success.

So – tasks ahead
1) Continue the song from above …
2) Write a happy song.
3) Write a song about songwriting with the line ‘The melody of the expression’

Ron Sexsmith has a song about songwriting. here it is: This Song

I brought a song into this world
Just a melody with words
It trembles here before my eyes
How can this song survive

I brought it to the tower of gold
In my coat of many holes
I came unarmed, they’ve got knives
How can this song survive

Oh now, I can’t help wondering how it is
How someone like you exists
When all around you bullets fly
You don’t seem to notice them go by
How can this song survive

Oh now, I see the game I’m up against
No wonder I feel so afraid
For every song you ever heard
How many more have died at birth
Oh how, how can this song survive

I brought a song into this world
Just a melody with words
It trembles here before my eyes
How can this song survive
I came unarmed
They’ve all got knives
How can this song survive
Until we finally say goodbye
How, how can this song survive
I wonder how, I wonder why

Songwriters: SEXSMITH, RON
Publisher: Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Me · music · Songwriting

In Memory Of A Friend

A few weeks ago, my son-in-law sent me a link to a podcast interviewing songwriters – the one he had recommended was the ‘Broken Record’ podcast episode with Jack White and Brendan Benson of the Raconteurs. It was good to hear songwriters talking about the art of writing songs and not just telling stories about life on the road etc.

So, since then I’ve looked to see who else I might listen to, and just yesterday finished the episode with Joe Henry. You may not have heard of him, but he’s produced a 15 solo albums over the last 30 years, and also been involved in projects with such people as Solomon Burke, Bonny Raitt, Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello and many more. I first heard Joe Henry back in the early 90’s when someone recommended the album ‘Kindness of the World.’

It’s so good to hear someone talking about songwriting and to recognise some of the ways I work in what they are saying.

I’ve been working on a song for a few weeks, and just finished it, I think. It may need some tweaks, but essentially it’s there.
It was triggered off by a line in a book by Will Cohu – The Wolf Pit. The book is a memoir of his growing up in a sheep farming community in North Yorskhire. The line that caught my eye was this ‘The black dog had backed him in a corner.’
The black dog in question was depression, and the person was Will’s uncle Robert. It’s a deperately sad story of how someone tried to fight this disease, and the way his friends and family tried to help him.

I wrote the song, and just as I was beginning to feel that it was finished, it all came back to me.
When I was in the last few years of school, I had a friend called Tim. We didn’t go to the same school – In those days of selective education where I grew up, I was at the High School and Tim was at one of the Secondary Modern Schools. This was back in the late 60’s early 70’s.

The High School for Boys was one of the choices of school if you had passed the 11 plus exam. The education there was more academic, and I remember having to drop subjects like music, art, and woodwork when I was 13 in favour of Latin, History, French and German.

Anyway, I got to know Tim when he turned up at our church youth group, and we started to get to know each other outside the Sunday evening gatherings. He introduced me to his younger sister, Penny, and his parents. His Father was a gifted pianist, and Tim was likewise gifted. He had a similar ability to his father in playing the piano – whtout music and completely untrained. In addition he had an instintive feel for electronics. At the age of around 16, he had built a telephone exchange in the garden shed. In those days it was all mechanical relays, triggered by electrical impulses. He built it such that there was a telephone in every room of the house, all controlled by the complicated arrangement in the shed.

At that time, young people like Tim usually ended up in the Secondary Modern School, because he wasn’t academic in the traditional sense. Yet he was, in many ways, far more gifted than I was. I think someone like Tim would be spotted today as ‘gifted and talented,’ and would have access to a wider range of opportunities.

Back to the telephone exchange in the shed – the thing was, he had designed all of this in his head. At the same time, I was beginning to get some rudimentary grasp of electricity in A level Physics, and was familiar with simple calculations, which I would do on paper. What Tim had done was way more complex and it seemed that he could just think about an electrical circuit and know instinctively what values he should assign the resistors and capacitors in each circuit. I guess he was some sort of savant.

At the same time, Tim was an incurable romantic. He was madly in love with a girl, and she became the subject of our conversations, me as the listener as he poured out his feelings for the girl, and his uncertainties about whether this love was going to be returned.
I suppose this went on for a couple of years. He got to know the object of his love and took her out, and gave her gifts, but there was always this feeling in my mind that he was building this romance up into something that it wasn’t.

The time came when I went away to University to study engineering. It was at the beginning of one of holidays that I found out. I had got home at the end of term and my parents told me that he had died. They hadn’t wanted to tell me until I got home. I missed the funeral. I don’t think I went round to see his parents or his sister. I wasn’t mature enough to think of that. Tim had driven his car up to a nearby beauty spot on the South Downs (a place he had often taken his girlfriend) and taken an overdose.

I can’t remember much about how it affected me, but it must have done. Although it was a bit of a one way friendship, with me being a more or less permanent shoulder to cry on, he was a good friend.

Here’s the song lyrics, and a link to the song

Black Dog

A good friend of mine
was great to have around
but lately we had found
he had another side

The little pills
supposed to make him better
just became a fetter
He couldn’t let ‘em go

He was a lovable man and he tried
We let him know that we were always on his side

The old black dog
had backed him in a corner
buzzing like a hornet
wouldn’t let him go

He tried to fight it
Be normal like his friends
Not having to pretend
But it’s a long way back

He was a desperate man and we tried
but in the end there was nowhere to hide

He locked his car
sat smoking in the shade
he had overstayed
now it’s time to go

The old black dog
that had backed him in a corner
buzzing like a hornet
wouldn’t let him go

Jonathan Evans April 2021.

music · Songwriting

Thoughts On Constructing A Building

Well, not a building actually, more a song. I was listening to apodcast the other day that features songwriters being interviewed. So far I have listened to Dan Penn and more recently Jimmy Webb. They were both fascinating in their different ways.

One of the stories Dan Penn tells goes back to when he was around 16, and out with a group of friends. Someone would ask a question like – Do you like fried chicken, and his friend would answer ‘Is a blue bird blue ?’
(It’s like ‘Is the Pope a catholic ?’). As the evening went on, this became a running joke, and somewhere in his brain, Dan stored up that line, and it emerged in one of his first lyrics, which became a hit for Conway Twitty in 1960.

Well, me and my girl went out the other night,
Down lovers lane we were walkin
She said, Honey child, do you love me?
Right away I started talkin.

Is a bluebird blue?
Has a cat got a tail?
Hmm, is a blue bird blue?
Well honey, I love you.

So to Jimmy Webb. In 1998 or so, Jimmy Webb wrote a book – Tunesmith – about the art of songwriting, which of course, as an amateur songwriter I had to have. I’ve just started reading it, and it’s reassuring to see that some of the things I have been doing instinctively are part of the songwriters craft.
I want to quote a section from the book where he likens writing a song to building a structure of some sort – a house, a barn, a block of flats or whatever.

Firstly you have to have an idea of what it is you’re building. In other words, to start with, you need to know what the song is about. You need the big idea. And, in the same way that a building uses a variety of materials, you song will use a variety of words.

Here’s the quote: ‘In the dictionary, he finds oaken words, words of stone and paper, plywood words and words like steel beams, words of ironwood and ash, rich resonant words of mahogany and cherry, rococo words that swirl like burled walnut, simple pungent pine words, heavy words of dark ebony, ephemeral, silly words of balsa, everlasting words of marble and granite, and translucent words like coloured glass, along with blunt, pragmatic words, made of lead and cement.’

Jimmy Webb talks about the importance of having a good dictionary and thesaurus to hand – which almost felt to me like cheating, but actually isn’t. Although his book is called Tunesmith, a songwriter must also be a wordsmith, which means having a love for words themselves, for the way they sound, for the innate rhythm that a word has, for rhyme and texture, for the way one word can sit comfortably next to another, or not, depending on how you need to use it. For a sense of whether a word is soft or hard, and the skill to make a hard word do something soft, or a soft word do something hard.

So I’ve just finished a novel called ‘Nothing but grass’ by Will Cohu. I think I’ve got an idea sparked off by the book, and some words and phrases … but, heeding Jimmy Webb’s advice, I’m not going to think aloud any more about the process … it feels like this is essentially a very private enterprise until the work is finished – that is, if it ever is.

music · Political · Song for Today

A Song For Today #24

It’s been a while since I posted a song. This one came to mind today as we were listening to Canned Heat – I thought about Woodstock, and then this Richie Havens song popped in. (Richie was the opening act at Woodstock) … I went looking for a live recording and found one here. There’s a fuller production (of course) on his 1968 double album enititled ‘1983’

I can remember hearing the song on the radio back in the late 60’s or early 70’s and I must have missed the D.J. announcing the song, because it took me years to track it down – before the age of the internet. When I did discover who it was, I went out and bought the album. It’s a bit patchy, with too many Beatles covers for my taste, but for some reason this song has remained one of my personal favourites from that era. The words are challening for any age, and the melody really does it for me, added to Richie’s percussive guitar style with open tuning. The addition of something like sitars on the album recording give an eastern vibe, that is very much of the time.

Just Above My Hobby Horse’s Head

Oh, day is near,
darkness gone
and the word is clear
Children see the light,
we close their eyes
and we call it night.

And as they dream their dreams,
we talk the hours away
And as we plan and scheme,
we change tomorrow to yesterday

Borrowed for the time,
the life we share
is a sacred right
Choosing,
we may find
we’re on the road
and there are no signs

And we say we love and we say we care
And we say we know and we say we’re there
If we live our hates and we fight our wars
And we burn our towns, what is going down?

Children raise their voice,
questioning all
has been their choice
Answers
from within
point the way
to where we’ve been

And as the music plays
and we become all the days
That become the years
of our lives,
of our lives

Richie Havens / Mark Roth

Activism · faith · Greenbelt Festival, · music · Political · Song for Today · Songwriting · World Affairs

A Song – Work In Progress

I don’t think I’ve posted one of my own songs before, but here goes. If you’ve been following me, you’ll know that I am trying to understand the situation in the Middle East, especially as it applies to the relationship between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza.

One of the defining moments in the last 100 years was what Palestinians call Nakba – the time in 1948 when Palestinian families were forced to leave their homes. One of the accounts of that event is told by Sami Awad, and tells how his grandfather, living in Jerusalem with his family, lost his life to a bullet. The truth of what happened that day is disputed, but whatever that truth is, his death was caused by the actions of Israel.

I wrote a song that tries to capture something of those events. It’s just a home version, with me doing all the singing and playing, and it’s very rough round the edges, but it’s a story that I needed to tell. The last 72 years have seen the bitter fruit of those days in 1948, with the loss of access to water, expulsion from the ancestral lands, frequent loss of the olive trees that are a symbol of Palestinian life and the perils of losing the heritage seeds that tell the story of day to day life in the foods that are eaten.

Amos Trust is a small human rights organisation – find out more about the situation here

My song is actually work in progress. I need to do some more work on it, but I wanted to put it out there. I am a songwriter, who like many others, dreams of others seeing the value of their work and making it their own. So if anyone out there wants to take the song and do something with it, let me know.

Here it is: Catastrophe

Grace and peace