Ecology · Songwriting

See How The Water Flows

Another month, another song.

Sometime last year, I heard a talk by theologian Ched Myers. He lives in Northern California, near the coast, and was talking about the way that biodiversity in his area has been affected by loss of water. Further upstream, industry is taking so much water off the river that the river has run dry downstream.
Another story I heard at roughly the same time from a different source concerned the Jordan Valley, and how in a similar way, Israeli farms and industries were using so much of the river water, that there was not enough for people downstream.
As I write this, I thought I would check just to see that I had remembered this correctly. So I googled: Amost Trust
water scarcity Jordan valley.
(I included Amos Trust in the search as I know them as a small civil rights organisation working in Palestine/Israel)
The 6th hit down on the page was here – check it out.

Water scarcity is already a big problem, but it will reach crisis proportions for more and more people as time goes on.

Hearing these stories, I wrote down – And the water’s flowing freely, but never to our door. Water is both a material reality, and metaphor. It felt like I could write a song with that line in that could speak to both the reality of water scarcity and to situations of inequality, where a few have access to resources that are denied to the many.

The line stayed in my notebook for well over a year. Eventually I came back to it and wrote the song, Waterfall. You can listen to the song here.

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
Ask if the water chose
For some to have it all
While others are in hell ?

Cool water
Cool, cool water
Water flowing free
Water flowing free

See how the water flows
What if the water chose
To be a waterfall
So no one is in hell.

See how the water flows
Say that the water chose
To be a waterfall
To pour upon us all.

Cool water …



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 · Grace · LIterature · Songwriting · Storytelling · Truth

Pulling A Song To Pieces

I’m nearly finished with this song. Was this a worthwhile exercise …. I guess we learn from everything.

A Life of Love

Hear the story of a life of love, written clear on every line.
Drawing strength from up above, to see her through hard times.
She was born in a shotgun house, three rooms in a dead straight line.
Built on just a half a city lot – they’re doing just fine

I’ve got a feeling there’s a lot more grace to come,
Whatever’s gone before doesn’t count at all
.

See the children in their Sunday best, smiling, standing all in a line.
She’s at the front in her new blue dress with her sister just behind.
Sixteen and she knows it all, finds it hard to toe the line.
Got ambition to be top girl – she’s going to shine.

I’ve got a feeling there’s a lot more grace to come,
There’s enough to cover everyone
.

She’s listening to her baby cry, hoping he’s the last in line.
Patience is in short supply looking after number nine.
Now her children, they’re all grown, there will be grandkids down the line.
She spends her time on the telephone, they’re always on her mind.

I’ve got a feeling that there’s more grace still to come,
Whatever’s gone before doesn’t count at all
.

The Doctors listened to her heart, they summed her up in a few short lines.
Quickly scribbled on a patient chart, she never saw the signs.

Instrumental verse

You’ll find them at the edge of town, standing there in a dead straight line.
Waiting in the summer sun with roses all around.

But I’ve a feeling that there’s more grace still to come
Whatever’s gone before doesn’t count at all.
I’ve got a feeling that there’s more grace still to come
More than enough to cover everyone
.

————————————————-

I want to credit the source of some of the verses.

First, the shotgun house in the first verse, comes from the story “The making of a Minister” – in Ragman, stories by Walter Wangerin.
Arthur lived in a shotgun house, so called because it was three rooms in a dead straight line, built narrowly on half a city lot.

————————————————-

The second verse comes from a picture – of my mum and her eight siblings all standing, one behind the other, from shortest at the front to tallest at the back.

————————————————-

The chorus was triggered by a passage from ‘Lila’ by Marilynne Robinson.
Lila speaking:
“On Sundays you talk about the Good Lord. how he does one thing and another.”
“Yes I do.” And he blushed. It was as if he expected that question too, and was surprised again that the thing he expected for no reason was actually happening. He said. “I know that I am not – adequate to the subject. You have to forgive me.”
She nodded. “That’s all you’re going to say.”
“No. No, it isn’t. I think you’re asking me these questions because of some of the hard things that have happened, the things you won’t talk about. If you did tell me about them, I could probably not say more than that life is a very deep mystery, and that finally the grace of God is all that can resolve it. And the grace of God is also a very deep mystery.” He said, “You can probably tell I’ve said the same word too many times. But they’re true, I believe.” He shrugged and watched his finger trace the scar on the table.

————————————————-

The verse that begins: The Doctor’s listened to her heart, is from Ragman again –
Arthur Fort with his jaundiced view of hospital. “$20 a strolling visit when they come to a patient’s room,” he said. “For what? Two minutes time is what, and no particular news to the patient. A squeeze, a punch, a scribble on their charts, and they leave that sucker feeling low and worthless.”

————————————————-

And the final verse is inspired by words once more from Lila by Marilynne Robinson.
So when she was done at Mrs Graham‘s house, she took the bag of clothes and walked up to the cemetery. There was the grave of the John Ames who died as a boy, with a sister Martha on one side and sister Margaret on the other. She had never really thought about the way the dead would gather at the edge of a town, all their names spelled out so you would know whose they were for as long as that family lived in that place …. Someday the old man would lie down beside his wife. And there she would be after so many years, waiting in sunlight all covered in roses.

————————————————-

Songwriting · Storytelling

I Think It’s Coming Together ?

This is the third post about the song I’ve been working on for a couple of weeks. I wish songs just came to me, but they don’t! I have to work pretty hard on them. Perhaps too hard ?
I’ve done a demo recording of the song, but it doesn’t feel right. Too repetitive and too long. I’ve tweaked it a bit to cut out some of the repetition, but I’m still not sure ? It’s definitely coming together, but needs something more, or maybe less ?

A Life of Love

Hear the story of a life of love, written clear on every line.
Drawing strength from up above, to see her through hard times.
She was born in a shotgun house, three rooms in a dead straight line.
Built on just a half a city lot – they’re doing just fine

I’ve got a feeling there’s a lot more grace to come,
Whatever’s gone before doesn’t count at all
.

See the children in their Sunday best, smiling, standing all in a line.
She’s at the front in her new blue dress with her sister just behind.
Sixteen and she knows it all, finds it hard to toe the line.
Got ambition to be top girl – she’s going to shine.

I’ve got a feeling there’s a lot more grace to come,
There’s enough to cover everyone
.

She’s listening to her baby cry, hoping he’s the last in line.
Patience is in short supply looking after number nine.
Now her children, they’re all grown, there will be grandkids down the line.
She spends her time on the telephone, they’re always on her mind.

I’ve got a feeling that there’s more grace still to come,
Whatever’s gone before doesn’t count at all
.

The Doctors listened to her heart, they summed her up in a few short lines.
Quickly scribbled on a patient chart, she never saw the signs.

Instrumental verse

You’ll find them at the edge of town, standing there in a dead straight line.
Waiting in the summer sun with roses all around.

But I’ve a feeling that there’s more grace still to come
Whatever’s gone before doesn’t count at all.
I’ve got a feeling that there’s more grace still to come
More than enough to cover everyone
.

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

faith · LIterature · Poetry · Songwriting · Storytelling

The Emergence Of A Song

It has been a few weeks since I completed writing the most recent song – The Seige of Gloucester, so I was beginning to wonder when the inspiration was going to come for a new song.

As the song began to take shape, I thought it would be interesting to track the development of the song.

Falling back on a method I have used in the past, I decided to pick up a book that I read many years ago – ‘Ragman and other cries of faith.’ – a collection of stories by author Walter Wangerin.

In one of the stories, so beautifully written, I noticed some particular phrases that drew me in, from which I wrote the following lines:

Living in a shotgun house
Three rooms in a dead straight line
Built on just a half a city lot
…..

and

They listened to his heart
Never told him what they heard
Just some scribbles on a chart
….

It seemed that I had the beginnings of a song here. A shotgun house is one where you can see all the way through from the front door to the back. You could fire a gun through both open doors! A bit like a traditional terraced house where I live. Although it’s not ‘my language,’ I like the sound of shotgun house, so I’ll stick with that.

Now I had to consider – did I want to try and write a song that follows this story ? That would feel forced to me. It would feel like I would have to ‘steal’ even more from this story, when all I was looking for was a starting point. I would rather let the song emerge.

Some songwriters (Joe Henry among them) talk about the song existing already, and the art of the songwriter is to bring the song to birth.

So … I’m looking for this song to emerge.

I noticed in another book I’m reading these words: “She’d never really thought about the way the dead would gather at the edge of a town, all their names spelled out so you’d know whose they were for as long as that family lived in that place …. And there she would be, after so many years, waiting in sunlight, all covered in roses.”

I wrote down these words:
Gathered at the edge of town,
Remembered after many years
waiting in the spring sunlight


While the Walter Wangerin story was about the experience of a young church minister visiting an elderly man, today I began to try and discern the story that was beginning to take shape here. It seemed that this was going to be a story about a life. Some of that life would have been lived in a ‘shotgun house;’ there would be a verse about being in hospital for some heart investigations, and a verse set in the cemetery at ‘the edge of town.’

Later on today, we were out walking along the North Wales coastal path, and I was mulling over where I had got to with this song. I was thinking about the roses growing around the headstone in the cemetery in the quote above, and thought perhaps the song should have a chorus, and that roses could appear in a slightly different way in each chorus ?

Then another thought came to mind. I suddenly had the image of the shotgun house, with the three rooms, one behind the other, all in a ‘dead straight line.’ Other images came into my imagination … maybe three headstones in the cemetery ‘in a dead straight line,’ and maybe an image of three children. ‘Standing in a line’ in a photograph. I have a photograph of my mum, Nancy, and her siblings, all eight of them, standing in a line, one behind the other – from the eldest at the back – Mary, Wilfred, Bessie, Bertha, Bernard, Margaret, Ruth, Nancy, Hugh.

That’s as far as I’ve got … but I thought I’d try and make a record of the process …
Hopefully I’ll come back soon with a completed song, or at least more of the process.



Grace · Me · Songwriting

There’s A Circle Of Grace

Walter Brueggemann talks about the way that the Christian life can be summed up in two words – Gift and Task.

This post is definitely gift. I’ve been trying to write this song for a couple of weeks. I had the phrase ‘circle of grace’ that popped up in something I read, and I already had the words ‘where the lost can be found, and the bound can be freed.’

It took some time to realise what the song needed to be – two halves with something linking between the two. It seems that songs have a life of their own, and part of the craft of songwriting is to help bring that song to life. Was it Michaelangelo who described the work of a sculptor as bringing out the figure that is already there in the stone. Just removing the stone that is not part of the figure …

Anyway, here it is. Lyrics below and rough recording on BandCamp. Circle of Grace

Where the lost can be found

And the bound can be freed
There’s a far away place
That’s calling to me

Where the hungry are fed
And the dead can be raisedq
There’s a far away place
That’s calling to me

It’s not status
or money or looks
or keeping the rules
Empty handed
we come to this kingdom of fools

It’s not knowledge
or image
or power that’s the key
There’s a circle of grace
that’s setting us free

Where the broken are healed
and the least will be lifted on high
There’s a circle of grace
That’s where you’ll find me

Where the last will be first
and the thirsty be filled
There’s a circle of grace
That’s where you’ll find me.

Jonathan Evans. Copyright 2021.

Grace and peace to you.

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.