andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

More Kantele Music

A more substantial blog, soon – but in the meantime, I’ve uploaded a track with the kantele I was telling you about in it (for those of you technically minded, I recorded the kantele part using a single Rode M2 mike, placed close to the middle strings – it’s absolutely dry: I’ve not added reverb or any other effect).

I’m still just mucking about with it, really – I don’t really know how to play it, but setting the song in A major gave the maximum opportunity for simple accompanying lines.

Keeping Fit by Breathing: A Time Capsule in Blackford

As some of you know, we’re currently doing up a flat in Edinburgh’s South Side, with a view to (eventually) Daughter and Heiress using it as her student accommodation. It’s an ex-Council flat, built around 1960, in a block of 6. We think the old lady who lived in it it last moved into it with her husband when it was new, as its first tenant. It’ll be, as they say, nice when it’s finished: great location, with views of Arthur’s Seat out one window, and Blackford Hill out the other. Solid, roomy construction, but everything needing done.

As we’ve gone through the arduous process of stripping away wallpaper and floorcoverings, the flat has gradually given up its secrets. It’s what you might call domestic archaeology: decorators seem to like leaving little messages, such as the the blokes who, 15 years apart, decorated the living room and left, under the wallpaper, their names, and the fact they were cousins. Or this little chap, left hidden by another decorator under the paper in the main bedroom:

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Another thing which our tradesmen seem to have turned up is this rather impressive looking metal knob – I thought at first it had come from the 1990s central heating, but a Google search reveals the company to have gone into voluntary liquidation in 1970, so it’s a bit of a mystery what it was:

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Best of all, though, is the copy of a page of the Scottish Daily Express dated Saturday, September 19th, 1959, which turned up when the guys were lifting old floor coverings in the kitchen. Talk about a time capsule! A columnist called Albert Mackie has a rant about the removal of a clock at Edinburgh’s West End, and various other malfeasances, which mainly can be laid at the door of the Edinburgh Corporation (one Councillor, George Hedderwick, is slated whilst Mackie admits ‘even on the subject of smoking, while I don’t agree with him, I admire his single-minded sincerity in wanting smoking stopped’).

The entire bottom half of the same page, though, has even bigger news: Campbell’s Soup is back in the shops, for the first time since the war. A reminder, perhaps, that rationing had only ended 5 years earlier, in 1954. The flat itself is a reminder of those times too: the larder has a solid concrete shelf to keep meat cool in those pre-fridge days. We’ve decided to retain it as an original feature, much to the disgust of the plumber who had to core through it to get the piping for the new central heating system in.

There are some great mad wee small ads as well. Individually tailored slacks and jodhpurs, anyone? 100% Nylon outsize dress, in a ‘non-transparent floral design’? Just in case, you could wear the ‘briefest bra in the world,’ as worn by ‘models and showgirls.’ More practical, perhaps, a ‘sit-at ironing table, to save back and leg strain.’ Or ‘support & conceal those varicose veins with Helsur nylon elastic hose!’

The list goes on. ‘All-purpose’ chairs. Army blankets. Naval open razors. 8 watt amplifier, to ‘transform’ your guitar, or ‘similar instrument.’ 24 inch deep frame log saws. Learn Radio and TV servicing ‘for your own business/hobby.’ Cut your own hair with the patent ‘Easytrim.’ Hernia sufferers were spoilt for choice: the ultra-lightweight Rupta-Brace offered ‘undreamed-of relief,’ while the Autocrat Airmatic Appliance enabled you to tackle the heaviest and most strenuous work with COMPLETE CONFIDENCE. Not just complete confidence, mind – COMPLETE CONFIDENCE.

My favourite, though, has to be this ad for keeping fit by breathing:

keep fit by breathing

I think it’s my duty to rebury the paper under the new plywood floor I’m putting down in the kitchen ahead of tiling it. Mind you, the way these renovations are going, I might take a note of the address for the Rupta-Brace…

Songwriters on Songwriting: Me!

The other guys are a hard act to follow. However, while I’m waiting for a couple more in this series to come in, I thought I’d have a go at the questions myself. So…

Andrew C Ferguson is a writer and musician blah blah blah. Since I’ve updated the About page recently, you can always go there if you want a flavour of who the hell I think I am.

Music or words first? Or a bit of both?

Music first, almost every time. It’s interesting that the other guys have different approaches, which is why I asked the question, of course, but for me it starts with a tune, or a bit of a tune. It might only be a few notes, but unless there’s some sort of musical hook the song doesn’t get going, really.

Like Norman and Mark, I have a notebook, and jot down lyrics which can sit for months, or years, waiting for the right melody before they become something. I suppose, having written in so many different forms – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, stuff in between – before I dared to call myself a songwriter, I’m stupidly confident I can knock out a few words if there’s a tune of some sort to set them to.

I mean, songs are just flash fiction that rhymes mostly, right? Could explain why mine are so wordy…

Do you use a particular instrument to compose with, e.g. a favourite guitar; if you use piano/keyboard and guitar for different songs, do they produce different results?

Well. Again, I’ve played guitar for years, and that was initially my go-to instrument – usually the De Ville semi-acoustic, because it’s so easy to pick up and play.

However, I bought a second-hand Korg X5D  off Gavin Inglis a couple of years ago. It’s got some good sounds and some not-so good sounds, but one good one is a setting called ‘rock piano.’ A whole lot of songs are starting to come out of that, now. Basically, I’m not a good enough guitar player to know how a complicated chord change, or a melody line, can be played straight away – whereas with the piano, you can modulate chords or pick out a melody with only the most basic musical knowledge.

Having said that, I could never imagine not using the guitar at some point with most songs – it brings a whole different energy. I mean, I’m not planning a whole career of slow piano ballads!

The main thing though is capturing the melody (see below).

Some songwriters talk about the process as if it’s like catching something that was there already, out there in the ether – as if the song was just waiting to be pulled in. Does it ever feel like that to you, or is the process much more mechanical for you?

Melodies have a really unfortunate way of coming to me at inopportune times – my mobile phone has a collection of voice recordings of me going dah dah-dah, dah-dah-dah dah… as quietly as I can because there’s a tune in my head and I’m trying to capture it before I forget it. I’m usually doing it quietly because I’m in a public place and trying not to have people think I’m in need of urgent psychiatric assistance.

One place I hear a lot of new tunes is in the swimming pool. I’m not sure why: I think it’s a combination of half-heard songs over the tannoy, and the rhythm of the swim. Either way, it’s pretty hopeless – I can’t sing them into my mobile, and when I get back to the dressing room there’s Bogie in the Morning on Forth FM or whatever playing some crap song, and the whole tune just gets obliterated. Really annoying. I’ve composed whole albums in the Fife Institute, but I can never remember them!

If I’m really lucky, I wake up on a non-work day with a tune in my head (they often come to me just at that stage of waking up, when the door to the sub-conscious is a sliver ajar; or, funnily enough, just after lunch) and I can fire up the computer, switch on the keyboard, and capture it without waking the rest of the house up. Then, sometimes, it feels like I’m pulling a kite in out of the sky – it really does feel as if the whole thing’s been up there, waiting to be hauled in whole.

Or, the other analogy I have for the process sometimes is that it’s like that experiment you used to do in Chemistry making nylon – did you ever do that? Where you wind a bit of this glistening thread onto something and, gradually, gently, you pull more and more of it out of this beaker full of gak until you have a great long piece of the stuff. If I have a chorus, for example, but not the verse; and I just have to sit and wait for the rest of it to get drawn out, piece by piece.

The lyrics are a lot more mechanical – after that intial idea in the notebook, it’s a case of deciding what story I want to tell. That can take a while. I’ve got a tune down in Mixcraft at the moment that I think is The Best Tune I’ve Ever Come Up With (I tend to think this about every third song or so) and I’m trying to craft lyrics that are good enough for it.

It’s kind of like the tunes are female friends of mine and the lyrics are new boyfriends who are never quite good enough for them. Work that out for yourself, Sigmund.

Name an influence on your songs that maybe wouldn’t be obvious to most of your fans.

Fans? Shucks.

Carole King. When I used to write songs back in the day as a student, I had a bad case of Dylanitis and thought the lyrics had to be some sort of mad poetry. Unsurprisingly, my lyrics turned out as if I’d been bin-diving in Bob’s paper recycling – really bad knock offs.

King, on the other hand, taught me that you can say things quite directly and simply and that’s all you have to do, if the tune and the performance is good enough. That came from her crafting songs for other people with Gerry Goffin in the Brill Building in the early Sixties, but she didn’t forget it when she went solo in the Los Angeles Canyons. It’s about capturing an emotion.

Also anyone else who writes lyrics that have the ring of honesty. A lot of the early punk was like that. Though it’s hard to beat as a couplet the Proclaimers line ‘Even with the girls on the back of the bus/there was always the risk of a slap in the pus…’

Do you always write with your own (or your lead singer’s) voice in mind, or have you ever written for someone else? How did it turn out?

I don’t have much of a singing voice. I mean, I can just about hold a tune, but that’s it. I suppose, though, I write with my own voice as the initial instrument, and then stand back in awe when a proper singer like Kelly takes it and does what she does with it. I mean, the very first time she’s done some of my stuff the hairs on the back of my neck have literally stood up. Listening to a playback of my own voice singing makes my teeth stand on edge.

Do you ever revise your songs after you’ve started performing them, or are they pretty much fixed?

Pretty much fixed. I sometimes think a word or two could’ve done with a bit of fiddling, but by then it’s usually someone else singing it, and I feel it’s too late to tell them to change.

Name three favourite songwriters of yours.

Dylan (obviously, though he’s still a bad influence)

Nick Cave: I’m a late convert, but the breadth of what the guy does is just stunning. My brother recently called the song Norman Lamont covered (see below) Cave-esque, which I’ll take any day.

Leonard Cohen. Again, a bad influence on me, because he’s got that whip-smart, literate, lyrics-as-poetry thing, but they’re never just smart for the sake of it. And he’s not depressing! Well, not all the time.

And to redress the gender balance, Suzanne Vega. Oh, and Regina Spektor.

 

Andrew C Ferguson can most usually be seen toting his De Ville as one half of Tribute to Venus Carmichael. Their EP is still available, but not in the shops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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All the Time in Heaven: a (very brief) album review

I should, like all moral reviewers, start by declaring any interests. Norman Lamont has been on the bill of both gigs I’ve ever organised, namely Dylan Uncovered and Cry of the Cave People. He was recently an audience member at a Tribute to Venus Carmichael gig. He’s also, as it happens, just covered one of my songs, brilliantly so in my biased view, on Soundcloud: Somewhere You’re Out There.

However, I don’t owe him any actual money, and I don’t know him that well personally, just through music, as it were: I didn’t know, for example, that his daughter was in Nepal when the earthquake hit when I went on Saturday to see him at A Night for Nepal, at St Philip’s Church, Joppa, on Saturday. Norman read a (beautifully written) note from his daughter about her experience of the eathquake. It was a great night, with Nepalese dance, Bulgarian folk songs, blues harmonica, and custard filled pastries: Norman’s performance with his current band, The Heaven Sent, was the highlight though.

I also got the chance to buy a copy of his recent album, All the Time in Heaven, which showcases Norman’s songwriting and arranging skills perfectly. When I listen to stuff as good as this, I do wonder how, even in the cluttered landscape of music and musicians we all live in, guys like Norman aren’t better known than they are. Standouts so far on a limited amount of listens are the single, Not About to Fly, a jaunty story of childhood conspiracy theories; and Fingerpuppet, where the lyrics are counterpointed perfectly by the gorgeous acoustic guitars.

However, I’m thinking the opening track, The Monk From the Mountain of Sorrow, is one that will repay several listens – it’s complex, musically, with, again, rich lyrical underpinning: based loosely, I understand, on elements of Leonard Cohen’s life story.

But don’t just rely on what I say: have a listen. The link to Not About to Fly’s below. One other thing I didn’t know about Norman I take from that song: he’s from Ayrshire, the other end of the Central Belt coal seam from me in Fife. Maybe that’s why I feel an affinity!

Next up, I have the effrontery to answer my own interview questions. Plus musings on music and publishing business models, and some discoveries in an ex-Council Edinburgh flat.

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Songwriters on Songwriting: Mark Allan

Mark Allan, aka Isaac Brutal, has been releasing DIY recordings since 1984’s ‘I’m A Mutant Whore (But My Children Still Love Me)’ through to this year’s Trailer Trash Express release, Night of the Living Trailer Trash (see below).

These days, he says:

‘I aspire to be the reclusive old man in the ramshackle, reputedly haunted house with the overgrown garden that the neighbourhood kids are scared to enter to retrieve their ball. When I die I want my remains to be placed in a medieval cage on the lamppost outside my house (council permitting) for the crows to pick at my eyes as a cautionary tale to others.

‘In the interim I’ll settle for friends and strangers alike getting something from my songs and gigs (even if it’s only an uncomfortable ill at ease feeling in the pit of their stomach) or at the very least an excuse to get out the house to go to the pub.’

Music or words first? Or a bit of both?

It’s fair to say it’s evolved over the years due in the main to my inability to play an instrument back in the day, so it was all about the lyric scribbling. These days though it’s pretty much the tune that comes first although I generally have scraps of paper milling around with ‘amusing couplets’ waiting for a home.

Do you use a particular instrument to compose with, e.g. a favourite guitar; if you use piano/keyboard and guitar for different songs, do they produce different results?

I mainly use my Ibanez acoustic guitar as I do believe the age old adage that a song should work solo sans sonic embellishments. Having said that I do like to let my avant garde streak off its leash and have experimented with all sorts of sound sources including humpbacked whales, operatic samples and vacuum cleaners to name but three – so maybe I’m talking out my hole regarding the acoustic test. I also find a new instrument generally equates to at least one new song so my house is littered with all sorts (various guitars, pan pipes, keyboards, autoharp and as of last week a nice shiny electric 12 string. (ACF: I know. Can’t wait to get a loan of that…)

Some songwriters talk about the process as if it’s like catching something that was there already, out there in the ether – as if the song was just waiting to be pulled in. Does it ever feel like that to you, or is the process much more mechanical for you?

I imagine I’m no different to anyone else in this day and age in that you pick up all sorts of influences both consciously and unconsciously. You are the sum of your environment (or some such nonsense). I find the process of song writing quite difficult in so much as if I sit down to ‘try and write a song’ from scratch the results are rarely satisfying although as my guitar playing and vague grasp of musical theory improves I find the music side of things a bit easier although tunes are more likely to occur when I’m for want of a better phrase, fannying about. Lyrically I tend to wait for inspiration which can be anything from a snippet overheard, something read or alarmingly frequently a sick, yet amusing couplet will appear fully formed in my brain. Chance encounters can also be brilliantly productive. Such as the rambling drunk in the local hostelry (The Centurian) suddenly blurting out “Japanese Flyboy Says, Oomph The Monkey!” (which became an album title mainly based on the fact that it was better than his other memorable utterance “Crocodile,Crocodile, Up yer arse!”

Or the local Grassmarket vagrant who stops you in your tracks and points at the contents of the kiddies pram he’s pushing, a black and white stuffed panda bear and whispers conspiratorially “See that? That’s the last surviving member of the voodoo!” New song! That spawned a whole new career!

Personal circumstances can be fruitfully mined. My divorce spawned a new band, several albums and a fine set of bile filled vignettes – the nadir probably being ‘You Want Us To Remain Friends (I Want You To Die Of Cancer)’ – you can see why I generally go for ‘the amusing couplets’ these days. Like most/all country minded writers I can only mine the bad seams. Happy, chirpy songs are not in my remit. I have tried honestly. My most recent song started life as ‘You’re The One’. So far, so good but by the time I had reached the chorus it had transformed itself into ‘I Shoulda Killed You When I Had The Chance’ . Hell what you gonna do?

So aye in summary, erm a bit more mechanical these days as I don’t get out as much, but inspiration can drop by without appointment if it’s of a mind.

Name an influence on your songs that maybe wouldn’t be obvious to most of your fans.

The late lamented Florian Fricke of Popol Vuh. As well as shaping some piano recordings such as my soundtrack to Sunday afternoon TV religious epics ‘Jesus Wept’ he introduced me, a man brought up on two minute punk songs to the concept of never ending hypnotic melodies. Not saying what we do now is hypnotic but the guitar solos can be never ending.

I would say that my influences are pretty much there to be heard. Neil Young, Green On Red, Steve Earle, Hank Williams. The other members obviously bring to bear their own influences (or baggage as I like to call it – they get free rein within reason). The ghost of Television certainly rears its head in the guitar solos and I’ve no doubt there are some unsavoury jazz moments going on when my back is turned.

I did record a Philip Glass homage/pastiche on the computer years ago (it had to be the computer – I can’t play 32 notes a second!!). However as I called it People In Philip Glass Houses I don’t imagine that passes the ‘wouldn’t be obvious test.’

Do you always write with your own (or your lead singer’s) voice in mind, or have you ever written for someone else? How did it turn out?

I always write to my voice although in my head it’s in tune and melodious. I’m aware that I’m probably going to hand vocal duties over to a female voice but I still generally present the lyrics from a male stand point (often a male serial killer right enough)

Do you ever revise your songs after you’ve started performing them, or are they pretty much fixed?

The songs are revised up until the point they’re presented to the band and once we’ve worked through them a few times with the odd tweak then they’re pretty much set in stone. A depressingly large number get binned by me before they get that far (honestly I do have standards). Early revisions are often due to my inability to remember what I’d previously played or not being able to count to eight in my head.

Name three favourite songwriters of yours.

Nick Cave
Lou Reed
Steve Earle
Tomorrow it could be Chuck Prophet, Dan Stuart and Townes Van Zandt
Or Hank Williams or Johnny Cash oh hell you get the point

Isaac Brutal and the Trailer Trash Express’s next gig is probably the by invitation only Jefffest 2015. Their latest recorded offering is Night of the Living Trailer Trash, available on bandcamp.

For those of you who don’t know him, Andrew C Ferguson is one half of Tribute to Venus Carmichael, who are a whole lot more original than the name might suggest. Check them out over at the sister site to this one, and sign up to get a free download of one of the latest songs from the already-legendary #Tape 9….

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In my Shipyard of Songs

In my Shipyard of Songs at the moment, there are a whole order book of them at different stages of completion: some have only the most basic structures, the keel of melody and a few ribs of lyrics (I can see my lack of nautical knowledge getting me into trouble with this metaphor already); some well on the way to completion, with just one or two final touches needed: a trim to the sails, or a beefed-up outboard motor by way of extra guitar; some needing the barnacles scraped off and a new lick of paint before they’re seaworthy again.

Then there are one or two crafted, sitting around the edges of the Songyard, waiting for an owner. These are the ones that just don’t quite fit any of the collaborative projects for one reason or another, but which are, I think, seaworthy. What to do with them?

‘Somewhere You’re Out There’ is one of these. I still like the melody (so much so I worry I’ve subconsciously poached it from somewhere); and the lyrics – well, the lyrics mean something different to me now than when I first wrote them, let’s just say. You could apply them to different life situations, and I kind of like that.

However, the down side is there’s only me to sing these ones, so you have to put up with my less than perfect delivery. See what you think, and let me know. I’ll probably be doing a bit more of this in the coming months – I might even try to put something up once a month, whether it be original material, or a cover, and replace it the next month with something else.

Also coming up: some reflections on writing, music, and new business models; and I interview myself.

Diary of Festival Dad Aged 52 and 3/4: What Not to Wear (Again)

And so, for a second year, the Latitude tickets have been bought, the train tickets down booked, and the theoretical existence of a bus from Acle, Norfolk to Southwold, Suffolk having been proved in the sense that we know the Higgs-Boson does a circular of the Large Hadron Collider, except Weds. and Sun., when it terminates half way along.

Some things have changed. For a start, we’re coming straight from a week in a boat on the Norfolk Broads, hence the need for complex transportation arrangements. Second, ‘we,’ in the context of the Festival itself, will include the Redoubtable Mrs F on the Friday accompanying Daughter and Heiress and myself, although it’s been made clear that lengthy bouts of standing will not be tolerated, and a shady corner with a ready supply of chilled Sauvignon Blanc should at no times be more than twenty metres away. I suspect that such conditions might be insupportable at T in the Park: Latitude, not so much.

A brief glance at the line up confirms the usual mix of people I’ve seen on Jools once, people I know I should’ve heard of, and people I didn’t even know I should’ve heard of, but Daughter and Heiress should be able to raise awareness levels between now and then. As we’re going the Friday and Saturday only, we will eschew the pleasure of Noel Gallagher and his Angry Birds on the Sunday, but I am looking forward to King Creosote, Benjamin Booker, Laura Marling, and the Vaccines, in no particular order.

But now, friends, a confession, for I have sinned. I was down in Kirkcaldy by myself, Kirkcaldy being the only town close by that hosts that emporium of dubious sartorial delights, TK Maxx, and I coveted a Festival Shirt. And because I went there on my own, things went a bit further than coveting.

For those of you that don’t know the shop, TK Maxx sells soi-disant ‘designer’ clothing at so-called ‘discount’ prices. There was a tv ‘expose’ of their methods recently, which revealed that – shock horror! some of the original prices weren’t all that high in the first place, and some of their stuff isn’t even by proper designers, whatever that means: as if we didn’t all have the necessary savvy to work out that this particular expression of terminal-stages mercantile capitalism wasn’t essentially a game where you balance the true value of the clothing item on the fulcrum of how much you want it and how much it would really cost, and see which way it tips as, somewhere across the world, the poor bozo that made it gets the local currency equivalent of half a groat for his or her pains.

Anyhoo, the thing is, normally the distaff side are there to SUPERVISE me in TK Maxx, by which I mean they spend 30 seconds looking at the downstairs section (not a euphemism: that’s where the women’s clothes are) before materialising to hover over me while I try to sift through the odd assortment of menswear in the hope of finding something I fancy, TK Maxx adopting the random jumble sale from hell approach to displaying what’s on offer.

But this time, dear reader, they weren’t there. And I kind of went for it. Now even I think I’ve gone too far: but you know what it’s like. Can’t back down on these matters. Got to show them who’s boss, and all that. Haven’t you?

 

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More from the songwriters on songwriting series soon, I hope.

 

 

 

 

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Songwriters on Songwriting: Esperi

Esperi is Scottish multi-instrumentalist Chris James Marr. His music ranges from acoustic storytelling to colourful electronica looping and combining different sounds with his acoustic guitar. He uses a host of instruments from the conventional to the unusual including his signature rainbow-coloured bells, toys, tools, samples ( including his son Callums heartbeat which features in the song Somersaults which was released on the day he was born ) . Chris lives in East Coast Scotland and predominantly writes about his family, dogs, home and the great outdoors.

He has performed around the world in all sorts of venues and festivals, shared the stage with Andy Mckee, Jon Gomm, Gomez, Jeffrey Lewis, James Yorkston, Ólöf Arnolds, KT Tunstall, Noiserv and many more talented artists, collaborated with RM Hubbert and Alex Kopranos ( Franz Ferdinand ), Panda Su, Sonny Carntyne…

Chris is also producing/releasing music at FAll ON STUDIO/RECORDS including his own esperi music and other bands and artists.

Music or words first? Or a bit of both?

I usually write music first and work words around it, but I’ve always got a bunch of ideas musically and lyrically to call from. I generally work on music first though, at least a chord pattern/riff/melody because I can find a different way for the words to fit and say what I mean them to.

Do you use a particular instrument to compose with, e.g. a favourite guitar; if you use piano/keyboard and guitar for different songs, do they produce different results?

I usually write on acoustic guitar, it’s my favourite instrument and most accessible.

Some songwriters talk about the process as if it’s like catching something that was there already, out there in the ether – as if the song was just waiting to be pulled in. Does it ever feel like that to you, or is the process much more mechanical for you?

With the writing process, I just feel that I’m making something. Sometimes it comes together very quickly and naturally and sometimes it takes longer and I work away at it over time, sometimes I know where I’m going with it with a clear idea and sometimes I’m not sure where it’s going but if I like an idea I try and follow it through to the end.

Name an influence on your songs that maybe wouldn’t be obvious to most of your fans.

I suppose some influences for me like Brian Eno, Godspeed, Braid, Slint, Faraquet and stuff are there but I don’t recognise the similarities as much…

Do you always write with your own (or your lead singer’s) voice in mind, or have you ever written for someone else? How did it turn out?

I don’t purposefully write with anyone’s singing voice in my head, I just work with what my own voice is capable of, I don’t really think about it.

Do you ever revise your songs after you’ve started performing them, or are they pretty much fixed?

I usually have a live version of a song and a studio version, some little and some bigger differences. Sometimes they change a little or I just perform them differently to fit the atmosphere.

Name three favourite songwriters of yours.

I guess Sufjan Stevens, Mike Kinsella and Justin Vernon would be my top three songwriters, also Sam Beam, Jonsi Birgisson, Joanna Newsom and Mark Kozelek, that kind of thing.

Esperi’s follow up to his debut “In a moment emotion sentiment” entitled “Seasons” is out now. Including 11 new songs and it features the single “Somersaults” which was released on the day his son Callum was born including a sample of his heartbeat as the pulse behind the song. Check out his new album right there, or catch him on tour.

For those of you who don’t know him, Andrew C Ferguson is one half of Tribute to Venus Carmichael, who are a whole lot more original than the name might suggest. Check them out over at the sister site to this one, and sign up to get a free download of one of the latest songs from the already-legendary #Tape 9….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Songwriters on Songwriting: Martin McGroarty

Second up in the series on songwriting is my friend and musical collaborator Martin McGroarty. I’d known Martin through work for about 25 years before I knew he was a singer-songwriter: and boy, can he write a ditty or two! Here’s how he describes himself:

I’ve dabbled with music and songwriting on and off (family commitments and life situation permitting!) over the last 30 years or so. It’s only in the last 6 months or so that I’ve really got in touch with playing gigs and thinking about music again properly – marriage break-ups are hard, but they give you so much time for music! Also coincided with my first ever successfully adhered to New Year’s Resolution – to grab 2015 by the nads and kick the shit out of it.

On with the questions:

Music or words first? Or a bit of both?

I have to admit that I find the whole process of songwriting tortuous. I am definitely not a natural. [ACF: Yes, you are. Get on with it.] I have added words to chord sequences I’ve come up with first, but it’s usually about what I want to say in a song first – so it usually starts with the words for me. And it’s usually words about some great drama in my life that I feel compelled to write about – my way of processing pain or telling someone how much I feel for them. I’m going to have to learn to write stuff when I’m not in the midst of some personal crisis or other….

Do you use a particular instrument to compose with, e.g. a favourite guitar; if you use piano/keyboard and guitar for different songs, do they produce different results?

My favourite songwriting tools are a pen and a bit of paper. As I said, it’s usually the words that come from how I’m feeling about something or someone that arrive in the old grey matter first. When I get round to thinking about the music part of it, I’ll be bashing about on the acoustic until I get something I like, then try and match the words to it. When I used to play in a band in my younger days however, I did write a few songs on the bass guitar (words and music) – principally because I couldn’t play acoustic guitar then and the bass was my job in the band.

Some songwriters talk about the process as if it’s like catching something that was there already, out there in the ether – as if the song was just waiting to be pulled in. Does it ever feel like that to you, or is the process much more mechanical for you?

As I said, I’m not a natural at this songwriting business. [I’ve warned you about that already. ACF]

I love the idea of my songs existing as wee gems of beautifully structured, musical, melodic, literary works of art floating about in the ether, just waiting to be captured and crystallised over a can of lager. But it’s just not the case unfortunately – the reality is much less romantic than that (Lager? Romantic?).

I’m a bit of a wordsmith – always have been and always enjoyed word play – but the musical part of it is work for me, often quite hard work, getting the two parts of the song, lyrics and music, to meld together. So my songs start off life in two completely separate places – the words side, the easy bit for me and which therefore gets all the attention and is spoiled rotten; and the music side, which is very much the poor relation and has to live in the attic until I need to reluctantly let it out and feed it.

I usually start with one line of a song that can appear in my head from nowhere. That then gets expanded into a storyline (I’ve always liked songs that tell a story – though the danger with that is that it can get very literal, so I try to be clever and obscure the message a bit). That’s the part of the process I enjoy the most. I suppose that where the ethereal part of it can kick in for me is when I finally try to put the words and the music together….the melody seems to come from absolutely nowhere and, if I overthink it, it just doesn’t work.

I think that some people are so good musically that they can write brilliant songs that have random words or phrases in them, rather than beautifully crafted story-telling lyrics. The strength of my songs, I think, is in the lyrical side and as long as I can get something musically competent enough to be the vehicle for that I’m happy with it.

Name an influence on your songs that maybe wouldn’t be obvious to most of your fans.

Kevin Taylor is a name that will not be familiar to many people. Kevin and I have been friends since we were toddlers (so that’s a shade over 21 years…..) and it was Kevin who gave me my first taste of music and playing in a band when we were at High School. I was utterly fascinated by the way that he could come up with all these brilliant ideas for songs and then we’d work out bass and lead parts for them, and he’d come up with a few lines of lyrics and a melody appeared, and there it was… a song.

Many of the chord shapes I play and the chord patterns I use to this day come from how Kevin played/plays guitar. He’s been a huge influence on me musically. And when I write now, I’m never happy until I know Kevin’s heard my song and hasn’t told me “it’s pish”.

Do you always write with your own (or your lead singer’s) voice in mind, or have you ever written for someone else? How did it turn out?

Now, I write for me and for what I know I can deal with vocally. When I played bass in the band however, I did write songs (lyrics) for Kevin and our lead singer, Paul Smith – often again from a single line that Kevin or Paul would have in their heads that magically re-appeared as a Pulitzer Prize winning novella after a McGroarty writing session. It worked a treat, because the music was already so strong that a decent story-line lyric added to the song, rather than “made” the song.

Do you ever revise your songs after you’ve started performing them, or are they pretty much fixed?

Yip. Usually when I can’t remember the words, or where I am in the song, so you can get a Club Mix, an album version or a 12” single mix of the song depending on what night I’m playing and how drunk I am…..

Name three favourite songwriters of yours.

Apart from the aforementioned Mr Taylor, among my favourite songwriters ( and it’s hard limiting to three, but I enjoy the intellectual challenge of it) are Neil Finn, James Grant and Neil Young.

Martin is playing at the Eagle Inn, Coatbridge, supporting Gerry Cinnamon, on Friday 24th April. Then, as winner of the Texas Scots Talent Competition 2015, he’s playing at the Texas Scottish Festival in Arlington, Texas on May 8th and 9th.

For those of you who don’t know him, Andrew C Ferguson is one half of Tribute to Venus Carmichael, who also play a gig on 24th April, at the White Horse, Canongate, Edinburgh

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Songwriters on Songwriting: Norman Lamont

For the first of a short series on songwriters in the Edinburgh area, here’s an interview with Norman Lamont. First up, here’s how he introduces himself:

Despite being described by friends on the Edinburgh scene as ‘a legend’ or ‘the king of Edinburgh songwriters’, Norman Lamont is growing comfortable with obscurity. He continues to gig with his band The Heaven Sent, and produce albums, the most recent being last year’s All The Time in Heaven.

And now for the questions:

Music or words first? Or a bit of both?

Almost always a bit of both, that is, a line or two complete with a melody and tempo. That suggests what the rest will be, which is work. The music is easier than the words. I’ve had melodies with a few lines hang round for twelve years waiting for me to knuckle down and write more words. Some are still waiting. (Gravestone ‘He never did finish that —-ing song’)

I do write words on their own, but never as embryo songs; they’re just scraps of stuff I keep for when I’m scrabbling around trying to finish something. When I write them I think they’re rubbish; years later when I find them I think they’re brilliant compared to the rubbish I’m writing now. My room is full of notebooks.

Do you use a particular instrument to compose with, e.g. a favourite guitar; if you use piano/keyboard and guitar for different songs, do they produce different results?

Usually I write in my head, and then work out the guitar chords afterwards from the completed stadium version I hear the E Street Band playing in my head.

Some songwriters talk about the process as if it’s like catching something that was there already, out there in the ether – as if the song was just waiting to be pulled in. Does it ever feel like that to you, or is the process much more mechanical for you?

I’ve had that experience a few times. Driving or walking along the street I just open my mouth and start singing a completely new song I haven’t planned. It certainly clears the pavement. When I examine it, it’s often linked to something I’ve been listening to earlier in the day so it’s not that magical, but it feels that way at the time. But that’s just the start – the rest is work and anticlimax.

Name an influence on your songs that maybe wouldn’t be obvious to most of your fans.

A semi-retired Edinburgh singer called Dave Christopher, not known by many. He let me join his band in Glasgow in the 70s and it was the first time I’d actually met someone whose songs astonished me. He has a McCartney-like gift for melody.

Do you always write with your own (or your lead singer’s) voice in mind, or have you ever written for someone else? How did it turn out?

I’ve never tried to write for someone else, as no-one has ever requested such a service. I often ‘hear’ a new song with someone else’s voice, but when I play it to people they don’t often recognise my mangled interpretation of that person, which avoids charges of plagiarism.

Do you ever revise your songs after you’ve started performing them, or are they pretty much fixed?

Structure stays the same, but every time I sing in front of an audience I find new ways to sing them, often with new melodies. Somehow there has to be an audience for that to happen.

Name three favourite songwriters of yours.

Rennie and Brett Sparks (The Handsome Family)
Paul Simon
Brian Eno
Leonard Cohen (you did say four favourite songwriters, didn’t you?)

Norman is doing one night at the Acoustic Music Centre @ St Brides on August 16th, by which time a new, more light-hearted album may be complete, probably to be called Gurus At The Bar. New songs appear with startling regularity on his site, normanlamont.com.

For those of you who don’t know, Andrew C Ferguson is one half of Tribute to Venus Carmichael, the only known tribute band of the legendary – some dare to say imaginary – singer-songwriter from the L.A Canyons via Arbroath. You can catch more of her story, in words and music, at the White Horse, Canongate, on Friday 24th April. Facebook event is here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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