Not before time, I redress the gender balance, albeit slightly, in my series on songwriters, with Fiona J Thom. Fiona describes herself thusly:
Fiona J Thom is an Edinburgh based singer- songwriter. She has provided backing vocals and second guitar to local bands and fronted her own bands over a 15 year period. Song writing is her main strength and love and has earned her the respect of her peers. The kind of music – Original songs in a variety of styles tinged with folk, country, jazz, rock and some with a more syncopated Latin feel -always with attention to lyrical detail, wit and melody. Current band is called Ms Fi & the Lost Head Band.
In 2014 she added her talents to the theatre production 1933: Ein Nacht im Kabarett written and directed by Susanna Mulvihill with support from Tightlaced Theatre. For this piece she collaborated with Susanna and local singer, poet and actor Beverley Wright on the cabaret songs. Currently she is studying music at college with a view to improving her theory and guitar playing. [N.B. any time I’ve seen her live, her guitar playing looks pretty damn fine already I may say].
She adds: “I don’t follow any current trends in my songs but they are shaped by my life and times.”
Music or words first? Or a bit of both?
A bit of both usually. It depends, often a bit of melody will come which suggests a mood and some lyrics. Once the idea is there the next bit is fine tuning the lyrics, adding verses. Occasionally I write lyrics first then come up with a tune.
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 a guitar, whichever one is at hand. Sometimes I am nowhere near an instrument – in the car, walking, in bed and I just have to keep humming it till I can remember it. I sometimes sing into my phone. I often forget about these nascent tunes and stumble across them much later with no idea how they got there.
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?
It is difficult to put a finger on it. There is definitely a zone and it can be frustrating if you are interrupted on the cusp of discovery or recognition. I think it is a bit like catching a wave for a surfer. I usually find there is an initial spark then crafting follows. I think many poets have said the same thing. Some songs are written in a matter of minutes, others take years to finally gel.
Name an influence on your songs that maybe wouldn’t be obvious to most of your fans.
I listen to a wide range of music I am sure it must reflect on what I do. I do like a bit of rock so maybe Queen. I grew up listening to their music. They were so good they put me off becoming a musician.
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 have written for a theatre/cabaret piece in what I hope approximates1930s style. It was great fun. I collaborated with Susanna Mulvihill and Beverley Wright. The cast seemed quite happy with the results. There was a parody torch song I was particularly pleased with but I could not include it in my set as it was specific to that production and sung from Hitler’s point of view…
I would like to write for other people again.
Mostly I just write whatever comes: some are easier than others for me to sing.
Do you ever revise your songs after you’ve started performing them, or are they pretty much fixed?
Words change here or there (usually just synonyms) depending on how they scan and what I remember. Some do get reworked, I can think of one I changed so it was less like the song that inspired it. I am open to suggestion; I don’t always follow it, but I am open.
Name three favourite songwriters of yours.
There are loads of great songs out there.
Fiona can be found at her own site, and is appearing at A Third Tip of the Hat to Leonard Cohen, on Friday 20th November 2015 at the Village, 16 South Fort Street, Leith.
For those of you who don’t know him, Andrew C Ferguson is one half of Tribute to Venus Carmichael, and a much smaller fraction of Isaac Brutal and the Trailer Trash Express. An acoustic offshoot of the latter will also be tipping their hat to Leonard on 20th November.
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